Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where for the second week running, surprise news has turned our plans upside down. Not only our plans, but many, many Houston-area frowns.
First Coach to Lose Job
September Bryan: The Texans have some expectations, which is a non-zero amount. That leaves more room for disappointment and frustration. Bill O'Brien is now the only man in charge in Houston, which is a double-edged sword. It makes it harder to fire him, because firing both your coach and general manager signals a complete rebuild, and this was a playoff team in 2019. On the other hand, it also means there is no one else to blame if things do go south. If the Texans fail to win the division, after some of the harebrained moves O'Brien the GM has made, I could see Janice McNair feel like she has no other choice than to burn it down and start over.
@BryKno O'Brien is not getting fired.
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) September 2, 2020
Bryan: Ah, memories.
Andrew: A timely reminder that even in the dark sinkhole that is depressive resignation, sometimes all we need is an outsider with a fresh perspective. Or a power-greedy head coach to self-promote beyond his competence. My guess here is that the Texans really fired Bill O'Brien the GM, but they couldn't really do that without also firing Bill O'Brien the ... uh, arguably best coach in franchise history?
Bryan: I ran a Twitter poll as the news broke, which is, of course, the most unbiased time to run a twitter poll. People at the moment do seem to favor Gary Kubiak, but that's very much influenced by the last month.
Andrew: There is never an unbiased time to run a Twitter poll, which is exactly why people do it. I voted in that poll for Kubiak, but there's a lot to be said for O'Brien's four division wins. Or at least, O'Brien says a lot about his four division wins, so I guess there's a lot to be listened to for them. At the very least, Kubiak didn't burn down the entire roster on his way out the door.
Bryan: Kubiak finished his tenure with a 61-64 record and two playoff wins in two playoff seasons. Bill O'Brien was fired with a 52-48 record and two playoff wins in four playoff seasons. You can make an argument that O'Brien was fired just before he could tarnish his coaching legacy enough to put Kubiak back on top.
Andrew: O'Brien also never had any opponent close to the level of Cyborg Peyton Manning, which of course isn't his fault, but it's a noteworthy piece of context. Kubiak, meanwhile, never had a quarterback as good as Deshaun Watson, and I say that as somebody who has a great deal of respect for the career and accomplishments of Matt Schaub.
Bryan: Manning is, of course, a boogeyman for a lot of franchises, and a 3-8 record against those Colts is a lead weight around Kubiak's proverbial ankles. Kubiak's Texans averaged a DVOA of -1.2% while O'Brien's Texans come in at -5.7%, which is close enough that various context cues can lead you to putting one over the other. And, as you said earlier, O'Brien wasn't fired for his poor coaching, or at least not solely because of his poor coaching.
Andrew: Calling his coaching poor may be doing it a slight disservice. I'd shove O'Brien into the copious bucket of coaches who weren't especially terrible, but weren't much good by NFL standards either. Yeah, he won one of the least inspiring divisions in the league a few times, but even with the best defensive player in the league and/or a top young quarterback, they were never a threat to do anything beyond that. Still, whoever inherits that job from him has a lot of work to do. The Texans are capped out, talent-starved (though not to the level of, say, the Jets or Giants), and utterly lacking in either building blocks or the picks to acquire them. They've hit the "win now mode" hat trick of being bad, expensive, and lacking either youth or tradable assets. They're arguably more in need of a rebuild than the Jaguars are, though at least Houston has the unquestioned franchise quarterback in place.
Bryan: Since O'Brien became the de facto general manager in 2019, his personnel moves have been the worst in the league, and possibly the worst in league history. He traded Jadeveon Clowney for a third-round pick and used third-round picks to acquire Duke Johnson and Gareon Conley. He gave up two first-round picks and a second-rounder for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills, and then had to pay Tunsil a massive contract, all to replace Duane Brown -- who O'Brien had also traded away. And that was just the set-up for the trade which sent DeAndre Hopkins, their best offensive player, out of town for a second-round pick, a running back, and universal mockery -- but that's OK, because he dealt another second-round pick away to pick up Brandin Cooks. He has given out massive deals to Tunsil, Whitney Mercilus, Nick Martin, Zach Cunningham, Bradley Roby, and Randall Cobb -- no team has more players with salaries of $10 million or more than the Houston Texans.
