by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, in the aftermath of yet another messy weekend of football results, both real and fantasy. We had expected the playoff picture to be substantially clearer than it is right now; even if the top five teams in each conference are largely locked in, as they usually are by now, the order is still mostly up for grabs, and the races for both of the sixth playoff seeds are very muddled indeed.
Bryan: We definitely saw more clarity at the bottom of the playoff picture, with seven teams being knocked out this weekend, than at the top. Losses by the Rams, Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks, and Patriots have really, really muddled the picture. This is great! Chaos is always what you want in the last two weeks. It was theoretically possible for this week's Chiefs-Seahawks game to be utterly meaningless, with both teams locked into seeding position with two weeks to go. Instead, it's probably the most significant game of the year to date! Chaos reigns undefeated!
Andrew: All of which is great for the casual viewer and people who just want to be entertained, but we have articles to write, dangit, and it sure makes this week's concept a bit tougher to execute without a detailed look at the playoff picture itself first.
Bryan: Last year, in honor of the retirement of the greatest (then)-active player to never play in a playoff game, we introduced the first ever Joe Thomas Memorial Playoff Draft -- an opportunity for the 12 playoff teams to pick the best players who were unfairly left out of the postseason due to things like "their teams not being any good at football." You know, the Joe Thomas story. Or I suppose this year, Brandon Marshall, who has spent time with both the Seahawks and Saints and yet will likely still not get to play in his first playoff game.
Andrew: Marshall does, at least, still have the tiniest hint of a chance. It's all over for Joe, sadly. We may never see his like again in the free-agency era. Still, we found this an interesting way to both look at some of the remaining strengths and weaknesses of the playoff contenders, and to celebrate some of the great players who will not be gracing our screens after the Gregorian new year.
Bryan: To do that though, uh, we kind of have to figure out who the playoff teams are.
Andrew: Last year, we did not exactly nail our projected AFC wild cards -- Baltimore and Los, San, wherever the Chargers were at that point, both lost out on the final day to Tennessee and Buffalo -- though we did correctly pick the six NFC teams. We also had the disadvantage of writing each conference separately due to the ongoing holiday season and resultant scheduling conflicts.
Bryan: Which we covered under the umbrella of "preserving the conference balance." A Grudenian excuse from your harried Scrambleistas.
Andrew: This year, rather than messing up both AFC wild cards, we have the opportunity to screw up at least one team in each conference, but we'll make up for it by letting those wrong teams pick from the entire non-playoff field. For live updates on which wrong teams will be picking, I'll hand you over to our resident wallchart.
Bryan: Five teams have clinched playoff berths so far: the Saints, Rams, Bears, Chiefs, and Chargers. Four more teams are essentially in, needing some very weird results and significant upsets to miss the playoffs from here: the Cowboys, Seahawks, Texans, and Patriots. I think we can comfortably list all nine of those teams as postseason locks.
The Panthers and Browns are not yet dead, but they'll be stone dead in a moment. Cleveland needs a freaking tie in Week 17 to make it, you guys, this is not happening. They're out, along with the Packers, Falcons, Buccaneers, Giants, Lions, 49ers, Cardinals, Broncos, Bengals, Bills, Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders.
That leaves eight teams fighting for three playoff spots. In the NFC, the Vikings, Eagles, and Redskins are trying to grab that last wild-card slot. In the AFC, the Steelers and Ravens are still in a fight for the AFC North crown, with the loser having to contend with the Colts, Titans, and Dolphins for the final wild-card spot. Before anything else happens, we've got to decide those races.
Andrew: Neither of us is exactly Nostradamus when it comes to game outcomes, but one thing is almost guaranteed in the AFC: either Indianapolis or Tennessee will win in Week 17. Before that, the Colts host the Giants, who were just shut out by Tennessee; whereas the Titans host a Washington team straight out of Season 9 of a long-running AMC drama, who just scraped by the Jaguars on a last-second field goal for Josh Johnson's first-ever career win. I'm going to be brave and suggest that one of those two teams should make it to 10-6 courtesy of their season-ending tête-a-tête.
Bryan: If that's the case, then that eliminates the Dolphins and means the only other possibility would be the Ravens as a 10-6 AFC North runner-up; a 10-5-1 Steelers team would win the North. That would involve both the Steelers and Ravens winning out, including tough games on the road against the Chargers (for Baltimore) and Saints (for Pittsburgh) this week. I'm not sure I see either team winning, much less both, do you? If not, that makes the Titans-Colts contest a de facto playoff game, with the winner getting the sixth seed. And the winner is...
Andrew: The previous matchup between these two wasn't even close, but this one should be tighter and I am very tempted by the Titans at home. Still, our playoff odds favor the Colts, so we'll trust the computer on this one. Indianapolis makes it over Tennessee on the final day.
In the NFC, things are no more straightforward. Minnesota is currently a half-game ahead in the standings thanks to their early-season tie with Green Bay, but they face the Bears in Week 17 and a road trip to an awkward Detroit squad this weekend. Philadelphia and Washington could, and should, both lose this weekend against AFC South opponents, but may still end up playing a playoff decider in Week 17 if the Vikings match their result in Detroit. Still, all it takes is the Vikings to win while the other two lose this weekend, and the sixth seed is set. That's the outcome I expect, and the one we'll go with here.
Bryan: That just leaves seeding to take care of. The Saints have essentially wrapped up the top seed in the NFC thanks to the Rams' surprise loss to the Eagles this past week. I think Los Angeles should still hang on to second seed with a one-game advantage over Chicago; while they lost the head-to-head matchup, getting to play the Cardinals on the road and 49ers at home is a far better group to face than the 49ers and Vikings on the road.
