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Panthers Poised to Make NFC Playoff Noise

NFL Week 11 – Let’s kick things off with some NFC playoff scenarios entering Week 11:

The Los Angeles Rams can still clinch a playoff berth if Matthew Stafford stops throwing two first-quarter interceptions per game.

The Green Bay Packers have clinched losing the NFC Championship Game in a heart-wrenching/hilarious way.

Your neighbor with the huge truck and noisy dogs has clinched hanging an enormous Dallas Cowboys flag in front of his garage on Thanksgiving night and taking it down on Sunday, January 23, at about 11 p.m. Eastern.

The Arizona Cardinals have clinched being the team that smokes its first playoff opponent, prompting everyone on the daytime sportstalk shows to say things like, “They’re playing with house money!” Linguists and scholars are yet to determine what playing with house money actually connotes.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have clinched being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff berth by doing the silly damn thing we all wished they would never, ever do: inserting Taysom Hill at quarterback, running a glorified Wildcat for 50 snaps per game, and letting their defense do all the work.

The Carolina Panthers can clinch a playoff berth if Cam Newton takes over as the starter and turns into 2017 Newton. The Panthers spent 2018 and 2019 waiting for Newton to turn into 2017 Newton. They spent 2017 waiting for him to turn back into 2015 Newton.

The Seattle Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth if Pete Carroll builds a time machine; travels back to 2013; grabs prime Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Marshawn Lynch; returns to the present; and accidentally meets himself and explodes in a temporal paradox, allowing Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner to run the team themselves.

The San Francisco 49ers can clinch a playoff berth if they catch some breaks with injuries and fumbles and string together enough future wins against opponents such as the Jaguars, Falcons, and Texans, plus another upset or two like the one they pulled off on Monday night, to climb past some other flailing hopefuls. Oh, wait, we’re trying to cater to local fanbases with these blurbs. (Ahem.) THE 49ERS CAN CLINCH A PLAYOFF BERTH IF THEY FIRE KYLE SHANAHAN AND REPLACE JIMMY GAROPPOLO WITH TREY LANCE IMMEDIATELY.

The Philadelphia Eagles can still clinch a playoff berth, and Eagles fans are weirdly ticked off about it.

The Washington Football Team can still clinch a playoff berth, but no one on earth wants them to.

The Chicago Bears can clinch a playoff berth if at least four other teams collapse and they improve considerably on both sides of the ball. Brace yourself for the “we’re headed in the right direction” press conference after a 31-10 first-round loss if/when that happens.

The New York Giants … same blurb as the Bears.

The Minnesota Vikings can clinch a playoff berth just by stumbling along in their typical Vikings way. It’s an ironic catspaw curse sort of thing.

The Atlanta Falcons can clinch a playoff berth if the end times are really nigh.

Walkthrough Prop Watch: Panthers Props and More!

Every Wednesday, Walkthrough handicaps the field in an NFL awards race or some other type of futures bet.

Are you excited about Cam Newton’s return to the Panthers? Do you think his presence gives them a chance to do … something? Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is?

The Panthers were +300 to reach the playoffs on DraftKings on Tuesday. Our playoff projections don’t love that play: the Panthers have just an 11.7% chance of reaching the postseason, though that is up considerably from their 2.8% chance last week. Still, there are many volatile indicators that appear to be swinging in the Panthers’ direction: Newton’s arrival (he’s an upgrade over P.J. Walker and probably Sam Darnold), the Saints quarterback situation, the Seahawks laying an egg despite Russell Wilson’s return, etc.

The Panthers also have a pair of winnable games (Washington, at Miami) and a bye on their upcoming schedule, plus a one- or two-game lead on wild-card challengers such as the Vikings, Seahawks, and 49ers. So they may have plenty of cushion when their Bills-Buccaneers-Saints-Buccaneers season finale boss battles begin.

Walkthrough isn’t taking this action, but we don’t hate it, either. At least one yucky team will make the NFC playoffs, and the yucky team that did something to improve their fortunes is getting a rather tasty moneyline.

If you are a Panthers believer, take the playoff prop instead of the over of 7.5 wins at a dreary -150. If the Panthers go 8-9 or better, they’ll probably reach the postseason,

If you really love Cam and/or think that the Buccaneers are vulnerable after back-to-back losses, you can get the Panthers to win the AFC South at +1400. That looks like schmuckbait, but the fact that the Panthers aren’t down around +4000 (the mighty Seahawks’ odds of winning the NFC West) illustrates what a strange season this is turning into. The Panthers have a 2.1% chance of winning their division. Stranger things have happened.

Finally, Newton just popped onto the Comeback Player of the Year board at +1000 odds. Dak Prescott is at -400 and coming off a week in which the Cowboys scored 4 billion points, so this is a true suckers’ bet. Walkthrough thinks Newton has a better chance of leading the Panthers to a division title than earning CPOY.

