NFL 2020 Divisional Round Saturday Previews

Even after the questionable changes to wild card weekend, the divisional round is still my favorite week of the whole NFL season. The games look really good on paper this week and we should get a dramatic finish or two after not having a single second-half lead change in last week’s six playoff games.

Again, I am breaking my previews in half, starting with the two Saturday games before I post Sunday’s games tomorrow. I have already posted my previews (links below) for Rams-Packers and Ravens-Bills on Sportsbook Review, so check those out first, but I am providing more content and my final score prediction below.

Rams at Packers (-6.5)

See my full preview for this game at SBR.

Defense wins championships, right? When Aaron Rodgers reached his only Super Bowl, he had his best Green Bay defense in 2010. That unit delivered in the playoffs with a game-ending interception off Michael Vick, a game-changing pick-six off Matt Ryan, a game-sealing pick-six off Caleb Hanie, and more crucial takeaways and a final defensive stop against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

The 2020 Rams have scored a defensive touchdown in five of their last seven games, including a pick-six off Russell Wilson in Saturday’s 30-20 wild card win. Interesting.

However, you still have to score points on offense to win playoff games. The Rams have scored more than 23 offensive points in only one of their last seven games. That’s not going to get the job done against the NFL’s highest-scoring team, who has the fewest turnovers (11) in the league.

Does anyone remember the 1993 Giants? Dan Reeves took his schtick to New York and got a Pro Bowl season out of a 38-year-old Phil Simms, sparing us one more year before the bad commentary to come. That team won with the No. 1 defense. In fact, they only had one game all season where they allowed more than 20 points. But while they won a wild card game 17-10, they had to travel to San Francisco in the divisional round and take on the No. 1 offense and Steve Young. Guess what happened? (Or don’t.) The 49ers won 44-3. The great defense, saddled by an inept offense that put them in some bad field position, allowed 44 points on the first 10 drives.

No one remembers this game, but it is one of the eight playoff games in the earlier rounds (non-Super Bowl) since the merger where the No. 1 scoring offense faced the No. 1 scoring defense. The defense is 3-5 in those games. One of those defensive wins was the 2014 Seahawks completing the season sweep of Rodgers’ Packers in the NFC Championship Game, but even that took an insane comeback from the offense with a crucial onside kick recovery by the special teams just to get to overtime.

While people should be skeptical of how Rodgers will perform against another stout NFC West defense, I’m more concerned with the Rams shitting their pants offensively so that Rodgers doesn’t need to score many points to win this game at home in weather that gives Jared Goff night terrors when he’s healthy, let alone nursing his thumb boo-boo.

Simply put, this is a great offense/suspect defense hosting a shoddy offense/great defense. While NFL history is filled with examples of great defenses shutting down great offenses, those games are usually played in the championship round like the two recent Denver Super Bowls where the 2013 offense lost to Seattle, but the 2015 defense beat Carolina.

I only picked Denver as an example because the games are recent, but it is interesting to point out how the Broncos turned so quickly from an offensive team to a defensive team. Does that sound like anyone else we know? Sean McVay’s 2018 Rams were in the Super Bowl after scoring 527 points. They had three points in that last game, dropped out of the top 10 offenses in 2019, and this season has seen the Rams fall to 25th in points per drive while boasting the best defense led by the best defensive player, Aaron Donald.

Remember how the Broncos had a great pass rusher like Von Miller but the results weren’t there defensively until 2015 when they added more talent? Now the Rams have All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey for his first full season with the team and look where they are again. Can this be a Denver-like turnaround for the Rams where they win a championship with a weak offense and great defense? The 2015 Broncos ranked 25th in offensive points per drive too.

Well, I think the run ends this week, but I can at least understand how the Rams could pull off this upset. Run the ball great with Cam Akers, Goff protects the ball and makes his easy play-action throws, and the defense kicks ass. There is a formula there, and at least a defense like the Rams holding down the Packers would make sense unlike the mediocre 2019 Titans shutting down Baltimore’s insane offense a year ago.

NFL history is loaded with playoff burnouts from its highest scoring teams. The 12 highest-scoring teams in NFL history have won zero championships. Only the 2011 Saints (32) and 2018 Chiefs (31) scored 30 points in their playoff loss.

