Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders
Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to another year of Scramble for the Ball -- 15 years strong, with about as many correct predictions. Like we do almost every year, we're going to open with a series of columns looking at the over/under betting lines for each NFL team's win totals. It's an opportunity to refresh our memory about expectations for the upcoming season, reveal tidbits we learned while researching Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 (cheap plug!), and generally make cheesy jokes and inane hypotheticals.

Andrew: Fortunately, this isn't Twitter, so there's no chance of our inane hypotheticals starting more fires than our cheap plugs. This being preseason, excuse us as we get back into the routine, and try to remind each other that jokes are meant to be funny to more than just the two of us. Predictions are made solely for entertainment purposes, and should not be considered financial advice of any kind.

Bryan: Except that they're all going to be 100 percent correct ...

Andrew: ...even the ones we disagree on ...

Bryan: ...ESPECIALLY the ones we disagree on. You should rush out now and get in on this. Go! Go! Go!

(All lines courtesy of Bovada and were accurate at time of writing.)



Bryan: There ought to be a law against whole-number over-unders. There's a huge difference between a 5-11 team and a 7-9 team, and yet, that's basically what this line is asking us to pick for Buffalo. Never mind that they actually went exactly 6-10 three years in a row a few years back.

Andrew: Buffalo's situation is bizarre. The owner is relatively new. The head coach was sacked after last season. They almost replaced their starting quarterback, and seem like they can't wait to finally jettison him. They lost their top cornerback to their biggest division rival. Yet other than the Patriots, they're probably in the best position of any franchise in the AFC East right now.

Bryan: 6-10 is a strangely low bar to set for the Bills. They haven't hit the "under" on this since 2010, and I can't point to a ton of ways they got worse over this past offseason.

Andrew: Losing Gillislee and Gilmore hurts, but it's not on the same level as losing, say, LeSean McCoy or Tyrod Taylor. I'd credit them with the best offensive line in the division, a clear and obvious philosophy on offense, and some pretty useful pieces on defense.

Bryan: I'm also a fan of their new administration, with Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane coming up from Carolina. They built a heck of a defense down there, and I think, given enough time (and hopefully without too much meddling from ownership), they're going to turn Buffalo into... something respectable, at any rate. I will never understand what they were doing last year with Tyrod Taylor, who is probably the most underrated starting quarterback in the league. Having some sense of stability on the sidelines and in the front office has to help, right?

Andrew: Not having Rob Ryan on the sidelines has to help. McDermott ought to be a clear upgrade simply by virtue of not being a Ryan brother. Key pieces returning, improved coaching, a better defense, and two struggling divisional opponents sounds like more reason for optimism than Bills observers are used to.

Bryan: Tell me where this falls apart: McDermott's scheme is able to mask some talent deficiencies on defense, and get the most out of the rubble of what Ryan left behind. Sammy Watkins and Anquan Boldin serve as a solid one-two punch for Taylor, and McCoy stays just as effective as he was last year at age 29. They mostly hold serve at home (excluding New England), sweeping the Jets and Dolphins. They rise to 10-6, McDermott becomes Coach of the Year, and they end the longest playoff drought in the NFL.

Andrew: That might be a step further than I'm willing to wager, but I share the reasoning. I think a solid 8-8 type season is more likely, with a few good wins at home and at least one divisional series sweep. That's still more than enough for the over though, and second place in the AFC East.

Bryan: I think so, too, but that scenario doesn't sound completely crazy. And for Bills fans, the playoffs not seeming "crazy" is a solid step up. They're probably a year or two -- and some more talent -- away from being serious contenders, but if the Dolphins could do it last year, why not Buffalo in 2017? The more I think about it, the more six wins seems way too low for this team. I'll take the over as well.


(Note: Bovada removed Miami from the board due to Ryan Tannehill's partially torn ACL. They had previously been at 7.5.)

Bryan: 2017 Miami Dolphins football: feel the excitement!

Andrew: Is it safe to use the word "deflating" again when discussing the AFC East? This has to be a pretty deflating outcome for the Dolphins. The team secures its first playoff season since 2008, and only its second since 2001, but they lose their starting quarterback just before the postseason. It's supposedly a minor injury -- though no ACL injury is ever truly minor -- so he doesn't have surgery, tries to let it heal naturally, and aggravates it just in time to miss the entire following campaign. It's so typically non-Patriots AFC East: even the good things they achieve have just about the worst possible consequences.

Bryan: Here's the thing, though. I think I would have taken the under on 7.5 even with a healthy Tannehill. 10-6 was a pretty major overachievement last year; they only had 7.5 Pythagorean wins. Add a bit of a tougher schedule (facing the AFC West and NFC South, getting second-place opponents rather than fourth-place opponents, losing a home game for The London Experiment), and I would expect a significant fall back.

Andrew: Maybe, but you'd also hope for a bit of progress and a better opening month. The schedule is slightly tougher, but still hardly a murderer's row other than the Patriots. I'd say seven or eight wins sounds just about right for that roster, and wouldn't quibble over falling on either side of the line.

Bryan: That's the thing though -- if I'm looking for a "bit of progress," I'm looking for something that the team did particularly well to build on, or something they did particularly poorly to improve on. The Dolphins are just kind of a big ball of "adequate," and that's not really something inspiring me to pump their win total up. I have significant questions about their offensive line; we just had a multi-part series on why Jarvis Landry is overrated, and Tannehill hasn't yet taken that next step in his development. Not that he'll be taking many steps now on a torn ACL, but you see what I'm saying. I think six to eight wins made a lot of sense before, and I didn't really see much of a hope for them to duplicate that 10-6 record from a year ago. They were 8-2 in one-score games last year! That wasn't going to continue!

Andrew: Right, but adequately adequate has 8-8 written all over it. Or did. Now it has Jay Cutler's winning smile all over it. Whatever you think of Ryan Tannehill, you'd hope he's better than an unretired would-be broadcaster. NOW I'm taking the under.

Bryan: I get that Cutler has familiarity in Adam Gase's system and that it's pretty explicitly a one-year rental. Still, a 34-year-old, retired quarterback coming off of a torn labrum? At least Scramble has its mascot for the year, as we could probably run a "Jay Cutler Face of the Week" award and knock off early. Under, assuming the eventual line sticks in the general vicinity of 7.5.


Andrew: Genuine question: using our book designations (QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, F7, DB, ST), is there any unit where the Patriots don't have at least the second-best position group in the division?

Bryan: I'd say yes at running back, with LeSean McCoy up in Buffalo and Jay Ajayi in Miami, but New England just improved there this offseason by adding Mike Gillislee.

