by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello, and welcome to the Week 12 edition of Scramble for the Ball. All but two of the league's teams have now had their bye, and those two teams just served up what one of our esteemed former colleagues today argued might have been the greatest regular-season game ever played. The entire weekend was packed with enticing games, beginning on Thursday night with the tight Packers-Seahawks game that had both teams battling to position themselves for a potential wild-card spot. The Steelers had a crazy come-from-behind victory in Jacksonville to remain in position for a bye (more on that later); new Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson ran to win a tough divisional matchup in his first start; and 11 of 13 games had a winning margin of five points or fewer. All of that sets us up beautifully for the busiest weekend of the football calendar: we can watch seven live games this week, beginning with three on the football-loving nation's favorite Thursday of the year.
Bryan: It's a little disappointing, perhaps, that four of the six teams playing on Thanksgiving Day have a negative DVOA (including both teams in the most important matchup of the day), and that we'll see at least one and quite possibly two backup quarterbacks in Washington and Chicago, but each of the three games brings with it at least something worth watching and talking about. And, hey, all of them are in the upper half of matchups this week; no Ravens-Raiders or Chargers-Cardinals to be found here. Like many Thanksgiving Day gatherings, it may not be the most fun you'll have on a Thursday all year, but it could definitely, definitely be worse.
Andrew: It has become something of a tradition during our time at Scramble HQ for us to preview the Thanksgiving games, and this year shall be no exception.
Bryan: So sit down, AFC lovers -- it's an all-NFC day of football. The older, more mature conference, I believe you will find; one for more sophisticated palettes. Prepare to gorge yourself on this fine -- if no more than that -- Thanksgiving Day spread.
CHICAGO BEARS (7-3) AT DETROIT LIONS (4-6) (CBS, 12:30 p.m. EST)
Andrew: Looking at the way Detroit's season has gone, it seems evident to me that Matt Patricia has instilled an overwhelming hatred of the initial "P" in his present Lions squad.
Bryan: ... There's a "P" in "Detroit Lions?"
Andrew: The Lions are 3-0 against teams that begin with "P," and 1-7 against the rest of their schedule. Analytics! That's the kind of stat that's just crying out to be shown on a network graphic. Patriots. Packers. Panthers. Patricia. Lions players hate 'em all!
Bryan: Then the Lions should be happy to know that there's a good chance that, rather than facing Mitchell Trubisky, they'll get to take on Pchase Daniel this week.
... the P is silent.
Andrew: If Daniel needs to do much more than hand off to Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard to win this game, millions of Golden Clipboard fans are going to be deeply disappointed. Daniel's current pass attempts-to-earnings ratio has to be among the greatest achievements in the history of the sport. There's no way the Bears can allow Mitchell Trubisky to sit this one out and put that record in jeopardy.
Bryan: That is definitely the most important factor Matt Nagy has to consider. Certainly more important than the pain Trubisky is in after suffering a hit late against Minnesota, landing hard on his shoulder. Adam Schefter says the Bears are "optimistic" that Trubisky will, indeed, be under center on Thursday morning, but if that's so, then I'd hate to see Nagy pessimistic about something. His press conference was filled with notes that Trubisky was actively in pain and wouldn't be practicing, possibly at all before Thanksgiving. With the Bears coming off of a late Sunday game and a really, really fast turnaround, there's not a heck of a lot of time for Trubisky to get shipshape.
Andrew: ... I guess there's always Pat O'Donnell and his career 158.3 passer rating (one attempt, completed for a 38-yard touchdown to Benny Cunningham).
Bryan: Honestly, it's the Trubisky injury that brings the most intrigue to this one. The Bears are essentially one win away from clinching their first playoff appearance since 2010. No, the win on Thursday won't mathematically clinch anything, but they still get to play both the Giants and 49ers, so one other win anywhere else on the schedule will more than likely be enough. They'll still need to hold off the Vikings-Packers winner for the NFC North crown, mind you, but I think a win against Detroit would really eliminate any realistic path the Bears have of staying home this January.
The Lions, meanwhile, have been dead since their three straight losses in Weeks 8 to 10. All they can realistically hope to do is spoil their division rivals' seasons, with games against Chicago, Minnesota, and Green Bay remaining. But hey, there are worse things to do on a Thanksgiving morning; the Lions have a long and proud history of being terrible and yet finding ways to win in their annual showcase. The Lions are 16-28-2 on Thanksgiving in years where they did not have a winning record -- and half of those wins have come against good teams, most recently when they blasted the playoff-bound Packers 40-10 back in 2013. Possibly like the Bears this week, the Packers were forced to start their backup, Matt Flynn, in that one. All the pieces are coming together!
