by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello, and Happy New Year to all of our (well, to our Gregorian calendar-using) readers, as we bid farewell not only to 2017 but to the 2017 NFL regular season!
Bryan: And, frankly, good riddance. While there were plenty of highlights, it was also an injury-plagued and headache-inducing year at times, and we're very, very ready to move on to a postseason that feels very different from years past.
Andrew: That's because it is very different from years past! We're accustomed to some degree of turnover in the playoffs, but we are not accustomed to seeing 67 percent of the field replaced from one year to the next. No Seahawks! No Cowboys! No Packers! Instead we have the ... wait, who?
*Re-runs spreadsheet for errors.*
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Bryan: Picking the Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs to make the playoffs before the season started were the picks of a logical, sane man. Picking the Jaguars, Rams and -- most of all -- the Buffalo freaking Bills to make the playoffs is a sign of insanity or, perhaps, witchcraft.
Andrew: I wouldn't have argued with the Jaguars. That division has been a hot mess for years, with the sole exception of the moderately Irsayed Andrew Luck, and the Jaguars added a lot of talent to a defense bursting with potential.
Bryan: OK, sure, an 8-8 Jaguars team squeaking in on an "everyone else in this division is terrible" pass, maybe. But an actually good, #Sacksonville-led defensive powerhouse? From a team that has lost double-digit games every year since 2010? Madness. Madness, I say!
Andrew: I still think the Titans making the playoffs is a bigger surprise, mainly because the Titans don't even have the one great unit elevating a mediocre roster.
Bryan: All four of those teams broke their longest franchise playoff droughts this year. That's incredible. It makes the Saints' three-year wait in the wilderness seem like a commercial break.
Andrew: It would take some doing for the Saints to outstrip their longest playoff drought (20 seasons, 1967-86), so although it was frustrating, three years is a mere blip.
Incidentally, your commercial breaks in the U.S. are shorter than ours. More frequent, too, but shorter. Maybe because you don't immediately put the kettle on when you hear the fade-out music.
Anyway! I quite enjoyed large parts of it, but I too am ready to be done with what feels like the most politically hijacked, injury-plagued season in NFL history, and move on toward Minneapolis. In that vein, therefore, we present to you the annual Football Outsiders Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft!
Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft
The Football Outsiders Staff Playoffs Fantasy League is back for another run. Once again, the scoring rules are as follows:
- Six points for rushing or receiving touchdowns, four points for passing touchdowns.
- One point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and for every 20 yards passing.
- A loss of two points for a lost fumble or interception.
- Two points for a two-point conversion of any kind.
- Kickers: three points for a field goal under 40 yards, four points for one between 40 and 49 yards, and six points for kicks of 50 yards or longer. Plus, one point for every extra point.
- Defense: Two points for an interception or fumble recovery, six points for touchdown, four points for safety, one point for sack, and a loss of one point for every seven points the defense actually allows (and a bonus five points for a shutout).
Teams are comprised of one quarterback, two running backs, three wideouts, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense. There are no substitutions, so if a player is injured or his team is eliminated, then he ceases to produce points for his team. The teams, in drafting order, are as follows:
- Bryan Knowles, Scrambler (U.S. Edition)
- Andrew Potter, Scrambler (U.K. Edition)
- Aaron Schatz, Head Honcho
- Vince Verhei, Editor Extraordinaire
- Rivers McCown, Upset Unraveller
- Scott Kacsmar, Clutch Columnist
This is a serpentine draft with a two-pick round eight. The results were as follows:
Scott: Danny Amendola, WR, NE and Kai Forbath, K, MIN
Rivers: Austin Hooper, TE, ATL and Blake Bortles, QB, JAC
Vince: Saints Defense and Ryan Succop, K, TEN
Aaron: Derrick Henry, RB, TEN and Jay Ajayi, RB, PHI
Andrew: Mohamed Sanu, WR, ATL and Chiefs Defense
Bryan: Alshon Jeffery, WR, PHI and Harrison Butker, K, KC
|FO Playoff Fantasy Rosters|
|QB||Jared Goff||Drew Brees||Tom Brady||Ben Roethlisberger||Blake Bortles||Alex Smith|
|RB||Todd Gurley||Kareem Hunt||Derrick Henry||Le'Veon Bell||Alvin Kamara||Dion Lewis|
|RB||Rex Burkhead||Leonard Fournette||Jay Ajayi||Mark Ingram||Devonta Freeman||Latavius Murray|
|WR||Robert Woods||Tyreek Hill||Brandin Cooks||JuJu Smith-Schuster||Antonio Brown||Adam Thielen|
|WR||Cooper Kupp||Keelan Cole||Michael Thomas||Ted Ginn||Julio Jones||Devin Funchess|
|WR||Alshon Jeffery||Mohamed Sanu||Stefon Diggs||Sammy Watkins||Chris Hogan||Danny Amendola|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||Travis Kelce||Kyle Rudolph||Delanie Walker||Austin Hooper||Zach Ertz|
|K||Harrison Butker||Wil Lutz||Stephen Gostkowski||Ryan Succop||Chris Boswell||Kai Forbath|
|D||Los Angeles||Kansas City||New England||New Orleans||Jacksonville||Minnesota|
As always, assemble your Best of the Rest team in the comments from players we did not pick, and we'll track which commenter ends up with the highest total.
