NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

After observing an odd day of NFL action and listening to David Bowie, on the spur of the moment I came up with an idea that might become a weekly column for me to share unique research and thoughts from that day’s games.

Welcome to NFL Stat Oddity, where just like Star Wars we begin with Episode IV of a story already long in progress.

2020: Defense Does Not Exist

Heading into the Monday night double-header, NFL games in Week 4 have averaged 54.2 combined points. If this average holds, it would be the NFL’s highest single week in the regular season since at least 2001.

In Week 14 of the 2013 season, teams averaged 53.7 combined points, including a trio of memorable snow games (Vikings-Ravens, Steelers-Dolphins, and Lions-Eagles). The Patriots also pulled off a late 12-point comeback (after an onside kick) to beat the Browns 27-26, and the Broncos waxed the Titans 51-28. The week ended with the peak of the Marc Trestman era in Chicago as the Bears defeated Dallas 45-28 with Josh McCown having himself a day on Monday Night Football.

With the Chiefs and Packers still set to host the Patriots and Falcons, this looks like a pretty safe bet to hold up the average in what is trending to be the highest-scoring season in NFL history with passing numbers once again exploding. After a most unusual offseason and no preseason games, pass defenses have been very slow out the gates to keep up with the offenses.

Dak Prescott/Mike McCarthy and Tony Romo/Jason Garrett: The Spider-Man Meme

The biggest spectacle on Sunday was in Dallas where the Browns ripped off 34 straight points to take a commanding 41-14 lead before Dak Prescott nearly got a crack at leading the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.

It was only the fifth game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 38 points while gaining at least 500 yards. The Cowboys and Browns have both been there before.

Cleveland defeated the Bengals 51-45 in 2007 in what has been the best offensive game for the 2.0 Browns since returning in 1999, though Sunday gives it some competition at least. Cleveland’s 307 rushing yards were the most ever allowed by Dallas. The Cowboys lost 51-48 to Peyton Manning’s Broncos in 2013 in a game I consider the ultimate Tony Romo experience. He passed for 506 yards, but threw a late interception that set up Denver’s game-winning field goal.

In those five shootouts of 38 points/500 yards, the home team was 3-2 with Dallas suffering both losses. Much like Romo against Denver, Dak Prescott passed for just over 500 yards before ending his day with an interception. Amari Cooper admitted to not seeing the route through well enough, but the game already felt decided by that point. How many improbable onside kick recoveries can one team get in a month anyway? Still, it’s a loss that puts Dallas at 1-3 and looks pretty similar to a lot of the high-scoring losses the Cowboys had in the Romo/Garrett era.

Prescott passed for 502 yards, the 24th 500-yard game in NFL history (including playoffs). After passing for 450 yards against Atlanta and 472 yards against Seattle in the previous two weeks, Prescott has stamped his name in several places in the record books. First, his 1,424 passing yards are the most in any three-game span in NFL history. He’s the first quarterback to pass for 450 yards in three straight games. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the only other quarterback to ever hit 400 yards in three straight games, and he didn’t even surpass 420 in any of those games in 2018 with Tampa Bay. Prescott’s 1,657 passing yards in 2020 are also the most ever through the first four games of a season in NFL history.

Yet the Cowboys are 1-3 and frankly should be 0-4 if Atlanta would just recover that onside kick. It’s been a frustrating season for Prescott, my preseason MVP pick, but there’s always a chance when you play in the NFC East, a division currently led by the Eagles with a 1-2-1 record. Now if only the defense would show up for a game. Had Prescott been able to get the ball back one more time after cutting the score to 41-38 with 3:42 left, we may have seen the largest fourth-quarter comeback (27 points) in NFL history. But Odell Beckham Jr. avoided a loss in the backfield and rushed 50 yards for a touchdown to ice this one. The Dallas offense is potent, but lost fumbles continue to be a major problem with two more on Sunday.

Prescott betting on himself has looked brilliant so far, but he may need to turn down Jerry Jones’ money and find a better team if he’s to avoid the fate of Romo: remembered best for big numbers and the games he lost instead of anything he won.

Rookie QBs Make History, But with an Asterisk?

Remember when the pandemic and lack of a preseason was going to really hurt the rookie quarterbacks in 2020? Well, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow just completed his third-straight 300-yard passing game, a record streak for any rookie in NFL history. It led to his first win too, 33-25 over the Jaguars.

Burrow almost had company immediately with Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, who came up 10 yards shy of his third-straight 300-yard passing game. Herbert’s 931 passing yards trail only Cam Newton (1,012 yards) for the second most in NFL history through a player’s first three games. He even surpassed the former No. 2, Patrick Mahomes (866 yards). After taking Mahomes to overtime in his first game and holding a 17-point lead against Tampa Bay and Tom Brady before losing, Herbert could be a special one for years to come.

