Andrew: That was the decade that was. Welcome to the first Scramble for the Ball of the 2020s, in which your humble Scrambletons struggle to comprehend the notion of the New England Patriots playing on wild-card weekend. I guess, if you're only going to do it once a decade, might as well get it out the way as early as possible.
Bryan: So, you're saying the Patriots are the Ned Flanders of the wild-card round?
Andrew: I have so many issues with that clip that I feel the only appropriate response is to aaanyway all the way to the next section of the article.
Bryan: Anyway, I know how weird this is for Patriots fans. After all, my 49ers have also made a recent habit of not playing on wild-card weekend. It's definitely the cooler thing to do, all things considered.
Andrew: Speaking as a fan of the only team ever to play on wild-card weekend as a 13-3 division winner -- and who is about to do so for the second friggin' time in ten years -- I can certainly appreciate the sentiment. Though I will note, looking at the rest of the past decade's Saints teams, that playing on the first weekend of January is better than not playing in January at all.
Bryan: Let us not forget the plight of the '99 Titans, the 13-3, division-title and Super Bowl-loser whose painful playoff memories inspired Jeff Fisher to never risk the pain of excessive regular-season success again. One would assume.
Speaking of which, the Titans are back! As are the Packers, Vikings, Bills, and -- after a six-year hiatus -- the 49ers. I suppose this postseason thing is old hat for Aaron Rodgers and, to a much lesser extent, Kirk Cousins, but the other three teams haven't really been here as currently constructed, so that's fun!
Andrew: Not back: the Colts, Chargers, Bears, Cowboys, and rather famously the Rams.
Bryan: The Rams and Cowboys just missed, the Colts at least have a very big flashing preseason excuse, and both remaining Chargers fans are used to heartbreak by now. Bears fans are in for a long, long offseason of regret and confusion going forward.
Andrew: An unfamiliar feeling for Bears fans, I'm sure.
Bryan: But enough about them! None of those loser teams have been relevant this decade; let's get on to the teams that haven't gone to draft prep just yet. It's looking like a pretty exciting tournament this year. Our numbers suggest a Baltimore march to the title, which is interesting in and of itself considering the Brady-and-Belichick domination of the AFC in recent years. In the NFC, the best team in the conference is stuck without even a bye week to their name, and might have to go through both Lambeau and Levi's in order to get to the Super Bowl. This isn't a year where you can just pick chalk all the way, it feels like -- which, of course, makes our annual fantasy draft that much harder to puzzle our way through.
Andrew: Particularly considering how defense-driven many of the top teams are, it's a much less obvious field than perhaps ever before. Well, perhaps with one rather obvious exception. Let's get right to it.
Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft
Bryan: The Football Outsiders Staff Playoffs Fantasy League is back for another run. Once again, the traditional scoring rules:
- Six points for rushing or receiving touchdowns, four points for passing touchdowns.
- One point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and for every 20 yards passing.
- A loss of two points for a lost fumble or interception.
- Two points for a two-point conversion of any kind.
- Kickers: three points for a field goal under 40 yards, four points for one between 40 and 49 yards, and six points for kicks of 50 yards or longer. Plus, one point for every extra point.
- Defense: Two points for an interception or fumble recovery, six points for a touchdown, four points for a safety, one point for a sack, and a loss of one point for every seven points the defense actually allows (and a bonus five points for a shutout).
