NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

If last Sunday in the NFL was boring, then this week more than made up for it. Even though the “Game of the Year” (Chiefs-Saints) wasn’t even the best game played in the last seven days (Ravens-Browns), this was a Sunday filled with memorable action.

Favorites were 11-4 SU, but the Rams christened SoFi Stadium with one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Rams Lose, Jets Lose Out, Only Trevor Lawrence Wins

It is not hyperbole to say that the course of NFL history for the next two decades could have just been drastically altered on Sunday when the 0-13 Jets beat the Rams 23-20 for their first win of the season.

For a franchise familiar with low points, the 2020 season may have taken the Jets to a new low under head coach Adam Gase. Some people have been calling the Chiefs “inevitable” this year, but the most inevitable thing felt like the Jets cruising to 0-16. That is a horrific season, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns already do this. In fact, the biggest surprise would be that the Jets weren’t already in the club (the 1996 team finished 1-15).

The reward at the end of such a terrible season was supposed to be a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft, undoubtedly, to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Gase will now likely go down as one of the most hated coaches in NFL history as he could not even finish 0-16 properly. The Jaguars are now in the driver’s seat for Lawrence in the draft, and if he is as generational as advertised – a mobile, long-haired Peyton Manning – then it is sure to be a move that has massive ripple effects around the league for years to come.

Why are the Jets always the ones botching history? They could have drafted generational passer Dan Marino in 1983 but chose Ken O’Brien instead. They drafted wide receiver Al Toon over all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. They drafted running back Blair Thomas over all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith in 1990. Maybe none of those picks lead to Super Bowls for the Jets, but they absolutely changed the course of the league at that time. Imagine the Dolphins without Marino and Don Shula. Imagine the 49ers’ dynasty without Rice. Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams may have been the dynasty of the 1980s instead. Likewise, Emmitt is probably not the all-time leading rusher if he started with the Jets instead of the dynastic Cowboys in the 90s.

Maybe Lawrence is better off if he doesn’t go to the Jets. In 1997, the Jets thought they could cash that 1-15 season in for Peyton Manning at the top of the draft, but Manning returned to Tennessee for another year and ended up going No. 1 to the rival Colts in 1998. Good move, but also a massive one for the league’s next two decades.

Oh, and never forget the Jets are more responsible for the New England dynasty than anyone after botching the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000 and injuring Drew Bledsoe in 2001, leading to the rise of Tom Brady.

Never has a win felt like such a loss for a team than this one. The fact that Frank Gore put the game away with two first downs is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Jacksonville fans will for sure be pushing Gore for Canton now.

And how about these Rams? So much for the new hyped “best team” in the NFC. I’m going to remember Sean McVay as the photographic memory wunderkind coach who lost a Super Bowl 13-3 and lost to the 0-13 Jets.

There has just been something about Game 14 where perfect seasons go to die. As I pointed out in my preview for this one, the 10 teams to start 0-13 are now 5-5 SU in Game 14. That means these teams went from a combined 0-130 to 5-5 in that 14th game. Interestingly enough, four of the eight 13-0 teams in NFL history also lost their first game in Game 14 (1998 Broncos, 2005 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers).

This is not quite the biggest upset in NFL history. You only have to go back to Week 17 last year to find a worse loss by the point spread when the 17.5-point favorite Patriots lost at home to the Dolphins to lose out on a first-round bye. However, this is only the fifth time since 1978 that a 17-point favorite lost outright.

But this is almost surely the most embarrassing loss a team has ever had to a team 0-13 or worse that notched its first win. The Rams lost this game wire-to-wire, meaning the Jets led the whole way, including a 20-3 lead. Only the 1962 Patriots can say they lost wire-to-wire to an 0-13 (or worse) team after they fell 20-0 to the Oakland Raiders to end the 1962 AFL season.

This was not some December game in trash weather at MetLife Stadium with a full, roaring crowd where Jared Goff melted down and threw a pick parade. The Rams only had one turnover (and one blocked punt) in the game, played in new SoFI Stadium. This was not a blown lead by the Rams. This was not a game where the Rams missed any field goals. The only fumble (on a Sam Darnold sack) went out of bounds.

The Rams were just outplayed by an inferior team. The Jets were able to convert 7-of-17 on third down while the Rams were only 2-of-11. Show up on a few more of those plays and this outcome is likely different, but the Jets deserved this win.

They just had no business actually pulling it off, putting the future of the franchise in doubt again.

The final magnitude of this loss for me personally remains to be seen after the Steelers play on Monday night. I was hot on my bets this weekend, but one game I needed was for the Rams to win and Cam Akers to score a touchdown. That seemed simple enough after Akers’ breakout game last week and the mismatch here, but neither part came through. I also liked Robert Woods scoring (he did), but still would have been screwed by the moneyline. I’ll scowl over this day forever that Akers’ 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was called back for a holding penalty if Diontae Johnson and the Steelers come through. I stood to win more than $36,000 on a series of round robin parlays that only cost $105.

I’m sad. Rams fans are sad. Jets fans are sad. Only Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville fans are probably happy right now. And just think, if the Jets finish on a winning streak, they just may bring Gase and Darnold back for 2021…

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 50: Week 15 at Saints

Despite holding 14-point leads early and late, the Chiefs had to grind out another close win, 32-29, in the four-minute offense to knock off the Saints in Drew Brees’ return. The big matchup had some really strange plays, Brees got off to the slowest/worst start to a game in his 300th career start, and it technically never had a game-winning drive opportunity, but it was a decent game in the end.

How did New Orleans fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Not good as the only achievement was #6 as the Saints racked up four sacks, getting some of the best pressure any defense ever has (without blitzing too) on Mahomes, which was to be expected with the offensive line situation there.

The 29 points were not bad, but the Saints absolutely hurt themselves before halftime by not recovering the obligatory fumble on a ridiculous punt fielded by Demarcus Robinson with only seconds left in the half. The Saints had a great chance to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but Alex Anzalone botched that play and the Saints only got a safety out of it. Those five points were a huge miss.

You know the standard for Mahomes is getting ridiculous when people scoff at putting up 32 points and 34 first downs on what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Saints had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since doing it four games in a row in Weeks 2-5, but the Chiefs were able to do that in this one, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Saints down.

Much like the 26-17 win in Buffalo, the Chiefs were able to mix the pass and run in moving the ball effectively. This team’s success on the road is historic this season even if it could be asterisk worthy given the pandemic impact with limited or no crowds.

Still, the 2020 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win five road games in a season against teams with a winning record. This is set in stone with the Bills (11-3), Saints (10-4), Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), and Buccaneers (9-5) all guaranteed to have a winning record this season. The only mystery is if the Chiefs will pick up a sixth win if the Raiders (7-7) finish 9-7.

The Chiefs just had the seventh game in NFL history where they put up 32 points and 34 first downs on the road in regulation. That’s impressive when you also consider that they have the sixth such game this season when they did it in Las Vegas.

Now 50 starts into his career, I am still waiting to see what a legitimately bad game from Mahomes looks like. His consistency is unmatched. The 2020 Chiefs are now the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 22 points in each of their first 14 games in a season. The other teams on that list are the 1983 Redskins, 1998 Vikings, and 2018 Chiefs, so they have already done it twice here. Only that 2019 Colts game (19-13 loss) is stopping it from being 50-for-50 for Mahomes in scoring 22+ points as a team.

Sunday is the 33rd time Mahomes has led the Chiefs to at least 30 points in one of his starts. If he does it again next week against Atlanta, then that will be 34 times over his last 50 starts. That would match the best 50-game stretch of the careers of Manning and Brady. I included a chart that shows how the count of 30-point starts over those quarterback’s last 50 starts progressed over time, as well as the same data for Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Brees.

Like Mahomes, Marino got off to that super-fast start to the point where his best 50-game stretch was the first 50 games when he led the Dolphins to 30+ points 26 times. Marino and Mahomes are the only two listed to top 20 games in their first 50 starts (this includes playoffs). Some of this is about league trends as scoring went up in the later stages of these careers (think Manning in Denver or Brees in the Michael Thomas-Alvin Kamara years), but you can see where the peaks and valleys are.

