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

Scramble for the Ball: Headed to Orlando

San Francisco 49ers DB Jimmie Ward
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Andrew: Hello, and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your humble Scramblesatians have polar opposite degrees of satisfaction with what is generally considered the Game of the Season so far.

Bryan: I'm not sure we're entirely at polar opposites. It was a good game! I thought it was a good game, you thought it was a good game, see, everything's fine and dandy. What's two points between friends?

Andrew: I watched Colts-Buccaneers because 49ers-Saints was blacked out on Game Pass UK, so by the time I was watching the Saints action I knew the score. I would describe it roughly like watching a latter Die Hard: you know the ending, you know roughly how it's going to get there, and you spend most of the two-hour experience (skipping commercials, naturally) wondering how this could be happening again. I've seen a lot of Bruce Willis shootouts. I've seen a lot of New Orleans Saints shootouts. I generally prefer Drew Brees' process, but Bruce Willis' results.

Bryan: For that matter, you've even seen the Saints lose a big game to the 49ers, specifically, this decade, even if this year's batch is quite different from the Jim Harbaugh-and-Alex Smith group from the divisional round oh so long ago. I guess the baddies may wear the same garb, but it's just Drew Willis (Bruce Brees?) staying the same year-in and year-out.

Andrew: I grant you, it is always enjoyable to see that much talent on two teams going head-to-head in genuinely meaningful regular-season action, even if the result wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. The two most talented teams in the clearly superior conference lived up to their billing far more than the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the clearly inferior conference.

Bryan: The talent differential between the NFC and AFC is rather ridiculous this season. Yes, the best team in football plays on the junior circuit, but the majority of this year's stars will be wearing blue in Orlando -- or would be, if they bothered to show up to the Pro Bowl at all. The game may be a snoozer, but being named to the Pro Bowl team itself is (or at least should be) a milestone in anyone's career. With this year's fan voting ending on Thursday, Andrew and I are taking our annual look at The Correct Ballot for you to cast, and we keep being surprised by how difficult it is winnowing down the NFC fields, and now tricky it is to fill out our AFC halves!

Andrew: Still, it's not like any of us have a more important ballot to cast this coming Thursday! We can afford to dedicate all of our expertise and mental energy arguing about the third defensive tackle spot on the AFC roster, and searching in vain for a viable alternative AFC fullback in case the Ravens make the Super Bowl.

Bryan: I'd suggest beginning our search in 1975, but I get ahead of myself.

As always, while the NFL lets you vote for whomever you'd like, the Correct Ballot has to be one that can actually be selected, so we split our votes evenly between the two conferences, no matter who that leaves sitting at home. Without further ado, then...

 

THE ONE TRUE PRO BOWL BALLOT

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACKS

Andrew: By DYAR, this is fairly straightforward. The AFC's trio is clearly Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson. The NFC's top two are Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, then anyone from the next four.

Bryan: I will note that you can almost make an argument for Ryan Tannehill for an AFC slot, and I'm sure he'll be part of the actual game when everyone's done backing out or going to the Super Bowl or whathaveyou. He's sixth in DVOA, ahead of Watson; he just didn't start until Week 7.

Andrew: When it comes down to Ryan Tannehill versus Derek Carr, though, do you really think they aren't just going to hand Tom Brady a lifetime achievement award so he can withdraw for a spurious reason again?

Bryan: These are far from mutually exclusive outcomes.

It's also amazing to think that Mahomes has been playing banged up and/or without his full complement of weapons for most of the year, and is still first in DVOA and second in DYAR. No, he's not matching his insane rookie season, but that was never going to happen.

Andrew: The most arguable spot is the final one in the NFC. Drew Brees would usually be the automatic pick, but he missed five games during the season with a thumb injury and the Saints went 5-0 without him. Kirk Cousins is third in the conference by DYAR (fifth overall), but is also Kirk Cousins. Matthew Stafford would have been in with a shout, but he's hurt and won't play again this season. Aaron Rodgers is back among the league leaders in our numbers, but isn't quite playing up to the level of vintage Aaron Rodgers. My homer vote goes to Brees, who I think is still the best quarterback in the conference -- and who just demonstrated that against the best defense in the conference -- but I could see an argument for one of the others.

Bryan: If Brees had missed one or two games, he'd be an easy choice, without any discussion. As it is, I don't think you can call him the best quarterback in the conference anymore, but he's more than deserving of a slot on this team as long as he can still carve up defenses -- hyper-efficient without being overly cautious, he can still put up legendary games at age 40. He gets the nod over both of the NFC North guys

NFC: Drew Brees, New Orleans; Dak Prescott, Dallas; Russell Wilson, Seattle
AFC: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore; Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City; Deshaun Watson, Houston

RUNNING BACKS

Andrew: At running back, the DYAR table also has some clear leaders, but we'll need to add a sprinkling of discernment here. Latavius Murray is sixth in rushing DYAR. Latavius Murray has only 533 rushing yards on a mere 113 attempts. Latavius Murray is not going to the Pro Bowl. Ditto Raheem Mostert, who is the runaway leader in rushing DVOA but whose 102 attempts barely qualify him for our leaderboard.

Bryan: One of the hard to things to sort when voting is how much to weight a hot start versus a slow finish. Games in September and October happened, after all, but should we look at a player fading late and take that into account? Aaron Jones is a good example. Over the first eight weeks of the season, Jones had 93 rush DYAR, averaging over 100 yards per game and scoring 11 touchdowns. Since then, however, he's slowed down significantly, only topping 100 yards in a game once, and against lowly Washington, to boot. He's still the force that makes Green Bay's offense go, but they haven't been going as well as they could have been, recently.

Andrew: Traditionally, this is one of the spots in which efficiency takes something of a back seat to volume. Derrick Henry's 1,245 rushing yards are far more Pro Bowl-worthy than Devin Singletary's 642, despite Singletary's superior efficiency numbers. Not that Henry is a lock, competing as he is with Josh Jacobs for the third AFC spot behind Mark Ingram and Nick Chubb -- players who have both volume and efficiency in their favor.

Bryan: If we were just to pick the three backs with the most yards from scrimmage in each conference, that would be Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliott in the NFC, and Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, and Derrick Henry in the AFC. Fournette, at the very least, has no business being anywhere near the Pro Bowl team.

Andrew: I'm more than OK with those NFC picks, as they also rank as the top three in the conference in rushing DYAR. In the AFC, if you replace the ineffective Fournette with conference rushing DYAR leader Mark Ingram, that's a trio I could get behind. Alternatively, as I just mentioned, Josh Jacobs could oust Henry if you want to argue efficiency over volume, or Ingram if you want to argue volume over efficiency.

Bryan: I also think Jacobs is performing with a higher degree of difficulty than Ingram, considering the comparative states of the Baltimore and Oakland offenses. But I do think Ingram needs one of the slots on this team, leading me to prefer Jacobs over Henry. The rookie beats Henry in DYAR, DVOA, and success rate, and is "only" 32 carries behind him in volume. If he were down in Austin Ekeler usage territory -- now there's an efficiency-over-volume argument! -- I'd agree, but I'd go with Jacobs over Henry if that's our choice.

Andrew: Both are worthy candidates, but I defer to your wisdom and that of the DYAR table.

