by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: If last week was my personal favorite week of the NFL regular season, this week is certainly the most exciting! So many terrible performances to dissect, and I'm not just talking about the 1 p.m. window last Sunday.
Bryan: It's time, once again, to honor the absolute worst of the worst. We have, in a series of sealed envelopes guarded and managed by PriceWaterhouseAmariCoopers, the results for Loser League, Part I! The quarterbacks who couldn't hit the field if it weren't for gravity. The kickers with pathological fears of uprights. The running backs who take the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" saying a bit too far. And, of course, all the members of the Wide Receiver Goose Egg Brigade.
Andrew: Are you sure we aren't just reviewing the Buccaneers game?
Bryan: Far from it! Our EIC Aaron Schatz likes talking about the Awful Eight teams living in the cellar of the DVOA rankings, and they are all well-represented here tonight. It has been a banner year for mediocrity and disaster.
Andrew: Disaster more than mediocrity, I would hazard.
Bryan: Oh, it depends on the position. To be a true Loser League champ you have to balance so many different factors. You want the players capable of putting up truly devastating performances, true, but you're also looking for consistency -- players who put up low scores week in and week out, grinding out those low point totals.
Andrew: Of course, they also need to have no fear of being benched. No Ryan Mallett or Davis Webb looming in the background.
Bryan: Good enough to start, bad enough to make you wish they weren't. THAT'S Loser Leaguedom in a nutshell.
Andrew: Like the New York Football Giants, we're just about out of (Mc)Ado(o), so it's time to hand out those Loser League position awards.
Bryan: There were several performances in the running for worst individual week of the first half of the season. There was Tom Savage's brilliant piece of performance art in Week 1 against Jacksonville that ended up getting him benched for Deshaun Watson and earned him -1 point. There was Andy Dalton's season opener, throwing four interceptions to Baltimore on his way to a -2-point day. But the worst single week of the season so far belongs to Joe Flacco, for "Week 3 vs. Jacksonville." Two interceptions, 28 passing yards and -3 Loser League points.
Andrew: Flacco was a true Wembley Wizard, and not in a good way. Of course, Savage's Loser League performance was a double-edged sword: he was great for that one week, but you wouldn't have wanted him on your team for Part I because he failed just a bit too hard.
Bryan: Mr. Flacco didn't just limit his terribleness to one week, however. He ends up with a total score of 86, far and away the worst total of the year. For comparison, the runners-up were DeShone Kizer's 105 and Brian Hoyer's 124 -- and both those quarterbacks, it should be mentioned, have been benched at least once this season.
Andrew: Flacco defies convention (and Billie Joe Armstrong) to prove that there is, in fact, a return from 86.
Bryan: The best possible combination of players isn't always the two low scorers, though that does happen to be the case at quarterback this year. Had you selected Flacco and Kizer, you would have scored 45 points this season. Other strong combinations include Flacco and Jameis Winston, who would have earned you 57; and Flacco and Dalton, who combined for 58. The trick is to find players whose bad weeks are in sync with one another -- it does you no good to have two terrible performances in one week! But man, how much does Baltimore love their $22 million a year quarterback right now?
Andrew: I was joking earlier about analyzing this past week's Buccaneers game, but it does in fact make an appearance here. Doug Martin became the third member of a three-way tie for the second-worst individual running back performance, with his eight carries for 7 yards and no receptions adding up to a big fat 0. Jordan Howard in Week 2 and Jonathan Stewart in Week 6 were the other two goose eggs, but one of them managed even worse than that this past weekend! Yes, Stewart's 11 carries for 21 yards and not one but TWO lost fumbles earned him a -2 against the Atlanta Falcons -- in a game the Panthers won, no less -- which was the best individual loser league performance of the season so far.
Bryan: That's two of the worst three weeks for one running back. However, it's understandable -- it's not like the Panthers used a first-round pick on a running back who could be taking these important carries instead! That would just make them look stupid.
