NFL Week 17 Predictions: Rest vs. Rust Edition

In the NFL, sometimes Week 17 is great drama, and sometimes you just want to get it over with as quickly as possible to get to the playoffs.

Last year was more on the drama side with the Patriots getting upset by the Dolphins to lose out on a bye and the No. 2 seed to the Chiefs, who rode that to a Super Bowl win. The regular season concluded with a good game between the 49ers and Seahawks that came down to the 1-yard line to decide the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

This year looks to be more on the get it over with side of things, especially during a pandemic and another situation (Saints’ running backs) where a team’s whole position group is being wiped out by protocol.

Despite half of the 14 playoff spots still not clinched, this Sunday lacks that game for both teams that has a “win or go home” pressure to it. Plus with the new system only giving out one bye week in a year where being at home doesn’t even matter, there’s not much of an incentive to improve your seeding if you’re Pittsburgh or Buffalo.

But let’s sort this out quickly. I wrote previews already for Ravens-Bengals, Steelers-Browns, and Vikings-Lions.

AFC Picture

It is shocking to think that the AFC could have eight teams with at least 11 wins if all five of the 10-5 teams win on Sunday. Four of the 10-5 teams are favored by at least a touchdown too with only Miami (+2) at Buffalo as an underdog.

Chances are at least one of them will slip up and lose, but which one?

The Colts should be able to avenge that Week 1 loss to the Jaguars with a win. The Ravens should feel good about the way they’ve been rolling, only needing to beat the Bengals (no 2017, 4th-and-12 vs. Andy Dalton repeat). Deshaun Watson absolutely could give the Titans a game, but I think Tennessee scores a lot there. Still, that might be the best game of the day for SGP.

Pittsburgh is basically throwing in the towel on Week 17 and the No. 2 seed, inviting the Browns to suffer an embarrassing loss to Mason Rudolph. The Steelers also won’t have Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Maurkice Pouncey for rest, or Joe Haden and Eric Ebron for COVID reasons. This sets up nicely for a Cleveland win, but pure hell if they lose. I still think the Steelers can cover this one as they rarely lose by more than 10 points and will want to make this as hard as possible on Cleveland even without their best players active.

MIA-BUF is an interesting one because how much Josh Allen will we see? Cole Beasley is already out for the Bills, who really don’t need this one like Miami does. If the Dolphins need a comeback, they can’t go to the bench for Ryan Fitzpatrick either because he has COVID. So it’s all on Tua at QB, but he may only need to outscore Matt Barkley for a half or so. Again, not a game I’d want to bet any money on.

Finally, the Chiefs have the No. 1 seed wrapped up and won’t play Patrick Mahomes among several other starters. That makes the Chargers a 4.5 point favorite in Arrowhead and leaves a few great Chiefs streaks in jeopardy.

Yeah, I’m not a fan of Week 17 and I don’t think eliminating a bye was a good idea. That would have at the very least made the Steelers and Bills go all out tomorrow.

NFC Picture

I think the top three seeds (GB/NO/SEA) are all going to win, making Green Bay the coveted No. 1 this year. I however wouldn’t overlook the Saints dropping a game to the Panthers. Last time it was a 27-24 final and the Saints are down Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Plus, aren’t the Panthers due to at least win one close game? That should be the most interesting of the three games there.

I just don’t believe in Chicago or Mitchell Trubisky, though I will say the Bears at least beat Tampa Bay this year. And if beating the Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars doesn’t impress you, well, that’s eight of Green Bay’s wins this season too.

The NFC East is still open to a 6-10 division winner if it’s the Giants, but I think Dallas takes that one to get to 7-9. Then it’s all about SNF and the no-name team against Philadelphia. It appears Alex Smith is starting, but that’s really a marginal improvement over the recently released Dwayne Haskins these days. Still, the Eagles are good for disappointment this year and Washington has been a tough opponent for them the last few years. So I guess based on my picks I still have Washington taking this one at 7-9 thanks to a sweep of Dallas this year.

And to think this could have been Dak Prescott’s division at 8-8…

That leaves probably the closest thing we have to a Week 17 de facto playoff game for both teams between the Rams and Cardinals. I hate betting on the Rams to begin with, but now we’re talking about unknown John Wolford starting at quarterback for an injured Jared Goff. Running back Cam Akers is also still out for the Rams. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray was also banged up at the end of Week 16’s game, so this might not be an offensive showcase.

I’m going to trust my gut and go with Sean McVay in this one as he has owned the Cardinals in his career. If his system and mind are so great, then he should be able to get production out of Wolford in a big spot. The star defenders (Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald) need to show up too. The Rams are a 3-point underdog, but I just don’t trust Kliff Kingsbury, especially not after that brutal performance to the 49ers last Saturday.

NFL Week 17 Predictions

Here are the picks for every game:

During the week I’ll have Stat Oddity for Week 17, a close game summary of 2020, a look at the historic offensive marks achieved this season, and wild card previews. Maybe some other things if I’m feeling that energetic.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

If last Sunday in the NFL was boring, then this week more than made up for it. Even though the “Game of the Year” (Chiefs-Saints) wasn’t even the best game played in the last seven days (Ravens-Browns), this was a Sunday filled with memorable action.

Favorites were 11-4 SU, but the Rams christened SoFi Stadium with one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Rams Lose, Jets Lose Out, Only Trevor Lawrence Wins

It is not hyperbole to say that the course of NFL history for the next two decades could have just been drastically altered on Sunday when the 0-13 Jets beat the Rams 23-20 for their first win of the season.

For a franchise familiar with low points, the 2020 season may have taken the Jets to a new low under head coach Adam Gase. Some people have been calling the Chiefs “inevitable” this year, but the most inevitable thing felt like the Jets cruising to 0-16. That is a horrific season, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns already do this. In fact, the biggest surprise would be that the Jets weren’t already in the club (the 1996 team finished 1-15).

The reward at the end of such a terrible season was supposed to be a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft, undoubtedly, to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Gase will now likely go down as one of the most hated coaches in NFL history as he could not even finish 0-16 properly. The Jaguars are now in the driver’s seat for Lawrence in the draft, and if he is as generational as advertised – a mobile, long-haired Peyton Manning – then it is sure to be a move that has massive ripple effects around the league for years to come.

Why are the Jets always the ones botching history? They could have drafted generational passer Dan Marino in 1983 but chose Ken O’Brien instead. They drafted wide receiver Al Toon over all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. They drafted running back Blair Thomas over all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith in 1990. Maybe none of those picks lead to Super Bowls for the Jets, but they absolutely changed the course of the league at that time. Imagine the Dolphins without Marino and Don Shula. Imagine the 49ers’ dynasty without Rice. Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams may have been the dynasty of the 1980s instead. Likewise, Emmitt is probably not the all-time leading rusher if he started with the Jets instead of the dynastic Cowboys in the 90s.

Maybe Lawrence is better off if he doesn’t go to the Jets. In 1997, the Jets thought they could cash that 1-15 season in for Peyton Manning at the top of the draft, but Manning returned to Tennessee for another year and ended up going No. 1 to the rival Colts in 1998. Good move, but also a massive one for the league’s next two decades.

Oh, and never forget the Jets are more responsible for the New England dynasty than anyone after botching the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000 and injuring Drew Bledsoe in 2001, leading to the rise of Tom Brady.

Never has a win felt like such a loss for a team than this one. The fact that Frank Gore put the game away with two first downs is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Jacksonville fans will for sure be pushing Gore for Canton now.

And how about these Rams? So much for the new hyped “best team” in the NFC. I’m going to remember Sean McVay as the photographic memory wunderkind coach who lost a Super Bowl 13-3 and lost to the 0-13 Jets.

There has just been something about Game 14 where perfect seasons go to die. As I pointed out in my preview for this one, the 10 teams to start 0-13 are now 5-5 SU in Game 14. That means these teams went from a combined 0-130 to 5-5 in that 14th game. Interestingly enough, four of the eight 13-0 teams in NFL history also lost their first game in Game 14 (1998 Broncos, 2005 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers).

This is not quite the biggest upset in NFL history. You only have to go back to Week 17 last year to find a worse loss by the point spread when the 17.5-point favorite Patriots lost at home to the Dolphins to lose out on a first-round bye. However, this is only the fifth time since 1978 that a 17-point favorite lost outright.

But this is almost surely the most embarrassing loss a team has ever had to a team 0-13 or worse that notched its first win. The Rams lost this game wire-to-wire, meaning the Jets led the whole way, including a 20-3 lead. Only the 1962 Patriots can say they lost wire-to-wire to an 0-13 (or worse) team after they fell 20-0 to the Oakland Raiders to end the 1962 AFL season.

This was not some December game in trash weather at MetLife Stadium with a full, roaring crowd where Jared Goff melted down and threw a pick parade. The Rams only had one turnover (and one blocked punt) in the game, played in new SoFI Stadium. This was not a blown lead by the Rams. This was not a game where the Rams missed any field goals. The only fumble (on a Sam Darnold sack) went out of bounds.

The Rams were just outplayed by an inferior team. The Jets were able to convert 7-of-17 on third down while the Rams were only 2-of-11. Show up on a few more of those plays and this outcome is likely different, but the Jets deserved this win.

They just had no business actually pulling it off, putting the future of the franchise in doubt again.

