NFL Stat Oddity: Week 7

The Steelers and Seahawks were the NFL’s last two undefeated teams, and both continued their hot scoring streaks by racing out to 27 points before Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson both tossed three interceptions. One team still prevailed after a kicker missed, and the other team almost prevailed after a kicker missed (but didn’t miss twice).

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

We’ve Seen This Seattle Show Before

The Seahawks went into a prime-time game on the road against a division foe for their biggest test of the season as Russell Wilson was leading the MVP race. Wilson had a mixture of highlights and struggles, but led the Seahawks to a late 3-point lead, which was answered by a game-tying field goal and overtime. Wilson threw an inexplicable interception in the extra period, but Seattle still looked poised to win after the opponent missed a game-winning field goal.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because it wasn’t just last night in Arizona, but it’s basically the same script the Seahawks followed in their 27-24 Monday night win in San Francisco last November. The difference is Wilson’s interception this time was too much to overcome, and Arizona didn’t miss a game-winning field goal twice, downing the 5-0 Seahawks by a 37-34 final.

Look, we know Seattle loves to play dangerously close to the vest, and even on a night where the offense compiled 377 yards in the first half, the lead was never greater than 13 and the offense went cold in the second half (three punts, two interceptions, and a 45-yard touchdown drive). It sounds weird to say since the Cardinals never led outside of kicking the game-winning field goal late in overtime, but Arizona deserved to win this game for making fewer mistakes.

It’s the signature win so far for the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era, but it wasn’t perfect of course. Murray saw a terrible interception from Wilson in the fourth quarter and immediately raised him one of his own on the next play. Still, it’s the first game in NFL history where both quarterbacks passed for over 300 yards and rushed for over 50 yards. For that matter they were both over 360/65, but we’ll footnote that one.

The worst part was in overtime when the Cardinals had the Seahawks on the ropes, but Murray lost 5 yards on a weird first-down play that looked like he was trying to center the ball. Kingsbury somehow was okay with kicking a 41-yard field goal on 2nd-and-15 instead of using the downs (and clock in case of a miss) to get closer. That’s when Zane Gonzalez was wide left on the game-winning kick after he made a warm-up try. That’s when you thought Seattle might pull this one out again, but after D.K. Metcalf had a game-winning touchdown taken away because of a correctly called holding penalty, Wilson threw his worst interception in quite some time as there was no receiver in the area. That set up redemption for Gonzalez in the form of a 48-yard field goal, and thankfully he made it to avoid the dreaded tie.

It was a classic Seattle letdown in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks led 34-24 with 6:44 left, but the Cardinals were able to slow roll their way to a touchdown, force a punt after five snaps using their four clock stoppages, and Murray delivered a last-minute field goal drive like a veteran.

It was classic Pete Carroll prevent in calling three-man rushes and even allowing the Cardinals to work in many run plays to complete the comeback. Murray even had a 15-yard QB draw on the game-tying field goal drive.

With the loss, the Seahawks broke a streak of posting a 59-0 record in the Wilson era (2012-20) when leading at halftime by at least 4 points. Now I’m not a big fan of such stats when we know this team blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. We know in 2015 that Andy Dalton led a 17-point 4QC against the Seahawks and Cam Newton led the Panthers back from a 9-point deficit. Games like that tell me more about your ability to close teams out than some quirky stat about the score at halftime.

Of course, we used to see this often for Seattle. In Wilson’s first four years, they blew 15 fourth-quarter leads. That number has gone down in the four-plus seasons since to eight while Wilson has been leading a very similar share of close wins.

  • 2012-2015: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 15 4QC wins for opponents
  • 2016-2020: 13 4QC wins for Seattle, 8 4QC wins for opponents

If you look at Wilson’s career compared to other great, successful quarterbacks, you’ll see he really stands out in just how many of his games come down to late theatrics like on Sunday night (or Sunday night against Minnesota, or Sunday night against the Patriots, or Sunday night against the 49ers in Week 17 last year, etc.)

The table is sorted by highest percentage of losses where the opponent had a 4QC win, and Wilson has a staggering rate now as 47.4% of his losses have been comebacks against Seattle. The other quarterbacks are all more than 15 percentage points behind him. Wilson is also the only quarterback listed to win more than 25% of his games via 4QC. Finally, Wilson has the highest rate of his starts that are a 4QC for his team (17.4%) and a 4QC against his team (15.4%).

Drew Brees has the most losses by a QB in NFL history after leading in the fourth quarter (39), but if Wilson plays as long as Brees has, he’ll be around 45 such games at this current pace.

Sunday was just the latest case where the ball bounced the opponent’s way too often, but it is also one where Wilson was largely at fault for the outcome. He’s still leading the MVP race in my eyes, but if he has more moments like this in the upcoming stretch of three division games out of the next four, then things are going to get interesting again.

However, when is it not interesting with Wilson and the Seahawks? Put them on SNF next week too against the 49ers. Spare us your Dallas-Philadelphia horseshit, NFL.

Steelers Win Big Road Game, But Are the Titans a Playoff Team?

The shocking stat I pulled out for my Steelers-Titans preview was that the Steelers had lost 36 of their last 37 road games to playoff teams when allowing more than 21 points. Well, either the Titans aren’t making the playoffs this year after a 5-0 start, or the Steelers just picked up their second such win in the last 38 tries.

Pittsburgh improved to 6-0, all alone with the best record in the NFL for the first time since 2004, by beating the Titans 27-24, but it sure wasn’t easy. They overcame an uneven game from Ben Roethlisberger, who was masterful on third down (Steelers: 13/18) and in building a 27-7 lead, but he also threw three interceptions. The Steelers only managed a field goal on their final six possessions.

The Titans hung in there to the end, but a rough day from Ryan Tannehill culminated with a huge intentional grounding penalty that led to a game-tying field goal attempt. Stephen Gostkowski has some great career numbers, but the reason he was never revered in New England like Adam Vinatieri is the lack of huge clutch kicks on his resume. It’s not that he was terrible at them, but he just wasn’t put in that position often. The Titans put him there from 45 yards away with 19 seconds left, but he pulled the kick wide right to end the game. He only lost one game in similar fashion for the Patriots back in 2012 against Arizona.

This was definitely as good as any road win the Steelers have had since knocking off the 5-0 Chiefs at Arrowhead in 2017. The second half gives me some pause, but this team can prove a lot of naysayers wrong next week with another win at Baltimore, the ultimate test of the season. If the Steelers can win that game, then it’s not a stretch to say they can be 10-0 when the teams meet again in Week 12 given the upcoming schedule (DAL, CIN, JAX).

The 2020 Steelers, along with this year’s Seahawks, remain very consistent scorers. They are the 11th and 12th teams since 1940 to score at least 26 points in each of their first six games:

Several of the best offenses of all time are in that list, and all of the teams in the Super Bowl era finished no worse than third in scoring and seven out of nine made it to at least a Conference Championship Game.

I’m not saying to pencil in a Super Bowl XL rematch by any means, but this has been good so far.

Denver’s Demoralizing Day

You know, it must suck to lose a game 43-16, but it must suck even more to do it when it’s snowing and the temperature is in the teens. The first snow game this season unsurprisingly took place in Denver, but it showed just how far behind the Broncos are not only to the Chiefs, but how they’re also falling behind the rest of the division with Justin Herbert looking like a stud for the Chargers.

Drew Lock, I’m not sure how he pissed off the football gods to draw Patrick Mahomes twice in the snow already, but Lock was the bigger story on Sunday for all the wrong reasons. Lock continuously missed throws, bypassed easier plays, and just looked lost out there even after the snow eased up. Sure, injuries have been horrible for Denver this season, but aside from Courtland Sutton, he had most of the intended offense out there around him on Sunday. Denver’s running game was quite good with the two main backs combining for 147 yards on 26 carries, but it didn’t matter. The defense did a more than respectable job on the Chiefs, holding Mahomes to 200 passing yards and the Chiefs were 0-for-8 on third down.

Do you know how hard it is to make a team go 0-8 on third down and still lose 43-16?

