March 9, 2021

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Scramble for the Ball: Football is Back!

26 min read
Scramble for the Ball: Football is Back!

Andrew: Hello and welcome to another actual, honest-to-goodness, regular-season edition of Scramble for the Ball! I have no idea how we got here, but we made it through. If the length of this week’s Audibles is anything to go by, how we have longed for this past weekend.

Bryan: And, at least for now, everything went off without a hitch. In a year that has been 97% hitches by volume to this point, that’s a minor miracle! It was odd to see empty stands, and the artificial crowd noise took a quarter or so to get used to, but damn it, it felt like real, actual football, and that’s all we could possibly ask for.

That, and declaring Week 1’s results invalid, a set of warm-up games. I think we can all agree with that, right? Right? Right? You’re hearing me, Tampa fans. I see you, Houston.

Andrew: The Saints won on opening day, which is a less common event than you might think even in recent seasons. Therefore, I am not remotely in favor of discarding Week 1’s results. In fact, I hereby declare Week 1’s results to be the most important set of results from the season so far.

Bryan: Being our first real datapoint, there’s always the urge to massively overreact after Week 1’s results. I know — I’ve been doing so for about 72 hours at this point! Especially this season, where we didn’t have preseason, OTAs, training camp footage, et cetera to judge teams by, it’s tempting to take the results from Week 1 and run with them. But there’s a reason Week 1 is known as National Jump to Conclusions Week. Anyone can have an uncharacteristic good or bad day. We don’t overreact when it happens in Week 12. When it happens in Week 1, however…

Andrew: You don’t overreact when it happens in Week 12. Perhaps that’s because your team doesn’t have a roughly Triassic-era quarterback.

Bryan: No, my team’s quarterback just has the arm strength of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Andrew: You’ve already mentioned, in passing, one of the first and perhaps most interesting conclusions we could jump to from Week 1. Many prognosticators expected this week’s games to be exceptionally sloppy affairs because of the lack of preseason and the relatively short preparation time. Instead, it looked … well, like football. Sure, special teams were an issue: the Buccaneers special teams screwed up in multiple creative ways, the Browns botched a fake punt, and the Titans couldn’t kick a field goal until their lives depended on it, but each of those events has been characteristic of those teams for much longer than just Week 1, 2020.

Is this the end of preseason as we know it? And do we, in fact, feel fine?

Bryan: Oh, please, let the answer to that be yes.

I think a lot of people were expecting this year to be similar to 2011, where most of the offseason work got cancelled due to a lockout — there was a preseason, but they were missing vast chunks of offseason prep time. The first couple of weeks there were, in fact, rather sloppy, as teams didn’t have a chance to implement their new offenses and the like. Unlike 2011, there was an offseason this year, merely a virtual one. I don’t think any player is going to say that Zoom meetings and individual workouts are as effective for preparation as actually being in the same physical space, but it seems [offseason + no preseason] is more conducive to better football than [no offseason + some preseason]. Preseason games have value to the players fighting for a bottom-of-the-roster slot, and I’d assume getting used to the routine (when do we get the bus, when do we warm up, etc.) is probably a useful exercise for most players, but if we never see a starter in a preseason game again, I’m totally fine with that.

I will throw one point of caution, here. One of the reasons that it felt like the games were being played well was the lack of penalties — only 199 flags, the second-lowest Week 1 total since 2001. Holding penalties, especially, were way down, with just 18, compared to 81 in Week 1 last year. It’s possible that every single NFL lineman got way better at playing sound, fundamental football over the offseason — or that the NFL has decided to be a little more lenient as players get back into game shape. Frankly, even if it’s the latter, I’m in favor of it, compared to the flag-a-palooza that the NFL started last year with, as they keep trying to tweak just what holding is.

Andrew: That’s a great stat. It’s also possible that the lack of a preseason means the officials are still getting up to game speed and missing some calls they’d otherwise catch, but as you say, if the net result is more watchable games then that’s another data point in favor of cancelling the preseason. I’d like to see an alternative for the players who are trying to catch on, and for that reason I really hate that the minor leagues keep failing; but I think we’re clearly seeing that the starters don’t, as some suspected, forget how to run and tackle during the offseason.

