Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where we have officially reached the midpoint of the NFL season! No, not the Game 128/256 midpoint — that was weeks ago — but the midweek between Week 11 and Week 12, exactly halfway between opening weekend and the Super Bowl in, effectively, Week 22. In a normal season, that landmark would pass unnoticed. This is not a normal season. I’m somewhere between shocked and impressed that the NFL has made it this far with no major catastrophes, even allowing for the scheduling madness around the Titans’ COVID outbreak in early October.
Alas, that enthusiasm is tempered slightly by the developing situation in Baltimore ahead of the Thanksgiving night matchup against the Steelers. There are all kinds of reasons we’re hoping for good news here, but we’d be misleading you, dear reader, if we ignored the fact that we’re relying on that headliner to save an otherwise terrible set of Thanksgiving games.
Bryan: 2020 being what it is, a lot of our normal Thanksgiving traditions are disrupted. Unsafe to travel or visit friends, people across the country are rejiggering their plans to make the best of the situation. We should be thankful, therefore, that at least one piece of normality remains — because, as you say, the NFL has made it this far, we still get our annual Thanksgiving Day games. The Lions have hosted a game every year since 1934; the Cowboys every year but two since 1966. It’s a slice of familiarity in an unfamiliar year.
Because it’s 2020, however, everything has to come with a side of suck. We have DVOA going back to 1985, and this is the first Thanksgiving Day ever where all four teams playing in the day matchups enter the week with negative DVOA. It is arguably the worst set of games we have ever seen; the ambrosia salad and creamed spinach on the table.
Andrew: That’s not to say we haven’t had worse individual games, or even a worse cumulative DVOA in a given year. However, usually those instances are dragged down by one exceptionally bad team, typically involving Matt Millen in some capacity. It truly is unique that we have not just this depth of suckitude, but also this breadth.
Bryan: Matt Millen was the drunken uncle of your Thanksgiving dinner throughout the 2000s, always stumbling in, insisting that this year, his first-round receiver was really going to turn things around. But at least he brought his famed Megatron souffle to the table on a consistent basis.
There are a number of different ways to try to determine the quality of a matchup. We’re keeping it simple and just using combined DVOA here — adding up the DVOA of the teams involved. By that method, the Dallas-Washington game is the fifth-worst of the 87 Thanksgiving games of the DVOA era at a combined -27.3%. Detroit-Houston isn’t that far behind, ranking 17th at -16.6%.
|Worst Thanksgiving Games on Paper (Combined DVOA), 1985-2020|
|* End-of-season DVOA for years prior to 2020|
Bryan: A quick aside before we continue — for years before 2020, these are full-season DVOA numbers. The week-of DVOA numbers are ever so slightly different. That 2004 Bears-Cowboys matchup goes from -44.4% to -44.5%, as you can see by looking at Week 11, 2004’s DVOA in your FO+ subscription. The overall results don’t change significantly with either set of numbers and, to be honest, I used the set that was the easiest to grab. Mea culpa.
Andrew: However, that does raise an important question, especially in a year that has left us grabbing what comfort we can from the ashes of our everyday lives. Were those extraordinarily bad Thanksgiving matchups actually extraordinarily bad games? I think we can all agree that we’d rather be watching, say, Chiefs-Bucs and Titans-Colts than this year’s NFC East and any year’s Detroit Lions, but in The Year of the Covid we might be happy just seeing something that resembles competitive professional sports.
Bryan: That’s going to depend a little bit on what you mean by “bad,” of course. A number of these games have been competitive, and sometimes watching two bad teams battling out for a lead is better than watching one team destroy a hapless opponent.
The 2004 Cowboys-Bears game featured some halftime drama, with Bill Parcells benching Drew Henson halfway through his first NFL start, subbing in a gimpy Vinny Testaverde to help turn a 7-7 halftime tie into a 21-7 Cowboys win. The Bears also made an in-game quarterback change, with Craig Krenzel’s sprained ankle forcing Chicago to turn to Jonathan Quinn — and if that’s not a murderer’s row of quarterbacks, I don’t know what is.
