Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

oopsie.jpg

» Scramble for the Ball: Championship Quartets

Blake Bortles. Nick Foles. Case Keenum. Can it get worse than that? Andrew steps out of the way and lets Bryan throw up a dozen tables to try to come to an answer.

20 Dec 2017

Scramble's 1st Annual Joe Thomas Memorial Playoff Draft

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, as we approach the business end of the NFL regular season. The playoff picture, often so murky at this time of year, is actually crystallizing rather nicely with two games to play for each contender. Atlanta's win Monday night simplifies the NFC considerably: the final spot is theirs to lose, with the winner of this week's Seattle-Dallas tilt the only real contender to snatch it away at the death.

Bryan: The AFC is still something of a mess, though. Baltimore is not currently in playoff position, but they control their own fate -- win out and they're in, regardless of what else happens. With home games against the Colts and Bengals left, they look fairly likely to go through. That leaves Tennessee, Buffalo, and Los Angeles scrapping for the one final playoff spot. Both the Titans and Bills are in playoff position at the moment, but have very, very rough schedules left: the Titans have to play both the Rams and the Jaguars, while the Bills have to face the Patriots in arguably the most playoff-significant game of the year so far. The Chargers, on the other hand, get to coast to the finish with the Jets and Raiders, which might be more than enough to make up the one-game deficit they have at the moment.

Andrew: "Coasting," for the Chargers, of course comes with no guarantees. No team in the league is more likely to blow their final must-win game in ridiculous and unprecedented fashion, as a Philip Rivers pass bounces off two receivers' heads onto the back of a prone lineman, from whence it is scooped up and returned for the game-sealing score by an out-of-position Raiders defender. I do, however, look at the schedule and expect to see the Bolts in the sixth seed at the close of play in Week 17.

Bryan: Picking one team over another is almost certainly guaranteed to put The Scramble Curse on them, ensuring massive injuries and horrible fortune to befall them. The Chargers, however, can't have any more horrible fortune than they already generate themselves, so if we wanted to project the playoff picture for some reason, we could safely pick them.

Andrew: This is also the time of year when we traditionally lament the absence of some of the league's greats from the postseason. Usually, our lamentation is the Ballad of Joseph Hayden Thomas, set to the Sturm und Drang of Symphony No. 44 in E minor.

     

Bryan: Joe Thomas has played for 11 seasons as one of, if not the, best tackles in the game of football. Unfortunately, rather than do that for a professional football team, he plies his trade for the Cleveland Browns. He has only been on one team with a winning record, back in his rookie season. He has never, ever seen the playoffs. There have been great players stuck on dead-end teams before -- Frank Gore for most of his career, Jessie Tuggle for the Falcons in the 1990s -- but never have we seen someone play so well for teams that did so badly for so long as Thomas. He is the patron saint of going in and doing your job despite the building falling down around you. In the era of free agency and relatively easy player movement, we may never see a career like this again.

Andrew: I have often bemoaned the lack of a developmental league for some of the league's lower-tier players, but it's also unfortunate that a player like Thomas might never have a chance at the postseason. If only there were a way to make it happen. Fortunately, this is Scramble for the Ball, and we are not bound by mortal constraints. If we could transfer Joe Thomas to any team, just so he could have one shot at glory, would we?

Bryan: An opportunity that comes once in a lifetime? Here at Scramble, we can make that happen. For Joe and all the other scrubs toiling away in their nth double-digit loss season, we're proud to present the First Annual Joe Thomas Memorial Playoff Transfer Draftapalooza ... Event. Challenge. Arama.

Andrew: ...thing.

Of course, we cannot merely assign our players to whomever we please. Of course not! Not for us the simplicity of sticking 20 bonus players on the Patriots and letting Bill Belichick work his magic. Instead, we must have rules! And order! And balance! And Carthage must be destroyed!

What's that? Wrong scene?

Ahem.

For our purposes, we have 12 playoff teams and 20 non-playoff teams. Every playoff team may pick, in reverse order of seeding (alternating by conference), one player from any eliminated opponent in the same conference. Then, the eight teams who play in the Wild Card round get one further selection each, bringing the total number of selections to 20. Which, coincidentally, means all 32 franchises will be represented in the postseason.

Bryan: Coincidence? Or carefully thought through plan by your Scramble writers? The former. Always, always the former.

Andrew: Obviously, this would work better if we had truly official playoff teams, but our schedule is just jam-packed with excitement once January hits, so we're projecting our own biased conjecture onto the postseason. As a quick reminder, here is our presumed seeding for each conference:

AFC: 1. Patriots, 2. Steelers, 3. Jaguars, 4. Chiefs, 5. Ravens, 6. Chargers
NFC: 1. Eagles, 2. Vikings, 3. Rams, 4. Saints, 5. Panthers, 6. Falcons

To the war room!

First Annual Joe Thomas Memorial Playoff Transfer Draftapalooza ... Event. Challenge. Arama. Thing



Bryan: Los Angeles Chargers select Rodney Hudson, C, Oakland. Ben Muth has been covering the Chargers' offensive line all season, and he has been less than impressed with the interior of the offensive line. Spencer Pulley, the second-year UDFA who has been manning center, is a regular target of his, noting pressures given up and poor recognition of just where to be at any given point in time. This may be why the Chargers are 30th in the league in adjusted line yards when running up the middle. By taking Rodney Hudson, they get a Pro Bowl center and steadying presence right up front.

Andrew: Atlanta Falcons select Earl Thomas, S, Seattle. For the Falcons, the first priority has to be fixing the back end of a defense that has a decent pass rush but allows too much space in coverage. Seattle's Earl Thomas would provide enough range at free safety to allow everybody else to play a bit tighter and a bit more physically. Defending the short passing game is Atlanta's biggest weakness, so a sure free safety allowing everybody else to creep forward looks to me like the ideal solution.

