Derek Carr: Lies, Damned Lies and Penalties

In the summer of 2016, I wrote about Derek Carr: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics as a critique of the hype he was receiving after two seasons in the league. Reading it back now, I think I made plenty of fair and valid points about his play and tempering expectations to that point.

In a world of reboots and sequels, this is sort of another one, though with a budget cut on the most precious thing to us all: time. For now, I’m not willing to write 5,000+ words to recap Carr’s whole career since 2016. Like I always say, people tend to just not care that much about the ~14th-best quarterback in the NFL.

I want to elaborate on something I said about Carr when I ranked him as my No. 42 quarterback of the 21st century. Specifically, this paragraph and the part in bold:

“Carr has the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (21) in a quarterback’s first seven years in NFL history. That list is usually dominated by Hall of Famers, but here is Carr, who also shares the record for the most through a player’s first three, four, five, and six seasons too. He is 24-29 (.453) at game-winning drive opportunities, the 10th-best record among active starters. I’ve always said that if you can keep the game close, Carr is surprisingly good in these moments. I’ve also pointed out that he gets a lot of bogus penalties to help these winning drives, but so be it. He still comes through more than you’d expect and that is a good thing.”

As evident again last night against the Ravens, Carr came through in a spot you would not have expected him to, especially if you saw how poor his accuracy and tunnel vision for Darren Waller were early in the game. But he overcame an interception at the goal line in overtime to lead his 25th game-winning drive and inch closer to having the most fourth-quarter comeback wins in a player’s first eight seasons.

But the line that drew attention here was that I said Carr gets a lot of bogus penalties to help his winning drives. That did not happen last night for a change, but in covering his whole career, I have seen it enough times with Carr to where I think it’s fair to label him as the “guy who needs ref help” to help explain why he is so successful in game-winning drives while his overall success in the NFL is not good. He has been to the playoffs once in seven seasons and he wasn’t even healthy enough to start in January that year.

Maybe “bogus” was not the best word, though some of these calls were flat out bogus. It’s more that I see Carr as someone who has needed the help of referees to get drive-extending first downs via penalty after he failed on a throw, especially on third and fourth down, in the final minutes of the game. Like, why can’t Carr just have more successful drives in crunch time where the refs didn’t get involved? Is that too much to ask for?

A search from Stathead sure seems to quantify that Carr is involved in more of these penalty plays on crucial downs in 4QC/GWD attempts than anyone during his career (since 2014):

I went through his 25 game-winning drives again, scanning for penalties to point out why I said what I did. In six of the first eight, I found something, which is why I attached that label to him so early in his career. In the end, nearly half of the 25 led me to find something and I am presenting each one below. While I wouldn’t mind going back and watching these plays again to see if they were bogus or legit calls, I want everyone to know that NFL Game Pass is a fucking disaster, so I won’t be doing that. Instead, I’m pasting in what I wrote about these plays in my weekly recaps when they happened. For eight seasons (2011-18) I used to write a weekly recap of every close game in the NFL to preserve a historical record of blame and credit, and I’ll be damned if I don’t put it to use here.

1. 2014 Chiefs

Everyone remembers their first. I’m going to paste in the key part of the drives from the official NFL play-by-play.

What I wrote in 2014: “Carr flirted with disaster on the drive when Husain Abdullah dropped an interception with 3:44 left. Later on a third-and-9, Carr was very fortunate to get a pass interference flag on Ron Parker. That would have been a good no-call play.”

2. 2015 Ravens

What I wrote in 2015: “Carr had 2:10 left from his 20, only needing a field goal. He engineered a nice drive into the red zone, but appeared to throw the game away with another interception to Hill, who nearly went from hero to goat by fumbling the pick, but it was all moot. Hill was rightfully penalized for defensive holding for contact beyond five yards and the Raiders had another life. On the very next play Seth Roberts ran a pretty simple route and was wide open for the 12-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. Kyle Arrington was just left watching on the play.”

We’ll consider this one legit.

3. 2015 Titans

What I wrote in 2015: “[Carr] had a good drive going from his own 10, but soon forced a deep ball into double coverage on fourth-and-8 to Andre Holmes. That too was bailed out with a tacky 5-yard defensive holding penalty away from the throw.”

4. 2015 Chargers

What I wrote in 2015: “In overtime, Oakland won the toss and received, but there was no reason to have faith in an offense that netted 21 yards on its previous nine possessions combined. But there was not much reason to have faith in the defense either. This drive, one of the season’s ugliest to win a game, nearly self-destructed quickly with holding penalties, but the Raiders overcame a second-and-29 thanks to a penalty for this good-looking hit by rookie Denzel Perryman.

Oh, I guess the sound of a hard hit is worth a flag these days. Where exactly is football heading if this is considered an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver? Oakland kept driving, reaching the 10-yard line after Roberts caught a tipped ball for a 33-yard gain.”

Pretty nice to not have to convert a 3rd-and-21 deep in your own territory in overtime.

5. 2016 Saints

What I wrote in 2016: “On fourth-and-5 at the Saints’ 18, Derek Carr’s late floater to Richard sailed out of bounds, but Craig Robertson was penalized for pass interference. I think the Saints were hosed here. An exact definition of an “uncatchable” pass is conspicuously missing from the NFL’s rule book, but that judgment call should have been applied here, negating any contact by the defender that would have normally been illegal if the pass was catchable. It would have taken an act of God for Richard to catch that pass. Oakland was rewarded for a bad throw, and while this was not a definite game-ender given the Raiders’ three timeouts, it is troublesome that the official’s judgment was so poor on such an important play.”