Andrew: Stewart was, not coincidentally, the worst running back overall in our table, which makes him the best option overall for your Loser League team. His score of 41 for the first half of the year is a full 20 points ahead of second-place Frank Gore (64), with Ameer Abdullah and Mike Gillislee tied for third place with 69.
Bryan: Nice. It should be noted that Gillislee is on my actual fantasy team, which should tell you just about how well this year has gone for me so far.
Andrew: I'm going to dodge the "real fantasy team" subject entirely, and simply note with interest that the best possible Loser League combination of backs does not feature either Gore or Gillislee. Instead, Stewart, Abdullah, and C.J. Anderson are your preferred trio, combining (eliminating the highest score each week, remember) for a score of 72 points. Stewart, Abdullah, and Gillislee would have scored you 73, while Stewart, Gillislee, and Jamaal Charles would have scored 75. These are not your father's Broncos, Kyle.
Bryan: It's hard to stand out as a terrible Loser League receiver. Negative points are difficult to come by, with only fumbles mattering. Zeroes, however, are exceptionally simple; just have the ball thrown in your general direction and fail to catch it. There have been 47 zeroes so far this season, including multiple offenders Breshad Perriman with three and Kamar Aiken, Torrey Smith, Amari Cooper, Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Wallace, and Markus Wheaton with two apiece. But the weekly Goose Egg Brigade bows down to one man who managed to break the negative point barrier. Adam Humphries managed a score of -1 in Week 7, thanks to a fumble on only 13 yards receiving. That's rarified negative air, and it deserves our admiration and respect.
Andrew: I feel bad for ragging on the Buccaneers this season, but then stuff like that comes up and ... I mean, we haven't even gotten to kickers yet and we've mentioned three of their starting players in the Loser League leaderboards. These are not the fantasy mentions they were expecting.
Bryan: Receiver is where that difference between bad and mediocre really comes into play. To pick great Loser League receivers, you want guys who have their quarterback's trust, albeit for reasons passing mortal understanding. Zay Jones in Buffalo has it -- his 49 points includes two 15-point penalties, which is what happens when you are allergic to catching footballs. Terrance Williams has it in Dallas, with 47 points on the year, and only the bye week penalty in Week 6 hurting his score. But the low man is Donte Moncrief in Indianapolis, who has formed one of the most invisible regular tandems in the NFL with Jacoby Brissett. No one can top his score of 46.
Andrew: I still can't quite decide whether moving to targets has been better or worse for Loser League, but Zay Jones is the poster child for why targets are better than receptions. Few people can argue that he hasn't been one of the most maddening receivers in the league.
Bryan: It's the worst combination where things get really interesting. Simply taking Moncrief, Jones, and Williams would have given you 61 points, which is far from shabby -- but also far, far from ideal. Because the low men are so often grouped together, there are some odd combinations that end up at the bottom, which leads me to the following sentence, unthinkable before the season started: really smart Loser League players take Amari Cooper.
Cooper's season total is alright at first glance; 74 points isn't great but it's well off the leaders. However, a whopping 33 of those points came in one week, the week after Scott Kacsmar decided to highlight Cooper's struggles. That's the single highest scoring game of the season -- but you can just drop that, remember, thanks to your other two receivers! In non-bye, non-33-point weeks, Cooper is averaging just under four points a game. So, your optimal lineup would have been Cooper, Moncrief, and Jones for 41 points. Other ideal combinations include Perriman, Ricardo Louis, and Trent Taylor (44 points); or Lockett, Kamar Aiken, and either Cooper or Marquise Goodwin (45 points).
Andrew: You may be aware that Blair Walsh missed three field goals this weekend. You may not be aware that, despite the Seahawks scoring 14 points and two touchdowns, Walsh did not attempt an extra point to make up for it -- Seattle went for two after both touchdowns, and the other two points came on a first-quarter safety. Walsh's -6, therefore, is the worst kicking performance of the season so far. Second place is, yet again, a tie -- this time between Cody Parkey and Mason Crosby, who both scored -5 in separate weeks. Parkey's -5 came on a single kick -- a missed extra point against the Jets in Week 3 -- while Crosby missed TWO extra points in Week 5, but clawed back five of those points with a field goal and two made extra points.
