NFL Stat Oddity: Week 10

Another week in the NFL in 2021 meant more upsets, more injuries, more blowouts, and more confusion in the playoff picture and MVP race. I’m finding out that I really don’t like it when the only “sure things” in the NFL this year are Jonathan Taylor and James Conner finding the end zone.

Can we put the “games are closer this year” thing to rest? With one game left to go on Monday night, Week 10 just tied Week 7 for a season-low four games with a comeback opportunity. It was the first week this season without a single lead change in the fourth quarter or a single game-winning drive or any game where a team down double digits came back to win. Oh, we got a bloody f’n tie, but more on that below.

For anyone selling the “games are so close!” narrative this season, please refer to this chart for games through Week 10 going back to 2001 and how many were decided by 10-plus, 17-plus, and 24-plus points.

  • 2021’s 75 games decided by 10+ points are the most since 2014 (85) and the second most in any season since 2010.
  • 2021’s 42 games decided by 17+ points are the most since 2014 (49) and well above the average of 32.7 such games over the last six seasons.
  • 2021’s 24 games decided by 24+ points are tied with 2011 for the most such games through Week 10 since 2001. There were five such games on Sunday.

Granted, I’m usually not one to judge the closeness of a game by the final score, but I have more stats to share. Here’s how the fourth-quarter comeback opportunities through Week 10 stack up for recent seasons:

  • 2021: 71 of 149 games (47.7%)
  • 2020: 83 of 147 games (56.5%)
  • 2019: 83 of 148 games (56.1%)
  • 2018: 81 of 148 games (54.7%)
  • 2017: 77 of 146 games (52.7%)
  • 2016: 90 of 147 games (61.2%)
  • 2015: 90 of 146 games (61.6%)
  • 2014: 79 of 147 games (53.7%)
  • 2013: 93 of 147 games (63.3%)
  • 2012: 84 of 146 games (57.5%)

For as long as I’ve been doing this weekly, I’ve never seen a season where more than half the games are not this close.

Until now.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Raiders: Well, That Takes Care of Vegas for the Season

Before we get crazy claiming that the Chiefs are back on track for the Super Bowl, let’s not forget that the Raiders are immune to winning big games like this one was for possession of first place in the AFC West.

But after a 41-14 blowout win, the Chiefs are back in first and looking pretty damn good. Only the special teams had a rough night in Vegas, but even that unit made up for it with a fake punt pass that led to a knockout punch touchdown to Darrel Williams. Patrick Mahomes finished with 406 yards and five touchdowns to break out of his five-game slump. The Chiefs were 9-of-15 on third down while the Raiders were just 1-of-9. Derek Carr throwing up a jump ball interception to Daniel Sorensen was another dagger moment in this one. So was DeSean Jackson fumbling his first catch with the team in hysterical fashion when it looked like he could score a touchdown.

After starting the game with a three-and-out, Mahomes led the Chiefs to scores on seven of their next eight drives, only missing out on a missed field goal before halftime. It was an almost-perfect offensive night, which is how I described Kansas City’s win in Las Vegas on Sunday Night Football last season.

Does that mean the Chiefs are back? We’ll see against Dallas next week, but it was always a matter of the defense not being historically terrible and the offense not being historically awful at turning the ball over. The defense has stepped up in the last month after acquiring Melvin Ingram, sliding Chris Jones back to defensive tackle, cutting down Sorensen’s snaps, and just playing better. The offense showed plenty of patience and the only turnover was on special teams this time.

In a season that is wide open for the taking, the Chiefs just have to stop being their own worst enemy. On Sunday night, they were the Raiders’ worst enemy, and I now expect Las Vegas (5-4) to implode and miss the playoffs just like after they lost to the Chiefs at home last year.

Buccaneers at Washington: Belichick Would Never…

On a day where Bill Belichick coached his Patriots to a thorough 45-7 rout of the Browns, the Buccaneers fell flat as a heavy favorite in a 29-19 loss to Washington. Tom Brady finished with a season-low 31.7 QBR. That’s now a losing streak to Taylor Heinicke and Trevor Siemian (off the bench) for the Bucs.

It’s the kind of game Brady would almost never lose as a member of the Patriots. Not as a 9.5-point favorite against a terrible Washington defense, with a coordinator (Jack Del Rio) Brady has crucified his whole career, and a unit that lost Chase Young to an ACL tear.

But he was outplayed by Heinicke, who put the game away with one of the best drives of the season. Washington needed that because it sure felt like the Football Team was going to blow this one after leading wire-to-wire. Tampa Bay was gifted an untimed down field goal before halftime after a facemask penalty, and Brady led two more touchdown drives that started in opponent territory in the second half to make it 23-19.

But Heinicke took over with 10:50 left and drained all but 29 seconds off the clock with an epic 19-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Washington converted four third downs on the drive, and finally ended it with a 4th-and-1 touchdown run by Antonio Gibson. I could see an argument for kicking a field goal and taking a 26-19 lead with 30 seconds left, but you can’t tempt Brady’s luck. The touchdown puts the game away. While I thought the kneeldown on the two-point conversion was playing it too safe, Tampa Bay waved the white flag and only ran Leonard Fournette twice on the ensuing drive to end it. I guess Brady didn’t want to risk a third interception against a coordinator he’s almost never been picked against.

Washington held the ball for 39 minutes in the upset. This is Brady’s fourth wire-to-wire loss (never led) with Tampa Bay. He had five such losses in his last four seasons with New England (2016-19). To me, this game shows the difference between what advantages Brady used to have with Belichick as his coach. I cannot see a talented team coached by Belichick losing to this Washington team, especially coming off a loss and a bye week.

Brady is now 17-8 as Tampa Bay’s starter in the regular season. That 68% winning percentage would be the lowest he had in any New England season since 2009 (10-6). Tampa Bay is starting to look like the 7-5 underachiever it was a season ago before going on that championship run. Do things get significantly better when Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski return? Most likely. But if so much value to the offense is added with those players, who were not part of the high-scoring Tampa Bay offenses in 2018-19, then how could Brady have any real MVP argument this season?

This team is not a juggernaut, and he is not having an MVP season. Not if he can’t outscore the likes of Siemian and Heinicke in consecutive games.

Saints at Titans: They Can’t Keep Getting Away with It (Can They?)

Yes, I’m starting to feel like Jesse Pinkman when it comes to watching this Tennessee winning streak, which has now reached five games against teams who were in the playoffs last year.

But honestly, this team is starting to remind me of the early 2000s Jeff Fisher-coached Tennessee teams. They are big and physical, and they’ll win games that way instead of being really efficient or exciting on offense. Consider it a knock if you will, because you know how those seasons always ended for Tennessee (hint: poorly).

Maybe my latest act is to throw cold water on each Tennessee win, but I’m just not ready to buy this being the team to beat. Yes, the Titans don’t have Julio Jones (IR), and that makes it that much harder with Derrick Henry out. But they are far from the only team dealing with injuries right now. Look across the field. They just squeaked by the Saints without Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas will miss the whole season.

While the Titans were better on offense this week than their Los Angeles win that was fueled by two Matthew Stafford interceptions, these results are still not sustainable. Hence the “they can’t keep getting away with it” meme. The Titans finished with 264 yards of offense, averaged 2.2 yards per carry, and were 3-of-12 on third down. That’s bad.

The success this week was aided by an absolute horseshit call of roughing the passer on New Orleans in the second quarter. Instead of Ryan Tannehill throwing an interception in the end zone before halftime, the Titans went on to score a touchdown and led 13-6. They started the third quarter with a 19-yard touchdown drive thanks to the Saints fumbling the opening kick return.

From there it was just a matter of hanging on as Siemian staged a respectable rally. The Saints had a chance at a game-tying two-point conversion with 1:16 left, but a false start moved it back five yards and Siemian threw a bad incompletion. The Titans recovered the onside kick and that was the end of it.

Thanks to a remaining schedule that features four games against Houston (twice), Jacksonville and Miami, the Titans (8-2) really shouldn’t fare worse than 13-4. But if the post-Henry offense does not pick things up soon, then even those games with the little sisters of the poor could spell trouble for the team that has already lost to the Jets this year.

Seahawks at Packers: What the Russ?

Totally reasonable for Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers to be rusty and off after some missed time for health reasons. But the lowest scoring first half in the NFL this season (3-0)? The trading of red-zone interceptions? This was bad stuff, but the first shutout of Wilson’s career combined with what the Packers did to Arizona and Kansas City in the last two games makes me think that Green Bay may finally have a better defense this year. Is it going to stop Dallas, Tampa, or the Rams from scoring 30+ in January? I’m not sure about that, and Seattle is clearly not the measuring stick it used to be, but the Packers are improving on that side of the ball.

I just wish the offense would look a bit closer to the 2020 one. But the Packers are certainly closer to their past glory than the Seahawks (3-6) are right now.

Lions at Steelers: The Tomlin Special

I have been warning for the last couple of weeks that the Steelers would lose to the winless Lions. Frankly, it should have happened, but an inexperienced kicker made a horrible attempt at a 48-yard game-winning field goal in overtime. Instead, we get the first tie of 2021, which feels like a loss if you’re the 5-3 team badly in need of this win given the upcoming schedule.

Alas, I never expected Mason Rudolph to be QB1 in this game. Ben Roethlisberger came down with a positive COVID test on Saturday and Rudolph got the surprise start. This was absolutely a game that Ben would have won on his experience alone. Rudolph had a lousy pick, missed badly in the red zone, and mismanaged several other drives with inaccurate passes. He has no touch to his throws. The offense really did not change much. There were still throws well short of the sticks on crucial downs, too many horizontal attempts, and the occasional underthrown go route down the sideline. Najee Harris (26 carries for 105 yards) should have got more carries than he did on a wet, cold afternoon.

Against a Detroit defense that was allowing 9.3 yards per attempt through eight games, Rudolph finished at 4.84 YPA (242 yards on 50 passes). Yet somehow, Jared Goff was the worst QB in this game. Detroit ran the ball 39 times for 229 yards, yet Goff finished 14/25 for 114 yards and four sacks. Head coach Dan Campbell was calling plays into Goff for the first time this season, and apparently his idea is to feature less of Goss than ever before. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team in a tight game run the ball on third down as much as Detroit did (seven times). It makes sense if you saw some of the Goff throws in this one, either missing a wide-open receiver deep or being late with a hospital ball to another in the flat. Goff wasted a superb ground game from his stable of backs.

Despite the comedy of errors in overtime from both teams, I think this is another example of why the change to 10-minute overtime was stupid. If this was a 15-minute overtime, the Steelers likely would have been able to get Chris Boswell in position for a game-winning field goal. But in being pressed for time, they threw an ill-advised pass to Pat Freiermuth, who was going to get tackled in bounds with the Steelers out of timeouts. That pass could not be made, so if the Steelers were going to do that, they should have just tried the 57-yard field goal instead. But Freiermuth ended up fumbling the ball with eight seconds left, and Detroit’s lateral attempt stalled out 40 yards shy of the end zone.

A tie just feels like a waste of nearly four hours. Not a real outcome. We’ll see how the tie impacts the playoff race, but after losing Roethlisberger to COVID, and T.J. Watt during the game to an injury, and not getting into first place with a win over Detroit, it sure feels like Pittsburgh lost in many ways this weekend.

Hurry-Up Finish

Some quick thoughts as I race to complete another preview before getting to sleep.

Panthers at Cardinals: Meh

You know something is wrong when the No. 7 seed pounds the No. 1 seed 34-10 in their own building and I am giving it footnote treatment. But I just struggle to take a game like this seriously when the Cardinals were without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Carolina was the better team on Sunday, but let’s face some facts. They were going up against Colt McCoy, who coughed up a fumble and was stopped on a fourth down in the beginning of the game. Those mistakes led to a 14-0 lead for the Panthers, who only had to drive a total of 56 yards to get those scores.

Arizona even lost McCoy during the game, but Carolina’s backup (Cam Newton) was probably the best active quarterback on Sunday anyway. I loved Carolina to cover given what it had done to Arizona the last two years, but I was not expecting 34-10. This makes Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers look even worse for last week. It’s the first truly awful performance of the season for Arizona, but I am willing to believe things will turn around when their best players return. But this could make for quite the headlines should we see this as a playoff rematch in January.

Vikings at Chargers: That’s It?

