by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: Well, Mike, the season is done, so we can now look at whether the NFL season played out how we told everyone it would back in our series of preseason columns.
Mike: Ah, yes, the annual flogging column. I bought a new whip for this year!
I actually went ahead and tabulated our results.
Mike: Aren't you the go-getter.
Tom: Ah, you didn't do that badly. I mean, it wasn't nearly as bad as our performance when it came to our Locks of the Week. There were no pushes this year, so we have 32 decided bets. Overall, you went 14-18. I went 17-15.
Tom: Starting with the same Easts column, the Jets had an over/under of 7.0. They finished 4-12. We both got this one right.
The NFC East, neither of us did well. Dallas surpassed their projection by 4.5 games in going 12-4, surprising both of us. Washington was also at 7.5 and finished 4-12; I got this right, while you missed it.
Mike: Washington was a complete disaster this year.
Tom: I was really torn on them, mostly because I didn't feel like I had any sort of handle on how good they would be or even what they would do.
Mike: I could have seen going under. I think I struggled with that choice also, but 4 wins, even in retrospect, just seems kind of crazy.
I suppose a large part of it has to be down to the unexpected strength of the Cowboys' offense.
Tom: That's the thing. We both saw how the Cowboys could be good on offense. That wasn't hard. It was just successfully navigating the good offense/bad defense divide. And after posting a record of 1-3 when they had an offensive DVOA of at least 15.0% last year, their record in such games is 11-0 this year.
Mike: Just the fact that they hit 15-plus percent in 11 games is kind of crazy. Thank you, DeMarco Murray. And your soon-to-explode legs.
Tom: They actually ranked close to average in variance. Among the offenses ahead of them by DVOA, Green Bay also had 11 such games, while the Steelers and Broncos each had eight. Looking just behind them, Seattle had seven such games and New England eight. It's kind of an arbitrary threshold, but I'm sticking to it.
Tom: (Interesting New England point: their eight such games were their fifth through twelfth games of the season. We've all heard how the offense struggled the first four games of the season, but they finished with a negative offensive DVOA in three of their final four games as well.)
Mike: I'm still not entirely sold on New England's offense. I suppose we'll see this week!
Tom: In the AFC South, the Titans' 2-14 was below their over/under of 7.0. We both got that right.
Mike: I recall having no idea what the Titans' plans were for this season. Turns out the Titans were in the same boat.
Tom: When I wrote my season preview for my Titans blog, I predicted 7-9 but noted:
If/when [Jake Locker] gets hurt, the Titans will probably struggle to match even Ryan Fitzpatrick's 3-6 record as a starter (3-4 once they adapted the offense to fit his strengths). If you want a disaster scenario for the 2014 Titans, it starts here, continues through an offensive line that doesn't improve the way everyone is expecting it to, and runs through a defense that looks lost and confused longer than anyone hopes before concluding with the Titans on the clock to ring in 2015.
I hate being right sometimes.
Tom: Moving to the NFC South, your overall pessimism on the division was well-founded, as Tampa Bay matched Tennessee by finishing 2-14 despite a 7.0 total. I was foolishly optimistic on the Buccaneers. We both did whiff on New Orleans, who finished 7-9, three games below their over/under mark.
Mike: I'm going to have to take a closer look at the Saints this offseason. I'm still not entirely certain what went wrong. Beyond the usual "terrible on the road" trope.
Tom: Jimmy Graham wasn't the same threat he had been in past seasons. They didn't have another big matchup threat beyond him.
Mike: Yes, but they still had Drew Brees in a horrible division with appropriately horrible defenses.
Tom: The defense was significantly worse than I thought it would be. Last against the rush, 27th against the pass. The safeties were a disaster, with Jairus Byrd not impressing before he got hurt and Kenny Vaccaro playing miserably.
I was about as surprised Tampa Bay was miserable as I was that New Orleans struggled. I really thought Lovie Smith was the right type of coach for them, and even his bizarre quarterback preferences wouldn't hurt them that badly. Oops. The line was even worse than I thought, and they finished 32nd in offensive DVOA. They also lost a bunch of close games, going 1-8 in games decided by less than a touchdown.
