by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week finds your humble Scramblinos at polar opposite ends of the NFL fandom experience. While Bryan's beloved 49ers have picked up two road wins to begin the season, both of my teams have already lost not merely games but also their starting quarterback for at least half the season.
Bryan: It's true; I'm riding higher than I have since December of 2014. It has been a slog through several years of depression, but the 49ers are looking like a double-digit-win team and things are going fine. I do remember the pain of losing a starting quarterback from last year, however, and, as you are a Saints fan, I comfort you with four things.
First, you have the best backup quarterback in the league in Teddy Bridgewater. Secondly, Brees will be back in time for the stretch playoff run. Thirdly, the Saints play in the NFC South, where 9-7 -- and possibly 8-8! -- will win the division, and frankly, the Bridgewater Saints are probably a 9-7 team. And fourthly, at least you're not a fan of Miami.
Andrew: It's true. "At least you're not a Dolphins fan" has been one of those standard "your team sucks but" meaningless consolations for almost as long as I've been following the sport. Heck, the Dolphins could have had Drew Brees, the last time he was coming off a significant injury. So yes, there but for the grace of Daunte go I. Still, I'm not sure I can recall a time when it was quite this bad to be a Dolphins fan. Even Browns fans from the Hue Jackson years are looking at this year's Dolphins and shuddering.
Bryan: Heck, last week we said some positive things about the secondary, and now Minkah Fitzpatrick is out of town. You know what that means:
Miami is DOOOOOOOOOOOMED.
Andrew: That was "doomed" as in the mountain in Mordor, not "domed" as in they're rebuilding Hard Rock Stadium.
Bryan: Though hiding the Dolphins from sight might be in the public interest at this point.
It is a well-known if significantly overblown fact that starting 0-2 is not good for your playoff hopes; 0-2 teams end up in the postseason about 12% of the time. You can still recover from 0-2, however; playoff-caliber teams can and do have multiple-game losing streaks. It doesn't make it more meaningful that it happens in the first two weeks than if it happens sometime in November. That doesn't stop fans around the league from freaking out, mind you, and rightfully so.
That 12% figure is interesting, as there are currently nine 0-2 teams. 12 percent of nine is, well, one -- meaning, historically, we could expect one of the nine teams currently poking about winless to end up in the postseason, much like the Texans and Seahawks did a year ago.
Andrew: "Ah, but which one?" I imagine the masses clamoring to ask. Who better to sift through the chaff in hope of some fine, fine wheat than ... than ... my metaphor may have broken down almost as quickly as Miami's roster. Anyway, let's figure out which of these teams has a chance to make the playoffs. Spoiler: it's probably not going to be the Dolphins.
Bryan: We'll be listing the 0-2 teams in the order of their projected wins from Football Outsiders Almanac 2019, starting with the team the fewest people expected to be sitting here when the season kicked off.
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both of your teams have lost starting quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't really narrow it down considering the spate of quarterback injuries so far. Was Big Ben the other injury you were referring to?
Andrew: Er, no. Big Ben was my fantasy team's quarterback for most of the past decade, but I have never been a fan of the Steelers. Actually, were I a fan of the Steelers, I'm not even sure how much I would be lamenting the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. I thought the Steelers would be way better than they were on both offense and defense in their opening two games, but this quickly began to feel like a team that just wasn't quite built to return to contention in 2019. I'm also not sure how much Roethlisberger has left, honestly. At least with Mason Rudolph, we now get to see whether the Steelers have a potential long-term successor on their roster.
Bryan: I thought Rudolph was a decent value in the third round two years ago -- a capable player who could develop into an adequate starter, though his lack of arm strength rightfully kept him from being one of the tippy-top prospects. Trading away their first-round pick this season for Minkah Fitzpatrick shows a hell of a lot of faith in either Rudolph turning out alright, or Roethlisberger returning at age 38 from significant elbow surgery with few long-term impacts, and that would worry me if I was a Steelers fan. Not that Fitzpatrick isn't worth a top-ten pick, but if Rudolph doesn't save
Christmas the Steelers season, and Old Man Ben finally follows through on the retirement thoughts he has dropped over the past few years, then the Steelers have just given up the chance to grab their next passer, in a Colts-type "one bad season" sort of way.
Andrew: Honestly, do we think the Steelers were going to be quite that bad though, even without Fitzpatrick? It wasn't an inspiring start, sure, but they faced two playoff-contending teams, including a trip to one of the toughest venues in the league. Better teams than the Steelers would struggle with that opening. Worse teams would have been mauled in the second game, especially after losing their quarterback. I'm in no way saying they're still playoff favorites, but there's a lot of space between a below-par Steelers roster and a top-five draft pick.
