NFL Week 16 Predictions: Holiday Edition

It just hit me that with a game on Friday for Christmas and three games on Saturday, I needed to get this posted today.

Clearly, the NFL planned out a much better Week 16 than what reality has brought us this holiday weekend.

Vikings-Saints should have been a big-time Christmas matchup for the playoffs, but Minnesota’s struggles and the Saints’ two-game slide have lessened the hype over that playoff rematch from a year ago.

San Francisco is already eliminated from the playoffs and will finish last in the NFC West. I wrote a preview for 49ers-Cardinals here.

The Saturday night game between Miami and Las Vegas has playoff implications, though it would have been more interesting if the Raiders (7-7) didn’t lose last week. Also would prefer to see Marcus Mariota get the start, but here we go again with Derek Carr (see preview).

My third preview is on Falcons-Chiefs, noting that the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win six straight games by fewer than six points. Something, namely Atlanta, tells me this will be an easy win so that they can rest starters in Week 17 with the top seed wrapped up.

Eagles-Cowboys could have been for the division, but both teams disappointed and Dak Prescott suffered a serious injury. At least Jalen Hurts looks promising for the Eagles in taking over for Carson Wentz.

Rams-Seahawks could be good, though the Rams are coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history, and Seattle’s offense has not been great for a while now.

The Sunday night game should be a high-scoring affair between the Packers and Titans. I like the preview I came up for that one.

Then there’s Bills-Patriots on MNF. This could have been the passing of the torch game where Buffalo won the division, but the Bills already won it last week while the Patriots are eliminated at 6-8. New England is a brutal watch this season. Still, it’s a game where the Bills can complete the sweep and show off their dominance in the division this year.

I do want to backtrack to one other game this Sunday that I will be watching in full.

Colts at Steelers (+1.5)

It is a rare meeting between what I once considered my two favorite teams in the league. If I couldn’t root for the Steelers to win, I would root for the Colts, especially in the Peyton Manning years.

This is only going to be the 11th meeting between these teams since 2002 (including playoffs), though more interesting than that is the quarterback situation. This could be only the second time in the last seven meetings where both teams had their intended quarterback start and finish the game.

  • 2011: IND-Curtis Painter started for an injured Peyton Manning, who missed the whole season for neck surgery.
  • 2015: IND-Matt Hasselbeck started for an injured Andrew Luck (lacerated kidney).
  • 2016: IND-Scott Tolzien started on Thanksgiving for an injured Andrew Luck, who only missed one game that season.
  • 2017: IND-Jacoby Brissett started for an injured Andrew Luck, who missed the entire season.
  • 2019: PIT-Mason Rudolph started for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, who was on IR with elbow surgery. For Indy, Jacoby Brissett started the game after Luck retired just before the season, but Brissett left injured early and was replaced by Brian Hoyer.

The only time the Colts and Steelers had their quarterback stay healthy for the game was the 2014 shootout in Pittsburgh, won 51-34 by the Steelers. Luck was solid with 400 yards, but Roethlisberger had arguably the best passing stat line of the 21st century: 40/49 for 522 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 150.6 PR, 0 sacks.

This week, Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are on track to start this game, with Rivers set to become the ninth quarterback to start 250 games (including playoffs). Roethlisberger is at 251.

But that 251st start for Roethlisberger on Monday night in Cincinnati is one of the most embarrassing games of his career. Frankly, given the opponent, I’ve never seen a poorer half of football from the Steelers than that first half. Things got a little better in the second half, but not by much. Pittsburgh has lost three in a row after an 11-0 start and hasn’t scored 20 points in four straight games. Throw in the Colts on a 5-1 run with 26+ points in every game and you can see why the Steelers are a 1.5-point underdog in this one.

I’m rushing this out on Christmas Eve so I’m not in any mood to go into details about the Steelers’ offensive struggles. There will be a time and place for that since, perhaps unfortunately, this team will have a playoff game. With the way they are playing, they will not win another game this season, potentially losing the division to Cleveland and going one-and-done as a wild card team.

With the way the offense has played the last two weeks, I think this team would lose to the Jaguars and Jets right now. For four straight weeks the offense has struggled and actually gotten worse each week instead of finding any changes or improvements.

Can I really expect anything to change on a short week against a superior opponent? No, I don’t. Pittsburgh’s best hope in this matchup is that Rivers lets the pass rush get to him and turns the ball over a few times, or at least once for a touchdown. Set up the offense on short fields and maybe they’ll take advantage. But the Colts are playing too well right now on both sides of the ball and the Steelers are not.

Final: Colts 24, Steelers 20

NFL Week 16 Predictions

Here are all my picks for the week.

I know I said I was done picking the Jets ATS, but I just kinda like this spot for them to tease us with maybe going on the most pointless winning streak of all time. But in the end the Browns will win that game.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 13

It is getting harder to tell when an NFL week begins and ends this season, but the best of Week 13 may still be ahead of us on Monday and Tuesday. Even during a very “meh” late afternoon slate on Sunday, the NFL still surprised us with one of the biggest upsets of the season in Seattle, a ridiculous blowout in Los Angeles, and maybe the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia.

Even though I did not love these 12 games on Sunday, I still found something to write about eight of them. You might as well enjoy these NFL Sundays while you can as there are only four more of them this season.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes: Week 13 vs. Broncos

We start with the last game on Sunday night, the surprisingly low-scoring 22-16 win by the Chiefs over Denver. The Broncos not scoring much should come as no surprise, but for only the second time in 48 starts, Patrick Mahomes did not put up 23 points with the Chiefs.

Well, he actually did, but Andy Reid sent the punt team out in a hurry instead of challenging what would have been a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill in the second quarter after the receiver bobbled the ball, only for it to land on him without touching the ground.

That was one of just three drives (out of nine) where the Chiefs did not score points on the night, however the red zone was again a huge problem with Kansas City settling for four field goals down there.

One problem I see is too many cutesy, horizontal plays. Stop trying to flip the ball to multiple players or get Travis Kelce to throw a touchdown to Mahomes (that one was last week in Tampa Bay, another bad red zone day). In fact, the NBC graphic said that the Chiefs had seven straight red zone drives that did not result in a touchdown, the longest streak in the NFL this season. The Jets and Giants had streaks of six drives. You do not want to be compared to those offenses for anything. The Chiefs eventually ended that streak in this game with Mahomes’ lone touchdown pass to Travis Kelce late in the third quarter, but again, the Broncos are the only defense this season to hold Mahomes to a single touchdown pass and they did it twice. Mahomes has still technically never led his offense (not counting return touchdowns or the backup QB drives) to more than 30 points against Denver in seven starts, but he is 7-0 against them.

This game is another great example of how the Chiefs are their own worst enemy. Mahomes and Hill couldn’t connect on a potential 64-yard touchdown drive on the first drive of the game. You had Hill and Reid screw up the no-challenge, no-catch 40-yard touchdown. The only other drive without a score came in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs up 19-16. Mahomes thought he had an 18-yard completion to Sammy Watkins, but the pass was dropped. Two plays later, Mahomes threw a great 48-yard touchdown bomb to Hill, but a shady holding penalty negated that to bring up 3rd-and-20. Even then Mahomes nearly had the connection to Kelce, but the Chiefs had to punt.

This was the exact same stuff we saw in Tampa Bay last week between the red zone problems and the long fourth-quarter drive bogged down by penalties with Mahomes just missing on a 3rd-and-27 when it looked like the Chiefs were ready for the dagger.

