NFL Stat Oddity: Week 12

For as good as the Thanksgiving slate was, the Sunday schedule in Week 12 was never going to be strong enough to top it. But who could have imagined the Buccaneers (5-6), Rams (3-8), and Packers (4-8) would fall so far in the NFC?

  • Instead of getting a rematch of 54-51, or the great shootout Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford had in 2019, we got the Chiefs (hopefully) burning bad plays in the red zone as they toyed with the Bryce Perkins-led Rams.
  • If Jacoby Brissett never starts another game in Cleveland, good on him for ending it with a big comeback and overtime win against Tampa Bay, a team that is clearly not “back.”
  • Did we see the end of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay on Sunday night? Injuries and a 4-8 record make it hard to justify putting him on the field again this season.

Since the 1970 merger, just 21.0% of NFL teams with 12+ wins have declined to a losing record the following season.

Now, the terrible NFC South may still save Tampa’s ass from a losing record this year, but if not, we’ll see history made as three 12-win teams in one conference will have declined to a losing record for the first time.

It would be only the third time it happened to three teams in the whole league in the same year.

1998 to 1999: Broncos (John Elway retired and Terrell Davis injured after four games), Falcons (Jamal Anderson injured after two games), and 49ers (Steve Young injured early).

2015 to 2016: Panthers, Bengals, and Cardinals – three teams who greatly overachieved in what became the peak of the Rivera/Newton, Lewis/Dalton, and Arians/Palmer eras.

So, there is something to watch for. As for Week 12, we had nine games with a comeback opportunity but three of them were on Thursday. I imagine Monday night (Steelers-Colts) will be a 10th, but we’ll see.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Packers at Eagles: All Things Must Pass

This is not the time for me to write the eulogy to Aaron Rodgers’ career, but there is a non-zero chance last night was the last time we see him play for Green Bay. When you start mixing a broken thumb with an oblique injury and a 4-8 record for a quarterback who turns 39 this Friday, you might be talking about the end of the road.

Rodgers left the game late in the third quarter in obvious pain and did not return. Jordan Love played well in his quarter of action, but it was too little too late after a wild start to this one in Philadelphia. Green Bay’s first five drives ended in three touchdowns and two interceptions.

But first, I’ll compliment the Eagles for scoring a season-high 40 points and showing some of that dynamic, explosive talent they’ll need if they are going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and win it all.

Jalen Hurts became the first quarterback ever to rush and pass for at least 125 yards in a half. He finished with 157 yards on the ground, so two of the best rushing quarterback performances ever have come against Rodgers’ defense in games where his Packers scored at least 30 and the opponent scored at least 40. You remember 2012 Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs, right?

That kind of fits a nice bow on the Rodgers’ era in Green Bay, even if Love was the one wrapping this game up after entering to a 37-23 deficit. Philadelphia finished with 363 rushing yards.

What more can you say right now? The Packers are 1-7 in their last eight games. They have not won a game in regulation since beating Tampa Bay, another team on the downslide, 14-12 in Week 3.

No matter if Rodgers returns or if the Love era starts next week, this team is going to go through a rough period. We are seeing it in New Orleans after Drew Brees and Sean Payton departed. We are seeing it in Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger. We’ve seen it in Denver after Peyton Manning retired.

How long that rough period lasts is up to Matt LaFleur and getting this Love to Christian Watson connection going so that it could one day look something like Rodgers to Davante Adams did. Maybe it never will, but that’s just life in the NFL. All good things come to an end, and Green Bay fans were more fortunate than most to enjoy a Rodgers era right after Brett Favre took his last snap with the team in the 2007 season.

All things must pass.

Bengals at Titans: Take Away the Sacks and Turnovers, and Tennessee Still Loses

This game really floored me, because on the surface, Cincinnati’s 20-16 win was not unlike its 19-16 win in the playoffs last year. Except the two games really could not be more different, and I don’t just mean because neither Ja’Marr Chase (hip) nor A.J. Brown (foolish trade by Titans) were there for these offenses.

Cincinnati’s whole Super Bowl run was really a case study on mitigating sacks with interceptions. The Bengals took nine sacks in Tennessee, but they still won because Ryan Tannehill threw three costly interceptions.

But on Sunday, each quarterback took one sack, and there were zero turnovers in the game. Oh, Derrick Henry coughed up the ball on a 69-yard catch and run, but he was lucky that Treylon Burks was there for the recovery and that unique “other” offensive touchdown. What a way to score your first NFL touchdown.

But the stunning part is that this game was essentially the No. 1 run defense (Titans) against a bottom-ranked run defense missing its best back (Joe Mixon), and the Titans had King Henry. And yet, Samaje Perine outrushed Henry 58-38 in yards.

I never saw that coming. But the backs were big for the Bengals, especially in the receiving game as Perine usually is productive for this team on the road when they seek a big win. For 1.5 quarters, this was your typical matchup of a physical defense shutting down a one-dimensional passing offense. But one little throw to Perine that he took 32 yards changed everything in the second quarter, and it led to the Bengals’ first touchdown to tie the game at 10 before halftime.

That last half of the second quarter was a really pivotal sequence, because the Bengals got that touchdown, and the Titans botched a 35-yard field goal with their new kicker.

Points were hard to come by, but Joe Burrow got a great catch from Trenton Irwin to convert a third-and-12 with the game tied at 13 in the fourth quarter. One play later, Tee Higgins caught a 27-yard touchdown.

The Titans looked like they could answer, but a long drive stalled out and they settled for a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left. A few more completions to Higgins and timely runs led the Bengals to another field goal, which was going to leave Tannehill about two minutes left for a game-tying touchdown opportunity.

But the Titans took a horrible penalty on the field goal for unnecessary roughness against the long snapper. It’s the right call by the rule, but it’s just such an unnecessary, foolish play by Tennessee. With the Titans out of timeouts and the automatic first down, the game was over. The long snapper took one win away from the Bengals in Week 1 against Pittsburgh, but it came through to seal one here.

Plenty of season left, but with both teams at 7-4, you can see a scenario where this is the No. 5/No. 4 or No. 6/No. 3 wild card matchup. That would not be a good thing for the Titans based on these last two matchups.

Ravens at Jaguars: The Streak Is Over

Thanks a lot, Ravens. Your historic ability to gain two-score leads and still lose the game has led to the end of one of my favorite streaks to point out.

The Jaguars had lost 41 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points, but that streak is no more after the 28-27 win that is the signature moment of Trevor Lawrence’s young career.

Time will tell if it’s the turning point for him, or if it’s just a case of getting bailed out against a team that has been blowing games like this throughout the season. But the Ravens were again culpable on multiple sides of the ball. It was the first time all season they did not lead by double digits, but they still led 19-10 in the fourth quarter. I also thought at the moment there was an argument for going for two to make it 20-10, but oh well.

The defense could have nipped things in the bud with a fourth-and-8 stop at 8:44, but they didn’t as Zay Jones caught a 27-yard pass. The special teams had a 6-yard kick return after Jacksonville’s touchdown cut it to 19-17, and then Gus Edwards coughed up the ball on the first snap from scrimmage. The Jaguars couldn’t get a first down but still took the lead on a field goal.

To his credit, Lamar Jackson made the big throw to DeSean Jackson for a 62-yard gain that set up a touchdown and two-point conversion for a 27-20 lead with 2:02 left. That should have been enough as 21 is the magic number to beat Jacksonville, but not on this Sunday.

Right after the two-minute warning, things easily could have ended after Calais Campbell strip-sacked Lawrence, but the offense was able to recover the ball. The Jags overcame a third-and-21 situation from that, another fourth down thanks to Marvin Jones, then another big play (29 yards) by Zay Jones to set up first-and-goal at the 10.

Lawrence went back to Marvin Jones in the end zone, and the ruling on the field was a touchdown. The review said call stands, not confirmed. Honestly, I did not see it as a touchdown. It looked like even if Jones’ shin got down in bounds, it happened simultaneously with his leg touching out of bounds, so it should have been incomplete with 14 seconds left to bring up second down. That was a huge gift.

The Jaguars decided to go for two, which isn’t that surprising under Doug Pederson. With such little time left and Jacksonville’s underdog, nothing to really play for status, I think it was a perfect call. Lawrence threw a great ball to Jones, and the Jaguars led 28-27.

Teams are now 14-of-29 when trying the go-ahead two-point conversion in the final 2:00 since 1994. Sunday was the first time we witnessed two successes in the same day.

But the short kickoff nearly backfired for Jacksonville as Lamar got the ball at his own 39 with 10 seconds left and two timeouts. We know Justin Tucker can hit from 66 yards with the help of a crossbar bounce, so the Ravens really just needed a solid 15-yard gain to give him a shot. I thought Jackson hesitated too long to get the ball to a slower tight end, who went for getting out of bounds instead of having the team use their timeout after he went down. It gained 12 yards, but something better could have been done there.

Still, Tucker would get a chance to further cement his GOAT status. He already has the record at 66, now he could hit from 67 yards and deliver another epic win. So often we see these really long attempts get blocked or they are nowhere even close. But Tucker was actually straight on with his kick. It just didn’t have enough to get over the crossbar and fell short. A few more yards would have done the trick for Baltimore.

But this Baltimore team just seems destined to keep coming up short.

Buccaneers at Browns: We’re Only Going to Score 17 Points?

I had a hard time picking this week’s upset special, because I couldn’t use any Thanksgiving game or Monday night’s Steelers-Colts game, and I was already doing a preview on Bengals-Titans. I sure as hell wasn’t picking the Saints, Rams, or Texans to beat the 49ers, Chiefs, or Dolphins.

I landed on Bucs-Browns, because I knew this Tampa team is still a fraud trying to make the playoffs solely because of the division it plays in, and the Browns are better than their record, and Jacoby Brissett would want to show out in his final start before Predator is back on the field next week.

In the end, it all worked out, but it sure didn’t look like we’d get to this point.

Not when Amari Cooper flat out dropped a fourth-and-9 ball while the Browns trailed 17-10 in the fourth quarter.

Not when Brissett needed to go 95 yards and only got 18 yards there after taking a third-down sack with under three minutes left.

But as has been the case many times in his career, Tom Brady stunk in the four-minute offense and couldn’t close the game. His incompletion on a second down saved the Browns time, and then Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for a third-down sack to force another three-and-out.

Brissett only had to drive 46 yards for the tie after the punt, but he had help this time. Nick Chubb still has not been held under 80 rushing yards in the same season three weeks in a row since the first three games of his career when he was a backup. He made up for last week’s career-worst game with 116 yards and a touchdown in this one. But his 28-yard run after the two-minute warning got the team believing.

However, it was soon fourth-and-10. Brissett threw to the back middle of the end zone for David Njoku, and the tight end cemented his late bloomer year with a one-handed catch for a brilliant touchdown with 32 seconds left.

On a day where multiple teams were going for two in this spot, I can’t say I disagreed with the extra point. Not when you’re playing the LOAT and he can just chuck up some awful pass to Mike Evans and get 30 yards on a defensive pass interference penalty.

But with this game, we further saw the impact of the coaching deterioration around Brady. The downgrade from Bill Belichick to Bruce Arians showed up the last two years, and this year’s downgrade to Todd Bowles has been even more glaring.

Tampa Bay had all three timeouts and 32 seconds. That’s an eternity in today’s NFL to set up a field goal. But the Bucs took their time after a 1-yard completion and ended up with a 26-yard completion to Julio Jones out to midfield with only 8 seconds left. Terrible clock management. Surprisingly, Brady’s Hail Mary attempt was not caught, which is about the only lucky style of win he has never pulled off in his career.

In overtime, it looked like Tampa was going to get points on the first drive, but an illegal hands to the face call set up a third-and-14. Brady threw incomplete after pressure from Garrett again. After the Browns went three-and-out, you again expected the game-winning field goal from Tampa, but Garrett was on one Sunday and sacked Brady on another third down.

At this point, a tie comes to mind, but Amari Cooper was wide open on a blown coverage for a 45-yard gain to the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Chubb was in the end zone for the 23-17 win with 19 seconds left.

If this is it for Brissett, he did a better job than I expected he would in Cleveland. He is No. 7 in QBR (61.2) through Week 12. So, you can understand the appeal of Deshaun Watson in this already very functional offense if he can get back to the player he was and give the team a bigger edge in these close games that were not Brissett’s specialty, Sunday withstanding.

Of course, everything about the contract just feels gross, but this is what the Browns signed up for. It could be a spectacle in Houston next week, assuming anyone cares to show up to watch the worst team in the league host the NFL’s version of Bill Cosby.

Raiders at Seahawks: Josh Jacobs Is Reaching Henry/Chubb Territory

Josh Jacobs was one of those first-round running backs who really had no business going in the first round. Guys like Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders, and David Montgomery were sitting there in rounds 2-4 of the same 2019 draft.

But I must admit, Jacobs is taking off in Josh McDaniels’ offense, which is good news since it wiped out any effectiveness Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow had with Derek Carr. Jacobs is getting into that Nick Chubb/Derrick Henry territory with the season he’s having.

Jacobs put the team on his back again and amassed 303 yards from scrimmage in Seattle, including an 86-yard game-winning touchdown run in overtime. Jacobs rushed for 229 yards, the third time this season he set his career high in rushing in a game. He previously had 144 yards against Denver and 154 yards against Kansas City.

Remember when Seattle’s run defense looked like trash when the team was 2-3? Well, we are back to that point. The Munich game against Tampa Bay was a huge red flag things weren’t right again, and now the Raiders and Jacobs may have just damaged Seattle’s playoff chances. The Seattle running game was also MIA for the second game in a row.

Seattle’s offense was largely a dud down the stretch, scoring once on the final five drives, and going three-and-out in overtime before Jacobs’ big run. I hate giving credit to Carr for a handoff game-winning drive, but he earned his stripes this week with the 75-yard touchdown drive to force overtime. He even did it without a single penalty on the Seahawks this time.

The Raiders could be so much better than their 4-7 record, but those blown 17-point leads are going to haunt them. The Seahawks are now the No. 8 seed in the NFC, and they are 1-3 at game-winning drive opportunities.

This one will sting the most.

Rams at Chiefs: Red Zone Practice?

God damn, that Vegas is too good. Even with the Rams starting an unknown commodity in quarterback Bryce Perkins, they still were all over the spread (fluctuated between 15.5 to 16.5 before kickoff) in a 26-10 final, and they were right in the ballpark on Perkins’ rushing yards (44 yards on an over/under of 42.5).

But Perkins only passed for 100 yards, so maybe the passing game still had too high of expectations without Cooper Kupp or Allen Robinson available.

But this was sort of a game because of how bad the Chiefs were in the red zone. The “Chiefs are so creative in the red zone” announcer line is becoming the new “Antonio Gates played basketball” or “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard” line for Kansas City games.

Yes, we know they do some tricky stuff down there. But I swear before playoff time I want to check their home-road splits on red zone performance since 2018, because it sure feels like they try way too much cutesy shit at home and it doesn’t work out enough.

The Chiefs were 1-for-6 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone in this game, which was the only thing keeping the spread alive and the Rams within 10 points in the fourth quarter. Patrick Mahomes became the fourth quarterback ever to pass for over 320 yards in six straight games, but he threw a no-look pass that was intercepted in the end zone for his biggest blunder of the day.

But the Rams turned it over two plays later, and the Chiefs made that count for another field goal. They did the same thing on Perkins’ second pick to get to 26-10 and a cover after the Rams couldn’t get far on their final drive. The Rams couldn’t connect on a play longer than 16 yards.

The Chiefs have been great in the red zone this season, but Sunday was a disaster there. Let’s hope they learned some things about plays that don’t work when they take on the Bengals next week.

Chargers at Cardinals: Two-or-Die Take Two

This felt like a high-scoring, close game where the studs would show up, and it was exactly that. DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, James Conner, and Austin Ekeler all scored touchdowns.

But after the Cardinals took a 24-17 lead three plays into the fourth quarter, both defenses were taking control of the game. We saw six punts in a row, and it felt like Arizona had a great chance to win after sacking Justin Herbert and forcing a punt with 2:19 left.

Four-minute offense is the best way to close out a game, yet we see it butchered so often in this league. No one is asking for another score. Just get a first down or two to end the game. I’ll give Arizona credit for calling a pass on second down, but Kyler Murray took a bad sack and that all but derailed the drive.

Herbert had nearly a full two minutes, and he only needed to drive 38 yards after a good punt return and penalty on the Cardinals. Ekeler is incredible in space, and he made the most of those little catches on the drive to eventually break the plane and score with 15 seconds left.

Like Jacksonville earlier in the day against Baltimore, the Chargers went for two and the lead and likely win. I agreed with both calls on this day. The Chargers ran an excellent play with Allen drawing the defenders and leaving Gerald Everett wide open on the slant for the 25-24 lead.

The Cardinals were in a tough spot, but I’m not sure what Murray thought he was throwing on the last play, which fell incomplete at midfield. It was his first game all season with Marquise Brown and Hopkins together, and he still didn’t throw for 200 yards.

Herbert found a way to get it done after taking four sacks and leading the team in rushing with 38 yards. It is his 10th fourth-quarter comeback win, which joins Russell Wilson (10) and Derek Carr (12) as the only quarterbacks with at least 10 of those in their first three seasons.

Bears at Jets: Pour One Out for Zach Wilson?

There was something very amusing about watching Mike White and Trevor Siemian have a passing duel in the rain that you just suspect Justin Fields and Zach Wilson wouldn’t have matched.

But Siemian, after 116 yards in an impressive first quarter, disappointed the rest of the game while White put on another show with 315 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 31-10 win.

It’s pretty amazing that the Jets drafted Wilson with the No. 2 pick in 2021, they have four games with a quarterback going over 300 yards and three touchdowns ever since, but none of them were with Wilson at quarterback.

Two belong to Mike White, the first Jets quarterback to do this twice since Ken O’Brien. Josh Johnson had one last year and Joe Flacco did it this year.

The Wilson era may not be done in New York, but it is impossible to ignore that the best performances at that position since Robert Saleh took over as coach have come with the backup quarterbacks.

Maybe White gets exposed the next two weeks when they play the Vikings and Bills on the road, but it is hard to see how he doesn’t deserve to keep starting after what he has shown and how little Wilson has done for this offense.

Hurry-Up Finish

Another busy week ahead, so here are the final four games.

Broncos at Panthers: The Lowest Point Yet for Russell Wilson

Can it get much lower than this for Russell Wilson? Sure, it was another low-scoring game that hit the under (36.5) despite it being one of the lowest unders in any NFL game played before December in the last decade.

But at least in the first 10 Denver games this season, it was always a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Wilson always had a chance to pull it out late. The best he could do on the road against a 3-8 Carolina team starting Sam Darnold was a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.

Denver’s only field goal drive in the game started at the Carolina 27, traveled 18 yards, and Wilson did not have a dropback on it. Even the lone touchdown drive came after a roughing the passer penalty negated an incompletion on fourth-and-18.

The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team since 2002 to fail to score 17 points nine times in their first 11 games. Look at the quarterback class Wilson is involved with here:

  • 2004 Redskins (QB Mark Brunell)
  • 2008 Rams (QB Marc Bulger)
  • 2009 Raiders (QB JaMarcus Russell)
  • 2011 Jaguars (QB Blaine Gabbert)
  • 2011 Rams (QB Sam Bradford)
  • 2022 Broncos (QB Russell Wilson)

Even Jimmy Clausen and the 2010 Panthers aren’t on this list anymore (8-of-11 games). This is pathetic.

