Scramble for the Ball: Dedicated Followers of Fashion
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week we were one ill-timed Gregg Williams blitz away from seeing both the last winless team and the last unbeaten team lose those tags on the same weekend. A weird schedule can bring weird performances, which may have contributed somewhat to the Steelers' downfall against Washington on Monday
Night Early Evening Football. This is the third time already this season that we're writing Scramble before the final game of the weekend has been played, and one gets the impression that it may not be the last even with just four game weeks remaining.
Bryan: At least this week's schedule changes were just backwash from last week's schedule catastrophes -- this is all just knock-on effects from the Ravens-Steelers Thanksgiving game being cancelled, which prompted further rules and restrictions around the league. It's not fair to blame our writing snafus on just the Ravens' strength and conditioning coach -- after all, Ohio State-Michigan was just cancelled as we were writing this, potentially ending Ohio State's chances at making the Big 10 Championship Game, so having football this year is hard -- but, as I'm always looking for scapegoats for making my own personal life that much more complicated, he's as good as any.
Andrew: It does make some aspects of this column more complicated, as evidenced by you picking the Steelers for this week's game before you had seen their struggling performance against the Ravens last Wednesday, and me picking the Cowboys (spoiler!) for Week 14 before seeing their performance against the Ravens this week. (As we've previously noted, we usually write on Tuesday afternoons so Scramble is ready for publication on Wednesday.)
Bryan: So kind of you to repeat my mistakes. Learning and growing are against the Scramble Code of Behavior, at least when it comes to making picks.
Andrew: In my defense, I'm kinda boxed in with the teams I have left and the opponents they face. In not my defense, that is admittedly my own doing. However, it does make it a bit more awkward to talk about the previous week's action, or to look forward to next week, when this week hasn't even finished yet.
Bryan: Our remaining picks overlap quite a bit, with three of our six remaining teams being identical. Which brings me to a larger point.
We agree on almost everything. It's a running gag in all of our preseason prediction articles just how similar our picks are. On nearly all the important issues facing the NFL, we agree. But there's one thing where we often end up clashing; one aspect of football where we genuinely have strongly held opinions which don't always mesh. And it's one of the most important issues of all: uniforms. With this (hopefully) being the last time we have to write about a week before that week actually finishes, it's as good an excuse as any to dust off an evergreen topic and fight over just who are the sharpest-dressed men in the NFL.
Yes, our own Vince Verhei and Dave Bernreuther did look at uniforms back in the 2019 offseason. But since then, eight teams have significantly altered their look, and more have made tweaks for better or, more often, worse. Plus, I mean, Vince is a great editor, but when it comes to his opinions on uniforms, he's always correct and the Scramblers should remember their places.
Andrew: As ever, we seek not just a nebulous idea of who's kinda good (this year's Jets home uniforms are far better than the team deserves) or who's bad (what sort of color is "bone" anyway?), but an absolute, definitive, and unquestionable answer. And the easiest way to determine that is by a tournament. Divisions provide handy initial brackets, with the eight division winners advancing to two four-team conference finals, followed by the Scramble Uniform Super Bowl.
Bryan: Like any good tournament, though, we need rules -- what exactly are we comparing and measuring, what's the criteria we're using. The only way to approach this is with far more rigor than it actually deserves.
What do you think, Andrew -- are we looking for the best individual uniform combination in the league, or are we grading a team's entire ensemble?
Andrew: I see two ways to look at this.
On the one hand, picking only the best individual uniform increases the chances of a surprise winner without the established good-looking teams. For example, the usual Giants road uniforms are awful, but the all-whites they rolled out against the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football a few weeks back were very sharp indeed. Combined with the Buccaneers using their best current set, that was a shockingly good-looking game considering the two teams involved -- two teams I would never normally include among the best-dressed.
On the other hand, we're looking for the sharpest-dressed team. Discounting what that team is wearing more than half the time in favor of taking only their best look paints, at best, an incomplete picture. Also, we'd have to throw out throwbacks on principle, because we want to look at current uniforms. If your throwbacks are better than your current uniforms, that should be a point against you, not something that enhances your chances.
Bryan: I think it's fair that we advance teams based on their whole set; if we're looking for the best-dressed team, we have to look at the whole board. But it's also fair if we note which teams have the best individual looks in their divisions -- an honorable mention sort of award, as it were, or a mark of shame if a modern NFL design and branding team can't top something three dudes in the front office threw together in 1946.
Andrew: We can also consider the best individual look as a tiebreaker, and the best throwback as a reverse tiebreaker -- again, if your old uniforms look better than your current ones, shame on your current design team.
So with those ground rules laid, it's time to get to the action.
Andrew: Is it too controversial for me to assert that this is usually the ugliest division in the sport, and I don't mean just because it includes the Browns and Bengals?
Bryan: I don't know, is "controversial" a synonym for "wrong" now? You could make an argument that this is the best-dressed division in the AFC, and possibly the entire league. I wouldn't go quite that far, but there are some tremendous sets up North, at least now that the Browns have finally come to their senses once again. Three of my top 10 uniform sets in football are here, and then there are also the Bengals.
See, I told you we have some fundamental disagreements.
Andrew: We live in the Twitter era. Everything is a synonym for "wrong" now. I admit, this year's sets aren't as bad as they usually are, but I find it hard to believe you have the Browns or the Steelers among your top sets.
Bryan: Well, let's start with a point of agreement before we battle this out -- the Bengals don't wear uniforms, they wear costumes. The stripes on their pant legs are supposed to look like tiger tails, for goodness sake. There's a fine line between unique and trying too hard, and the constant repetition of the tiger-striped motif on the jerseys, the helmet, the pants -- it's all just a bit too much. Dial it back from a 12 to a six and maybe you have something.
Andrew: I'm going to damn them with faint praise by noting that they aren't as bad as they could be. The color scheme is useable, even the color rush uniform isn't a unitard, the numbers aren't horrible, and the tiger stripes are the one overdone element in the entire range. It's a limited color palette due to the mascot, and they make something reasonable of it. However, reasonable is the peak of their output; good is well beyond them.
Bryan: The color scheme really gets hurt from trying to use orange, black, and white with equal weight. Their all-white alternates, which they have worn a couple times this year, is at least an attempt to fix that problem, and probably as their best look, but I'd actually prefer them to highlight the orange-and-black and leave to the white to the side; white-and-black isn't a distinctive enough set. But this is a case where simpler would be better. Verdict: bad.
You don't like the Steelers set? Really? That's pretty universally considered one of the best in the league, or at least as universal as something like this gets. I looked at seven different preseason uniform rankings, and six of them had the Steelers in the top five. Admittedly, one was on the Steelers' SB Nation page, so they may not be impartial observers, but still. It's as close to universal acclaim as you get; they averaged a ranking of 4.2, second-highest in the league.
