NFL 2020 Divisional Round: Buccaneers at Saints

The New Orleans Saints hope to extend Drew Brees’ career at least another week by completing the season sweep of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For previews of Saturday’s games, click here.

For Browns-Chiefs, click here.

Buccaneers at Saints (-3)

Let’s get the 3-0 sweep part out of the way first with New Orleans looking to put the cherry on top of their 34-23 win in Week 1 and 38-3 win in Week 9 over Tampa Bay this season.

Going for the 3-0 Sweep

Yes, it is hard to beat a playoff team three times in one season. Beating a playoff team once is usually harder than average, and then to do it three times to a team that has to come from your division, who knows you so well, is certainly a tough task.

But the only time we ever talk about this is when a team has already won the first two games. By the playoffs, the brooms are already two-thirds of the way out.

Since the merger, a team has gone for the three-game sweep 21 times and is 14-7 at pulling it off. The sweep happens two-thirds of the time. It just so happens that the 2017 Saints are the last team to pull it off against Carolina, winning the NFC wild card game 31-26.

That was a good playoff win for the 2017 Saints when you consider that the home team is 1-5 in the last six playoff games between division rivals regardless of how the regular season series went. As we just saw with the Steelers-Browns in Week 17 and the wild card round, these rematches can look dramatically different, so the Saints cannot take too much faith in Week 9’s 38-3 obliteration of Tampa Bay.

Some other facts from this table:

  • The 2020 Saints outscored Tampa Bay by 46 points so far, the largest scoring differential for all 22 series.
  • The three teams with the largest scoring differential before the Saints went 0-3 in the playoffs: 1989 Oilers vs. Steelers (+34), 1994 Vikings vs. Bears (+34), and 1998 Cowboys vs. Cardinals (+35).
  • Those same three teams all happened to have the largest Game 1 margin of victory, winning Game 1 by 27+ points, only winning Game 2 by 6-7 points, and then 0-3 in the playoffs.
  • It would appear dominating the earliest matchup in the season has less relevancy for the playoffs.
  • The three teams who won Game 2 by 17+ points were 3-0 in the playoffs with a double-digit win each time (1999 TEN-JAX, 2000 NYG-PHI, 2009 DAL-PHI).
  • New Orleans’ 38-3 win in Game 2 over Tampa Bay is the largest margin of victory in any of the 65 games in the chart.
  • The only three teams before the 2020 Saints to win both games by double digits were 2-1 in the playoffs with wins for 2000 Giants-Eagles and 2017 Saints-Panthers and a loss for the 2007 Cowboys-Giants.
  • The 2-0 team is 7-5 in the wild card round, 3-1 in the divisional round, and 4-1 in the conference championship.

Basically, the only example that really compares to what Tampa Bay is trying to do here is the 2007 Cowboys-Giants. That’s the only one where a team lost both games by double digits before winning on the road in the playoffs. That’s also the only one where the 0-2 road team won after the wild card round. When the 1983 Seahawks lost to the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, that game was played in Los Angeles because the Raiders (12-4) were a better team than Seattle (9-7), which just happened to get the best of them in the regular season before upsetting a rookie Dan Marino as well in the divisional round that year.

New Orleans having a home letdown in the playoffs wouldn’t be a new story, but the Saints are better than the Buccaneers.

Or are they?

So Which Team Is Better?

Thanks a lot, COVID-19, for this weird season. The Steelers were the last unbeaten at 11-0 and led the league in scoring differential for a while until falling off hard. Baltimore finished No. 1 in scoring differential despite only going 11-5 and No. 7 in DVOA (but No. 3 in SRS at Pro Football Reference). The Chiefs had the best record locked up with 14 wins before resting starters and getting their ass pointlessly kicked by the Chargers, so they finished 6th in DVOA, 6th in SRS, and not even in the top five for points scored. Green Bay scored the most points but finished No. 5 in SRS and No. 3 in DVOA. Buffalo is basically the Josh Allen cautious wave meme here, just chilling in the crowd.

Yet the place where DVOA and SRS seem to agree this season is that the Saints are No. 1 and the Buccaneers are No. 2, and the margin between the two isn’t that great despite the scoreboard difference in their first two meetings this season.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of these numbers. I wish I had a better explanation for what the advanced stats sees in the Saints and Bucs this year. I think the Chiefs and Packers are more reliable to score points and win games this season. I think the Ravens are scarier to play than the Bucs or Saints. I think the 13-3 Bills, who have one loss on a Hail Mary and another to the Chiefs, have played better football than those teams as well this year.

Here are some things I do know the Saints and Buccaneers share in common this season:

  • Both lost to the Chiefs by three points after trailing by 14+ points.
  • Both had a 17-point comeback win in October over the Chargers, who hand those out as freely as mints on hotel pillows.
  • Both swept the Falcons and Panthers, who couldn’t win a close game to save their lives.
  • Both helped put the Vikings out of their misery in December. Alvin Kamara scored six touchdowns and it felt like Dan Bailey missed six kicks when he played Tampa Bay.
  • Both got to play in arguably the two biggest COVID farces of 2020: Saints beat Denver 31-3 after the Broncos were told the day before the game that none of their quarterbacks were eligible to play. They had to start a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback and completed one pass. The Buccaneers destroyed a Detroit team 47-7 in Week 16 after much of the coaching staff was out for COVID on short notice. It got so bad that Blaine Gabbert came in the third quarter and still threw two touchdowns on his first six throws.
  • Tampa Bay also sort of won in Denver without facing a quarterback when the Broncos played Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien in Week 3.
  • Both beat a cupcake in the NFC wild card after the Buccaneers drew the 7-9 Washington No Names with MAGA Heinicke pulling out a 300-yard game on them, and the Saints jogged through a 21-9 win over Mitchell Trubisky and the 8-8 Bears.

Where did the Buccaneers and Saints differ this year?

  • New Orleans lost in the Raiders’ first game in Las Vegas while the Buccaneers pulled away late in a 45-20 win.
  • The Saints beat the Bears in overtime while Tampa Bay lost to Nick Foles in October.
  • Tampa Bay destroyed Green Bay’s No. 1 offense in a 38-10 victory while the Saints lost 37-30 at home following some Taysom Hill Hijinks.

And isn’t that always the difference this year when we talk about Tampa Bay? It’s that 38-10 Green Bay game, Tampa Bay’s only win against a team with a winning record. Otherwise, they are 0-4 against the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams, and even lost to the 8-8 Bears. The once 0-13 Jets still have more wins (two) against winning teams this year than the Buccaneers (one).