Texans at Dolphins: Poor Bryce Young

If the Texans thought starting Kyle Allen would give the offense a boost, they were wrong. Turnovers contributed to Miami taking a 30-0 lead into halftime.

Now I’m usually all for pulling your key starters in a blowout but taking Tua Tagovailoa out with a 30-6 lead with 3:18 left in the third quarter was pretty bold by Mike McDaniel. At least go another drive and aim for the four-score lead in the fourth quarter before you take out Tua, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle at the very least.

At the same time, I kind of like the disrespect it showed to Houston, because this is one shitty team that had no real hope of making up 24 points. However, rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson fumbled a snap, and the Texans were in the end zone after starting at midfield.

Before you knew it, the Texans were only down 30-15 and had the ball with 7:12 left. Fortunately, the defense closed it out with another big sack and interception of Allen on the next two drives, preserving the 14-point cover for the win.

Miami’s offense finished with 23 points while only hitting one 30-yard play, allowing five sacks, and they could not get the running game going (26 carries for 66 yards) against what has been a laughingstock run defense all year long. We’ll need to see better play against the 49ers next week.

As for Houston, at least they probably can’t blow getting the No. 1 pick. But please do not let this coaching staff anywhere near Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or which ever signal caller they pick.

Falcons at Commanders: Oh, Now You Pass?

Even when the Buccaneers blow a game in Cleveland, the Falcons fail to capitalize. This was a very winnable game with the Falcons down 19-13, but they had first-and-goal at the 2 with 1:10 left.

For a team that wants to run the ball as much as possible, how do you not go to Cordarrelle Patterson here? Maybe even four times if necessary. Instead, the Falcons tried to run in Marcus Mariota, and he lost 2 yards, but at least it burned the final timeout for Washington.

So, with 63 seconds left, why on earth would you try to throw for a touchdown to take a 20-19 lead with a whole minute left when a field goal beats you? The Commanders were out of timeouts. The second down was the perfect spot to run the ball and take that clock down under 30 seconds.

But they tried to pass, and Mariota was intercepted on a tipped ball. Disaster. Atlanta still had all three timeouts, so it wasn’t over, but they managed to botch that too by running into the punter, which gave Washington a first down and ended the game. Pretty lousy time to have your second penalty of the game.

But an even worse time to go to Mariota on back-to-back plays on first and second down with goal-to-go.

Saints at 49ers: Sean Payton and Drew Brees Would Never…

The last time the Saints were shut out was the 2001 season finale, a 38-0 loss to the 49ers. Well, the 49ers got them again with a 13-0 shutout that didn’t really feel like the final score.

Hard to imagine many 13-0 games where each team only had nine possessions. The Saints are just the 14th team since the 1970 merger to get shut out in a game with a maximum of two turnovers and four punts from their side.

But the two fumbles by Alvin Kamara were crucial. The one on the opening drive set up a short field for a field goal by the 49ers, and the late one at the 1-yard line was a crazy play with him trying so hard to score and not securing the ball. It was nearly the third offensive fumble recovery for a touchdown of the day, but the 49ers got the ball instead.

Nick Bosa secured the shutout with a ridiculously timed jump for a sack of Andy Dalton on a fourth-and-goal from the 4. The 49ers were able to run out the final 6:18 on the clock to get the cover (-8.5) and the 13-0 win. Interestingly enough, Jordan Mason, who had five career carries coming into the day, got the final four carries for the 49ers to pick up the last two first downs.

Does that mean Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell are injured again? We’ll see. Big test coming next week against Miami.

Next Week

  • Good news: It looks #greatonpaper
  • We’ll see if Bill Belichick can control the weather again for Buffalo this Thursday night.
  • Lock the doors, hide your wife, hide your daughters, it’s Deshaun Watson Week in Houston.
  • Can Mike White be the one to end Minnesota’s close-game winning streak?
  • Biggest Washington-Giants game in many years.
  • Can Derrick Henry get an upset going in Philly?
  • 49ers-Dolphins is an outstanding matchup of offense vs. defense
  • Chiefs-Bengals is a premiere matchup, especially if Ja’Marr Chase returns

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

While Week 5 in the NFL did produce two huge blowout wins, it was another fairly competitive week with 10 comeback opportunities and a season-high eight game-winning drives, including one in all three island games.

The teams favored by at least seven points were just 1-4 ATS and two even lost outright. Last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, are both just 2-3. Only the Eagles (5-0) remain undefeated after playing their closest game of the season against an Arizona team that was 2021’s last undefeated team.

And yet, it may all just be leading to what 2021 should have led to: Chiefs vs. Bills being the real Super Bowl. Last year, it was the instant classic in the divisional round, but the Chiefs blew it in the AFC Championship Game, setting up that first Super Bowl without a top-three seed. Now the Chiefs and Bills are the talk of the league again as they get ready for their Week 6 showdown in Kansas City that could determine everything from the MVP to home-field advantage to the Super Bowl champion.

But before we get way ahead of things, there were a lot of close finishes, mind-numbing plays, and questionable calls on Sunday to go over.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Ravens: Winner Gets a Set of Steak Knives

Before this season is over, the Bengals and Ravens will have their say on which AFC team is represented in the Super Bowl. It was just hard watching them on Sunday night and not thinking that they are a tier below what we are soon going to see when the Bills and Chiefs meet again next week.

As far as 19-17 games in prime time go, this was one of the best ones with a good balance of offense, defense, and special teams with two great kickers. But there were also some egregious misses by both Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow. Jackson had a terrible pick when the Ravens were up 10-0, then he missed one of the easiest deep balls in the Next Gen Stats era on a fourth down. Burrow had an awful third quarter with a pick and one of the ugliest shovel passes on a fourth-and-goal that you’ll ever see.

Also, for the second week in a row I found myself disagreeing strongly with John Harbaugh’s fourth-quarter decision making. I thought last week he should have kicked the late field goal for the lead over Buffalo when Lamar’s fourth-down pass was intercepted. This time, Harbaugh looked like he was going for a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 3 with a 13-10 lead and 9:46 left, but he took a delay of game and kicked the field goal to go up 16-10.

I don’t like that move. Go for the conversion and try to get the 20-10 lead that is so valuable in this game. You leave some hope in a 16-10 game, not to mention you incentivize them to treat this drive as touchdown or bust.

The Bengals did a good job of chipping away on the drive, with Burrow eventually sneaking into the end zone himself with 1:58 left. Evan McPherson’s go-ahead extra point was just over the right crossbar, leaving no margin for error on that judgment of make or miss. Now if he could have done that against the Steelers in Week 1, the Bengals would be in better shape.

But in a 17-16 game, Jackson had nearly a full two minutes to set up Justin Tucker for the win. When he can use his legs to pick up a quick 19 yards, it’s almost too hard to stop him from doing just that. Eventually, Tucker came on to drill the 43-yard field goal at the buzzer, straight down the middle as if it was ever in doubt. The Ravens (3-2) take the lead over the Bengals (2-3) and the rest of the AFC North going into Week 6.

For all the hype about Burrow’s 941 yards passing last season against the Ravens, he finished this game with 217 yards, including one pass play of 20-plus yards. Ja’Marr Chase only had 50 yards on 12 targets. Tee Higgins had an ankle injury and barely played, receiving zero targets as he continues to deal with injuries almost weekly this season.

Both of these teams would comfortably win the AFC South if that was the division they called home this year. They should continue to battle for the AFC North as they are better than Pittsburgh and Cleveland right now. But are they on the same tier as Buffalo and Kansas City? I’m just not seeing it yet.

Steelers at Bills: Pickett’s First Start Is Biggest Pittsburgh Blowout Since 1989

Before I get into Kenny Pickett’s first start, I just want to say that the Bills played a great game in handing the Steelers their first 35-point loss since losing the 1989 opener to Cleveland by a 51-0 score. Right from the third play of the game when Josh Allen went over the top of the defense for a 98-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis, you knew the Steelers were in trouble.

Allen had not broken 5.6 yards per attempt in his first three starts against Pittsburgh, but with all the confidence in the world and no T.J. Watt to worry about, Allen shredded this defense for career highs in passing yards (424), YPA (13.7), and he threw four touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards. He even had 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone as Buffalo led 31-3.

Was it a perfect performance or even the most dominant the Bills have looked this season? No (Tennessee), there were some mistakes on special teams on a windy day, and Allen was intercepted by Levi Wallace in the end zone on a nice-looking grab by the defender. The Bills also fumbled at the 1-yard line while leading 31-3. But it was the kind of dominant performance that makes you think the Bills are going to be favored the rest of the way this season unless things drastically change.

As for the Steelers, we know they were a 14-point underdog for the first time since the 1970 merger, but this is the latest loss in a recent troubling string of road losses where they have been blown out, often before the fourth quarter:

  • Week 4 at Packers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 27-17)
  • Week 11 at Chargers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 41-37)
  • Week 12 at Bengals: Trailed 41-3 in 4Q (L 41-10)
  • Week 14 at Vikings: Trailed 29-0 in 3Q (L 36-28)
  • Week 16 at Chiefs: Trailed 36-3 in 4Q (L 36-10)
  • Wild Card at Chiefs: Trailed 42-14 in 4Q (L 42-21)
  • Week 5 at Bills: Trailed 38-3 in 4Q (L 38-3)

It gets worse.

  • From 1990 to 2010, the Steelers had three games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • From 2011 to 2020, the Steelers had five games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • The Steelers have trailed by 28+ points in five of their last 13 games.

It’s not good when you can ask “what’s the worst half of Steelers football in the last 30 years?” and you are getting a handful of choices from just the last 11 months.

I could not help but watch Kenny Pickett’s first NFL start and think about how Ben Roethlisberger probably feels very content with retirement now with the way the Steelers are getting blown out these days.

Pickett alone cannot turn this around, which might be why head coach Mike Tomlin said he is open to changes of all kinds after this 38-3 loss. But I’m not sure how you fix something like this in-season when things are so fundamentally flawed here.

But as for Pickett, there were some positives despite the 38-3 final. While I did go to Pitt, I cannot say I feel any real attachment or need to defend Pickett. I wasn’t even excited about the pick on draft night because I know the top quarterback lasting on the board that long is a bad sign of the class itself. But maybe I’m just prepping to become an apologist for him, because this team has a lot of holes that shouldn’t all be blamed on the quarterback.

I said last week that Pickett’s debut was about as encouraging as it could have been for someone who threw three interceptions. I might say the same thing about his first start being the most encouraging for someone who scored three points.

Among 34 quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in their first NFL start, Pickett is the only one to not score at least 13 points and the only one to lose by more than 26 points.

First, we know it was only three points because Chris Boswell missed two field goals on a windy day that he usually will make (33 and 45 yards). That’s why the Steelers became the 21st team in NFL history to throw 50 passes and score fewer than six points. It’s a rough thing to do, but it’s not the end of the world. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs did it last year against the Titans in a 27-3 loss.

Second, why were the Steelers even kicking field goals down 24-3 and 31-3? Tomlin never approached this game like he was a 14-point underdog starting a rookie quarterback on the road against the Super Bowl favorite. He acted like it was Big Ben trying to pull out an upset like he did in Week 1 last year thanks to a special teams bounce and some of that T.J. Watt greatness this defense is sorely missing. Tomlin mismanaged the moment by not appreciating the quality of opponent and his team’s predicament more.

Third, Pickett wasn’t bad by several measures. He was 34-of-52 for 327 yards, three sacks, a pick, and a 10-yard run. Pickett’s 56.7 QBR ranked 10th this week and was above average. The most egregious pass he threw early was the pick before halftime, but that was something he forced with 23 seconds left in a 31-3 game from his own 37. It didn’t lead to any points for Buffalo. It didn’t even matter.

Pickett’s receivers had a few costly drops too, including one off Diontae Johnson’s hands that was nearly intercepted. Johnson also could not hang onto a fourth-and-6 play in the third quarter that would have extended the drive in the red zone.

The points will come for this offense, but with the way the defense has handled good quarterbacks for the last year, the wins are not coming any time soon with Tom Brady and Jalen Hurts coming up.

The experience level of Pittsburgh’s quarterback cannot continue to overshadow the real problem of allowing an absurd number of points in so many big games in recent years. If only there was an obvious, common link between these losses that the team could put a finger on… But the standard is the standard.

Giants vs. Packers: Old-School Green Bay Loss, New-School Problems

Sunday began with a shocker in London when the Packers (-8) fell 27-22 to the Giants, who are now 4-1. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU when favored by at least six points but make that 22-1 now after his offense scored zero points after halftime.

This was almost like some old-school Tom Coughlin-coached upset by the Giants against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. First, there was a sack that knocked the Packers out of field goal range late in the third quarter. Daniel Jones then used his arms and legs to put together a 15-play, 91-yard touchdown march to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.

The Packers went three-and-out after three incompletions by Rodgers. Saquon Barkley continued his career season with a 41-yard catch and a 2-yard touchdown run to take a 27-20 lead with 6:08 left. Rookie coach Brian Daboll hasn’t really fixed Jones and the passing game, which has had a lot of injuries, but he is getting more timely plays from the young quarterback, and he absolutely has gotten Barkley on track to be the playmaker the Giants thought they were drafting years ago.

But just when you thought the Packers would tie the game with a touchdown like they did a week ago against the Patriots, that New York defense stepped up again. With two plays needing a yard from the New York 6, the Packers shunned their running backs and let Rodgers throw quick passes. The Giants pounced on both of them and knocked them down at the line. I think you have to feed Aaron Jones or A.J Dillon at least once there. Get the first down, then work the clock situation to get the touchdown and go to overtime or go for two and the win if you have a play you love.

But it was moot after some batted balls. Daboll miscalculated the clock as the Packers still had two timeouts to get the ball back. The Giants should have been running real offense instead of taking knees and an intentional safety, but they did that, giving Rodgers seven seconds to set up a Hail Mary, his specialty. But the best way to stop him on that is to not let him get the ball off. The Giants didn’t, forcing a fumble to end the game and seal the 27-22 upset win, Week 5’s shocker.

The 4-1 Giants are using a strategy much like the one that last carried them to the playoffs in 2016 (they lost to Green Bay in the wild card that year). Keep it close, close it out on defense. It is working for them, but with Dallas and Philadelphia in the same division, it is hard to see this lasting.

As for the Packers, there is still time to turn this around, but I am starting to think this identity-crisis offense without Davante Adams has the Packers less prepared than ever before to deal with the NFC playoff field. Could you imagine this team in January winning against the 49ers, Eagles, Buccaneers, or even Cowboys? Maybe they’d like a rematch with these Giants, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk like it was in 2016.

I think a dream playoff road for Rodgers this year would be getting the Vikings in the wild card round in prime time (Kirk Cousins at night), hoping the Eagles choke in their first playoff game as the No. 1 seed, and then going to Dallas to take out the Cowboys in the building where Rodgers seems to have all his best playoff moments. That might be the path, but that’s assuming Green Bay gets that far.

Maybe it’s too early to be talking about this, but the last two weeks in nearly losing to Bailey Zappe and losing to the Giants in London, it has been an eye-opening experience on where the Packers are these days.

Eagles at Cardinals: Was Kyler’s Gatorade Spiked Too?

It took until Week 5 before the Eagles did not lead for the entire second half of a game. But the Cardinals are a better offense with Rondale Moore available, and Marquise Brown is starting to make an impact with Kyler Murray.

The Eagles were also not historically dominant in the second quarter this time, getting outscored 10-7 after starting the game with a 14-0 lead. Arizona (+5.5) kept it close as offensive holding penalties plagued the Eagles in the third quarter. After Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth, the Eagles turned to the running game with eight straight runs out the gate. Jalen Hurts is all but automatic on those sneaks with a yard to go. He had a couple of those conversions on a long drive that consumed nearly eight minutes, but the Eagles were unable to put the ball in the end zone, settling for a 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left.

Murray had plenty of time in a 20-17 game, but this is not a spot where you feel like you can trust him, coach Kliff Kingsbury, and certainly not new kicker Matt Ammendola, who was just jettisoned from the Chiefs after a bad game against the Colts.

Murray moved the offense into the fringes of field-goal range, but he spiked a ball on first down after a completion when he had plenty of time to call another play. He then scrambled for 9 yards, then quickly did a spike again to bring up fourth-and-1 with 22 seconds left. Did Murray not know that he started his slide early and was spotted short of a first down? Maybe, but he did not need to spike it with it being third down.

If you saw Ammendola with the Chiefs, you probably knew what was coming next. From 43 yards out, he was about as wide right as Mike Vanderjagt on a clutch playoff field goal. The Eagles escape this one with a 20-17 win and will have a big showdown with the Cowboys (4-1) next Sunday night.

Falcons at Buccaneers: Did the Roughing Flag Come with Another PPP Loan?

The sad state of the NFC South where a battle of 2-2 teams with a 10-point spread is a game for first place in Week 5. But the Falcons never had much of a chance without Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, their two most proven skill players. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay led 21-0 to start the fourth quarter.

But wouldn’t it have been something if the Falcons, trying to avoid going 0-11 against Tom Brady, erased a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to beat him and take over first place in the division?

The Tampa offense started stalling while the Atlanta offense found some success on the ground after the defense wore down. Just like that, it was a 21-15 game with 4:38 left after the Falcons wisely went for two.

It looked like Brady was going to stall again in the four-minute offense after Grady Jarrett sacked him on a third down with three minutes left. However, one of the worst roughing the passer penalties you’ll ever see was called to gift the Buccaneers a first down. True LOAT stuff and superstar rules right here:

That is literally just a sack. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t to the head/neck region, and he didn’t do the whole “body weight” nonsense that came up years ago. It’s just a sack, but maybe the ref felt sorry for a 45-year-old man going through a publicized divorce?

It took six dropbacks before Brady made a play on the drive, converting a third down to Mike Evans to end the game, never giving the Falcons the ball back with a one-score deficit.

So many fan bases will be happy once Brady retires for good, but if Atlanta fans want to lay claim to being sick of him the most, I cannot argue against them. He is still going to win this division and get a home playoff game. With the Rams fading, it may take a Philadelphia/San Francisco/Dallas to put an end to this team in the playoffs short of the Super Bowl.

Cowboys at Rams: Coming Down the Mountain

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this game, because it really does break down in simple terms.

The Rams (2-3) have been held to 9-or-10 points against the Bills, 49ers, and Cowboys in their losses. Those are three elite defenses this year, if not the three best. The Rams looked just fine offensively, albeit with Cam Akers sucking at the goal line, in wins over the Falcons and Cardinals, which are two lousy defenses. This offense is not built to excel against elite defenses anymore with the deficiencies along the offensive line (Andrew Whitworth’s retirement plus injuries), running back (see Akers sucking and being a lesser player than Darrell Henderson), and the fact that Cooper Kupp is about the only receiver worth a damn, especially in Matthew Stafford’s eyes. He takes five-to-seven sacks against these elite defenses as he can’t seem to find anyone open but Kupp. They miss that second threat like Robert Woods or Odell Beckham Jr. They don’t even have Van Jefferson this year and it shows up when they play a good defense. The “fvck them draft picks” team finally reached the top of the mountain last year, but this is not a surprising, rocky path for them to take coming back down it to join the rest of the pack in mediocrity.

As for the Cowboys (4-1), this was the first win for backup QB Cooper Rush where they really just babied him with the dominant defense and running game (30 carries for 164 yards). If Dak Prescott threw for 102 yards and lost 26 yards on three sacks, I’d say the Cowboys got smashed and he left the game injured. Rush has done a good job, but they’re not beating Philadelphia next week or for the division with this level of quarterback play. The challenge for Mike McCarthy is to make sure the defense and running game continue to play at this high level when Prescott returns. Don’t just “rally around the backup” and rest on your laurels “when #4 is back.” Play like a great damn team every week if you want to actually achieve something, like maybe your first NFC Championship Game appearance since the 1995 season.

