Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review
Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

By Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week we celebrate not only the end of the season, but also the end of that interminable, messy slugfest of a final game.

Bryan: Congratulations, once again, to the New England Patriots -- and I hope they don't mind if we re-use a gift card we've picked in years past, because this is getting a tad bit predictable. They're the Monsters at the End of the Book, after all.

Commiserations to the Los Angeles Rams -- they'll be back, almost assuredly, but they now have to sit through the offseason with a couple of burning questions that simply can't get answered before the 2019 season rolls around. You know, just little questions like whether their franchise quarterback is really a franchise quarterback, and whether their brilliant young coach can actually make adjustments on game day. Minor quibbles they won't be able to solve any time soon.

Andrew: Perhaps they can't answer those questions, but we assuredly can! I've no doubt that we will have every conundrum solved and every mystery unraveled in time for the start of preseason, courtesy of our fabled Football Outsiders Almanac 2019, available soon(ish). As we have proven time and again in this here column, we are nothing if not masters of foresight, premiere predictors, adroit solvers of the problems faced by each and every team throughout the offseason.

You can stop laughing in the back.

Bryan: The same predicting prowess that led me to consecutive .500-ish records in Lock of the Week was on full display in our preseason predictions. It's good for transparency's sake to go back and look at what we got right, what we got wrong, and what was just misunderstood, that's all. Plus, it can't be as painful as sitting through the Rams' offensive performance on Sunday night, right?

Andrew: Only one way to find out. Let's start with a look at some team-versus-computer action, and save the player-versus-player for later.

Staff Prediction Review

Andrew: Our annual Staff Predictions column pits the Outsiders against the spreadsheets in a battle of wits and cunning. You can find our original predictions detailed and explained here, but for the sake of brevity we'll examine them a couple of subheaders at a time.


Beat: Atlanta (x2), Baltimore, Chicago, Jacksonville (x2), Kansas City (x2), L.A. Chargers, Tennessee

Fall Short: Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas (x2), Oakland (x2), Seattle (x2), Tampa Bay (x2)

Bryan: As a group, we did pretty darn well figuring out which teams would overperform our projections. Andrew, you and Vince picked the Chiefs to overshoot their 7.6-win, -2.8% DVOA projection which, yes, yes I think we can safely say they did that. The Bears and Chargers were also playoff-bound, and Baltimore did significantly better than they were projected as well, but I mean, the Chiefs and their offense were the story of the 2018 season, so yes. Kudos to you guys.

On the flip side, a couple of us had Atlanta as potential Super Bowl representatives from the NFC and, uh, let's just say that that didn't quite happen. With all three coordinators fired at the end of the year, the Falcons are looking for a complete and total reboot rather than lifting the Lombardi trophy.

Andrew: Even worse than Atlanta, two of us thought the Jaguars would overshoot our supposedly pessimistic outlook. It turns out, we were nowhere near pessimistic enough, and neither were Dave and Rivers. The Jaguars are also moving on at several coaching spots, and hoping for a positive rebound in an important season for the head coach.

We were extremely hit-and-miss when figuring out which teams would underperform. Buffalo and Oakland were predictable, as I think were the Buccaneers. Oddly, none of us picked the team that finished with the No. 1 draft pick, either here or later, but the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Ravens all exceeded their Vegas lines by two or more wins and all three made the playoffs.

Bryan: The Cowboys are excusable -- we had them projected with a 10.3% DVOA, and they ended up in the negatives, so I wouldn't call that a terrible pick. I'd almost call picking the Bills, whom the book had dead last, to somehow underperform was a worse look!

Baltimore, on the other hand, looks really bad -- Vince was concerned they'd have awkward times during their transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, and while that wasn't quite wrong per se, they ended up well above where the book guessed they'd be.

The best picks, by far, were the two of us who looked at Jon Gruden, coming back to the league after a decade out of football, looked at the now Khalil Mack-less Raiders, and went "...right." That's you again, Andrew, as well as Derrik. It turns out fielding an old, decrepit roster while simultaneously trading away your best players to play in front of a fan base knowing you're skipping town after the season isn't the pathway to success. Who knew?


Beat: Tarik Cohen, Andy Dalton, Royce Freeman, Jared Goff, T.Y. Hilton, Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, Mitchell Trubisky, Delanie Walker

Fall Short: Le'Veon Bell, Devontae Booker, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, Alshon Jeffery, Rashaad Penny, Adrian Peterson, Delanie Walker, Deshaun Watson

Andrew: Ten staff members, 19 different players named, and the only player named twice was picked to beat his projection by one of us and fall short by another. Some of this is extremely straightforward: Le'Veon Bell most assuredly fell short of his KUBIAK projection, because his KUBIAK projection was not null. Delanie Walker fell short of his, because he missed 80 percent of the season with a major ankle injury. (I feel quite bad about that, because between Walker this year and Greg Olsen last I've apparently made a habit of cursing the league's receiving tight ends.) Devontae Booker also grossly underperformed his spot, and unlike the others did not have injury or a holdout as an excuse.

Conversely, I think we can safely say that Patrick Mahomes overperformed his projection, and so did Christian McCaffrey. Those five are probably the best picks, with Rivers' pick of Mahomes at the top of the heap.

