Welcome to Tankapalooza '17, a Week 5 celebration of excruciating football and the tireless quest for the NFL's ultimate goal: a high draft pick!
We knew we were in for a special Sunday when the league scheduled 49ers at Colts and Jets at Browns in the very same week. But Tankapalooza '17 has added a surprise side stage event: The winless Giants host the winless and homeless Chargers.
These three games will go a long way toward determining who picks first in next year's draft and gets to select franchise savior Sam Darnold. Wait…Darnold doesn't look that great this year, and he may stay in college. Make that franchise savior Saquon Barkley. Wait…none of these Moneyball-loving teams will take a running back in the first round. Make that franchise savior Guy Who Does Well at February's Combine.
NFL teams don't really "tank," of course. They just rebuild with extreme prejudice. While no one in the NFL loses on purpose, Tankapalooza places the league's worst teams in a Catch-22: Beat a beatable opponent Sunday, and it is likely to snatch the prospect of your dreams one pick in front of you next April.
Let's catch up with the Tankapalooza '17 headliners and preview Sunday's biggest, baddest events. We'll start with the opening act.
Los Angeles (?) Chargers (+3.5) at New York Giants: The Battle of Unintended Consequences
Chargers at a Glance
Why they are 0-4: The Chargers ran away to Hollywood to become movie stars but are now sleeping in a San Fernando Valley bus terminal and trying to decide whether to call mom and dad or that guy in the tracksuit who runs something called Pink Volcano Studios.
Quarterback update: Philip Rivers is doing just fine and no doubt thrilled that he left one of the most beautiful cities in the world for this.
Least Valuable Player: Safety Jahleel "The Hit Man" Addae is supposed to be an in-the-box enforcer, but he has whiffed on at least six tackles so far this year for one of the NFL's poorest tackling teams. Addae's biggest hit came out of bounds against DeVante Parker, sparking a scuffle that woke the Dolphins up. The only way to lose to the Dolphins is to wake them up.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: The Chargers have been outscored 34-7 in first quarters because coach Anthony Lynn wants to establish the run despite the presence of Rivers and one of the fastest receiving corps in the NFL.
Youngsters who are actually developing: In true Chargers fashion, top draft picks Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp suffered injury setbacks long before the season started. Second-year cornerback Trevor Williams is this year's most pleasant surprise, while Hunter Henry continues to develop into a worthy Antonio Gates successor.
Old-timer trapped in a youth movement: Speaking of Gates, he deserves better than a final season playing for hostile fans in a glorified high school auditorium.
Giants at a Glance
Why they are 0-4: Blowing the budget and draft on skill position players and ignoring the offensive line is like buying a 96-inch plasma TV and Scotch-taping it to the wall.
Quarterback update: The Giants believe Eli Manning will play at an elite level once the offensive line and running game improve. Shhhh…don't tell them.
Least Valuable Player: Left tackle Ereck Flowers is the early front-runner for league LVP, but he has enjoyed a relatively catastrophe-free few weeks because A) Manning now gets rid of the ball in 0.4 nanoseconds; B) no one is allowed out of the backfield before chipping Flowers' defender; C) the Buccaneers (last week's opponent) have no pass rush; and D) expectations are so low that if Flowers gets out of the first quarter without allowing a safety, he looks like Orlando Pace.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: Failing to call timeout against the Lions on 4th-and-short at the goal line wasn't Ben McAdoo's greatest blunder. Blaming Eli Manning or the resulting delay-of-game penalty? That's the stuff.
Youngsters who are actually developing: Playmakers Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard and Wayne Gallman have all shown promise. But the Giants are committed to giving more touches to Brandon Marshall and Paul Perkins while building a deeper dysfunctional codependency with Odell Beckham.
Old-timer trapped on yet another team that mistakes "spending" for "winning": A missing person in the first two games, Marshall has now found his niche as a possession receiver who comes up small in critical situations and watches Beckham absorb all the criticism.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will already have combined for three sacks by the time you read this. But the only place the Chargers play worse than in their converted community theater of a home stadium is on the East Coast for an early game. Giants 22, Chargers 17.
San Francisco 49ers (+1.5) at Indianapolis Colts: The Battle of Tantric Quarterback Withholding
49ers at a Glance
Why they are 0-4: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are making the most of their redshirt year.
Quarterback update: Kirk Cousins played well against a great Chiefs defense, nearly sparking a win for the Redsk…oh, you mean a current 49ers quarterback update? Ha ha ha, it's Brian Hoyer, folks.
Least Valuable Player: Cornerback Rashard Robinson has three pass interference penalties and two contact fouls in the last two weeks. And those are his highlights.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: Shanahan threw a Richard Sherman/Antonio Brown-level tantrum when the officials could not hear him call timeout on fourth down in the season opener. Snit-fits aside, Shanahan's Niners are still one of the league's most likely teams to line up in an illegal formation or jump offsides, according to stats provided by the NFL.
Youngsters who are actually developing: The whole defensive line looks great, as does safety Jaquiski Tartt. Snark aside, Shanny and Lynch are getting stuff done during this rebuilding year. On defense at least.