Bryan: Let it be resolved to cut the preseason down to two games for now, letting those bottom-roster players get some footage on tape, and never risk a superstar pulling a hamstring in a meaningless game ever again. These old guys don’t need the extra wear and tear!

Speaking of old guys, let’s jump to some more conclusions. Tom Brady: bad quarterback, or terrible quarterback?

Andrew: Great quarterback, but no longer a top-tier NFL starter. This has been an issue for Brady going back to last season: people bemoaned the lack of a supporting cast, but this is a guy who, in his prime, made a viable offense out of Reche Caldwell, nickelback-edition Troy Brown, and Jabar Gaffney. Last season’s group was no Moss-Welker-Stallworth trio, but it was far from the only problem with the Patriots passing game. I do expect Tampa Bay to have some success, beginning this week against possibly the league’s worst defense, but I didn’t just stick a pin in the page blindfolded to pick Tampa Bay as my most likely team to underachieve. There’s a reason we don’t see many 43-year-old starting quarterbacks, and avocado ice cream isn’t the solution.

He is, however, still better than Philip Rivers.

Bryan: Maybe it’s a delayed reaction from finally eating his first strawberry last offseason. Those things will kill you.

“Better than Philip Rivers” isn’t backed by Week 1’s VOA (like in Cleveland, the “D” hasn’t arrived yet) or by QBR or whathaveyou, but I think I’d still agree with you there, more or less. I’d say that Brady suffered worse blocking than Rivers did, and while Brady Classic would have dealt with that and done fine, Old Man Brady can’t really hang in there anymore. Bruce Arians slaughtered him after the game, saying “he looked like Tom Brady in practice all the time so it’s kind of unusual to see that in a ball game because they didn’t do things that we didn’t get ready for.” Eef.

Andrew: Maybe the most significant result of the Brady-as-a-Buccaneer incongruity will be Brady realizing just how good he had it with Bill Belichick, he of the say-nothing postgame pressers, but by the time he realizes it Belichick has moved on to a newer, more athletic model.

Incidentally, Belichick’s postgame presser genuinely made me guffaw out loud this week, as his dry, literal humor provided the perfect comedic response to exactly the type of question people should know by now not to ask him.

Bryan: Hey, now, Bill is loosening up — he’s even in freaking commercials now! What the heck is that all about?

Maybe having a quarterback with a personality rather than a pseudoscience health guide is rubbing off on him. Speaking of which, a new conclusion to jump to: the Patriots offense is fun. How great was it to see Cam Newton being Cam Newton again? And how dumb were the people arguing that no, Jarrett Stidham is going to be the starter, just you wait?

Andrew: I’d like to see a passing touchdown, or at least a game against a professional football team, before I anoint Cam Newton the King of Foxborough, but the early signs were encouraging at least insofar as he managed to stay off the injury report for a full week of professional football. I don’t mean that as mockery, either; a healthy Cam Newton may be the most exciting individual player in the sport, even ahead of guys like Patrick Mahomes. It has just been so long since we had that for more than a month’s worth of games, and I’m not sure 15 carries per game will help keep him that way.

The people expecting Stidham to start ahead of him can only possibly have been expecting Cam to still be injured. There’s no other explanation worth countenancing in this column.

Bryan: The last Patriots quarterback to rush for at least 75 yards in a game was Steve Grogan back in 1977. It’s a brave new world of football in New England. I just typed “Carolina,” because it’s going to take me a long, long time to get used to the Patriots starting quarterback not being Tom Brady, but I’m very excited to see where the Newton-led Patriots can go. That’s not something I’ve been able to say for … well, over a decade at least. Interest! Excitement!

And, speaking of explanations not worth countenancing, the NFL had an all-time high 10 African-American quarterbacks starting in Week 1. They went 7-3, including three of the top four DYAR performances of the day. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

Andrew: One of those was especially notable, too. The Russell Wilson, Future MVP cries went up a few decibels during this fan-free weekend. Is this a brave new world of Seahawks football in which they stop hiding their best player, or a one-week aberration because Wilson managed to persuade Brian Schottenheimer it was preseason and he could bluff teams by calling that stuff?