Then again, consider that record start by Newton in 2011, the year of the lockout. Newton passed for at least 374 yards in three of his first four games. He was going to crush the record books too, right? Not quite. Over his next 122 regular season games and seven playoff games, Newton never passed for more than 357 yards. It wasn’t until Week 2 in Seattle this year, now the COVID-19 season, where he passed for 397 yards with the Patriots. That means his four most prolific passing games have all come in years where there was a lockout or pandemic that messed with the offseason.

When you consider the record numbers, especially in regards to passing yards, from Dak Prescott, Burrow, and Herbert this season, it certainly feels like 2011 all over again when defenses started off so poorly. That season was the peak one for Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. It was also easily one of Tom Brady’s best years and his only 5,000-yard passing season.

We’ll see if 2020 continues to play out this way, but if it does and numbers return to normal once the world hopefully does, then we’ll have to say that there was stat inflation this year much like we should still point out every time 2011 comes up.

Of Course the Chargers Blew It Against Tom Brady

We’ll eventually find out how good the 2020 Buccaneers are, but the fact that Tom Brady gets to play the Chargers and two games against the NFC version of the Chargers (Atlanta) this year doesn’t seem fair.

Brady should retire with a nine-game winning streak against the Chargers, a team that has found every way imaginable to lose to him since the 2006 playoff game where they fumbled his third interception back to him in the fourth quarter. Sure, this time the Chargers returned his interception for a touchdown and led 24-7 in the first half, but even if you take Philip Rivers and New England out of the equation, the Chargers still found a way to go Chargering against a Brady-led team.

Everything was going fine until the final minute of the first half. The Chargers were up 24-7 with 47 seconds left at their own 9. Tampa Bay was down to one timeout and with the Chargers getting the ball to start the second half, there was no need to get aggressive. In fact, in that situation the best play is to take two knees, especially with your rookie quarterback (Herbert) and rookie backup running back (Joshua Kelley) in after starter Austin Ekeler left with an injury.

But the Chargers just had to hand off the ball to Kelley, who promptly fumbled on first down. Now Brady was only 6 yards away from the end zone and cashed in the golden opportunity with a touchdown to Mike Evans on third down. Suddenly the game was much different at 24-14 and the Buccaneers went on to roll the Chargers in the second half of a 38-31 win.

This is just the latest example of why I refer to Brady as the luckiest QB in NFL history.

The shocking fumble completely changed the game for Brady and Tampa. From the pick-six to the Evans touchdown, Brady had a play success rate of 3-of-19 (15.8%). That’s horrible. But from the Evans touchdown thru the end of the game, Brady was unstoppable with a success rate of 88.9% (16-of-18), a top candidate for his strongest stretch of play in any game since 2019. He finished with 369 yards and five touchdown passes in the record 60th win decided in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career (fourth comeback against the Chargers).

It was classic Brady in the sense that he was playing poorly, the opponent did something stupid, one of his teammates made a play, and he got an extra chance to get back in the game. While he deserves credit for making the most of his opportunity, it’s the fact that he always seems to get these opportunities — through none of his own doing — that most quarterbacks don’t is the reason I call it luck.

How often do you see a team try to run the clock out deep in their own end and they fumble before the half? Well, since 1994 this is only the second time it’s happened in the last 27 seasons. To be specific, we’re talking about a leading team starting a conservative drive (i.e. no quarterback dropbacks) in the final 60 seconds of the second quarter and fumbling on a running play inside their own 20.

In 2010, the Cowboys had a 7-3 lead against Detroit and had the ball with 48 seconds left at their own 4. Felix Jones fumbled on first down and the Lions turned that into a touchdown. The only other comparable situation in the last 27 years was a 2016 game between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Arizona led 14-0 and had a drive that started with 1:11 left (so outside of 1:00) at its own 8. David Johnson carried for 3 yards before fumbling on a second-down play that started with 37 seconds left. Seattle turned that into a field goal after Russell Wilson threw three incompletions from the 9. Arizona still won the game 34-31 on a last-second field goal.

These end-of-half fumbles just don’t happen in the NFL, but when you combine the conflicting karmic forces of Brady and the Chargers, odd shit tends to be the result. At least Sunday should be the last time we have to see it.

Matt Patricia Is Who I Thought He Was

Teams that lead by double digits tend to win in the NFL, but as the kids like to say these days, Matt Patricia is just DIFFERENT. According to ESPN and my no-stat-crediting nemesis the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lions are riding the longest losing streak in NFL history (six games) in games where they held a double-digit lead.

After taking a 14-0 lead on banged-up New Orleans, the Lions fell behind 35-14 and only put up a mild rally late to fall 35-29. This season alone, the Lions have blown a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to Chicago, an early 11-point lead to Green Bay, and now this early 14-point lead to the Saints. It’s the fifth time Patricia has blown a lead of at least 11 points, something former coach Jim Caldwell did six times in his four seasons with the team (2014-17).

I roasted Patricia in 2018 when the Lions hired him:

That tweet didn’t go over well with Detroit fans, but after a 10-25-1 start and a 2-15-1 record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, I think they’ve all come around to realize this is the next coach to fire in the NFL.

