Scramble for the Ball: 47.3%-Season Awards
By Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your humble Scramblaestros are faced with a dilemma. The midway point of the NFL season is game 128, which technically occurs in the middle of Week 9. Do we therefore consider midseason to be the space between Week 8 and 9, which is this week, or between Week 9 and 10, which is next week? These are the sort of trivialities we spend far too much time debating -- see our "which quarterback would make the best left tackle?" article -- so this topic elicited some strong opinions in our ongoing planning thread. (Yes, we plan this drivel. Who knew?)
Bryan: In the end, it's better to be first than last, so Scramble for the Ball is proud to present our 47.3%-Season Awards; the most prestigious of its kind by a wide margin.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Andrew: This season has been very interesting so far, in that there really hasn't been a single dominant and obvious MVP candidate. Patrick Mahomes looked like that guy in September, but ankle and knee injuries have reduced his effectiveness in the second quarter of the season. Unusually, both of our undefeated teams are quarterbacked by guys who really don't belong in the MVP conversation. The second-best team in each conference is the aforementioned Mahomes' Chiefs, and the Saints -- who were also without their star quarterback for most of the first half of the season.
Bryan: Fun fact: in our preseason awards prediction article, I listed three different quarterbacks for the favorite, best bet, and longshot categories: Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. Each has missed time with injuries, some more significant than others. So, uh, scratch my picks there, for sure.
Really, I think it's your longshot who would win the award today -- Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are basically a quarterback fighting against his coach and coordinator in a desperate attempt to remain competitive, and it's a credit to Wilson's insane level of talent that it's pretty much working to this point. Wilson is third in DYAR, fourth in DVOA, and second in QBR at the 47.3% mark, not to mention fourth in both quarterback rushing DYAR and DVOA. If you prefer traditional stats, Wilson is the third quarterback ever to open up a season with 17 touchdown passes and just one interception, and it's not like he's throwing terrible balls and getting bailed out, either. He has just been as close to perfect as you can reasonably get throughout September and October.
Andrew: While I think you're probably right, and I would gladly take the plaudits for that pick, a strong case can be made for several others. Deshaun Watson has Houston looking good in the AFC South despite receiver and offensive line problems, Aaron Rodgers looks to be returning to form after some early uncertainty under Matt LaFleur, and even Kirk Cousins is putting up a case to join the conversation if his October numbers continue through the winter months. There's also a legitimately viable running back argument this year: Christian McCaffrey has been incredible as the feature back in Carolina. The decline of Brady and injuries to Roethlisberger, Brees, and Mahomes have given us a shockingly open field. I'd give it to Wilson right now, but this could be a very interesting back half of the schedule.
Bryan: Rodgers is a very interesting case, as his on-field results clash with some of his advanced statistics -- Ben Baldwin wrote a very convincing article about Rodgers' decline, to which Rodgers responded with his two best games of the season. I tend to still side with the "Aaron Rodgers is very, very good" people, and our quarterback stats tend to agree; it's just not quite as cut and dried as it was a few years back.
Andrew: We'll hand our midseason award to Wilson by consensus, but this is well worth watching as the season progresses.
Bryan: Heck, we didn't even mention Lamar Jackson, or Dak Prescott! It's a great race here, one of the most competitive we've seen in a long time. Plenty of room for someone to make a November and December move.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andrew: We didn't get odds for this, but we did make picks. If we just go with the simple "non-quarterback" methodology we generally espouse, do we have any advance on McCaffrey? What he has been doing behind an injured Newton and his backups over the past 16 games is nothing short of incredible.
Bryan: I think McCaffrey's MVP chances are a little overrated -- there are too many solid quarterbacks out there for him to really be a thing -- but he's having a hell of a year. He's in the top three in both rushing and receiving value and is taking just so much of the load for Carolina. He has played 100% of the snaps in three of Carolina's games and taken the lion's share of the work in the rest of them. He has 80% of his team's carries and 20% of his team's passing targets. The dude is a workhorse and a half. There have been others who have been as impressive as CMC when they're on the field, but no running back is on the field as much as McCaffrey is.
Andrew: Other running back candidates are Dalvin Cook, who has been everything Minnesota wanted him to be this year, and Nick Chubb, who has been the one Browns player to live up to his offseason hype. I don't think either steps ahead of McCaffrey, but they're both having terrific years -- Chubb's first two carries against the Patriots excepted.
