NFL Stat Oddity: Week 10

The 2020 NFL season has its signature play now. “The Hail Murray” may be a bit on the nose, but it’s a great way to describe the amazing job Kyler Murray did to get a pass off to DeAndre Hopkins that he managed to catch over three defenders for a 43-yard touchdown to beat the Bills with two seconds left.

I’ll cover that play and more from a week that felt closer than it was. Margins were fairly tight, but there were actually as many fourth-quarter lead changes in the final 39 seconds of Bills-Cardinals as there were in the rest of Week 10 combined.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Double-digit Comebacks Continue

For the 10th week in a row, we had at least two games won after a team trailed by double digits. This time it was New Orleans climbing out an early 10-0 hole against San Francisco and the aforementioned classic between the Bills and Cardinals saw Buffalo blow a 23-9 lead in the second half.

That is 31 with the home stretch still to come. We are not in record territory yet, but any season over 40 would be right up there.

The Hail Murray: Bills at Cardinals

Well that was an exciting display between two of the NFL’s youngest and most athletic quarterbacks, Kyler Murray and Josh Allen. Neither had a traditionally great passing day, but Allen caught a 12-yard touchdown to start the game for Buffalo, and Murray scampered around for another 61 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. Murray is up to 10 rushing touchdowns this season while Cam Newton has nine for New England. Newton still holds the single-season record for quarterbacks with 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011, but Murray could top that unless Newton breaks his own record first.

This 32-30 win by Arizona was also a showcase for how adding a great wide receiver can change an offense. It does not always work out (see: Antonio Brown in Oakland/New England, Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland), but there is no denying that Stefon Diggs (Bills) and DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals) have connected with their young quarterbacks in a way that has these teams feeling like contenders this year because of their ability to score.

Diggs caught a 21-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left that looked to be the game winner, but as we see more each year, offenses can answer in quick time. The Cardinals luckily had two timeouts left as well, but driving 75 yards was never going to be easy. They didn’t make it look easy either with Murray holding onto the ball long and having to create, but one throw from midfield decided the game after Hopkins managed to come down with this ball:

How rare is it to see a team take over in the final 35 seconds and drive for a game-winning touchdown? This is only the 10th time it has happened since 1981. There were two other occasions where a team tied a game with a touchdown and won in overtime.

Most of these should ring a bell, and the Cardinals are actually the first team to win twice this way in the last 40 years. These are the kind of plays fans will always remember, and for Hopkins, it becomes the signature play of his career.

Now we’ll just see if Arizona (6-3) has any more special moments this season.

Ravens Wash Out, But Lamar Didn’t Melt Away

Baltimore had a surprising 23-17 loss in New England on Sunday night. Normally, losing in that building would be expected, but the Ravens were a touchdown favorite against a Patriots team lacking in talent. However, the Patriots played a strong first half, took a 13-10 lead into the locker room, expanded it to 20-10, and never looked back. The loss ends Baltimore’s regular-season record streak of 31 straight games scoring at least 20 points, the first time they failed to do so in Lamar Jackson’s career.

I have written plenty this season about Jackson’s front-running tendencies. He is now 0-6 when trailing by at least 9 points in the second half, and the Ravens haven’t actually won a game after trailing by multiple scores at any time in the game since early in 2016 against Cleveland, two years before Jackson was drafted.

Fortunately, we are still talking about six games. Aaron Rodgers infamously started his career 0-26 when trailing by two scores in the second half.

Jackson has a long way to go to catch up to that mark, but in a league where Patrick Mahomes is a respectable 3-6 and the rival Steelers are 2-0 this season alone in the same situation, that comes off as something to be bothered by.

However, the good news is Jackson was not the issue this night. He passed for 249 yards, something he hasn’t done since Week 1, in a game with pouring rain that was at its worst when he had the ball in the final minute. That would have been an amazing game-winning drive, but it only moved 4 yards.

The wet conditions wreaked some havoc with the Ravens’ offense. There were dropped passes and bad snaps. More notable than the final drive was the penultimate drive. A bad snap with 6:01 to play turned a new set of downs into a 2nd-and-26, a tough spot for anyone in this league.

The vaunted Baltimore rushing attack? It only contributed 17 carries for 60 yards despite the return of Mark Ingram to the backfield. That’s not good enough in the rain where Jackson led the team with 55 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Damien Harris rushed for 121 yards for the Patriots, who only needed 118 passing yards from Cam Newton to get the win. The Patriots also had a trick play with wideout Jakobi Meyers throwing a 24-yard touchdown in the first half.

