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

Scramble for the Ball: Wild Reactions

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your humble Scrambleneers look forward to a divisional round without Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Drew Brees for the first time in absolutely forever. Who knew that the changeover to 2020, with accompanying hilarious delayed Y2K software bugs, would actually be the end of an era?

Bryan: Alright, let's be honest here. Are you really looking forward to a divisional round without Drew Brees? That seems oddly optimistic.

Andrew: I legitimately am, because I have absolutely zero rooting interest and can just enjoy the games. No anxiety about the Saints losing, nor about the Patriots winning. I don't particularly like or dislike any of the teams this year. I have a soft spot for the Titans because of how much I enjoyed writing about them in FOA 2018, and for the Ravens because of Lamar Jackson, but even those two play each other so no result can possibly disappoint me. It's new and fresh and exciting. I haven't felt this good about the playoffs in years. I love it.

Bryan: It helps, of course, that all the wild-card games were close, exciting, and ... I was about to say "well-played," but no, pretty much all of them featured at least one baffling decision or head-scratching moment...

Andrew: ... or catastrophic injury to a starting quarterback...

Bryan: ... but none of them were badly played. Good games between good teams coming down to the wire.

Andrew: I think I would dispute that characterization of Buffalo-Houston, which very much carried the air of "which of these teams is going to get torn apart in Kansas City next week?" I can't say I didn't enjoy it at the time, though.

Bryan: The Bills' first drive and the Texans' second half were both pretty darn good, though. It was clearly the appetizer of the day -- light, probably not particularly significant in the overall scheme of things, but a refreshing taste of the main course yet to come.

Andrew: Alas, I was asleep before the main course was served, but it made a sumptuous reheated breakfast. Somehow, we don't have a single former Super Bowl champion quarterback left in the AFC, and the two in the NFC go tëte-à-tëte in Green Bay.

Bryan: Plus a student-versus-teacher matchup in Santa Clara, a redemption story in Baltimore, and two 24-year-old quarterbacks going at each other in Kansas City -- and neither is the youngest quarterback still going. Kinda crazy. Really strong set of storylines, and finally, none of them are "can anybody beat the Patriots?"

Andrew: In preparation for this article, we looked at quite a lot of different storylines being espoused ahead of next weekend. One that has come up a few times is the "changing of the guard" -- the idea that, with Drew Brees following Tom Brady out of the postseason, it's time for a younger generation to step forward. That's interesting, in part because Bryan ran the numbers on this, and this year's set of quarterbacks average out to around 28 years, 9 months old. That only ranks ninth-youngest of the 51 seasons since the AFL moved to a four-team playoff in 1969.

Bryan: In fact, the average age of a quarterback in the divisional round is 30 years old (well, 29 years and 364 days. I'm rounding.) Four of our starting quarterbacks this week are older than average (Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson are 31; Rodgers is 36). As Andrew mentions, it is the ninth-youngest all time, but that's mostly because Lamar Jackson (turning 23 as we write this article, happy birthday!), Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes (24 each) are so young.

Their combined age of 229 years, 344 days is impressive, but we had a younger group as recently as 2010, where 30-somethings Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck watched over a group of relative young'uns in Ben Roethlisberger (28), Aaron Rodgers (27), Jay Cutler (27), Joe Flacco (25), Matt Ryan (25), and Mark Sanchez (24), proving that sometimes success in youth doesn't lead to success in old age. That's a combined age of 228 years, 117 days.

You might even remember the youngest set ever, which is recent enough that we covered it here at Football Outsiders. The 2004 playoffs saw no 30-somethings at all. Instead, it was Peyton Manning (28), Donovan McNabb (28), Chad Penningon (28), Tom Brady (27), Daunte Culpepper (27), Marc Bulger (27), Michael Vick (24), and Ben Roethlisberger (22), for a combined age of 216 years, 55 days.

Brady. Manning. Roethlisberger. They just keep popping up, over and over again. Brady and Manning are the only two quarterbacks to ever play in double-digit divisional round games, and Roethlisberger and Brees are in the top 15 themselves. We've never had four quarterbacks dominate the discussion quite like them, and they're all gone.

Andrew: The fact that Brady, Manning, and Roethlisberger come up so often -- there hasn't even been an AFC Championship Game without at least one of those three since the 2002 season -- is why, if there is a "changing of the guard," it's really specific to the AFC. Even Brees and Rodgers haven't shown up in the NFC conversation nearly as often as those three.

Bryan: 2002! That's insane. The AFC Triumvirate has lasted nearly as long as the Houston Texans franchise, or the concept of the NFC and AFC "South" and "North." Yeah, we were due for something new and refreshing.

Andrew: So on the subject of new and refreshing things, we thought we could talk about … uh…

Bryan: … what do we talk about with the tops of the AFC out? Just as the NFL's marketing machine leans heavily on its stars for marketing (see the Vikings and Eagles being left out of a video promoting the playoffs), hack writers like us have been relying on a "who can beat the Patriots?" narrative for nearly two decades now. We have an answer. Those of you who had "Ryan Tannehill" in the betting pool can collect your winnings now.

Andrew: If Ryan Tannehill is this year's Joe Flacco, I'm pretty sure that qualifies as one of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse being broken. Something about stars being cast down, mountains moved out of place, yada yada.