Andrew: So, the first thing that stands out to me from this draft: we really do have very little faith in this year's wild-card teams. Delanie Walker might be the third- or fourth-most productive tight end in this group, but he only went in the third-to-last round. No Titans or Eagles players were picked in the first six rounds, only one each from the Falcons and Panthers, and no Bills players were chosen at all.
Bryan: Some of that comes down to the odd tiebreaker situation in the AFC, I'd imagine. If the Chargers and Ravens had taken the two AFC slots rather than the Bills and Titans, you would probably have seen a little more diversity in the teams taken. Most of us give Buffalo and Tennessee very short odds of winning even one game, much less going on a run. In a format like this, the number of games played is just as important -- perhaps even more important! -- as the quality of the players. If your team has a bunch of one-and-dones on it, you might be leading going into the divisional round, but you'll soon find everyone else shooting past you.
In the NFC, it's perhaps more that the No. 3 and 4 seeds are actually the best teams in that conference as opposed to the strength or weaknesses of the wild-card teams, and everyone's hunting for that glorious four-game appearance from their top stars.
Andrew: You can see some of that in the team selections too, who each of us thinks will advance the farthest. You made it obvious early on that you think the Rams are primed to win it all, Aaron loaded up on Patriots, whereas I like the chances of the Chiefs and Saints.
Bryan: By our odds, the team most likely to play at least three games this year is the Patriots (54.0 percent), with the Rams right behind them. The Rams are the most likely team to play four games (25.7 percent), so yeah, I was playing the odds. I wasn't necessarily expecting to go so heavily in on them, but when it came to the fourth-/fifth-round turn, and I saw what was left … well. In for a penny, I suppose. I learned long ago that if you Ram it just right, you can Ram it all day and Ram it all night.
Andrew: I am absolutely terrified to ask the context in which you learned that, and will not be opening that video in my regular browser.
I was similarly not planning to pick up quite so many Chiefs players, but when the pieces fell into place that's the picture they formed. I was also, shall we say, a touch overexcited when it became obvious that Drew Brees would fall to me at quarterback.
Andrew: Vince played that well though, wagering correctly that I would pick Brees and allow him his favored choice of Ben Roethlisberger, while letting him nab the receiver he wanted. Though what it also says of 2017 that Ted Ginn was the receiver he wanted ... again, not entirely what we would usually expect. Overall, it appears we all anticipate a Patriots-Chiefs and Steelers-Jaguars AFC divisional round, then Eagles-Rams and Vikings-Saints in the NFC. That would be one heck of a quartet of matchups, with every single game a rematch from the regular season.
Bryan: I'm just amazed how much we all shied away from the Eagles. We're terrified of them! We had Titans go before the first Eagles player came off the board. I know the drop-off from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles is big, but they're still a top seed, getting a home game after a bye! But no, we avoided them like the plague.
Andrew: Which, naturally, means some reader or five will make a team of all Eagles and make us all look like fools. Or will they?!
Bryan: Actually, I think an all-Panthers team has a lot of potential juice, there. When the Panthers are clicking on all cylinders, they are a very, very tough team to beat. At the moment, they're not clicking on all cylinders, at all, but what if they hit the switch this week? When you're looking to craft a team from the dregs, you're already talking about low-probability outcomes, and is Cam Newton doing amazing things really all that unlikely, all things considered?
Andrew: See, clicking on all cylinders doesn't usually get you far. You want your cylinders to be firing. Clicking probably means you're out of fuel, which would be an apt analysis of the Panthers receiving corps.
Bryan: That explains why my car never starts! This analysis stuff is hard.