Bryan: I'd actually argue that the McCaffrey pick is slightly better, though obviously, yes, taking either guy before KUBIAK suggested probably paid off dividends. According to KUBIAK's standard scoring rules, McCaffrey outperformed his projection by 163.5 points, or nearly 175 percent of what we projected. Mahomes "only" beat his projection by 134.1 points, 147 percent of what our numbers spat out. Still, that's picking nits, as those two were great, great predictions by Rivers and Carl.

The Broncos running back situation was very interesting, and a couple of us twigged onto that. KUBIAK had Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker sharing the workload 55/45, and neither Derrik nor myself thought that was right. We both thought that Booker, far from the most talented back on the roster, would lose carries to a younger, more exciting back, and we were right. We just thought it would be Freeman, and not some UDFA named Phillip Lindsay. Freeman was the wrong pick, but the right idea.

The worst "fall short" pick goes to the Head Cheese himself. I think everyone thought that Adrian Peterson would continue to be washed up in 2018 after his terrible performance on multiple teams the year before. Instead, he had something of a minor career renaissance, topping 1,000 yards rushing. It wasn't Old Adrian Peterson by any stretch of the imagination, but far better than the "cut at midseason" prediction Aaron had.


Winner: New England (x6), Atlanta (x2), L.A. Rams, Philadelphia

Loser: Green Bay (x2), L.A. Rams, Minnesota (x2), New England (x2), New Orleans, Pittsburgh (x2)

Bryan: Two of us got the Super Bowl matchup square on, with both Aaron and myself predicting a Patriots-Rams matchup. We deeply apologize for not also predicting that the game would be boring as sin. As for the result, I had the Patriots winning, while Aaron said, and I quote, "I believe in the Rams' coaching staff." That sentence was fine for the season as a whole; maybe not for the Super Bowl proper.

Andrew: In general, most of us simply went with the Death Star and were correct almost by default. Two of us were optimistic on the Falcons, which stings a touch, and the Eagles. The "loser" list is more interesting, because it generally covers a broad number of NFC options. Rob and I picked the Packers not to suck with Aaron Rodgers back under center, which didn't exactly work out. The pick of New Orleans was one refereeing decision from being correct. Most of those teams were at least competitive into the latter portion of the season, unlike Atlanta and, to a lesser extent, Green Bay. We've had worse years, I would guess.

And yes, credit where it's due, yours was the best pick of the bunch here.


Team Picks: Buffalo (x6), Denver (trade from Tampa Bay), N.Y. Jets (trade from Buffalo), N.Y. Giants, Oakland

Player Picks: Nick Bosa (x5), Ed Oliver (x2), Justin Herbert, Jarrett Stidham, Jonah Williams

Andrew: Nobody, not one of us, picked the Cardinals for the No. 1 pick. We didn't pick the team that ended up No. 2, San Francisco, either! We did pick the teams that claimed pick 3, but only after a trade, then 4, 5, and 6. Six of us picked a Bills team that somehow ended up down in ninth.

Bryan: Seven, if you count Rivers' "the Bills finish worst, but trade down to the Jets" pick. But this isn't over yet! My pick, the Raiders, may only be picking fourth, but they have three first-round picks to use; they could come up! I also demand partial credit for my joking prediction that the Raiders would not be playing the 2019 season in Oakland; it turns out they will be playing in the Giants' stadium. They'll be called Oakland, playing in San Francisco, and then moving to Las Vegas. What a wacky team.

Andrew: Wacky year too, in this category, in that this is the rare year in which we were more likely to get the player right than the team picking him: Nick Bosa remains the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, and is way closer to the No. 1 spot than the Bills are.

Bryan: The worst choice for the top pick was Rob's pick of Justin Herbert. He's sticking around Oregon for another year, giving quarterback-hungry teams one less option to choose from. That's really hard to project a year in advance, however; it's always a tough one to call. Bosa will be gone by the second pick (there are some rumors that the Cardinals don't think he fits their defensive style and/or that they want to trade down to one of those quarterback-needy teams), so he's still the best choice here.

I'm going to unilaterally declare overall victory here thanks to my ultimately correct Super Bowl prediction. You have an argument, too, for your picks for most likely to over/underperform. Clearly, we're prediction masters, and don't need to look at how we did anywhere else ever again for sure.

Andrew: I agree, but since you hinted at over/unders, I suppose we should probably have a glance in that direction.

Preseason Over/Under Review

Andrew: We could easily make reviewing our preseason over/under picks into a full-length article on its own. Rather than going through the divisions blow-by-blow, we'll hit on some of the highs and lows. I've compiled the picks in which the team overshot or undershot their Vegas preseason line by at least two wins. Anything else, I'm content to consider a wash, but don't be surprised if, in the end, Bryan posts the full breakdown somewhere for no other reason than to sate his own nerdtastic appetite.

