by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to this week's edition of Scramble for the Ball, in which we acknowledge the existence of Week 7, but only for a short while. Which is sort of similar to how Los Angeles feels about the Chargers, but we'll get to that shortly.
Bryan: Does Los Angeles have any feelings about the Chargers? Are Los Angelinos even aware that the Chargers exist? Are the Chargers one of Los Angeles' five most loved teams? Ten most loved?
Andrew: They probably aren't in the top five most-loved football teams in the county, behind the Raiders, Rams, UCLA, USC, CSU Northridge, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags, and probably several high schools.
Bryan: Heck, throw the Galaxy in there, as well -- that's football, right? The wrong kind of football, mind you, but football notwithstanding. Zlatan Ibrahimović is more recognizable than 95 percent of the Chargers' starting lineup.
Andrew: The Los Angeles Coast is due to join Major League Rugby next year, too, pushing the Chargers even farther down the ladder! I may or not be exaggerating slightly; it's really hard to tell.
Bryan: I found a January 2018 survey, asking fans for their favorite team with "Los Angeles" in the name -- so no Anaheim Ducks here -- and the Chargers got 1.4 percent of the vote. That's behind the Dodgers and Lakers each with over 30 percent of the vote and then a massive gap to the Angels, Rams, Galaxy, Kings and Clippers. The Chargers were just 0.2 points ahead of the Sparks. And that's not including any of the college teams. That's a disaster, from the NFL's perspective.
And it's not like the Chargers are a bad team that no one would want to watch, either! They're 5-2. They're the clear favorite for the top wild-card slot in the AFC. They have a legit chance at catching the Chiefs for the division title.
Andrew: They've had one of the league's best quarterbacks for over a decade. They now have possibly the best edge rush tandem in the league, though Joey Bosa's injury puts a dampener on that this season. They also began in Los Angeles, so the move from San Diego could have been marketed as a homecoming for them!
Bryan: I mean, they began in Los Angeles for one season. No one's arguing the Chiefs should go back to Dallas at any point.
Andrew: The distance from Dallas to Kansas City is slightly greater than the distance from San Diego to Los Angeles.
Bryan: Takes about as long to travel there on Los Angeles' permanently gridlocked highways. Maybe that's why no one shows up to Chargers games: all the fans are still stuck in traffic, and will arrive just in time for the 2027 season.
Andrew: When do they next host the Browns? Maybe the guaranteed overtime will allow the fans to arrive in time for the game to end. (Yes, I am aware that the Chargers' game in Cleveland did not exactly risk going to overtime.)
Bryan: This week, it became clear that it's not just a couple of idiots on the Internet who have noticed the Chargers' attendance woes -- it's the roughly 1,800 idiots at the league office, with apologies to the janitorial and admin staff, as well. Per ESPN's Seth Wickersham, owners discussed, in an unofficial manner, the Chargers' struggles building a fan base. The plan for the future is for the Chargers to be tenants in the Rams' shiny new stadium, but while the Rams are doing big business via season tickets and seat licenses and all the other ways NFL owners have of wringing money out of their fans, the Chargers ... aren't. They've recently revised their initial revenue goal down from $400 million to $150 million, which isn't going to make the Rams very happy. If I were to tell my landlord "oh, by the way, I can only pay 37.5 percent of the agreed upon rent," I imagine I would be very quickly looking for a new home.
It's easy to see why the NFL thought the Chargers would be successful -- New York can support two NFL teams, and Los Angeles did once, too. But when the Jets moved to the Big Apple, there were only four other professional teams playing in the New York area: the Giants, Yankees, Rangers and Knicks. The (baseball) Giants and Dodgers had just left, too, meaning there were sports fans looking for a new team to hook up with. And college sports in New York City have never been as big as they are in Los Angeles. Not to mention the last time the L.A. area had two teams, both teams left.
Andrew: Part of the problem, in this instance, is that Los Angeles already had two teams, even if neither played there anymore. There was a core of longtime Rams fans who stuck with the team even after the move to St. Louis, and a larger swathe of Raiders fans left over when the team returned upstate.
Bryan: Plus, being a Raiders fan was cool in the '90s; they got adopted very quickly by the rap community and the logo and merch became fashion statements in and of itself. My wife, who is from Germany and had no idea what a football even was, could identify the Raiders' logo long before she met me.
Andrew: Ironically, that popularity was part of the concern about returning the Raiders to Los Angeles: how likely their apparel was to be adopted into the gang culture. The Black Hole already has a rather unsavory reputation.
