by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, your first choice for quality lumber for 15 years and counting. We pride ourselves in providing nothing but the choicest cuts of wood, chopped by the terrible, confusing and downright strange happenings around the National Football League. Some weeks, the pickings are slim; we have to scrape through a handful of so-so matchups trying to find something that particularly stands out. This week, however, we have an absolute bumper crop to choose from, for all your wood-choppin' needs.
Andrew: I recall our Audibles lede for the Opening Night Special: "The NFL is back! And it kinda sucks!" At least now, the suck is a touch more entertaining. We could all use a good laugh after the past year or two.
Bryan: And to be fair, it's not like all of football was terrible. If you like passing, for example, this week was the greatest in NFL history. It's just that the sheer variety and amount of strange gaffes and bizzare decisions last week was nigh-unprecedented; the most intriguing collection since we became your humble Scramble writers, at any rate. There's far too much to squeeze down into just one pick in an awards section.
Andrew: Thus, instead of a single award, we have nominated this the Keep Choppin' Week: we're playing all of the hits, all of the time. Don't touch that dial!
We begin, as these occasions often do, in Buffalo...
Andrew: Look, the Buffalo Bills were playing Los Calamitous Chargers. Something off-the-charts insane was bound to happen. We thought we had it on the play where Taiwan Jones was injured. A Drew Kaser punt was muffed at the 8-yard line by Bills returner Marcus Murphy, and bounced into the end zone. Taiwan Jones then picked it up and, presumably not knowing that he could still down it, attempted a return. He was immediately tackled by approximately 41 Chargers players, who also apparently did not realize this would only result in a touchback instead of a safety, and lost his helmet. The moment that happened, a 42nd Chargers player, more commonly known as Uchenna Nwosu, mashed Jones in his now-exposed face and picked up a 15-yard penalty. In one play, we had a muffed punt, a 15-yard personal foul penalty, a receiving team who wrongly thought they should return a punt from their own end zone, and a kicking team who wrongly thought that they should tackle a punt returner before he made it out of the end zone.
— René Bugner (Rainbowcave) (@RNBWCV) September 16, 2018
Bryan: Yet that play isn't even in the same universe as the strangest thing to happen in Buffalo on Sunday. No, that would be Vontae Davis who, after struggling for a game and a half, decided that it was time to hang up the boots and retire. Now, there's nothing wrong with a veteran realizing he doesn't have "it" anymore and walking away -- in fact, it seems like every year, there's a player or four who keep hanging on long after their prime, trying to recapture some magic. It takes a lot of self-awareness and honesty to admit to yourself that you just can't cut it anymore, rather than struggling through training camp and failing to make a 53-man roster. The problem was, Davis decided this at halftime and ... promptly left the stadium. In the middle of the game.
Andrew: I'm never one to advocate deceit, but surely, surely the wiser course, assuming that you absolutely could not face even one more play, would be to claim an injury then retire after the game. Davis even missed Week 1 injured, so he had the perfect excuse dangling in front of him!
Bryan: And here's the thing -- Davis wasn't even the worst cornerback on the field for Buffalo. Phillip Gaines was injured in the first half, so Davis' sudden retirement injury forced safety Rafael Bush into coverage work before Bush got injured himself, leaving Tre'Davious White and Lafayette Pitts as the only healthy active cornerbacks on the roster. That forced Micah Hyde to the nickel and Siran Neal in at safety and oh, my, the Bills did not need any of that. Had Davis retired before the game, the Bills could have dressed another corner for just such a situation. Instead, he forced players to play out of position, which is both terrible for on-field performance and increases the possibility that someone is going to get hurt doing unfamiliar things. Terrible, terrible timing for Davis, even without getting into the "quitting on teammates" argument.
Andrew: We've never heard of anything quite like this, and that takes some doing. Davis has already all but guaranteed his spot in our all-star Woodchoppers selections at the end of the year. That is, in its own way, a remarkable feat to achieve this early in the year.
Bryan: While one cornerback slot might be more-or-less salted away, the competition for starting kicker on the Keep Chopping Wood team is already ferocious. There were 19 missed field goals or extra points in Week 2. While far from a record -- see last Christmas, when kickers biffed 20 of them -- there were plenty of players who, individually, had some of the worst days we've seen in a long time.