Andrew: Even McCoy and Ajayi are individual players though, not a group. As a group, the Patriots are loaded. If Gillislee gets hurt, they can fall back on Rex Burkhead -- who I loved as a signing for them, even as I was deeply disappointed that the Saints didn't sign him. If they lose both, they still have shoulda-been Super Bowl MVP James White, the versatile and dangerous Dion Lewis, and others besides.

Bryan: You can make an argument for the front seven, too, but we're really just picking nits. There's a reason they blow everyone else away in all the DVOA projections; you take the best team from last season, make them somehow better, and expect that to be fair. The AFC East has been and will remain the least interesting division in football, because of course the Patriots are going to win. Who else could possibly win? It feels patently unfair. I don't know if they have the highest ceiling in the league, but they certainly have the highest floor.

Andrew: I don't want to overegg this pudding, but this roster is so strong and deep, and the rest of the division so weak, that it wouldn't be out of the question for the Patriots to lose their top quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver, defensive lineman, linebacker, and defensive back and still win the division by four clear games.

Bryan: All that being said, 12.5 wins is crazy high. Even the Patriots have only done that once in the past five seasons. It feels somewhat unreasonable to predict any normal team to lose fewer than four games in a year, especially if they'll likely have everything wrapped up by Thanksgiving. But the Patriots aren't exactly a normal team, are they?

Andrew: I just don't see where four losses are going to happen. It's not only the best team in the league, but a complete mincemeat schedule, even out-of-division.

Bryan: At Pittsburgh in December is a good place to start looking, and then... uh. Road games in New Orleans or Tampa Bay? Traveling to Buffalo in November? Yeah, I think the Patriots are favored in all of those. They'll lose one or two more just by random chance; an off-day for the 40-year-old Brady; someone playing out of their minds. But four?

Andrew: They'll open 14-1, so no flawless season, allowing them to lose at home while resting their starters in Week 17 and cost the Jets a top-three pick in the process.

Bryan: There's also the non-zero chance that Tom Brady's arm could explode. The list of successful 40-something quarterbacks goes '97 Warren Moon, '04 Vinny Testaverde, '09 Brett Favre and bust at the moment. Still, it feels like I'm really, really reaching to come up with a scenario where the Patriots go worse than, oh, 11-5 or so. 12.5 is a crazy high number. It's unreasonable. It's in the stratosphere. I'm going over.

Andrew: Last year's team beat a playoff team -- a division winner, no less -- while starting a rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Even Brady's arm falling off won't stop them, unless it takes them four games to notice. I can't believe I'm taking the over on a 12.5 line. I also can't believe anybody's taking the under. Over.


Andrew: Egads. I was kidding about the Patriots resting their starters and losing in Week 17. Looking at this Jets roster, I wouldn't favor it against New England's practice squad. Against an actual NFL team?

Bryan: Let's try to stay positive here: how many good players are actually in a Jets uniform at the moment? Not players with potential, not veterans who were good five years ago. Actual, factual good players for 2017. There's Quincy Enunwaoh wait.

Andrew: The interior defensive line is outstanding. Maybe they can play both ways.

Bryan: You've got Bilal Powell, who finished third in rushing DVOA last year.

Andrew: Which tells you another strength: they have some good offensive linemen too.

Bryan: So, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Powell, James Carpenter. I'll throw in Morris Claiborne as well. Is that... is that it? Do the Jets only have five good players?

Andrew: Even that might be generous.

Bryan: Is there any chance at all that Mike Maccagnan or Todd Bowles keep their job after this year? Like, what does a successful season look like for this team?

Andrew: Remaining competitive? Purging the bad contracts? Seeing some guys do enough to earn roster spots for next year? We shouldn't be talking this way about a professional football team in August, with allowances for the Cleveland Exception.

Bryan: Even Cleveland feels like they have a plan in place, even if that plan is "please excuse our dust while we dig out from a decade and a half of bad decisions." The Jets may not be the worst team in football this year -- they do have some promising young talent in the secondary, and so forth -- but while the Patriots have the highest floor, I think the Jets have the lowest floor. This has the potential to be an absolute disaster of a team, though I like Vince Verhei's idea in FOA 2017 that the Jets will still somehow squeak to 5-11, lose their top pick, and basically fail at failing.

Andrew: Or somebody else unexpected -- could even be the division rival Dolphins -- will completely collapse and fall into the three-win cellar ahead of them.

Bryan: That's my call, then. The Jets go 4-12, someone somewhere else does even worse, and the Jets miss out on the top pick, which will become the next superstar quarterback. Four is under 4.5, if my advanced statistical analysis is correct, so we'll go with that.

Andrew: I agree with that. They'll scrape together just enough random wins to miss the top pick, but not enough to make them look competitive. Or, as Drew Magary so eloquently puts it:

When I think of the Jets human resources department, I think of a golfer stuck in a sand trap, shooting over the green into another sand trap, then shooting from that sand trap back into the ORIGINAL sand trap, then repeating that process forever.

That applies to more than just their coaching appointments. Under.

Bryan: Really, we're agreeing on all four AFC East teams? It really is the most predictable division. Let's move over to what should be the most competitive division in football.



Andrew: We're writing this article on a Tuesday. By the time it is published, we may actually know for sure how many (if any) games Ezekiel Elliott will be suspended to start his sophomore season. Alternatively, we may be no closer to a resolution. Analytics types often talk about running backs being largely interchangeable. How much of a difference do you expect Elliott's potential absence to make here? We're not quite at the "over with him, under without him" stage with Elliott, are we?

Bryan: It's so hard to pin down what the NFL is doing here; this investigation has been going on for more than a year and we're still waiting for closure. The Cowboys' schedule does have some pretty high-leverage games early on -- road trips to Denver and Arizona in back-to-back weeks -- so a loss of Elliott could be tough. When we say backs are interchangeable, we mostly mean you can find serviceable running games without too much effort. Elliott was much more than just serviceable a year ago, though, and the dropoff from him to Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris is significant. Dak Prescott was helped immensely by Elliott's success, putting him in favorable passing situations all year long. A long-term loss of Elliott would hurt in what should be a very competitive division.

That being said, it wouldn't shock me to see Elliott get a proverbial slap on the wrist and not miss any time. It all depends on how the NFL's "Wheel o' Morality" spins this time around.

Andrew: That September schedule, though -- if Elliott does miss the start of the season, he might be missing the toughest four-game slate of the year for his team.

Bryan: That's debatable, but that really just goes to show you how tough the Cowboys' schedule actually is. Look at how the season sends: Week 15 at Oakland on Sunday night, then a home game against Seattle, and then on the road to Philly. There's a reason we project them with the second-hardest schedule.