Chargers at Browns: Boo-urns Brissett (and Brandon)

Not often do you see a running back shootout in the NFL, but Austin Ekeler and Nick Chubb put on a show in this 30-28 thriller. Both scored multiple touchdowns and Ekeler even outrushed Chubb, 173-134.

But Cleveland fans probably wish the running backs could have decided this game instead of the quarterback. I tried to warn people about Jacoby Brissett being terrible with the game on the line:

Sure, he can avoid mistakes for most of the game, but this is already his third time getting picked in the final minutes this season in close losses. The first two were desperation throws against the Jets and Falcons. This one was just foolishness in a 30-28 game with barely under three minutes left. It was third-and-7 at the Los Angeles 9, so Brissett had a go-ahead field goal in his back pocket. Instead, he scrambled and forced a throw and did not even see the defender (Alohi Gilman).

Brutal stuff. But the Chargers were not going to let this one go without some Chargering. The offense got one first down to make Cleveland burn all three timeouts but not the second to clinch the game. They faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:14 left.

Head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it at midfield, and Justin Herbert’s pass was incomplete. The Browns had 70 seconds left at the Los Angeles 45, basically needing a few yards for a reasonable game-winning field goal attempt.

I hated the decision by Staley, who has not impressed me for quite a number of games now after his promising start last year.

  • If you are leading 31-28, then going for it is justifiable, if not preferable. Don’t fear the game-tying field goal or overtime. Trust you can convert a yard with a high-percentage play (QB sneak).
  • If you are facing a dangerous quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or a team with an incredible kicker like Justin Tucker who can make from 60+, then going for it is justifiable, if not the only real option.

But you are only up 30-28 and you are facing one of the worst quarterbacks on record at game-winning drives. His offense’s biggest threat is a running back (Chubb) who likely won’t see the field on this drive. Just punt it deep and make him drive a long field.

But the Chargers gave Cleveland a gift that should have bit them in the ass. Brissett even got the 10 yards and new set of downs you figured they needed, but a stuffed run of Kareem Hunt – see, not Chubb – really hurt Cleveland’s chances. Then Brissett threw incomplete twice and the rookie kicker, Cade York, had to make a 54-yard field goal to save the day. He beat the Panthers on a 58-yard field goal in Week 1, so this is doable. However, this time he missed, and the Browns lost another close one.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is just 3-14 (.176) at 4QC/GWD opportunities. Only Carolina’s Matt Rhule (0-16) is worse among active coaches.

Hurry-Up Finish

Most weeks I am still wide awake when I say I need to get to bed, but I really am tired this week after barely sleeping last night. So, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 5:

Titans at Commanders: I will certainly mock Carson Wentz for throwing a game-ending interception, his third attempt from the 2-yard line in a 21-17 game’s closing seconds. But that really was a great defensive play by David Long. Almost like James Harrison in Super Bowl 43 without the crazy return touchdown.

The Titans (3-2) have won three in a row despite scoring zero points in the fourth quarter this season, the first team since the 2005 49ers (ALEX’s rookie year) to go scoreless in the fourth quarter through five games. These Titans are barely hanging on against the Raiders, Colts, and now Commanders, and they still might win the division. Speaking of which…

Texans at Jaguars: You can replace Doug Marrone with Urban Meyer or Doug Pederson, but apparently this sad sack of a franchise can’t beat the trash-heap version of the Houston Texans. That’s nine losses in a row to Houston, and this is probably the most disappointing yet cause the Jaguars were 7-point favorites and expected to run wild on Houston’s defense. It did not happen, and instead, No. 1 pick Travon Walker made a boneheaded play by throwing down Davis Mills in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter on a third-and-20. That led to the game-winning touchdown, and Trevor Lawrence wasn’t able to answer again. He is now 1-8 at 4QC and 2-9 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Either we gassed up the Jaguars a bit too much after those wins over the Colts and Chargers, or the Texans inexplicably have their number. Either way, what a weird cat turd of a division race this is.

49ers at Panthers: That double-clutching pick-six Baker Mayfield threw may be the highlight/lowlight of his time in Carolina. The play we remember him for. His arm just doesn’t look strong enough for the NFL right now. It was surprising to see him throw for 215 yards in this matchup, but the 22-point loss was no surprise.

The biggest surprise is if I wake up and find that Matt Rhule isn’t gone already. It’s clearly not going to work in Carolina for him (or Baker). Just in case this is the last time, here are those updated Rhule numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-24 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-25 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-27 when not leading by double digits at halftime

As for the 49ers, nice win but they need to stop racking up the injuries. Nick Bosa was the latest star to go down. The 49ers were the only NFC West team to win on Sunday, moving to 3-2 while the rest of the division is 2-3. This defense and the yards after contact/catch from Deebo Samuel may be plenty enough to win the title.

Dolphins at Jets: The Jets were my upset pick this week, but even I was surprised to see them hang 40 points on Miami with Zach Wilson scoring another touchdown and rookie back Breece Hall gaining 197 yards from scrimmage. They did catch a break with Teddy Bridgewater leaving with a head injury after one pass and a grounding penalty for a safety. Third-string rookie Skylar Thompson was hardly a nightmare, but he did have a success rate of 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter when the Jets blew open a 19-17 lead into a 40-17 final.

Miami missed a 54-yard field goal that would have given the Dolphins the lead with 13:15 left, then Thompson fumbled on the next drive, leading to a 5-yard touchdown drive. That basically put this one away, and now the 3-2 Jets have the tiebreaker over the 3-2 Dolphins. Life comes at you fast.

Bears at Vikings: I don’t know if the Earth can handle all these 4QC/GWD by the Vikings:

This was the third in a row and maybe the most shocking since Minnesota completed its first 18 passes of the game and led 21-3. Letting Justin Fields lead a comeback to take a 22-21 lead can’t be good for Minnesota’s playoff prospects, but to Kirk Cousins’ credit, he led another game-winning drive and even snuck in the winning touchdown himself. Fields actually seemed up to the task of answering with a touchdown, but a great defensive play by Cameron Dantzler forced Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a Minnesota fifth-round pick in 2021 (double agent?), to fumble with 1:01 left.

I honestly don’t know if the 2022 Vikings (4-1) are all that good since they’ve largely shown us the same things they always did under Mike Zimmer: Win over Green Bay, close wins over the NFC bottom dwellers, and Cousins shit his pants on a Monday night in Philly. A trip to Buffalo in Week 10 will be the next big challenge for a team that could actually be 7-1 going into that one.

Seahawks at Saints: Sean Payton had to love the Taysom Hill three-hour love fest this game turned into. Hill rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score from 60 yards out, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass, and recovered a fumble. The Seahawks had some explosive plays on offense again behind Geno Smith, but he took a badly-timed 14-yard sack on a third down, and the Saints were able to run out the clock in a 39-32 win.

Lions at Patriots: The Lions went from 281 combined points in four games, including last week’s 48-45 loss to Seattle, to getting blanked 29-0 by third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Patriots. Was this Matt Patricia’s revenge game? Amon-Ra St. Brown returned and had four catches for 18 yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson went from 179 yards and two scores last week to one 6-yard catch in this game. This was some extreme regression, and arguably the biggest dud ever laid by a Dan Campbell team.

Next week: It’s not going to reach the hype of 2007 Patriots vs. Colts, but 2022 Bills at Chiefs is a huge one. Maybe the biggest game this regular season because getting home-field advantage is going to be very important for Buffalo to maintain its favorite status for the Super Bowl. I will be all over this matchup this week.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

I said in this weekend’s predictions that we would get some crucial breaking points to this season with the games on tap. Sure enough, the games were very competitive again. In fact, with Monday Night Football still to come, we again had 12 games with a comeback opportunity after 12 last week, the second-highest total in the last seven seasons:

Technically, I should say a 4QC/GWD opportunity since the Bills-Ravens game was not a 4QC opportunity for either. More on that semantics mess shortly.

Speaking of Buffalo, Sunday seemed to reroute the course to a place many were expecting it to go: Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Round III in the AFC playoffs, and that huge matchup in Week 6 at Arrowhead is looming.

Did we get much clarity on the MVP race? Not really, because annoying rain made the games in Baltimore and Philly sloppy for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts.

But we learned that Bailey Zappe is a real NFL player, Geno Smith might get an NFL MVP vote before Russell Wilson, the Mitch Trubisky era should be dead in Pittsburgh, and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs run it up on Tom Brady’s ass (in prime time too) like no other.

Now if only the Chiefs could have done this in the playoffs a couple times, then they’d be a dynasty instead of me asking if there’s still an elite team in the league. But let’s just enjoy the ride, and any Sunday is a nice one when you hit +13118.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Ravens: Most Valuable Pick of the Season

When I picked the Bills to win it all before the season, I pointed out that the schedule was going to make them so battle tested for the playoffs. Just the early lineup is incredible with Kansas City and Green Bay to come soon before the bye. But at Baltimore was a big test too, because we know the Ravens are usually tough to beat in that building with John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.

I also wanted to see how the Bills would react in a close game. They had lost the last 12 games they trailed in the fourth quarter of, and their last 20 regular-season wins were all by 10-plus points, tying the NFL record set by the 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

Well, one of those streaks was snapped on Sunday, and the Bills can thank Harbaugh and Jackson for that.

Blame it on the weather if you want, but the wet conditions were not as bad as 49ers-Bears in Week 1. The weather was not helpful, but the top two MVP candidates were also not doing their teams many favors on Sunday. Josh Allen was wide of the mark three snaps into the game and his interception set up a 4-yard touchdown drive for Jackson.

After Buffalo’s running backs put the ball on the ground and got stopped on a third-and-1, the Ravens were up 20-3 in the second quarter. We may have been looking at a blowout as the only comeback of more than 10 points in the Sean McDermott era was a 16-point comeback against the 2019 Jets on opening day.

But the front-running team ran into the team that blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. Baltimore mismanaged a pass-happy three-and-out late in the first half, and the Bills were able to put together a touchdown drive to make it 20-10. Something doable.

Third quarter started the same way with a false start and three failed passing plays by the Ravens, who were getting the running backs going early in the game for a change this year. Allen scrambles keyed a field goal drive, and then he tied the game up his next chance with his legs on an 11-yard run.

The Bills didn’t have starting safety Jordan Poyer in the Miami loss. They already lost Micah Hyde for the season too at safety. Poyer was back on Sunday and made his presence felt by running up to catch an interception by Jackson on a ball tipped at the line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But after the Bills went three-and-out, Jackson looked like he was going to shake off a rough passing day with a 95-yard touchdown drive. However, he and J.K. Dobbins were stopped short of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 2 with 4:09 left.

There is at least an argument for going for it in this spot, but given you haven’t scored all half, and the weather stinks, and your kicking unit is superb, I think you kick the field goal there. Make the front-running team that hasn’t come from behind to win in the fourth quarter in over two years put together a drive. The Bills are so overconfident at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would try a fourth-and-goal in a 23-20 game if it was within reason. And they might not get it like in Miami or against Tennessee last year.

I did not like the decision, but then again, I disagreed with most of Harbaugh’s close-game decisions last year when the Ravens kept blowing all these games. Sure enough, Jackson tried to force a pass after pressure got to him and only Poyer was there in the end zone to catch it for a second interception.

Jackson went from second in MVP odds to tied with Jalen Hurts (+550) for third place behind Allen (+300) and Mahomes (+500). I can’t say it’s not justified this week. Blame the defense all you want for the Miami meltdown, but in this game, the Ravens were scoreless on their final five drives with two fourth-quarter picks by Jackson. He passed for just 144 yards, and star tight end Mark Andrews also did not help shed his “big game choker” label with two catches for 15 yards.

On the other side, Allen was able to put the game-winning drive together this week, only needing a field goal. I didn’t love the angle on the big roughing the passer penalty that put them in field goal range, but it looked like an excessive takedown after he released the ball.

Singletary had some key gains on Sunday, and he put the ball inside the 3. The Bills were able to make the 21-yard field goal with no time left to get the 23-20 win.

This is a rare game that was tied to start the fourth quarter, and the only other score was a game-winning field goal on the final snap. You see maybe one of these a season, but we already have two this year with Bears-Texans and this. That’s also why it’s just a game-winning drive for Buffalo and technically not a 4QC.

That will just have to come later for the team, but this was a very important comeback win. The Bills will have that confidence now that they can come back if a game starts ugly like this one sure did.

But for the Ravens, I am not sure where their psyche is after blowing two 17-point leads at home in a couple of weeks. This is a franchise that had three such blown leads in 1996-2021, and two of those were in the early days of the bad defenses (1996-97). The only other one was in 2004 against the Bengals, a game that showed us the potential for Carson Palmer and his receivers.

Speaking of the Bengals, that’s Baltimore’s next opponent on Sunday night. It’s another front-running team with the quarterback and firepower to destroy this defense. This season could really turn on its head for Baltimore by Week 5 when it should be 4-0 and the talk of the AFC. Instead, here we are.

It’s a Bills vs. Chiefs conference until proven otherwise.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Old Man, Look at My Highlight

If only Super Bowl LV looked like this for Kansas City, but it was never going to happen with the rotated offensive line that night. The Chiefs really seemed to take this rematch personally and came out on fire with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff setting up a quick 7-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.

The Chiefs led by double digits for the final 49:01. This is only the seventh time in Tom Brady’s career where he trailed by double digits at the end of all four quarters. The only time the game felt in doubt was in the second quarter when the Chiefs were stopped for the first time after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped a wide-open fourth-and-1 pass. But on the very next play, the Kansas City defense, which was not outstanding on the night, saved its best disguised blitz for Brady to force a fumble and set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for another short-field score and 28-10 lead.

The Buccaneers allowed more points in the first half (28) than they did in the first three games combined (27). The Chiefs really seemed to save up some A+ plays on offense for this matchup, and Patrick Mahomes may have thrown his most creative touchdown pass yet.

The game really did remind me of when the 2005 Colts went into New England on a Monday night and just walloped them 40-21. If we got the Chiefs this prepared and fired up for every game, this team could go undefeated. They didn’t punt until the final minute when they were up 41-31.

This is now the eighth time in Brady’s career where his team allowed 40 points, and half of those games have been against Andy Reid’s Chiefs (all in prime time in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022). It is only the sixth time a team scored at least 40 offensive points on a Brady team. But no one has ever scored more than 42 on him, and Mahomes threw away that chance with an ill-advised pick with just under five minutes left. But even at 41-24, this one was over early. The Buccaneers finished with 53 passes to six runs (3 yards).

The Chiefs are never not interesting under Reid and Mahomes. They looked as good as ever against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but not so hot against the Chargers and Colts in between. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are not playing complimentary football and haven’t looked that good period this season. While the offense had its best game of 2022, the defense had its worst game in the last three years since Brady arrived.

This is the eighth time Brady has trailed by 17-plus points in a game with Tampa Bay since 2020. He had eight such games with New England in his final six seasons in 2014-19.

I thought the Bucs would split at home with Green Bay and the Chiefs, but they lost both games. I still would not panic unless Atlanta comes in there on Sunday and wins too. But something has looked off with this team all season.

Patriots at Packers: Green Bay Nearly Loses to Fallout’s Vault Boy

Bill Belichick’s Patriots pushing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers into overtime at Lambeau is a story you could have believed last week. If I said they’d get the fourth career pick-six of Rodgers before halftime, you might believe it less. If I said they’d start Brian Hoyer and lose 27-24 in overtime, you probably wouldn’t believe it. If I said they played most of the game with the Fallout Vault Boy turned Vault Man – someone named Bailey Zappe – you definitely would have said I was making up some Madden player.

But it all happened. If the Patriots had just a little more faith in Zappe, they may have pulled it off in overtime too after getting Rodgers to go three-and-out after the Packers won the coin toss and received. But even after getting the ball at their own 49, needing just a field goal to win, the Patriots ran twice, and Zappe threw incomplete on third-and-5 before a punt. He’d never see the ball again.

Rodgers started cooking with his wide receivers and set up a field goal as the final play. Mason Crosby was reliable from 31 yards out, and Matt LaFleur escaped breaking his 21-0 (now 22-0) mark as a favorite of at least six points.

Isn’t it something that the only game with a spread above 6.5 (Packers were -9.5) was the one game to go to overtime? Typical bizarro NFL.

For Rodgers, it is his 30th game-winning drive, becoming the 24th quarterback to have that many. It is also his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win, becoming the 35th quarterback to join that club. It is also notable that it took him 239 games to do it. Only former teammate Brett Favre (222) also needed over 200 games. Something about Green Bay…

But from a 3-19 4QC record to 20-45, that’s a respectable turnaround for Rodgers since the 2012 season. With the way the Packers are playing against injury-weakened teams, Rodgers may need more of these than any season before.

Jaguars at Eagles: Probably Not a Super Bowl Preview

Talking this up like it was some surprise Super Bowl preview, like the 1999 Rams playing the Titans on Halloween, was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just some early excitement for how these teams have started in 2022.

Even when the Jaguars took an early 14-0 lead, I saw no reason to panic about the Eagles. Jacksonville got a pick-six off a wildly tipped ball, then saved a second touchdown drive after recovering a fumble at the 3-yard line that was there for the taking.

The weather was not extreme, but the conditions were not helpful to offenses. The Eagles just happened to handle them better and converted three times on fourth down with Jalen Hurts being pretty unstoppable there. I did want to see how this team would react to an early deficit after cruising through games to start 3-0. They handled it well with A.J. Brown having another big game against a former division foe.

Trevor Lawrence handled the wet conditions about as well as the aliens in Signs would handle a dixie cup of water. He lost four fumbles, which apparently hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever by one player:

Even when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (RIP) set the NFL record with seven fumbles in a game in 1964, he appears to only have lost three out of seven. Going 4-for-4 is some cruel stuff, and the last one came in the final two minutes with the Jaguars trying to tie the game at 29 after getting it to 29-21.

But even that comeback opportunity was set up by a suspect decision from the Eagles to try a fourth-and-3 pass at the Jacksonville 21 at the two-minute warning. Apparently there was an injury situation to the kicker, which would be about the only good reason to not kick the 39-yard field goal and make this an 11-point game. Lawrence was always unlikely to drive for eight points, but it was still a gamble that could have gone wrong.

The Eagles are the last unbeaten team (4-0), and I am starting to wonder if 14-3 was not a crazy prediction as that was the number I had them at on my first run through the schedule for all 32 teams this year. There will be tougher tests ahead, but maybe not that many if things continue playing out as they have.

Jets at Steelers: Move, Mitch, Get Out the Way

This would be the typical Pittsburgh letdown loss at home to a bad opponent, but the fact is it’s not a letdown if you no longer have high expectations. The Jets and Steelers might as well be in the same tier, and had it not been for the Bengals twice failing to execute a short kick in Week 1, Pittsburgh would be the NFL’s only 0-4 team right now.

But while the Jets got their young quarterback, Zach Wilson, back in action today where he showed off some incredible athleticism, maybe Mike Tomlin had seen enough of Mitch Trubisky after another bad half with a couple really long field goals to show for it.

He made the only logical, inevitable move he could by starting the second half with rookie Kenny Pickett, and the only question is why didn’t he do it to start what was going to be the team’s most winnable game for many weeks?