Andrew: I admit, I was hoping for something a smidge more reassuring.
Bryan: Alright, how about Emmitt Smith having a throwback game, running for 144 yards against Steve Spurrier’s Washington team in 2002 as the Cowboys scored 10 fourth-quarter points to escape with a 27-20 victory? That’s not nothing, at the very least, and it had some drama in Smith getting some revenge on Spurrier — Spurrier had become the coach of Florida while Smith was there, and Smith immediately responded by coming out early for the NFL draft rather than playing in that pass-happy offense.
Andrew: Alternatively, how’s this for comfort? With DVOA differences of 2.0% and 8.3%, this year’s two matchups are the closest and the third-closest on your table of terror. The second-closest was the Lions hosting the Packers in Week 13 of 1986, and that was a barnburner — a 44-40 final score, at least 17 points in every quarter, both quarterbacks had three passing touchdowns, and the game-winning score was an 83-yard punt return touchdown by Walter Stanley as the Packers rallied from a 37-23 deficit.
Bryan: Heck, you don’t even need to limit it to the table above. Texans-Lions is the fifth-closest Thanksgiving matchup in the DVOA era, and Cowboys-Football Team just misses the top 20. And Thanksgiving makes for unlikely heroes, or near-heroes — remember David Blough last year, nearly leading Detroit to an upset over Chicago? Just because two teams are bad doesn’t necessarily mean the end product will be boring — though it does usually mean it will be bad. That 1986 game you highlight here had the Lions end up with a single-game DVOA of -92.9%, mostly because their defense had all the stopping power of canned cranberry sauce that day.
Andrew: Well, the presence of the Lions usually means it will be bad, at least by most empirical measures. But bad is not always boring!
Bryan: For the record, the average Lions team has a DVOA of -8.9%; the average Cowboys team has a DVOA of 4.5%. It’s true, the early game has usually been an appetizer to the much more appealing afternoon matchup.
Andrew: I’d sure rather have that 1986 Lions outcome than the outcome of the game from this table with the biggest difference between the two sides: a 27-0 snoozer between the 1989 Eagles and their eventual 1-15 Dallas counterparts. Sure, Cris Carter and Randall Cunningham were good. That game was not. Something tells me Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston won’t be bringing that one up on the broadcast.
Bryan: Most Cowboys fans consider the 1989 season to be the darkness before the dawn and all that, because boy, did they suck during Jimmy Johnson’s first season. It takes some time to dig out of massive holes
As you say, the fact that the teams are the same relative quality of poor is probably our best hope for exciting — or at least interesting football — this week. Flip ’em around, and have Dallas-Houston and Detroit-Washington games, and the outcomes would likely be significantly less in doubt.
But no matter how you shuffle them, we must reiterate: we have four teams with negative DVOAs. That has never happened before. Having one bad matchup is bad enough, but like we said, two of the worst 20 games of all time? That’s rarified air. Add up all four teams playing in the two traditional matchups, and you get to a combined DVOA of -43.9%, just missing out on the worst slate of day games we’ve ever seen.