But this time, the Chiefs failed to run out the final 6:07 on the clock. Mahomes was leading a good drive, but Reid was not quite aggressive enough after the Broncos used their final timeout at 2:28. If you have a 2nd-and-9 at the Denver 31 in that situation, you cannot worry about bringing the clock down to the two-minute warning with a “safe” run. You do not worry about the clock stopping for an incompletion. You have Mahomes. You let him touch the ball three straight plays if you have to, because he’s probably going to get those 9 yards and end this game. Instead, the “safe” run turned out to be a 3-yard loss by Le’Veon Bell, setting up a tough 3rd-and-12. Mahomes got 9 yards to Kelce, and then Reid let the clock go down to 1:12 before sending out the field goal unit.

Again, that is a mistake. Do not go for the 6-point lead and give the Broncos a minute to beat you with a touchdown. Let the best player win the game with one more play, and if he doesn’t get it, you know they’ll have a long field and will play for the field goal in that situation.

Harrison Butker made the 48-yard field goal after a penalty, but Drew Lock still had 64 seconds to drive 75 yards for the win. The Chiefs were fortunate to be playing Denver. The running game had a strong performance, but this was a time Lock had to make plays. He couldn’t even get one first down and ended the game the way he started it with an interception thrown to Tyrann Mathieu.

The Chiefs (11-1) escaped this one with another close win, but this felt more like a 2016-17 Chiefs game than what we are used to seeing. The play-calling in the red zone and the game management here would likely lead to playoff disappointment if the Chiefs were facing a stronger opponent with a more competent quarterback.

We are two weeks away from the Chiefs heading to New Orleans where maybe Drew Brees will be back for that game. That is one that could be so decisive for the No. 1 seed in both conferences, especially if the Steelers slip up on Monday or Sunday night in Buffalo.

Biggest Win for the Browns Since…

The Cleveland Browns have not won a playoff game since the 1994 season, but on Sunday they took a step closer to getting back to that level with a 41-35 win in Tennessee that was not as close as the final score suggests. Cleveland jumped out to a 38-7 halftime lead behind a monster half by Baker Mayfield before hanging on for the one-score win after a more than respectable comeback attempt by Tennessee.

The Browns were a 5-point underdog in this one and still have a negative scoring differential (-15) for the season, but Cleveland’s 9-3 record is now the third-best record in the AFC.

Since 1995, the Browns have had bigger upsets by the point spread than this game (most notably: a 12.5-point underdog in New Orleans in 2010). They have beaten higher-caliber playoff teams than the 2020 Titans, including last year’s 40-25 upset in Baltimore. They have certainly won some of these games by bigger margins, such as their 34-14 win over the 2010 Patriots that no one saw coming.

But none of those games happened in seasons where the Browns really mattered. Even in 2007, Cleveland’s only 10-win season since 1995, the only playoff team Cleveland beat that year was Seattle, and it was 33-30 in overtime. The only time the Browns have beaten a playoff Pittsburgh team in this time was in 2014, a 31-10 rout where the Browns were actually favored by 1.5 points at home.

When you consider the quality of the opponent and the magnitude of the game, you could argue this was the best Cleveland win since that 1994 playoff win.

Mayfield threw for more yards (290) and touchdowns (four) in the first half than he’s had in 15 of his last 16 full games. Will he get this many favorable looks against a defense better than the Titans in the playoffs? Probably not, but if the Browns are this prepared for a big game under rookie coach Kevin Stefanski as they were on Sunday, then it’s not unreasonable to think the Browns could win in Tennessee or Indy or Buffalo in the wild card round.

As for Tennessee, we can cancel the Derrick Henry MVP campaign immediately. Henry’s early stuffed run on 4th-and-1 and lost fumble set the tone for the avalanche Cleveland unleashed in the first half. Henry finished with 15 carries, ending his 20-game streak with at least 18 carries, the second-longest streak in NFL history (Emmitt Smith had a 23-game streak).

Had Henry been better on those two plays, the Titans may have had a real shot in this one. As it stands, the Titans are only the second team in NFL history to trail by 31 points at halftime and lose by fewer than seven points. The 1989 Packers trailed the Rams 38-7 at halftime and lost 41-38. Coincidentally enough, that game turned late on a fumble by fullback Brent Fullwood (a Pro Bowler in 1989 too) at the Rams 1-yard line after a 40-yard pass interference penalty put the Packers one yard away from tying the game after being down 31.

God damn, overrated power backs.

Seattle’s Giant Letdown

The last time I recall seeing the Seahawks trailing a mediocre team 14-5 in the second half, it was a 2016 game in Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson threw two picks and suffered six sacks while the 14-5 score never changed from halftime. It ended Seattle’s historic 98 game “no blowout” streak:

There was a sense of déjà vu seeing the Seahawks trail 14-5 into the fourth quarter on Sunday against a Giants team that was a 10.5-point underdog and starting Colt McCoy at quarterback. McCoy was about as limited as expected, throwing for 105 yards on 22 attempts. However, he kept his turnovers limited to one and took advantage of some big runs and field position provided to him.

This 17-12 loss, the final nail in Wilson receiving a single MVP vote this year, lies mostly with the offense, which scored 10 points on 12 drives (Seattle added a safety on a blocked punt before the end of the half).

Much like that 14-5 loss in 2016, Wilson accounted for two turnovers and five sacks in this one. However, the fumble was a botched exchange from center and the fourth-quarter interception was a drop-turned-pick by running back Chris Carson. That’s not to say this is not one of the most disappointing losses of the Pete Carroll-Wilson era. This was supposed to be the easiest part of Seattle’s schedule as it looked to take control of the NFC West, but now could have to settle for facing the NFC East division winner (and a potentially embarrassing repeat of this loss) in January.

Wilson had only lost one game in his career as a double-digit favorite before Sunday: a 27-13 loss to the 2015 Rams as a 12-point favorite. Multi-score favorites (9+ points) were absolutely crushing it this season, posting a 20-1 record coming into Week 13. The only loss was the Chiefs (-11) hosting the Raiders. That record is now 23-2 after Sunday.

Wilson had the chance to be the hero again on the final drive, but only moved the ball 26 yards to midfield before his 4th-and-18 Hail Mary fell incomplete with 37 seconds left. It was 4th-and-18 due to a third-down sack.

Seattle is hardly immune to offensive performances such as this one, but you have to go back to November 2017 against Washington (17-14 final) to find the last time Seattle lost a game without allowing at least 23 points. That covers a span of 20 losses.

Again, Wilson’s problem is that his “MVP seasons” always last for seven or nine-game spurts. After getting off to his best start ever in 2020, this year appears to be no different.

Eagles at Packers: Scrap the Wentz Wagon for Parts

It’s time, Philadelphia. No, not the time for me to write an “I told you so” essay about Carson Wentz. That will come later. It’s time for head coach Doug Pederson to do the right thing and bench Wentz for rookie Jalen Hurts.

He did so in the second half of this 30-16 loss to Green Bay, and it did provide some life and enough positives for the Eagles to go forward with this switch. Five of Philadelphia’s six longest gains on Sunday came with Hurts at quarterback and on his arm or legs, including a 32-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-18. The Eagles were down 23-3 in the fourth quarter but still made this a one-score game with that miracle touchdown and a punt return touchdown. Of course they failed again in the clutch, but Hurts showed more than Wentz did on this day and he did not look like the human pinata that Wentz masquerades as this season.

