by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball! Last week, we broke from our usual raison d'être and looked at some of the best and brightest around the NFL through the first half of the season.
This article is about the other guys.
Andrew: The ... best and the brightest from other leagues?
Bryan: Some of the players we'll talk about today could have good careers in the CFL, but no. It's time to honor and celebrate some of the worst of the worst through the first half of the season. The quarterbacks who are apparently confused about which color their team is wearing. The receivers who slather their hands in butter rather than Stickum. The kickers with pathological fears of the uprights.
Andrew: Bryan, I know we talk about them a lot, but I don't think we need a whole article on the Buffalo Bills.
Bryan: I mean, you say that, but just wait…
No, it's time for the Loser League wrap-up! Part I ended after Week 9, so we now know which players helped lead your Loser squads to victory ... or defeat ... or however you want to think about it. Could you do better than just taking every eligible Buffalo Bill? It's a tall order, but some of our faithful readers managed to do just that.
Andrew: Given that Derek Anderson wasn't on the BILLS roster in September, never mind the initial Loser League roster, I suppose that is at least a tiny shred believable.
Alright, that's enough goofing around from me. Let's get to it.
Bryan: You didn't have to wait long to witness the worst Loser League performance of the season. The Buffalo Bills decided that their QB1 to start the season, their planned starter, the best guy they could find, would be Nathan Peterman.
Andrew: You'd figure, in most of these instances, the worst guy is going to be something of a reluctant hero: a backup forced into action because the starter blew out a knee in the preseason, or the first-round draft pick thrown into the fray before he's ready. Maybe the previous starter retired and the team didn't have a replacement, or they simply had to replace their previous bust with the best free agent scrap they could find. No, the Bills traded up to draft Josh Allen in the first round, then somehow decided that he would be best served learning from the bench behind Nathan Peterman.
Bryan: The Bills had faith in Peterman to be the bridge to Josh Allen, and how did he repay them? By getting benched in the third quarter of Week 1, completing just five passes for 24 yards with a pair of interceptions. That -3 score set the tone for the Bills season, and remains the low water mark for any quarterback this season. Things ... did not get better for the Buffalo quarterback position this year.
But take heart, Bills fans! Nathan Peterman was not the lowest-scoring Loser League quarterback in Part I; he finished third with 121 points. Nor was Josh Allen the lowest-scoring Loser League quarterback in Part I; he finished second with 119 points.
Andrew: Considering both had 15-point scoring penalties in multiple weeks, that is utterly, utterly horrifying. Maybe we should have used our obviously-potent psychic powers (as evidenced by our Lock of the Week prowess) to write this article last week, on Hallowe'en.
Bryan: If either quarterback had been available to play in either Week 7 or 8, they would have been the worst quarterback, by far. But no, because of Allen's injury and Peterman's general incompetence, they actually were pipped at the line by someone else. Someone who has shown a consistently poor level of play over the course of the season. Someone who really can't be benched, because he's the best quarterback the team has now and is the plan for the future. Come on down, Sam Darnold!
Andrew: I'm not looking at the sheet, because Bryan is the maths guy, and I somehow knew it would be Darnold before he got to there. Remember when Darnold put in what we called -- and I quote -- "the most impressive debut by a Jets rookie quarterback since [Footage Missing]"? Maybe they should bring back Footage Missing.
Seriously though, at least Darnold has both stayed on the field and shown flashes of high-level play while he's there. He isn't exactly in an ideal situation either, and as alluded to above we kind of expect some struggles from a rookie quarterback.
Bryan: And it took Darnold having a four-interception game in Week 9 to knock him to 116 points, three points lower than Allen's mark. AND Allen had the benefit of not playing every week. So, yeah. Darnold may be the winner on the stat sheet, but Buffalo is still the winner in our hearts.
The Darnold/Allen combination was the best possible -- it would have scored you just 70 points over the first half of the season -- but other combinations would also have worked out quite well. Pairing Darnold with Marcus Mariota was surprisingly effective; Mariota's three bad weeks from his nerve injury happened to coincide with Darnold's most effective stretch. Darnold/Peterman was the third-best combination, and then you have a long list of potential pairings with Josh Allen and somebody else, with Blake Bortles and Sam Bradford being your best choices there.
Andrew: I'm curious about one of those two, actually. If we removed the 18-point penalty for last week being the Cardinals' bye, how would the combination of Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen have looked? Presumably not too great in Week 5, but I would have thought it might be otherwise competitive (in the Loser League sense).