I knew this game was going to be decided by one possession after the way the season has been for these teams, but this was a fake close game with a disappointing finish. Between the Vikings and Chargers, we should have gotten some sort of ludicrous finish. Not a matter of Minnesota clutching up and extending to a two-score lead, and then running out the final 4:36 to deny Justin Herbert, who struggled on the day, a chance at tying the game.

I was pretty disappointed. It felt like every time they showed this game, the Vikings had the ball (time of possession was 36:15). In that regard, the ending was a fitting one. The disappearance of Mike Williams (playing but ineffective) over the last month seems to explain why Herbert has been off in three of the last four games. This offense needs something more than all the short and intermediate passes to Keenan Allen.

Eagles at Broncos: Teddy’s Business Decision

In a week where we saw a kicker recover a fumble (Chris Boswell on Monday night) and a punter force a fumble on a kick return (Raiders vs. Chiefs), Teddy Bridgewater looked extra soft when he did this on a huge fumble that was returned for an 83-yard touchdown to end the third quarter and basically end the game for Denver in a 30-13 loss.

The effort was definitely lacking there. Even if he doesn’t forcibly tackle Slay to the ground, he could have at least got in his path more to slow him down or make him cut. This looked really bad, and I guess the fault starts with Melvin Gordon for fumbling in the first place, but I think some quarterbacks would have done a better job here. Also, Jalen Hurts had a very respectable game and the Eagles showed they can be an effective, balanced offense.

Bills and Cowboys Rebound

My gambling woes in Week 9 were marked heavily by the failures of the Bills and Cowboys to find the end zone. Buffalo never got there against Jacksonville while Dallas was down 30-0 before some garbage-time scores against Denver. On Sunday, both got in the end zone not even four whole minutes into their games and continued to pile it on in easy, blowout wins over the Jets and Falcons.

Mike White being a four-pick disaster – also known as a New York Jets quarterback – was not that big of a surprise. Buffalo’s defense has been arguably more reliable than its offense this season, and they feasted on the inexperienced passer. But with the Falcons, I was really surprised that this wasn’t a competitive game and a high-scoring one. Maybe I’m thinking too much about the 40-39 stunner they played a year ago, but I never expected 43-3 with Matt Ryan passing for 117 yards. That’s already the third time in nine games where Arthur Smith has lost by 23+ points. It happened three times in six seasons when Dan Quinn was there. His defense only giving up a field goal to his old team had to feel good, but now we’ll see where the Cowboys are when they go into Kansas City next week.

Jaguars at Colts: Trevor Fumbles His Peyton Moment

Colts fans, can you recall what happened on November 15, 1998? No. 1 pick Peyton Manning was down 23-17 against the New York Jets before leading the first game-winning drive of his career, throwing a 14-yard touchdown to Marcus Pollard in the final 30 seconds in a 24-23 win. It would be the first of many memorable wins in crunch time for Manning.

Almost 23 years later to the date, Jacksonville’s No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence found himself in a similar spot, down 23-17 to the Colts, largely thanks to the ineffectiveness of Indy’s current QB (Carson Wentz). Lawrence and the Jags had a chance to steal one from the Colts, who have blown as many games as any team this season. But after getting into Indy territory, Lawrence suffered a strip-sack, the only true turnover of the game. Just another tough loss for a team trying to turn things around.

Next week: Can Cowboys-Chiefs be the classic shootout it should be? Can Peyton and Eli take unlimited shots at Brady and the Bucs when they host the Giants on Monday night? If the close game regression hits Week 11 like it did Week 8, just remember that Patriots-Falcons is the first game on Thursday night…

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 9

There are some NFL weeks with a lot of upsets. There are some weeks with multiple crazy finishes. There are some weeks with a lot of blowouts.

Then there’s Week 9 of the 2021 season, the type of week best summed up by this classic Vince Lombardi moment:

There were only six games with a comeback opportunity and four with a game-winning drive. But in a season where teams favored by more than seven points were 26-1 SU, those heavy favorites were 1-3 SU on Sunday. The Bills (-14.5) lost to the Jaguars of all teams, the Cowboys (-10) were getting blanked 30-0 by Denver before some garbage-time scores, and the Rams (-7.5) finished the day in appropriate fashion with a bad loss to the Titans.

You could say big favorites were due some losses this season, but three in one day? The last time that happened in a non-Week 17 slate was Week 9 of the 2011 season, and even that included a Monday night game (Dream Team Eagles vs. Bears). You have to go all the way back to Week 10 of the 2006 season to find the last time there were three such upsets in the same day.

Has there ever been a season where seemingly no team wants to embrace the role of being the favorite? Ditto for the MVP race after brutal games for Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, and the should-have-been-frontrunner Matthew Stafford. Even Kyler Murray lost some luster after seeing backup Colt McCoy handle the 49ers without DeAndre Hopkins, and Aaron Rodgers, well, his self-imposed absence will probably screw the Packers out of the No. 1 seed this year.

Of course, a day where most of the NFC’s top teams lose and the MVP candidates flounder helps no one more than Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. This league can’t go a week without doing everything it can to help him advance without breaking a sweat. That’s one thing about Week 9 that made sense.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Titans at Rams: Mike Vrabel Chopped Off His Penis and Paris Hilton Sucked the Soul Out of the Rams

(Congrats, you’re an NFL junkie if you understood that headline.)

While NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said that the Rams did not beat themselves on Sunday night, I’m not so sure about that one. Also, the incoming takes that the Titans don’t need Derrick Henry at all may also be very premature following a game that was almost solely decided by two Matthew Stafford interceptions – both of a fine Detroit vintage circa 2012 – turning into a quick 14 points. Even the best quarterbacks in MVP seasons can overcome that sort of swing as we saw last year with Aaron Rodgers in Tampa Bay in Week 6.

Stafford just so happened to pick his worst night for the Rams in an island game where he should have been able to take a clear lead in the MVP race. Pressure got to him, and he made a bad play (probable safety) a worse one by forcing a throw for the first pick that was returned to the 2-yard line. Then he followed it up with a worse throw for a pick-six. The Titans’ pass rush looked incredible, and it really covered up for an offense that did very little outside of two drives.

The Titans finished the game with just 194 yards of offense. Had it not been for Stafford’s touchdown drive in pure garbage time to make it a 28-16 final, the Titans would have had a rare three-score blowout win despite failing to break 200 yards. However, they still had the rare 12+ point win despite not breaking 200 yards, though it’s the second time Stafford has done that in his career.

Mike Vrabel improves to 13-2 ATS and an incredible 12-3 SU as head coach of the Titans when his team is an underdog of 4+ points. Being the underdog works for this team, a team that arguably has more big wins in the last four seasons than any franchise that has not gone to the Super Bowl in that time.

Now the Titans are chugging along at 7-2 after a winning streak over the Chiefs, Bills, Colts, and Rams. Had it not been for that garbage-time score, they would have held both the Chiefs and Rams out of the end zone for 60 minutes.

This is impressive stuff, and still, you wouldn’t be shocked if this team went 2-2 over the next four games against the Saints, Texans, Patriots, and Jaguars. The Titans are not going to keep beating good teams while failing to crack 3.0 yards per carry like they have in the last three games. Tennessee did not have a play from scrimmage longer than 16 yards against the Rams.

I see no reason to trust any team in the AFC this year. But can the Titans go on a run and play great defense and be physical with teams to win a few big games? Yeah, I think they have proven that enough now.

Can the Rams beat multiple good teams in succession with Stafford as their quarterback? From what we’ve seen so far this year, I don’t think so, and that was always the concern going into this experiment. The people who decided to take an early victory lap must not have been paying attention to the first eight weeks this season. No one is trustworthy or reliable this season to deliver on a weekly basis.

Vikings at Ravens: Par for the Course

I have nothing truly profound to say about yet another close finish that could have easily gone either way for the Vikings and Ravens this year. All I know is the Ravens are 4-1 in close finishes and the Vikings are now 2-5.

That makes the ending sound a bit predictable, but it was another difficult path to a 14-point comeback win for the Ravens. The type of big comeback win that has eluded this team for years seems to be coming every other week this season. The Vikings led 24-10 after returning the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a touchdown. Big plays like that one and a 50-yard touchdown to Justin Jefferson are not the kind of plays we’re used to seeing Baltimore allow, but those are the signs that this team is struggling and becoming more reliant on the quarterback.

Lamar Jackson did not have a clean game with two picks, but he still finished with 266 passing yards and 120 rushing yards. Kirk Cousins had one of his standard days with solid efficiency stats and neither winning nor losing the game for his team. He came up big with a game-tying touchdown drive to force overtime, but the Vikings were stopped on their only overtime possession following a Jackson interception in scoring territory.

I was asked on Twitter how many times does a team turn the ball over in overtime and still go on to win the game? Baltimore fans know it’s happened more than once this season as the Raiders did it to the Ravens in Week 1 after Derek Carr’s interception was not capitalized on. Before that, it did not happen in 2020 and only happened once in 2019 when Russell Wilson threw an interception against the 49ers and still got the win. But you’re lucky if this happens once a season in the league.

But the Ravens were the better team and more deserving of the win in this one. They outgained the Vikings 500-318 in yards and 36-13 in first downs. The 36 first downs are a franchise record.

Would it have looked better if the Ravens stopped the Vikings on fourth-and-9 with 1:10 left and won 31-24 in regulation? Sure, but these Ravens are not as talented as past teams and things are harder this year. Living on the edge like this is not good for long-term success, but against teams like Minnesota that have mastered losing these games, it can work out for the Ravens.

Packers at Chiefs: Love Did Not Tear the Chiefs Apart

Jordan Love had only the second-worst performance by a Green Bay quarterback this season, but it was still not enough to take down a struggling Kansas City team as the Packers fell 13-7. The Chiefs, held scoreless in a second half for only the second time in the Patrick Mahomes era, definitely caught a break with Aaron Rodgers being a bad liar, because this probably would have been a Green Bay win with their starting quarterback. The Packers botched two field goals and a fourth down in the first half alone.

I think there is hyperbole about how bad Love was, but his inexperience shined through. The Chiefs were able to relentlessly blitz him with a lot of success, especially on third downs. They wouldn’t play that way against Rodgers or someone with experience. It was just one game, but I do at least sense some escapability from Love and he might have some gunslinger in him. He’s going to give his receivers a chance, but it could end in picks against a better defense.

Still, it’s a good thing the Chiefs went back to their 2020 four-minute offense and put this game away or else this was begging to be the worst 13-0 lead turned 14-13 collapse since Santana Moss met the 2005 Cowboys. Mahomes had another candidate for the worst game of his career as his 166 passing yards are the fewest of any full game in his career. The 4.49 yards per attempt is also his first career game under 5.0 YPA. Outside of a bad Mecole Hardman drop on a third-and-1, Mahomes was a huge reason for the offense not playing well in this game and that’s despite the Chiefs finally not having any giveaways.

But Mahomes was able to throw for three first downs, including a vintage extended play to Tyreek Hill to ice the game on third-and-10, to run out the final 4:49 on the clock after the Packers cut into the 13-0 lead with a touchdown.

The Chiefs (5-4) can celebrate the win, and the defense can feel good about their performance as we have seen plenty of inexperienced quarterbacks light it up better than this in the past. But the offense is in a five-game slump now and I’m not sure what it’s going to take to snap out of it, or if they will snap out of it.

Broncos at Cowboys: WTF?

Dallas was on a short list of teams to start 7-0 ATS while the Broncos tend to only beat up on bad teams and lose to the good ones, a hallmark of Teddy Bridgewater’s career. But this was a domination that makes the 30-16 final such a mirage.

Dak Prescott returned from his calf injury, and as far as I could tell, he looked healthy enough to be playing on Sunday. But was this the worst game of his career as far as moving the ball goes? The Cowboys turned the ball over on downs on three of their first six possessions. They were down 30-0 with 6:32 to play and Prescott barely had 100 passing yards at that point.

Fans tend to do a bad job of defining garbage time. Like what the Jets were doing against the Colts on Thursday night, that was never garbage time. They were still in that game and just needed to finish their scoring drive and get an onside kick to tie the game with another score. But for Dallas, the two late touchdown drives were pure garbage time. At that point I would have sat the stars who have been ailing in recent weeks and finished the game with Cooper Rush, Tony Pollard, and the likes of Cedrick Wilson and Malik Turner at receiver.

Dallas never had it on either side of the ball, and it was apparent from the opening possession when Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed on a fourth-and-1. You knew it wasn’t Dallas’ day when a blocked punt went forward and the Broncos ended up recovering after it touched a Dallas player, making it a live ball and a muff.