Bryan: Missed extra points will absolutely kill you in Loser League, which makes Walsh's -6 all the more impressive. To take the loser league crown without missing a gimme extra point? That's worth framing.
Andrew: Of course, Walsh had actually been quite decent to that point, so he doesn't even come close to our bottom three despite that one terrible week. Our worst kicker is a completely unsurprising name to followers of the legend of Smokin' Jay -- Cody Parkey has scored the fewest points of any kicker to kick in every game this year, compounded by that -5 week and a nil points the following week against the Saints. That gives him a Loser League best 31 overall. Browns rookie Zane Gonzalez is second at 32, while former Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth, now of the Bears, ranked third with 38 points.
Bryan: The Browns' bye saved Gonazalez's butt; without those 12 points, he would have been well in last place all by his lonesome. Admittedly, Parkey's low score includes the Week 1 bye as well, but still.
Andrew: Well maybe. Gonzalez doesn't feature in any of the worst three combinations of kickers, whereas Parkey is the lynchpin of any Loser League roster. The three worst fellows for Parkey were Mason Crosby (a total of 4, yes FOUR points), Brandon McManus (ONE), and somehow Adam Vinatieri (also 1).
Bryan: If you started Vinatieri and Parkey, you managed five of nine weeks in the red. Four of those belonged to Parkey, but Vinatieri managed -2 points in Week 1 during Parkey's bye. In fact, Parkey only hit double digits in the first two weeks of the season, making the best combination basically "who had bad Weeks 1 and 2 and then weren't cut immediately afterwards."
Andrew: And not a single Buccaneers kicker in sight. Wonders will never cease.
Crown Those Asses
Bryan:That makes your best overall lineup as follows:
QB: Joe Flacco, BAL
QB: DeShone Kizer, CLE
RB: Jonathan Stewart, CAR
RB: Ameer Abdullah, DET
RB: C.J. Anderson, DEN
WR: Donte Moncrief, IND
WR: Zay Jones, BUF
WR: Amari Cooper, OAK
K: Cody Parkey, MIA
K: Adam Vinatieri, IND or Brandon McManus, DEN
That would have scored you a grand total of 159 points.
Andrew: Massive credit to Bryan for working all of that out, with a little help from Excel.
Bryan: What do I see when I turn out the light? I can't tell you, because it's a monstrosity of nested functions.
Andrew: So what should we call this abominable lineup?
Bryan: Well, let's take some inspiration from our fantastic readers, who always come up with great Loser League team names. I do like Ngata Prayer, but it doesn't really tie in with loser leaguedom at all; Haloti Ngata might have scored better than some of our Loser League Legends had you stuck him behind center.
Andrew: I quite like You Only Live Wentz, but my favorite is Cutler's Last Stand. A Little Bighorn reference is certainly more inspiring than anything this year's Dolphins have come up with, though I fail to see any real comparison between Smokin' Jay and a flawed general who divides opinion.
Bryan: Then there's the "Hah! The Rams suck!" jokes, which looked a lot better last year than this year. We see you, "The Goffather" and "LA: 2 Teams, 0 Fans." Of course, Browns jokes are still timeless. But, as a 49ers fan, I do have to give my award to Baalke Knee. It's a pun; it makes sense with former general manager Trent Baalke's obsession of drafting injured players, it stabs me right in a sensitive area. Good show. I'm gonna go cry over there now.
Andrew: Congratulations, o unknown reader. You have drawn tears from a heart of stone.