The final magnitude of this loss for me personally remains to be seen after the Steelers play on Monday night. I was hot on my bets this weekend, but one game I needed was for the Rams to win and Cam Akers to score a touchdown. That seemed simple enough after Akers’ breakout game last week and the mismatch here, but neither part came through. I also liked Robert Woods scoring (he did), but still would have been screwed by the moneyline. I’ll scowl over this day forever that Akers’ 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was called back for a holding penalty if Diontae Johnson and the Steelers come through. I stood to win more than $36,000 on a series of round robin parlays that only cost $105.

I’m sad. Rams fans are sad. Jets fans are sad. Only Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville fans are probably happy right now. And just think, if the Jets finish on a winning streak, they just may bring Gase and Darnold back for 2021…

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 50: Week 15 at Saints

Despite holding 14-point leads early and late, the Chiefs had to grind out another close win, 32-29, in the four-minute offense to knock off the Saints in Drew Brees’ return. The big matchup had some really strange plays, Brees got off to the slowest/worst start to a game in his 300th career start, and it technically never had a game-winning drive opportunity, but it was a decent game in the end.

How did New Orleans fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Not good as the only achievement was #6 as the Saints racked up four sacks, getting some of the best pressure any defense ever has (without blitzing too) on Mahomes, which was to be expected with the offensive line situation there.

The 29 points were not bad, but the Saints absolutely hurt themselves before halftime by not recovering the obligatory fumble on a ridiculous punt fielded by Demarcus Robinson with only seconds left in the half. The Saints had a great chance to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but Alex Anzalone botched that play and the Saints only got a safety out of it. Those five points were a huge miss.

You know the standard for Mahomes is getting ridiculous when people scoff at putting up 32 points and 34 first downs on what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Saints had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since doing it four games in a row in Weeks 2-5, but the Chiefs were able to do that in this one, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Saints down.

Much like the 26-17 win in Buffalo, the Chiefs were able to mix the pass and run in moving the ball effectively. This team’s success on the road is historic this season even if it could be asterisk worthy given the pandemic impact with limited or no crowds.

Still, the 2020 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win five road games in a season against teams with a winning record. This is set in stone with the Bills (11-3), Saints (10-4), Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), and Buccaneers (9-5) all guaranteed to have a winning record this season. The only mystery is if the Chiefs will pick up a sixth win if the Raiders (7-7) finish 9-7.

The Chiefs just had the seventh game in NFL history where they put up 32 points and 34 first downs on the road in regulation. That’s impressive when you also consider that they have the sixth such game this season when they did it in Las Vegas.

Now 50 starts into his career, I am still waiting to see what a legitimately bad game from Mahomes looks like. His consistency is unmatched. The 2020 Chiefs are now the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 22 points in each of their first 14 games in a season. The other teams on that list are the 1983 Redskins, 1998 Vikings, and 2018 Chiefs, so they have already done it twice here. Only that 2019 Colts game (19-13 loss) is stopping it from being 50-for-50 for Mahomes in scoring 22+ points as a team.

Sunday is the 33rd time Mahomes has led the Chiefs to at least 30 points in one of his starts. If he does it again next week against Atlanta, then that will be 34 times over his last 50 starts. That would match the best 50-game stretch of the careers of Manning and Brady. I included a chart that shows how the count of 30-point starts over those quarterback’s last 50 starts progressed over time, as well as the same data for Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Brees.

Like Mahomes, Marino got off to that super-fast start to the point where his best 50-game stretch was the first 50 games when he led the Dolphins to 30+ points 26 times. Marino and Mahomes are the only two listed to top 20 games in their first 50 starts (this includes playoffs). Some of this is about league trends as scoring went up in the later stages of these careers (think Manning in Denver or Brees in the Michael Thomas-Alvin Kamara years), but you can see where the peaks and valleys are.

These are just team points, but Mahomes has plenty of other superlatives through 50 games that we could go on about. Sunday was his 24th game with at least three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history for a quarterback through 50 starts (including playoffs). Marino had 22 such games that early.

It can still be debated if Mahomes is the best 50-game stretch of quarterback play in NFL history, but there is no debate if this is the best 50-game start to any quarterback’s career.

Eagles at Cardinals: The Jalen Hurts Era Is for Real

Carson Wentz may understandably not like it, but the rest of us are better with the Eagles moving forward with Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. Hurts impressed again in a fun 33-26 shootout with Kyler Murray in Arizona. Sure, the Eagles lost after playing in their 23rd straight game that was within one score in the fourth quarter, but Hurts showed so much poise and promise for a rookie.

Hurts passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 63 yards and another score. That 401 yards of total offense in Hurts’ second start is more than Wentz ever had in 69 career starts. Had Dallas Goedert been able to pull in a dagger of a throw from Hurts in the end zone late to tie the game, Hurts may have finished with over 365 passing yards, which also would top Wentz’s career high.

Look, I have said these things well before Hurts was drafted. Doug Pederson’s offense works best when his quarterback is NOT Carson Wentz. With Nick Foles, the Eagles could actually win high-scoring games, beat good teams, win without much rushing support, and come through in the clutch. Hurts still has plenty of room to grow but he is only a second-round pick with three games of relevance under his belt.

The fact that this was such an exciting game between two young, mobile quarterbacks who could run and throw is a great sign for the future of the NFC. Let Wentz go do his thing in Indianapolis where he thinks Frank Reich is the answer to all his problems.

The Eagles are in a better place now, and likely would still be in position to win this terrible division had Wentz been benched sooner. You can talk about heart and leadership if you want, but there’s just something about Wentz where things don’t all click with this coach and team when he’s the quarterback.

Bucs at Falcons: The Most Predictable 17-Point Comeback in NFL History

You could say Tom Brady holds a psychological edge on the Falcons after 28-3, but it could just be as simple as the Falcons are a joke of a franchise and blowing leads is what they do best. We have already seen it this year with the losses against Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit.

In fact, I even wrote in my preview for this one that Atlanta would blow a double-digit lead to the Bucs. Not even at 24-7 in the third quarter did this feel in doubt. Sure enough, the Atlanta offense folded while Tampa Bay scored on five straight drives. Antonio Brown made by far his biggest play for the team yet with a 46-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 6:19 left. Matt Ryan is still gunning for the only season of his career without a 4QC or GWD.

Tampa Bay scored 31 points in the second half. Something like that hasn’t happened in the NFL since… well, when the Falcons allowed 30 in the second half to the Cowboys this year.

Tampa Bay is now 4-3 when falling behind double digits this season. Doing that in half your games seems like a bad formula for the playoffs where you absolutely will not see a team as dumb as Atlanta. These slow starts are a problem, but the talent on this roster is still a lot to deal with as well. Don’t rule out Tampa lucking into a No. 2 seed with the way the other NFC teams are playing down the stretch. I still ultimately think the Saints will beat Carolina in Week 17 to secure the division if it’s not done on Christmas, but there is a chance here after this comeback for Tampa Bay to move up the standings.

In a crazy year, here is something that at least feels right: Falcons and Chargers lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Browns-Giants: What a Change from 2016

Sunday Night Football may not have been the most exciting game, a 20-6 win by Cleveland over the Giants, but consider where these teams were four years ago. The 0-11 Browns lost 27-13 to the offensively challenged Giants in a game with 17 punts and four turnovers. Gross.

Four years later, the Browns actually have a fun offense and won their 10th game last night. The Giants are still offensively challenged but did better than the 20-6 score shows. They just failed on too many fourth downs.

In fact, this is one of the most offensive-driven 20-6 games you’ll ever see in the NFL. This game only had 14 total possessions with five punts, no turnovers, and three stops on fourth down. The Browns scored 20 points (another Cody Parkey missed extra point) on their first five drives before staying understandably conservative with the big lead. The “Browns only scored 20” crowd seems to have overlooked just how few drives were in this game.

In the last three games, Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 900 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. These were marquee games for the Browns too, including two in prime time and a big matchup in Tennessee. Winning two of these three games and only losing 47-42 to the Ravens is huge progress for this franchise. I’m not going to say the Browns have what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run this year, but this team has definitely improved and so has the quarterback. I’m not sure what more he should be doing in the last month to silence the critics, but I’m coming around on him with this recent performance.

It’s weird to talk about the Browns offense being worth a damn, but it’s 2020. All bets are off. Hell, even the Chicago Bears have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 1995. If the Bears can do that, the Bills can win the division, then why not see Cleveland win 11 games and make the playoffs?

Patriots Done (For How Long?)

New England has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season after a 22-12 loss in Miami. The Dolphins will have a winning record this year while the Bills (11-3) have already won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Jets were also in position to get Trevor Lawrence, but you know what happened there.

It leaves the Patriots in a tricky position with quite arguably the worst long-term quarterback situation in the division depending what the Jets do. Cam Newton is not the answer but there is also not much of a roster here.

This last-gasp effort in Miami, a familiar losing venue for New England in December, showed some signs of life early that the Patriots could pull one out and stay alive another week. They were playing a Miami team missing its top wideouts and tight end. In classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Patriots turned a 95-yard, 9:11 drive by the Dolphins into an interception after making Tua throw under pressure. Then Newton got away with a would-be 86-yard fumble return because the ball just grazed a Miami defender who was out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Patriots scored a field goal to lead 6-0. Miami finished off the half with a missed 52-yard field goal, because again, this is what the Patriots do.