Andrew: Don't we usually hear around the start of October how kickers are on course to set a record for the highest overall percentage made, before winter brings the numbers back down to earth? Oh boy, are we in for a wild winter based on this September's showing. Three different teams have already made kicker moves this week. One of those was due to injury -- the Rams have brought in Sam Ficken, just as they did the last time Greg Zuerlein was hurt. The others ... remember when the Vikings had one of the most accurate, reliable kickers in the game in Blair Walsh? Since that infamous 2015 playoff miss against the Seahawks, both Walsh himself and the Vikings' kicking situation have sunk into the pit of despair. Walsh was disastrous in 2016 before being replaced with the moderately reliable Kai Forbath. The Vikings moved on from Forbath in September, in favor of the next young thing. Oh, how they must regret that now.
Bryan: Remember, the Vikings traded two sixth-round picks to move up and draft Daniel Carlson out of Auburn. Carlson had three shots at hitting a field goal against the Packers, any one of which would have given the Vikings the win. A 48-yard miss in the first half is not the end of the world, but Carlson managed to miss not one, but two game-winning field goals in overtime. He joins a very, very exclusive group there -- it was last done by Jay Feely of the Giants in a 2005 loss to Seattle -- and his feat may be the most impressive, considering the shorter 10-minute overtime periods. He was the first kicker drafted, and would have been the first kicker cut ... except Cleveland beat them to the punch.
Zane Gonzalez missed two field goals and two extra points against New Orleans. That's eight points left on the board in a game the Browns lost by three. Add in the blocked field goal in overtime last week, and the Browns moved on from one of the most productive kickers in collegiate history. He's gone now, but not before Dan Bailey, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, spurned them to join the Vikings. Oh my.
Andrew: Misses are misses, and any kicker can have a bad day. What makes Gonzalez really stand out is the bizarre circumstances that emerged after the game. It turns out, Gonzalez has been playing through a groin injury. There's almost no worse injury that a kicker can sustain that doesn't very obviously keep him off the field. Bryan will have more on this later, but the circumstances -- heaving an injured kicker who has already missed three times onto the field to attempt a 52-yard field goal on first down -- are uncommonly mad even by the glorious insanity standards of the Cleveland Browns.
Speaking of glorious insanity: a professional football team started Blaine Gabbert this past weekend, and won. Not, however, before watching him do this:
— Neil (@NeiliusPrime) September 17, 2018
Yes, that is Blaine Gabbert having a forward pass deflected back into his own hands, catching it, scrambling to his left, and then throwing a second, illegal forward pass out of bounds with his wrong hand. Now admittedly, Gabbert's actions and the resultant 5-yard penalty were a slight improvement on him being tackled for a 10-yard loss, but you know what else would have been an improvement? BATTING THE PASS INTO THE GROUND WHEN IT CAME BACK TO YOU.
Bryan: It was a truly Gabbertian play, for sure, but we've come to expect that from the Blaine Train. We expect a little more from talented quarterbacks, and it was Gabbert's rival who may have had the most boneheaded quarterback play in the Titans-Texans clash. On the last play of the game, with the Texans down three and 16 seconds left on the clock, Deshaun Watson dropped back to pass. And waited. And waited. And scrambled. And waited some more. And nearly got taken down by Tennessee's ferocious, uh, one-man rush. And then crossed the line of scrimmage. And then threw an (illegal) pass to DeAndre Hopkins squat in the middle of the field, about as far as you could physically get from the sidelines and end zone without going backwards. Game over, Titans win.
— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) September 16, 2018
Bryan: Of course, it wasn't just individuals who had bad days last week. Some entire teams managed to be mini-disasters as well. Take the Giants offense, for example, who apparently have not figured out you can throw the ball more than 3 yards down the field. Of course, it would help them a little bit if Eli Manning had more than a nanosecond of time in the pocket to throw the ball; his offensive line is essentially a sieve at the moment, and the season-ending injury to center Jon Halapio is not going to help. That's how you get passing charts that look like this:
Eli Manning’s first half passing chart, via Next Gen Stats.