+/- 2 WINS, BOTH GOT RIGHT: Oakland (-4), L.A. Rams (+3), San Francisco (-4.5), N.Y. Jets (-2), N.Y. Giants (-2), Indianapolis (+3.5), Jacksonville (-4), Carolina (-2), New Orleans (+3.5)

Bryan: I'm fairly sure the 49ers just opted not to compete in 2018, right? They took the year off to let everyone else have a chance, and they'll come back next year. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Andrew: Even before the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo, I think we were right about the 49ers. The defense simply wasn't good enough for them to hit an 8.5-win money line this season. That looked like easy money, and so it proved.

Bryan: The combination of injuries (not just Garoppolo, but McKinnon and many others as well), plus the nigh-certainty that the defense will improve on a seven-turnover season (!) thanks to sheer regression will make them a tempting choice for the over next year ... but that's next year. This year, they were a fairly easy under, you're right.

Andrew: We already covered Oakland; I think part of the issue there is it's usually quite hard to pick a team to be quite that bad, and they did appear to have some pieces in place -- offensive line, quarterback -- to contend. Jacksonville's line was just way too high; even with their AFC Championship Game appearance, that franchise has done little to justify a nine-win line. The quarterback and offensive line situation made the Giants a fairly confident under too. Similarly, if Andrew Luck was Andrew Luck, the Colts were an easy over on a six-win line. Andrew Luck was, indeed, Andrew Luck, and this is probably the best Colts team since Peyton Manning was in his prime.

Bryan: It's hard to ever call a 10-win line an easy over, but the Rams seemed destined for double-digits. The rumors of the Saints' decline were over-exaggerated, too. In the end, though, I'm just glad this list is bigger than the one directly below.

+/- 2 WINS, BOTH GOT WRONG: Chicago (+5.5), Green Bay (-3.5), Minnesota (-2), L.A. Chargers (+2.5), Arizona (-2.5), Seattle (+2)

Andrew: This is the second season in a row in which our analysis of the NFC North has been truly abysmal, which is sort of impressive in its own way. Either that division is just a random hodgepodge with no discernible shape or form, or we are simply spectacularly ignorant of that shape and form. Arizona were way worse than anybody expected, and Seattle far, far better for having shipped the Tom Cable albatross down the West Coast.

Bryan: In the Almanac itself, I said that for Seattle to have success in their rebuild this season, the benefits of replacing their offensive line coach would have to outweigh the penalties for bringing Brian Schottenheimer in to coach the offense (as well as the defense taking a step forward a year before I thought they would). I feel that's a fair description of what actually happened to the Seahawks this year. It turns out keeping your quarterback upright is a really useful thing -- at least, when you ask him to throw the ball.

As for the Bears, our biggest miss on the season? I still don't trust Mitchell Trubisky. And I don't know if this year's tremendous defensive performance is sustainable going forward.

Andrew: Spoiler: it isn't. They went from outside the top ten in DVOA to No. 1 based on pass rush and turnovers. That's exactly what Jacksonville did last year. I expect them to regress significantly next term.

Bryan: In our defense, this pick was made before the Khalil Mack trade ... but Mack wasn't worth 5.5 wins on his own. It was just a swing and a miss here from us.

Andrew: The entire NFC North was a swing and a miss. We expected Rodgers to be his usual self; he wasn't. We thought the Vikings line was better; it wasn't. We'll get them next time!

+/- 2 WINS, DISAGREED: Baltimore: +2 (Andrew over, Bryan under), Kansas City: +3.5 (Andrew over, Bryan under), Houston: +3.5 (Andrew under, Bryan over), Atlanta: -2 (Andrew over, Bryan under)

Andrew: I've very, very pleased with two of these picks, and have injuries as the easy excuse for one of the others. Kansas City was my pick to overperform their FOA projection, and we've already covered that. I'm very pleased to have it on record that I saw the Chiefs coming.

Bryan: I predicted the Chiefs would do really well in 2019, and I stand by that pick! I was, uh, less sure that Patrick Mahomes would be solid in his debut season as a starter, and really, what did he end up doing? Other than winning league MVP, that is. I called it an "optimistic under," predicting they'd finish the season strong and be set up well for next season. I just thought, you know, going from eight to 12 wins, rather than 12 to Super Bowl favorite.

Andrew: Houston was all about injury uncertainty for me, but instead it was the Falcons who succumbed to the injury bug. I probably also overestimated Atlanta's talent level, but I do think with a more sane injury profile they would have finished around nine or ten wins instead of 7-9. As for the Texans, Deshaun Watson is terrific, and they drafted some very decent players. They still desperately need to fix that offensive line, but if they do they can be a very dangerous team in 2019. Overall, two good for each of us, and two bad. I'm content.

That leaves one other preseason article for us to hit.

Preseason Award & Stat Predictions Review

Andrew: We also looked, ahead of opening night, at who we thought were the main contenders for the NFL awards and the likely leaders in each of the major offensive statistical categories. You can find those picks here.

Bryan: As a reminder, we picked up to three names for each category -- a favorite, a good value pick, and a longshot. Thus, it's possible for us to have made simultaneously the best and worst picks in any given category. It's next-level predictions, here.


