The Atlanta Falcons and the Art of Failure

Most NFL teams lose games because they were outplayed over the course of 60 minutes. They were sloppy and made too many mistakes. They weren’t aggressive enough or prepared for every new detail. Even if they still had their chances at the end, you just know they weren’t good enough that day to earn the win.

Then there’s the Atlanta Falcons, who have mastered the art of f*cking people over for three hours without a happy ending. Oh, there’s plenty of teasing and choking, but it always seems to end in unsatisfactory disappointment in the Matt Ryan era.

From the team that brought us 28-3, the Falcons may have found their regular season equivalent on Sunday in Dallas with a 40-39 loss that likely just killed their season.

Atlanta is the first team in NFL history to lose after scoring 39 points without a turnover.

Since 1940, teams are now 457-1 when scoring at least 39 points without a turnover. That includes playoff games and excludes two AAFC games. The Falcons led 20-0 in the first quarter after Dallas lost three fumbles. That’s right, the Falcons finished +3 in turnovers and still lost. Since 1940, teams are now 492-1 when scoring at least 38 points without a turnover and with multiple takeaways. The Falcons own the only loss.

Sound familiar? Of course, the worst part of this loss felt like a turnover when the Falcons calmly watched an onside kick attempt with 1:49 left trickle just over 10 yards before the Cowboys legally recovered it. That set up Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard game-winning field goal at the buzzer to stun the Falcons. The play doesn’t count as a turnover since the Falcons never had possession and it wasn’t a fumble or interception, but it hurt just the same. Head coach Dan Quinn even managed the late stages so poorly that the Falcons were out of timeouts for the final drive, unable to save any time for Ryan to have a chance to answer.

Yet if you told a person this was how a game ended on Sunday without mentioning the teams, chances are if they know their NFL they would have guessed the Falcons came out on the losing end.

It Wasn’t Always Like This in Atlanta

To say things were always this bad in the Ryan era would simply be untrue. Let’s not forget how the Mike Smith era started.

From 2008 through the 2012 regular season (Ryan’s first five seasons), the Falcons under head coach Mike Smith blew just three fourth-quarter leads, including two tussles with Drew Brees and the Saints. That was the lowest total in the NFL in that time span. That was a great job of protecting leads for a team that had five straight winning seasons for the first and only time in franchise history.

But on the cusp of greatness, everything started to change in the 2012 playoffs. The top-seeded Falcons hosted Seattle in the divisional round, and despite taking a 27-7 lead into the fourth quarter, Atlanta surrendered three touchdowns in the quarter and trailed 28-27 with 31 seconds left. It was going to be a monumental collapse to a team with a rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson), but Ryan was able to complete two passes for 41 yards to set up a game-winning field goal, saving Atlanta’s season for the moment.

The following week in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, the Falcons again started hot and rolled to a 17-0 lead before things fell apart. Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers back to a 28-24 lead and Ryan was unable to connect on a fourth down in the red zone to keep the season alive. It was at the time the second-largest blown lead in a championship game in NFL history.

Atlanta didn’t recover for years, falling into a pattern of blown leads and red-zone failures. From the 2012 NFC Championship Game through the 2014 season, Smith’s Falcons blew eight fourth-quarter leads and he was fired.

Enter Dan Quinn in 2015

Quinn was the former Seattle defensive coordinator, so his most recent game was not the most flattering part of his resume. Yes, the guy who blew 28-3 and a 19-point fourth quarter lead in the Super Bowl already held the record for the biggest blown fourth quarter lead (10 points) in a Super Bowl. The Seahawks blew a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX against New England. Outside of that stellar 2013 Super Bowl season, the Seahawks have had consistent problems with holding leads in the fourth quarter, and Quinn is very much a believer in Pete Carroll’s defensive philosophies. You’re rarely going to see these defenses send the house and blitz in critical situations. They believe they can limit big plays and keep everything in front of them with strong tackling, but time and time again we have seen opposing quarterbacks pick their way down the field against soft zones with ease.

In Quinn’s first four seasons (2015-18), the Falcons blew 13 leads in the fourth quarter, which trailed only the Chargers during that stretch of time. Even in the Super Bowl year and MVP season for Ryan (2016), the Falcons managed to blow four leads while the rest of the NFL’s playoff field that year combined to blow one. That’s why the Falcons were only 11-5 and a No.2 seed despite having superior statistics to most teams in the NFL.