Bryan: As a football fan, I really hope this is the new normal. For so long, the Seahawks have been holding Russell Wilson back, so to see him passing on 15 of Seattle’s 25 first-half plays, and dropping back on 16 of Seattle’s 21 first-half early downs, was long overdue. Yeah, it meant he took a few more hits than normal, but it also meant that Seattle’s offense exploded! If the Seahawks have finally realized that they have one of the league’s three best quarterbacks under center, look out rest of the league. As a 49ers fan, of course, nonono, put Russ back in his box. We don’t need more Russell Wilson, thank you very much.

And speaking of long-time 49ers thorns, Aaron Rodgers! He’s BACK baby, right? After an offseason where the analytics community really got into dumping on him, and his own team went and drafted his eventual replacement, Rodgers came out firing in Week 1, powered, I presume, by pure spite.

Andrew: Rodgers did look very good, though it was against a team that jettisoned basically its entire cornerback unit this offseason and didn’t have the resources to restock. They’re hoping for progress from in-house options, and that was an inauspicious beginning. Green Bay will face harder tests, but I already had them as my division favorite and that game did nothing to dispel that notion. I don’t think Rodgers is capital-B Back, but I also don’t think he ever capital-L Left. He’s not his otherworldly self anymore, but his arm has always been powered to some extent by the chip on his shoulder.

Bryan: Packers Twitter seemed to be simultaneously saying that Rodgers was incredible and that the Vikings cornerbacks were horrible, and while those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, it did seem a little bit like having one’s cake and eating it, too. But then, what else is Jump to Conclusions Week for? I’m with you on putting the Packers in first place in the division, now — in a division we had as a big gloppy mush, one strong data point is enough for me to make someone the favorites. Generally don’t like flipping a division leader after just one game, but when it was a coin toss to begin with, eh. Sure. I’ve bumped the Packers over the Vikings … and the Titans over the Colts, after the big Jaguars upset. I’m certainly not going to spend too much time bragging that I got the Jaguars pick right in the lock of the week, or that I mentioned them in the over/unders articles with an outside shot at the seventh seed in the AFC. Nope, not even going to mention any of that.

The Power of the Mustache Compels You.

Andrew: Well there is a leap of a conclusion. Are the Jaguars, in fact, reasonably OK? I’d hesitate to say “good,” because let’s remember they were being firmly outplayed by the Colts until Philip Rivers tried his patented “chuck the ball through the cornerback” maneuver, but they’re not nearly as bad as (other) people made them out to be. I have thoughts on that game, but I’m curious to know what you made of it first.

Bryan: I’m fairly sure the Jaguars’ defense is still going to be trash-tier, though CJ Henderson had a hell of a debut at cornerback. Most weeks, their opposing quarterback won’t try to throw the ball into triple coverage on multiple attempts. But the offense? I honestly think the offense will be … OK. Gardner Minshew is bad, but more like “eh, we need to find a replacement” bad and not “we’re doomed” bad. Lavika Shenault, DJ Chark, and Keelan Cole could be a worse receiving corps. And James Robinson outplaying Leonard Fournette is hilarious. I won’t be surprised at all if that’s a league average offense, just weighed down by defensive issues. Closer to 8-8 than to the No. 1 draft pick, in other words. I mean, they’re going to get pasted this week by Tennessee, one would imagine, but still.

Andrew: For me, Minshew’s performance is the story of the week … but not in a good way. There is no way that offense should be completing 95% of its passes for three touchdowns against any professional defense. There was a sequence early in the game that had me absolutely convinced the Jaguars don’t really trust Minshew, as they called 4-yard pass after 4-yard pass to fail to convert first-and-25, yet somehow they parlayed that dinky offense into a win. My biggest note of caution about the Colts defense before the season was that Xavier Rhodes may be done. Rhodes didn’t exactly dispel my concerns, but he wasn’t the only one who let the team down on Sunday. The Colts defense better step it up quickly if they want to compete, because their Week 1 performance was unacceptable.

Bryan: I assume Minshew is already the leader in the clubhouse for failed completions, but a failed completion is better than an incomplete pass, so I suppose the Jaguars will take it for now. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope, he only had five. Rivers had 11, tied with Kyler Muray and Matt Ryan for most in Week 1.) As for the Colts, they’ve gotta go face the Vikings now — and they did get an offense going against Green Bay, albeit mostly in the fourth quarter when things were more or less decided. There’s every chance Philip Rivers and company will lead off the DOOM INDEX if there are enough interesting 0-2 teams to cover that next week; they’ve gotta bounce back, and quickly.