The Chiefs are the 98th team since 1991 to have zero third down conversions on at least eight attempts, but they’re the first team out of the 98 to win the game by more than 22 points. That’s what two return touchdowns can do for you, but it still capped off another big scoring day for a team that is so used to walking into the building with at least 23 points on the board.

That’s right, the Chiefs had a record-long streak of scoring 23+ points (including playoffs), had it stopped in a 19-13 loss to the Colts last year, and immediately continued on the second-longest streak in history that should replace the old one with the Jets and Panthers up next. Amazing stuff.

Denver has not beaten the Chiefs since a beaten down Peyton Manning had the worst game of his professional career in 2015. But it’s not a coincidence that the Broncos haven’t been relevant ever since Manning retired following that Super Bowl season, and it’s not looking good so far for Lock being the answer at the most important position on the team.

Lock may have rushed for a touchdown on Sunday, but even that was matched by Chad Henne in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter.

Don’t Bury Brees and the Saints Yet

New Orleans (4-2) won a third game in a row, taking down Carolina 27-24 after one of the best third-down performances on offense on record. The Saints finished 12 of 14 on third down (85.7%). The only better performance since 1991 (min. 8 attempts) belongs to Drew Brees and the Saints as well. They were 11 of 12 (91.7%) on third down against the Lions in a 42-7 win in 2008.

I really do wonder if the lack of a big crowd is helping some of these ridiculous third-down performances this year, though this game was in New Orleans. The Steelers were in Tennessee and the Eagles were in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago as examples of road teams feasting on third down. It’s something to keep an eye on in 2020.

We’ll learn plenty about the 2020 Saints as they travel to Chicago and Tampa Bay the next two weeks but going almost perfect on third down without your top two wideouts (Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) is impressive to me.

Games involving the Saints have been high scoring this year with both teams scoring at least 23 points in all six games. That’s only been done by two other teams in NFL history: 2002 Bills and 2012 Saints (go figure). The difference is the Saints were 2-4 in 2012 when they did that versus 4-2 this year. (Note: The 2020 Seahawks have also done this.)

If Thomas and Sanders can return for these upcoming games, then we’ll finally get a sense of what the offense can be at “full strength” this season.

F*** the Falcons

If you’re wondering why I’m not going over how the Falcons imploded this time against Detroit, it’s because I don’t feel like giving public attention to my abusers. I’m hurt and I’m tired of it.

Just take two knees, kick a field goal and the game should be won. Don’t even let Todd Gurley make a mistake by scoring a touchdown he had no business scoring, or that ridiculous defense taking the field on the final drive.

Enough is enough.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Steelers at Titans

My family and I are not having the best health week, but I’d be remiss not to share some thoughts on a big game in the AFC.

The Steelers are 5-0 for the first time since 1978, which remains the gold standard Pittsburgh team, and that means it’s the first time in my lifetime they’ve started this well. The Titans, listed as a 1-point favorite on Sunday, are also 5-0 and ahead in the tie-breakers for the No. 1 seed.

This is only the fifth time since 2001 where two undefeated teams 5-0 or better are meeting, and it wouldn’t have happened if not for COVID-19 (game was originally scheduled for Week 4 when they were both 3-0):

Would most people still pick the Chiefs and Ravens as the best teams in the AFC over the Steelers and Titans? Probably, but it’s been fun starts for these teams and this is an interesting matchup.

The Steelers (and the 2020 Seahawks) are now on a list of 16 teams in the Super Bowl era who scored at least 26 points in each of their first five games:

There are a lot of really great offensive teams in that list — think 2013 Broncos, 1998 Vikings, 2018 Chiefs — but the 2020 Steelers don’t strike me as one of them yet. This is mostly because they’ve been able to produce this without establishing a real offensive identity.

We only saw six quarters of Ben Roethlisberger in 2019, but it was obvious then that this offense was not sure how to replace the departure of Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger was throwing a ton of short passes and they weren’t pushing the ball down the field like they used to. Then once Roethlisberger went out for the season, the offense really lacked talent and production. But since he’s returned this season, Roethlisberger still is feeling his way back into the game and throwing a lot of short, quick passes again. JuJu Smith-Schuster is only averaging 8.4 yards per reception this year and has seemingly been surpassed by rookie Chase Claypool as the new #1 receiver.

From his first catch on MNF against the Giants, Claypool has looked fantastic. He can make the deep sideline catch, make an 84-yard TD look effortless, he’s shown a little YAC ability, and they’ve even worked him into the goal line package with rushing plays for a pair of scores. I’m really fascinated by him so far, but I’d like to see more refined roles for JuJu, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson. It’s hard to say what the plan is with JuJu these days, but Washington should still be an outside deep threat and Johnson would be better in the slot while Claypool and JuJu can move around more.

Of course the Steelers always want to run the ball well, but that’s been hit or miss with James Conner this year. He’s ripped off several big runs, but sometimes the offensive line, which has gone through a few replacement starters already, just doesn’t open up anything for him.

So it’s still not clear if the Steelers want to be a shotgun dink-and-dunk offense, a big-play offense, a smash-mouth meets play-action (just kidding, they never use it) offense, or what mixture exactly. Maybe the fact that they’ve produced these results without having a clear identity is a good thing and they can only grow and get better as Roethlisberger works his way back from a year out, Claypool learns, Eric Ebron gets more comfortable at tight end, the line gels, etc.

Meanwhile, the Titans are back to a pretty clear offensive plan: get Derrick Henry his 20+ rushes, use a lot of play-action, and Ryan Tannehill has been very accurate and safe with the ball while also drastically cutting down on his sacks from 2019. The Titans just racked up 607 yards of offense in a 42-36 overtime win over Houston, though that was really the first game this year where Henry was unstoppable. I think the Steelers, an elite rushing defense by most metrics, will have bigger problems stopping the passing game this week than Henry.

The key injury news in this game is that LT Taylor Lewan and LB Devin Bush both tore their ACL, ending their seasons. It’s not good news for either team, but I think both will be able to replace them without much of a noticeable decline. It’s bigger news this week for the Titans as Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense led by T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree on the edges will be coming after Tannehill. The Steelers would be worse off if those guys (or Cameron Heyward) were out for the year than Bush. But I still want to see how the Steelers perform against a good passing offense. The Browns were scoring a lot of points coming into last week, but Baker Mayfield was not having a big season. The Steelers rattled him early into his worst statistical game, and it was one of the best performances by the Steelers defense in years. They’ll be dealing with a tougher quarterback this time around.

But are the Titans a bit overrated? Outside of the Buffalo game, the Titans have four wins by 12 points. Tannehill’s only the second QB ever (1966 Charley Johnson on the Cardinals) to lead four game-winning drives in his team’s first five games, but that’s rarely a recipe for later success in the season. Those 1966 Cardinals (8-5-1) still missed the playoffs, though it was at the expense of losing Johnson for five starts.

Even in the 42-16 win over Buffalo, the Titans had TD drives of 16, 30, 12, and 18 yards. That’s 28 points on 76 yards of offense. So if you don’t hand them the short fields, you have a decent shot. The Titans (3) and Steelers (4) have two of the lowest giveaway totals this year.

At the end of the day, I’m going with the home team. Homefield doesn’t mean what it used to in 2020, but the Steelers have played their last four games at home. This is a step up in competition for both teams, but I think this is a game where the Steelers offense will have to be sharp and productive. I don’t think all that highly of a mediocre Tennessee defense that’s already allowed 30 points three times this season, but they have come up with 9 takeaways to match Pittsburgh’s total.

The game likely comes down to which QB handles the pass rush and protects the ball better. As much as I’d like to pick the Steelers in this one, I just think it’s the kind of game they historically lose, either by a bad turnover day on offense, or the defense blows the lead late.

Stat to consider: Since 1993, the Steelers are 1-36 in road games against playoff teams that scored more than 21 points (1-18 with Ben Roethlisberger at QB). The only win was in 2013, 38-31 over a Green Bay team that started Matt Flynn in place of an injured Aaron Rodgers. If you believe the Titans are of playoff caliber at 5-0 and it’s going to be a shootout, then I’d go with Tennessee. If you think the Steelers kick their ass on defense, then that’s their path to victory in this one.