Bryan: Before last week, I would have projected them at 9-7, still a wild-card team although several paces behind the Ravens in the AFC North. The loss to Seattle would have knocked them down to 8-8 and out of the playoffs, but no, that's not a top-five pick or anything like that; like you said, they weren't blown out of the building by what looks to be a potential double-digit-win Seahawks team. But that was with Roethlisberger under center. I find a good of rule of thumb is to assume a generic backup quarterback coming in will cost a team three or four wins over the course of a season, and a five-win Steelers team would probably be at least in the top ten, draft-wise.
But again, that's with a generic backup quarterback, and it's quite possible Rudolph is better than that. He wasn't particularly sharp against the Seahawks, but he didn't embarrass himself, and he performed adequately coming off the bench with no real practice reps. I can at least see why Pittsburgh would have faith in Rudolph's ability to keep the ship going, maybe to 7-9 or so. They do get to play several of the teams on the DOOM INDEX -- the Bengals twice, the Dolphins, and the Jets. And Fitzpatrick would be worth that top-ten pick today, assuming the Steelers are fine at quarterback for 2020; he's a terrific talent.
Andrew: All in all, I don't expect the Steelers to make the playoffs, but I do think they have the best chance right now of all the 0-2 teams. If we allow up to ten O's worth of DOOM, the Steelers are a mere double-O.
Bryan: I'll give them one extra "O" for the risk involved in that trade, but yeah -- I think the Steelers could have a cromulent season. There are worse results for a year than adding a top-flight safety and gaining certainty about whether your backup quarterback is an option going forward or not. And, because of a relatively soft schedule, the Steelers are more than capable of even having a winning record over the rest of the season. The Steelers are merely DOOOMED.
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both of your teams have lost starting quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't really narrow it down considering the spate of quarterback injuries so far. Was Cam Newton the other injury you were referring to?
Andrew: Much as my preseason comments might have implied a fondness for my favorites' division rivals, no. Cam Newton was not the quarterback in question. Indeed, at the time when I wrote that paragraph, the latest grim tidings from Carolina had not yet made their way across my monitor. Newton does, however, have me concerned -- and like Roethlisberger, that concern is for more than simply 2019. In fact, if both were to miss the rest of the season, I would be more concerned for Newton's prospects than Roethlisberger's.
In the book, I drew a comparison between Newton's situation and that of the not-yet-retired-at-the-time Andrew Luck. That comparison is even more grim now: in the past 25 months, Luck has lost a full season to one injury AND retired due to another, yet has still played more games at close to full health than Newton. Newton's shoulder has been a problem since the middle of the 2017 season, 23 months ago. He looks like a player who doesn't know his own strength -- and I don't mean that in the usual sense, that he's stronger than he thinks. I mean he looks like a player who actually has no idea when he throws the ball whether it's going to zing 60 yards or die in the air after 5. He doesn't appear to trust that anything, short or long, is going to get where he wants it to get, when he wants it to get there.
Bryan: I'm worried about what it says about the coaching staff and training staff. Newton was hurt at the end of last year, and the Panthers kept playing him. It looked like Newton was hurt to start this season, and the Panthers kept playing him. Honestly, sitting down for a month and seeing if he can get right wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Newton. Three of the Panthers' next four games are not against juggernauts (at ARI and TB, at home against JAX), and then they've got the bye.
Andrew: If he couldn't get healthy in the entire offseason, another month isn't going to make the necessary difference. I know it's his ankle that's the current headline, but his arm clearly isn't right either. This is already a long practice week after the Thursday night game, so the visit to Arizona is about as good as it gets for rest time. If he can't go this weekend, you have to ask when he will be able to. You can't realistically give him a fortnight to recover from each game.
Bryan: I'm not sure I agree -- I think the arm issues are being caused by the ankle issues, with him unable to comfortably step up. He's not moving in the pocket like he normally does; he's afraid to run. I think it's throwing off his entire mechanics.
Even if Newton can't go, though, Kyle Allen looked really sharp in incredibly limited work last season -- a DVOA of 67.4%, albeit on 30 or so passes against a vanilla Saints defense just trying to stay healthy. And there's plenty of talent elsewhere on the team, with Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen as great safety valves for a young quarterback. And the top team in the division just lost their starting quarterback for half the year, and the rest of the division ain't exactly the hottest thing in town, either.
I don't know. I don't think the Panthers are very doomed at all! I don't think they'll make the playoffs mind you, oh lord no, but I don't think any of these teams are particularly likely to make it. Until I get more certainty that Newton's injuries are going to keep him out for weeks and weeks and weeks, I'm going to say the Panthers are still the most likely of this lot to end up in the postseason. No extra Os from me; they're just regular DOOMED.
Andrew: If they thought Kyle Allen was the answer, they wouldn't have drafted Will Grier in April. I don't think Grier will be the answer either, but it doesn't say good things about Newton's health that the Panthers felt the need to spend a third-round pick on a quarterback. I really like the rest of the Panthers roster, so I think they're effectively too good to be bad, but a loss in Arizona this weekend would make them a very tough sell for the rest of the season. They're very marginally less DOOMED than Pittsburgh simply because Newton isn't yet on IR, but I'm not convinced he'll make it to the end of the season.
