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

Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, where we say goodbye and good riddance not just to 2018, but to the 2018 regular season. Antonio Brown can tweet doe eyes at 49ers receivers all day long right over there, and the Cardinals can scout top draft options Nick Bosa, Nick Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Trade Down right over there; we have no time for you right now. It's the playoffs, baby, and that's all that matters now.

Andrew: Yes, it's time for January football. Our field of 32 has been whittled down to 12, even if it's not the 12 your humble Scramble writers expected even two short weeks ago, and not even the coaching carousel can distract us from the quest to crown a new NFL champion. Only one thing can: the Marmite of the football world -- you either love it or you hate it. I am talking, of course, about fantasy football.

Bryan: Taking a look at YOUR league results, and I'd imagine you quite love it at the moment. Even if you're in one of those weird leagues that think Week 17 matters. Your commissioner is Jason Garrett, right?

Andrew: He's a Titans fan. He's used to his team's season ending in Week 17.

Bryan: Hey-o!

The Ravens and Eagles making the playoffs does make this a more exciting tournament than our predicted Steelers and Vikings, I feel. It also makes fantasy a bit more of an interesting commodity here. Gone are fantasy stalwarts like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Adam Thielen. Instead, do you trust Nick Foles to have another miracle playoff run? Can Lamar Jackson's legs carry Baltimore through a round or two? Is last month's offensive slowdown among the top seeds an Actual Thing, or just a blip? I'm actually quite excited for the playoffs this year; it's a really, really intriguing collection of teams.

Andrew: Jackson and the Ravens are the most intriguing of the bunch to me, just because they're so distinctive. We simply don't see many teams function the way they do, for a whole host of reasons. Their game against the Chargers may well feature the two best defenses in the AFC playoffs (though the Texans would have something to say about that). Whichever team comes out of that has a chance to make some real noise in the conference, which for once consists of more than the Patriots, Steelers, and four other teams allowed past the bouncers to make the place look busier.

The Bears are the NFC equivalent, though somewhat less distinct on offense. That defense has already given the Rams all they can handle and more. If, as most people still expect, they take care of business in the first game, a rematch in Los Angeles looks very, very tasty indeed.

Bryan: A potential Super Bowl rematch of the Game of the Year between the Chiefs and the Rams is still on the table, as is the same but with the Saints replacing the Rams as the NFC's offensive powerhouse. A rematch of last year's fantastic Super Bowl is a possibility. A defensive slugfest between the Ravens and Bears in the Year of the Offense, or Matt Nagy facing his old Chiefs with the title on the line. The Seahawks returning to the championship as their reboot turns out to be Oscar-worthy. There are just so many storylines we could see play out here, and so many of them feel fresh and new. Here's to getting 2019 off on the right foot.

Andrew: All of those potential storylines and epic clashes add to the unpredictability, which is great for viewers and fan interest and the sport in general. The problem is it's absolutely terrible for the real reason we're here: the annual Football Outsiders Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft.

Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft

Bryan: The Football Outsiders Staff Playoffs Fantasy League is back for another run. Once again, the scoring rules are as follows:

  • Six points for rushing or receiving touchdowns, four points for passing touchdowns.
  • One point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and for every 20 yards passing.
  • A loss of two points for a lost fumble or interception.
  • Two points for a two-point conversion of any kind.
  • Kickers: three points for a field goal under 40 yards, four points for one between 40 and 49 yards, and six points for kicks of 50 yards or longer. Plus, one point for every extra point.
  • Defense: Two points for an interception or fumble recovery, six points for a touchdown, four points for a safety, one point for a sack, and a loss of one point for every seven points the defense actually allows (and a bonus five points for a shutout)

Teams are comprised of one quarterback, two running backs, three wideouts, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense. There are no substitutions, so if a player is injured or his team is eliminated, then he ceases to produce points for his team. The teams, in drafting order, are as follows:

  • Aaron Schatz, Head Honcho
  • Dave Bernreuther, Technical Titan
  • Bryan Knowles, Scrambler (U.S. edition)
  • Andrew Potter, Scrambler (U.K. edition)
  • Vince Verhei, Editor Extraordinaire
  • Scott Kacsmar, Captain Comeback

This is a serpentine draft with a two-pick eighth round. The results were as follows:

Round 1

Aaron: Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
Dave: Melvin Gordon, RB, LAC
Bryan: Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
Andrew: Travis Kelce, TE, KC
Vince: Todd Gurley, RB, LAR
Scott: Drew Brees, QB, NO

Round 2

Scott: Michael Thomas, WR, NO
Vince: James White, RB, NE
Andrew: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU
Bryan: Tyreek Hill, WR, KC
Dave: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
Aaron: Brandin Cooks, WR, LAR

Round 3

Aaron: Damien Williams, RB, KC
Dave: Keenan Allen, WR, LAC
Bryan: Mark Ingram, RB, NO
Andrew: Julian Edelman, WR, NE
Vince: Robert Woods, WR, LAR
Scott: T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND

Round 4

Scott: Jordan Howard, RB, CHI
Vince: Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA
Andrew: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
Bryan: Ted Ginn, WR, NO
Dave: Sony Michel, RB, NE
Aaron: Chris Carson, RB, SEA

Round 5

Aaron: Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE
Dave: Josh Reynolds, WR, LAR
Bryan: Will Lutz, K, NO
Andrew: Harrison Butker, K, KC
Vince: Zach Ertz, TE, PHI
Scott: Marlon Mack, RB, IND

Round 6

Scott: Eric Ebron, TE, IND
Vince: Mike Williams, WR, LAC
Andrew: Bears DEF, CHI
Bryan: Saints DEF, NO
Dave: Alshon Jeffery, WR, PHI
Aaron: Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA

Round 7

Aaron: Greg Zuerlein, K, LAR
Dave: Stephen Gostkowski, K, NE
Bryan: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, CHI
Andrew: Deshaun Watson, QB, HOU
Vince: Tom Brady, QB, NE
Scott: Amari Cooper, WR, DAL

Round 8

Scott: Ravens DEF, BAL and Justin Tucker, K, BAL
Vince: Sebastian Janikowski, K, SEA and Chiefs DEF, KC
Andrew: Lamar Miller, RB, HOU and Allen Robinson, WR, CHI
Bryan: Sammy Watkins, WR, KC and Trey Burton, TE, CHI
Dave: Rams DEF, LAR and Ben Watson, TE, NO
Aaron: Chris Conley, WR, KC and Patriots DEF, NE

FO Playoff Fantasy Rosters

Aaron Dave Bryan Andrew Vince Scott
QB Patrick Mahomes Russell Wilson Mitch Trubisky Deshaun Watson Tom Brady Drew Brees
RB Damien Williams Melvin Gordon Alvin Kamara Ezekiel Elliott Todd Gurley Jordan Howard
RB Chris Carson Sony Michel Mark Ingram Lamar Miller James White Marlon Mack
WR Brandin Cooks Keenan Allen Tyreek Hill DeAndre Hopkins Robert Woods Michael Thomas
WR Doug Baldwin Josh Reynolds Ted Ginn Julian Edelman Tyler Lockett T.Y. Hilton
WR Chris Conley Alshon Jeffery Sammy Watkins Allen Robinson Mike Williams Amari Cooper
TE Rob Gronkowski Benjamin Watson Trey Burton Travis Kelce Zach Ertz Eric Ebron
K Greg Zuerlein Stephen Gostkowski Wil Lutz Harrison Butker Sebastian Janikowski Justin Tucker
D New England L.A. Rams New Orleans Chicago Kansas City Baltimore

As always, assemble your Best of the Rest team in the comments from players we did not pick, and we'll track which commenter ends up with the highest total.

Bryan: Uh, geaux Saints, I suppose. I didn't intend this to be a repeat of my strategy last year, where I loaded up on the Los Angeles Rams, banking everything on them at least reaching the NFC Championship Game. How'd that work out again? I assume everything went brilliantly.

Andrew: It worked out great for Aaron, at least, who banked everything on the Patriots reaching the big dance. In the NFC, not one of us saw the Eagles coming. We chose poorly.

Bryan: Well, at least we learned our lesson this year by taking ... two Eagles. And two Cowboys, and two Ravens. So, if you're looking for your Super Bowl teams, pick two of those three and you're probably good, considering our track record.