For all of the change this year, one thing remains constant: on paper, this round of games looks tilted heavily in favor of the home teams. Perhaps it's a consequence of so many wild cards winning, but I don't remember the divisional round looking quite this imbalanced before.

Bryan: That's how it's supposed to work, theoretically -- the better teams get the better seeds, and thus home-field advantage and a week off. At least, that's true in three of the four matchups this year. (I'd say the Seahawks have been a better team this year than the Packers, despite/because of their instance in regularly playing close games.) As such, you kind of expect the divisional round to be relatively lackluster compared to the wild-card round -- there's a lot of feel-good stories from that first playoff weekend that end up getting crushed under the heels of the Goliaths resting and lurking in the shadows.

It has been a hot minute since we've seen matchups as one-sided as expected in the AFC, however. Both Baltimore and Kansas City are two-score favorites (9 and 9.5 points, as we write this), and it has been a long time since we had a pair of two-score favorites going in the divisional round together. The last time that happened was 2012 when it was ... oh hell, Tom Brady's Patriots (over the Texans) and Peyton Manning's Broncos (over the Ravens). Of course it's Brady and Manning, why wouldn't it be Brady and Manning, it's never not going to be Brady and Manning.

Andrew: However, we should note that Manning's team lost that game, and the Ravens then went on to beat Brady's team the following weekend. Yet another sign pointing to Ryan Tannehill as this year's Joe Flacco.

Bryan: Take heart, Ravens and Titans fans! Multi-score underdogs are 11-40 in the divisional round all-time, but 11's better than zero. This is a stat I hate, because two of those 11 wins came over the 49ers! The 1995 divisional round saw Brett Favre and his upstart Packers beat the defending Super Bowl Champion 49ers; I still can see Adam Walker's fumble and Craig Newsome's touchdown on the first San Francisco play when I close my eyes; it was seared into my retinas. The other one came in 1987, when the most talent-loaded 49ers team ever, sitting with 13 wins and confident that they were going to make the Super Bowl, saw a scrappy wild-card Minnesota Vikings team roll into town and blow them the hell out.

Andrew: It's a good thing there's no chance of a repeat this wee-- oh. Oh my.

Bryan: It was so bad, Bill Walsh benched Joe Montana. If we get a Nick Mullens sighting in the fourth quarter of this one, well, at least it has precedent.

Andrew: We've already seen Houston win at Kansas City this very season, though as you will see in my Lock of the Week pick I do not consider that especially predictive. That leaves only Green Bay versus Seattle, and those two teams never play controversial, wild, or especially memorable games. Never. Not once. Especially not in the playoffs.

Bryan: I don't know how you one-up the last playoff game the Packers and Seahawks had, with the multi-score fourth quarter comeback and Brandon Bostick biffing the onside kick and all that, but then, I didn't think how that game would one-up the Matt Hasselbeck "we want the ball and we're gonna score" game from the previous decade. Add in the Fail Mary and whatnot, and Packers-Seahawks games are rarely anything but improbable and confusing. I can almost guarantee that this one will feature Russell Wilson attempting a multiple-score comeback in the fourth quarter; the only question is whether he'll succeed or not.

Andrew: I'm not so sure about the multiple-score thing. Comeback, I agree, but I'm not persuaded that the Packers will build a multi-score lead. Still, this just plays into what I was saying above: with the usual suspects all gone, this may be the most open postseason in almost two decades. You might have to squint a bit, but you can find a case for almost any team winning (sorry, Houston). Both No. 1 seeds feature quarterbacks looking for their first-ever playoff win. The only two quarterbacks with a ring are both on relative underdogs. We're guaranteed that somebody from the AFC will make their first-ever starting appearance in a Super Bowl.

Bryan: Now, I'm not so sure I agree with that. Well, the opinion part, not all the facts and whatnot you mentioned. I'm not sure how wide-open this is at all; the Ravens are pretty clearly the best team going at the moment. I'd also argue that the Seahawks-Packers game is kind of the weak link of this round, and the NFC Championship Game feels like it'll be the weak link of the next round.

Of course, my predictive ability is so great, I went 0-for-4 in the wild-card round, so what do I know?

Andrew: Baltimore is clearly the best team and I expect them to roundly thump the Titans, just as I expect the Chiefs to obliterate Houston. Even if that happens, though, it should mean we get to watch two excellent young passers at the peak of their early-career prowess go head-to-head in the AFC title game. Pair that with your worst nightmare in San Francisco (yes, I'm still here for a Seahawks-49ers NFC Championship Game) and we'd be here for all kinds of fun next week.

Having no rooting interest is fun. I'm excited. Can you tell?

Bryan: I can't tell, because I'm hiding in my Cave of Expected Misery. It's not just the '87 Vikings-49ers game in mind; it's flashbacks to the '90s NFC losses to the Packers and the '10s playoff losses to the Seahawks flashing through my head, not to mention memories of Super Bowl XLVII. I don't know how you fans of regularly good teams do this; I've lost all my skills from the Steve Young era. I need a few blowouts and a Lombardi Trophy to tide me over, I think.

Andrew: I'm banking on your team facing every one of those nightmare scenarios, and exorcising all but the final demon. Give me every home team except Green Bay, then the home teams in the conference championship round, then the Ravens in the big game.