So, that's where the Texans stand. They did not have a first-round pick this year. They've traded their first- and second- round picks next year. They're already $6 million over the expected reduced salary cap in 2021 and only have 38 players signed -- it's more like $15 million over when you factor in adding enough minimum value players to even field a legal roster. It's difficult to imagine a team left more in rubble than the Houston Texans, even with Deshaun Watson under center.
Andrew: Boy, did that Tunsil move work out better than expected for Miami. It's OK though, because the Texans are now in the safe hands of 73-year-old Romeo Crennel and ... uh ... what exactly is a "Jack Easterby?"
Bryan: Something with a questionable and possibly padded resume , and who rose from Patriots "character coach" to apparently being in charge of an entire franchise with alarming rapidity -- but he's close with Josh McDaniel and Dabo Swinney, so I guess you keep him in place to try to lure a top coaching candidate in 2021…
Which brings up the question of why the hell did you fire a coach after only four games? What is the point? If you had your coach on a short enough leash that you'd fire them after a quarter of a season, why did you let them start the season in the first place!
Andrew: Once again, the answer is, "because you realized how badly your GM had screwed things up, and didn't want to take the chance on him trading Deshaun Watson to the Patriots for a signed copy of Steve Belichick's Football Scouting Methods, Sony Michel, and the lesser McCourty twin." Alas, you could only get rid of the GM if you fired the coach, given that they're the same person.
Bryan: But ... four games? I get the idea of cutting bait rather than compounding a mistake, but I just don't see what benefit you're going to get out of the season at this point. It is insanely early to make franchise-altering moves, and it doesn't really provide any benefit by doing it now rather than in December. The other four teams to fire their head coach this early in the 21st century -- the 2015 Dolphins, 2014 Raiders, 2008 Rams, and 2008 Raiders -- all saw them get to double-digit losses anyway. Only one saw their interim coach stick around, as the 2008 Raiders kept Tom Cable which, whoops, that was a bad idea.
Andrew: I'm confident that this move is about way more than just Houston's likely 2020 win-loss record, otherwise there's no way Romeo Crennel would be the interim coach. With a sidelong glance at the Jets, I can absolutely see the merit in cutting bait with somebody who's doing active harm to your roster when it's clear that active harm is what he's doing, even if it means writing off three-quarters of a season.
Bryan: Then strip O'Brien of his personnel duties and let him see what he can do as just a coach from here on out! The Texans faced the toughest schedule in football over the first four weeks, with their opponents averaging a 19.5% DVOA. You knew the schedule would be difficult coming into the season! Give O'Brien a chance to revert to his historical mean, or at least drive the record so low you get a top draft pick in 2021 oh wait, those are all gone.
Andrew: You're assuming that O'Brien would sign up for reduced power rather than just saying, "fire me then." Having read what I've read about him, which is admittedly only others' accounts, I suspect he wouldn't be willing to accept that diminished role. Which then leaves firing him as the only option.
Bryan: The process which leads to a team firing O'Brien so soon after giving him Ultimate Power does not exactly fill me with confidence going forward. I guess it's not so much binning O'Brien that I'm objecting to -- because, yeah, he wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire with his strategic decisions and was actively losing the locker room. Pro tip to aspiring managers, general or otherwise -- try not to compare your top player to a murderer , or make cracks about their "baby mamas." O'Brien has a particular strain of ex-Belichickitis, where he twists the so-called "Patriots Way" into an authoritarian, "gotta be my guy or you're cut, anyone's expendable" attitude (see Matt Patricia for a similar, if less-advanced case). It's a parody of the actual Belichick style of management, where he can find room for characters such as Rob Gronkowski or Cam Newton to be offbeat and fun while still buckling down and being serious when it comes to preparation. There's a lesson to be learned in there, somewhere, and it's not just football-related.
And yes, the Jets are more doomed than the Texans are, for sure, but that's a chronic problem.
Andrew: On which note, it's ridiculously early to be talking about end-of-season firings, but then it's ridiculously early to have witnessed our first in-season firing too. However, it sure seems like we came into the season with a high number of coaches who were already either on the hot seat, or in something of a lame-duck situation. Between ultimatums in Detroit, stays of execution in Atlanta, roster pruning in Jacksonville, and whatever the Jets are doing, we already knew who a lot of the likely candidates for firings were even before the season began.