16 of 20 for 97 yards, 4.9 YPA, 4 sacks. pic.twitter.com/WOQxbFO7Tb
— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) September 17, 2018
Andrew: The Giants are far from the only team with serious issues on offense, however. At least they did not hire a known Schottenheimer to coach their offense. At one point in Sunday's game, the Seahawks had the following sequence, as noted by friend of FO Ben Baldwin:
Woo boy, check out this sequence
1. Schotty calls in play
2. Wilson checks, gain of 4 & first down
3. Next play, Wilson checks again
4. Carroll calls timeout, presumably because Wilson keeps checking
5. Wilson visibly upset pic.twitter.com/yYwnotxhq5
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) September 18, 2018
First two plays after the timeout: I-formation run into stacked box (gain of 1) and then the pick-six that ended the game
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) September 18, 2018
Bryan: I spent far too much time in the offseason watching Schottenheimer film, and I think I've developed some kind of traumatic disorder from it. But at least we came into the season expecting the Seahawks' offense to struggle, albeit perhaps not to this degree. We were high on the Steelers defense, though! We thought their problems were isolated to certain spots and could be fixed, and that the young bucks on defense would take important, key steps forward. Patrick Mahomes is probably good, but I don't think he's "440 yards passing" good, especially when you consider Tyrod Taylor had 300 passing yards on the Steelers two weeks ago. The Steel Curtain is a long distant memory. They can't generate pressure, they can't cover, and they can't tackle. This is not an ideal situation to be in.
Andrew: I would just like to note here that I was not, at all, high on the Steelers defense after how they collapsed without Ryan Shazier last season. I just thought their offense would be good enough to make up for it, and the defense would at least be middling rather than putrid.
Still, those are once more merely run-of-the-mill bad performances -- rather than, say, having Ryan Fitzpatrick drop 48 points on you at home in your season opener.
The real coaching lowlight of the past weekend may well have been this, once again from the Texans-Titans game:
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 16, 2018
Fake punts are, by their nature, surprise plays. They become less surprising when you look at the return team's formation prior to the snap and notice that the Texans have nobody at all between Dane Cruikshank and the end zone. And that is how they lined up. Maybe, just maybe, somebody should have noticed that? It might, perhaps, have been worth the use of a timeout? No, the Texans let it roll, and safety Kevin Byard had the easiest throw of his professional career to fellow defensive back Dane Cruikshank, for seven points in a game that the Texans lost by three.
Bryan: Never let it be said that it's only the competitors who chop wood in this league. I try to shy away from putting too much blame on referees and officials. It's a really difficult job, performed by men who are not full-time officials, trying to interpret rules which ask for unrealistic levels of subjective precision on plays that happen within fractions of a second. That being said, no look at the league-wide wood-chopping would be complete without talking about the end of the Packers-Vikings game. For all the hand-wringing about the helmet rule, it hasn't been a major issue in 2018 -- only called a couple times in situations which have pretty obviously been fouls. No, it's the other roughing rules that are rearing their ugly heads, with the majority of the heat being on Clay Matthews' hit on Kirk Cousins here:
After seeing Clay Matthews get penalized for roughing Kirk Cousins in the 4th quarter on this play, I can now say with all honesty...I have no idea how a defensive player is supposed to tackle a quarterback. #GreenBay #Packers #NFLSunday pic.twitter.com/J7S8PzFQV5
— Weston Kieschnick (@Wes_Kieschnick) September 16, 2018
Now, I don't think that should be a foul. It's not the bodyweight rule; the refs have said that Matthews lifted Cousins and drove him into the ground -- the little hook of the leg was enough to draw the penalty. It feels ticky-tack and generous to me, and you're already limiting the area defenders can hit the quarterback as it is. But you know? If it's a foul, it's a foul. If that kind of hit is going to be penalized, I can get behind it -- it's not what I would choose to do, and it's not what the players would choose to do, but if that's the rule, that's the rule. But take a look at this hit from the Pats-Jags game:
After watching Clay Matthews’ penalty in Green Bay on flight home this a.m., I was struck by similarity to this non-flagged play in Patriots-Jaguars. My preference: No flags on either play (that’s football), but regardless, more consistency something for officials to strive for. pic.twitter.com/CwUZSi7g5j
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 17, 2018
Same sort of play, same hook of the leg -- no foul. Consistency needs to be key. If a hit is a foul in Wisconsin, it needs to be a foul in Florida, as well. Defenders need to know what they're expected to do or not do. It's hard enough to play defense with some of the new safety rules; don't make them have to guess what sorts of plays are legal.
Andrew: I agree, to a large extent, though as a former soccer official I'll note that you simply aren't going to get uniformity between crews across multiple games. You can aim for it, but it's an unattainable standard.