Kyler Murray: Deja Ew

Rest in peace to the Kyler Murray 2020 MVP Campaign:

Born 9/13/2020

Died 10/4/2020 (9/27/2020 Also Appropriate)

Arizona’s second straight loss, 31-21 in Carolina, led to another shocking stat line for Murray. He completed 24 passes for only 133 yards, the fewest yards in NFL history for anyone with 24 completions. Worse, Murray already had a game last year against the 49ers where he had the fourth-fewest yards on 24 completions:

That’s not a good look to show up twice there, but it gets worse. Here’s the updated look at the fewest passing yards for each completion mark from 24 through 40 in games since 1950. Murray shows up twice for his games against the Panthers:

Out of the 17 games on the list, Murray has the two with the lowest yards per completion (YPC) figures, not even breaking 5.8 YPC against what have not been good Carolina defenses. Now maybe Carolina has this offense’s number, but like I said, Murray has been flirting with these low averages before. It’s something to watch and will require a deeper dive at some point, but the screen-heavy Cardinals passing game that Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury have put together isn’t the most effective at moving the ball. Murray would really be lost if he wasn’t such a good runner as he did have 78 yards on the ground on Sunday. However, the Cardinals were out of the game early and are looking like they’re still the bottom team in the NFC West this year.

While Murray’s counterpart on Sunday, Teddy Bridgewater, has the reputation of being a dink-and-dunker, it’s safe to say that title better suits Murray through 20 games of his NFL career.

NFL 2019: Close Game Summary

Before moving onto the playoffs, let’s review how teams fared in close games in the 2019 NFL season. Unless you watched the Lions every week, this wasn’t a season filled with close games. A total of 142 games (55.5%) 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’s down a hair from 147 games in 2018 and just above the 139 games from an offensively-limited 2017.

The 2019 season featured 56 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 77 game-winning drives (GWD). In 2018, there were 69 4QC and 88 GWD in the regular season. So things were down this year and more in line with 2017 than the rest of the decade when there were always 68 to 73 4QC. We also had a Week 1 tie with Arizona and Detroit each having to come back late, and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill added another unique win in Indianapolis on a blocked FG return for a touchdown to break a tie. There were also 33 comeback wins from a double-digit deficit at any point in the game, down one from 2018 (34).

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 29.7%, or a little below average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 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.

2019CGSUM

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 2020 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

Most playoff teams had an excellent record in close games, but the Vikings (2-5) had another rough year and the Chiefs and Titans were just 4-4 each. The Titans are 4-2 with Tannehill and 0-2 with Marcus Mariota at QB.

The Ravens, Packers and Seahawks are three playoff teams that did not blow a 4Q/OT lead this year, but Seattle was fortunate to have the Rams and 49ers both miss game-winning field goals against them in prime time. Baltimore actually has a league-best 5-0 record in close games, but that’s because the 33-28 loss at Kansas City and shocking 40-25 loss to Cleveland weren’t opportunities with the ball in Lamar Jackson’s hands late. In fact, the Ravens haven’t trailed in the 4Q in 11 straight games, which is one of the best streaks in NFL history.

The 2010-11 Packers still hold the greatest front-runner streak in NFL history: 19 consecutive wins without trailing in the fourth quarter. This year the Packers have been cutting it close by not scoring as much as those 2010-11 teams did, but they lead the league with eight defensive holds of a one-score lead with no blown leads yet. Maybe Drew Brees will get a chance to bust that in the second round. Green Bay’s 10 close wins are three more than any other 2019 team.

The Packers have twice broken the hearts of Detroit fans this year, but it’s been that kind of season decade half-century for Detroit. The Lions finished 3-12-1 with a staggering 3-11-1 record in close games. That’s right, a year after playing in a league-low six close games, the Lions played in a league-high 15 close games in 2019 and nearly lost them all. Detroit blew six 4Q leads, or two more than any other team. Using three quarterbacks, Matt Patricia’s teams finished 1-10 at 4QC/GWD opportunities. They are 2-15-1 (.139) in such games since 2018 under Patricia so it’s not just a matter of not having Matthew Stafford. Maybe things finally get back on track in 2020, but the Lions have struggled mightily in close games since setting that record with eight 4QC wins in 2016.

Cincinnati was the only team to go winless in close games on the way to 2-14, finishing 0-8 at 4QC opportunities and blowing three 4Q leads. The Chargers (1-8), Giants (1-7) and Colts (2-8) were also atrocious at a high volume of 4QC attempts. Philip Rivers now has the most failed 4QC//GWD attempts in NFL history (78), but Jacoby Brissett (3-14, .176) has the worst success rate at them among active quarterbacks. Colts fans can accept mediocrity at the position in different ways, but blowing so many winnable games is hard to stomach when you know Andrew Luck would have pulled out enough of these games for the playoffs this year.

