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Of all the NFL-derived contests in which we engage, none is more perverse and torturous than Survivor. Let's set aside that pools often number in the hundreds or even thousands, making your chances to win almost insignificant – at least in fantasy football which is its own form of torture, one owner among 12 or 14 will be happy at the end of the day. Forget the mathematical fact that if you played one hundred-person survivor contest each year for the rest of your life, there's a decent chance you'd go to your grave with zero wins. Let's instead focus on the bloodshed and misery that transpires every week.
I had the Dolphins in one pool (not much drama there), and the Pats in the other. The pool in which I had the Pats would have come down to two of us had the Steelers lost. One of the underrated sources of survivor misery isn't simply sweating out your own team's win in a tough game, e.g. the Pats – it's also rooting for other people to lose games in which they miraculously prevail. Especially when 80 percent of the remaining entrants are on one team.
With that in mind, let's dive into the details of what made the 49ers-Rams and Chiefs-Steelers so defenestratingly infuriating.
In the Rams' case, they had the lead all day, knocked out the starting quarterback, and after giving up the lead, drove for the go-ahead touchdown. Senselessly, Jeff Fisher called a timeout, which bought the Niners time for their final game-tying drive, and equally mind-bogglingly, they let Colin Kaepernick – a run-first quarterback with no passing experience – run for 29 yards on that drive. But that's not even the worst part which they saved for overtime – first when a beautiful 80-yard bomb to Danny Amendola was called back due to an illegal formation that had no impact on the success of the play, and second when a 53-yard field goal was negated because the Rams snapped the ball half a second after the play clock expired.
To have feats of greatness that align with your moral, spiritual and economic interests invalidated due to meaningless technicalities is particularly hard to take. It's not merely about this one game, this one possible payout, but all of the many injustices, iniquities and cruel whims to which one is subjected in life that it brings up. (New Year's Eve 2000, yes, I was drunk, but I did not go behind the bar and steal those beers. I knew one of the bartenders who gave them to me after I was cut off. Total BS that I was ejected.)
The Monday night game was arguably even worse as the calls in the 49ers-Rams were at least technically legit. A phantom hold on Dwayne Bowe's touchdown catch, and an egregious offensive PI on Tony Moeaki that wound up being moot were just a couple Super Bowl XL-like Steeler-favorable rulings that should shock the conscience of all but the most hard-hearted among us. And the way it ended – with a "here you go, take the win" interception – was a vulgar mockery of my emotional investment in the game. I felt like agent Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire during this scene.
Sometimes it makes you not want to watch the games at all. Just check in Monday morning on what happened, final scores and player stats only. It reminds me of a Jacksonville-Pittburgh game I bet on in 1997. I hadn't seen the game, only the score (30-21 Jax), and talking to my friend the next day I told him: "The Jaguars were so obviously the right play." He broke it to me that the Steelers, down 23-21, were lining up for a game-winning FG that Jax blocked for a TD.
The NFL is a game of failure and disaster
"All of a sudden, defenses are playing things real well, you're not catching breaks and everything it seems like, 'How are we going to get a first down? How are we going to be able to score points this week?' Keep fighting through it, keep working hard, keep staying committed to your reads, making good decisions, not forcing things when things are tough. Sometimes you need to be reminded of that."
This from a player who's won two Super Bowls, passed for more yards in a single season in 2011 than Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana or Dan Fouts ever did and is probably headed to the Hall of Fame. "How are we going to be able to get a first down?"
Manning simply has to take it on faith that his usual process will continue to yield good results over time, and he has the luxury of indefinite opportunity to sort things out – unlike many players who have far shorter leashes. But it's a good reminder that player and team success are so far from givens in the NFL. All things being equal, always bet the under.
Things to take away from Week 10
• As a Calvin Johnson owner, it was nice to be reminded why I drafted him in the first round and blew a quarter of my budget on him in the Stopa Law Firm League.
• I was wrong about Matthew Stafford – not about him being a merely average NFL quarterback – but about his fantasy prospects. He attempts 40-plus passes almost every game, and it doesn't take a lot to be a top-5 QB when that's the case.
• Adrian Peterson isn't some high-workload back coming back from an ACL tear – he's an inner circle Hall of Famer at his peak. Between Peterson, fellow top-12 picks Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson, the top of the 2007 draft class had a big fantasy impact Sunday.
• There's no truth to the rumor that Jerome Simpson demanded a trade to the Seahawks or Broncos.
• Don't be enamored with Vanilla Ice's 411 passing yards – they came on 52 attempts (7.9 YPA) against a team giving up a yard more per attempt on average. Drew Brees threw for just 299 yards, but his 9.3 YPA was far more efficient.
• Getting 15 yards on 13 carries against the Saints is about as low as it gets, so now might be a good time to buy Michael Turner on the cheap.
• Tony Gonzalez had a huge game (11-122-2), and he wasn't alone among tight ends. Jimmy Graham went 7-146-2 and Greg Olsen went 9-102-2.