NEW YORK JETS
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both of your teams have lost starting quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't really narrow it down considering the spate of quarterback injuries so far. Was Sam Darnold the other injury you were referring to? Or perhaps Trevor Siemian?
Andrew: I am not nearly masochistic enough to be a Jets fan. I do empathize with Darnold -- I missed a chunk of college my junior year with glandular fever (we don't call it mono over here) and it was a very unpleasant experience. I also had a fractured foot at the time, so I'd have fit right in with the current Jets quarterback room. My foot was initially misdiagnosed as gout, however, which seems more of a Chargers kind of mishap.
Bryan: Darnold has a case of super mononucleosis
Without him under center the Jets' offense is atrocious
After watching Monday night's efforts, the Jets fans are ferocious
Wishing Darnold gets well soon from ononucleosis.
Andrew: I note that even the Jets are considerably less doomed than your career as a lyricist.
Bryan: In the Jets chapter we suggested the Jets had paid too much for Bell
And watching Gase and Williams was a special kind of hell
In our over/unders I found room to be optimistic
But putting them on Monday night was really quite sadistic.
... I'll stop now.
Andrew: On behalf of anybody else who's still reading, thank you. Seriously though, there's doomed, then there's the level of doomed that entails being blown out at home by the Browns, with the Patriots up next and no healthy quarterbacks. Their highest-paid cornerback has also been benched yet again. I was never a fan of the Adam Gase hire, but this is a worse start than even I expected. Only the deliberately horrendous Dolphins, a team Gase left in such great shape that they've jettisoned basically his entire roster, are keeping the Jets from being in the conversation for the worst team in the AFC.
Bryan: Patriots, bye, Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots again. I think I would highly recommend Jets fans to take a six-week vacation and come back in October. The only reason to keep watching the Jets game on Monday night was to see if they would be forced to use their emergency quarterback (who was apparently Le'Veon Bell, and not backup running back and high school quarterback Ty Montgomery for reasons which elude me for the moment).
The one thing keeping the Jets from the very bottom of DOOM is that mono isn't something that's going to derail Darnold's career; it's not a muscle or ligament injury where you question if he can come back at full strength or something like that. It sucks, mind you, but unlike Newton or Roethlisberger, Darnold will be OK. And he might come back in time for that JAX-MIA-NYG-WAS-OAK-CIN-MIA stretch. That could help erase some memories of a terrible, awful start.
Andrew: I'm good friends with a couple from Dundee who are traveling to New York in early December. They are excited in part because they have tickets for a Jets game. He hopes the Jets are still in contention so that the atmosphere is good. When you look at who it's against, you'll understand why my heart sinks a little more every time he mentions it.
Bryan: They'll be in contention for somethin', mind you, though it'll probably just be a top draft pick. Who, pray tell, will the Jets' opponent be on that cold December day?
Andrew: ... the Dolphins. They're traveling 3,000 miles in frigid December to watch Jets-Dolphins.
Bryan: ... is it too late to ask for a refund?
Andrew: At least his holiday is less doomed than the 2019 Jets. The Jets are at the very least seven shades of DOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: As we're summing up the New York Jets, it can be assumed
That we are in agreement that the Jets are surely DOOOOOOOMED
We can not quite do justice to how bad they look in prose
And that is why I'm giving them all those five extra O's
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both of your teams have lost starting quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't really narrow it down considering the spate of quarterback injuries so far. Was Nick Foles the other injury you were referring to?
Andrew: It was! However did you guess? Yes, thanks in large part to their ongoing support for the U.K. games, as well as an irrational love of both Byron Leftwich and Shad Khan's moustache, I consider the Jaguars my second team. Which makes this season already only marginally less painful viewing than last season.
Bryan: Nick Foles to Gardner Minshew II may be a step down in quarterback quality -- though the jury is still out on that. It's a massive upgrade, however, in quarterback personality, and I am all in on the Gardner Minshew era.
Andrew: That's all well and good, and Minshew certainly won't be boring as he piles up the losses, but personality is one of the few things this Jaguars team has too much of. Good quarterbacking, on the other hand...
Now that said, I wasn't a fan of the Foles addition, because I just don't think he is ever going to live up to that contract. I accept that they have to start somebody. It might as well be a sixth-round rookie who has the sheer chutzpah not to care what others think of him. And the personality landscape is going to change soon, when Jalen Ramsey's wish to leave is fulfilled.
Bryan: When and if, though I think that once you start fighting with your coach on the sidelines, that relationship is pretty much done. It's just a matter of whether it's sooner or later; the multiple first-round picks the Jags are asking for are a high price to pay.
