Justin Herbert & Matthew Stafford: Keep On Chucking in the Free World

From Joe Burrow last Thursday night to Tom Brady on Sunday night to Justin Herbert on Monday night to Matthew Stafford tonight, the NFL is showing us four of the most prolific passers in history in prime time.

Prolific in which way? Simply by throwing the football. After Monday night’s win over the Raiders, Herbert (759) now has the most pass attempts through 20 career games in NFL history. The thing is he’s only played 19 games, but he’s already one ahead of the record pace.

Who has thrown the most passes in NFL history? The guy who has played the longest, of course. Brady recently surpassed Brees for the most attempts through 300 games in NFL history.

But then there is the case of Matthew Stafford, who was a Volume God in Detroit with pass attempts. You can already see this when I posted the most passing yards by game in NFL history, and Patrick Mahomes is doing his best to erase Stafford from that chart.

Now I have a new chart that shows the most pass attempts by career game number in regular-season history, and Stafford is dominating this one too. Unless Herbert keeps up with him, Stafford could be poised to fill out most of this chart if he stays healthy.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

First, who thought it was a good idea to let Mike Glennon throw 181 passes in his first four games with the 2013 Buccaneers? That was a shocking entry I never would have guessed, nor was I counting on Todd Marinovich to show up after two games with the early 90s Raiders.

Right from the first game with Sam Bradford, there is a striking trend here. In the first 175 slots, 167 of them are filled with a QB who was drafted No. 1 overall. This league just loves drafting a quarterback with the first pick and throwing him into the role of savior where he loads up on pass attempts each week even though he’s not that efficient at doing so. We see Bradford, Drew Bledsoe, Stafford, Andrew Luck, and Joe Burrow all crack this list.

Most of these charts have been runaways by a few players, but I was definitely amused at filling out the first column with the unexpected names and the battle that ensued between Bledsoe and Stafford. By Game No. 38, Stafford took over for good. I’ve definitely drawn comparisons between the two several times before:

Stafford has the most pass attempts through 175 games in NFL history, and he has only played 169 games. We’ll see if he can make this second act with the Rams so prolific that it lands him in the Hall of Fame some day.

Top 100 NFL Quarterbacks of the 21st Century: Part VI (20-11)

Including the playoffs, there are 100 NFL quarterbacks who have started at least 30 games in the last 20 seasons (2001-20). In part I, I began to rank these quarterbacks from No. 100 to No. 87, looking at the worst of the bunch. In part II, I looked at some more serviceable players who may have had one special season in their career. In part III, the players included more multi-year starters who still may have only had that one peak year as well as some younger players still developing. In part IV, I had an especially difficult time with slotting quarterbacks I have criticized for years, but who definitely had a peak year. In part V, we got into some MVP winners and a few quarterbacks I have struggled to root for over the years.

Part I (#100-87)

Part II (#86-72)

Part III (#71-51)

Part IV (#50-31)

Part V (#30-21)

20. Matt Hasselbeck

After sleeping on it, I realized I messed up here, but it is too late for an edit. Matt Hasselbeck should be closer to where Trent Green (No. 28) is. When the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry really took off after 2003 and the two camps of stats vs. rings formed, Hasselbeck was on a short list of quarterbacks who had multiple playoff seasons and could compare favorably to Spygate-era Brady. He just didn’t have the defensive support, his receivers (Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson) were known for dropping the ball, his star running back (Shaun Alexander) was also known as The Tiptoe Burglar, and he had that “we want the ball and we’re going to score” moment in the playoffs in Green Bay. He scored alright, throwing a pick-six in overtime.

But from 2002-07, Hasselbeck was a very good quarterback in Mike Holmgren’s West Coast Offense in Seattle. He was 52-32 as a starter, 133 TD, 76 INT, 7.2 YPA, and 88.0 passer rating. Seattle made the playoffs five years in a row, including Super Bowl XL. Hasselbeck threw a critical interception in that Super Bowl that not a lot of people seem to remember because of the bogus penalty that was tacked onto the end of it for a low block, but he still threw one in the fourth quarter at the Pittsburgh 27, down 14-10. One drive later the Seahawks were down 21-10 and that was the ballgame.

Hasselbeck’s last big season was in 2007. He started to regress in Seattle but did manage a playoff berth for that 7-9 team in 2010. He had arguably the best playoff game of his career when he threw four touchdowns against the Saints in one of the bigger upsets of this era. He also had a solid season for the Titans in 2011 that just missed out on the playoffs.

Russell Wilson has since arrived to be the best quarterback in Seahawks history, but Hasselbeck had a run to appreciate there in the 2000s. I just went a little too high in slotting him into the top 20.

19. Rich Gannon

Gannon is basically here on the strength of just two seasons in 2001-02. The timeframe here hurts him more than most since it cuts off half of his four-year Pro Bowl run with the Raiders at ages 34-37. Gannon had achieved very little in a long career prior to joining Jon Gruden in Oakland in 1999, but he ended up accumulating two first-team All-Pro seasons, an MVP award in 2002, and he got the Raiders back to the Super Bowl.

Gannon could run and he was a very effective dink-and-dunk quarterback who could move an offense without a running game. I still remember him shredding the Steelers in 2002 when he threw 64 passes and completed 43 of them for 403 yards in a game the Raiders led for more than 45 minutes. He led the NFL with 4,689 yards that year.

But Gannon suffered some real playoff heartbreak during his run too. He was injured in the 2000 AFC Championship Game against Baltimore, a 16-3 loss. He lost to the 2001 Patriots in the snowy Tuck Rule game after he never got the ball in overtime and after Adam Vinatieri bailed out the Patriots with the greatest kick ever, only made possible by that horrible rule being applied. Then when he got to the Super Bowl in 2002, he just so happened to face an all-time great pass defense (2002 Buccaneers) with his former head coach (Gruden) calling out his plays. Gannon had that “deer in the headlights” look after he threw five picks that night in a blowout loss.

After the Super Bowl, Gannon only started 10 more games before retirement. But the Raiders have not had a quarterback as good as him ever since then.

18. Daunte Culpepper

Get your roll on, Pep. Before he tore his ACL in 2005 and it ruined his career, Daunte Culpepper was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch. Was he as consistent as you’d like? Absolutely not. He followed up his breakout year in 2000 with a so-so season in 2001, then he fumbled 23 times and threw 23 picks in 2002. Yikes. But in 2003, he had another strong Pro Bowl year, and the Vikings missed the playoffs after the defense allowed Josh McCown to throw a game-winning touchdown pass on 4th-and-25 in Week 17.

I personally liked Culpepper more than the other mobile quarterbacks of that era because his size made his runs a little more impressive, and he was still a high completion rate passer (64.4% with Minnesota) who got the ball to his wide receivers down the field. Sure, having Randy Moss helps a ton for that, but Moss was injured or ineffective for a huge portion of that 2004 season when Culpepper was at his best with 39 touchdowns and a 110.9 passer rating. Had his defense not been so terrible and if Peyton Manning didn’t throw 49 touchdowns, that could have easily been an MVP year for Culpepper.

Culpepper’s 2005 season was also a teaching moment for me that the NFL preseason is bullshit and should not be taken seriously. That August, Culpepper looked MVP ready again without Moss as he completed 81.8% of his passes for 520 yards and 11.82 yards per attempt. Nothing was going to stop him in his prime. Flash forward to Week 2 in September and the Vikings were 0-2 while Culpepper had zero touchdowns with eight interceptions. Oof. Things were that bad before the ACL tear, which just made him a shell of his former self when he went to the Dolphins, Raiders, and Lions.

With smaller quarterbacks starting to dominate the league, we may never see another one who was 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, and could throw it deep while also running for first downs like Culpepper.

17. Carson Palmer

This must be the section for ridiculously skilled passers with amazing peaks who were ruined by injuries in the 2005 season. Carson Palmer had all the accolades from college as a Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick, but the Bengals made us wait a year to see him. His debut in 2004 was not good after 10 games, but then he played the Browns and threw four touchdowns in a 58-48 win. Then he led an incredible comeback win against a very good Baltimore defense, throwing for 382 yards and three touchdowns. Then he played well against New England before leaving the game injured and his season was over. This would be a precursor of things to come.