QBRecs123119

Seattle, Houston and Buffalo led the way with five 4QC/GWD wins this year. Houston also had six in 2018 so that could be a team to watch for regression in 2020. Remember, Dallas had four or five GWD in each of Dak Prescott’s first three seasons, but in 2019 he didn’t lead a single go-ahead drive in 4Q/OT for the disappointing 8-8 Cowboys.

The Broncos and Buccaneers each blew four 4Q leads and finished 7-9. They could be teams to watch on the upswing in 2020, but Jameis Winston will have to cut down on the interceptions first. His pick-six against the Falcons in overtime on Sunday was the only game-winning interception touchdown in 2019.

2016 NFL Wild Card Predictions

It’s playoff time, so let’s start crushing bad narratives and picking winners.

Oakland at Houston

Okay, so maybe the playoffs don’t actually start until Saturday evening. We have to spend three hours watching one of these teams line up to be slaughtered in New England next week. Seriously, this is not the caliber of playoff game we have come to expect, and it’s certainly the worst on paper that I can ever recall. Of course, injuries to three different quarterbacks in the last two weeks is how we’ve gotten to Connor Cook (first start!) against Brock Osweiler. I’d like to think we’ll see a lot of DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper bailing out bad throws, but I frankly doubt either quarterback hits 250 passing yards. This needs to be a Lamar Miller game if you’re Houston, and a Khalil Mack game if you’re Oakland. Mack sacked Osweiler five times in Denver last year and had a big strip-sack in the end zone. He needs to create a splash play like that again to get some points for his team in what should be a low-scoring game. Frankly, I thought Houston should have won the matchup in Mexico City, but Bill O’Brien coached a horrible game and the referees didn’t help either. So I already think Houston, one of the worst playoff teams since 1989, had a decent shot in this matchup to begin with, but should be able to get the home win by relying on its defense against a complete unknown in Cook. Oakland’s offensive line and running backs are certainly good enough to carry Cook to a 13-10 win should that be the case, but I just feel like Oakland’s defense is not reliable enough to keep the score that low. Osweiler might also be surprisingly not horrific, and hell, he can’t be any worse than what Brian Hoyer did in this spot a year ago, right? Fuck, why are we always starting the playoffs with the Texans?

This is all Indianapolis’ fault.

Final: Raiders 13, Texans 20

Detroit at Seattle

Most of us have been trained to expect the Lions to lose this game. They already have the longest playoff losing streak in NFL history, and Seattle has clearly been one of the premiere teams in recent seasons, especially at home. However, I give Matthew Stafford a fighting chance after seeing him have a few successful moments against the Legion of Boom, which is just not the same without Earl Thomas. What do I tend to say beats Seattle? Short, quick throws combined with a willingness to make the big play down the field. That about sums up Stafford to a tee in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Yeah, he’s gone to a more dink-and-dunk attack, and Calvin Johnson is no longer there for the spectacular catch, but Stafford has done well to get more receivers involved and he’ll still make the occasional side-arm throw or risk that most passers won’t take. So he’s the right quarterback against Seattle without Thomas, and Eric Ebron needs to really step up since you figure Golden Tate will against his former team, and Anquan Boldin usually seizes these opportunities well. The white running back may not make much traction, but the Seahawks will respect him, including Michael Bennett.

Meanwhile, it’s really a matter of the Seahawks being able to flip the switch or not. The DVOA dynasty is dead. Seattle finished 9th in DVOA after leading the league four years in a row. Russell Wilson’s early injuries hampered his play, but the offense has still continued to sputter on the ground all year, and the recent loss of Tyler Lockett hurts. The defense has gone without Michael Bennett at times, and now Thomas is done. It’s just not going to be the same team when the superstars are not healthy. That’s just a fact of the game. So while I think Seattle should win at home, an upset wouldn’t shock me one bit. The competitive streak died at 98 games this year. The Packers completely blew this team out already. And yeah, Detroit likes to hang around in the fourth quarter, though the eight comeback wins are a little misleading. Seven of Detroit’s comebacks have been from a 1-4 point deficit, and only one was a 7-point deficit (Rams). If Seattle can get up double digits, it’s likely over, but can you really count on this offense to do that right now? Sure, the Detroit pass defense just allowed the worst completion percentage in NFL history, but you can always get Wilson to go off script and hold onto the ball, opening up the potential for sacks to stall drives. I see a pretty competitive game here, and I know the illegal bat penalty that was missed a year ago is going to be on some Lions’ minds, but I’m still going Seattle.