But the second half was a different story. The Dolphins continued to put together long drives and finished them off this time while Newton and the limited offense couldn’t answer. Tua was credited with his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the defense shut things down with a fourth-down sack of Newton with 1:08 left.

It was the first time all season the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead, but this team was never in much of a position to do any damage in 2020 between the loss of Brady, the COVID opt-outs, the losses on defense, Julian Edelman’s surgery, and just general roster flaws like not having a tight end.

It would actually be a lot more enjoyable to see this team struggle if only they were recognizable as the Patriots, but they never really were such a team this season. Now they’re just another team, and it’s only fitting that the Bills and Dolphins have gotten some decisive licks in on them.

Can the Jets do it too? They almost beat them last time in a 30-27 game, and this may be one where Belichick decides to just let the Jets win to make sure Trevor Lawrence doesn’t find his way to the Jets after all.

I mean, there’s always a plan with Belichick. Just not much of one this year as far as a contender goes.

Cruel Close Game Regression: Texas Edition

My goodness, I know I said Houston could be in trouble in close games this year after Deshaun Watson led five game-winning drives in both 2018 and 2019, but this is ridiculous. For the second time this season, Watson had the Texans knocking on the door of a tying or go-ahead touchdown against the Colts. Last time it was a bad snap that led to a game-ending fumble in a 26-20 loss.

This time, down 27-20, Watson converted a 4th-and-5, but Keke Coutee went from looking like he was about to score to fumbling the ball into the end zone where the Colts recovered with 19 seconds left to end the game. Watson had some huge numbers again with 373 yards, but his teammates found another way to blow a game even without Bill O’Brien involved.

Houston is now 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys had a minor upset of the 49ers in a 41-33 final that was filled with big plays and turnovers. Nick Mullens had three turnovers himself, including an interception that set up Andy Dalton for the lamest game-winning drive of the year: three incomplete passes and a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In a game that would never end, the final 43 seconds saw a field goal, an onside kick returned for a touchdown, and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown with no time left. Well, not entirely meaningless. Someone (not me) won or lost money on that bullshit.

So we will have a new NFC champion with San Francisco eliminated after an injury-ravaged, disappointing season. The 49ers are now 1-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season, which has always been a problem during the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco outside of some Jimmy Garoppolo starts.

But last year with a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were 4-2 at GWD opportunities and only blew one fourth-quarter lead in the regular season. However, we know this team was struggling late in the year with that against Atlanta (lost), New Orleans (offense had to bail them out), and the Seattle game in Week 17 came down to the final stop at the 1-yard line. Then we of course know what happened with a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Stung by the Wasp.

The 49ers started this season with blown leads to the Cardinals and Eagles before the injuries and a tough schedule just seemed to be too much for this team to overcome. Will 2019 be a one-year wonder in the NFC again? We’ll need to see next year to verify, but it’s not a bad bet to say it was.

That is why every opportunity in this league must be taken seriously. You never know if things will come together at the right time again. You know, like when you’re going to finish 0-16 and draft a generational talent quarterback, but oh fuck, that’s enough about the Jets and Rams.

On to Week 16.

NFL Week 13 Predictions: MEH Edition

Here is an obvious sign the Week 13 NFL slate isn’t quite up to par: the big CBS game at 4:25 is Eagles-Packers.

Now it’s not the NFL’s fault that Drew Brees has been injured for both NO-ATL games, or that we’ll be lucky to see even half of the intended QB battles between Dak-Lamar and Burrow-Tua.

One game that has surprisingly turned out to be a big one is Cleveland at Tennessee, two 8-3 teams and almost the only two teams in the league with a good argument for building their offense around the run.

Alas, I already wrote my preview for that game, along with Lions-Bears, Bengals-Dolphins, and Broncos-Chiefs.

So what’s left?

We are finally getting the first Rams-Cardinals game this season, though it has lost some luster after both had disappointing losses in Week 12. Sean McVay is 14-7 against the NFC West, an impressive mark given the teams in that division since 2017. McVay is 6-0 against the Cardinals and has five wins of 16+ points against them. His smallest margin of victory is 7 points over Arizona. The Rams are very hard to predict from week to week, but I took that into consideration when I made my pick for that game.

Another game that interests me is Monday night where the Bills are a 1.5-point underdog in San Francisco despite having the better record (8-3 vs. 5-6). It’s only the sixth time in the last 20 seasons where an 8-3 team is an underdog to a 5-6 team. The last time was in 2008 when Carolina was a 3-point dog to the Packers in Lambeau in Aaron Rodgers’ first season as a starter. The Panthers won 35-31 with a fourth-quarter comeback. The 8-3 team is 5-0 against the 5-6 team. With the way Buffalo’s defense handled the Chargers last week, I think they’ll be adequate against Nick Mullens and an offense that has lost George Kittle for the season.

Finally, there’s the Steelers-Washington game on Monday. The line was about PIT -10 before Wednesday’s ugly win over Baltimore, but is now down to PIT -7.5. I have to say I really like the Steelers in this one, as they are still 8-3 ATS this season, a record as good as anyone in the league in 2020. I think they’ll put that weird game on Wednesday behind them quickly and play sharper on offense without all the dropped passes. An Alex Smith-led offense reliant on one wideout in the passing game is unlikely to do much damage to this defense.

We also have to put Washington’s recent performance in the context of the worst division in NFL history. Washington started the season 1-4 with all the losses by 14+ points. Then in their last six games they’re 3-3, but they’ve played four games against NFC East teams, the Bengals in a game Joe Burrow was injured (W 20-9), and a 30-27 loss in Detroit where they trailed 24-3 before making a game of it (typical Matt Patricia).

Put this team on the road against the Steelers and I’m very confident the home team will win by 8+ points. That’s my favorite spread pick this week, and yes, I don’t think it will be a pleasant game to watch again. Probably something in the 24-13 range of final scores.

NFL Week 13 Predictions

The full slate (at least every team has a QB, or someone posing as one this week):

I really wanted to pick Atlanta to beat the Saints again, but they screwed me over last time, and several of the skill players are on the injury report for the Falcons. I’m just going to stay away from that one. I hope I’ve learned a lesson there. But the Saints really need Drew Brees back ASAP.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 12

We came into Thanksgiving with one 41-25 final in NFL history, and left Sunday with two more of them in four days. Houston’s 41-25 win over Detroit ended Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, and it also vaulted Deshaun Watson into No. 1 all-time in passer rating.

Sunday night was a 41-25 victory by the Packers and former record holder Aaron Rodgers over the Bears. It was a bumpy ride in between, with the Broncos literally having no quarterback to face the Saints, and we are still waiting to see if Ravens-Steelers is really happening this week.

Oh yeah, some guy named Patrick Mahomes hit 1,500 career attempts and now officially qualifies for rate statistics.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes: Week 12 at Buccaneers

Forget the GOAT. What about the perfect quarterback?

The perfect quarterback would be one without a weakness who never has a bad game. This would sound asinine to bring up a couple years ago, but through 47 games of his career, Patrick Mahomes has shown no weakness and he has never had a legitimately bad game.

On Sunday, he had one of his best games yet.

The marquee game of Week 12 was Kansas City at Tampa Bay, and wow, did the Chiefs fire the cannons early. The Mahomes to Tyreek Hill connection has never been better than it was in this game. In the first quarter alone, Hill had 7 catches, 203 yards, 2 TD. The Chiefs led 17-0 and only some issues in the red zone (strip-sack, three straight throwaways) prevented them from scoring 30 in the first half.

On 15 targets, Hill finished with 13 catches, 269 yards and 3 TD. In NFL history, only two other receivers ever hit all three of those marks in a game. Jerry Rice had 14/289/3 for the 49ers against the 1995 Vikings. Jimmy Smith had 15/291/3 for the Jaguars against the vaunted 2000 Ravens.

The 2020 Buccaneers have had a rough month on defense, but this was dynamic stuff from the Chiefs. The Buccaneers and Ravens have been labeled as Super Bowl contenders this year, but in both games on the road, the Chiefs went in there and piled up over 500 yards of offense on each of them in wins.

It actually feels like a disappointment that the Chiefs only scored 27 points given the 543 yards, including 490 total yards from Mahomes. But again, they had the red zone problems in the first half and then three straight punts in the second half, including a would-be 89-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman that the receiver dropped after it was just a little behind him. The Chiefs also punted on drives after Le’Veon Bell was stuffed on two runs (including 3rd-and-2), and on a fourth-quarter drive that was plagued by so many penalties it ended when Mahomes almost fit in a ball on 3rd-and-27 that would have at least set up an important field goal.

You basically have to hope this offense beats itself to have a chance.

However, even after the Buccaneers made it 27-24, Mahomes delivered in the four-minute offense again, draining the final 4:10 on the clock by gaining three first downs (two via his legs, one final third-down dagger to Hill). Mahomes and the Chiefs have been money in the four-minute offense going back to late last season:

You would have expected more from Tom Brady seeing as how CBS commentator Tony Romo deflated his balls for three hours in a way he hasn’t enjoyed since probably his New England days.