The young quarterback seemed to figure things out in those last three games. In the 2005 preseason, he was the opposite of Daunte Culpepper, who had those incredible stats I just referenced. Palmer only completed 52.2% of his passes with 6.45 YPA that August. It didn’t look pretty, but then again, neither did the preseason for rival Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. He was 16-of-36 and averaged 4.03 YPA. The Colts were also 0-5 that preseason. I remember being worried about all these things, then the real games started. Culpepper was awful, Palmer and Ben were terrific, and the Colts started 13-0 that season. So yeah, 2005 was the end of taking preseason seriously for me.

Palmer had a stellar season in leading the Bengals to a division title. His passer rating was over 100.0 in 11 of the first 12 games. He won the pivotal game in Pittsburgh that regular season. The Bengals were the No. 3 seed and finally back in the playoffs. Then disaster struck on the first drive against Pittsburgh as Palmer was rolled into after completing a 66-yard pass on his first dropback. He tore both his ACL and MCL and his season was over.

Palmer had good numbers in 2006-07, but he was never quite up to his 2005 level. Then injury cost him 12 games in 2008, he had a ton of close wins in 2009 that led to another wild card loss, then a ton of close losses after regression hit hard in 2010. Just like that, he demanded a trade out of Cincinnati and was with the Raiders where he did nothing of value. Palmer wound up with Bruce Arians in Arizona in 2013 and had a so-so season that still resulted in 10 wins, but no playoffs. In 2014, he was 6-0 as a starter, but once again injury took him out early and the team was stuck with Ryan Lindley come postseason time.

In 2015, Palmer seemed to put it all together again for the first time since 2005. He led the league’s most vertical offense and led the NFL in YPA (8.7), YPC (13.7), and QBR (76.4). He had big-time wins in prime time against the Seahawks and Bengals in consecutive weeks. He was the most consistently great quarterback from Week 1 to Week 17 that year, which is why I will always say he should have won MVP over Cam Newton.

But that injury to his index finger late in the season seemed to bother his performance down the stretch. Palmer barely got past the Packers in the divisional round, a 26-20 overtime win, for the first and only playoff win of his career. I made a naïve bet on a message board back in 2005 or 2006 that Palmer would never win a playoff game in his career. It was foolish, but damn if I didn’t nearly win that one. Sack-less Packers should have gone for two after the Hail Mary.

I was hyped for the NFC Championship Game in Carolina, but the Cardinals didn’t bother to show up. Palmer threw four picks and it was a blowout loss. The team lost too many close games in 2016 to return to the playoffs, then Palmer was injured again in 2017 and missed nine games before retiring.

It is very unusual to see a quarterback have his two peak seasons a decade apart, but Palmer did that. He helped lift two franchises in Cincinnati and Arizona that we are used to seeing struggle. But his career definitely leaves you wanting more as there were just too many injuries. With some better health, he had a shot at the Hall of Fame.

16. Lamar Jackson

I’m not sure if I have been vague or clear as day with my thoughts on Lamar Jackson so far. He is obviously ranked very high after only three seasons and 41 starts. There are outstanding numbers everywhere from his record (31-10) to his passing stats (68 TD-18 INT, 7.5 YPA, 102.6 PR) to rushing for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He could easily eclipse Michael Vick’s rushing if he stays healthy, and I think he’s much further along as a passer. His unanimous MVP was 100% legit and earned in 2019.

Yet, timing is not on his side as he’s doing this in the shadow of Patrick Mahomes, who has taken the position over since 2018 and is a far better passer than Jackson. While Mahomes succeeds in multiple ways, I still feel like Jackson has a limited number of game scripts that he can follow to success. You don’t want him throwing a lot or getting into a shootout or needing a big comeback. The Ravens are a front-running team, and when they match up with Mahomes and the Chiefs, Jackson just can’t keep up.

I’m also worried that Buffalo with Josh Allen could leapfrog the Ravens as the main rival to the Chiefs in the AFC if January’s playoff game is any indication. Jackson leading the Ravens to their lowest point total of the season in three straight playoffs is very concerning. I also still have my doubts that he can maintain this rushing volume over an extended period without suffering significant injuries. As we have seen with other quarterbacks, those injuries can really wear a quarterback down and limit his career success.

I want to see Jackson improve his passing ASAP because he has definite Hall of Fame potential already.

15. Donovan McNabb

McNabb is a perfect example of a quarterback who was able to improve his passing and rely less on his legs when he got older and more experienced. From 1999-03, he only completed 57% of his passes and was at 6.2 YPA. The Eagles won largely on the back of a great defense while McNabb relied on his legs and a lot of screen passes and timely calls from Andy Reid. Even though he went to four straight Pro Bowls after his rookie season, I was not as impressed with him as McNair or Culpepper from that era.

There were also the postseason losses where you can count on McNabb to have multiple turnovers as he did all seven times he lost. Having as many picks as points (3) in the 2003 NFC Championship Game loss at home was worse than his uneven performance against the Patriots in Super Bowl 39.

But it was in that 2004 season where McNabb was at his best after he got Terrell Owens. While it never got better than that year, McNabb improved his time in Philadelphia (2004-09) by getting his completion percentage up to 60.6% and his YPA up to 7.5. He was still never the most accurate passer, and I used to joke that his ground ball incompletions were attempts at killing Earthworm Jim. His inaccuracy combined with a tendency to scramble and take an above-average number of sacks kept his interceptions down.

McNabb was mostly healthy through 2004, but injuries started to plague him after the Super Bowl loss. I can recall a sports hernia (2005) and a torn ACL (2006). He had one more NFC Championship Game run left in him in 2008, but he was outdueled by Kurt Warner in that one. He never won another playoff game and his chances for the Hall of Fame went in the toilet after Philadelphia traded him to Washington in 2010. Getting benched for Rex Grossman there and giving way to Christian Ponder in Minnesota in 2011 was the end of the line for McNabb.

But he was definitely one of the top quarterbacks in the 2000s. He just did not deliver enough in crunch time outside of that one time the Packers lost Freddie Mitchell on 4th-and-26.

14. Eli Manning

I’ve been warning people for a long time that the Eli Manning Hall of Fame debate is going to brutally linger in the room for years. It seemed like no matter how bad he played down the stretch of his career, people want to make his induction inevitable while I think it is a real challenging debate.

I’m not going to lay out the debate today because I only have a few days left to write four game previews, a full season preview, and get ready for Thursday’s opener, but even my placement of Eli at 14th was very difficult for me.

On the one hand, we should be bowing down to this guy for his superhero act of taking out the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice, especially sparing us a world where that team finished 19-0 in 2007. I’ve said Eli led the greatest drive in NFL history in Super Bowl 42 and I’m sticking to it. That drive four years later with the throw to Mario Manningham was pretty sweet too, his eighth game-winning drive in 2011, Eli’s best season in the NFL.

On the other hand, when Eli wasn’t going on those incredible Super Bowl runs, he was either 0-4 in the playoffs with shoddy numbers or failed to get there at all. He finished 117-117 as a starter in the regular season, which is a fairly accurate representation of his career. He had weeks where he could look like Peyton, then he had weeks where he looked like Cooper Manning. Hell, he had quarters where he could fluctuate between those levels of play. He was just not the mark of consistency like his older brother, though he was quite durable and a total flatliner no matter the situation.

From 2005-12, Eli was 77-51 as a starter in the regular season, always leading the Giants to a record of .500 or better. He had the volume stats but never the great efficiency stats. Combined with the two Super Bowl runs, that may not be the foundation for an elite quarterback, but it is the foundation for a Hall of Fame career. But starting in 2013 when he threw 27 interceptions, Eli finished just 39-60 as a starter with pretty bland numbers while the rest of the league’s averages only got higher. He had a losing record in six of his last seven seasons, and that 2016 playoff season was nothing to write home about.

Look, I love that Eli’s career happened, but I just would not vote him into the Hall of Fame. But I’m sure there will be much more to say about this going forward.

13. Andrew Luck

Luck might be the hardest player to rank in the whole list because I have to balance the expectations of what we thought he was coming into the league, what he actually did when he was here, and the potential of what he could have been if he had better health and support from the Colts.