At receiver, even accounting for my biases I only see one candidate. I thought too much of Michael Thomas' early production was due to Drew Brees; not to dismiss or even diminish Thomas' incredible achievements, but a Hall of Fame quarterback couldn't hurt, right? Turns out, not even losing Brees could slow him: Thomas still has an 82% catch rate, almost 900 yards in eight games, and ranks second in DYAR despite being basically the only real threat at receiver on the team, and five of those games coming with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. He's averaging 10 yards per game more than the next leading receiver, Cooper Kupp, but ranks second in DYAR to Kupp's 18th. With Brees, that would be outstanding. With Bridgewater, it's barely believable.
Bryan: Your eternal crush, Chris Godwin, is worth mentioning too when it comes to receivers -- look at that 58.4% DVOA! -- but you need eye-popping traditional stats to sniff this award on a losing team, and the Buccaneers do not produce eye-popping traditional stats. I think anyone other than Christian McCaffrey here is being contrary for the sake of being contrary. That can be fun in and of itself, but everyone else we've mentioned here are front-runners for Pro Bowl and All-Pro slots. CMC is a different beast.
Andrew: Agreed. McCaffrey all the way. I think only injury can prevent him from being the clear consensus best non-quarterback on offense.
Bryan: Eh, if the Panthers absolutely collapse over the back half of the season, ending up with double-digit losses or something, I can see the attention of the voters being drawn elsewhere. That being said, CMC has had enough early-season hype that I think he'll stick in people's minds even if Carolina doesn't win another game.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andrew: This is also interesting, it seems to me, because a down year for the Rams seems to have slightly diminished the hype for Aaron Donald. Am I misjudging that? Seems like I've heard Nick Bosa's name more than Donald's this year.
Bryan: The fact that Donald "only" has five sacks and is being double-teamed pretty much constantly might have something to do with that. He's still tied for the league lead with 11 tackles for a loss and has 21 pass pressures. He remains the top interior defender in the league, both in terms of pass rush and, you know, generally. I'd agree that his hype has gone down because the Rams aren't destroying people, but it's not like he's having a down season.
Bosa is really interesting for me, in part because I'm trying not to be a massive homer about this. He is not, yet, a complete player. He does occasionally still run himself out of plays -- a problem which was bigger earlier in the year when he was still recovering from a bum ankle, but still. He benefits from playing with four other first-round picks on San Francisco's defensive line. And yet, he's tied with Donald in tackles for a loss, and he has four sacks in the last two games alone. His athleticism jumps off the charts -- his interception last week was a heck of a play, and he has been sliding even stellar tackles like Andrew Whitworth backwards like it's nobody's business. He's getting compared to Lawrence Taylor, the only other rookie to ever win the DPOY award. I mean, that's some hefty praise.
If this was the "Defensive Player of the Last Two Weeks," I'd give Bosa the award, and he's certainly trending in the right direction with plenty of momentum behind him. I just think there may be other candidates who have looked better through the full first half.
Andrew: I'm not sure who those other candidates are. The joint league leaders in sacks play on the 2-5 Browns (Myles Garrett) and the 2-5 Buccaneers (Shaq Barrett) -- sure, a guy on a losing team CAN win DPOY, but will either of those guys be the one? Even third place in that headline category plays for a losing team, the Cardinals.
Bryan: A lot of the top candidates for this award aren't on winning teams, not just Garrett. Calais Campbell is having his usual terrific season in Jacksonville. The OTHER Bosa is looking really good in Los Angeles. Both Watt brothers are looking sharp, too -- J.J. leads the league in pass pressures, though obviously his injury will prevent him from winning the season-long award.
Andrew: Our league leader in interceptions plays for the Patriots, but again does anybody see Devin McCourty winning? The Patriots look like the classic "whole is greater than the sum of the parts" team defense. If we had to pick one player then I'm fairly sure Stephon Gilmore, who adds three interceptions to his still-growing reputation as the best cover corner in the league, would be their top candidate.
Bryan: Jamie Collins is another great shout for the Patriots (three interceptions, four passes deflected, two forced fumbles, and six sacks in an all-around stellar season) but the fact that we're giving them multiple shoutouts kind of proves your point. At the end of the day, I think you have to give the award to a player on one of the two all-time great defenses we're seeing. And you may be right -- Nick Bosa is more of an individual standout than anyone on the Patriots' mass of quality players. It takes a lot for me to not give the award to Aaron Donald just out of reflex, and I'd still give him the award if it wasn't for the historic level of domination the 49ers and Patriots are putting up. But while that's happening, I think we have to acknowledge Bosa.