Best Pick (Yards): Ben Roethlisberger, first (Bryan)
Worst Pick (Yards): Deshaun Watson, 11th (Bryan)
Best Pick (Touchdowns): Patrick Mahomes, first (Andrew)
Worst Pick (Touchdowns): Aaron Rodgers, 13th (Both)

Andrew: Each of us nailed one of these categories. I didn't think the Steelers would pass enough to get Ben Roethlisberger the yardage crown, but Big Ben led the league in attempts, completions, and yards ... oh, and interceptions, which is somewhat less of a positive achievement.

Bryan: Patrick Mahomes was your longshot, and he had fantastic odds -- if you had only put some actual, factual money on him! As it was, we were both fairly confident that a healthy Aaron Rodgers would resume his role as the touchdown king. He's the best quarterback in football, right? Right? Well, it turns out that even he needs skill position players to work with, and maybe a playcaller he isn't constantly rolling his eyes at.

Andrew: Mahomes to lead the league in touchdowns is my favorite pick of the year; we'll just ignore the part where I said both touchdowns and interceptions (although he was top-ten in picks thrown too!). None of us saw Rodgers' falloff, but even then, he was still in the top half of the league. I also got Andrew Luck in the passing yards list; Luck finished second there. Even with Rodgers in here, I think we can say we got this.


Best Pick (Yards): Ezekiel Elliott, first (Andrew)
Worst Pick (Yards): Le'Veon Bell, N/A (Bryan)
Best Pick (Touchdowns): Derrick Henry, fourth (Andrew)
Worst Pick (Touchdowns): Le'Veon Bell, N/A (Bryan)

Bryan: Bell's name is going to pop up a lot here. The odds we used were posted when everyone assumed Bell would be back by Week 1; the article itself was written just as people were starting to wonder how long he'd really hold out for. I maintain that if Bell had chosen to play, he'd have put up tremendous numbers; James Conner isn't as talented, and he had very solid results throughout the year. Bell didn't play, though, and so I have to eat the loss.

Andrew: Ezekiel Elliott finished first in rushing yards and attempts, which made him a solid play despite the short odds; but somehow he finished joint 20th in rushing touchdowns, proving the randomness of that particular figure. That, plus Bell's holdout, meant the best we could find for touchdowns was Derrick Henry, who scored a third of his 12 rushing touchdowns in one single game against the Jaguars. James Conner finishing third lends weight to your Bell argument; it's hard to argue that Bell would have scored fewer, had he ever returned to the field. Saquon Barkley, my value pick, finished fifth with one fewer touchdown than Henry. Dalvin Cook, your longshot, scored only twice; 61 players scored more rushing touchdowns than Cook.


Best Pick (Yards): DeAndre Hopkins, second (Andrew)
Worst Pick (Yards): Rob Gronkowski, 54th (Bryan)
Best Pick (Touchdowns): Davante Adams, second (Bryan)
Worst Pick (Touchdowns): Jimmy Graham, 124th (Andrew)

Andrew: We were so close in both categories; the actual receiving yards leader was Julio Jones, 105 yards ahead of Hopkins, and the actual touchdowns leader was Antonio Brown, two ahead of Davante Adams. We both picked Brown to lead the league in receiving yards, but not touchdowns. Between us, we found second place in each. We were, uh, not successful at picking tight ends. Each of us made a failed Gronk pick, and Jimmy Graham was not the answer in the red zone for Green Bay. My touchdown picks were awful; only Amari Cooper finished in the top 24, and that was mostly the result of his midseason trade to the Cowboys.

Bryan: The failure of the Packers to score touchdowns stymied us in multiple categories. As for Gronk, I don't think he has been fully healthy since, what, 2004? He's at the point where his body just might not be able to put together the sort of performance we're used to seeing out of him, and going out with some key catches in the Super Bowl might just be the best thing for him.


Coach of the Year: Matt Nagy, Chicago (+1000)

Andrew: We were close here too. Neither of us called Matt Nagy as the eventual winner, probably because we were both skeptical of the Bears, but we picked Anthony Lynn, who finished second, Frank Reich (third), and Pete Carroll (fifth). Doug Pederson and Kyle Shanahan where nowhere to be found, for obvious reasons.

First Coach Fired: Hue Jackson, Cleveland (+400)

Bryan: We passed on Hue Jackson because we figured, if you don't get fired after an 0-16 season, what could you be fired for? Ah but that's far too logical for the Browns organization, so he was in fact the first to go. Andrew's longshot of Mike McCarthy was our best pick, then, as he was the other coach let go before the season ended. Both of us had Dirk Koetter as our favorite; he lasted throughout the season but was canned on Black Monday, as was my best bet of Marvin Lewis. My longshot, John Harbaugh, had some rumors floating around him at midseason, but ended up with a contract extension when all was said and done. Andrew's third pick, Jay Gruden, is still employed; Washington looked pretty good before their quarterbacks all died.

Most Valuable Player: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City (+3750)

Andrew: Not one of us picked Patrick Mahomes, whom we've already discussed multiple times. I thought Mahomes would be good, but not that good. Bryan called Drew Brees, who finished as the runner-up by 41 votes to 9. Nobody else got a vote, so none of the other players on our list registered, but I think we can consider Andrew Luck a reasonable pick after the Colts' season; Aaron Rodgers a poor pick; oh, and there's Bryan picking Le'Veon Bell again!

