by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: Welcome to the second half of the Loser League season, Mike. For those of you who haven't seen this before, FO readers (attempt to) come up with witty and clever names for their Loser League team. Your Scramble writers then choose the best ones, by which I of course mean our subjective favorites. A full list of the names can be found by perusing the weekly standings.
Mike: That's not fair, Tom. We have a completely sure-fire, objective system by which we measure the worthiness of Loser League names. It is, however, proprietary trade information of Scramble for the Ball Industries. We are happy to disclose the actual formula in exchange for a signed NDA and modest disclosure fee. Sign up in the comments!
Tom: A completely sure-fire, objective system of Just Making It Up As We Go Along, like we're Ken Whisenhunt making fourth-down calls, yes.
Mike: Dammit, Tom, stop giving away our secrets!
Tom: I cleverly also kept a list of the names from the first-half session, so we don't have to praise any repeat names. Unless we want to, because that's how we roll, and it's not like anybody else has the same list because they could have copied and pasted into a saved document the list of names from the first-half weekly standings.
Mike: Always thinking. All right, let's see ...
On some level I want to acknowledge Futt Bumble, even though it is horribly out of date at this point.
Tom: Not a repeat from last time, plus Mark Sanchez is starting again. Also, I am once again laughing, though I may mostly be laughing at the fact that I am laughing.
Mike: True, but the Butt Fumble was not this year, as great as it was, so it fails the key timeliness test.
Tom: I don't think I can check this, but I really hope "Carr Wreck" is by the same person as last half's "Carr accident waiting to happen." I really applaud that sort of narrativity, unlike most other forms of narrativity.
Also, Adrian Peterson, I can't laugh at. Sorry to anybody who went that direction.
Mike: Much like an actual car wreck, yes.
I see that the old mainstay of "smash a bunch of bad players' names together" strategy is alive and well in Geno Manuel.
Tom: Yes, it makes me appreciate the old "Reggie & Jerome & Clyde & Seth & Wes & Eric & Andre" for smashing a bunch of good players' names together.
Mike: For a certain value of "appreciate."
Tom: To be certain.
Mike: I suppose there should be a parallel rule of "timelessness" to go along with "timeliness." Because "Stop: Mallett Time" fits that to a tee.
Tom: Nah nah nah nah. "Winston Justice Security Systems" may never get old, at least if it shows up every time.
Mike: It will never win but always get mentioned. It's an institution. A pretty darn funny institution.
I don't even know how to classify one of these. It's completely irrelevant to football. It has no bearing on the team name. It's only barely timely because of Lovecraft's newfound prominence among nerds.
Tom: Which name are you referring to, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Reid R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!?"
Mike: That's the one. I mean, why.
Tom: I was wondering what that was about. Perhaps I should read that Collected Works of Lovecraft I acquired a while back.
Mike: Ooooh. Cthulu was replaced with "Reid."
Tom: Yes, it has Andy Reid's name substituted for Cthulhu.
Mike: In his house in R'lyeh, dead Reid waits dreaming. Except Reid is still coaching? I might have considered this one if it were someone like Bill Cowher. Or if Reid were not actually the walrus aspect of a Great Old One. We do take points off for literalness!
Tom: It also seems odd because it's not like the Eagles have been terrible in the post-Reid era, such as it is. They won the division last year and are tied for the lead right now.
Mike: Much like the unfortunately un-sleeping great old one, Jerry Jones.
Tom: Sadly, "Regression to the Mean Machine" is a repeat, as is "Dennardians of the Darqueze." Your team is well represented, by both "Cortez Allen is our defensive MVP" and "Cortez the Defense DVOA Killer."
Mike: Two mentions are not enough to adequately represent how terrible the Steelers' defense is.
I'm actually having trouble picking one. There isn't one standout that hasn't already been submitted, honestly.
Tom: What do you think of "Orton Hears a Boo" and "Orton Hears Alfred Blue?" I think the former may be a repeat, but I don't have it in my records. The latter has the nice rhyme, but Blue should be an opposing Bills pass rusher in an upcoming game, ideally.
Mike: Right. It just doesn't work.
I could maybe get behind "All Your Points are Belong to You" if it were "All My Points are Belong to You," but that's a fatal miscalculation
Is "Carr-Jacked in Oakland" new?
Tom: It is. I wonder if that's actually the second-half complement to "Carr accident waiting to happen."