Bryan: Baltimore Ravens select Von Miller, EDGE, Denver. It would be easy to say "the Ravens take anyone who isn't Joe Flacco." Incredibly easy. Laughably, ridiculously easy. Then you start looking at who is actually available. If the Chargers were to miss out, then you grab Philip Rivers and call it a day, but without him -- and with Derek Carr gone because of the Chargers' pick -- you have ... Tyrod Taylor? Josh McCown? Marcus Mariota? Instead, let's assume the only way the Ravens win the Super Bowl is with a record-setting stifling defense leading the way and give them one of the best pass-rushers in football. The Ravens are only 28th in pressure rate, while Von Miller has the sixth-most pressures in the NFL this season. Replacing Za'Darius Smith and Matt Judon off the edge, the duo of Miller and Terrell Suggs will be a nightmare for anyone to handle.

Andrew: Carolina Panthers select DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay. For our ESPN "Bold Moves" column before the start of free agency, I suggested that the Panthers should target then-Washington receiver DeSean Jackson. I stand firmly by that assessment now. The Panthers are one of the few teams in the league who would genuinely miss a player like Ted Ginn, because he was the only player on their roster who could force defenders to respect Cam Newton's deep ball. Without him, the Panthers offense has had no home run threat in the passing game. Jackson is a very, very wealthy man's Ted Ginn, and would immediately return the deeper branches of the route tree to one of the most dangerous deep passers in the league.

Bryan: Kansas City Chiefs select DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston. Since Chris Conley went on IR with a ruptured Achilles, Kansas City has struggled to put up much of a passing attack. Tyreek Hill is doing just fine, but DeMarcus Robinson is a non-factor and Albert Wilson is ... let's say "lightly used." This all changes when you stick DeAndre Hopkins out there. Hopkins is second in DYAR (and, uh, regular yards and first in touchdowns), despite dealing with the Tom Savage show for half the year. No one's ever going to mistake Alex Smith for a gunslinger, but Hopkins would add a dimension to this offense that has been missing since their hot start.

Andrew: New Orleans Saints select Demarcus Lawrence, EDGE, Dallas. If Jordan Reed could stay healthy, he would man this spot in a heartbeat as the Saints have a gaping sinkhole at tight end. He can't, though, and Vernon Davis is having an up-and-down season. Instead, Demarcus Lawrence can come in from Dallas to man the left defensive end spot, with Alex Okafor done for the year and rookie Trey Hendrickson also currently injured. Defensive end was a weakness for the Saints without those two players last year, so they would be glad to get a serious pass-rush threat opposite the seemingly cyborg Cameron Jordan.

Bryan: Jacksonville Jaguars select A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati. Marqise Lee just went down with a sprained ankle; Allen Hurns hasn't played since Week 10. While the Jaguars have been getting good production out of Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook has flashed promise at times, they really could use another weapon. This has admittedly not been A.J. Green's best season, but it's not like the Bengals' offense has exactly been firing on all cylinders, either. And after all, who would you rather have as your quarterback: Andy Dalton or Blake Bortles? Wait, don't answer that. Green is insurance in case Lee can't get back, and another weapon in case he can.

Andrew: Los Angeles Rams select Darius Slay, CB, Detroit. Kayvon Webster was lost for the year against the Eagles, so Slay would slot right in as not just a natural replacement, but a serious upgrade in Wade Phillips' defense. As though the Rams defense needed to get any better!

Bryan: Pittsburgh Steelers select Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee. Really, the answer here is "the Steelers select someone who can stop Rob Gronkowski," but I'm not sure that player exists -- at least, not on the remaining teams available to them. This isn't just an overreaction to Jesse James's catch/non-catch/whatever touchdown; neither James nor Vance McDonald are half the dynamic playmaker that Delanie Walker is. Stymied somewhat in Tennessee's "exotic smashmouth" offense, Walker could play Heath Miller's old role in Pittsburgh's offense.

Andrew: Minnesota Vikings select Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington. This is another "if only Washington's players could stay healthy" wail, this time for Trent Williams. Alas, Williams is playing through a knee injury serious enough to require surgery after the season, and it keeps forcing him out of games early. The next obvious option is a quarterback, despite the excellent performance of Cinderella Keenum. Ironically, an injury Aaron Rodgers sustained against the Vikings takes him out of the reckoning too, leaving Cousins as by far the next-best option.

Bryan: New England Patriots select Tre'Davious White, CB, Buffalo. What do you get the team who has everything? Something on defense, presumably. While the Patriots haven't been as poor as they looked in September, it's still their weak link. While a rush defender would be perfect, we're a little short on choices there (maybe Ndamukong Suh?), so we'll just take the best defender left open to us in Tre'Davious White. White is having a far more successful season than either Stephon Gilmore or Malcolm Butler, and would slide in as the team's top cornerback. Plus, it's not like anything has happened in recent weeks to make a White-Patriots meetup awkward at all, right?

Andrew: Philadelphia Eagles select Tarik Cohen, KR, Chicago. With Rodgers hurt and Cousins taken, the ranks of NFC quarterbacks who are a clear upgrade from incumbent Nick Foles have thinned considerably. After quarterback, Philadelphia's next apparent weakness is special teams. Tarik Cohen is explosive in both the kickoff and punt return game, offering the Eagles a prospective field position advantage to go with their excellent defense and talented, multi-faceted offense.

Bryan: Los Angeles Chargers select Joel Bitonio, G, Cleveland. It should be noted that, as this article was going to publication, news came down that Hunter Henry was being put on IR. It happened too late to affect the draft, but if you wanted to mentally slide Jack Doyle or someone in here, we can't stop you. Instead, we're going for a different injury replacement in Joel Bitonio. Matt Slauson is on injured reserve with a biceps tear, meaning the Chargers are running Kenny Wiggeins and Dan Feeney as their starting guards. With Bitonio and Rodney Hudson manning the middle, the Chargers' poor interior run blocking will get a serious boost.