Offensive Player of the Year: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City (No Line Available)

Bryan: Mahomes also picked up Offensive Player of the Year, which makes logical sense (if you're the MVP, how are you NOT also the best player on your side of the ball?) but isn't consistent with recent practice. Andrew's pick, Todd Gurley, was in the running for a while, but a December injury likely squashes his chances. I, uh, picked Le'Veon Bell again. Oops.

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, L.A. Rams (+590)

Andrew: My favorite was the best pick, here: Aaron Donald justified the short odds by romping home with the prize after a 20-sack season. I also made the worst pick though; Eric Berry only played two games in the regular season, and the Chiefs defense was awful. None of our edge rusher picks came to fruition: Joey Bosa missed half of the season to injury, Chandler Jones was trapped on a terrible Cardinals team, and the best edge rusher in the league was Khalil Mack, whom neither of us picked.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, N.Y. Giants (+155)

Bryan: This was always Saquon Barkley's award to lose. Saquon Barkley did not lose this award. Both of us had Barkley as our top pick, so that was fairly easy. Both of us had Sam Darnold as our best bet -- Baker Mayfield outplayed him among quarterbacks, but Darnold came on strong late in the season; it'll be intriguing to watch the race between the two of them as the year goes on. As for our longshots, Andrew's pick of D.J. Moore was a bit better than my gamble on Kerryon Johnson, though I don't think there are any disasters here.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis (+3050)

Andrew: Again, neither of us got the eventual winner. As the odds imply, Darius Leonard was not on most people's radar at the start of the season. Bryan's choice of Bears rookie Roquan Smith was probably the best of our picks, and Bills rookie Tremaine Edmunds also had some hype in this category at times during the season. My choice of Arden Key was probably the worst, but in my defense, the Raiders also expected Key to be good enough to soften the blow of losing Khalil Mack. That did not work out, for me or for the Raiders.

Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis (+450)

Bryan: Thanks to 2017's Year of the Superstar Injury, this was a loaded field. Each of us took Andrew Luck to win the award, and win it he did, but there were a lot of bounce-back seasons to write home about this season. Deshaun Watson was my best bet and he had a very solid season indeed, and players like J.J. Watt and Odell Beckham reminded us of what we missed two years ago. My longshot of Ryan Tannehill didn't pan out so great -- he came back, sure, but he probably won't be in a Miami uniform in 2019. Andrew picked Josh Gordon in both his best bet and longshot categories; Gordon showed why he's a great talent when he was on the field, but he's still battling with his personal demons, and we wish him the best of luck going forward, whether or not he ever returns to the NFL.

Super Bowl Winner: New England Patriots (+625)

Andrew: We've discussed some of this to death above, but our picks in this final subcategory were utterly awesome, if I do say so myself. Both of us picked the eventual winner as our favorite. Both of us picked the eventual NFC No. 1 seed as our best value. Each of us picked one of the teams that tied for the AFC West lead, and thus for the AFC No. 1 seed, as our longshot. I don't know that I've ever seen us do this well in a multi-pick category, so that seems a fitting place to finish.

Here's to similar success next season!

Super Bowl Commercial Watch

Andrew: This year's selection of Super Bowl commercials was remarkably poor: very few commercials stood out, either for better or worse, and there are barely a handful that we even remembered before looking them up. Ultimately, both of us chose the same commercial as our favorite, and the general consensus around the Internet seems to suggest that it was an almost universal opinion, so we'll just link you to the full cut of the NFL 100 commercial as our choice for Super Bowl Commercial of the Year:

Bryan: The football presented in this commercial was better than the actual football played in the Super Bowl. The NFL has a history of producing high-quality Super Bowl commercials -- the "Tomorrow" ad from about a decade ago is an all-time favorite of mine, and Eli Manning and Odell Beckham dancing last year was a crowd-pleaser -- but this might be their best ever. Obviously, your Scramble writers are the exact intended audience for something like this, but the general public agrees -- it won USA Today's AdMeter as well. It gets me excited for the NFL's 100th season, and hopefully they will have better ideas to celebrate it than the god-awful logo they're using for branding purposes.

I think we both also enjoyed the Bud Knight/Game of Thrones crossover ad, though it's a fact that now Budweiser has written more Game of Thrones content than George R.R. Martin has in recent years. Sad Alexa, mourning her inability to taste wonderful Pringles, was a crowd-pleaser at my place, too.

There were a couple adds that stuck out at the bottom of the pack. TurboTax's RoboChild was creepy, and not in a funny way, and Sprint's Bo Jackson ad needed six or seven more passes before it left the idea stage. The worst ad, though, I'd give to Burger King for their Andy Warhol piece.

Three things: one, it's boring, as nothing much happens in the commercial to speak of. Two, using a dead celebrity to endorse a product is always a little skeevy in my book -- what, no one living could endorse the product? But thirdly -- it's not what Warhol liked. The footage they used for the ad comes from a 1982 documentary and, according to the original filmmakers, the use of Burger King in it wasn't to Warhol's satisfaction"

...Warhol was so aware of his own commercial value and he might refuse to appear with a certain product. So I took my precautions. When he saw the three hamburgers I had ordered, one from Burger King and two neutral products, he said, 'Where's the McDonald's?' I said we'd get one right away. 'It's the nicest design,' he said. 'Let's not waste time on that. I'll eat the Burger King.' It was his choice. I hadn't expected him to be so relaxed about the choice of product. But he preferred McDonald's because they had the nicest design, in his very professional opinion. Burger King was OK, but he refused to work with the neutral ones.