I will note, however, that the Jags nearly pulled off the upset against Houston. That has to count for something. They may not be a particularly good football team, but they're not Jets bad, and the AFC South isn't AFC East hard. If the Jags can keep Minshew upright ... and yes, that's a huge if ... and if the defense can continue to play at a high level, I don't know. I don't think they're in quite the deep hole you think they are.
Andrew: They're 0-2 and down their starting quarterback. We already both expected them to start roughly 3-6 even with their starting quarterback, and to be clearing out the coaches even in the event of a second-half recovery. Now, the path has cleared for them in the first half. The Panthers with the hollow shell of Cam Newton, the Saints with Teddy Bridgewater instead of Drew Brees ... 4-5 or 5-4 isn't quite as imposing as it looked, and that would set them up nicely for a second-half run. I'm not convinced, but I guess it wouldn't be as shocking now as it looked even two weeks ago.
Bryan: For a minute there, I was going "uh, the Jags are in the AFC South, not the NFC South" until I realized that you were talking about the schedule. I'm an idiot, it's well known.
I'm very interested in the Titans-Jags game on Thursday. OK, no I'm not, I'm not going to watch much of that, but the game should be very informative. Of course the Jaguars were going to lose to the Chiefs in Week 1, and the Texans are a lot better on paper with or without Foles under center. That makes the Titans the first game I really thought was winnable for the Jags, and Tennessee has floundered a bit early on, to the detriment of my Survivor picks. I hear what you're saying about the turmoil on the sidelines and behind the scenes, but winning has a way of soothing over conflicts and quarrels. If the Jags can pick up a win at home in the division, we'll be hearing a different tune coming out of north Florida.
If they lose, no, they're boned. But I'm not willing to give them any extra O's just yet; not until they go out and lay a total egg on the field. So they're just regular DOOMED for me.
Andrew: I think I agree. There are plenty of long-term question marks. Quarterback isn't solved. The defense has already started to lose players, and Jalen Ramsey would be a big departure. This season though, the loss of Foles is more than offset by the change in the schedule landscape. I don't see them in the playoffs, but 7-9 is hardly crisis point. It's barely even a capital DOOM.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both of your teams have lost starting quarterbacks for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't really narrow it down considering the spate of quarterback replacements so far. Was Eli Manning the other replaced starter you were referring to?
Andrew: Why no Bryan, it was not. I'm not sure the Giants count as having "lost" their starting quarterback. They merely misplaced him on the bench behind Eli Manning.
Bryan: Conspiracy theory time: if Manning has, in fact, started his last game in the NFL, he will finish at exactly 116-116, thus avoiding the embarrassment of finishing his career with a losing record. It strikes me that that might well be the explanation for the timing of Daniel Jones' insertion into the starting lineup. It's not like Manning has looked worse in the last two weeks than he has looked at any other point in the past two years.
Andrew: That's as good an explanation as any. I'll take it. I'll also take the explanation that the Giants are terrible, that they're building this roster completely wrong, and that they might as well see what the rookie has rather than further soil the legacy of a player who, for all his faults, has become an important part of the history of the franchise. Nobody benefits from seeing Eli play out the string on a team this bad, least of all Eli.
Bryan: It's almost like he shouldn't have opened up the season! If you're going to play your young quarterback, play him. If you're going to sit him for a while to learn the system, sit him. Changing streams in September because, shock and awe, a bad football team looked bad, is the sign of poor management. I'd rather my team have a plan I disagree with rather than throwing darts at a board and seeing what sticks.
Andrew: The problem is it's hard to even find much about the plan that's working. This isn't a Dolphins situation: the Giants are genuinely trying to win. They're just really, really bad at it. Saquon Barkley is a transcendent talent. Saquon Barkley is basically it. Three of their five best offensive players are a running back and two guards. They don't even have five defensive players worthy of a "best of" list.
Bryan: You think more highly of Will Hernandez than I do. But your point is taken -- the cupboard is bare. You know what would help a young quarterback? Maybe a transcendent wide receiver, one known for making impossible catches. But no, I'm sure Jabrill Peppers and a couple of rookie defenders will really help Jones shine on the field.
If the Giants wanted Jones to face the easiest schedule to open up his career, they probably should have either started him last week against the Bills, or waited all the way until the end of the season for Miami and Washington to pop up back-to-back on the schedule. I just can't see a logical reason for the timing being now, other than panic.
Andrew: I can see an argument for introducing him against the Buccaneers, who were the worst pass defense in the league over the past two years, but this Buccaneers defense is not that Buccaneers defense. Todd Bowles' defense is not nearly as accommodating as Mike Smith's.
Bryan: Even then, it's a road game! Start him at home in two weeks against Washington, maybe.