Andrew: That is one alarmingly precise statistic.
The Lions have a few significant injuries of their own, however. Marvin Jones missed the win over the Panthers with a knee injury, and Kerryon Johnson suffered a knee sprain of his own in that game. Kenny "Babytron" Golladay had a big game against the Panthers, but Bruce Ellington was their second-leading receiver barely a week after the Lions signed him.
Bryan: Bruce Ellington is healthy and other Lions receivers aren't? Is Detroit Bizarro-World now? Ellington is a walking soft-tissue injury waiting to happen.
Andrew: This is a team that loses by 31 to the Jets then blows out the Patriots two weeks later. It has been Bizarro-World for most of this season. Detroit's inconsistency makes them a nightmare to predict. They're clearly more likely to lose than to win, but they're in the odd situation of having the better quarterback despite the worse everything else, so it's not quite as concrete as we'd think.
Bryan: The Lions lost to the Bears 34-22 two weeks ago, so something's gotta change. I would think the best way to attack the Bears' defense is by going quick -- both in terms of a hurry-up offense to prevent substitutions and getting the ball out quickly to prevent Khalil Mack from feasting on Matthew Stafford repeatedly. I don't know how realistic the former is with a bunch of skill-position players who don't have much actual in-game time together. The latter might help, though; while Stafford is strictly middle-of-the-pack in time to throw this season at 2.67 seconds, he was second-fastest in the league last week at 2.40 in the Lions' upset win over Carolina. That's something possibly to build on going forward. He was at 2.74 two weeks ago in the loss to Chicago, which no es Bueno against Chicago's defense, seventh in the league in pass pressures.
Andrew: The Lions have benefitted from a remarkable run of luck from opposing field-goal kickers of late, too. Cody Parkey famously hit the upright with four separate kicks of various types in that earlier matchup, Graham Gano missed both a field goal and an extra point for the Panthers, and Mason Crosby's infamous five-miss game earlier this season came in Detroit. That's not exactly a sustainable model for winning football.
Bryan: Voodoo hexes are totally a sustainable model. At least against kickers, because kickers are weird.
Andrew: It does make me wonder what would happen if the Buccaneers or Chargers played against the Lions this year. We'd probably see the first-ever field goal attempt that looped backward through the kicking team's own end zone for a safety or something.
Bryan: We'd see field goals ending up in South Detroit, taking the midnight train going ... well, nowhere in the case of Tampa Bay.
Chicken Turkey Dinner
Andrew: So yes, we have a Detroit team that has relied on unsustainable luck for two of its four wins this year, and beat the Brock Osweiler Dolphins for a third. I'm not exactly confident here.
Bryan: The potential swap at quarterback for Chicago and the short week to prepare for said swap at quarterback could make this a more interesting matchup, and gives Detroit a crack they might squeeze through for the win. I'm still predicting a comfortable Chicago win; something along the lines of 28-17. Matt Nagy has enough tricks up his sleeve to make even Chase Daniel look competent. If Trubisky ends up healthy -- or at 90 percent -- it shouldn't even be that close.
Andrew: Even with Daniel at quarterback, I think I'd be confident in Chicago not only winning but covering. That defense is ferocious, and the Lions gave up sixteen sacks in a two-game stretch before the Carolina game.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-4) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (5-5) (FOX, 4:30 p.m. EST)
Bryan: This game isn't quite the NFC East Championship Game, but it is sort of an NFC East Qualifier for Dallas. If Washington pulls out the win, they'll have a two-game lead over the rest of the division, with the head-to-head tiebreaker already clinched over the Cowboys. The Eagles would have an outside shot at catching them, with two games left on the schedule against Washington, but it's not like they have been playing great football in recent weeks. It's not quite all sewn up with a Washington win, but barring the Philadelphia sweep in Weeks 13 and 17, you'd call the NFC East more or less wrapped up.
If Dallas wins, on the other hand, things get interesting. The Cowboys will be your NFC East leaders, thanks to their superior division record (3-1 to 2-1). Philly will be just one game back, assuming they can handle the Giants this week. Washington still might be your favorites thanks to their baby-soft closing schedule, but you'd have a real race to the finish over the last five weeks here. If you like tight playoff races, you should be pulling for Dallas in this one.