The Eagles have to face New Orleans (10-2) next, a tough task. However, the last time Wentz faced the Saints, he lost 48-7 in 2018. How could it be any worse with Hurts starting for the first time? Also, the Saints still have an unconventional quarterback in Hill instead of the efficient Drew Brees, and Philadelphia’s defense is decent enough to keep the game winnable.

With the Eagles (3-8-1) continuing to lose ground in the worst division ever, Pederson has nothing to lose by making the quarterback switch now, and everything to gain if Hurts looks like the real deal. The Eagles could still sneak into the playoffs if this run happens, or they can at least feel confident about not having to acquire another quarterback for 2021 with what will be a high draft pick.

Any other quarterback playing as poorly as Wentz has this season with sacks and turnovers would be benched by now. He’s not the franchise quarterback. He’s not owed anything for a Super Bowl run that Nick Foles finished three seasons ago. Wentz is just there dragging the team down while there might be a better option already available to the Eagles.

The Most Patriots-Chargers Game of All Time

I loathe seeing the Chargers play the Patriots because I just know they are going to find some way to shoot themselves in the foot and lose the game like they have almost every single time since the 2006 AFC divisional round loss.

While that playoff game was a sign of things to come, Sunday’s 45-0 blowout is probably the most hilarious Chargers-Patriots game yet, and it didn’t even need to feature Philip Rivers or Tom Brady.

Bill Belichick took his misfit toys to SoFi Stadium and won 45-0 in a game where Cam Newton only passed for 69 yards. The Patriots scored on a 70-yard punt return and blocked a field goal for a touchdown to end the first half. The Chargers have been horrible on special teams this year, but this game was quite the masterpiece even for their standards in this series.

While he was there, Belichick also saw his defense embarrass rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. If last week in Buffalo was Herbert’s first bad game, this week was his first terrible one. While the special teams stole the show in the first half, in the second half Herbert threw two interceptions and failed on three different fourth downs to end the game. He should not have even been playing that quarter with the deficit out of control, but this is why Anthony Lynn should not be the coach in 2021 and it was laughable to see the Chargers favored in this game (-1.5) with that disparity in coaching on display.

Holding the Chargers scoreless is an impressive feat. This franchise once scored at least 10 points in 105 consecutive games, which is still the NFL record. This current team, going back to 2015, had scored at least 10 points in 80 straight games (including playoffs), which was the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. That streak is now over and the longest active streak belongs to Kansas City at 56 games. You can see the scoring streak for each number of points in the table below, including a New Orleans streak that is still active and the domination the Chiefs have had with scoring 22-26 points (three separate streaks there).

Lions Stun Bears Without Matt Patricia

Just last week, I pointed out that Matt Patricia’s Lions were 3-15-1 (.184) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 5-16-1 (.250) in all game-winning drive opportunities.

However, you might be shocked to know that the Lions are now 4-1 in GWD opportunities and close games this season. It was the ugly losses by 14+ points that got Patricia canned a week ago. The Lions didn’t start this first game with Darrell Bevell as the interim coach much better, but they had a strong finish.

Matthew Stafford led the 30th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, and one that could be among the most memorable given he passed for 402 yards in the game. The Lions returned the favor to Chicago from Week 1 when the Bears rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter in a 27-23 win. Here, Detroit was down 30-20 with 4:33 left at its own 4. Stafford led a 96-yard touchdown drive with 2:18 left. Three plays later, Mitchell Trubisky fumbled on a sack and the Lions were 7 yards away from the end zone. No passing fancy here, the Lions handed off twice to Adrian Peterson, who scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:37 left. The Bears lost 34-30 after David Montgomery was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 at the Detroit 20 with 11 seconds left.

The game-winning drive was gifted to him, but it never means a thing without Stafford’s 96-yard drive to get things going. Stafford is the 13th quarterback to have 30 fourth-quarter comeback wins, and he did it in 164 games. Only Johnny Unitas (163) did it in fewer games.

Is Stafford the worst quarterback on this list? Yeah, I think that’s more than fair to say. But it would be nice to see how he would look on a competent team with an actual defense and everything. Maybe we still get that chance someday, but for now, the Lions are 1-0 in the post-Patricia era. Hell, win out (GB, at TEN, TB, MIN) and Detroit will probably promote Bevell to head coach.

With a 5-0 finish against that slate, it might actually be the right move too.

Jets Deliver Masterpiece on Way to Imperfect Season

As I was eating my steak dinner, I saw Derek Carr drawing multiple defensive holding flags on third and fourth down incompletions with the Raiders (-8) trailing the winless Jets late by a 28-24 score. I have seen this too many times before. Carr gets bailed out by the refs, then he finishes off a game-winning drive.

Except this time, it did not happen. He threw incomplete on another fourth down and the Jets took over with 1:37 left. I figured they had finally found a way to win a game in 2020. They will not join the 0-16 ranks of the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns.

I was already thinking of how to trash the Raiders for this loss – I had money on Devontae Booker TD/Raiders ML combo — but the Jets seemed to have other ideas in mind. First, they ran the ball on 3rd-and-6 with the Raiders out of timeouts. It is not an indefensible call. Running would burn more time, you’re up a touchdown, and Sam Darnold is totally unreliable as a quarterback. I can justify giving the Raiders the ball back with 35 seconds, needing 61 yards.

But what in the bloody fvck was that defense on the final drive? They didn’t cover Darren Waller (200 yards, 2 TD) all day, so those 15 yards make sense. But how does Nelson Agholor get by three defenders in the back of the end zone when only a touchdown can beat you? Carr overthrew him and only 13 seconds remained.

On the next play, Jets defensive coordinator Greggggggg Williams just had to send seven pass-rushers at Carr, leaving speedy rookie wideout Henry Ruggs in single coverage on the outside. Ruggs burned his man for a 46-yard touchdown bomb with five seconds left.

The Raiders were going to win, and it seemed like the Jets wanted exactly that. Why not? You can get the No. 1 pick and Trevor Lawrence in the draft if you keep losing. If there was a way to compete hard, look like you want to win, but ultimately offer the game up on a silver platter if the opposing QB will take it, then this was exactly that kind of tanking finish.

ESPN had the details on that defensive play call:

Out of the last 251 plays, no one sent the house like Greggggggg did. Is it uncharacteristic for him under normal circumstances? Absolutely not. But is there any sense to doing that when a team needs a Hail Mary and only a touchdown will beat you? Hell no. Make him throw a jump ball to a crowd instead of attacking single coverage like that.

Carr is the 32nd quarterback to have 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He’s done so in the third-fewest games (106).

This was a disgraceful ending, but also the most perfect ending yet for the Jets this season as they look to achieve imperfection.

Colts at Texans: What the Half?

If there is anything more certain than the Patriots beating the Chargers or Derek Carr drawing crucial flags for a game-winning drive, it’s T.Y. Hilton dominating the Houston Texans. Hilton came into Sunday averaging a career-low 40.8 yards per game with just one touchdown this season. But sure enough, against his favorite team to face, Hilton had a season-high 110 yards and a touchdown to pace the Colts in their 26-20 win to move to 8-4.

I remember seeing the 24-20 score at halftime and thinking we were getting a pretty good shootout between the Colts and Texans, including Deshaun Watson still playing very well despite the six-game suspension for Will Fuller starting Sunday.

Then an odd thing happened in the second half: two more points were scored. Both offenses struggled mightily with sacks in the second half, Watson threw his first interception in almost 300 attempts after Brandin Cooks had the ball taken away from him by Kenny Moore, and the only scoring play was Justin Houston sacking Watson in the end zone for a safety with 6:02 left.