Andrew: Ultimately, I don't think it matters. If Jones can do it, he can do it whether you start him in Tampa Bay or New Jersey. He has no targets now, he'll have almost as few targets then. He's not going to turn this franchise around overnight. They're going to be bad this year, no matter when they put the rookie in. Unless Jones is infinitely better than anybody thinks he is, the Giants are eight wonders of DOOOOOOOOMED. And even that's only because I need to leave room for Miami.
Bryan: At least we'll get to find out sooner rather than later how bad all our "Daniel JONES?!?!?!" takes after the draft were. He looked solid in preseason, for what little that's worth. But no. This is a franchise without a plan, making moves because they feel like they should be making moves. When you touch a dead frog's leg with electricity, it kicks, but that's not because there's any intelligent thought going on behind the scenes. Give me eight extra O's for a full ten set of DOOOOOOOOOOMED on a way to, at best, a 4-12 season.
Bryan: I forget, Andrew -- you said both … wait, the Bengals don't have any quarterback issues? They're the first team on this list to go 0-2 not because of issues at the most important position in football, but just general sucktitude? Huh. Well, thanks for breaking up the running gag, Bengals.
Andrew: "Don't have any quarterback issues" is probably overstating the case a bit, at least according to the Bengals fans I follow on Twitter; but yes, Mr. Dalton is not the worst of Cincinnati's worries at this point. That dubious honor goes to the defense, which is concerning because I expected the defense to be respectable this year but the offense to struggle.
Bryan: Don't undersell the problems the offensive line is having. At the moment, Bengals running backs are averaging, and I swear this is true, -0.10 yards per rush before initial contact. To put that in perspective, the next-worst team is the Jets, at 0.16 (before Monday night's game), and the Giants have managed a whopping 4.68. Cincinnati has played a couple of good teams so that explains some of their difficulties, but wow, that offensive line sure is ... well, it sure is somethin'. More than 40% of their rushing attempts have gone for zero or negative yards. I mean, we know rushing is less effective than passing, but that's ridiculous.
Andrew: That is the area of the team I had expected to struggle most, so it's no surprise to see them that bad. This year was always going to be a bit of a slog in Cincinnati, but there's reason for optimism. As we'll get to, the new coach has invigorated some players we thought were absolute busts. His scheme is a significant improvement on last year's offense, though he doesn't have the line in place to make it truly effective. Andy Dalton may be a low-tier starter, but he is a starting-caliber quarterback. I'd be concerned that the defensive line isn't living up to expectations, and indeed the defense in general, but the Bengals aren't a million miles away from being competitive even if this past weekend's game got completely out of hand.
Bryan: I enjoyed watching Zac Taylor's offense in Week 1 against Seattle. There were a lot of interesting wrinkles that, with a better quarterback under center, could end up paying long-term dividends. I also enjoyed watching it in Week 2, but not for the same reasons. It's not too crazy to think that the Bengals might finish strong as they become more and more comfortable with the new scheme. Or, uh, the offensive line could completely collapse, the defense could continue to get blown out of the water, and they could stumble to a winless season.
Andrew: I don't think it will be quite that bad. The offensive line is unlikely to collapse more than it already has. I don't know anything about Lou Anarumo, who I am reliably assured is the defensive coordinator, but presumably he will either oversee improvement or be replaced with somebody else who will do so. They aren't going to the playoffs, but the Bengals have at least some hope. They're more DOOOOOOMED than most, but not that much more.
Bryan: They're certainly less doomed than the Giants, but who isn't? I'll give them six extra O's and hope that their early struggles are due to a really, really good NFC West. DOOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: The Broncos shouldn't be here! I really think they should have won against Chicago. The roughing the passer penalty on Chicago's final drive was questionable at best, and the last-second time-out had just a nanosecond of time left on the clock. I don't think they got robbed, per se, but I feel like they outplayed Chicago last week.
Not that they're any good, mind you, lord no. Just that maybe they should be the worst 1-1 team, and not a bad 0-2 team.
Andrew: That roughing penalty was not quite a Saints-level officiating screwup, but it wasn't far off. I'd be livid if I wasn't so indifferent. Denver is strong enough to be a tough opponent, especially at home, but not enough to be actually good. Given that they still don't have a clear answer at quarterback, I'm not sure how much of either a positive or negative that is.
Bryan: Honestly, the Broncos are going to be one level of DOOMED or another as long as John Elway keeps swinging and missing at quarterbacks. But they can only be so DOOMED with that defense, albeit one that has yet to record a single sack! That will change, and the Broncos will look better. But not enough to make any kind of noise one way or another. At least they'll be able to pull the Drew Lock card when he gets healthy, and they'll be able to use a high draft pick on yet another early-round quarterback this offseason. But man, coming in with Joe Flacco as your primary option? That's worth an extra two O's from the four I was already going to give, so let's call them DOOOOOOOOMED.