The Patriots (4-5) are still in 10th place in the AFC, sitting behind a logjam of six teams with 6-3 records, not to mention the division-leading Bills at 7-3. Go figure, Tom Brady bounced the year before the AFC had arguably the strongest opening 10 weeks to a season since the merger:

Speaking of Brady, here are some interesting numbers:

  • Tom Brady finished 4-5 in his last 9 starts with the Patriots (11 total touchdowns)
  • Cam Newton is 4-4 in his first 8 starts with the Patriots (12 total touchdowns)

Sure, we can laugh at Newton for only having three touchdown passes this year, but he has already rushed for nine scores. Those still count for six points too. We can also enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing New England struggle to win games, but the fact is this has been going on there ever since the Ravens took it to them on Sunday Night Football a year ago. If Newton can beat the struggling Texans next week, he’ll have a better record in nine games than Brady had in his last nine here, and the talent supply has clearly depleted in New England.

So, the hole may be too big for the Patriots to climb out of to make the playoffs, but if this big win triggers a run to a No. 7 seed, then things could get very interesting for that opponent. It could even be the Chiefs, who were in a close game with the Patriots earlier this year without Newton available.

Bucs, Rams Set for Week 11 Showdown

When Tampa Bay isn’t playing New Orleans this year, you could argue this is the best team in the NFC. The Buccaneers completed a season sweep of Carolina with a 46-23 victory that did get a little inflated with short fields in the second half, but this was one of the most dominant games of the season after the Buccaneers were thoroughly dominated by New Orleans a week ago.

Tampa Bay outgained Carolina 544-187, a difference of 357 yards. That is the third-largest difference in a game since 2015, only topped by 2019 Ravens-Dolphins (+443) and 2015 Broncos-Packers (+360). That’s very good company; Denver won the Super Bowl and Baltimore was the No. 1 seed last year.

But sweeping the 2020 Panthers isn’t exactly adding to an impressive resume for the Buccaneers (7-3), still living off that season highlight of demolishing Green Bay 38-10 in Week 6. Fortunately, the schedule makers have come through. Next Monday night, the Bucs will host the Rams and a week later it’s Mahomes and the Chiefs. We’ll learn so much more about where these teams stand after those games.

The Rams got to 6-3 with their biggest win of the season, knocking the Seahawks down a peg, 23-16. Sean McVay is now 5-2 against the Seahawks, and Russell Wilson turned the ball over three times as Seattle scored a season-low 16 points. It’s a little disappointing the Rams didn’t score more and lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a torn MCL, but the defense was impressive against a non-NFC East or Bears offense for a change.

You never know what you’re going to get from the Rams these days, but a good showing in Tampa, combined with the uncertainty over Drew Brees’ ribs in New Orleans, could lead to more guesswork on how the NFC will play out this season.

Any one of the Buccaneers, Rams, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals could be capable of going on a run to the Super Bowl this season.

Undefeated Update: Steelers Cruise to 9-0

It was about time the Steelers played a game that did not come down to the final snap. Pittsburgh built a 22-7 halftime lead, did not surrender another touchdown, and Ben Roethlisberger finished with 333 yards and four touchdown passes. Pittsburgh did everything well except for run the football. The Cincinnati rushing offense looks strong on paper (21 carries, 139 yards), but 88 of those yards came in the fourth quarter after they were down 36-7, including a 39-yard fake punt, so judge that according to its worth (hint: it’s nothing).

The 2020 Steelers are the 12th team in NFL history to score at least 24 points in each of their first nine games.

The offense continues to produce, but the defense did something notable in this game too. The Bengals finished 0-for-13 on third down, only the eighth time since 1991 that has happened. It’s the first time since the record holder happened: the Ryan Lindley-led Cardinals were 0-for-15 on third down against the Jets in 2012 in a game that threatened to set offense back decades. The 2009 Jets also held Tampa Bay to 0-for-14 on third down. The other six games were all 0-for-13.

The time will likely come soon enough when the Bengals enter this rivalry with the better quarterback in Joe Burrow, but on Sunday, the rookie was no match for what Roethlisberger and this young cast of receivers have been doing this season.

As a bonus, thanks to the comfortable Pittsburgh win, I was able to flip over to the full ending of Bills-Cardinals, the finish of the year so far.

NFL Week 10 Predictions: 2020 Has Lost Home-field Advantage Too

This NFL season was always going to be different with empty stadiums or barely-filled stadiums due to COVID-19. We have still seen record levels of scoring and offense, but what is the impact of a lack of a crowd on home-field advantage?

In the NFL, the home team usually wins 57-58% of the time. This is built into the Vegas point spreads too, giving a team about 3 points just for being at home. But when you think about this year, it doesn’t seem like it has mattered much with offenses converting on third down at historic rates and referees not doing much to call offensive holding or offensive pass interference. If referee bias– caving to the noisy crowd to make impactful calls — doesn’t exist because of the pandemic, then home-field advantage isn’t even worth a field goal anymore.