If I were McDonald's, I would be publicizing that fact today. #EatlikeAndy, indeed.

Prop Bet Results

Bryan: It wasn't as big of a day for us this year as it was last, but neither of us are going too deep into debt on this one; always a great result when you're gambling on freaking coin tosses. I ended the day with -$65 which, while not fantastic, is pretty good considering I gambled over $5,000 on the dang thing. The main problem I had was no big payoff coming through; the biggest longshot I won on was no team scoring three consecutive times, which was only at +190. Not exactly thrilling, that. I also correctly predicted both quarterbacks having underwhelming days, Todd Gurley getting more work than C.J. Anderson, and Greg Zuerlein nearly breaking the Super Bowl record for longest field goal, but nothing I had was particularly thrilling.

That +190 result was also Andrew's high-water mark, but the difference between his score and mine was the sheer number of things Andrew got right. Andrew picked the Patriots and the under, which helped; he thought it would be a punt-filled game, with Gronk and Cooks both putting up significant numbers. He even correctly got Gladys Knight going long on the anthem and the coin toss. That was enough to give him $725 at the end of the day, making him once again our Prop Bet champion.

Andrew: $5000 to win $725 is not exactly a reliable road to riches, but it sure beats being the unnamed sharp who lost nearly $3.8 million on the thing. As always, we cover gambling out of interest and amusement; not that we think our readers have that sort of money to burn, but please please please gamble only in moderation. And as the British GambleAware campaign slogan goes: if the fun stops, stop.

Bryan: … and if you DO have $3.8 million to burn, we can think of better things to do with it. Like give it to us!

Andrew: Especially Bryan. He's totally worth it. As always, thanks for joining us for another year, and we'll leave you with the usual final play-by-play. I'm off with my orens to the Tavern at the End of the World, because that seems by far the most appropriate place to spend the rest of 2019.

Staff Playoff Fantasy Update

Bryan: It was a three-way shootout coming into the Super Bowl, but the lack of fantasy points scored during the game itself prevented the final order from changing all that much. Vince came into the finals with loads of potential artillery, but ended up earning just 21 points from his combination of Brady, Gurley, White and Woods -- nearly an implausibly low number considering the sheer talent present in this year of offense.

That left just Dave and Aaron. Dave did get the benefit of the only touchdown in the game as Sony Michel continued his incredible run, and he finished with 28 points. That would have been enough to beat Aaron had he been out of players, but a long field goal by Greg Zuerlein, a throwback performance from Rob Gronkowski, and a whole bundle of yards from Brandin Cooks ends up giving Aaron, yet again, championship honors.

We swear we're not throwing this to make the boss look good. Cross our hearts.

FO Playoff Fantasy Rosters

Aaron Dave Bryan Andrew Vince Scott
QB Patrick Mahomes 46 Russell Wilson 22 Mitch Trubisky 19 Deshaun Watson 20 Tom Brady 49 Drew Brees 39
RB Damien Williams 47 Melvin Gordon 18 Alvin Kamara 20 Ezekiel Elliott 33 Todd Gurley 27 Jordan Howard 3
RB Chris Carson 2 Sony Michel 68 Mark Ingram 8 Lamar Miller 7 James White 15 Marlon Mack 24
WR Brandin Cooks 28 Keenan Allen 16 Tyreek Hill 20 DeAndre Hopkins 3 Robert Woods 16 Michael Thomas 26
WR Doug Baldwin 3 Josh Reynolds 11 Ted Ginn 9 Julian Edelman 38 Tyler Lockett 12 T.Y. Hilton 20
WR Chris Conley 0 Alshon Jeffery 14 Sammy Watkins 17 Allen Robinson 20 Mike Williams 12 Amari Cooper 22
TE Rob Gronkowski 17 Benjamin Watson 1 Trey Burton 0 Travis Kelce 18 Zach Ertz 10 Eric Ebron 13
K Greg Zuerlein 37 Stephen Gostkowski 28 Wil Lutz 20 Harrison Butker 14 Sebastian Janikowski 7 Justin Tucker 5
D New England 8 L.A. Rams 1 New Orleans 2 Chicago 3 Kansas City 4 Baltimore 0
TOT 188 179 115 156 152 152

Best of the Rest

We said that the finale would come down to AlecB's As Luck Would Have It and RfT's Backup All-Stars. With Jared Goff and C.J. Anderson trying to catch Rex Burkhead and a 13-point deficit, it was close -- but ultimately, the lack of offensive firepower in the Super Bowl means that AlecB holds on to win the Best of the Rest challenge! His lineup:

  • QB Andrew Luck (34 points)
  • RB Rex Burkhead (30 points)
  • RB Tarik Cohen (2 points)
  • WR Taylor Gabriel (5 points)
  • WR Tre'Quan Smith (2 points)
  • WR Tyrell Williams (9 points)
  • TE Josh Hill (2 points)
  • K Cody Parkey (9 points)
  • Chargers DEF (6 points)

Yes, AlecB was carried by Luck and Burkhead, but it turns out, with the playoffs going mostly according to chalk, that was enough. Congratulations!

