A little after 4pm on Sunday the Cleveland Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, plunging them to the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 finish. The loss would have been soul crushing if only there had been any souls left to crush in Cleveland. Bad as the Browns season finale was, though, it wasn’t the worst of the day. There’s a strong case to be made that the Browns reached a new level of misery on Sunday but the drop from 1-15 to 0-16 is a lot less dramatic than the fall from making the playoffs to missing them.
Of all the teams with a chance to claim a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday’s matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals with the best odds of making the postseason. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Ravens had a 97% chance of making the playoffs on Sunday morning – almost 30% higher than the team with the next best odds – and with the game against Cincinnati winding down, the Ravens seemed to have it in the bag. After trailing all game, they had stormed back to take their first lead of the day late in the 4th quarter. With Cincinnati facing a 4th and 12 at the Baltimore 49-yard line, with 53 seconds on the clock and the Bengals out of timeouts, the Ravens needed just one stop to punch their ticket to the postseason.
On October 0th the San Francisco 49ers sent a 2nd round draft pick to the New England Patriots for Tom Brady’s understudy, Jimmy Garoppolo. As San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan opted to take things slow with his potential franchise quarterback, Garappolo didn’t start a game until December 3rd but since then, well, let’s just say that the 49ers have to be happy with how that trade worked out.
Going into Week 16, Garoppolo had led the 49ers to three straight victories despite the fact that he was taking over a team that was 1-10 and absolutely terrible at nearly every aspect of the game. In beating the Bears, Texans and Titans, Jimmy G. had shown a promising amount of star power but it was fair to wonder if his game had looked better than it actually was due to the quality – or, more specifically, the lack thereof – of his competition.
That’s Nick Foles’ line from last Sunday’s monster performance against the New York Giants. As bad as the Giants are, any game where a QB can put up numbers like that is impressive. And while no one’s ready to hand over the MVP award to Foles after last week, he has earned a hell of a lot more respect than he was afforded over the past few years. (Or weeks.) Going into the championship week for most fantasy football leagues, Foles is – shockingly – a legitimate fantasy asset. His ownership has jumped 24.1% since Sunday’s breakout game.
In a feature literally named after the NFL’s penchant for constant, unyielding incompetence, you might’ve guessed that today we’d be honoring1 the League itself again. And yet, even as both the Raiders and Steelers lost their games due to controversial-but-true-to-the-rulebook verdicts from their referees, there’s only one place truly deserving of our incompetent gaze. I’m looking at you, Seattle.
The Seahawks have a well-established reputation as a dominant team, their hype built on the foundation of two recent Super Bowl appearances – including one victory – and a multiyear run as one of the greatest defenses of all-time. Injuries to their defense and ineffectiveness along the offensive line have somewhat dampened Seattle’s reputation for excellence this year but they remain a formidable foe, especially at home where they’ve had one of the only legitimate home-field advantages in the sport over the last few years. Even as 2017 seemed to be turning into a down year for the franchise, Russell Wilson vaulted himself into the MVP discussion with a series of masterful performances including an impressive defeat of fellow MVP-candidate Carson Wentz’s up-and-coming Eagles squad in Week 13.
Nick Foles – Philadelphia Eagles 4 GP | 71.4 Comp. % | 98 YDS | 0 TDs
Alex Schillinger : Last week, the NFL – and millions of fantasy rosters – lost one of football’s most promising and talented young QBs. I’m talking, of course, aboutTom Savage. Wait, what? Carson Wentz is out for the season? A torn ACL? Fuck. There goes my championship.
Or does it? Once upon a 2013, Nick Foles was a lot like Wentz: promising, talented and young. Four years into his journeyman future, can he serve as a stopgap for the remainder of the season?
Detroit Lions defensive back Quandre Diggs had just leveled Tampa Bay’s O.J. Howard, causing a fumble that was recovered by Detroit’s Glover Quin. As broadcaster Ronde Barber predicted,1 Diggs was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, his hit deemed a shot to the head of a defenseless receiver. As Barber also noted, this was the wrong call, mainly because the receiver wasn’t defenseless (per NFL rules) and because Diggs didn’t hit him in the head.