When Luck shocked everyone and retired before the 2019 season, I wrote about my top 10 Luck moments, so you should read that here since I don’t want to repeat them now. But since I started this list by saying that 2001 was my first full season watching the whole league, I missed out on any of the pre-draft hype for Peyton Manning in 1998. As we know, a lot of people considered Luck the best prospect since Manning or even since John Elway in 1983. By coming out of Elway’s alma mater (Stanford) and going to the Colts to replace Manning, it just seemed like the stars were aligning for Luck to be a generational talent and player. Someone who was smart and could lead an offense like Peyton did, but with more mobility and athleticism.

The truth is Luck was closer to a young, sandlot football Ben Roethlisberger than he was to an accurate, methodical Manning. He was a gunslinger and sometimes he shot wildly. Luck had his share of dumb interceptions and sacks where he was trying to play hero ball. Maybe starting out in a Bruce Arians offense had that effect on him, but it carried on after Arians left in 2013.

But even if the passing efficiency was never quite what we wanted to see with Luck, there was no denying he could carry a team like only the all-time greats did. Luck could catch fire and lead a comeback with the best of them. The Colts were unrecognizable from the Manning days as much of the roster was turned over, and head coach Chuck Pagano was less than an asset, but Luck put that team on his back for three straight 11-5 seasons to begin his career. I’m not sure how many other quarterbacks in the league at that time would have been able to do that with those rosters.

With the passing numbers exploding around the league, maybe Luck won’t look that interesting to future generations. But for someone who twice threw for over 4,500 yards and 39 touchdowns, that puts him in rare company with only Marino, Peyton, Brees, and Brady.

It still is shocking that Luck walked away from the NFL before his age-30 season at a time when the Colts finally looked to have an offensive line and good coach in place for him. His best was yet to come, but as we get ready to start a third season without him, the sad reality is that we’re all out of Luck.

12. Kurt Warner

This list has gone through many strange career arcs from Tommy Maddox, Matt Cassel, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, and Michael Vick. But no one can match the magic of Kurt Warner’s story: something so surreal that it has been turned into a Hollywood movie.

From undrafted to the Arena Football League to bagging groceries to taking over in the preseason as an unknown and winning Super Bowl MVP after one of the finest seasons ever, even just the first part of Warner’s career sounds like a movie. But then he led one of the most prolific three-year runs of offense in league history, won his second MVP in 2001, and nearly won his second ring after a spirited comeback in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.

Then the injuries started, the fumbilitis took over, the sacks piled up, the scoreboard dried up, and he was benched for Marc Bulger, Eli Manning, and Matt Leinart in three different cities. Well, it’s a good thing Leinart always enjoyed the hot tub, because in 2007, Warner won his job back in Arizona and was able to prove that there was still something in the tank.

In 2008, Warner nearly had another MVP season after starting every game, but he settled for going 3-for-3 at making the Super Bowl every time he started 16 games in a season. He once again nearly had another epic Super Bowl comeback, but the defense let down against Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Warner still had one more playoff season and 51-45 playoff win over Aaron Rodgers left in him before getting injured against the Saints, his final game.

Warner only started more than 10 games in six seasons, but he had two incredible peaks with the Rams and Cardinals, lifting two of the weakest franchises in the NFL in the process. That is why he is in the Hall of Fame and one of the game’s great legends. He would be higher here if I was putting emphasis on 1999-00. To this day, 1999 Warner is still the last player to win MVP and a Super Bowl in the same season.

11. Brett Favre

More than anyone on this list, Favre is hurt by the emphasis on since 2001. It was before that period in the first 10 seasons of his career when he won three MVPs in a row, started two Super Bowls in a row, and led the league in touchdown passes three times and yardage twice.

In the last 10 years of his career, Favre led the league in interceptions (2005, 2008) more times than he did touchdown passes (2003). But it was still a very notable decade where he went 95-62 as a starter, was MVP runner-up multiple times, and he threw 253 touchdowns and 37,132 yards. Four times he led his team to 12 or more wins in the second half of his career, or something he did twice in the first half.

It’s just that those postseasons ended so badly, which is why I do not have him in the top 10. Favre threw six picks against the 2001 Rams, lost 27-7 at home to the 2002 Falcons, threw an awful pick in overtime against the 2003 Eagles (4th-and-26 game), threw four picks at home against a lousy 2004 Vikings defense, threw the big interception in overtime against the 2007 Giants in the NFC Championship Game, and threw a pick to Tracy Porter late in regulation against the 2009 Saints in the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings lost in overtime after Favre never touched the ball again. Favre also flopped late in the season with the Jets in 2008 after an 8-3 start. He also just had generally bad non-playoff seasons in 2005, 2006, and 2010 before he retired for good.

Favre gave us a lot of moments in that decade. The game against the 2003 Raiders the night after his father died was an incredible performance under any circumstances, but even more amazing under those. With the 2009 Vikings, his sweep of the Packers and the Hail Mary winner to beat the 49ers were must-see moments.

Favre was a lock for Canton before this portion of his career even started. Would he have made it just based on these last 10 years? I don’t think so. But that’s why I have him at No. 11 on my list.

Coming in Part VII (10-1): the top 10 are revealed. You probably know who I have at No. 1, but can you guess the top five?

Top 10 Andrew Luck Moments

The shock of Andrew Luck’s retirement this weekend is still with me. Just as the NFL looks to start its 100th season, there has really never been a quarterback of this caliber who walked away from the game just shy of his 30th birthday.

Maybe Luck returns in a year or two, but for now, let’s assume his career is over. This would have to make him the all-time choice for the “what if he stayed healthy?” quarterback. Luck was truly unique despite playing in an era as good as any in NFL history at the position.

I think it’s important to write something like this to preserve his legacy, because Luck could very well be forgotten in the near future. Luck was never a league MVP or first-team All-Pro quarterback. That’s not just a matter of playing the same time as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers either. In fact, Luck saw Cam Newton (2015), Matt Ryan (2016) and Patrick Mahomes (2018) ascend to those levels in the last four years. Luck never threw for 5,000 yards and topped out at 40 touchdown passes (2014). He never reached a Super Bowl and finished with a completion percentage barely over 60 percent and 7.2 yards per attempt. He played in 86 regular-season games and eight more in the playoffs. In all likelihood, he’ll never get a serious push for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Some statistics will look favorable for Luck over time, but overall, he won’t stack up to his peers and the Hall of Famers people thought he’d compare to as one of the most hyped prospects in draft history. Luck was always better on video than he was on paper. Luck was closer to John Elway than he was Peyton Manning, and it’s a shame the Colts kind of screwed the pooch after drafting all three of those players No. 1 overall. The difference is Luck is checking out before we see if he has another level to ascend in his game, or if he would get there by finally having superior coaching and talent around him.

That’s probably the most disappointing part of this all: we likely never got to see Peak Andrew Luck. Health was the main culprit, and we can place the blame in multiple places there, including on the quarterback himself who had a reckless style from Day 1 until Frank Reich had him releasing the ball faster in 2018, his swansong which netted him a Comeback Player of the Year award. When Peyton Manning exploded with 49 touchdown passes in 2004, that was his seventh season in the league. Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown pass season in 2007 was his seventh as a starter. Drew Brees’ best statistical years were in 2009 and 2011, his 9th and 11th NFL seasons. Joe Montana’s statistical peak was 1989, his 11th NFL season. Even the aforementioned Matt Ryan peaked in 2016, his ninth season. Most quarterbacks aren’t like Kurt Warner, Dan Marino and (likely) Patrick Mahomes, who figured things out immediately in their second seasons. Most top quarterbacks have their best moment in the midpoint of their career, but Luck only lasted seven seasons, playing in six of them.

Despite only 94 starts, Luck provided several memorable moments. With respect to the debate this week about whether Luck or Bert Jones was the third-best QB in Colts history behind Manning and Johnny Unitas, I will point this out. Jones really doesn’t have any highlight reel to speak of. Part of it is an era/technology difference, though most hardcore NFL fans who were born after the 70s, myself included, have visual aids for the likes of Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Ken Stabler, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, etc. I really can’t recall a single play from Bert Jones’ career. The most famous game he played in was Ghost to the Post, a playoff loss to the Raiders in double overtime. Jones never won a playoff game (0-3) actually. He threw four touchdown passes twice in his career, including one loss where he also threw four picks (one for a touchdown in a 45-38 final). His legacy is really that of a three-year stretch (1975-77) where he was incredibly efficient in the toughest era for passing statistics since the merger, and it was highlighted by that 1976 season. Like Luck, his career was marred and shortened by injury.

