Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Hello and welcome to this year's first regular-season Scramble for the Ball. As ever, Week 1 threw up a bunch of surprises ... and a bunch of surprises threw up all over Week 1. It's a fresh start for everybody, though for some more than others.

Bryan: The idea of a new season and a new start means hope, especially for teams that were pretty hopeless the year before. The Buccaneers got a strong dose of hope, winning a shootout over New Orleans. The Jets got a strong dose of hope with the most impressive debut by a Jets rookie quarterback since [Footage Missing].

Andrew: On the flip side, it can very quickly mean dashed hopes, as the teams on the receiving end of those two performances will attest. Saints fans have seen that story before, and Lions fans ... well, at least Saints fans still have the offense.

Bryan: If the Saints keep scoring 40, they're going to win more than their fair share of games. If that defense doesn't get back to where it was last year, they're going to need to score 40 to win their fair share of games.

But that's business as usual down in the Bayou. Most of the same old faces in the same old places doing the same things they've done for years. The most exciting part of any Week 1 is to see the new regimes take control, breathing fresh new life into a franchise that's hit rock bottom. We saw Sean McVay last year turn the Rams around immediately, Sean McDermott somehow guide the Bills into their first playoff berth of the Millennium, Kyle Shanahan breathe fresh hope into a moribund 49ers squad. And how did this year's crop of fresh faces (and also Jon Gruden) do?

Andrew: Newly-hired head coaches went 0-7 on opening day. The worst opening day on record, narrowly edging out 2001's 0-6.

Bryan: Some of these losses, of course, were worse than others. Matt Nagy's Bears looked amazing for about an hour, and no one was really expecting them to beat the Packers, anyway. Jon Gruden's Raiders had a really tough draw in the Rams; that's tough for even good teams to win. Then you turn to look at, say, Matt Patricia's debut and … well. There's always Week 2, right?

Andrew: If nothing else, Patricia might finally kill off the "you don't need to be a rocket scientist" cliché. Because it sure looks like that isn't helping him one bit.

Bryan: Being a rocket scientist probably helps. Being an ex-Belichick coordinator probably doesn't, because it appears that Bill straps his assistants to some sort of intellect-draining machine before sending them out into the world at large. That might explain why Josh McDaniels scampered his way back to New England this offseason.

Andrew: McDaniels does merit a mention as the only person who both was hired as head coach of an NFL franchise this offseason and whose employer won its opening game.

The question at hand now, then, is how long will the class of '18 remain winless? I have to believe that this winless weekend is a blip, but then I look at Detroit's forthcoming schedule, and Gruden's remaining players, and Pat Shurmur's remaining quarterback, and there don't look to be a whole lot of wins to pass round.

Bryan: Oh, I'm sure all of them will win a game sooner rather than later. None of them are coaching the Buffalo Bills, after all.

But "when?" is a valid question, as is how panicky each fanbase should be about their newly appointed saviors. Let's go quickfire around the league and see what we can see, shall we?

Steve Wilks: Arizona Cardinals

Bryan: I really thought the Cardinals had a chance to knock off Washington. I was going to mock you for picking them in the Double Survival Challenge. But now it is I who appears the fool. O, cruel vagaries of fate!

Andrew: Much as I hate to say it, Washington is a good team. If they were in the AFC, never mind being a playoff contender, they might even be contending for a bye. Of course, they're in the NFC instead, so they're up against considerably tougher competition. That tougher competition does not include the Cardinals, who look every bit as bad as I thought they would. The problem for Arizona getting the first win is, again, that tough conference. It would not shock me one bit to see them winless heading into their game against the Raiders in Week 11, though at this point I would then favor them for that.

Bryan: From a coaching standpoint, you have to question why David Johnson is getting only 14 touches. Yes, the game got out of hand by the end, but Johnson is one of the best players in the league. I'm not saying "establish the run" or anything like that, because Johnson's also a weapon in the short passing game. Getting the ball to Johnson should be coaching on easy mode, so I'm more concerned about that going forward than anything else. You've got to use the weapons you have, or you're going to be hampering yourself going forward.

I think Week 11 is a bit harsh, though. While I'm not expecting them to go on the road and knock off the Rams this week, they get a couple of very winnable home games to round out September, with both Chicago and Seattle coming to town. Denver and San Francisco could also be wins before their bye week. I think this is still a five- to seven-win team, but they'll get their wins sooner rather than later. Heck, they could be 2-2 before the month is up. I wouldn't panic too much, too early. I think.