NFC: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota; Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas; Christian McCaffrey, Carolina
AFC: Nick Chubb, Cleveland; Mark Ingram, Baltimore; Josh Jacobs, Oakland

WIDE RECEIVERS

Andrew: This is where the talent differential really begins to show its hand. The top eight wide receivers in DYAR all play in the NFC. The top five in receiving yards all play in the NFC. You can't pick a team for the NFC without snubbing somebody.

Bryan: Emmanuel Sanders and Terry McLaurin are having really solid seasons. They don't sniff the NFC discussion, but could easily make the AFC foursome. The NFC South alone could put up a top four better than the entire AFC can cobble together, between Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Michael Thomas. Someone really, really good is going to get left off the roster.

That someone won't be Chris Godwin, who Andrew has been banging on about for a couple years and is your DVOA leader. He was the DYAR leader, too, until last week when Michael Thomas went off against San Francisco. Amari Cooper has to make the team as well, as the lead wideout on the best offense in the conference (yes, Dallas still has that distinction, despite the last couple weeks).

Andrew: Michael Thomas has to be in too, as he has only gone and led the league in catch rate again despite being the only viable wide receiver on his team, and playing almost half the season so far catching passes from his team's backup quarterback. He consequently leads the league in receptions and receiving yards by a distance.

Bryan: That leaves the fourth and final slot up for grabs. Tyler Lockett and Calvin Ridley are both in the top six in DYAR and DVOA, but volume is a concern; each has less than 100 targets on the season as Ridley plays second-fiddle to Julio Jones and the Seahawks feel the passing game is heretical and should be burned, burned.

Andrew: That cracks the door open for Kenny Golladay, who leads the league in receiving touchdowns while also nestling at No. 7 in DYAR. Is that more valuable than Mike Evans ' additional 150 yards, but two fewer scores? This squad is tough. I think I ultimately come down in favor of Evans, so that's how we're going to vote, but you could pick almost any of these for that fourth spot and not be wrong.

Bryan: All those runners-up would be at the very least competitive in the AFC, which has a stud receiver drought. DeAndre Hopkins is the only true big-name stud with a history of success who is both producing right now and hasn't missed significant time due to injury. He can't crack the top 10 in DYAR, however; the only AFC receiver who can is Courtland Sutton, who is coming into his own in his sophomore season. Then you have to dip your hands into a vast multitude of good-if-not-great players. Are we sure we can't slip Sanders in here because he started the year in the AFC? No? OK.

Andrew: One of the problems in the AFC has been injuries. T.Y. Hilton has missed big chunks of the season, and of course his quarterback retired due to persistent injuries in August. Juju Smith-Schuster has been trying to catch errant tosses from backups all year, and Tyreek Hill has both his own and his quarterback's injuries impacting his season. Perhaps as a result, this is where DYAR gets really, really weird. I could swear I just read that the No. 2 wideout in the AFC is DeVante Parker, and that he and Jarvis Landry should probably be on the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Bryan: We truly have slipped into an alternate universe. I'm shocked Landry is outperforming Odell Beckham in Cleveland but, well, that's the world in which we live. I don't think those two are necessarily locks, mind you, but it's hard to find a pair out-and-out better than Parker and Landry, which says something in and of itself. A.J. Brown is having a great season -- third overall and first in the conference in DVOA -- but he only has 61 targets all year. Keenan Allen is, yet again, a volume monster, but can't crack the top 25 in DYAR or DVOA; he'd be getting in on past laurels more than 2019's performance. Cole Beasley or John Brown in Buffalo? The gimpy Hill? D.J. Chark in Jacksonville? I mean... I'm at a loss.

Andrew: Parker and Landry it is. Who knew the 2017 Dolphins were stifling a pair of Pro Bowl wideouts all this time?

NFC: Amari Cooper, Dallas; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay; Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay; Michael Thomas, New Orleans
AFC: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston; Jarvis Landry, Cleveland; Devante Parker, Miami; Courtland Sutton, Denver

FULLBACKS?!?

Bryan: It's a more ferocious battle than usual this year, by which I mean there are three fullbacks with over 200 snaps this season. Thirteen teams managed to scrape up a fullback to be nominated! Such competition! Much excitement! With all respect to C.J. Ham -- actually, scratch that, Ham's not even really all that effective, despite his volume -- there is only one reasonable choice in either conference. At least both Kyle Juszcyzk and Patrick Ricard are having very good seasons, and are worthy of honors this season, but it's long past time we stopped reserving a slot specifically for fullbacks. Group them in with running backs or tight ends, open a flex spot, we don't care. Just, you know. Stop.

NFC: Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco
AFC: Patrick Ricard, Baltimore

TIGHT ENDS

Andrew: There are five clear options here for four spots. The AFC pair is easy: Darren Waller and Travis Kelce lead both the volume and efficiency charts. Mark Andrews of Baltimore deserves an honorable mention, but the other two outproduce him handily in everything except touchdown receptions. Hunter Henry is also excellent, but he simply hasn't played enough.

Bryan: I'd consider Andrews over Waller if for no other reason than Andrews is the best blocker of the three -- but you don't earn Pro Bowl nods for blocking, no matter how impressive the Baltimore run attack is. Besides, no one blocks in the Pro Bowl, anyway, and both Waller and Kelce have played way more snaps than Andrews has -- volume matters.

They say George Kittle has taken over Rob Gronkowki's mantle as the best tight end in the league. Here's a secret for you -- he had that mantle last season, too. This is nothing new; it's just the 49ers are good now and more people are paying attention.

Andrew: Kittle is unquestionably the lock in the NFC. The final spot is the one I considered arguable at the start. Zach Ertz has more receiving yards than any other NFC tight end, even Kittle, and is the one reliable player in the Eagles offense. Austin Hooper has finally become an integral component in Atlanta, and it shows in his touchdown and efficiency numbers, but he has a much easier time of it in Atlanta because of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (plus, Matt Ryan is better than Carson Wentz). I lean Ertz, but I'm open to analytical objections.

Bryan: Nah, I think this one does have to go to Hooper, even if he's played less due to knee injuries and has more talent around to help him. He's second in DYAR and third in DVOA; Ertz doesn't crack the top 15 in either. Ertz's numbers are coming more out of volume than anything else, and while I'm not going to argue that a tight end that can be targeted over and over isn't a big weapon to have, he's getting those targets in part because Philadelphia's skill position cupboard is rather bare. Ertz has just 20 more effective yards than Hooper, despite the 187-yard difference in their raw yardage totals, and Hooper has the better catch rate. I'm hanging with Mr. Hooper.

Andrew: I defer to my honorable colleague. Hooper is our nomination.

NFC: Austin Hooper, Atlanta; George Kittle, San Francisco
AFC: Travis Kelce, Kansas City; Darren Waller, Oakland

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Bryan: The top run-blocking offensive line in football, by adjusted line yards, belongs to the New Orleans Saints. They're not too shabby at pass protection, either, and they're going to come up a lot in these nominations. Both Terron Armstead on the left and Ryan Ramczyk on the right can argue they're the best at their respective positions. While I think Ramczyk has a better argument than Armstead there, both are more than worthy of a trip to Orlando. Joining them will be Lane Johnson -- he likely won't be able to make it to Orlando because of the injury sustained Monday night, but he has been his usual phenomenal self, with just a 1.3% blown block rate to this point in the year. There's a reason Philadelphia gave him that big contract extension!