Fortunately, the Packers are the 20th highest-scoring team at 509 points, or one behind the 2009 Saints, the only No. 1 scoring offense to win a Super Bowl since 2000. But you can see only five of the 24 teams in the 500-point club won a championship, and that includes the 1961 Oilers winning the AFL Championship Game by a score of 10-3. Even the 1999 Rams, the last team with a player (Kurt Warner) to win MVP and Super Bowl in the same season, needed an 11-6 win over Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game.

You usually need your defense to show up at some point in the playoffs, but this is not the matchup where I am concerned with Green Bay’s so-so unit costing them the season.

Green Bay’s best unit, the offense, just cannot feed into the upset chances by gifting the Rams turnovers (field position) in a way they did against the Buccaneers and Colts this year. The Packers had six of their 11 turnovers this season in those two losses. On the bright side for the Rams, their offense is coming off its first game this season without a giveaway.

While left tackle David Bakhtiari is out, the Rams get their best pressure from the interior with Donald, who has torn rib cartilage, which you would think makes it humanly impossible for him to be 100% on Saturday. That is big for the Packers, but it is why it would be coaching malpractice if the Rams do not deploy their other huge weapon in this matchup.

This is much easier to say from behind a keyboard, but Jalen Ramsey, you have to want all the smoke from Davante Adams this week. It might lead to you getting smoked for a big play, but just limit it to one early drive. If Ramsey can shadow Adams and successfully slow him down, it should make things so much easier on the Rams to win this game. The Rams have allowed three 100-yard receivers, good for second fewest in 2020.

The Rams defended the run very well this year. They were the only defense in either of the last two seasons to allow fewer than 140 rushing yards in all 16 games. I’m putting Ramsey on Adams and taking my chances with Robert Tonyan (high catch rate but hasn’t topped 40 yards since Week 12) and Marques Valdes-Scantling (big plays, big mistakes) beating me.

I know all the narratives and cliches about pass-happy offensive teams going up against stout defenses in the playoffs. I know the Packers have lost multiple home playoff games, including 2011 when they last were the No. 1 seed, and still do not handle teams that punch them in the mouth well. I just cannot find the faith in Goff to channel his inner Eli Manning and get this road win. Despite starting a Super Bowl already, Goff has been very underwhelming in his playoff games. At least in 2011 Manning had a track record (Super Bowl MVP) and was having his best season.

Not to mention the Rams failed to beat the 0-13 Jets…

Final: Packers 24, Rams 16

Ravens at Bills (-2.5)

See my full preview for this game at SBR.

I had so much to say about this game already that it turned out to be my first 2,000-word preview on SBR. The potential for an instant classic feels high with this one as the AFC finally gets some new blood in this round. It’s just too bad the stadium cannot be full. I think the Ravens already played in the regular season Game of the Year when they won 47-42 in Cleveland.

Notice that the Bills made my table above for the 500-point club a year after the Ravens did it behind Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. Josh Allen won’t win MVP this season but the fact that he was in the conversation says so much about how far he has come. And he’ll probably still get a vote before Russell Wilson does.

Both offenses do great things, and while I like Buffalo’s style better and find it more sustainable for the long term, I have to admit that the Ravens are better designed to go far this postseason. In this particular matchup, if there’s snow, it’s even more pronounced for me despite Jackson’s candid lack of experience playing in such weather.

Thanks to Jackson, Baltimore is arguably the most consistent rushing offense in NFL history. The Ravens have only been held under 110 rushing yards once in his 40 career starts, though I must point out that was his first playoff game (90 yards vs. 2018 Chargers) and that the 2019 Bills held the Ravens to a season-low 118 rushing yards (121 excluding those pesky kneeldowns). But the Buffalo defense is not as good this year and has had five games (two losses and three wins by a field goal each) that would make me incredibly nervous that the Ravens are going to run wild Saturday night. Baltimore has rushed for at least 230 yards in five of the last six games since Jackson returned from COVID, which were all wins of course. He’s in full YOLO mode, and by the Pro Football Reference EPA model, the Ravens offense had its five best games this season in Weeks 13-17 after Jackson returned from his COVID battle.