Andrew: A lot of this hinges on what we can realistically expect from a quarterback who hasn't started a single game since 2014. Colt McCoy isn't your typical NFL backup in that respect; he has been with Washington that entire time, all under the same head coach in much the same scheme, and was the starter for a brief spell all those years ago. He should have a degree of comfort with the offense that most backups wouldn't. How much does that make up for having only a short week of practice with the starters?
Bryan: Yeah, McCoy falls into the category of "veteran stopgap" at this point, like Derek Anderson did with the Panthers until this season, or Charlie Batch or Landry Jones did with Pittsburgh. Remember Batch coming in every year for a game or two after the Inevitable Ben Roethlisberger injury? Same idea here, though Washington quarterbacks have been more durable. McCoy will probably do better than some random backup thrust into action, though it should be remembered that McCoy is also not very good at football. I'd be more worried about that than about the short week of preparation. He does, however, have arguably the best name of any quarterback in the NFL, which maybe helps a little bit.
Andrew: That is very arguable, but what should be inarguable is that he has the single most matchup-appropriate name of any NFL starter in any matchup in history. His name sounds like something straight out of a J.T. Edson novel.
Bryan: I've been slowly going through old Action Comics of the '30s and '40s, and The Adventures of Colt McCoy would fit perfectly in the back next to the two dozen other interchangeable, vaguely Western-themed heroes with pulpy names they ran out like clockwork back then. Colt McCoy over Alex Smith is an upgrade in that regard, and probably only that regard.
Smith's injury -- which, again, please do not watch -- in one way dampens this game, because Smith is a better player and I enjoy watching better players play football. But it makes the matchup a lot tighter for a Cowboys team that has only just managed to string back-to-back wins together.
Andrew: It's interesting that you say that, because I would have favored the Cowboys here even before Smith's injury. Admittedly, given my Lock of the Week record this year, that is not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Washington has been getting more and more depleted on offense for weeks now. The defense has outperformed all of my preseason expectations, particularly in the secondary, but Washington never looked to me like they could afford to lose any of their better offensive players, and they appear to be gradually losing all of them.
Bryan: At the same time, it's not like Dallas has been performing terribly well, even with most of their starters healthy and playing. They have a bad offense. Ezekiel Elliott isn't performing to the level he had established in his first couple seasons, but he's the high point compared to Dak Prescott and the Very Bad Passing Game. Prescott ranks 28th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks in DVOA; 30th in DYAR. Are we that sure that the Cowboys have an advantage there over Colt McCoy? I'll admit, Amari Cooper looked pretty good last week, but the Cowboys are not exactly a healthy, functioning offense at this point. There's a reason this is the only game out of the three to feature two teams deep in the negative DVOA column. The NFC East is kind of terrible.
Andrew: The biggest point in favor of the Cooper trade, to me, is that it at least bumps everybody else in that offense down into their correct roles. Cooper is clearly the top option, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley are no longer trying to imitate a No. 1 receiver, and the past two games have been the most effective two-game stretch in some time for the Cowboys offense.
Bryan: This is true. Dallas' high-point in offensive DVOA before the past two weeks was 12.6% against the Giants back in Week 2, and their high-point in passing DVOA was 22.5% against Jacksonville in Week 6. They've done better than both of those marks in each of their last two games, so maybe the Cooper addition did, in fact, make things work a little smoother. They paid way too much to get him, but if that ends up giving the Cowboys the division crown, was it worth it?
Andrew: I'd still say probably not, because no matter what happens in the East I don't see this team making any noise in January. That is another debate, however, for another time.
Chicken Turkey Dinner
Andrew: Despite the much-publicized issues with the Dallas offense, the reverse fixture with a much healthier Washington roster was only a three-point home victory. A missed field goal and a strip-sack return touchdown were the key plays. It seems like this is always a tight division -- not always an especially good division, but always generally competitive. I like the 5-5 team here more than I do the 6-4 one. That would have been true even before the Smith injury, and it's even more true now. I think the Cowboys both win and cover here, even on a high -7.5 money line.
Bryan: I think that line is a little too high for Dallas; I would have been happier at the -5.5 line the game opened at, but all the money has come in on the Cowboys over the course of the week for rather obvious reasons. I do think Dallas will win, but only by a field goal or so because, like you say, the NFC East always seems to find a way to play tight games, regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) of the two teams involved. Dallas to win, Washington to cover.
ATLANTA FALCONS (4-6) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-1) (NBC, 8:20 p.m. EST)
Bryan: The late-night game probably fits the role of dessert the best. A lot of empty points scored, without a lot of that weighty defense to slow things down. The over/under for this one is 61 points as of writing -- a number that used to be incredibly rare in the NFL. Before 2018, only three games in NFL history had an over/under of 60 points or more. Assuming this line holds, we'll now have had two in back-to-back weeks. The NFL in 2018, ladies and gentlemen.