Final: Titans 27, Steelers 24

2020 NFL Week 7 Predictions

Here are the rest of my picks for the week.

With the new COVID protocols this feels like a week where things could be really stacked against some teams if they have a unit almost entirely wiped out over virus concerns. The tight ends for Buffalo are going through that, but fortunately they aren’t the engine in that offense and they’re only playing the Jets. I really wanted to pull the trigger on the Jets again, but I’ve already been burned five times in six weeks there this season. Similar thoughts on the Panthers-Saints game with the Saints down Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Are they really going to play Taysom Hill out wide for 30+ snaps? Carolina’s been hit or miss this year, but that felt like a spot where I’ll hedge and take the underdog to cover. I’ve also temporarily given up on Dallas this year until Andy Dalton starts to look like he can put up points with those receivers.

Lastly, I have no idea if the Bears are any good again, but I know what their winning seasons tend to look like. The Rams are very unpredictable from week to week and I’m a little surprised the spread is that big on MNF. I think the Bears could get a return TD in that game and force Jared Goff into mistakes to win that one.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Patrick Mahomes Panic Button Edition

I certainly wasn’t trying to conjure up an injury to Patrick Mahomes last week when I wrote that spoof that ended with him being the final piece of the Chiefs puzzle to disappear this year. Just a week earlier I said he was the most exciting part of the NFL right now and without this offense my interest in the league would be at its lowest point since 2000.

So are we there after Thursday night’s injury? Maybe not, but it was scary to see him unable to get off the field and reports of the cart coming out. Mahomes walked off after a dislocated kneecap and the thought is he may only miss 3-4 games before returning for the stretch run. It’s still a big risk to rush him back when the long-term outlook is more important than anything, and keep in mind he hasn’t received that monster payday yet.

But the fact that he’s not been ruled out for the season is great news for football fans and especially the AFC in general, which badly needs someone to stand up to the Patriots. More on that shortly.

Mahomes’ expedited return is already drawing comparisons to RG3 rushing back in Washington, a scary thought for such a promising player’s potential if he comes back too soon. I also thought about the cases of Daunte Culpepper, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck, and that despite modern medicine’s best efforts, sometimes health can derail a player’s career. When it’s someone like Mahomes who has shown the potential to be the best to ever play the position, it’s a situation where decisions must not be made in haste.

Do You Push the Button?

So let’s talk about a hasty hypothetical decision that I saw on Twitter that has continued to fascinate me as this Chiefs season unfolds. Carrington Harrison initially posted the poll on October 3:

You have a button where if you push it, you lock Mahomes into what is essentially the 13-year run Peyton Manning had with the Colts (1998-2010). That means 11 seasons with 10+ wins, 11 trips to the playoffs, a 1-1 Super Bowl record, a SB MVP, and four regular season MVPs. It’s the type of career very few achieve as even Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have not gotten to more than one Super Bowl yet and they combine for half as many MVPs as Manning won in Indy.

I voted Yes to lock it in. I was a little surprised that only 52% went for the lock, but since Harrison is Kansas City-based, I figured he might attract more votes from the local fans who are more interested in ring counting than their QB’s legacy.

Then a funny thing happened. Just a couple days later, Mahomes had the first “bad game” of his career against the Colts when they only scored 13 points, snapping a historic streak of scoring 26+ in every start. Mahomes also twice was visibly injured and limped slowly off the field. I almost thought about re-running the poll again myself after that game, which showed Mahomes is in fact mortal.

Then the Texans came to town and after some weird sequences where Mahomes lost a fumble before the half and threw his first interception of the season after a DPI flag was picked up, the Chiefs lost another home game and didn’t score 26 points again. The defense looked horrible — worse than the box score since multiple TD were dropped by the Texans — and couldn’t get Mahomes the ball in the second half. If that’s how they’re going to handle semi-contenders like Indy and Houston, how does this team have any hope at going to New England and winning this year?

Finally, Thursday night happened. Mahomes looked sharp early in Denver, but a simple QB sneak was the play he injured his kneecap on. It’s a freak accident and you almost never see that on hundreds and hundreds of sneaks that I’ve personally studied over the years. Maybe they shouldn’t have been calling that with his ankle already compromised, but it is generally a safe play.

So after two losses and major injury concerns, I ran the poll again myself. Do you push the button?

As of Saturday afternoon, 52% are saying No to my poll. I figured my followers would have less interest in the Chiefs’ success and care more about Mahomes’ potential legacy. I also thought after the events of the last three games more would be willing to lock this in, so that definitely surprised me. I will note that some were confused that the 1 Super Bowl MVP means a ring, which I thought was obvious, but never assume on Twitter. So I don’t know how many votes that would swing if it said RING in caps, but I digress.

I’m not going to break into a 5000-word analysis over this one, but I want to talk about the prevailing thought that the potential landscape of the AFC going forward are reasons enough to vote No and to let things play out Mahomes’ own way. If Mahomes is going to be the premiere QB of the next decade, then why not better than a 1-1 SB record in a league where the Patriots should fall off soon, Andrew Luck already retired, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are nearing the end, the 2018 QBs (Baker/Darnold/Allen/Rosen/Lamar) aren’t leaps and bounds better this year, the AFC West looks like a mess, and the NFC never seems to have a consistently dominant team?

I’ve definitely considered all of that.

However, this is the NFL, a league where we can barely predict what will happen next week, let alone 10, five, or even three years from now. For all we know the Bengals could land Tua and Cincinnati can have a dynastic run in the 2020s. Don’t laugh; at least Marvin Lewis is gone.

The AFC’s Great Decline

One thing I mentioned two weeks ago was that Peyton Manning had to deal with a much stronger AFC during his Indy days before it fell off in his Denver days, so that could definitely be an advantage for Mahomes. Of course, a Patriots fan had to butt in with this:

So here we are on to the topic that I should probably write a book about at this point: the decline of the AFC. I don’t know how anyone could follow the NFL in the 21st century and not see what’s happened to this conference. Typically in the NFL you’ll see challengers come and go while only a couple of teams hang on as consistent winners. Think about the NFC West this decade. The Seahawks have been the consistent winner since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012. The 49ers had that three-year run of NFC-CG (2011-13) when Jim Harbaugh took over. The Cardinals had a three-year run of 10-win seasons with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer (2013-15). The Rams have won the division the last two years and been to a SB since Sean McVay took over as head coach. That’s just one division.

Meanwhile in the AFC, you basically have had the same couple of teams rule the conference for 2010-19 that ruled it in 2000-09. That’s practically unheard of. That’s New England, Pittsburgh, the team with Peyton Manning (IND/DEN), and Baltimore. The Chargers fell off and the Titans fell even further this decade. Also, the Steelers were stronger circa 2004-2011 when they had a great defense, and the Colts were stronger with Manning than without him despite Luck’s potential. Denver has been an also-ran since Manning retired too, though that 4-year run (2012-15) was a great challenge to the Patriots. The only other team the AFC has built up this decade is Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City since 2013, now bolstered by the addition of Mahomes.

Those three stooges in the AFC East (MIA/BUF/NYJ)? Losers for two decades. The Browns and Raiders? Terrible for two decades. Even the Bengals are back to being under .500 since 2010 despite five straight playoff trips at one point.

I talked about three-year runs in the NFC West this decade. We can’t do that in the AFC. “Hey, remember when Marcus Mariota had the Titans in the playoffs two years in a row?” Nope, didn’t happen. “Hey, remember that awesome Jacksonville defense helping Bortles to back-to-back AFC title games?” Oh, you mean the team for one season that took advantage of Luck and Watson (rookie sensation cut down by non-contact injury) being out in 2017? I liked it better when they were called the 2009-10 Jets with Mark Sanchez, the last time New York did anything worth a damn and actually knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs.

It’s not just the AFC East that New England has taken advantage of. It’s the whole conference this decade that has been a disappointment. As I always point out, the reason the 49ers didn’t continue to make a bunch of Super Bowls in the 90s (despite great regular seasons) is because they actually had legit competition from the Cowboys and Packers. The Patriots had one of those foes for four years (Denver), but nothing else has really materialized in the AFC.