Honestly, if Romo never does another Brady game, it would be a gift to the football world. He could not find any fault with anything Brady has been doing this season, or even in this game where he started by sailing several passes nowhere close to a receiver. Romo saw drops when there was only inaccuracy, he saw miscommunication when balls flew over open receiver’s heads, and he thought a checkdown to Leonard Fournette that lost yards was “awesome” before basically blaming Brady missing an open receiver on the Bucs not running this play enough.

Not even John Madden would have stooped to this level of ass-sucking for Brett Favre during his 2005-06 rough patch in Green Bay. It was that atrocious to listen to.

Meanwhile, the player in this game who actually looks like he could be the greatest to ever play it, adds another memorable game to his growing list. This is the first time Mahomes has won a game in regulation in which he threw more than 45 passes (49).

Now that he has 1,500 career attempts, all those records like highest passer rating, most passing yards per game, and most passing touchdowns per game officially are in Mahomes’ name.

Romo still believes this is going to be the Super Bowl matchup in Tampa in February. After seeing Tampa Bay as of late, that doesn’t seem too likely. However, it does seem more than likely that we’ll watch the Buccaneers in the Wild Card round, and after falling behind by double digits, the TV analyst will remind us that Brady didn’t have a preseason with this team and they’re still figuring things out. You know, very normal things you would bring up about a team in their 17th game of the season.

Modern NFL audiences don’t really know how to handle the best team having the legitimately best quarterback at the same time.

As long as Peyton Manning was around, Tom Brady was not the best QB when the Patriots were the best team.

Troy Aikman in Dallas was never the best QB in the league; not when Brett Favre and Steve Young were around.

Yes, Joe Montana with the 49ers. For a brief period in 1989-90 this dynamic existed, but keep in mind the dynasty of the 80s was a toss-up until the 49ers repeated and won their fourth in 1989. Don’t just forget about the brutal period of 1985-87 where they lost three playoff games in a row and Montana was almost replaced permanently by Young. Montana won MVP in 1989 and 1990, but the three-peat was not to be after Montana was injured and Roger Craig fumbled against the Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. Earlier in the decade when Montana had two rings and uneven playoff performances, the Redskins beat them to three rings and Dan Marino was the dominant, record-setting quarterback for 1983-87. Montana really didn’t get back on top until that 1988 playoff run led into a historic 1989 season.

I’ll always be fond of the Steelers and can admit this was before my time, but I have little doubt that Roger Staubach – not Terry Bradshaw – was the best quarterback in the 1970s. Just like how I’d say the same about Johnny Unitas when Bart Starr (reality: Vince Lombardi) was leading the Packers to five championships in the 60s.

It would be a massive disappointment if this Chiefs team did not have a dynasty run, or at least end this historic drought of a repeat champion. This is different than the 2009-10 Saints or 2010-11 Packers or 2013-14 Seahawks. They’re different mostly because of Mahomes.

He’s Perfect Pat, or Patrick “Mr. Perfect” Mahomes. Are those good nicknames? Beats me. How do people say Tom Terrific and not feel their soul melt? All I know is in 15 years, I hope I’m still here to see Mahomes playing great, and that Tony Romo will be there giving him fellatio for a full broadcast.

Saints at Broncos: Fake Diesel vs. Fake Razor Ramon

It is still hard to believe this game happened the way it did in Denver. The Broncos had all four quarterbacks sidelined with COVID-19 due to Jeff Driskel’s positive test and the failure of the rest of the crew to wear masks. I get that they did wrong, but you’re going to tell me you can delay games a week (like Patriots-Broncos), or several days in Baltimore’s case, but not push this one back a day or two so the Broncos could develop some sort of offensive game plan? They had not even 24 hours before it was ruled on Saturday that those quarterbacks were ineligible to play. The point spread went from Denver +6 to Denver +17, and even that proved to be too generous.

It’s bad enough Taysom Hill was pretending to be a starting quarterback in place of Drew Brees, but now this? Imagine if the WWF in 1994 scheduled Diesel vs. Razor Ramon as the main event on Monday Night Raw, then put fake Diesel and fake Razor out there and acted like everything was legit. That was this game.

Fake Razor Ramon vs. Fake Diesel

Clearly, the integrity of the game was sacrificed by letting this game happen on Sunday. The Broncos lost 31-3, completed 1-of-9 passes for 13 yards with two interceptions, and took one sack as they started running back Phillip Lindsay in the Wildcat before using practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton as the “quarterback” for the game.

The teams combined for 75 net passing yards, the fewest in an NFL game since the 2009 Jets-Bengals finished with 63 in a season finale NBC was stuck televising since it pushed Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan’s Jets into the playoffs. The Bengals just wanted to rest Carson Palmer and company before losing to the Jets in the Wild Card the next week too.

The Broncos are the first team to complete one pass in a game since the legendary Cody Pickett performance in 2005 for the 49ers against the Bears.

Maybe the most depressing stat: despite trailing by 14-28 points the whole second half, the Broncos attempted just three pass plays after halftime. They wanted to get this embarrassment over with. The game finished in a speedy 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The Saints won 31-3 despite Taysom Hill completing 9 passes for 78 yards with three sacks. Last week, Alvin Kamara had the first game of his career with zero catches. This week, he had one catch, but for -2 yards.

What a mess. To be honest, I wish the Broncos would have tried some more trick plays. You basically had a free week to do anything you wanted without any real criticism. It’s an outright shame that Hinton was the only Denver player to throw a pass. Jerry Jeudy should have thrown one. They should have done a fake punt. Lindsay could have thrown a pass to Hinton, who is a wide receiver after all. He’s just never played in the NFL before Sunday, and that was the big problem.

At least if this happened in past years to a team like Pittsburgh, they could have put Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle El in the emergency QB spot. They not only had college QB experience, but they knew the playbook well from playing receiver. Hinton is a nobody from the practice squad. That’s also likely why we didn’t see much from Denver as there just was not enough time to get him ready to run plays. Still, drawing up a few things in the dirt on the sideline during the game should have happened to make this a bit more fun to watch.

Instead it will just go down as one of the saddest game experiences in NFL history.

Old-School New England Win

This might sound familiar. The undermanned Patriots, hosting a playoff-hopeful team from Arizona, picked up a 20-17 win on a long, clutch, last-second field goal after the Patriots’ quarterback had a lousy game (but got benefit of the doubt on a controversial penalty), the defense made a red-zone stop on fourth down before halftime, and the opposing kicker blew a go-ahead field goal with 1:47 left.

Just like how you used to draw them up, right Billy Boy?

I picked the Patriots to win this game, because I thought Kliff Kingsbury would shit his pants in his first game against Belichick. I think it’s fair to say he did just that. Kingsbury decided to go for a 4th-and-1 at the NE 1 to end the first half, leading 10-7. It’s really not a bad decision, but you lose the benefit of putting New England in poor field position if it doesn’t work, because this was to end the half. So you’re basically passing on three free points while also getting the ball first in the third quarter. Also, the Cardinals were getting solid pressure on Cam Newton and already hit him to force an interception. He didn’t look capable of leading a big offensive output in this one. I take my 13-7 lead into halftime and prepare my double score on the next drive.

But Kenyan Drake was stuffed, adding another memorable goal-line stand to a defense that has the most of anyone in the last two decades. The Cardinals also didn’t score for several more drives, and Kyler Murray’s interception set up a short field that Newton took advantage of for a go-ahead touchdown.

Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth quarter on a drive that took forever and was aided by multiple penalties on the Patriots. Newton’s second pick with 4:27 left seemed like it would prove costly, but Kingsbury screwed up again. Remember that big boy aggression he showed before halftime? He faced 4th-and-1 at the NE 27 with 1:52 left after the Patriots used their final timeout. That means he had a chance to convert and set up the game-winning field goal as the final play of the game. Kicking here, with your obviously shaky kicker, means you’re banking on a 45-yard field goal and your defense to stop Newton in four-down mode with almost two full minutes.

I know it would sound sacrilegious even 5-10 years

ago to bypass a field goal here, but the game has changed. Even bad offenses can get into field goal range quickly enough now given four downs, a heavy reliance on passing, mobile quarterbacks, and a lot of kickers can make from 50-plus now.

Kingsbury cowered again, and for the third time this year, Zane Gonzalez missed a clutch field goal. The Patriots almost went three-and-out, but Newton was able to scramble for 14 yards on 3rd-and-13, plus 15 more yards for a high hit that was however in bounds. That call was shaky and basically put New England in field goal range. Nick Folk hit from 50 yards out and the Patriots are now 5-6.

The three worst QBR games in a win this season have all happened in this stadium.

Lowest ESPN QBR in a win, 2020

  • 1. Cam Newton vs. Cardinals – 6.6
  • 2. Drew Lock at Patriots – 13.8
  • 3. Cam Newton vs. Raiders – 21.2

Maybe it’s a good thing fans aren’t there to watch this.

It was just in Week 9 against Miami when Gonzalez missed a 49-yard game-tying field goal with 1:53 left in a 34-31 loss where Murray was outstanding. Murray was far from outstanding in this game, but he played better than the winning QB, Newton.

This also means that in November 2020 alone, Kyler Murray (two) has lost more games after his kicker missed a clutch field goal than Tom Brady (one) has had in his 338-game career.