Andrew: At least car mechanics aren't usually random and largely uncontrollable. Unlike, say, playoff fantasy football outcomes. Here's to another month of madness! May the best team win! Just ... beware that precarious 28-3 lead.
Loser League Final Recap
Before we get to the worst of the worst from the second half and announce our Part II and season-long winners, let's do a quick recap of Week 17!
Week 17 Recap
Quarterback: That's playoff quarterback Blake Bortles to you. The Jaguars decided to play their starters to go out on a high note … but 15-of-34 for 158 yards and two interceptions is more of a brown note. 3 points.
Running Back: Minnesota really clamped down on the Bears' offense, and Jordan Howard suffered appropriately. He rushed nine times and gained ... 9 yards. That is somewhat less than ideal. 0 points.
Wide Receiver: Six Goose Eggers bring us to the end of the regular season: Terrance Williams, Torrey Smith, Braxton Miller, Robbie Anderson, John Brown, and Jeff Janis. All in all, we had 90 Goose Eggs this year, or just over five a week. That's your key to Loser League success.
Kicker: Shh, Dan Bailey, rest now. It's all over. A missed extra point and a missed field goal as part of a dismal, dismal offensive day for Dallas (and they still won!) puts him at -7 points on the week. Nick Rose's -1 looks quaint in comparison.
Part II Recap
Quarterback: Last year's rookie sensation is this year's sophomore slump. Dak Prescott fizzled down the stretch, finishing with eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions in the second half of the year. He's the only quarterback to finish in double-digits for Part II, ending with 97 points. Just behind him, Jacoby Brissett fizzled out dramatically after his early-season surprise, as he finishes with an even 100 points.
Running Back: We have a runaway Loser here -- Lamar Miller, who was phased pretty heavily out of the offense by the time the year ended, in favor of Alfred Blue. Miller received just 109 attempts for 405 yards and had only two touchdowns over the back half of the season, managing to avoid the penalty week in and week out. That's good for 57 points, blowing out Bilal Powell's 68 and Samaje Perine's 70.
Wide Receiver: In the end, the race for the bottom was decided by starters sitting in Week 17. Terrance Williams ends up as the bottom wideout with 17 points, thanks to his Week 17 goose egg. He was not in first after Week 16, though -- both Cole Beasley and Jordy Nelson both picked up the penalty in the last week of the season, sliding them to 26 and 27 points, respectively. Saved by the bell! Eric Decker also ended up with 27 points in a more conventional manner.
Kicker: Aldrick Rosas ran away with this. He missed three extra points down the stretch, converted just 76.9 percent of his field goals, and didn't get all that many opportunities to begin with thanks to the Giants' lackluster offense. He finished with 16 points. Meanwhile Ka'imi Fairbairn only managed to connect on nine field goals in eight games, which is Not Good. He finished with 24 points.
Bryan: So, with all the numbers in and everything tabulated, who reigns supreme? Your Loser League, Part II champion is Jay Cou and his team, CouCou, who snuck up from behind to win in Week 17! With 276 points, he just managed to sneak in under Advanced Cutlery's 288; they had been leading most of the way but just got pipped at the line, making them our equivalent of the Baltimore Ravens.
Your cumulative winner is Hanson Tipton, owner of Harvey Birdman! With 638 points, he squeaked out a win by just five points. Five points over 17 weeks! A rogue touchdown could have scarpered that lead! Congratulations to both, and to everyone who participated.
Check your team's final score and the complete Part II leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: 0-16 is the NFL's ultimate anti-achievement. Any team can have a down year, and it is not unusual to see a team lose big when cursed with bad luck, injuries, and a tough schedule on top of their own struggles -- see this year's Giants, for example. Even that, however, is not usually enough for a team to go winless; 0-16 takes a special effort from all concerned. How big an effort? Consider the Cleveland Browns' Week 17 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers' AAA feeder team, led by Landry Jones.
The Browns took possession with 4:30 left, down four, with the chance to drive for the win. After a couple of first downs, they faced fourth-and-2 on the Pittsburgh 27. They went for it, DeShone Kizer escaped to his left away from pressure, and Kizer's pass found Corey Coleman down the left sideline for the first down ... or would have, if Coleman had not allowed the ball to pass harmlessly between his hands and fall incomplete. All was not lost, however! Cleveland could still get the ball back! Until, that is, Jamar Taylor dragged Stevan Ridley down with a horse-collar tackle, giving Pittsburgh the first down they needed to end the game. It's not that there were two miscues here -- mistakes happen -- but that Cleveland's season has been jam-packed with similar gaffes, from the blocked punt touchdown conceded on their opening drive of the season, right through to this sequence at the end of their final game. That they retained Hue Jackson, a coach who is two missed Chargers fourth-quarter field goals away from an 0-32 record, after the team made similar mistakes in game after game only adds to the farce. For that reason, the entire Cleveland Browns franchise gets this award. Consider it a form of extended achievement award: Woodchoppers of the Year, if you will.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: For the week, this award goes to Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals. A team that looked to have quit just two short weeks ago has since ended the seasons of the Detroit Lions and now the division rival Baltimore Ravens. Fourth-and-12 with Baltimore's season on the line, Dalton-to-Boyd for the 49-yard touchdown!
