NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

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

Previous weeks:

Raiders Came at the King, Didn’t Miss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, Are You a Football Team?

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

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania’s Historic Third Down Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Dalton: The Ginger Cowboy Rides Again

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

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

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

Russell Wilson’s Best Game-Winning Drive Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 5 Predictions: The Clapper Revenge Game

You know the week’s schedule is a downer if I’m leading with the 1-3 Cowboys taking on the 0-4 Giants. But that’s what happens when the Eagles/Vikings/Texans/Falcons disappoint, the Titans are a COVID mess, the red-hot Packers have a bye week, and the Patriots and Broncos don’t know which quarterbacks to start.

The Chiefs can become the 11th team since 1950 to win 14 straight games, so that’s something to watch for in the early slate.

Cowboys-Giants is about the only win we can safely assume the NFC East will be adding in Week 5, and of course it’s a division game, something the Giants have been horrible in when not playing the Washington Football Team in recent years:

It’s an interesting game if only because of the streaks at stake here. The Cowboys have been moving the ball and scoring (when not fumbling) at will in recent weeks, but so have their opponents. Dallas will hope to avoid joining a small group of teams that have allowed 38 points in four consecutive games after doing so the last three weeks.

Lost in the chaos of the 49-38 loss to Cleveland, the Cowboys became the first offense in NFL history to gain at least 520 yards in three straight games. The only other offenses to gain at least 500 yards in three straight games were the 1982 Chargers and 1998 49ers, both of which went 3-0 on those streaks. Dan Marino’s 1984 Dolphins are the only offense to gain 490 yards in four straight games, a streak that saw them go 4-0 of course. The Cowboys are 1-2, but if they can’t beat the lowest-scoring team in football at home, then what is Jerry Jones going to do with this coaching staff?

It’s like Jason Garrett never left, and tomorrow, he’ll be there in Dallas as the offensive coordinator of the Giants, who have a league-low 47 points through four games. Now I don’t know if The Clapper was saving all the touchdowns for this revenge game, but his offense has been putrid to this point.

If the Cowboys have to get into another shootout with the Giants, then maybe Dak Prescott will throw for 6,000 yards in 2020. Dallas has turned the ball over nine times with just one takeaway in the last three weeks. Daniel Jones can be more than charitable with fumbles, so the Cowboys need to finally start playing up to their talent and get a comfortable win this season.

Something to actually clap about.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I had high hopes for the Buccaneers on Thursday night, but that was a slugfest won by the Bears, who now have three wins after trailing by 13 points this season.

Year to date: 29-31-3 (.484) ATS, 44-18-1 SU (.706)

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Sports Illustrated Edition

I was thinking about a theme this week in lieu of focusing on a Week 5 slate that may have shot its best shot on Thursday night (LAR-SEA). We could talk about Russell Wilson’s increasingly strong place in history, or I could dig into the dominance of road teams this season. Or I could bash the snot out of that awful 100 Greatest Games list from NFL Films, but I think I’ve already done enough of that on Twitter.

I could also talk about a 2003 parallel, the year I really got into football stats. That was when I found myself gaining much more interest in the Colts and Peyton Manning (especially after that Tampa Bay comeback) during a down year for the Steelers. It feels similar to me right now where the Steelers aren’t must-see TV and the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes absolutely are. I’m glad they’re on SNF tomorrow, because frankly there is nothing more exciting in this game right now than watching that offense operate. Without the Chiefs, my interest in football would be at its lowest since 2000 for sure.

So I ultimately landed on recapping where my interests in football analysis began and where they are now after a Red Wedding week for a former flagship franchise in sports journalism (Sports Illustrated).