Bryan: Logically, I agree with almost everything you just said (though I think I'm taking Green Bay, just due to rest/injury situations), but again, I was 0-4 in the wild-card round. There's no way we're going to be right on all of these things. So, let's get it on record right now: which of the Three Big Favorites are going down this weekend? Where will we look the stupidest when people read this thing back in hindsight?

Andrew: None. The Ravens are too strong and too smart for the Titans, the Chiefs will score roughly a gazillion 75-yard touchdowns against Houston, and Kyle Shanahan will spin Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith in so many directions they'll end up in the wrong locker room at halftime. My road victory hopes rest entirely on what remains of the Seahawks.

Bryan: Well, boo on you, then. I'd pick the 49ers to be the favorite most likely to lose. The Vikings match up better with them than they did against the Saints, and we all saw what happened there. They're also just not as good as the Ravens or Chiefs -- or, at least, haven't been as good down the stretch. Maybe all the injured players coming back will restore the October 49ers which looked like Super Bowl co-favorites, at worst, but it's possible they peaked too early this season. Now, I'm still picking the 49ers, mind you; they'd just be the one of the big three I'd be least surprised to see sitting at home next weekend.

Andrew: I agree that their potential loss would be least surprising, just because the Vikings are themselves a competent team on both offense and defense. I think game script and offensive philosophy means the Ravens-Titans game will be the closest of those three on the scoreboard unless Houston gets a ton of garbage-time points. We could see Ravens-Titans completed in barely three hours, with each team having single-digit drives.

Bryan: The Titans and Ravens ran the ball second- and third-most in neutral situations (i.e., not sitting on a lead or desperately trying to catch up) on first downs, so I'm expecting a lot of ballcarrying, a lot of clock movement, and a quick game, aye. We actually have four of the eight most run-happy teams in the league playing this round, between the Titans, Ravens, Vikings and Texans. The big difference, of course, is that the Titans, Ravens, and Texans are good at running on first down; the Vikings just seem to think it's required in order to set up play action.

Actually, with the Seahawks in 10th, the 49ers are one of the most pass-happy teams left in the postseason. I would not have seen that coming. Of course, nothing compares to the Chiefs (they pass on 59% of their neutral first downs; the next-closest team was the Patriots with 51%), but the 49ers still qualify, dang it. Patrick Mahomes. Aaron Rodgers. Jimmy Garoppolo. Your golden arms of the postseason.

Andrew: Seattle's strategy is noticeably bizarre at times, but I loved their aggressiveness on the final third down against the Eagles. I hated their strategy for every other offensive play in the fourth quarter, but I loved it on that one.

You said you're taking Green Bay due to the bye week. I take it from there, you're also going home teams in the conference championships and Ravens in the Super Bowl? Sounds like we're picking a very similar bracket, after being at polar opposites this past weekend.

Bryan: Yeah, I would. It won't be a repeat of the Week 12 disaster in a 49ers-Packers rematch, but again, better team at home. I might have gone Saints over 49ers had they gotten there, but, well … the Vikings winning gave the 49ers a worse matchup for this week, but a much, much, much better matchup in a potential NFC Championship Game, Favre- and Wilson-related demons notwithstanding. And then the Ravens win the Super Bowl by two scores, but hey; can't win them all.

Andrew: It's a new decade. A fresh start. A clean slate. A brand-new playoff field. You don't need to worry about that old stuff, you'll have new reasons for sports-related indigestion soon enough.

And hey, at least your mob has a quarterback under contract for next season. At least, one who doesn't pull quadruple duty as a Swiss Army knife.

Bryan: I will 100% guarantee that you'll have either Drew or Teddy Bridgewater on the roster next season, though probably not both. You'll be fine. Assuming Sean Payton remembers that he has an offense next year and throws the ball more than 2 inches downfield against a team with no cornerbacks.

Andrew: Now, now, the future's bright! Let's not dwell on the past. Well, except the funny bits...


Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood

A national audience was treated to the full Josh Allen experience against Houston. Allen had a competent first half with occasional flashes of brilliance, though the major highlight saw the Bills quarterback on the receiving end of somebody else's pass. Still, a dominant half from the Bills defense was enough to turn that offensive competence into a 16-0 lead with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. From there, everything fell apart. First, Houston finally got their offense going, with three straight scoring drives turning that 16-point lead into a 19-16 deficit. In between those scoring drives, Allen had an unconscionable fumble that Houston recovered, and a three-and-out. The worst was yet to come, however: the following drive ended with a 14-yard intentional grounding penalty on the edge of field-goal range then a 19-yard sack on fourth-and-forever, then the next drive began with this:

The announcers spent much of the first 40 minutes praising Allen's poise, but that play was anything but poised -- Allen, being tackled at the end of a successful scramble, flips the ball backward over the head of tight end Dawson Knox, who is surrounded by Houston defenders, and is saved only by the quick reactions and awareness of Knox to swat the ball out of bounds. Allen recovered to lead a game-tying field-goal drive, only for Houston to eke out the victory in overtime. A little more composure from Allen on two drives in the third quarter may have been enough to stave off the Houston fightback, enabling Buffalo to advance instead of the Texans.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game

We saw one team play a tight situation notably aggressively on wild-card weekend, and the identity of the aggressors was something of a surprise. Bill O'Brien ranked 15th, squarely in the middle of the pack, in EdjSports' Critical Call Index, which tracks Game-Winning Chance (GWC) added on fourth-down decisions throughout the season. When Houston faced fourth-and-1 from Buffalo's 30 in a tied game with 1:20 remaining, many if not most observers expected O'Brien's team to attempt a makeable 48-yard field goal. Instead, he had his team go for the conversion that would have allowed the Texans to run out the clock, perhaps advance the ball, and attempt the kick as time expired. We can quibble about the play call -- a quarterback sneak is usually a high-percentage play, but the Bills clearly sold out to stop that exact call with their defensive alignment -- but the bold decision was absolutely the right call. We can only hope that O'Brien does not allow the outcome of this one instance to affect his future decisions.