Mike: They also stole a few games. One of the worst teams I've seen in a while.
Tom: Nah, just the one. DVOA has them as soundly outplaying the Washington Griffins in their other win. They were weird, because they alternated between getting completely annihilated and playing respectably.
Tom: I struggled with the AFC North, getting only the Ravens right. Your favored Steelers went 11-5, exceeding their 8.5 over/under projection. I still am not sure how, aside from the AFC South and NFC South.
Mike: Randomly amazing offense. And the emergence of Le'veon Bell.
Tom: Yes, I eventually got used to it, but for the first half of the season, I kept thinking "Bell was a solid player as a rookie, but he's so much better this year." Then I accepted that he had turned into one of the couple best backs in the league.
Mike: Mike the Steelers Fan and Mike the Writer Almost Certain to Lose the Staff Playoff League both shed manly tears of sadness at his injury. Next year will be...
...Oh, I can't do it. Haley will still be there.
Tom: In the NFC North, both Detroit and Chicago had over/unders of 8.5. We both liked the Bears and didn't like the Lions. We were both wrong on both counts.
Mike: The biggest surprise of the year had to be Detroit's defense
Tom: I should have known better than to trust in Mel Tucker to fix a defense.
Mike: A really pleasant surprise, also, as we were only a year removed from wondering if they had the worst secondary in the league.
Mike: Darius Slay was a revelation this year, which was somewhat astounding, actually. We'll see if they can keep it up next year, particularly with Ndamukong Suh almost certainly gone. I'm not sure it's all on Tucker, specifically. I'm not sure what talent on Chicago's roster made us believe this defense could compete.
Tom: Oh, it's not. But I think the comparison with Dallas is instructive. Rod Marinelli had his charges playing really well together and equaled or exceeded the sum of his parts. Tucker's bad parts looked like bad parts.
Mike: I think you're probably giving Marinelli too much credit, but I can't disagree that Tucker was part of the problem, and not the solution.
Tom: I may be jaded from my previous experience seeing most of his Jacksonville defenses have their bad parts look like bad parts.
Mike: I think a big part of what success Dallas had on defense was due to the overpowering offense. That might go a ways toward helping you understand Pittsburgh's success, also. Although less of a ball control offense than Dallas ended up being.
Tom: Maybe it's just related to my kooky theory of defense, that it's more about A) denying easy plays and B) then talent, while offense is more about scheme.
Mike: Scheme is pretty hugely important. I think scheme rather than talent is what kept Dallas above .500. So I will give Marinelli credit for that, even if the results were often extremely ugly.
Tom: I've actually enjoyed watching the Cowboys play this year. Well, the offense more than the defense. My eye is naturally drawn more to that side of the ball anyway.
Tom: The AFC West was the division were we did the best, both 3-1 and missing the Chiefs (9 wins, 8.0 over/under). Andy Reid and Dave Toub are both in fact sorcerers, as we thought they might be.
Mike: Dark, dark magic.
Tom: Finally, the NFC West. Arizona confounded both of us to finish 11-5, well over their 7.5 over/under total. San Francisco's over/under of 10.5 felt high to both of us, and they indeed finished 8-8.
Mike: If Detroit was the great surprise of this season, Arizona has to be the great tragedy.
Tom: The great tragedy would have been if Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both got hurt earlier and you saw a 2012-like season where a strong defense paired with a dismal offense and went like 4-12. Or maybe I'm just saying that because the team I root for hasn't made the postseason in the past six years.
Mike: I strongly suspect that has something to do with it.
Tom: We discussed this during the season. I thought our numbers were right, that even when Arizona was at their best they were just doing enough to skate by on a thin and fragile formula. I mostly enjoy seeing teams like that get their comeuppance. That may make me a bad person.
Mike: Eh, what's one more thing on the list?
Tom: True, that I'm a bad person is really overdetermined.
I'm really curious to see what San Francisco does this offseason. It feels like a very important one for them.
Mike: It's probably for the best that Harbaugh is gone, honestly.
