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

Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to the last regular Scramble for the Ball of the 2017 season. And what a bright sunset we appear to be riding off into. Rather than yet another offseason of trying to decide just how good the Patriots' dynasty is -- how much did Abbey Road add to the Beatles' legacy? -- we have a brand new Super Bowl champion, from the city most starved for major sports accomplishments. We have a Super Bowl MVP quarterback who may be available on the trade market. We have confusion and disarray among a team that has been the NFL's flagship organization for, well, essentially the entire time Football Outsiders has been a thing. Whether you were rooting for the Patriots, for the Eagles, or for a meteor to destroy the stadium, it can't be denied that the future feels less certain now, which is definitely more exciting to write about.

Andrew: I'm not sure I can think of much that would surprise me over the next couple of weeks. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady both retiring? Nick Foles deciding he would rather retire or stay with the Eagles than accept a trade to Cleveland or the New York Jets? Malcolm Butler being benched for the Super Bowl? Wait, that last one actually happened. The coordinator of the 31st-ranked DVOA defense being ... huh. At least the Patriots aren't in the market for, say, a Greg Schiano type to replace him.

Bryan: 2018's already shaping up to be a weird one, and it's only February. Before we all bury ourselves in a thousand mock drafts and ten thousand free agency pieces, though, 2017 deserves one last look back. And what better way to do it than to mock the idiots who thought they knew everything back in September! Yes, it's time once again to revisit the Football Outsiders' staff predictions, published just before Week 1, to see who peered through the misty haze of time, sifted through facts and figures, the opinions and hunches, and ended up putting the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

Staff Prediction Review

Bryan: As we do every year, we published our Staff Predictions before the season started. This isn't the same as our DVOA projections; these are our subjective predictions, often arguing with our own machine when it prints out something ridiculous like "Los Angeles Rams: Playoff Team." Let's see how we did, shall we?

Team Most Likely to Beat its FOA Projection

Staff Picks: Atlanta x2, Cincinnati, Houston, L.A. Chargers, Minnesota, New England (!), Seattle, Tampa Bay

Bryan: Only two of these teams surpassed their initial DVOA projected ranks by the end of the season -- the Chargers and Vikings. The Falcons made the playoffs, as opposed to our projections, but actually missed their DVOA target. The Patriots were projected to be the best team in the league, so I'm not sure how Ben thought they'd do better than that, but at least they did as good as that.

Andrew: I was one of the two who picked the Falcons, and I am reasonably content with the selection -- an 11-win season rather than the mean of 8.3, although the final DVOA figure was exactly 1.0% lower. Your Chargers pick was also a good one, though you may have assumed that they would employ a professional kicker at some stage. The gaffer is the one who, rightly, should be the most pleased with his pick: Aaron took Minnesota to exceed the 23rd-ranked projection, and they did manage to slightly surpass those expectations.

Bryan: I failed to account for Chargers Bingo in my projection, so yeah, Aaron trumps us all. On the flip side, Tom was sure the Sheldon Richardson trade would be enough to put the Seahawks over the top, and that they'd find a "workable run game" from their collection of backs. That might be the least accurate thing possible to say about the Seahawks this year.

Andrew: Cincinnati's offensive line was every bit the problem it was expected to be, while the Buccaneers defense collapsed even beyond our system's pessimistic imaginings. Houston, technically, basically equaled their projection.

Team Most Likely to Fall Short of its FOA Projection

Staff Picks: L.A. Rams x2, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, N.Y. Jets, Oakland

Bryan: I screwed up big time here. I went way out on the limb in the Over/Under articles about the Raiders being really bad this year, but I decided for the more mature, grown-up Staff Predictions article, I should stick with a safer pick. So I selected … the Los Angeles Rams.


Andrew: You were not the only person to select the Rams, if that is any consolation. I, however, had the courage of my Oakland convictions, and that actually proved to be the best pick of the bunch in this section. The Raiders undershot their projection in basically every way, and did indeed miss the playoffs entirely. Incidentally, my second choice would have been Cincinnati, so it turns out I had a reasonably good idea who would suck this year. Let's just ignore my NFC Super Bowl pick (spoiler).

Now the worst picks in this section ... that is a longer, and more complicated story. Vince looked very, very silly indeed in the middle of October after Kansas City's explosive start, but a whole lot smarter during their midseason skid. His was far from the worst guess in the end.