When the Chiefs traveled to Baltimore for a huge game in Week 3, it ended up being more lopsided than the two meetings Kansas City won in Arrowhead the last two seasons. When the Saints traveled to Tampa Bay last Sunday night, the 38-3 massacre was the biggest rout of Tom Brady’s 21-year career. But maybe those are just matchups where one team owns the other.

Here are the numbers through Week 9 for the home team’s winning percentage. 2020 is included without the first game from Week 10, the latest example of no home-field advantage with the Colts wiping out the Titans 34-17 on Thursday night. It was Indianapolis’ most complete game of the season.

For the first time in the last 20 years, the home team has a losing record through Week 9 (65-67-1).

However, that’s not the most interesting development. It appears home-field advantage has been trending downwards for a couple of years now, or before the pandemic started. The 2017 season was the lowest from 2001-2017 at 53.0%. Then we had that 2018 season go high up to 59.7%, a season with a lot of good teams playing high-scoring games with the home team usually winning — another reason that 13-3 Super Bowl was a horrible way to end 2018. Then it dropped to 50.7% in 2019, which was the lowest start to a season since 2001 before this year.

There is no guarantee we see regression the rest of the year. In 2019, home teams finished by winning 51.8% of games, the lowest since 1972 (50.8%), and down from 60.2% in 2018 and 56.6% in 2017.

So that means 2020 could be the first season since the 1970 NFL merger where home teams have a losing record in the regular season. We still have almost half the season to complete, and that’s assuming things won’t be derailed by COVID-19, which is surging near 200,000 cases a day now. Positive tests in the NFL are up too. In fact, you could even see instances of a road team traveling, getting COVID, then having to sit players for a home game the following week, possibly hurting their performance in that game. It’s just another thing to keep an eye on this season.

Week 10 Home Splits

I don’t have a lot to say about the Week 10 slate, but there are two games that catch my attention in regards to home-road splits in division games.

One of my favorite stats: Ben Roethlisberger is 67-4 as a home starter when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses are to the Bengals. These were all games in the 2009-2015 era, but Roethlisberger has a fascinating home/road split against the Bengals in his career.

He ‘s owned the Bengals in Cincinnati, but at home has barely thrown more touchdowns than interceptions and suffered those aforementioned low-scoring losses that are so out of the ordinary for his career. Now the Bengals aren’t a good defense this year and the secondary should be very thin tomorrow, but we’ll see how Roethlisberger does after the knee injuries and lack of practice from being on the COVID list. It’s a game where you could see an upset from a competitive Joe Burrow, or because the NFL is often illogical, Roethlisberger might throw four touchdowns in an easy win for the undefeated Steelers.

We also have Russell Wilson taking on the Rams in a big game for Seattle this week. Wilson is 7-9 against the Rams and has been sacked 61 times in those games. He’s never taken more than 51 sacks in any of his 16-game regular seasons to this point, so the Rams often get after him (thanks, Aaron Donald). Two of the three games where Wilson has taken a career-high 7 sacks came against the Rams. He’s lost four of the last six meetings since Sean McVay took over as coach, and it would be five in a row if Greg Zuerlein did not miss a game-winning field goal last year in Seattle.

Wilson is 2-6 on the road against the Rams, and the Rams are a 2-point favorite at home this week. I have to say I like the Rams in this matchup based on past meetings, though Jared Goff and McVay worry me these days. This is a game where you obviously need to attack the secondary with your wideouts like most offenses have against Seattle’s historically-bad pass defense this year, but why do I feel like Darrell Henderson will have 10 carries in the first quarter? If Goff is on for this matchup, I think the Rams take it and make the NFC West race even more interesting.

NFL Week 10 Predictions

Fooled again by a Thursday game, I underestimated just how bad the special teams are for Tennessee.

A few upsets I like include Washington and Chicago. I know, the Bears playing in prime time again is terrible, but even worse is the fact that it’s Minnesota. Since Kirk Cousins went to Minnesota, he is 0-3 against Chicago and hasn’t broke 6.5 YPA in any of those games. The Vikings average 12 points in those games.

But it would be another nice road win in 2020 for the Vikings to pull that one out.

NFL Week 12 Predictions: RC Cola Popping Edition

So last week kind of sucked in the NFL, which was my concern going into last Sunday. The early afternoon slate was especially low on drama. A total of six teams won by at least 17 points in Week 11, the most since Week 17 last year. Some teams clearly mailed in their performance to end that season, so this was especially one-sided.

When I look at the 1 P.M. slate for Week 12, I see very little to get excited for. My preference would be to just watch Seahawks-Eagles with some RedZone sprinkled in, because it’s one of the closest games of the season by many projection models. Could be a true pick ’em with a Seattle team that’s been scraping by all the close ones against an Eagles team that can stop the run and should be desperately playing to hang onto division title hopes.