We knew the Dallas defense could be a liability when the turnover well ran dry as it did in this game, but who could have imagined the offense would play so poorly with Dak back? A good win for Denver, but an alarming performance for Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys.

Bills at Jaguars: WTF? The Sequel

Josh Allen won the game for Jacksonville. Josh Allen lost the game for Buffalo. The fact that I’m talking about two different players makes this one of the more amusing upsets in NFL history.

It also appears to be a historic one. The Bills lost 9-6 in Jacksonville despite being a 14.5-point favorite. There is no game in Pro Football Reference’s database where a favorite of that many points lost a game in which it allowed fewer than 10 points. The closest was when John Elway’s 1986 Broncos, who still made the Super Bowl, lost 9-3 as a 13.5-point favorite to the Chargers. That was almost 35 years to the date.

The last double-digit favorite to lose a 9-6 kind of game was actually the 2018 Jaguars early in the season to the Titans. This is arguably Jacksonville’s biggest win since that 2017 playoff run.

So much of it was thanks to the splash plays made by Jacksonville’s Josh Allen, the No. 7 pick in the 2019 draft that we’ve forgotten about since he plays in Jacksonville. But in this game, Allen recorded the first fumble recovery and first interception of his career. As if he has been waiting for this moment against his namesake. The Jaguars put a lot of effective pressure on Allen as the Bills only ran the ball nine times for 22 yards. Cole Beasley caught eight short passes for 33 yards. The Bills were scoreless on their final seven drives, turning it over three times and ending the game with a failed fourth down.

Buffalo is the first team since the 2019 Redskins (9-0 against San Francisco on a soaked field) to lose a game after allowing fewer than 10 points.

The Bills were gifted such a soft schedule that you have to wonder what kind of pact the AFC East made with the league for this sort of luck year after year. But the difference between those Patriots teams with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and these Buffalo teams with Sean McDermott and Josh Allen is that the Patriots still delivered year after year. They still had to win those games time and time again. If the Bills can lose a 9-6 game in Jacksonville, then nothing is a given on their schedule.

It’s not like there weren’t some worrying flaws with this team before this week. I used this space last week to talk about a good half vs. a good game as the Bills sleepwalked for 30 minutes against awful Miami before a misleading final box score. I said during the week that it made no sense why Allen was the MVP favorite at +200. I know Dawson Knox is out at tight end, but the wide receiver corps is more than deep enough to move the ball well against a Jacksonville team that couldn’t even compete with Geno Smith and the Seahawks last week.

This is a brutal loss for Buffalo. We’ll see if it’s a wake-up call as there will be plenty of games where the Bills will be heavily favored the rest of the season.

Falcons at Saints: The Atlanta Sports Renaissance?

Very similar to the Miami win this year, the Falcons flirted with another fourth-quarter disaster that Matt Ryan and the offense rescued with a game-winning field goal drive. The Falcons were up 24-6 with 10:39 to play, but that did not stop the Saints from scoring three touchdowns to take a 25-24 lead with 1:01 left.

However, you better come prepared with a great two-point conversion play for every game in this league. You never know when it can decide a game as it did here. When a team scores a late touchdown to take a one-point lead, that two-point conversion becomes absolutely crucial. The Saints ran Alvin Kamara and were stopped, keeping the score at 25-24. Ryan is the king of one-minute drills, and he technically just missed out on a sixth in his career with the drive starting at 1:01. But he hit Cordarrelle Patterson, who has turned into a fascinating all-around weapon this year in Atlanta, for a 64-yard gain to start the drive. Younghoe Koo put away the Saints with a 29-yard field goal for the 27-25 win.

Despite not having Calvin Ridley and the running game producing 26 yards on 20 carries, Ryan passed for 343 yards and had three total touchdowns in the win. He has been playing very well after a slow start to the new offense and life without Julio Jones.

Attention will go to New Orleans’ difficult quarterback situation with Trevor Siemian having to take over for Jameis Winston (torn ACL). Do they stick with Siemian or go back to Taysom Hill as the starter? I think the defense needs to take more of the blame for this one. Ryan hit four passes of 34-plus yards on Sunday.

There is no such thing as a normal Saints game in 2021, but it was pretty interesting to see the Falcons dominate this game, nearly choke it away, and still come away with a win in the end. That wouldn’t have happened in past years.

Hurry-Up Finish

Some quick thoughts as I race to complete another preview before getting to sleep.

Cardinals at 49ers: 2021 49ers Gone Fishin’

It should have been a golden opportunity for San Francisco (3-5) to get back to .500 before playing the Rams next week. For really the first time all season, the 49ers had the passing offense they should have thrived with on paper with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing to Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. Unfortunately, those players had three turnovers and the 49ers finished with just 17 points in a humiliating 31-17 defeat.

Arizona did not have Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, or A.J. Green on offense, but that did not stop Colt McCoy from completing 22-of-26 passes for 249 yards or James Conner from scoring three touchdowns. The Cardinals led this one wire-to-wire, and this was a 49ers defense that had given them problems in the last two matchups.

At what point can we all admit that Kyle Shanahan is not a good head coach? He punted on a 4th-and-13 at the Arizona 39 while trailing by 17 points in the fourth quarter. Is he saving his brilliant play design for Trey Lance in that situation? At this point, Shanahan will be lucky if he gets to hang around for the Lance era as it looks like another failed season in San Francisco. Props to Arizona for coming prepared without several of its best players.

Browns at Bengals: One-Sided Battle of Ohio

Maybe the Browns can bring Odell Beckham Jr. back and cut him again before their next game? I don’t know if anything was really gained from that this week, but the Browns did look focused and ready for this one. It started going off the rails for Cincinnati on the opening drive after Joe Burrow threw a 99-yard pick-six to Denzel Ward. Burrow has had several huge picks this year in losses. This was the first game of the season where he failed to throw a touchdown as the Bengals never seriously threatened in the second half.

Baker Mayfield took advantage of the Cincinnati turnovers and the big plays, including a 70-yard touchdown run by Nick Chubb, to lead an easy 41-16 win. I’d be very cautious to make any definitive statements about either team, but I do think we were too quick to prop up the Bengals without taking a deeper look at the loss to Chicago or the struggle with Jacksonville.

Patriots at Panthers: Look Who Is Back in the Playoff Picture

The Patriots (5-4) are above .500 for the first time this season and currently rank seventh in the AFC. Getting to play Sam Darnold (three interceptions, including a pick-six) was like getting a third Jets game, so the Patriots cannot count on that cheat code anymore this season. But it was another workmanlike performance in getting an easy win that should give the team some confidence going into tougher stretches.

Chargers at Eagles: The 7-on-7 Defense

Add another 4QC/GWD to the 2021 Chargers’ total to bring it to four. The Chargers finished off the Eagles in the fourth quarter despite allowing a game-tying touchdown drive and having to convert a pair of fourth downs on the game-winning field goal drive. But the Chargers were paced all day by Justin Herbert completing 32 of his 38 passes. Herbert has been deadly accurate this year, but this was already the fifth game where the 2021 Eagles allowed at least 80% completions. That is two more games than the old NFL record (min. 20 attempts) and we still have half a season to go. Playing this defense is like playing 7-on-7 in practice.

Raiders at Giants: No Penalty, No Comeback

What did I say earlier this season? If Derek Carr isn’t getting game-altering penalties on crucial downs in the fourth quarter, he isn’t good at fourth-quarter comebacks. The Giants were not penalized in the fourth quarter and Carr stunk up the joint with a pick and a game-sealing fumble in the red zone while trailing 23-16. Kicker Daniel Carlson also reminded people of his Minnesota roots by missing a 25-yard field goal while the Raiders trailed 20-16. This was a bad performance after another bad off-the-field week for the Raiders with the release of Henry Ruggs. They signed DeSean Jackson, but I would sooner pick this team to finish last in the AFC West than to finish first.

Guess who gets the Chiefs next. That’s the Sunday night game in Week 10, which might be the only hope for a good island game in this slate.

Next week: Can the Steelers avoid handing the Lions their first win of the season, and is it really a revenge game for Dan Quinn against the Falcons when he has himself to blame for being in Dallas right now?

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embrace the Weird

The 2021 NFL season has gotten off to another strange start. Favorites are only 4-13 ATS and a shocking 8-9 SU. It was the first Week 1 where favorites had a losing record outright (7-9) since 1983. That was Dan Marino’s rookie season, so 5,000-yard passing seasons and the 1985 Bears didn’t even exist yet.

This is only the sixth time in the 32-team era where favorites had a losing record in a week where all 32 were in action. How did favorites fare the next week? They always won at least 10 games, including a 13-3 record in the Week 17 finale of the 2008 season. So that’s something to keep in mind this week.

We almost saw favorites start 7-10, but on Thursday night, Washington got a fortunate offsides penalty on a missed field goal against the Giants and won by one point on the retry. Now if Ron Rivera can just keep Taylor Heinicke away from today’s pathetic January 6th rally in D.C….

The only favorites who were able to cover so far were the Rams, Seahawks, Panthers, and Broncos. I think three of them have a pretty good shot at doing it again this week, though Titans-Seahawks could be a nail-biter and shootout if the 2019-20 Titans still exist inside this 2021 iteration of the team.

As for previews, I tackled Pittsburgh’s very frustrating history with the Raiders in the Ben Roethlisberger era.

I also looked at why the Ravens keep losing to the Chiefs, and how I don’t think Patrick Mahomes-Lamar Jackson will be much of a QB rivalry until we see Lamar step up in these games and for the Ravens to try something different on defense instead of blitzing a lot.

Finally, I looked at how unusual it is for a team like Green Bay to lose by 35 points and still be favored by 12 the next week. Hint: very unusual.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I always think Week 2 can be the hardest week of the season to predict. You’re still trying to balance your preseason predictions with the one data point you got from Week 1. What’s real at this point? Is Matthew Stafford going to race Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes to 50 touchdown passes and break up the Super Bowl rematch? Is Jalen Hurts going to leap ahead of Justin Herbert as the top 2nd-year QB? Are all the AFC East offenses ass now instead of the usual 75% quota? Is Teddy Bridgewater going to have a great year in Denver, or did he beat up on a Giants defense that Taylor Heinicke just threw for 300 yards against? Are the Jaguars really that horrible that they lost to a Houston team that is now a 13.5-point underdog in Cleveland? I mean, f’n Cleveland is favored by two touchdowns in the 21st century?

So, when I saw that I picked favorites to go 12-4 ATS this week, I had to erase all my picks and create a new table image. In the last 10 years, Week 2 favorites have always won 6-8 games ATS, landing on seven wins 60% of the time. Even when favorites were 14-2 SU in Week 2 last year, they were only 7-9 ATS. I ended up changing things to where I had six underdogs covering. That’s probably still too low, and that’s even with half of them being the teams favored by two touchdowns. But we’ll just see how it goes.

Some gambling things I really like this week:

  • Nick Chubb TD/Browns ML parlay.
  • Mecole Hardman over 40 yards and a touchdown (he has hit Baltimore for a long touchdown in each of the last two years).
  • Antonio Brown over 69.5 yards and a touchdown (Falcons were the only defense he broke 70 yards against last year and he did it twice with 93 and 138 and 3 TD in those games).
  • Melvin Gordon touchdown run vs. Jaguars but not the ML since I’m not ready to commit to Urban Meyer pulling a Bobby Petrino before October.
  • Austin Ekeler touchdown run vs. Dallas in a game that could be the shootout of the day.
  • I’m willing to let Davante Adams and GB hurt me again this week when his TD/ML parlay comes up on FanDuel.

I’m also holding out hope that my Hail Mary hits as the parts I still need are only about +2200 since I hedged on MNF spread.

Let’s have a memorable one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 1

This is the first Week 1 edition of NFL Stat Oddity, a series I started on the spur of the moment last October. This is my space to recap the statistical quirks and oddities from Sunday in the NFL after some quickly researched numbers before I finally get to bed on Monday morning. Expect some rants too.

Normally, I pick out a few games of interest, but after the Week 1 we just had, I think I’m going to say something about every game besides the Thursday opener between the Cowboys and Buccaneers, the first game in NFL history where both teams passed at least 50 times and did not run 20 times.

Not Your Favorite

First, some stats relating to the spread. Favorites are only 7-8 SU this week with Monday night still to come. At best they’ll go 8-8. Is that unusual for Week 1 when uncertainty is so high for the new season? Yes, it is.