The Cowboys would have the tiebreaker over the Bears were they to make up the two-game deficit on Chicago. They, uh, won't. They might not even win either of the next two games, so pencil Chicago in the third slot and Dallas in the fourth. But don't sleep on the Vikings catching the Seahawks for that fifth seed! The loss to the 49ers really hurt the Seahawks, who now have just a half-game lead with the Chiefs on the schedule this week. If Minnesota can win out -- say, if Chicago wraps up that third seed this week and rests starters in Week 17 -- the Seahawks would have to match them to keep that fifth seed. Chicago might well get to decide their playoff opponent the last week of the season, which would be a fun twist. We'll stick with Seattle and the odds now, but keep that one under close watch.
The winner of the AFC West will take home-field advantage, with the loser sitting in the fifth seed. All the Chiefs have to do is match the Chargers step-for-step the rest of the way thanks to their division tiebreaker, so we'll give the top team in DVOA the nod, even with the toughest matchup of the two (this week in Seattle).
The other bye-week slot is a really tough call. The Patriots have the tiebreaker thanks to their season-opening win, but the Texans have the one-game advantage. The Patriots seem unlikely to slip up at home against the Jets and Bills to wrap up the year, so the Texans need this week's road game in upset-minded Philly to stay one game ahead and get the bye. Our playoff odds give the Texans the advantage because of that one-game lead, so we shall do the same, but I really think, in my heart of hearts, the Patriots will end up with the bye, because that always seems to happen.
Andrew: tl;dr: these are the teams we're banking on, ordered by expected seed:
AFC: 1. Kansas City; 2. Houston; 3. New England; 4. Pittsburgh; 5. L.A. Chargers; 6. Indianapolis.
NFC: 1. New Orleans; 2. L.A. Rams; 3. Chicago; 4. Dallas; 5. Seattle; 6. Minnesota.
Bryan: This will almost certainly be wrong, of course -- but only because we've put digital ink to proverbial paper now. So when the Colts miss the playoffs or the Seahawks fall to the sixth seed, it's entirely our fault.
Andrew: Finally, a quick refresher of the rules:
- We have 12 playoff teams and 20 non-playoff teams.
- Every playoff team may pick, in reverse order of seed, one player from any eliminated team.
- Picks alternate by conference. The NFC picks first because we expect their sixth seed to have the worse record.
- Only one player may be selected from any eliminated team. If Julio Jones goes off the board, the rest of the Falcons go with him.
- Then, the eight teams who play on wild-card weekend (seeds 3 through 6) get one further selection each.
Let the game begin:
Second Annual Joe Thomas Memorial Playoff Transfer Draftapalooza ... Event. Challenge. Arama. Thing
Andrew: Minnesota Vikings select David Bakhtiari, OT, Packers.
We had the Falcons in the same spot taking the same player last year, but how much more do the Vikings need him? Minnesota's blocking has been horrendous for the second time in three seasons, and the arrival of a top tackle such as Bakhtiari could immediately enable the kind of reshuffle that upgrades more than a single spot. Riley Reiff could immediately move back to right tackle, where he played for the Lions before the Vikings signed him as a hot free agent, and Brian O'Neill could either drop to the bench or compete for a spot on the problematic interior of the line. Joe Flacco's Super Bowl run was aided in huge part by just such a reshuffle, and Bakhtiari could have a similar galvanizing effect on the embattled Vikings offense.
Bryan: Indianapolis Colts select Julio Jones, WR, Falcons.
I could just go with "he's Julio Jones," which is more than enough explanation in and of itself, but the Colts have had receiver issues once you get past T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is the only Colts receiver with a positive DVOA -- or anything even close to it. The Colts are second to only the Jaguars in passes dropped this year; Andrew Luck is putting the ball on target, but his receivers just aren't hauling them in. Hilton has also battled an ankle injury late in the year; while he has been playing through it, he could use someone to take some of the pressure off of him. Jones and Hilton will bring back memories of Harrison and Wayne, and immediately bump the Colts' passing attack into the top 10, if not even higher. So what if they sort of have the same skill set; it's a good skill set to have!
Andrew: Seattle Seahawks select Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay.
This Seahawks defense is not the Seahawks defense of old, ranking at or near the middle of the pack in pass defense, run defense, adjusted line yards, and adjusted sack rate. One player is unlikely to upgrade all of those areas at once, but he can make one of those areas excellent. Step forward Gerald McCoy, an All-Pro caliber interior rusher who could finally make it to a playoff game while giving the Seahawks their own lesser Aaron Donald. While an edge rusher such as Jason Pierre-Paul might be a more obvious upgrade, those edge rushers are still easier to find than consistent interior pressure.
Bryan: Los Angeles Chargers select Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina.
With Denzel Perryman on injured reserve, the Chargers have a big hole in the middle of their defense. Jatavis Brown has moved over into the middle and is doing an admirable job calling plays, but he's inconsistent, to put it mildly. The Chargers' current linebacker corps also has significant trouble in pass coverage, which is an issue when you have tight ends and running backs coming at you from all angles in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. The solution? Bring in Kuechly, either the number 1 or 1A interior linebacker in football; a stud run defender who can more than carry his own in the passing game. Brown is versatile enough to stick at WILL, so we'll just have less Adrian Phillips or Kyle Emanuel. Sounds like a plan.
Andrew: Dallas Cowboys select George Kittle, TE, San Francisco.