But instead I’ll probably be focusing on the Steelers looking to continue their mastery in Cincinnati, or perhaps add another soul-crushing loss to a terrible team to Mike Tomlin’s resume.

Steelers at Bengals (+6.5): Don’t Bet on 0-16

It’s a safe bet to pick a team to NOT go 0-16 in the NFL. Only the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns have done it. Meanwhile, 10 teams have finished 1-15 and 32 teams have finished 2-14 since 1978. The 0-10 Bengals have a favorable schedule coming up for a win, but none may be sweeter than this opportunity against Pittsburgh (5-5).

I’ve probably been writing about this for a decade now,  but Mike Tomlin’s Steelers love to come up small in the small games, especially on the road against teams they’re expected to beat. Losing to the 0-10 Bengals as a 6.5 point underdog would certainly fit that bill. Since 2007, the Steelers are 16-9 (.640) straight up and 8-17 (.320) against the spread on the road as a 6+ point favorite.

It’s a bit surprising the Steelers remain a 6.5 point favorite. They beat the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field earlier this season, but they won’t have QB1 (Ben Roethlisberger), RB1 (James Conner), or WR1 (JuJu Smith-Schuster) for this game. You’d have to go back to 1999, if not further, to find a Pittsburgh offense this devoid of talent, and I’m saying that even with the consideration of the RB and WR returning soon. Oh, not to mention the center is suspended.

Yes, Mason Rudolph has already won a game against the Bengals, but he is coming off one of the worst QB performances of the season. There’s also obviously some controversy surrounding him from his role in the Myles Garrett incident. There’s no Maurkice Pouncey at center because of his suspension from the fight. The Steelers are going to rely heavily on defense to win this game, which it can do with the way it has gotten turnovers this year. Andy Dalton was also sacked a career-high 8 times in the last meeting. Ryan Finley has taken over and done nothing to really impress anyone. He’s not afraid to scramble though. The Bengals have been competitive at times with 3 blown fourth quarter leads, and the running game has gone for over 150 yards in consecutive weeks. It’s likely to be a game decided by turnovers.

One of the most stunning stats I’ve ever seen in the NFL is this one: ex-Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis was 2-16 at home against the Steelers. Rookie head coach Zac Taylor has done practically nothing to establish a name for himself this season, but reversing that home trend and pulling off an upset win over the Steelers would easily be the team’s highlight this year.

With the Steelers lacking so much talent on offense, I feel like this is a great upset to pick. Keep the RC Cola bottles ready, Detroit and Cleveland. Your 0-16 club may be closing up membership for at least another year very soon.

GOTW: Cowboys at Patriots (-3)

It sure would be nice if this turns out to be a great game seeing as how Jags-Titans is the only other game scheduled for the late afternoon. I’m not sure how that happened, but clearly the NFL wants to milk what should be Brady/Belichick vs. Dallas for the last time.

Standing in the Cowboys’ way is The Clapper (Jason Garrett). The thought of him outsmarting Belichick is why I have no issue picking the Patriots in this one, but there are reasons to be optimistic about Dallas’ chances. Concern is do they run Zeke too much and put Dak Prescott in tough third-and-long situations. It could be tempting to run if you look at the success Cleveland and Baltimore had doing so against New England this year. If it’s working you really can’t knock it, but Dallas will have to be careful to not fall into the trap of continuing to slam Elliott into the line on so many early downs.

This is the best pass defense Prescott has seen in his NFL career. He’s playing better than ever this season, but he’ll definitely have to bring his A game to succeed in this one. If the Patriots want to take Amari Cooper away with Stephon Gilmore, then I think Dallas is still fine in this matchup. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are healthy and playing well. The tight ends can contribute as well. Cooper only had 38 yards in Detroit last week, but Dak still threw for 444. Dallas (52.1%) is the only offense in the league converting more than 50% on third down in 2019. That’s helped this offense lead the league in yards per game, yards per play and first downs per game thru Week 11. This offense has evolved thanks to the progression of a young QB and new OC Kellen Moore.

I just worry about this coaching staff preparing for a team they only see once every four years. The Cowboys have another game like that on Thanksgiving against Buffalo, so a lot of eyes will be on them this week. It’s the type of week that could launch Dak on an MVP path, or sink this team’s season if the Eagles can go on a run too.

The Patriots have really only played four teams of note this season: PIT, BUF, BAL, PHI. Everyone else has a losing record. If you look at the expected points added breakdown on Pro Football Reference, their three worst games on offense were against PHI/BAL/BUF. Their four worst games on defense were against BUF/PIT/PHI/BUF. Dallas has played a similarly weak schedule (plays the AFC East and NFC East), but this is one of the best challenges the Patriots will see all year. Dallas doesn’t have a great defense, but it has been respectable most weeks.