What are your thoughts on the top seed in the NFC after Week 1 — the Washington Football Team? They swarmed the Eagles and their so-called offensive line, which was down three projected starters for most of the way.

Andrew: It scares me how much that Washington defense looks like the Panthers while Ron Rivera was in charge, with their dominant front seven and remedial secondary. Remember, the Panthers were also coming off a disastrous season and immediately looking to rebuild when Rivera arrived. Obviously, they had the advantage of taking Cam Newton first overall, and Dwayne Haskins is no Cam Newton, but there are definite reasons for optimism.

Optimism for the future, that is. There are still way too many holes in that roster this season. They took full advantage of the good fortune that the Eagles offensive line presented them, but not every opponent will be so generous.

Bryan: The Eagles have been slammed by injuries again, as Philadelphia can’t seem to get a break — down four offensive linemen, Miles Sanders, Alshon Jeffery, Derek Barnett … you would assume, just by the law of averages, that they’ll eventually get healthy again. I mean, they can’t be hurt forever, right? Right? Right?

As for Washington, strap that first-round-loaded defense to Jacksonville’s dink, dunk, and dive offense, and you might have a competitive team, especially in an NFC East which just saw everyone else crash and burn.

Andrew: It should be noted that in some instances, “crash and burn” can mean “lose a tough road trip to a competitive opponent.” The Giants, having played at home, are not one of those cases. Boy, was Scott Spratt right about Saquon Barkley last week. Are the Giants, not Washington, the worst team in that division?

Bryan: No, though I’ll spot you Joe Judge as the worst coach in the division (how’s THAT for a conclusion to jump to after one game?). Daniel Jones made some impressive plays — and some impressively stupid ones — against a Steelers defense that was one of the league’s best last year, and I don’t think you can be too harsh on a defense for flailing against Ben Roethlisberger; that has historically been a tough matchup. Anyone thinking the Giants were going places this season hopefully got a good wakeup call on Monday night, but I’m not ready to put Rivera’s men into third place just yet. I’ll wait until they play a team with a full complement of linemen first.

But is Joe Judge even the worst coach in New York? Does Adam Gase make it through October, or do the Lions beat the Jets to the punch by cutting Matt Patricia free? I mean, there were some pretty bad coaching performances in Week 1.

Andrew: Both of those franchises should have cut bait last season. In fact, both of those franchises should have never hired those head coaches. Gase, in particular. You can at least squint a little and argue that Matt Patricia might have been the guy to defy the Belichick tree’s track record (assuming you don’t count Bill O’Brien as the guy who already did so), but there was no excuse for not knowing what you were getting with Gase. Lo and behold, he is what he was in Miami, which is a reasonably competent coach but a terrible man-manager. I expect both franchises to have new men in charge next season, though that might be assuming too much competence from the people running them.

Bryan: I just can’t believe the Lions blew a fourth-quarter lead again. I see your argument about Gase, but the Lions, on paper, should be the more talented team; Gase doesn’t have the horses that Patricia has access to. I think it’s a real race to the unemployment line, with the relative twitchy fingers of the Johnsons and Fords perhaps being the ultimate deciding factor there.

Right. Have we missed anything? I mean, in theory, we could have a conclusion for all 32 teams, but I think our editors would kill us.

Andrew: Knowing you, you could have a table of conclusions for all 32 teams, in which case Vince really would hunt you down. Let’s see, though … we’ve concluded that preseason is meaningless and should be scrapped, but we’ll concede a couple of games as effectively live trials for players on the roster bubble. Tom Brady is washed up, Philip Rivers has already turned to sea foam, but the jury is still out on Cam Newton. Russell Wilson versus Aaron Rodgers is the NFC half of the MVP race, but Gardner Minshew’s Week 1 success says more about the Colts than it does about the Jaguars. Washington is just good enough to still be narrowly the worst team in the NFC East, but they’re at least better coached than the Giants. Even the Giants, however, are better coached than either the Jets or the Lions …

Oh, we missed one, the Browns! That was … not the start the Kevin Stefanski era would have hoped for. A 32-point defeat on opening day is 2019 Dolphins-level painful.