Watson still had a great chance for a game-winning drive, but a bad snap and fumble at the Indy 2-yd line doomed the comeback effort with 1:22 left. The game ended 26-20 after that 24-20 halftime score.

Props to Stephen Holder for pointing out the huge difference in scoring between the halves. After looking into it, I don’t think there’s ever been a game like this in NFL history before.

A couple teams, the last being Oilers-Chargers in 1964, got to at least 17 points in the first half before scoring nothing in the second half, but never just two points on a safety after at least 20 points in the first half before this one.

From my preseason predictions on Houston:

After leading five game-winning drives in each of the last two seasons, there’s a chance things don’t break Houston’s way for Watson in close games again. Maybe that loss of familiarity and comfort with Hopkins comes into play there. A more balanced team in Tennessee or a Philip Rivers resurgence in Indy could be enough to take the division away from Houston this year, but for now I’ll trust Watson. If things go too south, maybe it will be time for O’Brien to do the right thing and fire himself.

Sure enough, the Texans are 0-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season and 2-4 in close games. At least Bill O’Brien was fired, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Houston.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 11

What were some of the things I said leading into Week 11 in the NFL?

It should probably be a golden gambling rule to never bet on the Atlanta Falcons. Check (I’m done).

Hold on to your butts, Eagles-Browns could provide some laughs. Check (thanks, Carson Wentz).

I should at least be taking the Jets (+9.5) against the spread since the Chargers can never make it easy. Check.

Finally, Patrick Mahomes is your best bet for MVP this season, especially after he outduels Derek Carr, and the Packers get punched in the mouth by the Colts in a field goal decision on Sunday. Check, check, and discount double check.

With all this foresight you might think I had a profitable week, but somehow my fate rests in Tom Brady covering a 4-point spread in a game ripe for him to get all the credit for a 3-point win against the Rams. Fun.

No really, I did enjoy this Week 11. It lived up to what looked like a strong week on paper. The only terrible part, aside from seeing Jake Luton throw, was seeing Joe Burrow suffer a season-ending injury. Now there is literally no reason to watch or care about a Cincinnati game the rest of the season. I hope he’s 100% come 2021, and that they build a better team around him.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

As I start to write this at 4:15 AM, I’m not sure I want to get too in-depth with this week’s recap since I know it has only three parts: brief look at the Steelers’ effort to hit 10-0, the ridiculous ending of Packers-Colts, and being thankful that I’m watching Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs every week.

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes

In all seriousness, I am considering devoting a whole section to this blog for how incredible Patrick Mahomes is at quarterback. We are taking things for granted that we just should not be doing with this guy so soon, 46 games into his career.

Sure, I am glad that Mahomes had my back when I said the Raiders’ Week 5 win was the anomaly of the season and wouldn’t happen again on Sunday night.

To his credit, Derek Carr was still pretty great in this game, just in a different way from Week 5. The Raiders did not have a 30-yard play this time, and they didn’t have a play over 21 yards after the first three minutes of the game. But both offenses marched up and down the field with scoring drives that really left little margin for error.

Mahomes even made an error before halftime with his second interception of 2020, both against the Raiders. That could have been crucial in a game where the Chiefs only had eight offensive possessions.

Yet, on eight drives, Mahomes led the Chiefs to five touchdowns. I mentioned how in Week 5 that it was the only time all season a defense stopped the Chiefs on four straight drives. The Raiders got three stops all night in this one. A second-quarter stop was a punt on a drive derailed by penalties (face mask and false start leading to 2nd-and-25) on Kansas City’s lesser wideouts. In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs went three-and-out after a 4-yard loss on a first-down run and a false start by Travis Kelce led to a 3rd-and-16 that Mahomes could not produce a miracle on.

If there was ever a weakness in Mahomes’ game in the NFL, he solved it quickly. If this was a 2018 game, the Chiefs probably lose this one. Mahomes would have forced some pass he shouldn’t have, and that mistake you saw before halftime may have doubled and made the difference in a 31-28 defeat.

But now Mahomes is simply taking what the defense gives him, and this game was maybe the greatest example of that yet.

Kansas City had 36 first downs, a total that has only been surpassed eight times in NFL history (three in games that went to overtime). The drive engineering was off the charts for the Chiefs. They had three touchdown drives that were at least 12 plays and 85 yards.

This only happens on nights where the big plays are not happening. Mahomes’ four longest completions of the game were 19-22 yards, all caught by Kelce. The Chiefs lived on 9-yard gains all night.

Mahomes is probably the only quarterback I can enjoy running a dink-and-dunk offense. A big reason for that is that the way he backpedals so deep in the pocket, his short throws are still longer than the average quarterback’s throws to that depth of the field. This also makes him harder to sack, which he avoided all night despite attempting 45 passes.

When Mahomes got the ball back with 1:43 left, trailing 31-28, I would be lying if I said victory felt inevitable. Getting into field goal range felt inevitable with the way the NFL is these days, but little did I expect the touchdown drive to look as easy as Mahomes made it. Seven passes, six completions, and he saved his longest one of the night (22 yards) to a wide open Kelce in the end zone with 28 seconds left.

On a day where three MVPs (Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers) had the ball in the final 2:00, down a field goal, only Mahomes was able to get the game-winning touchdown, which he made look easy. The other two got to the red zone and had to settle for game-tying field goals (and overtime losses).

Kansas City’s defense has some serious problems to solve with Jon Gruden’s offense should the teams meet a third time in the playoffs. But as long as Mahomes is at quarterback, you have to like this team’s chances not only to win, but to do it impressively.

Up next: Chiefs travel to Tampa Bay in a game that just might get a little hype and attention this week.

Undefeated Watch: Thanks, Jake Luton

It is not lost on me that the Steelers have played such an easy schedule that if they do go 16-0, it doesn’t touch what the Patriots did in 2007. I hate to admit that, but it’s undeniably the truth. At least those Patriots beat the Cowboys and Colts, arguably the second and third-best NFL teams that year. Pittsburgh’s big road wins over Tennessee and Baltimore lose their luster a little more each week. Even the blowout over Cleveland is what might be a win over the worst 7-3 team ever. In the last three weeks, the Steelers have taken care of the Cowboys (barely) with Garrett Gilbert at quarterback, the Bengals with a green Joe Burrow, and now the real cherry on top of this shit schedule sandwich: Jake Luton and the Jaguars.

I am glad to see the Steelers winning 36-10 and 27-3 the last two weeks like they should be, but Luton was hard-to-believe horrible on Sunday. It was the worst game I’ve seen from a quarterback this year since… well, since Tom Brady played the Saints at home.

While Luton didn’t lose by five touchdowns like a Florida chump, that’s because the Steelers weren’t at their sharpest offensively. It was a good performance by Ben Roethlisberger and company, but not a great one. They still hit 27 points again. Luton threw four interceptions and had several more passes that were nearly picked or tipped by Pittsburgh defenders. The only thing I really learned about Jacksonville in this game is that Luton should not be starting for any team right now.

Definitely a trap game in past years, it’s nice that the Steelers got an easy win and can go into Thursday night’s battle with Baltimore with the goal of ending their rival’s division title hopes.

I’m still not on the 16-0 bandwagon until I see the win in Buffalo, but I know that’s not the ultimate goal. It would be great to see the Steelers finish 18-1 and still make it count for something, unlike the 2007 Patriots. Plus, if the Steelers beat the Chiefs in the playoffs, there is no better validation of their season than that.