Bryan: And now it's time to hand out the coveted award -- the Loser League Part I champion. Only one team even got within twice the optimal score of 159, scoring an impressive and respectable 306 with the following lineup:
QB: Jay Cutler, MIA
QB: Brian Hoyer, SF
RB: Jonathan Stewart, CAR
RB: Frank Gore, IND
RB: Eddie Lacy, SEA
WR: Kenny Britt, CLE
WR: Jermaine Kearse, NYJ
WR: Pierre Garcon, SF
K: Robbie Gould, SF
K: Ryan Succop, TEN
Congratulations to Hanson Tipton of Knoxville, Tennessee and Team Harvey Birdman. He knows that you'll never go broke expecting the 49ers to be bad on offense. While surprisingly few of their players made the tops of the leaderboards, a combination of poor general offensive play and a crucial lack of a bye week during Loser League Part I made them the lynchpin of his strategy. Couple that with an excellent nose for terrible running back play, and you have the lineup of a champion. He is fortunate that the cutoff ended where it did, of course, with Hoyer out of a starting job and Cutler hurt, but he built up enough of a lead for that not to matter. Well played, good sir.
I do, however, want to briefly turn to our last-place finisher, as well. The worst possible lineup you could have picked -- if you were trying, specifically, to pick the least loserish players possible -- would have scored 882 points. There are some players who, perversely, try to do just that, in a blatant attempt to destroy the spirit of Loser League entirely. However, this was not the case for We Suck And We Know It, who really, really tried to do well with the following lineup:
QB: Jared Goff, LARM
QB: Josh McCown, NYJ
RB: Jeremy Hill, CIN
RB: Alfred Blue, HOU
RB: Paul Perkins, NYG
WR: Kevin White, CHI
WR: Braxton Miller, HOU
WR: Charone Peake, NYJ
K: Younghoe Koo, LACH
K: Aldrick Rosas, NYG
A combination of shockingly great quarterback play from Goff and injuries up and down his lineup means that that scored a whopping 633 points. They tried to fail, and failed at failing. And truly, in Loser League, doesn't that make them the real winners?
The answer is no.
Andrew: We conclude with a quick look forward to Loser League Part II, where the big questions yet linger. Who will play quarterback for the Browns, Broncos, and Vikings? Will Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman ever make it onto the field together? Can Breshad Perriman lay more eggs than my actual real live geese this year? If Cody Parkey goes on vacation in early December, will anybody notice?
Bryan: Some of the low scorers are obviously bad picks for Part II. Don't take Brian Hoyer, for example. I think Jonathan Stewart might be a poor pick going forward as well because, darn it, as much as the Panthers continue to claim he's going to be a key part in the running game, he has to see his carries begin to go away, right? I mean, assuming the Panthers are actually trying to win?
Andrew: In a sensible league, one would assume so. The notion that we are commenting on a sensible league has been, well, let's be polite and say questioned over the course of this season. Reliable picks might include Tom Savage, Joe Flacco again, Kenyan Drake or Damian Williams, and of course Breshad Perriman. It's not that they don't deserve to be benched, so much as the absence of anybody for whom to bench them.
Bryan: One big tip -- and something Harvey Birdman rode to success in Part I -- is to try to find players on teams that don't have a bye week during the competition. That's significantly easier in Part II than Part I, but it also means that players from the 49ers, Colts and Jets may not be as desirable as they otherwise would be. At the very least, it should be a consideration if you're torn between a couple players.
Andrew: Best of luck to everybody for the half-season ahead! Be sure to check back with us when the 2017 regular season is over for Loser League Part II results.
Loser League Update (Week 9)
Quarterback: Jameis Winston really should have been sat down with a bum shoulder before this game; he just exacerbated his injuries by playing in Week 9. With just 67 passing yards to his name, he ended up with 3 points on the day.
Running Back: As mentioned above, Jonathan Stewart's -2 led all running backs this week.
Wide Receiver: Just two Goose-Eggers this week, as both Donte Moncrief and Brice Butler were held under 10 yards receiving.
Kicker: As mentioned above, Blair Walsh's -6-point day led not only this week, but this season.
