NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

Most of Week 6’s excitement centered on Tennessee’s 42-36 overtime win over the Texans. Romeo Crennel did something cool, Mike Vrabel played it safe, and everyone from Rich Gannon to most of Twitter got on my nerves when it came to these two-point conversions that have been a big story this season.

Previous weeks:

AFC South Gone Wild: Texans at Titans

The Titans (5-0) hung on to the AFC’s top seed with their league-high fourth game-winning drive of the season after getting the only possession in overtime. It’s practically a miracle the game even reached that extra session after a hot finish from Deshaun Watson, a shot at a 9-point lead in the final two minutes, another crazy Tennessee touchdown that felt fishy to me, and a bypass of the two-point conversion from Mike Vrabel.

Let’s start with Watson, who led Houston to touchdowns on five of his last eight drives and two touchdowns on his final two drives. He didn’t have any turnovers and only took two sacks, which is low for him. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill had a strip-sack fumble and threw a pick in the fourth quarter that Watson seemed to cash in with a long drive to ice the game.

Houston scored with 1:50 left and a 36-29 lead. Now I never thought interim coach Romeo Crennel, being a crusty defensive guru, would actually do the right thing and go for two to put this one away with a 9-point lead, but he called for it. Watson had a receiver open on the play too, but just couldn’t make the throw.

CBS announcer Rich Gannon was immediately troubled by the call and thought the extra point was the right move to make it an 8-point game. He tried to justify it on Twitter too:

Uh, bollocks, Rich. For one, Zimmer made a mistake when he didn’t go for a two late in that Seattle game last week. Furthermore, by making it a 9-point game you have effectively just ended the game with 1:50 left with the Titans down to one timeout. Now the Titans have to hurry a score, which they may not even try for the end zone if it’s taking too long. Then they’ll have to recover an onside kick, and we all know that’s nearly impossible these days. The onside kick numbers were 12-of-114 recovered (10.5%) for 2018-19 and that’s not removing some surprise ones that have a better shot. Then if they do get one, they have to score again, either with a possible Hail Mary or long field goal from a kicker who has been inconsistent this season. So good luck with all of that.

Also, who cares if the Texans are up 8, Rich? Even if they’re up 7, they can get a stop or takeaway on defense to end the game. They can also still win in overtime because it’s no guarantee that the Titans would go for two to win in regulation (psst: they didn’t).

The point everyone needs to remember is that whether you’re up 9, 8, or 7, the goal on defense remains the same: don’t allow a touchdown. Period. You don’t allow a touchdown, you don’t lose the game. Stop them on a long field by any means necessary.

Of course Gannon finished his point by saying the guy in New England, Bill Belichick, kicks the extra point every time. I’m not so sure about that, but then again, I was disappointed to see Belichick mouth “why are they going for two?” when Pete Carroll and the Seahawks finally pulled this rare strategy on them in 2016. The Seahawks also didn’t convert in taking a 31-24 lead, but the defense did the job and stopped the Patriots from scoring a game-tying touchdown at the end. Going for nine was absolutely the right call for Houston, and it’s really a no-brainer in the final two minutes.

Also, Belichick happened to go for an early two-point conversion at the same time in his loss to Denver with the Patriots down 18-9. Was that a great call? Keep in mind the Patriots kicked a field goal on 4th-and-5 at the Denver 20 with 3:23 left to make it an 18-12 game. You’re not even guaranteed to get the ball back in that situation. If Belichick just kicked the extra point early and trailed 18-10, they could have gone for it on that 4th-and-5. It’s an extra opportunity in decent field position gone to waste.

For some reason, NFL Twitter seems to think it’s a great strategy to go for two on the first touchdown when you’re down 15, but these same people don’t seem to like going for two up seven to take a 9-point lead. This has always seemed really ass-backwards to me as they’re not respecting how safe a 9-point lead is late in the game:

The 8-point lead is overrated when the only difference it has over 7 is the two-point conversion, a near 50/50 proposition for the league. But if your defense just allowed a team to drive the length of the field for a touchdown, what makes you think they’re going to suddenly find their stopping prowess at the 2-yard line? It’s a fool’s safety blanket to think the two-point conversion will solve your inability to do the main goal your defense has: don’t allow a touchdown.

Now in Belichick’s case, there was 8:31 left when the Patriots failed on the 2PC. That’s more reasonable given the time left. The game isn’t going to just end at 8:31 like it probably would at 3:24 had the Rams on Sunday night gone for two early and failed. Sean McVay kicked the extra point instead and I think it was absolutely the right call even though Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth had a half-assed disagreement about it. The Rams ended up never getting the ball back so it was a moot finish.

The worst assumption people make on this is that a team down 8 will take their sweet old time to score a touchdown until it’s too late to do anything else if they fail on the game-tying 2PC. That’s just not how the NFL works, especially if we’re talking about drives that start in the final minutes. Teams know they have to be in hurry-up mode at all times. They aren’t going to turn down a touchdown when they see one open to work the clock. That’s nonsense. They’ll take the score when they can get it and they usually get it before the game is over.

I only found 20 cases since 2001 where a team down 8 scored a touchdown in the final 60 seconds and failed on the two-point conversion. Only two of those teams (2004 ATL vs. SEA, 2005 NE vs. MIA) scored with no time left on the clock, so no onside kick was possible. It should be noted that in both cases it was teams playing backups in Week 17 with the starters resting for the playoffs. In fact, I’ll go to the grave saying that Belichick purposely told Matt Cassel to throw the 2PC away so the Patriots could face the overrated Jaguars in the Wild Card that year instead of red-hot Pittsburgh, the eventual champion.