Interestingly enough, Brady’s lone loss was in 2012 against the Cardinals when Stephen Gostkowski missed from 42 yards out in a 20-18 loss. Before you say luck evens out, not so fast. When these teams met in 2016, Arizona lost 23-21 after Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in a game Jimmy Garoppolo started for a suspended Brady.

Two decades of the best clutch kicking skill (and luck) for New England.

Justin Herbert’s First Bad Game

Well, it was fun while it lasted to say that, like Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert doesn’t have bad games. The rookie had seven straight games with multiple touchdown passes, but only threw one in Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Buffalo. Herbert had a bad interception that set up Buffalo’s final field goal and the two-score margin. It is also only the second time Herbert was held under 20 points as a starter. The last time was his second start against Carolina, a game where he still threw for 330 yards and would have had a game-winning touchdown pass if a beautiful lateral pitch was not dropped by Austin Ekeler.

Ekeler returned to action on Sunday with mixed results. He only rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries, and Herbert seemed to rely on him too much in the passing game, completing 11-of-16 targets for 85 yards.

Herbert failed to get any completion of over 15 yards against a shaky Buffalo defense until he threw a 55-yard Hail Mary on 4th-and-27 in the closing minute, down 10 points. That could have saved the spread (+4.5), the over, and given him another multi-touchdown pass and 24+ point start, but the Chargers bungled the situation in the most Charger way possible. Instead of running up to spike the ball or throw another pass with 25 seconds left, the Chargers ran Ekeler for a yard to the 1-yard line. By the time the Chargers ran another play there were only 8 seconds left. Keep in mind they clearly needed a quick touchdown, then an onside kick recovery with enough time to set up a field goal. The run call was just inexcusable in that situation.

Earlier in the quarter, head coach Anthony Lynn called a timeout before still kicking a field goal on 4th-and-4. The field goal was fine. The problem was burning the timeout, and he didn’t even burn it quickly to save clock. Also, he went for a 4th-and-1 at the Buffalo 25 to start the quarter when the Chargers were down 10 when he should have been kicking then. That way he could go for it on fourth down next time, down a touchdown.

Oh yeah, Lynn also flirted with a fourth down before halftime at midfield before calling a timeout at 21 seconds before punting. Why not just go for it? If not, why use a timeout? Make Buffalo use a timeout to get the ball back.

Joey Bosa (3.0 sacks and fumble recovery) was amazing, Herbert was disappointing, and Buffalo’s offense was a bummer too to be honest. But Lynn was also a real sore spot for the Chargers, now 3-8, and I think that’s why we will see a change at head coach for the Chargers in 2021.

Adios, Matt Patricia (Who’s Next?)

With the Matt Patricia era over in Detroit, I must point out just how laughably bad he was in managing close games. Patricia’s Lions were 3-15-1 (.184) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 5-16-1 (.250) in all game-winning drive opportunities. Here is how that stacks up to the other 31 current coaches:

You can see Patricia had the worst record of anyone in at least their third season. Of the coaches below him, you have Matt Rhule at 0-7 with Carolina. He is safe as a first-year coach, but there is no denying that offense has been a big disappointment with Teddy Bridgewater and company when it comes to closing out games. On Sunday, they blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Vikings, not known for many comebacks with Kirk Cousins. Rhule committed the deadly sin of kicking a field goal to take a 6-point lead with nearly a full two minutes left. He did it facing a fourth-and-goal at the 3 too. Cousins marched down for the game-winning touchdown while the Panthers in return missed on a 54-yard field goal to end the game.

Meanwhile, Zac Taylor and Joe Judge met in likely the only game they’ll ever meet in the NFL (as head coaches at least) as the Giants beat the Bengals 19-17. Taylor (0-12-1) and Judge (0-5) have a combined 0-17-1 record at game-winning drive opportunities. The Giants were up 19-10 with under four minutes to play despite having to finish the game with Colt McCoy after Daniel Jones was injured. The Bengals were in this one with Brandon Allen at QB and even got the ball back at the 50 with 57 seconds to go, only needing a field goal. That’s a great situation to be in, and it likely sets up a field goal if Joe Burrow was still the quarterback. However, on the very first play Allen took a sack and fumbled to end the game.

Taylor is 0-22-1 when the Bengals trail after the 12:00 mark of the third quarter.

Do you know who else got a pass for losing his quarterback for half the season in his second year? Matt Patricia (2019). Maybe the Bengals ought to be thinking about “two-and-done” in this case. That’s still an improvement over what one-and-done usually means in Cincinnati.

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 Stat Oddity: Week 7

The Steelers and Seahawks were the NFL’s last two undefeated teams, and both continued their hot scoring streaks by racing out to 27 points before Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both tossed three interceptions. One team still prevailed after a kicker missed, and the other team almost prevailed after a kicker missed (but didn’t miss twice).

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

We’ve Seen This Seattle Show Before

The Seahawks went into a prime-time game on the road against a division foe for their biggest test of the season as Russell Wilson was leading the MVP race. Wilson had a mixture of highlights and struggles, but led the Seahawks to a late 3-point lead, which was answered by a game-tying field goal and overtime. Wilson threw an inexplicable interception in the extra period, but Seattle still looked poised to win after the opponent missed a game-winning field goal.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because it wasn’t just last night in Arizona, but it’s basically the same script the Seahawks followed in their 27-24 Monday night win in San Francisco last November. The difference is Wilson’s interception this time was too much to overcome, and Arizona didn’t miss a game-winning field goal twice, downing the 5-0 Seahawks by a 37-34 final.

Look, we know Seattle loves to play dangerously close to the vest, and even on a night where the offense compiled 377 yards in the first half, the lead was never greater than 13 and the offense went cold in the second half (three punts, two interceptions, and a 45-yard touchdown drive). It sounds weird to say since the Cardinals never led outside of kicking the game-winning field goal late in overtime, but Arizona deserved to win this game for making fewer mistakes.

It’s the signature win so far for the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era, but it wasn’t perfect of course. Murray saw a terrible interception from Wilson in the fourth quarter and immediately raised him one of his own on the next play. Still, it’s the first game in NFL history where both quarterbacks passed for over 300 yards and rushed for over 50 yards. For that matter they were both over 360/65, but we’ll footnote that one.

The worst part was in overtime when the Cardinals had the Seahawks on the ropes, but Murray lost 5 yards on a weird first-down play that looked like he was trying to center the ball. Kingsbury somehow was okay with kicking a 41-yard field goal on 2nd-and-15 instead of using the downs (and clock in case of a miss) to get closer. That’s when Zane Gonzalez was wide left on the game-winning kick after he made a warm-up try. That’s when you thought Seattle might pull this one out again, but after D.K. Metcalf had a game-winning touchdown taken away because of a correctly called holding penalty, Wilson threw his worst interception in quite some time as there was no receiver in the area. That set up redemption for Gonzalez in the form of a 48-yard field goal, and thankfully he made it to avoid the dreaded tie.

It was a classic Seattle letdown in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks led 34-24 with 6:44 left, but the Cardinals were able to slow roll their way to a touchdown, force a punt after five snaps using their four clock stoppages, and Murray delivered a last-minute field goal drive like a veteran.

It was classic Pete Carroll prevent in calling three-man rushes and even allowing the Cardinals to work in many run plays to complete the comeback. Murray even had a 15-yard QB draw on the game-tying field goal drive.

With the loss, the Seahawks broke a streak of posting a 59-0 record in the Wilson era (2012-20) when leading at halftime by at least 4 points. Now I’m not a big fan of such stats when we know this team blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. We know in 2015 that Andy Dalton led a 17-point 4QC against the Seahawks and Cam Newton led the Panthers back from a 9-point deficit. Games like that tell me more about your ability to close teams out than some quirky stat about the score at halftime.

Of course, we used to see this often for Seattle. In Wilson’s first four years, they blew 15 fourth-quarter leads. That number has gone down in the four-plus seasons since to eight while Wilson has been leading a very similar share of close wins.

  • 2012-2015: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 15 4QC wins for opponents
  • 2016-2020: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 8 4QC wins for opponents

If you look at Wilson’s career compared to other great, successful quarterbacks, you’ll see he really stands out in just how many of his games come down to late theatrics like on Sunday night (or Sunday night against Minnesota, or Sunday night against the Patriots, or Sunday night against the 49ers in Week 17 last year, etc.)

The table is sorted by highest percentage of losses where the opponent had a 4QC win, and Wilson has a staggering rate now as 47.4% of his losses have been comebacks against Seattle. The other quarterbacks are all more than 15 percentage points behind him. Wilson is also the only quarterback listed to win more than 25% of his games via 4QC. Finally, Wilson has the highest rate of his starts that are a 4QC for his team (17.4%) and a 4QC against his team (15.4%).

Drew Brees has the most losses by a QB in NFL history after leading in the fourth quarter (39), but if Wilson plays as long as Brees has, he’ll be around 45 such games at this current pace.

Sunday was just the latest case where the ball bounced the opponent’s way too often, but it is also one where Wilson was largely at fault for the outcome. He’s still leading the MVP race in my eyes, but if he has more moments like this in the upcoming stretch of three division games out of the next four, then things are going to get interesting again.

However, when is it not interesting with Wilson and the Seahawks? Put them on SNF next week too against the 49ers. Spare us your Dallas-Philadelphia horseshit, NFL.

Steelers Win Big Road Game, But Are the Titans a Playoff Team?