Andrew: I expect the Rams to round into form over the next two months. I expect Donald to dominate again. I still think he's most likely to win the season-long award. For midseason though, given the condition of the rest of the field, it's probably Bosa.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Andrew: This is the year of the Minshew. Even if he shouldn't be the guy, I don't care. This is simply his time.
Bryan: Does an excellent mustache game garner you extra votes? I mean, it might well.
Andrew: It takes more than a mustache to make a Minshew.
Gardner Minshew future 10x Super Bowl Champion and 8x League MVP just based on the outfit before today’s game pic.twitter.com/erY5VpSSgC
— The Grim Riddim (@LuisLovesRIDDIM) 15 septembre 2019
Bryan: I think Minshew has done more than enough to Wally Pipp Nick Foles, but this is a three-horse race for me at the moment, and Minshew's just one of them. Kyler Murray is looking very solid in Arizona -- it's a heck of a gamble to replace a first-round quarterback with a different first-round quarterback, but it appears to have paid off. Minshew is outdoing Murray through the air (11.9% DVOA to -13.7% -- it's not even particularly close), but Murray has been the third-most productive rushing quarterback in the league. It also feels like Murray is trending upwards; he had some growing pains during Arizona's 0-3-1 start, but has impressed more and more throughout October.
Andrew: That's a great reason to think he'll win the season-long award, and you're probably right if you do think that, but I think the suddenness of Minshew's impact still has him ahead at the halfway-ish point.
Bryan: The other guy I want to mention is Josh Jacobs. He has been helped by a soft schedule, but he's eighth in rushing DYAR and sixth in rushing yards this season -- he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry, which is pretty damn good. There were questions about his durability and if he could be a workhorse, but those seem like a thing of the past. He's the focal point of a good Raiders offense, which was not a sentence I was expecting to write.
Andrew: Jacobs is another player who, it seems, is gaining steam on our fearless leader, but I don't think he has taken the lead yet. Still, yes, he has been very impressive, and this is one of those awards a running back can still win. I don't think he'll outduel the quarterbacks though. Right now, I give it to Minshew. By December, I expect it'll be Murray in a landslide.
Bryan: We're going to have to agree to disagree here, as I'm taking Jacobs as my guy through eight weeks. If Jacksonville or Arizona recover to have a winning record, their quarterback will probably win the award, but what Jacobs is doing on the ground can't really be ignored.
Sorry, Terry McLaurin and/or Marquise Brown fans.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Bryan: Allow me to quote from our predictions article, shall I?
Andrew: If the 49ers defense is good this year, Nick Bosa has a great chance. They won't be, but it's a nice thought."
Andrew: He does indeed have a great chance. See? I'm not just a psychic, I'm a future psychic.
Bryan: And the 49ers' defense isn't good -- it's great! So we must all bow to Andrew's prognostication prowess.
Andrew: We've kinda' already covered this too. If Bosa's our frontrunner for overall DPOY, then he absolutely has to be the rookies-only guy.
Bryan: Devin Bush deserves a shout, too, but no, we don't need to drag this one out.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bryan: Kyle Shanahan has already driven the 49ers to a 7-0 record, more wins than they've had in any year since 2014. He has showcased some of the most creative and innovative play calling we've seen in some time -- it's not just Sean McVay coming out of that coaching tree, after all. The offense is still spinning despite being short five offensive starters, the defense is shattering records, and it's feeling like the '90s all over again in the Bay Area. And he's not even my first runner-up.
Andrew: This is another one we don't need to overthink, isn't it? Shanahan has taken rumors of a potential firing if the 49ers didn't improve -- as I also referred to in the predictions article -- and turned them into the best team in the NFC, which remains the stronger of the two conferences. Bill Belichick has done a great job too, but that's taken for granted these days. Shanahan is more surprising, and surprise is definitely a factor in this award.
Bryan: But here's the thing -- Shanahan has been crazy-impressive with a relatively moderate level of difficulty. If they were shattering offensive records, maybe he holds on here, but you have to give credit to the Robert Saleh for some of that defensive production. And, of course, he has had his quarterback.