Andrew: They're still a legitimate NFL squad, so I don't necessarily think they will hit 0-11. I'm just saying it wouldn't surprise me. They'll probably pick up a win here or there, but I do think they're closer to a top-five draft pick than a surprise wild card. I think, most likely, their first win comes in October against San Francisco.

Matt Nagy: Chicago Bears

Bryan: I feel I know less about the Bears now than I did before Sunday night.

For a quarter, they looked like ... well, world-beaters would probably be an exaggeration, but everything seemed to be clicking. The offense was innovative and dynamic, Khalil Mack and the defense was dominant, and they were well on their way to a huge upset victory. Then the second half came, the play calling got conservative, and the defense couldn't stop an injured God of Quarterbacks.

Andrew: It's funny. The Bears looked largely how I thought they would, even in picking the under. They're going to have a good defense. They're going to need a good defense.

Bryan: Mitchell Trubisky looked really good early on … when his first reads were consistently open. When the Packers started shifting their coverages and taking away those first reads, it felt like Trubisky started panicking more, and became less effective. I don't know if you fix that by doing more dynamic creative stuff, like the Bears did on their first drive, or if this just a "Trubisky needs to be better" moment.

Andrew: As teams get more film, even in the course of a game, they become better at figuring out what you're doing and countering it. There's only so much you can do with that. At some point, your players just need to be better. Trubisky's still young, but it's a concern that he was so cloistered in that offense. I think they'll be good enough to batter out a few wins, which you can do even in the modern game with an effective running attack. They could have enough to achieve that against the Seahawks. They should have enough to achieve it against the Cardinals. Though if they're not on track by the end of September, they're in real trouble, as the schedule only gets tougher from there.

Bryan: Nagy showed some creative play calling, both here and in Kansas City. If he can do that and also keep Trubisky's reads easy and simple (like Sean McVay did for Jared Goff), this could be a 9-7-caliber team. If, instead, the Bears play like they did in the second half of Week 1, they'll be lucky to hit 2-14. Unlike the Cardinals, who I think we both agree have a limited range of possible outcomes, the Bears seem to have a lot of potential paths from here on out.

This week against Seattle is a possibility, for sure. Seattle looked better than I expected, but their prime highlight was still their ROBO-PUNTER, so that's not as intimidating as years gone by. Failing that, I still like Week 4 against Tampa Bay. Any lingering Fitzmagic should be purged from the system by that point, one would assume, so there's another winnable game. Heck, even playing at Arizona isn't a lost cause, though I think I'd favor the desert birds in that one. I don't think they get out of September without at least one and possibly a couple wins. Bears fans here were tearing Nagy apart after the loss, and they need to pump the brakes on that one just a bit. At the very least, he did better than John Fox.

Matt Patricia: Detroit Lions

Andrew: Is it too late to just, I dunno, un-fire Jim Caldwell?

Bryan: Jim Caldwell was asked for a comment, and just stood there, looking ahead stoically. I think that means he's pleased.

Andrew: Your response has me wondering what would happen if Caldwell's teams ever did well enough to have a statue of him put up. I have a ton I could write on the topic of Jim Caldwell, but he is not the coach here any more. Matt Patricia is. That ... could have started better.

You know how we often talk about details, and how much of coaching is the little things? Matt Patricia's teams have, in the past couple of weeks, given up Tampa Bay's first special teams return touchdown of any kind in over a decade, though it was preseason so it doesn't really count, then given up the Jets' first punt return touchdown since 2012. The details aren't working out any better than the headlines.

Bryan: There's also the fact that the Jets claimed they could read the Lions' hand signals and play calls, leading to those five picks. You would think that, if it looks like the other team knows what you're doing, you'd figure out some way to take advantage of that. In-game adjustments count as one of those "little things," right? Even if it's just pretending to call a play the Jets are reading, and then taking advantage when they jump the (fictional) route. But no, none of that happened. The Lions looked ... well, they should be thankful the Bills exist, because without them, they would have looked like the worst team in football this week. And at least the Bills lost to a near-miss playoff team last season; the Lions got embarrassed by the Jets. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that that no es bueno.