Teams are comprised of one quarterback, two running backs, three wideouts, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense. There are no substitutions, so if a player is injured or his team is eliminated, he ceases to produce points for his team. Your players, in the order in which they drafted:
- Aaron Schatz, Head Honcho
- Rivers McCown, Upset Unraveller
- Scott Spratt, Fantasy Force
- Vince Verhei, Editor Extraordinaire
- Andrew Potter, Scrambler (U.K. edition)
- Bryan Knowles, Scrambler (U.S. edition)
This is a snake draft with a two-pick eighth round. The results were as follows:
Aaron: Lamar Jackson, QB, BAL
Rivers: Drew Brees, QB, NO
Scott: Michael Thomas, WR, NO
Vince: Travis Kelce, TE, KC
Andrew: George Kittle, TE, SF
Bryan: Mark Ingram, RB, BAL
Bryan: Mark Andrews, TE, BAL
Andrew: Aaron Jones, RB, GB
Vince: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
Scott: Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
Rivers: Tyreek Hill, WR, KC
Aaron: Damian Williams, RB, KC
Aaron: Raheem Mostert, RB, SF
Rivers: Marquise Brown, WR, BAL
Scott: Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
Vince: Davante Adams, WR, GB
Andrew: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, SF
Bryan: Patriots DEF, NE
Bryan: Justin Tucker, K, BAL
Andrew: Derrick Henry, RB, TEN
Vince: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU
Scott: Jared Cook, TE, NO
Rivers: Deebo Samuel, WR, SF
Aaron: Mecole Hardman, WR, KC
Aaron: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, SF
Rivers: Ravens DEF, BAL
Scott: Devin Singletary, RB, BUF
Vince: Dalvin Cook, RB, MIN
Andrew: Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA
Bryan: Julian Edelman, WR, NE
Bryan: John Brown, WR, BUF
Andrew: DK Metcalf, WR, SEA
Vince: James White, RB, NE
Scott: Saints DEF, NO
Rivers: Wil Lutz, K, NO
Aaron: Willie Snead, WR, BAL
Aaron: Robbie Gould, K, SF
Rivers: Latavius Murray, RB, NO
Scott: Harrison Butker, K, KC
Vince: A.J. Brown, WR, TEN
Andrew: Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN
Bryan: N'Keal Harry, WR, NE
Bryan: Sony Michel, RB, NE and Tom Brady, QB, NE
Andrew: 49ers DEF, SF and Jason Myers, K, SEA
Vince: Mason Crosby, K, GB and Chiefs DEF, KC
Scott: Cole Beasley, WR, BUF and Allen Lazard, WR, GB
Rivers: Dallas Goedert, TE, PHI and Gus Edwards, RB, BAL
Aaron: Hayden Hurst, TE, BAL and Eagles DEF, PHI
|2019 Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft|
|QB||Lamar Jackson||Drew Brees||Patrick Mahomes||Russell Wilson||Jimmy Garoppolo||Tom Brady|
|RB||Damian Williams||Latavius Murray||Alvin Kamara||Dalvin Cook||Aaron Jones||Mark Ingram|
|RB||Raheem Mostert||Gus Edwards||Devin Singletary||James White||Derrick Henry||Sony Michel|
|WR||Mecole Hardman||Tyreek Hill||Michael Thomas||Davante Adams||Tyler Lockett||Julian Edelman|
|WR||Emmanuel Sanders||Marquise Brown||Cole Beasley||DeAndre Hopkins||DK Metcalf||John Brown|
|WR||Willie Snead||Deebo Samuel||Allen Lazard||A.J. Brown||Stefon Diggs||N'Keal Harry|
|TE||Hayden Hurst||Dallas Goedert||Jared Cook||Travis Kelce||George Kittle||Mark Andrews|
|K||Robbie Gould||Wil Lutz||Harrison Butker||Mason Crosby||Jason Myers||Justin Tucker|
|DEF||Philadelphia||Baltimore||New Orleans||Kansas City||San Francisco||New England|
As always, assemble your Best of the Rest team in the comments from players we did not pick, and we'll track which commenter ends up with the highest total.
Andrew: Before we get into our own expert analysis, we'll take a smattering of comments from the peanut gallery.
Rivers: Having the second pick in a one-person draft is very annoying. I tried to focus on the four teams (KC/BAL/NO/SF) that I think are going somewhere, and wound up breaking ties to New Orleans with the idea that they could play four games. It wasn't an intentional strategy to wind up picking four players from each of those teams in the first four rounds, just sort of how things crumbled out. I picked backup running backs knowing that they'd get some reps and that might be more than a one-and-out back -- plus the belief that Kamara and Ingram were/are both dinged up and might cede more snaps than usual.
Aaron: Bleh. I don't like my team. I wanted some Saints. But I guess I'm going hard on the Ravens.
Vince: Piggybacking off what Rivers said: I think there are two A+ players in this draft (Lamar Jackson and Michael Thomas) and three As (Drew Brees, George Kittle, Travis Kelce), and then nothing but Cs and Ds. The running back pool is particularly shallow, as the best in a vacuum (Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry) are on wild-card teams and might not even get a second game. So after that first round it was just total crap-against-the-wall guesswork. I had nothing close to a plan.