This is maybe the most egregious example of them all, and a good play to illustrate why “uncatchable” needs to be better defined in the rule book.

6. 2016 Buccaneers

What I wrote in 2016: “But for all of Oakland’s record-setting penalties, one call on Tampa Bay may have been the costliest of them all. Down 24-17, Oakland faced a fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 5 with 1:49 left. Carr badly missed Crabtree in the end zone, but Adjei-Barimah was flagged for a pretty soft holding penalty that was inconsequential to the play. That helped Oakland tie the game, and Tampa Bay’s offense went three-and-out three times the rest of the way. Overtime may have been a pipe dream if that was a turnover on downs instead.

The Raiders have been living on the edge like that all season, including a controversial fourth-down penalty for pass interference in New Orleans in Week 1, and a near interception by Baltimore’s Eric Weddle before Carr threw a game-winning touchdown pass in Week 4.”

Another weak one here. Plus, you can see with the way the season started in New Orleans, and the close call in Baltimore, how I started to put together the narrative that Carr is getting bailed out. But there wouldn’t be another game like this until a doozy in the 2017 season.

7. 2017 Chiefs

It’s The Untimed Downs Game. Yes, plural.

What I wrote in 2017: “The Raiders had 8 seconds left, and appeared to win the game again with a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, but the arm extension to push Peters away was too obvious to not draw an offensive pass interference penalty. Oakland already got away with the Cooper play early, so that would have been tough for the referees to allow a second play like that. Also, offensive pass interference is apparently a type of penalty that does not require a 10-second runoff in this situation, or else the game would have been decided again.

Three seconds remained with the ball at the 10. The Chiefs only rushed three with a quarterback spy in case Carr took off, but that passive approach didn’t really work out. The pass was a little high and clanked off of Cook’s hands in the end zone. However, Rob Parker was penalized for defensive holding to extend the game to an untimed down.

To me, that looks like a common play of two guys competing and I would not have thrown a flag there. Parker is still holding after the 5-yard zone, but Cook is also using his bigger frame and right arm to drive Parker back and get open. This call has really been lost in the madness of the overall finish, but to me, that would have been game over right there.

But there was an untimed down, and it just so happened to draw another Kansas City penalty. This one was much more legit for holding on Murray covering Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone. That led to the ball moving to the 2-yard line with a second untimed down. On a sprint-left option, Carr was licking his chops as he threw to Crabtree in the end zone for a score that was finally legit and penalty free. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has had a rough go of it as of late, including two missed field goals in this game, but he barely snuck in the game-winning extra point to give Oakland the 31-30 win.”

How many more chances can you get to win a game? This one stung.

8. 2018 Browns

I had nothing to say about this call on the game-tying drive, but I did bring up the refs in this one.

What I wrote in 2018: “There were two big officiating controversies in the fourth quarter that both went in Oakland’s favor. First, Derek Carr coughed up the ball on a sack that could have been returned for a touchdown with just over 6:30 left, but an official quickly blew the play dead with no turnover. This play wasn’t really that huge since Cleveland ended up getting a touchdown two minutes later. Later, Carlos Hyde appeared to ice the game with a 2-yard run on third-and-2, but replay called him short even though there didn’t appear to be any conclusive evidence of that, and replay has been often sticking with the call on the field. Some have criticized Jackson for not trying a fourth-and-1 at his own 18 to end the game, but punting actually feels like the right call in this case. Getting a better punt outcome than putting Carr at his own 47 with 1:28 left would have been ideal.”

9. 2019 Bears

I never wrote about this game, but Carr’s game-winning drive was rescued after a rare running into the punter penalty and a fake punt deep in their own end.

10. 2020 Panthers

Never wrote about this one either, but that’s another fourth-and-8 in no man’s land avoided thanks to a penalty and automatic first down.

11. 2020 Jets

This was not the game-winning drive as we know Gregg Williams’ pathetic defensive call is what led to Carr’s game-winning touchdown bomb to Henry Ruggs. But I thought it was worth highlighting how Carr once again had multiple incomplete passes on third and fourth down negated by penalty on the defense. He also had a touchdown taken away on offsetting penalties, getting to replay the down.

So, that is the background on why I say what I do with Carr and penalties. It comes up too often with him for me not to notice and acknowledge.

Patrick Mahomes, Carr’s division rival, just had his ninth game-winning drive on Sunday. I looked at his nine games and outside of some defensive offsides penalties that Mahomes draws so well, the only real notable penalty on a throw was a DPI on 3rd-and-10 three plays after Wasp in the Super Bowl comeback against San Francisco. That put the ball at the 1-yard line, but it was the right call as the defender jumped into Travis Kelce and never played the ball. On the actual game-winning drive, there were no penalties as Mahomes marched down the field, just like he did against the Raiders and Falcons last year and the Browns on Sunday.

Updated thru Week 1, 2021

Carr remains a tricky one. He’s like the AFC version of Matthew Stafford, though he actually has a few notable wins under his belt. If he found a way to be more aggressive at the start of games and begin them the way he can finish them, then I think the Raiders would be more successful. Until then, I’m not scared of betting against Carr, unless the game is close and he has the ball. Even then, I’m most worried of the ref having an itchy trigger finger.

