Scramble for the Ball: Mellow Gold
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Four weeks down, only five to go! No, I'm not talking about Daylight Savings, length of time until the Browns are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Chuck Pagano's job security, or anything else to do with the real NFL season. I am, of course, referring to Loser League 2016, Part I.
Bryan: And what a competition it has been. We have seen some truly dreadful performances this year, as players all around the NFL compete for that coveted Loser League MVP trophy.
Andrew: What's most impressive, of course, isn't the individual bad performances. Everybody has an off day, and sometimes that's enough to get your name in bold below. What is much more difficult is to repeatedly put up loser-worthy performances, yet still do enough to get on the field; to keep the faith of your coaches and teammates so you keep getting handoffs and your quarterback keeps looking your way, yet still your numbers, ultimately, suck.
Bryan: Fresh from the Scramble for the Ball mainframe, cleverly concealed amidst the rubble of what used to be Candlestick Park, I have here the list of the very worst of the worst -- your September Loser League leaders. Let's play a little game here, Andrew. Can you guess who's at the top of the list? You have a wide, wide variety of, shall we say, interesting performances to choose from.
Andrew: *In my best Jeremy Irons voice* I despise guessing games.
Oh, go on then.
Bryan: Let's start at quarterback. I'll give you an easy out here -- somehow, it's not Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite his six-interception game from two weeks ago.
Andrew: Case Keenum, surely.
Bryan: A very strong guess. Keenum's Week 1 performance against San Francisco was the stuff of nightmares, with his three points being the best score on opening day. But he's not actually the worst so far.
Andrew: In that case, I'm going to guess that Tyrod Taylor's rushing value does just enough to elevate him over Keenum's opposite number that fateful September day, and make my actual guess Blaine "it didn't convert but at least it wasn't intercepted" Gabbert.
Bryan: Taylor, believe it or not, has scored more points than just taking the penalty every week. So, technically, Tom Brady would have been a better choice in Loser than Taylor would have been, so far. But no, the answer is actually Smokin' Jay Cutler, despite missing the last two weeks with a thumb injury.
Andrew: Even with the penalty two weeks running? Wow, that won't hold up.
Bryan: His performances were just that bad. He scored a lowly three points against Philadelphia, and his 13 points against Houston weren't exactly worth writing home about, either. Keenum and Fitzpatrick are your bottom two among players who have actually played in all four games, and they'll probably be better options going forward, but they can't match Cutler's 46 points so far.
Andrew: So does that mean that the optimal lineup was Cutler and Fitzpatrick, with Cutler scoring low for Weeks 1 and 2 and Fitzpatrick for Weeks 3 and 4?
Bryan Actually, Keenum was your low scorer in the first two weeks; it's his 20-point day against Arizona on Sunday that has allowed Cutler to slip into the lead. Maybe the penalty should be rougher for quarterbacks who miss the cutoff.
Andrew: Who would have guessed that playing the Cardinals would be the recipe for dragging your quarterback out of the mire? There's hope for ol' Blaine yet!
Bryan: Our top running back, at least, avoided penalties. He earned his low score the old fashioned way: by being a backup with just enough carries to avoid the penalty each week.
Andrew: Well that complicates matters. My guess for the top spot is T.J Yeldon, since Chris Ivory is technically the starter.
Bryan: You have a nose for terrible football. Chris Ivory is a fantastic guess. Even with two penalty weeks, his score of 33 is currently the second-lowest in the league. He has earned a grand total of three points in the weeks he has been healthy enough to suit up, thanks in large part to his robust 2.2 yards per carry. That's what we in the business call "bad."
Andrew: I follow the Jaguars and the Saints. I'm a bloodhound for bad football. What we said the other week about celebrating awfulness was no joke.
Bryan: Spots two through six are filled with players you might have drafted for your actual team -- besides Ivory, there's Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Todd Gurley, and Latavius Murray, all between 33 and 37 points.
Andrew: Lacy, I would have guessed. Not scoring touchdowns is bad news for a starting running back in fantasy. Peterson will be heavily penalized in the next few weeks, while Gurley is on a bad offense and Murray will probably be OK.
Bryan:Here's your last hint: one team has both the worst and ninth-worst backs, and neither are likely to be in the top 10 at the end of the year.
Bryan: Close, but no cigar. The Ravens just released Justin Forsett, who is in ninth place with 41 points. That means more opportunities for Terrance West, whose 113-yard day against Oakland last week isn't yet enough to offset his early-week backup role. At 29 points, he's leading the way for the losers at the moment. You might be best off with a combination of Ivory, Gurley, and Murray going forwards, which depresses me. I took Gurley first overall in one of my fantasy leagues, after all.
Andrew: You're veering very close to derangement with that admission.
Bryan: Averaging just 2.6 yards per carry: just Gurley things, apparently.