Here's the problem I have: according to multiple reports this week, the league plans to use footage of the Matthews hit as teaching tape ... for what not to do. No. Wrong. What Matthews did should be clinic tape for exactly how to sack a quarterback. It's beyond ridiculous that a tackle like that is legitimately considered a foul by the league office.
Bryan: To be fair, defenders have been complaining about new rules making it impossible to play defense since the first rules were implemented. This offseason, I re-read Dr. Z's seminal New Thinking Man's Guide to Football, written in 1984. It's filled with stories of defenders from the '70s complaining that with things like head slaps outlawed and cornerbacks not being able to brain receivers, that defense would become impossible.
Andrew: At least those things are legitimate safety issues. Are you going to tell me that Kirk Cousins was in uncommon danger of being hurt on that play? If that's the standard for what is a foul, we're no longer playing tackle football.
Bryan: I agree that the play shouldn't be a foul; it's one of the safer ways you can tackle a quarterback. Were I commissioner for the day, I would make it a legal hit. I don't think outlawing it will be the End Of Tackle Football As We Know It, if for no other reason than people have been saying that since about the 1906 legalization of the forward pass, but I don't think it's a wise or necessary rule, and I'd change it.
Andrew: On the subject of the league office and the commissioner, here's a fun quote that has been dug up a few times this week:
Will NFL cutting overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes lead to more ties? Roger Goodell’s response: pic.twitter.com/MEDt4cazRL
— Arthur Arkush (@ArthurArkush) May 23, 2017
Two weeks into the second season under the new rules, we have already tied the record for most tied games in a single season since overtime was introduced in 1974.
Bryan: Two things. First of all, we'd avoid all these ties if kickers could make a dang kick. But secondly, and more importantly, of course less time was going to mean more ties! You have less time to score, so yes, sometimes, teams won't be able to score in ten minutes when they could in 15! That's just basic common sense and logic, two things that the NFL under Goodell has found in short supply.
Andrew: As a European, the entire conversation makes me laugh every time it comes up. I've seen some crazy suggestions for what to do with overtime, from soccer-style penalty kicks to straight up drive-by-drive sudden death. I wouldn't play overtime at all during the regular season. Ties are fine.
Bryan: The NFL did that for many years, and you know what? It survived. It was just fine. I would prefer not to have ties, but if you knew the game was ending at 0:00 in the fourth quarter, you'd play it differently, and we'd avoid some 60-minute ties. Especially in the modern era, where offense is a thing that exists; when the NFL last went overtimeless in 1973, all those nasty head slaps and receiver-killing blows were legal. In the modern offensive environment, you can score more, and faster.
Andrew: Right, exactly. Coaches have the option to play for a tie or, knowing they have the advantage and might need the win, to actually play for the win on their final drive.
Bryan: And even without the benefit of knowing you're not playing for overtime, would it change that much? Fourteen games went to overtime last season. For the sake of argument, let's end them right there -- 14 ties. Here's what would have changed:
- The Chiefs (10-5-1) and Jaguars (9-5-2) would have swapped seeds, with Kansas City moving up to the No. 3 seed.
- The Ravens (9-6-1) and Chargers (9-6-1) would have replaced the Titans (8-7-1) and Bills (8-7-1) as the AFC wild-card teams.
- The Panthers (11-5) would have beaten the Saints (10-5-1) for the NFC South crown, moving them into the conference's No. 3 seed and bumping the Rams down to the fourth seed.
- Every team would have stayed within five picks of their original draft position, with only the Packers (14th to ninth), Bears (eighth to fourth) and 49ers (ninth to 13th) moving more than three slots.
Admittedly, that would have sucked for Titans and Bills fans, but ... is that really all that much worse? The top teams are still the top teams. Swapping the AFC wild-card teams means better teams would have made the playoffs, at least according to DVOA.
Heck, removing overtime and adding ties would, in one way, make playoff selection more fair. Without ties, records are very chunky. There are only 17 possible records, ranging from 16-0 to 0-16, meaning you're going to get more teams ending with the same record. We had a four-way tie at 9-7 in the AFC last season, for two slots, meaning we had to go to tiebreakers. Tiebreakers are inherently arbitrary -- if tied Team A does better than Team B in one subset of games, that means they did worse than Team B in the other subset.