It’s too early to know if Mahomes is someone capable of sustaining this incredible offensive play for years to come, leading to 12-win season after 12-win season. That’s what Manning did in his career. The Chiefs are 5-2 right now, and even if Mahomes was 100 percent healthy, they still may win 10 or 11 games instead of 12. However, with the shape of the AFC right now, don’t be shocked if 11-5 doesn’t get a first-round bye again. It happened for New England last year.

You knew there’d be a table eventually and it’s a wordy one. My theory was that Manning had a tougher AFC to navigate in his Indy days than in his Denver time and the current AFC. So I used 12 wins as the litmus test to see just where that would have gotten Manning each year since 2002 realignment, and I did the same thing for Brady and the Patriots. I also looked at the Chiefs since 2016 since they have basically taken the mantle from Denver in the AFC West as NE’s best challenger. I know very well that neither Manning nor Mahomes was in the NFL in 2016, but just go with it. I also looked at the best-case scenario for what 12 wins would have done for these teams without getting crazy into tie-breakers and not changing the game results for any head-to-head meetings that would have gone into that.

 

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My main findings:

1. On four occasions (2003-04, 2006, 2008), Manning led the Colts to 12 actual wins and that was still not enough for a first-round bye. One year (2008) it even led to a No. 5 Wild Card and road playoff game. That happened just once in 17 years to the Patriots in 2006 when they were the No. 4 seed at 12-4.

2. That would be unheard of in the AFC these days. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time 12 wins wouldn’t have given the Patriots a bye. In six of the last seven seasons, 12 wins would have given the AFC West winner a bye. Not pictured here, but the Patriots could have won 11 games in six of the last nine seasons and still received a first-round bye six times and a No. 3 seed three times. Those days of a 15-1 Pittsburgh or 14-2 San Diego or a random 13-3 Tennessee are long gone.

3. The 2018 Patriots are the first AFC team since the 2002 Raiders/Titans to get a first-round bye with 11 wins. No one won 12 games in 2002. If you look at the way the AFC is trending this year, the No. 2 seed may not win 12 games again. Also note that the 2001 Patriots, the beginning of the dynasty, had a No. 2 seed with an 11-5 record, but this is only looking at since realignment.

4. Despite the IND/DEN/KC teams having inferior defenses/ST/coaching, they won at least 12 games in 13 of the 17 seasons compared to 12-of-17 for the Patriots. However, the Patriots did have seven seasons in excess of 12 wins (13+) compared to five for the other side. That’s still pretty respectable when you consider the defenses Indy had in the old days or KC last year.

There are many different ways one can take this Mahomes button decision. I’m not going to rehash the playoff struggles the Colts had in the Manning era here, but let’s not forget that the Chiefs have a long history of losing at home in the playoffs, including three straight seasons of doing exactly that. The defense doesn’t exactly look ready for a dynasty run. If you can lock in a ring with a lot of exciting seasons to watch, I think that’s too hard to pass up. While I understand the AFC horizon looks tempting, just remember that you’ll be watching with bated breath the next time Mahomes takes a hit. Maybe every time from now on. Also don’t forget that Dan Marino got to the Super Bowl in 1984 and never returned. He never won another MVP. He only had two more 12-win seasons after 1984 as well. Marino is about the only QB who compares to Mahomes through 26 games.

You just never know how things are going to turn out in this league. All I know is we’ve been looking for greatness to step up in the AFC for many years now. The AFC has tried to sell us on many franchise changers, including Adam Gase, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano, Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Jadeveon Clowney, Baker Mayfield, Hue Jackson, Josh Allen, Sammy Watkins, Luke Joeckel, Sam Darnold, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Justin Blackmon, Corey Davis, Doug Marrone, Bill O’Brien, Leonard Fournette, Andy Dalton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and the list goes on. Even Jalen Ramsey jumped ship to the NFC (Rams) this week.

Mahomes is the one who actually looks like he can be the face of the league for the next decade. One name I left out was Deshaun Watson, who also looked to set the record books on fire before tearing his ACL as a rookie. Could Mahomes vs. Watson be the 2020’s version of Manning vs. Brady?

That would certainly beat what the AFC has turned into since 2016: Brady vs. the field & Father Time. That’s why the sentiment around Thursday night was “this would be terrible for the league if Mahomes is seriously injured” and not just for the Chiefs.

So do I press the button and lock in a first-ballot HOF career for Mahomes that I know I’ll enjoy watching for the next decade? Damn right I do.

NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had the Chiefs covering on TNF, and lost in all the Mahomes injury talk was a horrific performance by Joe Flacco and the Denver offense.

2019Wk7

I’m laughing at the thought of Josh Allen being favored by 17 in an NFL game. Yes, Miami is truly terrible, but I think Ryan Fitzpatrick gives them a better chance than Josh Rosen did. So even if it’s done in garbage time, I think he can cover that one.

2019Wk1-6

NFL Week 7 Predictions: With or Without Gronk Edition

Not feeling great this Saturday, so just time for a look at the game of the week.

Patriots at Bears

The Patriots are playing an Andy Reid-style offense for the second week in a row after allowing 40 points to the Chiefs (again) last week. The Bears are not nearly as talented at the skill positions, and Trubisky is a big downgrade from Patrick Mahomes, but I think the Bears can score 27+ on that defense. Plus it’s not like we haven’t seen so-so quarterbacks with a little mobility pick apart the Patriots before. See Blake Bortles this year or Jay Cutler last December. Home-field advantage should also help, though the Bears fans need to get up for this one against an unfamiliar opponent.

What would concern me is that the Patriots can usually neutralize one great pass-rusher on a defense (see games vs. J.J. Watt). The Bears don’t have a great running mate to help Khalil Mack out, and they weren’t even able to sack Brock Osweiler last week as he hit a career-high in passing yardage. Akiem Hicks isn’t a bad player, but if Mack can’t get pressure in this one, then it could get ugly. At least the Bears have been getting takeaways again, and in fact have had multiple takeaways in each game. They’ll need that against the Patriots, who aren’t protecting the ball as well this year (10 TO in six games) as in the past.

Perhaps the great equalizer is Rob Gronkowski missing the game, which sounds like it could be the case after he didn’t travel with the team. Gronk has missed 30 games in his career that Tom Brady started since 2010, and the splits with him in and out of the game are very interesting.

GronkWO.JPG

Gronk being in the game raises Brady’s YPA by almost a full yard. Without Gronk, his numbers slip below the league average in completion percentage and YPA. The passer rating (87.7) is barely above league average in those 30 games. The QBR also shoots up 12 whole points with Gronk. He’s the league’s greatest cheat code among receiving weapons. The Bears can only be so lucky for him to miss this game.

I just can’t bring myself to trust Trubisky yet (in his first NE game) to sustain long drives, convert third downs, and finish in the red zone to take down a Belichick team that’s picking up steam. Beyond losing Gronk, don’t ignore that the running game has been very effective behind Sony Michel as of late, and they still have Josh Gordon, James White, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, etc. Maybe none of those players can replicate the insane YAC skills Albert Wilson showed off last week to bolster that Osweiler stat line, but that game gives me pause about trusting Chicago as a legit contender so quickly. Not to mention we have not seen good game management from Matt Nagy in holding these 11+ point leads against Green Bay and Miami (both lost).

Final: Patriots 27, Bears 23

NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had Denver winning on TNF, but did not expect Arizona to put up one of the worst performances by any team this season. Someone had to get fired from that one, and someone (Mike McCoy, again) did.

2018Wk7

I’m feeling a teaser this week with Titans (rebound from 11-sack disaster), Dolphins, Panthers, Colts, Jets to not lose by more than 10, and I really like Dallas in Washington. I also think Drew Brees can notch a win over the Ravens for the first time in his career. I know I should go with the home team that plays defense there, but I think the Saints are a complete offense and can get it done in any way possible with the running back duo and Brees with his receivers. As long as the D isn’t getting killed deep by the likes of John Brown, I like the Saints there.