From 2001 to 2020, Week 1 favorites were 206-108-2 (.655) SU. Only in 2016 did they go 8-8, so if the Raiders pull off the upset on Baltimore, we’ll see the first outright losing Week 1 for favorites in at least two decades.

Browns at Chiefs: Is Cleveland Best Equipped to Beat the Chiefs in the AFC?

January’s divisional round matchup was supposed to be a high-powered shootout after the wild season the Browns had, but an injury to Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter took it from a blowout to a low-scoring, nail-biting finish won 22-17 by the Chiefs.

We got to that score again in this one, but this time it was Cleveland leading 22-17 in the third quarter after gaining at least 75 yards on all four of their first-half drives. The shootout was on, and the Browns were winning it, twice leading by 12 and making the Chiefs blink in the red zone. But mistakes in every unit really cost the Browns this huge win. Nick Chubb lost a fumble at midfield that got the ball rolling again for the Chiefs. The defense looked at a 29-20 lead in the fourth quarter for 14 seconds before Tyreek Hill burned the secondary for a 75-yard touchdown on a one-play drive. Then the botched punt after a three-and-out put Mahomes at the 15-yard line, setting up an easy game-winning touchdown to take a 33-29 lead.

But the ending was different this time. Last year, I covered in great detail how the Chiefs were so dominant in the four-minute offense with Mahomes closing out games so the defense didn’t have to. The best way to end games on your terms. But this time, he threw an incompletion and Myles Garrett sacked him on a third down. The Browns had 2:49 to drive 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, so it was going to be on the defense this time to save the day. The Chiefs were one of three teams to not blow a fourth-quarter lead in 2020.

Mayfield had a chance for his big game-winning drive moment, but after getting to midfield, he tried to throw a pass away under pressure. His foot was grabbed at the last moment and the ball came out poorly and was intercepted by Mike Hughes with 1:09 left. Game over. The defense, which was missing Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark, did just enough in the second half after being terrible for the first half. Chalk up another double-digit comeback win in the Mahomes era, and one of the toughest challenges he’s ever had to get a lead in a game. But he can still say he has always led in every start of his career, even Super Bowl LV.

Much like with the Cowboys in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, I think the Browns can look at this one as a moral victory. This team is different under Kevin Stefanski from past Cleveland teams who would have rolled over to the Chiefs. They came out looking very poised as we saw in a few big games last year, namely the Tennessee win and Pittsburgh playoff win. Mayfield threw the late pick, but I think this team hangs better with the Chiefs than even the Ravens and Bills have shown so far. Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen seem to press against Kansas City while Mayfield was very accurate for most of Sunday’s game, and the Browns just use their offensive line to stick with the run and stay patient against this defense. But defensively, the Browns are not reliable yet. Mahomes still found ways to score 33 points on eight drives while dominating on third down and hitting Hill for the big touchdown.

The Chiefs have Baltimore next. Mahomes is now 9-0 against Jackson (3-0), Mayfield (3-0), Allen (2-0), and Ben Roethlisberger (1-0). While the AFC struggles to find its best challenger for the Chiefs, it looks likely to be another year where the Chiefs are their own worst enemy, and where the Kansas City offense is the most consistent, must-watch unit in the game.

Packers at Saints: Is This “The Last Dance” or Dead Man Walking?

I know I’ve repeatedly said that Aaron Rodgers will regress this season against a tougher schedule and better defensive play around the league in general, but what the hell was that on Sunday in Jacksonville? In his 211th start, Rodgers lost by more than 30 points for the first time in a 38-3 rout by the Saints, a team he feasted on a year ago without Davante Adams in a 37-30 win.

Kudos to the Saints if they really did pick Jacksonville because of Rodgers’ history in Florida. He squeaked out a win over Miami in 2014, lost to the Jaguars in 2008, only averaged 5.85 YPA against the Jags in 2016, and he was 1-3 in Tampa Bay with multiple interceptions in all the losses, including that 38-10 eyesore on his MVP resume last year.

Even if the scoreboard said New Orleans Saints, with the game being played in Jacksonville and Jameis Winston at quarterback, it might as well have been a game against Tampa Bay. Once again, the Packers were pushed around by an NFC South team and had no answers for it. Rodgers looked like the quarterback in need of Lasik surgery in this one, throwing some of the most WTF? interceptions of his career.

It is impossible to even evaluate Jameis Winston in this first start. He could have won the game by throwing four touchdowns before he even broke 100 passing yards. Some of that was great field position, and some more was just great ground production. But Jameis did deliver a long touchdown pass for his fifth of the day for good measure. It will be interesting to see what happens when he plays a team who puts forth some effort.

It only took Matt LaFleur the opener to his third season to have more losses (five) without a 4QC opportunity than what Mike McCarthy (four) had in his first six seasons with Rodgers as his quarterback.

A year after winning MVP, Rodgers is dead last in QBR for Week 1 at 13.5. Is it just “one game” like Tampa Bay was one game last year? Maybe, but I think it fits the larger pattern with this team and what happens when they run into someone ready to punch them in the mouth. Now I’m just worried that the real last dance for Peak Aaron Rodgers was 2020.

But hell of a day for the Saints in Jacksonville against Green Bay, a sentence I never thought I’d get to write. Sean Payton just might make me eat some crow this year, which won’t disappoint me one bit if he delivers in the postseason. But just imagine if he can keep the defense nasty while helping Jameis manage the game.

Steelers at Bills: Don’t Believe the Hype?

I feel that the Steelers have spent years as the biggest target of groupthink on NFL Twitter, and everyone just wants to predict this team to completely bomb this season. I didn’t feel that, and I still picked them to win nine games this season and get in as a wild card team. Plenty of season to go, but I think Sunday showed why you can’t bury them yet. Not when they are on a short list of teams with a Hall of Fame quarterback and a defense that can play great most weeks.

There has been plenty of Super Bowl hype for the Bills, but I warned in my previews that this team faces a tough task of improving on a season where they won 13 games and scored over 500 points, feats almost never achieved in back-to-back years in NFL history. Then without adding any major pieces on either side of the ball, it was largely on the same guys who produced last year to deliver again for the Bills.

That starts with quarterback Josh Allen. I ended up ranking him No. 30 on my list of the top 100 quarterbacks of the 21st century and thought he could repeat his success since he is technically still a one-year wonder. On Sunday, he got his fourth season off to a poor start, though T.J. Watt and company may be the best defense he sees this year. Watt had a huge strip-sack in the first half when the Bills were in scoring range.

Maybe Allen just doesn’t play well against Pittsburgh, because I certainly haven’t been impressed in the last three years with him in those meetings. Allen’s passing YPA in his three starts against Pittsburgh: 5.56, 5.53, and 5.29 on Sunday. Given the way the Steelers have handled Lamar Jackson so far, this team might be in business in the playoffs if they could stop getting embarrassed by the likes of Blake Bortles and Baker Mayfield in January. Patrick Mahomes is a different story, but I am impressed with how the defense has handled Allen and Jackson, two of the leaders of the new AFC.

Allen’s accuracy, always the main knock on him, was simply off on Sunday. He was high, he was low, he was all over the map. Some of it was the pass rush, and some was just great defensive play to knock balls away. But the fact is he threw 51 passes and just one of them gained more than 16 yards. That’s a bad ratio of big plays.

I felt that horrible quarterback play doomed the Steelers against Buffalo in 2019 and 2020. It was last year when Ben Roethlisberger threw a big pick-six before halftime that really turned that game, but I also pointed out that the Bills did not score many points in that game or in any game against AFC playoff competition outside of the Colts in the wild card round.

This time, Roethlisberger avoided the big turnover. He was off early, and the offense again looked pretty December 2020-ish in the first half when the Steelers trailed 10-0 and had three first downs and 53 yards of offense. The new offensive line looked bad, and Najee Harris had nowhere to run. Harris also was tackled quickly with minimal effort by Buffalo and looked lost as a receiver. It was not an impressive debut by him outside of one 18-yard run.

But the second half was a pleasant surprise and turnaround. The offense moved the ball four drives in a row, and while they settled for three field goals, the Steelers were right back in the game. Diontae Johnson returned from injury for a great effort catch on the game-winning touchdown. That was set up after one of the worst 4th-and-1 plays I’ve ever seen from the Bills. They said no to a quarterback sneak with Allen and tried to get cute with a pitch to Matt Breida way in the backfield where he was buried for a 7-yard loss at midfield. I’d show a picture of how deep he was when he caught the ball, but NFL Game Pass has never been worse than it is right now, which is saying a lot for how horrid that product has always been.

The Steelers also blocked a punt for a huge touchdown to go up 20-10 in the fourth quarter as the Bills looked shook. Pittsburgh really showed up in all three phases for that second half to complete the 23-16 comeback win.

Roethlisberger is now 2-7 in his career as an underdog of more than six points. His only other big upset win was the 2005 AFC divisional round in Indianapolis when he saved the legacies of Jerome Bettis and Bill Cowher on that late fumble. But this was certainly a surprise victory for the Steelers, and arguably the best one the team has had since an 18-12 playoff win in Kansas City against the Chiefs in January 2017.

Time will tell how well the Bills bounce back from this and if the Steelers are still legitimate, but it was definitely a second half turnaround I did not see coming. And I usually have a good eye for how the Steelers will perform.

Seahawks at Colts: The Wentz Wagon Stalls in Indy

I think if Russell Wilson was allowed to play a different team every week, but they all had Carson Wentz at quarterback, he would finally win MVP and have a perfect season. Wilson is now 6-0 against teams starting Wentz at quarterback. He has 13 touchdowns to one interception after throwing four scores on Sunday. He has never needed a fourth-quarter comeback against a Wentz-lead team, often leading those games by multiple scores. Wentz has never scored more than 17 points on the Seahawks. 

The sad part is this was probably the best Wentz has ever played against Seattle, but it was still only good for a 28-16 loss at home where he disappeared for half the game. The Colts were not impressive along the offensive line, though Wentz still took three sacks and lost a fumble. Wilson also took three sacks, but as usual, was left unphased by those plays as he still delivers big plays to his receivers like a perfectly thrown 69-yard touchdown bomb to Tyler Lockett. The Colts had one play of 20-plus yards in the game. The Seahawks took control of the game after the Colts had six straight scoreless drives.

There should be better days ahead for Wentz in Indy as no team owns him quite like Seattle. But for the fans holding out hope that the return of wideout T.Y. Hilton or post-Achilles injury Eric Fisher at left tackle is going to make a big difference, you have to understand the hard truth. The Colts no longer have a quarterback who can elevate the play of those around him. Either by delivering accurate passes to his receivers or with great pocket presence and decision making to help his offensive line, Wentz has never been and will likely never be that guy.

The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to understand how this team is going to fare with him. With the Rams up next, this could get uglier before it gets better.

Dolphins at Patriots: Well, Tom Brady Would NEVER…

After using Cam Newton as a one-year rental, the Patriots officially moved forward with the Mac Jones era on Sunday. Was it the first of many meetings between Jones and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa in the new-look AFC East, or the first of, like, three such matchups? We’ll see, but the first one was a competitive 17-16 finish won by the underdog Dolphins.

Jones hardly set the NFL world on fire with his debut, but he had the highest QBR (75.1) of any first or second-year quarterback on Sunday, including Tua (39.9). The Patriots just played a sloppy, undisciplined game for Bill Belichick, including four fumbles (two lost), eight penalties for 84 yards, and they allowed Miami to pull off a double score around halftime.

Down 17-16 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were driving in the red zone after a Tua interception at midfield. Damien Harris rushed to the Miami 9 to get to 100 yards on the ground, but he fumbled as Xavien Howard continues his high-turnover ways from 2020 with another huge one. Still, 3:31 remained and the Patriots had three timeouts, so that’s an eternity of time to get the ball back.

But the odd thing is they didn’t get the stop this time. Miami picked up two first downs, including a third-and-1 conversion with QB sneak cheat code and former Patriot Jacoby Brissett. The Dolphins were able to take three knees for the win after the two-minute warning. The Patriots averaged 46.1 yards per drive on eight possessions, but it is hard to score more than 16 points when you fumble away a quarter of your drives.