Those two aside, that left 18 teams that scored with 10 to 47 seconds left. The funny thing is four of these 18 teams were able to recover an onside kick after failing on the 2PC. That’s 22.2%, or vintage onside kick recovery back when you could get one once in a while. The 2007 Cowboys infamously beat Buffalo on Monday Night Football after failing with 20 seconds left, but recovering an onside kick and Tony Romo set up a game-winning field goal. The 2007 Cardinals (vs. WAS), Romo’s 2012 Cowboys (vs. BAL), and Aaron Rodgers’ 2015 Packers (vs. Lions) also recovered onside kicks, but their kickers all missed from 50+ yards out to end the game. Remember, we’ve seen offenses set up a field goal in 6 seconds before. It’s not that hard from midfield these days.

So it’s not entirely hopeless if you fail on the late 2PC, and at least you extended the game and got to that point to tie it in the first place. When you chase the two early you risk bringing on the endgame situation sooner than you had to. The other part that’s odd is why isn’t the argument to go 8+8 and win the game in regulation? If you’re that confident about the 2PC, then why not go for two of them and the win? Except we know that’s very hard to do and NFL teams down 15 are almost always just playing for the tie.

I’m not going to pass this as my final research on the topic, but it’s going past 6 A.M. and I just want to get this out before getting some sleep with the double-header around the corner Monday. I just find it really annoying how people seem to be treating two-point conversions as both too hard and a great luxury. Pick a side. I think going for the 9-point lead is great in almost every case. I think going for two early down 15 could be okay if there’s a lot of time left, but usually it’s a never for me after the 5:00 or 4:00 mark. I’m at least consistent on this.

Someone who is not so aggressively consistent is Vrabel, who had a big decision to make when the Titans scored with 0:04 left and trailed 36-35. Now if there was ever a situation where the Two-or-Die attempt made sense, it would be this one.

  • You know your offense is better than your defense.
  • You know your offense is better than their defense.
  • You know their offense is better than your defense.
  • Your offense is over 500 yards in regulation, your QB is mobile, and your RB is a tank.
  • It’s a 36-35 game, so the first possession in overtime is likely going to be the last.
  • Deshaun Watson is a hell of a quarterback and playing really well.
  • Bill O’Brien isn’t there to do stupid shit.
  • Your kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, already has a few misses today.
  • With only 4 seconds left, barring a miracle lateral for them, you know this is for the win if you get it.

That really checks every box, but the Titans took it safe and played for overtime. They won the coin toss and Derrick Henry took over for an 82-yard drive to deny Watson ever getting the ball.

Watson finished with a 138.9 passer rating, the highest in a loss in NFL history with a minimum of 37 pass attempts. Again, he didn’t juice it with a ton of sacks or fumbles either like a Matt Ryan game that comes to mind. Watson’s 93.1 QBR was the highest in a loss this season. This is already the sixth lost comeback of Watson’s career, which have mostly come against very good teams too.

Outside of blasting Buffalo 42-16 on a Tuesday — lot of short-field touchdowns in that one — the Titans have been in nail-biters all year. It should be a great matchup with Pittsburgh, a battle of 5-0 teams, in Week 7.

Riverboat Ron at It Again

While Mike Vrabel passed on the game-winning two-point conversion down by a point, Ron Rivera dialed up another “Two or Die” situation for his team. It’s the third time since 2016 alone that Rivera has done this, but he’s now 0-3 without any conversions.

This time it was with Washington down 20-19 after a Kyle Allen touchdown pass with 36 seconds left. It’s not a terrible call given the time left and ineptitude of New York’s offense, but you have to remember that your quarterback is Kyle Allen. He couldn’t make the pass happen and the Football Team lost, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but two wins in the NFC East has anyone right in line for the outright lead of this pathetic division.

Also, keep this in mind the next time you see someone say “it doesn’t matter who you play in the NFL.” Daniel Jones is now 3-0 as a starter against Washington, but 1-14 against the rest of the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers: Reality Check

Something tells me Aaron Rodgers won’t be saying his down games are career-best games for most quarterbacks after Sunday’s 38-10 beatdown in Tampa Bay, the site of now three of the worst games of his career.

You know I even laid out how this could happen, but still trusted Green Bay. The Packers always seem to fold on the road in games like this one. Since 2012, Green Bay is 2-16 on the road against NFC playoff teams outside the division. That doesn’t yet include this year where the Packers have won in New Orleans and now lost in Tampa Bay, so that record could be 3-17 or it could be 2-17 if this win catapults the Buccaneers forward and the Saints don’t recover. Either way, it was pretty clear that the Packers were no longer playing the bad NFC North defenses or the Saints/Falcons in this one. Tampa Bay, led by old Green Bay nemesis Ndamukong Suh up front, was fast and able to pressure Rodgers, who was rarely hit in the first four games.

I also mentioned Green Bay was flirting with disaster after having zero giveaways through four games. No team’s ever started a season with five straight games doing that. The Packers felt the regression hard after Rodgers threw back-to-back picks in the second quarter. He was 2 yards shy of doubling his career pick-six total as the plays gave the Buccaneers a quick 14 points after Rodgers looked exceptional in the first quarter to build a 10-0 lead.

That first quarter is about the only thing stopping me from saying hands down this was the worst game of Rodgers’ career, but it’s definitely right in the mix with 2014 Buffalo, 2015 Denver, and 2019 San Francisco (SNF). Rodgers’ QBR was 17.8 and he threw what could have easily been a third pick right to a defender that was dropped.

Tampa Bay meanwhile played about as clean of a game as one could in this league with no turnovers, penalties or sacks allowed. As I said in the preview, Brady was facing a pretty mediocre pass defense that has allowed good stats to four veterans not on top of their game in 2020. Brady finished with a 96.1 QBR in an efficient outing, throwing for 166 yards and getting some vintage plays out of Rob Gronkowski.