Andrew: Atlanta Falcons select David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay. Jake Matthews has never quite convinced Falcons observers that he can be one of the premiere left tackles in the league. David Bakhtiari certainly is. With Earl Thomas already boosting the defense, an enhanced offensive line could be the difference in another surprise Falcons Super Bowl run.

Bryan: Baltimore Ravens select T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis. Alright, so if we can't replace Flacco, we can at least give him a better weapon. Jeremy Maclin is nursing a bad knee. Breshad Perriman is often a healthy scratch. I'm told by good authority that Michael Campanaro and Chris Moore exist. That leaves Mike Wallace as a healthy, reliable target and ... ehhh. T.Y. Hilton is pretty much the only thing left on the Indianapolis offense, and I think Flacco is still an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett. I think.

Andrew: Carolina Panthers select Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona. Receiver is a weakness for the Panthers. It may be the team's biggest weakness, though left tackle would be a close second place. Still, no receiver on the Panthers roster has hands as good as Larry Fitzgerald, and an actual, consistent receiving corps would do wonders for their often-questioned quarterback.

Bryan: Kansas City Chiefs select Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami. The interior of the Chiefs' defensive line, especially in base packages with Allen Bailey and Bennie Logan, leaves something to be desired. Ndamukong Suh's reputation -- and contract -- might outshine what he manages to do on the field, but he's still a dominating force that requires either a really high-quality guard or a double-team to handle. He's easily the best player on the Dolphins, and with only the Dolphins and Jets left to choose from for Andy Reid, it's a pretty easy selection.

Andrew: New Orleans Saints select Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco. For all its improvement this season, the Saints defense still has a clear weakness when its linebackers (A.J. Klein excepted) are forced into pass coverage. Reuben Foster would take care of that, without costing the team any of the run-stuffing ability possessed by the incumbent veterans. In the absence of a clear option at tight end, fixing the remaining issues on defense looks the surest path to a championship parade at Mardi Gras.

Bryan: Jacksonville Jaguars select Demario Davis, LB, N.Y. Jets. The Jaguars certainly don't need to add anything to their defense, but would you want any part of the Jets' offense on your team? I thought not. Demario Davis is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season in relative obscurity in the Big Apple and is one of the league's best tacklers. He's only a minor upgrade over Myles Jack, and he probably would not replace Jack on passing downs, but when it comes to plugging the running game, he's an upgrade nonetheless.

Andrew: Los Angeles Rams select Dalvin Tomlinson, NT, N.Y. Giants. With one pick remaining, arguably the most complete team in the NFC is left looking at the roster of arguably the worst. Still, even with its injuries the Giants roster is not completely devoid of talent. Landon Collins is playing through ankle problems which have forced him out of games repeatedly in recent weeks; otherwise he would be a clear best option. Instead, standout rookie Dalvin Tomlinson can be added to what is already one of the league's best defensive lines. If that frees up wrecking ball Aaron Donald even more on the interior, so much the better.

     

Conclusion

Andrew: So looking at this, my initial reaction is that there aren't that many players taken who could be described in a similar way to Joe Thomas -- veterans of bad teams, getting a rare shot at the playoffs. Larry Fitzgerald's time in Arizona is probably the closest comparable, and he has multiple playoff appearances and even a Super Bowl under his belt. DeSean Jackson has not won a playoff game since his rookie year in 2008, but has been to the postseason a further four times. It turns out that acquiring players good enough to play for playoff teams ... is usually a recipe for making the playoffs at least a couple of times. Which makes what the Browns have squandered in Joe Thomas (and Alex Mack, Joe Haden, and probably soon-to-be Myles Garrett) all the more ... I guess impressive, in its own way.

Bryan: I half-expected half the picks to be filled with halfway decent quarterbacks, but I suppose if you have a halfway decent quarterback, you're already halfway to the playoffs. That being said, there's a lot of talent here we're not going to get to see in January, even if we have seen them in Januarys past. Here's to you, great players on terrible teams! Better luck in 2018.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: For the second week in a row, Andy Dalton was pulled in a Bengals rout. It's not like he was lighting up the field before being yanked, either, with a pair of interceptions on some very bad throws. 113 yards passing isn't enough to save him from a score of 1.

Running Back: After an out-of-nowhere explosion two weeks ago, Jonathan Stewart predictably fell back to Earth against the Packers. He carried the ball 11 times, but only managed 27 yards, as Cam Newton provided all the ground game Carolina needed. Stewart got you 2 points.

Wide Receiver: Forget the Goose Egg Brigade -- we have a rare negative-point day from a wideout! Brandon Coleman had three catches for 16 yards; not a day worth writing home about, but usually it avoids the bottom markers. However, he also fumbled twice, on consecutive drives. That's -3 points, which isn't going to get you very far.

Kicker: 'Twas not a good day for Aldrick Rosas, who had both a field goal and an extra point attempt blocked. Blame it on the protection. He did manage to make a field goal and a couple extra points when not harassed, but that still gives him a score of -2 on the day.

Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here! Note that the data error which prevented statistics from the fourth quarter of San Francisco's game against Tennessee from being calculated is also present here, so scores may change slightly over the next few days.

Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: While it's true that ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus, if you watch carefully you might catch Ben Roethlisberger trying to throw his coaches under one. After his woeful decision to throw a third-down pass into a gaggle of Patriots defensive backs resulted in a game-ending interception for Duron Harmon, Roethlisberger complained that his coaches told him to run a play, and that he should have just spiked the ball like he wanted to. While that may be true and accurate, it was not the coaches who told him to throw the ball into heavy coverage with almost no chance of the pass being completed. Oh no, that was Roethlisberger all on his lonesome.