Bryan: Yeah, it's not like four games is really enough of a sample size to really change your mind on a coach who has been in place for years. But, I mean, there have been a handful of coaches who have been question marks since they were hired, and they're not exactly doing a lot to justify their continued employment, shall we say. And we've mentioned two of them already -- Matt Patricia and Adam Gase, who have to be your leaders to join O'Brien in the clubhouse, right? A defensive mind who can't defend a lead; an offensive mind producing offensive football.
Andrew: There's also Dan Quinn, who has become something of a caricature at this point. His team is now synonymous with blown leads and disappointment. One of the jokes doing the rounds on Twitter, that I've seen come up even among people who don't actively follow football, is that we're now in the fourth quarter of 2020, which means we still have a chance of a successful year as long as we're playing the Falcons. We already pointed out that Quinn's team had a much harder second half of the schedule than the first. Well, they're midway through the first half, and they're 0-4.
Bryan: The major difference separating Quinn from Patricia and Gase, of course, is that Quinn has accomplished things as a head coach, reaching the Super Bowl. That obviously isn't a magic spell to ward off unemployment, and any leeway from that probably expired in the middle of last season; it was somewhat unexpected that he was brought back for 2020. But at least Quinn, like O'Brien, could turn and point to actual successful seasons when arguing for a case to turn things around. Heck, just like we did with O'Brien, you could argue that Dan Quinn is the best coach in Falcons history, though a 6-10 season or so probably hands that title right back to Mike Smith.
... the Falcons do not have the greatest coaching legacy in the NFL.
Andrew: Oof. Even as a fan of one of the Falcons' rivals, that knocked the wind out of me. Dan Quinn and Mike Smith are the top two? Ouch.
Bryan: Well, maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe instead of Quinn (43-37, 3-2 in the playoffs) or Smith (66-46, 1-4 in the playoffs), you prefer Dan Reeves (49-59-1, 3-2 in the playoffs)? Or, uh, Leeman Bennett? (46-41, 1-3 in the playoffs) Reeves, Bennett, and Smith all received Coach of the Year nods at one point or another, but lack a season as good as Quinn's 2016. No matter how you slice it, though, that's not exactly a million-dollar quartet there. Your Saints don't exactly have a great history of head coaches either, but at least they can point to Sean Payton and Jim Mora, and then shuffle everyone else under a Mardi Gras float while no one else is looking.
Andrew: Even so, despite our preseason bets on Doug Marrone, Quinn was probably on the Mount Rushmore of coaches we expected to see fired at the end of the season, alongside Gase, Patricia, and (at least in your case) O'Brien. Is Marrone the automatic choice to have his face carved in rock as O'Brien's replacement, or is there somebody else you think has moved ahead of him in the interim?
Bryan: Normally, this would be where I look at the coaches who are winning less than regression to the mean would imply -- a good, quick rule of thumb is that the average win total for a team in Year N+1, in the modern 16-game era, is very roughly about one-third of their previous year's wins plus 5.5, and any coach who fails to hit those benchmarks repeatedly is probably doing a worse job than basic entropy and chaos. But there aren't a lot of candidates there. Yes, Patricia regularly and egregiously finishes well below entropy, but the other coaches there are either freshly involved in rebuilds (Zac Taylor, Brian Flores), a hot candidate turning things around (Kliff Kingsbury), or dealing with 10 thousand injuries (Vic Fangio). So, yeah, in absence of someone else struggling for years and years, Marrone falling from grace is as good as anyone else. Marrone, Quinn, Gase and Patricia. The four horsemen of bad football.
Andrew: Apocalyptic imagery for an apocalyptic year, though I'd say if anybody qualifies as Pestilence right now it's unfortunately the Tennessee Titans.
Bryan: Pestilence has to be Patricia in our Four Horsemen of the Coaching Apocalypse. What else would explain a once-healthy team, regularly in the playoff race (if not regularly in the playoffs) under Jim Caldwell slowly withering away? For something to be pestilence, it has to be both virulent and devastating, two words which any Lions fan will be more than happy to apply to Patricia's tenure in the Motor City.
Andrew: War is Adam Gase, who simply cannot stop fighting with his own players.