That is why Tampa Bay feels like such a paper tiger to me this year. They fatten their stats, especially on offense, in recent weeks against the Falcons (twice) and Lions, and then they draw a Jack Del Rio defense in the playoffs. Tom Brady has destroyed Del Rio his whole career and last week was more of the same with Washington leaving receivers wide open and getting minimal pressure.

So is Tampa now peaking, or is it just heavily related to the opponents? When they last played legitimate playoff teams in the Rams and Chiefs, they lost 27-24 at home in both games, outgained and outplayed.

For a team with some gaudy stats, the Buccaneers have had a lot of rough patches this season, rarely able to put in a complete game effort until recent weeks. In fact, the Buccaneers have five games this season where they trailed by at least 17 points, something Brady rarely experienced in New England.

They were able to come back and beat the Falcons and Chargers, because of course they were. That’s what those teams do. But Tampa didn’t beat the Chiefs or Saints in the other three games. Tampa Bay has trailed by 17+ in more games this season than the Packers, Chiefs, Bills, and Ravens combined as those teams have one game each. The Saints have two, and the Rams and Browns have three each.

This got me curious. How many games would you expect a legitimate Super Bowl team to fall behind by at least 17 points during a season? So I dug out the answer back to 1994, the start of the salary cap and two-point conversion era. As it turns out, Tampa Bay would be the highest.

The Super Bowl winner averages 1.4 such games a season and the Super Bowl loser averages 2.0 games a season.

No Super Bowl teams since the 2009 Colts and Saints have had more than two three-score deficits in the regular season. Even that’s misleading as both teams rested their starters in Week 17 to tally a third. The 2012 49ers actually had two in a row in the playoffs, but came back to beat the Falcons (duh) before losing to the Ravens in the Super Bowl. The 1994 Chargers, 1998 Falcons, 2000 Giants, 2002 Raiders, 2010 Steelers, and 2013 Broncos also had their last one of the season in the Super Bowl loss.

The only Super Bowl winner with a legitimate three games of trailing by 17+ is the 2007 Giants, which might not surprise you. The 2011 Giants played high-scoring, close games, but the 2007 Giants got their ass kicked a few times. Funny how this is the second time we’re bringing them up as the hopeful comparison for a Brady team since his 2007 Patriots are responsible for those Giants’ spot in lore.

The 2006 Colts, 2016 Patriots, and 2019 Chiefs are the only teams to win a Super Bowl after trailing by 15+ points in the playoffs. That is true for all time and not just since 1994. You know which games…

Green Bay may very well be the next challenge for the winner of this game, but for this week, it comes back to the crowning achievement of New Orleans’ season to this point: sweeping Tampa Bay.

Third Time the Charm?

If anything, the Saints should be expected to pull off this sweep, and FiveThirtyEight actually has them at 71% to win with an Elo point spread of -6 instead of the game’s -3 spread.

Yet why do I have this terrible feeling that Brees will have to go out having one postseason (2009) in his career with multiple wins?

Oh yeah, it’s the playoffs, and the rationing of luck among Tom Brady and every other great quarterback of this generation feels like this:

I bitch about Brady getting multiple chances to lead one late scoring drive to win a game. Now he’s getting a third chance to beat the Saints one time, and it may come in the way that I have dreaded since the 2018 season.

Sean Payton, here’s your opportunity to hand Brady a playoff win after going to Taysom Hill with the game on the line. Please don’t use it.

Jokes aside, thirteen months ago, I wrote about the lack of luck Brees has had in his career, especially in comparison to Brady. I pointed out how just five plays in his career that had nothing to do with him could have drastically altered things to the point where he might be 5-0 in Super Bowls, with a few wins over Brady himself, and going for a sixth ring this year.

Instead, Brees is 9-8 in the playoffs, meeting Brady there for the first time, and it’s probably his last game ever if he loses it. Even with a win on Sunday, there will always be some disappointment there.

So what can change from the first two meetings? I watched them both live and the Saints were absolutely the better team. I was behind the argument that Week 1 wasn’t that telling with Brady making his Tampa Bay debut after no real offseason or preseason. Brees and the offense actually weren’t that great at all in that matchup either. He struggled to move the ball too, but Brady threw a pick-six and struggled after the opening drive.

Flash forward to Week 9. The Saints were grinding out close wins against so-so teams. The Buccaneers were a few weeks removed from 38-10. They just activated Antonio Brown, because god knows you have to give the GOAT four different 1,300-yard receivers to make this offense shine. I picked the Buccaneers to win that rematch, and I couldn’t have been any more wrong.

That 38-3 game was the most one-sided domination I watched this season. It was about as perfect a game as you can have on offense and defense. Brady wasn’t able to complete passes, he started throwing interceptions, the Saints were getting anything they wanted on offense. Only some mistakes by Jared Cook kept that from being 45-0 at halftime. Tampa had to kick a cheap field goal late to avoid the shutout. The Buccaneers set an NFL record with only five rushing attempts. It was incredible.

But now, what changes this week?

Brees had his rib injury start in the Tampa Bay game. He missed four games, but he’s about to make his fifth start in a row. He had that really rough start against the Chiefs before finding his way back later in the game. In the last three weeks, he’s pretty much back to where he was, leading an effective offense again that is finally healthy with Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders ready to play. The funny thing is with all those guys together, the Saints went to Deonte Harris for seven catches and 83 yards against the Bears on Sunday. Was that a way to not show their hand to Tampa Bay about what they might do with their normal offense in a third matchup this week? It was interesting and Harris looked good after doing almost nothing this season.

The Saints can score on this defense, but we know Todd Bowles loves to blitz. Brees faced his highest blitz count in the two Tampa games this year. He was sacked once in each game and hasn’t had a pressure rate above 23% in any game this season according to Pro Football Reference.

For Brady and the Bucs, can the Saints get to him again? They sacked him three times in both games and had a season-high 36.6% pressure rate in the 38-3 game. The Buccaneers usually protect well but have not done so against the Saints yet. Brady has also thrown five of his 12 interceptions this season against New Orleans.

While the argument of Week 1 rust didn’t work out for Tampa Bay last time, could the argument of Antonio Brown’s progress work this time? His first game was 38-3 and clearly it took some time for them to figure this offense out. Brown took Scotty Miller’s snaps after Miller started the season so well with making deep catches. Brown didn’t seem to click until he caught a touchdown bomb to beat the Falcons (of course) in Week 15. He has now scored in four straight games and looks more like the receiver we’re familiar with.