Have any guesses for the wide receivers? A handful of players put up zeros each and every week, so penalties don't come into play here.
Andrew: Every week? We surely don't have five receivers with big fat zeros for the year! Albert Wilson of the Chiefs and Quinton Patton of the 49ers are definitely contenders. Jermaine Kearse would be another.
Bryan: Right again! Patton is in a three-way tie for second place with a whopping nine points. 49ers fans have been waiting for Patton to break out for two or three years now, and it's just not happening. San Francisco really has no passing offense to speak of, do they? Wilson and Kearse are good guesses, but each took a penalty once, which is more than enough to send them out of contention.
Andrew: Golden Tate and Dez Bryant are candidates who were probably hot commodities in your real fantasy draft. And Tavon Austin, a player I drafted in my real league, but on whom I fortunately did not use a remotely high pick. I haven't started him once.
Bryan: Tate's another one in that logjam in second place; he is yet to top 100 receiving yards on the year. Tavon Austin actually had an 80-yard receiving day against Tampa Bay, and Bryant's knee kept him out against San Francisco. Tyler Boyd of Cincinnati is the third member of the three-way tie for second place, but there's one guy who surpasses them all. Think "quarterback shuffling."
Andrew: Ah, namesakes for the win. Andrew Hawkins, WR, Cleveland Browns. Poor guy never stood a chance.
Bryan: Bingo. Hawkins has scored 0, 2, 1, and 2 points so far this year. It's that kind of consistency that takes you far in Loserdom.
Andrew: So our Loser Lineup for Weeks 1 to 4 looks something like this:
That offense would fit quite comfortably into the NFC West.
Bryan: Ah, but you forgot our Loser League MVP. A kicker who is miles and miles ahead of his competition through four weeks.
Andrew: And you too could have owned him for only two 2016 mid-round draft picks!
[ad placeholder 3]
Bryan: Roberto Aguayo, come on down! Your two points put you well in the lead, far ahead of Connor Barth's 10. It has truly been a rookie debut for the ages, as the man who never seemingly never missed in college has missed two field goals and an extra point already this season. He hasn't made a field goal since Week 1. To be fair, they haven't been chip-shot attempts, but oof. That's the kind of performance Loser League GMs and scouts across the nation are looking for in their blue-chip kickers.
Finally, it's Scramble tradition to honor the best names our readers come up with for their teams. The Portrait of Dorial Green-Beckham had me laughing out loud, as did Spanos: The Hands of Fate. If you want to tickle my fancy, a stupid pun on "classic" media is always the way to go.
Andrew: I think you got the pick of the bunch there, but I also really appreciate Quixotic Smashmouth. Relentless idealism, unwarranted optimism, an unrealistic and impractical approach to the world -- that's Mike Mularkey's "exotic smashmouth" Titans to a "T."
Bryan: Best of luck to all our Loser League squads as we enter the second quarter of the NFL season; may the ball always bounce in your favor.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: If you were like me, you were more likely to have Matthew Stafford in your regular fantasy lineup than your loser league lineup. This was a mistake, as his pair of interceptions not only doomed his team in real life, but set him to a Loser League-leading 7 points this week.
Running Back: We have our first zero of the year at the running back position! Charles Sims managed just 25 yards on 15 carries, which is bad in and of itself, but it was his strange fumble, where it looked like he was trying to pitch the ball back to Jameis Winston, that gets him the goose egg.
Wide Receiver: On the other hand, zeroes are common for wide receivers, and seven players achieved that score this week: Golden Tate, Jaron Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Humphries, DeSean Jackson, Kamar Aiken and Bennie Fowler. Fowler was the only one held without a catch, while Aiken achieved the difficult feat of having three receptions for a grand total of 9 yards.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski is rightly considered one of the top kickers in the league, but even the best have off days. New England's stuttering offensive performance didn't give Gostkowski many opportunities to rack up points, and his 48-yard miss in the Patriots' shutout loss earned him a total of -2 points on the week.
The Loser League page is now updated for 2016, and you can check out your team's score here.
Keep Choppin' Wood: I'll just leave this here:
Explain this NFL pic.twitter.com/oKVComgB5D
— Kent Murphy (@KentMurphy) October 2, 2016
The league had only this to say about the, shall we say, curious ruling of a Washington recovery:
"The on-field ruling was a fumble, recovered by Washington," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said Monday. "It was confirmed as a fumble in instant replay without the need to stop the game. As to the recovery, several different angles were looked at, but with nothing definitive shown, there was no need to stop the game because the on-field ruling that awarded possession to Washington would have stood."