|Worst Thanksgiving Years on Paper (Combined DVOA), 1985-2020|
|1||2002||NE (6-5) @ DET (3-8)||-16.4%||WAS (5-6) @ DAL (4-7)||-35.1%||-51.5%|
|2||2020||HOU (3-7) @ DET (4-6)||-16.6%||WAS (3-7) @ DAL (3-7)||-27.3%||-43.9%|
|3||2008||TEN (10-1) @ DET (0-11)||-21.0%||SEA (2-9) @ DAL (7-4)||-21.9%||-42.9%|
|4||2013||GB (5-5-1) @ DET (6-5)||-5.8%||OAK (4-7) @ DAL (6-4)||-35.0%||-40.8%|
|5||1987||KC (1-9) @ DET (2-8)||-39.1%||MIN (6-4) @ DAL (5-5)||1.2%||-37.9%|
|6||2006||MIA (4-6) @ DET (2-8)||-19.5%||TB (3-7) @ DAL (6-4)||-10.5%||-30.0%|
|7||2009||GB (6-4) @ DET (2-8)||-19.8%||OAK (3-7) @ DAL (7-3)||-8.5%||-28.3%|
|8||2004||IND (7-3) @ DET (4-6)||21.7%||CHI (4-6) @ DAL (3-7)||-44.4%||-22.7%|
|9||2001||GB (6-3) @ DET (0-9)||-1.5%||DEN (5-5) @ DAL (2-7)||-20.0%||-21.5%|
|10||1986||GB (2-10) @ DET (5-7)||-25.0%||SEA (6-6) @ DAL (7-5)||7.4%||-17.6%|
|* End-of-season DVOA for years prior to 2020|
Andrew: Wait, 2002 had the worst cumulative DVOA? A year that featured the early-dynasty, reigning-champion Patriots, albeit the one year they failed to make the postseason during that period?
Bryan: Well, remember, in 2002, there was no Patriots dynasty. The 2001 squad was a bunch of plucky underdogs, led by a late-round backup quarterback, who went and beat a monstrous former champ at the end of the season. You know, a Disney movie, just in real life.
The Patriots were still a good team in 2002, don’t get me wrong. They finished the year with a 14.7% DVOA, and with the benefit of hindsight, we know that was no mirage. It’s the other three teams that are dragging them down, as the 24th-, 28th-, and 30th-ranked teams in football all got to show their stuff to a national audience.
Andrew: If it’s true that I would not expect to see a Tom Brady Patriots team on an all-time worst matchups list, I suppose it’s just as true that I would expect to see a Matt Millen Lions team.
Or, uh, six. Seriously, SIX of the top 10 “worst Thanksgiving Daytime games ever” cards feature the Lions either under Matt Millen or in the year immediately after Millen was fired (2009).
Bryan: 2002 was the first Cowboys season post-Troy Aikman, leading to Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson splitting the quarterback duties for most of the year; Hutchinson was reportedly slotted into the lineup due to the significant signing bonus Jerry Jones had paid him to quit baseball and join the NFL. It also saw Jones wooing Bill Parcells … in the middle of the season, while Dave Campo was still very much employed as head coach. End result: -24.3% DVOA.
The other two teams were terrible in more traditional, boring ways. The Lions’ 2002 season saw them move into shiny new Ford Field, improve all the way to 3-13 with a -31.1% DVOA, and get Marty Mornhinweg fired. Washington was 7-9, but a weak 7-9, finishing with a -10.8% DVOA. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t make up for all that sucktitude.
Andrew: You know what year stands out to me from that table, though? 2013. Three of the four teams were .500 or above! And the other was only 4-7, so it’s not like it was, say, the 0-16 Lions or 1-15 Cowboys dragging them down. Most people would look at that set of games and be quite excited. By cumulative DVOA, it’s the fourth-worst in 35 years. What gives?
Bryan: That’s mostly Oakland at -34.9%, dragging everyone down; the other three teams all finished between 1.9% and -7.7%. 2013 was pegged to be a “transition year” for the Raiders, though they apparently were only transitioning from sucking to blowing. The best player on that team was probably Lamarr Houston. “Who?” you ask? Precisely. To be fair to them, I believe they had two returning starters on defense, and were hoping Matt Flynn would drag them out of years of quarterback drudgery.
Andrew: For comparison, the 0-10, potentially 0-16 Jets this year have a DVOA of -36.8%, barely a couple of percentage points below that 4-7, eventually 4-12 Dennis Allen Raiders squad. That’s what we mean when we point out the Jets aren’t historically bad. That might be worth remembering when you get to the bottom of this week’s column. He says, optimistically.
So, we’ve talked about the worst. It would be a shame to deprive Vince of the chance to edit another table, so what about the best Thanksgiving games of all time?
|Best Thanksgiving Games on Paper (Combined DVOA), 1985-2020|
|* End-of-season DVOA for years prior to 2020|
(Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game will not be played on Thanksgiving. It has been postponed to Sunday due to COVID-19 concerns.)