Sports Illustrated –> Sports Informative

I’ve let this cat out of the bag a few times before, but my main motivation for getting into NFL analysis was to prove ex-jocks on TV wrong and to provide better, factual information to fans who deserved more than cliches and myths. That 2003 season in particular was a tough one to stomach when I’d turn on ESPN after school and listen to someone like Sean Salisbury spout nonsense about the likes of the Patriots, Colts and some of the other offense-driven teams at that time (Rams, Vikings, Chiefs). This was just about to begin an era of “The Patriot Way” and ring counting and “he’s so clutch!” taking over sports analysis. Maybe there was some of that in the 90s as well, but that was before my time frame of interest in the league.

The 2003 AFC Championship Game especially left a mark on me. Yes, Peyton Manning stunk in that game and threw four interceptions in snowy New England. It’s one of the worst games of his career and was especially disappointing after the way he played the position flawlessly the previous two weeks in the playoffs. But when the credit kept going to Tom Brady for the win, I wondered if I had watched the same game as everyone else. I saw Brady try to match Manning pick for pick only to see the Colts fail to complete those plays, or a Patriot receiver to break up a should-be interception. Both quarterbacks sucked that day, but as I came to learn, the mainstream narrative demands that the winner gets the praise while the loser choked. I mean, just watch this:

Never mind the fact that the NFL admitted to missing multiple calls on the Patriots’ defense for holding receivers on the final drive, the whole outcome and critique of that game just felt wrong to me. The Panthers also got pretty physical with the Eagles’ receivers later that day, prompting the league to remind officials that illegal contact has been a thing since 1978.

This was my senior year of high school and I’d soon be going to Pitt in 2004, a huge year for so many quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year for the Steelers, Drew Brees’ breakout in San Diego, and Manning’s record-breaking year in Indy. The game was changing again after a weird transition period in 1999-2003 when quarterbacks were coming out of grocery stores, Canada, NFL Europe and the XFL to lead playoff victories while some legendary defenses really soared to Super Bowls. We were entering a new golden age of quarterback play, which even before statistical analysis I knew was the most important position because I was conditioned by Bill Cowher’s quarterbacks letting his team down in the postseason year after year. Thanks for getting me on the right path so early, Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart.

I needed better analysis to complement my growing love of the game, and my own Excel sheets of game logs I started putting together in 2003 just weren’t cutting it. Fortunately, I began finding places like Pro Football Reference (and its blog), Football Outsiders, Cold Hard Football Facts, Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats, and also Sports Illustrated’s website where I would read the likes of Peter King, Dr. Z (RIP) and Don Banks (RIP) while I was in college. My introduction to efficiency metrics (EPA, DVOA, WinProb) and better coverage of the game transformed my hobby into something significant while at school I was learning about linear regression and decision models.

I was now collecting more data, especially thanks to PFR, and in 2005 I began to chronicle all the 4QC and GWD attempts that eventually led to getting my foot in the door of this industry. I started recording games on VCR tape in 2005, bought a DVD recorder in 2006 to switch to DVD-Rs, and started downloading games via torrents in 2006 as well. I was amassing a large collection of data and video to analyze the game the way I knew it deserved, but alas I was just one person who only had time during school to closely examine a few teams (Steelers, Colts and Patriots in particular) each week. It also helped that I watched from 2005-2008 the Steelers win two Super Bowls, the Colts win one, and the undefeated Patriots lose one in spectacular fashion. That four-year stretch will probably never be topped in my life as far as fandom goes.

Late 2007 was when I was initially approached by PFR to sell data on QB starts that I had mentioned on a blog post that I was researching. This stuff just didn’t exist on the internet back then, but I started putting that together along with a database of coordinators and eventually traced all the comebacks and GWDs back to 1940 and sold that data to PFR where I also began to write blog posts in 2009. I made important contacts at that time and would get emails from writers from various big-name establishments (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NY Times) to inquire about my comebacks data.

Around this time I had some pretty big dreams about how the future of NFL analysis should look with an emphasis on advanced stats created from game charting. In the early 2000s I would argue on message boards about things like air yards and passing under pressure, collecting whatever data I could find from SI’s website (usually provided by STATS LLC) on those splits. People thought I was crazy for caring about how far a pass was thrown, but I knew that was important information to differentiate performance. Now of course today we see it all the time with PFF, Next Gen Stats and the other innovations that have come along, many of which were things I talked about years ago like tracking time to throw, how long linemen hold their blocks, receiver separation, throws into tight windows, route types, etc.