John Fox Award for Conservatism

We commented last week on how conservatively Bill Belichick played the situation at the end of the first half against the Dolphins. Against the Titans, the coach who ranked seventh in the aforementioned Critical Call Index played almost the entire game conservatively. Belichick's team punted on fourth-and-1 near midfield in the second quarter, kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 3, punted on fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-3 in Titans territory while trailing in the second half, and punted on fourth-and-4 while trailing in the fourth quarter. Any one of those decisions could be considered overly conservative in a vacuum; to see Belichick play all of them that way was extremely disconcerting.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching

The Saints' clock management in the closing minutes left us somewhat befuddled. Trailing by three with three minutes left in the game, the Saints stuffed Dalvin Cook on second-and-17. Logically, they took their second timeout there. The next play was a sack of Kirk Cousins, and the Saints … let the clock run. And run. And run. The clock ticked all the way down to 2:10, with 40 precious seconds fading away. Then, the ensuing punt pushed the game past the two-minute warning, letting that clock stoppage go to waste. Now, there is an argument to be made that a timeout in hand is more valuable than the two-minute warning -- you can control when that final timeout is used, allowing you to use more of the field on your ensuing comeback drive -- but that's a real rough argument to make, and probably doesn't hold any water if you're actively wasting the two-minute warning itself. If there had been, say, 10 more seconds on the clock, and the two-minute warning would have occurred after the Saints' first play, then you maybe could argue that it's OK wasting 40 of your remaining 180 seconds. To add injury to insult, the Saints ended up never using their one timeout on offense, instead settling for a field goal to take them into overtime, an overtime in which they never touched the ball. This despite Alvin Kamara cutting inbounds to keep the clock running, Michael Thomas and Jared Cook getting tackled in bounds, and the team receiving a 10-second runoff after a false start. In the end, Sean Payton's team played for overtime and not the win, and that's exactly what they got.

'Wild-Card' Fantasy Player of the Week

We like using this award to highlight the best player none of us were smart enough to take in the Staff Fantasy Draft. While Josh Allen, Taysom Hill, and Kirk Cousins are all worth nods, the top fantasy scorer in our format would have been Deshaun Watson, thanks to touchdowns on the ground and through the air. Nearly all of our current top Best of the Rest players had Watson in their lineups, and his 27 fantasy points have most of them in a great position to beat the worst of the staff members … which is, uh, me. I had my choice of the remainder of the quarterback position in the last round, and rather than take Watson, or Josh Allen, or Kirk Cousins, I selected ...Tom Brady, and his eight points of doom. Oops.

Garbage-Time Performer Guts in a Losing Effort Player of the Week

With two overtime games, and the other two coming down to the wire, we really can't give this award out in good faith -- there was no garbage time to be had! So, instead, we'll give this award to the player who shone brightest in a losing effort, which this week was the oft-mocked Taysom Hill. It turns out rostering Hill in the Best of the Rest challenge probably wouldn't have been a great idea, as he's one-and-done along with the rest of the Saints, but he would have scored a respectable 15 points. Better, obviously, than Carson Wentz's zero, but also more than Ryan Tannehill's six. He'd be even higher if his deep pass to Deonte Harris had been a little more accurate, leading the receiver into the end zone rather than just short of it, but still -- Hill is the player people wanted Tim Tebow to be.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week

Philadelphia's injury misfortune this season was insane. We don't yet have adjusted games lost numbers for 2019, but only eight Eagles players started 16 games during the regular season. Of those, guard Brandon Brooks dislocated his shoulder in Week 17 and went on injured reserve, and defensive end Brandon Graham missed a large chunk of the playoff game after being hurt in the first half. Even that doesn't tell the full story of how banged-up players such as Zach Ertz -- who played through fractured ribs, fractured rib cartilage, and a lacerated kidney on Sunday -- gutted through games just so the team could get enough viable players on the field. Most crucially, quarterback Carson Wentz was also knocked out of the playoff game in the first quarter -- Wentz has led this team to the playoffs three times, yet that first quarter is the only time he has seen the field in any of those postseasons. Yet despite all of that terrible luck, the Eagles still won their division and made their third straight postseason. Injuries tend to regress toward the mean from one season to the next, so the Eagles should expect a good deal of positive regression next year. Perhaps, one day, they'll even get to play a playoff game with their starting quarterback.

Game-Changing Play of the Week

Minnesota's win was sparked by their defensive pressure, put up against New Orleans' league-leading offensive line. While they did a lot of their work inside, perhaps the biggest individual play of the game came when Danielle Hunter lined up against Ryan Ramczyk.