Top 5:

1. As Luck Would Have It (99 points)
2. Backup All-Stars (93 points)
3. Upside Funk (91 points)
4. MichaelInMelbourne (90 points)
5. Chi-Charge-O (88 points)

And, finally, the best possible team:

Playoff Fantasy Challenge

Bryan: The Playoff Fantasy Challenge also finished up with the Super Bowl, and we have a tie in first place! With only 12 teams available, we do often see rosters that duplicate one another, but it's rare that roster ends up being the best possible choice. So congratulations to Michael Carver's Lazy Picks and Sam Chick's Lunchpail City, both of whom benefitted from Sony Michel's fantastic postseason run, Patrick Mahomes' MVP season, and a full slate of the best of the best playoff performers. Their rosters were as follows:

Congratulations to both!

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: One factor that made Super Bowl LIII a challenging watch for casual fans was the lack of memorable big plays: the game outcome was more about stifling and suffocating the other team than an abundance of memorable moments. That cuts both ways: there were few moments of brilliance, and few moments of true awfulness. The most memorable big situational mistakes were probably sacks, and the most significant sacks were taken by Jared Goff. First, on third-and-2 from the Patriots 47-yard line, Goff was sacked by Kyle Van Noy for a loss of 14 yards, turning what should have been an obvious go-for-it situation (more on that in a moment) into an obvious punt. Later, facing third-and-7 at the Patriots 26, Goff took another big loss -- this time 9 yards -- to force a 53-yard field goal attempt for Greg Zuerlein. In isolation, the sacks were not egregiously bad plays, but they were symptomatic of the wider problem: a confused, struggling, and ultimately overwhelmed Rams quarterback.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: Whether Sean McVay would have gone for that fourth-and-2 is another question. The Spirit of the Fox that assailed our coaches in the Conference Championship Games returned for the Super Bowl: both McVay and Bill Belichick in particular made a number of extremely conservative decisions. Belichick's conservative decisions mostly came at the outer extremes of field-goal range: New England punted on fourth-and-5 from the Rams 40-yard line, fourth-and-2 at midfield, and fourth-and-4 at the Rams 44. McVay's Rams also punted from the Patriots side of midfield twice -- one came on fourth-and-10, which is understandable, but the Rams also sent out the punt unit on fourth-and-3 from New England's 42, tried and failed to draw the Patriots offside, then punted on fourth-and-8 after a delay of game penalty. McVay also called the give-up draw to end all give-up draws for a 1-yard loss on third-and-22, with the score 3-3 in the fourth quarter. Fourth-and-3 from the opposing 42 and fourth-and-5 from the opposing 40 are probably the most egregious examples, and each is about as bad as the other, so this is another shared award from an oddly conservative final three games.

Hue Jackson Award for Confusing Coaching: It's Sean McVay again, for about three dozen reasons. We'll continue to highlight his confusing use of Todd Gurley here -- Gurley was the more effective running back on the night, making his continued vanishing act the very definition of confusing -- but there are about 30 things you can point out about the Rams' offensive decisions in this game that has us scratching our heads. Not a good game from the young wunderkind.

'Well Rested' Fantasy Player of the Week: Rex Burkhead spent half the season on injured reserve, finishing the year with less than 100 touches. In the postseason, however, Burkhead proved a vital part of New England's running back rotation. He didn't find the end zone in the Super Bowl, as opposed to the Chargers and Chiefs games, but he still had 58 total yards, beating both of the Rams' running backs. His rumble on the Patriots' final drive put them into scoring position, essentially ending the game. The veteran is just a rotational piece at this point, but the Patriots always know they can count on him when they need him.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: In our Prop Bets article, Andrew compared the talent level of this Rams defense with Wade Phillips' No Fly Zone Broncos defenses. Not even the No Fly Zone Broncos held the Patriots quite as low as 13 points. The Patriots were able to move the ball well enough in their own territory to sustain a field position advantage for most of the game, but on all but one drive they stalled out quickly after crossing midfield. Phillips put in a masterful defensive game plan, and the Rams produced their most impressive defensive performance of the season. It wasn't enough for the win, but that's why this section is called "Comfort in Sadness" and not some other, more triumphant category header.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: The Rams had started to put some things together in the fourth quarter, moving the ball with a certain degree of success -- at least, compared to the rest of the game. Their penultimate drive looked to be their best, with Goff connecting to Cooks, Reynolds, and Woods to move down towards scoring position. It looked like the Rams could tie the game at 10, and we'd have something of a game after all. Just outside the red zone, however, this happened:

It wasn't a great throw, with Goff backpedaling and ultimately underthrowing the ball. It wasn't a great decision, with Gilmore having great coverage on Brandin Cooks down the sideline. It was a fairly easy catch for Gilmore, as opposed to an athletic play that will be on highlight reels forever. But it was huge -- it alone nearly ended the Rams' chances. A three-and-out for the Rams' defense could have kept them in the game, but Los Angeles went from nearly tying the Super Bowl to having to stop Tom Brady and company with the game on the line. That didn't work out for them.