I’m not saying I created modern analytics in the NFL, but I definitely knew what could be tracked with the right technology and big enough workforce to handle charting every play. Those days of blaming a QB’s OL for his tendency to hold the ball and take sacks should be over, but that’s a topic for another day.

Eventually in July 2011 I decided to take a chance writing about the NFL full time. Ten months later, I had an article that was featured on the front page of the SI website. No, it wasn’t in the print edition, but this was still a huge deal to me. In fact I still have a screenshot of the site with my article featured in a frame. Getting on SI seemed like the ultimate high in sports writing to me. I’m sad that the link no longer works, but I did find it on a web archive here. I’ll also add that SI paid over $500 for this piece, so I thought that was incredible for one article at a time when I was lucky to see $50 for my articles. When you just start out in this business, you know it’s hard to make anything and writing for free is common.

Of course, I probably should have known better than to enter an industry where Skip Bayless is paid more to yell hot takes than what some sites pay their writing staffs combined. It only seems to be getting worse too as countless sites have had to stop print media and have tried to pivot towards video or have dreaded “influencers” promote their brand. Yes, let’s hire someone who couldn’t get a role on a CW show to film a 90 second hot take to put on the ‘Gram instead of publishing a thoughtful piece people have to actually read. Is that really the future of sports journalism?

When news broke this week that, under new management, SI callously cut a large chunk of the full-time staff, I saw another nail in the coffin for the industry. I felt it personally too as SI was a place where I had someone put in a word for me this summer, but I never heard back. You can see why when they were in the process of selling and cutting jobs.

Sadly, from a financial standpoint I can see why companies are doing this. Why pay someone tens of thousands of dollars in salary when you can contract a few freelancers for peanuts to produce the same amount of content for a fraction of the cost? Is the work going to be as good? Probably not, but if it’s close enough and they promote it with a click-bait headline, then it’s probably going to work out just fine for the company. With so many people wanting a foot in the door, some freelancers are okay with peanuts as long as they’re being sold on “great chance for exposure” and “future opportunities available” along with that check that might pay their phone bill for one month.

I feel sick for even typing that paragraph as some executive vulture would likely nod in agreement as they see the dollars saved there.

This can be a brutal industry, and I am honestly reconsidering if I can stay involved with it. I’m already at a disadvantage because I want a job that is very specific and in very low supply:

  • I’m not a beat reporter or news breaker
  • I don’t live and breath fantasy football
  • I’m not a draft scout and spend very little time paying attention to college prospects
  • I want to cover the whole NFL rather than just one team
  • I want to write long, informative pieces and I may need to include a table or graphic that looks good on your mobile site

I also want to be able to work from home like I always have and I don’t want to move to CA, NY or CT (the most likely destinations). I recently asked about living in CA on a $75,000 salary and the results were overwhelmingly negative and that it would be too difficult. That was related to a screenwriting position. From my experience, sports media jobs aren’t paying $75k, so it would be even less than that, if not considerably less.

This summer I reached out to two big companies I’ve done well with before about a full-time position and I heard the same thing from both. The roster was filled for 2019, but I can pitch some one-off ideas to them. So you may see something from me on that front this season if things work out as I do have some studies I’ve been working on that I would love to complete.

But as far as full-time writing goes, that seems to be a position that is a dying breed. Companies always want content, but the willingness to pay the creators these days just isn’t what it used to be.

I would love to get a job where I have access to this new charting data and to try making sense of what that’s telling us, or to properly put into context just how ridiculous Patrick Mahomes has been through 22 games. But busting your ass on an article to make peanuts isn’t a sustainable way of life. So if you’re asking me what I’m writing this season, just keep following me on Twitter and what I decide to write here. Otherwise I truly don’t know what the future holds.