Against the 2016 Chiefs, Atlanta invented a new way to lose a game. Ryan led the Falcons back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a 28-27 lead with 4:32 left, but something funny happened on the two-point conversion attempt. Ryan was intercepted by Eric Berry, who returned the ball for two points to give the Chiefs the first “Pick 2” in NFL history, not to mention they regained a 29-28 lead.

Ryan never got another chance on the field to make up for the error. The Chiefs ran out the clock and won the game. However, it looked like this was going to be the last time the 2016 Falcons lost after crushing their next six opponents to reach Super Bowl LI.

Unfortunately, that only set the stage for Atlanta’s masterpiece.

28-3

I’ve detailed on here before the numerous breaking points where if Atlanta just made one positive play, the Falcons win that Super Bowl. Even something as simple as Jake Matthews not getting a holding penalty in New England territory should have done the trick.

6:04 left, 3Q (ATL leads 28-3): NE converts a fourth-and-3 to Danny Amendola. A stop at midfield would have put Atlanta in great shape to score again.

1:30 left, 3Q (ATL leads 28-9): A holding penalty on Jake Matthews turns a second-and-1 at the NE 32 into second-and-11 at the NE 42, out of FG range. An incompletion and sack of Ryan lead to a punt.

8:31 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-12): The turning point. Falcons throw on third-and-1, Devonta Freeman misses the block, Ryan is sacked and fumbles. Patriots take over at the ATL 25. This had to be a running play.

5:56 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-18): Stop a two-point conversion and you’re still in great shape. The Falcons didn’t. James White takes a direct snap to make it 28-20. Game on.

3:56 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-20): Ryan is sacked for a 12-yard loss on second down at the NE 23. The other major turning point. You just hit the Julio Jones pass to get into field-goal range. Kneel down three times if you have to. The pass here was insane.

3:50 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-20): Matthews has another horrible holding penalty, wiping out a Ryan completion to the NE 26. Matt Bryant could have made a field goal there, but on third-and-33, Ryan threw incomplete and the Falcons had to punt from the NE 45.

2:28 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-20): Robert Alford can clinch his Super Bowl MVP with a second interception of Tom Brady, but the pass goes off his hands, and he even helps keep the ball alive with his leg while a diving Julian Edelman makes an unbelievable catch for 23 yards.

0:57 left, 4Q (ATL leads 28-26): Alright, you’re not going to give up TWO two-point conversions, are you Atlanta? Yes, you did, and on a bubble screen of all things. By then, your goose was cooked, because you know the Patriots weren’t going to give the ball back in overtime after winning the coin toss.

Any one of those eight things goes right for the Falcons and Atlanta is the reigning champion.

It’s hard to imagine a team finding a more soul-crushing way to lose a Super Bowl than Atlanta. Teams that start games that well just do not lose in this league’s 100-year history. The 25-point blown lead is of course the worst in championship game history now, so the Falcons have the first and third spots on that list.

While Ryan’s five sacks, including a huge strip-sack fumble in the fourth quarter, were pivotal in the loss, he still finished the game with a 144.1 passer rating and 12.35 yards per attempt. Both of those numbers are the highest in NFL history for a playoff loss (min. 15 attempts).

Thanks for the PTSD, Atlanta

In the seasons since Super Bowl LI, the Falcons have looked like only a shell of the team that created the greatest collapse in NFL history. Maybe that’s all that’s left of the psyche for Quinn, Ryan, Julio Jones and company. The defense hasn’t been good since 2017 and has fallen back to terrible status much like the seasons that canned Smith in Atlanta. Ryan’s had some moments and a big stat line in 2018, but he hasn’t consistently put a full year together like his peak MVP performance of 2016 when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator before taking the San Francisco job.

So what the Falcons provide us now are games like Sunday: PTSD-triggering moments of 28-3 where a game performance that has been a sure win in NFL history turns into a loss for Atlanta.

The last four NFL quarterbacks to lose a game with a passer rating of 140+ (min. 20 attempts):

  • 2019 Matt Ryan at Arizona
  • 2018 Marcus Mariota at Houston
  • 2018 Matt Ryan vs. New Orleans
  • 2016 Matt Ryan vs. New England

The last three NFL quarterbacks to lose a game with 350+ passing yards and a 130+ passer rating:

  • 2019 Matt Ryan at Arizona
  • 2018 Matt Ryan vs. Cincinnati
  • 2018 Matt Ryan vs. New Orleans

Ryan’s passer rating against the 2018 Saints (148.1) is the highest in regular season history in a loss with at least 25 pass attempts. His 144.9 rating against the 2019 Cardinals ranks third on the same list.