I’ll take Luck over Jones, and it’s for reasons like the games I’m about to go through. When I shared that tweet earlier about Luck being one of the QBs you can count on to drag a team to double-digit wins, it’s because of games like this where he delivered for rosters that usually had no business winning double-digit games and going to the playoffs. Luck did that four times in his career.

Here are Luck’s top 10 moments as judged by me, a fan since Day 1, who is still trying to wrap his head around the idea that we won’t see any more of this.

10. 2016 Week 17 – 17-Point Comeback vs. Jaguars

The Jaguars had the best defense in the NFL in 2017, and many of those players were on the field for this matchup in the final game of the 2016 season. Jacksonville led 17-0 early, but Luck clawed the Colts back to a 20-17 deficit before getting the ball back with 1:33. He led a 75-yard touchdown drive, finishing the Jaguars off with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle for a 24-20 win. Luck’s elation spilled over after the throw, ending a comeback season after a miserable 2015.

LuckJags2016

9. 2014 AFC Divisional – 3rd-and-16 at Broncos

The biggest playoff win the Colts had in the Luck era came in Denver in the 2014 AFC divisional round. Luck didn’t have a stellar game, but against a strong defense, he came out of the locker room in the third quarter and engineered a 72-yard touchdown drive that gave the Colts a commanding 21-10 lead in a game they went on to win 24-13. The drive was kept alive by a 32-yard pass to Coby Fleener on a big third-and-16.

8. 2013 Week 7 – SNF vs. Broncos

Denver came to town with a red-hot Peyton Manning and a 6-0 record for Sunday Night Football. This was Luck’s first chance to outscore his predecessor in a game and he delivered by throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another in a 39-33 win, handing Denver its first loss of the season.

7. 2015 Week 3 – 13-Point 4QC at Titans

Luck was a major nuisance for the division rival Titans in his career. He was 11-0 as a starter and had four of his 21 4QC/GWD against the Titans, his most against any team. The most memorable happened to be in 2015, Luck’s lost year to injury after he reportedly injured his shoulder in this game. Still, he played through and finished in style. The Colts fell behind 27-14 in the fourth quarter and threatened to fall to 0-3 on the season. Luck led three touchdown drives in a 35-33 win.

6. 2015 Week 9 – Lacerated Kidney vs. Broncos

While 2015 was the roughest playing year of Luck’s career, he ended it on a high note with his game-winning drive in a 27-24 win against Manning’s Broncos. Denver had the best defense in the league that year and Luck had one of the finest games against it, and he did this despite playing with a lacerated kidney. Luck’s season ended after this game, but it was one of the best wins of his career.

5. 2013 Week 9 – 18-Point Comeback at Texans

This was another Sunday Night Football game where the Colts pulled off the improbable comeback, and Luck and T.Y. Hilton became the Houston’s secondary worst nightmare. Down 24-6 late in the third quarter, Luck found Hilton for three touchdowns, including a 58-yard bomb that wouldn’t be the last time Hilton split the defensive backs in Houston. The Colts won 27-24.

4. 2012 Week 13 – 12-Point Comeback at Lions

Luck set a rookie record with seven game-winning drives in 2012. Perhaps none were more memorable than the walk-off score in Detroit in a 35-33 win. The Colts actually trailed 33-21 with just over four minutes remaining. After one touchdown drive, Luck got the ball back with 1:07 left and drove the Colts 75 yards for the win. On the game’s final play, Luck improvised before flipping the ball to Donnie Avery for the score with no time left.

3. 2012 Week 5 – ChuckStrong vs. Packers

This was probably the first moment where it looked like the Colts had something really special in Luck. Indy (1-2) was a touchdown underdog at home against Green Bay, and head coach Chuck Pagano was just revealed to have cancer that week. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime, but this would be the first of 11 times Luck led the Colts to a win after trailing by at least 12 points. Down 27-22 late, Luck engineered a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, overcoming three third-and-long situations. Reggie Wayne came up big on the drive and had a 4-yard touchdown. The Colts won 30-27.

2. 2014 AFC Wild Card – TD vs. Bengals

Many of Luck’s big moments were comebacks and close games. This was a 26-10 final, but it was his most efficient playoff performance of his career. The touchdown in particular came at a big moment when the Colts only led 13-10 in the third quarter. Luck stepped up and delivered a dime to Donte Moncrief for a 36-yard touchdown. Luck finished the game by completing 31-of-44 passes for 376 yards. That was his only touchdown pass, but it was as fine as you’ll see.

1. 2013 AFC Wild Card – 28-Point Comeback vs. Chiefs

You knew the second-largest comeback in playoff history was going to be No. 1. In many ways, this is a career-defining game for Luck as it gives you the full experience of his career. His team came out playing disgraceful football as the defense was shredded by Alex Smith and the Chiefs. The ill-fated Trent Richardson trade led to a fumble in the second quarter. Luck was down 24-7 and had only thrown two incomplete passes to that point. He also threw a couple of ugly interceptions in the game, which the Chiefs led 38-10 in the third quarter.

For as bleak as it looked, Luck continued playing his game and eventually led five touchdowns in a six-drive span. He threw for 443 yards and finished the scoring off with a perfect 64-yard bomb to Hilton to split the defenders again. But the ultimate highlight in this 45-44 win that will always survive the test of time is Luck’s recovery of God Dammit Donald Brown’s fumble. Luck corrected his teammate’s mistake by picking up the ball and lunging forward for his own touchdown to save the comeback.

That game was Luck in a nutshell. It wasn’t always pretty, but he found a way to be successful even if the odds and the team around him weren’t in his favor.

Andrew Luck never became the next Peyton Manning, and it appears Patrick Mahomes may go down as the quarterback of the NFL’s next decade. But Luck was a special player in his own right, and for those of us who were able to see him play, we’ll have to talk about him to future generations in the words of the late Rutger Hauer at the end of Blade Runner.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Three 11-win seasons with Ryan Grigson as the brains of the operation. I watched Trent Richardson stumble in the dark near the end zone. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Goodbye, Andrew.

BRunner

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embracing Mediocrity

I always like it when the afternoon games I’m most interested in are on my local CBS and FOX affiliates, which is the case this week. Without failure, each season someone is shocked that I don’t have Sunday Ticket, but why would I ever want or need such an expensive service? I prefer to watch a full live game if I can, particularly the Steelers, but I also have the RedZone channel. Then there’s Game Pass and torrents. So I get the league-wide access I need at a favorable cost. If there’s a drive full of 4-yard papercuts to Jarvis Landry that I need to see, I’ll see it in due time. No worries.

Bengals at Steelers

This is easily the game of the week. That may not mean it will play out as the best, but it is the most important game — the next chapter in a heated rivalry. It also brings up one of the more fascinating stats in the NFL: Marvin Lewis is 6-7 in Pittsburgh, but 2-13 at home against the Steelers (including two crushing playoff losses). The road team just happens to play better in this series, and Cincinnati’s 6-7 record in Pittsburgh trails only Jacksonville (3-1) and New England (3-2) since 2003 among teams with at least 3 trips to Heinz Field. Part of this weird split is that Ben Roethlisberger’s stats are better in Cincinnati than at home where he has had some of the worst games of his career in low-scoring struggles, including last season’s 16-10, three-pick defeat. At least this won’t be a game where Roethlisberger is just returning from injury as was the case last year.

In his career, Roethlisberger is 54-4 at home when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses were to the Bengals. Lewis’ defense has a good feel for defending this offense, including pressuring Ben and containing Antonio Brown as a receiver (he does have 3 punt return touchdowns against the Bengals). In Brown’s last 48 games with Roethlisberger at quarterback, he’s had at least 5 catches in all 48, and at least 70 yards in 40 of them. Only the Ravens (4), Bengals (3) and Seahawks (1) have held this duo under 70 yards. I think the Bengals can limit his damage again this week, and A.J. Green is going to have the bigger game. He almost has to with both offenses experiencing many departures, putting the onus on their star receivers to dominate. Heath Miller retired, Ladarius Green and Tyler Eifert are injured, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended and Markus Wheaton appears to still be injured. This means newcomers have to contribute, including Eli Rogers, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. While a game of HORSE between Brown and Green would be interesting, the offense that gets more secondary receiver contributions is likely to win this game. I do not think either running game is going to go off, though I’d give the Steelers the edge there with DeAngelo Williams still looking really good at an advanced age behind this offensive line. I’m still not sure what to think of Jeremy Hill after a disappointing 2015, and he’ll especially be happy if Ryan Shazier isn’t at full strength after Shazier’s dominant playoff game helped eliminate the Bengals. The Steelers ought to be happy that Vontaze Burfict is still suspended for this one after Burfcit injured Le’Veon Bell, Ben and Brown on hits last season.