Andrew: I'm glad Bryan wrote up the NFC, because that spares me the homer accusations. The AFC gives us the best right tackle in the sport over the past two seasons, Mitchell Schwartz, and two young left tackles with great careers ahead in draft classmates Ronnie Stanley and Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil is finally the answer for the Texans at a spot that was previously a disaster, and Stanley is a key component of the best run game in the AFC.

NFC: Terron Armstead, New Orleans; Lane Johnson, Philadelphia; Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans
AFC: Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City; Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore; Laremy Tunsil, Houston.

GUARDS

Andrew: Guard is tricky, especially on a fan ballot. Even qualified analysts might struggle to tell you why Brandon Brooks deserves a Pro Bowl nod over Brandon Scherff, though Brooks is the consensus best guard in the game. Our other two NFC nominations are Zack Martin, as perhaps the only Cowboys lineman living up to his reputation right now, and Larry Warford, as the third member of a Saints line that is definitely living up to its own reputation.

Bryan: The AFC is a tricky nut to crack. Quenton Nelson is an obvious pick, and not just for his keg stand celebrations, and Marshal Yanda continues our strategy of picking a Ravens guy whenever possible; he leads the league in pass-block win rate at 98%. The third guard spot is trickier -- the Raiders' gamble on Richie Incognito has paid off, and Joel Bitonio continues his good work on a disappointing roster in Cleveland. We're going with Joe Thuney instead, however -- you can make an argument that Thuney has been the best player on New England's offense this season, which is not a title that normally goes to a guard.

NFC: Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia; Zack Martin, Dallas; Larry Warford, New Orleans
AFC: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis; Joe Thuney, New England; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

CENTER

Andrew: Detroit has had their problem areas this season, but the offensive line hasn't been one of them. Frank Ragnow has returned to center and excelled, becoming one of the most consistent interior linemen in the conference. 49ers center Weston Richburg would have been next in the running, but a torn patellar tendon puts an end to his chances for this year and possibly next year too. Eagles center Jason Kelce has been below his usual standard this term, as have Dallas' Travis Frederick (on return from major illness, it must be noted) and Atlanta's Alex Mack. That opens the door for a younger player, pushing us yet again in the direction of the Saints. Rookie Erik McCoy took over from veteran Max Unger after Unger's retirement in the offseason, and the Saints offense hasn't missed a beat. Some of that is the excellence around him, but a lot is also the performance of McCoy himself. The Saints appear to have drafted yet another excellent lineman, further strengthening one of the league's best young front fives.

Bryan: We've been banging on about Ryan Kelly ever since our first All-Rookie Team, where Andrew fought for him over my pick of Cody Whitehair. Uh, Andrew won that one. Kelly will be joined by Rodney Hudson. Oakland needs at least one guy on this team, as they're in the top five in both our run blocking and pass protection stats, and while Incognito and Trent Brown deserve their share of plaudits, Hudson is the biggest star on that line.

NFC Erik McCoy, New Orleans; Frank Ragnow, Detroit
AFC: Rodney Hudson, Oakland; Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Bryan: The NFL continues to deny that odd and even fronts exist in their Pro Bowl balloting. They split the front seven into defensive ends, defensive tackles, outside linebackers and inside linebackers. If you're a 4-3 outside linebacker, or a 3-4 defensive end, good luck sniffing the roster behind the army of pass-rushers that flood your position. One day -- one day! -- they'll split players into edge rusher, interior lineman, and linebacker positions. That is not this day, and so, as usual, we have to dive through multiple pages of the ballot just to find where the heck everyone's supposed to be lining up!

Andrew: In the AFC, this is quite interesting. None of the conference's top edge rushers are listed as defensive ends: T.J. Watt, Harold Landry, and Bud Dupree are all listed as outside linebackers, and all have as many or more sacks than "defensive end" sack leader Josh Allen (Jaguars edition). Allen is a limited-use rusher, and the third-best defensive end on his own team behind Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue; Campbell deserves the Jaguars nomination if anybody does, and we aren't picking multiple players from what has once again become a below-average Jaguars defense. Joey Bosa is again one of the most complete defensive ends in the conference, and a certain Pro Bowl choice. Our third defensive end is more debatable: Sam Hubbard made a storming start to the season in Cincinnati, but has fallen off since. Carlos Dunlap is probably the better edge rusher, but hardly a Pro Bowl lock this year. We settled on Shelby Harris, for similar reasons to Campbell: 3-4 defensive ends are good players too!

Bryan: I have no idea how you do not pick Nick Bosa for NFC defensive end. I have no idea how you do not pick Jadeveon Clowney for NFC defensive end. I have no idea how you do not pick Cameron Jordan for NFC defensive end. I have no idea how you do not pick Brandon Graham for NFC defensive end.

The problem there is that's four names. There are three slots, and we haven't gotten to the Vikings duo of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, or DeMarcus Lawrence in Dallas. Not fair. You could argue that the top six defensive ends all come from the NFC -- I don't think I'd go six-for-six there, but the argument isn't crazy. I don't suppose the Vikings duo would like to disguise themselves as Ravens, purple for purple, would they?

I don't believe it's homerism alone that leads us to pick Jordan and Bosa, the best defensive players on our favorite teams. Jordan leads the league in pass pressures, while Bosa is the best of the frightening 49ers front four, only picking up steam after being hobbled in September by an ankle injury. For the third pick, we're going with Clowney. He's the one player on Seattle's defense you have to double-team, and he's still in the top ten in pass pressures. He changes football games.

NFC: Nick Bosa, San Francisco; Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans
AFC: Joey Bosa, L.A. Chargers; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville; Shelby Harris, Denver

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Andrew: The NFC nomination here is Aaron Donald and Aaron Donald's backups. This year, that's Fletcher Cox, because despite the Eagles' defensive woes Cox is still an outstanding player, and Arik Armstead, because the 49ers defensive front is terrifying and 10 sacks is a ridiculous tally for a non-Aaron Donald interior lineman.

Bryan: I would not have put money on Armstead outperforming DeForest Buckner on that 49ers front, but man, has he ever come into his own this season. Good timing, too, with his contract running out at the end of the year.

In the AFC, D.J. Reader is the obvious first choice; he has really grown into his own this season in J.J. Watt's absence, with career highs in sacks, quarterback hits, tackles, and general mayhem caused. That last one may not be an official stat, but it's true. The Steelers' defensive line ranks second in adjusted sack rate and just misses the top ten in adjusted line yards; we could give either Pittsburgh interior linemen a nod, but Cameron Heyward is our choice. The third pick is tough -- Andrew liked Jordan Phillips up in Buffalo; I prefered Sheldon Richardson in Cleveland. We agreed to compromise by instead selecting Chris Jones, as 24 pass pressures from an interior defensive lineman is crazy.

NFC: Arik Armstead, San Francisco; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia; Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams
AFC: Cameorn Heyward, Pittsburgh; Chris Jones, Kansas City; D.J. Reader, Houston

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Andrew: Hey, Lavonte David got a nomination as an inside linebacker instead of having to compete with all of those edge rushers on the outside! Unfortunately, he is now competing with Jaylon Smith and Bobby Wagner on the inside, and still doesn't quite make the team. Even Wagner plays second fiddle to Erik Kendricks, however: the Vikings man might now be the very best cover linebacker in the NFC, and is a huge part of that defense's continued strong performance -- particularly its No. 1 rank in coverage DVOA against tight ends (subscription required). As usual, however, this is a very deep pool in the NFC: Jaylon Smith and Luke Kuechly are Pro Bowl-caliber players, Blake Martinez has been an important figure on the Packers, and Roquan Smith was having a terrific season before tearing his pectoral last Thursday. This should really be a three- or four-player pool, with the outside linebacker and defensive end categories merged to reduce the total number of edge rushers.