Old-timer trapped in a youth movement: When a Carson Palmer not-so-fastball bounces off NaVorro Bowman's chest, you can almost feel yourself aging.
Colts at a Glance
Why they are 1-3: If the Colts had put as much offseason effort into positive pursuits as they put into stonewalling about Andrew Luck's injury, they would be 4-0 and may have solved world hunger by now.
Quarterback update: Luck has been upgraded to no longer not practicing. Thank heavens. In the third quarter against the Seahawks, Jacoby Brissett ran out of the magic Brady Beans he stashed in his pockets when he left Foxborough.
Least Valuable Player: Jon Bostic has 22 solo tackles thanks to mopping up fourth quarters of blowouts, but he's a glacier in coverage who is useless unless the opponent runs between the guards. The Colts love him because Chuck Pagano thinks it's still 1974.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: Marlon Mack got knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line after a 21-yard swing pass in the season opener against the Rams. Replays showed that Mack probably reached with the ball over the plane of the goal line. But instead of challenging, Pagano ran a quick play, which got stuffed. The Colts ended up settling for a field goal. Folks, you call the quick play when you are afraid the opponent will win a challenge, not when a challenge could give you a touchdown. Which means Pagano probably forgot which team he was coaching. But hey, Colts and Rams uniforms are starting to look alike these days.
Youngsters who are actually developing: Rookie safety Malik Hooker has been the Colts' best player this year. Other talented young players on both sides of the ball have a case of the Bad Team Blues: It's hard to develop when the offense cannot stay on the field and the defense cannot stay off.
Old-timer trapped in a youth movement: Frank Gore is averaging just 3.1 yards per rush. But Mack, drafted as his change-up and likely replacement, is averaging just 1.3.
The Colts will beat the 49ers the way they beat the Browns: sloppily and narrowly. The Colts don't have to sweat draft order as much as other teams, however, because they have a quarterback. (Checks Luck's health status for the 50,000th time.) Probably. Colts 26, 49ers 23.
New York Jets (Even) at Cleveland Browns: The Battle of the Never-Ending Rebuild
Jets at a Glance
Why they are 2-2: The Jets planned to throw themselves at the ground this season, but they missed.
Quarterback Update: Josh McCown is completing 70.1 percent of his passes. Gosh, completion percentages are so inflated by micro-passes that they are starting to look like the GPAs at a charter school. Johnny only had a 3.2 at City Public but now has a 4.7 thanks to all of our patented A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plusses!
Least Valuable Player: Cornerback Buster Skrine, the lone holdover from the zillion-dollar Revis-Cromartie secondary, has provided little besides soft cushions, missed tackles and roughness penalties.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: Todd Bowles punted from near midfield down by just nine points in the fourth quarter of the season opener; it's shocking the Jets ever un-surrendered after that. On the other hand, Bowles' successful 4th-and-21 fake punt against the Jaguars was a stroke of genius, if your definition of genius is "resorting to an extreme-risk gamble to beat the Jaguars."
Youngsters who are actually developing: Jamal Adams has been as good as advertised. Fellow rookie safety Marcus Maye is also playing well. Rookie playmakers Elijah McGuire and ArDarius Stewart have flashed. Bonus credit for Kony Ealy, who has been an NBA shot-blocking center on the D-line. It's not every day the Jets steal a player from the Patriots.
Old-timer trapped in a youth movement: "Old-Timer Trapped in a Youth Movement" could be the title of Matt Forte's autobiography.
Browns at a Glance
Why the Browns are 0-4: Blah blah blah Moneyball blah blah blah "analytics" blah blah wait until Super Bowl LXVIII and we'll see who laughs last.
Quarterback update: DeShone Kizer, a preseason superstar among those who base their scouting on highlight clips, now stares down his primary receiver like he's trying to memorize a license plate before either getting sacked, throwing an interception or throwing a pass Kenny Britt can tip for an interception.
Least Valuable Player: Kenny Britt has eight catches on 23 targets and has tipped two interceptions into defenders' hands. Much of Hue Jackson's energy these days is spent trying to motivate Britt about the importance of contributing to this year's winning effort. Jackson should probably skip the part of the speech that talks about saving money and stockpiling draft picks.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: Reinserting Kizer to finish the Ravens loss after the rookie quarterback left the game with a migraine was a curious choice for a team that's supposed to be all about cultivating future resources.
Youngsters who are actually developing: None, really. The Browns are so bad that the talented players they drafted over the last two years are rarely in position to succeed, so many of them are backsliding. So the Browns are squandering current high draft picks in the name of hoarding future ones. But it all looks really good on paper.
Old-timer trapped in a youth movement: Joe Thomas is a national treasure, so let's bypass him in favor of cornerback Jason McCourty, who has made a career in Tennessee and Cleveland out of covering receivers until someone else on the defense makes a mistake.
Game Prediction: Leave it to the Jets to fail at failing. But it's better to come out of a rebuilding year with some rising stars and locker room self-esteem than a deeper sinkhole to chuck money and draft picks into. Jets 23, Browns 10.
All odds from OddsShark.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.