Andrew: There's also Kansas City and Atlanta back-to-back in midseason, and a home game against Green Bay in Week 5. I was initially a little surprised to see such a low over/under for what was a 13-win team last time out, but that schedule makes it easy to understand. Should be a lot of fun to watch though, as a neutral: six prime-time-quality out-of-division games, and perennially one of the most competitive in-division schedules in the league.

Bryan: I think the tough schedule will end up doing them in when it comes to their Super Bowl hopes -- it could easily be the difference between home-field advantage and having to travel to, say, Seattle or Green Bay in January. But I still really like the Cowboys going forward. I really liked their draft. I think the offensive line will absorb the loss of Ronald Leary and Doug Free without missing too much of a beat. I think Prescott will take another step forward with all that offensive talent around him. And I wish none of that was true, because I have too many awful memories of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith pounding on my 49ers in the early '90s. Ah well.

Andrew: The future sure does look bright. I'm not so sure they'll be all of that this year though. There were quite a few holes to fill on a team not noted for its depth. I do fancy them for six wins in Arlington, so my deciding factor here is whether I think they'll at least break even on the road.

Bryan: All the road division games are tough. At Arizona, Atlanta, and Oakland are all tough. At San Francisco is also tough, but more for me than for Dallas.

Andrew: That leaves Denver at Mile High, which is tough even when the Broncos aren't that great simply because of the environment.

Bryan: I think there's no chance they duplicate the 13-3 record from a year ago, but I still think they get to double-digit wins. And they'll need to, to take the division. A hesitant over, despite the schedule.

Andrew: Nine wins could be enough to take this division, which will beat the crap out of itself while enduring slugfests with every other common opponent. The Cowboys should get to nine wins, at least. Asking for more might be asking too much. I'll take an equally hesitant under.

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Andrew: I hope Eli Manning's health insurance policy is up-to-date.

Bryan: Because of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, or is this just general well-wishing?

Andrew: General well-wishing would be wishing that he didn't need a health insurance policy. This is something much more specific. Manning has flashed a near-miraculous ability to evade sacks in his career. He'll need to do more than just flash it this year.

Bryan: They've got arguably the best receiving corps in football -- adding Brandon Marshall to Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard -- but it would be nice if Manning had more than one and a half seconds to throw them the ball, for sure. Big stat from FOA 2017 that stands out to me: The Giants were No. 2 in three-and-outs in the NFL last year (31 percent of all drives). They went big, or they went home. WIth an aging Manning and no improvement at tackle, I'd be concerned about them going home all the more often.

Andrew: It would be nice if Manning got any support from the running game at all. Twenty-sixth in rushing DVOA, no back over 20 rushing DYAR (45 players achieved that for other teams), and a rotating cast in the backfield due to injuries and ineffectiveness.

Bryan: We're really slamming a team here that finished eighth in DVOA a year ago with the second-best defense in the league. Isn't it alright if the Giants just were roughly the same on offense this year? After all, they brought in Marshall and D.J. Fluker to try to bolster it up for one more go, and drafted Evan Engram in the draft to get them a better tight end than … … whatever a "Will Tye" is.

Andrew: It's something Donald Jr. might wear while discussing inheritance law with his attorney.

Bryan: Or a description of what teams will do now that overtime has been shortened to 10 minutes!

Andrew: I wrote at length about rookie tight ends in the Bucs chapter of FOA 2017 (available now!) because of how high some people are on O.J. Howard. Typically, tight ends just don't make that big of a difference in their rookie year. It's all blocking assignments and trench warfare until the coaches are comfortable letting them loose against defensive ends. Engram should be better than Tye's glorified fullback impression, but he's unlikely to have a massive immediate impact.

Bryan: For me, the big flashing warning light is the Plexiglass Principle. Some improvement after a couple years of poor defense was expected, but jumping from 10.5% to -15.0% DVOA in one year is a suspiciously large jump. If that falls back in any way, this could be a long season for the Giants. I'm not totally scratching out the odds of everything holding together and another playoff run, but it just feels like there are too many moving parts that could collapse. I'm going under.

Andrew: There are too many moving parts that will collapse on that offensive front for me to be comfortable projecting nine wins. I love the Marshall signing, especially for Eli Manning, but I do expect defensive regression and Manning isn't getting any younger. That said, it's now 2017 so they're on schedule for a six-seed wild card and resultant Lombardi trophy. Especially now that I've picked them for the under.


Bryan: Is there any way to do this segment without riling up Carson Wentz fans in particular?

Andrew: Who?

Bryan: Oh, you must not be familiar with Twitter. There's a passionate fanbase out there that thinks Wentz was just about the best thing to ever hit the NFL last season. I'm not sure if that's Wentz fans in particular or Philadelphia fans in general, but saying negative things about Wentz does seem to bring with it a... rather vocal opposition.

Andrew: I do actually know of whom you speak, because I've spent an inordinate amount of time giggling at our recently departed colleague Cian Fahey's timeline whenever Wentz comes up. Some of the arguments are... creative? Let's say creative. I'll concede that this is not a particularly good situation for a young quarterback, so in that respect he has coped okay.

Bryan: Lets stick to some facts for a moment. Wentz averaged just 3.21 air yards per completion last year, second-fewest in the league among quarterbacks with any notable sample size. That's just ahead of Jared Goff (because any statistic you can find puts you just ahead of Jared Goff), and right alongside Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, and Sam Bradford in the bottom six. Not exactly an awe-inspiring list of quarterbacks there. However, part of that is because his receiving corps was... I'm going to say "questionable."

Andrew: "Questionable" means you still have a chance of participating meaningfully in the game. The status of the 2016 Eagles receiving corps leans more in the direction of "doubtful."

Bryan: Philadelphia receivers dropped 39 passes last season, third-most in the league. While Wentz was dinking and dunking, some of that has to be from a sense of resignation; what's the point in throwing a deep pass that's just going to be dropped, anyway? Now that they've got Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and some rookies, we should expect Wentz to take a step forward, right?

Andrew: You're a 49ers fan who lives in Chicago. You tell me.

Bryan:Under. All the way under.

Andrew: And we didn't even mention the secondary.

Bryan: Oh, we HAVE to mention the secondary, or what they plan as passing off as a secondary.

Andrew: And now we have. Under.

Bryan: Things will get better in Philly; Wentz will go from replacement-level to average (maybe even good?) and the damage from the previous administrations will begin to be undone. Wait a few more years before getting your hopes up though, Philly fans, and don't @ me.

(Bryan's Twitter handle is @BryKno, and we strongly encourage you to @ him. -- Andrew)

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Bryan We said that the Buffalo Bills seem to hate their quarterback. If that's so, then what can you say about what's going on in Washington?

Andrew: I feel like there's a "rednecks and their Cousins" joke hovering out there just waiting to be snatched from the ether, but the British guy probably isn't the one to make it.