I'm not going too far out on a limb, I hope, by saying that Monday's Rams-Chiefs game was slightly more entertaining than this one will be.
Andrew: It would be extremely difficult for anything to top that Monday night game. I look at that over/under and wonder how many of those points Vegas thinks the Saints will score themselves.
Bryan: The Saints over/under is 37 points, so yeah, Vegas isn't thinking too much of Atlanta here. It does take two to tango, however, and Atlanta's offense has the potential firepower to come close to matching the Saints. The defense, however...
Andrew: Admittedly, that line is probably influenced quite heavily by the earlier matchup between the two, which finished 43-37 in Georgia. The thing is, I get the strong impression the Saints defense has improved a fair bit since, whereas the Falcons are quite possibly worse on both offense and defense. Three of the Saints' worst performances of the season came in the opening four weeks. Atlanta's worst was against Cleveland in Week 10.
Bryan: Certainly on defense, where Atlanta was dead last entering last week. The 43 points they allowed to New Orleans is their high-water mark, as you would expect, but they haven't had an acceptable defensive performance since ... the season opener, maybe? If that? They had three good quarters against Dallas, but everything fell apart in the fourth. They just can't seem to put together a complete game on the defensive side of the ball, and Drew Brees and company are likely to just shred them.
Andrew: Every week since the season opener (pending the numbers from the Dallas game) has seen the Falcons post a defensive DVOA of 17.8% or worse. When the advanced numbers say your defense is worse than Tampa Bay's -- which just allowed Eli Manning to have a 17-of-18 day passing -- you're in dire trouble.
Bryan: The weird thing is, the Falcons aren't … quite dead, unlike most 4-6 teams. The losses by Carolina, Minnesota, and Green Bay last week mean the wild card isn't entirely out of reach. They also still get to play the Packers and Panthers down the stretch, so they have more control over their own fate than most 4-6 teams. It's a longshot, to say the least, and a loss here basically ends any chance Atlanta has of making noise. A loss also technically means they can't win the NFC South, but that ship has sailed, reached its destination, exchanged its cargo for sugar and spices, returned, and then sailed again at this point.
Andrew: I really felt the Falcons had to win at home to Dallas last week to keep their season alive, though part of that was me thinking that they might end up tied with Dallas for a wild card. I was wrong about that; It looks very, very unlikely that a wild card will come out of the NFC East, so that Dallas loss has very limited impact on potential tiebreakers. The problem is, they'll probably need to do better than 9-7 and the loss to Dallas makes that almost impossible.
Bryan: They basically had to either beat Dallas at home or New Orleans on the road. I know which one I'd rather have to do!
The Saints, meanwhile, essentially wrap up the first-round bye if they win this week. We're expecting the Saints and Rams to be in a shootout for home-field advantage (with the Saints holding on to that all-important tiebreaker), but the Bears are lurking. If the Saints do get upset, and the Bears survive their Thanksgiving test, Chicago will be just a game back of the second seed in the NFC. Yes, you'd favor the Saints the rest of the way even if that were to happen, but an upset on Thursday keeps that door open just the tiniest crack.
Chicken Turkey Dinner
Andrew: When the schedule was released, this looked like a fantastic game to have on Thanksgiving night. Now, I'm more wondering whether it will be worth staying awake to watch, or whether I should just catch it on Game Pass on Friday. The Falcons have been ruined by injuries this year, on a defense that doesn't have the depth to cope with the losses they've suffered. The season was always about whether the defense could hang in there just enough to let the offense do its thing, and that theory had expired by Week 4.
Bryan: At least this game still lets you see the Saints, who I am comfortable saying are the best team playing this week. That's almost always worth a national window, even if their opponents aren't quite living up to the billing. That being said, if you fall asleep in a tryptophan-induced coma in this one, we won't judge you too harshly. I think the Saints win this one by a good four scores; there's a reason the 13.5-point line is the highest of the week.
Andrew: The only thing that would concern me about the line is the Falcons offense being good enough to pile up the scores if the Saints defense softens up. The thing is, the Saints don't look like they're even inclined to soften up when they have a big lead anymore. Still, it would be a major shock by NFL standards to see the Falcons make this competitive, and no surprise at all to see a repeat of the Saints blowouts from the past two weeks. It's boring for us to agree this much, but Saints and the points looks by far the most likely outcome.