John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: Against the Atlanta Falcons in a game they were playing purely for pride, Dirk Koetter's Tampa Bay Buccaneers took possession down three points with exactly one minute left to play. Despite completing a mere three passes -- all short -- and spiking the ball twice, the Buccaneers still managed to drain almost that full minute off the clock before settling for a 54-yard field goal attempt. Because what a nothing end-of-season game chock-full of injuries really needs most is overtime. Fortunately, as is tradition for a Buccaneers kicker in position to kick a last-second field goal, Patrick Murray promptly missed the kick.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: The Seahawks are still alive for the playoffs, even despite their pasting at the hands of the Rams. They're even still alive for the division title, should the Rams find themselves struggling with the Titans and 49ers. So, as much as the loss hurts, they needed to brush that off and get ready for their quasi-playoff game this week. So why, for pity's sake, was Russell Wilson still in the game down 42-7 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter? Were they planning on recovering four onside kicks? Had they not noticed the seven sacks and 10 QB hits Wilson suffered? Did they not know their backup quarterback is Austin Davis? When asked about it after the game, Pete Carroll said that Wilson wanted to "keep battling." Well, of course he did! He's a professional football player! It's your job, as his coach, to know when to keep the single most important player on the franchise safe.

'Double Dipping' Fantasy Player of the Week: It was a week for odd, two-touchdown days coming from unusual suspects. Tommy Bohanon, Damiere Byrd, Jaydon Mickens -- these probably are not fantasy stalwarts, yet they all found the end zone multiple times. We'll give this award to Tavarres King, however, who roughly zero people were even rostering. King's a big-play or bust type of receiver, and this week, he went big. Just two receptions, but both ended up with him in the end zone thanks to shoddy Philadelphia coverage -- including this 57-yard one-handed catch-and-run.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: There's an interesting race developing down the stretch, with the battle for most garbage-time receiving yards being a very close one indeed. If you consider garbage time as any possession down three scores (not always an accurate measurement, but good enough for government work), then just 1 yard separates our top two receivers. Deonte Thompson has 210 garbage-time yards this season, as both the Bills and Bears have often trailed by many, many points. DeAndre Hopkins nearly tied him this week, however, with four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown, all as the Jaguars were wiping the floor with the Texans. That puts him at 209 garbage-time receiving yards on the year. We'll see if one of them can claim the lead after Week 17, or if someone like Kenny Stills or DeVante Parker can steal the crown.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: Sunday marked the fifth time this season that Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks in rushing. Furthermore, Sunday marked the fourth time this season that Russell Wilson has had as many or more yards as all of the other Seahawks runners combined. When we stated in last week's article that "Russell Wilson is the Seahawks offense," this is what we meant: as well as being (obviously) Seattle's leading passer, Russell Wilson is the team's leading rusher by more than 300 yards. He has almost exactly 2.5 times as many rushing yards as Chris Carson, the team's next-leading rusher. Seattle has exactly one offensive touchdown all year that was not a Wilson pass or run: a J.D. McKissic run against Indianapolis in October. Wilson's MVP case may have faded in recent weeks, but if Seattle does manage to scrape into the playoffs with a late-season winning run, Wilson will be perhaps the single most important reason why they were even in a position to do so.

Game-Changing Play Drive of the Week: Seventy-five percent of the talk after the New England-Pittsburgh clash was about what does and does not qualify as a catch. The other 25 percent focused on who called the fake spike play that ended up being the game-ending interception, as Pittsburgh sports writers spent the week reenacting A Few Good Men. What that means is that most of the blogosphere gave very little attention to Rob Gronkowski's incredible performance. Remember, coming into this one, the Steelers were the best defense in the league covering tight ends, but Gronk made them look foolish with nine receptions and 168 yards. He was, for all intents and purposes, the Patriots' final drive:

  • First-and-10, New England 23: Pass incomplete short middle to Gronk.
  • Second-and-10, New England 23: Pass complete deep middle to Gronk, 26 yards.
  • First-and-10, New England 49: Pass complete deep middle to Gronk, 26 yards.
  • First-and-10, Pittsburgh 25: Pass complete deep right to Gronk, 17 yards.
  • First-and-Goal, Pittsburgh 8: Dion Lewis rush up the middle for 8 yards, touchdown.
  • Two-Point Conversion: Conversion complete to Gronk.

Yeah, Lewis is the one who actually scored the go-ahead touchdown, but the Patriots do not win this game without Gronkowski. It is the single most impressive game I have ever seen from a tight end. If you can think of a bigger one, please, leave it in the comments.

If the Steelers and Patriots meet again in the playoffs, Pittsburgh has to figure something out. They can't leave Sean Davis to cover Gronkowski in man defense, but zone defense has never worked for them against New England in the past. Had the Steelers won this one, the AFC would feel very interesting indeed. Instead, doesn't it feel like we're in a death march to another Patriots Super Bowl appearance, now that the road there will very likely roll through Foxborough?

Three-Eyed Raven 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.

Andrew: It's difficult to gauge how a team is likely to react to a defeat like Pittsburgh's. In theory, Houston is the perfect opponent for the Steelers to overcome any lingering hangover from Sunday evening's game against New England. In practice, Pittsburgh has a reputation for struggling at the best of times in games that look exactly like this one. I don't expect them to lose. I don't necessarily expect it to be a tight game. But ten points on the road suggests the kind of easy win that Pittsburgh just isn't known for getting on the road against struggling opponents. Houston (plus-10) versus Pittsburgh.

Bryan: Normally, I look through the lines and start picking nits -- is this team really a seven-point underdog, or a five-point underdog? What are the chances this team wins by a touchdown rather than a field goal? Very rarely do I see a line and just jam on the pick button as fast as possible. I know the Falcons beat the Saints two weeks ago -- that's why the line is close, after all -- but considering it's unlikely Alvin Kamara leaves after one series again; and the short week for Atlanta; and how Atlanta struggled with Tampa Bay; and it likely being a high-scoring matchup, which means wider point ranges; and the game being in New Orleans; and a playoff berth being on the line, give me all the New Orleans (minus-5.5) versus Atlanta. Yes please. Thank you.