Andrew: The bigger problem for Detroit is that the NFC North might be the toughest division in the game if the Bears defense is as real as it looked in the first half against the Packers. Before the season, I would have pegged Week 2 as a winnable game, but I'm not sure that trip to Levi's Stadium is especially appetizing right now. The Lions should be able to pick up a few wins from their schedule, but every single one of the games that look easiest on paper right now is on the road. At San Francisco. At Dallas. At Miami. At Arizona. At Buffalo. This is going to be a long season.

Bryan: Their best chance before the bye might be Week 5, at home versus Green Bay. When that's the best you can come up with, you know that there may be trouble ahead. They're not going to be better than 1-4 going into the bye, and I could easily see the goose egg sitting there, making for a long week of finger-pointing.

Even when they get out of the bye, it's not much better. Week 8, at home versus Seattle, is a possibility. (Seattle seems like they could give a lot of these first-time coaches their first wins.) Week 11, at home against Carolina, might be a shot. But I think they could go as far as Week 12's matchup with the Bears before I find a game where I'm comfortable going "yeah, I think the Lions should win this one." This is a two- to five-win team, if Monday night's disaster was anything to go by. I think Nagy wins the battle of NFC North First-Time Coaches.

Frank Reich: Indianapolis Colts

Andrew: I remain optimistic about both Reich and the Colts, even despite the Week 1 defeat. I think Cincinnati will be a little better than most people expect this year, as evidenced by me taking them to win this game last week. The Colts don't have a huge amount of talent across the roster, and the Bengals are better than them man-for-man at most positions, but Reich has some pieces to work with and Andrew Luck does appear to still be Andrew Luck.

Bryan: Consider the degree of difficulty here. The Colts had issues at both tackle and wide receiver over the course of the game and were starting a rookie running back. The lineup for Week 1 wasn't exactly what Reich was hoping for, and he still gave the Bengals a heck of a game. For me, what Reich did after the game was even more important, however. Most coaches will give a brief "it's on me" sort of statement after a loss, as a way of taking some of the blame from their players. Reich went a step further, though, and actually outlined some of the issues he had -- handling timeouts, when to go for two, when to challenge, things like that. The fact that he's both aware of these problems, which many first-time coaches face, and is willing to admit to these problems, gives me hope he will improve in these areas going forward.

Andrew: The trickiest part, as always, is fixing them, but I agree that it's encouraging to hear him identify specifics. I think the Colts can take a great deal of heart from Week 1 even though they're 0-1. The Titans lost a winnable game in Miami, and lost some very important players. The Texans did not look very good, though of course that was against the Patriots. The Jaguars will need to score more than 13 offensive points to win many games, even with the defense they have.

Bryan: The biggest problem with the Colts winning games early is probably the schedule. Five of their first eight games before the bye are on the road, and they've already used up one of their home games. They get Houston in Week 4 and then the all-soothing balm that is Buffalo in Week 7, so I don't think they're getting out of October without a win or two, but the season opens up much more nicely after the week off. I could see them sitting at 2-6 at the bye and then rattling off three straight wins afterwards when they get that Jags/Titans/Dolphins trio.

Andrew: Comebacks from impossible situations were rapidly becoming an Andrew Luck trademark before the injury layoff. Can he do that over the course of the season? I do think 4-4 is a realistic objective, though again perhaps not a likely achievement.

Bryan: To get to 4-4, I'm thinking they win the home games against Houston and Buffalo, and then road trips to ... the Raiders and Jets, maybe? I suppose that's possible.

Andrew: That's exactly the four games I'm thinking when I say realistic, though I should emphasize the word objective. It's not an expectation, but with a bit of Luck ... yes, we're back to using the quarterback's name in that way. Of course we are.

Bryan: Nominative determinism is not yet part of DVOA, but we're working on adding it for next season.

Andrew: Anyway, what I'm saying is the Colts don't appear to have much to worry about. Some promise, some potential, a coach who sounds in touch with the modern game -- all of those things are reason for optimism after the Chuck Pagano era. They'll win some, they'll lose some, and the season will probably be a relative success even if they aren't still playing in January.

Pat Shurmur: New York Giants

Andrew: This is the one rookie coach for whom I don't think I have much of a grasp of his situation. I don't see much of a change here from last year, and I think that's simply because most of the important stuff is the same. Eli Manning. Odell Beckham. An offensive tackle who doesn't know that Calais Campbell is more of a power rusher than a speed rusher. That kind of thing.

Actually, I need to link this GIF of one sample from the Campbell-Flowers matchup. It's incredible.