Bryan: I still can’t get over the 8.5-win line the Browns had in the preseason. Haven’t we, as a society, learned to stop trusting Cleveland football teams? How many times do we have to learn this lesson? The Browns were the 30th team in our database to open the season with a triple-digit negative DVOA. Some of those teams have rebounded to be … not terrible, I suppose. The 2017 Bengals opened the season with a 20-0 loss to the Ravens and rebounded to finish 7-9. Still. I can’t blame Browns fans for feeling like the season is already lost after getting absolutely pantsed by the, uh Ravens. Just like the 2019 Dolphins got destroyed by the Ravens.

Maybe the Ravens are just really good with six months to prepare. They also crushed the 2018 Bills, 47-3.

Andrew: I suspect the Ravens would be really good with six minutes to prepare. Six months feels just unfair. However, we should note that the 2018 Bills finished 6-10. The 2019 Dolphins were 5-11. Yes, the big win tells us that the Ravens are excellent, but it also tells us the opponents are kinda bad. That’s not great company to keep for the most hyped Browns squad since … oh, at least 2019.

Bryan: It’s nice to know that, in the topsy-turvy world in which we live, we can count on the Browns disappointing. It’s little bits of normality like that which will help ground us. Hurray for football being back!

Weekly Awards

Keep Choppin’ Wood

The Detroit Lions are no strangers to the type of football that we regularly feature in this award, but even by their standards of ineptitude, Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Bears was special. We could highlight the coaching that turned a 23-6 fourth-quarter lead into yet another late defeat. We could highlight the end-zone drop by D’Andre Swift on a bomb that, if caught, would have won the game despite the blown lead. We could highlight the roster decisions that had rookie running back D’Andre Swift miscast as the target on a deep route with the game on the line.

Instead, we’ll highlight another piece of boneheadedness from earlier in the game. The Lions lured Jamie Collins from the Patriots this spring on a three-year, $30-million contract as a veteran playmaker at the linebacker spot, somebody who would add unpredictability and leadership to a young defense. He was ejected from his debut for making unnecessary physical contact with a referee, apparently while attempting to demonstrate that Bears running back David Montgomery was getting away with initiating contact with his head. While Collins may have been correct, headbutting a referee is not the way to make that complaint. So much for veteran savvy.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game

The Riverboat Returns? With the score tied at 17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Washington Football Team faced fourth-and-1 from the 4-yard line. Many, if not most, coaches in that situation, coaching a home underdog, would be content to kick the field goal and (in most instances) take the lead. Ron Rivera is not most coaches: his team went for the conversion, got it, then cashed in with a touchdown for a seven-point lead. The benefit of scoring a touchdown was clear, but even a failure there would have been a reasonable outcome: the Washington defensive line was dominating against an overmatched Eagles offense, and they could have expected to receive the ball back in good field position if the Eagles started a drive inside their own 10. That’s a big part of why this decision increased Washington’s chance of winning the game so much pre-snap.

Another new season, another high-profile win for Riverboat “Calculated Risk-Taker” Ron.

John Fox Award for Conservatism

You would think that, by now, most NFL head coaches would have seen enough of the Chiefs offense to know that you don’t beat them by giving them the ball, even inside their own 10-yard line. When the Texans faced fourth-and-4 at midfield, on the drive after Kansas City had tied the game, the correct decision appeared obvious: a punt surrendered possession, a failed fourth down didn’t put the defense in a deep hole, and the benefit of a conversion was a clear and immediate opportunity in scoring range. Sadly for Texans fans, what is obvious to everybody else is not the same as what is obvious to Bill O’Brien. The Texans punted, the Chiefs drove for a touchdown anyway, and the Texans never trailed by less than a touchdown again.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching

Frankly, both coaches in the late Monday game deserve a nod for their … creative usage of the clock at the end of the fourth quarter, but since Vic Fangio‘s Broncos lost, he gets the short end of the stick here.