Bryan: Bradford and Rosen were the fourth and fifth worst quarterbacks, so they were a strong combination in and of themselves. Through eight weeks, their pairing would have given you 72 points -- so still more than Darnold/Allen managed in nine weeks -- but these last two weeks were a killer. Remember, Rosen threw for a pair of touchdowns and 250 yards against the 49ers two weeks ago; he actually outscored Bradford's penalty that week.
Rosen's not a bad choice going forward, though, because his bye week is over. No more guaranteed penalties, unlike you'll get for Darnold, Allen, and Peterman.
Andrew: That would then allow you to pair him with another struggling passer who faces a slate of tough pass defenses, ideally in Weeks 10 and 11 when Rosen faces the Chiefs and Raiders. That rules out both Allen and Darnold, incidentally, who both have their bye in Week 11.
Bryan: In general, both Mariota and Eli Manning would appear to be good picks going forward, but Manning's Week 10 and 11 slate (San Francisco and Tampa Bay) isn't overly terrifying. Mariota, on the other hand, has to deal with the Patriots and Colts over the next two weeks, so he might be a good option to pair with Rosen.
Or, you know, we could not overthink this and just go with Jets and Bills up and down the roster.
Andrew: Again, Week 11 makes that a little dicey. A dark horse contender to pair with Rosen could be Matthew Stafford, who faces the Bears and Panthers in those two weeks after throwing up an 8 against the Vikings in his first week without Golden Tate. Generally, though, Stafford is a terrible Loser League pick, so that might be grossly overthinking things.
Bryan: It's difficult for any running back to earn zero points in a game. The whole idea behind the running game is that it's likely to get you something, and even a bunch of terrible 1- or 2-yard carries is usually enough to get you into the positive numbers. You're more likely to get the penalty for not having enough carries than you are to get the zero -- but we did have one running back manage to pull the goose egg off so far this season. Jay Ajayi's Week 5 game against Minnesota went really badly for him -- he tore his ACL and went on injured reserve after the game. He also fumbled at the goal line, which was enough to wipe out his 29 yards rushing, giving him the zero.
But Ajayi doesn't appear anywhere near the bottom of the running back rankings; one bad game isn't enough to really damage your season, and all the penalties he has accrued since then would have taken him out of the running, anyway. No, your leader is someone who never gets hurt and just keeps chugging along as an RB2 as he continues his slow, inevitable climb atop all-time rushing and yardage leaderboards. Frank Gore does not get the penalty, but he also usually doesn't get more than 50 yards. That level of low-scoring consistency gets you just 65 points, as he ran away with the championship.
Andrew: In traditional fantasy football, Frank Gore's main role is simply to cast Life Drain on Kenyan Drake (he says without a hint of bitterness or frustration). Gore has a very odd role, in that he isn't remotely a dynamic back, but he isn't really a true power back either. He just, sort of, is. "Chugging" is a good descriptor for him.
Bryan: Gore has also had a pretty darn good season, all things considered -- he's ninth in rushing DVOA and eighth in DYAR! He's outperforming Drake on both a gross and per-touch basis. He's a far better player than the other guys down at the bottom of the Loser League Leaderboard -- your Peyton Barbers and Derrick Henrys. Barber's nearly at the bottom of the DVOA tables, while Henry has lost touches to Dion Lewis as the season has gone along. Gore's the starter, somehow!
Andrew: Barber's a good enough back; the problem in Tampa Bay is still mostly on the line. My guess is that neither of those guys would form the most effective tandem with Gore, however. Yet again, I suspect his best match comes from the AFC East.
Bryan: Nearly all the top combinations involved Gore; his next nearest competitor had 14 more points than he did, so he's an excellent hand. Gore and Henry were the best duo, and you got the most juice out of them by pairing them with Isaiah Crowell, which would have left you with 99 points. Gore-Henry-Alfred Blue was another winning combination, with just 102. Then you had Gore-Barber-Bilal Powell in third. In fact, any mix-and-match set of Gore, Henry, Crowell, Blue, Barber, and Powell was very strong, with the occasional Matt Breida sprinkled in for flavor.
On a side note, the Jets annoy me by having both Crowell and Powell on their team, because that's really confusing.