Andrew: If you had taken Deshaun Watson with the pick before mine, I would have taken Lamar Jackson. If Scott had taken Lamar Miller instead of Marlon Mack, I would probably have taken Kenneth Dixon. I was hoping to get Amari Cooper with my last receiver pick, but again Scott nipped in ahead of me. Some of the quirkiness here is that we aren't just picking, like we are with regular fantasy, which players we think will rack up numbers, but also trying to pick which teams will provide those players with additional opportunities. That is probably reflected in the picks; for example, Scott and I evidently have somewhat different perspectives on Saturday afternoon's matchup.

Bryan: Yeah. Getting the best players is important, but when you get into that middle-ground miasma, it's all about finding a team or two you think will go far and loading up on them; an extra point or two in a game doesn't matter so much if their team loses! I think the Saints, Chiefs, and Bears, in that order, are the most likely teams to play two or more games, and that's where I grabbed every single one of my players -- gotta get those extra games in.

Andrew: The one exception to that rule, I think, is kickers. You don't mind a team that goes out because they kicked six field goals but their opponent scored three touchdowns: those six field goals may still add up to more points than other kickers by the end of the postseason. The problem with that is the team I think is most likely to need a lot of field goals also has probably the worst kicker in the postseason. At least nobody is losing points for Cody Parkey's misses, like they would in Loser League.

Bryan: Do we get extra point for bouncing kicks off the goalposts? Because then Parkey would be a fantastic choice.

I find it amusing that, in back-to-back rounds, I stole your kicker and then you stole my defense. We were the first two to break open the non-skill position spots, and I'm fairly sure we picked the right ones, there. I might have gone with the Chiefs over the Saints, thinking about it now, but I was already so, so far in on a New Orleans Super Bowl appearance that I just felt I had to hammer down. It's a great strategy to get first or last, not so much to get second or third.

I actually like your team quite a bit. You have the top tight end and defense available, you have six players going in the first weekend so there's the possibility of extra points, you have a clear "if they win the Super Bowl, I win" team in Houston ... I really think you drafted well. I'd still take my team over yours, but if I had to swap, you're the one I would steal from … though I would have gone Tarik Cohen instead of Lamar Miller for that last running back pick.

Andrew: By that point I was, if not entirely all-in Houston, far enough in that I figured I might as well complete the set. If the Texans get past the first round, I'm in decent shape. If they don't, I'm gubbed either way. The benefit of Miller if the Texans advance is greater than the benefit of still having Cohen if I lose Watson and Hopkins. Again, there was no intention to grab that many Texans: it's simply how the chips fell.

Bryan: Scott's got a ton of potential on his team -- a league-high seven players playing this weekend, with you right behind him at six. If Baltimore and Indianapolis win this week, Scott's going to be in a fantastic position going forward. The trouble there, though, is that he has the players on the worse of the two teams in each of those AFC matchups, according to DVOA. If we get Chargers and Texans wins, he's kind of out of it right off the bat, even with the Brees-to-Thomas connection. That presumably wouldn't be enough to get past my Ten-Thousand Saints attack, so Scott's kind of all in on this weekend.

Andrew: It's very interesting that Tom Brady was the sixth quarterback taken. That's crazy, for a guy who's one season removed from two consecutive record-breaking Super Bowl appearances.

Bryan: It's understandable, though. Brady has averaged 17.52 fantasy points per game this year, below such luminaries as Kirk Cousins and Jameis Winston. Of the playoff starters, only Nick Foles and Lamar Jackson averaged fewer points per game -- and Jackson was a backup only in on specialized plays for half the year. I think I'd still rather have Brady than, say, Russell Wilson thanks to the bye week and home-field advantage and whatnot, but I might have gone with Goff or Luck over Brady had I saved my pick for last. He's just not the same sort of guy as we're used to.

Andrew: That Luck and Goff weren't picked at all is, to me, a strategic point here. I waited until only one other person needed a quarterback before selecting one, because in all likelihood at least six quarterbacks will play at least two games each. If you have a reasonable degree of confidence in which six those are, there's no need to grab one early unless, like last year, you're absolutely certain one of them will be playing in the big dance (or one of them will be Blake Bortles). Running backs are slightly more awkward because we need two, and receivers far more awkward because we need three, so the priority tree looks a bit different for those positions.

Bryan: That being said, can we at all fault Aaron for taking Mahomes first overall? Like, did that pick take more than 10 seconds to figure out?