Just remember the situation for a moment -- the Saints were down three, but driving. They were on the Vikings' 20, so a field goal seemed to be the bare minimum of what they would have come up with. They had a first down. They had finally opened up their offense and scored on the previous possession. Everything was coming up Saints. Apparently, there was miscommunication on the play -- someone was supposed to run a different route (Brees wouldn't specify who, but it looks a lot like Ted Ginn was supposed to run a slant into the open space that Tre'Quan Smith created, and instead ran a short curl route). With the play busted, Brees attempted to throw the ball into the ground, but Hunter's immediate pressure got enough of Brees' arm to force the ball in the dirt. The Saints wouldn't get the ball inside the Vikings' 30 the rest of the way.


Staff Fantasy Update

Bryan: Well, that could have gone better.

2019 Staff Playoff Fantasy Draft
  Aaron Rivers Scott Vince Andrew Bryan
QB Lamar Jackson 0 Drew Brees 10 Patrick Mahomes 0 Russell Wilson 24 Jimmy Garoppolo 0 Tom Brady 8
RB Damian Williams 0 Latavius Murray 2 Alvin Kamara 11 Dalvin Cook 24 Aaron Jones 0 Mark Ingram 0
RB Raheem Mostert 0 Gus Edwards 0 Devin Singletary 12 James White 5 Derrick Henry 26 Sony Michel 6
WR Mecole Hardman 0 Tyreek Hill 0 Michael Thomas 7 Davante Adams 0 Tyler Lockett 6 Julian Edelman 10
WR Emmanuel Sanders 0 Marquise Brown 0 Cole Beasley 4 DeAndre Hopkins 7 DK Metcalf 22 John Brown 9
WR Willie Snead 0 Deebo Samuel 0 Allen Lazard 0 A.J. Brown 0 Stefon Diggs 1 N'Keal Harry 2
TE Hayden Hurst 0 Dallas Goedert 7 Jared Cook 5 Travis Kelce 0 George Kittle 0 Mark Andrews 0
K Robbie Gould 0 Wil Lutz 9 Harrison Butker 0 Mason Crosby 0 Jason Myers 6 Justin Tucker 0
DEF Philadelphia -1 Baltimore 0 New Orleans 1 Kansas City 0 San Francisco 0 New England 1
TOT -1 28 40 60 61 36

Bryan: No one's really eliminated after just one week here, but I certainly gave it the ol' college try. I went 0-for-4 in my predictions of what would happen on wild-card weekend, and that's really reflected in my current situation. Getting nine points as a one-off from John Brown is fine; that's an acceptable performance. But losing all five Patriots, with only Julian Edelman putting up a respectable statline ... that's going to be nearly impossible to fight back from. I needed two games from New England to really have a chance, and while it's not impossible Baltimore puts up 40 points a game and I get tons of that action, I'm in a tight bind. I likely need the Texans, Packers, and Vikings to go on serious runs here, and I'm not happy with any of that. At least Scott joins me in the six-players-wasted bucket, but he's still got Pat Mahomes leading his team. No es Bueno.

Andrew, you're in the best situation right now -- it's just Derrick Henry and DK Metcalf going off, really, but they both went off in a huge way and their teams won, so you get another week out of them. Really, anything more out of either would just be gravy at this point in time. Vince isn't too far behind you, just one point and one player short. You two seem to be running away with this thing.

Aaron's technically in last place with negative points, but he only had one player go all weekend; this was all part of the plan. That just leaves Rivers, in fifth place in points but probably in the fourth-best position -- like me, he has lost his quarterback, but at least he has got more warm bodies to run out there. It's still anyone's game, though how long that lasts is anyone's guess.

Best of the Rest

Bryan: Most of our top-five teams went the same way in wild-card weekend -- take DeShaun Watson (27 points), Carlos Hyde (10), and Will Fuller (zero, but it's the thought that counts), and ride that Texans' victory into the promised land. Hyde, in fact, was on each of the top seven teams; he may not have had the best day, but wise drafters made sure he was a member of their roster, and he paid off.

Our leader, however, took a different tack. AlanRLD's squad, TheDarkestHorse, took Hyde, yes. But he then added him to Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and Dan Bailey, bleeding purple and gold all over our nicely cleaned floor. In fact, all of his players are still alive, a feat that means not only do his 69 points set him up nicely in the short-term, but he's probably your favorite at the moment to keep that lead all the way through. Skol, indeed.

Your top six after the wild-card round!

  1. The Darkest Horse (Alan RLD): 69 points (Cousins, Hyde, Homer, Moore, Thielen, Stills, Rudolph, Bailey and Houston remaining)
  2. Eddo: 68 points (Watson, Hyde, Coleman, Fuller, Thielen, Valdes-Scantling, Smith, Fairbairn and Houston remaining)
  3. Spybloom: 67 points (Watson, Hyde, Fuller, Stills, Watkins, Fairbairn and Tennessee remaining)
  4. Joseph: 67 points (Watson, Hyde, Fuller, Thielen, Hollister and Seattle remaining)
  5. Lone Star Loserz (Smilerz): 63 points (Watson, Hyde, Lynch, Fuller, Stills, Hollister, Fairbairn and Seattle remaining)
  6. MichaelinMelbourne: 63 points (Watson, Hyde, Stills, Fuller, Fairbairn and Houston remaining)

Weekly Predictions

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Records to Date
Bryan: 9-8-1
Andrew: 9-8-1

Bryan: Blurgh, all the lines this week are terrible. I don't like taking double-digit favorites, because I've been burned too many times by teams sitting on modest leads just taking the air out of the ball, valuing "winning playoff games" over "beating the spread," so that takes Baltimore and Kansas City out. The Green Bay-Seattle game feels like a field goal win either way, and that's basically where Vegas has it. That just leaves the 49ers-Vikings, and the 13-3 49ers have never had a problem with the Vikings in the divisional round, no sir. The Vikings match up better with the 49ers than they do the Saints, but San Francisco is still the better team, at home, coming off a much-needed bye. San Francisco (-7) over Minnesota, and I hate the pick.