Andrew: As I suspected, this was the one area where an All-Bills select might have let you down. LeSean McCoy's 100 was bad, but not Loser League championship bad. He scored nine or more points in seven of nine weeks.
Bryan: McCoy actually scored less than either Jet did individually; it's just that you could count on at least one of the Jets underperforming McCoy in any given week. It was only in Week 9 when McCoy finally managed to underperform both Jets. So, I mean, McCoy hasn't been great, but he may be the best (worst?) Bill to have.
I'd stick with Barber here for Loser League II, but I might reach out to players like Jordan Howard and Kerryon Johnson to back him up; you need players who are going to keep getting carries going forward, and I wonder if Henry and Gore will manage to do that. We'll see!
Andrew: Before we really delve deep into this, I just want to point out that Kelvin Benjamin's total here is absolutely astonishing. Every other player near the top of our Loser League standings is a complementary target, even Benjamin's teammate Zay Jones. Only Kelvin Benjamin is his team's No. 1 receiver, a role almost certain to eclipse the lowest points totals on every other team in the league.
Bryan: And it wasn't even close. Benjamin finished with 33 points on the year. In second place, Laquon Treadwell had 42, and then Zay Jones led a group with 46 points in third. Benjamin practically lapped the field.
And yes, that means the Bills had two of the worst three quarterbacks and two of the worst three receivers, and the 12th-worst running back. Is it any wonder their offense has had, shall we say, some slight difficulties?
Andrew: Jones, at least, scored 16 points in Week 3. Benjamin hasn't exceeded seven points all season. Even in the week he scored a touchdown, he only had 19 yards to go with it.
Bryan: He didn't manage the lowest score of the year -- that was DJ Chark's 13-yard, one-fumble day against New England back in Week 2 -- but when it comes to consistent terrible scoring, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.
Here's the thing, though -- Benjamin isn't in most of the worst combinations. He never got shut out, and when you can drop your lowest score, it can at times be better to have a guy who bounces between 0-point and 20-point days, rather than a consistent three or four a game. The absolute best combination did have Treadwell, our second-worst receiver, but you'd have to scroll down the ranking a little bit to find both Cole Beasley and Jordy Nelson. Beasley and Nelson have combined for six double-digit performances over the first nine weeks, so they're nowhere near the bottom of the rankings ... but they've also finished with one or fewer points five times. Using them and Treadwell, you could have had just 39 points. Robby Anderson also shows up a lot in the worst possible combinations -- he has had two games scoring over 20 points, sure, but he also has two goose eggs, a 1, a 3, and a 4 to go along with it. Those kind of boom-or-bust players are great to have in Loser League, as long as they align properly.
Andrew: A huge part of the trick is getting those stars to align. It helps when you can count on a consistent, but low target share from a bad quarterback. Chad Williams had three zeroes in his first three weeks, but burst out of that since the team moved over to Josh Rosen. Conversely, our Loser League breakout receiver is Jordy Nelson: a zero and two 1s in his past three games, with only the 15-point bye week penalty in between. Nelson theoretically moved up the receiving order with Amari Cooper's departure, but that hasn't done him any good in the past two weeks. Keelan Cole is in a similar position: four points from his past three games, with Jacksonville's bye also now out of the way.
Bryan: Both Nelson and Cole would be great picks for Loser League II, as would Josh Doctson in Washington -- he gets enough targets to avoid the penalty, but has gone over 50 yards only once in his last 13 games.
Andrew: There, the question is how that will change with Paul Richardson now on Injured Reserve. Oh, the vagaries for which we must account! Still, the collapse of the offensive line should make Washington's offense considerably less effective in the back half of the campaign, which can only be good news for Loser League selectors.
Bryan: While our worst loser-league quarterback performance came right out of the gate, you had to wait all the way until Week 9 to find the worst kicking performance of the year. Caleb Sturgis kicked his way into infamy against the Seahawks, missing a field goal and two extra points. Two! In one game! That's a score of -11. May it never, ever be matched.
Andrew: Count me as one of the guys who is not enthused by the change in the extra point -- I would much rather see the player who scored have to kick it instead of the distance change -- but of course, an historic Loser League event such as this was made considerably more likely by the move. Especially with the Chargers (and Buccaneers!) still in the league.
Oddly though, the name atop our Loser League standings is not one of those notorious hookers and slicers, nor is he the low-opportunity kicker on a low-scoring offense. No, here we find a very unexpected name indeed. A guy who signed a near-$20 million contract extension just this past offseason!