Andrew: Right. Picking first or second overall is a slightly different scenario. If you think the best quarterback on the board on the top seed in whichever conference is going all the way, you don't wait on that. I'm more looking at what happens after you get past those very top picks. Mahomes was the ultimate no-question pick.

Bryan: Taking Travis Kelce early was an interesting strategy, though I think it was also the right one. There isn't a bigger gap at any position than Kelce to, uh ... Eric Ebron? Zach Ertz and the One-Game Spectacular? The Ghost of Rob Gronkowski?

Andrew: That was exactly my thinking. Other than perhaps Mahomes, there's no other position with a player that obviously ahead of the field. Consistently productive receiving tight ends are way more rare than many people realize; it's why I took George Kittle far too early in my regular fantasy league, and why I expect more than one Best of the Rest team will take a flier on Hunter Henry in case he returns from his ACL tear this weekend.

Bryan: Another Best of the Rest strategy might be to load up on the Ravens and hope. Lamar Jackson is available, as are Gus Edwards and John Brown, neither of whom are terrible picks. Scott's last-round swipe of the Ravens D and Justin Tucker prevents an all-Ravens roster from having much luck, but the rest is there. Or, if you prefer, the Chargers -- with Henry, Philip Rivers, and Austin Ekeler -- could be a decent starting group. There's potential here, as the six of us couldn't cover all possibilities.

Or you could load up on Cowboys. I wouldn't be surprised if they beat the Seahawks this week, but still. Mama, don't let your babies load up on Cowboys.

Andrew: As for the staff, I think the most likely winner is you: simply having that many players from a conference's clear No. 1 seed gives you a great chance. If the Saints make the Super Bowl, your only undoing would be if Drew Brees simply feeds Michael Thomas over and over at the expense of those other options while the Ravens plow through the AFC.

Bryan: That doesn't seem likely, considering how Brees could take five janitors as his skill position players and find a way to spread the ball around. Then again, I thought I was looking pretty good last year, and I lost to the Best of the Rest, so ... yeah.

Andrew: That time it was a raw Rams side failing you. Drew Brees should not fall so flat. I'm not surprised there's some more fright about the Rams this year, because most informed observers expect the Bears to dispose of the Eagles, and that would put them in L.A. in the Divisional Round.

On the flip side, Dave appears to have a great chance of avoiding finishing last, and absolutely zero chance of finishing first -- unless, as the only one other than Vince with any Chargers players, we witness the Chargers demolish all comers in the AFC. If that doesn't happen, the rest of his roster is spread so thin that any outcome that scores him points will score everybody else around him more points.

Bryan: So, of course, Dave will accept our title when the Seahawks and Chargers meet in an old AFC West Super Bowl. Such is life.

Can you best our squads? Are we idiots for leaving Jared Goff, Tarik Cohen, and Anthony Miller up for grabs?

Andrew: Are we idiots for a million other unrelated reasons too? Let us know in the comments, and don't forget to pick your Best of the Rest squads. Or to play our playoff challenge, which should also be live by the time you are reading this!

Bryan: Best of luck to all involved, and we'll see you for some playoff action!

Loser League Update

Your winner for Part II was Clayton Hill and his Barbecued Cap Space. Led by Josh Rosen under center, the powerful rushing duo of Jordan Howard and Kenneth Dixon, the receiving prowess of Taylor Gabriel, and the strong leg of Brett Maher, he led his team to just 290 points, an 11-point victory over Gruden Ready.

Your overall winner (combined Part I and Part II) was Rob Nelson and his Better Than Solid. His 645 combined points squeaked out a win over Bart's Loser League Team, who ended up with 669. Congratulations to all of our winners, and to everyone who participated.

Quarterback: Week 17's low-water mark went to Derek Carr, thanks in part to the world's worst interception, finishing with 3 points. The Part II leader, however, was Josh Rosen with 67 points, far outdistancing Matthew Stafford and his 96 points. Here's hoping Rosen has a functional offensive line in Year 2.

Running Back: Week 17 saw three players earn one solitary point -- LeGarrette Blount, Jamaal Williams, and Carlos Hyde. Hyde also takes the crown as the worst running back in Part II, with just 58 points. That's a huge lead over second-place Peyton Barber and his 70 points, so well done, Carlos.