When ties become a realistic, albeit infrequent reality, we get fewer equal records, which means we have to resort to tiebreakers less often. No need for a four-way fight over the AFC wild-card slot; no need for the Panthers and Saints to resort to schedule-squinting to see who won the NFC South. It's all about the record on the field -- the team with the better record gets the better seed. Shocking.
Of course, then I might be out of a job. I take it back, ties are terrible.
Andrew: It sounds good to me, but again I've always been confused by the apparent cultural aversion to tied games. Anyway, well done to the league office for making a change that they claimed would not necessarily lead to more tied games, but that everybody with half a brain looked at and intuitively realized would probably lead to more tied games, and that did in fact lead to more tied games. That seems roughly in line with what we've come to expect from this league office.
Speaking of what we've come to expect from this league office, we now come to our final moment of league office insanity for the week. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was released by the Cleveland Browns after Week 1, following his admission that he participated in felonious insider trading while employed by the Philadelphia Eagles. He has not yet been sentenced, but faces roughly three years in prison when sentence is passed this coming December. Despite this, Kendricks was signed by the Seahawks and made his debut on Monday Night Football in Week 2. The league office has, at least, now technically handed Kendricks a suspension, but that is currently under appeal to be heard in the next week or so. There is a lot we need to skirt around carefully here, but when we consider the perceived offences for which NFL teams will not sign a player, it seems utterly crazy that Kendricks was signed, that the signing was permitted, and that he is able to play at all in these circumstances.
Bryan: In addition, it's not like this is new news when it comes to Kendricks. The scheme took place in 2014 and 2015, the charges came down in April. No, Kendricks did not plead guilty until September 6, but it's not like this was a surprise. This is something the NFL should have seen coming and for which the appropriate penalty should have been prepared, rather than this post-hoc arbitrary method of figuring out what they should do.
Andrew: No way! The NFL did something post-hoc and arbitrary instead of anticipating an impending issue? Now this is hardly the craziest thing that anybody at the league office or a team front office has done this offseason, but it bears mention as an example of the bizarre standards at play. A team will sign Mychal Kendricks. No team will sign Eric Reid. This league is insane.
Bryan: Maybe one of these weeks, we'll have to usurp Goodell's position and become commissioners of the league ourselves for a column. We'll drive the league into the ground in a heartbeat, but at least it will be entertaining.
How Much Wood Would A Woodchopper Chop?
Andrew: So all of that came from only one week of NFL action. As you can see, we had far too many nominees to list in our usual small segment for the weekly award. Instead, we'll each pick a favorite, and let the readers argue why it shouldn't be Vontae Davis in the comments section. So, Bryan, who do you consider the most deserving of the overall Keep Choppin' Wood Award for Week 2 of 2018?
Bryan: I'm going to have to go with Vontae Davis, for the first time I've ever heard of a player just up and retiring midgame. We've seen fumbles and bad play before; we've seen terrible offensive lines and coordinators, and we've seen the NFL botch easy decisions in the past. Davis' retirement is unique and deserves recognition.
Andrew: It truly is unique, and meets all of our requirements. Hurt his team on the field? Check. Hurt his team off the field? Check. Bizarre and unusual? Check. Everything else is just normal football silliness. Vontae Davis went well above and beyond the call of duty.
And he achieved all that without even qualifying for Loser League.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: In the first week in NFL history where quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of over 100.0, every quarterback scored at least a dozen points in Loser League. Well, all but one. Sam Bradford and the anemic Cardinals offense only had one play in Rams territory all game long. Bradford was held to just 90 yards through the air, and threw an interception as well. You wonder if it's becoming Josh Rosen time in the desert. Bradford's 2 points were far and away the low mark this week.
Running Back: For all the success the Buccaneers have had over the first two weeks, their running game remains a work in progress. Peyton Barber is averaging just 2.6 yards per rush, picking up 22 yards on 16 carries against Philadelphia. It likely won't be long before Ronald Jones takes some of those ineffective carries, meaning Barber owners should enjoy their 2 points while they can.
Wide Receiver: No need to call the Goose Egg Brigade this time, because we have the very rare case of a receiver putting up negative points! DJ Chark made his first career reception against New England -- and promptly fumbled it, in a play that likely would not have been ruled a catch under last year's rules. That'll get you -1 point.