Andrew: The sheen has well and truly worn off GM John Elway at this point, and I'm not sure they'll ever be truly undoomed again under his oversight, but the Broncos also aren't that bad. Vic Fangio will figure out the defense, and they'll have a chance to build something special there under his tutelage. They're still missing the key component, however, and Elway has shown no sign of being able to fix that. As you say, just the mere mention of JOe FlaccO adds an extra level of "OO" to the DOOM. They aren't coming back from this start, especially not in this division. The Broncos are DOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: Washington has to be less doomed than the Giants, if for no other reason than they still have their first-round rookie quarterback card to play at some point in the season. They probably have the widest range of any of these 0-2 teams between terrible and almost, possibly competent for that reason alone. I also give them credit for playing both Philadelphia and Dallas tough -- we expect(ed?) the Eagles to be Super Bowl contenders, and Dak Prescott might be your MVP after two weeks.
Andrew: Honestly, the problem in Washington this season isn't the team itself, or the coach, it's the schedule. Chicago this weekend is imposing, though the location makes it winnable, and their next two home games are the Patriots and a potentially powerful 49ers squad. They then play two tough road opponents -- however little we may think of the Bills' playoff prospects, they are no pushovers in Buffalo. It wouldn't take much for 0-2 to become 2-7, with the only wins against the Giants and Dolphins, even though the team probably isn't as bad as that record would suggest.
Bryan: I actually have them beating Chicago this weekend, on a pick I feel so confident about I gave them a 51% chance on 538's prediction game. How's that for going out on a limb?
No, you're right in general. The first two weeks did nothing to change my priors of this being a team that is going to lose a lot of close games this season. There are certainly worse feelings in the world, but that's not exactly something you print on a billboard. Maybe they can claw to three wins by the bye, but not much more than that.
Andrew: The second half should ease up a bit, but not enough that I think Jay Gruden's job is safe. A surprise 8-8 with the rookie coming in after the bye might do it, but the more likely 6-10 probably won't. That means a coaching reboot, and I doubt they get a better coach than they have now. No, the Skins are indeed DOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: 7-9 or 8-8 with Haskins coming in and playing well I think does save Gruden's job. Not an impossible task, but a tall order. I'll take that 6-10 record and given them one "O" for every win. DOOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: Hahahahahaha. Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.
— Xavien Howard (@Iamxavienhoward) September 17, 2019
Andrew: Honestly, not even Super Scrabble has enough O's to accommodate the Dolphins.
Bryan: Look, there's no need to dwell on this too long. If and when the Cowboys crush the Dolphins this weekend, we'll devote a whole column to plumb the depths of Miami depravity. Until then, we'll fill up the list with the full ten O's, and then I'll add two more because good lord, Miami. DOOOOOOOOOOOOMED. In bright flashing colors and everything.
Andrew: This is like the Madden project I used to love back around Madden 05 to 08, where I'd arrange to relocate my franchise to Anchorage then trade all my best players to get the entire set of top-10 draft picks. The merits and demerits of the strategy are arguable, but the Dolphins seem to have misread one minor detail: great young players on rookie deals are the players you should be looking to acquire. Laremy Tunsil. Minkah Fitzpatrick. These should be building blocks, not trade bait. What are they hoping to do, start 22 rookies next year? Do they expect anybody to want to play for them? I understand being willing to accept short-term struggles, within reason. This is a team that has gone beyond what's reasonable, and it's going to bite them hard. Not only now, but in the future. The Dolphins are DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED.
Bryan: There you have it. 0-2 teams can make the playoffs, but not all 0-2 teams are created equal. When Miami upsets Dallas and Daniel Jones throws for 400 yards against the Buccaneers, we'll quietly delete this from the internet and pretend it never happened. For then, it would be us who are DOOMED.
Andrew: Fortunately, at least one of those things is certain not to happen. We'll let time, and the audience, be the judge of which.
Bryan: I'm glad you said "judge" and not "referee," because, well...
Keep Choppin' Wood
Once upon a time, in the dim and distant past, a well-known NFL referee made a terrible mistake by blowing a play dead as a forward pass when, as replay confirmed, the ball had actually slipped backward out of the quarterback's hand. Ed Hochuli could not overturn that mistake to award the fumble to the defense, which prompted an offseason rule change to allow a clear fumble recovery to be awarded as a turnover on review. It also prompted an emphasis to officials not to blow plays dead prematurely, but rather to let the action play out then determine the call. That was in 2008. That emphasis was restated again this offseason. Referees are now trained and conditioned specifically not to blow plays dead, but rather to let them play out.
Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon, and this happened:
Cam Jordan needed oxygen (and an apology) after this one pic.twitter.com/NkVQ7RXTlv
— Benjamin Hoffman (@BenHoffmanNYT) September 15, 2019
That was Cam Jordan, recovering a Jared Goff fumble and appearing to return it for a touchdown, except Walt Anderson's crew inexplicably ignored every single bit of guidance and training, blew the play dead early, and ruled that it was an incomplete forward pass. Just about every single person watching that happen live knew the correct approach: count it as a fumble, automatically review it, and if it was a forward pass it would be an easy overturn. Everybody, that is, except the one person who mattered: the
Foot Locker referee.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
If the only thing revolution needs, as Tennessee Williams wrote in Camino Real, is "good dreamers who remember their dreams," then perhaps somebody should sit the new, supposedly revolutionary Cardinals head coach down for some quixotic Western theater. Kickin' Kliff Kingsbury set a new single-game record for the most field goal attempts from inside the 4-yard line in the team's narrower-than-expected defeat against the resurgent Ravens. All came while the Cardinals were trailing, on the road, as a heavy underdog. Friend of FO Chase Stuart wrote an extensive post on his website detailing why this was extremely conservative, even by the standards of NFL coaches. Hopefully, the Kingsbury revolution is merely biding its time. Come on, Kliff, indulge yourself. You got nothin' to lose that won't be lost.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
This weekend gave us not one, but two examples of head coaches replicating the exact decision that prompted Herm Edwards' most famous coaching soundbite. First, Doug Marrone, on the road against a superior Texans team, saw his rookie quarterback take advantage of a close game, some good fortune, and a heavy dose of conservative defense to drag his Jaguars back against the Texans. Faced with the choice to kick a game-tying extra point, Marrone elected to try for the win there and then. Though the play call was questionable (more on that shortly) the attempt was laudable, as Marrone had to have confidence that his elite defense could protect the lead had the two-point attempt been successful.
Later the same afternoon, the Denver Broncos found themselves in the same situation. Like the Jaguars, they elected to go for the win instead of the tie, but this time they made the conversion. Alas, the Broncos defense is no longer quite so dominant as that of the Jaguars, and the Bears came back -- with the aid of an extremely soft roughing the passer call -- to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired. This gave the Broncos the unwanted title of the first team ever to lose after a successful two-point conversion gave them a one-point lead in the last minute of a game.
Still, that was enough to give us a tie for this award. Doug Marrone and Vic Fangio, we salute your uncommon boldness.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Little note here: Andrew picks the Herm award, while Bryan tackles the Fisher. You can tell, then, that we're somewhat torn on the decision the Jaguars made to go for two at the end of their game against the Texans. An underdog with a backup quarterback challenging a division favorite sometimes needs to use David strategies to pull off the upset, and one play for the win seems very tempting compared to giving the ball back to Deshaun Watson, but there were 30 seconds left in the game. So, no, the decision to go for it wasn't the confusing bit; that's a matter of legitimate debate. The confusing bit was Doug Marrone giving the ball to Leonard Fournette.
In his career, Fournette has run the ball 51 times with 2 or fewer yards to go, picking up the first down 25 times, so about as close to a 50/50 proposition as you're going to get. He was averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on the day, and had been stuffed on a third-and-1 earlier on the drive before barely picking up a fourth-and-1. Gardner Minshew didn't have the world's greatest day, but his scrambling ability and connection with DJ Chark were the reasons the Jags ever scored the touchdown to begin with. I don't think it's too much backseat coaching to suggest putting the ball in Minshew's hands, rather than Fournette's, was the right call in that situation.
Oh, plus Marrone fought on the sideline with Jalen Ramsey, and now the Jags' best player wants a trade out. So, you know. Good day at the office.
'Patrick's Pal' Fantasy Player of the Week:
Oh no! Whatever will the Chiefs' offense do without Tyreek Hill in the lineup? After all, Football Outsiders Almanac 2019 cautioned that a Chiefs' offense, minus Hill, might have some issues with three of their top five 2018 targets gone. Yeah, turns out Patrick Mahomes and company will just find Demarcus Robinson and keep on chuggin' along. Robinson was owned in about 6% of Yahoo! leagues last week, and yet ended up as the highest single scoring player of the week in PPR leagues. Six targets, six receptions, 172 yards, and a pair of scores, with the lion's share of that work coming during the Chiefs' shock-and-awe second quarter.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 15, 2019
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
Andrew nominated the Patriots defense, for a pair of fourth-quarter pick-sixes that turned a solid victory into a rout. That certainly helped a ton of fantasy players, and did not have a significant impact on the outcome, but this award generally goes to players in losing efforts, as opposed to great teams stomping on terrible ones. Instead, we'll highlight John Ross, who followed up his stellar effort from a week ago by catching a 66-yard touchdown pass in the final minute against San Francisco, turning a 41-10 blowout into a 41-17 blowout as what few fans remained filed for the exits.
"He’s a freak. He’s the fastest kid alive. He’s the fastest kid alive."