Bryan: Huh, see, I would have pegged Gase as Death -- death of offensive football, to be precise. And I would point to the sheer number of players who have seen career rebirths once they leave his icy clutches as my evidence -- Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenyan Drake, Mike Gesicki...
Andrew: Alright, I'll concede that one. Famine has to apply to Doug Marrone, as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Few teams are as starved for both talent and success as they. Despite regularly picking near the top of the draft, their roster continually withers. Their talent pool, so vibrant just three seasons ago, has already dried up.
Bryan: And that leaves Quinn as War? Why? Well, what is Quinn good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again, y'all.
Andrew: Quinn? Huh? Yeah, I guess that would explain the casualty rate of the Falcons, the wild extremes, and why no matter how good things look, they're always a losing proposition in the end. I've seen plenty of Falcons games. Nobody ever wins.
Bryan: War ain't nothin' but a heartbreaker, and Falcons fans know that feeling all too well.
Jokes aside, do you see anyone else joining O'Brien before the end of the year? We usually get no more than one or two midseason firings in a given year, so O'Brien could theoretically be it. But in a season that seems full of haves and have-nots, maybe we're due for some proverbial bloodletting.
Andrew: Before the end of the year? Gase. The Jets will have seen the bump the Browns got from Gregg Williams when he was interim, and they'll fancy something similar for themselves. I'm banking on that for Double Survival.
Bryan: I wish I could get odds on O'Brien and Gase swapping roles in 2021. There have already been some (almost assuredly false) rumors that the Texans are interested in Gase should he be let go. Pro tip for coaching searches: if one of the candidates you want needs to be fired in order to become available, they may not be the greatest option for you.
Andrew: I'm not sure I've ever seen a more cautionary tale to be careful what you wish for than, "your team wants to replace its current bad head coach with Adam Gase." That truly is apocalyptic thinking. Speaking of apocalyptic thinking and terrible personnel moves, however, I think the rumors of a return to the Patriots well that served them so poorly last time are more likely. There are plenty of guys who would fancy a crack at coaching Deshaun Watson, and it might be enough to entice a certain Josh McDaniels.
Bryan: Eric Bienemy comes to mind immediately, though Easterby's existing connections might lead them in another direction. Giving McDaniels another shot after his Denver tenure and Indianapolis kerfluffle strikes me as a dangerous move, but hey, the league gave Gase a second team for reasons passing understanding!
Andrew: It turns out, Peyton Manning's clipboard has similar mystical properties to Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket.
Bryan: Oh, if we're going to start comparing coaches to bratty children in a candy factory, we'll be here all night.
Andrew: And why would we do that now, when we could get a whole nother article out of it?
Do you see an easy path to recovery for the Texans? Part of me wonders whether they might have picked a different interim coach and given him more than just til the end of the season, but I guess you wouldn't get many people buying into that given the length of athletes' careers. But man, did O'Brien salt that field behind him. Even with Watson, I suspect it'll take at least two seasons to recover.
Bryan: I don't think there's a better interim on staff than Crennel, and I say that with the full acknowledgement that Crennel was a failure in both Kansas City and Cleveland. They had just taken Tim Kelly's play-calling duties away, remember, and long-time special teams maven Brad Seely retired before the season began. There was no one left.
Andrew: Does it have to be somebody on the current staff though? Is there no NFL equivalent to Sam Allardyce out there, somebody every owner could have in his list of emergency contacts, whom he can call upon to steady the ship without having to take a coordinator away from his duties? A younger Marty Schottenheimer, able to make a professional team out of the mess that got the previous guy fired, but not necessarily looking to take on another full-time job.
Bryan: Now there's an interesting idea, which I don't believe has ever happened before. An interim coach from outside the facility? I mean, June Jones was just the coach of the XFL's Houston Roughnecks, so he might still be in town. I think that has disaster written all over it -- bringing in someone who doesn't know the players or the situation on what is explicitly a temporary gig seems like a recipe for phoning things in -- but, I mean, the Texans are already kind of a disaster, so eh? At least it would be entertaining!
Andrew: It doesn't have to be like that! It doesn't work out that way in soccer, for example, albeit the cost of relegation is the likely reason for that. You could perhaps market it as a live audition for the job, though I guess that could fall afoul of the Rooney Rule.