Clearing the Table
Bryan: Alright, Andrew. People are often busy on Thanksgiving, cooking or spending time with family. If they can beg off to watch just one game this Thursday, which would you advise them to take a look at?
Andrew: Washington's trip to Dallas has the most ramifications for both teams, and the most jagged historical edge. I think that's the one I would be most inclined to make time for. The other two, as we mentioned, have heavy implications for the favorites, but the underdogs are pretty much out of things. I like seeing the three divisional games, and just wish the other two had more impact on the race for each of those divisions.
Bryan: I'd put the NFC East showdown second, as it does have the most on the line and is likely to be the closest game of the three; that makes it more interesting to me than the Bears-Lions showdown in the early window. I would, however, rather watch the Saints-Falcons. Of all these teams, only the Saints and Bears are really great to watch; they're the two teams that are likely to make noise down the stretch, they have the most exciting offenses, they have the best defensive players. And with the Bears possibly not at full strength, the best team to watch on Thursday will be the New Orleans Saints, getting to play against the closest equivalent to air an NFL team can provide on defense. If either of the other games included two good teams -- not even great teams, mind you, but something along the lines of Carolina-Seattle or Minnesota-Green Bay or even a Denver-Pittsburgh -- I'd pick that one in a heartbeat. But short of that, give me the best team playing doing incredible offensive fireworks.
Andrew: Psh. You kids and your "entertainment" preferences.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: The Saints absolutely shut down the Eagles, and Carson Wentz was no exception. He ended up throwing three interceptions, mostly just out of frustration, chucking the ball downfield hoping that someone would somehow get open. No one really got open all game, however, as the Saints did a great job taking away any outlet Wentz would have had. Wentz comes thudding back down to Earth after a nice little stretch of success, finishing with just 1 point.
Running Back: The rare negative-point day from a running back! The Vikings were forced to go pass-happy late against the Bears as they tried to mount a comeback, meaning there wasn't really enough time for Dalvin Cook to make up for his first-quarter struggles. Not only did he only gain 11 yards on his 12 carries, but he also lost a fumble in the first quarter. -1 points.
Wide Receiver: A trio of Goose Eggers to report on this week. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Michael Crabtree, and Laquon Treadwell all did manage to catch a pass, but were held under 10 yards receiving. Nul points.
Kicker: Maybe, just maybe, Ron Rivera's decision to go for two at the end of the game (more on that later) was somewhat sparked by Graham Gano's struggles. Gano missed both a 34-yard field goal and an extra point in what ended up as a one-point loss for Carolina. Had Gano been more accurate, Rivera may not have even been in the decision to make the wrong call late in the game. That's -6 points for Gano.
Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: The Los Angeles Chargers came into Week 11 sitting pretty at 7-2 in pole position for an AFC wild card at the very least, and even a division title if they could overcome the Chiefs' 1.5-game lead. A home defeat against the 3-6 Broncos threw a spanner into their works. Philip Rivers had a difficult afternoon against a deceptively solid Broncos defense, highlighted by this interception to Von Miller:
— NFL Latino (@NFLlatino) November 18, 2018
This throw is never on. Miller is in the throwing lane the whole time, catches the ball, and returns the interception into the red zone. Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, but this was a critical mistake in a game the Chargers lost by a single point. Fortunately, the Chargers remain in pole position for a wild-card spot, but their division chances took a significant hit with this defeat.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: When Leonard Fournette leapt over the pile for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Jaguars up 16-0 on the Steelers, only 2:09 remained in the third quarter. To that point, everything had gone right for the Jaguars. The defense had stifled Ben Roethlisberger, limiting him to only 66 yards with three interceptions, while the power running of Leonard Fournette had been just effective enough to churn up yards and clock while eking out the two-touchdown advantage. From that point, however, they turtled the game away in a manner eerily reminiscent of last season's AFC Championship defeat to the Patriots. The Jaguars' last four drives with the lead saw them run Fournette up the middle on every first down, three of four second downs, and even on their final third down, a third-and-5 just after the two-minute warning. They gained only 7 yards on those eight carries, and went three-and-out all four times. The defense held out gamely after Pittsburgh's first touchdown, holding the Steelers to a three-and-out and a turnover on downs on their next two possessions, but the dam eventually cracked under the relentless pressure. The Steelers scored touchdowns on their final two drives to take a 20-16 lead, and with the Jaguars forced to pass, T.J. Watt sealed the game with a strip-sack on the final play. You can certainly blame the front office for the quarterback, and you might blame politics for the lack of alternatives, but the blame for the strategy lands squarely on the shoulders of Doug Marrone.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: Maybe it's nothing to do with the opponent, and everything to do with the Chargers special teams? Last week, we gave this award to Jon Gruden for running a fake punt against the Chargers on their opening drive. This week, the Broncos did something very similar. Facing fourth-and-5 near midfield, down 6-0 at the start of the second quarter, Vance Joseph called for a fake punt. Punter Colby Wadman's pass found Andy Janovich for a first down, and on the very next play Phillip Lindsay burst through the Chargers defense for a 41-yard touchdown. Unlike the Raiders, that did make a difference for the Broncos, as they eventually prevailed 23-22 to just about keep their wild-card dreams alive.
Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching: While we normally advocate going for two far more often than most NFL coaches do, we don't advocate doing that all willy-nilly. Ron Rivera's "Riverboat Ron" nickname is more media creation than actual fact, but he took a huge gamble at the end of the Panthers-Lions game. Down seven, Rivera's Panthers scored a touchdown with just 1:07 left on the clock -- tie ballgame, let's go to overtime, right? Well, no. Rivera opted to go for two and the potential win. The play call was solid, but Cam Newton's pass was behind Jarius Wright, the ensuing onside kick failed, and the Panthers lost a key game to fall to 6-4.
We say "potential" win, because even if the Panthers had made the conversion, nothing was guaranteed. The Lions would have had over a minute to work with, all three timeouts remaining, and needing just a field goal to take the win outright. With Newton behind center, the Panthers are generally a pretty good short-yardage team; they have converted 53.8 percent of their third- and fourth-and-2 plays so far this season. That's better odds than you'd expect a team to have in overtime, sure, but is that extra few percentage points worth the chance of the Lions driving 40 yards in a minute and beating you with a field goal? Not really. Per EdjSports, the Panthers would have had a 47.2 percent chance of winning had they kicked the PAT, and just a 45.9 percent chance of winning with the two-point conversion (taking into account that they considered the Panthers a 54 percent favorite in overtime). While perhaps not the most egregious math fail of the week -- hiya, Mike McCarthy -- this was a particularly confusing one, because it's something that's just not done.
Since 2008, there have been eight attempts at the go-ahead two-point conversion with less than two minutes to go, including Carolina this week. Until Rivera's decision, all of them had come with less than a minute left on the clock, and all but one had come with less than thirty seconds -- generally not enough time for the other team to mount a comeback. Going for two this early removes a significant chunk of the potential strategic advantage gained from the game-winning two-point attempt, making it the wrong call. Blaming it on "analytics," as some in the media did in the aftermath, shows an unsurprising lack of understanding of numbers.
'Wait, Who?' Fantasy Player of the Week:: Gus Edwards was not included anywhere in Football Outsiders Almanac 2018 -- and believe me, I looked. We try to include any player with even a remote chance of becoming a significant contributor, but Edwards was, at best, the fourth back on Baltimore's depth chart; an undrafted rookie who had less than 2,000 yards rushing in five years of college ball and looked to spend most of the year on the practice squad. Adding Ty Montgomery in midseason did not appear to improve Edwards' chances of making a splash, even after Kenneth Dixon's knee injury. But lo and behold, with Alex Collins struggling to get anything going early against Cincinnati, the Ravens turned to the bowling ball-esque Edwards, who ran 17 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. It remains to be seen if he'll be The Guy this week against Oakland, but he's definitely worth adding in all fantasy leagues and formats at this point.
Aquí está el TD de Gus Edwards con el que los Ravens empataban el partido. Rozando las 100 yardas hoy el rookie UDFA.
— Ravens en Español (@RavensESP) November 18, 2018
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: There really wasn't much garbage time go around this week, with most of the games being exciting (or, at least, close). Neither of those terms applied to the Titans-Colts game, however, so Tajae Sharpe, come on down! Sharpe had been held to one catch for no yards since his 100-yard day against the Chargers back in Week 7, and produced nothing in this game while it was still close. Once the Colts took a three-score lead, however, Sharpe sprung into action with his second-most productive day of the year. He caught five passes for 37 yards, including a touchdown from fellow Garbage Timer Blaine Gabbert late in the fourth quarter. He probably didn't help your fantasy team -- why on earth would you be starting Tajae Sharpe? -- but those empty yards and touchdowns deserve acknowledgement, all the same.