Ben Muth, if you're reading this, please let somebody know you're OK.

Bryan: It's a "blink twice if they're holding you hostage" sort of situation.

The hard part of evaluating Shurmur is that the Giants seem to have all the wrong processes in place at the moment. Like, with the Colts or the Cardinals, you see the plan being developed, so you can kind of judge their coaches on how well they're executing the franchise's plan. But what is the plan of the New York Giants? Hope Eli Manning fights off the age demons? Hope that the running game will go back to 1970s levels of importance? What, exactly, is the path to the Giants being good? Even the Seahawks have a clearly defined plan, even if that plan is dumb.

Andrew: Even the BIlls have a plan, crazy as it may seem to everybody who's ever watched a football game. I think the Giants are trying to maximize Eli's window of opportunity, which is madness because Eli's window hasn't let a peek of daylight through in about five years.

Bryan: So, if the Giants are just stumbling along, I suppose ... Shurmur's doing a good job, keeping them stumbling?

Andrew: It's hard to say.

Bryan: Even harder to say is when the Giants will stumble into a win. My first thought is, "well, divisional games are kind of a toss-up," so, maybe Week 8 versus Washington? I'm not sold on that.

Andrew: Dallas or Carolina could be good for a road win, depending which way the ball bounces in what may well be a pair of slugfests. At the Falcons is unlikely but not impossible, especially given Atlanta's recent losses on the defense.

Bryan: Looking over the schedule, there's precisely one game where I would feel confident going "yeah, I think the Giants will win," and that's again against the poor Bears. That's not until Week 13 though! They'll probably pick up a win at some time before that, and could be favored against Tampa Bay, etc., but this is not a good team going up against quite a rough schedule.

Andrew: A lot can change between now and then, but I would consider the Titans game in Week 15 a reasonably likely Giants win. They appear to have a reasonable run-in, but they will be long out of contention for anything before they get to it. The opening schedule is not kind.

Mike Vrabel: Tennessee Titans

Andrew: Speaking of the Titans...

Bryan: Has their season opener ended yet? I don't think we can take any serious points away from a game that had multiple multiple-hour long delays.

Andrew: We can certainly try though. Serious points: Delanie Walker's season is over, but I expected him to have a down year anyway. Marcus Mariota is hurt again, which is becoming a bit of a recurring theme. Matt LaFleur said during the offseason that it was vital to keep Mariota healthy, but here we are after one week with him injured. I don't mean that as a slight, incidentally -- this is a violent sport -- but simply an observation of bad news for the Titans. I had the Dolphins game down as one of the more winnable for Tennessee, so a loss there hurts my opinion of their prospects a bit more than if, say, they had lost in New England.

Bryan: All the injuries, of course, are out of Vrabel's hands, but from what little I saw -- rain delays make following a game particularly annoying, and I haven't managed to see the fourth quarter yet! -- Vrabel's decision-making during the game could have used some work. Poor use of timeouts, for example.

Andrew: I put the Titans in a similar boat to the Colts, overall. Which is admittedly a little odd, because the Titans were a playoff team last year whereas the Colts were 4-12. There's a process at play in these appointments, and the idea is to become better over the longer term. They're a team that could be a serious contender next year, if the offense gels and the defense progresses. It's going to be impossible to judge Vrabel without seeing that progression, for better or worse. I think in the short term they'll win fewer games, but in the long term they could be a better team. Still, they should be looking to win in against Houston in Week 2 unless they're forced into starting Blaine Gabbert -- and even with Gabbert I'd be hoping they could win in Buffalo in Week 5. For a broad variety of reasons, I expect them to have a better second half of the season than the first half.

Bryan: Gabbert always seems to worm his way into the starting lineup, doesn't he? The injuries are the big question mark, but if the Mariota/Lewan injuries aren't too bad, I could still see this team ending the year with a winning record. So yeah, this week against Houston seems doable, and if not, anything between Weeks 3 and 7 (at Jacksonville, Philadelphia, at Buffalo, Baltimore, at Chargers) I could see a win, as well. I don't know if Vrabel will be the first rookie coach to get a win, but I highly doubt he'll be the last.

Jon Gruden: Oakland Raiders

Bryan: Saving the best for last? Or at least, the craziest.

Andrew: Gruden is the one guy we've seen before; the odd man out. By which I mean, what are the odds on this man being out? Pretty slim, given his contract, but my goodness. What have they done?