Andrew: If that's one of the best in the league, I kinda worry for the rest of the article. The color rush uniform is atrocious, as many color rush uniforms are. The rest of the set is fine, it's wearable. The colors are complementary, they don't try to get too busy with the designs, there's nothing garish about them, but what's the selling point? That they're not hideous? What elevates them above another team's set?
Bryan: Well, first of all, they're working with strong elements, before you even get to the specifics of the design. Black-and-gold is a fantastic color combination, and one that is more or less unique to Pittsburgh; the Saints horn in on it a little but the two golds are different enough to make it so you wouldn't confuse them.
Andrew: (The Saints' gold being by far the superior shade, but we'll get to that soon enough.)
Bryan: The helmet logo is fantastic, and the fact that it's only on one side of the helmet is a unique and immediately memorable tweak. Their number and name font is also immediately identifiable without being gimmicky or trying too hard, though I will admit I prefer the old Terry Bradshaw-era block numbers.
But all in all, Pittsburgh's uniforms just epitomize classic football uniform design. The striping on the sleeves is instantly recognizable to the point where people steal it to represent the city. Their gold pants are gorgeous. There simply aren't any flaws to pick at, and even the color rush -- which I will agree is their worst look -- is more than tolerable. There's a reason they haven't altered their look since 1997, and adopted this basic uniform template in 1968. You don't mess with it when you got it right.
Andrew: So that is the selling point, that they don't make the mistakes that other uniform designs make? As arguments go, at least it's not wrong. They're fine. Good, even. Both home and road uniforms are smart, thematically consistent, and readily identifiable as the Steelers. That, for me, is one of the key points of uniform design: I want to know, immediately when I look at the screen, which team I'm looking at. The Steelers uniform definitely accomplishes that without the need to do anything garish like the Bengals one. They're strong, but I worry if this is a top-five set.
The team that you've mentioned here that really has me wondering whether your eyes work is the Browns. Brown, orange, and white, and you have them in your top 10 uniforms? Did you accidentally switch your screen to monochrome and not realize?
Bryan: What, you preferred the pre-redesign version? Have years being forced to stare at the monstrosities the Browns trotted out on the field permanently damaged your retinas?
Andrew: "Less nauseating than the last lot" is not a marketing tagline I'd recommend for much outside the realms of medication, public service vehicles, and virtual-reality headsets.
Bryan: The retro striping alone on Cleveland's new-old uniforms gets them above average. Who wears striped socks nowadays? Fantastic. I'm so glad they brought back the orange pants, too -- that wasn't part of the original uniform presentation, but it's just a touch that screams "classic Browns."
Andrew: I will readily admit, the striping is by far the best design element on both the socks and the sleeves. If the Bengals wanted a cool way to incorporate stripes into their design, they could do worse than to look upstate.
Bryan: And here's a thing I think you're missing -- the Steelers and Browns are both Classic Football Teams™. They pride themselves on tradition and old-school football aesthetics, and of glory days of the 1950s and 1970s and all that jazz. That's why their traditional-styled uniforms work so well for them and their brand. If every team in the league had those relatively simple uniforms, then yes, that would get boring rather quickly. But there are a few franchises that should keep these simple, classic stylings for as long as they can. There's a reason why the world as a whole just instantly rejected the Browns' 2015 redesign -- it looked like they were a trendy college team with all the latest bells and whistles. No. This is the team of Otto Graham, and Paul Brown, and Jim Brown and all the other Browns you can think of. They need to look classic. And thank goodness they've returned to their senses.
Andrew: Fair enough. Certainly, as Browns uniforms go, and working within the constraints of the color scheme, they're pretty good. But the color scheme is bad, and I've yet to see a team look objectively good in any shade of brown. Even if it is right there in the name.
Bryan: That leaves us with the Ravens, which I think might be the only team in the division we really agree on?
Andrew: It's funny, because as Ravens uniforms go, I think 2020's are mediocre, while still being the best overall set in the division.
Bryan: They're a step down this season, just because of the combinations they've worn. Last year, they had nine different uniform combinations, which is an insane amount. So they haven't busted out the all-purples or all-blacks, or their purple-and-gold color rush, or purple over black -- they have a full wardrobe, is what I'm saying.
Andrew: I, for one, am thrilled that they've stayed away from the all-purple and all-black, as that alone elevates this season's set higher than it would otherwise be. I like their color scheme, but those are both too much of a good thing.
One tiny little element that I absolutely hate on the Ravens' uniforms is the gold "B" at the top of the pant stripe. It seems like it's just there for the sake of being there, but it's too noisy for such an insignificant addition. When we see that bruising purple-and-black, we know it's the Ravens. We don't need a "B" to tell us. Removing that alone would elevate a future set.
Bryan: They've had that "B" there since 2000. I like little quirks like that, especially on a team without the history -- the Ravens shouldn't be as plain as the Steelers or Browns, they're new. Newish.
I do like it when they go more black than purple. Ravens are black, it makes sense their uniforms would be black, and the purple works really well as a highlight color, or as the color for their numbers on their white jerseys.
Andrew: I see what you're saying, but the purple-and-white with black edging is, for me, the signature Ravens uniform. It just screams what they have always been: a bruising football team. They do have one of the best all-black sets, but I'd rather see more of the purple than the black, particularly on the road. Too many teams have all-black or white-and-black sets now; it's not nearly as distinctive as it once was.
Bryan: You're right that too many teams use black; it's a scourge worn by teams trying to be hip at their own expense. I'm just saying, if your logo is a black bird, you can get away with wearing black uniforms. It fits your brand and your motif, and the purple-and-gold give enough room for highlights to make it unique.
Andrew: I absolutely agree. It's everybody else who's wrong, not the Ravens.
Bryan: So, who are we advancing? The classic-looking Steelers or Browns? The Ravens, who can look good when wearing the right combinations of their deep, deep wardrobe? Don't say Cincinnati.
Andrew: The only team we both like, rather than you liking and me viewing with indifference, is the Ravens. I'd make them my winner, but I still think this is an ugly division overall. Maybe it's just the Bengals dragging them down.
Bryan: I'll accept the Ravens to advance here, even if they're my third choice. Steelers and Browns fans, you know who to yell at; I fought for you.
Surely, we won't have this much disagreement about any other division.
Andrew: I'm going to start this division off by expressing, yet again, my sincere admiration for the Miami Dolphins' uniform design team. Yet again, they have taken one of the worst color combinations I've ever seen in any professional sport and woven it into a cohesive uniform that doesn't make my eyes bleed. That's not a job I could do, and definitely not under these conditions.