Records to date:
Andrew: 9-5
Bryan: 6-8

Scenarios

Elimination No. 10: Arizona (eliminated when they lost to Washington): Per Bruce Arians, Blaine Gabbert gets a bad rap because "he was on really sh*tty teams". Arians remains accurate -- more accurate, perhaps, than he originally intended. Drew Stanton now takes over as starter for Arizona, which probably should have been the case the second Carson Palmer went down.

Elimination No. 11: Green Bay (eliminated when Atlanta beat Tampa Bay): Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi's Packers' longest postseason streak was three seasons -- albeit, in eras with significantly smaller (read: non-existent) playoff tournaments. In the modern era, Mike Holmgren only managed to make it six years in a row, from 1993 to 1998. Mike McCarthy managed to put up eight in a row from 2010 to 2016. This is a long way of saying it's going to feel really weird to see Aaron Rodgers sitting at home in January.

Elimination No. 12: NY Jets
Elimination No. 13: Cincinnati For some reason, these two teams were snipped from the final publication! Probably because everyone assumed they were eliminated weeks ago.

We're getting down to the wire here. The Chiefs, Rams, Panthers, and Saints can all finalize relatively expected playoff berths this weekend. The Titans, Falcons, and Panthers can also punch their playoff tickets in some more contested races. The Raiders, Dolphins, and Cowboys could all see their very faint playoff hopes finally flicker out, while the Chargers and Seahawks could also find themselves knocked out if they can't pick themselves off the mat after their big divisional losses last week. Two games in particular, however, should have something of a playoff atmosphere:

In the early Christmas Eve games, the Saints-Falcons matchup is a play-in game. The winner will be guaranteed at least some sort of playoff spot, while the loser will have to wait until Week 17 to theoretically punch their ticket. The Saints would already be in the playoffs had they taken care of business in Atlanta back in Week 14, but Deion Jones' interception in the end zone with 85 seconds remaining ended up crushing them there. Now we get the rematch back in New Orleans, with Alvin Kamara presumably not leaving the game after one drive this time. The Saints haven't beaten the Falcons since the last game of the 2015 season, so they'd love to shake that particular monkey going forwards. If New Orleans loses, they're all but knocked out of the NFC South picture, so a home game in the playoffs is in the balance. If Atlanta loses, they are mathematically knocked out of the NFC South, and while their tiebreakers are good, they would be thrown right down into the miasma of six-loss teams below them with either Dallas or Seattle and possibly Detroit. Head-to-head wins over all three of those teams would help, and I'd guess the Falcons get in either way, but they don't want to spend New Year's Eve feeling like they have to beat the Panthers to survive. Big game.

In the late afternoon slot, we have our first (un)official playoff game: Seattle at Dallas. The winner keeps their playoff hopes alive; the loser is mathematically eliminated. Honestly, the Cowboys are probably out either way -- they need to win out, have the Lions lose at least one game, and have one of the three NFC South teams lose out. That's a lot to ask for, but with Ezekiel Elliott back and the Eagles potentially having nothing to play for in Week 17, they have a chip and a chair. Sometimes, that's all you need! The Seahawks are probably the more lively team, despite needing to win out as well. They have all of Dallas' scenarios, but also could steal the NFC West if the Rams lose out, and have the easier Week 17 matchup at home against Arizona. Either way, someone's getting playoff relevance in their stocking, while the other gets the hard lump of coal that is elimination and poorly thought-out metaphors.

ELIMINATION

  • Pittsburgh can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Houston d. Pittsburgh AND New England d. Buffalo
  • Baltimore can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Indianapolis d. Baltimore AND New England d. Buffalo AND Tennessee d. L.A. Rams
  • Jacksonville can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF San Francisco d. Jacksonville AND EITHER New England d. Buffalo OR Pittsburgh d. Houston
  • Jacksonville can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF San Francisco d. Jacksonville AND New England d. Buffalo AND Pittsburgh d. Houston
  • Tennessee can be eliminated from the AFC South IF L.A. Rams d. Tennessee OR Jacksonville d. San Francisco
  • Miami can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Kansas City d. Miami OR Baltimore d. Indianapolis OR Buffalo d. New England OR Tennessee d. L.A. Rams
  • Miami can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Kansas City d. Miami OR TWO OF Buffalo d. New England OR Baltimore d. Indianapolis OR Tennessee d. L.A. Rams
  • L.A. Chargers can be eliminated from the AFC West IF N.Y. Jets d. L.A. Chargers OR Kansas City d. Miami
  • L.A. Chargers can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF N.Y. Jets d. L.A. Chargers OR Kansas City d. Miami AND EITHER Baltimore d. Indianapolis OR Tennessee d. L.A. Rams
  • L.A. Chargers can be eliminated from the playoffs IF N.Y. Jets d. L.A. Chargers OR ALL OF Kansas City d. Miami AND Tennessee d. L.A. Rams AND Baltimore d. Indianapolis
  • Oakland can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Philadelphia d. Oakland OR Buffalo d. New England OR TWO OF Miami d. Kansas City OR Tennessee d. L.A. Rams OR Baltimore d. Indianapolis
  • Minnesota can be eliminated from Home Field Advantage IF Green Bay d. Minnesota OR Philadelphia d. Oakland
  • Detroit can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Cincinnati d. Detroit OR EITHER New Orleans d. Atlanta OR Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Detroit can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Cincinnati d. Detroit
  • New Orleans can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Atlanta d. New Orleans OR Minnesota d. Green Bay
  • New Orleans can be eliminated from a Top-Three Seed IF Atlanta d. New Orleans AND EITHER L.A. Rams d. Tennessee OR Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • New Orleans can be eliminated from the NFC South IF Atlanta d. New Orleans AND Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Carolina can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Tampa Bay d. Carolina AND ONE OF New Orleans d. Atlanta OR L.A. Rams d. Tennessee OR Minnesota d. Green Bay
  • Carolina can be eliminated from the NFC South IF Tampa Bay d. Carolina AND New Orleans d. Atlanta
  • Atlanta can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF New Orleans d. Atlanta OR Minnesota d. Green Bay
  • Atlanta can be eliminated from the NFC South IF New Orleans d. Atlanta
  • Atlanta can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF New Orleans d. Atlanta AND Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Dallas can be eliminated from the No. 5 Seed IF Seattle d. Dallas OR New Orleans d. Atlanta OR Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Dallas can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Seattle d. Dallas
  • L.A. Rams can be eliminated from a First-Round Bye IF Tennessee d. L.A. Rams OR Minnesota d. Green Bay
  • L.A. Rams can be eliminated from a Top-Three Seed IF Tennessee d. L.A. Rams AND Atlanta d. New Orleans AND Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Seattle can be eliminated from the NFC West IF Dallas d. Seattle OR L.A. Rams d. Tennessee
  • Seattle can be eliminated from a Top-Five Seed IF Dallas d. Seattle OR L.A. Rams d. Tennessee AND EITHER New Orleans d. Atlanta OR Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Seattle can be eliminated from the playoffs IF Dallas d. Seattle