How Many NFL Weeks Do We See More Fumbles than Interceptions?

In my last post about the high number (52) of fourth down attempts in Week 1 of the 2021 season, I briefly mentioned that it was a bad weekend for costly fumbles too. Lamar Jackson’s second lost fumble, something he’s only done in one other game (Pittsburgh last year), put the bow on Week 1 as it led to the Raiders’ game-winning drive in overtime.

In total, there were 22 lost fumbles in Week 1 of the 2021 season. That is something we’ve seen happen plenty of times in the NFL, but there were also just 17 interceptions, tied for the second-lowest total in the 32-team era (since 2002) when all 32 teams were in action. That fumble-to-INT ratio of 1.29 sounds unusually high.

But is it?

Since I’ve compiled so much data to get ready for this season, I figured I’d better start sharing it more frequently. If we look at the 172 weeks where all 32 teams were in action, this Week 1 is only the 17th week where there were more fumbles lost than interceptions thrown. Here is a chart in chronological order of the weekly fumble-to-INT ratio in the 32-team era:

Week 1’s 1.29 fumble-to-INT ratio ranks second behind only the 1.35 in Week 2 of the 2015 season when there were 31 fumbles and 23 interceptions. That Week 2 in 2015 was most memorable for Peyton Manning leading a comeback in Kansas City in prime time and Derek Carr throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the game to beat the Ravens.

So, I guess six years later, some things never change. But with interceptions continuing to be harder to come by for defenses, we may start to see more weeks where the fumble, whether it’s a strip-sack or a lucky recovery of a botched snap, becomes the No. 1 way for a defense to take the ball back.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

Now that the Atlanta Falcons have fired head coach Dan Quinn, we’ll see if we continue to get improbable losses out of that team, but there were plenty of other stat oddities to go around from Sunday’s action.

Previous weeks:

Raiders Came at the King, Didn’t Miss

When you’re in your seventh season like Derek Carr and you still haven’t started a playoff game, you have to treat a win like this as something extra special. The Raiders (3-2) are now fully alive in the AFC West race after ending Kansas City’s 13-game winning streak, a signature win for Carr.

Carr is now 3-10 against the Chiefs, but all three of the wins are really among his most notable. There’s the first win of his career in 2014, a comeback against the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. There’s the untimed down game in 2017 on another Thursday night, the time he threw a game-winning touchdown to Michael Crabtree on the final snap.

Now we’re talking about out-gunning Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Arrowhead, albeit with 2020 attendance. This is a bit different, and it was certainly a different experience for the Chiefs after an outrageous shootout in the first half where both teams scored 24 points and had over 300 yards of offense. The Chiefs twice led by 11, but Carr kept the Raiders on pace with uncharacteristic deep shots that led to touchdown passes of 59 and 72 yards.

The Chiefs hurt themselves in the first half with offensive penalties that negated two touchdowns, but in the second half the offense was ice cold on four straight drives. That’s when the Raiders took control and scored the game’s next 16 points, building a 40-24 lead with 5:26 left.

This is the first time Mahomes has ever trailed by 16 points past the midway point of the second quarter in his NFL career. Oakland Las Vegas almost hung the first multi-score loss on the Chiefs since 2017, but Mahomes had another answer. He frankly had to after throwing a terrible pick that was returned to the 2-yard line to set up another Josh Jacobs touchdown run. Mahomes cut the lead in half to 40-32 after a touchdown and two-point conversion pass, but only 3:57 remained. At the two-minute warning, the Raiders had a no-brainer decision on fourth-and-1 to put the game away. While Carr has been a shockingly ineffective rusher, it’s not asking much to convert a quarterback sneak. He had one to end the third quarter and he had another here to end the Chiefs’ winning streak at 13 games.

It also ends Kansas City’s NFL record streak of 49 games without losing by more than seven points, though it does extend their record to 50 games without losing by more than eight points. That’s still a one-possession game in the NFL, but fortunately the Raiders didn’t have to give the Chiefs the ball back for one more possession.

Carr’s game-winning drive gives him 21, which is the new franchise record. Here is the franchise leader in fourth-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives for all 32 teams:

Someday Mahomes should be able to hold these records for the Chiefs, but on Sunday, it just wasn’t his best stuff. So throw away the undefeated season talk or taking down New England’s 21-game winning streak. The Chiefs still have work to do.

Washington, Are You a Football Team?

Clearly, it’s not just a Dwayne Haskins issue in Washington. The Redskins Football Team started Kyle Allen at quarterback against the Rams, but suffered a 30-10 defeat with one of the most inept offensive performances of the last decade.

Washington gained just 108 yards, the fewest in a game by an offense since Luke Falk led the Jets to 105 yards against the Patriots last season. Worse, Washington gained 108 yards on 52 plays, or 2.08 yards per play. That’s the fifth-lowest average in a game since 2010, and somehow not even the worst Washington game in recent years. In 2018, Washington averaged 2.02 yards per play in a Week 17 loss (24-0) to the Eagles.

How sad was this showing? Washington’s longest gain of the day was an 18-yard completion from Allen. The second-longest “play” was actually a 2-yard loss on a run that netted 13 yards because of a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness on the Rams.