Bryan: The biggest problem the Dolphins' uniform set has is that they have a throwback set that overshadows the rest of their choices -- the classic Dolphins logo, the shoulder stripes instead of the logo on the sleeves, the stripey socks instead of the mono-teal or white. The rest of the set is ... OK. At least when they're wearing white with teal highlights, rather than teal jerseys or, heaven forbid, the all-teal numbers they wore last year. Week 13 was the first time all year they wore teal jerseys, and while they're doing it for Week 14 and 15 as well, at least that's their throwback cuts and not the current ones, and then they're done. Smart choice.
Andrew: I love the white with teal highlights, and I can't believe I'm saying that. It's one of the very few all-white jerseys that still makes it clear and obvious what team is playing. For the teal, you're right, they should go back to the classic sleeve stripes. It is a mark against them that their throwbacks are better than the current set, but there is potential for a blend of the modern and the retro that would make those potential Dolphins uniforms truly best-in-class.
Bryan: The Dolphins are, at best, below average, but they might still be the second-best set in what is the worst-dressed division in football. The Patriots going to mono-navy this year makes them drab, boring, and depressing. You're called the "Patriots," for goodness' sake, you're allowed to use red, white, and blue, and to actually twist the saturation knob up a bit. I don't think we need to see a full-time return to Pat Patriot or anything, but going drab navy unitards for every home game is a fashion disaster; what on Earth are you doing?
Andrew: I've always preferred the Patriots in red. Too many teams wear red, but navy isn't exactly a more distinctive option. Making more of the actual red, white, and blue, rather than going for two of the three, might be a big improvement. Then again, it could just as easily go horribly wrong.
Bryan: And again, it's the brand. Miami can wear teal because it's Miami -- warm beaches, cool ocean, Miami Vice, all that good stuff, just like the Heat do with their City uniforms every year. The Patriots are running away from their style, and they're running towards something that actively looks worse regardless. Pass.
But at least they're not the Jets.
Andrew: On first viewing, I really liked this year's Jets home uniforms.
Bryan: WHAT? Did you think the Jets had joined the XFL or something? They're terrible!
Andrew: The deep green, white pants, and white socks? Not at all. They're sensible and consistent, and that shade of green is beautiful. Now, on further examination, there are elements I don't like...
Bryan: Explain the white stripes on the top for me, please. Do Jets' players' armpits have contrails now? Do we need the word "NEW YORK" on the jersey, as if they're so ashamed to actually play in New Jersey they need to compensate? Why do the pants' stripes just suddenly taper off, did they run out that color fabric before finishing their uniforms? Why do they wear green jerseys over green pants, like they did against the Bills and Raiders this year? And that's before we even get into the all-blacks, which I think we at least agree on being terrible.
Andrew: Are your armpits on the top of your shoulders? Because if so, you have bigger issues than this uniform does. I do agree that the actual text "NEW YORK" across the chest looks stupid, and that would be the first thing to go in any redesign. The sleeve flashes are also busy for the sake of it, rather than an actual enhancement. They're far from the best single uniform in the division, and they're not going to win any awards, but when you look at how they screwed up the rest of the set, you have to be at least kinda relieved by the home green-and-whites.
Bryan: Nope. No buys. Worst uniform set in the AFC for me; third-worst overall. Terrible.
Andrew: Nooo. They're better than the Bengals, at the very least, and probably the Jaguars.
Bryan: We're not ranking the worst uniforms in the league, so we'll set that argument aside for now, but ugh. No no no.
The Bills win by default, though they have an above-average look to their credit. If they could stay away from going mono-blue and mono-red, they might make my top 10 -- they've only gone all-blue twice this year, and have yet to go red-on-red, so we'll consider them in recovery.
Andrew: The Bills' uniforms are what the Patriots' uniforms should be, though obviously with a brighter shade of blue. They are, for me, one of the few teams that can get away with their monocolor uniforms, because they make enough use of the other colors in striping and the helmets to let it work. I think I'd probably take the Dolphins over them this year in isolation, in part because the Dolphins are starting from a much tougher foundation, but I'm content for the Bills to advance from another weak division.
Andrew: We've already spoken about teams going for classic looks that bring very little new to the table. And with that, I present the Indianapolis Colts. Did they actually change anything from last year?
Bryan: They very slightly altered their font, and slightly altered the size of the holes on the horseshoe in their logo.
The Colts straddle the line between simplicity and dullness. It's a classic design, and it works, but it also ... lacks any sort of pizzaz? I think it's the lack of a second color; blue-and-white alone doesn't really allow for any sort of accoutrements or highlights. I think I do side on the "it's not broke, so they haven't fixed it," but I think that leaves them in the category of "fine" more than anything else.
Andrew: Agreed. Still, at least they aren't the Jaguars. Every year, I think the Jaguars uniforms can't get worse. Every year, they at least fail to get better. Which is, it should be said, consistent with the results on the field.
Bryan: The Jaguars went from one of the most overdone uniform sets in the league to one of the most underdone sets; their white jerseys basically have no character to them whatsoever.
Andrew: What frustrates me the most with the Jaguars is that it shouldn't be this difficult to make a strong uniform out of this combination of colors. Teal, white, and black work well together, are different enough to always play off one other, and give you the range for at least three distinct but strong uniforms: home, road, and third. Instead, they take elements that should be conducive to a good uniform and combine bad with boring for what is, to me, the worst set in the league.
Bryan: And again, they have gold in their color bag, too, that could add some punch and pizzaz if used sparingly. They don't. I can't call them the worst; it's safe and boring and not actively eye-searing, but there's really nothing there that you can point to and say that it works. They need a rethink, which is too bad because they just had one.
The Texans have never worked for me. They've been pretty much the same since they were founded, and there's just nothing to get excited about here. Maybe they should work red and dark blue into the same uniform set, rather than having the blue jerseys and the Battle Red jerseys and never shall the streams cross -- something like they do with their color rush jerseys, only with some white thrown in to lighten things up.
Andrew: I wish they'd go "back" to the sky blue of the Oilers, and combine that with the more vibrant modern red. As it is, they're fairly indistinct in a crowded field that includes the Patriots and, with a lighter blue, the Bills. Giving each of those teams their own shade would help all three realize their potential, I feel.
Bryan: That would be an awesome idea as a fauxback, or maybe a special jersey for the new 17th game of the regular season. I'm not sure how much the Titans ownership would play ball there, but occasionally busting out the Luv Ya Blue sets would be a really nice tie-in to the city's history.