Bryan: The top of the draft opening Jackson-Brees-Thomas is pretty much as chalky as you can get. In fact, I started the draft before the early games had reached halftime in Week 17, and Aaron jumped at the chance to pick up Lamar Jackson without knowing how the rest of the field would shake out; that's how chalky he is as the top pick.
Andrew: I'm not sure how much difference playing on wild-card weekend even made to Brees and Thomas. Sure, it bumped their possible points total up a bit, but they were already probably picks two and three in this field.
Bryan: Thomas is probably the first wide receiver off the board either way, but maybe he isn't Round 1 material with one fewer game; receivers are such a question mark. But yeah, the Saints are the favorites by our numbers to play at least three games (45.1% to Baltimore's 44.1%) and far and away the favorites to play four games (13.3% to New England's 1.9%!), so taking Saints early and often makes a ton of sense. Raw numbers of games played are so big in this format.
Andrew: It also helps that they pretty much don't have a No. 2 receiver -- it's Thomas, and a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 receivers even including Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara -- so Thomas is basically guaranteed to vacuum up targets.
Bryan: Further establishing Thomas' dominance, he was just one of five receivers in the playoff field to average double-digit fantasy points per game, and was a full 3.5 points ahead of anyone else. The others are stuck on potential one-and-done teams (Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins), have to deal with a first-round bye (Tyreek Hill), or are banged up and saw their team's offensive performance somewhat crater (Julian Edelman). Maybe Thomas is a first-round pick either way.
Andrew: What happened after that gives more of a picture of how the staff expects the field in general to shake out, with clear likely winners if certain teams advance. Aaron's eggs are firmly in the Ravens' basket. Rivers has a heap of Saints. Scott, for some reason, grabbed a couple of Bills, and you are REALLY putting faith in the Patriots overcoming the issues that just saw them lose a critical home game to the DOLPHINS.
Bryan: Loading up on one team and hoping they make the Super Bowl has been my strategy for years, and it has paid off if you remember last year's Super Bowl Champion Saints and the previous year's champion Rams. At least, that's how I remember that, at any rate.
Andrew: You'd think I would remember that, but I'm drawing a blank on the details.
Bryan: I certainly wasn't planning on going so heavy on Patriots. I was planning on hitting the Ravens up early and often, in order to suck up as many Jackson touchdowns as I could, but the Patriots strategy was somewhat forced on my hand by the quarterback situation. I think there are three quarterbacks worth taking early in this year's field -- Jackson, Brees, and Patrick Mahomes -- and the rest of the top bunch were much of a muchness between Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson. It was pretty much an inverse relationship between fantasy quality and expected games played, there. I think the Texans are one-and-done, Wilson went way too high to Vince, and you snagged Jimmy G just before I could make a pick. So, let's go Brady, and a whole army of Patriots to go along with him -- in for a penny, in for several thousand pounds. If we get a Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship Game, I'm probably in like Flynn.
Andrew: Meanwhile, I'm endearing myself to you by betting big on your worst nightmare: if the NFC Championship Game somehow ends up being the Seahawks at the 49ers, which is not entirely impossible, I'm quids in.
Bryan: You're aware that, for that to happen, the Saints have to lose this weekend, right?
Andrew: Oh, how unlike the Saints to blow a winnable game to an inferior opponent in the playoffs because something bizarre and ridiculous happens. I'm betting on a borderline pass interference on a Hail Mary being overturned on replay to give the Vikings first-and-goal from the 1 on an untimed down, trailing by two.
Bryan: You'd think I'd be more annoyed at you, grabbing not only Garoppolo but George Kittle just before I could go, but I'll tell you something -- I would have taken Mark Andrews before not just Kittle, but Travis Kelce as well. I really do think the Ravens' path to the Super Bowl is the cleanest for anyone this year, so I feel I have the best picks at running back and tight end in the two Baltimore Marks. Add in the best choice at defense in New England and Justin Tucker, and I'm pretty happy with my team, all in all.
Andrew: I really debated between Andrews and Kittle for that reason. What swung it for me was a combination of target volume and catch rate. Andrews only really outperformed Kittle in touchdowns, and that's a high-variance stat even for pass catchers. Jimmy G was just the remaining quarterback I thought had the best chance to play multiple games.