Andrew: Patrick Mahomes had a second-ranked 728 DYAR on deep passes this year, only 15 DYAR behind leader Dak Prescott despite two fewer games played. Houston's defense was very good against the deep pass in the regular season, ranking fourth in DVOA (subscription required), but that was before losing starting safety Tashaun Gipson for the year with a transverse process fracture in his back that he aggravated in the meaningless Week 17 defeat to Tennessee. A further injury to backup Jahleel Addae means that Gipson's likely replacement for much of the game in Kansas City will be 38-year-old Mike Adams, who had the worst charting numbers against the deep ball of any starter in our database in 2018. The Chiefs are already much better than the Texans, random Week 6 loss be damned, and should be rested and ready for this one. Yes, 9.5 points is a big line, but I suspect we see some garbage time this weekend. Kansas City (-9.5) over Houston.

Comments

41 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2020, 7:18am

1 "Andrew: I think I would…

"Andrew: I think I would dispute that characterization of Buffalo-Houston, which very much carried the air of "which of these teams is going to get torn apart in Kansas City next week?" I can't say I didn't enjoy it at the time, though."

To be pedantic, it wasn't until the Titans upset the Patriots hours later that we knew the Bills-Texans winner would play the Chiefs.

------

"Andrew: ... You said you're taking Green Bay due to the bye week."

I've seen this a few places, and I'm curious as to the reasoning.

Obviously, there are a few very logical reasons to pick a team "because of the bye". First, the bye team will almost always have a better record and/or be the better team. (That's why they have the bye, after all.) Second, they're at home. Third, they've been rested.

For the first two, though, I wouldn't say you'd be picking them "because of the bye"; you'd be picking them because they're better / at home. So do you feel that it's the extra rest the Packers have had that tilts this game in their favor?

------

"The Saints' clock management in the closing minutes left us somewhat befuddled. Trailing by three with three minutes left in the game, the Saints stuffed Dalvin Cook on second-and-17. Logically, they took their second timeout there. The next play was a sack of Kirk Cousins, and the Saints … let the clock run. And run. And run. The clock ticked all the way down to 2:10, with 40 precious seconds fading away. Then, the ensuing punt pushed the game past the two-minute warning, letting that clock stoppage go to waste."

I completely agree with this. I had been rooting for the Saints, but after Patyon's bizarre clock mismanagement, I starting rooting against them (only a little), on the basis that they deserved to lose, heh.

3 Because of the bye

"The bye" might also be shorthand for the fact that the Packers are extremely healthy, while the Seahawks are beat up. Seattle could have used a week off to heal up and to introduce its street free agents to each other and to the playbook.

9 Gozer the Destructor

"Andrew: I think I would dispute that characterization of Buffalo-Houston, which very much carried the air of "which of these teams is going to get torn apart in Kansas City next week?" I can't say I didn't enjoy it at the time, though."

To be pedantic, it wasn't until the Titans upset the Patriots hours later that we knew the Bills-Texans winner would play the Chiefs.

---------------

The difference between the winner of Buffalo-Houston facing Patrick Mahomes rather than Lamar Jackson is like wondering which form Gozer the Destructor will take in annihilating the lucky winner. 

11 As for the bye week stuff: I…

As for the bye week stuff:

I believe the Seahawks are the better team, despite the fact that they are the lower seed, so that takes one of your three reasons out of the equation.

Secondly, home field advantage has been less potent this season than normal.  They're just 133-126-1, which is almost nothing.  Last year, home teams won 158 games.  The year before, it was 152.  This isn't statistically significant or anything, and it's more likely just one of those "weird splits happen" things.  I probably would still flip my pick if the game were in Seattle, but it's worth remembering (and probably part of the reason why my picks have been worse this year!)

But yeah, the rest is huge.  On Wednesday's injury report, the Packers had just two players not practicing due to injury, and three on limited participation.  The Seahawks had five players not practicing with injuries, and four on limited participation.  Add in just the week off from being slammed and battered around and yeah, the bye week is huge.

2 Vikings -Niners divisional round

The Niners did annihilate the Vikings in the next two divisional rounds, going on to win the superbowl each time. All three games were blowouts in Candlestick.

5 Packers-Seahawks postseason

And let's not overlook the 2007 Packers-Seahawks playoff, a snow game at Lambeau -- who doesn't love one of those? -- in which Seattle took an early lead only to be ploughed over by Ryan Grant. Or at least that's how it's remembered. It was actually a closer game than the final score would suggest, and the key player was Rejuvenated Brett Favre, having one of his quietly efficient days with no cheeky shovel passes or fling-it-and-pray interceptions. He was terrific on third down, and of course IT SNOWED!