The Ravens are not going to do something stupid and come out throwing a ton of passes. They’ll do what they do best, and they know that is running the ball, often with Jackson taking it himself by design or like his brilliant 48-yard touchdown scramble on Sunday in Tennessee.

Jackson is 26-1 when he attempts fewer than 28 passes, and that one loss (2018 at Kansas City) saw Robert Griffin III finish the final drive in overtime. He keeps his attempts low and the turnovers low. Jackson’s four-turnover meltdown against the Steelers was the only time this season the Ravens had multiple turnovers with him at quarterback. When they had their second pick against Washington, that was with RG3 in the game late. Jackson usually protects the ball well and he’ll have to here as the Bills were good with 26 takeaways (but none against the Colts in the wild card).

Also, when they do throw, they have tight end Mark Andrews or wide receiver Marquise Brown. It’s usually one or the other who goes off, and on Sunday, it was Brown with a season-high 109 yards on seven catches. Interesting to note that Brown had 126 yards (his most since his NFL debut game) against the Titans in the 2019 playoffs and 128 scrimmage yards (his most this year) on Sunday. Maybe he just likes playing the Titans, but he better hope history doesn’t repeat itself with the Bills. Last year, Buffalo held Brown to -3 yards on 3 catches, the worst statistical game of his career. I find that unlikely to repeat itself despite the Bills still having Tre’Davious White at corner, but maybe this is an Andrews week after the way the Colts got some big plays to tight ends in Buffalo last week.

So we know the Ravens are running out the gate. When it comes the Bills, we are looking at the most blitzed quarterback this season against the most blitz-happy defense in football. Allen was blitzed a career-high 31 times last year when he played the Ravens and he was terrible against it. He’s gotten a lot of experience with seeing it this year and has managed very well. Still, I think the Ravens will continue to do it and rely on their excellent secondary to cover these wide receivers, who looked very good on Saturday against the Colts.

But the weather was quite nice for January in Buffalo on Saturday, and if things are indeed freezing and/or snowy in this one, then a precision passing game and one-dimensional offense that barely hands the ball off to running backs just may not work that great this time around. Does Gabriel Davis make those sideline toe-drag catches by a matters of centimeters in harsher conditions? Probably not. Some (not me) don’t even think he caught them last week, but the 50/50 plays largely went Buffalo’s way in a tough game where they had horrible field position in the first half and were a season-worst 2/9 on third down after leading all offenses in conversion rate this regular season.

If you came here to read both previews and already read my take in LAR-GB on great offense vs. great defense in the playoffs, then you might expect one of these 500-point club members is likely to disappoint this weekend.

If it happens, then I think it will be Buffalo just because the Ravens have the offense and dynamic quarterback that can score a lot of points, unlike the Rams. Allen is going to have to be special and handle the blitz well. Baltimore has allowed a league-low two 100-yard receivers this year, and none of the top 100 performances in receiving yards have come against the Ravens. Even though Corey Davis got them for over 100 in Week 11, he had no catches on Sunday. This defense just held the Titans to a season-low 13 points and we know that offense was also one of the best all year.

Much like the Rams have to contain Davante Adams, the Ravens need to contain Stefon Diggs. You can live with Cole Beasley making the short catches (just not too many on third down), you don’t expect Davis to be as great this week, but you cannot get roasted by Diggs, who has been on a tear for a team that would be on an 11-game winning streak had it not been for a Hail Mary in Arizona.

Again, this is probably the first time I have ever been excited to watch a Ravens-Bills game, but that is what happens when you finally have great offenses and exciting quarterbacks to watch. We have been waiting a long time to see that from Baltimore and Buffalo, and maybe this will be the first of multiple playoff meetings to come.

Final: Ravens 27, Bills 24

I’ll be back tomorrow to put the Chiefs on upset alert and explain why I think the Buccaneers are a paper tiger.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

You know it was a strange NFL Sunday when the Jets started a win streak, the Chargers pulled off their third game-winning drive in a row, and the Bengals won a 37-31 shootout with Brandon Allen throwing for 371 yards. That means Zac Taylor is no longer 0-24-1 when trailing after the 12:00 mark of the third quarter. He is 1-24-1 now. Big baller who I still couldn’t identify to save my life.