Wk1-6

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Island Game Gold

Making an NFL schedule months in advance isn’t easy, but things really lucked out for the schedule makers this week. TNF was a great choice between the Raiders and Chiefs, and SNF (ATL-NE) and MNF (WAS-PHI) are really the other highlight matches of Week 7. Will the games actually be worth a damn to watch? We’ll see, but it’s a perfect prime-time lineup.

Cardinals vs. Rams

I thought this might have also been an island game (London), but it’s actually being played at 1 p.m. EST. Figures, they finally get a somewhat decent London game and it’s lumped together with the other early-afternoon slate. The fact that this is a division game is pretty wild, and definitely not fair to the Rams who will have to go to Arizona for the rematch in Week 13. Maybe that game should have been scheduled for Mexico City just to make things even and not rob one team (Rams) of a true home game.

Adrian Peterson balled out last week in his Arizona debut, but I think the defenses will stiffen in this one and he won’t have nearly the same success. Ditto for Carson Palmer through the air. Aaron Donald should feast on that line. I think some of the shine has come off Jared Goff again, but he did play the Seattle and Jacksonville pass defenses. Still, throwing a lot of off-target passes and relying on superior field position and YAC this year. Not a long-term formula for success. Still, I cautiously side with the Rams to pull this one out due to protecting the QB better than I expect Arizona will. Rams have also been playing well on special teams while Arizona remains one of the worst.

Saints at Packers

Very interesting one after the Aaron Rodgers injury. Yes, Saints defense has played better after the first two weeks, but still not a good unit by any means. I want to give Brett Hundley and Mike McCarthy a good shot here at home before I bury the Packers for 2017. Back in 2010, Rodgers left a game in Detroit with a concussion and Matt Flynn came off the bench in a 7-3 loss. With a week to prepare as a first-time starter, Flynn came out in New England and tossed three touchdowns in a competitive 31-27 loss. Hundley was a better college prospect than Flynn, and he’s had a few years in the system and got a lot of preseason experience (similar to Tony Romo in 2006). I like to think McCarthy can prepare Hundley to play well in an offense that still has good receiving talent. I think I’m actually going to back the Packers in this one, because the Saints haven’t been as explosive on offense this season as usual, and I think they’ll rally behind Hundley to play a strong team game without Rodgers.

Falcons at Patriots

Ah yes, the Super Bowl LI rematch. I wasn’t fooling around when I said the other day that these could easily be 1-win teams right now.

Falcons beat GB comfortably, but the Bears were inches away from a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds in Week 1. The Lions were inches away from a touchdown (Golden Tate) on the final play in Week 3 that would have won the game. Atlanta just blew two home games to the Bills and Dolphins, including another 17+ point lead. So there’s your inches away from a 1-4 start.

As for the Patriots, their only comfortable win was in New Orleans. They really should have been 1-3 after Tom Brady had a fumble and dropped interception on what became the game-winning drive against Houston. Stop and think about that one for a second. Deshaun Watson might be the MVP front-runner right now if his safety held onto a Brady pick and the Texans would be 4-2. Something not even in his control. Ugh. But that’s 1-3, then we’ve seen the Patriots skate by the Buccaneers (two Nick Folk missed FGs and Jameis Winston’s last pass was terrible to win the game) and Jets (blew a 14-0 lead, awful calls went against NY, and yes the ASJ fumble was weak).

The point is these teams aren’t playing very good football this season, records be damned. They were both on hot runs going into SB LI, but I’m not impressed with what we’ve seen this year. The Patriots give up a 300-yard passer every week, but have still kept the points down on defense in the four wins (20, 26, 14 and 17). Yards don’t really matter if you’re not turning them into points, and with Atlanta, we see the offense No. 1 in yards per drive, but third in points. Last year it was 1 and 1 for the Falcons. Matt Ryan’s had some pretty awful luck with tipped INTs (4 of his 6 picks hit his receiver). Julio Jones has been very quiet, but I think he’ll come alive in this one. Still, I can’t possibly trust the Falcons to go on the road and win this one even if the Patriots look vulnerable enough to drop several home games this season. The Atlanta defense still isn’t good enough at getting stops, and the Patriots are still doing a fine job offensively this season.

Redskins at Eagles

In a season without any real great teams, these two are quietly in the top 6 in DVOA right now. This is a rematch from Week 1, won 30-17 by the Eagles, but that final score is a bit misleading. There was a late fumble-six that really should have been ruled an incomplete pass with Washington still having time to win the game with a touchdown. Earlier in that quarter, Kirk Cousins threw one of the worst interceptions of anyone this season when he panicked against a blitz and missed a wide-open receiver in the red zone in a 2-point game. Cousins has only tossed one INT since then, and that was a bomb on third-and-long that served as a punt. He’s played well, but he has to be sharper against the Eagles. I think the injuries on defense (Josh Norman and Jonathan Allen) leave the Redskins too short handed to deal with all of Philadelphia’s weapons, and the Eagles also are one of the best special teams this year. I’ll take Philadelphia at home.

2017 Week 7 Predictions

I actually had the Chiefs by 6 points on TNF, so I would have been fuming if I went through with that bet after the 31-30 loss on the final play(s).

Winners in bold.

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

I think you could put Seattle and Pittsburgh on upset alerts. Long travel for the Seahawks against a good secondary when the passing offense hasn’t been too hot yet. Bengals play the Steelers tougher in Pittsburgh than they do at home. Also point out how close the 49ers have been to a win, and they gave Dallas about all it could handle last year too. Not a lot of games I feel confident in here, but it’s just been that kind of season. I mean, look at this awful track record I’m putting up in 2017:

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Season: 48-43

NFL Week 7 Predictions: And All That Could Have Been

 

In writing about the Steelers, Cardinals and Seahawks for FOA 2016 this past summer, I had a lot of expectations for Week 7 as a crucial day in determining home-field advantage for several of the top Super Bowl favorites. Now that the time has come, we are left with two games that are nowhere near the level of interest that I thought we’d get. In fact, Sunday evening has me looking more forward to which character bites the dust on The Walking Dead (and it better not be Glenn after all this lame buildup).

Patriots at Steelers

So much for that AFC Game of the Year, right? The Steelers host the Patriots in a battle of Super Bowl favorites, but unfortunately there is no Ben Roethlisberger in this one. Instead of perhaps the top quarterback duel of the season, we get to watch Landry Jones, who threw four interceptions in limited action in a preseason game this year. This is a huge disappointment. Roethlisberger always seems to miss some time each season, but it is possible this is the only game he misses. ESPN did report a potential 4-6 week absence, but I would guess that Roethlisberger misses Sunday and the Baltimore game in Week 9 (obligatory missed Ravens game) at worst.

But go figure, it’s the biggest game of the year for the Steelers and Roethlisberger cannot go. I spent a large chunk of my FOA essay talking about how the Steelers’ season was going to be determined by how well they play the Patriots, and now we get an expected blowout. Oh, the Patriots should be 10-point favorites if we’re being honest here. We already know that Tom Brady shreds this defense, and this is a unit that recorded the lowest pressure rate on Ryan Tannehill in his 70-game career last week. When you take Cameron Heyward, the best overall player on this defense, out of the game, there are going to be issues. While LeGarrette Blount could have a solid game, we know this is going to be about Brady throwing at will and throwing quickly to Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, James White and Martellus Bennett. Chris Hogan might even get a 50-plus yard play before this one’s over. Pittsburgh’s only real hope was for Roethlisberger to lead his own offensive charge at home, which was certainly possible against the 25th-ranked pass defense.

Now with Jones at quarterback, the Steelers are very limited in preparing a winning game plan. It basically consists of the Patriots crapping their pants with turnovers (at least a minus-two differential), which is unlikely to happen against a defense that is struggling to do anything destructive right now. On the other side, yes, Jones has Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown at his disposal. He has a solid offensive line. But he is also a mistake prone quarterback, or exactly the kind that Bill Belichick loves to exploit.

