Scramble for the Ball: Panic! at the Disco
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, the column where everything's made up and the stats don't matter. We're one-eighth of the way into the season, which of course means that your team is DOOMED!
Andrew: Your quarterback is terrible! And he's hurt, and the backup's even worse! And now he's hurt too! And your running back has butterfingers, your receivers can't get open, and your defense can't stop anyone!
You dread a home game against the Cleveland Browns! Wait, you ARE the Cleveland Browns! NOOOOO!!!
Bryan: I'm pretty sure the Cleveland Browns are just an urban legend parents tell their children to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Andrew: Couldn't we say that about pretty much the entire state of Ohio? I mean, from where I'm sitting it seems like we could, but that's only an impression.
Bryan: Watch out, or we'll dump some more tea into the harbor.
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One stat people love to throw around this time of year is the fact that only 12 percent of teams that start the season 0-2 go on to make the playoffs. Clearly, getting off to a slow start just kills a team's chances, and shoots their momentum dead, right?
Andrew: I feel another YouTube montage coming on, but we already hit our quota in the opening three comments.
Bryan: Our crack team of researchers looked into this (i.e., I got bored watching the Bears sputter to a halt on Monday night). Turns out, there's not really any magical significance to when they occur. Teams that lose two consecutive games at any point in the season turn out to not be that great overall!
|Consecutive Losses & Playoff Chances by Week|
|0-2 in Games||Playoffs||Missed||Playoff %|
Andrew: Teams that go on losing streaks aren't usually that great? What number-crunching madness is this?!?
Though I note that 12 percent is around a one-in-eight chance, and we have exactly eight 0-2 teams this year. Uncanny.
Bryan: The NFL has been putting 12 teams in the playoffs for 26 years now, going back to 1990. In only nine of those years have no 0-2 teams made the playoffs, so odds are someone's going to recover. We saw the Seahawks and Texans pull out of 0-2 starts last year; who joins them this year?
Andrew: Not Cleveland.
Bryan: That goes without saying.
Andrew: After last week's Lock of the Week, that's as brave as my prognostication is getting. With Josh McCown's shoulder injury coming one week after Robert Griffin's shoulder injury, Cleveland is basically guaranteed to have started five different quarterbacks in five straight games going back to last season, tying a league record.
Bryan: I'm kind of excited to see who comes next. Do they make a phone call to Johnny Football? What's Bernie Kosar doing these days?
Andrew: You're excited to learn who the Browns are going to start at quarterback? In Week 3? You need a holiday.
Bryan: I collect bad quarterback play like connoisseurs collect fine wines. You can keep the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the world; give me J.T. O'Sullivan and Craig Krenzel any day of the week.
Andrew: Oh, I forgot, you're a 49ers fan who lives in Chicago. It has been a lean few decades.
Bryan: Watching Blaine Gabbert week in and week out probably means I did something wrong in a previous life.
One team that doesn't have to worry about that is Indianapolis, right? We're pretty sure Andrew Luck is still a good quarterback?
Andrew: He hasn't been totally Carred by the Colts line just yet, but he's not playing at his 2014 level either. For a young quarterback to play two consecutive seasons below his previous best form is perhaps not the greatest indicator for the future.
Bryan: I'd be more concerned about their lack of warm bodies at cornerback if I were in Indianapolis, but still. They play in the AFC South, right? They've gotta have the best chance of turning things around.
Andrew: Out of the eight 0-2 teams yes, they definitely have the best chance. Houston isn't bad, but the rest of that division is a bad joke in a way that, say, the AFC East simply isn't. Though Buffalo is trying! That still won't be enough for Miami though.
Bryan:: Firing Greg Roman is a proven method to bring prosperous times to a franchise. Just look at San Francisco!
Andrew: Of our other options, let's see … Jacksonville NOPE NOPE NOPE. Washington's division looks surprisingly way tougher than a Romo-less Cowboys would normally make it look. New Orleans is in cap hell and is another team with a good quarterback but random warm bodies at cornerback.
Bryan:: Chicago's no good, either; there were some cheers when Jay Cutler went out, and now they're playing "will he or won't he?" with his injured thumb. I wouldn't be shocked if we never saw Cutler in a Bears uniform again.