Wide Receiver: NINE, count 'em, NINE Goose Eggers in Week 17 as receivers around the league phoned it in. John Brown, Josh Bellamy, John Ross, Chris Conley, DeVante Parker, Aldrick Robinson, Ryan Swizter, Taywan Taylor, and Jamison Crowder all earned the nul points. It was Taylor Gabriel who led the way in Part II, however, with just 22 points. Runners-up were Seth Roberts' 27 and Golden Tate's 30.

Kicker: Cody Parkey's missed extra point earned him Week 17 honors, finishing with -1 points on the day. That's a shaky kicker entering the postseason. He also was our Part II leader with 21 points, thanks in large part to his -12-point day back in Week 10. Ryan Succop slips right behind him with 33 points of his own.

Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here! And if you didn't win the Loser League and want another shot to win a copy of the 2019 KUBIAK projections, enter a team in the 2019 FO Playoff Fantasy Challenge!

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: After two drives apiece on Sunday night, the pattern of the game appeared set. The Titans had punted on both of their possessions, including a fourth-and-medium in Colts territory, and the Colts had scored touchdowns on both of theirs. The only way, it appeared, that Tennessee had a chance of getting back into the game was if the Colts made a huge mistake.

Quite. Cette horrible passe needs no translation, even if it is perhaps a more charitable description than your humble Scramble writers might use. Fortunately, the Colts still had their lead after the play, and still went on to win comfortably, but that is not the type of throw fans want to see from Luck as he leads Indianapolis back to the postseason.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: This seems like a good place to check in on the newly-commenced hiring and firing cycle, courtesy of our old colleague Bill Barnwell:

Wait, doesn't that sound an awful lot like last year's coaching roster? Starring Pat Shurmur as the retread, Jim Schwartz as the rumored retread who wasn't hired, Jim Harbaugh as both a retread and a college coach, Kirk Ferentz as the hot college coach, Matt Patricia as the Patriots coach (and Josh McDaniels as the retread Patriots coach), Jon Gruden as the retired coach on TV, and John DeFilippo (and Josh McDaniels again) as the young guy who knows a great quarterback. Also starring Jim Caldwell as both "[one] of the guys who just got fired" and, of course, Jim Caldwell. As Bill's tweet somewhat caustically implies, and as the weathered saying goes, plus ça change...

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: He may not have done so purely out of determination to win the game, but Jason Garrett made the wise decision to have his Dallas Cowboys go for two instead of attempting a potential game-tying extra point late in the fourth quarter against the Giants. Unlike when we questioned Ron Rivera's decision to do the same thing in Week 11, the time remaining made no difference to Garrett's choice; the most important thing for the Cowboys at that stage was not to win the game, but to avoid overtime in the meaningless regular-season finale. The Cowboys made the conversion, then shut down the Giants on the ensuing drive to end their regular season on a positive note.

Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching: Jason Garrett. Your team is locked into the fourth seed of the playoffs. Nothing you do or do not do can change that fact. Week 17's game against the Giants was entirely meaningless. "Momentum" of that sort does not exist. Then WHY, oh WHY was Dak Prescott playing the entire game?! Olivier Vernon hit Prescott six times in the backfield, part of nine hits in the backfield Prescott absorbed on the day. Prescott was sacked four times. He was tackled another time on a run. Every single one of those hits was unnecessary. What the hell, man?

'Nick of Time' Fantasy Player of the Week: The Cowboys may have finally found their tight end at the last possible moment. Blake Jarwin entered the week with 188 career yards and zero touchdowns -- not ideal for a team that simply has not found any consistent production at the position since Jason Witten retired. Against the Giants, though, Jarwin exploded onto the scene -- seven receptions for 119 yards and not one, not two, but three touchdown receptions. If you're in one of those crazy leagues that plays in Week 17, Jarwin may have just won you a championship. He should be on your radar for at least the first week of playoff fantasy, even if Seattle is more likely to actually attempt to tackle someone.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Our Garbage-Time Player of the Week? George Kittle, who broke the all-time single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end; an ancient record that had stood for about three hours after Travis Kelce had set it earlier in the day. 133 of Kittle's 149 yards came with the 49ers down at least three scores, including this record-setting touchdown.