Brown’s impact could be huge if Mike Evans has his usual disappearing act in the Superdome. Evans has four games in his career with fewer than 10 receiving yards. Three of them are in New Orleans, including 2 yards in Week 1. He also had a 1-of-6 game with 13 yards in 2017. When you stack that many bad games against an opponent, it can’t just be a coincidence. This looks good for corner Marshon Lattimore, but he can only guard one guy. The Buccaneers still have Brown, Chris Godwin, Gronk, Miller, and even Cameron Brate reminded us he’s still there with 80 yards against Washington last week.

This offense just has too many weapons, and if they would ever play to their full potential, this team could go the distance. But they have to get over their biggest hump so far this year. Does Brees finally have a defense to rally around him and prevent his retirement before another ring? The Saints did not allow a 300-yard passer this season and are one of three defenses in 2020 (Rams and Steelers) to allow fewer than 275 net passing yards in all 17 games. That hasn’t been done since the 2006 Colts did not allow 250 net passing yards in a record all 20 of their games on their way to a Super Bowl win. Even though you can run on that team, which you usually can’t on these Saints, I am a bit shocked I only discovered this stat on January 15, 2021.

Nostalgia aside…

I hate to say it, but part of me expects Payton to do something really stupid in this game that gives Tampa Bay the edge. Don’t forget Bruce Arians is 32-26-1 (.551) in 4QC/GWD opportunities, so he’s had his own magic beans produce good luck over the years. Only Mike Vrabel (14-10) has a better record among active coaches.

If not Payton, could it be the refs again with the Saints in the playoffs? It blows my mind that the NFL tried one season of making pass interference reviewable, ditched it, but left nothing in place to prevent the same egregious, game-deciding call happen again at the end of a playoff game like that no-call in the 2018 NFC Championship Game. You don’t want to make PI challengeable? Fine. But at least make it subject to review by the replay system in the final two minutes of the game so we don’t see the same damn mistake again.

Not to make Saints fans more scared, but your defense now leads the league with 19 pass interference penalties this season. Tampa Bay set a record this year by being the beneficiary of 24 DPI flags. Do you see where this is going?

Do you believe my final score is legit or just another reverse jinx? I guess we’ll have to find out Sunday evening. Maybe even sooner, because if the Rams upset the Packers on Saturday, then you know which lucky bastard is going to the Super Bowl again. Bet accordingly.

Final: Buccaneers 28, Saints 24

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 17

It’s over. The NFL was able to complete the first – and hopefully last – pandemic regular season on Sunday. Is it asterisk worthy? There are definitely some fishy, eye-popping numbers in a season with historic offensive production, but more on that later this week. As for an asterisk, I guess we’ll see what kind of postseason we get as the virus continues to mutate and increase in spread. However, only a couple of the 256 games this season were a total sham, including a Ravens-Steelers game that might have had much larger implications if it was played at a later date like next week.

Then again, the league greatly weakened the No. 2 seed with the new playoff format, and home-field advantage has never meant less than it does right now.

I am nervous and excited as hell at the same time about where things are headed, which is the perfect summary of how I feel about 2021 in general. But before we move onto the playoffs, let’s recap how things finished around the eight divisions in Week 17.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

AFC South: King Henry Reigns Supreme

The best drama of the day came from the AFC South. Even though the Titans were not in any danger of missing the playoffs after Miami lost, the division title was still up for grabs as Deshaun Watson made the Titans work hard for a win while the Colts teased Jacksonville in a 28-14 final that was stuck on 20-14 for far too long. Seriously, the Colts were up 20-0 and almost blew this one to Mike Glennon. I’m a bit concerned about this team, but it’s not like I expect them to have a huge lead in Buffalo on Saturday. They are going to have to be sharper than the last two weeks. Just getting by a Jacksonville team that lost 15 straight is not going to impress anyone, but crashing the Buffalo parade early sure would.

So basically, the two good teams beat the two shitty teams with Derrick Henry (250 yards) and Jonathan Taylor (253 yards) running wild. Performances of 250 rushing yards are rare, but we had two on the same day from the same division. They are the 13th and 14th such games since 1950. The Titans are the first offense in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and a 150-yard receiver (A.J. Brown) in the same game. It was also a historic game in that Brandin Cooks had 166 receiving yards for Houston.

The big-time players showed up in this one, but it was Brown’s 52-yard catch that set up the game-winning field goal with no time left. That is how you get into game-winning field goal range in eight seconds. It was the most fitting way for the Titans to win the division in a season where Ryan Tannehill has led the most fourth-quarter comebacks (five) and game-winning drives (six) in the league.

Henry needed 223 rushing yards to get to 2,000 on the season and he got 250. This offense is absurdly great at times and I cannot wait to see this matchup with Baltimore, a playoff rematch from a year ago that this season definitely needs.

NFC East Total Landscaping Division Champions: The Team with No Name

We did not make history with a 6-10 division winner, but the NFC East sure did try its damnedest on Sunday to deliver.

First up was Dallas at the Giants, a team the Cowboys had a seven-game winning streak against and usually score 30+ points on. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton must have gotten the memo that this was a de facto playoff game that his team could not lose or they would be eliminated from the division race. In true January Andy Dalton fashion, he finished with no touchdown passes, a crucial interception in the final two minutes, and the Cowboys lost 23-19. Dalton was not protected well and took six sacks, including a big one two plays before his interception in the end zone. Wayne Gallman then fumbled for the Giants, but saved his ass by recovering it to run out the clock on Dallas’ season.

So Jason Garrett, the Giants’ offensive coordinator, gets the last laugh for 2020 as this was the game that sent the Cowboys home.

Over the last two seasons, Dallas is 0-16 when not scoring at least 30 points and 14-2 when scoring 30 or more points. There has never been a split like that in NFL history over multiple seasons. Teams who don’t score 30 points win about 36% of their games since 2019. The Cowboys’ 14 straight wins with at least 30 points in each is the longest such streak in NFL history. This team simply cannot win without scoring a lot of points.

Does that really change even if Dak Prescott is back healthy in 2021? No, more changes need to happen too. This roster does not work.

Alas, the Giants did not turn this win into a division title after the Washington Football Team was able to squeeze out a 20-14 stinker in Philadelphia on Sunday night. The second half, which only produced a Washington field goal on a 1-yard drive, was one of the worst halves of football I was subjected to all season. Doug Pederson basically threw in the towel by benching starter Jalen Hurts for backup Nate Sudfeld for the whole fourth quarter of a one-score game. It was shameless tanking. If he’s going to play a bad quarterback with no future in Philadelphia, he could have just started Carson Wentz.