Bryan: I look forward to seeing the Vegas'd version of the Black Hole, all sanitized for a family audience and glitzy.
I don't think it has been cool to be a Chargers fans since the '70s and Air Coryell -- if, indeed, it has ever been cool to rock out to San Diego SuperChargers.
Andrew: My college flatmate, and indeed my best man, was a Chargers fan. I still don't know why. He's from Belfast. It seemed safer not to ask.
Bryan: This whole situation leaves the NFL with quite a problem on their hands. It's an eyesore for the league to see one of their teams regularly outdrawn by visiting fans. It's almost like the Chargers are one of the travelling teams from the '20s, always playing in front of hostile crowds. Their trip to London this last week might have been the most pro-Chargers crowd they'll play in front of all year long.
Andrew: Is it too obvious a solution to make the Spanos family sell the team and just move them back to San Diego? It would save me roughly a gazillion copy edits.
Bryan: I think San Diegans would accept them back if, and only if, the Spanoses were removed -- and even then, you've already done a bunch of damage there.
I mean, obviously, what the NFL is going to do is nothing; they're going to keep them in Los Angeles and pretend there isn't a problem at all, because that's what the NFL does in situations like this.
Andrew: Well ... sometimes that's what the NFL does. Sometimes, it takes something that's kinda sorta hinting at a problem, and blows it out of all proportion until it dominates the entire world's coverage of the league. I'm sure there's a way they could, I dunno, disband the team, sell off the assets, invite bids for a replacement, unwittingly accept two competing bids, pick the worst one, sign contracts with both, sue themselves over it, then end up being forced to unwillingly expand into both Hartford, Connecticut and Mexico City, with both teams joining the AFC West because "rivalry" or something.
Bryan: OK, let's call that "Plan C." Clearly, you and I can come up with a better alternative, as we surely know better than a bunch of successful businessmen, right? I mean, I'm about to win the $1.6 billion MegaMillions lottery, so maybe I'll just buy the Chargers and move them somewhere more hospitable. That seems like the best-case scenario for all involved, especially me.
So, the question on all of our minds is, of course, Where in the World Should We Move San Diego?
Andrew: Shall we look at some options then, and discuss the pros and cons like civilized adults?
Bryan: Certainly! Let's start with London.
Andrew: Uh, I would have started with San Diego, but OK. Can I just, as a British NFL fan, start by saying:
NO. No, no, no. No. Just, no. Don't.
The NFL is not ready for a London team. I don't mean the logistics, which have surely been figured out after 25 games and counting. I don't even mean the time differences, or cultural differences. Attendance would not be a problem, especially for a talented team like the Chargers. Divisional realignment to put them in an East division is challenging, but far from insurmountable.
But the broadcast coverage ... my goodness, the NFL broadcast coverage is not ready for a London team. Until FOX, or CBS, or whichever three-initial channel can get through an entire broadcast without having to show an image of Trafalgar Square, or the Tower of London, or whichever other imperialist symbol you want to flag up, or until they can go to commercial without having the Geico segment delivered in the most torturous, cliched faux-cockney voiceover (people from Wembley are not cockneys, guv'nor), or until they learn that WE USE MILES TOO, they're IMPERIAL MEASURES YA CLOWN YE, American broadcast companies are not ready to show all 16 regular-season games to a devoted U.K. fanbase.
Bryan: So ... we're calling this one a hard "maybe"? Something something Harry Potter Monty Python Doctor Who?
Andrew: Imagine, if you will, a Panthers broadcast that features, let's say, Central Correctional Institution, and a memorial to Joseph Johnston as notable monuments (yes, that's tricky with CCI now, but work with me here), while somebody from a different place does commercials in a horribly cliched Alabama southern accent even though people from Charlotte don't talk like that, and I dunno, something in the broadcast makes reference to gumbo even though that's from Louisiana instead of South Carolina, and you get an idea of what most Brits were hit with during the Chargers-Titans game. It's a caricature, and not a particularly good one.
Bryan: You must really be looking forward to the Eagles-Jaguars game, complete with the NFL Network's morning crew in the booth instead of regular announcers. I love me some Rich Eisen, and the GameDay Morning crew is generally the best of the NFL morning shows, but they're clearly treating the London games as more of a spectacle than an actual, you know, football game.