This is just the latest loss for the Patriots as they look downright mediocre in the post-Tom Brady era. However, last year it was Cam Newton doing what he usually does in close games and coming up short (at Seattle) or coughing up the ball (Buffalo). This was not a failure on Jones’ debut, and the way it played out is so amusing because this is exactly the kind of thing Brady never had to deal with in two decades. Just consider the facts:

  • Mac Jones lost in his NFL debut with a 102.6 passer rating (29-of-39 for 281 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT).
  • It took Brady 79 starts and 18 losses to lose a game with a passer rating higher than 83.3. He was in his sixth season then.
  • Jones watched his teammate fumble on a first down in the red zone in a 17-16 game with 3:31 left.
  • (Excluding any lateral-filled plays on the final snap) In Brady’s whole career, he has watched one offensive teammate fumble in the fourth quarter while trailing by 1-3 points, and that was Julian Edelman in 2016 when the Patriots trailed Seattle 25-24. There was 8:29 left and Brady got the ball back in a 31-24 game with 4:24 left. He was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1. He never had to deal with an ending like this in 345 career starts.

What made the Patriots so successful for so long is the way they wouldn’t compound mistakes. Even if someone fumbled, you could count on the defense with four clock stoppages to get Brady the ball back. He is the king of second (and third) chances. But after years of draining away talent, the Patriots are just another team these days, and these teams compound mistakes, hence the failed defensive stop after the turnover.

The irony of Brissett converting a third-and-1 wasn’t lost on me here. You might say “that’s going to be nearly impossible for any team to stop.” True, but guess who got those stops at a higher rate than usual in crunch time? Brady’s defenses. From 2001 to 2020, the non-New England NFL defenses allowed conversions on 54.3% of runs on third or fourth down with 1 yard to go while leading by one score in the final three minutes (100-for-184). But against Brady’s defense, these teams were 1-for-6 (16.7%).

Why should those five stops matter? Well, look at the foundation they set for his career. If the defense doesn’t stop San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson on these short-yardage runs in 2001, Brady doesn’t get his first 4QC/GWD and the Patriots are not a first-round bye team that year. If that happens, then the Tuck Rule game against the Raiders in the playoffs never happens that year. You know, that dubious ending that only came after Zack Crockett was stopped on a third-and-1 before the Patriots used their final timeout. In 2002, Brady again had a late game-ending turnover reversed by replay in Chicago, but that only came after his defense stopped Anthony Thomas on back-to-back plays where 1 yard wins the game for the Bears. Instead, they blew a 21-point lead and Brady gets to say he’s never had a non-winning season after finishing 9-7 that year.

The whole foundation for Brady’s clutch legacy is built on those stops giving him extra chances. The ones that other quarterbacks just don’t get as often. You’re not going to tell me my grapes are sour when my research is always fresh and on point. When you combine these facts with all the other facts, like the single loss with a clutch field goal miss (2012 Arizona) in 22 seasons, or the most goal-line stands, or the fact that Atlanta had 1st-and-10 at the New England 22 in Super Bowl 51 and PUNTED, it’s beyond obvious who the Luckiest of All Time (LOAT) is.

Are the Patriots still capable of doing those things with Jones? We’ll see. But just wait until we get to the first blown fourth-quarter lead and the first missed clutch field goal this year with Jones. You know, things that didn’t happen to Brady, the LOAT, until his 66th and 183rd starts, respectively.

Eagles at Falcons: The Total Pitts

Tell me something, Atlanta fans. Would you rather watch your team play well for most of the game and blow it late in heart-breaking fashion, or would you rather they play like ass at home and lose 32-6 to a team that won four games last year? Four-and-a-half if we’re being generous.

The first game of the Arthur Smith era was absolutely the worst season opener in the Matt Ryan era and one of the most disappointing starts in his career. He has lost by bigger margins before and in more important games, but this was only the fourth time he failed to lead the Falcons to at least seven points.

A 32-6 final in a game with zero turnovers and one where the Falcons rushed for 124 yards? Who writes a game script like that? The Falcons are only the 10th team since 1940 to lose by at least 26 points in a game without a turnover. We are used to seeing Atlanta settle for field goals in the red zone, but 3-of-14 on third down and Ryan only throwing for 164 yards are unusual outcomes for the Falcons.

Historically, Ryan has struggled with the Eagles. This is the fourth time in the last five meetings that the Falcons failed to break 15 points. But I was shocked that this was not a one-score game with both teams scoring over 20 points. Neither team had a 30-yard play, but the Falcons didn’t even have a 20-yard one.

Heisman winner Devonta Smith came through with an 18-yard touchdown catch in his NFL debut, finishing with 71 yards to lead all receivers. I thought he would play well, but I had high expectations for Kyle Pitts, the highest drafted tight end in NFL history. He only caught 4-of-8 targets for 31 yards, getting outdone by old man Zach Ertz (34 yards) on the other side.

We’ll see if Jalen Hurts (27-of-35) can maintain a high completion percentage going forward, but the Eagles and rookie coach Nick Sirianni blew away Smith and the Falcons in this one.

Cardinals at Titans: Red Alert?

The Cardinals were my final wild card team, and the Titans were my regression red alert team this year. That had something to do with my pick of Arizona this week, but I had no idea we would see a 38-13 final in Tennessee.

While the defense struggled with Kyler Murray and his receivers (two touchdowns each to DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk), this was Chandler Jones’ day. He missed most of 2020 and I knew his return was really the biggest story for this team. Jones has always had an incredible knack for turning his pressures into sacks. He came through with five sacks in this one and forced two fumbles. Just one of the most dominant defensive performances you will see from one player. He destroyed the Titans, who could never get Derrick Henry (58 yards) going on the ground.

After the way the Falcons bombed at home on Sunday, it’s not like “they really miss Arthur Smith” is going to be the story after this one. Maybe they do, but time will tell if this is the year that Ryan Tannehill turns back into a pumpkin and Henry breaks down, or if the Cardinals are just the real deal, improving in front of our eyes, and Jones was simply too dominant for them on Sunday.

Jaguars at Texans: Tyrod’s Day

I should have known better than to trust a team that has lost 15 games in a row (now 16) and hired a nepotism-loving control freak as its head coach. This was probably my biggest miss of Week 1 as I saw Urban Meyer leaning on his college roots and getting a decisive win against a poor Houston team without many talented players left and Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. I thought they would run the ball at will, get James Robinson his touches now that Travis Etienne is on IR, and Trevor Lawrence would run in a score in his NFL debut.

Well, little did I expect Tyrod to be the best quarterback in the division on Sunday. Taylor passed for 291 yards, and the only reason it wasn’t his first 300-yard passing game in regulation in the NFL is because Houston was ahead too much. Lawrence had minus-2 rushing yards and threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns, but also three interceptions in a mixed bag game. When Carlos Hyde got the first three carries over Robinson, I knew I was fucked.

I’m sure we won’t get to October before this Week 1 success for Houston is chalked up to “it was just Urban’s Jags,” but that’s okay. This was one of the only games I could see either team winning all season. I know better now than to trust the Jaguars to do anything good.

49ers at Lions: Score One for Research

When I posted my Week 1 picks, I said this about the 49ers-Lions game:

“We have my first stat second-guessing of the season in Detroit where the 49ers are up to 8.5 as they try to spoil the Dan Campbell debut. I really want to stay away from that game after seeing that road favorites of 8.5+ in Week 1 are 0-6 ATS since 2001. Jared Goff is very familiar with them and while he is only 3-5 against the 49ers, only one of those games was a loss by more than eight points.”

Make that 0-7 ATS now as the Lions got a cover in a game they were getting blown out 38-10. It was 41-17 with 5:45 left when Jared Goff got the ball back. Surely he can’t go 8+8+8 for one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, right? But after a pair of touchdowns and two-point conversions with a key onside kick recovery in between, it was 41-33 with 1:07 left and Detroit still had all three timeouts left. Overtime was doable.

It looked like Jimmy Garoppolo was putting an end to things with a third-and-13 conversion to Deebo Samuel, but the receiver nearly spoiled his monster game (189 yards) with an inexplicable fumble. Goff had his chance to tie it but came up 24 yards short after pressure got to him on fourth down.

It was not a pretty debut for Goff, but he got what may go down as the improbable cover of the season against a San Francisco team that figures to be tough this year. There had to be some kneecaps chewed off in the process of this one.

Jets at Panthers: Sam Darnold Revenge Game

Something feels very right about the Sam Darnold Revenge Game ending in a 19-14 final. But at least it was a win, and he threw a nice 57-yard touchdown to Robby Anderson, who also played for the Jets.

Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson threw touchdowns but suffered six sacks in his debut. These are the last 10 quarterbacks to take at least six sacks in their first career start: DeShone Kizer (2017), Paxton Lynch (2016), Tyrod Taylor (2015), Greg McElroy (2012), Chad Henne (2009), Dan Orlovsky (2008), Patrick Ramsey (2002), David Carr (2002), Tim Couch (1999), and Bobby Hoying (1997).

Worried yet? Let’s relax, but that is not a promising list. Taylor is the best of the bunch and that is a fluke entry. He was the main quarterback in the 2015 opener for Buffalo, but Matt Cassel technically got the quarterback start since they lined up weird on the first play before Taylor took over and threw all 19 of the team’s passes without taking a sack against the Colts.

Chargers at Washington: The Third Down Game

As Justin Herbert tries not to live his best Philip Rivers life, the main thing the Chargers needed to do in Brandon Staley’s head coaching debut was avoid blowing a fourth-quarter lead. Stop being the same old Chargers, especially to a Washington team that lost Ryan Fitzpatrick to a hip injury and went with Taylor Heinicke.

Despite dominating the game, the Chargers were terrible in the red zone and trailed 16-13 in the fourth quarter. But after taking advantage of an Antonio Gibson fumble following his interception, Herbert delivered a touchdown pass on third down to take a 20-16 lead. The defense held, though it was really a clipping penalty that did Washington in on the ensuing drive.

With 6:43 left, Herbert took over and converted four more third downs to run out the rest of the clock, a very impressive finish to the game. The Chargers were 14-of-19 on third down, and that includes a kneeldown in the red zone on the final snap of the game. The Chargers are only the ninth team since 1991 to convert at least 14 third downs in a game and the first to do it since the 2011 Ravens in Pittsburgh.

Vikings at Bengals: Please, No Tie

It was a pretty good Sunday for the second-year quarterbacks. Joe Burrow still took five sacks behind his offensive line, but he had efficient passing stats, and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase can silence the critics a bit after going for 101 yards and a touchdown in his debut.

But the Bengals nearly mismanaged this one away after letting the Vikings take it to overtime after trailing 24-14 in the fourth quarter. Kirk Cousins has never been reliable with comebacks, but he had the right effort here and a clutch 53-yard field goal by Greg Joseph put us in overtime. On a Sunday with some big fumbles, Dalvin Cook had one of the biggest in overtime after the Vikings moved the ball to the Cincinnati 38 at the two-minute warning.

At this point, I was convinced we were heading for a 24-24 tie. Six of the last 10 ties in the NFL have involved either the Bengals, the Vikings, or Cousins. Hell, Cousins had a tie with the 2016 Bengals when he was with Washington. Burrow played in the NFL’s only tie in 2020 against the Eagles. It just seemed like destiny again.

Fortunately, Burrow converted a fourth down with a 32-yard play that set up the game-winning field goal for one of Week 1’s nicer upset stories. Cousins was not the problem this time, but it was interesting to see Chase outproduce Justin Jefferson and specially to see Joe Mixon outrush Cook 127-61. The only turnover in the game was a killer.

Broncos at Giants: Ted the Spread

I didn’t see a ton of this game, but when I did, Teddy Bridgewater looked pretty damn good in his Denver debut. I saw KJ Hamler drop a deep ball and it’s unfortunate that Jerry Jeudy left injured. This team could be a darkhorse for the wild card now that Von Miller is back on defense and the quarterback play is better. Bridgewater throwing downfield and Vic Fangio let his offense go 3-for-3 on fourth down? Very interesting.

Obviously, you want to see this team do it against someone better than the Giants, who continue to be a major disappointment. Only a meaningless Daniel Jones touchdown run on the final play of the game got Jason Garrett’s offense out of single digits in a 27-13 loss. However, it was not enough to cover the 3-point spread as Bridgewater covered again.

I’ve never been a fan of “Teddy H20” as a nickname, but I might be able to warm up to Ted the Spread.

Bears at Rams: Stafford’s Night

Did we really need Bears-Rams in prime time for the fourth season in a row? I would still like to bring criminal conspiracy charges to the people responsible for putting so many Chicago games in prime time. This year was supposed to be different after the team drafted Justin Fields, and while we saw him score a touchdown on his first carry, we still had to watch Andy Dalton throw 38 passes.