Defensively, I would be concerned that the Steelers did not get much rush on Washington and gave up their share of plays, but got enough big stops to limit the points to 16. That is always key, but a similar offense in Cincinnati should get rid of the ball quickly and there really is no one capable of matching up with Green in this secondary. Andy Dalton is usually one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the NFL, but he took seven sacks on the road last week. The Steelers are going to have to get their front seven to deliver more this week. I would expect a few sacks from the Bengals of Roethlisberger, but he’ll be glad to see no Reggie Nelson in the secondary. The offense had few problems in the last three quarters against Washington, but must build off that performance. You saw the ugly first quarter and how a few turnovers could really change the game around. The Bengals have the better defense in this matchup.

So home field has been established as pretty irrelevant in this particular series, but I do give the Steelers a slight edge going into this one. They’ll be happy to be home given six of their last seven games were on the road thanks to being a 6th seed in the playoffs last year and opening this year on the road. Monday night’s performance was impressive enough for me to think this offense is clicking well enough early despite the personnel losses that they can pull out a close one here.

Bengals 21, Steelers 24

Colts at Broncos

I hope I’m not relying too much on “fighting narratives” to make game picks this season, especially after a bad Week 1. But this was a game where I picked the Broncos to win when I went through all 256 games before opening night. Yes, it is true that Andrew Luck has had great success against the Broncos (3-1), including the most efficient and effective game any QB had against them last year while he lacerated his kidney. Maybe he took those matchups with Peyton Manning personally, really wanting to impress the Indy fans. He doesn’t need any extra motivation to avoid going 0-2 this week, but he hasn’t seen this Wade Phillips’ called defense on the road yet. The Broncos are still very much led by that defense, which feeds on the crowd energy to play even better at home. Trevor Siemian threw one pass over 15 yards in Week 1 and it was intercepted. He may get a boost this week with the Colts’ beat-up defensive unit struggling to get pressure and cover receivers. The Demaryius Thomas injury is a little concerning given Denver is basically two deep at that position, but I like Emmanuel Sanders this week. Right now, Siemian looks like Alex Smith without the draft pedigree, but the Broncos can win with that as long as C.J. Anderson is making great cuts behind an improved run-blocking line. Luck looked great last week, but I fear his line on the road this week against a much tougher unit. I absolutely think the Colts can win this one since you really don’t need to score many points to beat Denver, but I just don’t see it working out this time. The Colts need more of a big defensive effort than a big game from Luck (smart will do).

Colts 17, Broncos 20

Seahawks at Rams

I always like to say I get a lot of predictions wrong throughout the season, but I still get more right. It never fails to amaze me when I mention a long streak and it gets broken in the next game or two. All throughout the summer I feared a Russell Wilson injury this year due to his unusually good durability despite a frantic playing style behind a porous offensive line. Was this the year that would catch up to Seattle? Then he hurts his ankle in Week 1 and just barely limps to a late win over Miami. Unless the Seahawks are covering it up, Wilson seems to have avoided the dreaded high-ankle sprain and will start on Sunday. We don’t know anything about what Injured Russell Wilson looks like since he’s always been healthy. However, if his mobility is limited, then that’s a huge problem against a Rams defense that always gives him fits even when he’s on his game. Who saw the Rams going into Seattle in Week 16 and pulling out that win? Jeff Fisher can’t sniff a real Super Bowl again, so he treats these Seattle games as his team’s Super Bowl, and the success has been pretty good given Seattle’s overall dominance since 2012.

After the game on Sunday, I was determined to pick the Rams to win this game in their home Los Angeles opener given the Wilson injury. And then Monday night happened — an embarrassing 28-0 shutout to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers, projected to be a bottom-two team this year. They drafted Jared Goff No. 1 to be inactive for this shit? Forget 7-9 bullshit, this looked like the start of 2-14 c*cksucker blues. And they want to give Fisher an extension? It’s madness.

And yet, as much as that game cooled me off the Rams’ upset, I still think they’re going to give Seattle a game here. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough because of that horrific offense against this great Seattle defense. Wilson may not need to throw for 100 yards. Just don’t turn the ball over.

Rams 6, Seahawks 16

Packers at Vikings

Opening a new stadium should be a joyous occasion, but in Minnesota, the throng of yawns in the air have already given the new place a stale smell of boredom and disinterest. Nothing can suck the life out of a fan base more than having to start Sam Bradford at quarterback after trading a first-round pick for him. Vikings fans, get ready to embrace mediocrity.

Mediocrity would actually be an improvement over most of Bradford’s career, but it’s really the best-case scenario this year. He plays at a league-average level, but does just enough in the right moments to get this team enough wins. Adrian Peterson is going to have to play much better than last week, though the Titans were built to stop the run and stink at the pass. Green Bay is a solid, but not great defense, and Sam Shields being out should help. I wouldn’t expect much from Bradford, but honestly, why would you ever expect much from Sam Bradford?

The other side of the ball is what interests me most about this one, because what the hell has happened to this Green Bay passing game? It went from years of being one of the most efficient attacks ever to a broken mess. Where are the timing plays and the chemistry on the back-shoulder throws? Anymore this offense works best by producing broken plays and taking advantage of offside penalties. It’s not sustainable, and it hasn’t been effective even though the Week 11 game in Minnesota is one of two times the offense has scored 30 offensive points in the last 13 games.

Aaron Rodgers has five seasons with at least 8.2 YPA.  He still ranks 5th all time in YPA (7.99). So it’s incredible when one of the most efficient passers ever has been held under 6.0 YPA in five of his last six games. That’s something Rodgers has only done in 12 other starts in his career. He’s been held under 7.0 YPA in 11 of his last 13 games (including playoffs). One of those two was the Hail Mary in Detroit to boost him up. Even though Jordy Nelson returned last week, he wasn’t the same receiver as he didn’t make the big plays. In fact, his 6 catches for 32 yards (5.33 YPC) is the lowest YPC he’s ever had in a game with more than 1 catch.

The effect this stretch of play is having on Rodgers’ career stats is interesting. He was at 8.22 YPA thru 116 regular-season games. Now after going a Joey Harrington-esque 5.96 YPA in his last 11 games, he’s down to 7.99. He still manages his TD-to-INT ratio well, but it’s hard to call this depressed passing game effective. Keep in mind the Packers are 6-7 since a 6-0 start last year. Rodgers has tore up the Vikings many times in his career, but not last year against Mike Zimmer’s defense. I think that defense rises to the occasion in this one, but the offense lets them down as Green Bay does just enough to sneak away with the win in the new stadium.

Packers 19, Vikings 16

2016 Week 2 Predictions

Well I was some 7-9 bullshit in a bad opening week. At least I changed my mind on the Jets starting 0-6 to give them the Thursday win over a growing mess in Buffalo. See, Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks against Rex Ryan defenses, but that Rob Ryan D is another story.

Winners in bold

  • Bengals at Steelers
  • Titans at Lions
  • Saints at Giants
  • Ravens at Browns
  • Cowboys at Redskins
  • Chiefs at Texans
  • 49ers at Panthers
  • Dolphins at Patriots
  • Buccaneers at Cardinals
  • Seahawks at Rams
  • Falcons at Raiders
  • Jaguars at Chargers
  • Colts at Broncos
  • Packers at Vikings
  • Eagles at Bears

Week 1: 7-9

NFL Week 10 Predictions: The Andrew Luck Injury

So much for that IND-HOU Thursday night game in Week 5 being the “last significant game in Matt Hasselbeck’s career.” Andrew Luck is out for 2-6 weeks with a lacerated kidney and abdominal strain. The Colts, now on a bye week, are still favored to win the AFC South anyway, but it’s another big injury to a quarterback in a season filled with them.