Bryan: No surprise to see the dynasty Cowboys well-represented here, with three games in a row in the mid 1990s making their way onto the table. The NFL really concerned themselves with finding good matchups for them, too — the 1994 Packers boasted Brett Favre, the 1995 Chiefs had been to the AFC Championship Game the year before, and 1996 Washington … OK, Washington is less of a draw, but historical rivalries and all that.
It’s also not a surprise to see two of the recent non-Cowboys, non-Lions games on the list. Those games should, on paper, always be some of the top games of the day; the NFL gets to pick the matchup of their choice there. That’s why we only looked at the Cowboys and Lions games when talking about the worst sets of matchups; it’s the only way that modern slates can really match up with the 1980s and 1990s. The odds that both prime-time teams would be poor are low. Add in the Ravens-Steelers game, and this week’s matchups are only the 15th-worst in Thanksgiving history, though they still fail to hit positive DVOA.
Andrew: The sore thumb on that chart is the counterpoint to my earlier surprise about the 2002 Patriots: what are the 2010 Lions doing on a list of the best cumulative DVOA matchups of all time? The answer is twofold: although Jim Schwarz’s Lions were 2-8 at the time and finished 6-10, with Matthew Stafford missing all but three games, their 2.1% DVOA ranked a bang-average 15th. The game was dragged up by the Patriots, however, who finished on top of the DVOA table at 44.3% that season … then promptly crashed out in the first round of the playoffs at home to a Jets team they had beaten 45-3 in Week 13.
Bryan: I should note that, just as two terrible teams can play good games, two good teams can play boring games. The top spot on this list, the 1995 Cowboys-Chiefs game, ended as a bit of a snoozer. Steve Bono had been playing out of his mind — it was his Pro Bowl year and the best year of his career — but on Thanksgiving he remembered that he was, in fact, Steve Bono, and the 10-1 Chiefs laid an egg on national TV.
If you’re looking for a retro game to put on the tube, I’d turn to 1994 instead — that was Jason Garrett’s best day as a player in the NFL, forced to start thanks to Troy Aikman’s sprained MCL. Garrett threw for 311 yards and a pair of scores, outdueling Brett Favre’s four touchdown passes in an eventual 42-31 victory. If there was ever a game worth clapping for while blankly staring forward, this was it. Again, Thanksgiving can make for unlikely heroes!
Andrew: That, at least, makes me slightly less nervous about the potential loss, or significant impairment, of Ravens/Steelers in the soundtrack to our post-Thanksgiving snooze. We’ve had those two teams on Thanksgiving before — that was the scene of the infamous Mike Tomlin “misstep” on Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return, which earned Tomlin a $100,000 fine. That game was a doozy, eventually being settled by a failed two-point conversion. While a repeat would be very nice, these teams are trending in opposite directions of late. We don’t need to be placing all of our metaphorical eggs in this particularly rambunctious basket.
Bryan: So, let’s look back at the other four teams. You’ve been beating the drum on some sort of “what makes a bad team interesting” piece this year, and I think we have a couple of good case studies here.
The Texans always have a chance to be interesting because Deshaun Watson is a human highlight reel. If the Ravens-Steelers game gets cancelled, Watson will be the most exciting player on any team on Thursday, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. If you’re going to be bad, at least have someone who can spin, juke, and generally amaze everyone while you’re doing it.
Andrew: However, in a non-Bill O’Brien world, “have one of the league’s most dynamic, exciting young quarterbacks” is not a secret to being an interesting bad team. It’s a key component of being an interesting good team. You know, like the Texans kind-of were in previous years, when they had a wide receiver who bears a striking resemblance to that Cardinals guy, you know, the one with the Hail Mary.