Bryan: Yeah, on a game-by-game basis, both Kittle and Kelce outperformed Andrews, so it then just becomes a matter of how much faith you have in each player to go the distance. If there were fantasy points for awesome blocking, Kittle would easily be No. 1. If I was sure that the 49ers would get past, say, the Saints in the NFC Championship Game, he'd be my No. 1, too. My biggest fear, if I were in your shoes, would be Seattle repeating last year and losing to an inferior NFC East team, on the road, by being outcoached.
Andrew: That's the thing though, by leaning so heavily on the NFC I'm happy with almost any outcome. The only outcome I have no stake in is a fluke Eagles run, not that that's ever happened before. If the Saints win the NFC, I'll be too busy celebrating to care that my fantasy team sucked. Anybody else gives me a player in the big game.
Bryan: Ah yes, the 2017 Eagles run. That was the year I think almost all of us were beaten by the Best of the Rest. I suppose we could see that again if we see the Texans playing the Eagles or Vikings, but surely, a crazy run like that can't happen again, right? I mean, presumably?
It's just two very different philosophies for you and me -- your distribution is probably going to give you better finishes than my hoarding, more or less, but I wouldn't be surprised if betting big on one or two teams would give me more overall championships. If you're not first, you're last and all that.
Andrew: Only if those teams are any good. Aaron, advantaged by the No. 1 pick in successive drafts, has been able to craft that strategy around the best available player and/or team in the past couple of years. Crafting it around a flawed wild-card participant only pays off if that team somehow overcomes its flaws.
Bryan: I'm not sure any team here is more reliant on one player than Aaron and Lamar Jackson. Quarterbacks are usually about 25% of the scoring year-in and year-out so everyone's a little dependent on their signal caller, but I think Jackson is absolutely going to have to explode for Aaron to have a chance. That's partly the problem with going first in the snake draft, I suppose, though I thought Aaron's team was sharper last year. Yes, Aaron got the first pick two years in a row. No, I'm not trying to suck up to the boss. Too much.
Andrew: I'd still rather that over picking at the bottom of the first round, when you're continually set up to react to what's gone before rather than strategizing yourself. As with last year, it was just "grab the player with the biggest possible dropoff to the next option I was likely to have at his position." At tight end, that was obvious. At running back, I simply didn't feel there were enough viable options this year. No matter who I picked, there was an obvious problem with the pick.
Bryan: I'm with you there; that's why I felt I had to grab Mark Andrews early. If I had to swap my running backs, I think I'd take your set of Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry; they had the two highest points per game of any of the playoff running backs, even if they're both potential one-and-doners. That or Scott's group of Kamara and Singletary. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my group, but the running back field was so thin, and I think the two of you probably did the best job picking through who was left.
I like Scott's draft overall, really -- fitting, for our fantasy guru. He got one of my three Notable Quarterbacks, an obvious first-round pick in Thomas, strong running backs, a bunch of players who could play multiple games, and then also Allen Lazard for some reason.
Andrew: I considered Lazard, but Diggs is simply a better player and why shouldn't he give me nightmares for the second time in three years?
Bryan: Much. Of all the players you grabbed just before me, Diggs probably hurt the most; I'd rather have him than N'Keal Harry, and it's not even really close. As for Lazard, picking which Packers receiver will play second fiddle to Davante Adams is really a shoulder shrug, though he's probably the best of a confusing lot, and that's probably just fine for a final pick.
Andrew: It's funny you say that about Diggs, because the receiver I really wanted also went one pick before mine. I couldn't believe when Vince took A.J. Brown ahead of Diggs. I was badly hoping to double down on Titans there for reasons known only to my subconscious.
Bryan: I preface this next bit by noting that we both mocked Dave's team last year, and he ended up finishing in a very close second, but … I kind of hate Vince's team. I was shocked when Russell Wilson came off the board before Patrick Mahomes. I'm picking against his entire receiving corps in their first games, unless the Saints lay an egg this weekend. He did get the better of the two New England running backs, but the gap isn't big enough for a ten-pick blank, I think. I'd probably like it better if he had grabbed DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett to go with Wilson, and I bet he would have, too, if you hadn't taken both in the span of four picks after his Dalvin Cook selection.