If recent reports are to be believed, Jason Garrett has made several attempts this season to lure veteran tight end Jason Witten out of the broadcast booth and back onto the field. While a look at the performances of the Cowboys tight ends this season suggest why Garrett might have wanted to do this, a look at the performances of Witten over the past year or two suggest why they might want to go in a slightly fresher direction. George Kittle has the second-highest receiving DYAR among tight ends, despite spending most of the season catching passes from C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. He would provide an immediate upgrade to the Cowboys receiving corps, and Dak Prescott should provide an immediate upgrade to Kittle's rate of catchable passes too.
Bryan: Pittsburgh Steelers select Calais Campbell, EDGE, Jacksonville.
Adding almost any defender from the Jaguars is bound to help our 17th-rated Steel Curtain. Yes, #Sacksonville has been cancelled, but they're still a top-five unit filled with stars. To me, it comes down to either taking Campbell or Jalen Ramsey. The Steelers already have the second-highest pressure rate in football, but you can never really have too much pass pressure; Campbell is an upgrade over both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, and I'm not entirely sure how any offensive line would handle both Campbell and Watt coming off the edge. On the other hand, Coty Sensabaugh needs upgrading, as the Steelers rank 20th covering second and third receivers so far this year. In the end, I'm going with Campbell over Ramsey because Campbell has been better this year, and Ramsey has a tendency to cause some locker room issues, which is the last thing Pittsburgh needs more of. Team chemistry matters when it comes down to tiebreakers.
Andrew: Chicago Bears select Marshal Yanda, OG, Baltimore.
In the absence of a quarterback who is clearly enough of an upgrade over Mitchell Trubisky -- Carson Wentz's injury keeps him well out of this conversation -- the Bears might be better served to focus on the spots around the quarterback. With Kyle Long injured again, the Bears could use an upgrade on the interior line. Marshal Yanda is a perennial Pro Bowl player; a mauler who should immediately enhance one of the most creative running games in the league.
Bryan: New England Patriots select Fletcher Cox, DL, Philadelphia.
The Patriots' run defense ranks 21st in the league, and a lot of that is failure at the point of attack. They only stuff opposing running backs 13.9 percent of time, better only than Detroit this year. Their adjusted sack rate of 5.0 percent is abysmal as well. It's a lack of power and execution right up front, and I put a lot of the blame on Malcolm Brown; at least so far as the blame can be put on any one player. I don't really know why Danny Shelton has been inactive for three weeks (and the Patriots aren't really open about it, either), so let's just bring in Cox to provide an immediate upgrade. Cox and Lawrence Guy up the middle on rushing downs, or with Trey Flowers in passing sets, provides some of that force upfront the Pats defense has been so sorely missing.
Andrew: Los Angeles Rams select Von Miller, EDGE, Denver.
Even if the pass rush is not the most glaring weakness of this season's Rams defense, reuniting Von Miller with Wade Phillips is a match made in football heaven. Miller would bring top-level performance, experience, and leadership to a defense that is underperforming its potential this season.
Bryan: Houston Texans select Trent Williams, OT, Washington.
You could probably just draft five offensive linemen for Houston and call it a day. We're sort of out of viable guards at this point, with Yanda gone and both Ali Marpet and Brandon Brooks blocked by defensive linemen selected by other teams, so we'll go with the best offensive tackle left standing. Williams is only barely left standing after suffering a variety of injuries this year, but when he's healthy and ready to go, it's hard to find someone much more capable of keeping your quarterback upright. I think we still keep Kendall Lamm at right tackle and send Julie'n Davenport back to guard the bench's blindside. Williams gives Houston one good offensive lineman, which raises their total to ... one.
Andrew: New Orleans Saints select Odell Beckham, WR, N.Y. Giants.
The No. 2 receiver spot has been a black hole for the Saints since Ted Ginn was placed on injured reserve early in the season. Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall have come and gone, and a number of younger players have been tried with mixed results. There are no mixed results with Odell Beckham; pairing him with Drew Brees, with Michael Thomas on the opposite side, would create the most feared quarterback-receiving combination since Manning, Thomas, and Sanders. Or maybe Manning, Wayne, and Harrison. Manning, somebody, and somebody for sure. That good.
Bryan: Kansas City Chiefs select Joe Schobert, LB, Cleveland.
As Stephen A. Smith quite publicly learned, Derrick Johnson isn't in a Chiefs uniform anymore. The Chiefs have gone with sort of a platoon role at linebacker, sticking different people in for different roles. Reggie Ragland, Dorian O'Daniel, Ben Niemann, and the injured Terrance Smith have all seen time alongside Anthony Hitchens, with the Chiefs trying to get players lined up to match their greatest strengths. The problem is, none of that bunch really has a particularly stellar strength to exploit, making the experiment somewhat disastrous. Schobert has quickly become a cornerstone of a rising Browns defense. It's his coverage abilities that will really come in handy here, as he's one of the very best coverage linebackers in the game today.
Andrew: Minnesota Vikings select Rodney Hudson, C, Oakland.
A second offensive line upgrade would be overkill for most teams, but not for the Vikings. A second perennial Pro Bowl player on one of the league's worst offensive lines, Hudson would again give the Vikings a significant upgrade at their unit of greatest need. Plus he really is wasted on the Raiders.
Bryan: Indianapolis Colts select Damon Harrison, DL, Detroit.
I was tempted to take a second wide receiver here to turn the Colts' weakness into a point of massive strength, but Tyler Boyd's potentially season-ending MCL sprain talked me out of it. With no good guards left, we'll turn to the defensive side of the ball. Al Woods just went on IR, so the Colts could use some more depth in the interior. Why settle for depth, though, when you can take someone like Snacks? Indianapolis already has the fourth-best run defense, so it's a bit of adding strength to strength, but we're beginning to run out of teams to pick from, here. You're not going to find someone too much better than Harrison, and the injury to Woods just makes the pick make that much more sense.