Bryan: Chris Boswell made the Pro Bowl last season. Coming into the year, he had an 89.5 percent career accuracy rate -- not the best in the world, but pretty darn good for dealing with the conditions in Pittsburgh. This year, however, the wheels have come off the bus somewhat. Boswell has yet to attempt a 50-plus-yard field goal, after making four last season, and he's only 1-for-4 from beyond 40 yards. He has also missed four extra points. While he has righted the ship a bit recently, he finishes Loser League I with just 29 points.
Andrew: From Weeks 1 through 5, Boswell was on a Loser League kicking MVP pace, with a net total of just 2 points across those five weeks. He has since gotten back on track a touch, however, and scored 27 points from Weeks 6 through 8. Find the right buddy for those weeks, however (*cough* Chandler Catanzaro *cough*), and you might well be in business.
Bryan: Or so you'd think. The best Boswell pairing would have been with Graham Gano, which would have scored you just 1 point all year long. And that was what we were going to have to run with, until Sturgis came back. Sturgis received the penalty in Weeks 6 through 8, but his Week 9 performance was enough practically in and of itself to make him part of the best combination you could find. Grouping Sturgis with Catanzaro would have earned you negative-seven points. Sturgis and Gano would have been -2! Sturgis and Phil Dawson would have been zero! Sturgis and the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Justin Tucker, would have gotten you 2!
Andrew: The amazing thing about Sturgis is that only the penalty from the weeks in which he was injured elevates him into a positive points total for the year. If he had simply scored zero in those weeks, he would have totaled -2 for Loser League Part I.
Bryan: Sturgis is ... no longer employed by the Chargers, so you'll have to look elsewhere for your Biggest Losers. Phil Dawson is a great choice as the Cardinals continue to struggle, and I wouldn't begrudge you taking Catanzaro, as well.
Andrew: The difficult part, for a kicker, is finding a bad one who isn't quite bad enough to be replaced. The Buccaneers have explored their options (again). The Chargers have already made a change (again). Phil Dawson is a good choice simply because he's a legitimately good kicker, on an offense that isn't getting close enough to attempt kicks. Stephen Hauschka is in a similar situation, except the Bills defense is at least generating some points through turnovers. If I were picking a team, those would probably be my two choices, but I'm sure some enterprising entrant will outperform that duo in the second half.
Best Possible Team
Bryan: Add it all up, and you get your best possible Loser League team:
QB: Sam Darnold, NYJ
QB: Josh Allen, BUF
RB: Frank Gore, MIA
RB: Derrick Henry, TEN
RB: Isaiah Crowell, NYJ
WR: Laquon Treadwell, MIN
WR: Cole Beasley, DAL
WR: Jordy Nelson, OAK
K: Caleb Sturgis, LAC
K: Chandler Catanzaro, TB
And who said New England had it easy in the AFC East?
That team would, in total, have given you 208 points, and led you to Loser League victory. By comparison, simply drafting every Bill (and getting a dummy third running back to give you the penalty each week) would have given you 408 points. See? The Bills aren't literally all the worst things in football, just most of them.
Andrew: The All-Bills Select would have been a solid Loser League select, but would certainly have needed a legitimate third running back to compete near the top of the overall leaderboard. Frank Gore might have helped, and did in fact feature on every team in the overall top three.
Bryan: Indeed, a couple dozen of our faithful readers managed to do a better job at putting together a terrible team than Buffalo did, so congratulations all around.
This is normally where we honor the one person who rose above all to put together the most putrid team, but we won't be doing that this year -- because we have a tie atop the Loser League leaderboards! These two teams were so good at losing, they couldn't even win the Loser League by themselves. It's as if the spirit of Hue Jackson himself had blessed them.