It’s a really bad look the way Rodgers was clearly rattled in that second quarter, and Green Bay’s defense appeared to be in give-up mode in the second half. After a game like this, it’s hard not to expect the Packers to fold the next time they’re presented with a similar opponent of this caliber.

That would make the 2020 Packers on par with just about every Green Bay team since 2011. Just when you thought things might be different…

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Reshuffling the AFC

It’s kind of crazy how we’ll know so much about the AFC by Week 8. As I’m about to show you, so many of the key games will be played in the first eight weeks (pandemic willing).

KC-BAL in Week 3 was supposed to be the Game of the Year, and it still might prove to be the game between the AFC’s two best. It was just very one sided.

KC-BUF in Week 6 was the new Game of the Year, thought to take place on a Thursday night before some COVID rescheduling pushed it to Monday night. It’s also no longer a game between undefeated teams as both the Chiefs and Bills lost this past week.

Yes, any thoughts Buffalo fans had of taking over the AFC from the Chiefs lasted two days after a poor showing in Tennessee on Tuesday night vaulted the Titans to 4-0 and in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top seed.

The only other undefeated AFC team is Pittsburgh (4-0), which was supposed to play the Titans in Week 4 before Tennessee’s virus outbreak started moving the schedule around. These teams are set to meet in Week 7 in what could be a battle of 5-0 teams (instead of 3-0 as originally scheduled) if both take care of business against division rivals this week from Cleveland and Houston. This is some old-school AFC Central shit right here.

When the Chiefs play the Bills this week, that’s quite arguably the biggest AFC game left on their schedule unless the Raiders go on an unexpected run after last week’s upset. The Steelers play their first Baltimore game in Week 8, so that could be another big swing in the standings as its arguably Baltimore’s biggest game left this year (and Pittsburgh’s toughest). The Steelers really need to nip Cleveland’s confidence in the bud this week before that tough road slate of going to Tennessee and Baltimore in Weeks 7-8.

The Titans don’t meet the Ravens until Week 11 and Steelers-Bills happens in Week 14, but otherwise we really are going to see almost every significant AFC matchup this year by November 1. Even the first Patriots-Bills game is set for November 1, because yes, I can’t mention the AFC and completely ignore the Patriots just yet.

Josh Allen: Let’s Pump the Brakes

The KC-BUF game lost a bit of shine this week after the way the teams performed in Week 5, but I wanted to highlight this one for the play of Josh Allen. He had that 4-0 start with great numbers and the Buffalo offense was humming along just fine for a change. Maybe he really did turn the corner this year after two rough seasons to start his career.

However, even before the Tennessee game crashed this coming out party, I was still a bit skeptical about Allen. I’m sold enough that he’s playing better this year, but I don’t know if I’m sold that he’s now a great quarterback who you can trust to perform at a high level on any consistent basis.

Basically, I feel like there’s still a reckless nature to his game where he’s going to have to get lucky, especially against good opponents, or the defense is going to have to play much better for the Bills to finally overtake the Patriots in the division and do some damage in the playoffs.

In Week 2 against Miami, the Bills were leading 24-20 with just over three minutes left. Allen, after double-clutching, threw a deep ball to John Brown that easily could have been intercepted. Maybe he thought the receiver was going to keep going full speed for the ball, but maybe his hesitation made the receiver hesitate too. It was a dangerous play that could have set up the Dolphins for a game-winning drive opportunity. On the very next play, Allen again went deep to Brown with a better pass and this time it was successful for a 46-yard touchdown that basically iced the game. So he went from a near disaster pick to a 46-yard touchdown in one play.

The next week against the Rams, Allen was great in building a 28-3 lead, but then he had some mistakes in the second half and the Rams got back into it, forcing him to need a game-winning drive. He was moving the ball, but that pass interference call on fourth down with the game on the line was total rubbish to me. You just don’t call such minimal contact in that spot, so it gave Allen another chance he didn’t deserve after that bad throw. He cashed it in with a touchdown and the Bills won the game. Again, that’s lucky to me.

Tuesday night was my first live Bills game of 2020 and it was a big disappointment after seeing so many great numbers from this offense in the first four weeks. The Titans are obviously a contender too, so it’s another big game the Bills have not won in the McDermott/Allen era.

They get another chance with the Chiefs this week, but I’m backing Kansas City all the way. I don’t see Patrick Mahomes missing that many throws again this week and the Bills have absolutely declined on defense this year. The Bills have already had three games this season where they allowed at least 28 points after doing it one time in 17 games in 2019. If this is going to be a shootout, then I’m trusting Mahomes over Allen. That’s not saying a whole lot, but the fact is I’m still trusting Lamar Jackson, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger over Allen as well in a big game.

That’s the kind of competition the Bills will have to beat this year, and until it starts happening, I’m not all in on Allen and this team.

NFL Week 6 Predictions

Let’s hope all these games are played on time this week.

Starting this week, I now have articles of the preview/pick variety on Sportsbook Review. My first piece was Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady fighting over control of the Spice Melange. I also covered how the Jets will attempt to avoid being the third team in the last 20 years (2011 Rams, 2011 Dolphins) to start 0-6 and 0-6 against the spread. Finally, I looked at SNF between the Rams and 49ers.

NFL Week 6 Predictions: I Did Not Speak Out Edition

Last week I did not say much about the actual games in Week 5, and I regret not going into detail on why I thought the Colts had a shot at upsetting the Chiefs. When you get as many predictions wrong as I have this season — though apparently the sites I’ve worked for before are doing just as bad against the spread — it’s nice to look right from time to time. This has been a lopsided season and I will even briefly hit on the Super Toilet Bowl this week in Miami.