Andrew: Seattle Seahawks select Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona.
As I mentioned above, talented edge rushers are slightly easier to find than consistent interior pocket-crushers. Chandler Jones is not just any talented edge rusher, however; Jones is one of the best pass rushers in the game who would be an immediate upgrade for almost any defense in the league. Opposite Frank Clark, with Gerald McCoy also rushing from the interior, the Seahawks would immediately have one of the most fearsome defensive fronts in the playoffs -- a key asset for a team that will need to win at least two games on the road to have any chance of playing in February.
Bryan: Los Angeles Chargers select Jurrell Casey, DL, Tennessee.
Yes, the Chargers get to add two players while the Texans only get one, because life isn't always fair. I really wanted THIS to be Snacks ... maybe I'm just hungry. Well, we'll just slide down the defensive line totem pole one to grab Casey, the other really good run-stuffer who looks to miss the playoffs in our scenario. The Chargers are a pedestrian 18th against the run, and while they've had good success in power situations, they're not generally all that good at making plays in the backfield. Missing Corey Liuget hurts there, so well just slide in Casey and shore up that run D ... assuming his knee injury isn't overly serious.
Andrew: Dallas Cowboys select Jamal Adams, S, N.Y. Jets.
The Cowboys are one of several teams who fit the description of "few glaring holes, few notable strengths." On offense, their biggest hole should have been fixed by George Kittle. On defense, they combine some talented edge rushers with arguably the league's best young linebacker corps and a stable of cornerbacks who are playing above their reputation. The most obvious upgrade, to my untrained eye, is one of the safety positions, and Jets safety Jamal Adams is having an All-Pro caliber season at a spot where Dallas' Jeff Heath is a solid but unspectacular player. The Cowboys have been linked with a move for recently released Jaguars veteran Barry Church; if Church is the kind of player who would be valuable for them, then Adams is the kind of player who would be invaluable.
Bryan: Damn it! Just stole the Steelers perfect pick sassafrassasassafrassa.
Pittsburgh Steelers select Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo.
The plan at safety this year was for Morgan Burnett to start, and Terrell Edmunds to slowly work his way in with dime packages as a rookie. Burnett's health hasn't allowed that, so Edmunds has had to carry the lion's share for most of the year. He hasn't been bad, per se, and he has shown some very promising stuff over the last two weeks, but it's a position we can upgrade for sure. Micah Hyde is one of the top five or so coverage safeties in the league, which should help a team that ranks 31st covering tight ends.
Andrew: Chicago Bears select Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati.
It's the question we all ask ourselves at this time of year: what do you get for the one who wants for nothing? The answer, in football, is not "socks"; it is always pass rush. Geno Atkins has been a monster on the interior for years in Cincinnati, and in a specialized role on a defense loaded with pass-rush talent, he could be even more monstrous for the Bears. It's difficult to find an upgrade on the Bears defense, absent an obvious replacement for injured nickelback Bryce Callahan, but Atkins is that rare player who can enhance almost any defense in the league.
Bryan: New England Patriots select Jerome Baker, LB, Miami.
Can the Patriots select the magical pixie dust that led to the lateral-a-palooza victory two weeks ago? Can they refuse to make a pick in protest? No? Alright. Let's try to be methodical about this -- where do the Dolphins have an advantage over the Patriots? Laremy Tunsil's probably an improvement over Trent Brown at left tackle. Cameron Wake or Robert Quinn could find a role coming off the edge. T.J. McDonald could be better than Duron Harmon in the secondary. But I'll take rookie Jerome Baker, who has become a solid three-down linebacker. It's a small sample size, but so far, he looks like a better run-stopper and coverage linebacker than anyone New England currently has on the roster. Book it.
Andrew: One of the immediate points of comparison between this season and last, that is interesting to me, is that we did not give a single playoff team a new quarterback. Last year, we put Kirk Cousins on the Vikings -- this year, we get to see how that worked out! -- and the year before, in a similar but slightly different article ahead of the divisional round, we put Andrew Luck on the Texans. This year, whether because of injuries (Carson Wentz) or the way the draft fell (David Bakhtiari going first to the Vikings rather than Aaron Rodgers later to, say, Chicago), we saw no need to make that change.
Bryan: Quarterback is important, and even the slightest upgrade might be worthwhile over a larger upgrade elsewhere, but the projected playoff teams really have a good set of quarterbacks. Dak Prescott is the only quarterback in our projected field with a negative DVOA, and Mitchell Trubisky is the only other one outside the top 20. With Rodgers and Matt Ryan blocked by the top two picks, there just wasn't a ton of opportunities to go get that quarterback.
I still say you should have taken Baker Mayfield for the Bears, though.
Andrew: I'm not entirely opposed to that argument, but I do find it at least arguable rather than, like Luck on the 2016 Texans, an absolute slam-dunk. I also found it harder this year to find players for the last few teams. The Bengals would normally have A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert go quite high, but this season their offense is all injured and their defense is terrible. Jamal Adams is probably a better player than Jeff Heath, but safety is not a glaring weakness for the Cowboys the way coverage linebacker has been for the Saints.
Bryan: I find it interesting that the Raiders, Cardinals, and 49ers, all of whom are basically stuck down in the top three picks and have been dead for weeks, had players go before five different teams. You can excuse Cincinnati and Washington, because they're injury-plagued, but the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets have to feel like they get no respect. They're used to that, playing in a division with the Patriots, but still.
Andrew: Is that in part because the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets haven't quite bottomed out the way the Raiders and 49ers have?