Packers at Colts: Hold Up

This was not your classic Green Bay road loss to a good team, because the Packers actually scored four touchdowns in the first half and Aaron Rodgers only took one sack in the game. However, the four giveaways and near shutout in the second half while the Colts kept grinding away fits in nicely with what we’ve seen from Green Bay since 2011.

I want to focus on the absurd final minutes in regulation to this one.

After Rodgers failed on a 4th-and-1 pass with 3:06 left, the Colts, leading 31-28, had a chance to ice this game. The Packers did not even crack 275 yards of offense yet, which would have been the seventh time in 10 games the Colts held a team under 300 yards this year (most in NFL). No one has been able to gain 400 yards yet on the Colts either. I know yards are not the best metric, but in a season where offenses average 360 yards per game (an all-time high), what the Colts do to limit that is worth noting if you ask me.

The drive even started great with Philip Rivers hitting a 14-yard pass to get an instant first down. That took the clock down to 2:22, then things started getting crazy. There were five straight instances where a penalty was called: two on Green Bay, three on Indy. That stopped the clock every single time, as did a 15-yard completion by Rivers at the two-minute warning on the resulting 3rd-and-19.

Somehow the Colts snapped the ball five times and only burned 24 seconds.

With 1:58 left, coach Frank Reich had a big decision. Do you go for it on 4th-and-4, or do you kick a 54-yard field goal to take a 6-point lead? The 6-point lead is poison there, giving Rodgers nearly two minutes (plus all three timeouts) to beat you with a touchdown. Pinning them deep with a punt is another option, but that’s going to look really awful if you get a touchback or a bad punt. So why not just go for it given it’s makeable and you don’t want Rodgers to touch the ball again?

That is what I would have done, and that’s what Reich did. Rivers delivered with the slant for 13 yards, and Green Bay had to burn the first timeout at 1:55. Now the game was not over, but worst-case scenario, you give Rodgers the ball back with under a minute to go, needing a touchdown. But the Colts botched it again because they kept getting called for holding. In fact, they were flagged nine times for offensive holding in this game. I don’t  know if they were all legit, but in a season where that penalty has been called far less than usual, that feels  like an absurd amount.

To make matters worse, Rivers threw an incomplete pass on 1st-and-20 after one holding penalty. Rivers ended up taking a sack on 3rd-and-26 to take the Colts out of field goal range.

Incredibly, the Packers managed to get the ball back at their own 6 with 1:25 and one timeout left. That means from the 2:22 mark, the Colts snapped the ball 12 times and only burned 57 seconds and still saved the Packers a timeout. I have never seen anything like it.

After Rodgers hit a 47-yard deep ball, it felt like the Colts were going to blow this one. However, the Packers had their own clock management issues with Rodgers using two spikes where he really didn’t need to rush like that and could save the down. The drive ended with a field goal and we had overtime.

You know the rest from there. Marquez Valdes-Scantling fumbled two snaps into overtime, setting up the Colts for maybe the easiest game-winning drive of Rivers’ career. Three handoffs for 8 yards and a 39-yard field goal for the win.

For Green Bay, what more can be said? We’ve seen this script too often before. This was really the last good road test for the Packers before a potential playoff trip somewhere in January.

For the Colts, can they close the gap with Buffalo and creep up to being the third-best team in the AFC this year? They still have to play Tennessee, Houston twice, Pittsburgh and the Raiders, but this team is interesting. If you remember that they’re the only team to hold Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs under 23 points, then you could see how a 3/2 playoff matchup in Arrowhead could be very intriguing if the Colts finish that high.

I’m being told that the Colts were flagged three more times for offensive holding since I started this section. Oh well, better luck at not getting called next week.

Top 10 Andrew Luck Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LuckJags2016

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

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

8. 2013 Week 7 – SNF vs. Broncos

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

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

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

6. 2015 Week 9 – Lacerated Kidney vs. Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

3. 2012 Week 5 – ChuckStrong vs. Packers

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

2. 2014 AFC Wild Card – TD vs. Bengals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Andrew.

BRunner

2018 NFL Divisional Round Predictions

Even though the home team wins 71.4% of the games in this round since 1970, it’s often the most dramatic and best weekend of the year. In the 32-team era, 2002, 2004 and 2015 are the only seasons where the home teams finished 4-0 in the divisional round. Someone is likely getting upset and leaving their fans upset in the process. Even the Patriots have an actual challenge this week with the smallest spread (-4) of the weekend.

Colts at Chiefs (-5)

This was my big preview at FO, so go there and read that one. Basically, I’m going to assume the snow isn’t a big deal today. The game comes down to Andrew Luck playing efficiently and effectively to limit Patrick Mahomes’ drives and make him score more than 30 to win. The Colts defense isn’t that good, but the Chiefs are certainly worse in that area despite better numbers at home. I see Mahomes putting up his usual points, but Luck will have a chance for a late game-winning TD drive and this defense is going to have to make a play to stop him. So do something this time, Orlando Scandrick.

Final: Chiefs 30, Colts 26

(IND +5, Under 56.5)

Cowboys at Rams (-7)

Both offenses are a little shaky to me. Dak Prescott takes way too many sacks and isn’t aggressive enough on third downs this season. That’s bad news against Wade Phillips’ defense, and especially with Aaron Donald against this interior OL. Dallas is 10-0 when scoring 20+ points this season and they’ll definitely need to hit that total here. It should be noted that Dallas only surpassed 17 points on the road three times, though LA isn’t a huge home-field advantage yet and the Cowboys may actually feel at home with more fans in the seats. Still, the Rams have scored 23+ in every game this season except for the disaster in Chicago (15-6). Jared Goff has been shaky since the bye, but at least the last two games were good. Dallas has a good defense but I’m not blown away by it or anything.

With this week’s coaching hires revolving around finding the next Sean McVay, it would look really bad if McVay lost this game to fall to 0-2 at home in the playoffs. He was a favorite of 6.5+ points in each game too. I’m going to back the Rams in this one, but I think it’s still an underrated story of how the offense misses Cooper Kupp in the slot.

Final: Rams 26, Cowboys 20

(DAL +7, Under 49)

Chargers at Patriots (-4)

The Chargers have played better than the Patriots this season, but there’s just something about this opponent where San Diego Los Angeles goes into extra Chargering mode. I’ll spare the lowlights of Nate Kaeding or Marlon McCree from many years ago, but just look at this Travis Benjamin punt return from a 2017 game coached by Anthony Lynn in New England:

There’s a good reason why Philip Rivers is 0-7 against the Patriots with Tom Brady at quarterback. They are their own worst enemy in these games. Now Rivers can stand to play better against Bill Belichick’s defense, but at least his ACL won’t be torn this time around. He however has not been sharp in the last month and will need to play better. And it figures it could be a snow game when Melvin Gordon has been banged up for the Chargers. On defense, the Patriots are 2nd in DVOA at home and 31st on the road. Nice to get this game at home against a team with a better record. Don’t let the fact that NE is 4-0 against playoff teams hide the fact they lost five times to non-playoff teams.