12 Favre actually did have a…

Favre actually did have a rather memorable shovel pass during that game on 3rd and 8 in the 2nd quarter. He got turned around during a sack attempt and stumbled toward the sideline, then shoveled the ball away to tight end Donald Lee before face-planting.

10 Yeah, but the favorites…

Yeah, but the favorites winning is what's supposed to happen.  The 8-7 squeakers upsetting a 13-2 squad so hard they bench their Hall of Fame quarterback (for, uh, their other Hall of Fame quarterback) is slightly more memorable!

19 Montana benching

That part cannot be understated.

There was a column from Paul Zimmerman where he described getting a call from Chris Doleman who asked him if he remembered  him... Dr. Z related how big the impact of that game was, saying that benching was the start of the schism that eventually lead to the 49ers and Montana parting ways (seems odd since they did win two more superbowls after that together).   But Zimmerman considered it a part of NFL history.     (Doleman then asked Zimmerman to support his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which was the subject of the column, Zimmerman initially was hesitant but eventually decided to support Doleman based in part on arguments he had just made.

Saying an 8-7 squeaker beat a 13-2 juggernaut sounds better but obviously that was a strike year, the starting squads were 8-4 and 10-2, so not as dramatic.   That 87 team though was just crazy good down the stretch, I think they obliterated every other contender for best team in the league that year by huge scores, the Bears, the Browns, etc.

FWIW the 4ers in 1988 were not huge favorites (they were 3.5 pt favorites).  The Vikings were 11-5, while the 49ers were only 10-6.   Young had played quite a bit (I think Montana was injured) including in an earlier meeting in SF where the 49ers barely beat the Vikings via one of the greatest plays in NFL history when Steve  Young scrambled on 3rd down, avoided a sack and then somehow managed to elude tackle attempts by seemingly the entire defense twice en route to a game winning 49 yard run (Zimmerman voted that for the most impactful regular season play in NFL history, as without it the 49ers would not have made the playoffs let alone won the superbowl).    The vikings had a huge point diffrential (tops in the league that year) and had played one of the most dominant months down the stretch I can recall, winning games 43-3, 12-3, 23-0 and 45-3.  Their defense from that year was making appearances on the "best defensive DVOA through week X" lists we've been seeing this year.    Then they couldn't finish it, losing a game over a 4 win Packer team that swept them that year (so 2-12 vs everyone else) and were relegated to wild card duty, which is why they had to play that game in San Fransisco).  

Though the Niners won the 88 game by a huge margin, one play still irks me.  Early in the game with the game scoreless, on a 3rd down, Wade Wilson stood in the pocket....one of the Niners dove and got a hand on his shoe, but Wilson calmly completed a pass way down field into the red zone.   The officials called him in the grasp (this was a new rule that year IIRC), and ruled it a sack.    The Vikings punted, the Niners scored and the game was never close after that.  Ah, well.

The third year the Vikings were in the downward spiral aftermath of the Herschel Walker trade, the 49ers were 14-2 and 7.5 pt favorites and the result seemed foreordained.   On top of everything else they were laser focused on not having a repeat of that upset.

22 No, the really weird thing…

In reply to by andrew

No, the really weird thing about that '87 team is that they had to back door their way into rhe playoffs, losing 3 of their last four regular season games, in addition to their strike games. Those late season losses were due to beyond awful qb play. Then the playoffs started, and the rest of the megatalented roster played so well that it rendered awful qb play almost irrelevant.

23 In-the-grasp

Early in the game with the game scoreless, on a 3rd down, Wade Wilson stood in the pocket....one of the Niners dove and got a hand on his shoe, but Wilson calmly completed a pass way down field into the red zone.   The officials called him in the grasp (this was a new rule that year IIRC), and ruled it a sack. 

Not a new rule, but the in-the-grasp call here was particularly awful

38 Thanks for sharing that clip…

In reply to by Travis

Thanks for sharing that clip! So much about that seemed modern, except for the camera technology. People were complaining that quarterbacks are too protected even 30 years ago!

It also puts that "forward progress" fumble call from the KC/Titans playoff game a few years ago into perspective...

34 The 49ers did win two more…

In reply to by andrew

The 49ers did win two more Super Bowls with Montana after that, but the benching was the beginning of the end.  The 49ers spent the first half of '88 rotating Montana and Young -- Young would get series up through Week 13.  Imagine what would have happened in Green Bay if Aaron Rodgers kept coming in for Brett Favre on a regular basis.

Who knows what would have happened had Montana not gotten hurt in the '90 playoffs; that made the full-time move to Young that much easier.  But a four-year quarterback controversy really soured Montana (and Young, honestly) on the 49ers and Bill Walsh in particular for quite some time.

They've gotten over it, as Super Bowl rings are pretty shiny.

20 Those '87, '88, '89 Vikings…

Those '87, '88, '89 Vikings teams were so weird. HOFers, near HOFers, and other Pro Bowlers, all over the place, with absolute dreck at quarterback ruining the finished product. I was at a week 16 game in '87, against Gibbs' eventual champs, where the Vikings lost in ot, and Wade Freakin' Wilson was about minus 21 points, between pick sixes, and wide open guys 40 yards downfield being overthrown by 10 yards. They prevailed against the Niners because Anthony Carter  just outfought defenders for the ball for 3 hours.

33 Any stiff can make the Pro…

Any stiff can make the Pro Bowl with enough talent around him. Wade Wilson was one such stiff. 