Bryan: I think it's because the Dolphins, for example, are a big bucket of meh, without real stars or real failures almost anywhere on the roster. The 49ers and Raiders are far worse teams this year, but they each have a couple highlight points to go along with all the badness and strife.
Andrew: Another thing: most playoff teams this season have at least decent cornerbacks. If anything, it's edge rushers they're crying out for. That and offensive linemen, though not coincidentally the non-playoff teams are struggling for those too.
Bryan: My kingdom for guards. I kept looking at the list of eligible guards and hearing sad violin music once Baltimore, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland were gone.
Andrew: I do think we made most of the teams noticeably better. As before, the question is "would this make the playoffs better?" The answer's probably "yes" if you're either a Vikings fan or Kirk Cousins' mother, but I know you to be neither of those things, and can assure you that I am neither also.
Bryan: For a one-off, this would make for a better playoffs; every team gets an upgrade, stars who otherwise would be home get to play, it's all good. If this became A Thing and happened every year, however, I'd like it less -- it does kind of go against the idea of a *team* working together to make the postseason when one of their stars can go "well, all y'all suck, so I'm going to play three games with our division rival, win a ring, and then come back here next year."
Andrew: Right. At that point, we may as well just hand out tickets to Hawaii. Orlando. Wherever
Bryan: If we can pick "wherever," allow me to introduce you to the 2020 Pro Bowl: On the MOOOOOON!
Andrew: For the hard of hearing, that was "moon," except with a cow jumping over it.
Bryan: Mock me now, but when my moon-based minor league starts up in three years, you'll see the genius of it. Until then, I guess I'd better update the loser league.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: According to Steve Wilks, Josh Rosen was "rested" at the end of the Cardinals' 40-7 loss to Atlanta. After throwing a pair of interceptions and fumbling once, he definitely needed a "rest." There are plenty of extenuating circumstances surrounding Rosen's bad rookie year (see: that terrible and injured offensive line!) but he has had plenty of games to forget. Like this one. 0 points.
Running Back: Alfred Blue it. Lamar Miller left in the second quarter, leaving plenty of opportunities for Blue to shine in the remaining half-hour and change. Instead, he managed only 6 yards on his nine carries. Six! D'Onta Foreman can't come back soon enough for Houston's liking. 0 points.
Wide Receiver: Seven Goose Eggers this week, in what I believe is the season high-water mark. Chris Godwin went without a catch, while Equanimeous St. Brown, David Moore, John Ross, Jermaine Kearse, T.J. Jones, and John Brown were all held to single-digit yards. Nul points.
Kicker: Oh, was it ever a bad day for kickers. Both Matt Prater and Brett Maher missed field goals and lacked the opportunity to make up for their errors, but at least it was only a field goal. Jason Myers missed a pair of extra points. The week after we praised him, too! Honestly. No gratitude, that Myers. -6 points.
Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!
Keep Choppin' Wood: We all have times in our lives in which we witness something break so badly that, like a certain Dumpty fellow, we instinctively know it isn't fitting back together. Jared Goff had one such moment against the Eagles:
Jared Goff showing everyone how not to quarterback pic.twitter.com/aVmodEtpkS
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) December 17, 2018
By the time he has fallen over, missed the handoff, fumbled the ball, recovered it, and climbed back to his feet, Jared Goff must have known that this play was not going well. Nevertheless, he valiantly attempted to put it back together again ... by swinging his arm in a flailing almost-passing motion while being tackled by Kamu Grugier-Hill, apparently realizing he should just tuck it and take the sack, then ultimately depositing it carefully into the arms of Eagles safety Corey Graham. Sunday night was not Jared Goff's finest hour, and this ... this was not his finest play.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Nobody ever wants an article about a major late-game decision to carry this headline:
The @denver decision to kick a FG on 4th and 1 from the CLE 6 in the 4th quarter was a 33.1% GWC error - now our LARGEST error on record. Find out who ranks in the Top 5. Hints - #InBrotherhood #TitanUp #LARams #seizethedey https://t.co/tqDEw0CpO0 #CLEvsDEN #NFL #BroncosCountry
— EdjSports (@edjsports) December 17, 2018
Trailing by four points late against the Browns, Vance Joseph's Denver Broncos faced fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 6-yard line. Despite needing only a single yard to have four more chances at taking the lead with a touchdown, the Broncos kicked the field goal. Joseph said after the game that he trusted his defense to stop the Browns, giving the Broncos the chance to drive for a go-ahead field goal. While technically that did happen, it did so only after the Browns failed on their attempt to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 10-yard line. Denver ended up turning the ball over on downs at midfield on their would-be game-winning drive, and the home defeat finally put to bed any lingering chance the Broncos had at making the playoffs.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: We've written about going for two after a late touchdown on several occasions here already this season. On Thursday night, the Los Angeles Chargers chose what we consider a perfect spot: on the road, against a team you haven't beaten in your previous nine attempts, needing the win to keep alive your chance of winning the division but knowing a loss is not really any worse than a tie for your wild-card chances. Though the maths says very clearly that the Chargers would have been better served trying for two after the previous touchdown minutes earlier, that is still a very unconventional move. Going for the all-or-nothing two-point conversion is marginally more conventional, recommended in that situation, and worked out perfectly for Anthony Lynn's squad. Though the Chargers cannot overthrow the Chiefs on tiebreakers, they have now sewn up the No. 5 seed at the very least, and they can still take over the division lead if they hold serve at home against the Ravens on Saturday night and the Chiefs slip up in Seattle.
Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching: It'll take more than a hot late-season stretch to get ALL the Cleveland Browniness out of the Cleveland Browns. Gregg Williams had an ... interesting sequence on Saturday night, with his Browns up a point with less than two minutes to go. They were facing a fourth-and-1 situation, and wisely opted to line up to go for it. And not only did they line up to go for it, but a hard count actually worked for once, with the Broncos crossing the line. First down, game over, right? No -- Williams had called a time-out just before the Broncos leapt, so the successful hard count goes away. To make matters worse, the play call Williams chose to go with after the time-out, after seeing how Denver lined up? A Nick Chubb dive into a 10-man box. The extra time and distance it took to run the handoff rather than, say, plowing forward on a quarterback sneak ended up costing the Browns dearly, as Chubb was taken down in the backfield and Denver got a new lease on life -- one they would promptly waste, but still. It's the principle of the thing.
'Footloose' Fantasy Player of the Week:: The Ageless Frank Gore went down early against the Vikings, spraining his foot in an injury which appears to be season-ending, and could be career-ending considering his age. Into the void stepped Kalen Ballage, the fourth-round rookie with just eight career carries to this point in the season. Ballage has had trouble seeing the field behind Gore and Kenyan Drake, but with Gore out and Drake in the doghouse, it was time for Ballage, he of the 115.2 Speed Score, to shine. Ballage had just 12 carries, but he gained 123 yards and popped into the end zone on one of them. And it almost certainly didn't help you in your fantasy semifinals, though he's probably available on the waiver wire in your league of choice.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 16, 2018
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: We need a career award here for Larry Fitzgerald, as no one in recent times has done more work in hopeless situations than Fitzgerald has. Here are the league leaders in receptions when trailing by at least three scores since 2008:
Fitzgerald added five more receptions for 75 yards in garbage time this week, in Arizona's loss to the Falcons. Fitzgerald has made a career out of being phenomenal for terrible teams. A full 15 percent of his receptions over the past decade have come in hopeless situations. It's a truly remarkable extended period of failure for Arizona.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: We have already checked in on the Cardinals and Dolphins this season, so this week we turn our attention to the Dallas Cowboys. We have already mentioned Amari Cooper twice in this segment, both times in reference to the Oakland Raiders. Let's check in on the difference Cooper has made in his new surroundings:
Dallas, Without Cooper, Weeks 1-8: 19th in total DVOA, 25th in offense (-8.5%), 25th in weighted offense (-8.6%).
Dallas, Season Long, Weeks 1-15: 20th in total DVOA, 26th in offense (-8.8%), 26th in weighted offense (-7.4%).
Oh. Well, at least Cooper himself has benefited from the trade: Cooper's 271 receiving DYAR currently ranks 11th among wide receivers, and his 26.1% DVOA ranks fourth. Both of those figures would be career highs, and should help Cooper cash in nicely with either a $13 million option or a hefty contract extension next season. That will be of little comfort to Cowboys fans, but it will sure help Cooper feel better after the team put up a bagel in Indianapolis.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: Oh, what the heck, play back the end of the DVOA bowl one more time.
— TITANIC TD(@TitanicTD) December 14, 2018
Since the NFL adopted the two-point conversion in 1994, there have been nine of these sorts of plays -- a two-point conversion try in the last minute of the game for the win, rather than the tie. It's only the fourth to be successful, after Daunte Culpepper's botched-fumble sneak in 2002, Derek Carr-to-Michael Crabtree in 2016 when the Raiders were actually good, and Colin Kaepernick's 2016 Christmas miracle. It's the latest in the season a playoff-contending team has tried a game-winning two-point conversion; the play has historically been a December special for teams well out of the playoff race. You could make an argument, considering the stakes, that this was the third-most important two-point conversion play in NFL history, after the Patriots' successful game-tying two-pointer in Super Bowl LI and their failed attempt in the AFC Championship Game in 2016.
The win clinched the Chargers a playoff berth and a top-five seed; in fact, they can only get the first, second, or fifth seed in the AFC at this point as the AFC West race goes down to the wire. In the end, it probably won't make a huge difference -- the Chargers were likely to be the fifth seed even with a loss to Kansas City, and the Chiefs will have either the divisional or common games tiebreaker over Los Angeles in any tie between the two teams. A win for Kansas City, however, would have made that a foregone conclusion. Now, it's a realistic possibility for the Chiefs to fall behind the Chargers, or to slip behind the Patriots and Texans in a three-way tie at 11-5 and miss a bye week entirely. It has made the last few weeks in the AFC all that more entertaining, and we thank Anthony Lynn for it.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: I never doubted Josh Johnson for a moment.
This week, there are several lines I like, so I'm unusually hard-pressed to choose. I think that the one I like most, however, is one you would have been laughed out of the bookie for suggesting ahead of the season: I can't quite figure out why the Packers are 1-point underdogs against the Jets. No, this is not the Packers team we have come to expect, and they just lost starting running back Aaron Jones for probably the rest of the season, but one-point underdogs? Against the Jets? Unless Aaron Rodgers' injury is much, much worse than advertised, this line looks like theft. Green Bay (+1) at the N.Y. Jets.
Bryan: We usually try to avoid doing this, but yeah. Green Bay (+1) getting points against the Jets? No. No good sir, that's not correct. The Packers opened as three-point favorites, but Vegas quickly moved that line down, as the sharps and professional betters hammered the Jets' line. Now, I think my Lock record this season shows that I'm more qualified to figure out winners than some professional gamblers. A pointless game between two eliminated teams can often have strange results, but as long as Rodgers is under center, I can't justify making him an underdog against the Jets.