Bryan: First and foremost, take nothing from the Week 1 game. The late Monday game is a place where weird, weird things happen. Take last year, when the Broncos beat the Chargers on a last-second field goal whiff by Younghoe Koo; the Broncos finished 5-11 while the Chargers were 9-7. Or 2015, when the 49ers stomped all over the Vikings; they were 5-11 that year, and the Vikings were 11-5. Or 2013, when the Texans pipped the Chargers on a last-second field goal made by Randy Bullock. The Texans were 2-14, the Chargers were 9-7. Weird stuff happens on late Monday starts.

Andrew: If you think I am basing my alarm at what's going on in Oakland on a single game rather than, say, THE ENTIRE OFFSEASON, you are sorely mistaken.

Bryan: … That seems fair. Gruden's currently claiming Khalil Mack is in Chicago because he didn't want to be in Oakland. That's ... I mean, that's straight out of an alternative reality.

Andrew: Well, so is his roster. That reality just happened to be known at the time as 2012.

Bryan: Well, if Gruden's still living in 2012, there's good news. The Browns are just as bad now as they were back then, and the Raiders get to play them in Week 4. They'd better win that one, because if they don't, uh...

Andrew: There are many, many reasons why this is going to be a long season in Oakland. I don't think we ever expected them to beat the Rams on opening night, shocks or no shocks. They had better pick up a couple of quick results against fellow strugglers though; this has looked like a 4-12 team since the moment the Mack holdout started. I don't see anything that has me changing my mind. First win? Possibly Miami in Week 3. More likely Cleveland in Week 4, assuming the Browns coaches are still the same group at that point. Seattle at Wembley is possible because of the weirdness of the trip, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Bryan: The schedule gets a little easier after the bye, with home games against the Colts and Chargers, but things aren't great. If they lose to Cleveland, I could see panic starting to set in all around the OakVegas area. Of course, for most teams, losing to Cleveland causes that sort of sensation, but Cleveland might be semi-good this year; the Raiders will not be.

Andrew: I do think they'll grab a win before the bye, but I also think they'll grab around four wins overall. I would not be encouraged if I were a Raiders fan right now.


Andrew: The broadest point that we can take away from the opening weekend's results is that good teams rarely feel the need to replace their head coaches. Most guys in new jobs are taking over bad, or at least mediocre, teams. It's uncommon to see them all go winless on their first weekend, especially after we saw some stunning results from first-year coaches last season, but it usually takes more than one game to set alarm bells ringing.

Bryan: Exactly. You should really give any team, especially one with a new regime in place, a month before really jumping off the deep end, National Jump to Conclusions Week or no. Especially with teams using preseason less and less, there's an important feeling-out period to sit through before teams really reach their true selves. Even the Patriots have some early-season stinkers -- remember Kansas City's win on opening night last year?

So, RELAX. Whether you have a new head coach, or your billion-dollar quarterback throws three ugly interceptions, or your all-world rookie defense regresses as sophomores, give them more than a week before jamming on that panic button.

Andrew: Unless your team lost by 20 immediately after trading its only good defender. Then, maybe it's time to worry.

Bryan: Or if your chosen starting quarterback shows up here, atop the Loser League.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Who else but Nathan Peterman? He failed to even pick up a single first down, much less gain anything positive. Since the year 2000, there have only been four quarterbacks with a career passer rating below the 39.6 level (that's the rating you get for zero complete passes, if you just spiked everything into the ground) with at least 60 passing attempts. Peterman is the only one of the four who was the team's first choice for a starter. His -3 points are going to be a hard mark for anyone to top this season.

Running Back: Some thought that the 49ers would be fine after Jerick McKinnon's injury. After all, they had Alfred Morris, with success in the Shanahan scheme, ready to go, right? Well, not so much. Thirty-nine yards on 12 rushes isn't good to begin with, but the lost fumble at the goal line really hurt. He finishes the day with 1 point.

Wide Receiver: Welcome back the Goose Egg Brigade, the weekly squad of receivers who, generally speaking, get two or three targets with nothing to show for it. This week, Mike Wallace and Chad Williams failed to catch a pass, while Jeremy Kerley, T.J. Jones, Amari Cooper, and Jaron Brown failed to get 10 yards. Cooper had nine yards as both a rusher and a receiver, but that's still a goose egg for you.