The shocking stat I pulled out for my Steelers-Titans preview was that the Steelers had lost 36 of their last 37 road games to playoff teams when allowing more than 21 points. Well, either the Titans aren’t making the playoffs this year after a 5-0 start, or the Steelers just picked up their second such win in the last 38 tries.

Pittsburgh improved to 6-0, all alone with the best record in the NFL for the first time since 2004, by beating the Titans 27-24, but it sure wasn’t easy. They overcame an uneven game from Ben Roethlisberger, who was masterful on third down (Steelers: 13/18) and in building a 27-7 lead, but he also threw three interceptions. The Steelers only managed a field goal on their final six possessions.

The Titans hung in there to the end, but a rough day from Ryan Tannehill culminated with a huge intentional grounding penalty that led to a game-tying field goal attempt. Stephen Gostkowski has some great career numbers, but the reason he was never revered in New England like Adam Vinatieri is the lack of huge clutch kicks on his resume. It’s not that he was terrible at them, but he just wasn’t put in that position often. The Titans put him there from 45 yards away with 19 seconds left, but he pulled the kick wide right to end the game. He only lost one game in similar fashion for the Patriots back in 2012 against Arizona.

This was definitely as good as any road win the Steelers have had since knocking off the 5-0 Chiefs at Arrowhead in 2017. The second half gives me some pause, but this team can prove a lot of naysayers wrong next week with another win at Baltimore, the ultimate test of the season. If the Steelers can win that game, then it’s not a stretch to say they can be 10-0 when the teams meet again in Week 12 given the upcoming schedule (DAL, CIN, JAX).

The 2020 Steelers, along with this year’s Seahawks, remain very consistent scorers. They are the 11th and 12th teams since 1940 to score at least 26 points in each of their first six games:

Several of the best offenses of all time are in that list, and all of the teams in the Super Bowl era finished no worse than third in scoring and seven out of nine made it to at least a Conference Championship Game.

I’m not saying to pencil in a Super Bowl XL rematch by any means, but this has been good so far.

Denver’s Demoralizing Day

You know, it must suck to lose a game 43-16, but it must suck even more to do it when it’s snowing and the temperature is in the teens. The first snow game this season unsurprisingly took place in Denver, but it showed just how far behind the Broncos are not only to the Chiefs, but how they’re also falling behind the rest of the division with Justin Herbert looking like a stud for the Chargers.

Drew Lock, I’m not sure how he pissed off the football gods to draw Patrick Mahomes twice in the snow already, but Lock was the bigger story on Sunday for all the wrong reasons. Lock continuously missed throws, bypassed easier plays, and just looked lost out there even after the snow eased up. Sure, injuries have been horrible for Denver this season, but aside from Courtland Sutton, he had most of the intended offense out there around him on Sunday. Denver’s running game was quite good with the two main backs combining for 147 yards on 26 carries, but it didn’t matter. The defense did a more than respectable job on the Chiefs, holding Mahomes to 200 passing yards and the Chiefs were 0-for-8 on third down.

Do you know how hard it is to make a team go 0-8 on third down and still lose 43-16?

The Chiefs are the 98th team since 1991 to have zero third down conversions on at least eight attempts, but they’re the first team out of the 98 to win the game by more than 22 points. That’s what two return touchdowns can do for you, but it still capped off another big scoring day for a team that is so used to walking into the building with at least 23 points on the board.

That’s right, the Chiefs had a record-long streak of scoring 23+ points (including playoffs), had it stopped in a 19-13 loss to the Colts last year, and immediately continued on the second-longest streak in history that should replace the old one with the Jets and Panthers up next. Amazing stuff.

Denver has not beaten the Chiefs since a beaten down Peyton Manning had the worst game of his professional career in 2015. But it’s not a coincidence that the Broncos haven’t been relevant ever since Manning retired following that Super Bowl season, and it’s not looking good so far for Lock being the answer at the most important position on the team.

Lock may have rushed for a touchdown on Sunday, but even that was matched by Chad Henne in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter.

Don’t Bury Brees and the Saints Yet

New Orleans (4-2) won a third game in a row, taking down Carolina 27-24 after one of the best third-down performances on offense on record. The Saints finished 12 of 14 on third down (85.7%). The only better performance since 1991 (min. 8 attempts) belongs to Drew Brees and the Saints as well. They were 11 of 12 (91.7%) on third down against the Lions in a 42-7 win in 2008.

I really do wonder if the lack of a big crowd is helping some of these ridiculous third-down performances this year, though this game was in New Orleans. The Steelers were in Tennessee and the Eagles were in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago as examples of road teams feasting on third down. It’s something to keep an eye on in 2020.

We’ll learn plenty about the 2020 Saints as they travel to Chicago and Tampa Bay the next two weeks but going almost perfect on third down without your top two wideouts (Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) is impressive to me.

Games involving the Saints have been high scoring this year with both teams scoring at least 23 points in all six games. That’s only been done by two other teams in NFL history: 2002 Bills and 2012 Saints (go figure). The difference is the Saints were 2-4 in 2012 when they did that versus 4-2 this year. (Note: The 2020 Seahawks have also done this.)

If Thomas and Sanders can return for these upcoming games, then we’ll finally get a sense of what the offense can be at “full strength” this season.

F*** the Falcons

If you’re wondering why I’m not going over how the Falcons imploded this time against Detroit, it’s because I don’t feel like giving public attention to my abusers. I’m hurt and I’m tired of it.

Just take two knees, kick a field goal and the game should be won. Don’t even let Todd Gurley make a mistake by scoring a touchdown he had no business scoring, or that ridiculous defense taking the field on the final drive.

Enough is enough.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

After observing an odd day of NFL action and listening to David Bowie, on the spur of the moment I came up with an idea that might become a weekly column for me to share unique research and thoughts from that day’s games.

Welcome to NFL Stat Oddity, where just like Star Wars we begin with Episode IV of a story already long in progress.

2020: Defense Does Not Exist

Heading into the Monday night double-header, NFL games in Week 4 have averaged 54.2 combined points. If this average holds, it would be the NFL’s highest single week in the regular season since at least 2001.

In Week 14 of the 2013 season, teams averaged 53.7 combined points, including a trio of memorable snow games (Vikings-Ravens, Steelers-Dolphins, and Lions-Eagles). The Patriots also pulled off a late 12-point comeback (after an onside kick) to beat the Browns 27-26, and the Broncos waxed the Titans 51-28. The week ended with the peak of the Marc Trestman era in Chicago as the Bears defeated Dallas 45-28 with Josh McCown having himself a day on Monday Night Football.

With the Chiefs and Packers still set to host the Patriots and Falcons, this looks like a pretty safe bet to hold up the average in what is trending to be the highest-scoring season in NFL history with passing numbers once again exploding. After a most unusual offseason and no preseason games, pass defenses have been very slow out the gates to keep up with the offenses.

Dak Prescott/Mike McCarthy and Tony Romo/Jason Garrett: The Spider-Man Meme

The biggest spectacle on Sunday was in Dallas where the Browns ripped off 34 straight points to take a commanding 41-14 lead before Dak Prescott nearly got a crack at leading the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.

It was only the fifth game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 38 points while gaining at least 500 yards. The Cowboys and Browns have both been there before.

Cleveland defeated the Bengals 51-45 in 2007 in what has been the best offensive game for the 2.0 Browns since returning in 1999, though Sunday gives it some competition at least. Cleveland’s 307 rushing yards were the most ever allowed by Dallas. The Cowboys lost 51-48 to Peyton Manning’s Broncos in 2013 in a game I consider the ultimate Tony Romo experience. He passed for 506 yards, but threw a late interception that set up Denver’s game-winning field goal.

In those five shootouts of 38 points/500 yards, the home team was 3-2 with Dallas suffering both losses. Much like Romo against Denver, Dak Prescott passed for just over 500 yards before ending his day with an interception. Amari Cooper admitted to not seeing the route through well enough, but the game already felt decided by that point. How many improbable onside kick recoveries can one team get in a month anyway? Still, it’s a loss that puts Dallas at 1-3 and looks pretty similar to a lot of the high-scoring losses the Cowboys had in the Romo/Garrett era.

Prescott passed for 502 yards, the 24th 500-yard game in NFL history (including playoffs). After passing for 450 yards against Atlanta and 472 yards against Seattle in the previous two weeks, Prescott has stamped his name in several places in the record books. First, his 1,424 passing yards are the most in any three-game span in NFL history. He’s the first quarterback to pass for 450 yards in three straight games. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only other quarterback to ever hit 400 yards in three straight games, and he didn’t even surpass 420 in any of those games in 2018 with Tampa Bay. Prescott’s 1,657 passing yards in 2020 are also the most ever through the first four games of a season in NFL history.

Yet the Cowboys are 1-3 and frankly should be 0-4 if Atlanta would just recover that onside kick. It’s been a frustrating season for Prescott, my preseason MVP pick, but there’s always a chance when you play in the NFC East, a division currently led by the Eagles with a 1-2-1 record. Now if only the defense would show up for a game. Had Prescott been able to get the ball back one more time after cutting the score to 41-38 with 3:42 left, we may have seen the largest fourth-quarter comeback (27 points) in NFL history. But Odell Beckham Jr. avoided a loss in the backfield and rushed 50 yards for a touchdown to ice this one. The Dallas offense is potent, but lost fumbles continue to be a major problem with two more on Sunday.