Maybe I need to go into business for myself and write books. If anyone has advice on that, I’d be glad to talk about it.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

Going all in on gambling sure doesn’t seem like a good option for me. I would have turned a profit last season going all in on my weekly bets, but this year has been off to a pretty brutal start. When the Raiders jumped up 14-0 on the Colts last week, I remarked that we must be insane to put real money on this league. Hockey seems like the smarter bet from my experience with its limited scoring.

2019Wk5

I almost wanted to pick Tampa Bay to win outright since it has had success in the Superdome before, but something about trusting Jameis Winston for a third straight week to play really well feels scary to me. I do know Teddy Bridgewater needs to show more than he has as the Saints try to win with such a limited offense.

Thankfully the Dolphins are on a bye, but the Jets return so we could have already eight games this season with a spread of at least 11 points thru Week 5. There were nine such games from 2015-2018 combined. This is not a good thing for the league.

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NFL Week 5 Predictions: Matchup of the Year Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 5 Predictions

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

2018Wk5

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

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NFL Week 5 Predictions: Pick and Choose

I didn’t have a good title this week, so I literally typed “Pick and Choose” right after hearing the lyric “pick and chews” from the song White Out by Joan of Arc, which is playing on my Spotify right now.

So far, this has been a season of “pick and choose.” If you asked me what’s a great team right now and what’s a terrible team, I would have some answers, but all I’m confident in is that they’re still close together in quality.

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh

Jacksonville’s defense ranks No. 1 against the pass, but No. 32 against the run. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been hitting the deep balls and has only topped 300 yards in the AFC Championship Game going back 13 games. All logic would tell you this is a big Le’Veon Bell day, who finally got it going in Baltimore last week. Yet the craziness of the NFL might just lead to a big day for Roethlisberger instead, as he’ll definitely want to get back on the same page with Antonio Brown, Jalen Ramsey be damned. Either way, I like the Steelers at home, and I can’t get over how little this defense has been challenged by opposing passing games so far. Blake Bortles on the road? Yeah, give me that fantasy defense.

Carolina at Detroit

Let’s focus on the football first. Detroit’s defense and running game have stepped up, and will need to again with a tough, but still heavily flawed Carolina team. I was surprised at how well Cam Newton played in New England, and no, it’s not just about the defense there, because we saw Drew Brees and Jameis Winston struggle to put up points on that defense (and they weren’t up in Foxboro). I just think for this matchup, Darius Slay can take on Kelvin Benjamin and the loss of Greg Olsen is still a big factor. I don’t expect Newton to play that well, and I think Matthew Stafford snaps out of this little funk at home and uses his plethora of weapons against a secondary that’s still not great to me.

I was leaning Detroit even before Cam Newton embarrassed himself this week with his belittling of females covering sports. I thought about what a female reporter could ask that would make Cam’s smirk and response logical, and all I could think of was “jock itch.” “It’s funny to hear a female talk about jock itch.” Yeah, that works. That line’s not going to cause a media shitstorm. Though I guess women can get jock itch too, and I suppose a yeast infection might present a similar discomfort, but we’re getting really off topic now. So yeah, the next time you’re asked a football question by a reporter, male or female, just answer the damn question like a professional. She earned her way into that job and has had it for several years. That should buy some respect from Cam to the local media. I don’t know why “route tree” is being brought up so much, because she didn’t even ask about any specific route or question the play design. It was just about a wideout running his routes physically. No big deal, but here we are because Cam said another stupid thing at the podium. I doubt it will be the last time either no matter how hard he worked on his apology video.

Chargers at Giants

It’s a little hard to believe these teams are 0-4, and one will be 0-5, but they have played like 2-2 teams to be honest. It’s just the kind of things we expected: Giants would regress in close 4Q games (blew a late lead the last two weeks) and the Chargers continue to lose close games at rapid pace. Give me the Giants in a 10:00 a.m. body clock game for the Chargers. I also just think the Giants have the more balanced team, and Eli Manning has gotten closer to on track the last two games.