Final: Lions 16, Seahawks 24

Miami at Pittsburgh

I already put 3700 words down on this game for my FO preview, so please check that out. Basically, I think Pittsburgh has too many weapons for Miami to shut the offense down (unless they injure Roethlisberger again). It does sound like Ladarius Green might not play again, but the point still stands that the Steelers are at home and they’re finally healthy, so the pressure is on them to perform. As for Miami, I wouldn’t count out Matt Moore playing well, but I think Adam Gase needs to show trust in him. If the Dolphins come out trying to establish Ajayi early and often, then I think that plays into the strength of the Pittsburgh defense, and if the offense is doing its part, then the Dolphins could see things snowball quickly on the scoreboard. They have to start well and stay balanced. Pittsburgh just needs to protect the ball better and should get this win, but I sure as hell wouldn’t bet them with the 10-point spread. After all, this is a Mike Tomlin team in a game it’s expected to win comfortably. No thanks.

Final: Dolphins 17, Steelers 24

New York Giants at Green Bay

This is the most interesting game of the weekend. One that can go many different ways, and I honestly believe this could be the most pivotal game of the 2016 postseason. The winner here just might go all the way. Lambeau Field lost its postseason mystique years ago, and the Giants are a big reason for that. You know damn well Eli Manning won’t be bothered by the situation, but we have no idea how someone like Odell Beckham Jr. will handle his first playoff game. Does he go off like a Steve Smith or turtle up like a Marvin Harrison? The matchup is certainly good with Green Bay’s damaged secondary, but all year we have wondered why the Giants aren’t scoring more despite the talent on offense. This team brings the best defense to the playoffs, and the Giants’ DVOA variance is the smallest of any team since 1989. It’s basically always a close, low-scoring game where the defense has to hold on at the end. The Giants are 11-2 in close games this year. If you’re just a football fan, you’d love nothing more than to see Aaron Rodgers with the ball late in a 4-6 point game against this defense. But the Giants have to get to that lead first, and it’s certainly doable with the standouts in the secondary (Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). These guys can cover Green Bay’s receivers, and they already forced Rodgers into one of his worst games of the season, at home nonetheless. Of course, Rodgers can still buy time and no matter how good your secondary is, receivers will get open. This pass rush is not on the 2007 or 2011 Giants level when they had guys like Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. This is more of a coverage defense, so Eli better bring some points to the table.

My line on Eli has been that he’s only able to make the playoffs when his team is good, and only able to win there when his team is playing great. The Giants are 0-3 in the playoffs when they haven’t gone on their two miracle SB runs. This is also Ben McAdoo rather than Tom Coughlin putting the team in position to go on a run, and I think that’s a negative. Not that Mike McCarthy is great, but you have to give a coaching edge to Green Bay here for experience. But hopefully this is a good game that comes down to the final possession. I really have wanted to pick the Giants, but I just don’t see the points coming in this one.

Final: Giants 16, Packers 20

Full Playoff Predictions

I figured I’ll go through my whole playoff predictions before things get started.

Wild Card:

  • Raiders at Texans
  • Lions at Seahawks
  • Dolphins at Steelers
  • Giants at Packers

Divisional:

  • Texans at Patriots
  • Steelers at Chiefs
  • Seahawks at Falcons
  • Packers at Cowboys

Conference Championship:

  • Chiefs at Patriots
  • Packers at Falcons

Super Bowl 51:

Patriots vs. Falcons

Super Bowl MVP: Matt Ryan

I regret picking almost all home teams, but this is an unusually crappy playoff field this year, and no regrets on this final pick. I think Matt Ryan is having his 2006 Peyton Manning season.

Do I think the Steelers can win in KC and NE? Absolutely, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it. Just like how I think the Giants could rip through all of these top offenses to get back to another SB, but that’s just not going to be my pick. My preseason pick was Seahawks over Patriots, and while it wouldn’t shock me if we ended up there again, I don’t have enough trust in this incarnation of the Seahawks. Finally, after such a shaky regular season, I hope we do see a great postseason filled with exciting finishes and upsets. If so many of these teams are unusually flawed, then it’s safe to say the top teams are flawed too. No one is that much of a juggernaut that they can’t go down in any given week.

Season recap

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Week 13: 10-5
  • Week 14: 9-7
  • Week 15: 12-4
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Season: 159-97

NFL Week 17 Predictions: One More Try Edition

Earlier this week I did a deep dive into the MVP race heading into Week 17. The only logical conclusion is for Matt Ryan to run away with the award, but some want to make it a career achievement thing and dismiss Ryan for a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, or a flashy new thing out of Dallas. The absurd part is that should Ryan lose on Sunday in a 38-35 game after some typical Drew Brees masterclass performance against his bad defense, while someone like Brady or Rodgers has a nice week to close the season against an opponent clearly worse than its record suggests, then you can almost guarantee that Ryan will finish with no more than a handful of the 50 votes. That’s crazy, because the race has simply not been that close if you actually value the whole season like you should. It’s almost impossible for a player who was suspended for a quarter of the season to be considered the most valuable player in the league. That’s 25% of the season where he’s given no value, and we know the Patriots are more likely to succeed without Brady than most teams would be without their top quarterback. Or in the case of Aaron Rodgers, why is the 4-6 start and spotty play just getting ignored here when someone like Ryan has carried a worse defense further in the NFC while turning in one of the most consistent QB seasons on record? It’s nuts. We’re going into 2017. Let’s do better, people. Then again, an NFL Network ad that glorified “analysis from guys with rings” is clearly a step in the wrong direction, but we’ll have all of January and the start of February to talk about ring fluff.