Two of the biggest games on paper were Rams-Seahawks and Titans-Packers, but neither could live up to the comeback by the Steelers against the Colts. The Steelers are now 9-2 against Indianapolis since 2002, and this very well might be the most painful of those losses for Colts fans since the 2005 AFC divisional round loss. The Colts (10-5) blew a 17-point lead in the second half and are in danger of missing the playoffs now.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Steelers: This (Eventually) Looked Like the 10-0 Start

The spread saw this as a tight game, but for nearly three quarters, this was all Indianapolis. The Steelers came out in the most predictable way possible with three quick slant passes out of shotgun, all with a chance to be caught, and none of them actually hauled in or even looking like potential first downs. Throw in 4 rushing yards on 7 carries at halftime and the offense still looked to be stuck in pathetic mode from the last few weeks.

The defense also seemed to be mailing it in with 24 points allowed on the first seven drives. Save for a strip-sack that set up a short field, the defense was getting gashed on the ground by Jonathan Taylor and Philip Rivers found some deep-ball success. Despite not having both offensive tackles available, the Colts looked to be a well-oiled machine on their way to the playoffs after a big win.

In the third quarter, Chase Claypool dropped a touchdown on third down and the Steelers went for it at the 2-yard line on fourth down. The pass was knocked away and Pittsburgh still trailed 24-7 with 5:01 left in the third.

That seemed like the end for hope of any miraculous comeback, but the Steelers were able to force a three-and-out and got good field position at the Indy 39. Ben Roethlisberger finally uncorked a good deep ball on the first play and Diontae Johnson came down with it for a 39-yard touchdown. That was a good enough spark because the defense forced another three-and-out and the offense was able to string together three straight touchdown drives to take a 28-24 lead. Roethlisberger finally looked like he found his groove again from earlier in the season when the Steelers were undefeated and scored 24+ points every week. He was able to hit on throws more than 10 yards down the field and that opened up some of the shorter stuff to not get tackled immediately for a change. JuJu Smith-Schuster, after a tumultuous week, also stepped up big with his finest game of the season. He caught a 25-yard game-winning touchdown with 7:38 left.

You know no one sees more comeback attempts fail than Philip Rivers, and sure enough he got hit a little as he threw for an interception. Instead of trying to get the running game going, Roethlisberger continued to throw short passes with 6:05 left, and they actually all worked until the last one brought up a 4th-and-1. Pittsburgh punted and trusted the defense to stop Rivers from driving 85 yards in the final 2:18.

It took a while, but eventually the Steelers got the fourth-and-ballgame stop after Rivers’ pass was just a tad off for Zac Pascal with 1:14 left. The Steelers pulled off their first comeback win of 17 points in the second half since the 2002 AFC Wild Card win over Cleveland. Roethlisberger finished with 349 yards, 3 TD, and zero turnovers, or the kind of stat line he was having earlier this season when the team looked capable of doing something big in the playoffs.

The Steelers finished with 14 carries for 20 yards, so this was all about the passing game again on offense. The 2020 Steelers are the first team in NFL history to win four games in a season without rushing for 50 yards. This is also a rare win against a good team without being able to run for 25 yards:

The win secured the AFC North, and Pittsburgh can breathe easy after showing a strong effort in the second half of this one. In fact, the Steelers should probably rest the key players in Week 17 since it has been a long season with multiple games moved around and not a traditional bye week for the team.

For the Colts, it could be a fatal loss. Does it happen if the Colts had their tackles? Maybe not, but Rivers had time early to make plays before succumbing to five sacks on the day. He was not sacked on the final drive either but failed to get the ball deep down the field.

Truth be told, the Colts blew their most winnable game of the season in Week 1 to the Jaguars, a team that has not won since. That’s the team the Colts close with looking for their 11th win, but this team did not come through in so many important games this season, losing the rematch with the Titans and losing all three games to the good AFC North teams. Now the Colts will hope the Texans do them another solid and beat the Titans next week.