Buffalo at Cincinnati

Interesting one since the Bengals have improved offensively after the OC change, but they’re going from playing arguably the worst defense (Browns) to the best (Bills) in the league so far. Andy Dalton has his work cut out for him here, but he still has more weapons than Tyrod Taylor. If the Bills can get LeSean McCoy going, then I think they have enough to keep the score down and win on the road, but I’m skeptical. Frankly, the Bills getting to 3-1 after some good fortune (Von Miller penalty, bogus fumble-six in Atlanta and injured Julio/Sanu) reeks of this team being a bit of a fraud like some past first-quarter teams that started hot (think 2011 Bills, 2012 Cardinals, 2012 Eagles, 2016 Eagles, 2016 Rams) record wise, but weren’t actually good teams in the end. But a win by the Bills would look really good here if the Patriots are to be seriously challenged in the AFC East.

Seattle at Rams

We’ll see if Sean McVay prepares for the Seahawks the way Jeff Fisher did, treating it like the Super Bowl. Very interesting game, because the Seahawks have shown some cracks on defense, and Cliff Avril is out. We know Aaron Donald is going to dominate the offensive line for Seattle, but Russell Wilson has had some big games recently. The Rams aren’t quite as stout defensively as we expected, and the offense has been way better than I think anyone could have imagined. But this is a great test for the team at home, and I really think I have to lean on the Rams making this look legit and getting to 4-1. I might regret that pick, because I would point out the Rams have had the 2nd-best starting field position this year to help out the offense, and Jared Goff’s low ALEX strategy isn’t likely to keep converting third down at such a high rate. Seattle’s still a contender too, so it’s really a toss up.

Green Bay at Dallas

I don’t think much has changed since the playoff game, though Jordy Nelson is much healthier this time around. His teammates, including Davante Adams (concussion) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) — not so much. Both teams can score, but can they defend? I think with some banged up skill players for Green Bay, Dallas might have the edge at home. Demarcus Lawrence against Green Bay’s banged up offensive line? Good matchup for Dallas. And really, a big sack on third down or two might be enough to tilt the difference in this one.

Kansas City at Houston

Is it too soon to totally rethink Houston’s chances and style this year? Led by Deshaun Watson’s prolific numbers the last two weeks against division favorites, the Texans look dominant on offense right now. This is closer to the type of impact I thought Watson had a chance to make on the Texans this year, and it would be great for the league if he can keep this up. Imagine, a Wild Card Saturday where the Texans aren’t a total bore to watch. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are the last unbeaten at 4-0, but another tough prime-time game after Monday’s close call. Despite the 4-0 record, the Chiefs have needed three game-winning drives and two 10-point comebacks so far. The late touchdowns in each game skew just how tight those games were, though I will add that the Chiefs have played arguably the toughest schedule so far. Maybe I’m just focusing too much on the last two weeks, but I think Watson can continue his success to put up 27+ in this game at home, and J.J. Watt can get his first sacks (yes, plural) of the season from an always welcoming Alex Smith, who is still the patron saint of ALEX.

2017 Week 5 Predictions

I had the Patriots on Thursday, though didn’t quite get the spread right.

Winners in bold.

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

I’m going to assume that Marcus Mariota is gimpy and not 100%, and the Dolphins start to score some points or that whole situation is about to blow up. I also just gave the Browns win, not because I think they’re better than the Jets right now, but if they don’t win this game, when do they steal a win this year? I can’t faithfully predict 0-16.

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Season: 36-27

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

NFL Week 5 Predictions: About That Colts-Seahawks Super Bowl 50…

Exactly one fourth of the regular season is over with 64 games in the books. We know there are a lot of teams with significant flaws, and we know there are a couple of good ones out there. Then there are two teams who fall somewhere in between.