Bryan: As a nerd, I go for the Captain Kirk joke more readily, as it looks like he'll be boldly going to the San Francisco star system in about four months.

Andrew: Doubly apt, given the location of Starfleet Headquarters.

Bryan: Well, there's the 49ers chapter of FOA 2018 (not available now!) sorted.

We said that the New York Jets front office was floundering. If that's so, then what can you say about Washington's decision to fire general manager Scot McCloughan just before free agency began?

Andrew: Just another offseason in the life of one Daniel M. Snyder. Cousins apparently "doesn't feel at peace" signing a long-term deal, and who can blame him? Two of his three best receivers just left in free agency and were replaced with a guy the Browns let go. The GM who rebuilt the team -- his third excellent team-building job in his past three stops -- was fired in acrimonious circumstances, apparently to give the players and staff "clarity." Accusations and counter-accusations have been flying ever since, and nobody seems to know what really happened. Some opaque clarity that turned out to be.

Bryan: So, yeah, off the field, the situation in Washington is a disaster. And their football team doesn't seem to be in too great a shape, either. But. But. But... I kinda actually like Washington this year. Only this year! But still. They brought in Zach Brown, who had a great 2016 in Buffalo. D.J. Swearinger had a career season in Arizona, and he came over to shore up the secondary. Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee should help offset the loss of Chris Baker on the defensive line. They drafted Jonathan Allen 17th overall. That's quite a few defensive upgrades in one year!

Andrew: It's kind of a reverse Browns situation here, isn't it? This team is going to crumble back to its normal disastrous self, but not all at once: it will take them a few years to shed all the decent players McCloughan brought in or scouted.

Bryan: I'm excited for a year of the Cousins-to-Terrelle Pryor show. I'm excited to see what Brian Quick can do with an actual NFL quarterback. I'm excited to see it all crumble into dust after the season. You know what, to heck with it. Over.

Andrew: Brian Quick played with Sam Bradford in 2012 and 2013. It hasn't been Case Keenum and Jared Goff and Austin Davis all of his life. Even though it must feel like it. I remember quite enjoying the 2012 Rams, at least until Danny Amendola's inevitable injury.

Bryan: Here are all of Brian Quick's quarterbacks:

  • Case Keenum: 50 targets
  • Sam Bradford: 46 targets
  • Austin Davis: 34 targets
  • Jared Goff: 32 targets
  • Nick Foles: 26 targets
  • Kellen Clemens: 17 targets
  • Shaun Hill: 5 targets
  • Sean Mannion: 1 target

Free Brian Quick. Though, apparently, he's on the roster bubble per ESPN, so maybe it isn't all the quarterback play.

Andrew: Oh, so he still has a chance to end up on the 2017 Jets? Add Josh McCown and Bryce Petty to that list!

Bryan: Hasn't the poor man suffered enough? But with Enunwa down, this is definitely a thing that is going to happen.

Andrew: Getting back to Washington, I don't like all of the downgrades at receiver. Pryor was good for Cleveland, but DeSean Jackson he is not. They will miss Pierre Garcon -- and his four straight seasons over 750 yards -- more than they realize. Jordan Reed cannot stay healthy. The offense will probably be significantly worse than last year's fifth-placed ranking in DVOA, and I expect the defense to continue to rank in the early 20s. That, combined with a very tough out-of-division schedule, will be enough to knock two wins off their total. Under.

Bryan: So only two disagreements out of eight here, with me standing on the side of optimism and Andrew being our Negative Nelly. Every team can be above average, right? That's physically possible?

Stay tuned next week, when we head down South to check in on the other defending conference champion, and make sure you watch our Head Honcho Aaron Schatz on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Thursday night August 10 (one last cheap plug).

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, fantastic shots of Jay Cutler's morose face, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.


83 comments, Last at 21 Aug 2017, 2:05pm

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

It's kind of a reverse Browns situation here, isn't it? This team is going to crumble back to its normal disastrous self, but not all at once: it will take them a few years to shed all the decent players McCloughan brought in or scouted.

This is Dan Snyder's team. You are still underestimating his talent for completely bollixing the situation.

2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I don't get all the criticism for Washington deciding to not overpay to keep Cousins. Isn't that the mistake the Bears and Ravens did with Cutler and Flacco, respectively - moves that hurt in the long term (and didn't necessarily help in the short term, either).

It's Washington, so it may be that the fell ass backwards into a smart move due to organizational dysfunction, but it still strikes me as a smart move.

EDIT: I mean I don't get the widespread criticism; this article is actually fairly subdued.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

The problem for Washington is that in two seasons of franchising Cousins, they've paid him something like $44m over those two years. That's essentially what they would have paid on a longterm elite deal and they'd have had control over the next 2-5 years. If they structured it right they could then have had the option to cut him.

By not signing him to longterm, they now have a huge problem because if they franchise him a 3rd time he will get paid something like $30million for that year and still no longterm deal.

If they don't franchise him, he becomes a free agent and they have to bid for him. Do you think he'll give them the hometeam discount after the lack of faith they've shown in him? I know he won't.

If Cousins crashes and burns this coming year and has lower market value he'll still be a free agent and I'm sure teams will be willing to take a risk on him.

This is why Cousins and his agent were quick to sign the 2nd franchise tender because there is no real downside to doing so. Other than he has to play in Washington again and/or he might get a career ending injury.

Perhaps most importantly Washington's biggest mistake is that they didn't draft anyone who they could have been developing these past two years to replace him in a doomsday scenario.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

If you have an above average QB you pay him. If you have an average QB you pay him. Washington didn't and now, complete implosion aside, he's going to get all of the money. Of course, Washington have a plan to replace him so it's going to fine. Oh...

Couldn't happen to a nicer franchise

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Oh, I'm aware of all that. But at this point, Washington can't undo the past two years' worth of bad decisions - those are sunk costs. They can, however, avoid paying Cousins another $40-$50 million in guarantees.

So given that they didn't just extend Cousins for a more reasonable price two years ago, I think I generally agree with them not offering him what he is looking for this offseason.

15 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I'm confused ... how do they avoid paying Cousins another $40-50million guaranteed other than by letting him go?

And if they let him go, who do they replace him with? And how much will that person want?

(I agree that they can't do what they did last year. And it seemed reasonable to want to prove that he wasn't a one-year wonder. But a good GM would have the foresight to know how to avoid the outcome they're in now)

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

"I'm confused ... how do they avoid paying Cousins another $40-50million guaranteed other than by letting him go?"

Exactly. So they will, almost certainly, be letting him go next offseason instead of paying him $40-50 million guaranteed. And I think that's the right decision.