Bryan: The only thing approaching a consolation for me would be the fact that I at least said I believed the Rams would be improved, just not as much as our projections thought they would. At least I didn't do something crazy, like picking the Jaguars to go 4-12 on the back of some defensive regression. Sorry, Tom!

Andrew: Tom and Rivers won't want to be reminded of their picks in either of these categories. To be fair to them, there is plenty of precedent for Jacksonville and Buffalo having poor seasons even relative to their usual low expectations. Not many people would have predicted those two, plus the Rams, making the postseason this year. It was something of an unlikely convergence, if you will.

Player Most Likely to Beat KUBIAK Projection

Staff Picks: Allen Robinson (JAC), DeVante Parker (MIA), Randall Cobb (GB), Dalvin Cook (MIN), DeSean Jackson (TB), Ameer Abdullah (DET), Danny Woodhead (BAL), Kenny Britt (CLE)

Andrew: Holy injury crisis, Batman! Not one of these players played 16 games in 2017. Allen Robinson missed the entire year after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Dalvin Cook and Danny Woodhead were also placed on injured reserve in the first month and a half, though Woodhead later returned. Parker missed three games, Cobb missed Green Bay's Week 3 victory against Cincinnati, DeSean Jackson missed the last two games of Tampa Bay's season, and Ameer Abdullah missed Weeks 13 and 14 in Detroit. Only Kenny Britt was healthy for the entire year, but Britt infamously loafed his way out of Cleveland and onto the Patriots' inactive list midway through the season (he did manage to suit up three times for the Patriots, hauling in two passes for 23 yards).

Of the players who did manage reasonable playing time, only Cobb can fairly have claimed to exceed his projection: our latest version of KUBIAK projected him for 52 catches, 545 yards, and roughly four touchdowns (he averaged 3.7 in our projections). His actual line, in 15 games split between Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley, was 66 receptions for 653 yards and four touchdowns. Whether due to injury, underachievement, or sheer boneheadedness, nobody else even came close.

Bryan: Chalk one up for me, then! I mean, I thought an 80/800/6 line wasn't out of the question for Cobb, and the Hundley era pretty much made sure that it was, but I'll take the slim pickings I can get. I think Carl's pick of Kenny Britt ended up the worst in hindsight; you can't blame people for picking someone who gets hurt, but Britt loafed his way through a major contract.


Player Most Likely to Fall Short of KUBIAK Projection

Staff Picks LeSean McCoy (BUF), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI), Derek Carr (OAK), T.Y. Hilton (IND), Greg Olsen (CAR), Demaryius Thomas (DEN), Tom Brady (NE), Eddie Lacy (SEA)

Andrew: Only three players on this list played 16 games too. Oddly, it was three of the oldest four who endured: 30-year-old Demaryius Thomas, 34-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, and one Thomas "Spring Chicken" Brady. The only other player over 30, Greg Olsen, was my pick to fall short -- and fall short he did, even accounting for his injury, with a mere 191 yards in seven games (really, six and a drive) on a stuttering Panthers offense.

Bryan: The only really bad pick we had here is Scott's selection of Fitzgerald, who defies age and terrible quarterback play. There may be more explosive or dynamic receivers out there, but Fitzgerald's ability to keep on trucking even as he enters Methuselah territory remains amazing. Even Vince's pick of Tom Brady -- MVP Tom Brady, that is -- was technically correct, as Brady ended up about 250 yards and four touchdowns short of his projections. I'm sure that's a consolation for him.

But no, the best pick has to go to Carl, right? Eddie Lacy wasn't projected to do that much, but he managed to underperform even those modest expectations. Seattle's running game was a mess, and Lacy failed to even hit 200 yards despite leading Seattle's running backs in carries.

Andrew: Bearing in mind that mobile quarterbacks tend to help their team's run game, just how bad would Seattle's rushing "attack" have been with a standard dropback passer?

Bryan: A standard dropback passer would have been dead after Week 2 behind that offensive line.

Andrew: Good point, well made.

Bryan: It's just a good thing that none of us predicted Seattle to do anything this year, he said, not looking at the following category.

Super Bowl

Staff Picks, Winner: Green Bay, New England x4, Pittsburgh, Seattle x3
Staff Picks, Loser: Green Bay x2, New England x3, Pittsburgh, Seattle x3

Andrew: Nine of us made picks. Seven of us put New England in the Super Bowl. Two had Pittsburgh, who were the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Seven of us were correct, and the other two might have been but for a single replay review in Week 15. Predictable, much?