You Fail Me: Colts and Seahawks

(I just wanted to fit a Converge reference into the title, to be honest)

Like a lot of people, I had the Colts and Seahawks meeting in Super Bowl 50 with Seattle winning. On October 10, it’s not like this still can’t happen, but it sure as hell looks less likely than it did a month ago when the regular season kicked off.

Both teams are fortunate to not have a losing record right now. The Colts (3-2) needed a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter in Tennessee, and needed a kicker to miss twice on Sunday against Jacksonville. The Seahawks (2-2) just had that crazy Calvin Johnson fumble/no illegal bat play on Monday night.

Andrew Luck is hurt and has missed the last two games. Marshawn Lynch is hurt and will miss his second game in a row on Sunday.

The Colts are likely going to get their ass kicked next week by the Patriots. The Seahawks may be walking into a perfect storm of a rare ass kicking at the hands of the Bengals tomorrow.

Where has it gone wrong for both?

That damn offensive line. 

We may have made the mistake of overlooking the lingering problems up front that each team tried to conceal with sexy skill-player additions. The Seahawks traded Max Unger, who wasn’t a great and healthy starter in 2014, for Jimmy Graham, a TE who may as well be a wide receiver because he can’t block, who played in one of the pass-happiest offenses in NFL history. They also drafted Tyler Lockett, who has definitely made his impact felt on special teams. The Colts brought in Frank Gore and Andre Johnson while drafting Phillip Dorsett in the first round.

I spent actual work time this summer trying to figure out how the loaded Colts were going to disperse their targets with all these receivers. I received agreeable tweets that saw the Seahawks as being an unstoppable force in the red zone with so many ways to beat a defense.

Man, these offenses can’t even consistently score 20 points this season. You are not supposed to add all that skill talent and get worse. 

The Colts scored a league-low 21 points thru Week 2. Against the Titans, the offense pitched in 28 points, but got some help from a Mariota interception to set up an 11-yard touchdown drive. The offense only scored 16 points in an overtime game against Jacksonville at home, and were lucky to not lose 16-13 because of the kicker. On Thursday night, perhaps a return to Houston re-animated the corpse of Andre Johnson, and the offense finally perked up against a Texans defense that manages to be terrible despite having the best defender in the world.

The Seahawks scored 31 in St. Louis, but that included two return touchdowns, so the offense only scored 17 points. They scored 17 again in Green Bay before turning the ball over on the final two drives. They had another return TD vs. Chicago, so the offense again was held under 20 points (19). Then on Monday night against Detroit, the offense scored just 13 and even gave up a touchdown on a Wilson fumble. So this offense hasn’t cracked 20 points yet in four games. Scoring 20 has really never been a consistent problem in the Wilson era.

It’s not like these quarterbacks aren’t used to bad offensive lines. Andrew Luck has been the most hit QB three years in a row. Wilson has been the most pressured QB the last two years, including two of the highest rates in FO’s database going back to 2010.

This year, Luck has let the pressure rattle him to the point where he’s throwing more early interceptions in an attempt to just get rid of the ball. Wilson is taking more sacks — already a league-high 18 and an abysmal 12.4% sack rate.

The Colts brought in RG Todd Herremans, but he’s been demoted. They cut RT Gosder Cherilus, which really wasn’t a loss, but there weren’t any significant gains to this OL. The Seahawks continue to struggle up front, and neither guard they drafted in the fourth round is a factor this season.

How are those skill players working out? Andre Johnson really looked like a guy who should retire before this Houston game. Maybe that gets him going. Gore has had two huge fumbles inside the 5-yard line. Dorsett had a big TD in Tennessee, but he’s the fifth-most targeted Colt and was always going to have an uphill battle to relevancy as a rookie. Wilson to Graham has been efficient (18/23 for 174 yards, 2 TD), but not dominant, and the 9.7 YPC is a career-low for Graham. You’re going to tell me they couldn’t get this production out of Luke Willson and save a first-round pick?