Alex Smith replaced an injured Allen in the second quarter for his first action in nearly two years since a gruesome leg injury in 2018. He led the team on a field goal drive before halftime, but frankly would have been better off rehabbing on the sideline after that. In the second half, Smith’s success rate was 0-for-17 with a net loss of 24 yards. That’s hard to believe, but he took 5 sacks, had 4 failed completions, one failed scramble, and threw 7 incompletions. The rain intensified, but that didn’t stop the Rams from gaining positive yardage in the second half.

The Rams are now 4-0 against the NFC East and 0-1 against the refs this season.

Pennsylvania’s Historic Third Down Day

The Steelers have never blown a 17-point lead at home in franchise history, but this came awfully close.

What paced both offenses was an incredible display on third down. The Eagles finished 10 of 14 (71%) and the Steelers finished 11 of 15 (73%). According to Stathead, this is the only NFL game since 1991 where both offenses converted at least 10 third downs with a conversion rate over 70%.

It’s only the third game since 1991 where both offenses converted at least 10 third downs period (2015 Giants-Falcons and 2014 Ravens-Panthers the other two). Given what we know about pre-1991 offenses, this is a favorite for the best offensive display on third down in any game in NFL history. The Eagles’ four longest plays from scrimmage came on third down, including the game’s longest play, a 74-yard run by Miles Sanders on third-and-9.

But in the fourth quarter, the Steelers were just a little better. After Travis Fulgham, apparently the new No. 1 in Philadelphia, killed the secondary all day with 10 catches for 152 yards, the defense finally tightened. Joe Haden had the coverage on a third down that led to the Eagles making a questionable decision to try a 57-yard field goal with 3:23 left on a fourth-and-5. The longest field goal in Heinz Field history is 53 yards and everyone knows the stadium is historically difficult to connect from long distance. Jake Elliott gave it a shot, but was wide right.

The Steelers needed one more conversion to ice this one, and Ben Roethlisberger delivered it on a third-and-8 with a 35-yard touchdown pass to rookie Chase Claypool, who somehow caught the defense napping again for his fourth touchdown of the game.

This battle of Pennsylvania ended 38-29, which surprisingly is not the first such score in NFL history. The Raiders beat the Jets 38-29 in 1967 in the AFL thanks to a two-point conversion that didn’t make much sense for New York. Similarly, we got on the path to this score after the Eagles went against conventional wisdom and converted a two-pointer in the third quarter to cut Pittsburgh’s lead, once 31-14, to 31-22.

FOX may have had the biggest statistical oddity of the day with a graphic that showed that Pittsburgh had the longest active drought (40 years) of seasons without a 4-0 start until getting there this year. That’s hard to believe given the general success the Steelers have had since the merger, but it’s true. The Steelers have not started 4-0 since 1979 until now. That means even teams like Detroit (1980, 2011) and Cleveland (1979) have done it more recently, though that Cleveland one is a bit misleading. The 1979 Browns improved to 4-0 one day after the Steelers did due to a Monday night game.

So Cleveland has the longest drought now, and next week is one of the biggest Pittsburgh-Cleveland games in many years.

Andy Dalton: The Ginger Cowboy Rides Again

Dallas makes everything look hard this year, and now things will get really difficult after Dak Prescott suffered a compound ankle fracture during the game on Sunday. Andy Dalton, the butt of many jokes the last decade, is still one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league all things considered, but he’ll have his work cut out for him without a defense to speak of. Even the lowest-scoring team in football, the Giants, scored 34 in this game.

The 2020 Cowboys are the first team in NFL history to score and allow at least 31 points in four straight games. At least this one led to a much-needed comeback win in the division after Dalton was able to lead a one-minute drill to set up Greg Zuerlein for a 40-yard field goal that he was just able to squeeze inside the uprights in a 37-34 victory.

It’s a shame for Prescott, who has never missed a game due to injury, on so many levels given he didn’t have his long-term deal he deserved locked up with the team, and he was having a historic start to this season in leading this talented, but mistake-prone offense. I don’t see how Dalton will magically have a defense around him in the coming weeks, so the Cowboys may have to win some more shootouts. The good news is this is still the worst division by far in the NFL, and Dalton is capable of putting up some points with these receivers.

Russell Wilson’s Best Game-Winning Drive Yet?

The Vikings (1-4) lost a tough one, 27-26, on Sunday night in Seattle. They outgained Seattle by 135 yards, held the ball for 39:28, and forced the Seahawks to finish 0-for-7 on third down. But in the end, it was fourth down that doomed Minnesota. The Vikings, leading 26-21 at the two-minute warning, bypassed a 24-yard field goal to keep the offense on the field for a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 6. They didn’t run a quarterback sneak like the Raiders did to put away the Chiefs earlier in the day. Instead, they called backup running back Alexander Mattison to carry off right guard for no gain.

Twitter is killing Mattison, the new Trent Richardson, for this play. It looks bad from still images, but you have to respect an unblocked Bobby Wagner’s speed to come across the line and tackle Mattison if he did try to bounce this outside the edge instead of hammering into the pile of bodies.

Having said that, I think the Vikings should have kicked the field goal. I think NFL Twitter tends to overrate the greatness of an 8-point lead, though many sure did seem to forget all about that on this night as they cheered for Mike Zimmer to go for it. But I know I hate nothing more than watching my helpless defense cling to a 5-point lead while a team is in hurry-up mode with four-down, pass-happy football coming.