Prescott betting on himself has looked brilliant so far, but he may need to turn down Jerry Jones’ money and find a better team if he’s to avoid the fate of Romo: remembered best for big numbers and the games he lost instead of anything he won.

Rookie QBs Make History, But with an Asterisk?

Remember when the pandemic and lack of a preseason was going to really hurt the rookie quarterbacks in 2020? Well, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow just completed his third-straight 300-yard passing game, a record streak for any rookie in NFL history. It led to his first win too, 33-25 over the Jaguars.

Burrow almost had company immediately with Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, who came up 10 yards shy of his third-straight 300-yard passing game. Herbert’s 931 passing yards trail only Cam Newton (1,012 yards) for the second most in NFL history through a player’s first three games. He even surpassed the former No. 2, Patrick Mahomes (866 yards). After taking Mahomes to overtime in his first game and holding a 17-point lead against Tampa Bay and Tom Brady before losing, Herbert could be a special one for years to come.

Then again, consider that record start by Newton in 2011, the year of the lockout. Newton passed for at least 374 yards in three of his first four games. He was going to crush the record books too, right? Not quite. Over his next 122 regular season games and seven playoff games, Newton never passed for more than 357 yards. It wasn’t until Week 2 in Seattle this year, now the COVID-19 season, where he passed for 397 yards with the Patriots. That means his four most prolific passing games have all come in years where there was a lockout or pandemic that messed with the offseason.

When you consider the record numbers, especially in regards to passing yards, from Dak Prescott, Burrow, and Herbert this season, it certainly feels like 2011 all over again when defenses started off so poorly. That season was the peak one for Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. It was also easily one of Tom Brady’s best years and his only 5,000-yard passing season.

We’ll see if 2020 continues to play out this way, but if it does and numbers return to normal once the world hopefully does, then we’ll have to say that there was stat inflation this year much like we should still point out every time 2011 comes up.

Of Course the Chargers Blew It Against Tom Brady

We’ll eventually find out how good the 2020 Buccaneers are, but the fact that Tom Brady gets to play the Chargers and two games against the NFC version of the Chargers (Atlanta) this year doesn’t seem fair.

Brady should retire with a nine-game winning streak against the Chargers, a team that has found every way imaginable to lose to him since the 2006 playoff game where they fumbled his third interception back to him in the fourth quarter. Sure, this time the Chargers returned his interception for a touchdown and led 24-7 in the first half, but even if you take Philip Rivers and New England out of the equation, the Chargers still found a way to go Chargering against a Brady-led team.

Everything was going fine until the final minute of the first half. The Chargers were up 24-7 with 47 seconds left at their own 9. Tampa Bay was down to one timeout and with the Chargers getting the ball to start the second half, there was no need to get aggressive. In fact, in that situation the best play is to take two knees, especially with your rookie quarterback (Herbert) and rookie backup running back (Joshua Kelley) in after starter Austin Ekeler left with an injury.

But the Chargers just had to hand off the ball to Kelley, who promptly fumbled on first down. Now Brady was only 6 yards away from the end zone and cashed in the golden opportunity with a touchdown to Mike Evans on third down. Suddenly the game was much different at 24-14 and the Buccaneers went on to roll the Chargers in the second half of a 38-31 win.

This is just the latest example of why I refer to Brady as the luckiest QB in NFL history.

The shocking fumble completely changed the game for Brady and Tampa. From the pick-six to the Evans touchdown, Brady had a play success rate of 3-of-19 (15.8%). That’s horrible. But from the Evans touchdown thru the end of the game, Brady was unstoppable with a success rate of 88.9% (16-of-18), a top candidate for his strongest stretch of play in any game since 2019. He finished with 369 yards and five touchdown passes in the record 60th win decided in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career (fourth comeback against the Chargers).

It was classic Brady in the sense that he was playing poorly, the opponent did something stupid, one of his teammates made a play, and he got an extra chance to get back in the game. While he deserves credit for making the most of his opportunity, it’s the fact that he always seems to get these opportunities — through none of his own doing — that most quarterbacks don’t is the reason I call it luck.

How often do you see a team try to run the clock out deep in their own end and they fumble before the half? Well, since 1994 this is only the second time it’s happened in the last 27 seasons. To be specific, we’re talking about a leading team starting a conservative drive (i.e. no quarterback dropbacks) in the final 60 seconds of the second quarter and fumbling on a running play inside their own 20.

In 2010, the Cowboys had a 7-3 lead against Detroit and had the ball with 48 seconds left at their own 4. Felix Jones fumbled on first down and the Lions turned that into a touchdown. The only other comparable situation in the last 27 years was a 2016 game between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Arizona led 14-0 and had a drive that started with 1:11 left (so outside of 1:00) at its own 8. David Johnson carried for 3 yards before fumbling on a second-down play that started with 37 seconds left. Seattle turned that into a field goal after Russell Wilson threw three incompletions from the 9. Arizona still won the game 34-31 on a last-second field goal.

These end-of-half fumbles just don’t happen in the NFL, but when you combine the conflicting karmic forces of Brady and the Chargers, odd shit tends to be the result. At least Sunday should be the last time we have to see it.

Matt Patricia Is Who I Thought He Was

Teams that lead by double digits tend to win in the NFL, but as the kids like to say these days, Matt Patricia is just DIFFERENT. According to ESPN and my no-stat-crediting nemesis the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lions are riding the longest losing streak in NFL history (six games) in games where they held a double-digit lead.

After taking a 14-0 lead on banged-up New Orleans, the Lions fell behind 35-14 and only put up a mild rally late to fall 35-29. This season alone, the Lions have blown a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to Chicago, an early 11-point lead to Green Bay, and now this early 14-point lead to the Saints. It’s the fifth time Patricia has blown a lead of at least 11 points, something former coach Jim Caldwell did six times in his four seasons with the team (2014-17).

I roasted Patricia in 2018 when the Lions hired him:

That tweet didn’t go over well with Detroit fans, but after a 10-25-1 start and a 2-15-1 record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, I think they’ve all come around to realize this is the next coach to fire in the NFL.

Kyler Murray: Deja Ew

Rest in peace to the Kyler Murray 2020 MVP Campaign:

Born 9/13/2020

Died 10/4/2020 (9/27/2020 Also Appropriate)

Arizona’s second straight loss, 31-21 in Carolina, led to another shocking stat line for Murray. He completed 24 passes for only 133 yards, the fewest yards in NFL history for anyone with 24 completions. Worse, Murray already had a game last year against the 49ers where he had the fourth-fewest yards on 24 completions:

That’s not a good look to show up twice there, but it gets worse. Here’s the updated look at the fewest passing yards for each completion mark from 24 through 40 in games since 1950. Murray shows up twice for his games against the Panthers:

Out of the 17 games on the list, Murray has the two with the lowest yards per completion (YPC) figures, not even breaking 5.8 YPC against what have not been good Carolina defenses. Now maybe Carolina has this offense’s number, but like I said, Murray has been flirting with these low averages before. It’s something to watch and will require a deeper dive at some point, but the screen-heavy Cardinals passing game that Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury have put together isn’t the most effective at moving the ball. Murray would really be lost if he wasn’t such a good runner as he did have 78 yards on the ground on Sunday. However, the Cardinals were out of the game early and are looking like they’re still the bottom team in the NFC West this year.

While Murray’s counterpart on Sunday, Teddy Bridgewater, has the reputation of being a dink-and-dunker, it’s safe to say that title better suits Murray through 20 games of his NFL career.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Island Game Gold

Making an NFL schedule months in advance isn’t easy, but things really lucked out for the schedule makers this week. TNF was a great choice between the Raiders and Chiefs, and SNF (ATL-NE) and MNF (WAS-PHI) are really the other highlight matches of Week 7. Will the games actually be worth a damn to watch? We’ll see, but it’s a perfect prime-time lineup.

Cardinals vs. Rams

I thought this might have also been an island game (London), but it’s actually being played at 1 p.m. EST. Figures, they finally get a somewhat decent London game and it’s lumped together with the other early-afternoon slate. The fact that this is a division game is pretty wild, and definitely not fair to the Rams who will have to go to Arizona for the rematch in Week 13. Maybe that game should have been scheduled for Mexico City just to make things even and not rob one team (Rams) of a true home game.

Adrian Peterson balled out last week in his Arizona debut, but I think the defenses will stiffen in this one and he won’t have nearly the same success. Ditto for Carson Palmer through the air. Aaron Donald should feast on that line. I think some of the shine has come off Jared Goff again, but he did play the Seattle and Jacksonville pass defenses. Still, throwing a lot of off-target passes and relying on superior field position and YAC this year. Not a long-term formula for success. Still, I cautiously side with the Rams to pull this one out due to protecting the QB better than I expect Arizona will. Rams have also been playing well on special teams while Arizona remains one of the worst.