Bryan: Aha, wait wait wait, I found precedent -- and HOUSTON precedent, too! In 1961, Bud Adams fired Lou Rymkus after the Houston Oilers started 1-3-1, a poor start for a team that had been league champions the previous year. Rather than look to someone on staff, however, Adams turned to Wally Lemm, who had been an assistant the year before but had resigned before the 1961 season began. There's your "bringing in someone from outside the building" precedent. Bring back Brad Seely!
Andrew: It's not quite what I meant, but I guess it would do. Seems like a role that might suit a Jim Caldwell type: a steady, veteran hand who will keep things professional, but who might not be looking to take over for the long term. (I don't know whether that's true for Caldwell. It probably isn't. I'm just speculating.)
Bryan: Caldwell's a good idea! Maybe the Lions can turn to him once they get rid of Matt Patric -- oh.
Andrew: Anyway, returning to the Texans ... it's going to be a long, rough path out of the weeds of O'Brien's tenure, but I do still think there's talent on this roster.
Bryan: I mean, they did just make the playoffs, and were up 24-0 on the soon-to-be Super Bowl champs. It's almost astounding how quickly the House of O'Brien crumbled -- a cautionary tale for any coach out there looking to grab more power. O'Brien the coach could have continued for years, but O'Brien the general manager ruined it for him. And probably for the next Texans coach, and maybe the one after that, considering the damage he managed to do when he was in charge.
Andrew: Man, it sure is a good job neither of us can see any parallels to that in the real world. Fortunately, O'Brien won't be around to cause further damage come November. For that, even we non-Houstonians can be grateful.
Keep Choppin' Wood
Other than a brief stint as the starter in Cleveland and Houston, Brian Hoyer has made a career out of holding clipboards as first the young apprentice and now the "trusted veteran" backup. His remit mainly entails helping out the starter and not screwing up too badly when forced onto the field. That latter part has been more of a challenge in recent years, but surely, back in his familiar surroundings in New England, Hoyer would be more comfortable.
With no timeouts left and in FG position, Brian Hoyer takes a sack. That’s how the first half ends. Yikes.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 6, 2020
Ah. That was Hoyer, with 10 seconds left in the first half, blowing eight of those seconds in the pocket instead of throwing the ball away, then taking a critical sack to deny the Patriots a field goal attempt as they were out of timeouts. This, as Hoyer acknowledged after the game, is basic situational football, and he should have thrown the ball away as soon as it was obvious the receivers were covered. Hoyer's two sacks both cost the Patriots critical red zone drives, and he also threw a bad interception in Patriots territory. In his defense, he was not meant to be the starter and did not have starter reps in practice this week, but that alone does not account for his lack of situational awareness here. Bill Belichick eventually benched Hoyer for Jarrett Stidham, and it is not yet clear who will start in Week 5 if Cam Newton is unable to return.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Teams who want to win should go for two when they score a touchdown trailing by 14. This is one of the easiest analytical assertions to prove, and we've highlighted the simple, easily grasped mathematical case before in this spot. Despite this, very few teams ever do it, so we were stunned and delighted when not one but two of the league's worst-run teams made the correct decision here this past Sunday. The first of those was Jacksonville, who missed their two-point play against Cincinnati and never got a chance to make amends. The second, almost simultaneously and even more incredibly, was the much-maligned Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions, who successfully went for two against New Orleans (much to the bewilderment of color commentator Jonathan Vilma). The case is so clear, and the event so rare, that we simply have to highlight it whenever teams make the smart choice here. The biggest surprise, this week, may be the identity of the teams who did it.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
On the road with a rookie quarterback, against a playoff hopeful, Anthony Lynn's Chargers started superbly, building a 24-7 lead. Alas, a woodchopper-worthy screwup gifted the Buccaneers a morale-boosting score going into halftime. Tampa Bay came back in the second half to take a 35-31 lead, at which point the Chargers faced fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line. At that stage, the Buccaneers offense was in sync, having scored touchdowns on each of their previous four drives. Despite this, Anthony Lynn punted the ball to the Buccaneers, who promptly consumed 6:01 of the remaining 8:45 driving for another score to extend the lead. Even in normal play, more teams should go for it on this down-and-distance. In this situation, needing only 1 yard in the current offensive environment, there are no excuses.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
I'm going rogue here and disagreeing with the analytics. Somebody stop me!