For the season-long award, we look to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. Usually, winning teams do not attempt many fourth-down conversions. This year's Eagles were the notable exception: the NFC's No. 1 seed led the league with 17 fourth-down conversions and ranked second with 26 attempts, two fewer than the Green Bay Packers. It helps to be good at those, too: the Eagles converted 65 percent of fourth-down attempts, the third-highest rate in the league behind the Saints and, oddly, the Jaguars.
John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: At the opposite end of the scale, despite a 5-11 record the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by Dirk Koetter, only tried to convert a fourth down eight times all year -- every other team in the bottom five for fewest attempts (Detroit, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota) had at least nine wins. The Buccaneers punting squad has been their best special teams unit for a while now, but it is something of a surprise to see so few attempts in opposition territory given the protracted agony that is their field goal kicking.
For this week alone, the award goes to Pete Carroll, who saw fit in his team's last game of the year to send out Blair Walsh for a fairly long clutch kick that might have won the game at the death. It did not; Walsh missed what may well have been his last kick in a Seahawks uniform.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Doug Marrone has had a very good year, all things considered; he brought playoff football back to Jacksonville! But, with absolutely nothing to play for in Week 17, he made a very questionable decision, trotting out his entire starting lineup rather than giving key players (especially injured ones or aging veterans) a bye week before their first playoff game in a decade. Rather than gaining any of that mythical momentum, the Jaguars came out flat, limping into the playoffs after what is now two fairly concerning losses in a row. Nothing positive whatsoever was accomplished, and in retrospect, giving everyone the week off would probably have been the better move.
'Go Home! Fantasy's Over!' Fantasy Player of the Week: If your league's championship is in Week 17, you need a new league. If you managed to go into your championship game and, for some unknown reason grabbed David Fales as your starting quarterback -- presumably because you normally had Ben Roethlisberger and saw literally every other quarterback in the NFL sucked up by a jealous rival -- well, congratulations, and what are this week's Powerball numbers, please? Fales, who came in after one series to replace Jay Cutler, ended up throwing one touchdown and rushing for another, ending up as QB7 on the day with around 20 fantasy points (depending on your format). Not bad for someone who still has never started an NFL game.
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performers of the Year: Rather than look at anyone who performed well in Week 17 -- garbage time for many, many teams across the NFL -- we thought we'd look at those who put up big numbers in huge deficits. These are the league's leaders in stats when their team was down by at least three scores:
- Overall, the Broncos had the most time to rack up stats in these blowouts; they ran 206 plays while down three scores, just squeaking past the Dolphins with 204. What about the Browns? Despite not winning a game, they were usually moderately competitive (for an 0-16 team) and ended up with just 158 such plays, which is fewer than Houston ran. Two teams were never down by 17 or more points on offense: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs.
- Derek Carr ended with the most passing yards, going 64-for-102 for 553 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. The low amount of interceptions isn't a compliment here -- when you're trailing by a lot, you need to take bigger risks, and that was Carr's problem for most of the year.
- The most impressive quarterback trailing by a metric ton was probably Matthew Stafford. Stafford was 43-for-64 for 491 yards with the same four touchdowns and one interception as Carr on far fewer attempts. Detroit's entire modus operandi this season was to go down by 20 points and then have Stafford throw them back into the game; few do it as well as Stafford does.
- Kenyan Drake ends up with the most garbage time rushing yards by a wide margin -- 138 on 24 carries, with a league-high two touchdowns to boot. Teams generally don't run the ball often when they're being blown out, but as mentioned above, the Dolphins found themselves down huge early and often.