It’s not just Ryan either, but the offense as a whole has lost in historic fashion in these games highlighted against the Saints, Bengals and Cardinals. The Saints and Bengals were back-to-back home games in 2018.

That means the 2018 Falcons lost back-to-back home games after scoring at least 36 points and having zero turnovers. Since 1940, home teams not named the 2018 Falcons are 428-3 when scoring at least 36 points and having zero turnovers. The Falcons were 1-2 doing that.

Since 1991, home teams that converted at least 70 percent of their third downs and scored at least 25 points are 83-2. The Falcons, against the 2018 Bengals, had the first loss in that group. (The 2018 Raiders also lost 40-33 to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs)

Sunday was the sixth time since 2012 that the Falcons have lost after leading by at least 17 points, two more than any other team in the NFL. It’s almost like the Falcons spent years looking for the perfect way to lose a game in inexplicable fashion, painted their masterpiece in Super Bowl LI, and have struggled to recreate that art in lower-stakes environments.

If Vincent Van Gogh can lose it and cut off his left ear at 35, then I hate to see what Ryan will become if he has to go beyond this season with Quinn as his coach. This is not the legacy you’d like to see for players the caliber of Ryan and Julio, but the fact is the Falcons are best known for the games they’ve artfully lost than anything they’ve ever won.

Sunday was just the latest exhibit, but unlikely the last.

Mike McCarthy: When Trying Too Hard Backfired for the Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys entered 2020 with high expectations — I picked them for the Super Bowl and an MVP season for Dak Prescott. While a Week 1 loss in Los Angeles on Sunday night doesn’t crush those hopes, it was one of the more disappointing debuts, a 20-17 final that played out much like many of the losses the Cowboys had in 2019.

It’s almost like head coach Jason Garrett never left, but his replacement, Mike McCarthy, may have been too eager to shed his past reputation with a decision that proved costly for Dallas.

Down 20-17 with just under 12 minutes remaining, the Cowboys eschewed a 29-yard game-tying field goal attempt to keep the offense on the field for a 4th-and-3 play at the Los Angeles 11. Prescott threw short of the sticks to rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb for only a 2-yard gain and the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs. They never got the ball past their own 34 on their next two drives and no more points were scored in the game.

That’s now 15 straight drives (spread across seven losses) where the Dallas offense has failed to tie or take the lead of a one-score game in the fourth quarter going back to the 2018 divisional round loss to the Rams.

The beginning of the end for McCarthy in Green Bay was the 2014 NFC Championship Game in Seattle when he made too many conservative calls for field goals early in the game despite great field position. He never was able to shake that reputation, and in his first game back after a year off from coaching, he may have tried too hard to show that he’s changed with this first big decision of his Dallas career.

McCarthy defended the call by saying he wanted to create more momentum and that “the conservative play is to kick the field goal, but I felt good about how we were moving.”

Believe it or not, but had Garrett still been the Dallas coach, this game likely would have gone to overtime. Garrett would have kicked the field goal to knot it at 20, clapped like they just won the Super Bowl, and the game where both offenses were not turning their opportunities into points would have gone on.

This was only the 12th game in NFL history where both offenses gained at least 380 yards, but zero points were scored in the fourth quarter. Sean McVay’s Rams were also involved in the 11th such game, a 24-10 win over Cincinnati in 2019.

But McCarthy went for it where a field goal actually would have been the better call. The Cowboys dialed up a play that clearly wasn’t trying to score a touchdown, but instead get the first down. Even that is arguable with the placement of the ball short of the sticks, but we’ll put that on Prescott and Lamb. The fact is Dallas was taking a risk to maybe get a first-and-goal situation. The drive still could have ended up with a field goal attempt for all we know. A sack or holding penalty on the very next snap could have easily led to that. So it’s not like the Cowboys were in a touchdown-or-bust situation where even a failure has the Rams backed up in front of their own end zone.