The 49ers cut the Eagles' lead to 25-20 with 2:02 left on the clock and two time-outs remaining. In this situation, Kyle Shanahan had two options -- he could either attempt to recover an onside kick, or boot the ball deep, use the two-minute warning and both time-outs to try to get a quick stop, and go from there. Now, unless you either are or are playing the Atlanta Falcons, the odds of recovering an expected onside kick approach zero -- it was actually 5% in 2018 and 2019, and that's including the Falcons scooping three in one game. In addition, the Eagles' offense had been struggling all game long; trusting your defense to get a quick three-and-out seems like a much better strategy, though EdjSports' GWC disagrees. In the end, the 49ers were a little lucky the Eagles just fell on the ball rather than standing and getting tackled -- by rule, that only caused one second to tick off the clock, saving the two-minute warning. And they did end up getting their three-and-out, but that meant they had to travel over 90 yards for a touchdown, rather than 60 or 70. In the end, the 49ers couldn't get down the field in time, and fell to 2-2.
'Weeknight Wonder' Fantasy Player of the Week
Injuries around the league, especially at the wideout position, have given lower-caliber receivers chances to shine throughout the first month of the season. Now, it would be unfair to fully group Tim Patrick into that grouping -- he was going to be a starter with Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton even if the Broncos had suffered no injuries at the position -- but he's not exactly the name that jumps to mind when you think "spectacular receiving day." Still, he got to have the best night of his career in prime time, albeit just Thursday Night prime time. Both KJ Hamler and Noah Fant were knocked out against the Jets, leaving the Broncos very thin as they attempted to break down the opposing secondary. Fortunately, it was only against the Jets, so you don't need a superstar to put up big numbers -- Patrick was more than able to rise to the challenge. In his previous 27 games, Patrick had never broken the triple-digit yardage barrier, but he finally managed to do it against New York, catching six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown to help the Broncos to victory. Normally, this is where I would link a highlight of his touchdown reception, but Patrick's sideline grab of a less-than-ideal Brett Rypien pass is the true highlight of his night.
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2020
Garbage Time Performer of the Week
One bad week does not a good season negate, and Cardinals fans can hope that Kyler Murray's poor performance during the competitive portion of the loss to the Carolina Panthers was a one-week blip from a sophomore quarterback still improving areas of his game -- 54 passing yards at halftime simply are not an acceptable amount for a team with playoff aspirations. That being said, your fantasy team did just fine! After going down 21 points midway through the third quarter, Murray threw for two touchdown passes and ran for 63 more yards, giving him a top-10 fantasy quarterback performance on Sunday, and still a borderline QB1 day after Monday's results. Any quarterback who can make plays with his feet can end up on highlight reels and atop fantasy lists, even if their actual team ends up sinking behind them.
— NFL (@NFL) October 4, 2020
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
The first firing of the season trumps our usual criteria for sadness, and the state of the Texans franchise provides scant comfort. If there is any good news from the first four weeks of this season, it's that receiver Will Fuller is healthy and more heavily involved than ever in the Houston passing game. Fuller had his second 100-yard game in four weeks and his second touchdown of the season against the well-rounded (read: cornerless) Vikings, while his 81.8% catch rate is the highest for any four-game stretch of his career so far. He is no DeAndre Hopkins (sorry, Rivers), but he might at least be the most viable top target of the team's current starters if, and it's a big if, he can stay healthy.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
The Philadelphia Eagles' offense is very slowly beginning to work its way back into shape. They made basically one big play on Sunday night, and it was a doozy.
WENTZ TO FULGHAM FOR A 42-YARD TD! #FlyEaglesFly
— NFL (@NFL) October 5, 2020
Carson Wentz hasn't really looked right all year, but he looked like his classic self on this play, a perfectly thrown bomb for 42 yards to take a lead the Eagles would never relinquish -- and on second-and-18 too, of all things; a situation where some teams would give up and play for the game-tying field goal attempt. Instead, the Eagles gambled, and it paid off with their first win of the season. That win moved the 1-2-1 Eagles into first place in the NFC East, believe it or not; they would host a playoff game if the season ended today. Meanwhile, the 49ers would have been sitting in wild-card position at 3-1; instead, they're in 10th place in the NFC race, at the bottom of the 2-2 heap. There's still a long way to go for both teams, but this could be the play that turns Philadelphia's season around.