It’s also a big deal when the quarterback has some experience at this. Wilson now has the most game-winning drives (34) through a player’s first nine seasons in NFL history. He also tied Matthew Stafford with his 26th fourth-quarter comeback win, the most through nine seasons in history.

The thought process for Minnesota was clear. Get a first down and the game is over. But if you fail, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to getting beat by a 94-yard touchdown drive, and Wilson still had 1:57 and one timeout left. That’s why I kick the field goal, but Minnesota still had two fourth-down opportunities on defense to put this one away. D.K. Metcalf, quickly on his way to becoming the best wideout in the game, was not to be stopped. He tracked down a 39-yard desperation heave on fourth-and-10. He actually dropped a game-winner on second down in the end zone with 24 seconds left. But two plays later on fourth and goal, Metcalf caught a bullet from Wilson and held on for the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left.

This is the third time in his career Wilson took over in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and led a game-winning touchdown drive. The first was the Fail Mary game against Green Bay in 2012, and the last time was 2017 against Houston when he went 80 yards with 1:39 left. This was 94 yards with 1:57 left and in prime time.

That’s going to be a memorable one to get to 5-0, but any NFC fans groaning about how lucky the Seahawks got in 2019 have to be frustrated with this one. Had the Vikings just kicked a short field goal, something that isn’t always a given for them against Seattle of course, then Wilson’s drive may have only forced overtime at best. It could have still ended in defeat given the Seahawks failed on the two-point conversion after the Metcalf score.

I know there’s pressure on coaches to do more with fourth downs and two-point conversions, but it sure doesn’t feel like they’re properly weighing the pros and cons of these situations on the fly. If Zimmer didn’t chase a two-point conversion in the third quarter, this situation may have been avoided all together. Worse than that, why would he kick an extra point with 7:08 left to take a 26-21 lead when he should have gone for two there? Leading by 4 or 5 doesn’t make a difference. That way if it was 27-21, then the field goal to make it 30-21 would have been a no-brainer later.

Still, it felt like a no-brainer to me, but losing coaches are letting it all hang out this pandemic season.

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Wilson v. Belichick IV

The NFL is back, but how has it looked so far? The limited crowd seemed more than loud enough at the first Kansas City game on opening night, and the fake noise used in most of the other games wasn’t too much of a distraction to me. There were seven fourth-quarter comebacks in Week 1, including a pair of 17-point comebacks by the Bears and Redskins Football Team. Holding penalties were way down, so that’s good for watching the games, but not so great for fairness. There’s a lot of soft tissues injuries already and some big name pass catchers who will be down this week, but at least the quarterbacks have been unusually healthy to this point. Kickers got off to their worst start since the 9-game strike season of 1982.

This is the first NFL season since 1984 where no team has been a favorite of 10 or more points through the first two weeks. The closest we got there, which is essentially there when rounding, was opening night when the 9.5-point favorite Chiefs beat Houston by 14. Kansas City also has the largest spread of Week 2 with -9 in Los Angeles.

There are nine teams favored by at least 6 points this week, but you can be sure there will be some upsets mixed in with blowouts and games going down to the wire. We already saw the Bengals cover in the final minute against the Browns on Thursday night (to my dismay).

Several of the 0-1 teams will meet each other in what is close to a must-win game if they are to amount to anything this season. Here’s looking at you in the NFC: Cowboys, 49ers, Buccaneers, and Vikings. All face winless teams this week. The Eagles host the 1-0 Rams, but that’s another important early-season game too. The narrative is that Aaron Donald will devour Carson Wentz, who took eight sacks last week behind a banged up offensive line. You might be surprised to see I’m taking the Eagles to win that one, because if that team is going to do anything this year, this is a game where they’ll make adjustments there, play better on offense, and do enough defensively against a Rams team that only scored 20 on Dallas last week to get this win. Remember, a lot of short fields hurt the Eagles against Washington. The defense wasn’t the problem.

There aren’t many games between 1-0 teams, but none are more surprising than the Washington Football Team and Arizona Cardinals (-7). The Cardinals haven’t been a 7-point favorite against any team since they went to Indianapolis (no Andrew Luck) in the second game of the 2017 season. Kyler Murray led his first 4QC win last week against the 49ers, but he still may be a bit of a volume passer instead of an efficient one. It’ll be interesting to see how well he’s protected against the aforementioned Washington defense that had eight sacks last week. Oddly enough, Murray has six games in his career where he’s taken four sacks and five of those games were at home.

SNF: Wilson v. Belichick IV

NBC definitely nailed the best game with the 1-0 Patriots traveling out to Seattle after the Seahawks lit up the Falcons. These teams have played three great games in a row in the Russell Wilson era, and had it not been for you know what call in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks would probably be 3-0 in those games with three game-winning drives for Wilson.

Now you remove Tom Brady and put in Cam Newton, who threw 19 passes and ran 15 times with a couple of touchdowns for the Patriots in his debut last week. He was efficient, and it likely would have led to a 28-point day had his receiver not fumbled through the end zone to trigger one of the dumbest rules in the sport. However, you would expect that Cam will need to throw a bit more on the road to match what Wilson can do on his side of the ball.

The Seahawks were pass happy (for them) last week in Atlanta, but the Falcons have spent over half a decade not figuring out how to stop passes to the running backs. Wilson had two of his four touchdown passes to Chris Carson. It’ll be interesting to see if the Seahawks continue to throw more or revert to more of a running game this time around given the better pass defense they’ll see. New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore will also hope to bounce back from a game where he had a couple of big defensive pass interference penalties called on him on fourth down and third-and-18 in the fourth quarter.