Sean Payton's Saints could have taken the Drew Brees injury as an excuse for a slow first-half start, and then ignited over the second half of the season to win the NFC South and make a playoff run. Instead, the Saints have just as many wins as the 49ers do, as Teddy Bridgewater came in and kept them undefeated during his run. Bridgewater deserves to be a starting quarterback, true, but the drop-off from Brees to him is enormous. Payton cannot get enough credit for the job he has done keeping the Saints not only competitive, but dominant -- the 49ers-Saints matchup in Week 14 might well be for the conference, because Payton has kept his team going every step of the way. And still, he's not my winner.
Andrew: The other guy I want to mention is Frank Reich, who I listed as the one guy I thought had a chance even if his team didn't make the playoffs. Unless the 49ers go at least 14-2, I think a playoff Colts squad is still enough to catapult Reich ahead of Shanahan as the best coaching job of the year. Sure, Shanahan put together an excellent team. Sure, Payton lost his starting quarterback for a month. Reich lost his starting quarterback for forever a week before the start of the season and lost his best defensive player for a month to a severe concussion, and still has the Colts not only in the playoff race, but actually leading their division.
Bryan: The Colts are not nearly as good a team as either the 49ers or Saints. If the Colts stumble some and miss the playoffs, it's possible Reich doesn't win the season-long version of this award. I might still call Shanahan the overall favorite when these things get passed out at the end of the year. But the Colts are 5-2 after nearly everyone left them for dead after Andrew Luck's retirement. If that's not worthy of a 47.3%-Season award, I don't know what is. I'm taking Frank Reich.
Andrew: I think an undefeated half-season still trumps it, but it's a narrow race. Give me Kyle Shanahan for now, but Reich is doing a phenomenal job there. Also, a shoutout to Chris Ballard, who featured in this Athletic article yesterday that you need to read if you haven't already.
Andrew: There are a few other awards we haven't looked at yet. Comeback Player of the Year is one: do we have a player we especially like for that? I'm not sure any of the real top guys are coming back from anything this year.
Bryan: Yeah, I'd agree that the top of the statistical leaderboards aren't really loaded with candidates. Maybe this is where Jimmy Garoppolo gets some shine; he has led his team to an undefeated record and is ninth in QBR coming back from his Week 3 ACL tear a season ago. Or Cooper Kupp, without whom the Rams' offense looks, well, basic.
Andrew: Kupp is a good shout, actually.
Bryan: Everson Griffen won't win the award, but I kind of wish he would. He missed five games last season dealing with mental health issues and is back and playing at a high level. As someone who has struggled with some of this stuff myself, it would be a nice moment for the NFL to acknowledge that people can come back from more than just physical ailments.
Andrew: On the defensive side, maybe Jamie Collins? We mentioned him before; he has come a long way since being released by the Browns. Kwon Alexander is another 49ers player who returned from a torn ACL, and he might have a better case than Garoppolo.
Bryan: Heck, give it to Teddy Bridgewater and call it a day after his perfect month.
Andrew: Bridgewater's the midseason winner, I think. I mentioned in his player comment in FOA 2019 that just getting back on the field was an achievement for him; to perform as well as he has after basically three lost seasons is tremendous. He'll lose out on the season-long award after returning to the bench, but right now he's my choice.
What about coordinator? That has to be Robert Saleh, right? No arguments here.
Bryan: Robert Saleh, full stop. Switching from the traditional Seattle scheme to a Wide 9 has really rejuvenated the 49ers' defense, and I look forward to him trying to do the same in Atlanta next season.
Andrew: One more: Executive of the Year. We don't usually discuss this, but I think it's worth a look this year -- and not only because I've been reading about Chris Ballard today.
Bryan: I should also note that the award is cursed. Seven of the last ten winners have since been fired, five of them within three seasons of winning the award -- an average of 1,122 days, per FiveThirtyEight. An eighth is Jerry Jones, who can't be fired. So, beware, general managers around the league.
Andrew: Ballard is the clear choice for me here for the same reason as Reich was mentioned above. He has done such a good job building a Colts side that could barely win a game without Luck heroics into a team that can survive losing Luck for the full year and still lead the division.
Bryan: The one thing possibly working against Ballard is that he just won this award last season, but I don't have a superior candidate in mind.