While there were still nearly 12 minutes left, that argument cuts both ways. It is defensible with that much time that they could still have multiple opportunities the rest of the way. However, it is not a sure thing that they’ll get the ball back down 20-17. It could be 27-17 too. Also, a 24-20 lead with that much time isn’t a lock to win the game as the Rams would have chances to still win with a touchdown too. Ultimately, it was not essential for the Cowboys to get a touchdown on this drive, so they should have just kicked the short field goal (not a lock, but close) and tied the game.

This call is really one of a kind in recent NFL history.

Since 1994, teams have faced 4th-and-2 or longer in the red zone while trailing by 1-3 points in the fourth quarter 349 times. A whopping 346 of those teams decided to kick a field goal.

Two teams (2003 Jaguars vs. Colts, 2005 Titans vs. Cardinals) botched their field goal process (snap/hold) and didn’t get a kick off, let alone score. Only three offenses actually stayed on the field:

  • 2009 Raiders vs. Broncos: Down 16-13 on the first play of the quarter, Darren McFadden was stopped after a 2-yard run on 4th-and-goal from the Denver 3.
  • 2017 Browns vs. Jets: Down 10-7 with 13:03 left, Isaiah Crowell was stopped after a 1-yard run on 4th-and-2 at the NYJ 4.
  • 2020 Cowboys vs. Rams: The only play of the three that came outside the 4-yard line.

Those other two decisions were more defensible than Dallas’ decision. While Cleveland’s play wasn’t goal-to-go, it was still an attempt to score or get the ball inside the 2. It failed, and the Jets actually drove 97 yards for a touchdown that basically put the game away.

That’s a great example of what makes fourth-quarter decision making so difficult and important. When the margin for error shrinks so much due to time, you can’t pass up sure things that often. The field goal to tie should have been a sure thing for Dallas. There could even be an advantage to tying the game instead of going up 24-20 if it means the Rams would be more conservative on offense if it was 20-20.

McCarthy has at least 15 more games to make up for this one, but it’s hard to believe after one game I’m already writing that The Clapper would have better served Dallas for one night. While now is not the time to panic, this game does add to the collection of Dallas’ failed 4QC/GWD attempts since 2018 that all have something else in common: the Cowboys never scored more than 24 points.

9/9/2018CAR (A)L 16-8
10/7/2018HOU (A)L 19-16 OT
10/21/2018WAS (A)L 20-17
11/5/2018TENL 28-14
1/12/2019LAR (A)L 30-22
9/29/2019NO (A)L 12-10
10/13/2019NYJ (A)L 24-22
11/10/2019MINL 28-24
11/24/2019NE (A)L 13-9
12/22/2019PHI (A)L 17-9
9/13/2020LAR (A)L 20-17

If the offense isn’t rolling in the first three quarters, there’s not much hope to expect them to turn it around in the fourth quarter. McCarthy was arguably the premiere front-running coach of the last decade, so it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of this season goes.

NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

This easily could be an epic rant about the MVP race, or the Patriots/Eagles in general, because I like to do that from time to time on here. 140 280 characters on Twitter just doesn’t do it sometimes, especially when people take one part out of context and jump into something they don’t understand.

However, you can even try to have a conversation about these things and still get stuck in the mud. Yes, I went on WEEI in Boston on Thursday, and instead of getting a debate about where things stand in 2017, I felt like I never left 2003 when Patriots fans started using W-L record to justify Tom Brady’s greatness. It’s been 14 years of lousy “count the rings/wins, ignore the individual performance” arguments ever since, and it does get tiring at times to keep reading them. I also had a busy week with an ALEX update and another FiveThirtyEight article.

Just like how I don’t really read my articles after I write them, I don’t listen to my radio appearances. All I know is after it was over, I didn’t understand why I was accused of jumping all over the place when my point was the same beginning to end. Brady has not given the Patriots an edge at quarterback since 2001 that would be any greater than if a handful of his peers were in his position and provided the same advantages and breaks he’s had. The key to NE’s success is that the gap between Bill Belichick and the other coaches remains the largest in the NFL, and it only seems to have increased in recent years. It’s a plug-and-play system in NE. You provide a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees with the best coaching, the best clutch kicking, the hardest team to score 30 points on, the hardest defense to crack in the fourth quarter, a sad division that can’t find a worthy rival at QB/HC, and you damn well should expect similar, if not greater success.

But I’m going to stop right there, because it’s not like these stories are going away any time soon this season. This could be 2004 all over again with the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers as the top three teams.

To be continued.