Then again, the Bears still scored more touchdowns (two) than the Packers, Bills, and Falcons combined on Sunday. Dalton settled down after an atrocious first quarter, but you can just tell that the ceiling for this offense is somewhere below his ridiculous mustache. It’s so limited. With Fields, those David Montgomery runs that worked so well could be even more plentiful, not to mention the extra mobility, arm strength, and play-making ability that Fields brings.

But enough about the silly Matt Nagy decision to start Dalton. This was about Matthew Stafford’s first game with the Rams after a dozen years in Detroit. He did not disappoint with 321 yards and three touchdowns, producing a career-high 156.1 passer rating. Yes, he never broke a 150 rating in 168 games with Detroit, but he did it in one game with Sean McVay’s offense. Very interesting. Stafford connected on two 50-yard touchdown passes, something that apparently John Stofa (1968 Bengals) was the last quarterback to do in his debut with a new team.

We could get into some amusing things like the fact that the Rams led 20-7 in the third quarter with Stafford having incredible stats and the play-action game working despite the running backs having 5 carries for 6 yards. Through three quarters, Darrell Henderson had 7 carries for 12 yards before finishing with 70 yards. How does that fit into the “he doesn’t have a running game!” discussion?

But I think it’s best to let this one glaze over, see how he does in his first road game in Indy, then get amped up for that huge showdown with Tampa Bay in Week 3. A game against the Bears is not going to convince me of much. Not when I thought I was already watching a Lions-Bears game that someone stuck in prime time to end the first Sunday of this 2021 season.

Stay tuned; things are bound to get stranger.

NFL 2020: Close Game Summary

While 2020 may have felt like a year for comebacks in the NFL, let’s examine the data. There were 143 games (55.9%) that saw at least one team have a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity, which is a possession by the team tied or down 1-to-8 points. That is in line with recent years: 142 in 2019, 147 in 2018, and 139 in 2017.

So, the crowd-less, COVID season did not produce any shift in the closeness of games. There were just 43 double-digit comeback wins from deficits at any time in the game, which is an increase of nine or 10 games over 2019 (33) and 2018 (34).

The 2020 season featured 58 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 76 game-winning drives (GWD). That is remarkably close to the numbers last regular season with 56 4QC and 77 GWD. This is the third time in the last four seasons that 4QC numbers fell under 60 for the season after ranging from 68 to 73 every year from 2011 to 2016. We also can thank the NFC East for oddities, such as the season’s lone tie when the Eagles came back late on the Bengals, and the only non-offensive game-winning score of 2020 was a fumble return touchdown by the Giants against Washington.  

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 30.0%, or just about average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 35.0% (2019 was 35.9%).

The following table shows a summary of each team’s success in close games this season. First, the offense’s record in games with a 4QC opportunity is shown. Next is the overall 4QC/GWD record, which also includes the games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. For the defense, holds are games where the defense was successful in defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The number of games lost in which the team had a fourth-quarter lead is also shown. The last section shows the team’s overall record in close games, which are defined as games involving a 4QC/GWD opportunity on either side of the ball. Playoff teams are highlighted in gray. The table is in descending order of close game win percentage.

This information can be very useful for previewing the playoffs (which teams haven’t blown a lead and which struggle to hold them) or thinking about regression in 2021 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

More than usual, the playoff teams had the best records in close games with 11 of the top 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs. The only outlier happens to be Detroit, which was 4-2 in close games but 1-9 in non-close games. That is because of all the ass-kickings this team took this season, including Thanksgiving against Houston, losing 20-0 to P.J. Walker and the Panthers, and that demolition performed by Tampa Bay on a Saturday afternoon.

Washington (5-5) and the Rams (4-4) were only .500 in close games, but that is not uncommon for the coaching careers of Ron Rivera and Sean McVay. The most interesting playoff team here is Baltimore. For the second year in a row, the Ravens played in a league-low five close games. Last year, they were so dominant that they were 5-0 in close games. This year, the Ravens again finished with the best scoring differential (+165) in the NFL and led the league with nine wins of 14+ points. However, they were only 2-3 in close games, including a blown lead and overtime loss to the Titans in Week 11. Now the Ravens will have to avenge some past losses if they are to get back to the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs, Saints, and Titans are the only teams to not blow a late lead this year, though none of those defenses were tested more than four times in close games. The Titans were also bailed out heavily by their offense, including yesterday in Houston. Ryan Tannehill led the most 4QC (five) and GWD (six) in the league this season. Only Buffalo (6-1) tied the Titans for the best record in close games this season. No one really comes close to the 6-1 record the Titans had at GWD opportunities, and the only loss was against Pittsburgh after Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal to force overtime.

The Seahawks may have blown a double-digit lead in Arizona in prime time this year, but otherwise, Seattle led the league with nine holds of a one-score lead, or two more than any team in 2020. The Seahawks were 9-2 in close games a year after finishing 7-2. It wasn’t as obvious this year since it wasn’t always Russell Wilson leading comebacks like he did on Sunday against the 49ers. But it’s those drives late in games to put away the Patriots, Cowboys, Cardinals, Washington, etc. that added up for Seattle’s 12-4 season. Now if only they can get the offense going like it was early in the season to match with the way the defense has played down the stretch. Then Seattle would have a fair shot of getting to the Super Bowl.

A year ago, the Packers were living off close game success, going 10-1 with eight holds and no blown leads. They added another hold in the playoffs against Seattle before getting blown out by the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. This year the Packers are again 13-3, but it has come much differently with many more points scored. The Packers are still 5-2 at close games with five holds and one blown lead against the Colts.

The Eagles (15) and Chargers (14) played more close games than anyone. After winning some late in the season, the Chargers actually finished 6-8 in them while the Eagles limped to a 4-10-1 finish. The 10 failed 4QC/GWD (plus a tie) by the Eagles were the most in the league.

The 1995 expansion teams, Jaguars (1-7) and Panthers (2-9), had the worst records in close games this season. Jacksonville came back to beat the Colts in Week 1 and lost out the rest of the season, or what I’d call a “Weinke” as a nod to Chris Weinke and the 2001 Panthers, who also finished 1-15 with a 15-game losing streak.

The Panthers headlined five teams with a winless record at GWD opportunities. Carolina was 0-9 in a brutal year in crunch time for Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Rhule. The Falcons (0-7) did not have a single 4QC/GWD for the first time ever in the Matt Ryan era.

A year ago, I said that Houston could be a team to watch for with regression after 11 4QC/GWD in 2018-19. The Texans were 0-7 in their opportunities this year. The Jets (0-6) and Giants (0-5), with terrible offenses, were not surprisingly winless in these situations too.

It was a close battle, but the right team won in the end. The Atlanta Falcons led the league with five blown leads in the fourth quarter, beating out the Chargers and Texans with four each. All three teams fired their head coach this season. Atlanta (4-12) finishing dead last in the NFC despite only a -18 scoring differential is a shocker, but that’s what happens when you blow such winnable games in incredible fashion like the Falcons did this year.

In fact, the 2020 Falcons are hands down the best team to finish last in a conference in the 32-team era. I would advise owner Arthur Blank not to hang a banner for this achievement, but it is the closest thing the Falcons have to a trophy from this miserable, no good, rotten season.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

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

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Undefeated Watch: Thanks, Jake Luton

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Colts: Hold Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 9

Clue: The day after Donald Trump lost the election, this famous friend lost 38-3 on Sunday Night Football, ruining the season debut for Antonio Brown, his new roommate and other alleged rapist friend.

Answer: Who is Tom Brady?

We’ll miss you, Alex Trebek. R.I.P.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Saints at Buccaneers: STOP THE COUNT, THEY’RE DEAD!

Wow, that was insane.

With the NFC West regressing, Seattle not having to play GB/TB/NO this year, the NFC East’s historic sucking, and the Packers in stasis without any real tough games left, you could easily argue this Saints-Buccaneers game was the biggest NFC matchup in the 2020 regular season. The winner would move into first place with Tampa Bay eying a No. 1 seed thanks to destroying Green Bay.

But if you thought that 38-10 rout of Green Bay was what made Tampa Bay the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC (if not NFL), then where are you now after the Saints (6-2) handed them a 38-3 home loss that was the biggest ass kicking of the season?

The 35-point margin is the largest halfway through 2020.

This was an absolutely unreal performance by the Saints on offense and defense. When Tampa Bay crushed Green Bay, it was literally a meltdown by Aaron Rodgers. He essentially threw two pick-sixes (one returned to the 2) and just crumbled from there. This game, it was pure domination. The Saints started with four touchdowns on five drives, only getting stopped when Jared Cook lost a fumble at the 2 after trying too hard to score. Meanwhile, Tom Brady came out ice cold and had four three-and-outs before he threw the first of his three interceptions on the night. Rob Gronkowski looked awful, Mike Evans struggled again with the Saints, and Antonio Brown (31 yards) was not much of a factor in his debut. Brown did at least break up a pick or else Brady would have had a four-interception night.

The Buccaneers finished with 194 yards, were stopped in a goal-to-go situation for the first time all year, and were 1-for-9 on third down (0-for-3 on fourth down). Even when it felt like the Saints were keeping the door open for a comeback, namely Cook’s fumble and his third-down drop that led to a field goal try instead of a touchdown, Brady and the Bucs never threatened. Their only points came on a cheap field goal late in the fourth quarter to avoid a 38-0 shutout.

Tampa Bay set an NFL record with just 5 rushes, and one of those was a kneeldown by backup Blaine Gabbert to end the game. The Buccaneers’ vaunted defense even made Taysom Hill look unstoppable. Hill was the game’s leading rusher (54 yards), completed two passes for 48 yards, and caught a 21-yard pass.

Drew Brees was fantastic with four touchdown passes, doing so for the record 38th time, and regaining the all-time lead by three over Brady.

It helped that Michael Thomas (5 catches, 51 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (4 catches, 38 yards, TD) returned to the wide receiver corps, but the Saints were as dialed in as a team can be in this game. They tied the league record with 12 different players making a reception.

You still suspect these are both playoff teams, but that makes it even more shocking just how one-sided this was. Since 1970, only 13 games between playoff teams saw one take a 31+ point lead at halftime, and only one of those games (2010 Patriots at Bears) was by the road team.

For the first time in his career, Brady has been swept by a divisional opponent. For the first time in his career, Brady has a division rival worth a damn. Funny how that works. I’ve been saying this for years about the historic advantage the AFC East provided Brady in securing high playoff seeds over the years. We’ll never see another quarterback have such an advantage in his division for two decades like Brady did. The minute he left for a division with a first-ballot HOFer in Brees and an MVP like Matt Ryan, he’s already been swept by the Saints.

In my preseason predictions, I had the Saints finishing 13-3 and the No.1 seed while the Buccaneers at 11-5 and No. 5 seed. We’ll see where this goes, but the Saints are in a good position now. Both teams still have to host the Chiefs and Vikings and play the Falcons twice this year.

Does this make the Saints the new favorite in the NFC? Perhaps, it is a flawed conference where it’s hard to trust anyone right now. If this is what the Saints can look like at “full strength” then you must think they have as good of a shot as anyone.

All I know is, much like when the Chiefs went to Baltimore in Week 3, the Saints left no doubt as to whether they are a nightmare matchup for the Buccaneers. But then you think about Tampa Bay trailing by double digits in five games this year, blowing a 13-point lead in Chicago, now this domination, and it starts to become clear: Green Bay was the anomaly game this season.

Now we just have to see if the Buccaneers can ever put things together this season, or if the Saints end up being the team that goes on a run that lands them back on this field in February.

Small Game Steelers, But Spare Me the Worst 8-0 Team Ever Talk

My fear of the Steelers blowing off a small game to Dallas was well warranted. If you know this team well, you know they always underperform in games like this. The 15-point spread was always a bit too high coming off the three emotional wins in a row, and the fact that Dallas had an unknown fourth-stringer (Garrett Gilbert) at quarterback with a strong cast of skill players around him. This was going to be competitive, but it really shouldn’t have been the toughest win yet of the season for the 8-0 Steelers.

This was like the Steelers’ 2011 Colts/Curtis Painter or 2011 Chiefs/Tyler Palko or 2017 Colts/Jacoby Brissett wins. Yeah, they were ugly, but at least they were still wins.

The lack of an offensive identity is starting to catch up with Pittsburgh after a second straight slow start where they wasted four drives while the Cowboys jumped out to a 13-0 lead. The run defense also had some issues again and Gilbert played admirably for someone without experience, but the Steelers are taking too long to figure out the opponent.