These are just team points, but Mahomes has plenty of other superlatives through 50 games that we could go on about. Sunday was his 24th game with at least three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history for a quarterback through 50 starts (including playoffs). Marino had 22 such games that early.

It can still be debated if Mahomes is the best 50-game stretch of quarterback play in NFL history, but there is no debate if this is the best 50-game start to any quarterback’s career.

Eagles at Cardinals: The Jalen Hurts Era Is for Real

Carson Wentz may understandably not like it, but the rest of us are better with the Eagles moving forward with Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. Hurts impressed again in a fun 33-26 shootout with Kyler Murray in Arizona. Sure, the Eagles lost after playing in their 23rd straight game that was within one score in the fourth quarter, but Hurts showed so much poise and promise for a rookie.

Hurts passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 63 yards and another score. That 401 yards of total offense in Hurts’ second start is more than Wentz ever had in 69 career starts. Had Dallas Goedert been able to pull in a dagger of a throw from Hurts in the end zone late to tie the game, Hurts may have finished with over 365 passing yards, which also would top Wentz’s career high.

Look, I have said these things well before Hurts was drafted. Doug Pederson’s offense works best when his quarterback is NOT Carson Wentz. With Nick Foles, the Eagles could actually win high-scoring games, beat good teams, win without much rushing support, and come through in the clutch. Hurts still has plenty of room to grow but he is only a second-round pick with three games of relevance under his belt.

The fact that this was such an exciting game between two young, mobile quarterbacks who could run and throw is a great sign for the future of the NFC. Let Wentz go do his thing in Indianapolis where he thinks Frank Reich is the answer to all his problems.

The Eagles are in a better place now, and likely would still be in position to win this terrible division had Wentz been benched sooner. You can talk about heart and leadership if you want, but there’s just something about Wentz where things don’t all click with this coach and team when he’s the quarterback.

Bucs at Falcons: The Most Predictable 17-Point Comeback in NFL History

You could say Tom Brady holds a psychological edge on the Falcons after 28-3, but it could just be as simple as the Falcons are a joke of a franchise and blowing leads is what they do best. We have already seen it this year with the losses against Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit.

In fact, I even wrote in my preview for this one that Atlanta would blow a double-digit lead to the Bucs. Not even at 24-7 in the third quarter did this feel in doubt. Sure enough, the Atlanta offense folded while Tampa Bay scored on five straight drives. Antonio Brown made by far his biggest play for the team yet with a 46-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 6:19 left. Matt Ryan is still gunning for the only season of his career without a 4QC or GWD.

Tampa Bay scored 31 points in the second half. Something like that hasn’t happened in the NFL since… well, when the Falcons allowed 30 in the second half to the Cowboys this year.

Tampa Bay is now 4-3 when falling behind double digits this season. Doing that in half your games seems like a bad formula for the playoffs where you absolutely will not see a team as dumb as Atlanta. These slow starts are a problem, but the talent on this roster is still a lot to deal with as well. Don’t rule out Tampa lucking into a No. 2 seed with the way the other NFC teams are playing down the stretch. I still ultimately think the Saints will beat Carolina in Week 17 to secure the division if it’s not done on Christmas, but there is a chance here after this comeback for Tampa Bay to move up the standings.

In a crazy year, here is something that at least feels right: Falcons and Chargers lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Browns-Giants: What a Change from 2016

Sunday Night Football may not have been the most exciting game, a 20-6 win by Cleveland over the Giants, but consider where these teams were four years ago. The 0-11 Browns lost 27-13 to the offensively challenged Giants in a game with 17 punts and four turnovers. Gross.

Four years later, the Browns actually have a fun offense and won their 10th game last night. The Giants are still offensively challenged but did better than the 20-6 score shows. They just failed on too many fourth downs.

In fact, this is one of the most offensive-driven 20-6 games you’ll ever see in the NFL. This game only had 14 total possessions with five punts, no turnovers, and three stops on fourth down. The Browns scored 20 points (another Cody Parkey missed extra point) on their first five drives before staying understandably conservative with the big lead. The “Browns only scored 20” crowd seems to have overlooked just how few drives were in this game.

In the last three games, Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 900 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. These were marquee games for the Browns too, including two in prime time and a big matchup in Tennessee. Winning two of these three games and only losing 47-42 to the Ravens is huge progress for this franchise. I’m not going to say the Browns have what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run this year, but this team has definitely improved and so has the quarterback. I’m not sure what more he should be doing in the last month to silence the critics, but I’m coming around on him with this recent performance.

It’s weird to talk about the Browns offense being worth a damn, but it’s 2020. All bets are off. Hell, even the Chicago Bears have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 1995. If the Bears can do that, the Bills can win the division, then why not see Cleveland win 11 games and make the playoffs?

Patriots Done (For How Long?)

New England has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season after a 22-12 loss in Miami. The Dolphins will have a winning record this year while the Bills (11-3) have already won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Jets were also in position to get Trevor Lawrence, but you know what happened there.

It leaves the Patriots in a tricky position with quite arguably the worst long-term quarterback situation in the division depending what the Jets do. Cam Newton is not the answer but there is also not much of a roster here.

This last-gasp effort in Miami, a familiar losing venue for New England in December, showed some signs of life early that the Patriots could pull one out and stay alive another week. They were playing a Miami team missing its top wideouts and tight end. In classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Patriots turned a 95-yard, 9:11 drive by the Dolphins into an interception after making Tua throw under pressure. Then Newton got away with a would-be 86-yard fumble return because the ball just grazed a Miami defender who was out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Patriots scored a field goal to lead 6-0. Miami finished off the half with a missed 52-yard field goal, because again, this is what the Patriots do.

But the second half was a different story. The Dolphins continued to put together long drives and finished them off this time while Newton and the limited offense couldn’t answer. Tua was credited with his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the defense shut things down with a fourth-down sack of Newton with 1:08 left.

It was the first time all season the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead, but this team was never in much of a position to do any damage in 2020 between the loss of Brady, the COVID opt-outs, the losses on defense, Julian Edelman’s surgery, and just general roster flaws like not having a tight end.

It would actually be a lot more enjoyable to see this team struggle if only they were recognizable as the Patriots, but they never really were such a team this season. Now they’re just another team, and it’s only fitting that the Bills and Dolphins have gotten some decisive licks in on them.

Can the Jets do it too? They almost beat them last time in a 30-27 game, and this may be one where Belichick decides to just let the Jets win to make sure Trevor Lawrence doesn’t find his way to the Jets after all.

I mean, there’s always a plan with Belichick. Just not much of one this year as far as a contender goes.

Cruel Close Game Regression: Texas Edition

My goodness, I know I said Houston could be in trouble in close games this year after Deshaun Watson led five game-winning drives in both 2018 and 2019, but this is ridiculous. For the second time this season, Watson had the Texans knocking on the door of a tying or go-ahead touchdown against the Colts. Last time it was a bad snap that led to a game-ending fumble in a 26-20 loss.

This time, down 27-20, Watson converted a 4th-and-5, but Keke Coutee went from looking like he was about to score to fumbling the ball into the end zone where the Colts recovered with 19 seconds left to end the game. Watson had some huge numbers again with 373 yards, but his teammates found another way to blow a game even without Bill O’Brien involved.

Houston is now 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys had a minor upset of the 49ers in a 41-33 final that was filled with big plays and turnovers. Nick Mullens had three turnovers himself, including an interception that set up Andy Dalton for the lamest game-winning drive of the year: three incomplete passes and a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In a game that would never end, the final 43 seconds saw a field goal, an onside kick returned for a touchdown, and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown with no time left. Well, not entirely meaningless. Someone (not me) won or lost money on that bullshit.

So we will have a new NFC champion with San Francisco eliminated after an injury-ravaged, disappointing season. The 49ers are now 1-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season, which has always been a problem during the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco outside of some Jimmy Garoppolo starts.