Andrew: I am mostly joking, but there's a serious point: the novelty would wear off over a 16-game season, and I still get the sense that it's seen as a bit of a jolly by American broadcasters rather than a serious prelude to an actual franchise. There are genuine logistical issues for the teams, too: scheduling, especially for West Coast teams, applies in both directions. Fans currently travel for the weekend, and it's not the same 80,000 people at every game. That's harder to sustain over four months than over four weeks. Wembley has its own sports calendar, particularly during the football season, and the pitch would need to be managed very carefully. Players are currently taxed based on where they play games, and taxation is very different in the U.K. No one thing is necessarily a deal-breaker, but it's a very different situation to relocating within the U.S. jurisdiction.
Bryan: In addition, you have the problem with bringing players over for mid-week tryouts to replace injured players, all sorts of financial issues with the salary cap and the exchange rate and all that nonsense ... yeah, London may not, uh, be a great idea, despite how much the NFL seems really, really, really insistent that they can be international players, just like major soccer leagues! So maybe we should look a little closer to home ... my home, not your home.
San Diego, California
Bryan: The Chargers, coming home! That'd be the feel-good story of the decade, right? And there are surely no hard feelings between the city and the franchise.
Andrew: We mentioned this above, but this would pretty much require the Spanos family to sell the team. I think it could work, and in fact work quite well, but not with anybody connected with the move to L.A. still involved.
Bryan: There is the slight issue of Qualcomm/SDCCU Stadium, still. While I admit that the Spanos family did not, uh, negotiate with the city in the best of faith, Qualcomm isn't exactly state-of-the-art anymore. While not as bad as the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, it's a relic from the '60s, when every new stadium had to be multi-purpose, and thus not specifically fit for anyone in particular. It's "octorad" style means that every seat is pretty far from the field -- and while that's fine for a minor league team (like the San Diego Fleet of the AAF!), it was looking worse and worse as a stadium for the pros every year. I mean, it's fine, it holds people, it's not falling apart or anything ... but it would be the fifth-oldest stadium in the NFL. Two of the older ones (Lambeau and Soldier) have seen huge renovations since they opened, and the other two (the L.A. and Oakland Coliseums) aren't going to be used in two years. Not exactly a draw for a team.
Andrew: It was built in 1967! That's not a relic! How new does a stadium have to be to satisfy NFL audiences? Yeah, Wembley was completely redeveloped and the new stadium opened in 2007, but most large sports audiences over here watch in stadiums considerably more than 37 years old. Old Trafford opened in 1910. Anfield opened in 1884. Sure, obviously there's been massive redevelopment since, so there's an element of Trigger's Broom (or, if you prefer, Theseus' Ship) about those dates, but even so.
Bryan: This is America. Restoring something to how it looked 50 years ago is considered an impossible feat of historic preservation.
There are 10 Premier League stadiums older than Qualcomm; all have undergone major renovations no later than 1998. In addition, all of those stadiums were built for soccer, meaning the layout and seats were in ideal locations already, rather than being a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none scenario.
I don't think San Diego is wrong to object to using public money to build a new stadium; there are very, very strong arguments against doing so, though that's a topic for another time/rant. I just don't see the NFL agreeing to move any team anywhere without a new stadium being built, so I think we have to cross San Diego off the list. Plus, you know, it would be the NFL admitting defeat even more than just moving the Chargers elsewhere. Not gonna happen.
Andrew: Which is a shame, because it's by far the most sensible option from a pure sports fandom perspective.
St. Louis, Missouri
Bryan: St. Louis is an interesting option -- it's the other city that has just lost an NFL team ... no, not Oakland, the other other city. It also wouldn't involve any divisional rejiggering, as St. Louis is a western city ... by NFL standards, at least. They've got the same issue as San Diego, however -- they're even less likely to agree to a new stadium, because they got the raw end of the deal with the Edward Jones Dome. However, unlike San Diego, that dome is still relatively new, made in 1995 -- the Rams' insistence on a new stadium never made as much sense as the Chargers' demands.
Andrew: That all comes back to the very weird franchise system you guys have in place for sports teams. In Europe, nobody would dare try to relocate a top-class football team. The most unpopular team in British soccer at the start of the century, the one team everybody else hated regardless of their affiliation, wasn't Manchester United, or Liverpool, or even Chelsea, Millwall, or Rangers. It was Milton Keynes Dons, AKA Franchise FC, who were torn from their Wimbledon home and relocated to the New Town urban wasteland that is Milton Keynes. (Or at least, was. I haven't been there in over a decade, because why would anybody go to Milton Keynes unless they absolutely had to?) It's the one thing no football fan can countenance. Sure, teams sometimes have to move -- my team, Clyde, has moved a bunch of times throughout its history -- but they aren't deliberately ripped out and transplanted.