CLINCHING

  • Pittsburgh can clinch a First-Round Bye IF Pittsburgh d. Houston AND San Francisco d. Jacksonville
  • Jacksonville can clinch the AFC South and a Top-Three Seed IF Jacksonville d. San Francisco OR L.A. Rams d. Tennessee
  • Tennessee can clinch a playoff berth IF Tennessee d. L.A. Rams AND New England d. Buffalo AND Indianapolis d. Baltimore
  • New England can clinch Home Field Advantage IF New England d. Buffalo AND Houston d. Pittsburgh AND San Francisco d. Jacksonville
  • New England can clinch a First-Round Bye IF New England d. Buffalo AND EITHER Houston d. Pittsburgh OR San Francisco d. Jacksonville
  • Kansas City can clinch the AFC West IF Kansas City d. Miami OR N.Y. Jets d. L.A. Chargers
  • Minnesota can clinch a First-Round Bye IF Minnesota d. Green Bay AND Tampa Bay d. Carolina
  • Minnesota can clinch a Top-Three Seed IF Minnesota d. Green Bay OR Tennessee d. L.A. Rams
  • New Orleans can clinch the NFC South IF New Orleans d. Atlanta AND Tampa Bay d. Carolina
  • New Orleans can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF New Orleans d. Atlanta
  • Carolina can clinch a Top-Five Seed IF Carolina d. Tampa Bay AND New Orleans d. Atlanta
  • Carolina can clinch a playoff berth IF Carolina d. Tampa Bay
  • Atlanta can clinch a playoff berth IF Atlanta d. New Orleans
  • Philadelphia can clinch Home Field Advantage IF Philadephia d. Oakland OR Green Bay d. Minnesota
  • L.A. Rams can clinch the NFC West IF L.A. Rams d. Tennessee OR Dallas d. Seattle
  • L.A. Rams can clinch a playoff berth IF L.A. Rams d. Tennessee OR Dallas d. Seattle OR New Orleans d. Atlanta AND Tampa Bay d. Carolina AND Cincinnati d. Detroit

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, season's greetings, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 20 Dec 2017

40 comments, Last at 21 Dec 2017, 5:46pm by Vincent Verhei

Comments

1
by Andrew Healy :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 4:46pm

Great game for Gronk, but I think this one still wins for impressive TE performance:
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198201020mia.htm

There were all the catches and then there was this:
https://youtu.be/CIlI1upRSm4?t=103

3
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 5:17pm

OK, yes, that's a really great counterexample, and it came in a more meaningful game (although only just).

I still like Gronk's day because of the degree of difficulty (our top-rated tight end defense!) and so forth, but Winslow's day was an all-timer.

In other news: Andrew! Long time, no see!

14
by Jerry :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 6:13am

The top-rated tight end defense misses Ryan Shazier. In fact, an inside linebacker who's an upgrade on Tyler Matakevich/Sean Spence would be a much better choice for the Steelers than improving on adequate tight ends.

12
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:33am

Winslow's a hard one to beat.

I'd give you Gonzalez for the Falcons vs the Pats in 2013 - 12/149/2

I remember Belichick just sticking two defenders on the final play of the game to stop him even getting off the line of scrimmage.

http://www.espn.co.uk/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330929001

28
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 11:21am

Other possibles:

Jackie Smith in 1963: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/196310130crd.htm
Shannon Sharpe in 2002: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200210200kan.htm
Witten in 2012: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201210280dal.htm

Cook and Dickson has really efficient days in 2011 and 2017.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201112240oti.htm
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201710080det.htm

Gates and Gonzalez had a great duel in 2005.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200510300sdg.htm

There's a 2006 game where PFR weirdly considered Hines Ward to have been a TE. Had that been true, his duel with Crumpler would have likely been the greatest TE duel ever.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200610220atl.htm

32
by Chuckc :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 1:03pm

What about Vernon Davis' 7 for 180 game against the Saints in the 2011 playoffs while the entire WR corps managed less than 50 total?

2
by milo :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 4:59pm

I know the Falcons beat the Saints two weeks ago -- that's why the line is close, after all -- but considering it's unlikely Alvin Kamara leaves after one series again; and the short week for Atlanta; and how Atlanta struggled with Tampa Bay; and it likely being a high-scoring matchup, which means wider point ranges; and the game being in New Orleans; and a playoff berth being on the line; and Atlanta is not going to get 9 first downs by penalty again, give me all the New Orleans (minus-5.5) versus Atlanta. Yes please. Thank you.