"Who replaces him?" is a valid question, and it's one that justified the Ravens' and Bears' extensions for Cutler and Flacco. And maybe going a year or two with a Brian Hoyer or Matt Moore or Ryan Fitzpatrick would while trying to find the long-term solution would have been a good bet.

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

That's essentially what they would have paid on a longterm elite deal and they'd have had control over the next 2-5 years.

But two years ago, would it have been sane to give Kirk Cousins that kind of money?

I can't fault them here. They weren't wrong to be skeptical. They're still not wrong to be skeptical. He's not that capable a QB. They wanted to take it year by year and hope for an outcome at either extreme that made the decision for them, and that's not what happened. They gambled and they lost. It happens sometimes.

* still agree with the sentiment that "it couldn't have happened to a nicer franchise" though.

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

It's not like they couldn't just rid of Cousins if he flops, which is why we always want to know the guarantees in NFL contracts rather than just years and totals. Heck the Skins are pretty famous for just dumping folks who flopped. So, the caution is both pointless and damaging (especially since there's no backup plan or upcoming "strong" QB draft).

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

If they had a Plan B for if they couldn't re-sign Cousins, then you'd have a solid argument here. But Colt McCoy and Nate Sufeld aren't plan Bs. And Cousins -- even if you only think he's a perfectly average quarterback -- is likely to lead Washington to a good enough record that they'll miss out on all the top prospects at the position in 2017, leaving them scrounging around for an emergency option. Ryan Fitzpatrick, perhaps?

A QB of Cousins' value is basically the entry fee for Super Bowl contention. He's not a "plus" guy -- "Washington has a great chance because they have Kirk Cousins under center!", but he's also not a "minus" guy -- "I'd like Washington, but how far are they going to go with Kirk Cousins?". There aren't 32 of those guys out there. When you have one, you lock them down -- or, at least, you don't go out of your way to upset them.

24 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Within the realm of Super Bowl contenders, I consider Cousins an extreme minus.

That's seriously moving the bar, of course, and I admit that. But if that's the case, is it wrong to not want to give him money commensurate with the + guys?

It's really a no-win situation.

(and to save a dual reply, re: the above Pryor conversation, perhaps it was all a diabolical move to lock down the next two years of franchise fees at a giant discount, since Pryor's WR tag number will represent a giant savings!)

25 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I will admit I'm biased in Cousins favor. One of the first articles I was ever paid to write, back in the 2013 offseason, was a #hottaek on why Kirk Cousins was going to end up being a better QB than Robert Griffin -- and this was coming off of Griffin's Pro Bowl rookie season. It's the one forward-looking prediction I've ever managed to get right, and there's a bit of tap-dancing around that one.

So that might color my evaluation of him some -- residual smugness! I still think Cousins is a top-10 guy, though. Or, at worst, top-15.

37 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Note: I was a Redskins fan when this happened

I remember seeing him holding up a Redskins jersey after being drafted, and though he was trying to smile, the look on his face said "I am disgusted about what's happening to me." That's when I realized how smart he was and I knew then that he had a better chance than anybody to not end up ruined by the Redskins.

35 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Yeah what standard are we using to judge qbs these days? Has Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers skewed perceptions so badly that you need to be at minimum Russell Wilson to deserve big money?

I feel confident after these last two years to say Kirk Cousins is above average at the very least. How many nlf qbs can you honestly say are better? 10 at most?

44 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I think in no particular order:

1) Cam Newton
2) Matt Ryan
3) Carson Palmer if you only cared about next year, but you shouldn't so not him.
4) Andy Dalton
5) Dak Prescott
6) Matthew Stafford
7) Aaron Rodgers
8) Andrew Luck
9) Tom Brady
10) Drew Brees
11) Eli Manning
12) Philip Rivers
13) Russell Wilson

All have a decent argument to be better than Cousins. You can certainly question some of those, but while Cousins is decidedly "average" for a starting NFL QB and is the perfect neutral, I really don't think he's in the top 10 sort of lists any more than Cutler or Flacco were at the time of their big signings.

I also don't think their signings were the tremendously terrible decisions they are being painted as, just as I don't think signing Cousins to a large deal would have been or would be now terrible.

It's fine to complain that Cutler was never worth his tremendously expensive horrific franchise destroying 17 million a year in retrospect if you want, but at the time he and the bears were a year removed from a NFC championship game against the SB winning packers with mediocre receiving talent.

It never panned out, but saying that was the time to cut and run from a QB and start rebuilding is a little silly. Same for SB champion Ravens.

Likewise, although no where close to that good (team wise), and with better receiving talent, moving on from Cousins is resigning yourself to a complete rebuild for several years to see the playoffs again, and I could see not doing that. Maybe signing Cousins instead means you bengals your way through 5 first round playoff losses, but frankly, the browns would fucking kill for Bengals crushing playoff loses.

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Adjusting to US Spelling is simple enough usually, but we had more than one instance of this kind of thing in editing for this year's Almanac -- idiomatic words and phrases that didn't stick on the other side of the Pond. I love language, so it's a lot of fun for me to still be learning just how different American English and British English are.

9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Hate the Dolphins preview, primarily because I agree with most of it. Miami have adequate/mediocre (you choose) mastered, and Cutler does nothing to change that. Better to have gone with Matt Moore-either you get broadly similar results for less money, or Moore gets hurt/sucks, and you get draft position.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

AFC least football feel the... oh just end the season now and put the Pats in the AFC championship game already. I really stopped pretending to care about this NFL season. Honestly I stopped caring this winter about this season, but the Tannehill injury took out all my false pretense out of me.

42 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Not by a long shot.

On offense, 2017 is better than 2007 only at TE, and only if Gronk stays healthy most of the season. At QB, Brady may be even wilier now than he was then, but he's lost a bit physically in ten years. Receivers, line, and running back are all advantage 2007.

On defense, it's closer to a wash. 2017 should be better at CB and about equal at safety. But 2007 was better on the front seven.

Special teams is probably a slight advantage to 2007.

This team is not getting a sniff at 16-0, despite being the likely best team in the AFC. Repeating at 14-2 would be a pleasant surprise.

43 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I'm doubting 16-0 as firstly it's bloody hard to do.

They're playing the AFC West this season which brings the 3 potential playoff teams in the Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs. Wouldn't even be surprised to see them trip up in the TNF opener against the Chiefs.

Think they can comfortably handle the AFC East teams and the Texans and Steelers.

The NFC South rematch with the Falcons will be interesting but not so sure the Panthers aren't on the road to implosion despite only being a season removed from the SB. The Saints and Bucs - meh.

Over half their schedule against playoff contenders if you include the Dolphins.