Mike: I'm going to assume it is, and also praise its relevance, the fact that Carr will most definitely be jacked up many times this loser league season, and really the idea that Derek Carr is actually starting for any team at this point. Also, Oakland is full of crime! Crime that doesn't affect me is funny! Carr-Jacked in Oakland.
Tom: There are actually a couple I like. "Don't Read Option the Users EJ Manuel" is reasonably clever.
My favorite, though, is Livin on the Wedge: The Dave Toub Story. The ex-Bears, now Chiefs special teams coach has done a lot for his teams, and could use more publicity. Wedge gets who he is in there. And I could absolutely see that as the actual title of a one-hour documentary on his career.
Mike: But Toub is a genius!
Tom: I know, Toub is actually good at his job, which goes against the spirit of Loser League. But I'm willing to overlook that, in the Rovellian spirit of "there's no such thing as bad publicity" and the great mockery of the eminently mockworthy nature of documentary titles.
Mike: I am not sure what I learned, aside from that I hate watching prime time Patriots games. I supposed I learned that the Vikings are in even more disarray then I had thought.
Tom: Even more than just their offensive tackle play?
Mike: That was a problem. But even when Matt Kalil was playing ... adequately, is probably the most you could ever say, Teddy Bridgewater insisted on running backwards. Almost every single passing play. Even with decent protection, his first instinct is to start backpedaling. Backpedaling is the passing offense death.
Tom: I can't believe how badly Kalil is playing. I thought he'd be really good coming out, and he was pretty solid as a rookie.
Mike: Well, I'm not an expert, but his footwork looked very suspect this week. It was as if he had committed to the rusher taking a certain approach and lacked the flexibility to adapt to different looks. On a play-by-play basis, of course. Now Cordarrelle Patterson is in the doghouse for -- surprise surprise! -- not being very good. And Adrian Peterson we now know is suspended for a year.
Tom: I'm really curious to see the all-22, because I want to get a feel for just how much Bridgewater had available downfield, and just how much he was up a creek.
Mike: So Bridgewater was supposed to be the bright promise of the future in the middle of rebuilding doldrums, but I have to say that I was just not impressed with his basic mechanics. And that worries me. Because aside from Peterson's decline phase, this team has basically nothing else going for it.
Tom: It's funny, because Norv has a good track record as an offensive coordinator. It's why he keeps getting head coaching jobs despite his work as a head coach. Plus, Bridgewater's first start showed great adaptability. Unlike his final season in San Diego, Norv wasn't insistent on running seven-step drops and deep throws for personnel that was absolutely not suited for that game plan.
My takeaways for this week are all mini lessons.
First, for perhaps the first complete game this season we finally saw the St. Louis Rams play the way the St. Louis Rams were supposed to play this year, doing just enough on offense and letting their defense dominate. We saw that work more or less the week before, until Austin Davis kind of melted down in the fourth quarter and a couple defensive scores turned a close game into a blowout.
This week, Shaun Hill didn't turn the ball over a single time. He got lucky once, when DeMarcus Ware stripped the ball on a sack and it bounced right back to Hill, but he also threw zero picks. At least as importantly, per the box score, zero of his incompletions were defensed. He can take sacks. He can throw incompletions. If he takes care of the football, he can play for Jeff Fisher.
Another lesson: I think DVOA is most likely right about Arizona, but Sunday's game also had a lot to do with the Detroit Lions offense. To the extent Jim Caldwell was hired to fix Matthew Stafford and make that offense something more than "just throw it up to Calvin Johnson," it's hard to see progress. The Lions did just enough to win games without Megatron, and we all kind of agreed to overlook that a bit just because he's Megatron. Now Megatron is back, and the offense still doesn't work.
Given the vagaries of the postseason, they may still have a 2012 Ravens-like run in them if they can get there. But I said the same thing about them last season, and they didn't make it there. They may have the tiebreaker right now, but I don't consider them the NFC North favorite, and who the heck knows how the wild card will shake out. Between San Francisco and Seattle and the potential those teams have, the Lions need to start playing better when they have the ball, or they will find themselves sitting on their couches in Week 18 again.
Loser League Update
Full weekly standings and scores for the season to date are found on the Loser League results page. Each week, Scramble for the Ball highlights the top scorer at each position.