Andrew: He appears to have made the same mistake I made last year, in spreading himself too thin, but that's probably due to what you just pointed out about paired players disappearing before he got a shot at them. He's unlikely to come in last, but only a total outsider bet -- say, a Houston-Minnesota Super Bowl -- would see him come first. As somebody who has needed the Texans to come through in a previous iteration of this, I would not bet on that outcome.
Bryan: If I had to switch teams with anyone, though, it'd be Rivers. Obviously, having Brees helps tremendously. I think he has the best receiver corps by a country mile with Tyreek Hill, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel. Dallas Goedert is a great pick if Zach Ertz can't go. His specialists look like they'll play multiple games. His running backs are weak, but he knows that, and his logic (Ingram and Kamara are banged up) makes sense. I still like my team the best -- otherwise, I wouldn't have drafted it! -- but Rivers' roster is impressive from top to bottom.
Andrew: A Ravens-Saints Super Bowl would put him in very good shape, and that is definitely a foreseeable outcome. As a Marquise Brown owner in regular-season fantasy, I am very aware how boom-or-bust Rivers' lineup could be, but if it booms it will boom BIG. The only pick he made I wouldn't be happy with is Dallas Goedert, and that's the risk of waiting until the final round for a tight end.
Bryan: Was there another tight end available there you would have preferred, he said, seamlessly transitioning into the Best of the Rest?
Andrew: Sure. I expect Zach Ertz to play. Ertz's floor is lower because he could miss the games, but if Ertz is healthy then he's the guy at that spot for the Eagles.
Bryan: Yeah, I think Eagles TE was the right call there in general, but it's so tough to know which Philly players will be healthy enough to drag themselves to the field this weekend. If Ertz was healthy, we'd have had a situation where there were five solid tight ends for six players (sorry, Aaron; enjoy Hayden Hurst!), but his ribs make it a whole different story.
Do you take Carson Wentz at quarterback to pair with Ertz if you're a commentator? Aaron Rodgers? I think I go Deshaun Watson there; he's probably the best quarterback left with a decent chance of playing two games, as the Houston-Buffalo wild-card game is close to a coin flip for me.
Andrew: I go with whichever of Wentz and Watson I think will go furthest, which in this instance is Watson. I probably pair him with Kenny Stills.
Bryan: And Will Fuller! He may be coming back on Saturday. Not bad for a Texans-heavy lineup.
Andrew: I'd be tempted by Corey Davis too, because I give the Titans a real chance this weekend and Davis is the guy who won't get Stephon Gilmore.
Bryan: Rivers was shocked that Tre'Quan Smith wasn't picked, and I understand why -- I probably would have taken him if I hadn't seen the opportunity to corner the Patriots market with my three consecutive last picks. You're right that the Saints don't really have a WR2 sort of player, but three or four games from a WR3 isn't bad in this format.
Andrew: Throw in the Titans defense and the kicker of choice, and there's an easy path out of the AFC if you can stomach betting on the South. Betting on the South has not worked out for us this year, so I wouldn't exactly recommend it. Eagles and Packers leftovers -- Rodgers or Wentz, Ertz or Graham, Valdes-Scantling or DeSean Jackson -- might be a more realistic proposition.
Bryan: A running back duo of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders isn't a terrible choice there, either, though I might find a way to slot in Tevin Coleman if you're feeling lucky playing Shanahan Running Back Roulette. It's the far-off future of 2020, and yet the Shanahans are still making our fantasy lives difficult as if it were the late 1990s. Forget my hover car; where's my fantasy consistency? I thought this was the world of tomorrow, dang it.
Andrew: Overall, this draft just confirms for me one of the murkiest playoff fields in recent memory. I don't know for sure what outcomes would surprise me this year. The Texans or Vikings, I guess, as the teams with the worst offensive line situations. The Bills, for sure, as the worst quarterback in the playoffs by a mile. Would anybody be THAT shocked, though, if the Super Bowl was contested between the two No. 3 seeds?
Bryan: The Super Bowl hasn't featured someone who played in the wild-card round since the Ravens got there in the 2012 season; that first-round bye is such a huge boost. We haven't had two wild-card-round teams make it since 1982, and that was the weird 16-team tourney thanks to the strike, so that doesn't really count. So yes, I would be shocked if the Super Bowl ended up Patriots-Saints, but I will say that that feels more realistic than in many years past. The NFC, at least, feels fairly wide open; if we get a Saints-49ers rematch in a few weeks, I have no idea who I'd end up picking. It might tear Scramble apart, though.