I suppose the question is whether or not the Titans mishmash of ideas is interesting enough to surpass the Colts' same ol', same ol'. The Titans are trying things, and doing so more effectively than the Jaguars ever did. I don't know. The number-font screams "trying too hard," and I've never understood the grey yokes on the jerseys. Having silver AND two shades of grey, plus two shades of blue, in your color set also is ... I mean, it's not ideal. I do think the uniform is better than the sum of its parts, but it's a nitpicker's delight.
Andrew: "Better than the sum of its parts" is a good description for the Titans, and that to me gives it a little bit of an edge in what is a bland divisional race. I like the two shades of blue; not many teams use variants of the same color as a contrast. The numbers are horrid, and I'll never understand why so many teams find it so difficult to identify a good number font, but even the color rush set isn't unspeakably terrible, unlike some other squads out there. I do think they look better in the light blue shirt, white pants, and navy edging, but I don't fault the current look.
Bryan: So, what are we saying? I think if we pick the Titans, it will be the worst division winner we select -- but then again, the same is true if we pick the Colts.
Andrew: It's just a bland, bland division. For history, we could pick the Colts. For this season, I think we pick the Titans. I suspect either will be eliminated pretty quickly.
Bryan: I disagree, but not strongly enough to overrule. Titans it is.
Bryan: Best-dressed division in football? Best-dressed division in football.
Andrew: Between the Broncos' distinctive orange-and-blue, which I don't generally like but they often manage to make bearable; the Chiefs' bold red-and-gold; the Raiders' rebellious silver-and-black; and those glorious, glorious Chargers outfits, I can't disagree with you on that one. Whichever team emerges out of this division will be a strong favorite in the AFC, I would think.
Bryan: I'll agree with you that Denver has the worst, though I think they're better than our AFC South champs. The problem is, their current design is new, trendy and happening -- for the 1990s, when it was introduced. That's not bad, but if you're going to be a team following trends, you have to update your uniforms on a regular basis. Otherwise, you get stuck in a totally tubular dimension. Changing the colors from navy to orange doesn't really count if the overall design is the same, though it was a welcome change.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, have basically worn the same thing since moving to Kansas City. It's a fine look when they don't go mono-red. I wish they had yellow as more of a prominent color, but I suppose you can't argue with history like that.
Andrew: Even the mono-red of the Chiefs is far from the worst color rush jersey, and their home and road sets are both perfect. They balance the red and white well, they understand that gold is usually better as an accent than as a dominant color, and they keep it simple, stupid.
Bryan: I do kind of wish they would update their logo do be more streamlined and generic rather than the overt Native American arrowhead -- it's not in the same ballpark as Washington's situation or the Cleveland Indians' old logo, and I'm not campaigning for them to change their name or anything, but I think you could slightly tweak and update it and shift a little bit away from the controversy over cultural appropriation. It's a sticky topic, and not as clear-cut as some other cases, so I'm not going to harp on it for too long, but it is something I think about when I look at their logo.
Andrew: The Raiders are in a slightly strange spot, I feel. Their uniform is arguably the most distinctive in the sport, having all manner of historical associations that even transcend just the sport of football. They're the one team (other than perhaps the Browns because "Browns" is their actual nickname) that you could refer to just by their color scheme -- the Silver-and-Black -- and everybody would know exactly who you meant. They're iconic ... and perhaps as a result, they haven't really changed in forever.
Bryan: My wife is from Germany, and the Raiders were the one team she knew before she made the mistake of meeting me, because of how their logo and hats and whatnot were cool fashion statements, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s. That shows just the power of their look; it transcends sports. And their white-and-silver color rush jerseys, a throwback to some of their original AFL looks, might well be the best-looking white jerseys in the league. Altering an iconic look like theirs could have been a disaster, and instead they came up with something beautiful as an alternate. That's astounding. They've resisted the urge to glitz and spice up their uniforms that a move to Las Vegas might otherwise inspire -- no, these are great.
Andrew: They're good. They're almost impossible to screw up, and it's to their credit that they haven't tried. They've long been the one NFL jersey that people with no interest in the sport buy as a fashion statement, not a football shirt. That alone has to count for something. I do think they could do a little more with the classic foundation, but more doesn't always mean better.
If more did mean better though, then the Chargers would be Exhibit A for how. This season's Chargers uniforms are perfect, from the traditional light blue-and-white home jersey, through their stunning white-and-yellow road look, to the all-deep blue that somehow works, to the almost-black color rush set. Somehow, despite being busier than I would normally like with all the lightning bolts, they keep it all on brand across all three sets, balance the colors well, and come out looking fantastic. This is the Comeback Uniform Set of the Year, no contest.
Bryan: I agree that the Chargers' re-design is fantastic, and vaults them right into the top 10, maybe even the top five. It's a tremendous recapturing of what made them look so good to begin with, while updating it for modern tastes. I love the helmet numbers under the lightning bolts, as well, though that looked better in the mock-ups than it actually did on the field.
But as good as they are, I can't put them over the Raiders. There's just something about Las Vegas' jerseys which are timeless classics. I could imagine someone being annoyed with the Chargers' uniforms -- like you said, they are in theory busy, even if I think the whole package works. I can't imagine anyone saying the same about the Raiders.
Andrew: I'd have the Chargers, because those things are beautiful, but I'll give you the casting vote after you gave me the Titans.
Bryan: I let you have the Ravens over the Steelers and the Titans over the Colts; someone has to put their foot down for classic uniforms at some point here!
Andrew: There's just something about the North divisions and classic jerseys, isn't there?
Bryan: You almost wish there was more about the NFC North and their classic looks, with both the Vikings and Lions moving away from them in recent years. The Bears and Packers arrived at what looks good for them in the 1960s and have stuck with it.
If the Vikings' uniform numbers were normal, they'd at least be in the discussion here, but their mis-matched pointy numbers are a gimmick to the point of distraction.
Andrew: They're horrible. Like, Tampa Bay alarm-clock horrible. Worse, even. I mean, I can see what they're trying to do, but I don't get why at all. The core uniform is okay, but the numbers ruin it completely.
Bryan: The Lions at least have gone away from the black highlights they used to wear during and just after the Matt Millen era, but still, ehhh. The mono-grey bodysuits might be the worst uniform in the division, conference, and possibly even league; mono-blue doesn't look much better. Their other uniform sets are ... fine? I mean, they're ripping off the Bears by putting their owner's initials on the sleeves, and William Clay Ford was no George Halas, but I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh about a memorial.
Andrew: I always think the Lions with the grey pants look just a little too washed out, like the contrast is a bit too low on the TV. I can't recommend a uniform that makes me feel that I should be adjusting my set to view it. This division shows how modernizing can go wrong, and it's firmly between the classics for me.