I don’t want to belabor the point about NE’s mediocre offense, because it should be obvious at this point. They basically peaked in the first two weeks of the season when they played a Pittsburgh defense they always murder at home and a Miami team that was completely lost. Since then the offense has rarely been good. Brady’s TD% is a career low 3.5% right now. Replacing Rob Gronkowski with an ancient Ben Watson isn’t doing a whole lot. They’ve already gone through Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. It’s basically Julian Edelman moving the chains and their big plays are coming down to James White turning a screen pass into 30+ yards.

Only the Patriots can trade a 2nd-round pick for a 30-year-old WR who was averaging a career-low in yards per catch and have people think it’s a great move. That’s Mohamed Sanu and now he’s injured and may not even be active. Oh and the Patriots stink at running the ball this year to boot. I’d love to see Dallas just double up on Edelman and shrink the field, forcing Brady to beat them deep.

New England basically loses one home game a year and blow one 4Q lead a year, so if there’s a game on the schedule where that’s most likely to happen this season, it’s probably this one. However, keep in mind that Dallas is 0-3 at 4QC opportunities this season as we knew regression was going to come in that area for them. Still, you can trust Dak on a game-winning drive opportunity. The Patriots offense has yet to have one this season since the defense always has them ahead, and they couldn’t do any better than trail by 10 in their lone loss in Baltimore.

I think this one goes down to the final drive, but I’m still going to take Belichick over Garrett every time.

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I had Houston by 6 points on TNF, but of course they wouldn’t kick a late FG and only won by 3. I should probably feel lucky that the Texans even won that game.

2019Wk12

The Bengals are not my only upset pick this week. I think the Jets take care of Oakland in the early game after showing some life offensively last week. I also have the Buccaneers beating Atlanta for no good reason other than the NFC South doesn’t make sense right now, but I still don’t believe the Falcons have magically fixed their defense the last two weeks.

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NFL Week 6 Predictions: AFC Game of the Year 2.0 Edition

Just have time for a quick look at some of the big AFC matchups in Week 6.

Chiefs at Patriots (-3)

The Chiefs were already involved in the Game of the Year last week, and used a Blake Bortles pick parade to march towards an easy win. Here they are again in a more legitimate Game of the Year, because it’s Sunday night in New England. With any luck, the Chiefs will have three more Game of the Year events, including a November matchup with the Rams, a potential rematch (JAX/NE) in the AFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch (Rams) in Super Bowl 53.

But before we talk about any Super Bowl with this team, beating New England at least once is crucial to that. Winning on Sunday night would go a long way in making sure a rematch happens at Arrowhead. The Chiefs could then finish 12-4 and the Patriots would have to win out (10-0) to guarantee a playoff seed above KC. That doesn’t look plausible with this roster in a season where few teams are standing out, but you can get a good fight almost any week.

If the game was in Arrowhead — past playoff disasters aside — I think the Chiefs would be an easy pick to win this week. But it’s at Gillette Stadium where you virtually can’t lose the turnover battle, can’t fall behind by 7+ points, and can’t allow 27+ points if you expect to win. Then again, the Chiefs did ALL of those things on opening night in 2017 and still won 42-27 behind big nights for Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt. Now the offense looks even more loaded with Patrick Mahomes taking over and the addition of Sammy Watkins to the wide receivers.

But I’m not sure Andy Reid can win with an offense-first mentality two years in a row in NE. That’s generally not the way to beat Tom Brady at home, and unless Mahomes pulls off some 2012 Colin Kaepernick magic in this one (that crazy 2012 SF game), I think this is a game where KC’s defense gets exposed and he has to play from behind too much, leading to mistakes against Bill Belichick’s defense. This is a game where the Chiefs really miss someone like Eric Berry to cover Rob Gronkowski. Not to mention the Patriots have a full arsenal now with a white security blanket for Brady (Julian Edelman), a receiving back (James White), and a freak athlete (Josh Gordon). That’s a tough matchup for any defense, let alone one that has struggled as much as the 28th-ranked Chiefs. Justin Houston or Dee Ford will have to have a lights out game off the edge in pressuring Brady, but I just don’t see it this time around.

It also should help that the Patriots had a few extra days to prepare for this one after playing last Thursday.

Final: Patriots 34, Chiefs 24

Steelers at Bengals (-1)

Games rarely get much bigger in Cincinnati than this one as it’s a chance for the Bengals to move to 5-1 and give themselves some nice distance over the rest of the AFC North. However, Marvin Lewis is 2-13 at home against Pittsburgh. It’s one of the crazier stats in NFL history, but it’s legit, and a lot of it can be seen in Ben Roethlisberger’s splits in those games. He’s thrown multiple interceptions six times against the Bengals in 30 games, but all six of those games happened at Heinz Field, including some of the worst passing performances of his career (2006, 2012, 2015).

