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East Coast Offense: Why the Jaguars-Ravens Game Was a Thing of Beauty

Chris Liss

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

Why the Ravens-Jaguars Game was a Thing of Beauty

It's not merely that the Jaguars covered the spread and knocked four more people out of one of my big-money Survivor Pools though I was ecstatic about those things. It was also that this game symbolized the great unknowability of the NFL, when the underdog with a rookie quarterback who incidentally does not pass the eye test takes on a team with arguably the league's best defense and wins outright. The line in that game was Jaguars +8.5 though it migrated all the way up to 10 by kickoff, and that's because so much public money was coming in on Baltimore, i.e., everyone thought there was no way the Ravens wouldn't blow them out, let alone win the game. But if you watched the entire game as I did (I skipped Game 5 of the World Series for it and missed Tony LaRussa's bullpen mismanagement and am not a bit sorry) you'd see that the Jaguars were the better team that night. Often underdogs cover or win due to a couple fortuitous bounces, and we can say they got lucky, but the Jaguars held Joe Flacco to 3.6 YPA and Ray Rice to 3.5 YPC, and otherwise kicked the tar out of them.

There are a few ways to look at a genuine upset like this. One is to question whether the Ravens offense is in serious trouble and re-think their status as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Another is to wonder whether the Jaguars defense might be turning the corner and rethink their status as league doormats. You could also write off the result as anomalous and keep your prior assessments of these teams intact it seems that's what the public is doing as the Ravens are 13-point favorites over Arizona this week, while the Jaguars are getting 10 points in Houston.

But whatever you make of it, this happened. To me, that's more important than how we process the fallout specifically because it gives us yet another example of what we all thought being wrong. We can look at the Vegas odds of the Ravens winning that game 78 percent and the result shouldn't surprise us as much as it does. But try to go back to your mindset before the game started and consider how hard it was to envision it. In fact, knowing there's a 22 percent chance of a huge upset taking place, but finding it almost impossible to imagine happening should tell us that there's some flaw in our brains, some processing distortion that sees certainty where there's only probability.

That's why these games are so useful they remind us that the less likely possibility can also obtain. They guard us from the dangers of cavalier presumption and complacent thinking. They re-train our minds to focus on the the non-obvious, the uncertain and the mysterious. And that's where the real payout usually lies.

The Saints go into St. Louis this week, and Vegas has them as 90 percent favorites to win, by the way. I'll admit I can't see any way the Rams win this game, but I know that's a flaw in my thinking. I would not get on an airplane that had a 10 percent chance of going down, and I would not get on an airplane to Vegas (with a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of going down) and bet my life savings on the Saints moneyline, either. So I'm going take that possibilty seriously. Maybe I'll start Steven Jackson over a lesser player with a better matchup. Maybe I'll trade for Brandon Lloyd on the cheap. I'm not sure what opportunities I'll have to capitalize on resisting the lure of false certainty, but there are almost always some, and I'll be keeping my eye out for them.

The Joy of Scrub Production

I don't think there's any greater joy in fantasy football than having a total scrub you expected nothing from not only score a touchdown for you but have that touchdown be the difference in a high-stakes league. In the 14-team NFFC (with 9-man benches), I lost Jamaal Charles, and had Fred Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw on bye. There was almost nothing on the waiver wire, but I didn't want to take a zero, so I put in for a long list of players and wound up with John Kuhn. Kuhn caught a two-yard TD pass, and I won my game by five points.

Things to Take Away from Week 7

Did anyone else have the Saints in Survivor and feel cheated? Usually, you get to enjoy at least *some* drama early in the game as your heavy favorite overcomes its opponent. But the Saints rolled so easily I stopped watching in the second quarter.

Tim Tebow transcends scouting reports and statistical data. The joke is on us, and God really does want his team to win. But if you ask Tony Sparano why he went for two, he'll say the devil made him do it.

I loved Corey Williams getting a personal foul penalty for throwing a forearm to Matt Ryan's head from the Lions' half-yard line. It resulted in half the distance to the goal, i.e., a penalty of one-quarter yard. That's a pretty good tradeoff. If I were the Lions I'd put 12 men on the field, interfere in the end zone, jump off sides and smack Ryan again. That said, if you made an infinite number of penalties it would in fact be a touchdown.

The Chargers are beyond horrendous. From four neutral-zone infractions in the first half to Philip Rivers throwing checkdowns in bounds with no timeouts in the one-minute drill, to throwing a fourth-down pass out of bounds to end the game. If there's a way to give away a game, the Chargers will find it. If Norv Turner coached the '85 Bears, they'd have gone 10-6 and lost in the divisional round.

Christian Ponder passes the eye test.

How does Matthew Stafford average 5.7 YPA at home against the Falcons in a game where Calvin Johnson catches a 57-yard TD pass?

The Rams did their best to establish themselves as the worst team in the league in the afternoon games, but the Colts would have none of it. It's important to have the proper credentials to get 2012's highly valuable No. 1 pick and not be accused of tanking.

For those of you who like me drafted Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden in multiple leagues (both in the NFFC), does it not infuriate you that they not only got hurt, but did so in the first quarter? In Charles' case, I had Fred Jackson on my bench. At least in this case, the byes made it so that I had nothing on the bench, either.