Bryan: You'd think I'd like the Bears and Packers uniforms more than I do, considering my professed love for classic uniforms. Hell, the Packers are so committed to tradition, they're still wearing their pre-Nike uniform cuts and fabrics, so technically, they have the longest unchained uniforms in the league with no alterations in the last 10 years. A lot of rankings have both of these sets in their top 10, but I end up putting them both slightly underneath that -- good, not great.
Andrew: The Packers are another team with a bold, distinctive set. When you see them, you immediately recognize who is playing and where. However, their navy, yellow, and whatever-that-pant-color-is alternate is, and I cannot stress this enough, awful.
Bryan: That's why they dropped it from their rotation this year. I actually do like it when they occasionally break out the navy; they wore blue in the Curly Lambeau era and only switched to green for good in 1959. I think a blue version of their current uniform sets would be interesting as an alternate, kind of like the Oilers-Texans mashup we hypothesized. As it is, the look is a classic for a reason, but there's something about green-and-gold which ... I don't know. It feels like I SHOULD like everything about it, but it just fails to clear that last hurdle for me.
The Bears have more uniforms, so they're more wildly spaced. I hate the orange jerseys; the 1930s' striped throwbacks are fun as heck. Their regular uniforms are classic and respected, but like the Packers, something's just missing to get them to the top of the top for me. Hard to explain.
Andrew: If the Packers have dropped that throwback from their rotation, then that elevates them above the Bears in my estimation. I quite like their all-white, despite it being an all-white. The Bears are clearly the Bears, but not quite distinctive enough from the Broncos.
Bryan: The Packers' throwback is coming back in 2021, but for now, they're the champs.
Bryan: The Eagles are permanently disqualified until they switch back to Kelly green, so we can focus on the other three teams in the division.
Andrew: No argument from me. Their uniforms aren't any good anyway. The most interesting team in this division is Washington in the first year of their rebrand. And you know what? I like them. They've taken the minimalism necessitated by their lost epithet and made it a feature rather than a bug. The only downside is they, like the Jets, need it written on their shirts to remind them what city they represent ... and like the Jets, it's not even technically the right place. Still, maybe every design team should be given only a couple of weeks to get a uniform together, because it certainly worked here.
Bryan: I like that they kept the old color scheme; that's really important for maintaining continuity during a transitional phase like this. I like the helmet numbers quite a bit; it's not something you see frequently in the NFL, and it's a great alternative to a blank hat. The one thing I will say is bring back the yellow pants. Washington has gone back and forth about pairing their burgundy with yellow -- it's the classic look, but they dropped it in 1979 just in time for their Super Bowls before bringing it back in 2010. They last wore them in Week 17 of 2018, and they're the one thing missing that would take them over the top. Burgundy-over-yellow, white-over-burgundy, no need for white pants. Sorted.
The Cowboys are not a uniform you'd ever design. No one would sit down and say "you know what we need? Four different shades of blue." Despite that, it works -- there's a reason it has stuck around this long. They also haven't worn blue at home this season, a traditional move that they've occasionally flouted in recent years, and they've limited their alternate uniform to Thanksgiving, where it belongs. Good on you.
Andrew: Ehh, it kinda works. They're instantly recognizable, and there's a ton of history there, but their lighter set is lame. They lack contrast and could use work. They're also dumb for using light at home and dark on the road, contrary to basically every other team. That's just being obtuse for the sake of obtuseness. I deduct them points for that, especially when the dark jerseys are their best set.
Bryan: It's a "hey, let our fans see all the crazy colors the rest of the league uses!" move, which is a better argument in 1960 than it is in 2020, when every game is on national television (except for Pittsburgh-Washington on Mondays, am I right?)
The Giants are tough. Their blue jerseys are classic and great and so on and so forth. But their throwbacks so amazingly blow their white jerseys out of the water it's not even funny. I just don't think Big Blue should wear red prominently at all -- a highlight, yes, but not red numbers. I know they wore plenty of red in their history, but I just don't think it works as a primary color for them.
Andrew: I don't like their white-and-light road look for the same reason I don't like it for the Cowboys. It needs more contrast in the design, not just the incongruous red numbering. However, and this is important, their all-white that they wore against the Bucs on Monday Night Football is beautiful. First time in a long while, perhaps ever, that I've looked at a Giants jersey and loved it. I nearly had us drop everything and write this article then, so much did I admire what I saw.
If it wasn't for the Giants' disappointing road jersey, I'd be nominating them here. As it is, my nomination is the Football Team. Their simplicity is their greatest feature, and whatever they do about their nickname, they should keep this look.
Bryan: Once again, you're picking my third choice in the division (I'd go Dallas, New York, Washington), as we await the Football Team to come up with a new identity to design a uniform around. I won't argue strongly, though; got to save those to prevent your biggest mistakes.
Bryan: Everyone panned the Falcons' new jersey set when we saw them revealed this offseason. You know what? They look better on the field than they did in photos. Not good, mind you, good heavens no, but merely bad and not terrible.
Andrew: Right, better is doing a ton of heavy lifting in that technically correct statement. The Falcons' jerseys are horrid and should be immediately removed from circulation. That's incredibly exasperating, because red, white, and black should, in theory, be the easiest color scheme in the world to get right.
Bryan: At least wear different-colored pants to break up the bodysuit looks on occasion! The gradient jersey works better than I expected, though I fear that's going to cause gradients to become the new thing around the league. Fingers crossed we avoid that nightmare.
The Panthers have basically not changed their uniforms since they came into the league, so they have Broncos syndrome -- what looked trendy and hip in the 1990s really could use an update in the 2020s. I do quite like their blue jerseys, though.
Andrew: Their blue jerseys are their best jerseys, and the model for what the Jaguars should aspire towards. Overall, the Panthers uniforms are fine, but they're not going to win any awards.
Bryan: Thank goodness the Buccaneers basically hit the undo button on their last uniform set. I'll admit, I prefer the creamsicle look of the 1970s to the pewter look of the 2000s, but that's entirely because of nostalgia reasons; I think any objective eye would say that bright orange should be used sparingly to good effect, rather than as the main color of a jersey.
Andrew: The Buccaneers' home uniform is the best it has been for a long time, but their road set looks like Falcons discards and their all-pewter is dreadful.
Bryan: Oh, I quite like their white-over-pewter look, but yeah, that mono-color blot needs to go.
I suppose you think the Saints have the best look in the division, though.
Andrew: Am I wrong to think that?
Bryan: In theory, no. In practice, also no, but it's closer than it should be.
The Saints have a couple of gorgeous uniforms. The color rush look, with the gold numbers, is amazing.
Andrew: That is my favorite Saints uniform, perhaps ever. It might be my favorite uniform of any team, ever.