Roethlisberger is 23-2 when his passer rating is at least 75.0 against the Bengals, so it usually takes a poor day from him for the Bengals to win. Cincinnati usually does well against Antonio Brown, but JuJu Smith-Schuster actually has 77 more yards on 13 fewer targets than Brown this season. While Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns to Brown last week, I think he’d be best advised to not force the ball there this week.

Pittsburgh’s defense had been struggling this year, but last week against a very good Atlanta offense it showed some promise. They held the Falcons to 17 points, didn’t let Julio Jones catch a pass until the 3rd quarter, and also got a fumble return TD. The pass rush has been generally good this year, and that will be key to get after Andy Dalton. When the pass rush doesn’t get there, this secondary can look as bad as any in the league. The Bengals also are getting a big third-year boost from Tyler Boyd, who has as many targets as A.J. Green and only trails him by 16 receiving yards. They did lose Tyler Eifert at tight end again, but Boyd is looking like a legit No. 2 option. They need it with receiving back Giovani Bernard out until November.

These teams definitely hate each other, so I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of several 15-yard flags. That could be bad news for an undisciplined Pittsburgh team that has racked up penalties this season. I understand why the Bengals are a slight 1-point favorite, but I basically don’t know of an NFL universe where Cincinnati wins games like this, so I still lean towards the Steelers pulling off the win. The Bengals have been living on the edge all year and have three fourth-quarter comebacks already to get to 4-1.

Final: Steelers 26, Bengals 23

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Eagles beating the Giants on TNF, and I also thought it’d be a better game than that.

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I think the spreads are too high for the Vikings and Texans here. Arizona has been more competitive since benching Sam Bradford, and neither the Vikings nor Texans (two OT wins by 3 points) have beat anyone by double-digits this season. Of course I can be wrong here (see below), but this has been a bad season for double-digit favorites covering and I think that continues here. I don’t however think we see a straight-up loss by any of the four teams favored by a touchdown or more.

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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 14 Predictions: Cincinnati Is Pittsburgh’s Safe Space

Over the next three weeks the AFC playoff picture will get a lot clearer with a series of games involving the Steelers, Bengals and Broncos playing one another. Buried in that absurdly deep 1 p.m. slate of 11 games is the rematch between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. You probably knew I would write about this one, because I tend to write about the biggest games. It just so happens that the only other Week 14 game between teams with winning records happened on Thursday night in Arizona, and I already shared 3,000 words on that yesterday. Today I also wrote about QBR and QB stats for 2015 involving Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Cam Newton. I’m trying to stay busy while things are difficult at home right now.

Steelers at Bengals

I think this is one of the craziest stats I know: Marvin Lewis is 2-11 at home against the Steelers in his career, including that infamous playoff loss in the 2005 season. For some reason, the Bengals continue to play much better in Heinz Field than they do at home against their rival. I don’t want to ignore that, and frankly it leans me towards picking the Steelers to get the season split. But I see much better reasons than that for it.

Ben Roethlisberger is not making a return from an MCL sprain this time like he was in Week 8 when he had his worst game of the season. The Bengals are the only team to hold him under 334 yards passing in a game he finished this year, and the two interceptions in the fourth quarter were obviously killers. I’ve warned in the past that Roethlisberger has had some of his worst games against the Bengals, but I like him to rebound this week with the way he has been playing in the last month. The protection is usually solid this season and the receivers are healthy and available with Markus Wheaton starting to come along as a viable option. The running game is a bit hit or miss, but DeAngelo Williams has been quite good at times, making you forget about Le’Veon Bell’s absence. That’s the other difference I see this time. Not only was Roethlisberger making his return in Week 8, but the Steelers had to deal with the blow of losing Bell early in the second quarter of that game, which had an offensive start before the defenses took over and the Bengals pulled out a late 16-10 win.

I feel like the offenses are going to shine in this one and we’ll get a much different game. A.J. Green is a DFS favorite for me this week as few defenses get targeted by the No. 1 WR more than Pittsburgh, and Tyler Eifert is back in the lineup. The Bengals have stomped the Rams and Browns the last two weeks, just as you would expect them to do given the mismatches in team quality. The Bengals are actually first in DVOA right now. This is a very good team playing a big game at home, so of course that will be the measuring stick this week. It’s not in prime time, but it certainly counts a lot with the Bengals pursuing a No. 1 seed. I just think the Steelers can copy a similar formula to what the Cardinals used a few weeks ago and attack this secondary, which has had some recent injuries (Adam Jones is out and Darqueze Dennard went on IR), with the bevy of receivers. That requires Roethlisberger to be on point, but again, I think the prospects of him doing that are much higher this week than they were in Week 8 when his movement looked limited in the pocket. Still, I do not trust the Pittsburgh defense to have a standout game against this talented offense, so the score should be pretty high, but I don’t think the game will have enough possessions for both teams to get into the 30’s.