Double Survival League
Bryan: Thank you, thank you, THANK you to Josh Johnson and Washington. Their surprise win over Jacksonville gave Andrew a much, much needed loss. Combine that with Buffalo's hard-fought win over the Lions, and we have… a tie. At 21-9 apiece. Entering the last week of picks. You can't get any more even than that.
Of course, as it's the last week, each of us only has two teams remaining, and thus no choice in who we actually pick this week. It's all about whether or not we made wise decisions leading up to the Week 16 finale. Whoever's decisions were wisest will win. Uh, unless we tie. In which case, I'll try to think of some sort of tiebreaker.
I'll be honest, I was happier saving New England for my last-week Joker before they rattled off two straight losses and invited questions about whether or not the dynasty is over. Still, they should beat Buffalo at home, right? Then again, Buffalo has already knocked me for a loop once this season, in that 27-6 shocker over the Vikings back in Week 3. It'd be just my luck to have that happen again. My other team left is Tennessee, which is another pick I was more confident about before Josh Johnson proved he could actually get a win in the NFL. Well, nothing to do about that now, and the Titans are still double-digit favorites. Fingers crossed...
Andrew: Rather like a Steelers road game in Oakland, I have found a remarkable and unconventional means by which to claw defeat from the jaws of victory: I could not have done better than 1-1 last week, as three of my remaining four teams lost. This week, I have the L.A. Rams game I have been saving for the final week, against the abysmal Cardinals, but I am also lumbered with a less enticing Detroit team at home to the Vikings. Still, that appears better than a Jaguars team in the midst of a franchise record-setting run of offensive ineptitude, and at least the Falcons got me one win from Week 15. May the best man tie!
Week 15 wasn't great for clinching -- only the Chargers and Bears managed to punch their playoff tickets -- but it was fantastic for getting rid of dead weight. The Lions, Packers, Buccaneers, Falcons, Giants, Broncos, and Bengals all took a one-way trip to Eliminatedsville, making scenarios that much easier to follow. It also means we have our first meaningless games of the season this week -- games where both teams are playing just for pride, rather than the postseason. If you're watching Denver @ Oakland on Christmas Eve or Green Bay @ N.Y. Jets, you may want to re-evaluate your December priorities. Cincinnati @ Cleveland could be a meaningless game too, as the reaper could come for the Browns on Saturday in the form of Marcus Mariota.
Wrapping up seeds before Week 17 is a great Christmas present for an NFL fanbase, and several teams have the chance to do it. By Christmas morning, we could have the bye weeks and fifth seed locked up in the AFC, and every seed locked up in the NFC. Well, almost -- all six seeds are in play to be locked up on Christmas morning, but we can't quite get them to get there, because some are mutually exclusive. We can get close, though!
- If the Saints beat the Steelers, they lock up home-field advantage.
- The Rams then beat the Cardinals while the 49ers upset the Bears, locking Los Angeles in as the other bye-week team.
- The Bears' loss is covered by the Buccaneers beating the Cowboys, so Chicago gets locked into the third seed.
- The Cowboys' loss is then covered by Philadelphia and Washington losing to Houston and Tennessee, respectively, looking them in as the fourth seed.
- The Seahawks have a bunch of ways to lock up the fifth seed, all of which involve beating the Chiefs. That alone would give them a playoff berth in this scenario, with Washington falling. To get the No. 5 seed, however, they also need the Lions to beat the Vikings…
- And that's a problem, because the only team that can lock themselves into the sixth seed this week is Minnesota, with a win and losses by both Washington and Philadelphia. So we can have the Seahawks and Vikings both lock up wild-card slots, but their Week 17 games would still matter to see which one got the Bears and which one got the Cowboys.
Ah well. At least there'll be something going on in the NFC, regardless.
- Kansas City can clinch home field advantage IF Kansas City d. Seattle AND Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers AND EITHER Philadelphia d. Houston OR SIX OF:
- Pittsburgh d. New Orleans
- San Francisco d. Chicago
- N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis
- Cincinnati d. Cleveland
- Green Bay d. N.Y. Jets
- New England d. Buffalo
- Arizona d. L.A. Rams
- Tampa Bay d. Dallas
- Kansas City can clinch a first-round bye IF Kansas City d. Seattle AND Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers
- New England can clinch a top-three seed IF New England d. Buffalo AND New Orleans d. Pittsburgh AND L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore
- New England can clinch the AFC East IF New England d. Buffalo OR Jacksonville d. Miami
- Houston can clinch a first-round bye IF Houston d. Philadelphia AND Buffalo d. New England
- Houston can clinch a top-three seed IF Houston d. Philadelphia OR New Orleans d. Pittsburgh AND Washington d. Tennessee AND N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis OR EITHER Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers OR ALL OF Dallas d. Tampa Bay AND Cleveland d. Cincinnati AND Carolina d. Atlanta AND Denver d. Oakland AND N.Y. Jets d. Green Bay
- Houston can clinch the AFC South IF Houston d. Philadelphia OR BOTH Washington d. Tennessee AND N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis
- Houston can clinch a playoff berth IF Houston d. Philadelphia OR New Orleans d. Pittsburgh OR L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore OR Washington d. Tennessee AND ONE OF N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis OR Dallas d. Tampa Bay AND THREE OF:
- Cleveland d. Cincinnati
- Carolina d. Cincinnati
- N.Y. Jets d. Green Bay
- Denver d. Oakland