Bryan: Here's a question, though -- what's your SECOND-favorite Saints uniform combo?
Andrew: Black shirt, gold pants.
Bryan: Exactly. Now, guess how many times they've worn that in 2020.
Andrew: Exactly. Hence this being closer than it should be.
Bryan: Zero, is the answer for kids in the back, and they haven't worn it multiple times in a season since 2017. If they would just take the all-black look and fling it out the window the Saints would have an argument for best-dressed team in the league, not just the division. Or if they wore it sparingly. But no -- seven times in 2019, six times already in 2020. It's like the Saints, despite knowing they have a good thing going, keep on insisting to bring a clearly lesser version of what they have onto the field over and over again. I don't know why they keep dying on this Hill.
Andrew: It wouldn't be the Saints if they didn't find a ridiculous way to blow a significant home advantage when it mattered. They're still the best overall set in the division -- the black-and-gold sees to that, and the all-white drives it home -- but it's far closer than it should be because of the all-blacks. We agree completely.
Bryan: Originally, we planned to rank a top two in each division. If we were still doing that, this would be the easiest division in football to sort.
Andrew: If for no other reason than the Rams and Cardinals utterly blew it with their new uniforms, and the Seahawks and 49ers didn't.
Bryan: The Cardinals have been my go-to choice for worst uniforms in the league for years. They are a mishmash of every bad design decision of the 21st century all rolled into one. They have not one, but two all-black alternates … which clash with their old-school white helmets. Maybe you could justify it if you updated the helmet and logo, but you are named after a red bird. Cardinals are very famously, uh, cardinal-colored. The hint is kind of in the name. Not that that's an excuse for the all-red blood-clot look, or the horrible stripes on the jersey and pants, or the ugly uniform yokes. Terrible.
But they're not the worst anymore, because hello, Los Angeles Rams! What on earth have you done? Your blue-and-yellow jerseys look like someone cranked the saturation knob to 10,000 and then broke it off, and the gradient numbers are almost as bad as Atlanta's jerseys -- not to mention you wear them with blue pants half the time, which looks a fright. Your "bone" jerseys look dirty, like they've been washed too many times. The reflective effect on the numbers on those jerseys make it look like they're made out of the cheapest plastic imaginable, the kind that gets broken off after about 10 seconds on a cheap stocking-stuffer toy from a dollar store! It's a disaster.
Andrew: Which leaves us with only two teams even worth considering here. They each have their positives, for very different reasons.
Bryan: The Seahawks have the most divisive uniforms in the sport -- they had the highest standard deviation in their rankings in all the articles I looked at, with four of the seven calling them top-10 uniforms in the league and the other three putting them at the very bottom. This is because there's nothing else really like Seattle in the league -- they're experimenting and trying with modern looks, with mixed results.
Andrew: As I've probably made clear already, my first criterion for judging any uniform is quite simple: when I look at this, do I know which team I'm looking at? Seattle scores 11/10 on that. The second, is "does it basically look good?" That is far more subjective, and for Seattle depends which uniform you're looking at.
Bryan: I'm thankful the Seahawks haven't worn their all-Action Green uniform sets this year; even just as a jersey it's far too bright for me. But as a highlight on their regular jerseys? It took me a while, but I've gotten behind that as an interesting and unique touch. It's enough to prevent their all-blue look from feeling bland and monotone, though I still prefer it when they match with their brownish pants.
Andrew: That's key, because they have a bad habit of wearing unitards, but the Action Green makes even those look a little less monochrome. It's also perfect for Seattle, the place. It's one of the highlights of the uniform, literally and figuratively.
Bryan: They're a clear second place in the division because they have some uniforms that simply don't work (Action Green anything; the all-dishwater look), but the stuff that does work is unique and modern, and good, at least for now.
Andrew: Seattle is also a clear second because the 49ers have some gorgeous uniforms right now.
Bryan: They're wearing a better version of what they wore in the 1980s, which already was one of the best-looking uniforms ever. The old jerseys were a little better -- the 49ers have always had trouble figuring out what to do with their shirt sleeves once jerseys stopped, uh, having sleeves, and they feel the need to put the name of the team on the jerseys now for some reason -- but going from tan pants to gold pants is a clear step up, and the white pants stripe is no longer about 50% too wide. Red-and-gold just work together; they're beautiful.
Andrew: They also have an all-white masterpiece that should be the template for all future red, white, and whatever teams, with bold numbering accented by the tertiary color, and the helmet distinguishing them from whichever other teams have a similar color scheme.
Bryan: I'm not as big of a fan as the throwbacks as literally the rest of the world seems to be, but they're certainly not bad. I can't nitpick this -- and at least they no longer wear the all-black alternates. Ick.
Andrew: From the AFC, we have the Ravens, Bills, Titans, and Raiders. I think we have already determined that the Titans are the weakest of that quartet, and it's almost redundant whether we chose them or the Colts from the AFC South.
Bryan: The Ravens have too many combinations that don't work to call them the best in the conference. What works works, but
unlike the superior Steelers and Browns, they have too many misses to take the crown here.
Andrew: Which leaves a straight shootout between the Bills and the Raiders. That's not a contest, it's a massacre. I like the current Bills uniforms, but the Raiders ones are iconic. The only thing the Bills uniform ever symbolized was lost Super Bowls.
Andrew: The AFC was straightforward. This is much more of a contest.
Bryan: I agree; the NFC is the better-dressed half of the bracket, no matter how you slice it. We're down to the Packers, Football Team, Saints, and 49ers.
I'm going to rule out the Football Team because of the aforementioned yellow pants issue. They've just had better color looks in the recent past, and that drags them down a hair. I'm excited to see where they go when they finally pick a new team name, and maybe they can take this crown in the future, but for now, they're out.
Andrew: I agree, but it's an achievement for such a hasty redesign even to have made it this far. At this stage, the Saints have the better individual uniform -- the all-white with black and gold accents -- but they're let down by the nonsensical desire to play home games in all-black instead of black-and-gold.
Bryan: That uniform is so good that if you had argued for the Saints to win, I probably would have let you have it. Or come close, at the very least. But yes, they don't use their uniform elements to their best potential.
Packers-49ers would be a beautiful game if they both wore their home colors … or it would be if it wouldn't be a nightmare for the color blind.
Andrew: This is a tough choice. Both teams have instantly recognizable traditional home jerseys, very similar road outfits, and an enviable all-white look. This might actually come down to throwbacks, and if it does then it's no contest: the Packers throwbacks are horrendous, whereas the 49ers' iconic uniforms are timeless classics.
Bryan: The Packers also haven't worn their all-white look this year, so it's two uniform sets you like for Green Bay against three for San Francisco.