Alex Smith had a lot of rough moments and was again carried by the defense to a victory and home playoff game next week. For as much as people like the courageous stories behind Ron Rivera’s cancer battle and Smith’s rehab, this team is one of the worst to watch play football this year. Now we have to see them host Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

Just the thought of a Washington-Tampa Bay game gives me PTSD to the 2005 NFC Wild Card matchup, which had to be one of the worst playoff games ever played. Mark Brunell got a win for Washington in a game where he completed 7-of-15 passes for 41 yards and an interception. I watched the game in freezing cold temperatures as the furnace gave out that weekend. The only thing that could have made the viewing experience worse was if Tom Brady was playing the game and the announcers were up his ass over it.

That awaits us Saturday night. At least I should have heat this time. But then again, if Brunell can win a playoff game doing that and Brady could lose one to Joe Flacco (2009 Ravens) where he threw for 34 yards and a pick, then anything is possible this week.

NFC South: Eat the Rich

In another case of the top of the division making short work of the bottom-feeders, the Saints and Buccaneers cruised to wire-to-wire victories over the Panthers and Falcons on Sunday. Not even losing Alvin Kamara and the running back room to COVID could stop the Saints from throwing in Ty Montgomery and getting 105 yards on the ground out of him in a 33-7 win, reportedly the final regular season game in Drew Brees’ stellar career. Brees finished with three more touchdown passes and enough completions (needed eight) to Emmanuel Sanders to earn the receiver a $500,000 bonus.

Tampa Bay showed even more gall in getting to milestone numbers for its loaded receiving corps, but that came at a price when Mike Evans dropped a touchdown and hyperextended his knee after hitting his benchmark. His status for the playoffs is uncertain but he appears to have dodged the worst of it. Evans is the first receiver in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving in his first seven seasons, but this was the first time he ever needed all 16 games to cross the mark.

You might think the Evans scare would knock some sense into them, but that didn’t stop Tom Brady and Antonio Brown from connecting three more times with the game well decided – up 44-27 at the 2:14 mark – just so the receiver could get a $250,000 bonus. It is the only time in the last 20 years where an offense started a drive pass-pass-pass with a three-score lead in the final four minutes.

Maybe the Buccaneers would have done better than a fifth seed in a weak conference had this connection been stronger against better opponents. As it stands, the Jets (two) have more wins against 2020 playoff teams than the Buccaneers (one).

Now Brady will start a playoff run on the road for the first time in his career, and he gets to do it in a crowd-less stadium for a nameless 7-9 Washington team that came out of the worst division since the merger.

Play us off, Rod…

AFC East: The Right Stuff

The Buffalo Bills (13-3) completed their best season since the Super Bowl years by going 6-0 against the AFC East and eliminating Miami from the playoffs in a 56-26 rout. Josh Allen and other starters could have rested the whole game, but they played a half and put up a commanding 28-6 lead before every other phase of the team stepped up with four more touchdowns in the second half.

We knew one of the five 10-5 teams in the AFC was going to be kept out of the playoffs, and Miami was the only underdog against the spread. Sure enough, the Bills got the dominant win and Miami’s season is over. It’s fitting really because Miami was the weakest contender of the five. The switch to Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback did not serve the Dolphins well enough this season, and I think this will cost Brian Flores the Coach of the Year award. Ryan Fitzpatrick was out this week with COVID, but maybe things would have gone differently had he remained the starter. Tua really struggled on Sunday with 58 pass attempts and three interceptions, even after Buffalo was playing backups.

The Bills are clearly in the best shape in this division. The Patriots pulled away from the Jets in the fourth quarter in a 28-14 win as Cam Newton had one of his few good passing games of the year. Is it his last game with the team? Pretty likely, and certainly it’s the last game for Adam Gase in New York. Now if only this team didn’t bother to beat the Rams and Browns, they would be 0-16 and have their choice of head coach and the attractive option of drafting Trevor Lawrence with the top pick. But the Jets are almost never on the right side of history.

NFC West: Goff Clap

Russell Wilson may have saved his best fourth-quarter comeback of 2020 for Week 17, rallying the Seahawks from a 10-point deficit to a 26-23 win against the 49ers, who were very competitive in the final weeks of the season. But go figure, another blown lead and close loss for the Kyle Shanahan era.

Meanwhile, the closest thing to a de facto playoff game between both teams was my expected shitshow between the Rams and Cardinals. It ended up being the eighth 18-7 final score in NFL history, which is a surprisingly high number to me. More surprising than the final was the leading passer for each team: Chris Streveler for the Cardinals and John Wolford for the Rams. When I saw that Streveler threw an early touchdown pass, my first thought was the Cardinals tried a fake field goal and a holder or random player threw the score. I never heard of this player in my life, and Wolford was another unknown to me coming into this one.

We knew coming in that Jared Goff was out with an injured thumb and Kyler Murray was banged up. Murray started and finished, but for a large chunk in between it was Streveler at quarterback. Go figure, the game’s only offensive touchdown was a 14-yard drive set up by Wolford’s interception. The Rams came back thanks to a safety and pick-six.

The quarterbacks in this game were so jacked up that even Boomer Esiason replaced Tony Romo in the booth for CBS due to COVID. Esiason seemed more impressed than anyone with Wolford’s play. I guess given the circumstances and lack of experience, he was okay? He led the team in rushing with 56 yards. He threw for 231 yards and only took two sacks. It was a more mobile Jared Goff-type performance on one of his basic bitch days. In the end, the Rams scored three field goals on 10 drives and were fortunate that the Cardinals were in worse offensive shape than they were. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t even play in what could have been his final game due to injury, and now the Cardinals (8-8) are out of the playoffs.

Sean McVay certainly owns the Cardinals, but we’ll see if he can find his success again with the Seahawks in a third meeting next week. After getting so much praise early in the season, this division really limped across the finish line to get two teams in the tournament.

AFC North: Browns vs. Big Brother

The Steelers-Browns game went about as I expected. Even though the Steelers were missing most of their best players, they weren’t just going to lay down and let Cleveland get a big win to make the playoffs and finish 11-5 for the first time since 1994. Mason Rudolph showed some of his usual lack of pocket awareness, but he converted several third downs and tested the Browns deep with success. Even after Pittsburgh fell behind 24-9 a play into the fourth quarter, Rudolph led two touchdown drives, but missed on the game-tying two-point conversion. The Browns got the one first down needed to run out the clock and secure the 24-22 win.