Kicker: Misses will kill you. Graham Gano's missed extra point was never actually attempted, as the snap wasn't clean, so while he finishes with -1 point, that's not really his fault. He also kicked a field goal, meaning that he outscored Brett Maher. A 47-yard field goal isn't quite a gimme, but when you're replacing Dan Bailey, you've gotta do better than that. Maher gets a -2 on the day to lead all kickers.

Check your team's score and the leaderboard here!

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: It's arguable whether this one throw was worse than anything Nathan Peterman did against the Ravens. We should take into account, however, that Peterman is nobody's franchise quarterback. Derek Carr, allegedly, is. Franchise quarterbacks should not do stuff like this.

We're still not sure what Carr was actually trying to do here. Whatever it was, he should probably not do it again.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: It all started so well. In the first quarter, with pressure coming from all sides, Aaron Rodgers was already struggling before a sack knocked him out of the game. Continued relentless pressure on DeShone Kizer resulted in two Bears turnovers, and an efficient running game drove the Bears to a 20-0 lead. The Rodgers returned the game, and it all went wrong for Matt Nagy.

It needn't have been that way. Protecting a 20-17 lead, the Bears drove to Green Bay's 14-yard line, where a Jordan Howard run set up third-and-2. Mike McCarthy used his final timeout before that play, so the Bears knew that a first down would ice the game. Up to that point, 18 of Chicago's 20 handoffs had gained at least 2 yards (not including a Tarik Cohen direct snap that went for no gain), and here the Bears were with two attempts to get the necessary yards. On third down, they passed, incomplete. Worse, on fourth down, they kicked the field goal. Now, instead of the Bears taking the clock inside two minutes and potentially retaining possession, Aaron Rodgers had the ball, knowing he needed a touchdown, with over two minutes on the clock. He gained the touchdown in three plays. Aggressive coaching is often described in terms of favoring passing over running, but in this case it was the complete opposite: the Bears should have run, on both downs, knowing that the surest path to victory was not kicking a field goal, it was getting that last first down.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching:: We could write several treatises on Nathan Peterman's continued struggles as quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, but at the end of the day, it's not his fault he's out there. He didn't get to pick himself to be the starting quarterback. No, that responsibility went to Sean McDermott. McDermott looked at a quarterback who has a lifetime quarterback rating below the "incompletion-only" line of 39.6 -- and has the 20th most pass attempts of any player under that limit since quarterback rating was introduced -- and decided "yes, that will be my number one starter for the season." After the game, McDermott made three separate references to "having to watch the film" before deciding whether Peterman should continue to start. That's the same line he gave after Peterman's first disastrous start a year ago. Here's a tip for you, Sean: we've watched the film. Peterman was horrible. Josh Allen may not be ready yet, but at least he's your (potential) quarterback of the future. Please, don't make us watch any more Nathan Peterman.

'Oh Oh, Fitzmagic' Fantasy Player of the Week: Ryan Fitzpatrick has now been the opening day starter for four different teams, one off the post-merger record shared by Vinny Testaverde and Kerry Collins. He has never been good enough to hold down a starting job for any appreciable length of time, but every now and then, he flashes something incredible that tells you why he's the go-to-guy for teams with no idea what to do at the quarterback position. His advanced numbers may or may not hold up, depending on how New Orleans' defense rebounds this season, but Fitzmagic was absolutely dealing on Sunday, killing survivor pools and fantasy leagues alike. It's unlikely he'll keep that level of play up, but if he does, the Bucs are going to have a decision to make in Week 4.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: The Cardinals' loss was a miserable one; a sign that this season isn't going to go as well as some fans may have hoped. But it wasn't all bad, because it saw the return of David Johnson. After he signed a new mega-extension before the game, it was great to see Johnson back on the field, even if he didn't have as explosive a day as fans might have hoped. He did, however, manage to score Arizona's only touchdown, long after the game had been decided, to at least send Arizona fans home moderately appeased.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: The Detroit Lions did not have a good debut under new head coach Matt Patricia. Lost in the malaise, however, is that second-year receiver Kenny Golladay had the first 100-yard receiving game of his young career. Golladay, a third-round pick from last year's draft, has excited the Lions fans with a number of highlight catches, but has also shown the inconsistency that made him a Day 2 prospect. Even as the apparent third receiver for the Lions, Golladay has the potential to be a star in Detroit's pass-heavy offense. Unlike the rest of his teammates, his season got off on a relative high note.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: We discussed Matt Nagy's conservative play calling earlier, but he might have gotten away with it. The Packers needed to score on every single second-half drive (before killing the clock in the last minute) in order to pull off the comeback. With a quarterback on a gimpy leg. If anything, the Bears were too aggressive on defense. With 2:30 left in the game and the Packers facing a third-and-10, Eddie Jackson tried to jump a route, but Aaron Rodgers threaded the ball right to Randall Cobb. With Jackson out of the picture, there was no one on deep contain, and Cobb romped to a 75-yard score. The shell-shocked Bears couldn't answer back, and the Packers remained tied atop the NFC North.