Andrew: That seals the deal, then. It's an all-Bay Area (well, historically, at least) final.
Bryan: There's no possible way I can make the final decision between the Raiders and 49ers with any degree of objectivity. I grew up around these teams. My room, as a kid, was painted 49ers colors; one of my good friends in high school wore a Raiders jacket every day. I am going to have to defer the final judgment to you here between two absolutely classic looks.
Andrew: The Raiders have the previously discussed advantage that their look is not only classic, it's iconic. People on the other side of the world, who would never even think of watching a football game, recognize the Raiders. They might well be the most recognizable American sports team brand in the world, or at least have been that prior to the advent of social media. The uniform is a huge part of that brand.
However, the 49ers uniforms represent a return to form for one of the great teams and one of the great uniforms of the 20th century. The red-and-gold is bold and impactful, and there are more actual football highlights associated with it. Plus, they aren't in the middle of a rebrand, where they're still being called by the name of their old hometown half the time.
I don't know, what does the audience say?
Bryan: The audience is still rioting after you dissed the Steelers' uniforms 10 pages ago.
Andrew: Excellent, then they won't notice when I make the wrong choice here. I think I'm going to fall on the side of the 49ers, because whereas the Raiders uniforms are more culturally impactful, the 49ers ones are considerably prettier. We're talking about people being well-dressed here, not just symbols of rebellion.
Plus, my 49ers sweater is the warmest sweater I own. No bias from me on that point.
Bryan: Stop the count! The 49ers have the best-looking uniforms in the sport. Signed, sealed, delivered.
MAN, that was long, even for us. Ah well, at least it was about something important.
Keep Choppin' Wood
We gave the Los Angeles Chargers the John Fox award after their spectacular late-game failure against the Bills. Can they possibly have topped that? Oh yes, yes they can. When the Chargers Special Teams collect their Keep Choppin' Wood Lifetime Achievement Award, this game will feature heavily in the highlight montage. They failed in just about every way possible:
- Michael Badgley missed a 46-yard field goal wide right on their opening drive.
- Patriots returner Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown to end their second drive.
- Their fourth drive ended with a blocked field goal, also returned for a touchdown.
- The Patriots punted five times. On three of those five punts, the Chargers had the wrong number of players on the field.
- One of those resulted in a "too many men on the field" penalty that granted the Patriots a first down.
- That Patriots drive still ended in a punt, four plays later, for which the Chargers still put the wrong number of players on the field. Perhaps they were trying to even things up?
This came two weeks after they demoted previous special teams coordinator George Stewart following a series of special teams failures against the Jets. No matter how special your team is, it will never be as special as the Chargers' special teams.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
The early exchanges between the Bills and 49ers saw both teams go for fourth-and-1 at the goal line on their opening drive. Unfortunately, neither got it, but the 49ers did benefit from their failure as they snagged a turnover on Buffalo's 3-yard line to set up the game's first touchdown and an early lead. However, it was Buffalo who stayed aggressive throughout the game: on two of their four touchdown drives, they converted fourth-and-short in 49ers territory, whereas San Francisco's next big fourth-down decision was a punt on fourth-and-6 in Bills territory while trailing 14-7. We give credit to Sean McDermott: anecdotally, coaches with defensive backgrounds are usually considered less likely to make those aggressive moves, but McDermott is above average in EdjSports' Critical Call Index and his bold decisions made a big difference in the outcome here.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
Trailing by three with six minutes left on the road against the defending champion Chiefs, the Denver Broncos faced fourth-and-3 from just barely their own side of midfield. As more and more coaches are realizing, this is obvious go-for-it territory: every team should have a play that they trust to reliably pick up 3 yards in a critical situation, and nobody should be punting the ball back to the league's best offense while trailing with only six minutes to go. Alas, Vic Fangio did just that, and the next time his side had the ball, they were then down six with only one minute left and no timeouts. Generally speaking, underdogs should take more risks, and this was a clear underdog situation: the bold call should also have been the obvious one.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
A scorpion and a frog met at MetLife Stadium. It was too treacherous for either of them to survive the season there alone, so the scorpion nicely asked the frog to carry him through the 17 weeks on its back. This made the frog a little suspicious, his eyes darting around the room, and he asked "how do I know you won't call a Cover-0 blitz?" The scorpion replied, "because if I do, I will lose, too." That sound reasoning relaxed the frog's nerves, and he allowed the scorpion to climb aboard, setting off to face the Raiders of Las Vegas.
Holding on to an improbable 28-24 lead with 13 seconds left in the game, the scorpion sent eight defenders after Derek Carr on a Cover-0 blitz, leaving undrafted rookie Lamar "Not That One" Jackson on Henry Ruggs, to perhaps predictable results.
— NFL (@NFL) December 6, 2020
The frog managed, with his dying breath, to simply croak out: "Why? Why would you be so reckless; you've doomed us both" And the scorpion simply replied, "it is my nature."
'Move it, Football Head' Fantasy Player of the Week
In games 1 to 25 of Dan Arnold's NFL career, he scored three touchdowns -- mostly dumpoffs due to being the second or even third tight end on the field. In the last three weeks, Dan Arnold has scored three touchdowns, despite no longer being in the starting lineup and receiving less playing time than he was getting in September as an injury replacement for Maxx Williams. What could explain Arnold's sudden end zone awareness? How to put his 61-yard, two-touchdown day into context? Has he been working extra hours with Kyler Murray, practicing their chemistry and developing the intuition that a passer and his tight end can share? Has he been grinding in the film room, carefully picking apart the defenses of the NFC West and looking for opportunities to shine? No, he just went entirely uncovered and romped into the end zone untouched on the fourth play of the game. Well, whatever works.