Dude, that sucks. I feel your pain. You just spent the past three months analyzing every skill position in football and now that the playoffs – the most exciting time of the year! – have arrived, you’re on the outside looking in. Try not to think about the number of hours you spent researching which New Orleans Saint RB to draft1 and debating whether or not you should pick up Robby Anderson.2 Even worse, it’s not like the people who made it into the playoffs at your expense even deserve their success, right? They totally lucked their way in by drafting players like Carson Wentz, Adam Thielen and Todd Gurley II.3 Who could have seen that coming?
Every Monday I play beer league hockey with a bunch of physically underwhelming and tactically inept schlubs like myself. In our darker moments, when our utter lack of coaching and ability rears its ugly, toothless head our defensive schemes devolve into little more than puck-chasing. As defensive strategies go, this one tends to be disastrous. It’s also the technique that the San Francisco 49ers utilized in pursuing Tarik Cohen, the Bears’ diminutive rookie running back, as he scored one of the more remarkable touchdowns of the year.
Cohen’s brilliance on this play is undeniable. His speed, acceleration and agility are simply off the charts. He makes a cut at the 30-yard line that leaves Aldrick Robinson – a freaky fast dude himself – flailing his arms and falling way behind the play. The whole play, in which Cohen outmaneuvers an entire professional football team, makes for a reasonable facsimile of the “Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl” technique that shouldn’t work in real life and seems borderline unfair.
Through Week 11, Julio Jones was the 9th rated WR in terms of PPGAR. He had 13.5 PPG and averaged only 2.5 more PPG than replacement level players. Then, without warning, Julio did that thing he does every year and straight up murdered an opposing secondary. There were funerals and everything. The eulogies were all about how Jones had 50 points in a single game.1
Jones’ owners have been (not so) patiently waiting for this kind of explosion and in its wake Julio is now the 3rd rated WR in terms of PPGAR. He’s a total stud and it looks like he and the Falcons are hitting their stride at the right time. Look for him to continue his offensive outburst despite the fact he’ll play pretty outstanding secondaries for the remainder of the season, with the exception of Week 15, when he looks to annihilate the Bucs again. God help those poor bastards.
With one week left in the fantasy regular season you might be sitting pretty as the #1 seed or maybe you’re clawing your way back into the playoff picture with a do or die game or, at the very least, you’re poised to play the role of spoiler because, while you’re out of it, a win this week would ruin Derek’s season. And seriously: fuck you, Derek.
Regardless of your predicament, the season has flashed before our eyes and the playoff push is upon us. 2017 has been really weird and, with the end of the fantasy season in sight, rosters are decimated, some teams are in tank mode and somehow Case Keenum has become a fantasy football savior. Here are some factors that could be vital for your playoff run:
The fantasy messiah. The reckoning. The perpetually suspended wideout. Josh Gordon will finally be activated this week against the Chargers. The former fantasy football god is returning to earth just in time for the playoffs. If you forgot, he’s still on the Browns but he’s only 26 and should have a lot left in the tank. If you were sneaky and followed his timeline all season, you added him to your roster for absolutely nothing. Now you get to insert him into your lineup and see his wizardry once again. Is it unfair to think that he’ll accumulate 1,000 yards in the remaining 5 games? He might not but he should because DeShone Kizer should throw him the ball on every down. Gordon’s impact should be enough for the Browns to get at least one win but, more importantly, he could be your secret weapon down the stretch. Have confidence playing him and then declare yourself a genius after you hoist the championship trophy in your fantasy league.
Go with your Gut or Take Risks?
If you’re a mere mortal and don’t have Josh Gordon on your roster, there are a few things you can do. In one corner, you can stay the course and go with what has gotten you to the playoffs in the first place. Whether it’s a solid RB1/RB2 duo or a trio of outstanding wideouts, you can keep chugging along with the roster that’s earned you a playoff spot. In the other corner, you could take some risks. Playing the hot hand over an established starter can be the difference between a playoff win or an end to your season. Taking huge risks with lineup shifts could be lead to success or devastation. Remember, money is now on the line and over-thinking your lineup could backfire. Look at your individual players and analyze the best matchups that they’re encountering. If you’ve got offensive weapons facing the Browns, 49ers or Colts, play them! Conversely, stingier defenses will make you debate whether or not you should start players lined up against them. Wavering on these decisions will lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Ultimately, you know your team the best. It’ll be up to you to determine whether or not you want to take risks. Field what you think is your best lineup and roll with them.