These teams will meet on Sunday night, meaning it will be the Steelers the Browns have to get past in the playoffs for the third straight postseason after losing to their hated rival in 1994 and 2002. I may end up having to write two previews for this game, so I’ll save my thoughts for later this week, but I like the prospects of the Steelers in that game with their starters back.

Then there is Baltimore, the scariest 11-5 team in the league with the best scoring differential (+165) in football again. How absurd were the Ravens against Cincinnati? They were up 38-3 going into the fourth quarter and basically called off the dogs, finishing with 404 rushing yards, the most in the NFL since the 2000 Bengals had 407 against Denver.

Baltimore could be the most fascinating story this postseason as a legit contender to win it all, or it could flame out again in the playoffs and to the Titans again.

NFC North: Bears Back In

The Chicago Bears had a chance to enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak with confidence if they could knock off the Packers and prove they haven’t just been scoring on bad teams lately.

They flopped again, going down in a 35-16 loss and only backing into the playoffs at 8-8 because of Arizona’s collapse. The 19 and 16-point losses to the Packers this year are Chicago’s worst margins of defeat in 2020. However, this one felt closer than last time despite the final score. The Bears were down 21-16 and 25 yards away from the end zone in the fourth quarter before failing on a 4th-and-1 pass. With nine minutes left, the Bears had their second dropped interception of the day thrown by Aaron Rodgers. More than five minutes later, the Packers were back in the end zone and then added a fifth touchdown after Chicago’s second turnover of the game.

Once again, the Chicago defense could not create splash plays against the Packers, allowing five touchdowns on seven drives. Meanwhile, the Chicago offense was 5-of-6 on fourth down, but that one miss in the fourth quarter hurt. Chicago actually played into Green Bay’s hands a bit with a game that featured very few big plays despite each team having a 50-yard pass play. Green Bay’s second-longest gain of the day was only 17 yards. The Bears only had two plays gain more than 14 yards. Chicago tried to dink and dunk with Trubisky on these long drives that also featured a lot of David Montgomery runs (3.1 YPC on 22 carries), which helped shrink the game, but it also led to too many fourth downs and not enough touchdowns. The Bears were 1-for-5 at scoring in the red zone.

I really hope the Bears do not end Drew Brees’ career in New Orleans next weekend, especially since it sets up another Bears-Packers game. We don’t need a third one of these. The Bears just do not have it against their hated rival, no matter what type of game they play against them.

In the Hollow Shootout of the Week, the Vikings took care of Detroit 37-35. The 2020 Lions allowed 519 points, the second-highest mark in NFL history between the 1981 Colts (533) and the 2008 Lions (517) of 0-16 fame.

Kirk Cousins was 0-22 as a starter in his career when his team allowed more than 30 points, but he has a win now. We’ll have to see if the final snap of Matthew Stafford’s Detroit career is an inaccurate miss on a game-tying two-point conversion attempt before his defense failed to get the ball back one more time.

AFC West: Boo-Urns

The least eventful division on Sunday was the AFC West with the Broncos and Raiders having an old-fashioned shootout that was ultimately meaningless. The fact that Denver had field goals of 70 and 63 yards (to win the game) blocked might tell you all you need to know about that one, a 32-31 comeback win by the Raiders to finish 8-8.

Then there’s the Chargers-Chiefs finale, won 38-21 by the Chargers. This one personally ruined my Sunday, and it’s not just because we didn’t get to see Patrick Mahomes or any of the interesting players on the Chiefs play. It’s because I put way too much trust in the Chargers to fill out their BINGO card with a performance that shouldn’t have blown away the Chiefs even if they were playing heavy backups. I lost quite the potential winnings on this game.

I was worried this meaningless game for the Chiefs would end all of their best streaks, but it only ended up taking out the record one of 60 straight games without losing by more than eight points. I guess we’ll have to put that one in the context of Mahomes from now on.

By resting, Mahomes missed out on leading the league in passing yards, joining Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks with multiple seasons of 5,000 yards/40 TD passes, and becoming the first quarterback to win 18 games and a championship in the same season. Achieving that in a 17 or 18-game regular season wouldn’t be as impressive, as this was the end of the 16-game era. The 2020 Chiefs should still have the record for most yards per drive at over 43.

Alas, the rest is for the postseason where the Chiefs have their ultimate goal still in front of them. It is just a bit of a bummer to see a throwaway game like this one. It was not a good showing by the Chiefs, and neither was the 17-14 escape win over the Falcons last week. Now they will go on a bye while these other AFC teams are in playoff mode for a few weeks now and competing this weekend in the wild card.

If the Steelers take care of the Browns and the Bills take care of the Colts, the Chiefs could have to start this title defense with a Tennessee or Baltimore team looking to punch them in the mouth and avenge past losses. That is a tough, physical draw after weeks off. I know Mahomes is different and Andy Reid has the great bye success, but these playoffs are guaranteed to be a bigger challenge than a year ago when the Chiefs still had to rally from double-digit deficits in all three playoff games.

My Preseason Predictions

Finally, something I am always quick to recap is seeing how my preseason predictions for team final records fared. I knew this would be a challenging season with COVID, a lot of quarterback movement, and the lack of a real offseason. My pick of Dallas making the Super Bowl in the NFC certainly did not pan out, and that was probably going to be the case even if Dak Prescott stayed healthy. However, I’m still on track for the Chiefs repeating, but let’s see how I did with all 32 teams.

As it turns out, this was my worst year of predicting since 2013, but not by much. I was off by an average of 2.78 wins. I have had some years before where I was off by 2.75 wins. A good year is 2.1 or 2.2. The 2019 season was one where I was only off by 2.16 wins. At least I was not off by more than six games for anyone this time.

I did not foresee Miami and Cleveland having this much success this season, which is why I think Kevin Stefanski should win the Coach of the Year award. I also obviously was disappointed by the Vikings and Texans in addition to the Cowboys. Even just those four very winnable division games the Texans had against the Colts and Titans could have made a huge difference for my predictions (2.78 down to 2.53).

But we’ll get into the close game summary of 2020 very soon. That is where teams like Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia flopped the hardest. Also, at least I can say I nailed Tampa Bay’s record. Now if only I could nail their postseason prediction later this week, but that is also to come.

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards and WTF, AB?

Normally I would start this by making my predictions for individual awards this season, but Saturday blew that up with some unsettling news that likely would have changed my season predictions on Thursday had it happened sooner.

WTF, AB?

Antonio Brown has a third team this calendar year after getting released by Oakland and signed very quickly by the Patriots on Saturday. I know Mike Tomlin believes the standard is the standard, but why does it feel like 31 teams continue to uphold the standard that the Patriots are brilliant because everyone else is so dumb?