Tom: Obviously, they have a big decision to make on a new head coach, and I'm sure what he thinks about Colin Kaepernick and how they can successfully play will have a lot to do with what they do.
Mike: They need to reload, and the new coach will have an opportunity to help mold that process, similar to Carroll's role in Seattle.
Tom: Do they try to rebuild the offensive line and go back to the heavy run game plan Harbaugh and Greg Roman preferred, or do they try to turn Kaepernick into a more polished passer? Are Vic Fangio and/or Jim Tomsula still part of the defense, and will it work as well without Justin Smith?
Harbaugh's high-tension persona seems to make him better suited for college and dealing with college students he can pick.
Mike: It's much easier to get results screaming at kids over whose future you have complete control, as opposed to well-paid, union-represented professionals.
Tom: I think there's a little more to it than that, but whatever.
Overall: my best divisions were the AFC East, AFC South, and AFC West, where I went 3-1. Your best divisions were the NFC South and AFC West, also 3-1. The three teams I mentioned I might actually bet money on -- Atlanta, Carolina, and Green Bay -- I did get right. Unless you have anything else, I think that's another season of over/unders that can safely be forgotten.
Mike: I hate losing to you, so yes.
FO Staff Playoffs League Update
Tom: You're currently winning the staff league, with seven players left. You lead Scott, who's down to five players, by 57 points.
Mike: I can't believe I'm leading. I also can't believe it'll hold with 0 points from my RB1.
Tom: Well, you had everybody* play. I had seven players on bye teams. I'm OK with being in last. I expected to be. We are basically just getting started, and the results of this week of action will go a long way towards determining which of us actually have a good chance to win. We are all still in it.
|FO Playoff Fantasy Update|
|QB||Tom Brady||Russell Wilson||Peyton Manning||Tony Romo||Aaron Rodgers|
|RB||Marshawn Lynch||DeMarco Murray||Shane Vereen||Eddie Lacy|
|RB||Jonas Gray||LeGarrette Blount||Justin Forsett||Jonathan Stewart||C.J. Anderson|
|WR||Jordy Nelson||Demaryius Thomas||Emmanuel Sanders||Dez Bryant||T.Y. Hilton|
|WR||Brandon LaFell||Doug Baldwin||Randall Cobb||Kelvin Benjamin|
|WR||Terrance Williams||Torrey Smith||Reggie Wayne||Julian Edelman||Wes Welker|
|TE||Greg Olsen||Coby Fleener||Jason Witten||Rob Gronkowski||Julius Thomas|
|K||Adam Vinatieri||Connor Barth||Stephen Haushcka||Dan Bailey||Stephen Gostkowski||Mason Crosby|
Best of the Rest
Thanks to being the sole person to select the Ravens and earn a wild card-round high 9 points for it, surebrec leads a very crowded field with 91 points, just ahead of puffbronfman's 88. Full results for all teams can be found here, with players still active in the postseason highlighted in bold.
Keep Chopping Wood: Picking on Ryan Lindley would be pretty much barrel-fishing, so instead the dubious honor goes to DeMarcus Lawrence, who attempted to return a fumble in which returning a fumble did very little good and had the ball stripped from him by Lions offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, to give Detroit back what life they had before the fumble he recovered. As Marlon McCree could tell you, just get the ball and fall down.
Mike Martz Award: In true Martzian spirit, Bruce Arians challenged that a Cam Newton incompletion was actually a fumble late in the third quarter of Saturday's game, with Carolina leading 27-14. Was he challenging that Arizona recovered the ball? No, for they did not. Instead, he was not content to simply see the Panthers in third-and-20 after an incompletion but wanted to see them in third-and-even longer, and thought it was worth a challenge to do so. There was a bit of logic there, in that Carolina could have moved into field goal range with some yardage on third down, but whatever slim logic there was was eliminated by the fact that Arians had essentially no chance of actually winning the challenge. Honorable mention to Jim Caldwell, who continues to take his strategic direction from the Phil Simms School of Always Kicking. Heck, his postgame comments indicated he might have still punted on fourth-and-1 in Cowboys territory if the Lions were losing. We'll just let you think about that for a while.