The NFC, however, is a rather different story.

Bryan: If we had only known that Jeff Fisher was a quarterback whisperer!

Andrew: Even then, though, neither of the final two quarterbacks was meant to start a game this year! Both were brought in as veteran backups. Every one of us picked Green Bay or Seattle to win the NFC, and neither of those teams made the playoffs.

Bryan: Even worse, I snuck on late at night to swap my NFC pick from Green Bay to Seattle when the Sheldon Richardson news broke. I had both of 'em! I think we can give our three Green Bay pickers something of a pass, because who knows what happens if Aaron Rodgers doesn't go down, but the six of us who picked Seattle do not get a shiny gold star. As I'm the only one who picked both Pittsburgh AND Seattle, I think I have to wear the crown of failure here, while all the New England-Green Bay picks (Aaron and Carl) can claim victory here.

Andrew: Like you, I picked Seattle after debating between them and Green Bay. In hindsight, I ought to have stuck with my gut instinct and simply picked the best quarterback in each conference. In my defense, how could I have known that he would be traded from the best team in one to the worst in the other at midseason?

(The seats on Bryan's Garoppolo bandwagon are comfortable, by the way, which is why we choose to write from there.)

No. 1 Draft Pick

Staff Picks, Team: N.Y. Jets x7, San Francisco x2
Staff Picks, Player: Sam Darnold (x5), Arden Key (x2), Josh Allen, Josh Rosen

Andrew: Trying to pick which player will be selected first overall before the college season is a fool's errand, but for once it looks like the top quarterback prospects from the preseason (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen) have emerged mostly intact. As of February all are still expected to be first-round picks, and one of the three is likely to be taken at the top of the class. Instead, it's the elite edge rusher (LSU's Arden Key) who saw his stock fall due to a disappointing year on and off the field.

Bryan: And even Key hasn't fallen that far; he's likely to still be a late first-round pick. I do give credit to you and Vince for pointing out that the 49ers might have solved their quarterback problem by the draft, and thus would use the top selection on someone to shore up the defense. Now, like the rest of us, you assumed it would be Kirk Cousins and not Jimmy Garoppolo, but a bit of credit for forward thinking there, even if you both ended up picking the wrong guy.

Also likely to be picking the wrong guy: the Cleveland Browns.

Andrew: Honestly, I think the staff are just bored of Cleveland. Who wants to be the guy who says Cleveland will pick first overall? It's not quite "New England will win the AFC East," but it's not a million miles away either. Even if they somehow don't actually end up picking the wrong guy, the sheer fact of that guy ending up in Cleveland will contrive to make it the wrong pick regardless. They should just move their training base to Coventry and be done with it.

Bryan: Were I in Cleveland's front office -- and, bizarrely, there's precedent for that, coming from Scramble -- I would go with Darnold. That almost certainly means the rumors of them flirting with Josh Allen will be true.

Andrew: Which likely means another year of "anybody but Cleveland" staff picks being completely and utterly wrong.

Bryan: To be fair, the San Francisco picks looked really good until they got a quarterback! It's amazing how much one player can help. So, yet again, there's hope in Cleveland! Maybe you'll be picking fourth next season!

Super Bowl Commercials

Andrew: We did not repeat last year's commercial review article during the regular season, largely because most of the commercials this season were utterly forgettable.

Bryan: For many, though, the Super Bowl commercials are the highlight of the game. Not for anyone reading Scramble for the Ball the week after the season ends, mind you, but still. Ad agencies get geared up for the Super Bowl just as much as anyone else, and sometimes, they even produce mildly amusing ads which don't get old for a month or so, Dilly Dilly.

Andrew: Ah, if only they had simply stuck to Dilly Dilly -- in yet another episode of "sentences I never expected to write." Here are our picks for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Super Bowl commercial lineup.

The Good: Eli and Odell Have the Time of Their Lives

Bryan: This finished second on USA Today's AdMeter, behind a moderately amusing Alexa ad which featured a number of celebrities replacing Alexa's voice, to near-hilarious-and-certainly-more-creative-than-it-could-have-been results.