Quarterback: If a quarterback does not really do anything, but his team still wins, does anybody really care? Alex Smith attempted 16 passes and completed 11 of them for 108 yards and 5 Loser League points.
Running backs: James Starks was the rare player whose score in Actual Fantasy Football score more than doubled his Loser League score. Those 16 extra yards get chopped off in LL, so he had 1 point on 9 rushing yards and 17 passing yards instead of 2.6. Darren McFadden, whose status as a Loser League All-Star may have been jeopardized by Latavius Murray finally getting carries, and Carlos Hyde each had 2 points.
Wide receivers: Like Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz, and Lucille LeSeur, Danny Amendola, Dwayne Bowe, Devin Hester, Andre Holmes, Marquess Wilson, and Robert Woods have never been in my kitchen. Unlike Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Joan Crawford, they each scored 1 Loser League point.
Kicker: En route to his -3 points, Kai Forbath missed a field goal on fourth-and-goal. Unlike most fourth-and-goal field goal misses, this was somewhat understandable, as that attempt came from 47 yards out after a penalty and a pair of sacks. His other miss came from 50 yards after yet another third-down sack. That Trent Williams fellow may have been important, perhaps.
Keep Chopping Wood: Whether they were all his fault or not, and notwithstanding that his interception rate for the season is still pretty close to average, Eli Manning's five interceptions in a one-score loss is an awfully bad look for a quarterback who spent much of 2013 looking awfully bad.
Mike Martz Award: If Marc Trestman's press conferences are indeed more salty and less expansive, perhaps part of it is not the general malaise of the Bears or their defensive struggles but extraordinarily curious calls like the quarterback sweep he had Jay Cutler run on fourth-and-goal from the Vikings' 1-yard line.
Locks of the Week
Tom: You've caught up to me, Mike.
Tom: I took a lead the first week of our season, and have clung to it desperately since then.
Mike: Not because I was constantly challenging you, more because you were failing just as thoroughly as I was.
Tom: But after the Falcons covered and won in Carolina, you are now 3-6. The Giants played the 49ers close, but ultimately lost by six points. The spread was only four.
Anecdotally (by which I mean I feel this way and don't tell me if it's actually true), the game I mentioned but did not actually pick came out the way I would have chosen. Anyway, I now am also 3-6 on my actual picks.
As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks.
Mike: I suppose Excel RAND function to see who gets the first pick, then, since we are now tied.
Tom: You actually let me go first, or I jumped the gun on you at one point. Go ahead and pick.
Mike: Fair enough. In what has become an unofficial feature, I would like to point out that this week's Admiral Ackbar Trap of the Week, we have the Jaguars at the Colts. 14 points? Really?
Tom: The Colts won by 487 points in Jacksonville earlier in the season (OK, only 27).
Mike: That's a three-score line. Never, ever bet on a three-score line.
Tom: I know that, and you know that. But if you're a book, which way do you want to take action?
Mike: If I'm a book I'm laughing all the way to the bank. There are good reasons I'm not successful enough to be a book.
Tom: I'd be curious to know for sure if there's actually volume differences based on the line number, relative to how many bets you would expect on a Colts-Jaguars game.
Mike: I'd be curious to have some kind of magical version of statistics that could create useful numbers from sample sizes of zero.
Anyway, I'm going to show some actual faith in Grumpy Cat Cutler and the rest of da Bears. Anyway, the Bears are a thoroughly mediocre team, but they did everything they had to do against the hapless Vikings. Entre le Buccaneers, who are just as, if not more, hapless than our friends from the North.
Seriously, Tampa Bay is really bad. And I'm not buying any Lovie Smith narrative. Chicago has a real offense and Matt Forte at least is amazing. The points are easy to take, too. Chicago Bears -5.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom: Hmm. DVOA suggests the Dolphins are actually quite good, ranking them fourth. Particularly given their pass rush and Denver's offensive line issues, a touchdown spread even in Denver seems inflated. But I'm not going to go that direction.
The Saints are coming off back-to-back home losses, the last on Sunday quite ugly. The Ravens are coming off a bye. They should be well prepared for the game, and their willingness to run the ball bodes poorly for New Orleans' defensive issues. DVOA suggests that the Ravens perhaps should be favored in this game. The Saints are instead favored by the home edge. I've been bullish on the Ravens since the preseason, at least relative to most people (including then DVOA!). I still am. Baltimore Ravens +3 at New Orleans Saints.