I’m not sure if the Steelers can impose their will with a ground-heavy attack that features Bell (DeAngelo Williams is out). There are plenty of plays to be had against this New England defense, but as always, it tightens up in the red zone and keeps the points down. Jones will have to make some big plays on crucial downs, and Mike Tomlin needs to understand that a surprise onside kick or going for it repeatedly on fourth down can be helpful in this game. Remember when Matt Flynn nearly led an upset of the Patriots in 2010? Mike McCarthy had a brilliant surprise onside kick in the first half. Tricks like that may have to be used here. Because I just don’t see how they defend this Brady offense with the weakest defense they have yet to put on the field against it.

Frankly, I don’t expect the Steelers to put up much of a fight, but maybe that’s not a terrible thing. While I dread the thought of this team trying to win in Foxboro in January, it would certainly be a much different game when your best player on both sides of the ball returns. Don’t show the Patriots a whole lot in this one, and learn from what they show you for next time.  We know every Belichick playoff loss has been a rematch from the regular season.

Final: Patriots 36, Steelers 21

Seahawks at Cardinals

Seattle is starting to shape into the team we have come to expect, thanks to some improved health along the offensive side of the ball. The defense hasn’t blown a fourth-quarter lead yet, and actually broke some major tendencies by aggressively blitzing Matt Ryan on four straight plays last week in the 26-24 win. Meanwhile, Arizona is hard to figure out so far. The Cardinals have already blown two fourth-quarter leads, but still have the No. 1 pass defense. David Johnson has been very consistent, but Carson Palmer has not been. He’s not hitting the vertical passes at anywhere near the MVP-caliber rate he was last season, and we’re not seeing as much production from John Brown and Michael Floyd.

The Seahawks have actually blown the doors off Arizona in the three years that Bruce Arians has been the head coach, so there is no fear of performing in this building. Russell Wilson has eight touchdowns to zero interceptions since 2013 in three Arizona starts. I think both defenses are solid, but right now, there are more ways for the Seahawks to attack the Cardinals with Wilson’s mobility, the emergence of Christine Michael, the versatility of the wide receivers and better play from Jimmy Graham. The Seattle defense has been shutting down running backs cold, and while Johnson has broken 100 yards from scrimmage in each game this season, I think that stops in this one. Palmer will have to be pinpoint and great, and I just don’t see that happening in this one.

Final: Seahawks 27, Cardinals 19

2016 Week 7 Predictions

I finally had a strong week last week (12-3), and kept it going with the Packers winning on Thursday night against a putrid Chicago team that just will not kindly piss off from these prime-time games.

Winners in bold:

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

I fully expect the Denver defense to make Brock Osweiler look silly on Monday night. In a similar fashion, I think Minnesota’s defense will travel well to Philadelphia, and even if Sam Bradford doesn’t do a whole lot, he’ll have a better day than Carson Wentz as the Vikings continue their undefeated season. Finally, even though I think DeMarco Murray should go nuts and the Titans should beat Indy at home, we are talking about the Titans here. Somehow (say a GWD), some way (Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton), the Colts get a win in this one.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Season: 52-40

NFL Week 7 Predictions

No main theme this week. I’m just going to share a few thoughts straight from the gut on some of the Week 7 games.

Jaguars-Bills in London, Streamed by Yahoo

Even on a Sunday morning, I’d rather stream from xhamster than get up for this game.

Saints at Colts

Well, a repeat of 62-7 would at least get Chuck Pagano fired on Monday instead of after the season. I still think it’s going to happen, but this is a winnable game here. You can’t trust either defense at this point, but the Saints are a bit more trustworthy on offense in 2015. Interesting to see if a Rob Ryan defense is the cure for Andrew Luck’s 2015 ills. This could be the only time Luck and Drew Brees square off in what definitely could be a high-scoring game. I wouldn’t mind watching it live, but I have the next game at 1 p.m.

Steelers at Chiefs

Tell me this doesn’t sound like classic NFL as a Sunday night sentence:

The Steelers got past San Diego and Arizona with backup quarterbacks, yet couldn’t beat the lowly Chiefs, losers of five straight.

The weekly excitement of the NFL lives on twists and turns just like that one. What do you mean Landry Jones bombed in his first start? He was so good off the bench last week.

Yeah, but we’ve seen the hot backup off the bench before. It’s different when teams prepare for you. It’s different when you’re making your first start, have no real track record of being good — Jones was god awful in the preseason again — have a new left tackle, playing on the road against a defense that has talent despite its struggles. This is also exactly the kind of road game where the Steelers tend to struggle offensively. Think the Rams in Week 3. Think the Titans/Jags/Browns/Jets last year. Think about any trip to Oakland recently. If Ben Roethlisberger was playing, I think it’d be a blowout, but don’t expect to see him for another week. Jones got two great efforts from Martavis Bryant on touchdowns last week. He hit Antonio Brown on a back-shoulder throw. He showed confidence in making plays, but he is very dependent on the talent around him making plays. If the Steelers’ skill guys don’t show up big, I think the Chiefs can still this one. Regardless, I see a low-scoring, ugly game. Don’t forget the 2011 Tyler Palko game. Don’t forget the 2012 game where the Chiefs never had a lead all season and went up 10-0 on Pittsburgh. The Steelers never seem to handle their business well against this team.

Final score: Steelers 16, Chiefs 13

Jets at Patriots

It still frustrates me that the lowly 2014 Jets almost beat the Patriots twice last season, while the Patriots had no real problem in beating the Broncos and Colts in three games. The Jets have closed the gap this season and I think this is the game of the week to watch. It’s going to come down to turnovers. If the Jets can win that battle with their defense making some plays, then they have a great shot at the win. If they lose the turnover battle, they’re almost guaranteed to lose in Foxboro. Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t really been asked to win a game for the Jets this year. You could argue the Philadelphia game played out that way, and the results were miserable. Fitzpatrick is surrounded by pretty good talent with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The offensive line is playing very well. Chris Ivory is running great. Fitzpatrick just has to manage the talent around him and not make big mistakes. He’s doing that, but it’s also helped by defenses not cashing in his bad throws for takeaways. The Patriots do tend to capitalize on your mistakes, and that’s what worries me about the Jets in this game. I just expect Fitzpatrick to throw a bone-headed pick at the worst time, just as he did several times with the Buffalo Bills in games that were winnable against the Patriots.

Texans at Dolphins

Read another stat this week that helps summarize the worthlessness of the post-Dan Marino Dolphins. The Texans are 7-0 against the Dolphins. Miami has scored more than 20 points in just one of those games.

Well at least I think that streak ends tomorrow. Maybe it took the firing of Joe Philbin to remind this team that Lamar Miller is an asset in this offense. Either way, I’m just here for the DeAndre Hopkins fantasy points.

Cowboys at Giants

Can this be the most important game of the season for Dallas? I see maybe one win (at TB) without Tony Romo on this schedule. Getting a sweep of the Giants would be huge, but I don’t see it happening. The Giants and Eil Manning will atone for Week 1’s letdown and Monday night’s clusterfvck to beat Matt Cassel and Christine Michael at home. And yes, I refuse to board the Michael hype train until it actually leaves the damn station. Prove something first.

I feel like my Dallas chapter for Football Outsiders Almanac 2014 was written one year too early. It would have been perfect for this year’s team, because with the lack of depth behind the skill players, the results are exactly what was expected. That was the problem in just letting DeMarco go and going with the archaic setup of one standout wide receiver. Dez Bryant is great, but you can’t muster much offense with a corps of Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Devin Street. Those are role players that work better with Bryant on the field. Cassel is an upgrade over Brandon Weeden, but it’s not going to be enough this week.

2015 Week 7 Predictions

I had the Seahawks on TNF, and it was your typical SF-SEA matchup, which means the 49ers couldn’t score. It was the worst thing I watched on Thursday night that wasn’t named Heroes Reborn.

Winners in bold

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

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Season: 58-33 (.637)

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Peyton Manning and the TD Record

If you’ve been following along on Twitter this week, you probably know I’ve had a major PC problem. I had some files backed up, but fortunately I was able to back everything up yesterday. So I haven’t lost any of the data I spend much of my time working on as a career and hobby. I’ll have a better PC this week, but for now I’m going to be brief on this week’s preview.