Bryan: The Vic Fangio defense really needs rangy, athletic linebackers in order to really function; there's a reason every classic Fangio squad has a Patrick Willis or a Sam Mills to get things going. In Football Outsiders Almanac 2019, I guessed that Todd Davis and Josey Jewell would not be able to fill that role, and wondered if anyone would be able to step up. Enter A.J. Johnson, who spent most of his rookie season on the bench for Vance Joseph. Johnson was put into the starting lineup in Week 5; since then, Denver's -12.9% defensive DVOA is fifth-best in the league, compared to their 18.5% DVOA in September. Is that all Johnson's credit? No. Is Johnson the next Patrick Willis? Probably not. But he has that explosive quality that Fangio's best linebackers share, and deserves more acknowledgement than he's getting. He'll join Darius Leonard, who is now the first player ever to record 10 sacks and five interceptions in the first 25 games of his career (at least, since sacks become a thing).

NFC: Eric Kendricks, Minnesota; Bobby Wagner, Seattle
AFC: A.J. Johnson, Denver; Darius Leonard, Indianapolis

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Bryan: Our NFC choices don't get any easier here. I thought Khalil Mack, Za'Darius Smith, and Demario Davis were our three choices, before Andrew pointed out that hey, Shaq Barrett leads the entire NFL in sacks while playing for the Tampa Bay freaking Buccaneers.

Andrew: This is yet another position where we're being asked to compare players like Davis and Barrett, who really don't play the same position. Davis has much more in common with Jaylon Smith and Eric Kendricks than Chandler Jones and Mario Addison.

Bryan: Removing any of the three is a painful decision. We do want at least one off-ball linebacker here, so Davis stays, and Andrew made the tough choice to pull Smith away for Barrett. Tampa Bay over Green Bay. Wisconsin, send your hate mail and delicious cheeses that direction.

Andrew: In my defense, I namedropped two Wisconsin craft breweries in last week's column, so maybe that can count as mitigation?

Bryan: The NFC could really trot out two different Pro Bowl rosters and still beat the AFC each time, so some great talent is going to have to go by the wayside. It is interesting we found a way to put another Saints player on this defense. Maybe I should go back and edit Fred Warner into the inside linebacker list as we're going along!

Andrew: The AFC selections are a touch less controversial. T.J. Watt is the conference's best edge rusher, and easily takes one spot. Jamie Collins has been reinvented since returning to New England, and takes the other in a similar vein to Davis. Our third player is, again, the most contentious. Kyle Van Noy has been an integral part of the league's best defense, but the Patriots defense is yet again largely a group of players who are more than the sum of their individual parts (one notable exception to follow). Matt Judon is the best edge defender on a Ravens defense that started slowly, but is now once again in the DVOA top 5. In the end, we settling on Bud Dupree as a third pick from a Steelers front seven that is just about keeping Pittsburgh in the playoff hunt despite their offense's struggles.

NFC: Shaquill Barrett, Tampa Bay; Demario Davis, New Orleans; Khalil Mack, Chicago
AFC: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh; Jamie Collins, New England; Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh

CORNERBACKS

Bryan: The NFL hates the very concept of slot corners. Each team only gets to nominate two cornerbacks for the ballot, and they generally pick their two outside corners. Sorry, Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Rams don't think you are Pro Bowl material.

Much like the NFC South could have dominated the wideout position, the NFC West could make an argument for all four cornerback slots. Shaquill Griffin, Troy Hill, and K'Waun Williams are having good years, but Richard Sherman is having a great one -- perhaps not comparable to the best of his best years in Seattle, but far recovered from his Achilles injury from 2017. He's our top guy. We'll add Griffin to the list as well, but there's enough talent elsewhere in the NFC that we can't just pick the West over and over and over again, as easy as it would be.

Tramon Williams is having something of a renaissance season in the slot, and we do want to have at least one slot corner on the roster, somewhere! Williams has only been targeted 28 times despite playing just as much as Kevin King, Green Bay's second corner who has had to deal with 61 targets (subscription required). Williams just locks the slot up tight. Our final pick goes to Quinton Dunbar, who has four interceptions and has been one of the few bright spots in a terrible Washington season.

Andrew: The top choice in the AFC is easy. We mentioned above that there is one clear exception to the rule about the Patriots defense, and that player is Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has grown from a rough start in New England to become the best cover corner in the game right now, and he is the key component to New England's No. 1 DVOA defense. His replacement in Buffalo, however, means the Bills are missing Gilmore less than they otherwise would: Tre'Davious White has gone from strength to strength after an excellent rookie campaign, and is one of the best players on the AFC East's other top-five defense.

There is one other division with two top-five defenses in the AFC, however, and that is the North. The strength of the Steelers is their front seven, but the Ravens may have the most talented secondary in the league. Marcus Peters is and always will be a gambler who gives up big plays, but he is also a gambler who makes big plays for his own team, and consequently leads the league in interceptions. Across from him, Marlon Humphrey is perfect foil: the consistent blanket corner who forces opponents to look in the direction of Peters even though they might prefer otherwise. Chris Harris in Denver and Casey Hayward of the Chargers get honorable mentions, but none have made quite the same positive impact this year.

NFC: Quinton Dunbar, Washington; Shaquill Griffin, Seattle; Richard Sherman, San Francisco; Tramon Williams, Green Bay
AFC: Stephon Gilmore, New England; Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore; Marcus Peters, Baltimore; Tre'Davious White, Buffalo

STRONG SAFETY

Bryan: The fact that the NFL divides up safeties into strong and free -- and then gives just one slot per conference! -- is not quite as crazy as their front-seven shenanigans, and slightly more crazy than their no-slot-corner shenanigans, but it just goes to show you how traditional positional labels don't really work in the modern NFL. Really, we'd love to have two NFC free safeties and call it a day, but we can't DO that.

Andrew: The same is true in the AFC, incidentally. The strong safety nominations are vastly inferior to the free safety options. With Derwin James missing most of the year, at least the top three AFC safeties, and arguably the top six or seven, are all listed as free safeties.

Bryan: At least the AFC nod is easy -- Jamal Adams can single-handedly wreck football games, and there simply is no one else in the AFC who can even come close to him. He's about as close to a unanimous pick as you're going to get, which is even more impressive coming on a team as terrible as the Jets.

Andrew: The NFC nod is much less clear. Harrison Smith is the usual default option, but Adrian Amos has come into his own over the past few seasons and continues to excel away from the Bears. His replacement, HaHa Clinton-Dix, is performing well in Chicago, and even former Bucs starter Bradley McDougald in Seattle has a case. We agreed that Smith and Amos are a cut above, however, and ultimately settled on Smith. Sometimes, there is something to be said for being the usual default option, and Minnesota's defense is comfortably superior to Green Bay's at this juncture.