First up, we have Rob Nelson of Alameda, California, with No Better Than Solid:
QB: Joe Flacco, BAL
QB: Sam Darnold, NYJ
RB: Frank Gore, MIA
RB: Peyton Barber, TB
RB: Adrian Peterson, WAS
WR: Kelvin Benjamin, BUF
WR: Cole Beasley, DAL
WR: Danny Amendola, MIA
K: Stephen Hauschka, BUF
K: Jason Myers, NYJ
Joining him atop the leaderboards was Jonas Allared of Solna, Sweden, with Schmanalytics:
QB: Josh Allen, BUF
QB: Nathan Peterman, BUF
RB: LeSean McCoy, BUF
RB: Frank Gore, MIA
RB: Adrian Peterson, WAS
WR: Michael Crabtree, BAL
WR: Kelvin Benjamin, BUF
WR: Jordy Nelson, OAK
K: Stephen Hauschka, BUF
K: Chandler Catanzaro, TB
Schmanalytics clearly had no faith in the Buffalo Bills; a lack of faith that was rewarded in a big way. No Better Than Solid chose to rely on aging veterans in what's known as the "Jon Gruden" strategy; this also paid off big time. They each finish with 320 points -- some truly remarkable accomplishments, there. Congratulations to you both!
Andrew: A copy of our 2019 KUBIAK Projections will wing its digital way toward Rob and Jonas when they are released next July.
Signup for Loser League Part II is now live, offering a second chance for all the nearly men and not-so-nearly men who fancy a shot at the top spot. Don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: The aforementioned Sam Darnold managed to squeak to a championship finish, thanks to a four-interception day against Miami. By only scoring 3 points, he pipped Allen and Peterman to the line. A championship for the New York Jets!
Running Back: Mark Ingram got off to a slow start against the Rams, limited to just 5 yards on his first three carries with a fumble, to boot. From then on, the Saints were in a footrace, so the running game became less of a priority. He finished the day with just 1 point.
Wide Receiver: An extremely rare occurrence this week -- NO goose eggers! Instead, we had a whopping nine players finish with one point apiece: John Brown, Zay Jones, Rashard Higgins, Cole Beasley, Jordy Nelson, James Washington, Marquise Goodwin, Mike Evans, and Paul Richardson.
Kicker: The aforementioned Caleb Sturgis disaster is an all-timer.
Check your team's score and the final Part I leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: On the spectrum of quarterback mobility, Matthew Stafford has always been closer to Drew Bledsoe than Michael Vick. Nobody really questioned why college option trends had never influenced Stafford's offense in Detroit, and Stafford gave us the clearest possible illustration of why against the Vikings:
— Hardy (@hardy985) November 4, 2018
Yes, that is Stafford scrambling away from pressure toward the line of scrimmage, before deciding at the last second to attempt a lateral to an unsuspecting Kerryon Johnson. The startled Johnson never came close to catching the ball, and Danielle Hunter scooped and scored to seal the game for the Vikings. On a day on which he was sacked a Vikings-record 10 times, this may have been the worst play not only of this game but of Stafford's entire professional career to date.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: We renamed one of our awards last week in honor of departed Browns coach Hue Jackson. We are sorely tempted to do the same with Vance Joseph this week. Joseph achieved something we aren't sure has ever been done before, a level of strategic ineptitude that rivals even his predecessor's willingness to take a knee before halftime in a playoff game with time on the clock, timeouts in hand, and Peyton Freaking Manning at quarterback.
Vance Joseph hit the unheard-of long-field-goal conservatism trifecta on Sunday:
- Near the end of the first half, Joseph sent out Brandon McManus to attempt a 62-yard field goal with 18 seconds left, which McManus missed. Even in Denver, attempting a 62-yarder with time remaining on the clock is madness.
- This gave Houston enough time to drive 20 yards into their own field goal range, leading to a missed kick as time expired ... except Joseph called an "icing" timeout, allowing Ka'imi Fairbairn a mulligan. Fairbairn did not miss the second attempt.
- Worst of all, at the end of the game, the Broncos drove to first-and-10 at the Houston 37-yard line with 43 seconds left. A 5-yard gain on first down got the Broncos in position to attempt a 50-yard field goal, at which point Joseph stopped trying to advance the ball. Denver's next play was a simple dive with 13 seconds remaining that lost a yard, then the Broncos attempted the 51-yard field goal as time expired. Brandon McManus missed, and Joseph's team lost.