I'd actually take that New Orleans team as my second-most-likely 0-2 team to make some noise down the stretch. Their defense is absolutely abysmal and looks to continue to be so, but we've seen Drew Brees win shootouts before. I mean, I'm fairly certain that they'll be sitting on the couch with the rest of us come January, but if I had to choose among this motley crew, I think they'd be the one I'd take after Indy.
Andrew: I appreciate your faith. I started the season optimistic, but there's just something about home losses to the Raiders…
Bryan: I mean, I wouldn't bet the farm on it or anything, but there are far less likely scenarios than a Super Bowl XLIV rematch this season. Like Case Keenum completing a pass more than 5 yards downfield.
Andrew: OK, pairing that last comment with your expressed admiration for J.T. O'Sullivan and excitement about Cleveland's quarterback situation, you're really starting to worry me.
Bryan: I shall accept no slander of the pride of UC Davis.
Andrew: Aaanyway, on the subject of losing teams...
Loser League Update
Quarterback: It looks like Jay Cutler will miss some significant time with a right thumb sprain, so this might be the last time he appears in this space for a while, but he had a truly rotten game before coming out. Cutler was 12-for-17 with 157 yards and a terrible pick. That'll get you 3 points, and I don't think anyone would be stunned if we never see Cutler behind center in Chicago again.
Running Back: For the second week in a row, Adrian Peterson finds himself atop the Loser League rankings. Peterson had just 19 yards on 12 carries, with 7 more yards on two receptions, before leaving the game with a torn meniscus. He ended up with just 1 point on the day.
Wide Receiver: Five players ended up hitting 0 points this week. Braxton Miller, Dontrelle Inman, Eli Rogers, and Donte Moncrief performed the feat with just one catch for less than 10 yards, while Davante Adams took the road less traveled, with 26 receiving yards but fumbling one of his three receptions. Here at Football Outsiders we know that fumble recovery is pretty much a 50/50 shot, so Adams gets penalized for losing the ball even though Green Bay ended up recovering.
Kicker: The Cleveland Browns ended up losing to the Ravens by just five points, and Patrick Murray didn't exactly help. Murray's second extra point was blocked and returned the other way for two, and he missed a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter as well; that's a six-point swing. He led the way among kickers with a whopping minus-5 loser league points.
The Loser League page is now updated for 2016, and you can check out your team's score here.
Keep Choppin' Wood: In a week without any real standout boneheaded plays -- Chicago had a couple of really dumb penalties and Connor Barth missed a 31-yard field goal, and Christine Michael had a bad fumble late in a failed comeback attempt, but those are just run-of-the-mill bad rather than exceptionally stupid -- I'm going to break with tradition slightly and give this to the NFL league office. Excessive celebration and taunting penalties often annoy me at the best of times, but when Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters was penalized for taunting for wagging his finger on Sunday, Twitter user Patrick Quaife was quick to point out that the league had actually used a gif of J.J. Watt wagging his finger to advertise the game on social media that very morning. The NFL has issues. Finger-wagging is not one of them. Officiating, on the other hand...
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Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: When the Eagles brought Chip Kelly from Oregon to the NFL, analytics media was abuzz with the potential implications of the hire for, among other things, fourth-down strategy in Philadelphia. Kelly did not set the heather on fire as expected, but his successor just might: Doug Pederson has made a couple of big fourth-down calls in his first two games, and been rewarded for both. Firstly, with a five-point lead against Cleveland in Week 1, the Eagles faced fourth-and-4 from the Browns 40. Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer has a great discussion of that decision here, but to summarize the Eagles converted with a 5-yard pass to Zach Ertz, then scored a touchdown on the following play. Against Chicago, leading by 15, Pederson was again faced with a decision on fourth down -- this time fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Again, the Eagles went for it but Darren Sproles was stuffed -- or was he? An offside penalty against Akiem Hicks gave Philadelphia a second chance, Pederson went for it again, and this time Ryan Mathews scampered around left end for a 1-yard touchdown and a 29-7 lead. We'll see if Pederson continues to be this aggressive when he faces the league's better teams, but for now the signs are definitely encouraging.