A kidney injury does not sound like something you want to take lightly. Keenan Allen is out for the season in San Diego with one, so let’s assume Luck’s return is closer to the 6-game end of that forecast.

From a statistical standpoint, that means Luck won’t be adding his name to the year-4 record here, and he may not catch up to a record pace again until year 14, which would be the 2025 season.

MPYYX

It was in his 14th season that Peyton Manning had the four neck surgeries and missed the entire year (2011), setting up the Colts to draft Luck in 2012. Drew Brees only played one game as a rookie and was benched for five games in 2003. Otherwise he has been remarkably healthy, only missing one game due to injury (this year in Carolina). Manning will break the all-time yardage record in the ninth game of his 18th season. Brett Favre threw for 71,838 yards by the end of his 20th season.

Luck is in an era where there are more passing yards averaged each year, so he could catch up much sooner than expected, but every injury and game missed is a big deal when you’re talking about competing for records with great quarterbacks who almost never missed any time like Manning, Brees and Favre.

I’m going to have a more formal post (somewhere) about Manning and the passing record this week, but it is impressive when you think about what it takes to get to that number. A QB can throw for 5,000 yards 14 years in a row and still need another big season. Matthew Stafford aside, you have to be a pretty good QB playing at a high level to throw for 5,000 yards. Hell, even Stafford played at his highest level in 2011. How many quarterbacks can extend a prime performance out to 14-15 years? Luck was easily the favorite among all the young players to chase down this record, and even he has been questioned this year if he should be benched for poor play. We know Stafford isn’t going to see enough starts to ever come close to this record.

Yards are rarely a driving force in QB arguments as people tend to focus more on touchdowns, MVPs, WINS, RINGZ, but once you start talking about throwing for 50,000 or more, that has to be done by someone who was pretty damn good for a long time. Jon Kitna threw for 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in Detroit, but he never did it well enough that the Lions or any other team would want to keep him as a long-term starter even if he was 10 years younger.

Time will tell what rule changes have done to this game, but I still like to believe this has been a special era of QB play. Greatness is found through consistency, and you have to be durable too.

Week 10 Games

Some random musings

I think you can forget about the Super Bowls the Giants have won over New England, because I don’t see a defense capable of holding the Patriots under 24 points on Sunday. Oddly enough, the only win in the last four meetings for NE was the only high-scoring game and the only game played in New York: the 38-35 final that pushed the Patriots to 16-0 and gave the Giants confidence that they could hang with the best.

I smell an upset of Tennessee over Carolina, yet I’m not ballsy enough to go through with that pick. Obviously this team is much better with Marcus Mariota at QB. And I don’t really want to credit Mike Mularkey yet, but Ken Whisenhunt had to go.

Another year, another Detroit loss to come in Green Bay. This would make it 25 in a row.

25 is a bit of a magic number for the Seattle Seahawks, as in 0-11 in the Russell Wilson era when allowing at least 25 points. Technically, Seattle allowed at least 27 in all 11 of those games, and rarely does a team score 25 or 26. So Arizona really needs to eye 27-28 for a win on Sunday night, but I think the defenses take over, both quarterbacks struggle and we get a low-scoring game that favors the home team. I still believe in Seattle, but it’d be a lot more believable if they played well in this big game.

2015 Week 10 Predictions

Screwed by the Jets again on TNF. Should have seen that one coming, but I would have said the exact same thing about Buffalo if things went the other way. You just can’t trust either team, yet these are supposed to be among the best teams in the AFC not named NE/DEN/CIN. Ugh.

Winners in bold:

  • Dolphins at Eagles
  • Bears at Rams
  • Panthers at Titans
  • Saints at Redskins
  • Jaguars at Ravens
  • Cowboys at Buccaneers
  • Browns at Steelers
  • Lions at Packers
  • Vikings at Raiders
  • Chiefs at Broncos
  • Patriots at Giants
  • Cardinals at Seahawks
  • Texans at Bengals

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Season: 86-46 (.652)

NFL Week 4 Predictions: Sit Andrew Luck

First, a moment of silence for Josh Scobee’s career. Okay, that was long enough.

Sit Andrew Luck, Indy

I hate to play doctor for an injury I don’t even know the extent of, but it might be in the Colts’ best interest to sit Andrew Luck this week with a right shoulder injury. They have to think about the hits he takes and the fact that there’s a big game in Houston on Thursday where the Colts can quickly get to 3-2 and back in first place. Luck being listed as questionable, limited in practice and the signing of Josh Johnson are all signs this is not some minor issue. You could see him wincing on the sideline on Sunday after a little celebratory contact from a teammate.

Let Matt Hasselbeck earn that game check. The Colts have only had 12 games with a 20-point lead in the Luck era. Five of those games have been against the Jaguars, so this team is used to dominating Jacksonville, and the game is at home this week. I’m not sure if a few more days of rest is going to make Luck’s shoulder any better, but I know going out there and taking a beating on Sunday won’t help him for Thursday. The Colts have to think ahead on this one.

But the expectations going into Sunday are that Luck will start. Just what does questionable really mean to Indianapolis?

  • 2014: 15 of 26 questionable Indy players played (57.7%)
  • 2014 NFL average: 55.7%
  • 2013: 19 of 30 questionable Indy players played (63.3%)
  • 2013 NFL average: 61.3%

So things really are up in the air on whether or not he’ll play, though the team probably has a good idea tonight what will happen. If Luck sits out, he’ll end his consecutive start streak to begin a career at 51 games. Here’s the list of leaders since 1950 (regular season only):

QBconsst

The ironman thing is cool, but sometimes you just have to recognize when you have a winnable game with your backup and your starter isn’t right. It’s not like Luck has been playing well this season.

Where’s the 18-Hour Football Sunday?

I like to get up around 12:20 p.m. on Sundays after staying up late. A 9:30 a.m. start for a London game does not jive with me. I got up for last year’s Atlanta-Detroit game, and I could have easily slept in during the first half. The Lions sure did.

But when you schedule Dolphins vs. Jets, that gives me even less of a reason to get up early, though I may be up anyway because I don’t have what you’d call a “sleep schedule.” If I had to rank the worst division rivalries since 2002 realignment, Dolphins vs. Jets is right up there because of how boring those teams have been in that time. We’re not getting a Dan Marino vs. Ken O’Brien shootout here. We’re not even getting older Dan Marino vs. NY-era Boomer Esiason and the fake spike game. We’re getting Ryan Fitzpatrick and a coach from Miami who is going to be fired any week now.

If I end up going to sleep tonight, I’ll probably wake up around 11:30 just to catch the ending of this one. If it’s close, I’m not sure how that will shake out since Fitzpatrick will want to throw interceptions and Joe Philbin will try finding some way to blow the game.

I’m surprised the NFL hasn’t tacked on a midnight EST start out west to go for the 18-hour football Sunday. 

And I must say it’s total bullshit to make any team give up a home game for a division game (Miami in this case). That’s the definition of unfair since the other team will be at home when the rematch comes.

Where Are the Good Games?

To the NFL’s credit, we didn’t end up with many better options to ship to London in Week 4. Vikings at Broncos is the only game between teams with winning records. I’m looking forward to that one in the national slot for 4:30 p.m. Both defenses should play very well, meaning it will look like Denver’s other 2015 games. The running game can’t stay this bad all season under Gary Kubiak, right? Denver has rushed for 171 yards at 2.59 YPC. Adrian Peterson has 260 rushing yards in the last two weeks alone.

Denver (and the 2015 Lions) is the 34th team to rush for less than 175 yards through three games since 1970. On average these teams finish with 1,442 yards and 3.69 YPC. Only 9 of the teams cracked 4.0 YPC by season’s end. To the Broncos’ credit, they join the 2007 Packers as the only other 3-0 team on the list. That GB team with Brett Favre reached the NFC Championship Game after finishing 13-3. Ryan Grant really came along for the offense, though there was no running game to speak of in the playoff defeat. Your weaknesses tend to get exposed in the end, but as long as the Broncos have the No. 1 defense and Peyton Manning, every game is winnable. It’s just not going to be pretty.