Again, I think the Chargers are a better team this year, but I can’t bring myself to picking them in this venue. Especially not with the Patriots coming off a bye, which I think is huge for their old offensive players (not just Brady, but Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman). Also, despite the loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl, Belichick is still money against new playoff opponents and the Chargers have only seen this team once in the last four seasons. It was a comedy of errors in that 21-13 loss last year, and I can just imagine what they’ll cook up this time. Maybe Hunter Henry fumbles in the red zone in his season debut (I cribbed this from Marvin Harrison vs. 2007 Chargers in AFC-DIV). Maybe their kicker (Michael Badgley) gets hurt so the new guy they signed for kickoffs blows a game-winning field goal.

This is the game where the Chargers can show it truly is a different year, but do you trust them?

Final: Patriots 27, Chargers 20

(NE -4, Under 48)

Eagles at Saints (-8)

This would definitely be a huge upset if the Eagles can continue their late run here behind Nick Foles. In Week 11, the Saints waxed Philly 48-7 with Sean Payton and Drew Brees pouring it on with a long touchdown pass on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter. The Eagles come in with virtually zero pressure to win while the Saints are the favorites to go all the way.

I’m ultimately picking the Saints to win, but let me just state some facts and thoughts why an upset is possible here:

  • Carson Wentz had the worst game of his career in Week 11. He’ll be replaced by a QB in Foles who has incredible playoff stats in five starts and is simply better at getting this team to win games of this magnitude, not to mention better in crunch time and in shootouts. The Eagles aren’t just a front-running team with Foles under center.
  • Doug Pederson is one of the most aggressive coaches on fourth downs and two-point conversions, so knowing he has nothing to lose here, look for him to take advantage of +EV chances.
  • The Saints are a below-average passing defense and struggle with wide receivers, especially on deep throws (32nd in DVOA). Foles gets the WRs involved in this offense and is willing to take deep chances.
  • Brees struggled down the stretch this season, though most of those games were on the road. He took off Week 17 as the Saints really didn’t put much effort into that game period. Now with a bye week too, could we see some rust and a slow start? It’s happened before to teams that rest early in addition to the bye.
  • Perhaps we can keep talking about this if Saints advance, but it’s incredible to me that this passing offense is so successful despite how much it relies on Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Thomas is great, but he’s not the all-around athlete Julio Jones is, he’s not as good after the catch as Odell Beckham, not as good at the catch point as DeAndre Hopkins, and not the kind of deep threat Tyreek Hill is. He has a great connection with the accurate Brees, but I would often double team him and make other players step up to beat you. Kamara is dangerous after the catch and on screens, but he’s still limited as a RB in just how much damage he’ll do to you. His only catch vs. Eagles was that 37-yard run-up-the-score TD. Now the Eagles are too banged up in the secondary to really afford to double team, but it’s something to think about should Thomas have a bad game. Where else will the production come from?
  • Finally, in Week 11 there was this stat (see below) where Brees had a completion rate that was +20.5% above expectation based on next gen charting data. He was on fire that day, but obviously with that being his best performance this season, it’s hard to expect him to repeat that. So what if the Eagles are able to get him to throw into tight windows with good coverage again, but some of those passes just don’t connect this time? I think this is a good sign for the Eagles going into this one.

I mean, if the 2010 Jets can go from 45-3 to beating the Patriots with Mark Sanchez at quarterback a month later, is it really asking that much for the defending champion Eagles to turn 48-7 around with Foles going into the Superdome? This wouldn’t be the upset of the decade, but it would create one hell of a quarterback controversy in Philadelphia, if we aren’t already there. For that reason alone I wouldn’t mind seeing the Eagles win, but I’m not betting on it.

Final: Saints 30, Eagles 27

(PHI +8, Over 52)

2018 NFL Wild Card and Full Playoff Predictions

The 2018 NFL season has been so competitive that I can’t help but think we’ll get some stunning playoff results this year. The point spreads being quite small (1-to-2.5 points) in three of the games this week looks like a good start for that. The last five chalky postseasons have produced nine No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl and the 2016 Falcons were a No. 2 seed. The wild card teams aren’t necessarily strong this season, but the Chargers had a good year, the Colts are hot with Andrew Luck, the Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles last year, and the Seahawks are always a tough out. Throw in Baltimore’s old-school approach and the Chicago defense, and there’s a better chance we see a non-bye team go on a good run again.

Before I pick the whole tournament, I’m going to preview each of the four wild card games. I’m really just throwing out some thoughts at 5 A.M. (sleep schedule is FUBAR) rather than building a structured narrative or detailed analysis of the matchups. You can read the previews on FO for more of that.

Colts at Texans (-1)

It’s amazing these teams are here with double-digit wins after starting 0-3 and 1-5. Both defenses have benefited from a soft schedule (the softest of any two defenses in the NFL), though that’s a bit immaterial when they’re playing each other this week with a good quarterback matchup. I like the over. Houston has won a lot of close games and relied on some opposing coaching mistakes, including that memorable Frank Reich move in overtime in the 37-34 win by Houston. Had he taken the tie, this game would likely be in Indy this week, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal for the Colts in the end. They have won in Houston this year, they’ve won there before, and if you’re going to win a Super Bowl this year, you have to go beat a team like Kansas City anyway. Hell, it might even set up better if the Ravens or Chargers can knock off the Patriots, Indy’s personal nightmare venue.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s Round 3 with Houston and a roster with some really talented players. None of those players are on the offensive line however, and I think Deshaun Watson’s tendency to hold the ball and take sacks can really help out an Indy defense that doesn’t have a dominant pass-rusher. Watson took 5 sacks in the last meeting and had to lead his team in rushing against a Colts defense that stops the run well. DeAndre Hopkins is always a problem, but T.Y. Hilton has been incredible in his career against Houston. He had 199 yards in the last matchup and has been playing at a high level despite his health. The Colts protect Luck much better this year, he’s changed his playing style to be more dart thrower than gunslinger, and I think the Colts can win this one on the road as long as he avoids the dumb interceptions like we saw on the pick-six in Tennessee on Sunday night.

Houston was 1-4 this year when allowing 24+ points with the only win being 37-34 over the Colts in overtime. Indy has scored 24+ in 11 games this year, including both against Houston. I like the Colts to score enough in this one and close it out late.

Final: Colts 27, Texans 24

Seahawks at Cowboys (-2)

Like the first game on Saturday, these teams are hot, and in Dallas’ case, playing a schedule with the AFC South and NFC East has helped out too. The Cowboys are 7-1 in their last eight, and 7-2 since the trade for Amari Cooper. He’s turned in some huge games that helped the Cowboys win the NFC East, but he also has 13 catches for 83 yards and a lost fumble in his last three games combined. That’s the problem with Cooper in that he’ll put up 180 and a score one week, then struggle to break 20 yards the next. The Seahawks don’t have Richard Sherman anymore, and while a respectable defense overall, they were 25th in DVOA against #1 wide receivers. Cooper needs to come up big in this one.

I like that Dallas has put more responsibility on Dak Prescott in recent weeks. He threw for 455 yards against the Eagles and added 387 against the Giants in Week 17, a game where Ezekiel Elliott and a couple star lineman didn’t even play. Prescott has been playing better the last eight games, but his problems this year are that he takes way too many sacks and he doesn’t pull the trigger as much as he should. If he’s not taking a sack, he’s settling for a checkdown, which is why he has the worst third down ALEX in the league. Those third-down struggles are also why his advanced stats aren’t too hot.