But first, let’s start with a game that could be the (Early) Game of the Year that Ravens-Chiefs was not.

Texans at Chiefs (-4.5)

First they came for Kareem Hunt
And I did not speak out
Because running backs don’t matter

Then they came for Tyreek Hill
And I did not speak out
Because I believe in karma

Then they came for Eric Fisher and Sammy Watkins
And I did not speak out
Because I never thought they lived up to their draft expectations

Then they came for me, Patrick Mahomes
And there was no one left to run this historic offense

It took 24 games, but it finally happened. The Chiefs lost a game in the Mahomes era primarily because the offense didn’t perform or produce. While the Colts deserve credit for pressuring Mahomes (four sacks like they had in January’s playoff loss) and making some big plays, I find any talks of a “blueprint” existing to stifle this offense are way overblown. Most of the pivotal mistakes in KC’s 19-13 demise last Sunday night were self inflicted.

You can’t plan as a defense for things like that to happen every week. The Chiefs played a sloppy, penalty-filled game, and we haven’t even gotten into the injury side of it. You had to figure at some point the loss of a left tackle, top two wide receivers and the QB limping around during the game would catch up to the Chiefs. You could even argue this offense has been hemorrhaging talent since the team made the right move of cutting problematic RB Kareem Hunt last December. About the only player who has consistently remained healthy is Travis Kelce. A QB on a bad ankle, which Mahomes first injured in Week 1 against the Jaguars, can by itself explain why some of the deep throws in recent weeks have been just off despite an open receiver. In the last 23 games, the Chiefs have had four scoreless first quarters: the 2018 AFC Championship Game and three games this season. They fell behind 10-0 to both Oakland and Detroit this year. Things have been a little more scattershot despite the prolific start.

“Play more man coverage” is a bit simplistic of a plan to slow this offense down. It’s also easier to do when  you’re defending DeMarcus Robinson and someone named Pringle than Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill. So I think the Chiefs offense will be stronger as the season goes on and players come back, but this is a particularly interesting part of the schedule where they could really fall off the chase for the top seed with New England blazing through one of the most disgusting schedules you’ll ever see an NFL team gifted. The Chiefs now have to host a dangerous Houston team before going to Denver on Thursday night, and the Broncos have held Mahomes under 30 points in all three meetings. The Packers and Vikings soon follow too, so it’s not a good time to have injuries like this for Kansas City.

When Deshaun Watson brings his A game, he is absolutely on the level of what Mahomes can do offensively. He brought it against Atlanta last week for his third career game with 5 TD passes. He also tossed five against the Chiefs in 2017. The only issue is Watson has been up and down the last two seasons and takes too many sacks, but the Chiefs are more than vulnerable on defense for him to have a huge day and put a lot of pressure on Mahomes in what could be a fun shootout.

If these teams play up to their potential, this could only be the first meeting of two this year as they are quite arguably the 2nd and 3rd best teams in the AFC.

Redskins at Dolphins (+3.5)

You know things are bad when the 0-5 road team that just fired its coach is a 3.5-point favorite. My thoughts on Jay Gruden are that he struggled to establish an identity for his team, the firing was inevitable this year, but he probably deserves a second chance somewhere after dealing with a ton of bad injury luck. He usually kept the team around .500 despite all of the shortcomings in Washington.

Now you enter Bill Callahan in the job, who famously lost the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay after Jon Gruden knew what the Raiders were running on offense. Callahan also had a doozy of a media conference this week when he glorified rushing attempts, so don’t be surprised if Adrian Peterson is a name you hear a lot this week.

As for the Dolphins, the nicest thing you can say is that the margin of defeat has shrunk each week and they had a bye. Josh Rosen isn’t better right now than Washington starter Case Keenum, so that gives me pause to giving the Dolphins their first win, but if it’s going to happen this year, a home game with Washington’s putrid defense is a great opportunity.

This may not even be the worst matchup of the season as the Dolphins host the currently winless Bengals in Week 16, but by virtue of these games, we shouldn’t have multiple 0-16 teams this year.

Steelers at Chargers (-7)

I’m assuming NBC thought the Steelers looked competent enough against Cincinnati two weeks ago that they didn’t need to flex this one. They couldn’t have predicted that Mason Rudolph would go down with a concussion on Sunday against Baltimore. That was probably the scariest looking concussion I’ve ever seen a football player suffer with the way his body went limp, so I’m not surprised he is inactive this week.

It’s just a stunning development that the Steelers are now starting UDFA Devlin Hodges out of Samford. We’re talking an August preseason arm starting in prime time before Halloween for a flagship NFL franchise. To his credit, Hodges looked good off the bench against the Ravens. It’s not his fault that JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal for Baltimore. I liked that Hodges wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on intermediate passes and he has some mobility as well. My biggest concern would be that after a week of “getting coached up” by one of the league’s most suspect coaching staffs that he’ll turtle in this big opportunity and they’ll try to hide him with the Wildcat and other gadget plays.

I don’t think the Chargers have been playing good football this year and it is a winnable game. I even recall the Chargers losing a prime-time game to the 2015 Steelers with Michael Vick at QB barely contributing any completions. The Steelers are better than their 1-4 record, giving Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore all they could handle in losses.

I wouldn’t count on an upset, but I think the Steelers keep it close enough to where it’s not a disaster they didn’t get the flex option.

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Patriots barely covering against the Giants on Thursday, which proved to be the case.

2019Wk6

I am also interested in the Seahawks-Browns game. Seattle has already won three games by 1-2 points. The Browns have mostly looked terrible, though did drop 40 points in Baltimore in a win. The top of the NFC West has been beating up on the disappointing AFC North so far, but let’s see if the Browns can get on track this week before a bye and trip to New England.