The drama in Week 17 really centers on clearing up the AFC West, and whether or not the Patriots will lay another bizarre egg in Miami like they did a year ago. I doubt the latter happens, and I think Matt McGloin is going to struggle in Denver for Oakland. However, the Raiders might just be able to lean on that run offense again, and Denver’s poor offense won’t be able to take advantage in a 8-8 finish for the year. Oakland gets the two seed, though that’s probably the best possible outcome for this AFC playoffs. Let’s see Kansas City at New England early, and then maybe Pittsburgh gets there too.

NFC North Title Match: Green Bay at Detroit

There’s only one other game worth highlighting, and that is the finale in Detroit between the Lions and Packers. My gut says Detroit finds a way to avenge the Hail Mary last year and win this game, though I’m just not sure I trust Matthew Stafford to come through in the biggest game of his career. Yes, he’s started two playoff games, but those were on the road. This is to get a home playoff game for the Lions. That’s huge. He played well in Green Bay in Week 3, but that was before Marvin Jones ended up on milk cartons and a lot of it came after a 28-point lead for the Packers. Rodgers has already shredded this No. 32 defense, and the health of Darius Slay is a big thing to monitor against Jordy Nelson and company. The Lions are allowing a 72.9 completion percentage this season, the worst in NFL history. Oddly enough, the 2011 Colts, also coached by Jim Caldwell, hold the record at 71.2%. Five of the 12 worst rates ever belong to Detroit teams. I don’t expect either running game to take off in a huge way, so it really comes down to the passing games. I just think Rodgers has the experience, superior talent and more weapons to deal with than Stafford here, and we know the Lions have been in a scoring rut lately. I’m going to take Green Bay, which seems to be in one of these seed-determining Week 17 games each year, though a Detroit win wouldn’t shock me. Ideally, you’d want to see this game come down to the final drive given the eight comebacks for the Lions this year and GB’s history in that department under Mike McCarthy. Six of Detroit’s comebacks have been at home, and seven of the eight have been from just a 1-4 point deficit. It’s a myth that this team waits to turn it on until the fourth. It’s a fact that they’re just not a very good team that gets involved in a ton of close games and usually trails each week. This one shouldn’t be any different, but a blowout sure would be disappointing to end this regular season on Sunday night.

Final: Packers 27, Lions 23

2016 Week 17 Predictions

Man, I knew I should have picked San Diego to lose to Cleveland last week.  Here’s one more try at a 16-0 week (yeah right).

Winners in bold:

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

Season recap

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Week 13: 10-5
  • Week 14: 9-7
  • Week 15: 12-4
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Season: 148-92

NFL Week 12 Predictions: The Leftovers Edition

The NFL did a really good job of loading up the Thanksgiving schedule this year. The games were far from spectacular, but it wasn’t a bad day of football. I already covered Detroit’s historic seventh fourth-quarter comeback win of the season on Friday, and if this team is an all-time fluke or not (short answer: not).

As for the rest of Week 12’s leftovers, I’m not seeing a whole lot of quality, so it’s just going to be a few short thoughts on some select games this week.

Arizona at Atlanta – like to see if Matt Ryan can perform well against a good defense at home to help restore some order in this most unusual MVP race. Seriously, a rookie QB and a suspended QB are very much in the mix for MVP, while Ryan needs to make sure the Falcons still win double-digit games to get proper credit as the most consistently great QB this season. David Johnson could have a huge game too for Arizona, so this might be high scoring again.

Giants at Cleveland – can the Browns pull off some 2008 magic when they took out the defending champion Giants with a stunning 35-14 win? Giants started 11-1 that year with the only loss to the lowly Browns. They’re running out of opportunities for a win this season, and a home game with a New York team that has played almost everyone tight might be one of the best shots yet. Of course, it will take an Eli Manning pick parade to happen.

Titans at Chicago – Tennessee is a sorry sack of shit if it can’t beat a Bears team missing Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and both guards. The no-name defense is even more no-namier with Jerrell Freeman’s suspension. I only bring this one up because the Titans have lost to some real garbage teams over the years, including the 0-13 Colts of 2011.

Seattle at Tampa Bay – no Earl Thomas is a break for Jameis Winston, but the late kickoff time should help Seattle on a long trip here. Would be one of the more interesting upsets of the season, but I still like Seattle to win.

Kansas City at Denver – it’s just not the same without Peyton Manning in Denver. It’s a big game in the standings, obviously, but are you really thrilled to watch Alex Smith and Trevor Siemian try to engineer drives against two of the most talented defenses? I like Denver at home off a bye just because I expect the playmakers around Siemian to do more for him while the defense gets after Smith. Of course, every Denver game for the rest of the year is prefaced with “The single biggest worry is Siemian turning the ball over to put the defense on short fields.” If he doesn’t do that, Denver should win.