If the game had been tied, the decision to settle for a long field goal would have been understandable, if still frustratingly conservative. The Broncos were trailing. In that circumstance, there is no excuse for not doing everything you can to make the kick as close to guaranteed as possible. Joseph's performance on Sunday might be the most glaring example of long-field goal conservatism in league history, and reports today suggest that the Broncos are already shortlisting potential replacements in preparation for the end of the season.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: At home on a short week, a 1-7 team starting an undrafted third-string quarterback could be forgiven for calling an extremely conservative game plan. Kyle Shanahan does not do conservative game plans. The San Francisco 49ers came out throwing, calling 11 pass plays to eight runs en route to passing touchdowns on both of their two opening drives, including a 24-yard strike to Pierre Garcon for his first touchdown in a 49ers uniform. Shanahan did everything he could to make his young debutant comfortable while still allowing his quarterback to influence the game, and it paid off with a three-touchdown, no-turnover performance in a 34-3 49ers victory. Shanahan's aggressiveness can cost him at times -- can anybody remember a specific high-profile example? -- but what is never in doubt is that he coaches to put his players in what he considers the best possible position to win games.
Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching:: This is more of a lifetime achievement award than anything done in one game, but Jason Garrett once again challenged a play -- a 16-yard Taywan Taylor reception -- and came up short. No big deal, right? Every coach loses a challenge or two, and most coaches make bad challenge calls from time to time. The thing is ... Garrett's in a massive challenge slump at the moment. His last three challenges were all upheld, he's one for his last seven, and he hasn't won back-to-back challenges since 2014. Coaches, generally, are successful on roughly half their challenges -- it was 49.4 percent last season, and that's a fairly normal number. Garrett simply appears to have no idea when to use his challenge flag, and it continues to cost the Cowboys timeouts game after game.
'Speak of the Pompitous of Love' Fantasy Player of the Week:: Maurice Harris has been filling in as Washington's slot receiver for a little over a month now, with very little to show for it. Over the previous four weeks, Harris had just 11 receptions for 102 yards -- nothing worth noting, and nothing worth rostering. With Washington needing to throw early and often in their blowout against Atlanta, however, Harris caught on fire. While he never found the end zone, he did manage to pull in 10 receptions on 12 targets, earning 124 yards as he led Washington's receivers in pretty much every category. This was his first career game with more than 50 receiving yards, so I wouldn't go rushing to make a waiver claim on him, but you could do worse if you were searching for a WR3 in a PPR league.
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Nathan Peterman had his usual game to forget, but one of the advantages of throwing a lot of interceptions early is that you have tons of garbage time to rack up stats against a soft defense! After Chicago took a three-score lead, Peterman managed to go 24-for-37 for 132 yards. He did throw an interception, but he also used his legs to find the end zone himself, as he led Buffalo in rushing. Garbage-Time Peterman earned about 14 fantasy points, depending on your system -- more than Mitchell Trubisky, Kirk Cousins, or Matthew Stafford could manage on Sunday. Facing soft coverages, Peterman actually managed to increase his career quarterback rating and decrease his career interception percentage despite throwing three picks on the day.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: Back in Week 2, we highlighted Amari Cooper's performance as the one crumb of comfort for Oakland fans after the Raiders fell to 0-2. Cooper is now in Dallas, where the touchdown he scored in his debut could be the one crumb of comfort for Cowboys fans after losing by 14 at home to the Tennessee Titans. For the 1-7 Raiders, who lost by thirty-one points to the previously 1-7 49ers, we are fresh out of crumbs. Sure, they have a towering heap of draft picks, but Jon Gruden's draft history from his time with the Buccaneers (owner Al Davis famously ran Oakland's drafts during Gruden's tenure, with very limited regard for his coach's opinions) features such first-round luminaries as Michael Clayton, Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph, and Gaines Adams. Even Aqib Talib, the first-round pick in Gruden's last season, had a very up-and-down rookie year and did not truly establish himself in the lineup until after Gruden (and positional rival Phillip Buchanon) had left. Whether it be from bad draft decisions or poor development of young players, Gruden's history with draft picks is not pretty. This could be a lo-o-ong decade for Raiders fans.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: Vance Joseph's decision to try a 51-yard field goal at the end of the game wasn't just a huge blunder in the moment, it was also a tremendously impactful miss in general.
For Denver, it's essentially a season-ending failure. While the Broncos' DVOA remains high, 3-6 is not an easy hole to climb out of. Since the NFL expanded to 12-team playoffs, only four teams have squeaked into the postseason after starting 3-6; all but one of them needed to win out to get there. There have been 22 4-5 teams that have gone to the postseason, so that's a pretty stark cut-off point. With two games left against the Chargers, plus matchups with the Steelers and Bengals, Denver's season is basically over after that missed field goal.