The Titans got the ball, down by one, with 3:05 left in the game, and each team sitting on its full complement of timeouts. The goal for each team here was pretty clear. For Tennessee, with a kicker who had already missed three field goals and an extra point, the goal was to cross the goal line as the clock hit zero. For Denver, it was to get a defensive stop and, failing that, to save as much time as possible on the clock for the comeback attempt. Neither succeeded, but at least Mike Vrabel and company did manage to get into range for the game-winning field goal. That the field goal was kicked with 17 seconds on the clock isn’t good considering the fact Denver didn’t use any of their timeouts, and the last two Tennessee plays ended with the clock stopped, but … wait, none of their timeouts?

Yes, Fangio was more than content to let the time dribble off the clock, even as the Titans marched into field goal range. By my count, the Broncos wasted 67 seconds on the last three Titans plays which did not result in a clock stoppage; any or all of them could have had a justified Denver timeout. Instead, the Broncos simply did not have enough time to drive back down the field into field goal range themselves. Why was Fangio so reluctant to use his timeouts? Well, he was A) confident that Stephen Gostkowski would miss a fourth field goal attempt, and B) wanted to use those timeouts on the last two Titans plays, with under 30 seconds left in the game, but the clock stopped twice anyway.

Saving all three timeouts for the last 30 seconds of the game is a terrible strategy in a vacuum, and worse given the specifics of how the game played out. Fangio needs some help with clock management, and soon.

‘Waiver Wire En-Gage’ Fantasy Player of the Week

It’s not surprising the Falcons had three receivers go over 100 yards against the Seahawks; Seattle was playing something of a bend-but-don’t-break defense and Atlanta has the horses to march up and down the field, end zone notwithstanding. No prizes for guessing that Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were Thing One and Thing Two, but you’d have to scratch your head a little more before you came to Russell Gage. Nevertheless, Gage drew 12 targets, catching nine of them for 114 yards despite missing a short period as he was being evaluated for a concussion. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised — since Mohamed Sanu was traded last season, Gage has averaged 7.7 targets a game, placing him just outside the top 20. He doesn’t find the end zone enough, and the Falcons aren’t going to throw 50 times week in and week out, but Gage is going to be a trendy waiver pickup this week.

Garbage-Time Performer of the Week

The Vikings attempted only five passes in the first half, which goes a long way to telling you just how poorly Minnesota got out of the blocks. They’ll be hoping the fourth quarter will be slightly more indicative of how the rest of the season will go. Adam Thielen was targeted four times in the final 15 minutes. He caught all four passes for 78 yards for a pair of touchdowns (and two first downs, to boot). To cap it all off, he pulled off the octopus, catching the two-point conversion after his second score. That’s 25.8 fantasy points in one quarter, which would have had him as the fourth-highest scoring wideout of the week in PPR leagues and the ninth-best fantasy day of Theilen’s career, even without his pair of receptions from earlier in the game. Empty calories for Minnesota, a game-changing performance for your fantasy team.

Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week

This is the spot where we would normally try to offer comfort to the team on the receiving end of the biggest blowout of the week, but after four seasons of this spot we’re fresh out of statistical consolation for Browns fans. There just isn’t any comfort to take from a 32-point evisceration on opening day. Sorry, Browns fans. For everything.

The next-biggest losing margin was a relatively tame 13 points, by the Falcons at home to Seattle, and this is a much easier task. As we mentioned earlier, three different Falcons receivers went over 100 yards in that game: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Justin Gage combined for 401 yards on exactly nine receptions apiece. Sure, that didn’t amount to much in the way of points until the game was well out of reach — Matt Ryan’s two passing touchdowns both came while trailing by 19 points in the fourth quarter — but it is an encouraging sign against what appears to be one of the league’s best secondaries. Now if only the Falcons could come up with a secondary of their own…

Game-Changing Play of the Week

It looked like Joe Burrow was going to pick up a game-winning drive in his first NFL start. While his performance throughout the game was hit-or-miss, it looked like LSU Burrow came out on the final drive, completing eight of 10 passes to bring the Bengals to the brink of, at worst, a chance in overtime. He even hit A.J. Green in the end zone for the go-ahead score, but Green was flagged for offensive pass interference. Fair enough; that still left a 31-yard field goal to tie the game up, which is essentially a gimme. NFL kickers have made 94.3% of their attempts from that range over the last decade; Randy Bullock himself has been a perfect 23-for-23 between 29 and 33 yards. Just have to poke it through and go to overt…

I’m not saying that Bullock faked his injury or anything, though it’s worth noting that the Bengals have said that Bullock’s calf injury is “nothing serious.” I’m just saying, if I shanked a gimme field goal as time expired, I’d probably say that I hurt something while making the attempt, too.