But as for the Steelers, this formula of a defense with a pass rush and an offense that can string together touchdown drives could still be effective for them in the playoffs. Again, the Chiefs are not blowing anyone out. If they got after Mahomes the way they have other quarterbacks, and if Roethlisberger is accurate, that is a game they could win. Or they could go one-and-done to anyone who gets in this stacked AFC tournament.

I just think it is foolish to write this team off completely, and Sunday proved they still know what it takes to win the tough games. The Steelers are now 5-1 against teams with a winning record this season. Only Kansas City (5-0) has a better record.

The Patrick Mahomes Memoirs, Chapter 51: Week 16 vs. Falcons

The time is 4:44 A.M. This game, a 17-14 win by the Chiefs over Atlanta, ended over 12 hours ago. I am only now watching for the first time the highlights from the final drive (the dropped interception and the game-winning touchdown pass). Between being dialed in to the end of Colts-Steelers and checking my dozens of parlays before SNF, I just never saw the highlights until now.

Yeah, Mahomes won that game with some Brady Bullshit, as I have called it for 17 years. First of all, it was the first scoreless opening quarter (both teams) of the Mahomes era. It was the longest a Chiefs game had gone scoreless (mid-2Q) since a December 2015 game against San Diego. To start a 7-7 tied fourth quarter, he was off target on a pass to Sammy Watkins who was in an awkward position, and that was nearly intercepted. Harrison Butker saved the drive with a 53-yard field goal for KC’s first lead of the day (STOP THE COUNT!). The Falcons fumbled in the red zone, another gift. The Chiefs had a weird 3rd-and-4 run call that led to a punt. After the Falcons took a 14-10 lead, Mahomes was delivering on a drive late as you’d expect. He hit some big plays to Travis Kelce on the day. But with 2:07 left, he underthrew Tyreek Hill in the end zone and A.J. Terrell on the undercut had a great shot at an interception. He dropped it. Raheem Morris wasted a challenge/timeout on it. Terrell dropped it.

Now was it game over if he caught it? At 2:01, the Chiefs had four clock stoppages, so no, it definitely wasn’t unlike some other QBs I can think of who get away with these plays. Would it have made the game much harder for the Chiefs to win? Most definitely. But Mahomes caught this break and he immediately made up for it with a 25-yard touchdown pas to Demarcus Robinson. Then Younghoe Koo put an eyesore on his great season by missing a 39-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime with 9 seconds left. Atlanta lost 17-14.

Yes, that is some Brady/Patriots Bullshit. Win a low-scoring game after getting a long FG, getting a red zone fumble on defense, get a go-ahead TD pass after a dropped INT in the end zone, and watch the opponent choke on a field goal for OT. Yes, the true definition of the Patriot Way.

Now the idea (on Twitter) that I wouldn’t bring any of this up is bullshit. I always keep it real with my tweets and writing. I call it like I see it, except I didn’t see this drive until more than 12 hours after the game ended. I heard about it, but I can’t always trust everything I hear. If you do that, you might believe some made up stats, but more about that later. I’m not going to apologize for watching the exciting Colts-Steelers finish instead. This was the first time I didn’t watch Mahomes play a full live game since Week 8 (Jets). It wasn’t my top priority on Sunday.

How did the Falcons fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs?

Each team only had nine drives, which is good for the underdog. The Falcons just did not score enough, though 20-23 in overtime may have done the trick. Can’t lose that fumble and miss that FG though. The Chiefs did not allow a sack or fumble in this game and limited their penalty damage. Andy Reid called that weird 3rd-and-4 run, but it was the trick play with Sammy Watkins trying to throw a deep pass to Mahomes on 4th-and-2 that backfired the most. Just call a normal play there, please. Then Mahomes threw a red-zone pick that was as ugly as any he’s ever thrown. Not sure why he forced that. Pick either one of those two plays and there is your main culprit for why the Chiefs didn’t score a more normal 24 points and were held under 22 for only the second time in Mahomes’ career.

I’ve been predicting for weeks about Mahomes having the worst game of his career and Aaron Rodgers taking over the MVP lead. That’s what happened on Sunday. Was it a bad Mahomes game? Weighing the dropped pick heavily, yes it was. Was it a bad game by an NFL QB? That’s harder to answer. He’s had lower passer ratings (79.5) and QBR (68.2; ranked 12th for Week 16) before in his career. He still had 299 yards, no sacks, two touchdown passes, and a 4QC/GWD. If this is his bad game, then he still makes bad look decent.