— NFL (@NFL) December 6, 2020
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
We're not going to give this award to anyone on the Titans or Eagles, because they briefly made their games competitive in the final moments. The Browns-Titans game wasn't nearly as close as the final score made it out to be, but when you're lining up for an onside kick in the waning moments for a shot at the win, we can't in good conscience say that all the work to claw back from a 38-7 deficit was meaningless. So, instead, we'll find someone who helped yours truly (Bryan) earn a bye week in fantasy thanks to absolutely meaningless yards -- Nick Mullens, who has been forced into San Francisco's lineup due to injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo, and into yours truly's lineup because of Lamar Jackson and Daniel Jones. Mullens threw for three touchdowns against Buffalo, with two of them and over 200 yards coming with the Bills comfortably in control of their Monday Night matchup. Mullens has clearly dispelled any 49ers' fans dreams of trading him for a decent draft pick, but considering the level of quarterback play we saw around the league in Week 13, you could do worse.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 8, 2020
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
You would never know it from his performance against the Patriots, but despite being eliminated from the playoffs by the loss, the Chargers appear to have found their franchise quarterback in rookie Justin Herbert. Herbert has completed almost 65% of his passes this season, with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions, good for a rank on the fringes of the top 10 in both DYAR and DVOA. Herbert's rookie season almost singlehandedly makes the Chargers one of the most appealing potential vacancies this offseason, assuming the team moves on from the embattled Anthony Lynn. Not bad for a pick that was widely considered, at best, questionable as the replacement for the departing Philip Rivers.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
In a week where all the top NFC teams struggled to put away what was, on paper, lesser opposition, the Falcons found themselves in position to upset the top-seeded Saints. With just under two minutes in the game, Atlanta had a third-and-2 from the Saints' 13-yard line, trailing 21-16. All things considered, this is a pretty great position to be in. You have two plays to pick up a first down, the end zone isn't far away, and it's an entirely reasonable proposition from here to score a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock, or at least with very little time and the Saints out of timeouts. Most win probability metrics out there had Atlanta as slight favorites in this situation. They just needed to not make any major mistakes.
Enter Todd Gurley.
— Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) December 6, 2020
Being stuffed at the line and setting up fourth-and-2 would not have been a terrible outcome; the entire playbook would be open to try to keep the game alive. Falling down where he was first touched, setting up fourth-and-4, is an outcome you could maybe recover from. Instead, Gurley stutter-stepped and ran parallel to the line and then backwards as he attempted to reach an edge that simply was not there. Note all his blockers headed to the right while he cuts it back to the left, though a dishonorable mention goes to Hayden Hurst, coming back and whiffing his initial block. Instead of fourth-and-manageable, the Falcons found themselves in fourth-and-9, basically with the game on the line. That meant Atlanta had to throw for it, and New Orleans could sell out against the pass, Ryan slightly overthrew Julio Jones in the end zone and the upset chance was over.
Had the Falcons pulled off the upset, the Saints would be looking up at the Packers right now in the NFC thanks to their Week 3 loss to Green Bay. When all is said and done, this one stop might be the difference between the Saints getting to take wild-card weekend off and having to gear up to stop, say, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Pretty good defensive stop, there.
Bryan: Talk about your missed opportunities. For a few minutes there, it looked like Andrew was going to go 0-for-2 in his Double Survival picks -- Chicago continued their plunge into oblivion, while the Jets were holding on to a surprising lead over the Raiders. Gregg Williams and company bailed him out there, though they couldn't help the Raiders cover the eight-point spread, costing him a win in the Lock of the Week. Still, a 1-1 record for Andrew gave me a great opportunity to gain some ground ... except I picked Pittsburgh, who finally found a way to lose against Alex Smith. WTF, WFT FTW?
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date:
Andrew: Buffalo was the game I had pegged for Pittsburgh's first loss before their upset failure at home to Washington. The Bills are a legitimately good team -- not an elite one, but definitely a dark horse in the AFC. They are well-coached, aggressive, balanced, and improving -- their three worst performances all came in the first six games, and their three best have all come in the past six. Their defense has regained some of its 2019 form since September, and the only negative game for the offense came on the road against Arizona. I think they have enough to beat a Steelers team that is struggling through a weird and unfamiliar schedule, and to do so by more than one point. Buffalo (-1.5) over Pittsburgh.
Bryan: I'll take Carolina (+1.5) at home against Denver. The Panthers are rested, coming off of the bye, and have the advantage of getting Christian McCaffrey back; not a bad little weapon against a team that ranks 22nd against the run! I know the Panthers are in the midst of a mild COVID scare, which is why this line flipped from CAR -4 to CAR +1.5, but as of press time, it seems to be under control, and most of the players on the COVID list are close contacts rather than positive tests, and would be cleared for Sunday's game unless something happens. "Unless something happens" is dangerous territory in 2020, but I'll take the points here.
Double Survival League
Andrew: CLE, DAL, DEN, HOU, JAX, SF
Bryan: DEN, HOU, LAC, LAR, SEA, SF
Andrew: CAR, CHI, CIN, MIN, NYJ, PHI, WAS
Bryan: ARI, CAR, CHI, IND, JAX, MIN, NYJ, PHI, PIT, TB
Andrew: Despite some strong receiving talent and a supposedly offense-minded head coach, the Bengals offense has been woeful since losing franchise quarterback Joe Burrow for the season with a multi-ligament knee injury. Per the Athletic's Jay Morrison, the rest of the league is 103-19 this season when holding an opponent under 21 points. The Bengals have just lost three straight while doing just that. Most teams can muster some level of offense with their backup; Cincinnati has been dreadful. In addition, the only 2020 coaching hire with fewer wins just this season than Zac Taylor has in his two years in Cincinnati is ... this week's opponent, new Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. Maybe Taylor's season working with current Cowboys starter Andy Dalton will give his defense an advantage, but there is precious little evidence that his season-and-a-half working with the Bengals offense will give them one. We can reasonably expect McCarthy's one-year win total to draw level with Taylor's two-year tally in Week 14.
My other pick this week is another one I'm not exactly convinced about, but much happier with after recent games (yes, even the quarterback-less showing against the Saints) than I would have been after Week 10. The Denver Broncos travel to Carolina as favorites for some reason, coming off an encouraging performance against the Chiefs, still trying to get their offense firing but with a defensive game plan finally coming together. The Panthers are rested and should have Christian McCaffrey back, but their plans are being disrupted by this year's never-ending blight. A potentially weakened Panthers side gives me hope that the Broncos can pick up the road win.
Bryan: Ah, falling on the Denver bomb early, are we? Between you, me and the fencepost, I'm not sure Denver wins any of the last three games they play, but because you're taking them this week, I can't -- I've got to make up three games in three weeks, so I'm going to cross my fingers, hope Denver blows it this week, and recovers in Week 15 or 16 to give me a point up on you.
Instead, I'm going to take what should be the easiest game on the board this week, the Seattle Seahawks over the New York Jets. Yes, I know the Jets put a scare into Las Vegas, but Seattle's a better team than the Raiders...I think, at least. They'll beat up Sam Darnold, and the offense will punt three times too many but otherwise get back on track for an easy Seahawks blowout.
Sticking with the NFC West, I'm going to take the San Francisco 49ers against the Washington Football Team. It's not too big of a surprise the 49ers struggled with Josh Allen; even at full health, they've had trouble containing mobile quarterbacks. Over the last two years, they've lost to Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, and looked like a lesser version of whoever they were at that point in time, be it at full strength in 2019 or with the injured reserve crew in 2020. Alex Smith is not, at this point in his career, a mobile quarterback. 49ers bounce back and get the win.