East Coast Offense: Making Peace With the Arbitrary

East Coast Offense: Making Peace With the Arbitrary

This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.

Making Peace With The Arbitrary

When you're young, and you watch sports, everything seems so real. The team that won the Super Bowl is a World Champion! How incredible they were able to win it all. But as you come to understand what goes into winning and losing, the shine often wears off the star. Yes, the Patriots won the Super Bowl after Russell Wilson threw that pick, but the Seahawks could easily have won it had they just given the ball to Marshawn Lynch! 

That same year, the Seahawks were only in the Super Bowl because Mike McCarthy gifted them a comeback in the NFC title game, and the Packers were only in the NFC title game because the refs overturned an amazing catch by Dez Bryant. Even the Cowboys only made it to that game due to a shaky call in their win over the Lions! The whole edifice on which that title was built was so arbitrary. On paper, every win counts the same, but if you're idealistically hoping to see incontrovertible truth, to settle once and for all which team is best, you'll seldom find it in professional sports. 

This is unavoidable. Random bounces will always have outsized impact in close games, and officiating is another massive dose of arbitrariness that often deals a fatal blow to truth and justice. There will be errors, and there's nothing you can do about it but hope your team can overcome not only the opponent but the handicap unfairly and arbitrarily assigned to them by incompetent officials. 

Quite plainly, the league is aware of this and is trying, via replay to tamp down the perception of injustice. They've gone so far as to make more calls reviewable and even hired experts to explain why the result dictated by the referees is in fact correct even though your lying eyes indicate otherwise. Why that ticky-tack PI called against your team was legitimate and the outright tackle of your team's receiver before the ball arrived was a "bang-bang" play. This is a major mistake, not merely because Dean Blandino is the last person on earth you're tuning in to see on Sunday, but because explaining away the arbitrariness as though it's something that makes sense is exactly the wrong way to tackle it. 

Instead – and for a person like me this is difficult – we must embrace the arbitrary nature of professional sport and acknowledge that perfect truth and justice are impossible ideals. (I use the word "arbitrary" rather than "random" because when officials get involved, we're in the realm of human decision-making and not merely physics.) Pass interference is a necessary rule, and it also will necessarily be enforced incorrectly and arbitrarily much of the time. We must accept this. The NFL should not have a process for reviewing it because plainly that process does not work, and even if it did work, the enforcement would still be inconsistent and arbitrary just as it was with the catch rule. 

If we embrace incorrect calls and, even better, more missed calls and less referee involvement, period, we could get back to enjoying the game with fewer interruptions and more flow. An imperfect game that flows and is largely determined by the players is far superior to one that's constantly upended by official authorities who are painstakingly explaining to us why it all makes perfect sense. 

I'll add one more thought: the arbitrariness in fantasy is arguably even worse than that of the game from which it's derived. I lost a key contest by one point because I started the wrong QB (against my instincts), and because Christian McCaffrey was (in my opinion wrongly) ruled short of the end zone on the last play of the Packers-Panthers game. But for those two completely 50/50 choices going against me, I would have won and gone to 9-1. 

What I'm leaving out was that my opponent started Jared Goff over Daniel Jones, and had he not made that mistake, none of this agonizing over my close loss would even have occurred to me. Moreover, I took McCaffrey with the second overall pick in that league, and I was genuinely distraught when the guy picking 1.1 took Saquon Barkley, i.e., if he makes the right choice, I probably don't even care about this team anyway.

Week 11 Trivia

Apropos of Michael Thomas' absurd 153-catch pace, can you name all the wide receivers to average at least 22 PPG in PPR since 1970?