It’s not that I want to be a conspiracy theorist, but something reeks here and I’m far from the only one smelling it. Tampering might be putting it lightly. I’ve seen conspiracies tracing as far back as the end of last season that Brown finessed his way out of Pittsburgh to get to his true destination of New England, but I don’t buy that. However, the Venn diagram of people who think Colin Kaepernick isn’t blackballed by the NFL and people who think New England only got in touch with AB late Saturday afternoon is a perfect circle.

There’s no way something shady didn’t happen here, and 31 teams should be pissed about that. “The Patriot Way” is really just BS media code for “Doing anything they can to win at all costs, even if it includes flat-out cheating.”

The Steelers were never going to trade AB to New England, their main nemesis in the AFC. There was talk in March of a trade to Buffalo, another team that would never trade AB to NE in the same division, but that reportedly never got close and AB didn’t want to go there.

So Oakland became the perfect patsy for AB to exploit this summer. First it was the frostbitten foot in cryotherapy. The Raiders supported him as he missed time for that. Then came the helmet story where he threatened to retire if he couldn’t play in his old helmet. The team supported that when AB filed his grievance with the league, which failed. He was a major distraction in August, even getting an ultimatum at one point from GM Mike Mayock that he’s either with the team or he’s out. AB was in, but things only got dicier this week when after posting a letter of a team fine, Brown reportedly called Mayock a “cracker” and swore at him before Vontaze Burfict had to hold him back. Even after Crackergate the team stood by him and Jon Gruden said AB will play Monday night. That didn’t stop AB from posting a well-crafted video on Friday night that included a recorded phone conversation with Gruden. A larger fine came that would void AB’s nearly $30 million in guaranteed money. So by Saturday, AB asked for his release and the Raiders had enough of this shit and granted it. For some reason AB had a camera crew recording the moment he got his release as well. Nope, nothing fishy there. A few hours later he was signed by the Patriots on a one-year deal worth up to $15 million. Somehow this was expected by everyone in the free world except the other 29 NFL teams. AB had plenty of Pro-Patriot social media posts ready for that occasion as well. Again, totally normal day.

When Robert Kraft is the owner and Drew Rosenhaus is the player agent, that’s a lot of slime involved. I’d suggest they could have done a deal under the table, but we know Kraft likes to operate above the table. AB has been acting up for a couple of years in Pittsburgh, though nothing to the level of the last month in Oakland. Should he suddenly clean up his act on social media and become a good foot soldier for Belichick, the whole thing will reek of a storyline only Vince McMahon could cook up in his prime.

Pat McAfee summed it up well in case you missed it:

So on the eve of the first Sunday of the season, the Patriots go from Super Bowl favorite to…stronger Super Bowl favorite? What, is Gronk going to come out of retirement after Thanksgiving to chase a 19-0 season now? The pathetic division wasn’t enough. The soft schedule that features their toughest games at home wasn’t enough. Now they get to add one of the most talented receivers in the world to an offense that already has one of those (Josh Gordon), plus the uncoverable slot machine who was MVP of the Super Bowl (Julian Edelman).

Frankly, Saturday lowered my interest in the season and in a league where one team always seems to pants everyone else. The only saving grace is that Brown and Gordon aren’t the most reliable guys in the league, Brady is 42, and it is a long season. It’s not like star wideouts are winning championships left and right this decade. AB is more likely to be 2012 Brandon Lloyd than 2007 Randy Moss for this offense. It’s not like Brady’s arm is what it was 12 years ago, nor are the go routes ever his thing. But the potential of it all is scary if he and Gordon stay on the right path.

But in AB’s case, it’s a path that almost certainly took some turns through shady places to get him from Pittsburgh to New England.

c3ae1d06-a27f-4432-951b-3e6c0241fd50_screenshot

NFL 2019 Awards Predictions

As I said the other day I was going to go all in on the Colts for some of these picks, including Andrew Luck as MVP/OPOY and Frank Reich for COY. But that sure blew up in a hurry.

  • Most Valuable Player: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • Coach of the Year: Freddie Kitchens, Browns
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Keith Butler, Steelers
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Julio Jones, Falcons
  • Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Devin Singletary, Bills
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Allen, Jaguars
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Jets

I want to explain a few of these.

MVP: Mahomes is at a disadvantage in that 2018 was so amazing for him it’ll be hard to repeat or improve on those numbers. MVPs have been won in clusters before, though usually the stronger stat year comes second. Think Peyton twice (2004>2003, 2009>2008) as the last two times it’s happened. However, I just think the kid is so talented and off to this amazing start that he can turn in another unbelievable season in that offense. I also just don’t care for the alternatives with the ages of Brady and Brees, and Carson Wentz is one of the favorites but I just have never seen the MVP-caliber performance from him before. I think Mahomes will have the lack of a defense on his side again as the Chiefs look to get another first-round bye. I’m very excited to see how he plays this season because it’s hard to say he’s yet to have a bad game thru 19 starts.

OPOY: As for why I didn’t pick Mahomes for OPOY too, I tend to split this award to someone who was more stat special at a skill position unless it was an all-time great QB season. So my gut says Julio Jones kills this noise about who is the best wideout in the NFL (OBJ and AB switching teams) and finally has a big TD season. Regression for Calvin Ridley in TDs and more to Julio to go with his usual outstanding yardage. I also have the Falcons back in the playoffs so let me feed that narrative too.

COY: I’ve seen people complaining about this award since Bill Belichick hasn’t won it since 2010, but what year did he really have a better argument than the winner? The only I arrived on was 2016 (Jason Garrett, Cowboys), but I also forgot that they only lost to the Giants before resting starters in Week 17’s loss. Getting Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott was a monster draft for them, but Prescott had to replace an injured Tony Romo in the preseason. So even that wasn’t an overwhelming argument for Belichick.

Anyways, for 2019 I wanted to pick someone who has to bring a team from nowhere to the playoffs, and the only coaches I have in my predictions doing that in their first try are Freddie Kitchens and Matt LaFleur. I was going to pick LaFleur here, and that’s not reactionary to Thursday night when I had picked GB to win the division (and that road opener), but I also saw the defense win the game so I’m not ready to go off on his offensive wizardry. Kitchens has the talent in Cleveland to win 10 games like I predicted, so if he can get the Browns back to the playoffs, I think that’s a pretty good argument for Coach of the Year. I also think if Frank Reich gets the Colts to 9-7 without Andrew Luck, he’ll win it, but I’m sticking with my season predictions (Colts 7-9) and going with Kitchens.