Yet myself and many others fell for the skill-player trap. “Oh, these quarterbacks are used to bad OL’s. Give them better weapons and watch them score more.” It’s just not happening that way. To a similar extent, we see what the worst OL of Peyton Manning’s career is doing to his season, but that’s another story for another day.

The trenches are in fact still important with all these athletic defenders out there. They are even more important when you have two quarterbacks who like to hold onto the ball a little longer in Luck and Wilson, while many of the other signal callers are getting it out in under 3 seconds almost every time now. Maybe these offenses just need to adapt, putting the ball more quickly in the hands of the skill players they went out of their way to acquire. On paper, this is the best receiving corps either QB has had in the NFL, yet these are the worst offensive results they’ve experienced so far.

Things still have time to get better, but they may get a little worse this week with the aforementioned matchups to come. We’ll talk Pats-Colts next week, but think about the potential outcome of this SEA-CIN game tomorrow.

It’s a 1 p.m. game, which means a 10 a.m. PST start time for Seattle. The Seahawks are 6-8 in such games since 2012. They are coming off a very emotional and controversial win on Monday night.

The Bengals are playing better on both sides of the ball and Lynch is out. Sure, the Seahawks have been extremely stingy on defense in the two games with Kam Chancellor back, but that was also at home against Jimmy Clausen and the winless Lions. Andy Dalton is 2nd in DVOA and DYAR. No really, true story. Geno Atkins and company should have a good day against that Seattle OL.

The Bengals with Dalton beat Seattle 34-12 in Seattle in 2011. The final score is a little misleading because of two late return touchdowns by the Bengals. Seattle trailed 20-12 and had possession with 4:45 left. That’s why the game is still part of Seattle’s historic 74-game streak that could be in real jeopardy on Sunday (click pic to enlarge)

SEA74

Sure, this is about the point in the season where the Bengals flop hard at home just when people are starting to take them seriously, but what if this year was different? What if the Bengals do drop the Seahawks to 2-3 with a commanding win?

Then we’ll probably start to hear revisionist history about how Cincy has built their team the right way (“in the trenches”) and the Seahawks have overpaid too many star players with egos. But nothing in Week 5 can diminish what the Seahawks have accomplished. It’s just that we’re starting to see the limitations of this roster show up in 2015 to the point where Wilson and this defense may not be able to overcome them anymore.

2015 Week 5 Predictions

Remind me to never pick a team with Brian Mallett (or Ryan Hoyer if you prefer) at quarterback to beat one of the AFC’s perennial winners. I had Houston on TNF.

Winners in bold

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

Only three late-afternoon games again? Come on, NFL. And the 49ers in prime time again? With The Walking Dead being a 90-minute episode, I figure you can start watching your DVR recording at about 9:27 p.m. EST and finish commercial-free on time to avoid spoilers.

I was looking forward to the return of Martavis Bryant, but that’s not going to happen on Monday after he tweaked his knee in practice. Looks like I’m getting my DFS target injured early this week. At least this one came early so I have time to swap him out of my lineups.

Philip Rivers is one of the few big-time quarterbacks to not have a history of shredding the Steelers under Dick LeBeau. Oh, he had some good numbers, but a lot of them came in garbage-time moments. The difference with Rivers was that in Norv Turner’s offense, he loved to dump off to running backs or throw deep to his tall targets. That played into the Steelers’ hands and they were able to effectively get pressure on him as he held onto the ball longer. To beat this defense you really need to dink-and-dunk, get rid of the ball quickly and rely on YAC. That’s exactly what Rivers has done under Mike McCoy and especially this year where he is barely getting the ball down the field. That’s why I think he’ll have a lot of success at home on Monday night with the likes of Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and Danny Woodhead leading the way. Antonio Gates is also back from suspension. This could have been a really fun shootout with Ben Roethlisberger playing. It still might be, since I don’t trust the San Diego defense yet. However, I expect the Chargers to get the (circadian) win at home.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Season: 41-22 (.651)

NFL Week 5 Predictions and the Touchdown Pass Record

Short on ranting this week with some Saturday research to do, but let’s quickly look at the passing touchdown record. It seems to be the one in most jeopardy from the potential season-long juggernaut in Denver. Of course it would be Peyton Manning reclaiming the record from Tom Brady (50), which he would have already had if the Colts did not pull him after one series in Week 17 2004.