NFC: Harrison Smith, Minnesota
AFC: Jamal Adams, NY Jets

FREE SAFETY

Bryan: In the NFC, both Marcus Williams and Jimmie Ward are having phenomenal years, and we can't even break the tie by playing favorites; we're already skirting the edges of decorum by ruling out Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, and Antoine Bethea right away. In the end, though, I'm going to give it to Ward, for two reasons: firstly, he qualifies for our cornerback charts and is second only to Jason McCourty in success rate; secondly, he has never been dragged 15 yards downfield while clinging on to someone else's facemask.

Andrew: You and your faux-objective criteria!

The AFC nod goes to one of the most impactful midseason trades I can ever remember seeing. I sang the praises of Minkah Fitzpatrick several times during his rookie campaign, and pointed out when the Dolphins traded him that he is exactly the type of player whom they should be looking to keep and build around. He has done nothing to dispel that notion: he leads all safeties in interceptions, and has made impact play after impact play in his new surroundings. Fitzpatrick is a major reason for the Steelers still being on the fringes of the playoff hunt ... and exactly the type of player his team should be looking to build around for the foreseeable future.

NFC: Jimmie Ward, San Francisco
AFC: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKER

Andrew: The AFC pick is Justin Tucker. It just is.

Bryan: The NFC pick requires a few more words, but Mason Crosby's Packers rank second in field goal value this season, giving him the nod just over Wil Lutz. Plus, Crosby kicks outside, so that's worth a couple extra points of difficulty.

NFC: Mason Crosby, Green Bay
AFC: Justin Tucker, Baltimore

RETURN SPECIALIST

Andrew: This bears mentioning, because it's completely nuts. Chicago nominated Tarik Cohen, not Cordarrelle Patterson, for its return specialist slot.

Bryan: Patterson would win in a walk! Cohen's good, but Patterson has been special this year! Oh, Bears.

Andrew: Deonte Harris is the only NFC player on the ballot with a punt return touchdown, and only Cohen outgains him on average among regular punt returners. He wins our NFC nomination, but Patterson sure would have made that more interesting.

Bryan: In the AFC, we note that the Cincinnati Bengals do one thing, and only one thing, well: they are first in the league in kickoff returns. Brandon Wilson is averaging 31.3 yards per return, and he's getting plenty of practice as the Bengals allow tons of scores. Welcome to the Pro Bowl, Cincinnati.

NFC: Deonte Harris, New Orleans
AFC: Brandon Wilson, Cincinnati

PUNTER

Bryan: Technically, our four highest-rated punting units are all AFC teams -- the Jaguars, Jets, Patriots, and Texans. However, those are the grades for the entire punt units, mind you, and not just the punters themselves; we don't want to take anything away from punters who just happen to have middling coverage helping them out. With that in mind, we're giving Brett Kern the nod in Tennessee. Kern leads the league in punts placed inside the 20, and he's in the top three in both gross and net punt average. He also threw a pass for a first down, which doesn't really count for anything, but probably should.

Andrew: Pete Carroll may love Michael Dickson a little too much, but it's easy to see why: he leads the NFC in punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and has been one of the most consistent punters in the league as well as an entertaining player in his own right since joining the Seahawks. Johnny Hekker would be our punt-pass-kick nomination, but this isn't that.

NFC: Michael Dickson, Seattle
AFC: Brett Kern, Tennessee

SPECIAL TEAMS

Bryan: The NFL does not let fans vote for long snapper, which makes sense -- it's such a specialized position, and so far outside of the realm of most fan's knowledge, that there's really no way they could fairly judge the competition. Frankly, they might be wise putting special teams contributor in the same bin, as picking the best from a collection of people who aren't exactly household names is a tall ask.

Andrew: Even for us, it's a bit of a tricky spot that sends us scrambling for the spreadsheets. Detroit's Jalen Reeves-Maybin leads the NFC in total stops, defined as any tackle that prevents a better-than-average return. Drue Tranquill of the Chargers doesn't lead the AFC, or even his own team, but teammate Derek Watt was not nominated and Tranquill is next in line. Alternatively, you could have Tyler Matakevich of Pittsburgh, who has fewer stops but more tackles overall. Bryan, you get the casting vote.

Bryan: I'll take Matakevich because the Steelers have the best kickoff unit in the league, so it's kind of a team award. Sorta.

NFC: Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, Detroit
AFC: Tyler Matakevich, Pittsburgh

Andrew: So there you have it. The one true Pro Bowl roster, chosen according to the insane criteria of the world's best-run sports league. We await Thursday's voting results matching perfectly with our perspective. Whether that has more of a chance of happening in the NFL or the world of British politics is a whole separate question.

Bryan: And remember -- you may not agree with all of our picks. Heck, the two of us don't agree with all of our picks. But that's OK, because the important thing to remember is that these picks are 100%, absolutely correct. It has been proven with science! Fake science, but that's still a science.

Andrew: This is the 21st Century, after all. What did you expect, empiricism?

Bryan: And of course, the actual rosters that show up in Orlando on January 26 will bear little to no relation to this roster, the actual initial roster the NFL announces, or indeed any roster you could make of the NFL's best player. By reading this article, you have reached your quota for paying attention to the Pro Bowl. You're free!


Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood

From one quarterback's failure on fourth down last week, to another quarterback's failure on fourth-down this week. Derek Carr had the Raiders facing fourth-and-goal against Tennessee, where he promptly did this:

Er, Derek, that's fourth down. You're trailing by 21. An interception literally doesn't matter. Maybe try something, anything, in the direction of a teammate? Carr has form for this sort of thing: he memorably did the same on a fourth-and-5 against the Chargers last November, and less memorably on several other occasions throughout his career. There's playing conservatively, then there's whatever this is.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game

We still mock Kliff Kingsbury for his abundance of short field goals earlier in the season, but he has largely shed that habit since those early games. Against Pittsburgh, Kingsbury's team faced fourth-and-2 from the Steelers 6, trailing by 10. Many, many coaches would have been tempted to kick a field goal to make a one-score game, but Kingsbury instead had his offense attempt to convert. Alas, the drive ended on a terrible interception by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, but that doesn't change the fact that Kingsbury made the analytically sound decision on the fourth-and-short play.

John Fox Award for Conservatism

Speaking of Raiders playing conservatively, Jon Gruden dialed up a puntfest for the ages in the second half against the Titans. The most egregious was a fourth-and-6 kick from the Titans 43, but Gruden's Raiders also punted on fourth-and-8 from midfield, on fourth-and-3 from their own side of the 50, and from near midfield while trailing by 21 in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching

Sean Payton really, really did not want to give the ball back to the 49ers' offense in their shootout. The Saints faced six fourth downs against San Francisco. They did punt once. They kicked two field goals. They went for it twice, converting both times. And then they tried a weird fake punt on fourth-and-18, from just about midfield while trailing by two late in the third quarter. Going for any fourth-and-18 is a bold, bold move. Since 1994, there have only been 46 successful conversions on fourth-and-18 or longer, though two of them came last weekend, oddly enough. There have only been five outside of fourth-quarter desperation opportunities, so this was definitely deep, deep, deep into Payton's bag of tricks. Had it been a more makeable distance, it might have been a brilliant call, but a situation that deep basically demanded a deep shot and, as it turns out, there's no pass interference on fake punts. We love fakes and creativity and boldness, but this was one time when the common wisdom probably should have won out -- punt the ball and pin the 49ers deep.