Keep Choppin' Wood: This past Sunday, five different players across four different teams managed to get themselves ejected from their respective games for their involvement in post-play melees, including one of the league's best receivers, a top cornerback, a top running back, a starting defensive lineman, and a first-round rookie inside linebacker. Of those five, the player who hurt his team most was probably Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who was ejected for going postal on trash-talking Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Placing your opponent in a headlock and punching him repeatedly in the facemask is not particularly wise for a player whose hands are his livelihood. Green will not be suspended for his actions, unlike Buccaneers counterpart Mike Evans -- who was not ejected for his dead-ball foul on Marshon Lattimore, but probably should have been -- but the Bengals failed to score without their top receiver, gained only three first downs in the entire second half, and now rank 32nd in the league in second-half points per game.
John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: With Deshaun Watson injured, the Houston Texans are back to Tom Savage as their starting quarterback. Savage, this week, completed a pass on barely 41 percent of his dropbacks (including sacks) against the Colts, who had the third-worst pass defense in the league as of Week 8. He is the second-worst multi-game starting quarterback in the league in DVOA, ahead of only Browns rookie DeShone Kizer. Yet, this coaching staff actually picked Savage over Deshaun Watson as their opening-day starter. Yes, this is the Texans offense this coaching staff intended you to see this year.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: In the first half of Sunday's game, on the road against a conference opponent with a slightly superior record, John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens converted a fourth-and-7 with a fake-punt pass from Sam Koch to Chris Moore, and a fourth-and-2 with a run by Javorius Allen. In fact, every time the Ravens faced a fourth-and-7 or shorter in Tennessee territory during the game, they went for it -- going 3-of-4, with the failure a stuffed run play on fourth-and-1. That's the kind of aggressiveness we like to see from top coaches, even though on this occasion his team's other offensive shortcomings (*Cough.* Joe Flacco. *Cough.*) limited their scoring output despite the three fourth-down successes.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Alright, Ben McAdoo. Things aren't going very well for you as your Giants get throttled by the Rams. It's halftime, and you're down 27-10. Your 1-7 team is basically dead for the season anyway, but teams can come back from 17-point halftime deficits. All it takes is one great inspirational halftime speech! Get those Knute Rockne, Herb Lewis, or Tim Tebow vibes going, and get your team fired up with a glorious halftime speech!
Ben McAdoo's halftime speeches sound epic pic.twitter.com/9HyJPPVOOh
— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) November 5, 2017
"I'll Take What's Behind Door No. 3, Monty" Fantasy Player of the Week: Philadelphia already has LeGarrette Blount on the roster; he's probably starting on a fantasy team in your league. Just before the trading deadline, they picked up Jay Ajayi; he's also likely to have seen significant time in starting lineups. The problem is, neither of those backs can really pass protect, which leads to snaps for this week's hero, Corey Clement. Clement got plenty of action inside the red zone, and the Eagles were in the red zone plenty. That lead to three touchdowns on 13 touches, a tremendous fantasy day that helps no one. The undrafted rookie likely is not rosterable, but he will continue to annoy owners of Blount and Ajayi as he comes in near the goal line.