Honorable mention too for Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who went for a fourth down in field-goal range against Minnesota but failed. That three-point difference was the game's final margin, but hopefully McCarthy won't be discouraged from trying again.
Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching:: Todd Bowles isn't getting too much flack this week after his Jets won on Thursday, but he may want to spend some time brushing up on his two-point conversion chart. Late in the fourth quarter, Matt Forte scored his third touchdown of the game to make the score 36-24 -- a 12-point margin. The classic two-point conversion chart says to go for two. Any advanced statistical take you look at says to go for two. With only four minutes left in the game, there are essentially no situations where a 12-point lead is any different than a 13-point lead, while a 14-point lead keeps you safe from insane comeback shots. Bowles opted to kick, going up 13, and it nearly came back to bite him -- the Bills got the ball back down six, albeit with ten seconds left to go in the game. Bowles has admitted that he blew the call, so hopefully, he'll improve going forward.
"That Stat CAN'T Be Right" Fantasy Player of the Week: Russell Wilson failed to throw a touchdown pass against the Rams. That's surprising in and of itself, but it also broke his streak of 17 consecutive games with a passing touchdown, which had led the league. Who takes over, you ask? Not Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers or Ryan Fitzpatrick, all stuck down at a measly 11. No, it's Blaine Freaking Gabbert, with a 12-game streak stretching all the way back to 2013 in Jacksonville. Gabbert rightfully gets a lot of flack for his play -- setting the all-time negative DYAR record in 2011 will do that -- but for now, he's leading the league in at least one positive statistic.
Jon Snow (We Know Nothing) Lock of the Week
Andrew: I already mentioned officiating earlier, so I'll just have a brief moan about the appalling OPI call against Eric Ebron to deny the Lions a touchdown that would have not only won this game, but also covered the spread. (Yes, I'm oversimplifying massively.) There, done. Now we can all move on.
This week, I'm taking New Orleans minus-3 against Atlanta, because given the hilarity in Jacksonville I'm all in on the Saints still being a semi-competent NFL team. Julio Jones is playing hurt and Matt Ryan looks less Matty Ice by the year, so if Drew Brees and company can't take this game comfortably at home I can safely cancel sports until October.
Bryan: I feel like I shouldn't take the same game you picked, though I agree with your reasoning. To be different, then, I'll go with Detroit plus-8 at Green Bay. The Packers haven't looked like the Packers we have been expecting so far this season. Aaron Rodgers' game against Minnesota might be the worst he's ever played, and even he will admit that the Packers haven't found their rhythm quite yet.
I think they'll win this week as they right the ship, but it feels like giving them eight full points is an overreaction to Detroit's performance against Tennessee last week. Detroit has the tools to keep up with Green Bay in a shootout, and I think they can stay within a touchdown when all is said and done.
Records so far:
Will: I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation, but Danny Woodhead's ACL tear really leaves me in a rough spot. I had been trying to draft low on running backs, and had been going with a Woodhead/DeAngelo Williams/Ameer Abdullah trio for my two slots. I obviously need to pick up some sort of replacement.
It's not a stellar list of available players, but here's who I've got for slim pickings: Theo Riddick (DET), Alfred Morris (DAL), Shane Vereen (NYG), James Starks (GB), and DeAndre Washington (OAK). Any help you could give would be well received!
Bryan: I'd jump on Theo Riddick as fast as I could at the moment, because you've really got two problems there. Ameer Abdullah has an injured foot, and he could miss an extended period of time as well. That makes Riddick the starter for now in Detroit, so if he's still out there, take him while you can! However, that still leaves you with just two healthy running backs, and you're probably going to have to go week-to-week and really work that waiver wire to stay competitive; that's what happens when you don't spend the draft capital there. Of the names you listed, I think Shane Vereen has the best chance of having a good day in some slim pickings; he got 17 touches against New Orleans, so at least he's seeing the ball some. Check to see if Fozzy Whittaker is available, though -- with Jonathan Stewart missing some time, you could get some value out of the Carolina offense with Fozzy.
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Andrew: I agree. Riddick's your priority, then particularly if the league's PPR, Vereen's worth considering. Work it week-to-week, pick up backups on teams who are likely to win big, and watch for injury or performance news.
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