But last year with a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were 4-2 at GWD opportunities and only blew one fourth-quarter lead in the regular season. However, we know this team was struggling late in the year with that against Atlanta (lost), New Orleans (offense had to bail them out), and the Seattle game in Week 17 came down to the final stop at the 1-yard line. Then we of course know what happened with a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Stung by the Wasp.

The 49ers started this season with blown leads to the Cardinals and Eagles before the injuries and a tough schedule just seemed to be too much for this team to overcome. Will 2019 be a one-year wonder in the NFC again? We’ll need to see next year to verify, but it’s not a bad bet to say it was.

That is why every opportunity in this league must be taken seriously. You never know if things will come together at the right time again. You know, like when you’re going to finish 0-16 and draft a generational talent quarterback, but oh fuck, that’s enough about the Jets and Rams.

On to Week 16.

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Mahomes vs. Brees (Finally)

With two games on Saturday, I’m a day early with the preview for Week 15. You can read my look at how Aaron Rodgers got his groove back this year for CAR-GB, how I’ve given up on picking the Jets to cover, how Colt McCoy is 0-18 when his team allows 20+ points for CLE-NYG, and how I still expect the Falcons to blow a double-digit lead against Tampa Bay despite Matt Ryan having arguably his worst season yet.

Otherwise, all attention should be on the potential Game of the Year this regular season when the Chiefs face the Saints in the Superdome. It’s not everything it could have been, but at least we’ll get to see Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees square off in an important game for both seeds in pursuit of the No. 1 seed. I wanted to see this as the Super Bowl for the last two seasons, but we’re getting it at least once this season.

Game of the Year: Chiefs at Saints (+3)

It’s amazing how fast fractured ribs can heal after your team loses to Philadelphia and loses control of the No. 1 seed. While the Saints did not plan to rush back Drew Brees, it is obvious that they need him to go far this season, and they certainly need him in a game like this one against the high-scoring Chiefs. This is nothing like playing Atlanta or a Denver team without a quarterback like the teams the Saints beat with Taysom Hill.

Despite the three interceptions in Miami last week, Patrick Mahomes still had the fourth-highest yards per attempt (11.56) in a game in his career in last week’s win. He doesn’t have bad games, but it’s inevitably going to come some day. If you were brewing up a perfect storm for it to happen, you would start with a strong opponent that has played well defensively this year like the Saints have, including an offense that can score and put pressure on Mahomes to match.

Then you have to look at the injury situation on the offensive line where both starting tackles are in question for the Chiefs. Left tackle Eric Fisher at least practiced Friday, so that sounds optimistic. But right tackle Mike Remmers is a bigger question mark and he’s already the backup to Mitchell Schwartz (IR). So we’re talking potentially about a third option (at best) to start at right tackle. Singular injuries on the line are really no big deal. You just go next man up and deal with it. If you think your quarterback can’t handle one lineman being out, then he’s probably not a franchise QB. However, when you start relying on the backup to the backup and potentially are missing both tackles, then that’s cause for concern. The Chiefs will hopefully get Fisher in this game and Andy Reid and Mahomes will just have to make due at RT.

The Saints are dealing with their own injuries to dampen the hype and potential of this matchup. It has been ridiculously hard for the Saints to put Brees and leading receiver Michael Thomas together on the field this year. Brees returns, but Thomas will reportedly be out of action again with another injury. That means the offense reverts to where it was earlier in the season with Alvin Kamara having to carry the load as a dual threat and dynamic YAC receiver. The Chiefs have allowed the third-most receiving yards (623) to running backs this year, but I feel like that’s not going to be enough for the Saints to outscore the Chiefs.

To beat the Chiefs you have to either have a dominant ground attack that shrinks the game, which is not something the Saints do that well, especially with Brees at QB instead of the run-heavy Taysom Hill. Or you have to hit big plays like the Raiders did in the only Kansas City loss over the last 22 games. Derek Carr had a career day hitting the deep ball, and while Thomas isn’t a big loss in that department for the Saints, the deep ball is not a big part of what they do these days. Still, this will have to be a big game for tight end Jared Cook. Also, when the Panthers pushed the Chiefs 33-31 this year, they had some really aggressive plays on fourth downs and a fake punt to stay close in that game. You have to make some really great plays to score enough on this Kansas City defense. I’m not sure Brees dinking and dunking behind the sticks is going to lead to an explosive enough 30+ point day.

I like the Chiefs in this matchup. I don’t think you’ll see the multiple picks from last week that came on two tipped balls and a one-handed catch by the league’s INT lead (Xavien Howard). I think the Chiefs will clean that up. But also, seemingly no matter how well the offense plays, the Chiefs still seem to find every game come down to the four-minute offense with Mahomes having to bail them out by running clock and adding to the lead. Some week it’s not going to work out and it’s going to be all on the defense to stop a game-winning drive for the opponent. Brees can certainly deliver that drive, but we’ll just have to see if he gets the chance or not.

The Chiefs can improve to 5-0 on the road against teams with a winning record this year. They’ve already won in Baltimore (8-5), Buffalo (10-3), Tampa Bay (8-5), and Miami (8-5). That is very impressive. The Saints, along with the Green Bay team they’re chasing for the NFC’s top seed, have played a league-low three teams currently with a winning record, including a game against each other. The Saints’ crowning achievement this year has been sweeping Tampa Bay in impressive fashion. Otherwise we’ve seen this team winning a lot of one-score games against teams with 4-6 wins right now, or blowing out a Denver team without a quarterback.

That’s not to say the Chiefs are blowing teams out weekly. Their last five wins have been by a combined 21 points. But they are battle tested, have the best player, and deserve to be favorites in this one. We’ll just have to see if this is the only time Mahomes and Brees match up in the NFL.

Final: Chiefs 27, Saints 23

NFL Week 15 Predictions

Sometimes you wonder if the NFL is fixed. I only needed a Nelson Agholor touchdown in overtime last night for a nice win, which would have covered the 3.5 spread for Las Vegas too. Of course, the Raiders came out on third-and-goal at the 5 with three tight ends and threw a hopeless pass into the flat at a fullback. WTF was that? Raiders settled for a field goal, Chargers won on a TD. Not to mention this came after Jon Gruden bypassed a Hail Mary for a 65-yard field goal to win the game that never even had a chance to be kicked.

Betting on football is insane, but let’s do it again Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The Steelers really need their heads examined if they can’t beat the Bengals. I’m not crazy about the spread here, but I’m more confident the Steelers can win 24-10 in Cincinnati than I am in being able to pick Zac Taylor out of a lineup.

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Pennsylvania Blues Edition

I think the NFL clearly pegged Week 15 as a showdown week across the league before the schedule softens up in the last two weeks heading into the holidays and postseason. You can see it right away with the battle on Thursday night between the Chiefs and Chargers, and the week ends with Panthers-Saints, which should have been a much bigger game than it’s turned out to be in the NFC South.

But the two biggest games of Week 15 intended to be Patriots-Steelers and Eagles-Rams. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania teams, who entered the season as Super Bowl contenders, have both disappointed and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs entirely. Philadelphia hasn’t been right since September, and will now have to make due with Nick Foles at quarterback. That worked great last year, but I’d expect the Rams to bounce back at home and put the Eagles out of their misery at 6-8 this time.

The Steelers are a whole different story. Every year we have the same talking points, because nothing ever really changes with this team. Can they ever get back to developing a great defense again, especially in the secondary? (Nope). Can they avoid losing the small games to teams they’re expected to beat? (Nope). Can they beat the Patriots to avoid having to go to New England in January? That one’s on their plate tomorrow, but the inexplicable three-game losing streak heading into this one makes even a win nowhere near as valuable as it should have been.