'Beantown' Fantasy Player of the Week

Running backs are fungible. Boston Scott was a sixth-round pick last season out of Louisiana Tech, and he has spent most of his career on various practice squads; he had just 99 career yards entering Monday night. But with Jordan Howard out with a bad shoulder, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement on injured reserve, and Miles Sanders suffering from dehydration, the Eagles were forced to turn to Scott for much of the second half. Scott delivered -- 59 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and 69 more yards in the air. That more than doubled his career yardage total, and it benefitted roughly no one in the first week of fantasy playoffs; if you were starting Scott, you were in dire straits. With Howard and Sanders expected back this week, this was likely a one-off for Scott, but it's hard to imagine Philadelphia picking up that much-needed win without him.

Garbage-Time Performer of the Week

It may have done no good at all for his actual team, but Deshaun Watson won some playoff games this past weekend. A 28-point fantasy day is always welcome from your quarterback, and Watson's rushing value puts him a class above the rest. Watson ran in two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, giving him seven on the year -- that's the Texans record for a quarterback, and ties Don Trull's 1966 record for most quarterback rushing touchdowns in Houston football history. Add in a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, and you had a pretty nice day, with the Texans scoring the last 21 points of the game. It's just too bad for them that they didn't score the first 21 points, or the middle 17. Something to work on for next week.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week

Week 14 saw six further teams mathematically eliminated from the postseason, three of whom marked their elimination with a loss. By far the worst of those defeats came in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars were torn asunder by the also-eliminated Chargers. While that game affords zero consolation for anybody connected with the Jaguars, the season has provided hope in the form of one DJ Chark. Chark has ascended from a disappointing rookie campaign -- 14 catches for 174 yards -- to become the top option in the Jaguars pass offense. He became only the sixth receiver in the 20-year history of the franchise to top 900 yards in a single season, adding eight touchdowns in a very exciting sophomore campaign. An ankle injury against the Chargers looks likely to end his season there, but Chark at least should be one player to watch as the Jaguars appear set to make a fresh start this offseason.

Game-Changing Play of the Week

By now, you've seen it dozens of times. Fourth-and-2, ballgame on the line, George Kittle slips out into the flat…

That's 15 yards running after the catch, 15 more yards dragging three Saints along with him, and then 15 more yards from Marcus Williams dangling from his facemask. You get two videos for the play of the year.

Holy moly.

Flip the result, and the NFC playoff picture looks entirely different right now. As it currently stands, the 49ers are first overall, followed by the Packers in the second bye week, winning the tie over New Orleans via conference record, and then the Seahawks are down in fifth place. If Jimmy Garoppolo and Kittle don't connect and New Orleans runs out the clock, the Saints are atop the NFC, with the Seahawks beating out the Packers for the other bye week via strength of victory over the Packers, and the 49ers are down in fifth place. That's a tremendous effect on the top four teams in the conference. The long-term effects are a little more subdued; the 49ers will likely still have to beat the Seahawks in Week 17 to clinch the West, while the Saints are coasting the rest of the way with a playoff berth already in hand. For one week, though, that was a massive effect.


Weekly Predictions

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: 8-6
Andrew: 7-7

Bryan: Perhaps this is more wishful thinking than it is logic and forethought, but I'm taking Dallas (+1) at home against the Rams. Someone, at some point, has to grab the NFC East. Anybody. Anyone at all. The Rams opened as 3.5-point underdogs, but no one, anywhere, has any faith in the Cowboys anymore. They do still rank eighth in DVOA, including second on offense, and they have moments, each and every week, where they seem to put things together, only for them to collapse in on themselves the rest of the way. I'll arbitrarily pick this as the week they manage to pull everything together, and make a bold stab back towards.500. Please.

Andrew: Seattle has won a lot of games this season, but hasn't exactly made a habit of blowing out those opponents: their point differential compares unfavorably to just about any other team in the playoff hunt. I expect that to change this week: the Panthers were atrocious against the Falcons in their first game post-Ron Rivera. They're on a multi-game skid and fading fast behind a young quarterback who has very firmly fallen back to Earth. Expect no mercy from a Seahawks team that is still in contention for a bye week despite last week's loss. Seattle (-6) at Carolina.

Double Survival League

Bryan: With both of us picking up a pair of big wins in Week 14, we're getting down to the brassest of brass tacks. Andrew keeps a two-game lead with four games to play -- and, to make matters better for him, we share three teams. Both of us still have the Dolphins, Giants, and Seahawks to choose from. I do still have the Ravens while he has the Eagles, and that is to my advantage -- but we're at the point where my picks are going to be really restrained by what Andrew does. I need to make sure that I have at least a chance to win next week, which means I need to make sure that Andrew and I have at least one different team in Week 16.

Andrew: This largely comes down to two questions: which game do I think the Dolphins have the best chance to win, and which do I think the Giants have the best chance to win? I could always split the difference this week and guarantee breaking even, but that isn't exactly in the spirit of the game now IS IT BRYAN? So instead, I'm going to pick neither, and hope this week's results render next week moot.

As my lock of the week pick suggests, I'm taking Seattle at the crumbling remains of Carolina, because doubling down has never worked out badly for me before. My other pick is the crumbling remains of Philadelphia against a suddenly somewhat competitive Washington side. The Eagles did manage to beat the Giants on Monday night, and remain in contention for the division title, so there is some semblance of life there. Still, I'm a lot less sure about this pick now than I was when I first locked it in.

Bryan: Last year, I did seal my victory by taking both sides of the Arizona-Detroit matchup. It's quite gentlemanly of you to not do the same. Foolish, but gentlemanly. Of course, as we saw from this year's Arizona-Detroit matchup, even picking both sides of one game doesn't guarantee that you'll pick up a win. As it is, I can't say that I'm in love with your picks this week (I was really, really hoping you'd take Miami rather than Philadelphia!) but I'll live with what I have.

Your picks ensure that you'll be taking Miami (versus Cincinnati) and the New York Giants (versus Washington) in Week 16. If I wanted to give myself the most chances to gain points, I'd take the Giants and Dolphins this week, ensuring four different matchups to try to gain the three points I need to win outright -- you do have the tiebreaker, thanks to one of your "losses" actually being Detroit's Week 1 tie. Sadly, they play one another, so that would also guarantee me a loss, so that strategy is right out the window. I will take the N.Y. Giants instead to beat said Dolphins, while also going with Baltimore on Thursday against the Jets -- the easiest pick of the week, one supposes. That'll leave me with MIA-CIN and SEA-ARI in Week 16. It also means I need all three of the Giants, Ravens, and Seahawks to win those games, while Carolina handles Seattle this week and Washington goes on a two-game winning streak in order for me to come out on top. I suppose crazier things have happened.

Andrew selects the Seahawks and Eagles; Bryan takes the Giants and Ravens.


SCENARIOS

Bryan: The playoff picture is coming into focus early this year. While only the Ravens, Chiefs, and Saints have booked playoff dates so far, five more teams are basically just running out the clock (the 49ers, Packers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Bills), while 17 are either eliminated or hanging on by the thinnest of threads -- everyone with fewer than eight wins, unless they're fortunate enough to be playing in Dallas or Philadelphia in the J.V. division. We might have eight teams in and 17 teams out by the time the Colts and Saints finish up on Monday night. The majority of the scenarios from here on out, then, will be more about playoff seeding than about making the playoffs entirely.