So that clears up basically nothing. Nobody with more than the faintest passing interest in the NFL will be surprised to learn that this occurred under the always watchful eyes of Jeff Triplette's crew.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: When Todd Bowles was the Cardinals defensive coordinator, Arizona had a reputation for bringing the heat instead of playing conservatively in critical late-game situations. They were given a taste of their own medicine on Sunday as Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dialed up a cornerback blitz on a last-ditch Cardinals Hail Mary. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton barely even got the pass away before the unblocked Lamarcus Joyner arrived, and his receivers had no chance to get into the end zone ahead of the ball. Safety T.J. McDonald caught an easy interception, and the Rams moved to the top of the division with the upset road win.
[ad placeholder 4]
Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching:: Jeff Fisher really doesn't get how to use the challenge flag. Twice against Arizona, Fisher threw his flag on balls that were fairly clearly incomplete passes, even taking into account the NFL's often Byzantine and confusing catch rules. A third-quarter bomb to Tavon Austin and a fourth-quarter sideline grab by Brian Quick were both fairly clearly incomplete, with multiple replays of each showing the ball hitting the ground. Fisher chose to throw the red flag both times, however, and cost his team two timeouts. Whoever Los Angeles has in the booth reviewing the replay and telling Fisher when to challenge may want to check out their local branch of LensCrafters this week.
"I Was Saying Kuh-erns" Fantasy Player of the Week: No one has been happier to see the fullback fall out of vogue than fantasy football players. The big nasties generally pick up only a handful of carries per game for a handful of yards, making them practically unrosterable. All they do, it seems, is steal touchdowns from your highly-touted first-round pick. Since he entered the league in 2006, no player has vultured more touchdowns than John Kuhn. For the 10th time in his career, Kuhn put up more fantasy points than yards from scrimmage, scoring three touchdowns on just 5 yards rushing and 7 yards receiving. Mark Ingram owners can begin the ritualistic rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.
Jon Snow (We Know Nothing) Lock of the Week
Bryan: Not a great showing for us last week, but when you're right 52 percent of the time, you're wrong 48 percent of the time. Even though the Broncos bucked me off last week, we have got to get right back on the horse.
I'm going to go ahead and take Dallas +1.5 vs. Cincinnati. Dak Prescott and company impressed me in their win over San Francisco. It's one thing for a rookie to win at home in a game he's leading; it's another to come back from a 14-0 deficit on the road, even if there was more Cowboy blue than 49ers red in the stands in Santa Clara last week. Cincinnati's a much tougher draw than the 49ers, he said, stating the obvious, but I'm beginning to think Dallas is for real. Ezekiel Elliot leads the league in rushing yards, and while that has come at the expensive of same bad defenses, it's the kind of thing that can really help a rookie quarterback. I think Prescott plays another solid game, beating Cincinnati in something of a shootout.
Andrew: You're way ahead of me, as every single team I have picked as favorites to cover the spread has somehow managed to lose outright. This is why I don't ever gamble. I'm flipping the script this week and taking Cleveland +11 vs. New England. I can't think of a funnier possible outcome for everybody who isn't a Patriots fan or employee than Tom Brady coming back and the Patriots getting whomped in Cleveland. Even if they don't, though, an 11-point spread is massive. Lest we forget, the last time the Patriots visited Cleveland Eric Mangini's Browns stomped Belichick's Patriots 34-14 behind the power running of Peyton Hillis and the quarterbacking of Colt McCoy. I don't expect a repeat of that by any stretch of my imagination -- Joe Thomas is about the only Browns player left from that game -- but I hope Cleveland can at least keep it as interesting as they have in every game since the opening day defeat to Philadelphia.
Records so far:
At the start of each season, every single NFL team has hope. This is the year that the rebuilding project comes together, or that Former First-Round Bust finally realizes their potential and goes on a tear through the league. Throughout September, even the most dire teams can hold onto hope that their season will turn around. When the chill of October starts to hit, however, reality sets in. While no team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until halfway through the season, it's time for even the most optimistic fans of some teams to throw in the towel and wait till next year.
That's why today, we're saying farewell to the playoff hopes of the Cleveland Browns, a team that has specialized in getting their fans very, very interested in the basketball preseason for many recent Octobers. Being the only team with an 0-4 record is bad enough, but being a team with an 0-4 record in a division with three legitimate playoff contenders essentially ends any chance they had this season. To add insult to injury, the quarterback they passed on in the first round, Carson Wentz, so far seems to have been the real deal. When Matt Jones plowed into the end zone to give Washington a two-score lead late in the fourth quarter last week, it became apparent that this just might not be Cleveland's year.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 2, 2016
But let's not dwell on what makes Cleveland terrible. They're not dead-last in DVOA; Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are averaging better than 6 yards per carry; they have been more competitive than in recent years; and their front office at least seems to have a semblance of a plan. So have hope, Cleveland fans! While 2016 is yet another in a long, tortuous, awful, mind-numbing series of bad seasons, at least there is a blueprint for the future. It's game over for you this year, but seeing the Browns embrace analytics and make positive steps forward: it fills you with determination.
Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, ways to pass the time when both of your teams are on the same bye week, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.