So just watch, for example, the Glazers threaten the city of Manchester that they'll relocate United to London (no jokes about bring the club closer to the fans, please) if the city doesn't fund a stadium for them. The city would laugh at them, leak it to the fans, and the move would never have the faintest hint of a chance of happening.
Bryan: No, they'll just leave the Premier League for a super-duper-cross-Europe-special league for their own clubs, sponsored by oil billionaires from the Middle East. That would be the closest soccer equivalent, I suppose.
Back to our football for a moment, you might be able to renovate The Dome in St. Louis into something enticing, but St. Louis also seems fed up with dealing with owners at the moment, and there's a decent movement in the city to just tear the dome down and regain a bunch of downtown space. In addition, St. Louis isn't a huge television market or anything, so leaving Los Angeles for St. Louis would really annoy a bunch of NFL bigwigs.
Andrew: I've also seen rumblings that the city of St. Louis would prefer to wait for an expansion, if another expansion ever happens, rather than adopt another transplant. Easy come, easy go and all that. Every NFL team they've ever imported has left, so the answer might just be to stop importing them.
Bryan: So let's look somewhere new -- somewhere which wouldn't necessarily mind a transplant.
Taking a quick look around the U.S., there are a few major markets which have never had an NFL team. The five largest are Orlando, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Columbus. Orlando, Columbus, and Sacramento are too close to existing teams to make a lot of sense on their own, and I can't imagine Salt Lake City with an NFL team playing on Sundays. Portland, on the other hand, is enticing.
Andrew: The only thing I know about Portland, Oregon, is that the soccer team is called the Timbers.
Bryan: Portland, along with San Antonio, is a city often used as a threat by other teams -- San Antonio's Alamodome has been considered a temporary home for the post-Katrina Saints and the post-Oakland Raiders, while Portland has been on the shortlist for expansion for the MLB and NHL, with the Phoenix Coyotes eyeing them during their current arena troubles. It's a larger TV market than, say, Indianapolis or Baltimore, and it's right by Nike headquarters. It has an established sports history, with consistent high levels of support for the Blazers and Timbers, without being an oversaturated market. It fits a convenient gap between the Seahawks and 49ers along the west coast.
Andrew: Isn't that roughly Seahawks territory though? It's only 50 miles farther from Portland to Seattle than from Los Angeles to San Diego.
Bryan: At the moment, yes -- but it's 175 miles from Seattle. That's close enough to be "regional rivalry" rather than "infringing on my fanbase!" territory. The Sounders-Timbers rivalry is a huge thing, as (was) the Sonics-Blazers rivalry (sorta).
Andrew: Ah, so there is an established history of rivalry between the two cities and their sports franchises. That would certainly be a selling point, were I making the decision. The toughest part of establishing any sports franchise is getting people invested in it. Not financially, but emotionally: making the team "theirs." Othering a neighboring town is an effective, if crude, means by which to achieve that.
Bryan: Once again, the stadium would be the sticking point. We might well see the Chargers playing in another soccer stadium for a few years if they had to move to Portland, and there's not a huge group of non-Nike corporate sponsors in the area to get behind the team with cash for a new stadium and things like that.
San Antonio, Texas
Again, that's one of the huge draws of San Antonio -- they have the Alamodome! It's sitting right there! It's relatively new, and certainly not as badly designed as the dome in St. Louis! It was just renovated in 2017! It has already hosted both NFL games and major college games! It's move-in ready, as it were.
Andrew: Presumably, the difficulty there is proximity to other teams. The geography of Texas is not exactly my strong suit. I'm reminded of a minister friend of mine who was visiting Fort Worth and was invited to a wedding in Missouri. This was before the days of t'internet so, being used to the size of the U.K., he checked a map, and gave himself about six hours to make the journey. A full hour into the drive, he checked again only to discover he was ... still in Fort Worth.
Bryan: Yeeeah, that's a full day's drive, there. Texas is too damn big. I've driven across it when I was moving from San Jose to Columbia, and the Texas portion was both the longest and most boring part of the entire drive.