Andrew: Alexa ads, and Alexa/Cortana/Siri in general, cause me a noticeable degree of discomfort. In 1984 and other dystopian fiction, the fear was that the government were listening in on the private conversations of individual citizens. Now, we are conditioned to react to such concerns by asking, "hey wiretap, what sound do whales make?"

Bryan: See, I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, so this is just The Future for me. But back to Eli and OBJ. This commercial is probably the highlight of the Giants' 2017 season, yeah? Replace any memories of Ben McAdoo with Eli's "choreography," and you'll be much happier.

Andrew: Odell Beckham as Jennifer Grey is an image I will never unsee. Fortunately, Eli was fantastic, and clearly positioned himself as the superior Manning in our proprietary Demographic-Adjusted Value of Advertising metric.

Bryan: Peyton's commercial (for Universal Parks) was a fairly solid outing, but once again, Eli proves he's the superior Manning brother on Super Bowl Sunday.

As I mentioned earlier, this finished thousandths of a point behind Alexa for the top spot on AdMeter, and at first, I thought I knew why. Celebrity appearances are a cheap, time-tested way to get people to enjoy your commercial, so I assumed that the older, more complacent audience loved Alexa, while the true tastemakers went for the end zone dance. But then they released the demographics. People under age 35 didn't get this commercial. Dirty Dancing came out in 1987. They don't know what Dirty Dancing is.

Andrew: Neither, I bet, did Odell Beckham. That film was released five years before he was born.

Bryan: I'm old, dang it.

Honorable mention: Hey! It's a Tide ad! And also a Mr. Clean ad and an Old Spice ad, because Procter & Gamble owns them all and figured out a clever way to advertise multiple things at the same time without you realizing it! Somebody got a big bonus for figuring that one out.

The Bad: The Bud Knight

Andrew: In terms of basic awfulness, this was the worst of the commercials I saw. I have a finely-tuned cringe reflex, and I hate awkward stand-around scenes with the fire of a thousand suns. There was nothing humorous, or timely, or particularly relevant about the awkwardness in this commercial, it was just desperately unfunny.

Bryan: Honestly, you disliked this ad more than I did. Not that I liked it, by any stretch of the imagination -- Dilly Dilly wore out its welcome months ago -- but this felt, to me, like the definition of a replacement-level ad; trying to take the ongoing ad campaign and crank it up one notch. Predictable, without a twist to make it memorable.

Andrew: Dilly Dilly is/was annoying, but it was at least resonant. It was "WASSUP?!?" for the smartphone generation, only without the damage to your eardrums from every idiot you know putting it as his voicemail message or ringtone. This managed to take something recognizable, and make it drab. The fact that the beer is both bland and terrible only makes it worse.

Bryan: It also doesn't help that I never got into Game of Thrones, which this is very clearly trying to draw from or tap into or what have you. The initial Dilly Dilly commercials were generic enough to be any kind of medieval setting, but as they progressed, they felt more and more like "hey, look at this other popular thing! Everyone likes this other popular thing, so you'll like our thing, too!

Honorable Mention: Grooving along to Diet Coke. This was supposed to be an online-only ad that they loved so much they put it on the Super Bowl. No. It was awkward and unfunny, and while it may have come off better on a tiny screen as you're waiting for something to load, it was way below what you'd expect a 30-second Super Bowl ad to be.

The Ugly: The MLK Ram Advert

Andrew: This advert, however, is an abomination. Firstly -- and I need to be very wary of Football Outsiders Rule 1 here -- this is 2018: the U.S. is a tense, racially charged environment in which the NFL -- and by extension, the Super Bowl -- has civil rights at the front and center of its conversation. We have skirted this issue all season, and for good reason, but we cannot deny its existence. Injecting a corruption of the words of one of black America's most prominent heroes into that environment for no reason other than to sell a truck -- when advertisers selling fulfilment in the form of luxury goods was an aspect of American society directly, repeatedly criticized by Martin Luther King -- is insensitive at best, and irresponsible at worst.

Bryan: There are probably ways you can use Dr. King's words in an ad and have it come across as respectful and tasteful. An ad showing people coming together to watch the NFL might have worked, for example. Or using it as a reminder of what we should be striving for -- it may have fit, say, in Budweiser's ad highlighting their efforts to provide relief to the various natural disasters that hit the United States in 2017, or in an ad highlighting what people like J.J. Watt or Colin Kaepernick have done for their communities this year. But ... be called to serve by buying our trucks?