The Passing TD Record

Week 7 has a real solid schedule, but obviously the highlight game is SNF: 49ers at Broncos. Out of the 64 AFC-NFC matchups this year, this is one of the most likely to be a rematch in February. These teams have been among the best the past few years and this should be a competitive one, prime-time blowouts be damned.

There’s also some major NFL history at stake with Peyton Manning needing three touchdown passes to surpass Brett Favre (508).

Why is it major? There aren’t many more satisfying plays for a quarterback than to throw a touchdown pass. Throw a bunch of them and you’re going to have plenty of highlights and wins.

It’s also a record that rarely changes in NFL history. Here’s a chronology of the TD pass record since the start of the modern era in the NFL (1950):

  • 1950 (start of season) – Sammy Baugh, the first quarterback to ever throw 100 TDs, had 168 (retired with 187)
  • 12/10/1961 – Bobby Layne tied Baugh with his 187th TD pass
  • 9/23/1962 – Layne set record with 188th TD pass (finished with 196)
  • 12/1/1963 – Y.A. Tittle (we have to exclude his 1948-49 AAFC stats) tied Layne with his 196th TD pass and surpassed him with his 197th (finished with 212)
  • 9/18/1966 – Johnny Unitas tied and surpassed Tittle with four touchdowns against the Vikings (finished with 290)
  • 12/20/1975 – Fran Tarkenton tied and surpassed Unitas with two touchdowns against the Bills (finished with 342)
  • 11/20/1995 – Dan Marino tied Tarkenton at 242.
  • 11/26/1995 – Marino surpassed Tarkenton with four touchdowns against the Colts (finished with 420)
  • 9/23/2007 – Brett Favre tied Marino at 420.
  • 9/30/2007 – Favre surpassed Marino with two touchdowns against the Vikings (finished with 508)

Manning will be only the 8th quarterback in the post-WWII era to hold the record. With his finish to be determined, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck may be the only active players with a realistic shot to catch Manning some day.

Updating a table (click to enlarge) I first compiled months ago, here’s a look at the most TD passes in NFL history based on minimum distance (yards gained):

minTDdist

The table is easy to read and only includes regular-season touchdown passes. Peyton has thrown 111 touchdowns that gained at least 30 yards, the most of any quarterback ever.

If Manning’s next TD pass is at least 34 yards, he’ll break seven ties in the 2-34 range. He has a good shot to retire with his name in first on 1-40 yards. He also needs one 70+ TD pass to break that tie with Favre, but those are very rare.

Manning has 24 games with Denver with 3+ TD passes, so I think he’ll get it over with on Sunday night.

Final prediction: 49ers 20, Broncos 27

NFL Week 7 Predictions

Of course I had the Patriots on TNF, but that was much closer than expected.

Winners in bold:

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

Road teams ruled last week, but I like many of the home teams this week (but not the homers that come with them).

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Total: 56-34-1

NFL Week 7 Predictions

As much as anyone thinks they have an understanding of the NFL, the game always produces some wild results few ever would have expected. That’s a big part of the league’s popularity.

When I look at Week 7, I see a few possibilities of “Any Given Sunday” taking place.

It would be so San Diego for the Chargers, after getting back to 3-3, to lose on the road to the worst team in football.

It would be so Jets/Patriots for Rob Gronkowski to make his long-awaited return and score a couple of touchdowns.

It would be so Ron Rivera to blow another fourth-quarter lead just when the Panthers have a schedule favorable enough to get to 4-3 by Thursday night.

It would be so Mike Munchak/bizarro Titans to stifle Colin Kaepernick, after the long travel from San Francisco, and get an upset win.

It would be so NFL if Case Keenum leads the Texans to an upset win over undefeated Kansas City, and with Alex Smith being the one who throws the pick six this week.

It would be so NFL if with everyone picking the Broncos to win, the game ends with an Adam Vinatieri field goal with 0:00 left as Andrew Luck leads his 10th game-winning drive to end Denver’s perfect season and Peyton Manning’s return. 

On paper very little of this should make sense, but that’s why they play the games, and that’s why we watch no matter how awful the matchup looks.

I’ll be watching Ravens/Steelers in the late afternoon slot. While I would love to say the Steelers get the win to get back into things this year, I see a significant mismatch in the trenches. Having watched a lot of Baltimore this year, I just feel like Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are going to eat Pittsburgh’s tackles alive and Le’Veon Bell will have few holes to run through. There are big passing plays to be had on both sides, but I expect Joe Flacco to have more time to get to them and for Pittsburgh’s secondary to make more mistakes in covering them. Still, a low-scoring game is likely.

I’ll enjoy the night game, Judgment Day, but I really only see two possible outcomes:

  1. Peyton Manning dominates his former team (think 4-5 TD passes) and Von Miller has a nice return as the Broncos win easily (41-21).
  2. The Colts sustain long drives (rank No. 2 in plays per drive) to limit Manning’s possessions and are able to pull the game out late as Luck gets the ball last (31-28 Colts win).

I’ll try to enjoy the game either way, because the next two doses of football include Vikings at Giants and Panthers at Buccaneers. And yet we watch…

2013 NFL Week 7 Predictions

Moved to 7-0 on TNF with a pick of Seattle. However, there are many more challenging games this week.

Winners in bold:

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

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Season: 60-32

NFL Week 7 Predictions, Dick LeBeau and Writing Recap

That was a historic week. Peyton Manning set the new mark for fourth quarter comebacks, which only changed record holders for the third time since 1963, and I wrote eight articles totalling over 24,000 words.

Think I need a bye week.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 6: Matt Ryan Passes Tom Brady For Best Record in the Clutch – Cold, Hard Football Facts

While Manning and the Denver Broncos had the Drive of the Week, there was a rare (or at least they used to be) blown lead of two scores in the fourth quarter by the Patriots. With Tom Brady unable to answer, he was surpassed by Matt Ryan (19-11) for the best record in NFL history at 4Q/OT drives to win games.

Peyton Manning is the NFL’s All-Time Leader in Fourth Quarter Comeback Wins – Cold, Hard Football Facts

With 37 4th quarter comeback wins, Peyton Manning now has the NFL record. Of course in classic comeback semantics style, he was asked in the post-game conference the following question: “Did you know you passed, or tied Marino for the most fourth quarter comebacks?” You can’t make this stuff up, just as the Broncos can no longer claim Elway had 47 comebacks. The comeback king lives in Denver, and this time it’s valid.

NFL Rookie QBs Off to Unprecedented Start – NBC Sports

The 2012 season is the first time five rookie quarterbacks started in Week 1, and Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson continue to hold onto their jobs. They are off to one of the most productive starts in NFL history for a rookie class. I understand the table is not displaying properly in this article, so here is a picture of it.

2012 NFL Season is the Year of the Kicker – Bleacher Report

Did you know through 91 games kickers were on pace for the greatest kicking season ever? They have made 326 of 372 field goals (87.63 percent), which would be a new NFL record. A crazy fact: the top nine seasons in NFL history for FG percentage are the last nine seasons (2004-12). Find out what could be causing this.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 6 at New York Jets – Colts Authority

The second career road game, much like the first, for Andrew Luck did not go so well. A look at every drop back.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 7 Predictions – Bleacher Report

This week we take a look at Seahawks/49ers, and already a correct prediction on the 49ers holding up at home in a low-scoring game. Also: Joe Flacco is a much different QB on the road, Eli’s revenge on Washington, and the Steelers’ recent struggles in prime time.

Captain’s Challenge: Your Answers to the Top 5 Quarterbacks in NFL History – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Here are some of your answers and feedback on the challenge of using one stat to reflect the best top 5 group of QBs in NFL history. I still think 4QC wins does the best job, but some interesting choices also came up.

Don’t Believe Hype with Steelers’ Defense – NBC Sports

Steelers’ CB Ike Taylor asked us to look at the facts, so I did. Not only has the defense been blowing leads in the fourth quarter with regularity since 2007, but this was a big problem in Dick LeBeau’s first run as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati (1984-91). They allowed 27 game-winning drives in that span, tied for most in the NFL. Since 2007 the Steelers have allowed 20 (tied-2nd), and a whopping nine of them came with less than 0:40 left in the game. It’s a career trend, as is the constant failure against the elite QBs in the game.