Final prediction: Broncos 20, Vikings 16

2015 Week 4 Predictions

I followed my worst week in years with one of my best (14-2). Life lesson: the Jets will always screw you over in the end. I originally was going to pick Houston too, but changed to Tampa Bay at the last second. The kicker didn’t help in that one either. The kickers did however help me correctly pick Baltimore over Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

Winners in bold

  • Jets at Dolphins
  • Chiefs at Bengals
  • Giants at Bills
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Jaguars at Colts
  • Panthers at Buccaneers
  • Texans at Falcons
  • Raiders at Bears
  • Packers at 49ers
  • Vikings at Broncos
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Browns at Chargers
  • Cowboys at Saints
  • Lions at Seahawks

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Season: 30-18 (.625)

NFL Week 3 Predictions: Statement Games

I have always thought Week 2 was the hardest to predict in the NFL season, because you end up instinctively relying too much on what happened in Week 1.

The 49ers and Vikings were polar opposites from Week 1 to Week 2. Were the Titans really that good and were the Buccaneers really that bad as in Week 1? No. Are the Jets really that good on defense and are the Colts in some trouble on offense? Maybe. Week 1 isn’t worthless and it’s definitely important, but it is still just one data point.

This week I want to see which teams build off a good start and which ones turn around a poor beginning, because there are some really interesting names sitting at 0-2. History suggests some of those teams are not going to be successful this season. Only 24 of 199 teams to start 0-2 since 1990 (12.1%) have made the playoffs. At least one team from the hyped group of the Seahawks, Colts, Eagles and Ravens is probably not going to turn things around.

Some teams are in position to have a statement game where the winner could really put the loser in a huge hole. Those are the games I’m most interested in for Week 3.

Bengals (2-0) at Ravens (0-2)

Come on, Cincinnati. This is exactly the spot where people expect the Bengals to fall flat on their faces as they always do. They swept the Ravens a year ago, but Baltimore is at home for the first time in 2015 and will pretty much have to play with the intensity and importance of a playoff game at 0-2. With a trip to Pittsburgh looming on Thursday, the 2015 Ravens basically have their fate on the line early. You’re likely not coming back from an 0-3 or 0-4 start. The Bengals have looked good with Andy Dalton playing clean, efficient football and Tyler Eifert emerging as the team’s best weapon behind A.J. Green. I’m not sure why Jeremy Hill hasn’t been able to get things going yet, but the offense has been good and so has the defense. This team certainly has looked better than the Ravens, who had no offense in Week 1 and no defense in Week 2. I think the Bengals can limit Steve Smith’s damage and simply have too many weapons for the Ravens, who aren’t getting much pressure now without blitzing. While I think it will be another close game decided in the fourth quarter, I actually like the Bengals to pull this one out.

Colts (0-2) at Titans (1-1)

We always expect the Colts to clean up in division games (won 13 straight), but what happens if they lose? Chuck Pagano’s seat just gets that much hotter and I have to say this has been the worst 3-game stretch of Andrew Luck’s career going back to the 2014 AFC Championship Game. I’m not sure any other QB takes 0 sacks vs. 11 hits like he did in that Jets game, but the hits and pressures were still very effective at forcing him into turnovers. I think the Titans are improved on defense, though still not very good, but good enough to cause some trouble again for the Colts. Indy has won seven in a row against Tennessee, but this is a big one on the road. I have really no great reason for picking the Colts other than they need the win more, which is a scary thought for where this team is currently situated in the AFC. Can Marcus Mariota tear up a defense with a limited pass rush and several of its top corners out? Absolutely. I think Mariota has been pretty impressive so far through two weeks. This won’t be an easy game by any means for the Colts.

Steelers (1-1) at Rams (1-1)

Really not a statement game; I just feel like mentioning it briefly. The Rams are inconsistent as hell and the Steelers are getting Le’Veon Bell back. Both defenses seem pretty susceptible to having a blown coverage down the field, so this one could be very high scoring. So given it’s the NFL, expect a 13-9 game. I still worry about the Steelers in road games following a big week like the masterclass performance Roethlisberger put on against the 49ers last Sunday. Let’s see this offense sustain the good offensive line play, precise vertical passing and now the added element of Bell as a runner and receiver. The Rams have a talented front seven even if it doesn’t show up for long stretches. Bell didn’t exactly dominate good defenses on the ground in 2014. This game is very interesting as I can see 34-31 just as likely as 13-9. You never know what you’ll get from Nick Foles.

Broncos (2-0) at Lions (0-2)

Not sure it was a good idea to schedule the Broncos and Chiefs, Week 2’s TNF game, for road prime-time games in Week 3 too. With Denver all eyes will be on Peyton Manning, but I expect the Denver defense to play well against a struggling Detroit offense. This could have been a  high-scoring game in past years, but I just am not seeing it this year. With Manning, we’ll get another dose of seeing him deal with the Gary Kubiak offense versus doing what actually works (the shotgun and no-huddle offense with him calling the shots). My biggest fear all summer was Kubiak being the only coach too stubborn to let Manning do his thing, and we’ve seen glimpses of that so far. Plain and simple, I don’t think Manning has the foot speed anymore to run Kubiak’s offense from under center, then combined with the piss-poor OL, by the time Manning completes his drop he’s getting pressured or he’s throwing the ball away immediately without setting his feet. That’s why it’s not working out and he needs to be in shotgun. And let’s dump the bootleg pass with Manning going to his left. This isn’t 2006 anymore. If Kubiak can’t adjust to his players’ strengths, then he is just the shoddy coach I’ve always expected he was from Houston.

2015 Week 3 Predictions

My streak of non-losing weeks came to a crashing halt with a 6-10 finish in Week 2. I had the Giants on TNF, so let’s rebound here.

Winners in bold

  • Bengals at Ravens
  • Saints at Panthers
  • Colts at Titans
  • Falcons at Cowboys
  • Jaguars at Patriots
  • Eagles at Jets
  • Raiders at Browns
  • Steelers at Rams
  • Chargers at Vikings
  • Buccaneers at Texans
  • 49ers at Cardinals
  • Bears at Seahawks
  • Bills at Dolphins
  • Broncos at Lions
  • Chiefs at Packers

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Season: 16-16 (.500)

The Whistleblower No. 6: Andrew Luck Doesn’t Put Out His Own Fires

NFLWhistleBlower

It’s been a while since The Whistleblower last made his appearance. If I ever hit the lottery I would do nothing but write articles like this at my leisure, but for now we’ll settle for periodic outbursts of statistical shaming.

In NFL circles, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is the all-time quarterback debate, and Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco is one that rages on in only the darkest corners of the internet. Somewhere in between, there’s a growing Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson war with the basis for comparison being the 74 picks that came between them in the 2012 draft.

For today, I don’t care about Russell Wilson.

This Rolling Stone article about Luck, written by what I am led to believe is a Seahawks fan, was brought to my attention. The article links to Luck’s fourth-quarter comebacks at PFR, which is of course my personal addition to the site, but like with any other general counting stat, there’s a lot of context missing.

The author especially misses this context when he makes the mistake of assuming “Luck has often had to fail in order to set himself up for success.” Using the comeback win against Kansas City in the playoffs is one of the worst examples anyone could make.

“Take that win over Kansas City. The same game that had many saying that Luck had “arrived” also happened to be a game in which he threw three interceptions. Indianapolis came back from a 38-10 deficit largely because of Luck, but how quickly we forget that he also had something to do with his team being down 28 points in the first place: Two of his three picks led to scoring drives by the Chiefs.”

He didn’t mention one of Luck’s interceptions was really a bad-luck drop by T.Y. Hilton, but forget that. What about the fact that Luck was down 24-7 and to that point had completed 7-of-9 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown? Both incompletions were a direct result of pressure in the pocket. Luck didn’t make a mistake and still trailed by three scores, which is usually a recipe for a loss, especially in the postseason. Any later turnovers are rather irrelevant to the story, and not just because he rallied them back to a win. If you’re trying to pinpoint the reason the Colts were down big so fast, the obvious answer was a defense unable to stop Alex f’n Smith.

Luck didn’t set that fire, but he put it out with 45 points, 483 yards of offense, a memorable fumble recovery and a dagger throw for the game-winner.

So that made me whip up a table. Luck has led the Colts to wins after trailing by double-digits seven times in the last two years, which is remarkable. Somehow, Luck is 7-9 (.438) when trailing by 12+ points compared to a league average win percentage of about 10 percent.