FIFY

4
by Jim C. :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 5:46pm

You are nuts if you think the Ravens would pass on any opportunity to grab A. J. Green.

Meanwhile, here are Joe Flacco's DYAR since the Ravens' Week 10 bye:

Week 11: -71
Week 12: -30
Week 13: +97
Week 14: +90
Week 15: +21

Net total: +107

That won't make Baltimoreans forget Johnny U., but it suggests that his health is improving and with it the Ravens' playoff prospects.

5
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 6:31pm

Hey, they got T.Y. Hilton on the back end, so they're covered.

And yeah, if this was still October, replacing Flacco would have been a higher priority, but he's stabilized to "well, I mean, I guess we won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer" levels. Not exactly what you'd like coming into the playoffs (I still would have taken Rivers if we decided that the Chargers would miss the playoffs), but enough to go for studs at other positions.

35
by dryheat :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 1:57pm

"Well, I mean, I guess we won the Super Bowl with Joe Flacco" would probably be more appropriate in this case.

6
by Dales :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 6:37pm

I love Dalvin. But if the Steelers are taking a dynamic playmaker for TE, the clear pick is Evan Engram.

7
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 7:00pm

Two things:

1) Each team was limited to taking players from their own conference, for competitive balance reasons and not at all so Andrew and I could write our parts of the article separately and merge them later.

2) We have OPINIONS on the rookie tight ends -- opinions which may or may not come out in a theoretical article next week about the top rookies in the league! Hashtag cheap plug.

8
by Dales :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 7:14pm

Ah. Missed the part about "own conference." My bad!

At least my miss led to a TEASER!

9
by herewegobrownie... :: Wed, 12/20/2017 - 11:33pm

Brownies have plenty of time with Garrett, likely including franchise tags. :) Not sure I would group Haden amongst that set - merely above average in 2014, even during the 7-4 stretch where he looked like he could be outside this non-playoff category, and average at best since then.

10
by wiesengrund :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:01am

As much as I enjoy the format, both Falcons picks make little sense. Safety is actually one of the more stable positions on that defense, and by FOs numbers the Falcons rank 14th in deep passes and 14th in deep middle passes, while ranking 27th in short passes. LB coverage (mostly around Campbell and whoever was the third LB in a wild rotation) has been the bigger problem this year by far, Rico Allen, while quiet, was fine.

Same on offense. Jake Matthews is quiet, but the Falcons rank 6th in ALY and 8th in ASR. on runs around left end and behind LT they rank 5th and 3rd in ALY and the combined 34% of runs they ran that way ranks 2nd in the league behind CHI. That's a weird weakness to pick to improve.

I also think ATL is already eliminated from first round bye due to MIN having swept them and the Rams.

11
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:13am

I appreciate the comments, particularly on the Falcons whom I haven't been able to follow as closely as I'd hoped this year. I did debate (off-camera) Bobby Wagner ahead of Earl Thomas, ultimately opting for Thomas, but I'd be happy to swap the two if coverage 'backer's a bigger weakness. For the latter pick, part of the challenge is finding guys who are upgrades for playoff teams when there are only four teams left to choose from. Again, I don't think the Panthers would mind Bakhtiari if you'd prefer somebody like Deone Bucannon from the Cardinals. Particularly in a pure fantasy article like this, the debate is 90% of the fun!

Also, yes, the Falcons can't get a bye. The reason the Falcons got two picks is they're a prospective wild card -- we decided to give the extra picks to the teams with the extra game.

13
by Moridin :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 6:12am

While I do think Cousins would be an upgrade over Keenum, and I know you can't separate really separate a player from their surrounding talent, I do think it's funny that the Vikings pick is to replace the #1 QB in DVOA and 5th in DYAR w/ the 16th and 13th.

Honestly though, this team's chances feel like they will die without a continued quality o-line performance (too gun-shy after the last couple of years), so I'd pick the best lineman available (not sure how their injuries look for full recovery, so I don't know if a specific position or just the straight best lineman available in this draft).

15
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 6:59am

I would have gone with Trent Williams, but he just can't stay healthy. In fact, the entire Washington line's a bit like that this year.

The Vikings just don't have that many weaknesses, so pretty much any selection's going to be arguable. The defense is good-to-excellent at every spot, their receivers are terrific, and their backfield is fine. That leaves quarterback, kicker, or offensive line. They're not going to upgrade with a lineman from the Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, or Bears (with Kyle Long on IR), and all of Washington's are hurt. Robbie Gould might be a decent upgrade, and David Bakhtiari would make sense here too, I guess.

The top NFC playoff teams are really, really good.

22
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:35am

The Vikings really need help on O-line. Much more than they need a 4th QB.

But if you're determined to take a QB, you're taking Cousins and just leaving Stafford and Wilson sitting there?

They'd be better served with Prater than Cousins.

Frankly, you're insane with your Eagles pick, too. You're taking Foles with those guys sitting there, too? Philly can't use a SB-winning scrambling QB who is basically a more experienced Wentz or a veteran pocket QB who is Foles, but talented? What Philly really needs is a kick returner? You guys are Giants fans, aren't you?

I tried to edit the other post, but your site is a bit broken on that feature at the moment.

19
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:31am

The Vikings really need help on O-line. Much more than they need a 4th QB.

But if you're determined to take a QB, you're taking Cousins and just leaving Stafford and Wilson sitting there?

They'd be better served with Prater than Cousins.

21
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:33am

Lions and Seahawks were off the board already (Darius Slay to the Rams and Earl Thomas to the Falcons).