Weekly Predictions

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Records to Date
Andrew 1-0
Bryan: 0-1

Bryan: The Steelers are known for occasionally forgetting how to play football on the road or in the rain. That's quite possibly what happened in Week 1, with the tie to Cleveland. The thing is, the Steelers nearly always come out the next week and crush their opponents. While it's possible Sunday's game was a harbinger of a collapse for the Steelers, we still have them with the highest DVOA in football, and we've seen this script before. That's why I'm taking Pittsburgh (-5) at home versus Kansas City. And if the Steelers don't cover, we might be looking for a new team to call No. 2 in the AFC.

Andrew: The Jon Gruden era got off to a worrying start on Monday night, albeit against probably the most talented squad in the league. A road trip in division could be just the tonic ... but not if Derek Carr plays anything like he did in Week 1. Case Keenum matched Carr's three interceptions; but unlike Carr, Keenum's teammates are good enough to dig him out of trouble. Against Jon Gruden's old-look Raiders, that should not be necessary. Denver (-5.5) vs. Oakland.

Double Survival League

Bryan: I mean, this could have started worse for me, I suppose. I decided I wanted to start the season off with two gimmes, and worry about filling in tough matchups later in the season after building up a nice cushion. So I picked the two games I thought were the most obvious wins -- the Ravens over the Bills, which worked out very nicely and then, uh, the Saints over the Buccaneers. A bad case of Fitzmagic later, and I find myself a game behind Andrew.

It's even worse than just being a game back, too -- we still expect the Saints, in general, to be good, so it shouldn't be too hard for Andrew to find a Saints victory somewhere down the line. I've wasted the Saints on a Week 1 defensive implosion. It's my own fault, really. The Saints are now 0-5 in their opening day games since 2014, and 1-7 since 2011. At least I can console myself with the fact that I picked teams that each put up 40 points last week; if I can keep doing that, I should be able to go 31-1, right? Maybe?

Andrew: As with last week, this week I'm doubling down on one of my teams. This time, it's the Denver Broncos. I suspect a few of these over the course of the season will entail picking against the Raiders, because there really is not much to like about Jon Gruden's current crew. The Broncos might not have too many obvious wins on their schedule this year, but this ought to be one of them.

For similar reasons, I'm also taking San Francisco over Detroit. The Lions were terrible in their opening game against a Jets squad that I still believe is on the low end of mediocre. Kyle Shanahan has the offense to pull apart better defenses than Detroit's, even if he might have to stick pads on a tackling dummy and start it at right guard. If the Lions offense does not recover quickly from its woeful start, this season could spiral out of control even in the early reckoning.

Bryan: I'll join you in taking Denver, for much the same reason. That's not going to help me catch up to you, but I don't see a more likely win anywhere on Denver's remaining schedule; I have little to no faith in the Raiders, especially on the road and at altitude. Denver does well, historically, in the thin air in September. The Broncos aren't my most likely team to win -- I think teams like Dallas, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh all have easier games Sunday. Those three teams all have easier matchups later, though, so let's just take the Broncos off the board.

I can't double you up twice, because then I'm just going to lose. So instead, I'll go with the game I'm most confident about this week -- the L.A. Rams taking down the Cardinals at home. They're the biggest favorites of the week per Vegas, and that Cardinals offense has not started gelling just yet. Hopefully, that will be a nice easy win to keep me close until you screw something up.

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27 comments, Last at 14 Sep 2018, 1:42pm

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

By that argument, if a receiver later fumbles, the QB gets penalized too since it's all "part of the passing game". Not only am I not buying it, but that's a nearly impossible task to try to manage since the play-by-play presumably says something like "Carolina holder tackled on conversion attempt" with no mention of Gano at all.

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Then you turn to look at, say, Matt Patricia's debut and … well. There's always Week 2, right?