Green Bay at Philadelphia – honestly tired of watching the Packers in prime time this season. It’s just not a fun offense anymore, because the efficiency is lost with Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think the Eagles defense is as good as the numbers suggest, but they certainly have done their job against teams like Atlanta and Pittsburgh at home this season. Green Bay should struggle again, but I don’t think the defense will be as pathetic as it’s been recently, just given the limited nature of the Eagles offense and it’s subpar rookie quarterback. Could be a night for Wendell Smallwood to make a name for himself thanks to injuries.

2016 Week 12 Predictions

The hope for a perfect 16-0 week is alive after getting the Thanksgiving games right.

Winners in bold:

  • Cardinals at Falcons
  • Bengals at Ravens
  • Giants at Browns
  • 49ers at Dolphins
  • Titans at Bears
  • Chargers at Texans
  • Rams at Saints
  • Jaguars at Bills
  • Seahawks at Buccaneers
  • Patriots at Jets
  • Panthers at Raiders
  • Chiefs at Broncos
  • Packers at Eagles

Had my best week of the season last week. Feel a little confident in this week’s picks too.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Season: 96-65

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Low Ratings Edition

So ratings are down 11 percent in the NFL. I could have predicted this given the indisputable facts that Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady was suspended, and 11 percent of all NFL interest still comes back to arguing about them.

Okay, but on a more serious note, this league has had the No-Name Chicago Bears and Blaine Gabbert on in prime time twice each before Columbus Day. What did you expect? Week 5 seriously got started with Drew Stanton completing less than 50 percent of his passes and Phil Simms praising Gabbert for missing important throws. It’s not going to get any better with the farcical Presidential debate going on tomorrow night during Giants-Packers, and no Cam Newton against the Buccaneers on Monday night. The prime-time games have just been bad, and I’ve taken a few naps during the middle portions of them. It is hard to watch an island game that’s just bad football with countless commercial breaks for three hours.

Is the national anthem controversy sparked by Colin Kaepernick part of the decline? It could be. I’ve seen some weird people (Trump supporters, go figure) on Twitter saying how they’ve stopped watching for this reason, but overall I think it’s just been about the quality of the product. Chiefs-Steelers seemed like a nice game on paper, but the casual fan could have turned over to HBO for Westworld at 9 p.m. last week. It was a first-quarter knockout, and that was one of the good games on the prime-time schedule. Do  you really want to watch Jets-Cardinals next Monday night? That was a bad idea in April.

We’ll see if the ratings return to normal once the election is over, The Walking Dead goes on winter break, and the stakes get higher with each passing week of the regular season. But right now, the NFL is pushing crap games and it shouldn’t be shocked if people aren’t willing to put in the time. Life is too short to see if Ryan Tannehill has a breakout year in him. (In fact, that’s good advice for the Miami Dolphins too.)

Falcons at Broncos

We at least have one standout matchup this week: the red-hot Atlanta offense going into Denver against the most-respected defense in the NFL right now. Yes, defense usually beats offense in such meetings, but not always, and definitely not always in a Week 5 regular-season game. In fact, I can recall the 2006 season when Peyton Manning led the Colts into Denver in Week 8. The Broncos were 5-1, and had only allowed 3-7 points in each of their last five games (26 points total). It wasn’t that scary of a defense by personnel, but it did have Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Al Wilson and a rookie pass-rusher named Elvis Dumervil. Manning and Reggie Wayne had one of the best games of their careers in the 34-31 shootout win. The Colts of course won the Super Bowl that year, and I believe that team is being honored this weekend in its matchup against the Bears for a 10th-year anniversary.

Anyway, I’ve always viewed Matt Ryan as the poor man’s Manning, but he’s off to probably his best four-game start ever this season. Unfortunately, he’s seen nothing even close to a defense like this yet this season. Carolina did not have anyone capable of keeping up with Julio Jones last week in the 500/300 game for this combo. Denver has a couple of corners capable of containing Jones. That’s the biggest difference, because this Atlanta offense is not very deep at receiver. The other guys are more pedestrian at best. This isn’t like 2012 when Roddy White was still a stud. Contain Julio, and the passing game, which has historically not gone as well for Ryan on the road, should not be as efficient this week. If there’s somewhere for Atlanta to attack, it may be with its running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos have not been as stout there this year, and I could see Freeman popping a big one.

But these offenses do share some similarities in that it’s the Shanahan/Kubiak style of WCO, utilizing zone-blocking scheme and play-action/bootlegs. The Falcons had a great touchdown bomb to a wide-open TE last week with a bootleg play. Ryan is definitely thriving in Year Two of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but this is something Kubiak and Phillips should be very familiar with. I know Denver has a quarterback concern with Trevor Siemian as questionable, but I’m not even that worried about Paxton Lynch if the rookie has to make his first start. He was airing it out like crazy last week against Tampa Bay, so the Broncos will not hold back with him. I also think the Falcons are a pretty poor defense despite having the outside corners to contend with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. This might be a bounce-back game for C.J. Anderson and the running game.