Kittle's performance also makes him our Garbage-Time Player of the Year. Down 17 points or more, Kittle caught 23 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns this season, a 166-yard lead over the second-place finisher, Larry Fitzgerald. Matt Ryan ended up with the most garbage-time passing yards, squeaking out a 688-649 lead over Nick Mullens in the last time you will ever hear those two players compared to one another. Joe Mixon ended up as our rushing yardage leader, with 213 garbage-time yards on 31 carries, crushing David Johnson's 39-for-131. Finally, we have a three-way tie at three touchdowns apiece for Dante Pettis, Eric Ebron, and Kapri Bibbs. They may not have helped their teams to many wins, but they may have helped your fantasy team win championship gold. They are your Garbage Time leaders for 2018.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week Season: Our last three eliminated teams were the Minnesota Vikings, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers won their game, sealing their fifth consecutive season with at least nine wins and their fifteenth since the last time they had a losing record. The Titans lost at home against the Colts, once again without their starting quarterback with an elbow injury; however, despite a lot of important injuries and the expected transitional struggles this year, they sustained their 9-7 record from the past two seasons. The Minnesota Vikings may be the team most in need of comfort: despite a major investment in a shiny new quarterback, they suffered a 4.5-game decline from their 2017 record and were finally eliminated by a home defeat to a Bears side with little to play for. The good news: top receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both exceeded 1,000 receiving yards for the season, with Thielen also finishing eighth in DYAR in his first season catching passes from Kirk Cousins; running backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for over 1,600 yards from scrimmage; and defensive end Danielle Hunter's 14.5 sacks tied with Von Miller for fourth-most, while his 21 tackles for a loss ranked second behind only Aaron Donald. The Vikings do have their obvious problems, most notably another very poor offensive line, but they also have the top-end talent to be a major contender in the NFC again next season.

Game-Changing Plays of the Year: While 20 teams can look back and wonder what might have been in 2018, only three teams can say they were a game away from making the postseason. The Steelers, Vikings, and Titans all just barely, barely missed the playoffs. And when you miss the playoffs by just one game, there's almost always a single moment you can look back on; one play that could have changed everything.

Flip any of the Steelers' losses (or their tie!) to a win, and they're in the playoffs. A 10-5-1 mark would have given them the AFC North title outright, while a 10-6 record, coupled with a 5-1 record in the division, would have earned them the tiebreaker over the Baltimore Ravens. While there's plenty of blame to go around, you can pin a lot of it on the right foot of Chris Boswell. Missed field goals accounted for the final margin against Cleveland and Oakland, and put the Steelers in poor situations in the losses to Kansas City and Denver, as well. I'm going to highlight the Oakland game here; Boswell missed a 39-yarder and a 40-yarder in a three-point loss. Even a tie in that game would have sent the Steelers through, and you'd expect an NFL kicker to make field goals of 40 yards or less; they made 95.3 percent of them from that distance this season. Just like Boswell's plant foot on the turf in Oakland, the Steelers saw their season slip away.

The same can be said for the Vikings. Flip any loss, and they're 9-6-1 and in sole possession of the NFC's sixth seed. Flip their tie, and they win the tiebreaker over Philadelphia at 9-7 thanks to their Week 5 victory. Again, we could go with the missed field goal at the end of the tie, but it was turnovers and an inability to put good teams away, not field goals, that really killed the Vikings this year. You saw both of them against the Saints in Week 8, which would stick in my craw more than a tie; it hurt more in the long run. Late in the second quarter, the Vikings were up 13-10 and were driving for more points in the red zone, when Adam Thielen fumbled the ball. The Saints turned that fumble into points, and the Vikings never led again.

The Titans are in a slightly different boat. You'd need to flip one of their three divisional losses in order for them to be playoff-bound, getting to 10-6 and winning the sixth seed outright (if they knocked off the Colts) or by tiebreakers (over the Texans thanks to a head-to-head sweep). The problem, though, is that none of those three losses were particularly close; they were all two-score losses or more. Thus, it's harder to find one specific moment that killed the Titans, unless you count "trusting Blaine Gabbert in a must-win game" to be a moment. If I had to pick just one play, though, it would be in Week 12 against Houston. The Texans had the ball and a four-point lead midway through the second quarter, but were backed up in the shadow of their own goalposts. A defensive stop could have set the Titans up with good field position and a chance to change the tide of the game. The Texans handed the ball off to Lamar Miller to try to gain some breathing room and, well…