Remember, when these teams met in Week 15 last year with the Jesse James TD overturned, it was for the No. 1 seed. Now, even a Pittsburgh win is unlikely to give the Steelers homefield over the Patriots. It might not even help them to anything more than the No. 4 seed. The best thing it could do is help the Steelers make the playoffs, since that is in serious doubt with a trip to New Orleans up next and a favorable schedule for Baltimore. The second-best thing it could do is actually make the Patriots a No. 3 seed and not get a first-round bye for the ninth year in a row. That would still require Houston and the AFC West teams to finish strong, which isn’t a guarantee. The only other good thing it could do is give the Steelers some confidence they can beat the Patriots, which may still be required in January if they were the 4 and 3 seeds and both made it to the AFC Championship Game (a la Indy-NE in 2006). But that’s a ways off, and as this last week has shown, no one is a safe bet to do anything this year. These teams are coming off embarrassing losses to the Dolphins and Raiders after all.

As for the matchup itself, I’m not feeling Pittsburgh, a 3-point home underdog. We know the defense always struggles with this offense, but in the last three weeks, they’re barely even covering the other team’s top receiving threat (Emmanuel Sanders, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook). Now you bring the Patriots to town with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, and the Steelers definitely have their hands full. Don’t discount the running game and James White as a receiver too. Brady has also played better in the three games since the bye than he was earlier this season.

The 2018 Steelers are essentially a passing offense and nothing more. I think you’d have to go back to 2002 to find the last time the Steelers were so built around the pass with a suspect defense, a shoddy running game and terrible special teams (especially the kicker). But even that team finished 10-5-1 and made the playoffs because they came through on defense in the red zone when they had to. Last week, the Steelers had a fourth down to win the game and failed to stop Derek Carr in Oakland. They had an 8-minute drive against the Chargers with a 23-7 lead and Sean Davis turned an interception in the end zone into a touchdown for Allen after dislodging the ball with a hit on his own teammate. That was the play of the game and hurt more than any officiating blunder did. I think the Steelers hold on for the win if that pick went their way. Then the week before against Denver, that was about a comedy of errors by the OFF/ST in a game they should have scored way more than 17 points. So it’s been a frustrating three weeks after a pretty solid 7-2-1 start.

Ben Roethlisberger looked fine after the rib injury last week, so I’m not really worried about that part. James Conner possibly being out isn’t good since they may end up running for ~30 yards again, but it has to be a huge Roethlisberger game either way. I just don’t see how you beat the Patriots when you’re that one-dimensional of a team, but it’s a dimension they better at least utilize properly this week. That means no punting on fourth-and-short in NE territory.  No settling for long field goals to try to get Chris Boswell’s confidence back when he’s been terrible and is on the verge of getting cut. You need touchdowns in this game and you need to limit Brady’s possessions.

Do I trust Mike Tomlin to understand this? Of course not. He punted on 4th-and-1 with a 24-19 lead last year with 2:16 left when the Steelers might have put the game away. Do I expect the Steelers to make any changes if they lose five or six in a row and miss the playoffs? Of course not, even though it’s the same argument as Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, and the Packers fired him already. Tomlin should go too if they show they can’t beat the Patriots even when NE hasn’t looked this vulnerable since 2013 or 2005. Oh yeah, the Steelers lost to those New England teams as well.

Final: Patriots 30, Steelers 24

NFL Week 15 Predictions

That was a bad beat on Thursday as Chiefs and the under was the right call all night until the last 4 seconds.

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I think the Colts figure out the Cowboys at home, but it might be lower scoring than expected. Hate trusting the Giants, but they have been playing better since the bye. Titans can be very unpredictable, so I’d stay away from putting money on that game. I really like Seattle in SF.

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NFL Week 15 Predictions: The Showdown

A pivotal weekend for sure, Week 15 should have a major impact on the direction this season is headed. Not only do we have the game of the year in Pittsburgh, but there are other big headlines like the Eagles moving forward without Carson Wentz, the return of Aaron Rodgers in a must-win game at Carolina, and a rematch between the Rams-Seahawks where Seattle can really take control of the NFC West again.

But if you know me, you know exactly where I’m focused this week.

Game of the Year: Patriots (10-3) at Steelers (11-2)

This is arguably the NFL’s biggest regular-season game this late in the year in a decade. You may recall that epic 2007 season when the undefeated Colts and Patriots met in Week 9, and later when 10-1 Green Bay visited 10-1 Dallas. This is definitely on that level with the No. 1 seed and inside track to the Super Bowl in the AFC on the line.

It’s fitting to mention that 2007 NE-IND game, because that is really the last “big” road win for the Patriots, over 10 years ago. They have controlled the AFC East so much, and have had a lock on a first-round bye since 2010, so the Patriots are only 0-2 in road playoff games since 2007 (both losses in Denver). So they don’t have a road playoff win, and they have 9 other road wins over teams who made the playoffs. That includes some pretty soft competition like the 2011 Broncos (8-8 Tebow squad), 2014 Colts (the one-man team), 2015 Texans, 2016 Dolphins, and the 2016 Steelers with Landry Jones at QB.

In fact, the only 12-win team the Patriots have beat on the road since the 2007 Colts was the 2010 Steelers (12-4) at midseason when they were 6-2. Maybe the 2017 Saints, who the Patriots beat in Week 2, will get to 12-4 as well, but clearly they weren’t playing that well to start the season, especially on defense. This year’s Pittsburgh team should be able to go 13-3 at minimum, even if they rarely look the part.

So this is a much bigger road test than usual for the Patriots, who have failed such matchups before like in 2009 (Indy and NO), 2011 (Pittsburgh), 2014 (Green Bay), and 2015 (Denver).

We know the Steelers play much better at home on offense, and that’s where the offense has scored at least 26 points in every game this season except for that 9-point clunker against Jacksonville’s No. 1 pass defense. The Patriots do not have Jacksonville’s defense, but we know that this matchup hinges largely on what the Pittsburgh defense that has made Brett Hundley and Joe Flacco look great in recent weeks will do against Tom Brady.

What more can you say that the numbers can’t? Brady is 10-2 against the Steelers with 29 touchdowns to three interceptions. It doesn’t matter if the Patriots run the ball or not in these matchups, because they can always control the flow of the game with the quick-passing game. They also know when to pick their spots for deep shots against the Steelers, including some trickery like the throwback pass from Randy Moss to Brady in 2007, and a version of that last year in the AFC-CG.

Unless Father Time is smelling blood in the water with Brady, there’s no reason not to expect he will shred this defense again. The Patriots almost never drop two games in a row, so I’m not sure if the shocking Miami loss wasn’t some purposeful half-assed effort with the main focus always being on this important game for home-field advantage. New England also gets Rob Gronkowski back, and that obviously makes a big difference for Brady and everyone. Pittsburgh has had a hell of a time with him (eight touchdowns allowed in five games), and not even covering him has been a problem in the past.

This could also be a game where Danny Amendola and the receiving backs (Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James White) get a lot of catches. I doubt we’ll see many runs from the Patriots. Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks are more manageable for the Pittsburgh secondary, though they made Hogan look like Steve Largent in January and Cooks could add to the long list of 50+ yard touchdowns allowed by this defense, which misses Joe Haden. Yes, Ryan Shazier is a big loss, but the Patriots do a good job of making the linebackers irrelevant in this matchup by getting rid of the ball so quickly and into the slot. Keith Butler has his work cut out for him more than usual this week.

That’s why this game is really on Ben Roethlisberger and the offense to deliver. Control the game like they did in 2011, the last time the Steelers beat New England. That day the Steelers have five drives of 10+ plays, and held the ball for 39:22 in a 25-17 win. They also pressed the receivers on defense to make things more difficult on Brady, who still didn’t have a lousy game by any means. He just had fewer opportunities, which is why Roethlisberger has to be lights out on third down and in the red zone. He’s been very good in recent weeks, so I think he can deliver against the ultimate bend-but-don’t-break defense, but converting third downs and red-zone trips into touchdowns is paramount here. Mike Tomlin also can’t be settling for 50+ yard field goals, or sub-20-yard FGs, and punting inside the NE 40 in this matchup as he’s done before. If you can’t acknowledge that you’re playing the New England Patriots instead of the Cleveland Browns, you’ve already lost.