What is a secret to being an interesting bad team is having one of the league’s most exciting bad quarterbacks. Gardner Minshew fit that bill last year, though his injury this season has diminished his appeal significantly. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston split time in this role in Tampa Bay, and even Daniel Jones and Mitchell Trubisky have occasionally wandered accidentally in the direction of exciting. Ideally, you want the guy to be a charismatic fan favorite (and not in the racial subtext sense), an underdog, somebody who is easy to root for, but somebody who is not (yet?) going to win you many football games.
Honestly, the guy who comes closest to fitting that bill this year might be Alex Smith. His recovery to retake the field, never mind reclaim the starting job, is incredible. It’s an amazing tale of perseverance through adversity. Smith, however, at this point in time, is not a good quarterback. He has been, and he might be again, but he’s not back anywhere close to his previous level yet.
Bryan: The Story of Smith will probably be the announcer’s focus during pregame, the first quarter, and possibly the entire first half depending on how, uh, exciting the matchup is. Thanksgiving is a day when a lot of non-football fans tune in for the first time, and a human interest story like Smith’s comeback is almost too good to be true; Joe Buck and Aikman will be all over that.
Does Dallas have any “interesting bad team” qualities? They’ve got quite the receiver corps, after all. CeeDee Lamb count as interesting for you?
Andrew: The sheen has worn off some on Dallas’ preseason “interesting bad team” marker. Mike McCarthy is a patented, card-carrying Highly Successful Football Coach(™) who claimed, as part of the hiring process, to have used his time out of the game learning more about analytics. There was plenty of intrigue around that. What did he mean by analytics? How would he fare without Aaron Rodgers? Was this an Andy Reid situation, where he and the franchise would both be better off for the painful separation?
No. No, it was not. Green Bay have done quite alright, thank you very much. McCarthy, however, has not. I’m still not clear what he meant by “analytics,” but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t translated to success either on the field or in the front office. He has fared poorly without Aaron Rodgers, and even worse without Dak Prescott.
Instead, a coaching hire from somewhere out of left field is a good idea. Somebody who needs a bit of image rehabilitation, such as Doug Marrone. Somebody perceived as an innovator, such as Chip Kelly, or a savant, such as Josh McDaniels. Somebody with the potential to go nuts in myriad ways at any possible moment, such as Mike Singletary. But probably not somebody like Mike McCarthy.
Bryan: But what about Matt Patricia? Does a pencil behind your ear qualify for intriguing coaching ability? Because if not, I sure can’t find anything about the Lions to care about.
Andrew: How could I forget “somebody with a cool backstory completely unconnected to his coaching ability?” Dude, he’s a ROCKET SCIENTIST! Like, actual rockets, and actual science! Patricia is a great example. His only issue is the deserved skepticism that any coaching hire from the Bill Belichick pool evokes. Well that, and the fact his teams suck.
Bryan: I’m thinking the Brian Flores hire has removed some of that skepticism from Belichick disciples, which leaves Patricia standing there with his pencil in his ear, lording over a disaster of a football team. Which I suppose is interesting in and of itself; just how low can a team go before admitting their head coaching hire was a mistake?
Ah well. It may not be the best quality of teams we’ve ever seen, but football is football. Here’s hoping that our quartet of varying shades of misery puts together something impressive for their national audience.
Andrew: Frankly, getting back to the point from our intro, the fact we’ve made it this far is a wonder in and of itself. 3-7 Texans at 4-6 Lions? Sit me back. 3-7 Football Team at 3-7 Cowboys? Strap me in. Then, if we get there, 6-4 Ravens at 10-0 Steelers? Inject it into my veins. It may not be good football, but it’s football. For that much, at least, we can be thankful.
Keep Choppin’ Wood
Tom Brady‘s most recent prime-time performance gave us plenty of holes to pick, but rather than looking to the most glaring error — the huge overthrow on his final pass that Jordan Fuller fielded like a punt for the game-clinching interception — we’ll look to the more comedic “senior moment”:
Tom Brady caught his own pass then completed one to Mike Evans?!