To earn a touchdown pass, you must have possession of the ball. So I took the drive stats for Manning ’04 (and four games into 2013) and Brady ’07 to see how many drives each had and how many they sat out. Kneel down drives are excluded from all stats.

(QB1 = Manning or Brady)

PTDR

The numbers are eerily similar with Brady throwing one more touchdown on one more drive. Manning did sit out twice (16) as many drives as Brady (8) that season. It’s still very early, but he’s actually had 11 drives per game this year, which could give him a better shot at record volume. The 2007 Patriots were more efficient at scoring than the 2004 Colts, though you can see the Colts had more missed field goals and Manning’s skill players fumbled five times compared to none for Brady, who had 12 total turnovers (Manning with 11). The 2013 Broncos are scoring TDs at a better rate than the record-setting 2007 Patriots, but again, it is still very early.

The 2013 Broncos have already punted 7 times (BAL) and 5 times (Giants) in games, which did not happen to the 2004 Colts until they had 6 punts against the Ravens in Game 14. So it hasn’t been all perfect in Denver, though if Manning continues to get closer to 11 possessions per game, then you can see the potential this offense has. The best defense against Denver has often been itself. Cut down on some of the mistakes and some records will likely fall this season.

2013 NFL Week 5 Predictions

The Thursday streak continues at 5-0 with my pick of Cleveland. This week’s schedule looks very enticing.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Season: 40-23

NFL Week 5 Predictions and Writing Recap

The St. Louis Rams are over .500 for the first time in 71 months. I was 4-0 at picking the Rams’ games this year, and did like them on Thursday, but not enough to pull the trigger. Now the home team is 28-13 (.683) on Thursday Night Football since 2006.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 4: Matt Ryan’s MVP Effort Tops Big NFC Week – Cold, Hard Football Facts

The Falcons became the only team since 1981 to start a drive inside their own 10-yard line in the last 60 seconds and have a game-winning drive. That’s how exclusive this comeback was, which dropped Cam Newton to 1-10 in career comeback opportunities; the worst record in the league. Also: big NFC wins for Green Bay, Arizona, Washington, and Philadelphia.

Quarter-Season Review: Peyton Manning’s Transition with Denver Broncos – Bleacher Report

The Broncos may be a work-in-progress, but Peyton Manning is up to his old tricks. A review of Denver’s first four games, and it appears Manning picked up right where he left off in 2010.

The Thinking Man’s Guide to NFL Week 5 – Bleacher Report

Previewing Manning vs. Brady, the Keystone State battle, Rams’ opportunity to go over .500, and the Houston Texans are the 4th team to ever have a 20-point lead in their first four games of the season. A good chance for that one to continue when they play the Jets this week.

When Brees Passes Unitas, It’ll Be the Second Time – NBC Sports

Drew Brees is trying to break Johnny Unitas’ consecutive games with a TD pass record, but he already has Unitas beat 53-to-49 when you count the playoffs. Find out why other quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Steve Young never broke this record.

NFL Offenses Facing 5-Year Downward Spiral on Third Down – Cold, Hard Football Facts

If current trends continue, this will be the 5th straight season league-wide conversion rates on third down decrease for the offense. A look at 3rd-down data from 1991-2012.

2012 NFL Week 5 Predictions

It might take a long time for the Browns to get their first win this season, but I think the Saints get their’s this week. Falcons and Texans should remain undefeated.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Season: 37-26

Next week I will be back with the Andrew Luck “Following a Legend” series, and if things go well for him this weekend, perhaps a different article on another site about his season.