As I tweeted after last week’s game, Atlanta’s first four games have been historically high scoring.

The Falcons can stake their claim as the No. 1 team in everyone’s meaningless power rankings with impressive showings the next two weeks on the road in Denver and Seattle. However, I think they’ll fall completely on their face in at least one of these matchups, and this is the one where I think they’ll come back to earth offensively. I don’t expect a blowout, because Denver almost never does that to anyone (three times in 23 games under Kubiak), but I don’t see the offensive production continuing for Atlanta here.

Best of the Rest

What else am I looking at in Week 5? It’s not a very good week…

Jets at Steelers – I’ve been a Darrelle Revis fan since he was at Pitt, but it’s been tough to see him play this year. He’s allowing 16 yards per target, by far the worst in the league. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play in this big matchup with Antonio Brown, but that might actually be a good thing for the Jets at this point. I worry that the Steelers might rest on their laurels after the huge win against KC, but this should be a game they take care of well at home. There’s a huge mismatch in play-action passing here. However, I still think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall are going to play well. Fitzpatrick has to know his job is hanging on the line with nine interceptions in two games. Another pick parade, and I can’t see how Todd Bowles can keep putting him out there at 1-4.

Eagles at Lions – Well, here we go again, Eagles fans. The Lions are 32nd in defensive DVOA, and 31st against short passes. They’re also 28th against deep passes, so it’s really been a shitshow start for this unit. The Lions have been a huge disappointment since blowing a 12-point lead in the 4Q to the Titans in Week 2. Now they need a win against a 3-0 team that’s coming off the bye and has played very well, balanced football. It doesn’t look good for the Lions, and I think Carson Wentz should have another good game. It’s just a matter of how much credit does he really deserve when it’s feasting on another bad opponent? I’m all for opponent adjustments in stats. It’s absolutely not the same when you play the worst defense in the league compared to one of the best, like Matt Ryan will be doing in Denver. However, I’m not sure if we’re going about opponent adjustments the best way we can, because when you think about it, the concept of a team’s defense is constantly changing due to injuries and players being benched. Detroit is likely to play without its best pass rusher (Ezekiel Ansah) and linebacker (DeAndre Levy) again this week. So far, Andrew Luck in Week 1 was the only QB to face the 2016 Lions with Ansash (2 GS) and Levy (1 GS) on the field. It definitely should make a difference in playing Detroit without Ansah and Levy vs. playing Detroit with them, but how do we account for that statistically in a way that’s not so arbitrary? You can almost say a team’s defense (or any unit) has 16 one-game seasons rather than one singular unit playing a 16-game season. I wish I had some good answers for how to account for this better, but I haven’t put in the work to do so. I just know it’s an unfortunate issue with opponent adjustments.

Patriots at Browns – Let’s dial back on the “Angry Brady” narrative. Truth be told, he’s probably played just about every game since Spygate with a sandy va-well that’s not very presidential of me to say. But I really find it a tiresome narrative. Quarterbacks should always be motivated, and the Patriots should be extra motivated after a 16-0 shutout loss to Buffalo last week. Do I expect Cleveland to lose? Absolutely; this is the only winless team in the league, but it’s not a historically bad team. It’s just a lousy Cleveland team. Do I expect a total domination by the Patriots? Not necessarily, because the Browns are at home and have played competitively the last few weeks. And it’s not like the Patriots with Brady dominated this team in 2010 (lost 34-14) or 2013 (won 27-26 after needing a late onside kick for a comeback). Much like that 2010 game fueled by Peyton Hillis, the Browns need to run the ball well and control the clock with Isaiah Crowell, who is off to a great start in Hue Jackson’s offense. I don’t expect much from this game, but I certainly don’t expect a Brady masterpiece because he’s “angry.”

2016 Week 5 Predictions

I had the Cardinals by double digits on TNF, and that surprisingly worked out after it looked like neither team would score if you gave them 75 minutes of game time. Turnovers are a bitch.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Ravens
  • Bears at Colts
  • Texans at Vikings
  • Patriots at Browns
  • Eagles at Lions
  • Titans at Dolphins
  • Jets at Steelers
  • Falcons at Broncos
  • Bengals at Cowboys
  • Bills at Rams
  • Chargers at Raiders
  • Giants at Packers
  • Buccaneers at Panthers

Man, all Derek Anderson does in Carolina is excel in garbage time and starting against Tampa Bay. I also wish the debate was on Monday instead, because Giants-Packers could be decent. If Odell Beckham Jr. has a dominant, great game, it will sadly get less attention than one of his tantrum games gets. But don’t take my Beckham prediction to the bank. Even though I plan to use him heavily in DFS this week, my overall game predictions have started about as poorly as any season I can remember.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Season: 33-30