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) November 24, 2020
NFL quarterbacks must know this is against the rules, right? Brady caught his own deflected pass, Marcus Mariota-style, but rather than run to advance the ball as Mariota did, he attempted to pass to Mike Evans again. That … uh, not even you will get away with that one, Tom. Oddly, Brady and Evans did get credited with the completion, as the illegal forward pass penalty was declined to bring up fourth down, but this was still a baffling moment from one of the league’s most decorated icons.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Even given Pittsburgh’s reputation for playing down to inferior opponents, it was always going to take something incredibly special for the Jaguars to upset the Steelers in Week 11. They started aggressively enough though, taking the lead with a field goal on the opening drive, then trying this:
The Jaguars tried to pull off a trick onside kick!
NFL Game Pass pic.twitter.com/PwqmsT78kR
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) November 22, 2020
There are some issues with the execution of this kick — the telltale motion weirdness, then having a slot receiver kick the ball instead of the kicker — but we can’t fault the core idea of an onside kick as home underdogs against an opponent with a reputation for sleeping in these types of games. This aggression was short-lived, it didn’t work, and Jacksonville didn’t score again for the remainder of the game, but that only serves to emphasize why aggression was the right idea early. It has been a poor season even relative to expectations in Jacksonville, but we can credit Doug Marrone and company for this call, at least.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
We’re still struggling to understand Titans head coach Mike Vrabel‘s decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-2 from Baltimore’s 4-yard line, trailing 21-13 early in the fourth quarter. That situation is one in which even conservative head coaches would often consider trying to convert; we were far more surprised to see the usually astute Vrabel call for the kick. While it worked out for him in the end — the Titans eventually won with a touchdown in overtime — Vrabel’s offense has the league’s most dangerous running back and the fourth-highest adjusted line yards. We would hope to see him be a little more aggressive in this situation in future.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Confusing coaching isn’t necessarily a good or bad award. It simply goes to a move that’s difficult to understand, or forces us to go to leaps of logic to rationalize. We’re not necessarily saying Brian Flores was wrong to pull Tua Tagovailoa and put Ryan Fitzpatrick in the game. In fact, in a vacuum, it may have even been the right move — Tagovaiola was having a bad day, and Fitzpatrick nearly brought the Dolphins back to victory. But benching your rookie franchise quarterback is always going to raise eyebrows, especially when it’s for a quarterback with starting credentials, and especially in a competitive game for a team in playoff contention. Flores now has had to assure everyone that Tua is the starter going forwards, that it’s still Tua’s team. And what if Tagovailoa struggles early against the Jets this week? What’s the bar for pulling him again for Fitzpatrick? Flores has done a remarkable job coaching the Dolphins this season, but by pulling his rookie quarterback, he has given himself significant added pressure down the stretch. We’ll see how he handles it.
‘Roast Byrd’ Fantasy Player of the Week
Sunday was Damiere Byrd‘s 38th career game, as he has bounced from Carolina to Arizona to New England. He finally has one to remember, topping 100 yards for the first time in his career, hauling in six catches, and finding the end zone on a great over-the-shoulder snag in the process. It’s not like Byrd has never been used, either — he has racked up tons of targets for a Patriots team that has been searching for warm bodies in the receiving corps all season. The Texans defense provided just the spark he needed to get going. We’ll have to see if he continues that momentum this week against the Cardinals, going back to face Kliff Kingsbury and get a little slice of revenge for Thanksgiving dinner.
— NFL (@NFL) November 22, 2020
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
Only three teams fell behind by three touchdowns in Week 11. The Jets managed to nearly come back against the ever-cursed Chargers, so they’re not really eligible. The Jaguars threw two second-half interceptions. The Lions were shut out. We’re working from a very limited pool, is what we’re saying. We’re giving the award to Marvin Jones, who had a pair of catches for 30 yards with the Lions down by three scores, and the fact that we can’t do better than that tells you what kind of day it was for Detroit. Jones should have had more, mind you, but the best play of Detroit’s day was called back due to Jones lining up illegally.