San Antonio is 273 miles from Dallas and 198 miles from Houston. That distance would probably not be big enough for Bob McNair and Jerry Jones, but I mean, come on. Texas is huge. Texas is crazy about football. And the most significant distance here is 157 miles -- the distance from San Antonio to Mexico. Mexico is still high on the NFL's expansion plans, and having a franchise that close to the border would open up plenty of new marketing opportunities. The NFL loves new marketing opportunities.
Andrew: I had expected Mexico City to come into this at some point, but placing a team that close while still in U.S. territory makes considerably more sense. I had thought that if anybody ended up there, it would be the Cardinals, but that was probably based on the first Mexico City game being Cardinals-49ers rather than any actual grasp of the relevant demographics and logistics.
Bryan: It should be noted that, while the Chargers do have a sizeable existing Latino fanbase thanks to their years in San Diego (closer to Mexico than San Antonio, at any rate), they are not Mexico's favorite team. They're fifth, behind the Steelers (oddly enough), the Cowboys, the Patriots and the 49ers, according to a recent NFL-sponsored poll. That's still enough to build off of, but it gives Jerry Jones another reason to hate this idea.
Andrew: That probably correlates roughly with team popularity in other countries, too. When most fans of ticket-affording age outside the U.S. were first getting into the sport, the Steelers, Cowboys, and 49ers were the big-name, successful franchises. The Patriots have the recent success and a resultant wave of younger fans.
Bryan: Certainly not for the Chargers, though. Sure, the Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, and Pats are the teams of the '70s-'00s (and even into the '10s), but the Chargers have never been among that group. So maybe in a ratio of Mexican fans to other fans, the Chargers would come out on top. So, we might as well consider...
Mexico City, Mexico
Andrew: It's odd, to me, that the logistics of placing a team in Mexico City are generally considered more complicated and more likely to dredge up internal dissent than placing a team in London. Economics is part of it, sure: Mexico isn't quite the gateway to another continent in the same way that the league office seems to believe London is, and the average Mexican's disposable income is estimated at roughly half that of the average Brit. There are other social factors often highlighted too, though I am in no way qualified to speak with authority on those.
Bryan: And it's not like the international games in Estadio Azteca have been poorly attended. The first regular season game there, back in 2005, set the then-NFL record for attendance. Recent games have "only" drawn about 70,000, but that's still way more than the Chargers have been able to draw. The language barrier is a real issue and, uh, there are other elements in the current climate that may make NFL owners squeamish about going to Mexico. It feels, to me, that San Antonio would accomplish a lot of the same goals as Mexico City would, with less headaches -- London's a unique opportunity, as it were.
Andrew: Is the language barrier that big of an issue? There are over 40 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. and the NFL has broadcast in Spanish for years. Most Americans I know of similar age to me have at least high-school fluency in Spanish.
Bryan: High-school fluency in Spanish is a wee bit of a joke. I took four years of Spanish in high school, and I can barely count to ten at this point. It's probably my fourth-best language now, at best.
Andrew: Well, I'm admittedly referring to people who do actually use it in everyday speech with their Hispanic friends rather than, say, marry a German and obtain slightly different linguistic priorities.
Bryan: I'm just trying to imagine, say, Jeff Fisher doing a post-game press conference after a bad loss in Estadio Azteca. What's "7-9 bullshit" in Spanish?
Andrew: If Jeff Fisher is coaching a game either for or against a hypothetical future Mexico City franchise, the league has bigger issues than the specific language in which the post-game press conference is conducted.
The political climate is certainly an issue, but we probably don't need to get into that here. London isn't exactly a haven of rational politics at the moment either. For now, our ultimate solution should probably be restricted to the continental United States.
Bryan: Toronto and Montreal are other international possibilities, but I think you're right -- especially if the NFL is going to make a relatively quick panic move, keeping it within the lower 48 probably makes the most sense.
Andrew: Some other cities have been mentioned from time to time: Chris Burke at Sports Illustrated suggested Oklahoma City and Birmingham, Alabama, last year in addition to the others we've discussed, but those strike me more as college heartlands.
Bryan: Birmingham would be interesting, if whatever team there wasn't going to end up playing second-fiddle to at least one, possibly two college teams. That's already the Chargers' problem, and Birmingham wouldn't make it better. I was skeptical of Oklahoma City's ability to have the Thunder, but that seems to be going alright -- it's a small television market, but it's not entirely out of the question.
Andrew: We hit on the topic of relocation in our brainstorming from time to time, usually in relation to the annual London discussion. It's usually quite an awkward conversation: I'm uncomfortable, even as a thought exercise, with ripping an established team out of its home for our own amusement. The Chargers are not that. They've already been ripped. They now need somewhere they can call their own, because it sure doesn't look like L.A. will be that.