Andrew: How much do you credit John Lynch for the 49ers? That situation is a little strange to me, because there was a lot of criticism of Lynch after the past couple of years, and it has gone silent rather than turning into plaudits this term. Heck, John Dorsey is getting more praise, and the Browns are barely a more interesting shade of brown on his watch.
Bryan: I still think Lynch's definition of player value is somewhat skewed -- they spend more money on running backs than any other team and while I can't deny that it's working, it's not working because of Jerrick McKinnon's massive contract or anything. I still think Kwon Alexander is being paid too much, despite you pointing at him as a potential comeback player nod. I think he has done a better job than he has generally been given credit for, but exec of the year? No, I don't think so.
Andrew: Are there any other guys though? Belichick is really more of a coach than an executive. Brandon Beane built a great defense, but he also drafted Josh Allen. John Schneider's Seahawks haven't quite retooled the way he would hope. Les Snead's Rams are underachieving. Bill O'Brien is flipping draft picks like he's playing Ultimate Team. The Ravens are still figuring out their defense after losing a lot of talent. Mickey Loomis didn't do much to the Saints this year. Very few of the real top teams have made significant GM-led changes.
Bryan: OK, here's a Hot Take-worthy candidate I don't really believe in: Chris Grier. In next year's draft, Miami has 12 selections overall, including three first-round picks and two second-rounders. They have two first-round picks and two second-rounders in 2021 as well. Grier and the Dolphins have correctly diagnosed their team as terrible,and have moved heaven and earth for a massive rebuilding project, starting next year. Do they get credit for realizing this team wasn't going anywhere last March, rather than waiting until the trade deadline like Washington and being unable to move any significant pieces?
No, not really, but it's fun to think about.
Andrew: If Grier gets even a single vote, it's time to retire the award.
Bryan: Well, we wouldn't want the NFL's awards to approach the gravitas and importance of Scramble's own weekly section, now would we?
Andrew: If only the NFL could come up with awards half as meaningful as our own.
Bryan: Or, at least, 47.3% as meaningful.
Keep Choppin' Wood
HOW IS THIS STILL HAPPENING?!?
This was blown dead by the officials, negating what looked to be a long fumble return for a go-ahead Bucs TD
— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) 27 octobre 2019
Yes, that was yet ANOTHER obvious fumble blown dead by the officials, costing yet another team crucial points in yet another critical situation. We would single out the refereeing crew responsible, but really, this is way beyond being a single-crew issue. Given how many teams are being affected now, Alberto Riveron needs to take the blame. And the NFL itself. It is unacceptable that this is still happening.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
How does the expression go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... Chicago's entire offseason narrative was dominated by the fallout from a conservative decision to settle for a long field goal while trailing by a single point at the end of a close contest. When the Bears found themselves in a similar situation against the Chargers this past Sunday, head coach Matt Nagy saw the chance to exorcise those demons by ... settling for a long field goal while trailing by a single point at the end of a close contest. The kick, predictably, missed, and Nagy's postgame media conference was a masterclass in saying exactly the wrong things about a situation Nagy brought upon himself. Maybe next time he'll learn, but we wouldn't bet on it. If there even is a next time.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Vikings 34-yard line, holding on to a 16-9 lead, Mike Zimmer decided to keep his offense on the field, attempting a quarterback sneak to hold on to the ball. This is, unquestionably, the right decision. An average NFL team converts these fourth-and-1s 70% of the time, and the Vikings have an above-average rushing offense this year. It was also a very, very short fourth-and-1, so that 70% number is likely an underestimate. The sneak was not successful, and Zimmer, after the fact, called it the "dumbest decision I've made since I've been here." No, no, Mike. There have been plenty of dumber decisions you've made since you've been in Minnesota. Don't sell yourself short.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Two things we often praise coaches for doing: going for it on fourth down, and taking penalties rather than wasting timeouts. These are both, generally, solid moves that will improve your chances of winning. Doing them at the same time, however, may not be the world's wisest decision, Freddie Kitchens. Trailing 27-10 with six minutes left in the game, the Browns faced a fourth-and-11 from their own 24, and Kitchens sent out the punting unit. This is not a good time to punt; you need three scores and your time is very limited. Kitchens seem to realize this halfway through the play and decided to send his offense back out instead. Did he use Cleveland's final time-out? No! He instructed KhaDarel Hodge to intentionally false start instead. That set up fourth-and-16, which is, uh, even less ideal. Teams are converting 16.5% of their third- or fourth-and-11-plus situations this season; Cleveland is doing even better at a 19.2% rate. The league drops to 9.7% when you bump that up to 16 yards to go, and Cleveland falls to 15.4%. In what was pretty much a must-convert situation, using the timeout was probably more than worth the 4% to 7% increase in conversion probability. Of course, if Kitchens hadn't wasted a challenge on an offensive pass interference call earlier in the quarter, or had been more decisive immediately, all of this could have been avoided.