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NFL Week 6 Predictions: AFC Game of the Year 2.0 Edition

Just have time for a quick look at some of the big AFC matchups in Week 6.

Chiefs at Patriots (-3)

The Chiefs were already involved in the Game of the Year last week, and used a Blake Bortles pick parade to march towards an easy win. Here they are again in a more legitimate Game of the Year, because it’s Sunday night in New England. With any luck, the Chiefs will have three more Game of the Year events, including a November matchup with the Rams, a potential rematch (JAX/NE) in the AFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch (Rams) in Super Bowl 53.

But before we talk about any Super Bowl with this team, beating New England at least once is crucial to that. Winning on Sunday night would go a long way in making sure a rematch happens at Arrowhead. The Chiefs could then finish 12-4 and the Patriots would have to win out (10-0) to guarantee a playoff seed above KC. That doesn’t look plausible with this roster in a season where few teams are standing out, but you can get a good fight almost any week.

If the game was in Arrowhead — past playoff disasters aside — I think the Chiefs would be an easy pick to win this week. But it’s at Gillette Stadium where you virtually can’t lose the turnover battle, can’t fall behind by 7+ points, and can’t allow 27+ points if you expect to win. Then again, the Chiefs did ALL of those things on opening night in 2017 and still won 42-27 behind big nights for Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt. Now the offense looks even more loaded with Patrick Mahomes taking over and the addition of Sammy Watkins to the wide receivers.

But I’m not sure Andy Reid can win with an offense-first mentality two years in a row in NE. That’s generally not the way to beat Tom Brady at home, and unless Mahomes pulls off some 2012 Colin Kaepernick magic in this one (that crazy 2012 SF game), I think this is a game where KC’s defense gets exposed and he has to play from behind too much, leading to mistakes against Bill Belichick’s defense. This is a game where the Chiefs really miss someone like Eric Berry to cover Rob Gronkowski. Not to mention the Patriots have a full arsenal now with a white security blanket for Brady (Julian Edelman), a receiving back (James White), and a freak athlete (Josh Gordon). That’s a tough matchup for any defense, let alone one that has struggled as much as the 28th-ranked Chiefs. Justin Houston or Dee Ford will have to have a lights out game off the edge in pressuring Brady, but I just don’t see it this time around.

It also should help that the Patriots had a few extra days to prepare for this one after playing last Thursday.

Final: Patriots 34, Chiefs 24

Steelers at Bengals (-1)

Games rarely get much bigger in Cincinnati than this one as it’s a chance for the Bengals to move to 5-1 and give themselves some nice distance over the rest of the AFC North. However, Marvin Lewis is 2-13 at home against Pittsburgh. It’s one of the crazier stats in NFL history, but it’s legit, and a lot of it can be seen in Ben Roethlisberger’s splits in those games. He’s thrown multiple interceptions six times against the Bengals in 30 games, but all six of those games happened at Heinz Field, including some of the worst passing performances of his career (2006, 2012, 2015).

Roethlisberger is 23-2 when his passer rating is at least 75.0 against the Bengals, so it usually takes a poor day from him for the Bengals to win. Cincinnati usually does well against Antonio Brown, but JuJu Smith-Schuster actually has 77 more yards on 13 fewer targets than Brown this season. While Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns to Brown last week, I think he’d be best advised to not force the ball there this week.

Pittsburgh’s defense had been struggling this year, but last week against a very good Atlanta offense it showed some promise. They held the Falcons to 17 points, didn’t let Julio Jones catch a pass until the 3rd quarter, and also got a fumble return TD. The pass rush has been generally good this year, and that will be key to get after Andy Dalton. When the pass rush doesn’t get there, this secondary can look as bad as any in the league. The Bengals also are getting a big third-year boost from Tyler Boyd, who has as many targets as A.J. Green and only trails him by 16 receiving yards. They did lose Tyler Eifert at tight end again, but Boyd is looking like a legit No. 2 option. They need it with receiving back Giovani Bernard out until November.

These teams definitely hate each other, so I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of several 15-yard flags. That could be bad news for an undisciplined Pittsburgh team that has racked up penalties this season. I understand why the Bengals are a slight 1-point favorite, but I basically don’t know of an NFL universe where Cincinnati wins games like this, so I still lean towards the Steelers pulling off the win. The Bengals have been living on the edge all year and have three fourth-quarter comebacks already to get to 4-1.

Final: Steelers 26, Bengals 23

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Eagles beating the Giants on TNF, and I also thought it’d be a better game than that.

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I think the spreads are too high for the Vikings and Texans here. Arizona has been more competitive since benching Sam Bradford, and neither the Vikings nor Texans (two OT wins by 3 points) have beat anyone by double-digits this season. Of course I can be wrong here (see below), but this has been a bad season for double-digit favorites covering and I think that continues here. I don’t however think we see a straight-up loss by any of the four teams favored by a touchdown or more.

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NFL Week 6 Predictions: B-B-B-Bunny and the Jets

It’s Week 6 and I’m already reusing title ideas, but the fact that the 2017 Jets are still relevant at this point is incredible.

Patriots at Jets

A battle for first place in Week 6? Really? This is the Jets’ Super Bowl this year. A home game with their hated rival for first place, and a chance to extend to a four-game winning streak. Sure the Jets haven’t beaten a good team, but the Patriots haven’t been playing very good football this year, so it’s still interesting. I’m still going to take the Patriots, because I can’t trust Josh McCown with a limited cast and the defense against a multi-faceted NE offense, but if Todd Bowles can win this game, put him at the top of the list for Coach of the Year race.  And for the record, the Jets almost beat the Patriots at home a year ago when New England was better than this current version.