This is one that can get at least two follow-up articles, so I’m not done yet.

One thing I’ll point out right now is why I didn’t include LeBeau’s 2004-2006 tenure into the stats.

For one, I do have a space limit, and already went over more than I should have on this piece. Two, I feel the problem has grown since Mike Tomlin became the head coach (2007), and I also know the game has statistically changed since that season in terms of passing efficiency.

LeBeau’s defense works great…if you want to win the AFC Central in 1995. But against today’s pass-heavy offenses with multiple receiver sets and little care to the running game, it is a lot easier to pick up his blitzes and throw against his CB cushions. If the scheme was still really that signficantly great, then why is it so dependent on one player (Troy Polamalu) to be there? Without Polamalu this defense is one of the worst in NFL history at creating takeaways.

As for the 2004-2006 seasons, let’s do a quick review for notable games.

2004

Week 1 vs. Oakland – in his first game back, LeBeau’s defense squandered a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter, with Rich Gannong throwing a 38-yard TD pass on 4th and 12. Ouch. Fortunately, the offense put together a game-winning drive, using up 4:30 of the final 4:36 on the clock in a 24-21 win.

Week 4 vs. Cincinnati – Down 21-17, Carson Palmer threw a pick six late to Troy Polamalu, in what may have been the first big impact play of Troy’s career.

Week 6 at Dallas – Down 24-20, Vinny Testaverde only had 0:25 left at his own 35, but was able to get the ball to the PIT 30 for one final play. The Hail Mary was broken up in the end zone.

Week 11 at Cincinnati – Up 17-14, the Steelers made four stops in the fourth quarter, including forcing a late safety when Palmer was called for intentional grounding in the end zone.

Week 13 at Jacksonville – The Jaguars went 62 yards for a field goal to take a 16-14 lead with 1:55 left. Roethlisberger led the game-winning drive, and Byron Leftwich only had 0:11 left. He would complete a 19-yard pass to Jimmy Smith, but Josh Scobee was wide right on the 60-yard FG.

Week 15 at NY Giants – After the offense took a 26-24 lead, the Steelers allowed a 52-yard TD drive by the young Eli Manning. Giants led 30-26, but Ben led another go-ahead drive. With 3:31 left Manning’s deep ball was intercepted, and the offense converted two third downs to run out the clock.

Week 17 at Buffalo – Playing their backups, the Steelers forced a fumble of Drew Bledsoe, and a young James Harrison returned it for a touchdown to take a 26-17 lead.

AFC Divisional vs. NY Jets – After the offense tied the game 17-17, the defense allowed the Jets to drive, but Doug Brien missed a 47-yard FG with 1:58 left. Roethlisberger threw a big pick, but Brien missed it again. The Jets converted a 3rd & 13 in OT, but a holding penalty stalled their drive. The Steelers drove for the GW FG.

2005

Week 3 vs. New England – Down 13-10 in the 4th, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 86-yard TD drive. They went 59 yards to add a FG (20-13). Roethlisberger led a game-tying TD drive. With 1:14 left Brady found two quick, easy completions to running backs, and Adam Vinatieri made the 43-yard GW FG with 0:01 left. It was a 37-yard drive.

Week 5 at San Diego – Down 14-13, Drew Brees led the Chargers 62 yards for a FG to take a 16-14 lead. Roethlisberger got the lead back with a 3-play TD drive. The defense allowed an 11-play, 62-yard TD drive to give up the lead again. Fortunately they stopped the 2pt conversion. More fortunately, the Steelers drove for the game-winning FG with only 0:06 left, so Brees didn’t have a third chance.

Week 6 vs. Jacksonville – Defense made a few stops in a tied game, but Tommy Maddox threw a game-ending pick six in OT.

Week 8 vs. Baltimore – Anthony “Radio” Wright led three straight FG drives in the 4th quarter to turn a 17-10 deficit into a 19-17 lead for Baltimore. Roethlisberger led the go-ahead FG drive, and the defense finally stopped Wright on a 4th and 6.

Week 9 at Green Bay – Up 13-10, the Steelers forced a 3 and out and a pick of Brett Favre.

Week 11 at Baltimore – With Maddox struggling at QB again, the Ravens went on a 30-yard drive in OT that ended with Matt Stover’s 44-yd GW FG.

AFC Divisional at Indianapolis – Despite leading 21-3, the Colts went on TD drives of 72 and 80 yards in the 4th QT, plus a 2-point conversion to make it 21-18. Getting the ball back, the Colts went 4 and out after two sacks of Manning. Jerome Bettis shockingly coughed the ball up, and Roethlisberger tackled Nick Harper. Manning completed two passes for 30 yards before rookie Bryant McFadden prevented a Reggie Wayne TD. Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard FG.

Super Bowl XL vs. Seattle – Down 14-10, Seattle drove from their own 2-yard line to complete a pass to the 1-yard line, but Sean Locklear was called for holding. Three plays later Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception and the Steelers all but put the game away on Randle El’s touchdown to Hines Ward.

2006

Week 1 vs. Miami – Up 21-17, this one was a good hold to start the season. The defense intercepted Daunte Culpepper twice, including a pick six by Joey Porter to ice the game.

Week 3 vs. Cincinnati – Two fumbles led to two Carson Palmer touchdown passes on short fields in a comeback win for the Bengals. While the fumbles were bad, there’s no reason to give up one-play TD drives of 9 and 30 yards. Hold them to a field goal at least once. This was the season-long problem with the 2006 Steelers. The offense would turn it over, and the defense would compound it by allowing instant points. A perfect example here.

Week 7 at Atlanta – An unexpected shootout, the Steelers tied the game late 38-38. Michael Vick drove the Falcons, but Morten Andersen was short on a 52-yard FG. In OT Andersen made the GW FG from 32 yards out on the only drive of OT. Key play was Vick converting a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards to Alge Crumpler.

Week 10 vs. New Orleans – Another shootout with Brees, the Steelers took a 38-24 lead. The Saints went 64 yards, scoring on a “fumblerooski” play. Brees was driving late for the tie, but Terrance Copper fumbled at the PIT 25 after a huge hit from Tyrone Carter. Steelers won 38-31.

Week 11 at Cleveland – One of Roethlisberger’s best comebacks. Down 13-3, he led the offense 87 yards for a TD. Josh Cribbs returned the kickoff for a TD (20-10). Ben led another TD drive, then another with 0:32 left. Charlie Frye only had 0:27 left, but moved the ball to the PIT 22. On his last chance, Braylon Edwards could not complete the catch in the end zone.

Week 17 at Cincinnati – This turned into a 4th QT shootout. Down 7-3, Palmer went 80 yards, completing a 66-yard TD to the late Chris Henry. The Steelers went 63 yards for a TD (14-10). The Bengals came right back with a 73-yard TD drive (17-14). Steelers tied with a FG (17-17). With 0:55 left at his own 33, Palmer would find Henry deep for 47 yards. Shayne Graham was wide right on a 39-yard FG with 0:08 left, or else the Bengals would have won, made the playoffs, and another GWD against this defense. Instead the Steelers get the ball in OT and Santonio Holmes goes 67 yards for the TD to give a disappointing season a nice finish.

What do we see? Some good, some bad, and more of the offense bailing out the defense at the end. Things were better then than they have been in recent years, but it’s not the lockdown defense the stats show in terms of how many points and yards they allow. No one cares how many yards you gave up if you blow it at the end of the game.

2012 NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had the 49ers, so I’m already four wins away from matching last week’s awful total.

Winners in bold:

  • Titans at Bills
  • Cowboys at Panthers
  • Ravens at Texans
  • Browns at Colts
  • Cardinals at Vikings
  • Redskins at Giants
  • Packers at Rams
  • Saints at Buccaneers
  • Jets at Patriots
  • Jaguars at Raiders
  • Steelers at Bengals
  • Lions at Bears

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Season: 52-39