Conveniently, most of the teams that could feasibly end up tied with one another either have or will play each other head-to-head, so most ties will end up being resolved on the field. This week, for example, sees the Bills and Steelers battle over the fifth seed, and the Texans and Titans play the first of their two crucial AFC South matchups. There are still a couple of combinations that end up not matching up, though. If the AFC South runner-up stays in the wild-card race, we'd miss out on some head-to-head matchups there, and it's not entirely crazy to think the Titans and Patriots could end up tied for the third seed, if current trends continue. The real problem, however, is with the NFC North.

The Vikings do not play the 49ers. The Packers do not play the Seahawks. Neither plays the Saints. These are ties just waiting to happen, but the results of these ties can start getting cleared up this week. You'll notice long, complicated scenarios for the 49ers clinching a top-five seed, as well as the Packers and Vikings getting eliminated from home-field advantage in the NFC, involving nearly every game that takes place this week. That's the tiebreakers getting clinched with three games left to go.

For the Packers, a loss means they top out at 12 wins. A San Francisco win ensures that the NFC West winner will have at least 12 wins, so we have to go to tiebreakers. San Francisco beat Green Bay, so that head-to-head tie is easy. The 49ers also win the three-way tie with the Packers and Saints, because they've beaten both teams. For the Packers and Seahawks, the 12-4 tie would go to common games -- that's Minnesota, Philadelphia, Carolina, and San Francisco. The Packers are currently 2-2 over that set, with Minnesota left to go. The Seahawks are 3-0, playing Carolina this week and San Francisco in Week 17. A Seahawks win this week clinches that tiebreaker. All the other related scenarios are to ensure that Green Bay does not win the strength of victory tiebreaker in the situation where the Seahawks, Saints, and Packers all tie at 12-4 with 9-3 conference records. At the moment, Seattle's SoV is at 62.5 wins, New Orleans' is at 59.5 and Green Bay's is at 55.5. That's not quite a lost cause for Green Bay yet, but it's getting close, and their potential second win over Minnesota is more or less wiped out by Seattle's potential second win over San Francisco. That can all get settled this week, knocking Green Bay out of the top spot.

The Vikings are in a similar boat. They already lost to Seattle, so can't win that head-to-head. San Francisco, on the other hand, is a different story. A Vikings-49ers tie would come down to common games -- Atlanta, Green Bay, Washington, and Seattle. The 49ers are 2-1, with Atlanta and Seattle still on the schedule; the Vikings are 2-2 with the second Packers game coming on. It is possible for the 49ers to go 12-4, win the NFC West, and still lose to Atlanta and Seattle, though that requires the Seahawks to lose the next two games. That would give Minnesota the tiebreaker. A 49ers win against the Falcons removes the Vikings' chance to win that way. All the change in the scenario -- and the 49ers' fifth-place clinching scenario -- is to make sure the 49ers (and Seahawks, for that matter) win the strength of victory tiebreaker over Minnesota. The Vikings'.351 strength of victory is terrible; only Dallas, Detroit, Arizona, Washington, and New York have worse SoVs among NFC teams, and they were all eliminated from the non-NFC East race long ago.

Obviously, the odds of the Packers or Vikings winning the NFC, or the 49ers missing out on the fifth seed, are very low. However, these ties could realistically pop for a bye week, especially the Packers-Seahawks scenario. Knowing that the NFC West teams have wrapped up their tiebreakers with their NFC North counterparts could come in handy over the last three weeks of the season.

Clinching Scenarios

  • Baltimore can clinch Home Field Advantage IF Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets AND Cincinnati d. New England AND Denver d. Kansas City
  • Baltimore can clinch a First-Round Bye IF Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets AND EITHER Cincinnati d. New England OR Denver d. Kansas City
  • Baltimore can clinch a Top-Three Seed IF Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Baltimore can clinch the AFC North IF Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets OR Buffalo d. Pittsburgh
  • New England can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF New England d. Cincinnati AND EITHER Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets OR Buffalo d. Pittsburgh
  • New England can clinch a Playoff Berth IF New England d. Cincinnati
  • Buffalo can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF Buffalo d. Pittsburgh
  • Green Bay can clinch a Playoff Berth IF Green Bay d. Chicago AND Dallas d. L.A. Rams
  • San Francisco can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF ONE OF:
    • San Francisco d. Atlanta AND EITHER Chicago d. Green Bay OR L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota
    • San Francisco d. Atlanta AND L.A. Rams d. Dallas AND Tampa Bay d. Detroit
    • Chicago d. Green Bay AND L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota AND Dallas d. L.A. Rams
    • San Francisco Atlanta AND Tampa Bay d. Detroit AND TWO OF Carolina d. Seattle OR New Orleans d. Indianapolis OR Cincinnati d. New England OR Miami d. N.Y. Giants OR Kansas City d. Denver OR Pittsburgh d. Buffalo OR Jacksonville d. Oakland OR Washington d. Philadelphia OR Arizona d. Cleveland OR Jacksonville d. Oakland
  • San Francisco can clinch a Playoff Berth IF San Francisco d. Atlanta OR Dallas d. L.A. Rams OR BOTH Chicago d. Green Bay AND L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota
  • Seattle can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF Seattle d. Carolina AND L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota AND Dallas d. L.A. Rams
  • Seattle can clinch a Playoff Berth IF Seattle d. Carolina AND EITHER L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota OR Dallas d. L.A. Rams

Elimination Scenarios

  • Pittsburgh can be eliminated from the AFC North IF Buffalo d. Pittsburgh OR Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Pittsburgh can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF Buffalo d. Pittsburgh AND New England d. Cincinnati
  • Cleveland can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Arizona d. Cleveland OR Buffalo d. Pittsburgh
  • Cleveland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Arizona d. Cleveland AND Pittsburgh d. Buffalo
  • New England can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Cincinnati d. New England AND Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Buffalo can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets OR BOTH Pittsburgh d. Buffalo AND Houston d. Tennessee
  • Kansas City can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Denver d. Kansas City AND Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Oakland can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Jacksonville d. Oakland OR Buffalo d. Pittsburgh OR ALL OF Kansas City d. Denver AND Green Bay d. Chicago AND Cincinnati d. New England AND Minnesota d. L.A. Chargers AND L.A. Rams d. Dallas AND Tampa Bay d. Detroit AND Miami d. N.Y. Giants
  • Oakland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Jacksonville d. Oakland AND Pittsburgh d. Buffalo
  • Denver can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Kansas City d. Denver OR Pittsburgh d. Buffalo
  • Houston can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Tennessee d. Houston OR Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Houston can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Tennessee d. Houston AND EITHER Buffalo d. Pittsburgh OR New England d. Cincinnati
  • Tennessee can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Houston d. Tennessee OR Baltimore d. N.Y. Jets
  • Tennessee can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Houston d. Tennessee AND ONE OF Kansas City d. Denver OR Buffalo d. Pittsburgh OR New England d. Cincinnati
  • Indianapolis can be eliminated from a Top-Three Seed IF New Orleans d. Indianapolis OR Kansas City d. Denver
  • Indianapolis can be eliminated from the playoffs IF New Orleans d. Indianapolis
  • Green Bay can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Chicago d. Green Bay AND San Francisco d. Atlanta AND EITHER:
    • Seattle d. Carolina AND ONE OF L.A. Rams d. Dallas OR Philadelphia d. Washington OR Tampa Bay d. Detroit
    • THREE OF L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota OR L.A. Rams d. Dallas OR Tampa Bay d. Detroit OR Miami d. N.Y. Giants OR Cincinnati d. New England OR Pittsburgh d. Buffalo OR Jacksonville d. Oakland OR Arizona d. Cleveland OR Philadelphia d. Washington OR Seattle d. Carolina
  • Minnesota can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF EITHER:
    • TWO OF L.A. Chargers d. Minnesota OR Seattle d. Carolina OR San Francisco d. Atlanta
    • San Francisco d. Atlanta AND Tampa Bay d. Detroit AND EITHER:
      • L.A. Rams d. Dallas AND ONE OF Green Bay d. Chicago OR New Orleans d. Indianapolis OR Pittsburgh d. Buffalo OR Kansas City d. Denver OR Miami d. N.Y. Giants OR Cincinnati d. New England OR Washington d. Philadelphia OR Arizona d. Cleveland OR Jacksonville d. Oakland
      • Green Bay d. Chicago AND TWO OF New Orleans d. Indianapolis OR Pittsburgh d. Buffalo OR Kansas City d. Denver OR Miami d. N.Y. Giants OR Cincinnati d. New England OR Arizona d. Cleveland OR Washington d. Philadelphia OR Jacksonville d. Oakland
  • Chicago can be eliminated from the NFC North IF Green Bay d. Chicago OR Minnesota d. L.A. Chargers
  • Chicago can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF Green Bay d. Chicago OR BOTH Minnesota d. L.A. Chargers AND Seattle d. Carolina
  • Chicago can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Green Bay d. Chicago AND EITHER L.A. Rams d. Dallas OR Minnesota d. L.A. Chargers
  • L.A. Rams can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF Dallas d. L.A Rams AND Seattle d. Carolina