The Steelers came out flat as ever and were down 10-0 to the Jets, but once Pickett entered a 10-6 game in the third quarter, you could see the offense looked like it got a shot in the arm. Sure, his first pass was technically intercepted, but it was an aggressive deep ball down the middle of the field, and Chase Claypool made a soft effort on it.

Sure, no one is going to get crazy about a quarterback sneak for a touchdown, but it’s nice to see the Steelers will let Pickett use that weapon in the playbook. But the 82-yard drive between the third and fourth quarters really showed why the Steelers had to make the move. Pickett looked decisive and he knew how to get George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth involved. He had some timing routes on intermediate throws to the sideline instead of just more go routes 30-plus yards down the field. He scrambled for a third-down conversion.

He looked pretty damn good, then he got a little greedy and was intercepted on a more dangerous throw that was again tipped with 3:34 left. The Jets, now down 20-17, got a fine drive out of Wilson, who showed a ton of escapability on the day. Maybe not the best decision maker yet, but he can really move around out there. It was another game where the Steelers dearly missed T.J. Watt.

Wilson was able to drive 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the staple to old home letdowns when the defense would blow it in the final seconds for a Roethlisberger-led team. Rookie back Breece Hall just reached over the end zone before fumbling for the score.

Pickett’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone on a Hail Mary in a 24-20 loss. He finished 10-of-13 for 120 yards with three picks, so all his passes were caught by someone even if they were two tipped picks and a Hail Mary pick. Frankly, it might be the most encouraging three-pick debut you’ve ever seen.

Pickens and Freiermuth had 187 of Pittsburgh’s 204 receiving yards. They’ll need to get Diontae Johnson more involved next time, but I actually have faith now that the offense will be better if they go forward with Pickett as the starter. I don’t know how you bench Trubisky and not have the move be permanent. You cannot be afraid to put Pickett in the game in Buffalo. He is a 24-year-old rookie. Let’s see how he stacks up against the favorite in the league on the road.

The bigger concern is that this defense is a waste without Watt available. With the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles coming up next, it is hard not to see the Steelers sitting at 2-6 or 1-7 going into the bye.

Are they the worst team in the league? Absolutely not. Can they still win about seven games if Pickett is named the starter, Watt returns after the bye, and that schedule lightens up a lot? Definitely. But they can’t put the clamps on Pickett and program him to be super conservative. The defense isn’t good enough to hold up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets.

The standard has changed in more ways than one.

Browns at Falcons: Thanks for Screwing Up My 26-Points Stat

One of my favorite facts for Week 4 was that Atlanta and Cleveland were the only two teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Of course, neither would get past 23 points in this game, but for the second week in a row, the Atlanta defense held at the end by intercepting a Jacoby Brissett pass in a three-point game.

Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes for 139 yards, and his running game hooked him up with 199 yards. The defense was also solid despite some decent totals for Nick Chubb. But twice in the first half, the Browns had the ball inside the 2-yard line and only came away with one field goal.

Mariota did not do much, but he at least hit a deep ball for 42 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 2:28 left. Things went downhill quickly for Cleveland’s answer drive, and on a third-and-23, Brissett’s desperation pass was intercepted with 55 seconds left to end the game.

Honestly, I am pissed that Brissett/Kevin Stefanski are this bad at comebacks, and not just because I had Over 47.5 points. But a field goal to make it 23-23 and bring up overtime meant it would have taken one of these teams to score 26-plus points to get the win, which would have been poetic given their starts to the season. Oh well.

The Falcons are suddenly 2-2 just like Tampa Bay and will battle them for first place next week. I say bet the farm that Brady doesn’t lose a third in a row at home to a team of this caliber, but I know what the most amusing outcome of Week 5 would be.

Saints vs. Vikings: Double Doink

I almost feel better about the Saints after this loss than I do about the Vikings after the win, the second week in a row they had to escape at the end over a team they were favored to beat.

For not having Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Andy Dalton did a solid job filling in for Jameis Winston in London. These teams were up and down the field for most of the second half, with the Saints even taking a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

The officiating definitely bailed out Minnesota on a 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty to wipe out a third-and-8 incompletion. There was DPI, but Adam Thielen also should have been penalized for shoving a player by the face. That was a big break, which the Vikings turned into an easy little 3-yard touchdown run for Justin Jefferson, who was un-guardable again this week (147 yards).

In typica Vikings fashion, they missed the extra point to keep it a 25-22 game after a lot of people had Vikings -3.5 bets. The Saints were able to answer with a 60-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who was then one-upped by Greg Joseph’s 47-yard field goal after the Vikings looked like they were going to screw themselves by settling for the long kick.

Dalton hit one deep ball to rookie Chris Olave, who then almost made a spectacular diving catch at the sideline to help make the field goal shorter. But he gave Lutz another chance to send it to overtime. Lutz had the distance from 61 yards, but he hit the left upright and the crossbar without getting the lucky bounce on either. Saints lost 28-25 and will be 1-3 with a slew of penalties, turnovers, and other sloppy play to blame.

But was it the kind of game that makes me think the Vikings will do just fine in a playoff setting against the Eagles or Rams or Packers or Buccaneers? Absolutely not.

Titans at Colts: Maybe Tennessee Is Still the Best AFC South Team?

The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 has been Tennessee. After turning to Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have controlled the division, one that the Colts have not won since 2014. Matt Ryan was supposed to make a difference this year, but things have not gotten off to a good start.

In fact, the Colts have trailed by at least 17 points in every game except the upset win over the Chiefs, which is probably going to look stranger over time.

Like last week, pass protection was an issue with Ryan getting blown up and losing the ball on a sack on the first drive of the game. Like last week, the Titans quickly rang up 24 points on a team before hanging on for dear life in the second half.

Like he did in Houston in Week 1, Ryan used his arm to lead a comeback attempt since Jonathan Taylor (20 carries, 42 yards) and the running game has disappeared behind the miserable line performance this season. I mean, the guy should have stayed in Atlanta if this is how the Colts are going to play around him.

But after turning a 24-3 deficit into a manageable 24-17 game, the Colts were scoreless on their last three drives. Nearly a second strip-sack of Ryan knocked the Colts out of scoring range going into the fourth quarter, a quarter where they would hit completions of 34 and 44 yards and score zero points on the two drives. Taylor lost a fumble with 8:40 left and just shy of the red zone.

Then Ryan’s third sack of the day was a killer in no man’s land with the Colts facing third-and-13 at the Tennessee 25. Not only did Ryan lose eight yards to bring up fourth-and-21, but the clock was running to the two-minute warning, losing that fourth clock stoppage after new kicker Chase McLaughlin’s 51-yard field goal was wide left with 1:58 left.

The Colts needed a three-and-out to get the ball back, but Tannehill converted a third-and-4 with a short pass to end the game at 24-17. Are the Titans still the best team in the division? I don’t know, but the upcoming schedule (@WAS, IND, @HOU) certainly gives them a shot to start 5-2 with three key AFC South wins.

Broncos at Raiders: Running with the Devil

A game between Derek Carr and Russell Wilson sounds made for a 4QC/GWD, but this was really a day for the running backs. Melvin Gordon had another brutal fumble that was returned for a huge touchdown, Javonte Williams may have suffered a season ending knee injury, and Josh Jacobs put the Las Vegas offense on his back 175 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing) and two touchdowns in a 32-23 win.

Carr only passed for 188 yards, but he did his best Wilson impersonation by running five times for 42 yards (kneeldowns excluded) and some of the biggest first downs in the game, including a 20-yard scramble before halftime to set up a field goal and a 9-yard scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter after Denver cut the lead to 25-23. Carr is usually one of the least valuable rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, so this game was uncharacteristically huge for him.

The fumble by Gordon and the no-show third quarter by the offense really hurt Denver, which is now 2-2. But the Raiders were finally able to put together a winning formula this season. Just don’t expect it to be a repeatable one, especially against the Chiefs next Monday night.

Seahawks at Lions: Coach an Campbell Cause He Ain’t Got No ‘D’

I am not sure which fact here is most surprising:

  • A team coached by Dan Campbell with Jared Goff at quarterback is playing in historic shootouts, including Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks with Geno Smith, and in a game where the Lions were without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and D.J. Chark.
  • The 2022 Lions have 281 combined points in their first four games, setting an NFL record for a team’s first four games.
  • This was the 13th game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 45 points, but it is the first one to end 48-45.
  • Goff has been the quarterback in two of the last three games this high scoring (54-51 against Mahomes and the 2018 Chiefs is obviously the other one).
  • Seattle is the first team in NFL history to have a wire-to-wire win with no ties after 0-0 despite allowing more than 42 points.
  • The 2009 Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in the wild card playoffs in a game they never trailed, but it was tied 38-38 and 45-45 in the fourth quarter before going to overtime.
  • The previous record for points allowed in a wire-to-wire, no ties after 0-0 win is 42 points, done by the 1998 Cardinals at Washington and the 2017 Jaguars at Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Both games ended 45-42.
  • The Seahawks (48) scored more points in Detroit than they had thru Week 3 (47) and more than the Broncos had (43) going into Sunday.
  • Geno Smith’s completion percentage (77.3%) is the highest in NFL history through four games of a season (min. 125 passes).

Pretty bonkers. Seattle was so good at answering scores with scores, that the last time Detroit had the ball while down by 1-to-8 points was when it was 17-9 in the middle of the second quarter. Still, the Seahawks had to recover an onside kick at 1:06 and run for one more first down to finally put the Lions away.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 4:

Commanders at Cowboys: Choose your Ginger! You knew I was backing Cooper Rush, who is now 4-0 as a starter and ranked No. 4 in QBR (74.0). It’s really not a quarterback controversy in Dallas unless Dak Prescott comes back and starts playing as poorly as he did in Week 1. It was nice to see Michael Gallup back for the Cowboys, catching a touchdown and drawing 65 yards on two pass interference penalties.

But Wentz really struggled again despite only taking two sacks this time. You have to wonder how short that leash is if Ron Rivera senses he might not be making it to 2023 in Washington if this keeps up. Most of the league is keeping it close in the fourth quarter right now. The Commanders have not in the last two weeks in two division losses.

Bears at Giants: Daniel Jones left with an ankle injury, but before he left, he still finished with the highest QBR (92.3) at ESPN for Week 4. How did he do it?

Exactly as you imagined. He ran for two touchdowns, or two more than what the Bears had after settling for four sub-40 yard field goals. You knew this would be a low-scoring battle of teams who don’t legitimately look like the 3-1 record they would have after a win. But given the Jones injury and backup Tyrod Taylor leaving with a concussion, the Giants may have to travel overseas to face the Packers with Davis Webb at quarterback.

Chargers at Texans: Austin Ekeler went from scoring no touchdowns in three games to three scores on Sunday. Play every running back against the Houston defense until further notice. It’s a gold mine right now. But good on Justin Herbert and the Chargers for not blowing another 21-point lead. There was some serious Chargering going on once the special teams fumbled a kick return, and Houston, only down 27-21, was 16 yards away from the lead. But the defense held up, and the offense put it away with a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that hinged on a fourth-down conversion at midfield to Ekeler. It was his day (finally).

Cardinals at Panthers: This game was such a mess that Arizona’s game-winning drive saw them face a third-and-goal from the Carolina 27 before kicking a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left. Then another Baker Mayfield pass was tipped by J.J. Watt for an interception and a 5-yard touchdown drive basically put the game out of reach because we know the Panthers aren’t coming back from 20-10. Not in the Matt Rhule era, which now boasts these numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-26 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-23 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-26 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I did not think Mayfield would be worse to start the season than Sam Darnold was last year, but it has happened.

Next week: Colts-Broncos on TNF might be good just because the teams are on an even playing field of disappointment. Will Kenny Pickett really make his first start in Buffalo against the Super Bowl favorite? Tomlin has no reason to declare it early in the week, but it needs to happen. Might as well see how he stacks up to a contender, because we know the defense is getting shredded if the weather is half decent. Bengals-Ravens could be cool on SNF. Another AFC North breaking point.

NFL Week 4 Predictions: Breaking Point No. 1 Edition

This week would normally conclude the first-quarter mark of the regular season with all teams playing four games, but thanks to the 17-game season, it’s slightly less than that.

But this Week 4 schedule does look like a pivotal one that I will call the first major breaking point of the season: a week where the outcomes of these games will have far-reaching impact on how the narrative of this 2022 season (and beyond) unfolds.

We’ve already seen this play out on Thursday night when the Dolphins sacrificed Tua Tagovailoa’s health and career by playing him four days after they let him go back into a game following what looked like a pretty obvious concussion. His decision making look compromised on Thursday night, and he took another hard hit that may have given him a second concussion in less than a week. Hopefully this will bring some changes to the concussion system going forward, but it was a terrible sight to see his fingers lock up like that in a game he really shouldn’t have been playing in.

But that was a big game since it could have led to Miami at 4-0 and the Bengals at 1-3. Instead, Teddy Bridgewater threw a pick late and the Bengals are back in the hunt at 2-2.

There should be a lot of these breaking point moments this week:

First, keep in mind that 14.9% of teams starting 1-3 since 1990 have made the playoffs, and 63.7% of teams starting 3-1 have made the playoffs. It hurts more to start 1-3 than it helps to start 3-1, but it’s a big week for teams in those positions.

The Vikings can drop the Saints to 1-3 with Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas sitting this one out, denying us a battle of the last two QBs (Winston and Kirk Cousins) in the NFL to throw a pick-six in overtime. I wrote an upset pick for the Saints earlier in the week, but I’d change my pick after that injury news dropped.

The Colts (1-1-1) have a big home game with the Titans (1-2) in the AFC South.

Dallas can get to 3-1 and drop Washington to 1-3 in the first game of the Cowboys-Commanders era, also known as The Battle of the Gingers (Carson Wentz and Cooper Rush)

Chargers-Texans is the No. 32 rushing offense vs. No. 32 rushing defense, but if the Chargers start 1-3 with losses to Jacksonville and Houston, you might as well forget this season for them.

One of the Giants-Bears should be 3-1 after tomorrow, but this isn’t a breaking point. Neither team is going to amount to anything this year.

Jaguars-Eagles is shockingly decent on paper, and it would be something if the Jaguars are for real this year and Doug Pederson got the win in Philadelphia.

If Mitch Trubisky sucks against the Jets at home, the Kenny Pickett era might be here now, or else the Steelers aren’t winning another game until after the bye.

Bills-Ravens is a huge game in both the MVP race and AFC playoff standings. I wrote about the intertwined careers of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who are both looking at the Five-Year Rule with their head coaches this season as they hope to win their first Super Bowl.

With Mac Jones down and Brian Hoyer starting, the Patriots are in real danger of falling to 1-3 in Green Bay where Matt LaFleur doesn’t lose to scrubs.

Remember when Josh McDaniels started 6-0 in Denver in 2009? He might be 0-5 to start his job with the Raiders if they don’t get the win over a struggling Denver team this week.

The Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl rematch (preview) is going to look a lot different, but it’s still about Todd Bowles’ defense, which is allowing 9.0 points per game this year. The Chiefs are a 1-point underdog for now, and if that holds, then Patrick Mahomes has to defend his 6-0-1 ATS record as an underdog.

Finally, the Rams can get to 3-1 and drop the 49ers to 1-3 on Monday night (prop picks), but we know Shanahan has gotten the best of McVay most of the time in that matchup.

For Week 4 prop picks, see here.

For a Week 4 parlay (+553 after last week’s +531 hit), see here.

For updated Super Bowl 57 winner odds and my best picks for the favorite, value pick, and dark horse, see here.

It should be a very important week in the NFL.

NFL Week 4 Predictions

TNF has been good to me this year even if it hasn’t been that good to watch. I also went 11-4-1 ATS last week and still felt like a total bum for the way the Chiefs and Bills lost.

To be honest, the Bengals winning on Thursday night was the second-highest confidence I felt in any pick this week. My only stronger pick is Green Bay taking care of New England. I can see the argument for every other side, including the Texans over the Chargers since they already upset them after Christmas last year.

Fun fact: Browns and Falcons are the only teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Now watch that game end 15-10, but it could be an entertaining shootout in the dome while some of these games may be affected by the weather thanks to this awful Hurricane Ian. I really am doing my best to not go nuts on SGPs for Ravens-Bills. Not after the huge disappointment that was 17-3 when they last met in the 2020 playoffs.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 2

We still have a pretty good doubleheader to go on Monday night for Week 2, but this has already been one of the wildest weeks in NFL history. Sure, you probably hear that about 21 times a season, but this time it really does check out.

There was a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter by the Dolphins in Baltimore, making the Ravens the first team in NFL history to score 38 points with zero turnovers at home and lose in regulation.

There was a 13-point comeback in Cleveland completely manufactured by the Jets (!) after the two-minute warning.

There was a 16-point comeback in Las Vegas with Arizona pulling off the rare 8+8 to force overtime where it won a defensive fumble return for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the Cardinals were also down 20-0 at halftime, becoming the 15th team in NFL history to win after being shut out by at least 20 points at halftime.

The world may have ended if the Atlanta Falcons completed their comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Rams, but Marcus Mariota was intercepted in the end zone while trailing 31-25 with 1:07 left.

The week started goofy with the Chiefs kicking a game-tying field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, then winning on a pick-six against the Chargers because tight end Gerald Everett got tired, the team left him out there anyway, and they got properly burned for it.

It also was the saddest day in the history of the AFC North with all four teams losing for the eighth time since 2002. So, while it has happened more often than all but one division, it is hard to imagine any group of losses were more heartbreaking than the ones on Sunday. Here is the total of 0-4 weeks for each division since 2002:

  • NFC West (10)
  • AFC North (8)
  • NFC East (6)
  • AFC South (5)
  • NFC North (5)
  • NFC South (3)
  • AFC West (2)
  • AFC East (0)

With two games to go, we have already had 10 close games this week. Let’s look at some of them as well as quicker views of the embarrassing blowouts (Colts?)

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Ravens: Game of the Week (Month? Year?)

Did we witness the creation of a new power in the AFC, or will this game just be a fun footnote on the way to a Chiefs vs. Bills playoff rematch? A lot of weeks to go before that, but this fourth quarter was bananas.

After Lamar Jackson’s 79-yard touchdown run gave the Ravens a 35-14 lead going into the fourth quarter, this game reminded me of when Baltimore blew out the Chargers 34-6 last year. That really threw some cold water on the hype for the 4-1 Chargers under rookie coach Brandon Staley.

New Miami coach Mike McDaniel was not getting that hype just yet after one win over New England where the offense scored 13 points, but there were some high expectations for this year. I picked him for Coach of the Year. After this game, I think the bandwagon is about to grow, especially with Buffalo coming next week.

You win a game with Tua Tagovailoa throwing 50 times for 469 yards and six touchdowns in Baltimore? I know the defense is not anywhere close to what it used to be in Baltimore, but 469/6? Tua? Him?

But when Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill embarrass the defense with over 170 yards and two touchdowns each, that’s the scary potential of this offense. It was enough to spoil a special day by Lamar, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games with 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in his career (318/119). He did not take a sack and the Ravens had no turnovers.

He did get stopped on four consecutive plays while the Dolphins were quickly making their comeback, but he rebounded to lead a go-ahead field goal drive with 2:18 left. That’s an eternity given the way Miami was hitting chunk plays. Sure enough, Tua delivered to Waddle again for a 7-yard touchdown to take a 42-38 lead with 14 seconds left.