Final score: Steelers 29, Bengals 26

2015 Week 14 Predictions

I had the Cardinals, but they sure cut it closer than expected against Minnesota in one of the best TNF games you’ll see. Now explain to me why we couldn’t have seen that game on Saturday night? This late in the season you’re either going to get lousy teams in prime time, or if it’s a big game, why play it on four days of rest? Once the college football regular season ends, scrap that TNF noise and move the games to Saturday.

Winners in bold:

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

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
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Season: 118-74 (.615)

I’ll end with an amusing stat.

For all the talk about Brock Osweiler giving the Broncos a deep threat with his arm, the fact is he is 3-of-15 on passes thrown 20+ yards this season.

Do you know which other quarterback started this season 3-of-15 on his 20+ yard passes? Why yes, that would be Peyton Manning.

NFL Week 8 Predictions: The Undefeated Teams

I was going to save this space for a rant about the bunk that is “does more with less,” but we have some pretty good games worth talking about this week instead.

Packers at Broncos

I thought about doing a formal preview for this game, but there’s just not enough history between the two given they’re in different conferences. You also don’t want to get too wrapped up in the numbers after just six games, which is what I’m probably about to do next.

Clearly, this is a step up in competition for both teams, who both had a bye week to prepare. Green Bay’s offense hasn’t seen a defense like Denver’s. Denver’s defense hasn’t seen an offense like Green Bay’s. I’m not going to make the mistake I made in previewing Super Bowl 48 where I thought the matchup of the lesser unit of each team (DEN D, SEA O) would be the deciding factor. Let’s stick with the strength vs. strength deciding how this game will play out.

These teams actually rank first (GB) and second (DEN) in points allowed with just one point separating them. However, Green Bay ranks seventh in Pts/Dr and 22nd in Yds/Dr. That’s a bit odd, but it’s possible because the Packers allow the third-fewest points per red zone trip. Denver’s offense has struggled in the red zone this season, ranked 30th. Denver may need to hit some big plays or take advantage of some great field position to crack this defense in the red zone. That’s how Philip Rivers turned a 500-yard passing game into just 20 points in GB. They tighten up down there. Surprisingly, the Packers go three-and-out on offense more than just five teams. Unless Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of Denver’s aggressiveness with a ton of hard counts to draw offsides and free plays, I think it’s going to be very hard for Green Bay to rack up points in this one.

Denver’s defense has pretty much shut down every offense its played so far. Only Minnesota was able to crack 20 points, and that included some good field position off of Manning interceptions and a big run by Adrian Peterson on fourth down. Green Bay probably needs more than 20 to win in Denver, but not a lot more. The Packers have been fairly mortal on offense in the last three games. Eddie Lacy hasn’t had a great season by any means. Rodgers doesn’t have the same vertical prowess without Jordy Nelson, and he hasn’t even tried to replace that part of the offense with his other receivers. This passing game is more reliant on YAC. Rodgers is scrambling more than he ever has this season, so he could be a problem for an aggressive Denver defense when he leaves the pocket. Shane Ray is out, but DeMarcus Ware should return to action. The Broncos will need Ware and Von Miller to provide good pressure in this one, but I really do think Rodgers will use his legs a lot if the Denver secondary is doing its job in coverage against the receivers. If Rodgers is holding onto the ball, then Denver will have a good chance to add on to its high sack total (26 in six games).

Denver’s offense has been a mess for various reasons this season. Some of those things are not fixable, because it’s not like they can find a good tight end or experienced slot WR in Week 8. They have to tough it out with what they have, but there’s enough here to be playing much better than they have. I recall an old NFL Films clip of Mike Holmgren saying “He’s gotta know he’s fucking up out there” in reference to a young Brett Favre. Gary Kubiak might be saying the same thing about an old Peyton Manning this year, who has 10 interceptions. Clearly that part can’t continue, and I don’t think it will since so many of the plays are mental and situational more than they are physical problems. Cutting down the picks is one step forward. Another is giving more carries to Ronnie Hillman, who has clearly outplayed C.J. Anderson this season. Demaryius Thomas has to stop dropping big passes, and his track record suggests that should also happen. This offense is close to putting it together, but keeps shooting itself in the foot with mistakes. I expect a sharper performance at home after some time to regroup against a Green Bay defense that you can definitely move the ball against. We’ve seen some productive games on the ground and through the air against them already.