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12 comments, Last at 07 Feb 2019, 10:56am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

Regarding that fantastic NFL 100 commercial, I recognized all of the major players except an older gentleman in a gold and black jacket about two thirds of the way through. Who was that?

The only thing wrong with it: Goodell got too much screen time. To be fair, any screen time for Goodell would have been too much.

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

I think that was Ed Reed.

BTW, from the NFL's youtube description of the commercial:
"In order of appearance:
Roger Goodell, Dick Butkus, Joe Greene, Aaron Donald, Peyton Manning, Orlando Pace, Alvin Kamara, Drew Brees, Michael Strahan, Rob Gronkowski, Brian Urlacher, Tyler Blevins (Ninja), JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marshawn Lynch, Beth Mowins, Eli Manning, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Singletary, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Larry Little, Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, Todd Gurley, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Fitzgerald, Ed Reed, Jim Brown, Baker Mayfield, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Patrick Peterson, Odell Beckham Jr., Derwin James, Jalen Ramsey, Franco Harris, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Sarah Thomas, Ron Torbert, Tony Gonzalez, Von Miller, Richard Sherman, and Saquon Barkley."

2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

" though it's a fact that now Budweiser has written more Game of Thrones content than George R.R. Martin has in recent years."


My theory is that he's sitting on The Winds of Winter to let the HBO show wrap up with a minimum of distraction. I suspect the large number of plot divergences would only confuse the issue.

And while GRRM hasn't published any Song of Ice and Fire books, he has published other Westeros stories. I strongly recommend his Dunk 'n Egg stories.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

I thought the first 5 seasons of GoT were way better than the books, so I was optimistic about the rest. Turns out the show really needed that source material to adapt, because season 6 was just okay and 7 was plain bad (DGMW, the acting and production was still an A+, but the plot and pacing gets an F - see me after class). I hadn't been planning to bother with the upcoming GRRM novels, but I'm reconsidering after finishing season 7.

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

Regarding Gurley: if he isn't hurt, then McVay has failed miserably. Gurley is by far his team's best offensive weapon. Can't be thinking of him as a co-equal back with CJ Anderson.

If Gurley is still hurt, and the Rams violated the injury reporting rules, I'll expect the NFL to come down hard on them, just as they did to the Colts when they hid Andrew Luck's injury a couple years back.


11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

The only defense I could come up with during the game is that Gurley's injury was not bad enough to keep him out(*), but also just bad enough to where heavy usage could cause it to get worse. However, in that case, not having him out there for third downs was still a very bizarre coaching decision.

You see things like this all the time with very heavy lineman - I'm thinking back to Gilbert Brown - where due to physical limitations, they can't play every down. Obviously it's different when it's an injury causing it, but maybe Gurley's injury had improved to a "physical limitation" by the playoffs?

Like I said, that's my only defense, and even then, it's still not that good of one.

(*) This is where my lack of exact knowledge of the injury reporting rules comes into play. If you know 100% a player will play, but not as much as you'd normally expect, are you obligated to list him? Aren't the injury designations supposed to loosely suggest "there is an X% likelihood of playing"?

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

Somewhere on Reddit/r/nfl (I can no longer find it) they mentioned that this sort of thing was by design - something that was needed because McVay was trying to confuse the Patriots the way the Eagles did last year by not setting up their offense till 15 seconds left (when the coaches' radio to the captains get shut off) to give the NE D (and coaches) time to figure out what they were going to do. Problem is, Goff was nowhere near ready to read defenses on that level, which is why they wanted CJ Andersen in there instead of Gurley, as CJ Andersen is apparently better at reading defenses.

It's about the only thing I've seen that even comes close to explaining a healthy Gurley not doing a damn thing.

NE dealt with it by having two calls ready to go, one for pre-15 seconds, the other for post-15 seconds, though.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

"It wasn't a great decision, with Gilmore having great coverage on Brandin Cooks down the sideline."

It was a *terrible* decision. Cooks and Woods are the primary reads but Goff isn't supposed to make that decision until Woods crosses the middle of the field to see what Gilmore's going to do. Instead, there's an extra defender coming (which again, should've probably seen), and he doesn't go to his hot route, who he should've known would be open before the snap and in fact was *so* open he might've freaking scored himself.

The Patriots defender on Reynolds (the hot route) paid him no attention whatsoever - they knew that Goff would just chuck it up under pressure rather than take the safe yardage (and they flat out said that after the game). Just terrible.

9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Preseason Prediction Review

"We were so close in both categories; the actual receiving yards leader was Julio Jones, 105 yards ahead of Hopkins, and the actual touchdowns leader was Antonio Brown, two ahead of Davante Adams. We both picked Brown to lead the league in receiving yards, but not touchdowns."

On that note, personal troubles continue to mount for the season's TD leader...!2019/02/05/antonio-brown-involved-domestic-dispute-not-arrested/