As a general principle: wagering on Newton to perform well can be a shrewd play, while wagering on Tom Brady or Dak Prescott to perform poorly is at least justifiable in certain circumstances. But wagering on several of those things to happen simultaneously is a waste of money.

Rushing Yardage Props

Running backs may not matter, but the rushing title remains one of the NFL’s most entertaining horseraces and a fun source of side props.

Derrick Henry has been injured for two full weeks, yet he remains tied for the NFL lead in rushing yards! Colts runner Jonathan Taylor tied Henry on Sunday and is now getting a prohibitive -175 to win the rushing title.

Nick Chubb is 226 yards behind Taylor and getting +700 odds. We don’t hate that play: Chubb is averaging 103.0 yards per game to Taylor’s 93.7, plays behind a better all-around offensive line, is less likely than Taylor to split his production between rushing and receiving, and should be back to full speed against the Lions next week. When it comes to running back injuries, it makes sense to pick the running back who just overcame one than the running back who is currently being used as a workhorse and might be due for one.

Ezekiel Elliott at +750, on the other hand, is a poor play: the Cowboys have embraced their two-back platoon and only have so many footballs to go around. Elliott won’t overcome a 274-yard gap while splitting time with Tony Pollard.

If you are inclined to wager on Dalvin Cook for some reason, note that his +2000 moneyline prices in the potential for disciplinary action.

It’s hard to find an appealing dark horse among backs such as Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, and Darrell Henderson. They are all on teams that don’t rush much or have iffy offensive lines. But for the true caporegimes in the BillsMafia: Josh Allen is getting +10000 odds to lead the NFL in rushing. Allen is currently 37th in the NFL with 322 rushing yards. The house really wants to rob overstimulated Bills fans of their mortgages and 401(k)s by any means necessary.

As for Taylor fans: his Offensive Player of the Year odds are holding steady at +2000. He’s leading the league in scrimmage yards and likely to hold onto that lead. The public is slowly catching on to the remarkable season he is having. At the current odds, a Taylor OPOY wager makes much more sense than a rushing title wager.

TebowMania 10 Years After: Tebow Takes Manhattan

Throughout November (and possibly beyond), Walkthrough will look back on what was happening when Tim Tebow took the NFL and nation by storm—and forced Football Outsiders to defend analytics against a tidal wave of magical thinking—10 years ago this week.

“As I said on Twitter, at this point I’m 100% convinced Tebow was put on Earth to punish people that study football too much.”

—Ben Muth, Audibles at the Line, November 21, 2011.

TebowMania was already taking its toll on the Football Outsiders team as of mid-November of 2011. Yet TebowMania was just getting started. Thursday Night Football, a New York audience, social media, and Tim Tebow proved to be a lethal combination.

The Broncos defeated the Jets 17-13 on Thursday Night, November 17, 2011. Tebow went 9-of-20 for 104 yards and one interception passing while rushing eight times for 68 yards and a 20-yard game-winning touchdown. Here’s a lengthy highlight package for those seeking a complete trip down memory lane.

I have become a real curmudgeon about how success on TNF spawns some of the silliest NFL storylines. We’re just coming off two weeks of mass hysteria surrounding Mike White, the Jets quarterback whose ascendency was due in part to one (1) good drive before getting hurt in a Thursday night game, when the national NFL media comes out to cruise around the mall in our Camaros for your engagement. Folks were still learning the language of social media in 2011 and didn’t really understand the power of a “trending topic,” which Tebow almost certainly would have been that night.

The Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010 and were 5-4 entering their meeting with the Broncos. They were boffo box office. Rex Ryan was the toast of the city, and Mark Sanchez had developed a reputation as a quarterback who “just wins,” as these excerpts from Audibles at the Line suggest:

Mike Tanier: Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow were going over the basic read of the zone read [during the pregame show], where the quarterback checks to see if the defensive end collapses, as if it was a brand new strategy invented for Tebow’s unique wonderfulness rather than something high school kids do. This is gonna be a “watch with the music loud and the whiskey neat” kind of game.

J.J. Cooper: When I say the Broncos offense looks like a high school offense at times, I mean that it really looks like my high school’s offense, which was running the veer (although out of split backs) back in the late 1980s. To be fair though, the Broncos first drive did show more variation than they showed all last week.

Tom Gower: Well, I admit through 18 minutes, the Broncos offense has been somewhat more proficient than I anticipated. I wonder how much the opening pass affected the defensive play calling, because it seems like they have been consistently playing a single-high safety, which gives the Broncos more matchup advantages.

Mike Tanier: Watching this Broncos offense is like watching a psychic perform a cold reading. If he misses a million times and has two hits, everyone will remember the hits. And if he doesn’t have two hits, everyone will make excuses.