46 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

This is really interesting in that I think the argument for 16-0 is much less about the 2017 Pats being better than the 07 version, and much more about the team being a lot more low-variance. The 07 offense could do a lot of things reasonably well, but really wasn't that dynamic apart from the high-variance plays to Moss. By the same token the 07 defense was great at creating turnovers and sacks (Harrison and that front 7 were great at making big defensive plays, but the CB's were clearly vulnerable).
The 2017 team is definitely less explosive on offense (though Gronk + Cooks on the field will make some big plays), but they are definitely more flexible. The line was an underrated run-blocking group last year, lots of pass catching backs, and more depth at receiver. On the other side of the ball the 2016 Pat's defining trait was consistently competitive play (good tackling, keeping the ball in front of the safeties, good run fits/contain, limiting big plays etc...), it seems likely the 2017 team will be similar. Consider that the 07 Pats produced 37 turnovers on defense and the 16 Pats produced only 23, while giving up a similar number of points 274 in 07 vs. 250 in 16 with better field position in 16).
The theory goes that a team with a higher variance style like the 07 Pats has to be a lot better than a lower variance team to avoid a loss along the way to an inferior team. The 2017 focus on depth at a lot of positions (including QB) is a reflection of this philosophical difference. When you take this line of thinking to the Pats 2017 schedule, you see @Broncos, @Raiders, & @Steelers as the only chances for teams to go out and be better than the Pats, and the teams style is focused on eliminating the "randomness" losses that are so common in the NFL. I wouldn't put money on it without odds, but the 2017 Pats seem a lot more likely to go 16-0 than to challenge for a top 5 all time DVOA spot (which more people would be willing to see as possible).

49 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Talking intangibles ... I always felt the 2007 team was pissed off about what happened in the 2006 AFCCG. They seemed to be coasting to victory by middle of 2nd quarter with a 21-3 lead. Didn't expect the Pats offense to only score 13pts from there onwards and lose to Peyton who they 'always' beat.

I got the sense the Pats came into 2007 with a huge chip on their shoulder about that. Hence they got accused of running up the score (against Buffalo I think) and had scored 331pts by halfway. And of course Spygate erupted and that was just another point in the fortress mentality.

What extra motivation do the 2017 team have? Beyond wanting to win a SB and Belichick's foot up their arse which they have every year.

51 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

The betting market thinks your greatly under-estimating the Pat's chances. William Hill has the 19-0 prop on the Pats at 50-1/20-1 (talk about a giant house spread). That puts the actual odds in the market at something like 35-1 for 19-0. I think it's fair, especially with this team, to think that the odds of 16-0 are much higher than 19-0. 20-1 seems like a much more fair appraisal (you can put money down at 25-1).

52 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I'd be highly tempted to short-sell that. There are just too many variables to go in to it - including whether or not the Patriots WANT to go 16-0, as opposed to resting starters down the stretch. Then you've got a road game in Pittsburgh in December, and so on and so forth.

If you were to tell me "a team is going to go 16-0/19-0/etc", I would definitely pick New England. But there's a reason 19-0 has never happened; it's really, really, really hard.

60 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Barnwell wrote about the '07 Pats this past week, and one thing that I didn't remember (or maybe even didn't realize at all) was that their pass defense really fell off over the course of the season. And just looking back at the DVOA tables, they finished 11th overall and their weighted defensive DVOA was -0.1%. I think this year's Patriots definitely have the potential to be one of the best defenses they've fielded since the initial run of Super Bowls.

That said, the '07 offense was just ridiculous. They could be outstanding this year and not even come close to touching that production.

62 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I am trying to remember which games did their defense just cough up a bunch of points. I know there was the week 17 giants game - something I can understand since it was a season ending road trip in the cold against a playoff opponent.

In fact, in all of their second half games and playoff games - the defense yielded few points. Ok, maybe thats a poor way to look at pass defense. If anything, it was the offense that started to fall off from their(admittedly insane) heights at the start.

63 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

The pass defense faltered a bit @Ravens in week 13 (A game they really should have lost) & @Giants in week 17. Obviously in the Superbowl itself the pass defense had the game on their hands several times and couldn't make a catch; The impression of a faltering pass defense was also partly a product of the insane number of turnovers they got early in the year as teams tried to catch up to them (20 in the first 9 weeks, 11 in the last 7 weeks (before/after the buy).
The 07 Pats lost that Superbowl because one of best offenses of all time punted the ball 4 times, turned it over on 4th down twice, and lost a fumble (ending 7 of 9 possessions, the two others were there points). Compounding that 2/3 Pat's kickoffs were awful (out of bounds and a 70+ yard return) and it's kind of a miracle the Pats were still in that game at the end.

64 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

It's easy to write that the Patriots choked on offense, especially since the Giants season long defensive metrics were below average.

But I watched that game. That was an amazing defensive performance. Great scheming and amazing defensive effort. Not a choke job at all. Also respected Brady a ton for his effort.

65 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Agreed - The way I wrote it looks like an accusation against the Pats offense, it wasn't intended to be. The point I was trying to make was that the Pats defense did it's job (even though they had a chance to do just that little bit more). The Giants won the battle at the LOS huge against the Pats offense, that was the game, and the Giants deserve a ton of credit for it as nobody else ever managed anything close against that group. In my mind the Pats O-line deserves some blame, especially in the first half, but it was incredible to see the Giants keep coming through the second half when the pass rush usually fades away.

67 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

interesting question. 2012 vs. the Ravens was the hardest-hitting football game I've ever seen - until Ridley got KO'ed and carted off the field. After that it seemed to me like the Pats offense conceded to losing the physical battle. 2013 was another year where they lost the physical battle up front and weren't able to find another way to be productive. I have a hard time saying that Pats team choked though, I don't think the 2013 team ever really found a solution for the loss of Hernandez in the offseason and Gronk in December, that's not a choke but really a talent deficit (though they still win that game if they find a way to block Terrence Knighton). The 09 Ravens game was ugly - really ugly - but when I look back on that game what sticks out remember is the Pats D getting run over (and the emergence of Julien Edelman before his early-career injuries derailed him). I recall thinking that the game I really wanted to watch was being played between Moss & Ed Reed, but you don't get to watch that on the broadcast much. It was a really bad day for the Pats offense, but I'm not sure they were ever good enough to have "choked" against a good defense like that Ravens team. Remember the 09 team was only 10-6, and very well might have been the worst of the BB-era.

68 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Of all the games they played badly, to me the 2013 Denver Broncos was the one where the offense failed to show up. PFf charted only a few pressures that game, but the few they allowed were truly backbreaking. Thats bad offense.

Furthermore, Brady missed some wide open deep shots and at that point, the denver D was awful too.

I won't read into it more than that though. Everyone has bad days.