• Ahmad Bradshaw's value has slipped significantly with Andre Brown getting the goal-line carries and now also seeing targets out of the backfield. That Bradshaw fumbled (and nearly lost a second fumble that was overturned on replay) isn't helping his cause, either.
• The Giants defense actually played reasonably well – aside from one big play from A.J. Green, Cincy didn't do a whole lot.
• I'm glad I blew my entire remaining FAAB budget on Taiwan Jones this week. It was rash, but in Week 10 and with Trent Richardson on bye in a 16-team league, I felt like gambling on someone who I thought could be a multi-week starter. Apparently, he's just a change-of-pace reserve even with the top two guys out. Never draft a guy who's first name is a country. (That maxim also rules out any players named "Chad," too.)
• The Bills were the better team Sunday, but the Pats got the bounces. Donald Jones is emerging as a 1B to Stevie Johnson's 1A with 19 targets the last two weeks. I wish I had picked up Danny Woodhead for some of my teams suffering from lack of RB depth instead of Taiwan Jones.
• What happened in Miami? The Titans were a doormat, and the Dolphins were supposedly decent. It's hard to chalk up that kind of thrashing entirely to variance. If they played again next week in Miami, what should the line be? Certainly no more than Miami minus-3.
• I wrote after Week 1 that Chris Johnson was a mistake at 1.6 and that Darren McFadden was the pick. Actually, Lynch, Peterson or Brees were the picks, but Johnson's probably closer to them than he is to McFadden. Over the last six weeks, Johnson's rushed for more than 90 yards five times, with four touchdowns.
• I faded the Chargers against the Chiefs a couple Thursdays ago, and San Diego covered late with two defensive scores. Stupidly, I took that as a sign they were not that awful, especially in November, and I wanted to sell the Bucs high. Which was great until Philip Rivers gifted arguably the stupidest pick six in NFL history to the defense. But complaining about the Chargers choking is like paying retail for Josh Hamilton and complaining that he got hurt.
• I thought the Cowboys were the NFC Chargers, but the Eagles have outdone them. Incidentally, I have never seen an NFL player more open in the center of the field than Jeremy Maclin was on his touchdown catch. Even Nick Foles was able to complete it. Michael Vick isn't the problem here.
• Russell Wilson coughed up one of the worst turnovers for TDs of the week, but otherwise looked very smooth and accurate against a tough pass defense. And while 6.5 seemed like a big line against the Jets, it's hard not to take SEA at home blindly.
• Jamaal Charles is still an elite real-life running back. Peyton Hillis is just a paler version of Thomas Jones, uselessly clogging the offense.
• With Fred Jackson out, C.J. Spiller is a top-5 RB in fantasy – and real life – though he faces what was once a stout Miami front Thursday night.
Things to look for in Week 11
• Andrew Luck and the Colts try to defy the sabermetric naysayers in New England.
• The Ravens head to Pittsburgh for their usual war, though Ben Roethlisberger's status is up in the air.
• The Bears off a home loss to Houston head to San Francisco in a match-up of teams with stout defenses and concussed starting quarterbacks.
Beating the Book
Prediction: Buccaneers -1 at Panthers
At first glance, the Bucs are coming off a 10-point win while the Panthers a 22-point loss. But the Bucs had the benefit of a return TD and a pick six, while the Panthers were on the wrong side of both against the Broncos. Take away those junk plays, and Carolina lost by eight, while Tampa lost by four. And considering the opponents, Denver and San Diego, respectively, are playing each other this week, and the line is 7.5 in Denver (4.5 on a neutral field), the Bucs and Panthers – at least by least week's results – are roughly equal teams. Which is why I like Carolina getting a point at home. Back the Panthers.
Line: Panthers 27 – 17
Last week we won with the Bengals to put us at 4-6 on the season in this forum and 66-77-3 overall. Last year we went 10-7 in this forum and 124-125 overall. Over the last five years we've gone 50-34 in this space. You can read the full Week 10 column here.
Surviving Week 11
I detailed my picks last week above, and while there was some carnage if your pool counts ties as losses (which it should), most people squeaked by with Pittsburgh. Let's take a look at this week's slate:
|Team||Opponent||%Taken||Vegas ML**||Vegas Odds|
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines
The Cowboys are at 34 percent, and should be higher than that in pools that started at the beginning of the season. I would fade them for the Texans (obviously), Broncos, Falcons or Patriots. The tougher call will be if you've used all of those whether you take Dallas or gamble on New Orleans, Washington, San Fran, Green Bay or Cincy. Dallas has a 23 percent chance to lose according to Vegas, so you'd need at least a 3:2 payout to take one of those which are 35-38 percent likely to lose, at least according to Vegas.
If I had everyone available, the Texans are the no brainer, followed by New England, Atlanta, Denver and probably Dallas (depending on the make-up of my pool).
Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes out Wednesday night.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_Liss
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