- Remember that close race for Garbage Time Receiver we mentioned a couple weeks ago? Yeah, no, DeAndre Hopkins ended up blowing that out of the water, with 274 yards on 17 receptions for four touchdowns -- no one else even had two. As a matter of fact, Hopkins has more garbage-time receiving yards in the past five years than anyone else in football, with him and Jarvis Landry a couple hundred of yards in front of the pack. Someone get this guy a good quarterback -- oh wait, they're on top of that, never mind. Unless Bill O'Brien still thinks Tom Savage would be better to start a season…
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: In the AFC wild-card race, the two teams with the best DVOA and point differential both missed out, while the two teams with the worst of each qualified. In Buffalo's case, they qualified despite being thrashed by the Chargers in the infamous Nathan Peterman game. In Tennessee's case, the early November win against the Ravens proved crucial. The good news is that the superior point differential and DVOA probably bodes better for the chances of the Chargers and Ravens next season. The bad news, of course, is that doesn't exactly do them any good this January.
Game-Changing Plays of the Year: Rather than talk about Week 17, let's talk about the five teams that were one win away from making the playoffs. If just one or two things had broken differently, these teams would be preparing to play a game on Sunday, rather than sitting at home and thinking about draft prospects. Here are five plays, one for each team, that stings the most in retrospect.
- L.A. Chargers: The Chargers finished the season with -22.2 FG/XP points below average, the worst mark we've ever recorded. As flipping literally any of their losses to wins would have seen them in the playoffs, that really, really hurts. Choose your own favorite kicking malfunction; we went with Younghoe Koo's 44-yard miss at the end of Week 2's loss to Miami, but you really can't lose playing Chargers Bingo.
Brutal. Chargers lose again on a missed FG, the second week* in a row. pic.twitter.com/P8eY6KZZYj
— LeadingNFL ™ (@LeadingNFL) September 17, 2017
- Detroit: The Lions went 1-3 against the NFC South; any other win would have seen them playoff-bound. So with all due respect to a close loss to Carolina in Week 5, let's go back to Week 3 against Atlanta, with the Lions at the goal line, down by five. I'm sorry, this may or may not be a touchdown, but at least it shouldn't have been a 10-second runoff.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) September 24, 2017
- Dallas: The Cowboys only had one game that, if the results were flipped, would have seen them in the playoffs -- at Atlanta in Week 10. A 27-7 loss doesn't leave a lot of room for "what if"-ing; the game was essentially over before the fourth quarter began. Still, a win would have seen the Cowboys finish ahead of the Falcons for the sixth and final playoff slot, so nightmares of Adrian Clayborn and his six sacks seem more than appropriate.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) November 13, 2017
- Seattle: The Seahawks needed one more head-to-head win over an NFC playoff team to make the playoffs, so let's flash back to Week 11 against (who else?) Atlanta. Down 34-31 with under two minutes to play, Pete Carroll and company decided to play it safe, with short passes to slowly move down field. They settled for a 52-yard game-tying field goal attempt from Blair Walsh, which…
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) November 21, 2017
- Baltimore: Just one more win would have sent the Ravens to the playoffs, so thinking of all those Joe Flacco interceptions in key moments, and all those times when the offense was just unable to move the ball even a foot downfield has to really hurt. The most crucial interception, however, wasn't really Flacco's fault. It came just this week against Cincinnati in a win-and-you're-in game, and, well, this is going the wrong way.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 31, 2017
Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week
Bryan: Buffalo has been below-average for most of the year, but in the past few weeks they've been very bad indeed, struggling to put away the Colts and Dolphins, and backing into the playoffs thanks to a bizarre set of tiebreakers -- they slipped into the postseason at literally the last minute when Baltimore fell to Cincinnati. At time of writing, LeSean McCoy's status is questionable with an ankle injury. If McCoy can't go, the only above-average player on offense for the Bills is Tyrod Taylor, and I'm aware how controversial it is to say Taylor is above-average (he is, though). And then, I look across the field and I see Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, Telvin Smith, Tashaun Gipson, Barry Church ... I could go on, but I'm not sure I have to. I'll take Jacksonville (-7.5)
Andrew: If picking NFL games in Week 17 is a fool's errand, picking them in the wild-card round of the playoffs is madness. All of the lines are roughly a touchdown in favor of the home team. All of them look roughly right to me. The College Football National Championship is not much better, but the recent history at least looks to favor Alabama more heavily than the 4.5-point money line. In the most Southern of all Southern football games -- Alabama versus Georgia in Atlanta -- give me the master over the pupil. Alabama (-4.5) over Georgia.
Bryan: Woah, woah, woah, going off-board with a college football pick? That's … that's…
That's genius. Dang it. Too bad the Winter Olympics are the week after the Super Bowl, or I could dazzle you with my curling knowledge.
Records to date:
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