71 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

2009 was a terrible team, no choke there. 12 is a possibility, given that they had 7 possessions inside the 35 and only got 13 points out of it, in part due to some self-inflicted mistakes. 13 is not a choke, that team had nothing on offense by year's end.

The biggest choke is likely the 2010 Jets. A 14-0 lead turned into 3-0 without the Jets having to make a single defensive play. The pick that ended the first drive was 100% on Brady and Crumpler dropped a wide open TD on the second drive. From there, the team panicked and made stupid decision after stupid decision, playing into NY's hands over and over again. Even when they made a good decision (the fake punt, NY's coverage teams were backing off so quickly Chung would have made 20 yards before encountering a single defender) they ruined it by literally dropping the ball. The other factor with this one is that there wasn't an obvious injury like 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

2005 was a bit of a choke, given that absurd number of turnovers. The 2011 SB could also be argued since Brady wasn't under nearly as much pressure and the team went scoreless for the last 25 minutes despite some atrocious coverage by the Giants. It's a bit more understandable in retrospect when you understand that Brady's shoulder was injured in the 3rd quarter, but they still should have scored more than 17. The second half of the 2006 AFCCG could argued as well. For no apparent reason they went from moving the ball at will to not even getting a single first down.

72 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

The 2010 was a huge missed opportunity. If I recall they got very hot on offense the 2nd half of the season scoring like 300pts and they absolutely smashed the Jets on Monday night football 45-3 after an early season loss.

I wonder whether benching Wes Welker for the first series for cracking foot jokes impacted the offense and morale/motivation?

73 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

The 2010 Pats season is fascinating to look back on. I think its the first team that really reflects the changes in thinking about team-building that occurred in BB through the 2007 loss and lost 2008 season. BB structurally shifted the team away from dependence on high-variance plays like turnovers and deep throws towards lower variance football executed through tight-ends and quickness-driven plays (including the hurry-up, the greater emphasis on throws with less air-yards, redundancy at slot player (the 2010 Pats had JE, Welker, Woodhead, and Vereen all on the same team), & the total transition in secondary strategy and personal traits). It was really the first time BB looked like he had re-organized his thinking/strategy based on the expectation of being the favorite in virtually every game they played (rather than the 01-07 teams that were still built on the Parcells principals which focused on how to maximize winning % when facing equivalent or better teams). It came together perfectly in the second half, with 8 straight wins, 6 of which by pretty convincing measures.

It was incredibly disappointing to me to see them go down the way they did, with the Jets playing perfect underdog football - the kind of thing that would have made 01 BB proud - and the Pats unable to execute. One of the things that causes me to respect BB as an executive was his ability to put this game behind him and not change his strategy as a result.

With respect to the benching, I suspect the message it sent about the importance of the game was problematic, and it might have showed in the way the offensive line played in the first half; The context is interesting though. Wes Welker was in the midst of his worst statistical season for the Pats, and I think if you look back at the tape I think the eye test lines up with 2010 really being a down year for him. I think if you look at the way he responded the following year (with his best statistical season), it validates BB's POV that sending a message to him was in the Pats long term best interests (and probably goes down as a great move if the Pats win that Jets game).

81 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

And 2011 was an up-year for passing and therefore receiving because of the training camp lockout. Brady, Brees, Matthew Stafford over 5,000yds with Eli in 4900s. Each of them significantly throwing more yards than other years of their career.

Note also that the 99-yd connection between Brady and Welker in week 1(?) helped both their yardage.

79 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

2009 was a terrible team? 4th in dvoa, 1st on offense, 14th on defense. Probably a better team than Atlanta was last year(and I would have taken 09 NE to beat Atlanta too).

Man - I dont think the Jaguars, Lions, Texans, or a handful of other franchises have ever had a team as good as the 09 pats.

82 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Terrible for the Patriots, yes. There's a reason why Bill said to Brady, "I can't get these guys to play the way I want them to play" and Brady said in an interview prior to 2010 that, "we sucked last year."

'09 NE might have put up a decent fight in October, but the team that trotted out onto the field against Baltimore would have been smoked by Atlanta.

75 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Without a doubt RB's are better, perhaps much better. You had Maroney and Morris, who I don't think make the 2017 team, and Faulk, who was a tough, smart player but lacking the burst and talent of Lewis or White.
In fact, across the board, the offensive skill positions are better. Except, of course, that they lack the most talented WR of all time. (But they do have the most talented TE of all time).
The secondary is undoubtedly better. The DL, not so much but overall, that Pats defense was aging.
I don't think they'll go 19-0 because that's hard but then again, they went 17-2 last year with Brady missing 4 games, Gronk out for half the season, and less talent overall.

70 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Receivers, line, and running back are all advantage 2007.

RB is unquestionably better this year than in 2017. There isn't even a reasonable argument to suggest otherwise. The line is likely better in 2007, but they had Kaczur at RT all year and this group is more solid across the board.

As for the receivers, the top two definitely go to 2007, but 3-5 is better this year and has the potential to be significantly better if MM takes the next step.

2017 should be better at CB and about equal at safety.

CB is without question better, no "should" about it. As much as I love Rodney, 2017 is much better at safety than 2007 as well. Even if I grant that Harrison was better than Chung/McCourty (and I don't think I would for the 2007 version), Geno was clearly a weakness in retrospect and Meriweather brought nothing but a body to the table.

But 2007 was better on the front seven.

Agreed, though it should be noted that 2007 was the last gasp for those guys and depth wasn't particularly strong once Colvin went down. Considering how many snaps Woods played in the SB, I'd say that depth was actually not good at all. The reason why 2007 still gets the nod is that 2017 doesn't have any sure things after Hightower at LB or Flowers at DE.

I suspect 2017 will be the choice at defense by year's end and, if Rivers or Wise become solid starters, I think it won't be particularly difficult.

Special teams is probably a slight advantage to 2007.

I curious why you think this. The 3.6% ST DVOA in 2007 grades out only above 2016 an 2009 in the past decade, and it is pretty easy to understand why last year was so low. Even with the fumbles and Gost's unusual inconsistency, NE was still 2.3%, meaning it's coverage, punts and KOs were likely a good deal better.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I'd take this group over 2007 at everything except punt and KO returns.

Repeating at 14-2 would be a pleasant surprise.

I'll be shocked if this team goes 12-4, which means 14-2 is pretty much my expectation.