Jackson’s Hail Mary came up short to end it. By my count, this is the 10th fourth-quarter comeback win from a deficit of 21+ points in NFL history. The last was when the Eagles did it to the Giants in 2010, winning 38-31 on DeSean Jackson’s punt return touchdown.

Tagovailoa joins the odd company of Neil Lomax and Wade Wilson as the only three quarterbacks to cap off a 21+ point 4QC with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Troy Aikman threw one for Dallas in overtime against the 1999 Redskins in Week 1.

So, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tua is going to turn into Joe Montana, but this is really encouraging stuff from the quarterback position. One could say the kind of game that a Dan Marino fan would appreciate. Quick, someone come up with a good nickname for Waddle & Hill.

But when I said Hill is worth a couple wins to the Chiefs because of his rare talent, this is exactly the kind of game I’m talking about. This comeback probably does not take place with any other wide receiver. Now do the Chiefs still have that ability to pull out a tough game? We’ll see. They didn’t look great against the Chargers on Thursday. But if the Dolphins can keep this up and start games better, this is going to set up a very intriguing race in the AFC that goes beyond just the Bills and Chiefs.

God knows we need it with the way the Broncos, Colts, Bengals, and Raiders are shitting the bed so far this season.

Jets at Browns: Only in Cleveland

The Jets were my upset special this week, but even I was shocked to find out that they had won this game given the 30-17 deficit so late. I saw the Jets recover an onside kick, but I was still lost in the ending to Dolphins-Ravens and didn’t find out what Cleveland did until several minutes after the game ended.

It was a colossal choke that took all three phases of the team, but it’s also such a Cleveland thing to do. Since 2001, just three NFL teams have lost a game while leading by more than 10 points and the other team getting the ball back in the final three minutes.

All three of those losses belong to Cleveland (click pic to enlarge).

You can’t blame just one person, so let’s blame a few. Let’s start with Kareem Hunt, who twice ran out of bounds to stop the clock when he should have been trying to slide down in bounds. The second time was the most egregious because there was a hole to slide down for the first down that would have ended the game. The Jets were out of timeouts and the clock would have went to the two-minute warning. Game over. But Hunt didn’t do what he needed to and the clock stopped at 2:02.

On the very next play, Nick Chubb decided to run for his third touchdown, and if the Jets really just “allowed” him to do it, then they are geniuses. This was the only hope they had left. This is something else I’ll bitch about once or twice a season, and the Browns proved with the worst-case scenario possible exactly why I’m right and you shouldn’t risk this.

By scoring with 1:55 left, Chubb extended the game instead of ending it. I still think what Hunt did was equally bad if not worse, and Chubb does not deserve the brunt of the criticism. But he had no business scoring that touchdown, which set up an extra point that was missed to keep it a 30-17 game. Another reason you don’t score the touchdown as now you’re open to losing by a point. So now the special teams are in on the mess to come.

Next, it was the defense’s turn. The last thing you could do was give up a quick one, and we know Joe Flacco has some experience at throwing up a bomb in these spots. He hadn’t been able to get big plays in eight quarters, but somehow with the game still alive he caught corner Denzel Ward looking in the backfield and corked a wide-open 66-yard touchdown bomb to Corey Davis on a drive that took 33 seconds. Inexcusable.

You know the onside kick was coming next, and that’s where many of these comebacks stall since they are so hard to get. But the Jets got this one and suddenly Flacco had 80 seconds from midfield to win this game. He did exactly that with a good drive and a 15-yard strike to rookie Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds left.

The Jets led 31-30 after the extra point. The Cleveland offense had such a nice day with Jacoby Brissett showing better precision, Amari Cooper getting his first 100-yard game and touchdown, and the running game putting up big numbers for the second week in a row. And none of it mattered because they got greedy and botched their previous drive that should have ended the game. Then the special teams and defense screwed up multiple plays. Finally, Brissett’s desperate pass while out of timeouts was intercepted to end the game.

What can you say about Flacco? He had himself a day with 307 yards and four touchdown passes, and in the process, he picked up his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win. He is the 34th quarterback to do so, and it’s taken him the second-most games (195) to get there ahead of only Brett Favre.

But I will say Flacco has been involved in three really incredible comebacks from the 2012 AFC divisional win in Denver to the 2013 explosive ending in the snow against Minnesota to this one.

The fact that the two most incredible wins of the Zach Wilson era were started by Mike White (Bengals’ comeback last year) and Flacco here are not encouraging signs for him. But we have to see him this season. We know this team isn’t going anywhere with Flacco.

This was the type of absurd comeback you see maybe once every decade in the NFL.

But only against Cleveland. That’s the key.

Cardinals at Raiders: 8 + 8 + Too Much Grit

After the Cardinals failed to show up for the first half and trailed 20-0, I had no expectations for the second half. I figured Josh McDaniels would run Josh Jacobs a lot and the team would just cruise to a win to get to 1-1.

But this was in some ways the most shocking comeback of the day because of how little trust we’ve had in Arizona, and how many plays they had to string together to pull this off. When Kyler Murray threw incomplete on a 4th-and-1 at the Raiders 11 with 12:31 left in a 23-7 game, I decided to take out the trash. This didn’t look competitive anymore.

But McDaniels’ play-calling has been so suspect through two games, and the next drive that saw Derek Carr throw three incompletions and burn nine seconds should be getting crucified here. Do coaches not understand how important it is to burn clock anymore? Sometimes, even that three runs and a punt drive that takes two minutes is more valuable than whatever that was by the Raiders.

Maybe it wasn’t 28-9, but 23-7 is hard because few teams ever pull off 8+8 in this league. At least one of those two-point conversions usually fail, so they end up needing three possessions.

But to Murray’s credit, he hung in there on the first touchdown drive and capped it off with a scramble for the two-point conversion that maybe only he could do right now. The Raiders burned a little more time, but Murray had 4:43 to answer a 23-15 deficit.

As I seem to write a long rant about a couple times a season, the Cardinals were not in a super hurry to get the touchdown given the “information” that they were down eight points. It ended up being an insanely tough drive that had to overcome three fourth-down situations, and on the final play at the 3-yard line, Murray scrambled for another touchdown with no time left.

But even then, a secondo two-point conversion was needed just to go to overtime. Murray found A.J. Green in the end zone and the veteran held on for a great catch to tie the game. By my count, the Cardinals are just the fourth team in NFL history to win a game after erasing a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions:

  • 2004 49ers vs. Cardinals (trailed 28-12, won 31-28 in overtime)
  • 2016 Patriots vs. Falcons (first cut 28-9 to 28-12, then won 34-28 in overtime)
  • 2021 Ravens vs. Colts (trailed 25-9, won 31-25 in overtime)
  • 2022 Cardinals at Raiders (trailed 23-7, won 29-23 in overtime)

But even in overtime the Cardinals looked dead in the water after Murray threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 at the Las Vegas 37. Carr just needed a couple first downs for field-goal range, and Hunter Renfrow picked up a third down before fumbling. The team recovered it though. However, just two plays later, Renfrow fumbled again, and this time it was scooped up and returned 59 yards for a game-deciding touchdown. Unbelievable.

This was just the sixth time in NFL overtime history that a team won by returning a fumble for a touchdown. That includes the playoffs, as Arizona fans should enjoy (2009 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay).

Just a miraculous win from one of the teams you’d least expect to pick things up after a 20-0 first half. But both teams are guilty of bad coaching to start this season.

Falcons at Rams: The Most Dangerous Lead in the NFL

The Rams kept Matthew Stafford clean (one sack), got Allen Robinson much more involved with a touchdown, and kept rolling with Cooper Kupp on the way to a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

And yet, they almost blew what was once a 28-3 lead to the team that will take that score to their graves. Having a bet on Rams -10, I just knew bad things were coming once the Rams failed at the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter with a 28-10 lead. They settled for a field goal to make it 31-10, but no lead was truly safe on Sunday.

The Falcons got one touchdown drive, then blocked a punt in devastating fashion – that punter got crushed – and returned that for a touchdown. I liked the call to go for two, and Drake London really is showing why he was the first wideout off the board in the draft. His catch made it a 31-25 game, Kupp actually made a mistake and fumbled, and this shit was really going to happen a week after the Falcons blew a 26-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Two 21-point fourth-quarter leads blown by home teams expected to make the playoffs in the same day? Insane.

It is hard to say the Falcons hit us with a “they are who we thought they were!” since we thought this team was going to get crushed like it often did in 2021. But this team has been fighting the first two weeks and may eventually get some wins to show for it. It just wasn’t happening this time as Marcus Mariota threw an interception in the end zone to Jalen Ramsey with 1:07 left. D’oh.

The Rams still had to take an intentional safety after they wouldn’t dare punt again after the way the Falcons attacked the last one. That’s how it got to 31-27, but Mariota was sacked on the final play before he could try a Hail Mary, and Aaron Donald was there for a cheap fumble recovery.

We may be talking about the defense being the most unreliable part of this Los Angeles team, but it’d be nice to see them play a normal game that isn’t 31-10 in the fourth quarter first.

Buccaneers at Saints: I Hope Jameis’ Cousin in The Afghanistan Didn’t Watch This

No recent defense makes Tom Brady look so bad like Dennis Allen’s Saints since 2020, but too bad the offense always seems to be injured for these games. Beyond Alvin Kamara missing the game, Jameis Winston played with a bad back and it showed. While no stranger to mistakes, he really let it all hang out in the fourth quarter after a tight battle that saw the Saints shut out Brady for another half on the heels of last year’s 9-0 win in Tampa Bay.

But in a 3-3 game in the fourth quarter, things just started to crumble for Winston, who took six sacks and ended three straight drives with an interception, gift-wrapping the last 10 points to Tampa Bay in a 20-10 loss.

Had it not been for that last New Orleans touchdown, Todd Bowles’ defense would be sitting on two games of allowing six points and scoring seven with a pick-six in this one. Still, a net 6 points allowed in two games is really strong work. Now we’ll see if they can do that to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which would be a repeat of what they did to a far better Green Bay machine in 2020.

Also, I know it looks impossible for Brady to smile these days, but the amount of bitching he did on Sunday was worse than usual. I am getting a 2019 Patriots vibe already with this team. Once the defense stops playing at a historic level, expect mediocrity. We’ll see how long they can hold out with the Packers and Chiefs coming up next. But frankly, all three of those teams look weaker this season.

Patriots at Steelers: The Meh Bowl

Well, the good news is the Steelers had the most respectable loss in the AFC North on Sunday. But for as long as I have watched the NFL (mid-90s), Patriots vs. Steelers has always meant something in the AFC. You have to go back to 1991 to find the last meeting between the two where neither made the playoffs or had a winning record. Could these teams be headed that way this year? They are no longer the favorite or even second favorite in their divisions.

The game itself reflected a lot of that “meh” rebranding for these teams in the wake of recent departures of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks. But I will take Mac Jones over Mitch Trubisky in a heartbeat. Jones at least found his receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, down the field on multiple occasions. Agholor made a fantastic 44-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Trubisky was picked and could not move the ball well, leading the offense to 30 points in two games so far.

The Pittsburgh defense basically has to play perfect for this team to win, and that is asking for too much without T.J. Watt. But the sequence of the game was in the third quarter. The defense dropped a second Jones interception at midfield. That led to a punt, which was muffed by the Steelers, which led to a 10-yard touchdown drive for the Patriots and 17-6 lead.

Despite Trubisky leading the offense’s only touchdown drive of the game, he had no follow-up act in a 17-14 game. On a couple of third downs, he seemed determined to go to Najee Harris. Neither play worked. Neither play made much sense with the other weapons the Steelers have. The Patriots were able to run out the final six minutes on the clock and win the game.

I really think Mike Tomlin has to look at this Week 3 game in Cleveland on Thursday night as a final audition for Trubisky. He is not the future for this team. He is not shining to help them turn him for a draft pick if some other team’s starter is injured. Maybe Kenny Pickett won’t be any better. Maybe he’ll be worse. But I’d just like to see something happen there because Trubisky isn’t making it happen on the field. People wanted Ben Roethlisberger benched after last year’s slow start, but this is the same chickenshit offense being run by offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

We can make jokes about the Patriots using Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to run the offense with Josh McDaniels gone, but based on the way these units performed on Sunday, the real joke is that the Steelers won’t fix this broken offense.

Bengals at Cowboys: Another Backup Beats Cincinnati

I said all week Cooper Rush and the Cowboys would surprise people and the Bengals are overrated, but even I didn’t expect this upset, wire-to-wire win for Dallas. Hell, I thought Brett Maher missed that 50-yard field goal at the buzzer, but apparently it did sneak in there for the win. Bengals are now 0-2 after watching teams execute long field goals against them while they couldn’t get an extra point or 29-yard field goal to work. What a bummer.

But once again, Mike McCarthy deserves some credit for getting a backup quarterback ready to play. The Cowboys still have offensive talent despite the injuries, and we should just admit that Dak Prescott played poorly in Week 1. I am not surprised the offense gutted out 20 points at home against a defense that couldn’t stop Mitch Trubisky in overtime. Not to mention this team lost to Mike White last year. Why not get an adequate game from Cooper Rush with CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, and Noah Brown on his side?

Micah Parsons can do his best T.J. Watt impersonation and lead that defense to a good day to keep the score down and the game winnable. They did exactly that with six sacks of Joe Burrow, who became the 11th quarterback to start a season by taking at least six sacks in consecutive games. Russell Wilson was the last to do it in 2018, so it’s not something exclusive to bums, but it is not a good sign for the new offensive line or Burrow’s development. He is going to see plenty of good pass rushers this season and will need to do a better job of cutting down those sacks.

But hats off to the Cowboys for not giving up a single 20-yard play to the Bengals. They were good against Tampa Bay last week too. Now if they can just get Dak healthy and get someone like Michael Gallup back, then maybe we have something here. But the good news is Rush was able to lead a game-winning drive, his second in two NFL starts. He might be able to hold the fort until Prescott can return.

Texans at Broncos: Can Hackett Hack It in the NFL?

If the Texans had just a little more punch to their offense, they would be 2-0 right now with wins over what are apparently two slow starters in the Colts and Broncos. Maybe these teams just aren’t going to be as good as we thought they’d be with the quarterback changes.

But one thing I warned for both the Colts and Broncos is that Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are not taking over teams with as much elite talent like the 2009 Vikings (Brett Favre), 2012 Broncos (Peyton Manning), 2020 Buccaneers (Tom Brady), and 2021 Rams (Matthew Stafford). They would be improvements over the quarterbacks that were there, hopefully get good defensive support, and give them an edge in close games as they are two of the most prolific ever at accumulating comebacks and game-winning drives.

Well, Wilson got his first Denver comeback win, but he played one of his shittiest first three quarters to end up in that situation. But I will not blast him for this section. He threw the game-winning touchdown and got that done. Speaking of elite talent, the team lost wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and corner Patrick Surtain II during the game, which certainly hurts.

But it’s the coaching. Jesus Christ, Nathaniel Hackett has had a coaching start so uninspiring that I think I had more faith in Urban Meyer this time a year ago. The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team on record to have at least a dozen penalties in their first two games. It’s the procedure of getting the play in on time that is so jacked right now as the Broncos had two more delay of game penalties on kicks. It’s the horseshit calls on 3rd-and-1, like giving the ball to tight end Andrew Beck on an end around, or all the terrible passes and decisions inside the 2-yard line.

Like the Colts, the Broncos are doing this against Seattle and Houston, two teams projected to be among the worst in the NFL this year. We saw how well Seattle handled the 49ers on Sunday, a team they owned with Wilson.

Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We’ll see what happens. All I know is if you see someone bring up Peyton starting 1-2 in Denver in 2012, just shut them up quickly. That team lost to a 13-3 Atlanta team that was the No. 1 seed, and they lost to a 12-4 Houston team that started 11-1 and was leading the AFC into December. The Broncos also scored 46 points in those two games with rallies that came up a score short. It’s not the same.

It was never going to be that good. But this has been embarrassing so far for Hackett and frankly for Wilson too.

Panthers at Giants: Updating the Rhules

Oh, don’t mind me, just updating the pathetic Matt Rhule records in Carolina after another game was lost at the end. This time it was a 19-16 defeat against the 2-0 Giants:

  • 0-15 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-25 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-22 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-25 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I could be wrong on this, but I think this is the first time the Giants have won consecutive games after trailing by at least seven points in the second half since 1970 (Weeks 8-9). Imagine how many decades it would take Rhule to do that.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I would like to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other four games that were not close.

Colts at Jaguars: If the Colts aren’t going to bother showing up in Jacksonville, then I’m not going to bother giving them a deeper recap. I knew this game was trouble, and I may have changed my pick if I knew earlier that Michael Pittman was out. He’s the only reliable receiver for Matt Ryan at this moment. The Colts have started poorly under Frank Reich in the past, but I would be really alarmed that they were pushed around for all but one quarter so far by the Texans and Jaguars. What’s a team like the Colts going to do to them? Oh yeah, we’ll find out next week. Something tells me it won’t be 19-13 this time. As for Trevor Lawrence, apparently hosting the Colts is him in his element in the NFL. His two best games are arguably both Indy games at home.

Commanders at Lions: Maybe Amon-Ra St. Brown has some Antonio Brown in him. Hopefully just the good parts like how he racks up catches week after week.

He did it for an eighth game in a row with his best NFL game yet. Jared Goff threw four touchdowns against Jack Del Rio’s overrated defense filled with first-round picks. Carson Wentz made some plays after it was 22-0, but I feel like this one encapsulates Washington’s day the best:

Seahawks at 49ers: It was sad to see Trey Lance break his ankle just five quarters into his first season as the starting quarterback. When I wrote in my 49ers preview that him getting injured in September was on the table for how his season could go, I certainly did not want to see that happen. Hopefully he can come back strong without complications. It puts Jimmy Garoppolo right back in the QB1 role. He was the best backup in the league, but let’s see if he can make the third time the charm should this team get to the playoffs. As for Seattle, well shit. That’s the kind of pathetic performance – their only score was a blocked field goal for a touchdown – that I expected in these matchups when I said 5-12 at best. My confidence in Seattle keeping it close like usual against San Francisco was not rewarded. It’s the first time the Seahawks lost by double digits to the 49ers since the 2011 opener.

Bears at Packers: For the second year in a row, the Packers followed a brutal Week 1 loss with an easy Week 2 win at home against one of their NFC North stooges. As long as they can do that, then you can’t count them out from a high playoff seed. But a real test for this offense comes in Tampa Bay next week. As for Chicago, do they really trust Justin Fields if he has nine pass attempts (plus three sacks) almost 58 minutes into a game they were trailing 27-10? That was not a good look for him.

We survived another Bears-Packers game in prime time. Bring on Titans-Bills and Vikings-Eagles, because they should be much better than the Week 3 island game slate (Steelers-Browns, Broncos-49ers, Cowboys-Giants).

NFL 2021: Close Game Summary

With three overtime games on Sunday, the NFL had 21 overtime games this season, tied with 1995 and 2015 for the fourth most in NFL history. With so many walk-off scores in those games – Detroit-Pittsburgh tie aside – it beefed up the total for a stat that NFL media adopted this year that became a pet peeve of mine.

Between that stat and the lack of dominant teams quickly locking up playoff spots, it gave the impression that the 2021 NFL season was historically competitive and games were closer than ever.

Having studied this stuff for a living, I can say that this was not the case. There were 136 games that saw at least one team have a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity, which is a possession by the team tied or down 1-to-8 points in the fourth quarter or overtime. While a lower number, that is in line with recent years: 143 in 2020, 142 in 2019, 147 in 2018, and 139 in 2017.