Bryan: So. When I win the lottery tonight and blow this proverbial popsicle stand to become a Football Insider, where am I moving the Chargers to, Andrew?
Andrew: Honolulu, Hawaii. That's where all of the league's best players want to play, right?
Bryan: The Pro Bowl's in Orlando now. Three years in a row, sadly.
Andrew: Dagnabbit. Alright then, I'm an idealist at heart: they're going back in time to San Diego, California.
Bryan: If we're going back in time, I'd have to bring back the powder blues and the theme song again.
Bryan: ... OK, but I'm sure there are some negatives, too.
Honestly, I think San Antonio sounds like the best option to me -- it's a town that wants a football team, with a stadium situation ready to go, in a football-crazy area without a huge established college team (sorry, UTSA Roadrunners). They've served as a temporary home before, they may well do so again next season (as the Raiders' future is still very much in flux) ... it makes a ton of sense, really. They'd welcome the Chargers with open arms.
Andrew: Sadly, your option is probably the more realistic.
Bryan: Look at it this way: San Diego has already taken a hit; it's not like the situation gets notably worse if the Chargers were San Antonio-bound. No change there. Los Angeles fans would hardly even notice. Long-awaiting San Antonio fans would be happy. The only people more upset than now would be Bob McNair and Jerry Jones.
... OK, but I'm sure there are some negatives, too.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: Welcome back from the bench, Blake Bortles. It's been a while since a-BORT has reached the very bottom of the quarterback tables, but three-quarters of a terrible game will do that for you. His 61 passing yards on 12 attempts just misses out on the penalty, and any value provided by his 30 rushing yards was erased by his pair of fumbles. 2 points leads the league this week. We'll have to see if the fabled London Bortles comes out this week and saves the Jaguars.
Running Back: Corey Clement was second on the Eagles in touches last week. This is not meant as a good thing, however. Clement turned his eight carries and two catches into just 22 combined yards, averaging less than a yard per carry. He ends up with 1 lonely point.
Wide Receiver: A quartet of Goose Eggers to report on this week, though no one held without a catch. Trent Taylor, Allen Robinson, J.J. Nelson, and Keke Coutee all were held to under 10 yards receiving, resulting in Nul Points.
Kicker: There were two negative scoring kickers this week. Graham Gano's windy adventures were bad, but he was outdone by Adam Vinatieri, who missed a pair of extra points, in large part due to a groin injury. He may be on the shelf this week, as he remains five points shy of the all-time NFL scoring record. -5 points for him in the Loser League this week.
Check your team's score and the leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: Though we try to keep this award to on-field occurrences during the regular season, nominations for the Keep Choppin' Wood team and by extension the weekly awards are intended for those who most hurt their teams either on or off the field. As we were beginning to write this column, news broke that Broncos backup quarterback and 2017 Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly had been arrested for first-degree criminal trespass by police in Englewood, Colorado. Kelly beat out former first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the Broncos backup job this summer, but he has a long history of getting into trouble: he was kicked off both a high school and a college team for conduct detrimental, and was arrested and sentenced to community service for disorderly conduct in December 2014 -- the same month in which he committed to Ole Miss for the 2015 college season. Coming off a 45-10 victory last week, the Broncos should be able to enjoy a week of preparation for a vital divisional clash with the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, they also have to deal with a self-inflicted off-field headache caused by one of the least reliable backup quarterbacks in the league.
(Ed. Note: And, in fact, the Broncos cut Kelly this morning.)