It's not quite as big of a deal for Houston -- they'd be atop the AFC South in the No. 4 seed regardless of the outcome of this one -- but they now have a 1.5-game lead over Tennessee for the divisional crown. Accordingly, they've now got a better than 75 percent chance to take home the division title -- it's enough of a cushion that they can probably go 4-3 the rest of the way and comfortably take home a playoff slot.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Bryan: I think this year's picks have gone stunningly well, don't you think so, Andrew?
I really, really don't like picking teams like the Buccaneers to win games, but Washington just put basically its entire interior offensive line on injured reserve, is still missing its left tackle, and will likely have right tackle Morgan Moses playing through pain. Tampa Bay's pass rush isn't exactly fearsome, but Jason Pierre-Paul should be the first Bucs player to hit ten sacks since Simeon Rice, and he should probably hit that mark this weekend. The Bucs receiving corps is better than the Washington secondary, so Tampa Bay should score points. Without three of their top four lineman and down a starting receiver, I don't see how Washington keeps up. The line opened at pick 'em, and has since moved in exactly the direction I would expect. Tampa Bay (-3) vs. Washington.
Bryan: While that's tempting, I'm going to take Indianapolis (-3) vs. Jacksonville. This is a quasi-elimination game; the loser will be 3-6 and out of the running even in the AFC South. The Jaguars have looked terrible; they haven't won in a month, and while they've had a tough schedule, that does also include a blowout at the hands of the Cowboys. I think Andrew Luck and company will stay alive at home.
Double Survival League
Andrew: The easiest pick of the week is also the biggest line of the week: absent something utterly insane occurring, I don't see how Arizona gets a favorable result in Kansas City. It's the most obvious survivor pool game on the Chiefs' remaining schedule, and I can't pass up what ought to be a straightforward pick for a good team.
Second, I normally try to avoid divisional games, especially in the NFC East, but the only remaining home game outside the division for the Philadelphia Eagles is Week 16 against Houston. The Texans are looking good at this point, especially on defense, whereas this week's opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, just lost by 14 at home on an extra-long fortnight of preparation to the mediocre Tennessee Titans. Weird things happen in NFC East divisional bouts, but the Eagles should be good enough to win this one regardless.
Bryan: I'm going to agree with your lock of the week and take Tampa Bay to trump the walking wounded in Washington; I don't believe in Fitzmagic, but I do believe in injury reports. Down a pick, though, I'm going to have to gamble -- and so I'll take Cleveland over Atlanta, as well. I'd expect the Falcons to win this one, but I think it'll be close, and I'm not sure where the heck I'm going to find a Browns win other than this.
The 49ers were able to stave off divisional elimination behind the golden arm of Nick Mullens, who would have won, like, 12 of the awards up there if Andrew hadn't physically tied Bryan down. The end result is that every team is still alive for every seed -- though again, that could change after this week. While no teams can be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs entirely, there are six bottom-feeding teams who can start to see the dwindling specks that are their postseason dreams begin to get extinguished. Significant upsets will be required, but for now, all six of these teams could still be playoff bound:
- Oakland can be eliminated from home field advantage IF L.A. Chargers d. Oakland AND EITHER Kansas City d. Arizona OR BOTH New England d. Tennessee AND Pittsburgh d. Carolina
- Oakland can be eliminated from the AFC West IF L.A. Chargers d. Oakland AND Kansas City d. Arizona
- Buffalo can be eliminated from home field advantage IF N.Y. Jets d. Buffalo AND EITHER Kansas City d. Arizona OR ALL OF New England d. Tennessee AND L.A. Chargers d. Oakland AND Pittsburgh d. Carolina
- Cleveland can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Atlanta d. Cleveland AND Kansas City d. Arizona
- Arizona can be eliminated from the NFC West IF Kansas City d. Arizona AND L.A. Rams d. Seattle AND N.Y. Giants d. San Francisco
- San Francisco can be eliminated from home field advantage IF L.A. Rams d. Seattle OR N.Y. Giants d. San Francisco AND Carolina d. Pittsburgh AND EITHER New Orleans d. Cincinnati OR BOTH Arizona d. Kansas City AND Atlanta d. Cleveland
- San Francisco can be eliminated from the NFC West IF L.A. Rams d. Seattle
- N.Y. Giants can be eliminated from home field advantage IF San Francisco d. N.Y. Giants AND EITHER L.A. Rams d. Seattle OR New Orleans d. Cincinnati
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