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Records to Date
Bryan: 9-7-1
Andrew 7-9-1

Bryan: The wild-card round is where we start getting some bettors who may not be following the league closely on a weekly basis. This pushes the lines a little further from where they "should" be and gives the possibility for some value. I feel the Eagles' line, for instance, is predicated on the Legend of Nick Foles and the memory of what the Eagles were able to do last year. We wrote the Eagles off last season, because although they were very good with Carson Wentz, we thought Foles would bring them down. In actuality, Foles provided solid play throughout the postseason, and the Eagles were able to keep much, though not all, of their regular-season momentum throughout the playoff run. Could Foles do that again? Well, yes, obviously -- but the problem is, the baseline Eagles team is worse this year than it was 12 months ago. So, Chicago (-6) versus Philadelphia? If this were last year's Eagles' team, I'd take them to cover at least. But this ain't last year's team. Give me the Monsters of the Midway.

Andrew: Look at you, racing to get your pick in first so you get the clearest favorite! All the rest of the games are basically toss-ups, to the point that you may as well pick a winner outright as pick against the spread. As my playoff fantasy draft selections imply, I expect the Texans to beat the Colts in Houston. This divisional series is split at 1-1 this season, with both teams winning on the road by a field goal. The two-point margin in Houston's favor reflects that, but it also meshes with my rough expectation: Houston by three at the end of a very close game. Houston (-2) vs. Indianapolis.

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, Best of the Rest fantasy teams, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Comments

35 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2019, 6:03am

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

I suppose they are an okay fantasy defense.

Still, it seems like they could challenge for most points allowed in a playoffs. Which is 103 points, by Buffalo in 1992.

The 1989 Broncos gave up 99 in three games and the 2009 Cardinals gave up 45 in each game in two games. Washington, of course, gave up 73 in one game in 1940.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

I'm not going to sit here and argue that Jim Caldwell was a great head coach (he's not), but he probably has a worse reputation than he actually deserves. His record is 62-50, and that's including 2011, when he was stuck with Curtis Painter as his quarterback, along with a terrible roster. In a world where Mike Mularky got hired again after compiling an 18-39 record, and Hue Jackson is (reportedly) in danger of being a head coach for an Ohio football team again, Caldwell should be considered middle of the pack, at least.

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

He's just unexciting, and you know exactly what you are getting from him. He's middle of the road at everything, it seems.

I could see him doing well with a team that already has a solid roster and needs consistency and discipline (say, had the Steelers fired Tomlin, or maybe even if Jacksonville wanted a new HC), but really only Green Bay and Miami are even close to fitting that mold. And even those are stretches.

For most teams that want an exciting HC to bring up their young QB (Browns, Cardinals, Jets), or need a lot more work on their rosters (Broncos, Bengals, Bucs), Caldwell just isn't the answer, I don't think. In other words, he might be good at adding one or two more wins to any roster, but most teams are from from that one or two wins meaning anything.

17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

I could see Caldwell making sense in Green Bay, if their top priority is "someone who won't piss Rodgers off" (though like you say, no reason to get excited about that). Caldwell's even-keeled personality makes me think he'd defer to Rodgers for most things, even if he doesn't really bring much more creativity than McCarthy did.

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

Caldwell is a solid “don’t rock the boat” coach. Unfortunately, teams generally fire their coaches because the boat needs to be capsized.

If your coach decides to retire after winning the Super Bowl, you could probably do worse than Caldwell. He’s not your guy for rebuilding a dumpster fire (to mix metaphors).

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

random noise

QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Kenneth Dixon
RB: James Develin
WR: Cordarrelle Patterson
WR: Cole Beasley
WR: Nelson Agholor
TE: Blake Jarwin
K: Adam Vinatieri
DST: Colts

If Develin can vulture a few short yardage TD's, I'm in good shape.

30 Re: Scramble for the Ball: 2018 Staff Fantasy Draft

Over the Rivers and through the woods

QB: Philip Rivers (LAC)
RB: Tarik Cohen (CHI)
RB: Austin Ekeler (LAC)
WR: Anthony Miller (CHI)
WR: Tyrell Williams (LAC)
WR: Cole Beasley (DAL)
TE: Hunter Henry (LAC)
K: Michael Badgley (LAC)
DST: LA Chargers

Eschew Obfuscation!