The return of JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Roethlisberger another option that he’s been more successful with as opposed to Martavis Bryant this year. Jesse James has also come along at tight end in recent weeks. Le’Veon Bell is putting in a ton of receiving work in recent weeks. There’s also a guy named Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh has more than enough weapons to move up and down the field all game long in this one. Just have to score touchdowns and play from ahead early. These games are almost never close between these teams. I’m not sure there’s been a real close game since the 2005 matchup, won 23-20 by the Patriots.

Roethlisberger has to be patient in this matchup and take what the defense gives him. Basically, be like Brady, which he did in 2011 and he did against the Ravens last week with another 500-yard passing game. Don’t force the deep ball on third-and-1 like he did to start the AFC-CG. Just extend the drive and keep Brady off the field. Easier said than done, but I’d be really surprised if the Steelers couldn’t score at least 27 points in this one.

For as difficult as a task as New England is for the Steelers, this might only be the first of two times they have to beat them to get back to the Super Bowl. I just don’t see another AFC contender standing in these team’s ways. In fact, it’s extra important for the Steelers to get the No. 1 seed so that they should only have to face one of Jacksonville and New England instead of both. The worst realistic outcome would be for the Steelers to finish as the No. 2 seed and have to host the No. 3 Jaguars in the divisional round. The Jaguars are a really tough matchup for Pittsburgh this year. Then of course if they won that one, they’d have to go to Foxboro where they play this team even worse every time. So winning this game is absolutely critical.

Is beating New England twice in the same year reasonable? The 2005 Broncos, 2006 Colts, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens, and 2015 Broncos all did so. The 2010 Jets went 2-1 against them, and even turned around from 45-3 in December to that stunning playoff upset. So it can be done. But the Steelers first need to show us they can hang with this team at home in a massive game. If they can’t do it this year, then I really don’t see this Killer B’s era team ever getting past NE.

You probably think I’m leaning towards Pittsburgh in this matchup, and honestly, I think I am too. However, I just can’t overlook the way the Steelers are squeaking out last-second FG wins over the Colts, Packers (without Rodgers), and Ravens. Or how the D is suddenly giving up big plays every week, and giving up 33 PPG at home to Hundley and Flacco. Now they get their arch nemesis when he’s in his “Angry” mode after a loss and has Gronk back? Not to mention the chess (Belichick) vs. checkers (Tomlin) coaching matchup.

I simply can’t do it. Not this time.

Final: Patriots 34, Steelers 27

2017 Week 15 Predictions

Aside from Saturday’s games, I’m going pretty vanilla with favorites this week. Just think there’s a lot of easy calls, which means we’ll probably have a ton of upsets and I’ll be bitching on Twitter about them.

2017Wk15

  • 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)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Week 12: 12-4 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 13: 11-5 (Spread: 10-6)
  • Week 14: 6-10 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Season: 126-82 (Spread: 38-37-1)

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Saturday Night Edition

Technically, it’s almost always a Saturday night edition here since that’s usually when I post, but we have an actual Saturday night game in Week 15. It’s a polished turd of course between the Jets and Dolphins, but it’s an NFL game nonetheless.

Here are a few better games to think about.

Tennessee at Kansas City

I want to see if Marcus Mariota rebounds after his Tim Tebow day against the Broncos. The Chiefs aren’t as good on defense, but they have playmakers at multiple levels even after losing Derrick Johnson (Achilles). I might like the Titans here at home, but Arrowhead should be a tough spot for this team. Oddly, I think Alex Smith has a good game (dink-and-dunk vs. Dick LeBeau scheme) in what should be the Chiefs’ 11th win of the season.

Detroit at NY Giants

The 2016 Giants are on pace for the lowest DVOA variance of any team since 1989. Basically, you get the same should-be-better offense and solid defense having to salt the game away every week. So it would make sense to see the Lions trying to pick up a ninth 4QC win in a low-scoring game here, but I would really not expect much from Matthew Stafford with the finger injury on the road against this defense. Look for Eli Manning to perk up against that defense and get this win.

Indianapolis at Minnesota

This could be an ugly game for Andrew Luck. Think what Carson Palmer faced earlier in the season in this building. The pass rush should be huge, but I also think the Vikings still struggle to score enough to put the game too out of reach. Luck will have his chance late, and I don’t see Adrian Peterson doing much in his return to action. Remember, there are some serious blocking issues that the Vikings can’t possibly fix this season that have stalled their running game. The talent level of the backs is a secondary concern.

New England at Denver

The Patriots never really do what you expect, but on paper this is a game where the Pats should look to run Blount, and the Broncos should lean heavily on Trevor Siemian’s passing. The latter sounds more unrealistic, but that has been the case the last few weeks with a disappearing running game. This is basically Denver’s last stand for the playoffs and title defense. We know Brady has struggled in Denver, but we also know Bill Belichick can easily limit the scoring of a one-dimensional offense that already has scoring issues. So I think Von Miller and company will show up well enough to win, but the offense won’t do its share this time.

Tampa Bay at Dallas

Feels like a Dallas blowout or a really good game. Let’s hope for the latter. Tampa Bay’s defense has really stepped up on this five-game winning streak. Dallas has obviously struggled on offense in its last two games. I think Dak Prescott, perhaps feeling a little heat to keep Tony Romo on the bench, will rebound with a solid game and the Cowboys take this one at home. Jameis Winston will hold the ball too long in looking for big plays instead of taking the readily available ones against a Dallas defense that simply isn’t very good, but will be good enough in this one. And wow, do we really need another Dallas prime-time game/national game? I know the alternatives weren’t great, but this is overkill.

2016 Week 15 Predictions

I had the Seahawks on TNF, minus a few concussions from that fourth quarter.

Winners in bold:

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

Season summary

  • 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
  • Season: 127-81

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Carolina Is the Worst 13-0 Team Ever

The only Week 15 game where both teams have a winning record is Denver (10-3) at Pittsburgh (8-5). Things are not set in stone with three games left, but this is the 25th game this season between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is 16-8 (.667), and these two teams were actually involved in half of the losses thanks to splitting their season series (all road wins) with the Chiefs and Bengals.

That is not to say this week lacks games that should be competitive. There are just a lot of sub-.500 teams this season, but since they are close to being equal in quality, some games should be decent. I think Detroit at New Orleans could be a fun shootout on Monday night, for example. As for the battle for the AFC South between Houston and Indy where the Texans are 0-13 all time, it’s a shame these offenses are reduced to starting an ailing Matt Hasselbeck and a third-string T.J. Yates.

Broncos at Steelers: Best matchup of the season?

This game lost a little bit of its luster with Denver’s loss last week to Oakland, dropping them to the No. 3 seed for the time being, but it’s still a huge game that both teams really need to win if they want to reach their goals this season.

What better matchup could we see this season than the Pittsburgh offense against the Denver defense? This is arguably the best against the best with both units close to having full health. Obviously the Steelers don’t have Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey or Kelvin Beachum, but Ben Roethlisberger is good to go with his cast of receivers, including a now confident (and competent) Markus Wheaton. The Broncos eased DeMarcus Ware back into action last week, and still have Von Miller to rush Ben and the cornerbacks to try covering these wideouts. Denver does have some safety injuries (T.J. Ward, Omar Bolden), so that could be a problem against the AFC’s best vertical passing game. But this is pretty close to getting these units at their best in Week 15. Definitely better health than what the Patriots and Broncos had in their meeting a few weeks ago.

Typically, we see the defense win in these matchups, but that’s usually in a playoff atmosphere where you already expect defense to get more leeway with the whistles and aggressive play. I really like the Steelers at home, and I don’t think they have to score 30 points to win, which is something they’ve done in five straight games for the first time in team history. The Broncos, no matter which quarterback is starting this year, just do not score many points (28th in points per drive). The Steelers can probably put up 24 points and feel great in this one, and I think this offense is more than capable of doing so right now with the variety of ways it can attack a defense. Martavis Bryant can score from anywhere on the field. Antonio Brown can usually get his in any given week. Heath Miller still brings a reliable pair of hands on the short passes as Ben’s security blanket. DeAngelo Williams has been very good in all phases of the game this season. They struggle a little in the red zone, but this offense can move the ball with the best of them, and you can argue Roethlisberger’s protection has been better than ever. They are basically running the Bruce Arians offense this season with all the vertical routes, which is a bit of a departure from Todd Haley’s more dink-and-dunk approach to the last three seasons. I still expect Roethlisberger to test this defense on the big plays with the safety injuries, and to try making them pay for their aggressive play with some play-action shots.