'National Tight Ends Day' Fantasy Player of the Week
I know the Jets' offense is just too good to pass up, but even then, I doubt anyone had Ryan Griffin rostered. Heck, more people might have had both Robert Griffin and Tampa Bay's Ryan Griffin on their teams, backup quarterbacks being more likely to be valuable than a player who was averaging 1.5 receptions for 7.7 yards, even with Chris Herndon both injured and suspended. New York's Griffin hadn't found the end zone since 2017, so of course he found it three times against the Jaguars -- two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, part of a four-reception, 66-yard day that is easily the highlight of his career.
Darnold hits Ryan Griffin for 24-yard touchdown.
— Chris (@DynastyChrisS) October 27, 2019
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
The Panthers might have penciled in their L before halftime, but fantasy owners who have been relying on Christian McCaffrey ended up doing just fine; he actually scored more points against the ferocious 49ers defense than he did in both games against Tampa Bay combined. Even with the Panthers down three or more scores for most of the way, they couldn't abandon the run game and McCaffrey entirely; 108 of his 117 yards came with the game well in hand, including this 40-yard touchdown which ever-so-briefly made the game interesting in the third quarter.
Christian McCaffrey doing Christian McCaffrey thingspic.twitter.com/iBXdemk3Kj
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) October 27, 2019
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Even in a disappointing 2018 season that finished with a 6-10 record, the Panthers never experienced a beatdown quite as bad as this past weekend's 51-13 demolition in Santa Clara. Second-year quarterback Kyle Allen crashed back to Earth with an almighty thud, and the lauded Panthers front seven is still trying to find Tevin Coleman three days later. One consistent bright spot throughout both of the past two seasons has been Christian McCaffrey, who yet again rushed for over 100 yards and a score -- taking him already to 735 yards and a career-high eight rushing touchdowns in only seven games. McCaffrey is likely to set a career high in rushing yardage too -- he only needs 363 yards in the remaining nine contests -- and though his receiving pace is slightly behind last year's, he remains the favorite to lead the league in yards from scrimmage. Bright spots on 4-3 teams are not usually difficult to find, but McCaffrey burns far, far brighter than most.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
The Chiefs were giving the Packers everything they could handle, and then some. Despite all-everything quarterback Patrick Mahomes and half a dozen defensive starters sidelined, Andy Reid had his backups fighting hard; they had just tied it at 24 midway through the second quarter. It looked like they might pull off the upset … and then, Aaron Rodgers found Aaron Jones.
— Gabriel Schray PxP (@schrayguy) October 28, 2019
Note to future teams playing the Packers: do not cover Aaron Jones with a linebacker, especially not when he lines up outside. The Packers scoring so quickly hurt the Chiefs in another way, too -- had they taken a couple extra minutes before finding the end zone, maybe Andy Reid would have gone for it on the ensuing fourth-and-3 from his own 40, rather than punting and never seeing the ball again.
The Chiefs' loss means they're currently looking up at both the Colts and Ravens, half a game behind each. I'd expect them to make the ground back up once Mahomes returns, but it was a missed opportunity; teams such as the Colts and Saints have racked up wins with their backups, but the Chiefs couldn't pull it off. In the long run, however, the win was probably bigger for Green Bay than the loss was for Kansas City. With the Saints and 49ers rolling, the Packers need to try to keep pace. There are only two bye weeks to go around for all three teams, and 12 wins might not be enough to secure one. Every win Green Bay can scrape out helps keep them in the race.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Bryan: It looks like Kyle Allen will get another start against Tennessee, perhaps explaining why Carolina (-4) are such small favorites. After all, we all saw they myth of Kyle Allen, interception-free quarterback punctured against the 49ers. Well, a lot of quarterbacks have looked terrible against the 49ers, and I'm not going to hold it against Allen. There's a wee bit of a dropoff between San Francisco's -67.5% pass DVOA and Tennessee's 11.0%, so I think we'll see the Allen we saw over the first few weeks -- an average performer, able to utilize Carolina's superior weapons better than Ryan Tannehill can use Tennessee's. Add in Carolina's superior defense -- I don't think the Titans can copy what the 49ers did on offense, either -- and the Panthers could win this by a couple of scores.