But this season introduced a 17th game for the first time, so we had 272 games instead of the usual 256. So, when it’s 136 out of 272, that means exactly half of the games this season had a comeback opportunity. That rate is usually in the 55-60% range.

We also had 48 games in 2021 where a team was favored by at least 10 points. Only the 2009 season (62) has had more games with a double-digit favorite out of all the seasons since the salary cap in 1994.

The spread is about expectations. What about results? There were 137 wins by double digits this season, second to only the 2014 season (141). The 78 wins by 17-plus points are the most since 2014 had the same amount. There were 62 wins by 1-3 points, but that’s a number that was hit five other times since 2001.

This season had 35 comeback wins from a double-digit deficit at any point in the game. That is more in line with the totals from 2019 (33) and 2018 (34) than 2020’s outlier of 43 such wins.

The 2021 season featured 63 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 81 game-winning drives (GWD). In 2020, those numbers were 58 4QC wins and 76 GWD. Through Week 17 this year, there were 58 4QC wins, which tied the numbers for 2019 and 2020 (including playoffs those years).

In the game Ben Roethlisberger missed with COVID, Mason Rudolph got credit for a 4QC tie against the Lions. There were also two games won with a non-offensive score. The Patriots came back to beat the Chargers (of course) after a Justin Herbert pick-six. Then on Saturday, the Chiefs came back to beat the Broncos with a fumble return touchdown.

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 32.4%, or just about average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 37.7% (2020 was 35.0% and 2019 was 35.9%).

The following table shows a summary of each team’s success in close games this season. First, the offense’s record in games with a 4QC opportunity is shown. Next is the overall 4QC/GWD record, which also includes the games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. For the defense, holds are games where the defense was successful in defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The number of games lost in which the team had a fourth-quarter lead is also shown. The last section shows the team’s overall record in close games, which are defined as games involving a 4QC/GWD opportunity on either side of the ball. Playoff teams are highlighted in gray. The table is in descending order of close game win percentage.

This information can be very useful for previewing the playoffs (which teams haven’t blown a lead and which struggle to hold them) or thinking about regression in 2022 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

Oddly enough, the last Sunday of the regular season saw the Rams lose their first close game of the year to the 49ers, and the Bills technically won their first “close game” of the year against the Jets. For starters, both teams are in these positions because of how one-sided their outcomes have been this season. The Rams didn’t have close losses before Sunday because they were too busy getting their ass kicked in the other losses this year. The Bills never had a close win because all of their wins this year have been by double digits and they couldn’t buy a win in an actual one-score game where they had to come from behind.

But even Sunday’s win over the Jets was a 27-10 final. However, the Jets had the ball down 13-10 to start the fourth quarter. That’s why the game qualifies. The Bills stopped them cold the rest of the way and added two touchdowns for good measure.

If you’re thinking about the postseason, it’s quite possible the Rams shit their pants in any game. They’ve already lost 37-20 at home to the Cardinals, their Monday night playoff opponent. That is not much of a home-field advantage in Los Angeles yet, and the Cardinals have played better on the road this year.

As for the Bills, I’d love to see them play another close game in Tennessee to see if they can avenge that MNF loss earlier this year. But it’s looking like we won’t see that matchup until the AFC Championship Game. Up first, the Bills get New England, the only other playoff team this year with a losing record in close games.

Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and even the Chargers all had winning records in close games despite still missing the playoffs. The Falcons and Chargers won more close games than they lost? Sounds like a miracle.

Last year, I spent a whole paragraph on Baltimore, which had only played a league-low five close games in both 2019 and 2020. Well, you can say (thanks to injury) regression hit, because the Ravens played an NFL-high 13 close games this year and went 6-7 in them on their way to missing the playoffs at 8-9. The six-game losing streak to end the year was a masterclass in losing (five) close games, but I don’t think people acknowledged enough how fortunate this team was to ever get to 8-3 in the first place. The Ravens needed a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble (first of his career) against the Chiefs in field goal range, a record 66-yard field goal (via bounce) in Detroit, and a missed 47-yard field goal by the Colts to get those three wins. Never mind Lamar Jackson beating the Browns despite throwing four picks. It was a wild season for the Ravens.

The Steelers, Chargers, and Vikings all played 12 close games as well, including two of the games against each other. Incredibly enough, the Chargers and Vikings were the only two close games the Steelers lost this year, producing a 9-2-1 record in such games. Ben Roethlisberger led some incredible comeback attempts in those games, including from 29-0 in Minnesota, before the Steelers came up short at the end. Yet, it took a close Chargers loss (and not a tie) in the final game of the season to send the Steelers to the playoffs while the Chargers missed out and the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer on Monday. Roethlisberger finished with a career-high six 4QC and seven GWD to lead the league and help the Steelers play at least one more game.

Arizona was the lone team to not blow a fourth quarter/overtime lead this season. In 2020, the Chiefs, Saints, and Titans were the only teams to not blow a lead, but they all had multiple losses this season. A third one by the Chiefs in Cincinnati in Week 16 helped the Titans get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. We’ll see how costly that might turn out to be.

We have a six-way tie for the most blown leads at four each by the Bears, Lions, Ravens, Colts, Vikings, and Browns. Naturally, they all missed the playoffs. The Colts especially had some daggers in there with the Ravens and Titans games. Carson Wentz was unable to lead a single game-winning drive or comeback for the Colts, but what did you expect?

With the Steelers winning so many close games, it is no surprise they led the league with seven defensive holds of a one-score lead. Sunday’s win in Baltimore does not count as one given the overtime drive, but the first Baltimore matchup was a classic example of a stop of a game-deciding two-point conversion play. T.J. Watt got just enough pressure on Lamar Jackson to force an errant pass to Mark Andrews. The Rams, Dolphins, and Chargers all had six holds.

Seattle was a team I cautioned about close-game regression with after the Seahawks were 16-4 in close games in 2019-20. Well, it hit hard in 2021. Seattle finished 3-7 in close games, 0-6 at 4QC opportunities, and 1-7 at GWD opportunities. The only GWD came Sunday in Arizona on a 10-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. The first Russell Wilson injury led way to the first losing season in the Wilson era, but these close-game failures obviously contributed too.

The Eagles (9-8) have had an odd playoff season. One year after playing the most close games (15) in the league, Philadelphia played in a league-low four close games and are 0-6 against playoff teams. One of their close wins was against Carolina, a game I’m still regretting on betting on Sam Darnold.

How are Matt Rhule’s Panthers so bad in close games? In 2020, the Panthers were 0-9 at GWD opportunities. Throw in 0-4 this year and that’s 0-13 under Rhule.

The Bills (0-5), Colts (0-5), and Texans (0-5) were also winless at GWDs, but the worst team this year was Cleveland at 0-7. Not every loss was Baker Mayfield’s fault, but he needs to start coming through as 2022 should be his last chance in Cleveland. Maybe with some better close-game fortune, health, and desperation to hold onto a job, Cleveland could be a sleeper playoff pick in 2022.

Let’s hope we get a legitimately close playoff game this year. Last season, there was not a single fourth-quarter lead change in any of the 13 playoff games. The only game-winning drive went to the LOAT in New Orleans. Throw in a sorry ass Super Bowl and it was the worst postseason I’ve ever experienced.

But if the season trends tell us anything, it’s to not expect a lot of close finishes.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

The NFL can be hard to understand or predict. The NFL can be difficult to love or watch. But days like Sunday, a perfect season finale, are why we keep up with it year after year.

The inaugural 17th regular-season game got off to a dodgy start on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate delivered the most drama of any Sunday this season. As always, the NFL won out in the end. Sure, it helped that each time slot had a very meaningful game go to overtime. The Colts, a 15-point favorite in Jacksonville, also helped by laying an instant egg that set up the rest of the day for great drama.

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t need to say a prayer Sunday to extend his career. He just needed to believe that Carson Wentz and the Chargers are who we thought they were.

They indeed are. Now, two better statistical teams (Colts and Chargers) are staying home while two teams with below minus-50 scoring differentials (Steelers and Raiders) are in the tournament. I really did not expect that from Sunday.

Season Predictions: Not to Toot My Own Horn But…

I’ll get to every game below, but I do want to start by saying that I’m really proud of my preseason predictions this season. I don’t like to toot my own horn this way, but in dark times like these, it feels good to see some hard work pay off. This was the first season where I wrote a detailed season preview of all 32 teams. I’m not sure if that was the reason I had my most accurate predictions yet or not, or if it was because of how competitive this season was with 25 teams getting at least seven wins.

Not only did I predict 11 of the 14 playoff teams correctly, but I was only off by an average of 1.3 wins for all 32 teams’ final record. That is by far my best job yet as I’m usually off by about 2.5 wins. My previous best was 2.06 wins in 2014. I predicted 24 teams to within one game of their record in 2021 after only getting eight in 2020 and an average of 12 teams from 2013-20. I was within two games of 28 teams after an average of 18.6 from 2013-20.

My weekly predictions also ended on a decent note. As I explained on Saturday, I thought I was doing terrible because of my record on the game previews I’ve been assigned, but my overall record for the season is fine. It happened again this week as my articles were 1-3 ATS but I still finished 10-6 ATS for Week 18.

That leaves my final records for the 2021 season at 158-113-1 ATS (.583) and 174-97-1 SU (.642).

For a season thought to be so historically wild and competitive, I’ll take these numbers any day. Hopefully I can improve on them next year.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Jaguars: WTF, Frank?

Sunday in the NFL goes much differently if the Colts, a 15-point favorite, did not choke so badly in Jacksonville. They fell victim to a season-high 26 points and career-best game from Trevor Lawrence, who massively outplayed Carson Wentz with the Colts’ season on the line. Jonathan Taylor only rushed for 77 yards and did not find the end zone, likely missing out on every award now this year. The Colts have gone from the team “no one wants to face” to the team watching the playoffs from home despite a plus-86 scoring differential.

You probably already know my thoughts about Wentz, and how this game validates the type of fool’s gold he is and how he’ll never lead the Colts to anywhere significant.

But I’m more concerned about head coach Frank Reich after this one. You can’t be considered a top-tier head coach if you can’t figure out how to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. This stat is flat out embarrassing and it doesn’t even go back to 2018 where he lost 6-0 down there with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. The Colts haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014.

How do you not get your team fired up to win as a 15-point favorite with the playoffs on the line? How is the “run the damn ball” offensive line not hyped to get Jonathan Taylor a 2,000-yard rushing season if need be? The Colts came out flat and they paid for it as they finish 2021 without a single 4QC/GWD. It was the finest wire-to-wire win for Jacksonville since beating the Patriots in the second game of the 2018 season.

When Lawrence converted a pair of third-and-10+ on the first drive, you thought this could be interesting. A game-opening touchdown that took up half the quarter was not expected. Taylor getting stuffed on a 4th-and-2 on the ensuing drive was not expected. Lawrence completing 19-of-25 for 208 yards at halftime and a 13-3 lead was certainly not expected after the brutal rookie year he’s had.

Now in the third quarter when Wentz is expected to make things happen, that’s when you get nervous as a Colts fan. He did nothing to alleviate those concerns. Wentz coughed up a strip-sack on the fourth play of the half, which the Jaguars fortunately only turned into a field goal despite amazing field position. Then came the bad interception, and that one was not so fortunate to avoid turning into seven points.

Down 23-3, the damage was already done by the coddled caretaker at quarterback. To Wentz’s credit, he was not the problem after it got out of hand at 23-3. Taylor was stuffed on a 4th-and-goal at the 1, a money moment for him the rest of the season, but not on Sunday. Wentz later threw a good enough deep ball on a 4th-and-12, but Parris Campbell failed to make a play on it in a situation where he absolutely needed to. The Colts got eight points on their next drive to make it 26-11 with 4:26 left, but out of timeouts, the defense failed to get the ball back.

Imagine beating the Bills, Patriots, and Cardinals before losing to the Raiders and Jaguars to miss the playoffs. What a way to give up a first-round pick to the playoff-bound Eagles, who certainly don’t miss Wentz’s bullshit.

The Colts had two decades to build great teams around Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, which they rarely ever did. Now after building up the offensive line, finding a great back, a supposedly great coach, and getting a ton of turnovers on defense, none of it is going to matter because now they don’t have a real franchise quarterback.

Unless the Jaguars make the most AFC South move of all time and hire Bill O’Brien, I’d sooner bet on Jacksonville doing something in the playoffs before the Colts as long as Wentz is the quarterback.

Steelers at Ravens: It’s Not Over Yet

I was not emotionally prepared to watch Ben Roethlisberger’s final game. He’s really the first Hall of Fame athlete I can say I experienced the whole career of from the first preseason game to the final snap. As it turns out, his final snap will have to wait at least a week.

The early control of the Colts by Jacksonville added some major intrigue to this game, even if it didn’t seem like either team had a clue what was going on in Florida in the first half. This was your typical Steelers-Ravens game, which means one team was missing its starting quarterback (Lamar Jackson) and it was an ugly, physical street fight.

Frankly, the Ravens should have ran more than the 36 carries for 249 yards got them. A good chunk (72 yards) of that was quarterback Tyler Huntley scrambling, but it felt like a relief when the Ravens called a pass play and he didn’t scramble. The Steelers were getting gashed again by the run as they have all year. Latavius Murray had 150 yards himself. But the defense came up with some crucial stops in the second half, including an interception in the end zone when Baltimore was up 10-6 and looking for more. That really changed the game, as did a forced fumble by T.J. Watt on a play where he thought he tied the sack record but it wasn’t actually a sack. He later tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record.

The game was also a great example of why watching Roethlisberger is so conflicting these days. On the one hand, you can see why he needs to retire as his body seems to be running on fumes down the stretch. After hitting a good stride for eight games, he’s struggled since the Minnesota loss. Roethlisberger became the first quarterback since 2008 Kyle Orton to throw for fewer than 160 yards in three straight games on at least 25 attempts.

This was looking like a fourth straight game of that, which would tie the NFL record, but then Roethlisberger showed us why he’s one of the all-time leaders in clutch wins. Pittsburgh kept trying to run its backup running back – Najee Harris was injured on the third snap and missed a large chunk of the game – against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. It led to the backs gaining 35 yards on their first 23 carries, constantly putting Roethlisberger on a wet field in bad down-and-distance situations.

But finally, the Steelers let Ben take over in what could have easily been his final game. In the last six minutes of regulation and overtime, he converted all five of his passes on third or fourth down with at least six yards to go. The 20-yard pass on third-and-9 to Ray Ray McCloud is vintage Roethlisberger, as was the fourth down conversion in overtime with pressure applied.

Three of those conversions in overtime alone led to Roethlisberger’s seventh game-winning drive of the season. Harris finally broke a 15-yard run as the 24th carry of the game for the backs was a success to set up Chris Boswell for the 36-yard game-winning field goal. He got it, and the Steelers (9-7-1) just needed the Raiders and Chargers to not tie at night.

That was a hell of a lot harder than it needed to be, but the Steelers made this season so difficult. The Detroit tie that saved them in the end almost cost them too as that should have been a 10th win that wouldn’t have made a tie feasible for the Raiders and Chargers. But neither the Detroit tie after Ben got COVID nor the lousy run defense could keep the Steelers out of this postseason as the seventh seed. Their reward is a trip to Kansas City where they lost 36-10 two weeks ago, but you’d still rather be playing than done for good.

Just don’t lose 62-7 like Dan Marino’s final game in Jacksonville and I’ll call it a success.

Chargers at Raiders: And That’s BINGO

I thought the Chargers already played in the Game of the Year against the Chiefs in Week 15, an overtime classic. This one too should go down as an instant overtime classic, and go figure, the Chargers came up short again despite an incredible performance from Justin Herbert. So many plays in this game were inches away from going the other way.

The Chargers were 6-of-7 on fourth down, only failing on an ill-advised run in the third quarter deep in their own end. Almost all these other decisions were out of necessity as Herbert converted the last five fourth downs where failure on any one of them would have ended the Chargers’ season right there.

While Herbert won’t be going to the playoffs in his second season, my respect for him shot up with this game. He outplayed Derek Carr, who got a more competent team performance on the night. The Chargers fumbled a punt return that led to a 23-yard touchdown drive and early 10-0 hole. Jalen Richard ran for a first down on a 3rd-and-23 before halftime on a drive that also included a 41-yard penalty for pass interference despite Carr’s pass landing nowhere near any receiver.

The Chargers missed a game-tying 51-yard field goal to start the third quarter while the Raiders hit a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 29-14 lead. It was just that kind of night for the Chargers, but that’s also where the fun really started with the fourth downs. Herbert threw a touchdown on a 4th-and-21 and converted a two-point conversion with 4:28 left. A failure there would also have made the end of the game fairly moot. But in getting the ball back, Herbert embarked on a 19-play marathon drive that felt like a whole quarter itself despite taking only 2:06 off the game clock. Herbert found Mike Williams for a 12-yard touchdown as time expired.

I’m not surprised Brandon Staley settled for the extra point there. It was common sense as a tie did put both teams in the playoffs. I didn’t agree with a lot of his decisions in this game, but that one was agreeable. After the teams exchanged field goals in overtime, it sure looked like Pittsburgh was going to get screwed with a tie, but Carr and the Raiders were still hungry for a win. Maybe avoiding the Chiefs next week was on their mind given the way those two matchups went this year. Plus, the added bonus of eliminating a division rival is hard to pass up.

Carr made a great throw to Zay Jones on a third-and-8 to avoid the tie from happening. It still may have happened if the Raiders kept running with a lazy approach to the final minute, but Staley called timeout with 38 seconds left before a third-and-4. That seemed to change the Raiders’ approach and they broke off a 10-yard run against a terrible run defense.

With two seconds left, there was still a little risk associated with kicking a field goal. If you get blocked for a touchdown there and miss the playoffs, you’ll be an all-time laughingstock in NFL history. I normally don’t care about the block, but this situation (tie equals playoffs) was so unique. But the Raiders executed, and Daniel Carlson made a great 47-yard field goal to win the game at the buzzer.

Carr’s 30th game-winning drive is the third most in a quarterback’s first eight seasons behind only Russell Wilson (32) and Matt Ryan (31).

I don’t want to get bogged down with Staley’s decision making after a classic game where his team came up short. The Chargers followed a 4-1 start with a 1-3 slump and will end with a 1-3 slump to miss the playoffs. I’d just like to see the team do a better job of building up the defense so Herbert isn’t trying to win 35-32 games so much.

But knowing my NFL history, this game will somehow be the first chapter in the “Herbert isn’t clutch” narrative despite him rescuing this game time and time again to even give it a chance to be an all-time tie.

But they even screwed that up too. I would have loved to see Williams take that fourth-down catch in overtime all the way for a winning touchdown, but I’ll take the outcome as is.

I never had to root harder for a non-tie.

49ers at Rams: The McVay Halftime Stat Is Dead

I was torn on this one. Do I root for Kyle Shanahan to underperform and miss the playoffs to let the Saints in, or do I look to add another loss to Matthew Stafford’s record against teams with a winning record? I guess since my best parlays went in LA’s favor this week, karma took care of the rest with one of the most stunning losses of the Sean McVay era.

Talk about backing into a division title. The Rams seemed to be exorcising their San Francisco demons when they led 17-0 and Stafford couldn’t miss a throw. But then the pressure did come for him. The 49ers trailed 17-3 at halftime, and McVay was infamously 45-0 in his career when leading at halftime. I always hated hearing this stat referenced since it implies that he’s never lost a game when leading in the second half. He has. Multiple times.