If the Steelers play a smart game offensively and avoid the turnovers, I really don’t see how Denver’s offense scores enough points to win. They will have to rely on short fields here, and a return score. The Pittsburgh defense certainly gives up a lot of plays and it’s not hard to throw for 300 yards on them, but the turnovers have been coming again this season after a historic drought. Thanks, regression to the mean. Brock Osweiler is a sack machine with his indecisiveness and lack of experience, which are a bad recipe behind an offensive line that clearly stinks. I could see big days for the likes of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison. The Steelers are no slouches against the run either, and Denver’s running game has been very hit or miss all season. Demaryius Thomas has killed the Steelers on some huge plays in past meetings, but he won’t get the kind of defensive looks afforded to Tim Tebow in that playoff game, and I can’t even picture him turning a bubble screen into 10 yards these days, let alone a long touchdown. He has to catch the ball first, and that has been a problem. I could see Emmanuel Sanders wanting to have a huge game against his former team, but his talents are being wasted a bit in an offense that has been so unsuccessful at throwing deep this season. While Peyton Manning kept overthrowing Sanders for much of the year, Osweiler barely even tries throwing the ball over 15 yards. When he does, it’s almost always an incompletion outside of that one drive against the Patriots where he hit two bombs on the way to a go-ahead touchdown. You can tell which people are paying attention to the games and which are watching highlights when they talk about Osweiler’s arm and the deep ball. He’s not helping them in this area at all. He’s gone 22 drives without a touchdown drive. The Broncos need to get Manning back, but a healthy Manning in 2015 may just be a pipe dream at this point.

Final score: Steelers 24, Broncos 16

It Doesn’t Take a Giant to Knock Off an Undefeated — Just the Giants

If you’re a Giants fan, you can celebrate some of the best wins in NFL history, and these were usually done against true giants in seasons where New York was really about average at best. No one really expected any of this to happen.

1934: The 8-5 Giants with their middling statistics beat the dominant 13-0 Bears by a 30-13 final in the 1934 NFL Championship Game.

1998: The 5-8 Giants with Kent Graham at quarterback shocked the 13-0 Broncos, eventual winners of back-to-back Super Bowls by a 20-16 final in Week 15.

2007: The underdog Giants used the greatest drive in NFL history to down the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, holding them to just 14 points in a 17-14 win.

2011: The Giants were outscored by 6 points in the regular season, but played Green Bay very tough in Week 13. In the NFC Divisional Round, the Giants stunned the Packers again in Lambeau with a 37-20 win. Green Bay was 13-0 at one point and 15-1 going into that game.

Maybe this history is what has a lot of people surprisingly on the Giants’ side this week as they host 13-0 Carolina. Maybe it’s the fact that this middling Giants squad has let five games slip away in the fourth quarter this year, including what should have been a win over the superior Patriots.

Count me in on the upset talk.

First, Carolina is just not as good as your usual 13-0 team. Pretty much every advanced statistical metric does not have Carolina as the best team in the NFC, let alone the NFL this year. They certainly don’t compare to the teams I mentioned above, and I really don’t see them as better than the 2005 Colts or 2009 Saints, both of which lost after 13-0 starts themselves.

For all the talk about how soft the 1972 Dolphins’ schedule was — and it sure was — has anyone really looked at Carolina’s schedule? I mean, really look at this thing.

I made a tweet in September about the Falcons’ schedule, which obviously has most of the same games as Carolina, back when Atlanta was a bit more impressive than the Panthers to start the season.

ATLtweet

People love to bring this up on Sundays as Atlanta keeps losing even though I said I’m not predicting 16-0, but they’re missing the point. I picked out the right schedule, but wrong team for 16-0. You know how we make all those jokes about this year’s AFC South and NFC East? Well that’s half of Carolina’s schedule. This schedule is the main reason the Panthers have a very good shot at 16-0, and this Giants team is really the last big obstacle in their way assuming they go all out with starters in the final weeks.

Carolina’s 2015 schedule has been an unbelievable combination of bad teams and drawing decent teams at the perfect moment. I can think of at least 30 teams from this century that could have went 16-0 against this schedule. Just take a look.

Week 1 at JAX (W 20-9): lousy team that started 1-5. Offense and Blake Bortles only started picking things up after Week 8 bye. Panthers relied on big 4Q to clinch win.

Week 2 vs. HOU (W 24-17): made a panic move to start Ryan Mallett. This team trailed 42-0 and 41-0 in road games early this season. Got better starting in Week 8. Panthers needed a red-zone stop to beat them.

Week 3 vs. NO (W 27-22): Drew Brees has missed one game due to injury in his career. It was this one. Luke McCown went 31-of-38 with 3 drops and Carolina still needed a Josh Norman INT in end zone to hold onto 5-point win.

Week 4 at TB (W 37-23): Jameis Winston was turnover prone early in season & TB has a bad defense. Buccaneers started playing better in Week 8, but still a young .500 team at best. First game of the season where Carolina didn’t need 4QC stop.

Week 6 at SEA (W 27-23): Seattle came in at 2-3 with 3 blown 4Q leads, something they’ve done 5 times this year. Carolina needed 9-point 4QC for win. This is the worst Seattle team since 2011, but they have just started playing some great football over the last four games. I would pick Seattle to win a playoff game in Carolina right now.

Week 7 vs. PHI (W 27-16): Sloppy game on SNF against a disappointing Philadelphia team. Defense was playing much better than offense at the time. Now? You never know what to expect from them.

Week 8 vs. IND (W 29-26 OT): Andrew Luck made some of the worst plays of his career, yet nearly pulled off a 17-point 4QC in Carolina in regulation. Panthers needed to become first team in NFL history to win after trailing in OT. Like Seattle, this is the worst Colts team since 2011.

Week 9 vs. GB (W 37-29): Again, the Panthers nearly blew a 23-pt 4Q lead, but Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the red zone at the end. The Packers started 6-0, but lost four of five after the bye week and were clearly in a funk. Normally, beating SEA/IND/GB would mean something, but this is also the worst GB team since 2008.

Week 10 at TEN (W 27-10): Titans are just a lousy 3-10 team with an especially bad defense.  Carolina took care of business.

Week 11 vs. WAS (W 44-16): Washington has been spanked on the road by superior teams several times this season. Another game where Carolina, which started playing better in recent weeks, dominated an inferior opponent.

Week 12 at DAL (W 33-14): This became a lost season for Tony Romo, who suffered another collarbone injury. This is the worst Dallas team since maybe 2004.

Week 13 at NO (W 41-38): The Saints (5-8) are in the running for the worst passing defense in NFL history. At least Brees was back this time, and the Panthers needed a late 4QC/GWD and another final-drive stop to get the win.

Week 14 vs. ATL (W 38-0): The Falcons basically took their ball and went home after an embarrassing loss in NO in Week 6. Once 5-0, Atlanta has not won since Week 7’s 10-7 barnburner over Zach Mettenberger and the Titans. When you need a 4QC to sweep the 2015 NFC East, we should have known better than to accept that 5-0 as legit. And guess who the Panthers get in Week 16?

Now does 13-0 make sense? I’ll freely admit that Cam Newton has played at an MVP level since Week 9. There has been a colossal difference in how he played in Weeks 1-8 vs. Weeks 9-14, but not changing is the fact that this schedule is Charmin soft. I think some of those old Carolina teams with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers could have went 13-0 against this schedule.

So here come the Giants, who are certainly an average team themselves, but I still like them in this matchup.