Kicker: It was, indeed, a nightmare week for kickers around the league, with five different kickers ending up scoring negative points. Chris Boswell, Daniel Carlson, Jason Sanders and Chandler Catanzaro all ended up below zero thanks to missed figgies, missed extra points, or both, but none could match Zane Gonzalez. His -8 score was somewhat salvaged by the two field goals he was able to make, but he still laps the field on this one.
Check your team's score and the leaderboard here!
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Here at Scramble HQ, we loathe and despise two specific coaching "ticks" that featured prominently in this week's marquee matchups. Firstly, icing the kicker needs to be melted in a fire. Secondly, teams need to stop lining up to go for it on fourth-and-short with no intention of running a play, solely hoping to draw the defense offsides. Even worse, the Patriots this week did succeed in getting the Jaguars to jump early, but then did not react and thus let the Jaguars get back onside. Baffling. Especially since the Patriots were trailing by multiple scores and facing fourth-and-inches, so ought to have been looking to go for it anyway. Add in that the team had two opportunities to attempt an onside kick from midfield following Jaguars penalties, yet took neither, and it was a very conservative display from one of the better situational decision-makers in the business. As a result, Bill Belichick is your unusual award winner this week.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching:: We've bashed Zane Gonzalez a bit this week, but Gonzalez at least gets credit for toughing out a performance through a rather serious groin injury. The bigger question is what was going on on Cleveland's sideline during the game. Hue Jackson confirmed to reporters that he was not aware Gonzalez was even hurt; that he had not heard from the medical department about anything. So, what happened? Did Gonzalez not report his injury to the training staff? Did the training staff not tell Jackson his kicker was hurt? Did Jackson actually know, and decide a 52-yard field goal with a hurt kicker was the way to go? Competently run franchises, like the Rams, deal with this -- when Greg Zuerlein got hurt early this week, the Rams adjusted their strategies accordingly. The entire Browns miscommunication gets this week's confusing award.
'Blake Bortles Non-Garbage Time Performer' Fantasy Player of the Week: We criticize Blake Bortles a lot in this column because, I mean, look at him. However, let it not be said we can't give credit when credit is due. Beating the Patriots in Week 2 isn't exactly revenge for losing in the AFC Championship Game, but it feels really good. Only five quarterbacks have thrown for 350-plus yards and four touchdowns against the Patriots defense since 2010, with Bortles being the first to do it since Alex Smith in last year's opening-night shocker. Have yourself a day, Blake.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 16, 2018
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: The Patriots do not get blown out. Period. Since 2011, they have only had one game in which they scored a garbage-time touchdown: the 2014 "dynasty is dead" game against Kansas City, when Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski scored touchdowns down 27-0 and 41-7 in the fourth quarter. We can add one more of these treasured rarities to our collection, as Chris Hogan hauled in a pass, down 31-13 late in the fourth quarter, and rumbled 29 yards for the score.
— NFL (@NFL) September 16, 2018
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: The last time the Oakland Raiders started 0-2, they were getting ready to fire Dennis Allen and replace him with Tony Sparano. Derek Carr was a rookie, and Amari Cooper was still in college. The Oakland Raiders fell to 0-2 on Sunday afternoon, but at least the Carr-to-Cooper connection appears to have been reactivated: Cooper had more receptions in that one game than he had in his previous five combined, and only his second 100-yard game since Week 8 of 2016. Cooper is the one potential impact wide receiver on the Raiders roster, so a strong season from him is almost a prerequisite for the Raiders to improve upon last season's 6-10 record. That in turn might allow them to enter what looks set to be their final season in Oakland with something other than a decade-long contract's worth of existential dread over the franchise's collective heads.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: The roughing penalty in overtime gets most of the headlines, and what little oxygen is left is sucked up by the Vikings' field goal issues, but the Packers had a chance to end their divisional matchup well before any of that got under way. A 52-yard attempt is certainly no gimme, but it is within Mason Crosby's theoretical range. He's 10-for-23 from that distance or longer at Lambeau over his career, though he hasn't made one since 2015. He nailed a 53-yarder indoors at Detroit last season, and had hit a 48-yarder earlier in the day, as part of a five-field goal effort. Lining up as time expired, Crosby's kick is up, it has the distance, it's good! ... but no, we get everyone's favorite thing in the world, the last-second icing timeout from Minnesota. Crosby basically kicked the exact same ball the next play, but this one failed to curl inside the upright, we had overtime, and, well, you know.