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Stop settling for long field goals. Stop it. Now. Especially you, Jason Garrett. Trailing 20-17 against Washington, the Cowboys reached the Washington 46-yard line with 52 seconds to go. They then took 40 of those seconds to run two short pass plays to Cole Beasley in the middle of the field, before running Ezekiel Elliott up the middle for two yards on a draw play to set up a 47-yard field goal. After a snap infraction on the first attempt pushed the field goal back 5 yards, Brett Maher narrowly missed a 52-yard kick that would probably have been good from a shorter distance. With 52 seconds left, Dallas should still have been trying to advance to at least make the kick as short as possible. Better yet, 52 seconds is plenty of time to try to score the game-winning touchdown. Garrett instead played conservatively for overtime, and came away with nothing.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game: We had assumed that the Titans' two-point attempt would sew this award up, but Mike Vrabel was finally gazumped in the last quarter of football in Week 7. Remember two weeks ago when we praised Doug Pederson for doing something we thought no coach would ever try? We didn't have to wait long for another attempt! On Monday Night Football, the Giants trailed by 14 points in Atlanta when Saquon Barkley scored a 2-yard touchdown. Eschewing the chance to pull within seven by kicking the extra point, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur called for a two-point attempt. Eli Manning found Odell Beckham in the corner of the end zone, but the star receiver failed to haul in the pass. After the game, Shurmur discussed the decision, pointing out that the Giants had discussed the probabilities internally and liked their chances. The Giants did convert their second two-point attempt, demonstrating one of the main justifications for the two-point approach: most teams will at least convert one of the two attempts. If the first fails, the second should make up for it; whereas a success on the first means the second is unlikely to be necessary. Though the Giants still lost, as Atlanta added a field goal between the two touchdowns, we are encouraged to see another head coach taking an analytical approach to these late-game situations.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching:: We're going to split this award between two very good coaches, John Harbaugh and Sean Payton. Because the Ravens and Saints played each other this week, we got to see plenty of backup quarterbacks coming in for trick plays on both sides. In fact, it may no longer be accurate to refer to the Lamar Jackson and Taysom Hill plays as "tricks," as they're a regular part of both offense's packages. That's not the confusing bit -- it's an intriguing bit of strategy that is worth watching to see how it develops in the long term. No, the confusing bit is the personnel in those backup quarterback packages -- specifically, how Joe Flacco and Drew Brees stay in the game and line up as wide receivers. For the record, Flacco has been targeted two times in his career, and has caught both passes, albeit not since 2011. Brees is the Jerry Rice of the duo, having caught eight passes in his career, including one against Washington -- not thrown by Hill, of course, but by himself. Unless this is the longest ever buildup for a trick play where one of the two actually goes out for a route, it would appear to make more sense to stick, you know, Cameron Meredith or Chris Moore out there, as another possible receiving threat. I mean, what good does this do for anyone?
— Charles Berry (@cbreeze08) October 23, 2018
'One Trick Pony' Fantasy Player of the Week:: Tyrell Williams can run a deep route, and basically only a deep route. More than half his targets this season have been shots deep down the field -- and usually quite deep indeed. That makes him a bit of a boom and bust player, but he has had a surprisingly high floor so far this season, with at least 40 yards or a touchdown in six of Los Angeles' seven games this season. He hit both marks in jolly ol' England, burning Logan Ryan on the first play of the game while most of America was still groping for some coffee. He has now gone for over 100 yards in each of his last two games, and he may not be available in your league for long.
— NFL (@NFL) October 21, 2018
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: With LeSean McCoy missing most of the game, and Chris Ivory briefly exiting with a foot injury, it was Marcus Murphy's time to shine. He hadn't seen any snaps at all since the Bills' victory over the Vikings back in Week 3 (and if you can't crack the Bills' potent offensive lineup, well…), but he made the most of his opportunities in this one, catching five passes in six targets and running for 53 yards. Without him, the final score might not have been as close as, uh, 37-5.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: You would not think it of a team that lost their last game 45-10, but the Cardinals do have a respectable defense. Even last Thursday's defeat is not a counterpoint, as 24 of the 45 points came directly from turnovers by the Cardinals offense -- two pick-sixes and two strip-sacks in Arizona territory. The Cardinals have finished in the top ten in defensive DVOA every year since 2012, and are on schedule to do so again this year despite substantial coaching, scheme, and player turnover. The offense requires considerably more work, but they do at least appear to have a potential franchise quarterback in Josh Rosen. If the coordinator change can harness some of that potential over the team's bye week, the second half of the season should show considerably more promise than the first half.
Game-Changing Play of the Week:
Here it is! @jtuck9 with his epic moment last night... set to TITANIC MUSIC!! Enjoy! @NFL @nflnetwork @Deadspin @DKPghSports @937theFan @Ravens @steelers #NFL #JustinTucker #PAT #missed pic.twitter.com/E7AyDSvDAD
— Joshua Addisson (@joshuaddisson) October 22, 2018
The most accurate kicker in NFL history missed. I mean, fair play -- Justin Tucker was due a mulligan, but what a terrible time for your first missed extra point in 246 tries. Fire the bum!