Clearly, both teams are going to get a much stronger test than the foes they beat last week. This game could be the shortest of the week if both teams are completing passes at such a high rate with a lot of runs, but I’m thinking more of a defensive slugfest with hopefully another great finish.

Final: Seahawks 23, Patriots 17

Upset Alert: Raiders over Saints (-5.5)

I know, trusting Derek Carr is scary, but one situation where I actually have some confidence in him is with the game on the line. He delivered another 4QC/GWD last week, albeit another one where he needed a pass interference penalty on a third down to keep the drive alive. But Carr won a 34-30 game on the road against Carolina and had the offense moving well. I watched the Saints-Buccaneers game and was generally impressed by New Orleans, but not by the offense. Drew Brees looked old and inaccurate in one of the more disappointing performances from that offense in a long time. Michael Thomas was injured late in the game and his high-ankle sprain will keep him out this week. Emmanuel Sanders is a fine player, but what else does this offense really have at WR now?

That’s why I like the Raiders to open their new Las Vegas stadium with a win on Monday night. They can protect Carr and the Raiders seem further ahead offensively right now than the new-look Buccaneers did last week. If you’re going for an upset this week, this is the one to end the week with.

Final: Raiders 24, Saints 20

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I had a 9-6-1 ATS start to 2020, but already 0-1 in Week 2 after Joe Burrow found a way late to beat the spread in Cleveland.

I’ m not giving up on the Vikings yet, though that’s a game I’d stay away from this week. Could go many ways.

NFL Quarterbacks: Franchise Records for Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives

Nearly six years ago I posted a table of the franchise records for fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and game-winning drives (GWD) for the 32 NFL teams. Here is the update to that through the 2019 season, and remember this includes playoff games.

Franchise4QCGWD

Among the changes since 2014:

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton surpassed Boomer Esiason in both categories
  • Raiders: Derek Carr surpassed Ken Stabler in 4QC, but he still trails The Snake by one GWD
  • Chargers: Philip Rivers surpassed Dan Fouts in both categories
  • Seahawks: Russell Wilson surpassed Dave Krieg in both categories
  • Eli Manning (Giants), Jay Cutler (Bears) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) all retired, but still hold their franchise records

The 2020 season could be a massive changing of the guard with Eli’s retirement and the Chargers parting ways with Rivers. We also don’t know if Cam Newton will return to Carolina, so Jake Delhomme may still hang onto these records. We don’t know if Andy Dalton will ever start another game in Cincinnati, clearing way for the Joe Burrow era to begin. We don’t know if Tom Brady will add to his record amounts in New England. We don’t know if Brees will do the same in New Orleans. We don’t even know if Carr is truly safe in what will now be the Las Vegas Raiders to break that Stabler record.

Deshaun Watson beating those low bars set by Matt Schaub in Houston is likely to happen in 2020 or 2021. Other than that, don’t expect many changes to this table in the coming years. Patrick Mahomes will be expected to have all the Kansas City records, but these two could take a few more years. The Chiefs, Jets, Raiders and Eagles are the only teams that have different players holding sole possession of the 4QC and GWD records.

The bottom four teams (SF/TB/TEN/WAS) have records held by quarterbacks who haven’t played for those teams since the salary cap era began (1994). That’s not likely to change any time soon either.

NFL Week 9 Predictions: The Seven-Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch was a 1955 film famous for Marilyn Monroe’s white dress blowing up over a subway grate. The psychology behind the seven-year itch is that seven years into a marriage, the quality of marriage declines and you lose interest with your significant other.

This is my seventh season as a full-time NFL writer, and 2017 is really wearing me down to the point where I’m starting to wonder if I’m feeling the seven-year itch myself with this league.

Maybe it’s just the quality of this particular season that is bugging me, or what’s going on in other areas of life in 2017 has wore me down too, but something hasn’t been right since Week 1. The Week 9 slate in particular isn’t doing me any favors to get my interest back up. I fell asleep for most of Jets-Bills on Thursday, exhausted from the day’s events, and ultimately bored by the product on the field that night. I don’t feel bad about it either, just as I don’t feel bad about waking up late for Browns-Vikings in London last week when it was already 30-16 in the fourth quarter.

The only game I’d even really want to talk about this week is Chiefs-Cowboys, and that’s partly thanks to this frustrating Ezekiel Elliott story. Great, he’s playing again, and he’s been on a tear. But I was really hoping to see him miss this one actually just to see if the running game could stabilize itself without him as it did in 2015 (without a QB that year too), and if Dak Prescott could carry the load, which I think he can. The Cowboys still have some great players minus Zeke, and I think this has shootout written all over it with the two defenses present. It should be a fun game with Tony Romo on the call, and I look forward to that part of my Sunday afternoon, but the rest of the week looks like a bust to me.

Since the 2006 season, I have collected torrents of NFL games. I haven’t kept up with it as much lately (mostly due to NFL Game Pass, when it works, and a lack of hard drive space/laziness to plug in the externals), but I have a pretty big collection. My weekly routine started with, as you may have guessed, getting the full game for the Steelers, Patriots, and Colts. Any other really good game with other teams may have been added as well, and I got a high-quality copy of every playoff game. By 2012, I added Denver to the weekly rotation because of Peyton Manning, and kept the Colts because of Andrew Luck. I was also getting every Green Bay game, usually the condensed version unless it was a great game, to keep a catalog of Aaron Rodgers’ prime. I also started doing Seattle for Russell Wilson.