Weekly Predictions

Bryan: We hate to toot our own horns — OK, I’m lying, we love to toot our own horns. Our weekly predictions had a rare 6-0 week. I accurately predicted the Jaguars wouldn’t be as bad as expected, though I fell short of having the guts to pick Jacksonville to outright upset Indianapolis. Andrew correctly wondered why the hell the Packers were 2.5-point dogs against a Minnesota team that is experimenting with zero cornerbacks. Both of us rode New England and Buffalo to easy(ish) wins in the AFC East. It’s all downhill from here, folks.

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

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

Records to Date:
Bryan: 1-0
Andrew: 1-0

Andrew: I hate this week’s lines. Every single one of them. The sheer size of many of these lines, coupled with the lingering uncertainty in this weird season, means I could talk myself into taking the team on either side of every line with very little effort … with one exception. As mentioned above, I am not persuaded that Aaron Rodgers is all the way BACK, but oh boy are the Lions not here either. Fresh off blowing a 23-6 fourth-quarter lead against the Bears, at home, the Lions now have to go to Lambeau? Yeah, you have the points, and I’ll have the Packers. Green Bay (-6) vs. Detroit.

Bryan: Perhaps riding too high off of my big underdog pick last week, I’m going to go L.A. Chargers (+9), at home, against the Kansas City Chiefs. Like last week, this was a line that was rapidly pushed up by money coming on the favorite; it opened Monday morning at Chiefs -6.5, and it has gone up to a two-score lead as people just can’t get enough of betting on Patrick Mahomes. And I do get it; the Chiefs are capable of scoring a zillion points, while the Chargers had to rely on a missed field goal to get past Joe Burrow and the Bengals last week. But anytime we start getting up to double-digit lines, I start getting interested in the underdog; five of the Chiefs’ wins last season, including the road fixture against Los Angeles, were one-score victories. There are ways this game plays out where the Chiefs get the ball with five minutes left, up six or seven points, and just sit on it with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I think the front four of the Chargers get enough pressure to at least slow down Kansas City, while the Los Angeles offense works out enough of the kinks to at least make this a competitive matchup.

Double Survival League

Current Standings:
Bryan: 2-0
Andrew: 2-0

Teams Used:
Bryan: BUF, NE
Andrew: BUF, NE

Andrew: I’m staying in division for this week’s teams, much as I hate doing that. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be out to make up for their anticlimactic Week 1 showing. They now play against the worst defense in the division, and I want to be sure to grab them before Tom Brady’s arm falls off completely. The Tennessee Titans don’t have a Week 1 defeat to avenge, but they do have a great chance to stake their claim as the best team in the AFC South. They just need to beat a Jaguars team fresh off a morale-boosting come-from-behind victory against the Colts. I expect the youthful Jaguars to come back down to Earth next time out, and the Titans to be alone in first place this time next week.

Bryan: Not a bad set of picks, that. This seems like a difficult week to pick — not a lot of obvious gimmes, and the teams that do seem to be favored the most are teams you really would want to use later, in better matchups and/or weeks riddled with bye picks. I’ll ape your Titans selection; I’m a little concerned over their short rest and the possibility that the Jaguars are simply meh and not terrible, but I think the Titans should still be good enough to get over the hump when all is said and done. I’d love to save them for the Cleveland game in Week 13, as I think “picking against the Browns” might become a habit this year, but I’ll survive.

Speaking of which, give me the Cleveland Browns over the Bengals on a thrilling Thursday Night matchup. I agree with you that the Buccaneers are the most likely team to win this week, but the Buccaneers should win in many weeks to come. Maybe not so the Browns, who had a VOA of under -100.0% in Week 1. That’s embarrassing! We were down on the Browns to begin with, and it’s hard to imagine that the team we saw getting crushed by Baltimore is going to have a winning record this season. Their best two matchups remaining are against the Bengals this week and the Football Team next week, and with Washington technically in first place in the NFC after their big win, I’ll take the Browns against the rookie, and just get them out of the way.

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