Comments

13 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2019, 1:15am

1 Maybe I'm missing the snark

AFC vs. NFC is 27-27 this year. 3 of the Top 5 teams in DVOA are in the AFC. 4 of the Bottom 8 in DVOA are from each conference. The top wildcard in the AFC right now has 8 wins, one less than the top spot in the NFC. But the worst divisional leader in the AFC is 8-5 vs. 6-7 in the NFC. The one edge the NFC really has is in the 6-10 ranks of DVOA, which all come from that conference. But I really don't see the NFC as the clearly better conference. Slightly better maybe or dead even if you go by the "you are what your record says you are."

3 We're talking more on a…

We're talking more on a player-by-player level, as opposed to an overall team level.  As we were filling out prospect lists, we found it much, much easier to dig up NFC nominees than AFC nominees -- like, nearly 2-to-1 at every position.  There's a lot of near-talentless teams at the bottom of the AFC!

2 I think you have to take…

I think you have to take Golladay. He's spent five games catching the pass-like substances of Jeff Driskell and David Blough.

4 Personally I never vote for…

Personally I never vote for big stars with name recognition for the pro-bowl, save for the ones deserving of being unanimous picks, like LJ and Aaron Donald and Kittle. I figure the leigons of casuals will vote for Tampa's Mike Evans, but probably not for Tampa's Goodwin or Barrett.

I haven't seen much of the Jets, is Jamal Adams really that far ahead of everyone else at SS? Kareem Jackson has been having a pro-bowl-caliber year and ought to be in the discussion at least.

5 Jamal Adams is injured right…

Jamal Adams is injured right now, and may not be able to play the rest of the season.  Adams did not have the best start to the season, had a bad play giving up a touchdown in the first dolphins game.  After the Jets almost traded him, he went on a 3 game rampage, totalling 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and a bunch of tackles.  The Jets won all of those games.  Basically, he's had an All-World half to quarter season.  I haven't followed Kareem Jackson this year, so I don't know how he has held up as a strong safety, other than the interception and fumble recovery/return against Houston.  If Adams does play more games this year, he could challenge Adrian Wilson's record of 8 sacks for a safety.

6 Recency Bias

George Kittle is a great player, no doubt. But to say he's better than Kelce when comparing the two is a bit of a stretch. Kelce is about to become the first TE to have 1,000 yard receiving in 4 straight seasons. Even this season, Kelce has more yards, more receptions, and the same number of TDs as Kittle. Let's not crown the man just yet, is all I'm saying.

7 I wanted to vote but it…

I wanted to vote but it appears the link at nfl.com isn't working liekly due to last minute ballot stuffing...oh well

8 Two Bears-centric thoughts

1. I will never be able to see George Kittle without imagining what might have been had Ryan Pace preferred him to Adam Shaheen.
2. Please God, if Trubisky finishes the season on a high note, let there be enough NFC QBs to show up to the Pro Bowl so that Trubisky is not picked as an alternate. I cannot take another season of "well, he WAS in the Pro Bowl last year" from sports radio callers.

9 I worry about Pro Bowl…

I worry about Pro Bowl selections these days about as much as I worry about Tom Brady being able to cover his kids' orthodontist bills, but to give a slot to a qb who missed 5 games, and isn't top 3 in DVOA, seems a little too reliant on reputation, which is exactly why I pretty much ignore Pro Bowl selections.

10 Keep Choppin' Wood

Scramble sez: "Whatever this is".
TL;DR: "Saving lots of cash".

Unless Carr signs another extension, he will be a free agent in 2022. 2022 free agent QBs relevant for prime contracts, regardless of contract situation now:
Prescott, Mahomes, Wilson, Jackson, Cousins, Rodgers, Watson, Stafford, Garoppolo.
Brissett, Goff, Bridgewater, Wentz, Murray, Newton.

Some old timers might be as well, but not in a reasonable scenario.
2016-2019 classes may have one surprise or two, as should 2020 and 2021.

The first line will sign extensions, and not enter the market.
The second is at least a tier down. If Carr enters the market, he would compete with them.

In the broadest possible strokes, Carr's strength is limiting mistakes.
According to PFR, his career INT% is seventh all-time, his sack% thirteenth all-time.

Apparently, Gruden is on board with moving the chains with small and medium passing gains.
The Raiders' pass offense is 13th, the run 17th in DVOA; after 17th and 29th pre-Josh Jacobs.

2019 is Carr's best in AY/A, 2018 was his second-best at the time.
In both years, he set career highs for pass completion%.
His ALEX is a reasonable 1.7, 2018 was 0.3.

"Whatever this is".
Down 21 points, less than four minutes to play, 4th-and-goal at the 1.
Force that thing to #12 in double coverage?

"An interception literally doesn't matter."
I disagree.

The sportsman inside me cringes, however, risking an INT for a garbage time TD in this scenario is not a reasonable choice for QB looking for another big contract.

Carr's numbers are vulnerable to chuckery.
A pick on this garbage time play would have given him nine on the season, raising his INT% from 1.99 to 2.24.

In the 2018 November game against the Chargers, the context was:
Down 14, 4:13 to play, 4th-and-5 at the 19, team's record 1-7 on the season.

A pick would have given Carr eleven on the season, raising his INT% from 1.81 to 1.99.
Adding those two picks to his career total would have seen his INT% rise from 1.94 to 2.00.

With sportsmanship in timeout, I am comfortable stating the interception would have mattered.

13 AFC RB’s

Ingram sure has had some optimal situations in which to ply his trade. Good OLs and now the distraction of Lamar Jackson on his team. No way do I think he’s better than Derrick Henry. Jacobs has a good argument as well, I agree.