Even on top of all that, this is literally the worst speech a car company could have chosen from Dr. King. To quote a few paragraphs before the commercial begins...

In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love, you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you're just buying that stuff. That's the way the advertisers do it. … They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary's coat. And I got to drive this car because it's something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor's car. I know a man who used to live in a $35,000 house. And other people started building $35,000 houses, so he built a $75,000 house. And then somebody else built a $75,000 house, and he built a $100,000 house. And I don't know where he's going to end up if he's going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Andrew: So no. Culturally insensitive, anathema to the man whose words are being mis-sold, and reducing a legendary sermon from one of the key figures of the American civil rights movement to a cheap sales tactic for an expensive truck. This might actually be the ugliest piece of commercialization I have ever seen.

Bryan: Other than that, the ad was fine!

Andrew: (Please don't set fire to our comments thread.)

Prop Bet Extravaganza

Bryan: I have the totals here, all tabulated and double-checked and cross-checked and credit checked, but for those of you who tuned in early two weeks ago, you missed something: in the comments section, original Scramblers Al Bogdan and Ian Dembsky left their picks as well. To go back to the parlance of their days, they cashed in their respective Money in the Bank briefcases, turning our pleasant little one-on-one bout into a Fatal Fourway of heretofore-unheard-of dimensions. Fitting for the 15th annual edition -- a throwback to the very beginning of the site.


So, who would win? The old or the new? And would Ian pick up his first win in Prop Bets history?

Ian did have the single most impressive pick of any of us. At +900, he correctly guessed that Danny Amendola would lead the Super Bowl in receiving yards. That makes it all the more impressive that he was the only one of the four of us to end up in the negatives, finishing with -485. A decade on, and he has still yet to ever hit the positives in Prop Bet Extravaganza. The more things change.

That means that yes, Al won yet another head-to-head matchup against Ian ... but he finished with just +740 Nuyen. He was boosted by correctly calling a missed extra point and a lack of an onside kick, but his big win was figuring out that Justin Timberlake would start with his latest single, Filthy. That alone earned him +750, meaning he ended up in the positives just because he is a massive TN Kid. I'm sure that's probably true, no need to double-check that.

That leaves Andrew and I in first and second place. With a total between us of 3,760, we had the most successful Prop Bets in Football Outsiders history, Andrew. You and me! Straight to the top! Only the fourth year out of 15 where both Scramblers ended up in the positives.

Andrew: I would hug you, but this Garoppolo bandwagon does not drive itself.

Bryan: We both picked the Eagles to win straight up. We both called a lack of an onside kick. We both nailed the color of the Gatorade, to the tune of 225 big ones. We both predicted the weather. We both took the field on the advertisements. We rolled! But in the end, there could only be one winner.

Andrew: I would give you a drumroll, but that bandwagon thing again...

Bryan: We chose different options on 17 of the 47 prop bets. My big win was predicting Jimmy Fallon's appearance during the (extraordinarily lackluster) halftime show, as well as calling Philly Special by predicting that a non-Brady, non-Foles player would take a snap from center. I ended up with +1,325, winning seven of those 17 prop bets.

You, on the other hand, correctly guessed that the Super Bowl MVP would thank God before anyone else. You called the missed extra point. You predicted a back-and-forth game where no one scored three times in a row. You called the first score being a field goal. Winning 10 of those 17 props, and finishing with an astonishing +2,345, you are the Prop Bets champion for the second year in a row -- with the second-highest score ever, behind Mike in Super Bowl XLVI. Fitting for a game that set so many records, and a far cry from our terrible performance last year.

Andrew: Woohoo! I guess it really did help that I still have no idea how American sportsbooks work!

Bryan: If only you had noticed P!nk's name on the injury report, you could have taken Mike down. Ah well, there's always next year!

Andrew: For the first time ever, I feel obligated to apologize to those of you who did not heed our expert financial advice! Thank you all for reading and participating, and I'm off to put my winnings toward a Fairlight Excalibur.

Staff Playoff Fantasy Update

Bryan: Before the game, we said there was no way Aaron was going to lose. It turns out, we were quite perceptive.