Darrius Heyward-Bey had five catches for 89 yards in Sunday's blowout. At some point he might even be taken seriously, though I still doubt any of the writers that killed (bad word choice, perhaps) Al Davis for drafting him over Michael Crabtree are going to apologize.

Who else reverse teased the CLE-SEA under down to 10? Colt McCoy simply cannot decide on a regular target. If he threw for 500 yards, I'm convinced no one wideout would break 100. Montario Hardesty could be a 100-yard rusher if he's able to handle a 45-carry workload.

I would try to buy low on Chris Johnson, but you probably won't be able to. A player who so recently had a monster season, is still in his prime, is completely healthy and in no danger of losing his role will almost never be appropriately discounted.

Things to Look for in Week 8

Tom Brady against Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh

Dallas facing Philadelphia off the bye (Andy Reid is 12-0 after a bye).

Whether the Jaguars defensive showing Monday night can be sustained against the Texans

Whether Chris Johnson can finally get going in arguably the best matchup he'll have this season

Whether Kansas City can beat San Diego and shockingly (after it's first two games) gain a share of first place in the AFC West

Beating the Book

Saints -14 at Rams

Anytime a team wins by 55, it's probably a good idea to sell them the following week. Moreover, 14 on the road is just a massive line (if you consider home field's worth roughly three points, that means this line would be 20 in New Orleans). The Saints are a good team, and the Rams are a doormat, but this is excessive. Back St. Louis who keeps it close. (And has a 10 percent chance of winning outright).

Saints 24 17

Last week we lost with the Cardinals to go 4-3 in this forum, 6-7 on the week and 51-48-4 overall. We were 10-7 in this forum last season and 40-27 over the four years of the column (we skipped Week 17 in 2007). From 1999-2010 we've gone 1565-1387 against the spread (53%, not including ties). The full article comes out Wednesday night.

Surviving Week 8

It was a pretty uneventful week until Monday night. The Ravens took out about 10 percent of pools, and at this stage, every elimination starts to matter more.

Let's take a look at this week's slate:

Team Opponent % Picked* Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
RAVENS Cardinals 27.30% 775 88.57
49ERS Browns 21.20% 450 81.82
GIANTS Dolphins 20.60% 525 84.00
Saints RAMS 10.40% 900 90.00
TITANS Colts 8.60% 410 80.39
TEXANS Jaguars 7.70% 440 81.48
BILLS Redskins 2.30% 267.5 72.79
PANTHERS Vikings 0.50% 167.5 62.62
Lions BRONCOS 0.40% 135 57.45
Bengals SEAHAWKS 0.30% 137.5 57.89
Chargers CHIEFS 0.30% 185 64.91

Home Team in CAPS
* according to
** average of the two moneylines

Looking at the numbers, the Saints are the easy call, but the reason so few are on them is that most (including me last week) have used them already. That leaves the Ravens, Niners, Giants, Titans and Texans. The Ravens have the best chance to win, according to Vegas, but 27 percent of the field is on them.

If we look a little deeper, the Texans have a better chance to win than the Titans (according to Vegas) and fewer people on them, so we can eliminate Tennessee. And the Giants have a better chance to win than the Niners and fewer people on them, so we can eliminate San Francisco. So it's between the Ravens, Giants and Texans.

If we use our hypothetical 100-person pool each with 10 units of equity heading into Week 8, a Ravens loss/Giants win would leave 73 survivors, for 13.7 units heading into Week 9 should you survive. A Giants loss/Ravens win would leave you with 12.6. The ratio of 13.7/12.6 is 1.09, i.e., the Giants offer only a nine percent better payout than the Ravens. But the Ravens have an 11.5 percent chance to lose while the Giants have a 16 percent chance to lose. That's roughly 40 percent greater. So the Ravens trump the Giants.

Comparing the Ravens and Texans, if Houston lost there would be 92 people left, or 10.9 units of equity. The ratio of 13.7 to 10.9 is 1.26 or 26 percent more payout for taking the Texans than the Ravens. But the Texans' 18.5 percent chance to lose is far greater than the Ravens 11.5 percent in fact 61 percent. So the Ravens trump the Texans. And the Ravens are the pick if you've already used the Saints.

If you've used both, as I have, you can compare the Texans and Giants. The payout favors the Texans by 12.6/10.9 (16 percent). But the Giants have a 16 percent chance to lose versus Houston's 18.5 percent (also 16 percent better). So it's dead even according to Vegas between the Texans and Giants this week.

Moreover, the difference between the Giants, Titans, Niners and Texans is slim enough that if you disagree with Vegas, or your pools have disproportionately used up certain teams, you should feel free to switch. I've also used the Texans already, so the math points to the Giants.

I'm a little wary about New York because they're coming off the bye, and this year teams off the bye have gone 4-8 so far. That could just be a sample-size anomaly, but the new collective bargaining agreement limits meetings and practices during the off week, so it may leave teams a little out of sync. I also don't love that the Dolphins are a desperate team, and the Giants proved themselves capable of losing at home to the Seahawks already. Of course, the Titans just got destroyed at home by the Texans and the 49ers are also coming off a bye and facing the toughest opponent of the three.

I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes out Thursday, but for now I'm leaning Tennessee because they play the weakest opponent.

You can follow me on Twitter at @Chris_Liss