The 49ers did not need much time to erase that deficit thanks to the multiple talents of Deebo Samuel, who ran for a score, threw a touchdown, and is a beast after the catch. But it still looked like the Rams were going to send the 49ers home and the Saints, who were winning in Atlanta, into the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo saw a tipped ball get picked in the end zone by Jalen Ramsey in a tied game in the fourth quarter. Cooper Kupp absolutely should have locked up the Offensive Player of the Year award with an incredible drive that saw him go over 90 yards for a record-extending 13th straight game, and he caught the go-ahead touchdown with 2:29 left.

Von Miller notched a third-down sack to set up 4th-and-18 at the San Francisco 17 as the two-minute warning hit. Almost surprisingly, Shanahan punted with his three timeouts left. It’s no man’s land, for sure, but I have to say I agree with the punt. The conversion is so low percentage, and if you don’t get it, the game is basically over as you’ll be down two scores at best when you get the ball back. If you punt and force a three-and-out, you have a chance with plenty of time to get the tying touchdown. I really find it hard to believe the 49ers were at 0.4% in win probability there.

Basically, it’s a punt call I think almost every coach would do, but Brandon Staley and John Harbaugh may go for it and lose the game right there. The 49ers got it to work largely because of a cowardly decision by McVay to run Sony Michel three times and punt. I can understand a second-down run, even if that would have been the perfect time to throw deep to Kupp, who was still in position to get to 2,000 receiving yards on the season. But after trading for Stafford and having Kupp chasing history, you run Sony Michel on third-and-7 for 2 yards? Pathetic.

But Garoppolo got the job done with his receiver showing their incredible YAC again. Samuel had a 43-yard play and that set up a 15-yard touchdown to Jennings with 26 seconds left. The 49ers settled for a field goal in overtime, but the defense just had to stop Stafford one more time. He threw up a pick on first down when he had plenty of time to be more methodical in a 27-24 game. Game over. Fortunately, the Cardinals lost to Seattle, so the Rams still win the division.

But if the Rams go one-and-done after losing this game, the bugaboo for Stafford against good competition is only going to grow. After going 8-68 against winning teams coming into 2021, Stafford finishes the regular season with a 3-5 record against winning teams. Still a career year and the first time he notched multiple wins in the same season. But with the expectations pointing towards Super Bowl or bust with the moves this team has made, a 3-6 finish against winning teams (assuming a loss to Arizona next week) would be a massive disappointment.

Maybe even McVay, Mr. 3 Points in the Super Bowl, will feel the criticism this time as well. He no longer has Goff as the scapegoat. The Rams had no business losing this game and still did. On the bright side, we never have to hear again how he’s undefeated when leading at halftime.

Saints at Falcons: Tough Year

I feel bad for Jameis Winston tearing his ACL in Week 8. Would the Saints still have swept the Buccaneers if he was QB1 in those games for all eight quarters? That’s not certain. The Saints were also taking a very conservative approach with him all season long, but I think they still had real potential for 10-plus wins if he stayed healthy. The Ian Book game was also certainly a debacle as New Orleans’ only loss in the last five games.

Get Winston healthy and add some receivers, and maybe the Saints can challenge for the division again next season. As for the Falcons, congrats on setting the worst scoring differential record for a seven-win team in NFL history one year after setting the best scoring differential record for a four-win team in NFL history. That at least shows the better coaching this year, or maybe just the better luck in close games as the Falcons didn’t shit their pants at the end against the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Lions, and Saints (first time).

Seahawks at Cardinals: Bring the Band Back?

I was pretty high on the Seattle upset this week as I don’t believe in Arizona and felt that the Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll era needed to end on a high note. After the 38-30 win where Wilson played well with his receivers and Rashaad Penny again had a huge rushing performance, I’m starting to think the Seahawks will bring the band back for 2022. It’s not over. They’ll cite Wilson’s injury and some bad luck in close games as they were 0-7 at game-winning drive opportunities before getting one in this game due to a short field.

And maybe that’s not the worst idea in the world. When you see teams wanting to interview Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn as their head coach, is there an obvious upgrade to Pete out there? And there is validity in thinking this offense could work if those key skill players stay healthy.

Seattle just scored 38 points in consecutive games for the first time since the 2015 season. As for Arizona, it was a big missed opportunity with the Rams losing to the 49ers but still winning the NFC West. Arizona will settle for the No. 5 seed despite starting 7-0. The Cardinals are just 3-5 at home. However, maybe starting the playoffs on the road isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Jets at Bills: AFC East Supremacy

You wouldn’t know it, but the Bills technically won their first “close game” of the 2021 season. The Jets were only down 13-10 and had the ball to start the fourth quarter. Of course, they were backed up in their own end and couldn’t do anything about it. Buffalo scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives that started at midfield to take a 27-10 lead while the Jets couldn’t get another first down. So, it goes down as an easy 17-point cover, but it was another tough game for three quarters in the wind for the Bills.

I would have loved to see rematches of Bills-Titans and Bengals-Chiefs in the divisional round, but it’s more likely going to be a Bills-Chiefs rematch in that round now. That’s assuming the Bills, now back-to-back winners of the AFC East, can knock off the Patriots again this week.

Patriots at Dolphins: Miami Does It Again

Robert Kraft has to stop taking the Patriots to those special massage parlors when they visit Miami each season. That’s about the only explanation I have for why this team underperforms so badly down there.

Well, scratch that. Some combination of former Belichick assistants (Nick Saban, Tony Sparano was a Bill Parcells guy at least, and Brian Flores), Tom Brady shitting his pants, the heat, and some general randomness (2018 Miami Miracle) likely have contributed too. But the Dolphins have won three in a row against the Patriots now.

Once a contender for the No. 1 seed, the Patriots have really stumbled down the stretch, finishing 1-3 out of the bye. This team might be the Eagles of the AFC this year. Prompted up by the schedule and trying to win with defense and running the ball. However, unlike the Eagles, the Patriots have a quality win over a playoff team this year. They beat the Bills in Buffalo in that windy game where they only threw three passes. I think the Bills are clearly the better team in fair weather, so we’ll see if Belichick can sell someone else’s soul to conjure up some hellish wind on Saturday when these teams meet for the third time in six weeks.

Panthers at Buccaneers: Of Course They Get Philly

The Panthers hung in there for a half with Tampa Bay, but too much Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans were enough for Carolina. Throw in a loss by the Rams and the Patriots Buccaneers move up to the No. 2 seed, because what else would you expect? Of course Tom Brady is going to start a playoff run with a Philadelphia team that is 0-6 against playoff teams and built to run the ball while Tampa Bay is an elite run defense that needs to be passed on to have success.

Throw in a potential Dallas matchup in the second round, and it’s looking like winning a couple of NFC East rematches is all it will take to get back to the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Or hosting it in Tampa should the Packers falter out of the bye.

It’s LOAT season again. Hold on to your butts, or hope for a couple new Philly Specials.

Titans at Texans: Her?

The Titans are the No. 1 seed as adding “swept by Texans and lost to Jets” to the resume along with “wins over the Chiefs, Bills, Rams, 49ers” was too crazy to be true. They still survived a scare from Davis Mills, who threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns as the Texans put up a fight after trailing 21-0.

We’ll see if the return of Derrick Henry in the playoffs is a catalyst to push this team to a Super Bowl, or if they’ll compete with the 2000 Titans and 2008 Titans for the title of weakest No. 1 seed in the expanded playoff era.

Do you need a reminder that both of those teams lost at home in the divisional round?

Chiefs at Broncos: Melvin on Melvin Violence

Quickly going back to Saturday, the Chiefs were in another dogfight with the Broncos before Melvin Ingram blew up Melvin Gordon in the red zone for a fumble that was returned 86 yards for a game-winning touchdown. It’s just the second non-offensive game-winning score of the season following New England’s pick-six against the Chargers.

Like I said last week, the Chiefs probably cannot continue to reliably score if Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are both going to be limited in production. Hill had an injury that limited him to 2 yards in this one and Kelce only had 34 yards again and was shaken up on his last catch. Hopefully they’ll both be alright as the Chiefs prepare to play the first wild card game of the Patrick Mahomes era.

As for the Broncos, blow it all up, I say. New coach and new direction at quarterback.

Cowboys at Eagles: Artificial Fight

Dak Prescott’s first game with five touchdown passes came against a very backup-heavy Eagles team on Saturday night. I think Dallas still wins with both teams at full strength, but this isn’t far off from the meaningless season finales these teams also played against each other in 2016 and 2017. Still, it drops the Eagles to 1-7 vs. teams with a winning record, and that one win (Saints) only became official on Sunday with New Orleans getting that ninth win. That means the Eagles are 0-6 against playoff teams this year.

I’ll have plenty more to say about both in the playoff previews this week.

Bears at Vikings: End of Two Eras?

By the time you read this, Matt Nagy and Mike Zimmer could both be fired from their jobs. It’s definitely time for Nagy to go and to get someone in there to coach up Justin Fields so he doesn’t make mistakes like Andy Dalton did on Sunday. But Zimmer has likely run his course too after getting to one NFC Championship Game in eight seasons and just one postseason in four tries with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback.

The Vikings (8-9) have some amazing offensive talent to only finish ninth in the NFC. It could be a much different outcome for Zimmer and Cousins without a missed field goal in Arizona or a last-second touchdown allowed in Detroit. But too many of those games go the other way for this Minnesota team year after year.

Bengals at Browns: Ohio Rests

Not much you can say about a game where both starting quarterbacks were out and the Bengals rested plenty of other key guys for the playoffs. Good on the Bengals for the backdoor cover. Now let’s see if Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase can lead them to their finest season since the 1988 Super Bowl team with a playoff win.

Packers at Lions: Some Kneecaps Were Eaten

I liked that the Packers got Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams some good reps in this one. Stay sharp for the playoffs and don’t fall into the trap of the double rest weeks with the bye coming. Jordan Love also got some important playing time and had some mixed results. Good on Jared Goff to lead a game-winning drive and end his season on a high note for Dan Campbell’s bunch. Definitely more competitive than the 3-13-1 record will suggest.

Sunday was the first time the Jaguars and Lions won games in the same week since October 27, 2019 (Week 8). They were playing the Jets and Giants that day, of course.

Washington at Giants: War Crime

While the Giants actually had two gains of 20-plus yards this week despite the 22-7 loss, this game was still an atrocity on an otherwise stellar Sunday.

This was the first NFL game since the 2017 Colts-Bills snow game where neither team had 100 net passing yards. You have to go back to the historically bad 2010 Panthers-Bears game to find the last time it happened in a non-snow game.

At the very least, it helped me nail my predictions of 7-10 Football Team (adios to that name) and 4-13 Giants. Now will 2022 please make these teams more watchable? You know the next time they play we’ll probably have to see it on an island.

This week: Busy one coming up. I’ll have the close game summary report for 2021, my season award picks, and full previews for all six wild card games.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

It is hard to tell when Week 15 ended and Week 16 began in the NFL, but I know I have taken a nap during four of the last six island games. Dolphins-Saints without the Manning brothers is another strong snooze contender tonight, but let’s get through Sunday’s recap first.

There are seven games with a comeback opportunity in Week 16 but only four of them came on Sunday. The only fourth-quarter lead change belonged to the Bears in Seattle.

It was a wildly successful week for a lot of the preseason favorites (KC, TB, LAR, GB, BUF, DAL, TEN). In fact, all seven of those teams won and are currently leading their division after they were the favorites to win the division before Week 1. Only the AFC North, currently led by Cincinnati, is an upside-down battle, but the Bengals took a big step forward to deciding that one.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Ravens at Bengals: Pennywise Floats the Ravens in Passing Yards

I hate to see COVID have a huge impact on deciding the AFC North for the second year in a row, and Baltimore has certainly got the shortest end of that stick, but let’s face some facts. The Ravens have not been a very good team all season and this fourth loss in a row was not on Josh Johnson, the latest quarterback to start in Baltimore.

Joe Burrow has had an imperfect second season, but he has been absolute money against the Ravens. You can claim the Ravens are down bad in the secondary now, but Burrow also had 416 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-17 win in Week 7. You know, that game right after the Ravens beat the Chargers 34-6 in one of their only convincing performances of 2021.

Burrow stepped things up into historic company on Sunday with 525 yards and four touchdowns in an easy 41-21 win. Burrow’s 525 yards are the fourth most in a game in NFL history. He’s the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards twice against the same team in a season, and his 941 combined yards in two games are a new record against a team in a season.

Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said coming into the game that Burrow isn’t ready for a gold jacket, but he’ll be ready in record time if he got to play this Baltimore defense every week. The Bengals have displayed their excellent trio of wide receivers against the Ravens this season. Tee Higgins had the monster game this time with 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson was more than respectable for Baltimore, his 13th NFL team (and not his first stint there), with a 300-yard game. But the Ravens never could slow down the Bengals. Even after making it 34-21 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens watched Burrow go 8-for-8 on a 78-yard touchdown drive.

A game like this completely justifies why Burrow was the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Bengals are 4-0 against the Ravens and Steelers this year with every win by double digits. This is why they should be favored to win the division now, but a huge test looms with the Chiefs coming to town on an eight-game winning streak. If Burrow can outduel Mahomes in that one, who is to say they can’t do it again in the playoffs next month?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you told me before the season that Burrow would throw for 400 yards twice on Baltimore, I’d say that’s crazy. If you told me Derek Carr and Carson Wentz also had 400-yard games against the Ravens, I’d say, “damn, they’ve really fallen off a cliff defensively in Baltimore.” That does put it into better perspective.

Success in the NFL is all about stacking. Stacking first downs, stacking scoring drives, and stacking wins. This game becomes a footnote for Burrow, much like Matt Schaub’s 527-yard game, if he follows it up with a dud against the Chiefs and gets swept by the Browns to lose the division title.

But let’s see if this one could be a launching point for this team to do something great this year.

Steelers at Chiefs: The Standard Is 8-8-1

Ever since the Steelers settled for a tie with the winless Lions, I saw a tough schedule and a likely march to 8-8-1 that would mean no playoffs, but we’ll still have to hear “Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.”

I still think that’s likely with the Steelers (7-7-1) in position to rebound from another ugly game to win at home on Monday Night Football against Cleveland in what should be Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game. Hell, the AFC North is still up for grabs for all four teams, but let’s not get crazy. This Pittsburgh team does not deserve the postseason and the six games since the Detroit tie show why.

This team does not show up for games anymore. No touchdowns in the first half of the last five games, something that hasn’t been done in Pittsburgh since 1940. In Weeks 5-14, Roethlisberger actually figured out how to be effective again. But in the last two weeks, the hopeless passes well short of the sticks that plagued the offense in its 1-3 start have returned with a fury and the offense has suffered as a result. While the offense starts games so badly, the defense is also sinking to some of its lowest levels in franchise history. It’s a miracle T.J. Watt has as many sacks as he does when he seems to pull up injured every third drive.

Yet, the Chiefs played this game without superstar tight end Travis Kelce, without kicker Harrison Butker (the backup cost them four points), and Tyreek Hill only had 19 yards on two targets. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire also left after nine carries with a collarbone injury. You would think the Steelers had a fighting chance under those circumstances, but the game was over before halftime again when the Chiefs led 23-0.

Patrick Mahomes was 23-of-30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns, and the numbers could have been even better if Josh Gordon or Byron Pringle had better hands on a couple of plays. Pringle stepped up with 75 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs mostly did whatever they wanted on offense before calling off the dogs early as the Steelers had no fight this time.

This is the fifth time in a calendar year I thought I saw the worst half of football from the Steelers in the Roethlisberger era. The first was the start in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football last December. Then came the 28-0 deficit in the first quarter of the playoff game against Cleveland. Definitely the worst first quarter by a team in NFL playoff history. Then they were down 31-3 in Cincinnati at halftime this year after a Roethlisberger pick-six. Two weeks later, the Vikings were up 23-0 with Dalvin Cook looking like he could run for 400 yards, mostly untouched. Now this one is a contender.

Pittsburgh has trailed by at least 17 points before the fourth quarter in nine of their last 19 games, which is about a calendar year. This is something that only happened nine times in Roethlisberger’s first 143 starts, a period that spanned 10 seasons (2004-2013).

This has been a disastrous stretch of ugly football by the Steelers in all phases. The idea that the 39-year-old quarterback retiring is going to solve things is laughable. At some point, people need to catch on that Tomlin and his staff are to blame for the constant mistakes and lack of adjustments.

But these Chiefs are scary again. While other teams peaked early and faded fast, Kansas City fixed its defense, and the offense has adjusted to the way defenses are playing them and have cut down the turnovers. They scored 48 points on the Raiders with Kelce having 27 yards. They scored 34 points on the Chargers with Kelce and Hill going off for monster games. Now they score a conservative 36 in this one with those two combining for 19 yards as Mahomes got only his second data point in a game without his tight end.

The Chiefs are the team to beat again. I’m not even sure it matters if the Titans get the No. 1 seed. But with the way the Chiefs are playing, they have a very good shot to win in Cincinnati and claim home-field advantage again.

Bills at Patriots: Everything In Its Right Place

If these teams had to play a best-of-seven series in normal weather conditions, I think Buffalo wins the series in five games. When the conditions made it easier for Buffalo to throw and necessary for the Patriots to throw more than three times, the talent disparity in these teams showed up.

The glaring difference is at quarterback, which is why the Bills had been favored to win the AFC East they finally lead again after this 33-21 win. Josh Allen was able to go on the road and throw 47 passes without taking a sack. He also led the team with 64 rushing yards and the Bills never punted. Allen’s game marks the 57th time a quarterback has thrown at least 45 passes against Bill Belichick’s Patriots since 2000. It is the first time that quarterback did not take a sack or throw an interception, though he sure did try to do the latter. That’s just Allen’s style, and today it worked out well as he finished enough drives with touchdowns.

Even though Damien Harris returned from his hamstring injury to rush for 103 yards and three touchdowns, the Patriots only got 145 yards passing out of rookie Mac Jones. Isaiah McKenzie had 125 yards receiving for the Bills to nearly match Jones’ whole passing output. The inevitable Cole Beasley COVID situation may have been a blessing in disguise as McKenzie stepped up with 11 catches (one touchdown) on 12 targets. He had seven catches for 38 yards on the season coming into Sunday, so no one took advantage of the Beasley opportunity better than McKenzie. Gabriel Davis was also out, so maybe the Bills have found a new wrinkle to use here.

But even when the Patriots drew to within 20-14 and 26-21, Allen was able to lead long touchdown drives that put the game out of reach. This is one of the most impressive wins the Bills have had in the Sean McDermott era. No more slip-ups at home against the Falcons and Jets, and the Bills should be able to win this division at 11-6.

As adaptable as the Patriots are with weekly game plans, the talent limitations of the roster and inexperience at quarterback still leave them at a disadvantage in games against teams like the Bills, Buccaneers, and Cowboys.

We could still see a rubber match here in the wild card round. But unless Belichick can figure out how to control the weather, I like the Bills in that one too.

Chargers at Texans: They’re Going to Ruin Herbert Too

One of the more potentially crushing losses of this season just happened to the Chargers, a 10.5-point favorite in Houston. The Chargers were without Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams, but that shouldn’t have stopped them from putting up numbers in Houston. The problem is the defense, without Joey Bosa and Derwin James, couldn’t stop Davis Mills and Rex Burkhead from putting up 34 points on eight drives.

Justin Herbert made his 30th start and it’s already the 18th time the Chargers allowed at least 27 points, tying Mike Glennon for the most such games in a quarterback’s first 30 starts since 2001.