Andrew: Oh, leading to the establishment of a new order, perhaps? We await that blue Monday with bated breath.
In the AFC, that new order appears already to be in place. Here's to an exciting playoff run that already feels different to those of yester decade. And may the best fantasy team win!
Keep Choppin' Wood
The Patriots faceplanted badly in their final home game of the 2010s against the Dolphins, with the defense in general and Stephon Gilmore in particular posting their worst outing of the season. That might still have been enough to win against one of the worst teams in the league, but for THIS:
Tom Brady threw his first pick six since 2017
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) 29 December 2019
This woeful pass was Tom Brady's first pick-six since 2017, his first ever against the Dolphins, and one of the worst plays of his storied career. The team could never quite overcome those seven points, and as a result must play on wild-card weekend for the first time in a full decade.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
For teams not in the playoff hunt, Week 17 this year was largely meaningless. Usually, it might affect draft position, but the No. 1 pick was already long sewn up by the Bengals and the rest of the order had considerably less intrigue. We could praise the teams who continued to play hard with nothing at stake, but we can do better than that. Eliminated teams in Week 17 frequently empty their playbooks, calling some of the stuff they wanted to try during the year but were too meek to actually use. Here are a couple of our favorites:
Trick play de los Lions y TD de Blough a pase de Amendola...una Philly Special....pic.twitter.com/O5zRJM2EEY
— j.Edu (@JEduFernandez) 29 December 2019
BIG MAN UP THE SEAM!
Right tackle Ty Sambrailo goes 35 yards on the TD reception! #InBrotherhood
— NFL (@NFL) 29 December 2019
On 4th down from their own 11-yard line, up by 9, the Ravens go for the fake punt and convert it for a first down pic.twitter.com/hpH7xlZ7hT
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) 30 December 2019
While it was by far the least entertaining, that last clip was a Ravens fake punt, leading 19-10 in the fourth quarter, from their own 11-yard line. The entire FO staff may have a collective mancrush on John Harbaugh.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
Following the aforementioned pick-six, the Patriots finally got some kind of offense going during the second quarter against Miami. When they received a Dolphins punt at their 25-yard line with 57 seconds left and all three timeouts, we expected them to at least mount an attempt at a field-goal drive for a halftime lead. Instead, Bill Belichick opted to have them call two handoffs and go into halftime tied. This would be a bafflingly conservative decision even with a lead; in a tied game with his team unexpectedly struggling on both offense and defense, it looked frankly daft. This award was named in part for John Fox making a very similar decision in a playoff game with still-functional Peyton Manning at quarterback. Given the way the rest of this weekend played out, we suspect that Belichick might wish he had played the situation in a manner somewhat less reminiscent of that.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Flash back to game 256. With 42 seconds left in the game, facing a fourth-and-10 with no timeouts left and needing a touchdown to win, the Seahawks complete a pass to John Ursua, moving the ball to the 1. Fantastic! You can't ask for a better scenario than first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Then: disaster! First, Russell Wilson was forced to spike the ball, as there wasn't a second play called in the huddle for just such a scenario. Secondly, the Seahawks didn't have a running back in the game, and massive chaos hit.
Changing a personnel package is a pre planned, pre orchestrated event. The Seahawks were total chaos. That is squarely on the OC/HC pic.twitter.com/EX2XcKdHiC
— Steve Sandmeyer (@SteveSandmeyer) December 30, 2019
Marshawn Lynch doesn't come onto the field until 20 seconds have already come off the play clock -- he was shown on the broadcast a few plays earlier, wearing his beanie and simply not prepared to come into the game. And why would he be? By the time Lynch left Seattle in 2015, he didn't run the two-minute drill anymore; players like Fred Jackson, Leon Washington, and Justin Forsett took those snaps throughout Lynch's career because they were superior receivers. And that was a Lynch from four years ago who hadn't been sitting on the couch all season to boot. Pete Carroll said that there was a lack of communication with the backs, which is an understatement. Travis Homer, who had a better game than Lynch and had actually been with the team all season long, had been in earlier on the drive and presumably would have been ready to go back in; it feels like the Seahawks wanted Lynch in the game in that situation to clear some demons from Super Bowl XLIX.