At the rate things were going this year, I may have started getting Houston games for Deshaun Watson, who has had one of the greatest 7-game starts in NFL history. Even though the Texans were 3-4, I thought I might be arguing later this season that Watson is deserving of the MVP award for the impact he’s had on Houston’s offense.

Then Thursday came.

I saw this tweet a little before 5 p.m. about Watson being limited in practice because of a sore knee.

No big deal, right? He should be fine. Then I get an email from an editor about my FiveThirtyEight article. (Yeah, I’m writing there now too, and here’s the first article). It says that we need to change a paragraph now that Watson is injured. I start replying “Oh it’s just a limited in practice situation, he’ll be fine.” Before I can send that, I get a tweet from my long-time editor:

Then I saw the breaking news reports over and over: Watson tore his ACL on a non-contact injury in practice. His season is over. It’s not like I never considered this could happen, but you don’t actively think about it happening.

I was shocked and really sad in a way that I usually don’t feel over countless other NFL injuries. Most of my favorite players have been great at avoiding the long-term injury, or if it did happen, it wasn’t some practice injury during the season. It was an odd situation from the offseason like Peyton Manning in 2011 or Andrew Luck this year. Hell, we just had the news on Thursday afternoon that Luck wasn’t going to see the field in 2017, and that was bad enough. You add Watson on top of this, and it’s just about the worst season for quarterback injuries that I have ever seen.

With Watson, it just feels different because of how new and exciting he was, and how quickly he’s been taken away from this season. I actually gave a damn about watching Houston Texans games for a change. This is like getting a puppy or kitten, enjoying the hell out of them for 7 weeks, and one day they just get ran over by a car.

Watson’s not dead, and he’s already come back from one ACL injury, but it’s just not fair. He’ll never be able to finish what could have easily been the most historic, record-breaking rookie QB season in NFL history. I can only hope he returns 100% and makes Houston a contender immediately next season. I just hate that we have to wait until September 2018 to give a damn about Houston again.

But getting back to the torrents. With Week 9 in particular, the Steelers and Patriots are on a bye week. The Colts may as well be on a bye every week this year. I stopped collecting Denver games after Manning retired, and wouldn’t want to waste my hard drive with that offense (now featuring Brock Osweiler). Green Bay is on Monday night, but Rodgers won’t be playing. There’s really no special interest for me this week, and that kind of sucks.

I said recently that this has been the most depressing season, and the events of the last few days have only gone on to deepen that for me.

I’m still watching, writing, researching, and tweeting, because it’s my job after all. But to say I’m having a lot of fun this season would be a lie.

2017 Week 9 Predictions

Can I just say I hate Tampa Bay? I was one game short of my first perfect week of picks ever, and the Buccaneers just had to ruin it with a dud at home against Carolina. Granted, the Bucs were the only favorite to not win last week, but can’t we have one week where the team everyone expected to win actually won? That’d be fine, but apparently that never happens. It wouldn’t have been an impressive 13-0 perfect week, but it still would have been a perfect record. Thanks for nothing, Bucs. And I’m almost willing to pick them to win this week even though it would make no sense with the way the Saints have played in a five-game winning streak. But nothing is supposed to make sense with the Jameis Winston-era Bucs, apparently.

The quest for perfection ended immediately this week. I had Buffalo and we know the Jets owned that second half on Thursday, even if I was out cold for most of it.

Winners in bold.

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

I am amused with the SNF game between Oakland and Miami after I called them two of the worst 12-4/10-6 teams ever last season. Both are struggling this year, with Miami being the worst 4-3 team ever (outscored by 60 points). Incredibly, the Raiders don’t have an interception on defense in eight games. That’s never been done before. I’m going to say they get at least one and win this game. While Derek Carr is overrated, he’s still better than post-retirement Jay Cutler. This would have been a good game to keep Jay Ajayi around for, but the trade deadline is what it is.

  • 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
  • Season: 71-48

 

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Relevant Oakland Edition

We’re nearly at the true halfway point of the regular season. On Friday, I wrote a piece about the lack of parity in the NFL, especially in the AFC. One team could change some of that perception with a good win this week.

Steelers at Ravens

Rare to see two teams have a bye week before their regular-season matchup, but here we are. The big question is: will he or won’t he play? We’re talking about Ben Roethlisberger of course, who I swear is contractually obligated to miss at least one Baltimore game per season. The Ravens are 6-1 against the Steelers when Ben is out, but he also has a bad history of playing in his first game back from injury too. This torn meniscus was potentially a 4-6 week injury too, so questionable in this case may truly be questionable. Overall, I think the Steelers have the better team this year, and should have enough firepower to outscore a Baltimore offense that has been very lackluster, already firing its offensive coordinator. Joe Flacco is loading up on failed completions (four weeks in a row with 10+), but I can see a motivated Mike Wallace catching a bomb in this one to stick it to his old team. Fortunately, he’s still pretty limited to showing up on one or two drives per game instead of being a true dominant threat like he was in 2010-11. I want to see if Le’Veon Bell can make it look effortless against a stingy run defense, or if he’ll struggle to gain much traction and have to rely on being a threat in the passing game instead. Last year, Roethlisberger played his worst game of the season in a classic “played down to the competition” game for the Steelers in Week 16 with the playoffs hanging in the balance. Seriously, this team was hanging 30+ on everyone, and came out with a piss-poor effort against a Baltimore team that was starting Ryan Mallett at quarterback. The Steelers made him look like Joe Montana (KC version at least). We know these teams usually play a close one, and my half-assed reason for picking Pittsburgh is that I just can’t see them losing three in a row, but it’s certainly a possibility as long as the quarterback isn’t 100 percent, which I doubt he could be so soon.