Still, it was yet another game where they finished with 24 points, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, and they had zero turnovers. They probably should have had 26 or 27 points, but Chris Boswell was shaky on the day with two missed extra points (one blocked). Mike Tomlin also screwed up big time by going for a fourth-and-1 with 43 seconds left to seal the game when he should have kicked a short field goal to take a 27-19 lead. You can’t worry about a block there. It’s a routine kick and they already blocked one. Getting two in one game would be crazy improbable. Keeping yourself open to a loss with a touchdown is not the right move, and for the second week in a row the Steelers had to knock down a pass at the goal line to save the win.

Alas, the Steelers join some elite company as the fifth team to start 8-0 and score at least 24 points in every game: 2007 Patriots, 2009 Saints, 2011 Packers, and 2015 Patriots.

Now I would be the first person to start a debate on the worst 8-0 team in NFL history, but I cannot see how the 2020 Steelers win that title.

Not when the 2013 Chiefs exist, a team that started 9-0 by beating several backup quarterbacks with a boring brand of offense when Andy Reid was getting his feet wet in Kansas City with Alex Smith. Once that team started playing real quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck) and teams, they finished 2-6 and blew a 28-point lead in their first playoff game.

I also refuse to buy that the Steelers aren’t better than the 2008 Titans, who started 10-0 in Jeff Fisher’s final playoff season with the team. That team finished 13-3 and had 13 touchdown passes with Kerry Collins as the main starter. They also went one-and-done, losing to the Ravens at home.

I would also bring up the 2015 Panthers, who started 14-0, and I was always saying they were the worst 15-1 team in NFL history (lost the Super Bowl to Denver and finished 6-10 the next year). When the Panthers were 8-0, they were doing it with the best defense in the NFC and Cam Newton was not having a great season. He was just getting ready to go on a big run, but he certainly didn’t have the numbers when they were 8-0 (14 TD, 9 INT, 53.7% complete, 7.40 YPA, 81.4 PR).

Roethlisberger has not been hitting the deep balls this year and it is getting frustrating. I think he can still turn that around, but similar to the Saints and Drew Brees, we should acknowledge that the way they do things now still is effective. It puts points on the board and wins games. Combine that with a defense that may not be anywhere close to historic, but even just merely good puts you a leg up on most of the league in 2020, and you have a pretty solid contender in a year where no one is blowing the field away.

Clearly, I do not see the Steelers going 16-0. They’ll slip up eventually, but I still think winning in Baltimore was a huge deal, a better win than most teams can point to this season, and they have a chance to complete a sweep of the Ravens on Thanksgiving.

I would love nothing more than to see the Steelers play the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but until that feels more likely, let’s not make the whole season about that. Just like we shouldn’t overreact to this 24-19 (should have been 27-19) win in Dallas. Did Tampa Bay not just win 25-23 over the Giants? How did Sunday night go for the so-called NFC favorites? A New Orleans team that was in overtime with Chicago a week ago just destroyed them 38-3 in their house. That same New Orleans team squeaked by Carolina a couple weeks ago in a 27-24 game. Carolina just came up a FG short of knocking off the Chiefs in Arrowhead.

Pandemic football is a little different. You never know who will be available to play in a given week these days. If you want to put the Chiefs in a class of their own as the defending champs, that’s fine. But there’s no reason to say the Steelers aren’t up there with any other team in the league (Ravens, Saints, Buccaneers, Packers, Seahawks, etc.).

The Latest Records for the Chiefs

STOP THE COUNT! After a 33-31 decision against Carolina, Patrick Mahomes is now 45-0 in the NFL. That’s actually 45 games and 45 times he’s had a lead, but Sunday was one of the toughest wins yet this year for the Chiefs, now 8-1 and going into a bye week.

More history was made by Kansas City on Sunday. Mahomes threw his 100th touchdown pass in his 40th regular-season game, setting a new record (Dan Marino, 44 games).

The Chiefs also broke a record for the second time in the Mahomes era for consecutive games with at least 23 points (playoffs included):

This deserves some real attention. It’s practically unheard of in the NFL to break a record streak, have one off game, then immediately start up another record-setting streak. I showed you the only other team to reach 20 games was Joe Gibbs’ Redskins. The No. 4 spot is a tie at 19 games between Peyton Manning’s Broncos (2012-13) and Tom Brady’s Patriots (2006-07). The second-longest streak for the Patriots was 15 games in 2012 while the second-longest streak for a Manning-led team was 13 games for the 2004 Colts.

Now scoring is up in the NFL in the Mahomes era, but we just don’t see other teams in the league approaching these numbers. The longest streaks since 2017 that don’t belong to the Chiefs are 12 games by the 2018 Rams and a pair of 11-game streaks by the Ravens – oddly, one of them happened in 2017-18 pre-Lamar Jackson. The second-longest active streak of 23-point games is nine by Seattle.

We risk taking Mahomes for granted this early into his career, but that may be changing since this latest win seems to reignited the MVP race this year. Mahomes is up to 25 touchdown passes and one interception this season, which has never been done before in the NFL to start a season. He just threw for another 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-31 win after his running game finished with 10 carries for 30 yards. Mahomes is now second in QBR (85.3) and the Chiefs could set a modern record for the most yards per drive in a season as they were over 43 yards coming into the week.

This is the most enjoyable team to watch in the NFL today. The skill and creativity are second to none, and they find plenty of different ways to win now. Sunday was a little tougher than usual, but that’s always fun to watch too. It was actually the first time this season the Kansas City defense had to uphold a one-score lead in the fourth quarter. The game was right there for the win for Carolina, but Teddy Bridgewater is 0-6 at leading game-winning drives this season, the worst record in the NFL. Only needing a field goal, he took too much time with completions not going out of bounds and I did not agree with the final sequence when they bypassed a Hail Mary for a 67-yard field goal that was well off.

So I’ll miss not being able to watch the Chiefs in Week 10, but the march towards history resumes in Vegas in Week 11 when the team will look to avenge its only loss in the last 18 games.

Pete Carroll: What a Day for an Extension

While the Saints found a defense on Sunday night, the Seahawks continued to exhibit none after a 44-34 loss in Buffalo. The Seahawks are the first team in NFL history to have nine straight games where they scored and allowed at least 23 points, which includes last January’s 28-23 playoff loss.

That is a hell of a change for a team that once led the NFL in scoring defense four years in a row from 2012 to 2015. Those days are long over, we have gone from Legion of Boom to Let Russ Cook, and Pete Carroll just signed on for a multi-year extension.

Not the greatest timing right before this loss that makes you question if the Seahawks are headed for another No. 5 seed, a Wild Card win over a terrible NFC East winner, and then a divisional road loss.

This was a strange game in that Russell Wilson turned the ball over four times, the Seahawks registered seven sacks on Josh Allen, but Allen still completed 31-of-38 passes for 415 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers. It is the kind of game he would never have in 2018-19, but Allen is better this year and the Seahawks are historically bad against the pass.

The 2020 Seahawks have allowed 2,897 net passing yards, the most through eight games in NFL history. The previous record belonged to the 2002 Chiefs (2,589 yards). Apparently, trading good picks for a safety (Jamal Adams) isn’t a cure-all for the defense. Adams returned to action on Sunday and it was the nadir of the season so far as Allen had 282 yards and all three touchdowns at halftime alone.

What really caught my eye were some words from Carroll after the game about his surprise that Buffalo abandoned the run and came out passing:

Look, I know I’m just a data nerd who doesn’t leave the house, but it literally would take minutes to go through Buffalo games in 2020 and see that an Allen-dominant offense (his passes and runs) that ignores RB carries is something they are comfortable with this year. Here is some proof I grabbed in a couple minutes:

  • Jets (Week 1): 38 Allen dropbacks to 6 handoffs in first half
  • Raiders: 20 Allen dropbacks to 9 handoffs in first half
  • Titans: 24 Allen dropbacks to 10 handoffs in first half (38 to 13 through 3Q)
  • Jets (Rematch): 25 Allen dropbacks to 4 handoffs in first half
  • Chiefs: 27 Allen dropbacks to 14 handoffs through 3Q

It’s not that crazy for Buffalo to do this, and sure enough it treated the Seahawks like the Jets. Allen had 32 dropbacks to two handoffs in the first half against Seattle, so they took it to another level since it was working so easily.

I love the stat that Buffalo was 1-12 against playoff teams in 2018-19 and already lost this year to the Titans and Chiefs. The Bills usually don’t beat teams like Seattle, but Seattle is a team with a quarterback who is usually amazing – he wasn’t on Sunday – and a defense that is terrible.

While Carroll and company finally seem to understand this year that passing early and often is a good strategy, they still seem oblivious to the idea that other teams know this too and attack Seattle’s pass defense accordingly.

Carroll said he didn’t recognize his team on Sunday, but it looked like more of the same to me with too many giveaways to make it a hopeless road trip. Sean McVay and Jared Goff are next with the Rams, who also feature a defense that held Wilson to two field goals in the last meeting (28-12 loss in 2019).

We’ll see if there are any adjustments.

Dalvin Cook Actually Matters

If the Vikings are going to recover from a 1-5 start, it was sparked by Dalvin Cook’s domination of division foes the last two weeks. He scored four touchdowns and had 226 yards from scrimmage in last week’s upset win over Green Bay. On Sunday, he rushed for 206 yards in a 34-20 win over Detroit to get Minnesota to 3-5.

Add this to the file on “Why the Hell Is Matt Patricia Still Employed?”. The Vikings became the eighth offense since 1940 to average 8.0 yards per carry and 10 net yards per pass attempt in a game. It has only happened two other times since the 1970 merger: 2017 Chiefs vs. Jets (in a 38-31 loss) and 2012 49ers vs. Bills (45-3 win).

The Vikings just had one of the most explosive, but balanced offensive performances in NFL history. Minnesota finished with 275 rushing yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-20 passes for 220 yards, three touchdowns and only one sack. His net yards per attempt was 10.1.

With an upcoming schedule that features the Bears, Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars, it is not a stretch to say the Vikings could still win 9-10 games and reach the playoffs.

Almost, Atlanta

Well, Georgia blew one big lead this week, but for that I am grateful. How about the sports teams though? Can’t the Falcons ever just win a game with ease? You know, like the 2016 NFC Championship Game when they routed Green Bay?

On Sunday, Atlanta punted to Denver with 5:38 left and a 34-13 lead. That’s an easy win and 4-point cover, right? Think again. The Broncos drove 69 yards (nice) in 1:45, forced a three-and-out that included one incomplete pass, then drove 82 yards in 90 seconds to make it 34-27. Atlanta just needed one first down to ice the game, but botched that badly. On a 3rd-and-6 run, the Falcons were penalized for illegal formation. Denver declined that penalty, but it still stopped the clock. So instead of punting the ball back at 13 seconds, the Falcons had to punt at 50 seconds. Huge mistake.

Fortunately, the defense forced Denver into a pathetic four-and-out to end the game, but you can just see how this team (now 3-6 when it should be 6-3) is going to torture its fans with impressive starts against the Buccaneers and Saints before it all goes horribly wrong later this season.

New AFC Three Stooges: Texans, Bengals, Chargers

Unless you’re the Colts in Week 1, the 2020 Jaguars (1-7) have been like a Pandemic Relief Package granting wins to their opponents, especially those in dire situations. Houston completed the season sweep with a 27-25 win over the Jaguars, though rookie quarterback Jake Luton was more than respectable in his first start. He led a late touchdown drive (capped off by his 13-yard scramble score) but was unable to complete the two-point conversion to tie the game.

Houston is 2-0 against Jacksonville and 0-6 against the rest of the NFL this year. A couple other AFC teams are in similar spots. The Chargers are 2-6 after another close loss to the Raiders as their only wins have been against the Bengals and the Jaguars; the latter being rookie QB Justin Herbert’s lone win so far. The Jaguars were also the first NFL win for Joe Burrow and the Bengals.

That means out of six combined wins for the Texans, Chargers and Bengals this year, four of them are against Jacksonville, one against each other (LAC-CIN), and the Bengals also beat the Titans recently. Don’t forget the Texans took the Titans to overtime, their closest loss of the season so far, and even the Jaguars only had a 33-30 loss to the Titans in Week 2.