Saints at Packers

Very interesting one after the Aaron Rodgers injury. Yes, Saints defense has played better after the first two weeks, but still not a good unit by any means. I want to give Brett Hundley and Mike McCarthy a good shot here at home before I bury the Packers for 2017. Back in 2010, Rodgers left a game in Detroit with a concussion and Matt Flynn came off the bench in a 7-3 loss. With a week to prepare as a first-time starter, Flynn came out in New England and tossed three touchdowns in a competitive 31-27 loss. Hundley was a better college prospect than Flynn, and he’s had a few years in the system and got a lot of preseason experience (similar to Tony Romo in 2006). I like to think McCarthy can prepare Hundley to play well in an offense that still has good receiving talent. I think I’m actually going to back the Packers in this one, because the Saints haven’t been as explosive on offense this season as usual, and I think they’ll rally behind Hundley to play a strong team game without Rodgers.

Falcons at Patriots

Ah yes, the Super Bowl LI rematch. I wasn’t fooling around when I said the other day that these could easily be 1-win teams right now.

Falcons beat GB comfortably, but the Bears were inches away from a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds in Week 1. The Lions were inches away from a touchdown (Golden Tate) on the final play in Week 3 that would have won the game. Atlanta just blew two home games to the Bills and Dolphins, including another 17+ point lead. So there’s your inches away from a 1-4 start.

As for the Patriots, their only comfortable win was in New Orleans. They really should have been 1-3 after Tom Brady had a fumble and dropped interception on what became the game-winning drive against Houston. Stop and think about that one for a second. Deshaun Watson might be the MVP front-runner right now if his safety held onto a Brady pick and the Texans would be 4-2. Something not even in his control. Ugh. But that’s 1-3, then we’ve seen the Patriots skate by the Buccaneers (two Nick Folk missed FGs and Jameis Winston’s last pass was terrible to win the game) and Jets (blew a 14-0 lead, awful calls went against NY, and yes the ASJ fumble was weak).

The point is these teams aren’t playing very good football this season, records be damned. They were both on hot runs going into SB LI, but I’m not impressed with what we’ve seen this year. The Patriots give up a 300-yard passer every week, but have still kept the points down on defense in the four wins (20, 26, 14 and 17). Yards don’t really matter if you’re not turning them into points, and with Atlanta, we see the offense No. 1 in yards per drive, but third in points. Last year it was 1 and 1 for the Falcons. Matt Ryan’s had some pretty awful luck with tipped INTs (4 of his 6 picks hit his receiver). Julio Jones has been very quiet, but I think he’ll come alive in this one. Still, I can’t possibly trust the Falcons to go on the road and win this one even if the Patriots look vulnerable enough to drop several home games this season. The Atlanta defense still isn’t good enough at getting stops, and the Patriots are still doing a fine job offensively this season.

Redskins at Eagles

In a season without any real great teams, these two are quietly in the top 6 in DVOA right now. This is a rematch from Week 1, won 30-17 by the Eagles, but that final score is a bit misleading. There was a late fumble-six that really should have been ruled an incomplete pass with Washington still having time to win the game with a touchdown. Earlier in that quarter, Kirk Cousins threw one of the worst interceptions of anyone this season when he panicked against a blitz and missed a wide-open receiver in the red zone in a 2-point game. Cousins has only tossed one INT since then, and that was a bomb on third-and-long that served as a punt. He’s played well, but he has to be sharper against the Eagles. I think the injuries on defense (Josh Norman and Jonathan Allen) leave the Redskins too short handed to deal with all of Philadelphia’s weapons, and the Eagles also are one of the best special teams this year. I’ll take Philadelphia at home.

2017 Week 7 Predictions

I actually had the Chiefs by 6 points on TNF, so I would have been fuming if I went through with that bet after the 31-30 loss on the final play(s).

Winners in bold.

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

I think you could put Seattle and Pittsburgh on upset alerts. Long travel for the Seahawks against a good secondary when the passing offense hasn’t been too hot yet. Bengals play the Steelers tougher in Pittsburgh than they do at home. Also point out how close the 49ers have been to a win, and they gave Dallas about all it could handle last year too. Not a lot of games I feel confident in here, but it’s just been that kind of season. I mean, look at this awful track record I’m putting up in 2017:

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Season: 48-43

NFL Week 7 Predictions: And All That Could Have Been

 

In writing about the Steelers, Cardinals and Seahawks for FOA 2016 this past summer, I had a lot of expectations for Week 7 as a crucial day in determining home-field advantage for several of the top Super Bowl favorites. Now that the time has come, we are left with two games that are nowhere near the level of interest that I thought we’d get. In fact, Sunday evening has me looking more forward to which character bites the dust on The Walking Dead (and it better not be Glenn after all this lame buildup).

Patriots at Steelers

So much for that AFC Game of the Year, right? The Steelers host the Patriots in a battle of Super Bowl favorites, but unfortunately there is no Ben Roethlisberger in this one. Instead of perhaps the top quarterback duel of the season, we get to watch Landry Jones, who threw four interceptions in limited action in a preseason game this year. This is a huge disappointment. Roethlisberger always seems to miss some time each season, but it is possible this is the only game he misses. ESPN did report a potential 4-6 week absence, but I would guess that Roethlisberger misses Sunday and the Baltimore game in Week 9 (obligatory missed Ravens game) at worst.

But go figure, it’s the biggest game of the year for the Steelers and Roethlisberger cannot go. I spent a large chunk of my FOA essay talking about how the Steelers’ season was going to be determined by how well they play the Patriots, and now we get an expected blowout. Oh, the Patriots should be 10-point favorites if we’re being honest here. We already know that Tom Brady shreds this defense, and this is a unit that recorded the lowest pressure rate on Ryan Tannehill in his 70-game career last week. When you take Cameron Heyward, the best overall player on this defense, out of the game, there are going to be issues. While LeGarrette Blount could have a solid game, we know this is going to be about Brady throwing at will and throwing quickly to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, James White and Martellus Bennett. Chris Hogan might even get a 50-plus yard play before this one’s over. Pittsburgh’s only real hope was for Roethlisberger to lead his own offensive charge at home, which was certainly possible against the 25th-ranked pass defense.

Now with Jones at quarterback, the Steelers are very limited in preparing a winning game plan. It basically consists of the Patriots crapping their pants with turnovers (at least a minus-two differential), which is unlikely to happen against a defense that is struggling to do anything destructive right now. On the other side, yes, Jones has Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at his disposal. He has a solid offensive line. But he is also a mistake prone quarterback, or exactly the kind that Bill Belichick loves to exploit.

I’m not sure if the Steelers can impose their will with a ground-heavy attack that features Bell (DeAngelo Williams is out). There are plenty of plays to be had against this New England defense, but as always, it tightens up in the red zone and keeps the points down. Jones will have to make some big plays on crucial downs, and Mike Tomlin needs to understand that a surprise onside kick or going for it repeatedly on fourth down can be helpful in this game. Remember when Matt Flynn nearly led an upset of the Patriots in 2010? Mike McCarthy had a brilliant surprise onside kick in the first half. Tricks like that may have to be used here. Because I just don’t see how they defend this Brady offense with the weakest defense they have yet to put on the field against it.

Frankly, I don’t expect the Steelers to put up much of a fight, but maybe that’s not a terrible thing. While I dread the thought of this team trying to win in Foxboro in January, it would certainly be a much different game when your best player on both sides of the ball returns. Don’t show the Patriots a whole lot in this one, and learn from what they show you for next time.  We know every Belichick playoff loss has been a rematch from the regular season.

Final: Patriots 36, Steelers 21

Seahawks at Cardinals

Seattle is starting to shape into the team we have come to expect, thanks to some improved health along the offensive side of the ball. The defense hasn’t blown a fourth-quarter lead yet, and actually broke some major tendencies by aggressively blitzing Matt Ryan on four straight plays last week in the 26-24 win. Meanwhile, Arizona is hard to figure out so far. The Cardinals have already blown two fourth-quarter leads, but still have the No. 1 pass defense. David Johnson has been very consistent, but Carson Palmer has not been. He’s not hitting the vertical passes at anywhere near the MVP-caliber rate he was last season, and we’re not seeing as much production from John Brown and Michael Floyd.

The Seahawks have actually blown the doors off Arizona in the three years that Bruce Arians has been the head coach, so there is no fear of performing in this building. Russell Wilson has eight touchdowns to zero interceptions since 2013 in three Arizona starts. I think both defenses are solid, but right now, there are more ways for the Seahawks to attack the Cardinals with Wilson’s mobility, the emergence of Christine Michael, the versatility of the wide receivers and better play from Jimmy Graham. The Seattle defense has been shutting down running backs cold, and while Johnson has broken 100 yards from scrimmage in each game this season, I think that stops in this one. Palmer will have to be pinpoint and great, and I just don’t see that happening in this one.

Final: Seahawks 27, Cardinals 19

2016 Week 7 Predictions

I finally had a strong week last week (12-3), and kept it going with the Packers winning on Thursday night against a putrid Chicago team that just will not kindly piss off from these prime-time games.

Winners in bold:

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

I fully expect the Denver defense to make Brock Osweiler look silly on Monday night. In a similar fashion, I think Minnesota’s defense will travel well to Philadelphia, and even if Sam Bradford doesn’t do a whole lot, he’ll have a better day than Carson Wentz as the Vikings continue their undefeated season. Finally, even though I think DeMarco Murray should go nuts and the Titans should beat Indy at home, we are talking about the Titans here. Somehow (say a GWD), some way (Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton), the Colts get a win in this one.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Season: 52-40