Guessing The Lines

GameMy LineMy Early LineGuessed LineActual LineML-ALO/UActual O/UMO-AO
Steelers at Browns3332.50.54340.52.5
Falcons at Panthers8.510762.55250.51.5
Cowboys at Lions-8-7-6-4.5-3.54649-3
Jaguars at Colts464314144-3
Bills at Dolphins-3-3-3-5.52.53839.5-1.5
Texans at Ravens64.56.5424850-2
Broncos at Vikings10.59.51310.5042393
Jets at Redskins1.53.521.5042384
Saints at Buccaneers-5.5-4-6.5-5.504950.5-1.5
Cardinals at 49ers10.51312.513.5-346451
Bengals at Raiders10.59.59.510.504948.50.5
Patriots at Eagles-3.5-3.5-4-3.504544.50.5
Bears at Rams6757-14141.5-0.5
Chiefs at Chargers-1.5-3-1.5-3.525552.52.5

It looks like I'm on the Cowboys and Chargers early on, as I expect the Niners line to move down once the Monday night game registers Tuesday morning and afternoon. I'm also likely on the Panthers, Dolphins and Ravens. 

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book

Week 10 Observations

Not that this is breaking new ground, but Jason Garrett is a moron. He attempted a 57-yard field goal to start the game, he punted on 4th-and-short in plus territory in the first half, and the Dallas play-calling was beyond predictable with a failed run every first down. I know he doesn't call the plays, but the buck stops with him to ask for an adjustment.

The Vikings offensive line is pretty good. If anything happens to Cook, Alexander Mattison would be a league winner.

Strange that Amari Cooper got an MRI this week. He looked like DeAndre Hopkins out there.

I can also blame my loss on using Derek Carr on Thursday night instead of picking up Ryan Tannehill like I had wanted to do. But my opponent started Jared Goff over Daniel Jones for God knows what reason too.

Matt LaFleur's punt on 4th-and-3 from the Carolina 38, up eight, with 2:32 left was beyond cowardly — it was idiotic. Essentially  he gave up a 50/50 shot at sealing the game for 27 yards of field possession. Luckily for him, the replay officials couldn't see that Christian McCaffrey actually scored at the end. (I was rooting against the score because I had the Packers minus five, but now that I know Cook got 31, I wish he had scored for my NFFC team.)

Aaron Jones is a monster, and he's stealing most of Aaron Rodgers' fantasy value too.

Not that I expect any of the rabid Packers fans who savaged me for calling Davante Adams "a mediocre talent" for a first-round fantasy pick to admit it, but I was obviously right.

The Jared Goff-Mason Rudolph duel is something the NFL should delete, though it was a legitimate breakout game for James Washington, a heretofore failed 2018 second-round pick.

Cooper Kupp is apparently suffering from the classic delayed-onset ACL recovery drop-off, as so many of us who bet against him were prescient enough to foresee.

The Rams are on the ropes not only for this year, but with the contracts to Goff and Todd Gurley, possibly for the next several. But not to worry, Sean McVay has the phone book memorized.

Adam Vinatieri has cost the Colts three full games this year — the first game of the year they lost in overtime to the Chargers after he missed two field goals and a PAT, last week's game in Pittsburgh (where he missed an easy game winner) and this week at home against the Dolphins when they lost by four in field-goal range, thanks to a missed PAT. Time to ditch him for a Younghoe perhaps? Would be an especially good fit with Malik Hooker already rostered.

I made the Bears minus 2.5 my best bet before I knew about Matthew Stafford's injury, and they barely held on for the win against Jeff Driskell. I'll take it, though. (I was surprised the line moved only four points from 2.5 to 6.5 on the QB downgrade — assumed Stafford was worth closer to six over a generic backup. Maybe the market is starting to realize it's never been easier to play QB in the NFL)

Matt Nagy declined a five-yard penalty down 3-0 in the first half to make it fourth down and give Matt Prater a 54-yard FG attempt, something he makes routinely. And of course he made it. It was as though he thought the Lions were trotting out Eddy Pineiro.

The Ravens should sign Michael Vick, add some speed at the quarterback position.

It has to be the first time ever a team that won by more than 35 had its lead back (Mark Ingram) carry the ball fewer than 10 times, while the losing team had its lead back (Joe Mixon) carry it 30 times.

Frank Gore isn't compiling enough anymore to offset the downward drag on his per-carry career averages.