Bryan: Oh, how foolish were we for not picking the Jets last week! A guaranteed win, for sure! Truly, we are phoning this in.
Jokes aside, we didn't exactly cover ourselves with glory. Jets +2.5 looked OK for my lock of the week with two minutes to go in the game, but the New York defenders apparently thought football games only lasted 58 minutes and let Melvin Gordon rumble for a 43-yard score, blast it -- I need to remember for the future the long history between Adam Gase and Vic Fangio, and specifically the fact that they hate one another. I also figured Nick Foles would give the Chicago Bears a spark which, it turns out, no. No he did not. Maybe, in retrospect, I should have picked the Jets after all.
But I blame you, Andrew, for jinxing the 49ers with the picks of San Francisco -7. Sure, I could blame the offensive line for crumbling, or Nick Mullens' lack of grace under fire for ending all questions of a quarterback controversy in the city somewhat close to the City by the Bay, but no. I'm blaming good old-fashioned jinx-related karma. Pitchforks and torches will be in the mail, though since I got them from a U.K. supplier, enjoy your free flashlight.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date:
Andrew: If there's one thing Thursday night proved, it's that the Broncos aren't nearly as bad as their general perception. Even missing their best offensive and best defensive player, and starting a quarterback fresh off the practice squad, they are a well-coached team capable of playing most opponents tough. New England are not most opponents, but they have just played an unexpected Monday night fixture minus their starting quarterback, who may not have recovered in time for next weekend. They will hope that whoever starts next weekend plays better after a full week of starter reps, but this is not even the solid Newton offense of September, never mind the traditional Patriots juggernaut. An 11-point line feels high to me, especially with Denver on a long week and New England a short one. Even if I doubt the Broncos win, I'd have this game a fair bit closer than the money line. Denver (+11) at New England.
Bryan: Man, I really wanted to hit the Jets last week. That would have been really fun, especially if they had covered but lost. Only an idiot would send good money after bad, right? I mean, they are coming off of a 10-day rest, and Arizona did look pretty shabby against the Panthers, and they should be healthier with Breshad Perriman and Le'Veon Bell returning, and the line has been pushed up to a full touchdown, but you'd have to be some kind of moron to take the N.Y. Jets (+7) at home against the Cardinals.
Double Survival League
CHI, CIN, CLE, JAX, NE, PHI, TEN
Andrew: BUF, IND, LAR, NE,
PHI, SEA, TB, TEN
Bryan: Less messing around from me this week, as I look to claw some ground back against Andrew. I'll be at least minorly surprised if he doesn't join me in taking the Baltimore Ravens over the Cincinnati Bengals. To me, that's the most lopsided matchup of the week, and the easiest game left on Baltimore's schedule (though I suppose Jacksonville in Week 15 might have a thing or two to say about that). Joe Burrow is going to get his, but Baltimore should jump out to a big lead early and never relinquish it. No fear there.
For my other pick, let's unlock the doors of the worst division in football and take the Dallas Cowboys over the New York Giants. Dallas has shown they can score points in a hurry, they just can't stop anyone at all. That's not a problem against the Giants, who have only managed three touchdowns in four weeks. They could double that total against Dallas and still lose handily. I was tempted to save Dallas for their home game against Washington, but sometimes it's worth it to kick an opponent while they're down, and the Giants are pretty darn down.
Andrew: You're absolutely right on the Ravens. While Jacksonville is an enticing option, a lot can change between now and then, and I'd like to grab Baltimore while they're relatively hot and the Bengals are still figuring things out. Going against Cincinnati already burned me once, but I like this matchup a whole lot better than that one.
My other team this week continues last week's theme: Arizona has a very tough division, but they join their San Franciscan rivals in playing two games on the MetLife murderturf. With that in mind, I'll grab them in the first of those games, since there's no guarantee how many players they'll have left for the second in Week 16. I'm aware that the Cardinals are off form right now, having blown very winnable games against the Lions and Panthers, but there is no team more off form than the Jets. This is the most winnable game on Arizona's remaining schedule, especially if Sam Darnold can't play, so I'll ignore their own form book and take them on the road.