— NFL México (@nflmx) November 18, 2018
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: It was always going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the Eagles to live up to last year. That said, the third-heaviest defeat in franchise history was not what anybody expected from this fixture before the season. The past month has been exceptionally rough: a blown 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a home defeat to Carolina was followed by an uninspiring win at Wembley against the insipid Jaguars, but another home defeat, this time to the Cowboys, and the blowout in the bayou have left the Eagles in dire straits. One bright spot from that four-game stretch has been the performance of undrafted rookie running back Josh Adams. Since Jay Ajayi was lost for the year with a torn ACL following Week 5, Adams has emerged from the bottom of the depth chart to lead the team in carries. His 14.6% DVOA leading into Week 11 would have ranked sixth if he had enough carries to qualify for the leaderboard, and Adams picked up his first career touchdown -- in his first official career start -- on a 28-yard scamper for Philadelphia's lone score of the day. Adams' performance on the ground was good enough to rank third in this week's rushing DYAR table, and perhaps provide some measure of consolation from the Eagles' heaviest defeat since Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon led them to a 42-0 loss against the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks in December of 2005.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: The Chiefs-Rams game was not only one of the most exciting games ever, but also an extremely significant one. If the Buccaneers and 49ers had played the exact same game, it would have been just as exciting, but less relevant in the long run. To have two teams play to that level with so much at stake was phenomenal and will be in highlight reels for years to come. Picking just one play from that one is difficult, but we'll go with the last of the 14 touchdowns scored.
— Roto Street Journal (@RotoStJournal) November 20, 2018
Give Gerald Everett credit for managing to tightrope down the sideline there; it was a great play and a great effort. I'm pretty sure everyone in the arena thought there was too much time left on the clock -- 1:50 seemed like time for two or three more touchdowns, the way that game was going -- but a lead is a lead, and Kansas City ended up throwing not one but two interceptions to close this one out.
Obviously, the win was huge for the Rams, keeping pace with the Saints atop the NFC, but it also makes the AFC races that much more interesting. The Chiefs have just 1.5-game lead atop the conference and a two-game lead in the division; they're still the favorites for the top seed, of course, but nothing's a lock yet. The Steelers are just a game and a half back, and the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Chiefs could fall to the third seed in the AFC, or even fail to win the West entirely, if they struggle at all in Ravens-Chargers-Seahawks run they have from Weeks 14 to 16. If they miss out on a seed by a game, this loss to the Rams will hurt.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: A lot of tight contests this week, and some that should be not so tight. The Dallas Cowboys play at home this Thursday, on a short week, against a team that just lost its starting quarterback for the year and has a laundry list of injuries to the rest of its first-string offense. Washington still has a one-game lead in the standings, but very few people expect that to last much longer. The Cowboys appear to be the form team in the NFC East and are now the odds-on favorites to take the division. At home on Thursday night, they have the chance to stamp their authority on that race. Dallas (-7.5) over Washington.
Bryan: I'm sitting on quite a lead here, so I'm going to be a little bold, taking the New York Jets (+10) at home against the Patriots. Now, I'm not calling for a Jets upset here, because that's crazy talk after the way they got destroyed two weeks ago against Buffalo. But with an extra week to prepare -- and Todd Bowles knowing he has a difficult task ahead of him to keep his job in 2019 -- I expect the Jets to pull out all the stops against New England, throwing everything from the back of the playbook onto the field to try to get a result. I don't think it will be enough to beat the Patriots, who have seen everything, but I think it could be enough to keep this a one-score contest when all is said and done.
Double Survival League
Bryan: A rare double 2-0 day from the both of us has us getting down to the wire, with Andrew holding on to a one-game lead. Is that one game lead enough to make up for the quality of teams left, however? My remaining ten teams have a combined record of 51-50, while Andrew's ten are at 47-53-1. Ignoring Buffalo and Detroit -- who both of us still have to find a spot for, making that strategically even -- I only have two more losing teams to place; Arizona and Philadelphia. Andrew still needs to find a home for the Falcons, Jaguars, Jets, and Buccaneers. Anything's possible from here on out -- there's certainly no guarantee I'll find a safe home for the 5-5 Bengals or Dolphins -- but I have a slight edge in the quality of teams remaining. No guarantee I'll be able to use that to my advantage, but, well, at least it's tight.
Andrew: I'm choosing to tear off two of those losing team Band-Aids this week. Buffalo is having a weird season. In seven of their ten games so far, they have been utterly destroyed: their average margin of defeat in those seven games is 23.8 points, and they lost four of the seven by 22 points or more. Their average margin of victory in their other three games is 17.7 points, and they won two of the three by 21 points or more. Even accounting for this being two defense-first teams with very poor offenses, Buffalo's recent history suggests that this game is oddly unlikely to be close. Clearly, the odds favor the Jaguars in pretty much every way, which is why they are favored on the road despite the two teams having identical records, but any Buffalo win is going to be random and unpredictable by its nature, and this is as good a game as any to pick.