The best way to beat the Giants is to throw all over them. They don’t rush the passer, yet they still have 25 takeaways, second in the league. Carolina is not a prolific passing team. They struggle to move the ball that way some times, whether it’s Newton overthrows or Ted Ginn drops. Greg Olsen is a little banged up this week, but he’s still probable. Jonathan Stewart is out, so you have some lesser players in the backfield. The Giants are middle of the pack at stopping the run, but they’re not likely to get killed in that area by this backfield.

The Giants have a passing game that can be prolific and spread the field with multiple weapons, including the hottest one in the game (Odell Beckham Jr.). I doubt Josh Norman completely shuts him down. Eli Manning just had a virtuoso performance on Monday night, and we’ve seen him get hot for a month stretch at a time (every four years it seems). He can score the points necessary to win this one. The teams that gave Carolina the most trouble had the passing game to do it. It’s not like the Giants are going to try winning with Rashad Jennings averaging 3.5 YPC and Andre Williams not scoring touchdowns.

New York’s two worst performances this season were on the road against division rivals (WAS, PHI). They were still in every other game this year. I expect them to be in this one with the chance to seal the win in the last minutes again.

Final score: Giants 28, Panthers 24

If the Giants fall short again, maybe they’ll just get another crack in January. We’ve seen this movie before.

2015 Week 15 Predictions

Of course I got the Tampa Bay game wrong on Thursday night. I’m 3-11 at picking Buccaneer games this season. Hey, maybe I’ll pick them to lose to the 15-0 Panthers in two weeks…

Winners in bold:

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Season: 128-80 (.615)

NFL Week 15 Predictions: So We Meet Again

This week’s schedule has 11 divisional games we already saw this season. Setting aside Week 17’s, this is only the fourth time since 2002 a week had at least 11 divisional games:

  • Week 14, 2003 – 12
  • Week 13, 2005 – 12
  • Week 2, 2006 – 11
  • Week 15, 2014 – 11

I did a study on divisional rematches (2002-2013) that went up yesterday. You can’t reliably use a first matchup to predict the second. The game’s too complex for that to work.

For some teams this week is almost a last stand for relevance in 2014. Lose and you might as well look ahead to next year.

Texans at Colts

As has been the case since 2012, this matchup features each team’s best player going head-to-head. As long as the Colts don’t let J.J. Watt live in the backfield, they’ll win the game like they always win at home against Houston. Why? The Texans never have the quarterback to match points with Luck, regardless of how great Watt might be. I’m going to paste something I sent in an e-mail yesterday about the topic of Watt and the MVP, which I touched on last week.

I think Watt can make the case that he’s the best at his position by a wider margin than any other player at their position, including the quarterbacks. If we look at stats like Win Probability Added (WPA) or Expected Points Added (EPA) from Advanced Football Analytics, then Watt crushes his competition. Watt is 137 percent above the runner-up in WPA this year and 133 percent higher in EPA, while Aaron Rodgers ranks ahead of No. 2 Peyton Manning by 25 percent in WPA and 48 percent in EPA. However, the problem with these metrics for defenders is the same as the problem with evaluating defensive ends in general: we only focus on the positives. With quarterbacks, we’re still penalizing them for sacks, turnovers and incompletions which make scoring difficult. With Watt, he’s not docked for failing to generate more pressure or sacks or creating more turnovers. We don’t criticize him for getting blocked out of dozens of plays per game. Despite Watt’s monster season, Houston is a 7-6 team with a perfectly mediocre defense, ranked 15th in DVOA at Football Outsiders. Every quarterback the Texans have beat this season was either a rookie or has since been benched (RGIII, Manuel, Hoyer). Meanwhile, Rodgers and Manning are leading 10-win teams with the top two offenses in DVOA. That’s the mark of quarterback value shining through whereas one defender can only do so much for his team, even if he’s the best defender in the league.

Luck will do enough to continue this streak of 20-point games and the Colts will clinch the AFC South.

20

49ers at Seahawks

The wheels are coming off in San Francisco and now the 49ers head to the house of horrors known as Seattle. The 49ers are averaging 11 PPG in Seattle under Colin Kaepernick. They scored 3 points at home on Thanksgiving. This would be a huge upset that I just don’t see happening. Seahawks keep rolling.

Steelers at Falcons

I almost want to say I’ll eat my keyboard if both teams don’t score 28+ points, but there’s a reason I really don’t gamble on NFL games. This one looks destined for a ton of points, but you just never know. Julio Jones’ health can be a big deciding factor in what kind of track meet we get, because if he’s fine, then the Steelers are toast in the secondary again. The best quarterbacks the Steelers have played this year are Drew Brees and Andrew Luck and they really didn’t pass the test in either of those games. That’s why Ben Roethlisberger has to play great and I think he should be at that level against this Atlanta defense with its lack of a pass rush. Le’Veon Bell will also have a shot for a fourth 200-yard game. Maybe I’m thinking too much of the 34-34 tie (2002) or the 41-38 overtime game in 2006 between these teams, but I smell a game-winning drive again in this one and each quarterback will hope he has the ball last. Also a rare meeting between two QBs who actively have at least 25 GWDs.

Packers at Bills

Do you believe in deja vu? In Week 15 of the 2011 season, a hot Green Bay team (13-0) with Aaron Rodgers rolled into Kansas City and surprisingly lost its first game of the season. The Chiefs played shutdown pass defense and Kyle Orton was very efficient at quarterback in a 19-14 win. A lot of the ingredients are present again three years later with this game in Buffalo. The Packers have not been as sharp on the road this year and Buffalo’s pass defense can be stingy at times. More importantly the front four is good at getting pressure, which is the crucial element to slowing down Rodgers. You really don’t want to blitz him. His offensive line has been playing much better lately though and I still expect the Packers to win, but there’s potential here for an upset. It’s Buffalo’s last real shot to keep this season alive.

Broncos at Chargers

Ever since the schedule came out in April I had the Broncos pegged as a 13-3 team with losses at Seattle, at New England and at San Diego. The St. Louis game was a shock to say the least. But here we are this week and I’m a little shaken in confidence with San Diego, but I can’t forget Manning’s Law. Bad stuff usually happens when he plays the Chargers, and of course this team should be playing with the utmost urgency at 8-5. This won’t be an easy game even if the Broncos have already handled the Chargers once this year. I’m not sure where the offensive game plan is for this one, but the new reliance on running has taken something away from the crispness of the passing game. I expect Manning will throw for over 200 yards and a few touchdowns this week, but I also count on John Pagano’s bunch to come up with a takeaway and challenge this game to the final possession. Even if Denver’s up 21 points they still usually make the final score a one-possession game. Still, I think Denver gets the win with the chance to clinch the AFC West on the line.

NFL Week 15 Predictions

I bought into the Rams on TNF and paid for it with another impotent offensive showing against Arizona’s ridiculous defense. Not even Ryan Lindley could throw that game away.

Winners in bold:

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

I initially went Falcons, but finding out Sunday morning that Julio Jones is likely out, I’m going with Pittsburgh. I know, this usually backfires, but I think in a close, high-scoring game that will cut into Atlanta’s ability to score. The Steelers have the better offense to begin with. The gap’s bigger now.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Total: 137-70-1

NFL Week 15 Predictions and Rational Manning vs. Brady Facts

Is it worth anyone’s time to do a full rant about the absurdity of Tom Brady, who spent half the season playing his worst football yet, being a top MVP candidate? No, that’s nonsense I expect to take care of itself naturally the next two weeks. Peyton Manning will get 40-plus votes while a few (mostly homer) votes may go to people like Brady, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

A MVP should always be about the current season (all 16 games) and not a lifetime achievement award, but let’s forget about it entirely and go big picture beyond just 2013 since some on social media think I’m purposely putting down Brady’s season. Let’s file this one under “Well Allow Me to Retort.”

Since 2007, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have each lost 23 games they finished.* That includes Thursday night for Manning.

*Finished can be tricky semantics when Brian Hoyer comes in for the last drive, but it really just means games they played into the fourth quarter and didn’t leave early so Jim Sorgi or Curtis Painter could make the game unwinnable (and unwatchable).

I took each QB’s 23 losses and crunched some numbers for points per drive production for their offense and defense and what their Total QBR (credit to ESPN) was.