Not if there's a merciful god.

He not only should have been fired after week 1. He should have been fired before week 1. We can get Jim Caldwell back by Saturday, right? 12 hours of Caldwell has to be better than the Hobo Without a Shotgun.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Bears fans here were tearing Nagy apart after the loss, and they need to pump the brakes on that one just a bit.

As they should.

Trubisky should not catch the blame. The defense and coaching collapsed, as he QBed what should have been a 9 minute game-clinching drive, if not for Nagy's indefensible playcalling on 3rd-2 and 4th-2 from the 14. Howard got 2 yards or more on 12 of his 15 rushes. Cohen on 4 of his 5. Run twice. Run. Twice.

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Yeah, I don't know how you can blow a 20-0 lead and not deserve serious criticism, absent major injuries to your players. I'm especially disappointed in Nagy's lack of aggression on 4th and 2. Especially given that, apart from the chance of picking up the first down and icing the game, even if they failed to convert they'd arguably have been in a better position since there's a chance McCarthy would have played more for the tying field goal than a TD.

But it's not just that. I know Fangio runs the defense but I'm disturbed by how they couldn't contain Rodgers at all when he very clearly had to stay in the pocket and get the ball out quick every play. And it would have been nice for the Bears to score on any of their other 2nd half drives so that they wouldn't have ended up in such a crucial position with two minutes to go.

27 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

One more reason Nagy should have run. Even if he didn't make it, Chicago would be up by three. McCarthy's tendency at that point would be to go for the field goal once in range. I've seen far too many McCarthy-coached games to know that. McCarthy would have reigned in Rodgers once the offense was inside the 35 because he gets incredibly risk-averse at the end of games. At worst, the Bears probably go into OT and hope to win the coin flip.

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Bryan - I believe RobotBoy is referring to comment #66 on Quick Reads - Week 1 vs your comment about removing Patricia intellect.

I must admit when I read this article, I found myself thinking it was the same joke recycled.

That said, I didn't think plagiarism - you've written too many articles to suggest you wouldn't do that.

25 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Ah, OK. From the timestamp, we were actually done writing the article by that point in time, so I can rest a bit easier!

Just a bit of independent invention, and a sign that Andrew and I should strive to be a little more creative in future, rather than going with the obvious joke.

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

I thought Gruden's return looked ok ... but then I lived through the return of Art Shell ... and well ... by comparison ... nothing is going to trainwreck like that.

The troubling part was Carr's mistakes. The first interception was too easy for the DB to get to when it should have been placed high for Cook to outjump for an easy touchdown. I don't recall the 2nd int. The 3rd int well, Jake Plummer came to mind for some reason.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

In a weird way, they looked better than I expected.... and still lost by 20.

Now, maybe the Rams are just a really good team, but the Raiders are going straight to 3-13 if Carr makes stupid mental mistakes like he did. It would be nice if he actually waits for a 3rd read once in his life.

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

I really don't get the analysis of the Raiders game. They were up 13-10 at the half and had a lot of solid play in my opinion, undermined by Carr's three interceptions (one of which was just an atrocious decision) and taking too many penalties (11 for 155 yards). So the penalties you can lay at Gruden's feet, but if they clean that up some and Carr just makes a few better decisions (he completed 72% of his passes for just over 300 yards) then I think they can definitely be a competitive team. I really liked how they seemed to have an emphasis on quick releases to beat the Rams' pass rush.

Contrast all of that to the team I cheer for, the Cowboys, who looked like an absolute train wreck on offense, and frankly I think that despite the decade away from the field Gruden had a better idea of how to direct his team than Garrett in his 7th year...

But then again, I'm of the belief that Oakland got a decent return for a player that I'm skeptical they could actually afford (I mean real money-wise, not contract space wise, I question Mark Davis' cash flow).

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

For a team with 29 new players on its roster and a coach who is looking to implement a new offensive scheme etc, I thought it was a competent first game.

Wade Phillips' defenses are never easy to play against and their CB pairing of Talib and Peters shut down Cooper and whoever the #2 receiver is. I believe that against lesser-defenses, Gruden offensive scheme will see them scoring more points.

(As side note, I had a 'premonition' that one day we will see Tom Brady's career ending in a playoff loss to Gruden's Raiders to bookend with the Tuck Rule. Take it with a pinch of salt but sometimes fact is stranger than fiction)