Corey Clement td pic.twitter.com/n8twgDoEEd
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) November 5, 2017
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week:: It's hard to get more garbage-timey than being down 34-7 with five minutes to go, especially when you were hoping to solidify yourself as a legit division title threat. The Bills' season is far from over after their loss to the Jets, of course, and Tyrod Taylor showed flashes of just why he has been able to bring Buffalo as far as they've come, albeit during the meaningless chunk of a bad Thursday Night Football game. He managed one touchdown passing and another rushing in the last five minutes of the game, bringing the final score to an almost respectable 34-21 total. That doesn't really reflect the degree to which the Jets dominated this one, but it at least gave Bills fans something to take away from this disappointment.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) November 3, 2017
"Comfort in Sadness" Stat of the Week: The Bengals and Buccaneers both lost on the road this weekend, in games that finally put to bed any prospect of a playoff recovery for either franchise. Both teams made significant investment in receivers this offseason -- one a first-round pick, the other $11 million a year in free agency -- in a bid to improve their offensive production. Neither John Ross nor DeSean Jackson has quite had the impact their respective fanbases hoped. Instead, it is the tight ends for each offense who have made the most positive impressions this year. With Tyler Eifert injured, Tyler Kroft ranks second in receiving yards for Cincinnati, while Cameron Brate ranks second in receptions for Jameis Winston's Buccaneers. Both now rank in the top five at their position in DYAR, though that will be scant consolation for another season out of the playoffs.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: Our fearless leader noted that Twitter goes nuts every time Josh Doctson makes a big play, and bemoaned the fact that he doesn't make the smaller plays in between. These are very valid points, but let me rebut with:
— Sporting News Canada (@sportingnewsca) November 6, 2017
I mean, yeah? Yeah? You can argue about what Washington did after that play -- perhaps they should have considered kneeling and wasting some time before scoring the go-ahead touchdown and giving Russell Wilson a minute to pull off some Houdini magic -- but it's highlight-reel plays like that that made Doctson a first-round pick to begin with. No, it didn't score the touchdown itself, but teams score a touchdown about 86 percent of the time when given four cracks from the 1. Whether Washington's odds were that high against a traditionally tough Seattle goal-line defense is left as an exercise for the reader, but clearly, Doctson did the lion's share of the work for that game-winning touchdown. That makes up for the fact that he only has 12 other catches in his NFL career, right Aaron?
You are fired.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) November 5, 2017
Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week
Andrew: The Giants can't get out of their own way; the 49ers can't get out of their own training room. One of these teams is deservedly 0-9; the other might be even worse. Ben McAdoo's players have spent this week denying that they've quit on their coach; Kyle Shanahan's have spent it playing ice breaker games with their new starting safeties. Both lost at home to NFC West opposition last time out, but one of those defeats looked much more telling than the other. This could well be the first win of Kyle Shanahan's reign, or it might be the last win of Ben McAdoo's. I fancy the former, which means San Francisco (plus-1) over the New York Football Giants.
Bryan: I saw the Brett Hundley experience last week, and I was not impressed. On the other hand, I've seen the Mitchell Trubisky experiment many weeks, and am still unimpressed. The Bears opened as three-point favorites, and that line only moved in their favor after Monday night. Again, I shall attempt to zig where others zag and pick Green Bay (+5) to at least keep it close.
Records to date:
Cleveland fans got some rare good news on the bye week. Not only did the Browns not lose, but the Jets' upset win over Buffalo means they can still, technically, earn the top seed in the AFC. The news was less rosy for their companions in the race to the bottom -- San Francisco's loss to Arizona knocked them out of bye-week contention.
Because the 49ers have yet to have their bye week, they can beat the Browns to an important milestone of the 2017 season: the first team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs altogether! A loss would drop San Francisco to 0-10, and while it's still possible for a 6-10 team to earn a wild-card slot in the NFC, it's not possible for that team to be San Francisco. A loss to Dallas back in Week 7 and falling to 0-8 in common games with Los Angeles would scupper what can laughably be described as their tiebreakers. Their saving grace? They're playing the Giants this week, who are right down there in the DVOA cellar with them. Win, and they get to spend their bye week possibly watching the Browns plummet out of the playoffs. Exciting times for a pair of unexciting teams, but you cling to what little victories you can find when you haven't had any, you know, actual victories this season.
Cleveland can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Detroit d. Cleveland.
N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF San Francisco d. N.Y. Giants.
N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF San Francisco d. N.Y. Giants AND Minnesota d. Washington AND New Orleans d. Buffalo AND Seattle d. Arizona.
San Francisco can be eliminated from a Top-Three Seed IF N.Y. Giants d. San Francisco OR L.A. Rams d. Houston OR Minnesota d. Washington.
San Francisco can be eliminated from the NFC West IF N.Y. Giants d. San Francisco OR L.A. Rams d. Houston
San Francisco can be eliminated from the playoffs IF N.Y. Giants d. San Francisco
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