The results were not surprising. On average, Manning plays a little better when his team loses and his defense plays worse compared to Brady. This is why I write and say what I do about each quarterback.

Here are the 23 losses for each:

PML

TBL

Not drastically different averages, but we do see Manning’s teams almost score and allow about a FG (3 points) more per game than New England. Manning’s led his offense to at least 20 points in all seven losses as a Bronco. Brady’s longest streak of scoring 20+ in a loss is three games.

We’re only going to score 17 points?

Brady’s offense has been held to 17 or fewer points in 11 losses since his famous quote before Super Bowl XLII. Manning: seven times.

2013 results still pending, but it would appear Manning has lost to 4 teams with a losing record and 15 playoff teams. For Brady, it’s 5 losing teams, 14 playoff teams.

A 50.0 QBR is average, and Brady (50.1) is right there while Manning is better at 55.8. Those are straight averages from the 23-game samples as I do not have the ability to get a cumulative QBR number. I would imagine it’d be close to what’s there.

Then I took the 23 games and sorted them from worst to best in terms of offensive points per drive and QBR.

MBPPD

Manning outpaces Brady every step of the way here. Manning’s worst game was 1.17 Pts/Dr, which Brady falls under four times. Manning has 13 losses with at least 2.0 Pts/Dr, including Thursday night’s game (2.22). Brady has six.

Same thing, but with QBR sorted from worst to best:

MBQBR

Here we see a closer race, especially for Games 9-15 where Brady ranks higher twice, then Manning pulls away.

Brady’s two worst games were 4.2 and 8.7 and both were playoff games. Manning’s worst was 19.9 in Atlanta last season when he threw a trio of first-quarter interceptions. His highest was 92.3 against Brady in 2012.

If we expanded this back to 2001-06, we wouldn’t have QBR for 2001-05 for starters. But in terms of point production, there’s a good chance it’d be the same trends (Manning scoring more, getting fewer drives and Brady’s defense being not as bad).

The general stats from 2001-06 in losses sure would seem to support that. Manning had 48 TD, 51 INT, 78.8 PR compared to 29 TD, 43 INT, 66.1 PR for Brady.

So what you’re saying is…

This week was a painful exercise in sports media manipulating the narrative again.

After the Cowboys lost on Monday night, allowing 45 points and getting zero stops, this was the headline I heard on TV on Tuesday morning: “TONY ROMO LOSES IN DECEMBER AGAIN…”

After the Broncos lost on Thursday night to a ball-control San Diego performance, this was the headline I heard on TV on Friday morning: “DID PEYTON BLOW HIS SUPER BOWL CHANCES?”

Yet if Brady has a dud performance in Miami — something as reasonable as the 21-0 dud he laid to a team with Joey Harrington at QB in 2006 — on Sunday, in the biggest game of Week 15 (game with the best records and the No. 1 seed on the line) you know Monday morning is going to instead start with “WHO DEY GONNA BEAT THE BENGALS?! IS ANDY DALTON MAKING A LATE MVP PUSH?”

That’s just the facts.

NFL Week 15 Predictions

I learned the hard way to trust my gut after last week’s big error.

I showed you my picks like I always do, but after noticing I had the home team finishing 15-1, I scrambled to make some changes and posted a second “official” set of picks. Those changes went 0-4 as I was right with my initial gut picks. Now every week will feature games that you can make a great argument for either team winning. Those are the hard ones, but we must trust our gut even when things look silly like picking so many home teams. Sometimes, crazy shit just happens.

Trust the gut. I knew San Diego had a good shot to win with playing ball-control offense, but I went with Denver anyway, so 0-1, and I’m okay with it.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-3
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 8-6
  • Week 11: 9-6
  • Week 12: 7-6-1
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Season: 133-74-1

I really do love the Cowboys this week against GB. The “ebb and flow” pick of the week. After such a bad performance on Monday, I expect a much stronger game on both sides of the ball. It won’t be as bad as Thanksgiving for Green Bay, but I think Dallas wins big.

I also really want to pick Washington to have a good game and win with Kirk Cousins so Mike Shanahan can look smart, but since when do I still think Shanahan’s a good coach? Put him out to pasture already.

And if Cousins does have a good game, no, we don’t have to start putting him in the damn MVP conversation.

NFL Week 15 Predictions, Rookie QB Study and Writing Recap

Is it Sunday yet? Bring on the best Sunday schedule of the regular season.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 14: 2012 NFL Rookie QBs Make More History – Cold, Hard Football Facts

For the first time ever, two rookie quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins) combined to lead a fourth-quarter comeback win. Could it have been avoided if the Ravens went for a two-point conversion to take a late 9-point lead? We have stats on that. Also, the Colts won a game when trailing by 13 points at halftime, something teams only do 11.5 percent of the time. Tony Romo had his 17th comeback win, which is the most in Dallas history. Even the Rams are getting heavily back into comeback wins after having two from 2007-11.

Why Mike Wallace is Struggling, and What It Means for Steelers WR in 2013 – Bleacher Report

Mike Wallace wanted Larry Fitzgerald money, then Vincent Jackson money, now he might be lucky to get Antonio Brown money. A look into why he has struggled in 2012, and the warning signs were there before the season even started.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 14 vs. Tennessee Titans – Colts Authority

Andrew Luck can play 18 years and never have a game with a more misleading TD:INT ratio (1:2). That’s what happens when you have a pick six that was a sack blown by the refs, a Hail Mary INT before halftime, and a dropped 35-yard TD that could have been the game-winner. Instead Adam Vinatieri made his 30th game-winning field goal and Luck set a rookie regular season record with his sixth game-winning drive.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 15 Predictions – Bleacher Report

Peyton Manning will look to keep his 8-game winning streaks alive for both the Broncos and against the Baltmore Ravens. The Giants will take on Matt Ryan in the Georgia Dome, where he is 32-5 but has struggled this season. Jay Cutler always struggles with the Packers, home or road. Finally we will see if the 49ers can slow down the Patriots in a “No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense” matchup. Hopefully we’ll just have a great game somewhere, as there have been too many marquee duds this year.

Save the Roll for January, Not December – NBC Sports

“You want to be playing your best football in December.” It’s a cliche, but is it true? I examined the final four regular season games for all 120 playoff teams from 2002-11 to find out if playing well late has any impact on playoff success. The truth is it does not, and more than your record, it pays off to be playing well (scoring differential). Teams who finish 2-2 are just as likely to win in the playoffs and a Super Bowl as teams who finish 4-0 in the regular season. Not to mention the whole playoff rest strategy some teams use plays directly against building momentum for the playoffs.

In summary, just another myth. The Giants are known for getting hot twice, but what about a horrible loss at home to the Redskins in December in both 2007 and 2011? The only thing that matters is how you play that day in the postseason where anything can happen in the one and done.

The 2012 NFL Rookie Quarterbacks Are the Best Rookie Class Ever – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Thanks to the record-setting seasons of the 2012 rookie QB class, they are clearly the best class ever based on rookie performance only. The standard has been increasing for rookie QBs, and this offers a detailed look into the numbers and history that has led to this point. We have eight tables and two graphs in this one. This is basically “Every Thing You Always Wanted To Know About Rookie Quarterbacks * But Were Afraid to Ask.”

 

Colts Q&A with Scott Kacsmar + numbers, thoughts for the game – Houston Chronicle

For a change of pace this week, I did a Q&A previewing Colts/Texans with Stephanie Stradley for the Houston Chronicle. I call the Colts the worst 9-4 team in NFL history, but if Houston lets them stay around late, the Colts will definitely have a shot to pull the upset.

2012 NFL Week 15 Predictions

Part of me wanted to take Philadelphia on Thursday night, but fortunately I didn’t drop the ball on that one and took the Bengals. That’ll conclude the Thursday night games this season.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Week 7: 12-1
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 11-3
  • Week 10: 9-4-1
  • Week 11: 11-3
  • Week 12: 10-6
  • Week 13: 8-8
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Season: 134-73-1 (.647)