I’ll still take Russell Wilson any day over Prescott, but I think in many ways the Seahawks are the team Dallas wants to be when it comes to running and defense. The Seahawks are running the ball as much as anyone not named Baltimore, and it’s worked for the most part this year. Wilson didn’t even throw for 3500 yards, but he was efficient, had a dominant efficiency season with Tyler Lockett, and he still threw 35 touchdowns. Wilson hasn’t even broke 200 yards against Dallas in the last two meetings, and this Cowboys defense is playing better, but it didn’t matter. The Seahawks still won 21-12 and 24-13 after Prescott and the offense struggled in both matchups. I can see that happening again here, though with Cooper in the mix, Elliott back in action, and Prescott having experience to pull games out late, I think Dallas has a good shot in this matchup.

I’m still going with Seattle just because I trust Wilson and Pete Carroll more than I do Prescott and Jason Garrett. But it really is a game that could come down to Prescott hitting Gallup on a deep shot and Wilson not connecting with Lockett on a similar play like they have done so well this year.

Final: Seahawks 23, Cowboys 20

Chargers at Ravens (-2.5)

This was my big preview at FO, so go there for 3500+ words on the matchup. Basically, it boils down to both teams need to have a good start, but it’s even more important for the Ravens so they can keep up their style of running the ball and pressuring on defense. Philip Rivers can lead a comeback, but probably not from 14+ late against this defense. Can Lamar Jackson deliver enough with his arm if called upon? It’s best if the Ravens don’t find out yet, but with the way they play defense, special teams, and one of the best home-field advantages in the league, I think they take care of the Chargers in this one.

Final: Ravens 26, Chargers 20

Eagles at Bears (-6.5)

Outside of Colts-Texans, this might be the game with the widest range of possible outcomes this week. The Bears have a great defense that gets the most turnovers, but the Eagles have played better offensively with Nick Foles at quarterback. He’s also been prolific in the postseason, albeit that’s four starts. He seems to be good to go this week with the rib injury. With Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears aren’t exactly sure what they’re getting. I see him as a deluxe Rex Grossman with scrambling skills maxed out, but as a passer, he’s either Good Mitch or Bad Mitch each week. If the Eagles can pressure him and force him into mistakes, then they have a great shot of advancing as a true underdog this year.

Something I really like about the Bears under Matt Nagy is that they haven’t had a bad game yet this season. They finished 12-4, but they lost two games in overtime. They blew a huge lead in Week 1 against Green Bay and would have won that game if Kyle Fuller held onto Aaron Rodgers’ interception late. They would have beat the Dolphins with a field goal in overtime. They had a Hail Mary completed to the 1-yard line vs. New England, so maybe go for two there to win in regulation if they could have got that yard. They should have gone for two at the end of regulation against the Giants on a day Chase Daniel was QB1. Nagy, like Doug Pederson, hasn’t been afraid to try unorthodox fourth downs or two-point conversions this year. So the Bears haven’t laid any eggs this season, which is impressive for a rookie head coach with a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010.

The Eagles definitely win out at big-game experience, but I’ll trust the Bears to deliver on defense at home. The Bears are 12-0 when allowing fewer than 24 points this year (0-4 when allowing 24+). The Eagles have gotten to 24 points in Foles’ last three starts, but none of those defenses are on the level of Chicago.

Final: Bears 26, Eagles 19

In the end, I’m going with road dogs on Saturday with the better quarterbacks and the top two scoring defenses at home on Sunday.

2018 Full NFL Playoff Predictions

Here is my crack at predicting the whole tournament.

Wild Card:

  • Colts over Texans
  • Seahawks over Cowboys
  • Ravens over Chargers
  • Bears over Eagles

Divisional:

  • Chiefs over Colts
  • Saints over Seahawks
  • Patriots over Ravens
  • Rams over Bears

Conference Championship:

  • Chiefs over Patriots
  • Saints over Rams

Super Bowl LIII

  • Saints over Chiefs (Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees)

As always, every postseason has its own narrative and I tried to craft one here but still couldn’t force too many upsets. I honestly think the Colts can win in KC and same with Baltimore in New England, but I’ll go with home-field advantage in the AFC again. After the two No. 1 seeds squaring off (with the better defense winning and the Drew Brees fanboys celebrating his Super Bowl MVP over Patrick Mahomes’ regular season MVP), my 2nd pick for the Super Bowl would actually be McVay and the Rams beating Belichick and the Patriots. That’d be the second year in a row an NFC team with a second-year head coach outdid the Patriots on the big stage. Then again, I can just as easily see the Bears knocking off the Rams in the divisional round to create a much different McVay narrative (0-2 at home!), but I can’t wait to see how things play out here.

One final look at my 2018 results, which were pretty good on straight up picks at least.

wk1-17

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embracing Mediocrity

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

Bengals at Steelers

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

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

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

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

Bengals 21, Steelers 24

Colts at Broncos

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

Colts 17, Broncos 20

Seahawks at Rams

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

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

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

Rams 6, Seahawks 16

Packers at Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

Packers 19, Vikings 16

2016 Week 2 Predictions

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

Winners in bold

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

Week 1: 7-9

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Records for Peyton Manning and NFC Showdown

A solid schedule this week, so here are some thoughts on the three games I’m most focused on.

Packers at Panthers

Regardless of last week’s interesting matchup in Denver, this was always the more important game since it’s for first place in the NFC. This is probably the toughest two-game stretch for Green Bay in the Aaron Rodgers era. They get back-to-back road games against the top 2 pass defenses. Rodgers’ last six games against top 5 pass defenses have not gone well. As I mentioned last week, Green Bay is 1-9 on the road against playoff teams since 2012. That’s probably 1-10 given the Broncos are now 7-0.

Jonathan Stewart could have a big day against a subpar Green Bay run defense. He’ll have to really, because I don’t see this passing game getting on track this week with Cam Newton and his receivers. Carolina needs to run Newton a lot and be the more physical team. If you punch Green Bay in the mouth early, you’re usually in good shape.

Randall Cobb is starting to show a bit of the “Peerless Price Effect” as he’s not suited to be a star No. 1 WR. Jordy Nelson was, and Cobb is definitely not the same caliber of player. Carolina has to like the matchup with Josh Norman there, so it really is on James Jones to have a big game. I don’t think much of Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery or Richard Rodgers at this point as big producers, and the running game isn’t up to par this season.

So why would I still pick Green Bay? 

I think the Packers walked into Denver as a confident favorite against an unfamiliar opponent and had their weaknesses exposed against a great defense and an offense that’s starting to put things together. I don’t think Carolina, coming off an emotional Monday night win, is as lethal on either side of the ball and the Packers will use Sunday night as a wake-up call. Rodgers will be more decisive with the ball and maybe scramble more. Carolina won’t be able to cover the receivers as well as Denver’s secondary did. I saw open receivers galore on Monday night, but Andrew Luck made some really horrible throws and decisions. Remember, this is a Carolina defense that let Luke McCown complete 31-of-38 passes with three drops. It’s a shitty reason to pick a team, but I just can’t fathom Rodgers playing so ineffectively two weeks in a row. He’ll get more out of the offense and the defense has fewer threats to worry about offensively. Regardless of what you’re hearing, Newton is not playing anywhere near MVP level.

Neither team is really good at playing from behind, so I would imagine we’ll get a good taste early of who is going to take control of the NFC with a big win here.

Final score: Packers 23, Panthers 17

Raiders at Steelers

It’s come to the point where Steelers fans basically expect to lose to Oakland, which is just another sign that it’s one of those 8-9 win/miss the playoffs kind of seasons. It happened in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013.