The Lions ran an amazing trick play….and it got called back for illegal formation pic.twitter.com/cfTBdE6C1E
— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) November 22, 2020
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
We finally have our first team completely eliminated from postseason contention! The New York Jets’ hyperdrive may be back in the repair shop, but they have at least improved slightly over the past two games, posting two of their three highest points totals of the season against the Patriots and Chargers. More specific consolation for the Jets is tough to find. Their offense has been woeful, their pass defense entered Week 11 as the worst in the league by DVOA, and their special teams ranked in the bottom six ahead of their trip to Los Angeles. When the strongest unit on the team is a field-goal squad that has seen two different kickers combine for only 15 successful kicks through 11 games, you’re probably in trouble. The Jets rank last in points scored and second-last in points allowed. The only comfort, then, is the 0-10 record, and the potential pot of quarterback gold that awaits if they can secure the No. 1 overall pick.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
We’re well on record as hating receiver screens here at Scramble Headquarters. That’s because they don’t gain many yards, not because they’re likely to cause turnovers, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling found a way.
— NFL (@NFL) November 23, 2020
Let’s be clear for one moment, however — no one deserves the death threats MVS has been getting for fumbling here. It was a crucial play, for sure, knocking the Packers out of the bye-week position in the NFC and letting the Colts retain their grip on the AFC South. And yes, you can point out that Valdes-Scantling had double-digit-negative season DVOAs in both 2018 and 2019 and is in the negatives this year. You can revive the debates as to whether or not the Packers should have found a receiver in a receiver-heavy draft this past offseason. All that is more than fair — but he’s just a bad football player, so, y’know, some perspective, maybe?
The win was bigger for the Colts than the loss was for the Packers. Green Bay may not have the division sewn up, but they have a two-game lead in the NFC North, while the Titans are breathing down the Colts’ necks. Especially with Tennessee pulling off an upset against Baltimore this week, keeping pace was crucial for Indianapolis. Their division-title hopes will still likely depend on this week’s game against Tennessee, but this win over the Packers might well be the difference between a rubber match against Ryan Tannehill and company or a road trip against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on wild-card weekend.
Bryan: Our two competitions are careening in opposite directions, with a clear favorite emerging in each of them. In the Lock of the Week picks, I have now opened a somewhat commanding three-game lead on Andrew, who made the fatal error of picking the Chargers to cover literally any spread whatsoever. Even against the hapless Jets, a two-score margin proved to be far too difficult for Los Angeles to cover. At least it wasn’t the intentional safety that ended up doing Andrew in; he had Chargers -9 and Los Angeles only won by six.
On the flip side, Andrew’s the one sitting on the three-game lead in the Double Survival League. We both whiffed on Minnesota, so no harm, no foul there. But I had the Buccaneers topping the Rams on Monday night, and boy howdy, did that look bad. To be fair, I had no way of knowing that Tom Brady was going to turn into a turkey before Thanksgiving proper! Having to make up three games in 10 picks is certainly possible, but it’ll be a difficult climb for me the rest of the way.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date:
Andrew: My Lock of the Week performance has collapsed over the past few weeks, leaving me scrambling to get back to .500. Do I really want, in that situation, to bet on the Jets? Probably not, but as noted below, they have been playing better of late. It’s very rare for a team to go 0-16, as most teams will pick up an upset win along the way, and I see this as the likeliest spot for that to happen. At the very least, the Dolphins aren’t so good that they should be big favorites, particularly on offense, especially on the road, and this spread is big enough that I’m quite happy to pick the underdog to cover. It’s a stab in the dark, but I’m taking the N.Y. Jets (+7) vs. Miami.