Whatever the reason, when you factor in the spike, 54 seconds passed from Ursua being ruled short of the end zone until the delay of game penalty. That is more than enough time for Brian Schottenheimer to call whatever play he wants, find a running back to run it, and to get onto the field with some urgency, especially considering the situation. Not having a second play called in the huddle. Going with a spike rather than a sneak. Picking Lynch over Homer. Any of those three, by themselves, could be considered for the Foxie, although none of them would be likely to win on their own. Couple it with the delay of game and a 5-yard penalty in a contest eventually decided by two inches? Yeah, we'll let Carroll and Schottenheimer share this award as the most confusing thing among the meaningful games last week.
'Week 17?!' Fantasy Player of the Week
Week 17 used to be only for the absolute craziest fantasy owners -- there's no way for you to predict in your August drafts which teams will be trying come the end of December. Daily fantasy, of course, has made Week 17 a little more relevant. You probably didn't win a fantasy championship last week, but you might have won some cold hard cash.
We probably should give this to Boston Scott in Philadelphia's NFC East-clinching win, but we did highlight him a month ago; if you didn't pick him up after that, that's your fault, not ours. Instead, we'll look at Hunter Renfrow, part of this year's deep rookie receiver class. He went over 100 yards in each of Oakland's last two games as part of their failed playoff push, including a six-reception game last week with a touchdown. With such a promising close to the season, it has to be thrilling to imagine what he can do next year for Oakland … oh. Sorry.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 30, 2019
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week/Year/Decade
Another week, another Christian McCaffrey win. The third ever 1,000/1,000 player has been carrying the load for Carolina in big loss after big loss, this week adding 98 yards and a touchdown in a 32-point defeat. He is obviously your Garbage-Time Performer of the Year, and it's not even particularly close.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 29, 2019
McCaffrey was one of four players with at least 100 rushing yards while down by 17-plus points in 2019, but his 199 yards were pipped by Josh Jacobs' 210, your garbage-time rushing champion. McCaffrey's three rushing touchdowns ties Todd Gurley's mark, while it was Joe Mixon who got the most work, with 46 carries. Of course, garbage time is not a time for rushing, it's a time for passing. McCaffrey had 36 garbage-time receptions on 41 targets for 346 yards, all three of which led the league. If you're looking for a non-running back standout, Darren Waller's 27-306-2 line was a great one, while DeVante Parker's 14-265-1 leads actual wide receivers.
Picking a quarterback is a little tougher. Kyle Allen led the league in garbage-time yards and completions ... because he had 131 attempts, while no one else broke 100. He also had a league-high six garbage-time interceptions; you want to gamble some in desperate situations, but dang. Gardner Minshew led the league with five garbage-time passing touchdowns, but your All-Garbage Time QB has to go to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 56-for-94 for 627 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions -- and a rushing touchdown, to boot.
Fitzpatrick is, in fact, your Garbage-Time Player of the Decade, going 344-for-576 for 3,778 yards with a league-high 30 touchdowns while down at least three scores in the 2010s. Joining him with that auspicious honor are Larry Fitzgerald (99 receptions for 1,162 yards and five touchdowns), Jason Witten (82 receptions for 788 yards and five touchdowns) and LeSean McCoy (916 combined yards on 159 touches with six touchdowns). No one was better at coming up big in the smallest moments as these gentlemen -- and we mean that as a true compliment.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week
It probably doesn't serve as any comfort to Steelers fans that they wouldn't have made the playoffs even if they had beaten the Ravens reserves -- Tennessee's win against the Texans backups saw to that. Still, the 28-10 thrashing was not how Steelers fans expected to see the season end. The comfort from a second straight year outside the playoff spots is the performance of the defense: the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick helped turn a solid unit into one of the league's best, and even basic competence from the offense would have been enough for the defense to propel the team into the postseason. Even though defense is less consistent than offense from year to year, the youth of the defense bodes well for the future in what looks set to be a very competitive 2020 AFC North.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
For the first time since the 2009 season, the New England Patriots have to play in the wild-card round. And we can all thank Ryan Fitzpatrick for that.