Whether a team is down 14-0 early or 28-14 late, they still had to come back from a two-score deficit to win the game. I wanted to see what Luck had done up to the initial point in which he needed a two-score rally to get the win. Does he really put the Colts behind with poor play only to get the credit for bailing them out later?

Does Andrew Luck put out his own fires or not?

I included Success Rate (SucRate), just so we’re not crediting the QB for completing a 2-yard pass on 3rd-and-10. A “successful play” gains 45 percent of needed yards on first down (40 percent for runs), 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third/fourth down. I also included the number of drives Luck engineered in the game to that point along with the time remaining when the Colts first trailed by double digits.

Luck7CB

The success rate could be better, but those numbers don’t look too bad for the quarterback, who barely had the ball before facing a big deficit. That’s 7.62 YPA and a very low sack rate with just one turnover. One. Those numbers actually should be zero interceptions and three sacks. In the 2012 game against Tennessee, officials blew the replay on a sack (knee was down) that Luck tried to get rid of the ball on, and that became a pick-six. So the only turnover actually shouldn’t have even counted.

We also can see that in the last three games, Luck trailed by multiple scores despite not throwing more than two incompletions. That sounds like a defense getting burned to me. In all three games the defense allowed a game-opening touchdown drive.

It’s a legitimate stance that Luck carries a flawed team to victory. The Rolling Stone article continues with this gem:

If Andrew Luck is great because he has to keep bailing his team out every week, then that’s not a very good reason for being known as “great.”

Well, when you’re not the main reason they need bailed out, then why not? Great quarterbacks elevate their teams and Luck has been doing that since he was a rookie. How else can the Colts be 22-10 the last two years with suspect coaching, a porous offensive line, an insignificant running game and a sieve for a defense?

Evidence that Luck starts these early deficits is lacking, but there’s plenty of evidence that he’s responsible for finishing the comebacks.

I don’t expect Luck to continue pulling out these wins with regularity, but as long as Trent Richardson is chugging along at 2.9 yards per carry, expect to see more early big deficits for the Colts. We can also expect to see more ill-contrived articles blaming Luck for each triumph.

When boy sets fire God knows you’ve lost at a cost that has no price when you’ve purchased guilt.

— Coheed and Cambria, Junesong Provision

Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning: Judgment Day (Terminator Spoof)

Twenty million human lives watched football played by quarterback machines on October 20, 2013. The survivors of the game called it Judgment Day. They were exposed as either a Peyton Manning fan or an Indianapolis Colts fan.

Irskynet, the computer which controlled the machines, sent two terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the fourth-quarter comeback statistic revolution…John Elway.

Irskynet

Johnny Unitas, the first machine model, was the premiere quarterback in the two-minute drill. How else can you explain his machine-like efficiency under pressure? But Unitas never received any credit for his record number of comebacks.

The first terminator was programmed to strike at John Elway in April 1983. This way he could never make fools of the Colts in the NFL draft and never set the franchise back for years. The T-800 terminator was…too smart for his own good. He seized the opportunity to became the new comeback king.

manning_medium

The attack failed…so the team relocated to Indianapolis and eventually wound up with Jeff George.

The second was set to strike at John after his retirement. This advanced T-1000 model was established as a student at Stanford, which is Elway’s alma mater. He even had help from another Irskynet machine, code name “Captain Comeback”. The two machines became more interested in winning games and growing a neck beard, so this too failed.

StT2

The Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John. He proved to be…unreliable.

Denver Broncos  at the Oakland Raiders

Little did Jim Irsky, owner of Irskynet, know that the first terminator was reprogrammed by John to become his protector in 2012. This took place shortly after Irskynet shut down the T-800 model due to a neck malfunction. John wooed the T-800 to Denver to find success he could never dream of under Irskynet’s watch in Indianapolis.

PMJEL

Each side had an expensive terminator. The T-1000 was given another shot by Irskynet. Some modifications, perfected by a stroke of luck, like added mobility and shape-shifting to take the form of Peyton Manning. John Elway, Andre the Giant or any solid metal object made the new model a favorite in town. However, as Judgment Day approached, many in Indianapolis were torn over how to react to the event. The football game was one thing, but either John Elway or Jim Irsky were going to perish given the outcome. This war would end here.

Who plays football next to a steel mill anyway?

October 20, 2013 came and went. The T-1000 put up a good fight early, but you can’t keep the original down for long. The T-800 led a record-tying 51st game-winning drive, which sunk Irsky into a vat of molten steel, silencing him once and for all. (The choice of molten steel was an Abby’s hat pick, by the way).

It was not until hours after the game that everyone realized the two could still meet in the playoffs to really settle things, but the reign of Irskynet was over, and the world was a better place for it. The T-800 protected John for two more years before shutting down for the last time, going out on top. The T-1000 aged rapidly, playing the football coach in the 2028 remake of The Faculty.

Analysis: There should be three great quarterbacks in the building on Sunday night. There are not three great films in the Terminator series.

claire

I’ll be back, unless you hated this.

NFL Divisional Playoff Predictions, Seeds and Writing Recap

The best weekend of the NFL season is upon us: the Divisional Playoffs. I am ready for an upset or three. I am prepared to go 4-0 or 0-4 on my game picks, which is exactly why this weekend rules. I spent a ton of time writing the history of it last year (Part 1 and Part 2), now this week I spent time summing up stats and anxiously looking forward to these four matchups.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Wild Card: Seattle’s Russell Wilson Last Rookie QB Standing – Cold, Hard Football Facts

We had three close games on Wild Card weekend, one real crapper in Green Bay, but it took the Seahawks in the last game to get a game-winning drive. Russell Wilson led it, and led-blocked on it for Marshawn Lynch. Otherwise we watched the Bengals go 0/9 on third down, and the Colts dropped the ball in Baltimore. Andrew Luck set several rookie playoff records, but with the loss and Robert Griffin III tearing his ACL, Wilson emerges as the last rookie standing in the playoffs.

Ignore the Raw Numbers, Andrew Luck Had a Great Rookie Season – Bleacher Report

Consider this my season review of Andrew Luck’s rookie year. A look at the type of offense he ran and why the Colts were successful despite having little to surround Luck with, and his generally below-average traditional stats.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Wild Card at Baltimore Ravens – Colts Authority

Luck’s rookie season came to a quick end in the postseason in a 24-9 loss. His 288 passing yards were the most by a rookie QB since Sammy Baugh way back in 1937. His 54 attempts and 28 completions were rookie playoff records, but it wasn’t enough for the Colts. They became the first offense in playoff history to compile over 400 yards of offense (419) and score single-digit points. Too many dropped passes doomed the Colts, as we came up with 8 drops in this one.

INDDrp

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Divisional Weekend Predictions – Bleacher Report

Find out about Baltimore’s fatigue, the wild card that is Colin Kaepernick, Seattle’s early start time in Atlanta, and Houston being the latest rematch for New England in the playoffs.

Being the No. 1 Seed Often Means One and Done – NBC Sports

Expect the Broncos and Falcons to have a Super Bowl rematch? Don’t count on it. Just 3 of the last 22 Super Bowls have been between No. 1 seeds. A look at the decline in their postseason performances, along with what Atlanta and Denver can do to make it to the big game.

NFL Playoffs: What Seeding History Really Says About Your Team’s Chances – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Here I get even more seedy. Want a quick reference for every playoff seed since 1990? Want to know how often a No. 2 beats a No. 3 in the Divisional round, or what a No. 1 does vs. a No. 2 seed? We have all that here, and much more as I looked into the playoff seeds in the 12-team format (since 1990). A lot of interesting finds, but nothing better than this table that sums up the gap closing between the top and bottom seeds, resulting in a more exciting, unpredictable postseason.

Seeds

NFL Divisional Predictions

I set the bar too high last week. Sure, only 3-1 with the Colts loss, but did nail the correct point total for the three winners while coming very close to the loser’s score. That probably means I’ll be way off this week, which is expected with tougher games. All the favorites won last week. That won’t happen again this week.

  • Broncos over Ravens, 23-13
  • 49ers over Packers, 31-27
  • Falcons over Seahawks, 27-17
  • Texans over Patriots, 24-21

Like I said, you can easily go 4-0 or 0-4 this week. That’s why I love this week.