Now we probably won’t see him until the playoffs with the Chiefs wrapping up the No. 1 seed and first-round bye. So goodbye to a second 40 touchdown pass/5,000-yard season, and a chance to become the first QB in NFL history to win 18 games and a championship in the same season. That’s disappointing from a history standpoint, but I think that’s what Reid will do. He’s rested starters in Week 17 multiple times in his career.

The only other thing I want to address here is the use of a bogus statistic and the absurdity of how that can spread in this social media age. People are passing around this article on The Big Lead that talks about Mahomes setting an NFL record for dropped interceptions in a season with 16 this year, and apparently that doesn’t include two (Terrell is obviously one) in this Atlanta game.

1. How do you get a record for something that is an unofficial statistic, open to extreme subjectiveness, and has a very limited window of data that will never encapsulate anywhere near all of NFL history?

2. How do you verify such a record when the only proof is a tweet from someone named “El Capitan” on Twitter with the username @DomGonzo12? There’s no supporting link, list, video, or pictures of the 16 plays. There’s nothing but the words of some random Twitter user with barely 1,000 followers.

3. Guess what? I had this user blocked before this weekend. He’s a Patriots fan/douchebag who carries the water for Tom Brady and will find any way he can to prop up his golden boy and put down other quarterbacks.

I think The Big Lead should delete the story and raise their journalistic standards. This is pathetic.

I brought up dropped picks for Mahomes a month ago. I think he had about six at the time.

Leave it up to Green Bay fans to eat up this fake statistic and claim that Mahomes has 16 (or now 18) dropped interceptions, therefore he has no business being MVP. I think someone should try proving it first. After all, the burden of proof comes on the person making the claim. Yet here we are in the Trumpian era of where you can say any bullshit and get enough of a cult following to believe you.

All I know is this won’t be the first or last time the Falcons drop a crucial interception against a future HOF QB. If Tom Brady can get away with it in a Super Bowl in a bigger spot, then Mahomes can get away with one in Week 16.

If Mahomes is going to average one bad game every 51 games, then he’s still well on track to be the GOAT. But for one Sunday afternoon, he got to experience what Brady Bullshit looks like.

Browns Got the Rona

I am not 100% clear on what all the playoff scenarios are now or if teams like the Steelers (Cleveland’s final opponent) or Bills will even bother to play starters in Week 17. All I know is the Browns missed a golden opportunity for an 11th win and it wasn’t entirely their fault. On Saturday, the team found out it would be missing its top four wide receivers (not including the old loss of Odell Beckham Jr.) for a game against the Jets because they were close contacts to a positive COVID test. That is a tough blow a day before a game. I really hope this doesn’t happen to someone in the playoffs, but if it does, you know it’ll probably benefit Tampa Bay.

Anyway, Baker Mayfield was in a tough spot here and to make matters worse, the vaunted rushing attack only produced 15 carries for 39 yards. The Jets again had a 17-point lead for the second week in a row before holding off a comeback attempt by the Browns. Mayfield fumbled twice in the final minutes, including a quarterback sneak on fourth down in the red zone with 1:18 left.

It was an unfortunate loss for the Browns, but the season isn’t over yet. I guess the Colts are in worse shape than the Browns since they lost to them head-to-head, but we’ll see if Cleveland can rebound with a win over a Pittsburgh team that should really be resting on Sunday.

NFC East: Root for the Worst Outcome

So it has come to this: Washington vs. Philadelphia on SNF in the final game of the 2020 regular season. Maybe that’s a fitting way to end the pandemic regular season with a game to decide the worst division since the merger.

If you want to see a 6-10 division winner, you have to root for the Giants to beat the Cowboys and the Eagles to beat Washington. It’s possible, especially if Alex Smith doesn’t return for Washington. Dwayne Haskins is terrible and should be gone already there. Washington had no offense to speak of in a 20-13 loss to Carolina until Taylor Heinicke replaced Haskins for a mild comeback attempt.