— NFL (@NFL) December 29, 2019
Honestly, there were a couple plays we could have chosen here, with the Seahawks falling short at the 1-inch line high up on the list, but what puts this one over the top was the back-and-forth drama all day as the Chiefs and Patriots slid in and out of that second AFC bye week. And nothing sums up the feeling of watching these two games live like listening to Kevin Harlan simultaneously call both games on CBS.
— Vikings Blogger (@firstandskol) December 29, 2019
"I'm callin' both games!" is going down as an all-time announcer highlight.
Game-Changing Plays of the Year
Only three teams can say that they were one game away from the playoffs this year -- that if they had just flipped the result of one of their own games, they'd be in the postseason. These are the plays which will sting the most looking back at 2019.
Flip any loss for the Los Angeles Rams to a win, and you have a 10-6 wild-card team in the fifth or sixth seed. In Week 5, they were trailing by one against Seattle with 15 seconds left in the game, and trotted out Greg Zuerlein for a 44-yard game-winner. If it had gone through the uprights, the Rams are in the postseason and getting ready to play the Eagles. Instead, they miss the postseason by a matter of inches.
Greg Zuerlein with the miss!
— BettorIQ (@BettorIQ) October 4, 2019
You probably know the Dallas Cowboys would have won the NFC East had they beaten the Eagles in Week 16, but did you know that they would have been the six-seed had they beaten Minnesota in Week 10? They'd have a 9-7 record and a head-to-head sweep over both the Vikings and Rams. That game was significantly closer than the Eagles-Cowboys matchup. It came down to Erik Kendricks breaking up a pass to Ezekiel Elliott on fourth down with 44 seconds left and the Cowboys trailing by four. Of course, you could also blame Jason Garrett for calling two consecutive running plays to turn a second-and-2 to a fourth-and-5 on a day where Dak Prescott led the league with 242 DYAR. Trust your quarterback, Jason.
— Mario Rossi (@mariovrossi) November 11, 2019
That just leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers. The tight AFC wild-card race, plus their poor strength of victory, means that the Steelers could only have gotten in if they had topped the Tennessee Titans in their common games, which requires flipping either Week 11 versus Cleveland or Week 15 versus Buffalo. Neither game really had a game-changing moment, per se, so we'll just point to the poor play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. In the two games in question, they combined to go 46-for-82 for 423 yards with two touchdowns ... and eight interceptions, two fumbles and eight sacks. That's good for a combined -254 DYAR. Had the Steelers gotten better play out of their backup quarterbacks this season, they would have been in the postseason fairly easily. It's too bad there wasn't a quarterback out there, say with some playoff and Super Bowl experience, who could have come in, learned the offense for a month, and then come in in November and December to help. Sadly, such a player clearly does not exist.
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2019
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Andrew: We all know that there's a "big three" in the AFC, right? Since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback in Tennessee, they've just about been good enough to make that a big four: Tennessee's DVOA since Week 7 is 27.2%, only a shade below the top five in the season-long table, and they've only had two negative-DVOA performances over that period. Even without the big day against Houston's backups in Week 17, they'd be at 22.8% -- a very comfortable sixth in the table. The Titans aren't a great team, but they're better than most people give them credit for. Predicting anybody to win at New England in the playoffs is a fool's errand, but unless the Patriots offense show us something that they haven't over the rest of the year, the Titans have the ability to keep it close. Tennessee (+4.5) at New England
Bryan: The Seahawks-Eagles game is most notable for the laundry list of players who will not be playing. On top of both team's season-long injuries, the Eagles will be missing guard Brandon Brooks; the Seahawks linebacker Mychael Kendricks. Philadelphia's list of questionable players includes Zach Ertz, Miles Sanders, Lane Johnson, Jalen Mills, and Nelson Agholor; Seattle adds Quandre Diggs, Jaron Brown, Ethan Pocic, Malik Turner, and Duane Brown. This game is going to be about which team gets the most healthy bodies onto the field, and how well they prepare their replacements. With so much uncertainty to the lineups, I look to grab the team with home-field advantage, the team with the better coach, and the team who's getting points. That is, in order, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Eagles. I'll take Philadelphia (+2.5), and no, that's not me hoping with every fiber of my being to avoid San Francisco-Seattle III. Well, it's mostly not that.