John Ross pic.twitter.com/ojIPRzrziB
— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) September 15, 2019
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
John Ross is also our featured player for this award. Ross looked very much like a bust during the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati, but he has been highly effective in his two games under new head coach Zac Taylor. This year's fantasy scoring leader among wide receivers after Week 2 is a name few would have guessed before the season. He is currently tied with the more acclaimed trio of Sammy Watkins, Julio Jones, and T.Y. Hilton for touchdown receptions by a wide receiver, and his 270 receiving yards lead all pass-catchers. Ross is unlikely to hold onto this spot, particularly after A.J. Green (hopefully) returns later in the season, but Bengals fans at least can have some degree of optimism for the rest of the year, thanks to the early showings from their recent first-round draft pick.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
Hey, remember that 12-game stretch from 2017 to 2018 when Julio Jones couldn't buy a receiving touchdown? The Eagles wish you remembered that.
Trailing by three points, the Falcons faced a fourth-and-3 from their own 46-yard line. This is for the ballgame, basically -- punt, and you're lowering your Game-Winning Chance (GWC) by 21.5%; fail and the Eagles are sitting somewhere between 90% and 95% win probability, even with Atlanta holding on to all three timeouts. This has to be a first down. Jones decides, you know what? We can do a little bit better than that.
THE BEST RECEIVER ON THE PLANET.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 16, 2019
Full credit to Jones turning on the jets, but the play was really made by the pancake block by Jake Matthews and the slight olé provided by Mohamed Sanu. That blocking is what gives Jones the space for the first down; Jones' speed then allows him to race past Rodney McLeod for the score. Kudos has to go to Matt Ryan too, for noticing the zero blitz and audibling into the quick pass to Jones. Watching the indispensable play animation, you can see Malcolm Jenkins crowding the line of scrimmage and no one playing safety deep; Ryan diagnosed it perfectly and won the game.
At the moment, the loss is the difference between the Eagles being in playoff position or not; the NFC West is loading up the conference with 2-0 starts, so Philadelphia's already a game behind the eight-ball. At the moment, it looks like it might well take 10 wins to make the playoffs in the NFC, and our current mean win projection for the Eagles is just 9.0. There are still plenty of question marks about some of the early hot teams in the conference, and the Eagles are talented enough that they'll likely be fine, but you never want to be on the outside looking in, even just two games into the season.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Bryan: If I ever pick against Kansas City again, get my head examined. No matter how much I like Josh Jacobs.
Andrew: I despise guessing games, as I may have mentioned before. I was eyeing Arizona against Carolina even before this week's Cam Newton injury news broke, but that game is now off the board. That leaves me peeking at the L.A. Rams against a Cleveland side that, even coming off a big win, does not appear to be living up to the preseason hype. With Cleveland on a short week and L.A. having dealt with a tough Saints squad, I fancy the Rams to cover the three-point spread. L.A. Rams (-3) at Cleveland.
Bryan: Carolina's game is still on the board as I'm writing this, so hey, yeah, I'll take Arizona (+3) hosting the Panthers. Assuming that line changes, I think I'd take Washington (+4) over Chicago (and we might count that one as my official pick, pending the meeting of the Scramble minds, or our scrambled minds or whathaveyou), but for now, give me Kliff, a lack of fear of field goals, and the points.
Double Survival League
Bryan: So, uh. How's that longshot Super Bowl pick going?
Andrew: I would like to take this opportunity to remind everybody that I did repeatedly stipulate "a healthy Panthers team." As we are all now witnessing, there may no longer be any such thing as a healthy Panthers team with Cam Newton at quarterback. That makes me very sad, because I still maintain that everything else is in place for the current Panthers team to be very good indeed.
Bryan: Well, my Titans pick didn't do much better. Even with the Colts missing kicks left, right, and center, the Titans STILL can't buy a win against Indianapolis -- it just has to be demoralizing, losing to the same team over and over and over and over and over. Spiking the ball on third-and-2 had me jumping up and down and yelling a stream of expletives. The perfect season dreams are over for both of us.
Andrew: Which, at least, frees us from the pressure of perfection. I admit, the reason I didn't pick New England last week is that I wanted them to get the home game against Miami -- forgetting that said home game couldn't be included, as we'll be done with this by Week 17. With that in mind, I'll grab them this week against the quarterback-challenged Jets. My other pick's a home date with what will undeniably be this season's punching bag: Dallas against the Miami Dolphins practice squad, or at least it will be by the time they get done trading everybody of any value.
Bryan: I have a feeling we'll both be picking against the Dolphins on a regular basis; I'll join you in taking Dallas this week. Because I have already taken New England, however, I'll instead pick Tampa Bay hosting Daniel Jones and the Giants. I think this is the Buccaneers' easiest game on the schedule, and even though bringing in the rookie adds a new level of uncertainty to the game, I still like the Buccos on a long week of rest against a franchise that does not appear to know what it is doing. I'd rather take the 49ers, Packers, or even Bills this week, but there will be plenty of time for those picks later. Gotta find that Tampa Bay win while the going is good.