Bryan: Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend me your ears. I come not to bury Tom Brady, but to praise him. The noble Bruce (Arians, that is) hath told you Brady was ambitious; if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Brady anser’d it — specifically, by throwing ducks when asked to chuck the ball deep downfield, resulting in multiple back-breaking interceptions. I think Tampa Bay (+3.5) gets it somewhat back on track this week, even against a team as good as Kansas City. After all, this is a team that has shown it’s capable of running up huge margins against playoff-bound opponents such as Green Bay and Las Vegas. A quarterback of Brady’s age is going to have moments where he looks like he has lost it, but I doubt that will happen two weeks in a row — Arians and Brady will regroup, come up with a plan of attack that better fits Brady’s strengths now, and let slip the dogs of war. Or, of course, we could be witnessing the end of Brady — a necessary end that will come when it will come.
Double Survival League
Andrew: CHI, CIN, CLE, DAL, DEN, HOU, JAX, LV, NYJ, SF
Bryan: ARI, DEN, GB, HOU, IND, LAC, LAR, PIT, SEA, SF
Andrew: CAR, MIN, PHI, WAS
Bryan: CAR, CHI, JAX, MIN, NYJ, PHI, TB
Andrew: Bryan’s comfort in this segment is still the records of each of our remaining squads. His Buccaneers loss hurts, but whereas he still has Arizona, Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh in hand, I have to find wins from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, and Denver just to keep pace with his wins from earlier in the year. Moreover, I need to do that while juggling the schedule to avoid throwing picks away completely by, say, picking the Bengals against the Steelers or the Broncos against the Chiefs. It’s a tall order, and the tough choices start here.
That Cincinnati Bengals squad is my first port of call. I have two games left in which the Bengals might possibly be somewhat competitive, even without Joe Burrow. The most appealing of those is Week 14 against Dallas, but that is also the most appealing game on Dallas’ remaining schedule. Never one to game the system by picking both opponents head-to-head, that leaves only this week against the Giants. I’m stuck hoping the Bengals catch New York by surprise with a squad out to win one for their stricken captain. I’m not saying it’s likely, but stranger things have happened.
My second pick is also rough. Somewhere, I need to find a win for either the Jaguars or the Jets, and I’ve narrowed the range of realistic options down to Week 12 or Week 16. Both teams play Cleveland at home, but the Browns are somehow a potential, nay, likely playoff squad in the AFC. Should I pick either of the probable top two in the draft against them? If not, that means I’m doomed to pick the Jaguars against the Bears (themselves a wild-card contender in the NFC) in Week 16 and double down on the New York Jets this week against the Miami Dolphins. I didn’t want to pick the Jets at all while Adam Gase was still the head coach, but it looks increasingly unlikely that they’ll replace him before the end of the year. A revenge win for Gase against the playoff-chasing Dolphins? It’s possible, if unlikely, and the Jets have been playing marginally less badly of late. Fine, I’m in.
Bryan: I suppose I can’t complain about how rough my picks are when my opponent is stuck on the Bengals and Jets, can I? Still, I do have some bad teams left to pick, so I need to be very careful about where I deploy my, say, Broncos or Texans. That limits my options and requires some very careful thinking about who to pick where, and thus, I don’t love either of my picks this week.
I’m taking the Indianapolis Colts over the Titans in a rematch from two weeks ago. I don’t want to — I want to take the Colts in a few weeks against the Texans, but Week 15 already has a couple of picks penciled in. That’s not to say I think this is a losing pick or anything — Indianapolis won back in Week 10 in very convincing fashion, using no-huddle to baffle Tennessee and take advantage of their complete lack of pass rush. Without the ability to substitute, the Titans were unable to really slow the Colts’ offense down. And as they were trailing for most of the late game, they couldn’t use Derrick Henry as much as they’d like on offense. I’ll take that blueprint repeating, though I really wish I were picking less important games here!
My other pick will be the Arizona Cardinals over the Patriots. Part of the reason the Patriots couldn’t handle the Texans this week was having to deal with Deshaun Watson, a mobile quarterback who gave their defense fits. Well, no rest for the wicked here, as Kyler Murray is capable of doing the exact same thing. I hate picking road games, and who knows how the weather will affect this one, but I’m confident the Cardinals are a significantly better team than the Patriots — that might be a sentence no one has ever written before, but it’s true.