The Cowboys had plenty of offense on Sunday with Andy Dalton posting a huge stat line on the Eagles defense once Fletcher Cox went down. Jalen Hurts was hot early but struggled late. The Eagles couldn’t get any closer than a 13-point deficit in the final quarter and a half, ending a streak of 23 straight games that were within one score in the fourth quarter.

Is Dallas the favorite again? Hard to say, but it is the team with the best offense to do damage in the playoffs. It just has the worst defense out of the three. Hey, maybe they could throw all three rosters together to create the best team they could? It’s bad enough we have to give them a home playoff game, let’s at least make it exciting.

Alas, it is still likely that the worst division winner since the merger will start the playoffs with Tampa Bay and Tom Brady. How does he do it, folks?

Ryan Tannehill Proves ESPN’s QBR Is Broken

The hyped Sunday night game between the two highest-scoring teams, Titans and Packers, was a letdown. Sure, there was snow, but that only seemed to bother Tennessee, which fell behind 19-0 early before making a minor game of it until the Titans were asleep at the wheel in the third quarter and failed to challenge a 59-yard run by Aaron Jones where he stepped out of bounds early.

Green Bay won 40-14, holding the Titans to their lowest point total since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback last year. But fear not, in the loss, Tannehill still produced an 85.2 QBR at ESPN, the sixth-highest mark in Week 16.

Wait, what? How is that possible when Tannehill completed 11-of-24 passes for 121 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 40.5 PR, and took two sacks?

Ah, but in the third quarter, on a 3rd-and-1, Tannehill took off on a designed run for a 45-yard touchdown. It was a really nice play where he got to show off his mobility, but it wasn’t exactly the toughest play he’s ever made before.

I joke that ESPN’s QBR loves quarterback runs to an insane degree, but this game is proof of that. For Tannehill to finish with an 85.2 on the strength of that play is absurd. It’s just one drive. What about all the other failed plays and turnovers and sacks?

Things have been screwy for a couple of years with QBR once you started noticing that David Garrard’s 2007 season and Mitchell Trubisky’s 2018 season ranked surprisingly high. What’s the common link? Both quarterbacks scrambled a lot. Find a game that looks unusually high and chances are the quarterback did a big run on third down in it. QBR just eats that up and it clearly needs to be adjusted.

Sunday’s game was closer to Tannehill’s worst game with the Titans instead of his 8th best according to QBR. See, this is why we have to still question statistics and the processes that go into them. Even ones posted on a reputable website instead of a random Patriots fan’s Twitter timeline.

NFC West: In the End, Seattle Was the Best

So much for the NFC West getting four playoff teams or everyone finishing at least 8-8. The title was decided on Sunday in a lackluster game between the Seahawks and Rams, won 20-9 by Seattle. It was another good defensive showing for Seattle, which has not allowed more than 21 points in six straight games.

Jared Goff again struggled to move the offense and reportedly has a broken thumb now. This could mean that the Rams will turn to 2018 undrafted QB John Wolford out of Wake Forest for their critical Week 17 game against Arizona.

The timing is bad, but was Wolford really the best backup option the Rams could secure for this season? At this point, you have to invest in someone who either has starting experience as a veteran or is someone you drafted with what you think is real potential. For the latter, think 2012 Kirk Cousins in Washington or even more crudely Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia this year.

The fact is a contender needs a decent backup quarterback in case things go bad for a short stretch and you have to use one to stay afloat. The Saints would have been screwed this year if they didn’t have Taysom Hill (and Jameis Winston) to plug in for a month. Maybe Wolford can surprise people and Sean McVay can regain some of that “kid genius” clout, but after watching this team lose to the Jets and fail to get in the end zone against Seattle in their most important game this season, I’m not counting on McVay to accomplish anything the rest of the way here.

While the Rams take “Stars and Scrubs” to the extreme in their roster approach, they have to wrestle with the fact that they’re paying Goff to be a star when too often he looks like a scrub in this system. Things should be better than this in Year 4 together. Now Goff has the first injury issue of his career and it could not come at a worse time.

NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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

Jaguars at Browns

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

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

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

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

Rams at Vikings

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

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

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

Patriots vs. Raiders

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

Eagles at Cowboys

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

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

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

2017 Week 11 Predictions

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

2017Wk11

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