77 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

No doubt that Brady isn't as athletic at 40 as he was at 30. Strength is the last thing to go as you age, so that isn't a major issue (It's why Foreman could still KO guys at 48). Reflexes and reaction time start declining by mid-20s but Brady has been reading defenses for so long that, up to this point, he's made up for it. (Although eventually he'll slow down enough that he won't be able to make up for the physical decay. Most likely it will seem like his performance fell off a cliff but in reality, it will be a bunch of tiny leaks finally taking out a dam).
What impressed me most about him last season is how often he moved out of the pocket to extend plays. Not just one or two steps but three or four or five, often laterally, after which he'd reset. It's not like he's a running threat so defenses don't keep a spy near the line for him.
The new twist to his game was obviously one based on film study. I wonder if his movement was actually pre-determined by the number of blockers and if a back stayed in or not).

31 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I think anyone who puts real money on the Jets under 4.5 just has wishful thinking. A team has to really work hard to be 4-12 bad. Last year's jets worked really hard to be bad, and they still somehow won a 5th game. They were injury riddled, and the few good players openly quit on the coach. They have four winnable games in the first five, and if they win at least 2 of those and stay healthy the team will try the rest of the year. They'll be bad, sure, but if healthy they'll just be regular bad and not dumpster fire bad.

33 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Really? This is the worst group of QBs in the league; at least Cleveland last year had Cody Kessler, who at the start of the year might not have sucked. The Jets' best QB is clearly Josh McCown, and . . .

--falls down, starts weeping, vomits six times--

Anyways . . .

I don't even recognize any of the WRs. The most physically talented TE is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, whose physical talents have never been vaguely enough to overcome his lack of work ethic and excess of stupidity (I'm a Bucs fan, I saw plenty of it). The o-line had some run-blocking success, but does anyone really think old Matt Forte and part-time Powell are the answer? The defense is basically a defensive line, and you're supposed to trust a secondary that is probably starting two rookies at safety?

Had the Jets over-under been 2.5 I'd still have been tempted to take the under. Very tempted. How does this team score any points?

45 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Totally agree. I just don't see any talent at all on the Jets roster beyond a couple of talented-but-questionably-motivated d-linemen and some rookie safeties. I'm having trouble picturing them beating anybody. Josh McCown: Starting Quarterback is a pretty clear indication to me that the whole plan for this season is to lose about 14 games, fire everybody, and grab a QB with the #1 pick.

48 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Who has ever questioned Leonard Williams' motivation? You may be talking about Wilkerson and Richardson, which would be fair. However, Richardson is in a contract year and Wilkerson can be cut next year without too much of a cap hit, so both of those guys have financial reasons to give full effort. I actually expect the defense to be decent. They did have the #1 DVOA against the run. The secondary was SO BAD last year that 2 rookie safeties, 10-12 games of Claiborne before he gets hurt, plus the Justin Burris/Marcus Williams combo (the "highlight" of the secondary last year) should be a considerable improvement. The issue will be scoring points and having so many 3 and outs that the defense breaks down.

57 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Yeah I was talking about the other two linemen. No reason to doubt Leo Williams' commitment, but that still leaves 2/3 of the team's signature unit with legit motivation concerns. Agree that the rookie safeties have to improve over last year; I think clueless free safety play was the Jets calling card last year. So yeah, I could see this defense somewhere around the bottom of the top 10 in DVOA next year if things all go their way.
But the offense, man, the offense is a wasteland. This was the second-to-last offense by DVOA last year, and they've had a major talent drain. They've lost their top three wide receivers (the only unit with much talent on offense last year imo) and their top QB. They're going to be replaced with two mid-round rookie wideouts and a 37 year old journeyman QB who has never in his life been starting caliber. That's, uh, not good. I think it's going to be one of those Jets seasons where the offense is going to resemble slapstick comedy.

38 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

Alright, let's play everyone's favorite game:

Get the Jets to Five Wins!

I'm not looking at DVOA or anything here, so any "win percentages" I'm going through here are just back of the envelope scratchings and should not be considered Official Football Outsiders Predictions (tm, (C), patent pending, not to be taken internally)

I think it's fair to favor the Jets in four games as it stands -- home v. Miami in Week 3, home v. Jacksonville in Week 4, home v. Buffalo in Week 9 and home versus the Chargers in Week 16. So, that could count as four wins there, I suppose.

But wait! "Favored" isn't the same as "will win". I'd put the Jets' odds at somewhere between 55-60 percent for Miami, Jacksonville and Buffalo, and 50-55 percent for the Chargers. Odds are they're not going to win that many coin flips, so let's call that 2-3 wins there.

Other probable wins would come at home, because I can't imagine this Jets show going on the road and scaring a bunch of people. We're down on Atlanta this year and up on New England, so let's put the three non-New England games into the 45-50 percent bucket (Atlanta Week 8, Carolina Week 12, Kansas City Week 13). That's another 1-2 wins, so let's do some rounding and call it 3-4 total so far. Which means now we have to take our show on the road, and, uh, uh-oh.

Week 5 @ Cleveland, maybe? Week 15 @ New Orleans in some kind of track-meet? The road divisional games (non-New England division)? Up at Mile High in Denver or down in Tampa Bay? I mean, they've got greater than a 20% chance at winning each and every one of those, but not TOO much greater.

It's really hard to see them getting less than three wins, no matter what, and every time I think about it, I put them right in that 4-6 win range. Yeah, that's above 4.5 more often than not, but I'm just standing here scratching my head to get them to five. Probably the toughest call in the division, but I'm standing by it. The Jets be pretty bad.

40 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I'll just say it again; how does this team score any points? Josh McCown is going to get hurt, and going to be awful before that happens. Bryce Petty is a deer in the headlights. Christian Hackenberg couldn't hit the broadside of a barn if you put him in a catapult and fired him at the barn from ten feet away. Their most recognizable offensive "weapon" (sarcastic quotes in effect) is either 32-year-old Matt Forte or Bilal Powell, who's heaviest workload was a few years back with 176 carried, conveniently 11/game.

With quite likely both starting safeties as rookies, I think it's safe to say there will be a lot of passing against the Jets, and how do they score enough to account for that?

I think with their current roster, barring someone really flashing in camp a la Kurt Warner 1999, the Jets are underdogs in every single game this year.

55 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2017 East Over/Unders

I would like to point out that ten feet is not a good range for a catapult.

If you mean your classic Mangonel style catapult (what most people mean when they think of a catapult) then a crossbar will stop the arm at some point, which would launch Hackenberg in an upward trajectory. The probability is unless it was a tall barn, he would sail over it into the distance. Even if he did clip it, he would be hitting the roof, not the broadside.

If you have a trebuchet style catapult, one where the payload (hackenberg) is placed in a sling, then you might be able to achive it, either by releasing at an extreme upward angle (say 85 degrees) resulting in a short mortar shot onto the barn. alternatively you could see if you could adjust it to release at a nearly horizontal arc.

Either way from close range a catapult does not hit a barn well.