I should be slightly more confident in my other pick, Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers lost at the Giants last week, as we both correctly predicted, but they still scored 35 points in the process. Against Nick Mullens and the 49ers, 35 points should be both more than achievable, and more than enough.
Bryan: In that case, I'm going to take a couple of teams in which I am fairly confident, with the hopes of taking a one-game lead entering December. Strategery!
The single game I'm most confident about this week is the Los Angeles Chargers handling the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, we all saw what happened against Denver this past week, but DVOA thinks Denver is still a good team -- a top-10 team, even. While I'd argue that's a bit too high, Denver is also fairly clearly a better than Arizona. If the Cardinals can't handle the Raiders, I find it highly, highly unlikely that they'll manage to take on an angry and upset Chargers team and pull off the win.
I am less sure of the Eagles beating the Giants -- with the injury to Alex Smith, the Giants actually now have the highest weighted DVOA in the NFC East, which tells you about how bad the NFC East has been this year. But I figure the only games remaining where I would feel comfortable picking the Eagles are this week or next week, at home against Washington. I don't fancy them on the road at all, and Week 16's game, at home against Houston, doesn't feel too nice, either. I'll just take Philly here to get them out of the way.
One thing every team has to be thankful for: no matter what happens in Week 12, every team will have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs. This is a far cry from years past, when the worst of the worst were cooked long before your turkeys were done. With everyone having at least two wins, however, everyone is, for the moment, technically alive. Bye weeks can be lost for the Jaguars, Bills, Giants, Eagles, Lions and Packers; divisional hopes can go by the wayside for the Jets, Browns, Broncos, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Seahawks; and the Raiders can even lose hope of earning that No. 5 seed, but they can all still pretend they have hope, even without busting out Jon Gruden-level analytics.
In fact, the only thing that can be decided for certain this week belongs to a team not even playing. The Rams get to stay home and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families, and could show up for work next week with the NFC West crown already in their back pockets. At the moment, Seattle could still finish 11-5 with the Rams losing out to finish at 10-6, thus giving the Seahawks the division title. A loss to Carolina this week, however, would put Seattle's top mark at just 10-6, and they have already been swept by the Rams, killing their tiebreaker. Any Seattle loss, or Los Angeles win, from here on out would be enough for the Rams.
- Los Angeles Rams can clinch the NFC West IF Carolina d. Seattle
- Oakland can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Baltimore d. Oakland OR Los Angeles Chargers d. Arizona
- Denver can be eliminated from the AFC West IF Pittsburgh d. Denver
- New York Jets can be eliminated from home field advantage IF New England d. New York Jets OR Pittsburgh d. Denver AND Los Angeles Chargers d. Arizona
New York Jets can be eliminated from the AFC East IF New England d. New York Jets
- Buffalo can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Jacksonville d. Buffalo OR Pittsburgh d. Denver AND Los Angeles Chargers d. Arizona
Buffalo can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Jacksonville d. Buffalo AND EITHER New England d. New York Jets OR Pittsburgh d. Denver
- Cleveland can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Cincinnati d. Cleveland
Cleveland can be eliminated from the AFC North IF Cincinnati d. Cleveland AND Pittsburgh d. Denver
- Jacksonville can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Buffalo d. Jacksonville OR Pittsburgh d. Denver AND Los Angeles Chargers d. Arizona
Jacksonville can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Buffalo d. Jacksonville AND EITHER New England d. New York Jets OR Pittsburgh d. Denver
- Seattle can be eliminated from the NFC West IF Carolina d. Seattle
- New York Giants can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Philadelphia d. New York Giants OR New Orleans d. Atlanta OR Carolina d. Seattle AND San Francisco d. Tampa Bay
- Philadelphia can be eliminated from home field advantage IF New York Giants d. Philadelphia
Philadelphia can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF New York Giants d. Philadelphia AND New Orleans d. Atlanta
- Detroit can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Chicago d. Detroit
Detroit can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Chicago d. Detroit AND New Orleans d. Atlanta
- Green Bay can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Minnesota d. Green Bay
Green Bay can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Minnesota d. Green Bay AND New Orleans d. Atlanta
- Tampa Bay can be eliminated from the NFC South IF San Francisco d. Tampa Bay OR New Orleans d. Atlanta
- Atlanta can be eliminated from the NFC South IF New Orleans d. Atlanta
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