DPOY: No one has won this award four times in their career. I get that picking J.J. Watt to do that sounds unlikely, but is him getting a fourth really that more unlikely than Aaron Donald winning it for a third straight year? My thought is the Texans could again have a better overall defense than the Rams and Watt will get more recognition since the team traded away Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle late in the process. He really has to be great like he was last year when he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. Watt can still play at a high level and a defensive back hasn’t won this award since 2010. It’s skewed towards the linemen.

DROY: Finally, I expect a lot of early Sunday afternoon confusion on Twitter this year when Buffalo and Jacksonville are playing, which means a double dose of Josh Allen. There’s the second-year QB in Buffalo and now there’s a rookie defender in Jacksonville. We might need to agree on nicknames to differentiate the two. I’m thinking maybe Good Josh Allen and JAG Allen could work, though JAG Allen might confuse if the Jacksonville player becomes the good one (seems more likely) and people use it for the rookie instead of the Just Another Guy scrambler in Buffalo.

I’ve thought about this too much already, so let’s close with some picks.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

It was a good start on Thursday night after I had the Packers winning outright in Chicago, but man did that game suck. I’m looking forward to PIT-NE, LAR-CAR, KC-JAX and HOU-NO the most this week. More than anything, just show me some good offense again. The Super Bowl and GB-CHI were just miserable games to watch and I was happy when both ended.

2019Wk1

NFL Week 2 Predictions: TD-or-Bust Drives

I didn’t write about it here last week, but I was mentioning on Twitter before the game how Russell Wilson still hasn’t thrown more than 37 passes in a game in the NFL. I believe the last time I wrote about it on here he had 37 the next day in Philadelphia before stopping. Wouldn’t you know on Sunday in St. Louis Wilson hit 41 attempts, albeit in overtime. So that streak is over in his 49th regular-season game.

A lot of times I’ll post a table about a streak and see it broken the next game or sometime soon after. Following Week 1 last year, I showed that the Seahawks had a record 31 consecutive games with a lead in the 4th QT or overtime. In their very next game in San Diego that streak ended with San Diego’s 30-21 win. Are these just strange coincidences or do I have some special kind of jinx power? The answer is really neither, but it’s usually not by accident either. I find a lot of obscure streaks that are records, which means no one else has ever done it before. So if you’re doing something that’s never been done before, it’s very difficult to sustain that. Records are meant to be hard to obtain. So when I keep mentioning Seattle’s NFL record 70-game streak of being at least within one score in the 4th quarter, don’t be surprised if that streak-ending blowout loss is just around the corner.

Last week I highlighted Antonio Brown’s receiving streaks. Odell Beckham’s 9 games with 90+ yards came to a crashing end. Hopefully with Brown on several of my DFS rosters, his streak-stopping day won’t come against the 49ers.

TD-or-Bust Drives

We already had a great start to Week 2 with one of the craziest finishes in NFL history when Jamaal Charles lost a fumble for a game-deciding touchdown in the final minute. I already wrote a 3,000-word recap of the game on Friday, so please check that out.

In that article I mentioned Peyton Manning has had 25 opportunities to start a drive in the final 3:00 of the fourth quarter, down 4-8 points and absolutely needing a touchdown. I just couldn’t let Phil Simms get away with saying Manning’s been in that situation hundreds of times. It’s rare and the number is 25. I showed all 25 of those drives in the article and found that Manning threw an interception of eight of his first nine attempts, all under Jim Mora in 1998-2001 when he was still feeling his oats. When Manning took his game to a new level in 2003 you saw the success start to pile up and he led a total of 8 touchdown drives in this situation. He’s been money in recent years, but how does this compare to his peers? I used Pro-Football-Reference to quickly gather that data, so it’s possible some drives are being omitted due to some timing differences with the kickoff. Example: PFR might say a drive started at 3:03, but it actually started at 2:58 in my data because of the five seconds spent on the kickoff. I base things on when the offense took the field to start the drive. With that said, here are the results for some key active QBs:

Drive3

Thursday night’s success pushes Manning ahead of the pack in TD%, but he also has the highest INT%. Again, all but one of those picks happened in his first four seasons (5 as a rookie in 1998 alone). We also see the Manning brothers had the most average time left while Aaron Rodgers got the short end of the stick there. I’m surprised Roethlisberger is that low, but a lot of his great touchdown drives came in 3-point games (SB 43) or just outside of the 3:00 mark (2008 Ravens). By the way, Tony Romo’s drive last Sunday night is included here so we’ve already seen a couple of great ones this season.

Take away from this what you will, but what I want to highlight is that drives like the one Manning had on Thursday night against the Chiefs are rare and shouldn’t be taken for granted. That’s the kind of moment you remember for years as a fan, whether you were on the winning side or the losing side. NFL Network still airs that 1994 game where Joe Montana threw a late TD to beat John Elway’s Broncos on Monday Night Football. Twenty years from now you might see this game replayed too.

2015 Week 2 Predictions

The quest for one perfect week of picks continues as I’m already 0-1 after picking a team with Alex Smith to beat a team with Peyton Manning starting. Silly me.

Winners in bold

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

The 49ers are still a pretty talented team, but I don’t think they’ll take advantage of the poor pass defense the way you should when playing the Steelers right now. Pittsburgh’s offense pushes them ahead to a home win.

If the Saints lose at home to Tampa Bay, I seriously may not pick that team in another game until 2016. I’ve had it.

The Titans shouldn’t blow a 25-point to Cleveland this year. I’m interested to see Johnny Manziel start, but I expect this offense to continue struggling. Ken Whisenhunt and Dick LeBeau have a lot of experience at beating the Browns. Mariota won’t have to throw too much again.

After having no running game on Monday night and playing Dallas this week, DeMarco Murray is someone I expect to have a huge Week 2. The only thing that might stop him is Chip Kelly’s rotation of the three backs, because that’s a very difficult thing to manage with the talent you get from Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews. But I expect Murray to get most of the touches this week. Eagles clean up some things defensively and no Dez Bryant is a big blow to Dallas.

The Jets are a sneaky-tough opponent for the Colts at home, but I think Indy finds a way to win that one at home. Or for Ryan Fitzpatrick to lose it. Either way.