Colts at Packers

This will most likely be the second of three career meetings between Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. The first was a classic in 2012. The Colts, just getting the news about Chuck Pagano’s cancer, rallied from 18 points down to beat the Packers 30-27. It was really the first special Luck performance in the NFL, and set up the Colts for a season of success. Luck will have to be even better on Sunday, because I think Green Bay’s offense is going to continue looking good against bad defenses, like it has against Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta this year. The Colts may be worse than all three of them, and when they go on the road, forget about it. Rodgers at home is often dynamite, and I think he gets back on track with the big play to Jordy Nelson this week. It can still certainly be a shootout or big Indy comeback if Luck is on point with T.Y. Hilton (ailing a bit this week), because we know the Green Bay secondary is very banged up too. I just don’t think the Colts have enough to slow Green Bay down, while the Packers will contain Frank Gore and make this another one of those one-dimensional games for Luck.

Broncos at Raiders

This is the big one this week. Since Sunday Night Football became the premiere prime-time game in the NFL in 2006, the Raiders have appeared on it just one time: a completely forgettable 13-3 loss in Denver over 10 years ago. You know things are moving in the right direction if Oakland is hosting Denver in a battle for first place in the tough AFC West. This is a huge statement game for Jack Del Rio’s team. So far, the Raiders have got by weak competition, often on the road (5-0), but have faltered at home to the only two contenders they have faced (Atlanta and Chiefs). That’s not a good sign for a schedule that gets much tougher starting this week. Oakland needs to show something here, because it’s first real AFC West test this season (KC) went poorly. The Broncos are a similar team with an even better defense.

On offense, Oakland has been good in the passing game with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, but I don’t think this is a great matchup for the three, even if Aqib Talib isn’t 100% or playing. Denver has the secondary to match up with those outside receivers. Seth Roberts isn’t a bad #3 slot guy, but most of this passing game runs through those two wideouts. Cooper really struggled last year with Denver, and we know Carr has yet to have a really good game in four tries against this defense that has just terrorized some really good QBs this year.

As for Carr specifically, I don’t think he’s playing any better this year than the likes of Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger. The main difference between him and most of those guys is that he’s played an easier schedule, his team’s had better health, and he has one of the best offensive lines in the league. Denver has the talent to get through that line and put Carr under pressure. He has some gunslinger in him, so he’ll force plays from time to time and give the defense turnover opportunities. I think Carr’s first eight games last year were better than his first eight this season, and we know about his decline last year when the schedule got tougher. He needs to avoid doing that again this year so Oakland can definitely make the playoffs instead of piss away a 6-2 start. Fortunately, the AFC seems weak enough for the Raiders to at least be a wild-card team, but I honestly believe Denver and KC are better teams at this point.

The Broncos just need to stick with their brand of great defense and to not screw things up on offense/ST. Unfortunately, the offense has tried screwing things up such as the three turnovers against San Diego last week that made that a game late. This is a huge game for Trevor Siemian too, as he likes to risk some dangerous plays each week as well. If he can just play within himself, then I think Denver scores just enough for the big road win. Oakland beat the Broncos last year in Denver thanks to a dominant performance from Khalil Mack (5 sacks), which we really haven’t been getting this year. They also got their GWD after Emmanuel Sanders muffed a punt at the 11-yard line. Brandon McManus later missed a game-tying field goal in the 15-12 loss. For a team that plays so many games tightly, these mistakes are almost impossible to overcome.

I don’t see a big rushing night coming from Oakland, so it will be on Carr’s shoulders to produce against this defense. If he does so, then great, but if not, then that stigma of not being able to beat the good teams is still heavily weighing on this team and its young quarterback. This game is very important for Oakland to show that it is indeed another new year, and that the AFC isn’t just about the Patriots, Broncos and Steelers again.

(Yes, I just shafted the AFC South winner, but why wouldn’t I?)

2016 Week 9 Predictions

Felt good about the Falcons on Thursday, and they came through in a big way on a short week against a divisional foe.

Winners in bold:

  • Cowboys at Browns
  • Jets at Dolphins
  • Steelers at Ravens
  • Eagles at Giants
  • Jaguars at Chiefs
  • Lions at Vikings
  • Panthers at Rams
  • Saints at 49ers
  • Colts at Packers
  • Titans at Chargers
  • Broncos at Raiders
  • Bills at Seahawks

Definitely put the Chiefs on upset alert with so many key guys out, but this is the Jaguars. While this may not be a game for Blake “The Garbage Man” Bortles to do what he does best, I can see a failed 4QC/GWD attempt from the Jags that I’ll have to write about for Tuesday. Yay, fun.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Season: 69-51

Another bloody tie. I gave myself the loss again only because I said the AFC team (Bengals) would win, while the NFC team (Redskins) actually should have won. Damn kickers.