Andrew: Carolina is a great shout, and I'm fully on board with that pick -- it would have been mine, too, if you hadn't beaten me to it. Looking elsewhere, I'll grab Seattle (-6.5) over Tampa Bay. This isn't the great Seahawks team of old, but it's still plenty good enough to dispose of a turnover-prone Buccaneers outfit in its noisy home stadium.
Double Survival League
Bryan: What do you know; a week where we both got both our picks right. First time it has happened all year, I believe. We are not even consistent in our inconsistency.
Halfway through, Andrew still holds a one-win lead, 11-10. I do, however, have a slight advantage in teams remaining; my last 16 have a .521 winning percentage, as opposed to Andrew's .488. It's not exactly a huge advantage, but then again, it's not exactly a huge gap. Andrew still has to find wins for Cincinnati, Denver, and Tampa Bay. I still have Baltimore and Houston left in my picks. We'll see if my strategy of hammering on the losers early at the expense of, you know, actually getting wins, ends up paying off.
Andrew: One of the difficulties of picking games out in advance is how much injuries and other circumstances can change the landscape for any given team. When I pegged this week for Denver, I did not anticipate them being in quite this bad a situation. The problem is that doesn't look like it's getting better any time soon, and this is still the team's most favorable remaining game. Former Jaguars sixth-round pick Brandon Allen versus the 2-5 Browns is probably not what most people anticipated for this game this past offseason, but here we are.
My other pick is more straightforward: the dominant 49ers against the improving but still worst-in-the-division Cardinals. A road game on Thursday Night Football adds a small amount of concern, but even on a short week San Francisco should handle their business with room to spare.
Bryan: I really hate my picks this week, but I was left with them pretty much by process of elimination. I've already used San Francisco, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh, and New England, all of whom I'd rather take than any of my actual picks. Kansas City and Carolina remain iffy as we await news on the health of their starting quarterbacks. I could take the Jets over the Dolphins, but why on Earth would I do that on the road when I could do that at home in a few weeks? Oakland still has a game against Cincinnati. For some reason, the buzzer in the back of my head is warning me about a Seattle trap game with San Francisco looming on the schedule. What's a guy to do?
The answer is to pick the two winners I'm least confident in this week, and do a lot of finger-crossing. That means Green Bay on the road against the Chargers. The Chargers do not have a home-field advantage and just fired their offensive coordinator so, you know, things are going really well down there. That also means Jacksonville, in London, over Houston, which makes my stomach turn. But Houston is missing J.J. Watt, and Will Fuller, Bradley Roby, Jonathan Joseph, Tashaun Gipson, and both starting tackles are questionable, at best. The injuries, the long travel, and the fact that Houston barely beat the Jags last time they met leads me to take Jacksonville here, though I hate, hate, hate this pick.
Bryan: As we enter Week 9, every single team can still earn every single playoff slot. Yes, the Bengals and Dolphins could technically be battling for home-field advantage in the AFC, Washington could storm back to take the NFC East, the Patriots and 49ers could stay home -- chaos is still technically, mathematically, just barely possible.
That ends now. Let other sites and other articles wax poetic about teams about to clinch the playoffs. We want to talk about how teams can be knocked out of their playoff positioning!
The reaper could be coming for four of the worst teams in football. While no one can be fully eliminated from contention this week, some of the seeding can become a little clearer. The Dolphins and Jets even have a matchup where the loser could get kicked out of the AFC East race! All the things listed here are longshots, but a longshot is better than a no-shot, right?
N.Y. Jets can be eliminated from the AFC East IF Miami d. N.Y. Jets AND New England d. Baltimore
Miami can be eliminated from the AFC East IF N.Y. Jets d. Miami OR New England d. Baltimore
Cincinnati can be eliminated from Home-Field Advantage IF New England d. Baltimore
Washington can be eliminated from Home-Field Advantage IF Buffalo d. Washington