The good news for Chubb is he got 20 carries, lack of goal-line penetration notwithstanding, to Kareem Hunt's four. The bad news is Hunt had nine targets to Chubb's four. This is likely to be a timeshare, not a strict starter-backup situation.

The Chiefs are a frustrating team. It's one thing to miss field goals, but can't you at least get one of the two up in the air and heading toward the uprights?

At least Patrick Mahomes looked healthy and was up to his usual level. The regression police will win this battle — Mahomes struggled for several weeks on a gimpy ankle before he missed time with the knee, and playing through injury is part of the game, and why regression is usually warranted. But a healthy Mahomes is in his own category when it comes to passing stats.

Derrick Henry is a difference maker — so much power and speed — even if he can't catch passes.

Tyreek Hill had 19 targets. It's hard to argue he's not the WR1 with Mahomes back.

I didn't watch much of the Saints-Falcons, but from a distance it seemed like one of those random games every year where a bad team beats up a good one, and you must not try to extract meaning from it.

It was bad enough to sit through the Giants losing to the Jets, but having Ronde Barber narrate it put me on the verge of defenestration.

Danny Dollars has an incredible ability to stay focused downfield, but it's to the detriment of his awareness of the rush. It's not that he has poor ball security (he leads the NFL in fumbles), or that he lacks pocket awareness — it's that he behaves as though the other team's defensive line does not exist.

It's an admirable quality — I've never seen a QB as courageous, and behind a good line it would afford him every last opportunity to find someone open. Unfortunately, the Giants line is terrible and also banged up, and it's more likely to result in sacks, fumbles and eventually injuries.

The Giants so rarely get the ball to Saquon Barkley in space, preferring instead to run him into opposing team's already-in-the-backfield defenders before he can get a head of speed. Barkley is pretty elusive for his size (233 pounds), but he's not Tarik Cohen, able to beat someone from a full stop.

They could solve both problems (Jones holding it too long) and Barkley not getting going, by designing simple screens and check downs, but for God knows what reason, they never do. And now Barkley might be injured again anyway.

Darius Slayton is a player, a nice find in the fifth round.

The Jets have one good player, Jamal Adams, but he was enough.

I didn't watch much of the Cardinals-Buccaneers, except Kyler Murray's bizarre interception late in the game. I say this every week, but it still boggles my mind what a bad value David Johnson has been the last three seasons.

Christian Kirk has been inconsistent, but it's nice when a player delivers in the obvious spot — if you owned him, you were probably starting him. It was also the second straight week where Andy Isabella, the team's second-round pick, showed a spark. He had more yardage on three targets than Larry Fitzgerald had on eight.

• The Seahawks had the right defensive game-plan — sell out to stop the run and take your chances with Jimmy Garoppolo and the wobbly passing game. George Kittle's absence made that easier, and the 49ers lost Emmanuel Sanders mid-game, but Garoppolo looked uncomfortable in the pocket, took five sacks nearly threw a couple more picks and lost two fumbles.

The silver lining for the offense was Deebo Samuel who broke tackles all game and looks like a force.

Russell Wilson didn't have a great game. His amazing final drive that got them into game-winning field-goal range would never have happened had Chase McLaughlin made his last field-goal attempt. And that drive was started by a Wilson interception. But this was on the road against one of the league's top defenses, and he lost his top target in Tyler Lockett during the game too.

Josh Gordon made an appearance, converting two catches in big spots with the game on the line. If Lockett is okay — it sounds like his leg injury might be serious — a Gordon/Lockett/D.K. Metcalf trio would be something with Wilson. If he's not okay, Gordon might have a significant role yet. Jacob Hollister also had a nice game, but I wouldn't get excited about him.

Chris Carson didn't do a ton, but as usual he ran hard and almost never has a negative play.

It'll be interesting to see how the 49ers bounce back — it seemed they were exposed a bit, the way the Rams were exposed at Chicago last year. But it could be a different story once Kittle returns.

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.
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