There are actually a few games I’m interested in looking at this week.

Jaguars at Browns

Really, this one? I’ve designed a career (recap close games, preview big games) where I can avoid covering games like this one that are crap on paper, but I can’t help but smell an upset here. While I gave the Browns this win before Week 1 when I picked the whole schedule, it is clear that Cleveland has been worse than imaginable and the Jaguars are better.

However, I like the matchup. Cleveland’s offense doesn’t really match up with any defense in the league, let alone one we’ve been calling the best in the NFL this year. But look at the contrast of styles here. The Jaguars shut down the pass, prefer not to pass with Blake Bortles, and are 30th in DVOA against the run. The Browns’ best trait is stopping the run, would like to run the ball on offense, and you can always get some takeaway opportunities from Bortles, who really cheated the football gods last week when he threw two picks after the two-minute warning and still got the win in overtime. Sure, the Jaguars have kicked some ass at times this year, but they’ve had their asses kicked too. Hell, Jacksonville already lost on the road to the Jets this year, albeit an overtime game. Cleveland lost by just 3 to the Steelers in Week 1 and played better than the final score suggests in Detroit last week.

The Browns are at home, and do you really want to pick an 0-16 season when there’s only been one in NFL history? A shaky, turnover-prone QB on the road with an injured crew of weapons sounds tempting to me. The fact that Jaguars are saying they’ll win in a shutout can’t sit well with the Browns. Hue Jackson needs a win in the worst way to save face.

Sure, the Jags may win 30-6 when it’s all said and done, but I like my gut enough on this one to go with Cleveland.

Rams at Vikings

This is the “Jeff Fisher Can’t Coach Bowl.” Case Keenum and Jared Goff had a terrible time in the Los Angeles offense a season ago, but give them real coaching and teams that understand how to use their talent, and both are in the top 5 in DVOA right now. This is a cool battle of 7-2 teams that probably no one expected to be 7-2 at this point.

I wrestled a lot with a winner in this game. In the end, I’m going with the Rams for arguably their most impressive win yet this season. I think Keenum is heavily dependent on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, while the Rams can use a larger variety of weapons. Both defenses are really good, and haven’t been playing the best of offenses, so it’s a step up in competition for both. Admittedly, the two games I focused most on with Keenum this year the two losses (Steelers and Lions), so I’m probably looking at him in more of a negative light than someone who would have focused more on his two huge games against the Bucs and Redskins. But even last week he had a couple of picks in the second half, and I guess I’m rooting for some chaos where putting Teddy Bridgewater back at QB1 is a reality.

I will say that this is a game where Goff needs to show us something good. He’s getting MVP consideration after shredding the Giants and Texans the last two weeks, but he’s really been given an “EASY” button this year. He has the best starting field position, the highest play-action rate, doesn’t have to throw into tight windows, and gets the most YAC of any QB. If he can play some great games down the stretch I’ll change my mind, but he has probably the most misleading stats of any QB this season. I’m just glad he’s shown he can play competent football after last year, but I wouldn’t go all in on him being MVP caliber right now. He struggled with Seattle and special teams did much of the damage in Jacksonville. Let’s see how Goff does with this good road test this weekend.

Patriots vs. Raiders

I guess for six months I assumed this was a Monday night game, because that’s when Oakland played Houston in Mexico City last year. But it’s a 4:25 start, and it’s not nearly as interesting as we thought it would be for Oakland. Sure, the Raiders can prove something with a win, but I give the No. 32 pass defense that still doesn’t have an interception little chance here. The Patriots are starting to roll again offensively, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last five games. You’d like to think Derek Carr can move the ball in this one to keep it close and exciting, but his red-zone performance has been brutal this season. You can’t win by settling for field goals against the Patriots. Brady tears up Jack Del Rio defenses regularly, but this is one of the weaker units yet that he’ll see. With losses already to Buffalo and Baltimore, Oakland slipping to 4-6 is just another step closer to an irrelevant rest of season.

Eagles at Cowboys

This should be a much bigger game, but things have gone really sour recently for Dallas. Never mind the Jerry Jones saga that is amping up. Actually, that could be uncomfortable this week with Dallas in high-profile games (SNF and Thanksgiving). But let’s not worry about that. On the field, Dallas could be without three of its very best players in Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee. Hell, kicker Dan Bailey being out is a problem too.

