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Football Fantasy! Patrick Mahomes gets a turn while Jim Caldwell might lose his in Week 17

A fresh position on the MVP debate, considering who the Seahawks could face in the playoffs and the NFL’s bad habit of scheduling divisional games last

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.

Last week I promised a more conclusive Week 17 issue of Football Fantasy! with a league-wide wrapup of all the selections from the season to see how our fictitious landscape compares to the real final charts. But of course that makes way more sense to do next week. After all, FF!’s season continues into the playoffs just like hopefully Seattle’s does.

I wasn’t going to talk about NFL awards either, because our trademarked preference is that those discussions would vanish from the football dialectic altogether. Awards or snubs and the debate around them are as meaningless as rotisserie leagues to the action on the field—which all we’re about here, even if we like to dwell in alternative courses of those actions. But we also have a clear vision of what professional football would look like, and it separates cleanly from the popular coronation of the quarterback as only decisive actor on the gridiron. So with so many voices insisting the league MVP should or can only ever be the player under center, let me pose an angle of reflection:

Certainly, some quarterback handles the ball in some fashion on nearly every NFL snap. But it’s lazy to view a sport only through the movement of its ball. Seahawks fans in particular should be accustomed from watching Richard Sherman that a player’s influence on the game can sometimes be as dominant by restricting where the ball doesn’t go. Likewise, the freedom for the ball to travel only comes from the effort of ten or so other players arranging envelopes of protection and using up defensive resources through misdirection—the problem is the twin tunnels of the television camera and statistical viewfinder scarcely acknowledges this other activity, all of which has necessary and complementary value. I find passing boring, almost like a cheat for offenses, the way manufacturing runs is more interesting to watch than the sudden swipes for automatic scores that are home runs in baseball. For that reason, I believe the degree to which we limit our interest or emphasis of these other parts of football seriously degrades the game, and especially our practice of appreciation around it.

The quarterback-only argument however insists that none of these efforts when split or assigned on an individual grain amounts to the significance of the quarterback’s coefficient management of the game. That may be so, mainly because of the way the rules favor passing and quarterback health, but it ignores the relative value any individual can have over expectation. Even if quarterback is the most important position on the field, that doesn’t demonstrably make any quarterback particularly more valuable than any other (obviously some are better, but that’s an absolute not a relative value).

From that perspective, and with a naked motive here of shining attention on the unsung areas of the game rather than the greatest scorers, I find the degree of difficulty of impacting wins and losses a more important variable in any discussion of value. To draw a parallel from another sport, it’s rarer to have Shaquille O’Neal’s body and gifts but it’s way harder to be Allen Iverson and generate similar production from all areas of the court. Basketball is a different game—there’s no real way to be an Iverson in football, though Antonio Brown comes closest. But every quarterback is Shaq, standing in one spot and exploiting the defense at his leisure. I won’t make the case for Brown or any one player here, because it’s irrelevant to me. And maybe only me. But I’d rather the football viewing community single out exceptional guards and cornerbacks, linebackers and running backs, positionless freaks and special teams studs, than simply point at the most efficient passer and hand him a trophy and a truck every gotdang year. Honestly who cares?

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

It’s rather exceptional that Jim Caldwell seems likely to be fired from the Lions. If Detroit beats Green Bay Caldwell will have presided over three winning seasons in four years, the most successful stretch that long in Lions history since 1951-54 and even with a loss he will have the best winning percentage of any Detroit head coach since Buddy Parker left in 1956. Of course the organization does not have the most sterling standards since that period, and Caldwell himself speaks as if he should be held to championship aspirations. Disappointment often engenders change faster than reason, and it remains likelier in today’s pro sports environment that rebuilding yields results sooner than leveling up.

My choice: Lions

Sharp pick: Detroit (-6.5)

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

These teams have lost a combined 11 straight games, and it’s a wonder how after spending much of the year as nearly the worst team in the league Indianapolis has a chance to cede the bottom of the AFC South to the Texans with a victory Sunday. Houston’s quarterback situation cowardice and defensive injuries has already dropped the Texans to the weighted DVOA cellar after losing by 28 and 38 the last two weeks, but that doesn’t make them actually worse.

My choice: Colts

Sharp pick: Houston (+4.5)

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

This looks like another meaningless game thanks to Minnesota’s tiebreakers over the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, the other prospective NFC division winners. But with a Chicago win and a Saints loss, the Carolina Panthers could actually climb all the way into the two seed—giving those Panthers one more reason to be motivated to help Seattle creep into the playoffs.

My choice: Bears

Sharp pick: Chicago (+11.5)

New York Jets at New England Patriots

Why does the NFL throw up the pretense of making Week 17 meaningful by putting all divisional games and then schedule absurd home matchups for AFC contenders like this ...

My choice: Jets

Sharp pick: New York (+15.5)

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

... and this?

The NFL even seemed to adapt its bizarre Thursday night policy by arranging fewer dreadful divisional matchups in those broadcasts in 2017. Hopefully it learns its lesson about the myth of divisional games offering more consequence by next season.