26
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 11:02am

Ah. It wasn't clear to me from "Every playoff team may pick, in reverse order of seeding (alternating by conference), one player from any eliminated opponent in the same conference." that each team could only be poached once.

Are we assuming Rodgers is actually injured and that his IR status isn't just a convenient fiction?

If so, you don't take Patterson (or Matthieu) or Fitzgerald from Arizona, Staley from SF (Peters is injured) or Matthews from GB? If you're determined to get a special teams guy, wouldn't the Eagles be better off with Andy Lee? Jones has been getting off some really slow punts lately and it nearly cost them the last two games.

30
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 12:52pm

Sorry, I should have been clearer on that point.

Yes, Rodgers is injured. He wasn't fully healed from the collarbone fracture.

Patrick Peterson (assuming that's who you mean) is an interesting option, but I was under the impression the Eagles cornerbacks have played well this year and another position would be more of a priority. Same with the receivers.

Bryan has not been impressed at all with the 49ers offensive line, and we've discussed in the past that Staley isn't what he used to be. Vaitai appears to be fine in that slot.

The Eagles punt team rates higher than either of their return teams in our special teams numbers.

Other than the fact they've lost their starting quarterback for the year, it's hard to find an actual weakness on this Eagles team. Special teams is their only unit outside the top six in DVOA, and looks the easiest to upgrade with a single player.

31
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 12:56pm

The ST numbers tend to downrate the effect of blocks, don't they?

My thought on Peterson (yes, this is who I meant) or Matthieu is that the defense has been leaky lately, and they could use more depth in the secondary even though it's been doing okay this year.

DB depth is helpful against pretty much everyone they'd run into in the NFC. Really, everyone except Jacksonville.

33
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 1:22pm

I'm not totally sure how blocks are treated in the ST ratings, because they're so uncommon.

What you say about DB depth is true, and Peterson also brings experience as a punt returner if you felt the return game would benefit. (Though not so much recently, only 23 punt returns total since the start of 2016 after at least 32 per season before that, and no punt return touchdowns since he had four in his rookie year.)

38
by nat :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 2:57pm

From the FAQ (https://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/methods):
...although blocked field goals and punts are definitely skillful plays, they are so rare that they have no correlation to how well teams have played in the past or will play in the future, thus they are included here as if they were any other missed field goal or botched punt, giving the defense no additional credit for their efforts. The value of these three elements is listed separately as “Hidden” value.

16
by Otis Taylor89 :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 7:35am

Seems like Suh to NE would the biggest no brainer out there, but any LB would could cover would be fine also. Don’t see any need for another CB.
Winslow’s game is tough to top and the game itself is at or near the top of the list of greatest games of all time.

39
by RickD :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 2:59pm

Either Suh or Cameron Wake would be my choice for the Pats. As you say, they don't need another CB. Given the softness of the run D, probably Suh would be the more appropriate choice.

17
by jtr :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 9:31am

>There have been great players stuck on dead-end teams before -- Frank Gore for most of his career, Jessie Tuggle for the Falcons in the 1990s -- but never have we seen someone play so well for teams that did so badly for so long as Thomas.

I'd like to add Steven Jackson to the list. He got tackled 300 to 400 times per season for 9 years on a Rams team that only twice won 8 games and never more than that. He finally escaped to Atlanta, who had just won 13 games...and they won 4 games and then 6 games in his two seasons there. If it weren't for a final season in New England where he barely touched the ball (only appeared in two games for 21 carries), the poor guy would have been on the receiving end of over 3000 tackles on his career and never won 9 games in a season for it.

18
by Tim R :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:15am

Seconded. Really think jacksons a hall of famer if he played for some remotely competent franchises.

20
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:31am

Gerald McCoy is well on his way, too. Eight years, one of the best defensive players in the league, six Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro in 2013, no playoff appearances.

Calvin and Andre Johnson are a rung below. Each only made the playoffs twice in what might be Hall-of-Fame careers -- 14 years for Andre, 9 years for Calvin.

36
by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 2:04pm

The best part is as Gerald McCoy gets older and likely declines, Lavonte David is right there to take up the slack as the "we're sorry the team sucks around you" player.

23
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:38am

Cortez Kennedy

34
by jw124164 :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 1:43pm

He was done when he got to Atlanta - no burst left.

Earl Thomas is as defensible pick for the Falcons, but maybe Bobby Wagner or Reuben Foster would be a better choice. This Seattle style bend-don't-break just bends too damn much, at least with the Falcons current personnel. We get killed with short/medium passes.

40
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 5:46pm

AMEN.

24
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:44am

Noting that Paul Poluszny is just experiencing his first winning season in this his 11th season in the league.

Buffalo 2007-10 ... 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 4-12
Jacksonville 2011- ... 5-11, 2-14, 4-12, 3-13, 5-11, 3-13

27
by milo :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 11:08am

Derland Moore. 14th year in league for first winning season.

25
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:48am

"The Titans, Lions, and Panthers can also punch their playoff tickets in some more contested races. "

I think you meant Atlanta and not Detroit here. Detroit can still sneak into the #5 seed, but it requires a sea of 10-6 teams where Detroit comes out ahead on like the 7th tie-breaker.

29
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 12:26pm

"Atlanta....the final spot is theirs to lose, with the winner of this week's Seattle-Dallas tilt the only real contender to snatch it away at the death."

Not really true. Detroit has the tiebreaker over both Dallas and Seattle, so the winner of DAL-SEA is still a pretty big longshot. They would require ATL to lose their last two (unlikely, but possible), AND for DET to lose to either a banged up, and possibly checked-out Bengals team, or to the Green Bay Hundleys (even less likely).

37
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/21/2017 - 2:21pm

We wrote this before news broke that Aaron Rodgers had been placed on injured reserve, when a Lions loss in Week 17 looked considerably more of a possibility.

You're right, though, that "only real contender" isn't as accurate as it could be.