This is why it’s annoying to hear the “Dak can’t score without Zeke” narrative when clearly there is far more missing than Elliott. Last week, Adrian Clayborn had six sacks with Smith out. He even admitted to having “one move” after the game, and Dallas failed to adjust for that. Regardless of who is on the field, a quarterback needs better protection than that, and the Dallas defense really struggled with Atlanta. It was a 10-7 game at halftime, but while Dallas missed a field goal in the third quarter, the Falcons added two long touchdown drives to take a 24-7 lead and blow that one open.

Philadelphia comes in  hot, fresh off a bye, and with one of the better defenses in the league at getting to quarterbacks. It’s a really tough matchup for Dallas, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this one. It would have been tough even with those players available.

2017 Week 11 Predictions

So I started picking against the spread last week. I went 6-8 compared to 12-2 straight up. This is a weekly thing now from me, and hopefully better weeks to come. Off to a good start with the Steelers impressing on Thursday night.

2017Wk11

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Season: 89-57 (Spread: 6-8)

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards Edition

Once again I wrote so much for the season predictions that I left out the awards. So we’ll get right to those before I talk about a few Week 1 games of interest.

2017 NFL Award Predictions

  • Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers
  • Coach of the Year: Andy Reid
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips
  • Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: T.J. Watt
  • Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

For the top coach, you know I was high on the Chiefs already going into Thursday night, so it’s not an overreaction to that. Andy Reid has won the award once, back in 2002. Surprisingly, every coach to win it in a 16-game season has won 10+ games except for Jimmy Johnson (7-9 with 1990 Cowboys) and Jack Patera (9-7 with 1978 Seahawks). If Todd Bowles finished 7-9 with the 2017 Jets, I would seriously consider him for the award. For real.

As for DROY, might be wishful thinking with T.J. Watt, but encouraged by his preseason and winning a starting job. I would have probably picked Myles Garrett if he wasn’t starting his career injured, which is unfortunate. Was looking forward to seeing him in action tomorrow.

Week 1 Games of Interest

I think the top AFC game is Raiders at Titans, a game I picked to happen again in the wild-card round. It was only a 17-10 game last year, but I’m expecting to see a lot more points with two quarterbacks returning from a broken leg suffered on the same day last year. I still don’t trust these defenses too much, and I am excited to see Marshawn Lynch back in action. I think the Titans will take this one at home, making a statement that this is their year in the AFC South.

The top NFC game for me is Seattle at Green Bay. It really could end up determining the No. 1 seed for all we know, just like it did in 2014 when these teams opened the season. Earl Thomas was out last year and the Seahawks were roasted in Green Bay. They also lost there in 2015, so it’s an important game for this team to win if they want to better their shot of not returning to Lambeau. I think with a loaded defense and healthy Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have the edge over a Green Bay team that still looks shaky to me on defense.

Giants at Dallas is often a solid choice for SNF. I think Dallas gets over that hump after getting swept by its rival last year. Odell Beckham Jr.’s health status is a big question mark, but the Giants still have other weapons. I just think the Cowboys embrace this somewhat unexpected opportunity to still have Ezekiel Elliott available and run a balanced offense with Dak Prescott having his best game against the Giants. That defense has really been his biggest weakness so far in his brief career. The defensive line and secondary are very strong, but I would advise that CB performance can always oscillate wildly. Maybe Janoris Jenkins isn’t as good this year, but Eli Apple could also make up for it by improving in his second season. This is another really important NFC game even though it is just Week 1.

2017 Week 1 Predictions

I start the year 0-1, just like the Patriots. How crazy was that game on Thursday night? I wrote about all the history the Chiefs overcame to win where few teams ever do. I’ve been saying for months that Kansas City is the team to beat New England, not Oakland and Pittsburgh. I just didn’t think we’d see that type of game from Alex Smith, and that was about the most unorthodox passing night for the Patriots in the last 11 seasons. One of Tom Brady’s worst throwing nights in that time for sure. Now it is just one game, but there are going to be some problems for the Patriots against any quality opponent if that front seven doesn’t play a lot better, and if the passing offense doesn’t get back to more short, quicker passes.