Green Bay has not excelled in this type of environment. Since 2012, the Packers are 1-9 in road games against playoff teams. In case you were wondering, Rodgers started all 10 games as none of those were when he missed time in 2013 (broken collarbone). At 6-0, Denver looks destined for a playoff spot. However, the lone win in that stretch for GB was in Houston in 2012 against a team coached by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips. Rodgers threw six touchdowns on Sunday Night Football. He’ll be fortunate to get to half that total in this one, but at least that is doable for him. I don’t think the Broncos have played great offensive competition so far, though the reason I like them is because they’re at home. Green Bay’s offense just isn’t that lethal on the road, where they’ve only played twice so far. Unlike last year when the Broncos were so dominant early in the season thanks to playing five of their first seven games at home, this year’s team has been on the road for four of the first six games, including four of the last five. Mile High is always a tough place to win and I think we get a few more points out of this one than expected, but I see Denver closing in the end on defense again.

Final score: Broncos 28, Packers 20

Bengals at Steelers

Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 5-7 in Pittsburgh and just 2-11 at home against the Steelers. It’s one of those weird splits, but I truly do believe the Bengals get up for these games in Pittsburgh. They have enough motivation for this one to continue their 6-0 start and silence the return of Ben Roethlisberger by dropping the Steelers to 4-4. That wouldn’t lock up the AFC North, but it would damn near come close to doing so on the first day of November.

I think the Steelers have the better offense when everyone’s healthy, which looks to be the case for the first time since the end of last season. However, the Bengals have the better defense, and their offense is humming along very well this year. Andy Dalton has yet to have a bad game and he had his best game against the Steelers yet in Week 14 last season. I think his receivers have very favorable matchups against a defense that will be missing Stephon Tuitt and Will Allen. Pittsburgh’s defense has certainly exceeded expectations, only surrendering more than 23 points to the Patriots. However, I think the Bengals are the best offense the Steelers have seen since the Patriots. Dalton is protected well behind a line that has only allowed six sacks and he gets rid of the ball quickly. Tyler Eifert is giving this offense a new dimension down the seam and in the red zone that it’s lacked in recent seasons. That is somewhere I see the Steelers struggling to defend here, especially with health issues in the secondary. A.J. Green might feast here too.

I never ever like picking the Bengals in a big game, but I just feel like they’re the more complete team, coming off a bye, and they are playing better than the Steelers have this season. They should win. I know I’ve also seen enough games where Roethlisberger has returned form injury and looked rusty. You can’t look rusty when Geno Atkins and company are rushing, and this is the first game Roethlisberger will start with Alejandro Villanueva as his left tackle. He was beat by Tamba Hali for two big sacks in the fourth quarter last week. Sure, Antonio Brown should get back on track, Heath Miller won’t be a ghost again and Martavis Bryant is always a big-play threat, but no one has cracked 24 points on the Bengals yet this season. I think that continues here and they get another quality win.

Final score: Bengals 29, Steelers 22

Colts at Panthers

Maybe I’m just doing a better job of avoiding it, but I’m glad this wasn’t the week where we pretend Cam Newton has always been better than Andrew Luck based on the last two months. We have several seasons to look at and see that Luck is clearly a superior player who doesn’t need as much around him to succeed. This year, he has yet another flawed roster around him despite the offseason additions. The major difference is he’s playing the worst football of his career, and it’s showing in the results for both his team’s record and his statistics. The team’s really in no worse shape than it was from 2012-14, but the difference was Luck played at a level high enough to overcome those flaws. Is it injury? That’s always my first thought when a very good player is playing poorly, and Luck has missed two games with a shoulder injury. Something’s not right, and I don’t expect it to get right against a tough Carolina team.

Simply put, Cam Newton is playing at nowhere near a MVP level, but I’m sure we can focus on that ridiculousness another week. As the 2015 Colts should show, just having “names” around you at the skill positions means nothing for a QB if you’re not playing well yourself. You still have to make the plays. The Colts have been one of the worst offenses in the league, but they have a fighting chance in this one just because the Panthers aren’t good enough to drop one of those 35-45 point games on them. The Panthers are the more physical team and that’s a huge problem, but I like the Colts defense enough in this one to slow them down and keep the game at least manageable for Luck to pull out a GWD. However, I don’t expect it to happen on Monday night. If they want to shut T.Y. Hilton down with Josh Norman, then go ahead, because in theory Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson and the very quiet tight ends should have matchup advantages. But hell, has this not been the case each week this season for the Colts? The pieces seem to be there, but the results are not.

And it all starts with how the quarterback is playing.

Final score: Colts 16, Panthers 24

2015 Week 8 Predictions

I had the Patriots winning 31-17 on TNF, and they actually spanked Miami 36-7. OK.

Winners in bold

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

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
  • Season: 68-37 (.648)