Tommy Kramer for a few years was pretty good. By 1987 the injuries and night life had caught up with him.

4 Best of the Rest

I like my team--except I stand by my comments from last week--I totally wanted to take Taysom Hill instead of Trequan Smith--curse you, Scramble writers, for making Taysom Hill be a QB!

28 my team..

Like Darkest Horse, I took all Vikings also, except I really committed and took Mattison and Treadwell as well.

But the part that killed me was I took Irv Smith over Kyle Rudolph.   Oh, well.   At least 100% of my players made it into next round.   

6 Eagles injuries

despite all of that terrible luck

There was certainly bad luck involved elsewhere, but I don't know that "quarterback getting deliberately speared in the head when going to the ground" qualifies as bad luck, exactly.

13 “ When Houston faced fourth…

“ When Houston faced fourth-and-1 from Buffalo's 30 in a tied game with 1:20 remaining, many if not most observers expected O'Brien's team to attempt a makeable 48-yard field goal.”

Houston was actually up three at this point, so a first down would’ve sealed the victory.

In this situation, even more so than with a tied score, going for it has to be by far the correct move. In fact, punting might even be preferable to a field goal attempt.

14 That '87 game

I think what's amazing thinking back is that 'Niners loss was on a Saturday afternoon setting up a 2/3 game the next day between Washington and the Bears, the winner knowing they got to improbably host an NFC title game. What should've been the 2nd title for the Bears in 3 years turned into the Gibbs/Green show.

In the era of the Bill Walsh/Joe Montana 49ers, the Parcells/Belichick/LT Giants and the Ditka/ryan Bears, how did the Redskins manage to win 4 NFC titles? They were the ultimate opportunists, winning the two odd Strike years and then having arguably the greatest team in NFL history in the changeover year of 1991 (post parcells/montana but pre Cowboys ascendance).

18 Getting to the Super Bowl…

In reply to by Jetspete

Getting to the Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks, too.  Joe Gibbs was a hell of a ballcoach.   And '87 was the only year they really dodged a bullet, with those 49ers going out.  Heck of a team.

21 The Redskins were a lot like…

In reply to by Jetspete

The Redskins were a lot like the Bears of the same era -- a really solid roster everywhere except QB. The Redskins had better spot-duty QBs than the Bears had, except for 1985.

25 I'm fascinated by that '91…

In reply to by Jetspete

I'm fascinated by that '91 Redskins team, being before my time. From 1982-1987 they were clearly a powerhouse, being at the forefront of the stacked NFC standings every year. But then they missed the playoffs in '88 and '89, and were only a 10-6 Wildcard team in '90, losing comprehensively to the 49ers in the divisional round. On the 'America's Game' program, Gibbs talks about feeling under pressure heading into that '91 season. Seemingly little indication that they were on the cusp of perhaps the most dominant season of all time. Interested if anybody can provide any further context there?

30 Mark Rypien

Mark Rypien was the key.   The Redskins had gone through various quarterbacks but in 1991 he really put it all together, he had incredible touch on his deep passes.   The Redskins were a fantastic power running team and would get teams to have to overcommit to stop that and the moment they did he would nail them with a perfectly placed deep ball with a ton of air yards.   They didn't throw a ton, but when they did they were incredibly efficient (for that era).

The dynamics of the NFC East were another part of what lead to that sudden emergence... the NFC East was fascinating in that era, you had the Eagles with one of the all time greatest defenses and the Parcels New York Giants that the Redskins had to emerge from under.   After the Giants beat the Bills in that Superbowl after the 90 season Parcels left and it was like a sudden rebound effect for the Redskins, the Giants under Handley were a shadow of the superbowl team.

The next year Mark Rypien held out, and it seemed when he finally came back he never got in rhythm like that again.   I remember when he came back stuff would set up the same way but then he would miss that same deep throw but just a hair and they weren't the same. 
 

And that was timed with the emergence of the next NFC East Superpower as the Dallas Cowboys (one of two teams to beat them the year before, and the only one when it mattered) completed their rise to power under Jimmy Johnson and loaded with the haul from the Herschel Walker trade (The Cowboys were 1-15 only a few years before) surpassed the Redskins and went on to back to back and 3 titles in 4 years.

 

31 Not really. In an era where…

Not really. In an era where all the teams were clustered more tightly than they are now, they were just one of the better teams in a year where everything went right for them at once. That includes health -- nine starters on offense and ten on defense started at least 14 games during the regular season.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/was/1991_roster.htm

29 Jimmy the Greek...

In reply to by Jetspete

Because the NFC Championship game ended up being in Washington, CBS prognosticator Jimmy the Greek was there (and not in San Fransisco) to cover it, and it was in some restaurant iirc where he was interviewed by a Washington area TV station seeking comments on the MLK Holiday where he (I think he had been drinking) went off on a bunch of racist crap that got him canned.

Later he seemed to lament not on what he said but the odds that he would have been in Washington that day.

36 DeShaun Watson Fantasy Points

You mentioned a couple of times in the article that Watson had 27 fantasy points, but based on the scoring system you laid out last week, I think he should have 31.

247 passing yards = 12 points
1 passing TD = 4 points
55 rushing yards = 5 points
1 rushing TD = 6 points
2 two-point conversions = 4 points

Maybe you forgot to include the 2 two-point conversions?