It ain’t easy being a kicker. Mason Crosby took an almost identical line from 52 yards, playing it left to right. His first kick curls right inside the upright. Second kick stays left. pic.twitter.com/Xrz8PkYTMg
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) September 18, 2018
The Packers do maintain a lead in the division, as they have the superior divisional record at the moment, but they'd be tied with a coin flip with Tampa Bay for top spot in the NFC if the first kick had counted.
More to the point, this is a key blow to a potential tiebreaker against Minnesota. If the Packers and Vikings end the season tied atop the NFC North, this week's result means that it's the Week 12 rematch in Minnesota that would determine who take the crown. The tie was a lot better for the Vikings than it was for the Pack.
And yes, we promise that occasionally, it will be non-Packers plays featured here.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: I don't usually like being boring and picking the Patriots, mainly because I'm often put off by the size of the lines in their favor. That said, I'm going in that direction this week. Detroit, through two weeks, somehow looks like the sort of team that might compete for worst in the league in a normal season, but has been shunted from that spot by the extreme awfulness of this year's Bills and Cardinals. The Patriots just lost a tough road game to a conference rival, but followed that up by acquiring one of the most naturally gifted receivers in the league. How much of an impact Josh Gordon will have is open to speculation, but even without him this is a prospective contender for a playoff bye up against a prospective contender for a top-five draft pick. I expect the line of -7 to widen between now and kickoff, and I expect the Patriots to cover it anyway. New England (-7) at Detroit.
Bryan: I'm coming in on a pretty bad losing streak, so I need to go with a wild card to change my fortunes. They may have only ran one play on the opponent's side of the field last week, but give me Arizona (+6.5) at home against Chicago. Arizona's defense has not been good, oh no, but they have made some good plays; they have five sacks, an interception, they've deflected a few passes. They're not as far from being ... well, let's not go crazy and say "only below average" as some might say. Mitchell Trubisky is a far easier quarterback to handle than either Jared Goff or Alex Smith. I'm not necessarily saying Arizona will find their first win of the season, but I like them to keep it within a touchdown, at least.
Double Survival League
Bryan: Andrew's quest for the perfect season continues, if only just. Both of us picked Denver over Oakland, which only came true after a last-second field goal finally put the Broncos on top for good. Andrew also had to sweat out a Lions comeback against the 49ers, while I got to rest easy as the Rams ground the Cardinals into a fine powder. That keeps Andrew with a one-game lead going into Week 3.
Andrew: Time to break with the double-pick tradition, because I like two of this week's home teams to win but not enough to pick them to cover. First up, I think Cleveland finally ends the drought with a home win over the New York Jets. I don't like the message that Josh Gordon's trade sends to the rest of the Browns roster -- it has echoes of Jay Ajayi going from the Dolphins to the Super Bowl last year -- but I do think this defense in particular will be too good for the Jets' rookie quarterback even if Cleveland's coaching situation remains, diplomatically, suboptimal.
Similarly, I think Houston will have enough about them to see off the Giants at home. The Texans have not lived up to their early-preseason billing as the favorites for the AFC South, but the Giants have been even worse and just lost their starting center for the season. Saquon Barkley was not the tonic for New York's offensive woes -- who knew?!? -- and their defense could be without starting cornerback Eli Apple. Houston let themselves down badly in Tennessee last week, but a home game against a struggling opponent should be just the tonic.
Bryan: I don't think I can go wrong with the "pick whoever is playing Buffalo each week" strategy, so I'll get back on that horse by taking Minnesota to handle the Bills at home. The Vikings would have easily handled the Packers had their kicking game been up to snuff, so now that they've brought in Dan Bailey, I can't imagine them struggling with the Bills. At all. Easiest pick of the week for me.
The second pick, however, is much tougher. I think this might be the best week remaining for Jacksonville, who host the Titans and their continuing questionable quarterback situation. This may be a situation where I get to take the Jaguars defense against Blaine Gabbert, which, yes please. The Titans also may still be out multiple offensive linemen, which makes the pick even more enticing. It's not my favorite matchup of the week -- I'd rather be taking Houston over the Giants, The Mahomes Show over the 49ers, the Eagles rebounding against the Colts, or the Dolphins facing the Jon Gruden experience -- but this feels like a time when the Jags are riding high and the Titans are sinking low. Bortles!
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