For the record, and because I like overly long gags, here's a list of every kicker who has missed an extra point since Tucker entered the league: Roberto Aguayo, David Akers, Dan Bailey, Connor Barth, Chris Boswell, Kyle Brindza, Josh Brown, Matt Bryant, Randy Bullock, Dan Carpenter, Chandler Catanzaro, Travis Coons, Mason Crosby, Phil Dawson, Jake Elliott, Ka'imi Fairbairn, Jay Feely, Sam Ficken, Nick Folk, Kai Forbath, Andrew Franks, Graham Gano, Zane Gonzalez, Stephen Gostkowski, Robbie Gould, Shayne Graham, Steven Hauschka, Jeff Heath, Alex Henery, Zach Hocker, Dustin Hopkins, Sebastian Janikowski, Greg Joseph, Drew Kaser, Josh Lambo, Wil Lutz, Brandon McManus, Patrick Murray, Jason Myers, Nick Novak, Mike Nugent, Cody Parkey, Matt Prater, Aldrick Rosas, Nick Rose, Jason Sanders, Cairo Santos, Josh Scobee, Caleb Sturgis, Ryan Succop, Giorgio Tavecchio, Justin Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Blair Walsh, and Greg Zuerlein. It's a distinguished club, Justin; there's no shame in joining it. Well, not much shame, at any rate.
Baltimore-New Orleans was a huge game for playoff seeding as well, making the miss that much more impactful. The Ravens' loss drops them from the third seed to the seventh seed at the moment, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati passing them in the division. The Saints' win gives them a clear one-game lead over both Carolina for the division and Washington for the bye week; they'd still be in second position with a loss, but only on tiebreakers. Elsewhere, Miami got a boost in the AFC wild-card race, as they're now tied for that final playoff slot, even with their loss on Sunday. Kansas City has one fewer team breathing right down their neck for home-field advantage in the AFC. The Rams and Vikings could have used a Saints loss for seeding purposes as well. All this, just because Justin Tucker finally missed an extra point. At the end of the year, that one missed kick could be huge.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: So much for the run of favorites winning but failing to cover. The Eagles blew a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead to lose at home to the Panthers, in a game they ought to have wrapped up by halftime. With apologies to Rob Weintraub, this week I like the Cincinnati Bengals at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An explosive start to the season has not been sustained by the Bucs, who needed overtime to scrape by the Browns at home despite pitching a shutout on defense in the first half. Cincinnati has troubles of its own, especially a slew of injuries at tight end, but the Bengals should be a tougher opponent, and the game is on the road rather than at home. Give me Cincinnati (-4.5) over Tampa Bay.
Bryan: A simple case of transitive property for me this week. The 49ers nearly beat the Packers two weeks ago in Lambeau. The Rams beat the ever-loving cover off the 49ers last week. Now the Rams will play the Packers. I don't normally like picking lines this high, but logically … L.A. Rams (-9) over Green Bay.
Double Survival League
Bryan: We just got through a meaningful week! Andrew went 0-2, opening the door that much wider for my inevitable comeback. Admittedly, I only managed a 1-1 day, but that included banking a key Colts victory, after Andrew watched his Colts pick go down in flames against Houston in September. Just one game between us now; it's truly anybody's race.
Andrew: Last week hurt, I'm back for more agony this time around. Given how the Colts looked against the Bills, I'm wary of picking their opponent, but I can't see much else to like on Oakland's schedule this year. I wrote in the preseason that I liked the Colts to have a much better second half of the year than first half; that begins here, with this game. I have to pick the Raiders some time though, and that time is now.
Another team I don't especially trust is the Bears, but at home against a Jets team that has major injury problems in the secondary, surely they can get the job done here. Khalil Mack's injury has seen the Bears defense drop off from the unrelenting force it was in the early going, but the Jets and their rookie quarterback are not exactly the most imposing of visitors. Chicago should at least give me one positive result this week.
Bryan: I'm going to join you in taking Chicago, marking the second time this year we have ended up making identical picks (following the Denver squeaker over Oakland back in Week 2). They gave the Patriots a decently hard time, even if they were dodging bullets most of the afternoon … and the Jets are no Patriots. I don't think it's the easiest win left on the Bears' schedule, nor do I think it's a stone-cold lock of the week or anything, but I'm comfortable enough with it to use it in a bit of an odd week.
But while you're gambling on Oakland, I'm going to go for something I feel is a much safer pick, taking Pittsburgh over Cleveland. Yes, I remember the tie, but coming off of a bye week, playing at home, in better weather and in much better form than they were at the beginning of the year, I think the Steelers take this one comfortably.
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