Winners in bold:

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

I’m interested in seeing how several of the rookie head coaches fare, including both guys in the MNF finale in Denver. Maybe times are a changin’ if the Chargers can go into Denver and hold onto a late lead for a big road win. I also think the Rams get a golden opportunity to start 1-0 with an Indy team missing its best player on each side of the ball (Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis). Tough break for the Colts in an otherwise winnable game given no Aaron Donald (holdout over though). Also think the Panthers could get a good effort from the 49ers’ new-look offense under Kyle Shanahan. I’m excited to see Christian McCaffrey’s debut in that one against a talented, but young front seven.

Quarterbacks: Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives by NFL Team

Lost even on me in Sunday afternoon’s chaos was the fact that Tony Romo moved past Roger Staubach for the most game-winning drives in Dallas Cowboys history. He has 24 now. Last season Romo took the lead in fourth-quarter comeback wins (21 now) in Cowboys history as well.

That’s newsworthy by itself, but what about the other 31 NFL teams? Who are their all-time leaders in fourth-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives? I compiled the table, which will be added to the NFL STAT TABLES section I plan to do much more with in the near future.

TM4QCGWD

As usual, playoffs are included. How typical of the Jets to feature three different quarterbacks here. Not much else surprised me, but I’ve been working with this data for years so that’s to be expected. Let’s just say the bar is really low in Tampa Bay, but I doubt Mike Glennon will ever step his big ass over it.

Matt Ryan needs two more 4QC wins to move past Bartkowski for the outright Atlanta lead. He would be the 9th active quarterback to hold the lead in 4QC and GWD for his team, which just goes to show how impressive this current crop of quarterbacks really is.

All nine of the active leaders have been with their team since at least 2009. That’s when Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago and Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft.  If we think about that season some more, Marc Bulger (STL), Jake Delhomme (CAR), Donovan McNabb (PHI) and David Garrard (JAC) were still on their teams, so that’s 13 quarterbacks who went on to become their team’s GWD leader all active in 2009. Peyton Manning (IND) and Matt Schaub (HOU) were still on their teams too, so that’s 15. Brett Favre was in Minnesota, but he was already Green Bay’s all-time leader, so that kind of makes it 16, which is half the league.

So in 2009, there were 16 active starting quarterbacks who have eventually led an NFL franchise in career game-winning drives.

Some people disagree that this is a really special era of quarterbacks, but I keep finding evidence to support that it is. When teams like Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis keep going through quarterbacks, I gain more respect for the players who keep starting year after year.

Even Flacco and Eli.

him

NFL Week 9 Predictions, Adjusted 4QC Records and Writing Recap

Only five articles this week, but that just means a bonanza next week when we officially hit the midpoint of the NFL’s regular season.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 8: Eli Manning Out-Clutches Tony Romo in Dallas – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Stat of the week: Eli Manning has produced just as many 4QC/GWD (3) in new Cowboys Stadium as Tony Romo. Only problem is Manning’s played there four times compared to 23 starts for Romo. Also: Cam Newton bounces around from Superman to Scam in Chicago, Matthew Stafford comes up big again, and Andrew Luck gets to 3 game-winning drives in just seven games. We also find that Betty White scores more in Cleveland than Philip Rivers.

Breaking Down What Went Wrong with Redskins’ Receivers in Loss to Steelers – Bleacher Report

Just how many passes did the Redskins drop in Pittsburgh on Sunday? Depends on which site you look at. I went through every incompletion and offered a look at each. Robert Griffin III’s stats were definitely impacted, but most of the plays weren’t as harmful to Washington’s cause as you might have expected.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 8 at Tennessee Titans – Colts Authority

Oh we have a logo now, and Andrew Luck has his second comeback and third GWD already with his best game of the season. Despite being pressured so frequently, Luck was very efficient and was at his best late in the game: 10/12 for 115 yards, TD and both incompletions were dropped. The Colts had a different gameplan this week, and I have the data to back it up.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 9 Predictions – Bleacher Report

This week we look at the 37 teams to start 7-0 since 1940. Tony Romo is the only QB in NFL history to defeat two undefeated teams who were 7-0 or better (9-0 Colts in 2006, 13-0 Saints in 2009). When Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger meet on Sunday, it will only be the 9th time a pair of quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings face each other (as active owners of 2+ rings). It is the 7th time the Steelers are involved in such a game, and the third year in a row for Roethlisberger. We also have a potential first meeting of rookies with winning records this late into the season with Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. Finally, some perspective on how great Drew Brees has been in the Superdome in prime time, and how the Eagles and Michael Vick will try and save their season with a road win.