I’m not going to get caught up in recency bias and say the fact that seven of eight divisions are locked up already means we can never get pre-playoff playoff, because that’s definitely not so every year. But even in open races the odds are clearly two to one against the league correctly predicting and selecting the right tilt for these affairs eight months in advance (even worse in known mismatches like these two stinkers): It’s a losing bargain. As always at Football Fantasy!, chaos is more exciting than programmatic predestination. Mix the exotic and interdivisional with the familiar and moribund for a spicier appetizer to the postseason, I promise.

My choice: Browns

Sharp pick: Pittsburgh (-7)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Brb, I gotta take a shit.

My choice: Giants

Sharp pick: Washington (-3)

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Now that Dallas is safely out of the way of the Seahawks, it’s time to complete due diligence and prevent future generations from having the debate over whether the “14-2” Eagles would have won a Super Bowl had they not lost their goldbricking quarterback.

My choice: Cowboys

Sharp pick: Dallas (-2.5)

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

Let’s all hold our breaths and hope the gates remain open for Seattle to make the playoffs. Absolutely. But I’m not going to get all Coyote & Rock and pretend I was in on Carolina all along (I actually did cheer for the expansion Panthers—remember they could have knocked off the Packers in the NFC title game their second year, saving us both a Brett Favre Super Bowl win and potentially even the Bill Parcells drama that led to both Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick later coaching the Patriots).

Anyway, for now Jerry Richardson, standing monument to abuse of athlete and executive privilege, still owns the franchise.

My choice: Panthers

Sharp pick: Carolina (+4)

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

The only way to get both the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs is with a Ravens loss and that’s just more fun so

My choice: Bengals

Sharp pick: Cincinnati (+9.5)

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

If the Dolphins lose it’ll be the first time they are more than two games under .500 all season, at last reflecting something like actual team strength (Miami been one of the worst clubs statistically the entire year—even when they were 4-2). If the Dolphins win, that will give the organization an excuse, at 7-9, to believe they are set up exactly like they believed following a 10-6 2016 to contend as soon as quarterback Ryan Tannehill recovers from his silly knee injury. And that will be hilarious in 2018 but disastrous for the hopes of ever building a qualified competitor for New England in the AFC East in the long term. Also, go Buffalo.

My choice: Bills

Sharp pick: Miami (+2.5)

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Even though New Orleans plays at the same time as the Panthers now, averting the Sunday Night Football black hole laid out in this space last week, any chance Carolina watches the scoreboard requires Tampa to keep this one competitive and make sure the Panthers bring the dead bird to our doorsteps.

My choice: Buccaneers

Sharp pick: Tampa Bay (+7)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans

My early season infatuation with Tennessee definitely got recrystallized with the emergence of the ”Jubilant Jags” and their #Sacksonville defense, an experience that must have been what it felt like watching the young Seahawks develop from afar instead of being twisted up over their fits and stumbles in 2011-12. However, since there’s room for both these squads in the AFC playoffs, might as well hope for a double dose of fun to topple the cursed power structures of the alternate conference.

My choice: Titans

Sharp pick: Jacksonville (+3)

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos

Here comes the rookie, and not a Mahoment too soon—but will young Patrick steward a quarterback controversy into K.C.’s first round matchup?

My choice: Chiefs

Sharp pick: Kansas City (+3.5)

Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers

Will this be Beast Mode’s final verse as an NFL player, or will he stick out his Oakland contract—or even write the real life script for for “Marshawn’s Eleven” once the club settles in Las Vegas?

My choice: Raiders

Sharp pick: Oakland (+7.5)

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams

Okay: Hear me out.

Los Angeles is threatening to rest its starters even though it could push the Rams down to the fourth seed, matching Seattle against a different NFC squad in the third slot. But apart from my thirst for revenge, I truly think the L.A. could be the best opponent for the Seahawks in round one.

A reader pointed out on Twitter that a third edition of Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn wrecking the Seattle offensive line seems rather unsavory. But the Saints, the other prospective no. 3 seed, have nearly the same (8.2 percent) adjusted sack rate as Los Angeles (8.3)—and statistically superior rush defense along their defensive front—according to Football Outsiders. If New Orleans somehow loses, elevating Carolina into that third slot, the Panthers have the best sack rate in the NFL (9.5) and they’re also fifth in adjusted line yards (compared to the Saints at 11 and the Rams at 21). I happen to think the Saints are the best team in the NFL, and would rather avoid that grass field in Carolina if possible.

The fourth chance, as mentioned above, could be an encounter with the Vikings in Minnesota—an excellent scenario for scoping out the future Super Bowl field, and maybe the most favorable matchup in the stiff NFC field outside the quarterback-bald Eagles (who would be the Seahawks hypothetical second round opponent no matter what). But expecting that result honestly involves too many outside dominoes falling Seattle’s way.

Beside, with better kicking game coverage and assuming a more mobile Bobby Wagner, I anticipate a playoff rematch in Los Angeles with Jared Goff forced into a more prominent role could be a lot more tasty than the outing two weeks ago. Let’s hope we get to be so picky.

My choice: Rams

Sharp pick: Los Angeles (+3.5)

On the year:

My choices (straight up): 86-139 (4-11 last week)

Sharp picks (against the spread): 108-99-8 (8-6-1 last week)