Yes, Ben Roethlisberger is 1-4 against Oakland in his Hall of Fame career, which up until this point has seen the Raiders as probably the league’s worst team in that span. This is the best Oakland team he’ll face yet, though the optimism is largely on the offensive side of the ball. That’s why I think this can be a shootout with plenty of passing numbers. Sure, DeAngelo Williams can effectively replace a lot of what Le’Veon Bell did, but this has to be a bounce-back game for Ben, which means a lot of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller. Remember, Oakland has struggled greatly with tight ends this season. I think a 1 p.m. game at home helps Pittsburgh a bit against a West Coast team coming off a huge win. They smashed San Francisco in that situation in Week 2. Not many road triumphs on the resume for a young Derek Carr, but he’s definitely playing the best of the sophomore QBs. I hate to pick a final score this year with Pittsburgh because the defense keeps beating expectations, but I really do see a high-scoring game here. I just think Roethlisberger makes up for last week’s blunder and takes advantage of a middling defense with his weapons.

Final score: Raiders 24, Steelers 34

Broncos at Colts

I knew the NFL would schedule this game around this point since it’s about the time where Peyton Manning should break a significant record we’ve been expecting him to one day own for a long time. They did an even better job than expected, as Manning can set the all-time records for wins and passing yards in the city that drafted him into this league. Manning has thrown for at least 284 yards in about 45 percent of his games, so it’s not a given, but likely to happen. He would break the record in his 264th game — it took Brett Favre 302 games to compile 71,838 passing yards.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

mydbygame

Denver will likely push for the record, though the Broncos have struggled for a good chunk of all three of Manning’s games with the Colts. They were largely ineffective in the second and third quarters in the 2013 game. The second half of last year’s opener was a struggle, and nearly the whole playoff game in January went poorly as I’ve detailed greatly before. But this week is a bit different. It’s not Manning’s first time back in Indy and he doesn’t have a high ankle sprain like in 2013. It’s not in prime time. It’s not a season opener when things are still new and teams are “full strength.” It’s not a playoff game where Manning is playing on a torn quad. It’s also the 2015 Denver defense taking on a 2015 Indianapolis offense that has by and large looked terrible when not trailing by multiple touchdowns this season. Pep Hamilton was a problem for the Colts, but not even a top-five problem. They fired him as a scapegoat to show some change this week, but good luck to new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinksi trying to game plan for this defense. There’s not much he can really do at this point of the season that would be different, though I guess the Colts have some factor of unpredictability on their side. I just wouldn’t trust any of it (passing to the TEs? more Frank Gore?) to work well against this defense.

Final score: Broncos 31, Colts 19

2015 Week 9 Predictions

I had the Bengals winning by double-digits on TNF. That was an easy choice.

Winners in bold:

  • Jaguars at Jets
  • Titans at Saints
  • Redskins at Patriots
  • Packers at Panthers
  • Dolphins at Bills
  • Rams at Vikings
  • Raiders at Steelers
  • Broncos at Colts
  • Falcons at 49ers
  • Giants at Buccaneers
  • Eagles at Cowboys
  • Bears at Chargers

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Season: 78-41 (.655)

NFL Week 8 Predictions: The Undefeated Teams

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

Packers at Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final score: Broncos 28, Packers 20

Bengals at Steelers

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

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

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

Final score: Bengals 29, Steelers 22

Colts at Panthers

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

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

And it all starts with how the quarterback is playing.

Final score: Colts 16, Panthers 24

2015 Week 8 Predictions

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

Winners in bold

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Season: 68-37 (.648)

NFL Week 6 Predictions: So the Usual Colts-Patriots Game?

There are three games this week between teams with winning records, but Bengals-Bills and Cardinals-Steelers lose some bite when you sub in EJ Manuel and Michael Vick for Tyrod Taylor and Ben Roethlisberger. That leaves SNF between two familiar AFC contenders.

Patriots at Colts

Hey, did you hear Tom Brady is pissed off and wants to throw for 600 yards and six touchdowns, and the Patriots want to drop 60 points? I guess all the sixes are natural when you’re talking about the devils of the NFL, but that’s been a heavy part of the lead-in to this game. The Patriots are looking to unleash hell over Deflategate.

So uh, remind me which of these teams was fined an NFL-record one million dollars and lost a first-round pick?

Remind me which of these teams was embarrassed 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game last January?

The Colts are the team with the right to be pissed and seeking revenge in this one, yet it hasn’t been written that way at all. I think that’s because no one expects them to do anything but get their ass kicked on Sunday night at home. The Colts have started this season poorly, especially on offense, and Andrew Luck has missed the last two games due to a shoulder injury. He is questionable again, but should start. He has struggled in all four games against the Patriots, which have all been blowout losses in the end.

I don’t think anyone ever second-guessed the outcome in January over deflated balls. The Colts would have been blown out if they played with medicine balls or beach balls. Give LeGarrette Blount anything he can handle without smoking, and he was going to shred that defense. It was always about protecting the integrity of the game.

Before the season, I really did think the Colts would close the gap like they did in 2005 against New England, but that hasn’t happened one bit. The additions have not panned out, leading to an even worse offense and the defense is still as unreliable as they come. Keep in mind the Colts haven’t even played a top-12 QB yet this season. The Patriots are playing much better than I expected from them so far. You knew the offense would be good as long as Rob Gronkowski was healthy, but they’ve been even better than expected while still attacking teams in an unconventional way from the inside, and now even more from the backfield with Dion Lewis looking like a deluxe Shane Vereen. The front seven was expected to be good, and the revamped secondary is more than getting by. It’s not at a 2005 Duane Starks level, and you only expect Bill Belichick to get better play from that unit by season’s end. The same can be said for the offensive line, which had some struggles in Dallas and just lost LT Nate Solder for the year, but the Patriots usually get stronger as the season goes on. Do I see an undefeated team? Not really, but few road challenges exist on the schedule thanks to the Dallas injuries last week and the overall stank (not a typo) of the 2015 Colts to this point.

It would certainly be very amusing for the Patriots to lose this game since they’ve been hyped up like a 21-point road favorite (actual line: 10 points), but I don’t see how that happens here. Luck would have to play one of the best games of his career, and the defense would actually have to keep flustering Brady for a full game unlike the half-game efforts last season.

BradyINDTweet

Even if they slow down Brady, what’s going to stop Lewis and Blount from running all over this defense again? Lewis could gain 9 yards every touch in this matchup. Hell, they can probably trot out Kevin Faulk for 8 yards per draw like he used to do against this defense.

The Patriots have had at least a 17-point lead in seven consecutive games against the Colts, going back to 2009. Peyton Manning made two of those games close, even winning the fourth-and-2 game. Dan Orlovsky lit it up in garbage time to a 31-24 final in 2011. But the Pagano/Grigson/Luck-era Colts have lost by 21+ every time. The gap has only widened between these teams since January.

Final score: Patriots 48, Colts 20

2015 Week 6 Predictions

I fumbled away the TNF pick the way Atlanta threw the game away. The quest for a perfect week of picks continues.

Winners in bold

  • Texans at Jaguars
  • Broncos at Browns
  • Bengals at Bills
  • Dolphins at Titans
  • Bears at Lions
  • Redskins at Jets
  • Cardinals at Steelers
  • Chiefs at Vikings
  • Chargers at Packers
  • Panthers at Seahawks
  • Ravens at 49ers
  • Patriots at Colts
  • Giants at Eagles

I’m trusting the Jags/Jets/Bengals and also Jay Cutler on the road. This probably isn’t going to end well.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Season: 50-27 (.649)