Best and Worst Quarterback Records In the Clutch Adjusted for Strength of Schedule – Cold, Hard Football Facts

I compiled over 800 fourth-quarter comeback opportunities for 25 active starting quarterbacks and broke them down for strength of schedule (SOS), looking at strength of victory, and the records against teams .500 or better and teams with a losing record. Some individual notes on all 25 quarterbacks included. Definitely some interesting results.

2012 NFL Week 9 Predictions

Originally I picked Atlanta to go 8-0, but doesn’t it seem like the stars are aligning for a Dallas upset? The Falcons are hardly dominant, even though they are hard to beat in that dome. The Cowboys have upset two undefeated teams in recent years, have a good  matchup here, and let’s not forget Tony Romo is Mr. November with a 19-2 record in the month. After all the criticism this week for the loss to the Giants, this is actually the perfect opportunity for the Cowboys to show up and deliver a big win.

Or, they will fall flat on their faces as the Falcons’ undefeated march continues. But I think I’m going to roll the dice and go with the upset.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Week 7: 12-1
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Season: 74-44

The Whistleblower No. 1 – Mark Kriegel and the Most Worthless Stat in the NFL

I had my heart set on doing a weekly “Captain Comeback” column ever since December 2010. Had that idea fail, I was going to do a series called “The Whistleblower”, where I keep my eyes and ears open for media people who use significantly inaccurate and/or misleading statements in their coverage of the NFL, and then I would expose them by stating the facts.

I know, the list could be huge depending how much NFL content one is willing to digest.

It finally crossed my mind that I could use this blog as a forum for “The Whistleblower” every so often, and here is the first edition. You could print it out if you want, but I’m sure it won’t be worth anything like a Batman No. 1 would fetch.

Perhaps it’s fitting my first edition would involve the NFL Network and Dallas Cowboys. That was motivation for my first article at Football Nation a little over a year ago.

Rather than Jamie Dukes and Tony Romo, this time it’s NFL AM’s Mark Kriegel and DeMarco Murray. On Tuesday morning, Kriegel mentioned that the Cowboys need to use their workhorse back DeMarco Murray more, and cited arguably the most useless statistic in football: “the Cowboys are 5-0 when he has 20-plus carries!” Surprised he didn’t support it with “and 2-6 when he’s under 20!”

To quote Kriegel from Monday: who cares?

Does something magical happen when a running back hits 20 carries? Is this to say Murray is really valuable when he gets a lot of carries? No, it just means it’s later in the game, and his team is likely leading and trying to ice the game. I’ll prove it in a second for Murray.

Beyond Murray, there have been 194 running backs with at least 10 career games (incl. playoffs) of 20+ carries (see link here).

Of those 194 running backs, 179 of them have a winning record when they get 20+ carries. Damn, that’s a lot of valuable running backs. And I thought this was the “dime a dozen” position?

Five more have a .500 record, and only an unlucky 10 have a losing record. Most notably, Steven Jackson is 27-30 (.474). Of course the Rams are 37-91 (.289) since 2004, so it’s not like Jackson has had a great opportunity to win no matter what he runs for.

Gerald Riggs (17-25-1, .407) and James Wilder (11-23, .324) are the only other players with a losing record in 20+ games.

Know who had the best records? The immortal group of Leroy Hoard (11-0), Edgar Bennett (18-1), Rob Carpenter (18-1-1),  Mike Alstott (12-1), and Craig James (12-1).

Even Joseph Addai was 15-2 with the Colts. If only Peyton Manning delegated more of the offense to him…

And what about Murray specifically? The five teams he did it against were 26-54 (.325) for starters. The defense allowed 14.0 PPG in the wins. Romo was very good.

And when Murray hit that nice, round number of 20 carries, it was always in the second half, and all but one time with Dallas leading (often by double-digits at that).

If your team is even just average, check your running back’s record when he gets 20 carries and chances are it’s respectable. Likewise, check your QB’s record when he throws 25 passes or less. It’s the same thing. A ton of winning records, because that means the team has taken the air out of the ball and are (literally) running out the clock.

This isn’t just Murray. This isn’t just Kriegel.

It’s the general lack of NFL fans understanding carries are a product of winning, and not the other way around. That is why “RB X’s team is [insert great record] when he gets 20-plus carries” is the most worthless stat in the NFL.

The whistle has been blown. It’s time to put an end to the use of this stat.