Bryan Andrew Aaron Vince Rivers Scott
QB Jared Goff Drew Brees Tom Brady Ben Roethlisberger Blake Bortles Alex Smith

16 46 84 40 22
RB Todd Gurley Kareem Hunt Derrick Henry Le'Veon Bell Alvin Kamara Dion Lewis

11 10 28 26 25 20
RB Rex Burkhead Leonard Fournette Jay Ajayi Mark Ingram Devonta Freeman Latavius Murray

5 50 23 5 20 14
WR Robert Woods Tyreek Hill Brandin Cooks JuJu Smith-Schuster Antonio Brown Adam Thielen

14 9 15 6 25 9
WR Cooper Kupp Keelan Cole Michael Thomas Ted Ginn Julio Jones Devin Funchess

12 7 33 25 26 7
WR Alshon Jeffery Mohamed Sanu Stefon Diggs Sammy Watkins Chris Hogan Danny Amendola

39 12 26 2 26 46
TE Rob Gronkowski Travis Kelce Kyle Rudolph Delanie Walker Austin Hooper Zach Ertz

39 12 10 11 1 24
K Harrison Butker Wil Lutz Stephen Gostkowski Ryan Succop Chris Boswell Kai Forbath

3 17 21 7 6 16
D Los Angeles Kansas City New England New Orleans Jacksonville Minnesota

0 3 4 1 12 0
Total 139 166 244 123 194 158

Bryan: When you come in with the most points, and you score the most points in the Super Bowl, you win. Aaron got 35 points from Tom Brady alone -- tied for the third-best day in Super Bowl history by our scoring system, breaking up the stranglehold the 49ers had on the top five slots.

Down at the bottom of the standings, Vince had run out of players entering the Conference Championships, and it ended up doing him in. Scott got 30 points from Danny Amendola, Zach Ertz, and Dion Lewis, while Bryan picked up 41 from Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, and Rex Burkhead to put Vince into last place.

Best of the Rest

Bryan: We highlighted three potential winners going into the Super Bowl, and lo and behold, they finished 1-2-3. While Surebrec's big conference championship day gave him a 17-point lead entering the Super Bowl, it couldn't withstand RickD and his 19 Super Bowl points. The big selection that put him over the top? James White, who earned 35 points over the playoffs, making him the second-most valuable running back. Even with a blank from Kenny Britt, it was more than enough to give him the victory.

Rick D's team:
QB: Case Keenum (28 points)
RB: James White (35 points)
RB: Tevin Coleman (14 points)
WR: Nelson Agholor (17 points)
WR: Kenny Britt (0 points)
WR: Martavis Bryant (13 points)
TE: Greg Olsen (16 points)
K: Sam Ficken (7 points)
DEF: Philadelphia (13 points)

[ad placeholder 3]

Top 5:

  • 1. RickD (143)
  • 2. Surebrec (140)
  • 3. Sid (139)
  • 4. MichaelInMelbourne (131)
  • 5. AudacityOfHoops (129)

Best Team Possible
QB: Tom Brady (84 points) (Aaron)
RB: Leonard Fournette (50 points) (Andrew)
RB: James White (35 points) (Not selected)
WR: Danny Amendola (46 points) (Scott)
WR: Alshon Jeffery (39 points) (Bryan)
WR: Michael Thomas (33 points) (Aaron)
TE: Rob Gronkowski (39 points) (Bryan)
K: Jake Elliott (29 points) (Not selected)
DEF: Philadelphia (13 points) (Not selected)


Keep Choppin' Wood: It is not often at all that we are able to point this award in the direction of this particular individual. The game's best in his role for over a decade, his combination of meticulous planning and ruthless efficiency has long been the Kyber crystal in the Patriots Death Star. This past Sunday, however, Bill Belichick made possibly the single most baffling decision of his coaching career: after the Patriots finished in the top five in scoring defense (albeit 31st in DVOA) and allowed a respectable 35 points across their two AFC playoff games, Belichick benched starting cornerback Malcolm Butler for reasons that are still not entirely clear. Early in the aftermath of the defeat, rumors about the reasons for Butler's omission began to surface from a variety of sources; but 41 points allowed later, it would be safe to say that the decision did not exactly work out for the Patriots. As more news about the reasons for the benching filter through, the award may end going to Butler himself, but for now it sure appears that his coach cut off his proverbial nose to spite his proverbial face.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game: Fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, in the biggest game of his life, Doug Pederson called this majestic work of art:

Tryin' to get it at any cost so it's no remorse? Doug Pederson has certainly been brushing up on his Game Theory.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: Only one play from the entire Super Bowl really fits the conservatism monicker, and it was hardly an egregious example. After the Eagles took possession on the strip-sack of Tom Brady, a LeGarrette Blount plunge brought up second-and-8. Bill Belichick immediately called time out -- suboptimally, from a game theory perspective. With 2:03 on the clock, the Eagles were now free to run or pass knowing that either play would almost certainly take the clock past the two-minute warning; had Belichick saved the time-out for after the two-minute warning, it would have basically guaranteed another run. Doug Pederson eschewed the opportunity to pass -- which would typically have a greater chance of gaining the game-ending first down -- and Blount instead plunged for another 3 yards. Hardly the most egregious example, but a reminder that even the most aggressive coaches are not aggressive 100 percent of the time.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: There's no sense repeating ourselves. Bill Belichick wins this for the benching of Malcolm Butler. Even if it becomes more clear in the ensuing weeks about what happened there, the absolute lack of any clarification from Belichick himself counts as "confusing" by any definition of the word we're familiar with.

'What a Long Strange Trip' Fantasy Player of the Week: Nick Foles. Let's try to keep this straight.

Nick Foles ties the record for touchdown passes in a game in 2013, with seven against the Raiders. He finishes with a 27-TD, 2-INT season and makes the Pro Bowl.

The next year, he breaks his collarbone, and it's Mark Sanchez time in Philly. But...

So, in March of 2015, he's traded off to the Rams for Sam Bradford. How did your time in St. Louis/Los Angeles go, Nick?

After a year with Andy Reid in Kansas City, Foles re-signs with the Eagles this offseason. No one expects him to matter, but...

This sort of thing doesn't happen in reality.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: To quote Vince Verhei, in this week's Quick Reads:

Counting the playoffs, there were six games this season with at least 250 passing DYAR. Brady had three of them: in Week 2 against New Orleans, in the AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville, and now in the Super Bowl. By DYAR, this was the best playoff game of Brady's career, surpassing his six-touchdown game against Denver in the divisional round of the 2011 season. His AFC title game against Jacksonville is third-best, so yes, at age 40, Brady is quite literally playing better than ever before.

Perhaps the most common social media refrain of Brady's incredible age-40 season has been the truism that Father Time is undefeated, but Brady is putting up more of a fight than most. Though the defense was an abomination both at the start and the end of the season, the Patriots offense has ranked in the top seven in DVOA every year since 2004 -- including the Matt Cassel season in 2008 and the three-quarterback monster in 2016 -- and that, at least, does not appear to be going away any time soon.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: In a game which featured more offense than any other game in NFL history, the Eagles finally put together one defensive play with less than three minutes to go in the season.

Three-Eyed Raven 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.

[ad placeholder 4]

Bryan: Victory is mine! With both of us sitting on a 9-10 record entering the Super Bowl, and both of us liking the Eagles money line, we decided to let the coin toss determine our Lock of the Week winner - after all, it's not like our predictions were super great this season. So when that beautiful coin flipped -- or, possibly, didn't flip, hashtag flipgate -- and ended up on heads, I became your Lock of the Week champion!

Andrew: I console myself with the knowledge that in the grand scheme of things, a wooden spoon is more useful than a shiny trophy.

Bryan And that about wraps it up for our Scrambling ways this season! Thank you all so much for coming along for the ride with us.

Andrew: Lang may yer lum reek!

Bryan: And Goo Goo G'Joob to you, too.

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, updates on the whereabouts of Malcolm Butler, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.


19 comments, Last at 12 Feb 2018, 9:29am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

"Whether you were rooting for the Patriots, for the Eagles, or for a meteor to destroy the stadium, it can't be denied that the future feels less certain now, which is definitely more exciting to write about."

And there were definitely folks rooting for the meteor/black hole. I know some
of them.

Was wr

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I'm totally not in line with calling Pederson's run on 3rd down conservative. The play itself might've been conservative - I would've pushed the edge more or something - but calling a run instead of a pass was totally the right decision. That play burned nearly half the time off the clock.

By straight win percentage, I'm pretty sure running the ball was the right call. That play started at a 94.92% win probability. Completing the pass or running the ball successfully ends the game. Assume incomplete means you kick the FG, make it, and return it to the Patriots with 75 yards to go and 1:47 left. That's a 94.07% win probability. Running the ball and failing means you return it to the Patriots with 75 yards to go and 0:58 left. That's a 97.87% win probability.