Packers at Vikings

I’m a bit stunned that Case Keenum ranks so high in DVOA and QBR right now, and he should have been the starter on Monday night against Chicago. The Vikings really botched that quarterback situation with Sam Bradford’s health, and now Stefon Diggs is out as well, a big loss. I think with Diggs (and Dalvin Cook), the Vikings have enough offense at home to outscore the Packers, but it’s just too much of a loss now. Aaron Rodgers seems to be in one of those zones again, and while Mike Zimmer’s defense has fared adequately in the past against him, I think he’ll do enough on the road to get this win and take some early control of the division.

Giants at Broncos

Christ, where is that flex scheduling when you need it? The Giants are one of the worst rushing offenses in the league, and now Eli Manning is down to Sterling Shepard and some nobodies against the best secondary in the league. He should get double yardage credit for any completion to a wideout to make this one interesting. Trevor Siemian turning the ball over for points is the only way the Broncos are losing this one at home. And seriously, how did Denver get four home games out of five to start the year?

Steelers at Chiefs

This is still a very interesting one. The Chiefs can take out some revenge after losing twice to the Steelers a year ago. They’ve really beaten every other contender in recent years. Beat the Patriots in 2014 and Week 1. Beat the last three NFC Super Bowl teams (Carolina game was in 2016, but still). Beat the Colts with Luck last year. Swept the 12-4 Raiders last season. Swept the defending champion Broncos, and gave Peyton Manning the worst game of his career in 2015. This team has done great things the last few years, except in the playoffs. The only contender they really haven’t beaten is Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger (not Landry Jones like in 2015) at quarterback.

And of course, Roethlisberger is coming off one of the worst games of his career. I think the “maybe I don’t have it” quote is troubling, but he also said something smart in that if you play QB long enough in this league, you’ll have a day like this (5 INT). It’s true. And when two of those picks are tipped for touchdown returns, and a receiver falls down on another one, you’re bound to have some bad stats against what’s become a very strong pass defense in Jacksonville. The Chiefs look a bit vulnerable on defense post-Eric Berry, and we’ve seen quarterbacks make some big plays against them. It’s just that the Chiefs have the No. 1 offense with Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt having huge years so far, and that’s going to be a problem for the Steelers, particularly at stopping Hunt, who has gone over 100 yards every week. Pittsburgh’s run defense has looked very shaky at times this year. They haven’t been tested much by a passing game, but this will be the most efficient one they see yet.

I think Roethlisberger redeems himself and plays his best game of 2017, and the Steelers do have a tendency to show up for big games. Only the Patriots have a better record against winning teams since 2014. I don’t think I’d pick the Steelers to flat out win this one, but I do expect a competitive effort.

2017 Week 6 Predictions

I had the Panthers on Thursday night, so 0-1 already. Maybe I just don’t have it anymore.

Winners in bold.

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

I’m assuming Marcus Mariota is good to go this week.

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Season: 42-35

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Opposite Day Edition

My game picks have not gotten off to a good start in 2016, but I’m still doing better than the Panthers and Cardinals. I am feeling a few underdogs in Week 6. This all started on Thursday night when I picked San Diego to beat Denver. As much as the Chargers tried to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, they finally held on in the end. Let’s look at a few big ones this Sunday.

Carolina at New Orleans

It looks like Cam Newton is going to play in this one, but either way I like the Saints at home coming off the bye. Drew Brees should have a big game against this secondary, and remember, the Saints were a drive away from beating Carolina in each game last year. That even included a Luke McCown start where I believe he was 31-of-38 with a couple of drops. This offense had a lot of success against the stingy Panthers of 2015, and there’s no Josh Norman to make the game-saving pass defense this time. Sure, I hate backing the New Orleans defense, but it’s not like Carolina has been an efficient offense this season. As unfathomable as 1-5 sounds for Carolina, the Saints should come through at home and complete the NFC South sweep of the Panthers.

Kansas City at Oakland

Yes, Andy Reid is 15-2 after a regular-season bye, but that really doesn’t factor into my thoughts on this one. I expected Oakland’s offense to get off to a nice start due to the schedule. Now can they get better results against a team like the Chiefs? Kansas City’s defense has had as much variation as any in the league this year. They can be great one week, terrible the next, or even do so in the same game (Week 1’s 21-point comeback vs. San Diego). Jamaal Charles should see a bigger workload, and it’s not like Oakland’s defense has been impressive. On the other side of the ball, I think Marcus Peters is going to have to come up with another interception for the Chiefs, and Derek Carr is not shy about forcing some 50/50 balls that Peters can win. If the rest of the secondary can handle Oakland’s three wideouts, then this should be a winnable game for Alex Smith and the offense.

Atlanta at Seattle

Nice matchup. Basically another No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense type of game, but Seattle has faced the weakest set of offenses yet this season. Atlanta just got a great test in Denver last week, though the Seahawks will be a different challenge. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman should not run wild as they did in Denver. Julio Jones still has another tough matchup with Richard Sherman, who can certainly keep him under 100 yards. I don’t see Atlanta cracking more than 24 points on the road here, but the biggest difference from last week is the fact that Atlanta’s defense will be seriously challenged unlike what they saw from Paxton Lynch in his first start. The bye week should have been great for Russell Wilson to heal more from his leg injuries, but he was playing very well with them in his last two games, both of which saw Jimmy Graham crack 100 receiving yards. Atlanta’s cornerbacks are a strength in its defense, but I think the Seahawks can negate that inside with Graham and Doug Baldwin. Tyler Lockett is also reportedly feeling healthier, and Christine Michael has taken over at running back. I think Seattle will be too much for Atlanta at home, though I am a little surprised about the spread being 6.5. I definitely can see a late Matt Ryan-led GWD in this one, though I’m still taking Seattle.