For the second time this season, Herbert saw his receiver drop a game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game after Donald Parham could not hang on in the end zone on a play that was initially ruled a touchdown. Mike Williams also did not come down with a ball on the previous snap. Against Carolina, the Chargers botched that incredible lateral (dropped by Austin Ekeler) that would have won that game too. Burrow can relate. In Week 1, A.J. Green caught a game-winning touchdown against the Chargers, but it was negated for offensive pass interference. Deshaun Watson can relate too. He thought he had a touchdown pass on fourth and goal down 31-23 against Minnesota, but it was overturned on replay to an incompletion and game over.

The futures may be bright for these teams given Burrow and Herbert’s rookie performances, and Watson getting a new coach in 2021, but for now they just cannot seem to find a win unless it’s coming against Jacksonville or each other.

NFL Week 8 Predictions: Roller Coaster Edition

Warning: the following contains more personal feelings than any sports talk. Read at your own risk, but remember I’ll always write anything I want here.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what I did on Friday, and it turned out to be a great decision. I went to bed late last night with an overwhelming sense of peace. But life also can be a roller coaster you have no control over. The problem with feeling so high is that things can come crashing down quickly. I think my own roller coaster has a lot of up-and-down dips (pretty normal, right?). But in the last few years there have been some unbelievable high points that were met almost immediately with a huge drop. As if the universe didn’t want me to enjoy my position in life for even a day or two before something terrible came up.

On Saturday, I wasn’t expecting to wake up to the news that the latest mass shooting was only a few miles away. Anyone that’s been a student at a Pittsburgh campus has likely been to Squirrel Hill before. It’s one of the most diverse areas around. My favorite restaurant as a youth (Gullifty’s) was located there before it was shut down in the last decade. I wasn’t there to witness it because of school, but Gullifty’s was the place that served my grandma a hamburger without a beef patty after she had cataract surgery, and she didn’t even notice until several bites in. “Mmm, this burger is good,” she allegedly said. Silly little stories like that are the things you remember about local areas. It sickens me to know that Squirrel Hill will now forever be synonymous with mass shootings.

When despicable acts like this happen, just getting out of bed is hard. Talking about football feels pointless. I’m interested in several of the games this weekend, but I currently lack the motivation to write about them.

I’m sure Sunday will be a better day than Saturday as we start the ascending process all over again. I just know the next time things feel really great, I’m going to dread the inevitable descent back to reality.

The great thing about actual roller coasters is we have a choice not to ride them. I’ve never liked them. Unfortunately, we’re strapped in for life’s roller coaster, and people who have some control over where things head do not have our best interests in mind. I screwed up by not voting in 2016. I won’t do that again next week. Other than that, I’m not sure what else I can do right now but try to enjoy the ride whenever possible.

And how the fvck is it already Week 8?

NFL Week 8 Predictions

I had Houston winning on TNF, but Miami (+7.5) covering. That was silly, because Adam Gase’s Dolphins tend to only win close games or lose big. Duh, Scott.

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We have a major Disappointment Bowl to start Sunday in London with the Eagles vs. Jaguars. Both teams are 3-4. Since 1990, the only 3-4 teams to still reach the Super Bowl were the 1995 Steelers and 2001 Patriots, so it’s not looking too hot for these teams. The Jaguars apparently had a few players arrested in London already. I think Blake Bortles will play better to keep the leash longer on his job, but I have the Eagles pulling this one out 24-20 after getting enough mistakes from Bortles.

My favorite bet this week is Cincinnati -4. It’s a 1 p.m. home game, coming off a big loss, against a bad defense with a turnover-prone QB. This is Marvin Lewis in his element: a game called by Chris Myers and Daryl Johnson that no one is watching. I also like a teaser on the side of this week’s big favorites (PIT, KC, NE, LAR). Finally, I think the Giants steal one at home against the Redskins, though it’s not like Washington is an easy team to figure out this year.

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NFL Week 5 Predictions: Matchup of the Year Edition

Before we get to my misery of picking a Falcons-Steelers Super Bowl, let’s look at the best matchup of the season in Arrowhead.

Jaguars at Chiefs (-3): I really like what the Rams are doing offensively, and the Bears have been stellar defensively with Khalil Mack. But for my money, there’s no better matchup right now than Kansas City’s offense against Jacksonville’s defense. I’m glad we get to see it early this season when both units are relatively healthy. Patrick Mahomes has been passing every test so far in keeping this offense ahead of the porous defense in KC. The Jaguars have been really sharp offensively in two of the last three games, but you’re starting to see some injuries pile up there at RB (Leonard Fournette) and LT (Cam Robinson on IR). I still think a mobile QB with some playmaking WRs can cause real problems for Bob Sutton’s defense, so it could be another game where Mahomes has to score 27+ to win.

That’s really hard against Jacksonville, but I think it can be done if Andy Reid continues to move Tyreek Hill around. Don’t fall into the pissing match with Jalen Ramsey, and just move him around the field to get matched up with other receivers. They also have a lot of flexibility with Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt finally got it going on the ground last week in Denver. There’s going to be a day where Mahomes is off and this team loses, but I think they can get to 5-0 for the second year in a row. This should be a good one.

Falcons at Steelers (-3): I feel like I’m paying for picking these teams to make the Super Bowl in Atlanta this year. Did you see this stat?

THESE TWO TEAMS ACCOUNT FOR 3 OF THE 4 LOSSES SINCE 1940. That’s the kind of nutty offensive shit that is the 2018 season, but I still can’t believe this keeps happening here. Maybe if the field is in poor shape after a rainy Pitt game on Saturday, then the under (58) might actually hit. Maybe these teams will actually decide to play defense. At least in Pittsburgh’s case, it’s not injuries like it is for Atlanta, which will also be without Grady Jarrett. For the Steelers to lose two home games already, it’s not so bad when you consider one was a Mahomes masterpiece, and Baltimore has given Pittsburgh problems at home in a way only New England surpasses this century. The Falcons are an unfamiliar opponent, but I think Dan Quinn’s defense can be picked apart by Ben Roethlisberger. They may even get the running game more involved this week after knowing they’ve gone away from it lately, and with all of Atlanta’s injuries right down the middle of the field (DT/LB/S), James Conner needs to get more involved. Just can’t afford to get behind 14-0 or 21-0 again.

Then again, maybe it’s another shootout. It was in 2002 and 2006 between these teams; games that went to OT (so did 2010’s low-scoring game with Roethlisberger suspended). Or maybe it’s more like the last meeting in 2014 (27-20) where the offenses were very efficient in a limited-drive game, but the Steelers had a big pick-6 and did just enough on defense.

Just enough is enough D for these teams. But the fact that one is likely to go into Week 6 with one win is depressing for my vision of 2018.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I nailed the TNF game, because let’s face it, Colts-Patriots hasn’t changed in two decades. The Indianapolis QB has the weight of the world on his shoulders with the weaker team and coach, and things just come so easier for the other guy. At least the Manning-era games were more dramatic.

2018Wk5

I’m digging the Steelers to win at home, and I like a teaser this week with three of the 6-point favorites (TEN, CIN, NO) and also SEA (+13.5). I also like the Cardinals to win their first game.

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2017 NFL Conference Championship Predictions

Going back to September’s preview, this 2017 season was my pessimistic “Eat Arby’s” and “Patriots vs. the NFL” season. Here we are for Championship Sunday and…it’s the Patriots again, and the Three Stooges/Sacrificial Lambs.

OK, that’s not fair to some really good defensive teams, and we should respect that Case Keenum had a career year for the Vikings, and that the Eagles essentially earned a bye before the Carson Wentz injury. Blake Bortles also can’t help that he’s Blake Bortles, but I still think this is one of the weaker simulations that the 2017 season could have spit out for us. Hopefully the games will actually be good, and I think at least one of them will be.

Jaguars at Patriots

You might say I saw this one coming a few months ago.

I’m not going to actually predict 20-9 as the final, but I think we have our story for how this one will be perceived. Tom Brady has a right hand injury. It was feared to be serious at one point, but now it’s sounding more like a cut that caused him to miss Thursday’s practice (he practiced Friday), and maybe he’ll wear a glove. A big deal? Doubtful, because we’re talking about a cut rather than some actual ligament damage or something that would impact his strength. It basically comes down to pain tolerance, and Brady often gets irritated on the field no matter how healthy he is. I’m chalking this up as a non-story, but that won’t stop Jim Nantz and Tony Romo from giving every throw and close-up replay the Zapruder analysis.

This also offers Brady a “he gutted it out against the No. 1 defense with a bad hand” storyline. Great. I will stick to my prediction that Brady won’t have a great game against this defense, which plays a Seattle style of defense and can rush the passer and cover without needing to blitz. I think Brady has seen several better defenses than this one, including the 2015 Broncos and 2009 Jets, but it’s a pretty talented unit.

Brady generally doesn’t impress in the AFC Championship Game, unless he’s playing the Steelers. I definitely like the under in this one, because I think the Jacksonville offense is going to struggle to score. This isn’t Pittsburgh. The Patriots actually figured out how to improve on defense this season after a bad four-week start. They’ve done everything they could to change the perception of how the season started, but those perceptions are hard to shake. This defense has caught some lucky breaks with dropped or overturned touchdowns, missed field goals, and the schedule easing up, but Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have figured out how to keep the score (and yards even) down without the services of Dont’a Hightower. If you’re going to blame the Steelers’ defensive collapse on Ryan Shazier’s injury, then how do you explain the Patriots doing what they’ve done without Hightower? It’s just better coaching, simple as that.

Jacksonville’s running game isn’t efficient. Leonard Fournette is not that big of a difference maker as some think, and I expect the Patriots to contain him on the ground while taking away the play-action options for Bortles and forcing him into third-and-long situations. Bortles should try to scramble in this one as much as he can, but I just don’t think he has the receiving weapons to make plays against this defense that does still allow a good number of successful plays in some weeks. You absolutely have to finish drives for touchdowns instead of field goals and that’s really hard to do in Foxboro.

I think Bortles will flop in the biggest game of his career and those mistakes (setting up short fields) will be capitalized on by Brady and the offense. I’d be alarmed with how Jacksonville’s defense has given up a lot of big plays down the stretch of the season. They also haven’t played NE yet, and the Patriots are 14-0 in the playoffs since 2001 against new opponents. Jalen Ramsey might cover Gronkowski, but that’s not something the Jaguars are used to doing. I’d do it though, putting my best player on their best. Gronk is the player who can make some jaw-dropping catches like the Steelers did last week in their effort to hang 42 points on this defense. The 49ers also scored a lot on the Jags with Jimmy Garoppolo, but there was a return touchdown and some short fields involved in that output. Still, the Patriots can do the same thing, and they can do it by using their running backs and Gronk. If Brady tries to win this game by going bombs away to Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, then I like the Jaguars in an upset, but we know the Patriots understand matchups too well for that to happen. It will be getting rid of the ball quickly and this is probably the deepest backfield in the NFL.

For Jacksonville to pull off the upset, it needs to control the game early with a turnover or two, don’t fall behind, and make sure Brady is getting hit repeatedly. Doug Marrone may even need to get brave with a big fourth down or fake punt or surprise onside kick. It’s all just asking too much from this team if you ask me. At least when the 2010 Jets won in New England with Mark Sanchez, they had the experience of the 2009 AFC Championship Game and already beat the Patriots earlier that year. When the 2012 Ravens won in New England, that completed a season sweep and we know they should have won the 2011 AFC Championship Game too (Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff had other plans). This is all still new for Jacksonville, who matched up well with Pittsburgh this year, but we’re talking about the Patriots here. That’s going from checkers to chess.

Final: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16

Vikings at Eagles

I previewed this game at FO, so definitely check that out for the stats and my thoughts. Basically, I think it comes down to which unlikely QB1 screws things up the most. I don’t think there’s enough of an advantage with special teams or the running games for it to be about that. It’s going to be about whether Nick Foles or Case Keenum throws a pick parade or takes some dreadful sacks or just has that one big giveaway in the fourth quarter that so often highlights a team’s run to the Super Bowl. I also think the Eagles’ front seven can be a tough matchup for Minnesota’s OL, so Keenum especially can’t panic and throw a terrible pick like he did last week at home.

While I lean towards Minnesota having the better team, I do think home-field advantage matters here. Not just playing outdoors with the rowdy crowd, but the Vikings also had a huge emotional win against the Saints thanks to the miracle play by Stefon Diggs. They need to come off of that with a good start on the road instead of playing flat. This should be low scoring with two strong defenses, but look for the turnover battle to be extra decisive.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come down to a kicker, but I could definitely see that too.

Final: Vikings 20, Eagles 17