If you think the pass is 66% successful, then the run would have to be only 5% successful in order to not be the better choice. Anything higher than that, you're better off. Even if the pass has an *80%* chance to succeed, the run could be 44% successful and still be the better choice.

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It was the run on second down that I considered conservative. With only three seconds until the two-minute warning, a run or a pass -- whether complete or incomplete -- should take roughly the same time off the clock, with the pass having a higher chance of gaining enough yardage for a new set of downs.

I agree that the run on third down was 100 percent the correct call.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Oops! Sorry about that, misread the play. Got confused because Vince in Audibles said he "hated, hated, hated" the decision to run on 3rd down, and he is so, so wrong about that.

I agree on second down that was an out of character play. Especially because Philly could've honestly treated that like 4-down territory - if you can get the clock down under a minute, I don't think there's much difference between being up 5 and being up 8 when you're at the 25 like Philly was.

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Maybe Belichick called the timeout prior to the 2-minute warning in order to try to induce Peterson into calling a pass on 2nd down. At that point, the optimal outcome for the Patriots is a turnover, which is much more likely to happen if the Eagles are passing. Peterson's decision was not necessarily right because the outcome was an Eagles win, but it's possible that for that one play, gaining a first down wasn't the only goal Peterson should have been optimizing for.

15 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It's true that Pederson should have retaining the ball as his top priority, certainly. I expect that, as much as anything, is why he called the run play. That said, the one thing the Patriots absolutely could not afford was an Eagles first down. A three-and-field-goal gives them possession down at most one score, as we saw. An Eagles first down means the Patriots, if they get the ball back at all, do so with only about 20 seconds left, as the Patriots only had one timeout. A slightly increased chance of a turnover is not, to my understanding, worth the substantially higher chance of a new set of downs -- especially as the field goal was not a guaranteed success either.

As I wrote, this was by no means an egregious example of conservatism. It was just a bog-standard conservative playcall, completely acceptable in the circumstance. It was just interesting, to me, to point out that even Pederson was not aggressive every time it might have been smarter to be so.

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I used the WP calculator at pro-football-reference for a range of potential outcomes of a pass on that play:
If the Eagles throw an interception at the sticks: 73%
if the Eagles gain 0-3 yards: 86%
If the Eagles gain a first down: 95%

This supports your assertion that a pass was the smarter play.

But if I'm Belichick, I still call the timeout before the 2 minute warning, because I want the Eagles to run the higher variance play.

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

That's not helping your case, Vince. It's actually making it worse. If you're only up by *5*, you really, *really* want that extra 45 seconds burned off the clock. If you miss the field goal, you've got like a 77% chance of winning if there's 1:45 left, but an 86% chance of winning if there's only 1:00 left. So that just *increases* the win differential between "failed run" and "failed pass." To be specific, failed run = 95.4% chance and failed pass = 90.7% chance.

I'd have to guess those numbers would separate even more if we had win percentage including timeouts remaining, and also win percentage including average yards per play by the offense so far. We saw this in the results from the game, too. If Brady had 45 more seconds, does anyone really believe that he wouldn't've been able to get that touchdown? I sure as hell would've been panicking.

Burning time off the clock from 2:00 -> 1:00, by win percentage, is incredibly valuable. It's the steepest portion of the "win percentage versus time remaining" curve. Below 1:00 it's less valuable again, because you've already turned it into a "miracle play" situation, and making it 'even more miracle' doesn't help you that much.

Putting it into numbers: down 5, going from 2:00 -> 1:00 is nearly 10% in win percentage, over 10 times more valuable than going from 3:00 -> 2:00.

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Thanks for tallying the prop results. Dammit Al! Got me again. You guys smoked us both though.

In the moment, I thought Philly should've passed with 2:03 left, but then I remember Atlanta handing New England the Super Bowl by getting sacked when a run would've iced it. In hindsight, I like the run call.

And finally, I agree that Belichick is the KCA winner, but for a different reason. I still don't get why people don't make a bigger deal about him not calling a timeout when Philly got a first down inside the 10 with just under two minutes left in the first half. I was screaming at the TV "Timeout! Timeout!" It seems like a certainty that the Pats would've scored before the half in that case, and who knows if that momentum would've made a difference in the long run.