Dallas at Green Bay

This might be a good example of early-season statistics vs. opponent adjustments. The Packers have been excellent at stopping the run, but they’ve also played four pretty shite rushing attacks. The Cowboys are arguably the best right now with that OL and Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ offense is more efficient than Green Bay’s this season, and when he’s not playing the terrible Detroit defense, Aaron Rodgers still looks like the same quarterback from the last 12 games last season, which is bad news for the Packers. I’d be all over Dallas if this game was at home, but alas, you don’t know what you’ll get from young players on the road, and it sounds like Dez Bryant won’t be catching or not catching anything here on Sunday. I could see Dak Prescott’s no-INT streak ending in this one as he tempts history. That still doesn’t mean he can’t have a very nice game, but it really comes down to how well the Cowboys are running it, and if they’re getting pressure on Rodgers. He has been pressured quite a bit this season, and the Packers have struggled with the blitz. Dallas needs to be a little aggressive to pull this one out on the road, and I certainly believe it can.

Indianapolis at Houston

Of course we get some AFC South slop in prime-time. This could even be the game that decides which team leads the division for the rest of the season given the direction the teams are heading. The Colts have been right there at the end of all five games, but only enter at 2-3, relying so much on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to perform miracles. The Texans are 3-2, but have played mostly poor football, and were exposed badly by the Vikings and Patriots. There is no J.J. Watt, but Jadeveon Clowney is stepping up nicely. Brock Osweiler was horrific last week and overall pretty bad this season. We also know the Texans don’t get much YAC, which killed the Colts last week against Brian Hoyer and the Bears. However, I think this is a game for Lamar Miller to finally break out and score his first touchdown as a Texan. The Colts are still soft against the run, because what else would you expect from Ryan Grigson building the defense? I really think the Texans are going to seize this opportunity at home in prime time to play their most complete game of the season, but I also kind of expect to see Luck flirt with another 17-21 point comeback in the second half. In other words, a typical Colts-Texans game in the years that Houston is quasi-competitive.

2016 Week 6 Predictions

Like I said, the Chargers came through for a change.

Winners in bold:

  • Browns at Titans
  • Steelers at Dolphins
  • Rams at Lions
  • Ravens at Giants
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Bengals at Patriots
  • 49ers at Bills
  • Jaguars at Bears
  • Chiefs at Raiders
  • Cowboys at Packers
  • Falcons at Seahawks
  • Colts at Texans
  • Jets at Cardinals
  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Season: 40-37

NFL Week 6 Predictions: So the Usual Colts-Patriots Game?

There are three games this week between teams with winning records, but Bengals-Bills and Cardinals-Steelers lose some bite when you sub in EJ Manuel and Michael Vick for Tyrod Taylor and Ben Roethlisberger. That leaves SNF between two familiar AFC contenders.

Patriots at Colts

Hey, did you hear Tom Brady is pissed off and wants to throw for 600 yards and six touchdowns, and the Patriots want to drop 60 points? I guess all the sixes are natural when you’re talking about the devils of the NFL, but that’s been a heavy part of the lead-in to this game. The Patriots are looking to unleash hell over Deflategate.

So uh, remind me which of these teams was fined an NFL-record one million dollars and lost a first-round pick?

Remind me which of these teams was embarrassed 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game last January?

The Colts are the team with the right to be pissed and seeking revenge in this one, yet it hasn’t been written that way at all. I think that’s because no one expects them to do anything but get their ass kicked on Sunday night at home. The Colts have started this season poorly, especially on offense, and Andrew Luck has missed the last two games due to a shoulder injury. He is questionable again, but should start. He has struggled in all four games against the Patriots, which have all been blowout losses in the end.

I don’t think anyone ever second-guessed the outcome in January over deflated balls. The Colts would have been blown out if they played with medicine balls or beach balls. Give LeGarrette Blount anything he can handle without smoking, and he was going to shred that defense. It was always about protecting the integrity of the game.

Before the season, I really did think the Colts would close the gap like they did in 2005 against New England, but that hasn’t happened one bit. The additions have not panned out, leading to an even worse offense and the defense is still as unreliable as they come. Keep in mind the Colts haven’t even played a top-12 QB yet this season. The Patriots are playing much better than I expected from them so far. You knew the offense would be good as long as Rob Gronkowski was healthy, but they’ve been even better than expected while still attacking teams in an unconventional way from the inside, and now even more from the backfield with Dion Lewis looking like a deluxe Shane Vereen. The front seven was expected to be good, and the revamped secondary is more than getting by. It’s not at a 2005 Duane Starks level, and you only expect Bill Belichick to get better play from that unit by season’s end. The same can be said for the offensive line, which had some struggles in Dallas and just lost LT Nate Solder for the year, but the Patriots usually get stronger as the season goes on. Do I see an undefeated team? Not really, but few road challenges exist on the schedule thanks to the Dallas injuries last week and the overall stank (not a typo) of the 2015 Colts to this point.

It would certainly be very amusing for the Patriots to lose this game since they’ve been hyped up like a 21-point road favorite (actual line: 10 points), but I don’t see how that happens here. Luck would have to play one of the best games of his career, and the defense would actually have to keep flustering Brady for a full game unlike the half-game efforts last season.

BradyINDTweet

Even if they slow down Brady, what’s going to stop Lewis and Blount from running all over this defense again? Lewis could gain 9 yards every touch in this matchup. Hell, they can probably trot out Kevin Faulk for 8 yards per draw like he used to do against this defense.

The Patriots have had at least a 17-point lead in seven consecutive games against the Colts, going back to 2009. Peyton Manning made two of those games close, even winning the fourth-and-2 game. Dan Orlovsky lit it up in garbage time to a 31-24 final in 2011. But the Pagano/Grigson/Luck-era Colts have lost by 21+ every time. The gap has only widened between these teams since January.