- Pittsburgh can clinch the AFC North IF Pittsburgh d. New Orleans AND L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore
- Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff berth IF Pittsburgh d. New Orleans AND EITHER L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore OR BOTH Washington d. Tennessee AND N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis
- L.A. Rams can clinch a first-round bye IF L.A. Rams d. Arizona AND San Francisco d. Chicago
- Seattle can clinch the No. 5 Seed IF Seattle d. Kansas City AND Detroit d. Minnesota AND EITHER Tennessee d. Washington OR FOUR OF:
- Houston d. Philadelphia
- Indianapolis d. N.Y. Giants
- Oakland d. Denver
- San Francisco d. Chicago
- Miami d. Jacksonville
- Seattle can clinch a playoff berth IF Seattle d. Kansas City AND ONE OF Tennessee d. Washington OR Detroit d. Minnesota OR THREE OF:
- Houston d. Philadelphia
- Miami d. Jacksonville
- Indianapolis d. N.Y. Giants
- San Francisco d. Chicago
- Oakland d. Denver
- Dallas can clinch the NFC East IF Dallas d. Tampa Bay OR BOTH Houston d. Philadelphia AND Tennessee d. Washington
- New Orleans can clinch home field advantage IF New Orleans d. Pittsburgh OR BOTH Arizona d. L.A. Rams AND San Francisco d. Chicago
- New Orleans can clinch a first-round bye IF New Orleans d. Pittsburgh OR Arizona d. L.A. Rams OR San Francisco d. Chicago
- Chicago can clinch a top-three seed IF Chicago d. San Francisco OR Tampa Bay d. Dallas
- Minnesota can clinch a playoff berth IF Minnesota d. Detroit AND Tennessee d. Washington AND Houston d. Philadelphia
- L.A. Chargers can be eliminated from the AFC West IF Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers AND Kansas City d. Seattle
- New England can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Buffalo d. New England OR Houston d. Philadelphia OR L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore OR Kansas City d. Seattle
- New England can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF Buffalo d. New England AND Houston d. Philadelphia
- Miami can be eliminated from a top-three seed IF Jacksonville d. Miami OR Pittsburgh d. New Orleans OR New England d. Buffalo
- Miami can be eliminated from the AFC East IF Jacksonville d. Miami OR New England d. Buffalo
- Miami can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Jacksonville d. Miami OR ALL OF Indianapolis d. N.Y. Giants AND New England d. Buffalo AND Tennessee d. Washington
- Houston can be eliminated from home field advantage IF EITHER (Philadelphia d. Houston AND EITHER L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore OR Kansas City d. Seattle) OR Kansas City d. Seattle AND SIX OF:
- New England d. Buffalo
- N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis
- Arizona d. L.A. Rams
- San Francisco d. Chicago
- Cincinnati d. Cleveland
- Pittsburgh d. New Orleans
- Tampa Bay d. Dallas
- Green Bay d. N.Y. Jets
- Indianapolis can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis OR New England d. Buffalo OR Houston d. Philadelphia
- Indianapolis can be eliminated from the AFC South IF N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis OR Houston d. Philadelphia
- Indianapolis can be eliminated from the playoffs IF N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis AND Pittsburgh d. New Orleans AND Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers AND Philadelphia d. Houston AND Miami d. Jacksonville AND Cincinnati d. Cleveland AND Tampa Bay d. Dallas AND Atlanta d. Carolina AND Denver d. Oakland AND New England d. Buffalo
- Tennessee can be eliminated from the AFC South IF Washington d. Tennessee OR Houston d. Philadelphia
- Tennessee can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Washington d. Tennessee AND Pittsburgh d. New Orleans AND Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers
- Pittsburgh can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF New Orleans d. Pittsburgh OR Houston d. Philadelphia
- Pittsburgh can be eliminated from a top-three seed IF New Orleans d. Pittsburgh AND New England d. Buffalo
- Baltimore can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore OR Houston d. Philadelphia OR New Orleans d. Pittsburgh AND Washington d. Tennessee AND N.Y. Giants d. Indianapolis AND Dallas d. Tampa Bay AND FOUR OF:
- New England d. Buffalo
- Cleveland d. Cincinnati
- Carolina d. Atlanta
- Denver d. Oakland
- N.Y. Jets d. Green Bay
- Baltimore can be eliminated from a top-three seed IF L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore AND EITHER New England d. Buffalo OR Pittsburgh d. New Orleans
- Baltimore can be eliminated from the AFC North IF L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore AND Pittsburgh d. New Orleans
- Baltimore can be eliminated from the playoffs IF L.A. Chargers d. Baltimore AND Pittsburgh d. New Orleans AND Tennessee d. Washington
- Cleveland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Cincinnati d. Cleveland OR Baltimore d. L.A. Chargers OR Tennessee d. Washington OR Indianapolis d. N.Y. Giants
- L.A. Rams can be eliminated from home field advantage IF Arizona d. L.A. Rams
- Dallas can be eliminated from the No. 3 Seed IF Tampa Bay d. Dallas OR Chicago d. San Francisco
- Philadelphia can be eliminated from the NFC East IF Houston d. Philadelphia OR Dallas d. Tampa Bay
- Philadelphia can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Houston d. Philadelphia AND Minnesota d. Detroit
- Washington can be eliminated from the NFC East IF Tennessee d. Washington OR Dallas d. Tampa Bay
- Washington can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Tennessee d. Washington AND EITHER Philadelphia d. Houston OR BOTH Minnesota d. Detroit AND Seattle d. Kansas City
- Carolina can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Atlanta d. Carolina OR Minnesota d. Detroit OR ALL OF Washington d. Tennessee AND Philadelphia d. Houston AND Dallas d. Tampa Bay
- Chicago can be eliminated from home field advantage IF San Francisco d. Chicago OR New Orleans d. Pittsburgh
- Chicago can be eliminated from a first-round bye IF San Francisco d. Chicago AND L.A. Rams d. Arizona
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