Aaron Schatz: Here’s a crazy idea, but if the Broncos really did want to try to win games instead of just trying to figure out what they have in Tebow … would it make sense on must-pass downs, third-and-longs, to bring in Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn? If you know Tebow has to pass, he really can’t get anything. You need to have the surprise element.

J.J. Cooper: They have actually asked Tebow to try to throw more conventional passes tonight. Last week, it really was a high school offense, where occasionally you throw deep to see if you can catch the defense napping. Not that the conventional approach is really working.

Tom Gower: The funny thing is, he has had open receivers—much more open than I expected. He just hasn’t hit them. And when he has been close, the ball hasn’t always been caught because he’s throwing with absolutely no touch at all.

J.J. Cooper: Yeah, every Tebow pass is thrown at absolute full speed. It doesn’t matter if he’s throwing it 5 yards downfield or 50.

Mike Tanier: Lost in all of this is that the Broncos defense is really looking good. Elvis Dumervil is in top form, Von Miller looks great, the secondary is playing pretty well.

J.J. Cooper: Well, this is the way to do it apparently if you’re Denver: on what may be their last drive of the game, they spread out in a two-minute offense and have Tebow run it every play.

Ben Muth: As I said on Twitter, at this point I’m 100% convinced Tebow was put on Earth to punish people that study football too much.

Aaron Schatz: The Jets run a blitz on third-and-4 that’s designed to trap the quarterback in the pocket. You can’t trap Tebow in the pocket! There’s nobody protecting against a scramble, and all the defensive backs are in man with their backs turned to the quarterback … wrong play call against this offense.

J.J. Cooper: Since he took over as quarterback, Tebow is averaging roughly nine rushing attempts per game. Over a 16-game season, that would be the most rushing attempts by any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. But I don’t see why Tebow can’t carry the ball that much. He’s really a good-sized running back playing quarterback. If Reggie Bush can handle nine carries a game, why can’t Tebow?

Tim Gerheim: Wait, Bush can handle nine carries a game?

Mike Tanier: My agita cannot handle Sanchez, Tebow, and Bush in one conversation. It is like Nightmare on Elm Street with Skip Bayless as Freddie.

Vince Verhei: So has the “He just wins” torch officially been passed from Sanchez to Tebow now?

Rivers McCown: How soon they forget about Vince Young.

Aaron refers to the Broncos “trying to figure out what they have in Tebow” because they were 2-5 and presumed to be out of the playoffs when Tebow took over as their starter. Our analytical minds thought of the Broncos about the same way as we might think of the Panthers right now. We were lagging behind the cultural phenomenon a bit.

As for my “cold reading” quip, I would expand that into a column on Tebow for the New York Times on November 18, 2011. Here’s an excerpt.

“He’s a winner.”

For many fans, that is the trump card in any discussion about N.F.L. quarterbacks, the kill shot that negates contrary arguments based on statistics, scouting reports, or other empirical evidence. “So what if he generated only 225 yards of offense, scored just 10 points, and needs the entire playbook turned inside out to achieve even minimal success. He’s a winner. Case closed.”

The winner mantle is not new. It has been passed around for decades, from young quarterbacks to career backups on hot streaks. Now that Tim Tebow is wearing it, however, it has acquired an almost hypnotic ability to overwhelm reason. The conscious mind cannot reconcile his 4-1 record as quarterback of the Broncos with his ineptitude as a passer, so the mind snaps and creates a narrative in which scoring 27 offensive points in two weeks is somehow a hallmark of excellence.

The Broncos’ victories are the obvious result of a great defense playing some terrible teams (Chiefs, Dolphins) or unprepared opponents (Jets, Raiders). But that is not how they are perceived. Instead, the familiar platitudes are marshaled.

“He makes plays when he has to”

Except that in the N.F.L. you always have to, not just when there are 5 minutes, 54 seconds to play.

“He’s an incredible competitor.”

But with the exception of Albert Haynesworth everyone who reaches the N.F.L. is an incredible competitor. Even if Tebow’s competitiveness goes up to 11 like the amplifier of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, it is minor compensation for the fact that even his own coach has said the Broncos cannot really throw the ball and hope to win.

And, of course, “he’s a winner,” which is solipsistic and inarguable.

Follow the link above to read the whole thing if you enjoy my overwrought, pedantic style of the time. My Times gig back then was the Sunday previews; midweek columns were “specials,” and the fact that the Times accepted and published a rather self-indulgent one about Tebow was a sign of how quickly his impact was seeping out of the world of NFL junkies and into the world at large.

Tebow was about to “break the Internet” in a way that the mainstream broadcasters at the time could not help but notice. It was becoming Tebow Time all the time. Anyone who refused to go with the flow, including a bunch of analytics heads, looked like spoilsports.

That Thursday night Jets win, Tebow’s Broadway debut, would launch more than a brief pop culture fad. In many ways, it would also become a content model.

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