Final score: Patriots 48, Colts 20

2015 Week 6 Predictions

I fumbled away the TNF pick the way Atlanta threw the game away. The quest for a perfect week of picks continues.

Winners in bold

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

I’m trusting the Jags/Jets/Bengals and also Jay Cutler on the road. This probably isn’t going to end well.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Season: 50-27 (.649)

NFL Week 6 Predictions

Your chaos ain’t me. – Orchid

Another interesting week in the books.  So what am I looking forward to this week?

Pick 6 – If Matt Schaub throws a pick six for the fifth game in a row, his tenure in Houston may be over tomorrow unless the rest of the game is phenomenal. He has to play well against a poor defense at home.

QB Change – I don’t think Thad Lewis is much of a downgrade from EJ Manuel at QB for Buffalo. What I want to see is Cincinnati win a game they are “supposed to” win and not have another letdown after last week’s big New England victory.

Geno Brooks? – Geno Smith makes big plays, but he sometimes makes them for both teams like Aaron Brooks used to do for New Orleans. If Geno and the Jets can avoid turnovers again against Pittsburgh, the Steelers will set a new record by going 5 games without a takeaway to start a season. I already feel sick over my pick on this one.

Panthers at Vikings – Heavy hearts in Minnesota after the tragic news surrounding Adrian Peterson’s 2-year-old son. He’s expected to play and I think you’ll see the team rally around him with a big effort. Carolina was on the other end of one of those games last year against Kansas City when Jovan Belcher did his heinous act.

Point Spread – With the spread at 28 points for Jacksonville at Denver, this is the biggest spread since the 1970 merger. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t touch this one. While very possible Denver pulls it off, that’s a monster margin for a NFL game, even if it’s Peyton Manning on his most dominant streak ever and the Jaguars looking like the worst team in 20 years. Garbage time alone makes you cautious about this one as I think Denver may call off the dogs earlier than usual. Yes, Denver’s scored as many points in each of its last two games as Jacksonville has all season, but isn’t 45-17 (no Blaine Gabbert!) reasonable for a final score? That still would only be a push.

This will be Peyton Manning’s 250th start. In the previous 249, he has 14 victories by 29+ points (5.6% of games; 8.3% of his wins).

Spread aside, Denver needs just 33 points to set the scoring record through six games of a season. That’s one bet that I’d gladly make on happening.

PTGX

Manning needs two touchdown passes to set the new record for most through six games. That’s also a given.

MTD

Note: I compiled these tables myself through a series of searches on Pro-Football-Reference. If you want to cite them, do the right thing and use a reference.

2013 NFL Week 6 Predictions

If only all games were as easy as Thursday games. Picking the Bears, who picked Eli, makes me 6-0 on TNF.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Season: 49-28

NFL Week 6 Predictions and Writing Recap

Remember when I did that article for Sports Illustrated? Well it came true again last night. Not that I care about baseball, but yet another regular season champion (Washington Nationals) has fallen, and again in epic fashion. Washington blew a 6-0 lead, which has never happened before in a winner-take-all game.

Since 2000, the teams with the best regular season record in the four leagues  have won eight of the 48 championships (16.7 percent). They’ve gone one-and-done 18 times (37.5 percent). Keep that in  mind before predicting a team like the 2012 Houston Texans to go the distance.

This Week’s Articles

Manning vs. Brady is the greatest – and  it doesn’t even matter – NBC Sports

Even though Peyton Manning and Tom Brady receive all the hype when they meet, the fact is the quarterback’s performances rarely decide The War of 1812. This is a career retrospective of the rivalry and what really decides the games. Hint: it’s because the New England Patriots have almost always had a better-coached, more complete team.

Captain Comeback Week 5: Colts Score Season’s Biggest Comeback – Cold, Hard Football Facts

The Colts came back from 21-3 down at halftime to shock Green Bay. Find out what Andrew Luck did that was so rare, and how it was another common disaster in the fourth quarter for the Packers. Also: Matt Ryan ties Ben Roethlisberger for the most game-winning drives (18) in a player’s first five seasons. Drew Brees becomes the 22nd QB to hit 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins. Advice for Kansas City fans. $cam Newton in picture form.

Andrew Luck’s Elite 2-Minute Drills Give Colts Fighting Chance – Bleacher Report

Rookies aren’t supposed to be this good in the hurry-up offense, but Andrew Luck has been dominant in giving the Colts an advantage at the end of each half. In three straight games he has put the Colts ahead in the final minute. See the historical rookie comparison to Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Peyton Manning.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 5 vs. Green Bay Packers – Colts Authority

A double-dip of Luck on Wednesday. This was the weekly column I have been doing, analyzing every drop back from Luck. He had 64 of them this week, ont including penalties, as the Colts set a record with 89 offensive snaps in a game. Check out how he did.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 6 Predictions – Bleacher Report

Eli Manning is Mr. October (24-5 record; best ever), but he will not pull it out in San Francisco this week. Though he just may be the most consistent QB in NFL history when you look at his road vs. home performance.

Also: Steelers predictably played poorly on the road, the lack of takeaways for three assumed contenders, and Philip Rivers does not own Peyton Manning despite the 4-1 record when they have met.

Captain’s Challenge: Name the 5 Best Quarterbacks of All Time – Cold, Hard Football Facts

SEND ME Y OUR FEEDBACK. Using just one stat, can you find a better group of the top 5 QBs in NFL history than the one produced by using fourth-quarter comeback wins: Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, John Elway and Joe Montana? Good luck. Also included: the reason Captain Comeback is what it is every week.

2012 NFL Week 6 Predictions

I trusted the Steelers just enough to pick them, so I start the week 0-1.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Season: 47-30

I have high expectations for some articles this week. Stay tuned.