Seahawks at Packers is indeed the big one on SNF. This time it won’t be in Seattle and Kam Chancellor won’t be playing, but neither will Jordy Nelson (and Bryan Bulaga). This is Aaron Rodgers’ best shot to have a good game against this defense, and I think this could be the week Davante Adams actually shines like he was so hyped to do. Remember, he was supposed to be the x-factor in the NFC Championship Game. He caught one ball for 7 yards. With James Jones coming on last week and Randall Cobb always a threat, Adams could have some favorable matchups against a secondary that just isn’t as deep with all the injuries (Jeremy Lane) and holdouts going on this year. This game can basically decide who gets the No. 1 seed in the NFC and it’s only Week 2. Still, I can’t fathom Seattle starting 0-2. I think Marshawn Lynch is a huge part of the gameplan — no 41 throws this week — and the Seahawks grind out a close one.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6

NFL Week 1 Predictions: At Least Try Covering the Best Receivers

Maybe next year I’ll remember to include this part at the end of my season predictions.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Andrew Luck
  • OPOY: Andrew Luck
  • DPOY: J.J. Watt
  • Coach: Chip Kelly
  • OROY: Amari Cooper
  • DROY: Vic Beasley
  • Comeback: Sam Bradford

I guess that completes the jinx for Indy (top seed, MVP, SB team) I bestowed upon the 2014 Saints a year ago. At least Rob Ryan isn’t in Indianapolis (or T-Rich).

Antonio Brown and Historic Receiving Streaks

Whether it’s real football or fantasy, the wide receivers have been stealing the show lately. 2014 was the greatest rookie class of WR’s ever, as it seems to be one of the few positions colleges are developing these days. A.J. Green is the latest in a line of wideouts to sign a huge contract. He deserves every penny for having to deal with Andy Dalton’s inaccurate throws.

With one game in the books for 2015, we saw more greatness from two members of the 2010 draft: TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown. Gronk might already be a HOF lock if he retired today. He’s just that dominant with 58 TD in 68 games. The 2015 Steelers are just that stupid to leave him so frequently open as they did on Thursday night. That game was also proof that you don’t need a 41-38 final to be an offensively-dominated game. Those defenses were both lost. In the rare event they were in position someone usually just made a play anyway. That someone was usually Brown, who continued his unmatched streak of consistency. Just how consistent has Brown been? I dug into the regular-season streaks since 1960 at PFR.

ABrownHist

Not only does Brown continue to have 5+ catches and 50+ yards in 33 games, but he recently set the record for consecutive 80-yard games at 11. He’s still on record streaks for 60+ and 70+ yards as well. We see Calvin Johnson’s recent dominance, Josh Gordon’s incredible 2013 feats and Odell Beckham Jr. has a shot to set a new mark for 90-yard games with a 10th on Sunday night.

How about receptions?

MostREC

No one has ever had consecutive games with 13+ receptions, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen soon.

Unique Quarterback Debuts

Tyrod Taylor will start his first game in his fifth season in the NFL. That’s pretty rare. The only relevant QB I can think of who did not start a game until his fifth season was Jeff Hostetler with the Giants. That also might be the best-case scenario for Taylor’s career prospects, because late-blooming quarterbacks are almost unheard of.

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the first two picks in the draft, will start their first game against each other. Think the NFL had a good hunch on how the draft would turn out to schedule that one? Otherwise it’s pretty hard to hype up these two franchises. I believe this is the first game in the modern era (since 1950) where two rookie quarterbacks started against each other in Week 1. Forget the top two pick part, I’m talking about any rookie QB.

I’d write some more but I’m really tapped out at this point and just want to see some 2015 action.

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I had the Patriots beating the Steelers ever since I knew this was going to be a game in New England. I slightly hesitated when it didn’t look like Tom Brady was going to start, but all along I figured the Steelers would start 0-1. They played closer than I expected at least.

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

I was getting worried when I kept picking road team after road team, but it evens out to 8-8 in the end. Hopefully I’ll finish better than 8-8 after no losing weeks in 2014. My only .500 weeks in 2014 were Week 1 and the Divisional round.

The Rams won’t get their special teams advantage this time over the Seahawks, though I think it can be a close one. I like the Colts to pull out an ugly one in Buffalo, because you still have to score a decent number of points to down that team. The Bills aren’t the type of team the Colts usually lose to. Maybe I’m drinking some Hard Knocks kool-aid, but I like the Texans to get a minor upset at home with Bill O’Brien helping to make Brian Hoyer look competent. I think Mariota outplays Winston, but the run game and a late turnover gives Tampa a close win. It’s important for Peyton Manning to get off to a quick start in Gary Kubiak’s offense. How they look in this game will weigh heavily in how I project the Thursday game in Kansas City. Finally, I can’t wait to see Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray in this Chip Kelly offense. That could be a very entertaining game in Atlanta.

Seattle Seahawks and Terrell Owens: Age More than a Number

While I’m excited to see young receivers like A.J. Green and Antonio Brown take the field this year, those old diva receivers have been hogging up the headlines again. If Randy Moss in San Francisco and Chad Johnson in Miami weren’t enough, Terrell Owens signed with the Seattle Seahawks.

Good move? Of course not. While Pete Carroll is juggling a three-man QB circus, I guess he wanted a ringmaster to steal the show. If signings of Braylon Edwards and Antonio Bryant (was Joey Galloway not interested?) weren’t enough to show that Pete’s not sure what he’s building for a pass offense, they bring big mouth back to the NFC West.

Owens didn’t play in the NFL in 2011, and he is 38 years old. He turns 39 on December 7.

While T.O. is an athletic freak, reportedly running under 4.5 in the 40, the fact is he has been declining ever since 2008. He will put up numbers, but only if you force enough balls to him.

He will no longer break many big plays after the catch, and he is down to catching just over half of his targets.

Just making the team at his age and year off would be impressive, so putting any real expectations on him would be silly. Very few receivers dominate this age. You basically have to be Jerry Rice.

Someone on Twitter predicted over 600 yards. As receivers age, that type of production just gets more rare to the point where you’re left with Rice’s old-man dominance, a few Charlie Joiner seasons, and yes, Owens’ had good years at ages 36 (2009) and 37 (2010).

With Pro-Football-Reference’s play index, we can find these stats quickly. At age 38+, only 17 players in NFL history even have one reception, and that includes five quarterbacks and two kickers on trick or broken plays.

That leaves just 8 WRs and two RBs as the only 10 skill players with a reception at age 38+.

Move it to age 39, which Owens will be, and you’re talking about 268 catches by Rice, 34 by Joiner, 12 by Galloway, 5 by FB Tony Richardson, and that’s it for skill guys.

Terrell Owens may have a Rice/Joiner season left in him, though it’s going to come at the sacrifice of a lot of attempts, a lot of incompletions, and probably some headaches and tantrums.

Why bother?