It may have been okay if the Chargers stopped the bleeding at 27 points. Justin Jackson had a big fumble at midfield in the fourth quarter with the Chargers down 24-15. Funny how you won’t see that in the highlight like you will Herbert’s pick-six in desperation mode down 34-23 after the two-minute warning. But Jackson made up for his mistake with another touchdown and a two-point conversion made it 27-23 with 5:50 left. Plenty of time for the Chargers to get the ball back and win.

But that’s when you count on your defense to make a stand. The Chargers folded and allowed a 72-yard touchdown drive that all but sealed it at 34-23. Herbert came through with the pick-six and meaningless touchdown pass to produce the 41-29 final. It puts the Chargers at 8-7 and the playoffs in doubt again.

This was practically a cover version of your typical Philip Rivers/Anthony Lynn (or Mike McCoy) upset loss. We thought Herbert and Brandon Staley were above that, but the spread was likely far too generous for a team coming off a crushing loss to the Chiefs and not having Ekeler/Williams/Bosa/James available. Plus, Mills has actually done a respectable job on a lousy roster when he’s not making his first start on short notice or playing in the rain in Buffalo.

Washington at Cowboys: The NFC East Is a Ponzi Scheme I

“Joyless suckfest” is the phrase I’ve used to describe the Washington football franchise.

They were in rare form on Sunday night after falling behind 42-7 at halftime in Dallas. It’s another masterpiece to add to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s legacy as Dak Prescott threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. You think Joe Burrow threw for a lot of yards on Sunday? The Cowboys could have broken Norm Van Brocklin’s record if there was any need to run another play in the second half.

Given how much the Dallas offense struggled in the first Washington game as well as some other recent games, this was an impressive showing. Throw in that turnover-heavy defense and this could be a team that rides this wave to a Super Bowl. Chiefs vs. Cowboys was my Super Bowl pick a season ago.

Giants at Eagles: The NFC East Is a Ponzi Scheme II

After a 3-3 first half, it looked like Jalen Hurts was going to repeat his career-worst game against the Giants with another stinker as the teams seemed to be playing a different sport than the rest of the league. But the Eagles got it together and cruised to a 34-10 win.

Mike Glennon came off the bench to have a historic performance: 17-of-27 for 93 yards and a pick-six.

Incredibly, Glennon wasn’t the worst quarterback in the game. Jake Fromm made his first start and finished 6-of-17 for 25 yards with a pick and two sacks. Fromm is the first quarterback to start a game, throw at least 15 passes, and finish with fewer than 25 yards since Nathan Peterman did it in 2018. Eli Manning (2004) and Joe Flacco (2017) have done this before too, but something tells me Fromm will be much closer to the career of Peterman than those two.

The NFC East is a Ponzi scheme, and we must prosecute the guilty.

Rams at Vikings: Stafford Thought He Was a Lion Again

Don’t let that 30-23 final or the fact that Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson both went over 100 yards fool you. What should have been an efficient, fun shootout was a mess of a game that saw the Rams lead wire to wire; the first time all year the Vikings didn’t lead by at least six points in a game. There was even a punt return touchdown by the Rams, and Matthew Stafford threw three picks, some uglier than others. It was like Stafford thought a 1 PM game in Minnesota on FOX meant he was a Lion all over again.

But Kupp was awesome again and really helped the Rams stay out of a dramatic ending. The Vikings were 2-of-12 on third down and couldn’t put together a long touchdown drive until the fourth quarter when they were down 27-13.

One Kupp touchdown would have made my (gambling) day, but alas, I cannot experience joy in this 2021 season. Speaking of which…

Buccaneers at Panthers: First Division Title Since 2007

Only Tom Brady can get the MSM to use the line “he’s throwing to receivers he just met!” in Week 16 during a season where teams are trotting out literal nobodies and street free agents due to COVID and injuries. But sure, what a courageous effort to get a 32-6 win over a bad Carolina team while only having Antonio Brown (101 yards in his return), Rob Gronkowski, two running backs combining for 135 yards and two touchdowns behind a top-tier offensive line, and an uncovered Cameron Brate for Brady’s only touchdown pass of the game.

That’s why he’s the GOAT.

Broncos at Raiders: Just Like You Imagined (Not)

In a battle of 7-7 teams, the Raiders prevailed 17-13 despite losing the turnover battle 3-0. Drew Lock did not throw an interception, but Denver was 1-of-10 on third down, had 158 yards of offense, the running backs carried 14 times for 8 yards, and the only touchdown “drive” was a 1-yard plunge after Derek Carr fumbled before halftime.

Teams that allow fewer than 20 points and win the turnover margin by three win 96% of NFL games, so thanks for screwing that up, Denver. At least you didn’t spoil the narrative that Carr needs carried to win games in this league.

Bears at Seahawks: Sweet, Painful Regression

Remember all those warnings about the Seahawks sustaining their unsustainable record in close games? Well, Seattle is now 0-7 at game-winning drive opportunities this season after blowing a 24-17 lead to the Bears in the snow. Russell Wilson took a 13-yard sack that led to a 39-yard field goal being missed that likely would have iced it. A holding penalty and bad play calls also led to the Bears getting the ball again with 2:56 left.

Nick Foles brought the full BDN energy for the ensuing touchdown drive, and got an amazing catch on the two-point conversion with 1:01 left to take a 25-24 lead. I’d normally never advise going for it with that much time, but this was a battle of 4-5 win teams the day after Christmas. Just get it over with as quickly as possible.

Seattle went four-and-out after a penalty-heavy drive. The Wilson-Carroll era is going out sad but look which active quarterback is now .500 in GWD opportunities.

Lions at Falcons: Boyle Foiled

Just when it looked like the Falcons were going to blow another one to the Lions after a Russell Gage fumble, the defense stepped up and intercepted Tim Boyle on a first-and-goal to secure the win, keeping Atlanta (7-8) alive for the playoffs.

Say what you want about Jared Goff, who was out with COVID, but the Lions likely beat Cleveland and win this game if he was available. The Lions may be 2-12-1, but I think they’re better than the other sub-five win teams this year (Jets, Giants, Jaguars, Texans).

As for the Falcons this season, they are now 4-3 at game-winning drive opportunities, 5-3 in close games, and they got their second defensive hold today while only blowing one fourth-quarter lead (Washington in Week 4). And yet, this team has gotten its ass kicked six times this season and will have a shot at the worst scoring differential (currently minus-122) for a 7-win team in NFL history. The 2011 Chiefs finished 7-9 at minus-126 points.

Keep in mind that it was just last year that Atlanta had the best scoring differential in NFL history for a team that finished 4-12 or worse at minus-18 points.

Jaguars at Jets: Wilson’s One Shining Moment

All things considered, this year’s Toilet Bowl wasn’t that bad outside of an unfortunate Achilles injury for James Robinson. Neither of the rookie quarterbacks threw an interception, there was a 102-yard kick return touchdown, and it came down to the wire where the Jaguars of course botched things from the goal line in a 26-21 loss.

But once you saw Zach Wilson scramble for a 52-yard touchdown on a third-and-5, you knew he was going to have a comically high QBR at ESPN. He finished at 92.4, the highest in Week 16 despite another subpar passing performance. But the run was great and it sure was more memorable than anything Trevor Lawrence has done this year. So much like Sam Darnold on a long touchdown run against the Broncos, Wilson now has that one shining moment in his Jets career.

Will there ever be a second?

Next week: If Chiefs-Bengals could be half as good as 2005 Colts-Bengals, I’d be satisfied. That’s by far the big one of the day after Rams-Ravens, Vikings-Packers, and Browns-Steelers have all lost their luster.  

NFL Week 16 Predictions: Christmas Edition

How naughty did a child have to be this year to make their first NFL experience a game in New Jersey, the day after Christmas, during a raging pandemic, between the Jaguars and Jets? Setting up for a life of therapy.

What else do we get for Christmas this year? COVID-impacted games where half the slate is already showing a team favored by at least six points. But I’m pretty interested in how Colts-Cardinals shakes out on Christmas, and COVID could be the only way Steelers-Chiefs stays close if Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce end up inactive.

My full previews at BMR include Colts-Cardinals, Washington-Cowboys.

I think Aaron Rodgers sees another MVP and No. 1 seed within grasp, and they should put the Browns out of their misery this Saturday.

I feel like Cam Newton is going to get one last win over the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers before moving on from Carolina again after the season. It would be more likely to happen this week as Tampa Bay adjusts after the injuries suffered against the Saints. But I know better than to actually predict it to happen, so I’m going TB big here.

The Chargers should light up the Texans, but you never know.

The Giants, who have already beaten Philly in that horrible Jalen Hurts performance, have perfected playing it close with the Eagles before usually losing. So I like the cover and loss combo there.

Baltimore is reeling. I don’t know if Lamar Jackson is playing or not, but does it really matter at this point? Tyler Huntley looks about as good as Jackson’s been in recent weeks, if not better in some ways (avoiding turnovers). But I think the Bengals, who have already swept the Steelers, seize this opportunity to sweep Baltimore and take control of the AFC North. It’s one of the best games on paper this week.

LAR-MIN should be a game where Kirk Cousins coughs up the ball and struggles to keep up with a high-scoring offense. But that one could be really good if the offenses show up.

DEN-LV: I’ve never been a Drew Lock believer, so that’s why I’m going with the Raiders. Big chance for Lock though.

BUF-NE: Of course Cole Beasley is out with COVID for the team’s biggest game of the year. But the Bills still have weapons and hopefully the weather will be normal for this one. People overrated that 14-10 New England win and the run-heavy approach that would have been a failure if Damien Harris didn’t break that long touchdown run. The Patriots really disappointed me last week with a mistake-prone game in Indy. They should be better this week, but I think we see that Buffalo does what it was expected to do this season and take back control of the East with a win. But it’s a big story if the Bills falter again to drop to 8-7 in a crowded AFC.

PIT-KC: The Steelers have given Andy Reid plenty of problems over the years, even when he seemed to have the better team. The 18-16 playoff win in 2016 and the upset in 2017 when the Chiefs were 5-0 come to mind. I have my doubts these Steelers are capable of that, but it sure is more likely if the Chiefs don’t have Hill and Kelce to go along with their kicker being out. Maybe it’s a huge day for Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the Steelers are pathetic at stopping the run. But the Chiefs would have to really adjust the way they play offense for that to happen. Stay tuned. Could be an interesting one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

I was right that Chiefs-Chargers set too high of a bar for a quality game in Week 15. But in terms of pure craziness? The weekend gave it its best shot. Who could have imagined we’d see Bill Belichick and Tom Brady both lose by two scores in prime time with Carson Wentz and Taysom Hill playing like quarterbacks from 1928?

But you kind of had to expect a wild Sunday in the NFL with so many games having a huge point spread. Maybe in other seasons this would have been dull, but not in 2021. We didn’t even get to the COVID-delayed games yet, but we’ve already seen the 1-11-1 Lions down the 10-3 Cardinals, and the Ravens gave Green Bay all it could handle with Tyler Huntley at quarterback.

At least we saw the post-Urban Jaguars still lose 30-16 despite being favored over a bad Houston team. Also, the Falcons lost 31-13 in San Francisco and scored three points on two drives where they hit 49-yard passes – very on brand for the red-zone rejects. The Dolphins have also followed up their seven-game losing streak with a six-game winning streak to get back to .500 by beating the Jets if anyone cares. No? I figured as much.

The Bills and Cowboys both had comfortable wins over the Panthers and Giants respectively in their hope to stay relevant as contenders this year. A Buffalo-Dallas Super Bowl would be on brand in this era of “let’s do everything from the 90s again.” If they can make another Matrix movie and reboot Sex and the City

But while this season has been begging for something different to happen at the end, it’s still not far-fetched to think we see Aaron Rodgers repeat as MVP, and Championship Sunday is just another day of rematches (BUF-KC and TB-GB) setting up another Super Bowl rematch.

Oh, did you think last night invalidates Tampa Bay? Then you don’t understand how Brady’s luck works. I hope I’m completely wrong, but I think this week will just be a blip before a familiar ending in January and February. A little Christmas gift of joy that you’ll forget before Groundhog Day rears its ugly head.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Saints at Buccaneers: 9-0? MVP? GTFO!

Tom Brady has matched Joe Montana once again. Brady and Montana are the only two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to get shut out as a double-digit favorite. Montana did it in his second (and final) season with the Chiefs in 1994, a 16-0 loss to the Rams early in the season when Montana was favored to win by 14.5. Brady has been swept again by the Saints despite being an 11.5-point home favorite this time. Instead of winning the NFC South for the first time since 2007, the Buccaneers are left with a perplexing result and a long list of injuries.

Brady proved once again that he saves his best luck for the postseason as the Saints made him look bad with another multiple turnover game in the third shutout of his career. It’s the first Brady shutout since he lost 21-0 to a 2006 Miami team coached by Nick Saban and quarterbacked by Joey Harrington.

But this one was in prime time for all to see. Brady’s first pass of the night should have been intercepted by Marshon Lattimore, but the pass was dropped. I thought that would be a sign of things to come, but the Buccaneers punted. Then they punted again, and again, missed a field goal, punted three more times, and then Brady started really getting off his game with bad deep shots and a comical fumble after trying to scramble. Throw in a couple more punts and a late interception, and the Saints turned Tampa away on 13 drives for one of the most improbable shutouts in history.

According to NBC, it’s the first time since the merger that the team leading the NFL in scoring was shutout at home in December or January. Add that to the Brady record list.

Of course, there is going to be an outcry to the injuries Tampa Bay suffered in this game. They were unusually high profile and significant. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette did not finish the game. With Antonio Brown (suspension), Giovani Bernard (IR), and Breshad Perriman (COVID list) also inactive, the deepest set of skill players in the league took a big hit against a defense that has had its number the last two seasons.

But in terms of winning this game, I don’t want to hear about injuries when for more than three-quarters of the game, all Brady needed was a touchdown drive to take the lead. If this is your supposed GOAT and MVP, then how can he get shut out like this? Do you really need to walk on water to score one touchdown drive with Gronk, Ronald Jones, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and what’s supposed to be a top-tier offensive line? Not to mention that trio of Evans/Godwin/Fournette still combined for 23 touches and 130 yards from scrimmage. They were still shutout with them.

I don’t want to hear about one team’s injuries when the Saints were missing key offensive linemen (both tackles), haven’t had Michael Thomas all year, Deonte Harris is suspended, and there really isn’t a great playmaker outside of Kamara. Not to mention Jameis Winston tore his ACL in the last game against Tampa Bay or else this team could be dangerous right now. Still the No. 7 seed going into Monday regardless of all the injuries.

Oh yeah, the Saints did all this without their head coach.

Sean Payton gets credit for a win in a game he didn’t attend because of his COVID diagnosis. Maybe he helped with meetings during the week, but it’s still weird to me that a coach gets credit, win or loss, for games he didn’t actually coach. This also happens to be the biggest spread of Payton’s career as the Saints weren’t an underdog like this before his arrival after the Hurricane Katrina season (2005).

Maybe Payton’s absence is why the defense was so good (wink wink). But really, it was an incredible effort by Cameron Jordan and the guys to make up for an offense that did so little. The Saints had three offensive plays that gained 10+ yards all night and they were all Marquez Callaway receptions. I’ve never seen anything like that before. The Saints had 11 first downs and were 3-of-16 on third down. Alvin Kamara had 11 carries for 18 yards. Taysom Hill (13-of-27 for 154 yards) could barely throw with his injured finger and his talent level in general, and he only rushed for 33 yards this time.

Yet the Saints still won by two scores. The key this time? They didn’t turn the ball over once. Hill absolutely tried to, but the defense did not capitalize this time like they did four times in the playoff win in New Orleans, the worst game Drew Brees played in a Saints uniform. There was also that crucial Jared Cook fumble that we don’t talk enough about when the Saints were looking to go up two scores.

If it wasn’t for that game, this Tampa Bay team should be viewed as a big fraud that doesn’t step up in big games. Instead, they got to win a Super Bowl at home and can’t be counted out to repeat. Yes, not even after this 9-0 shocker.

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing this as a real season-changing game. Sure, it might take Tampa Bay out of the top seed and Brady out of an MVP he never deserved, but is there really a seeding that would be problematic for this team? The only way might be if the Saints use this to go on a run and claim the No. 7 seed and meet up with this team in Tampa again as a 7-2 matchup. The Saints definitely have Tampa’s number, but do you really see this playing out well for the third time this year? There’s no blueprint behind “play them like the Saints, hope for mass injuries, and hope all your key sacks/pressures come on third down.”

Especially when Antonio Brown will be back (even though Bruce Arians is a liar who said he’d cut him after one mistake). Evans, Godwin, and Fournette should be back for the playoffs. Still have Gronk, who only played six snaps in the first loss to the Saints. You know, all that actual value that makes Tampa so dangerous should be back when it matters most. The rest of the schedule is a cakewalk (Jets between Carolina twice) too, so it’s not like the Bucs need to rush their studs back to finish 13-4.

Meanwhile, the Saints could still easily miss the playoffs after going 4-0 against the Packers, Patriots, and Buccaneers. That’s what happens when you get owned by Sam Darnold/Panthers and Daniel Jones/Giants in such a weird season. But things certainly could have been different if Winston was not injured in the last Tampa Bay game. Then again, maybe Winston turns the ball over trying to stick it to his former team.

The Saints were able to sweep the Bucs again this year by having zero giveaways and five Brady takeaways in those two games. The role was reversed in the playoff game, which is why Tampa Bay won. I had to laugh at NBC’s Cris Collinsworth talking about Brady having answers for the Saints in that playoff game. He had two answers: drop my picks and let me start inside your 40 three times. The Saints obliged, and the rest is history.

Props to the Saints for playing hard and showing that they didn’t want their season to end Sunday night. I just wish I saw more season-changing ramifications from this game, other than me losing thousands in gambling wins (MVP race) while still seeing Brady and the Bucs in good shape to repeat.

But it was a nice early Christmas present to watch 9-0 take place.

Packers at Ravens: Go for Two Early (For a Change)

Who saw this being the big shootout of the day with the most dramatic ending? Well, I can take some credit for that one.

I liked Aaron Rodgers to have another big day with the injuries in the Baltimore secondary. Outside of the opening drive and the last two when he could have put the game away, he did not disappoint. But even with Lamar Jackson out, I thought the 9-point underdog Ravens had a shot to be very competitive. Most Baltimore games are close and this team has been scrapping since Week 1 with all the injuries. This also is the fourth game in a row where the Packers allowed at least 28 points.

Tyler Huntley likely made himself a lot of future money with his performance in his last three appearances. He’s certainly looked better than Jordan Love so far, and I’d gladly take him in Pittsburgh over Mason Rudolph. Huntley is not quite as elusive as Lamar, but he still rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns, giving the Packers fits at times. Tight end Mark Andrews (136 yards and two touchdowns) also looked like prime Gronk, which does not bode well if that matchup comes up in the playoffs again.

But the Ravens had a couple of fourth-down failures that left them in a tough spot, down 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Nothing indefensible, but just bad execution. Still, the talk of the game again became John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a two-point conversion (2PC) when he did. This has come up in three straight games now for the Ravens, including the Pittsburgh loss when they went for the win with 12 seconds left and Lamar didn’t get the pass to Andrews. It also happened last week against Cleveland when, down 24-15, the Ravens failed to convert with 8:56 left.

Baltimore is now 2-for-8 on 2PC attempts this season, and the three-game losing streak here isn’t going to make fans happy. But what I couldn’t understand in this one is why Harbaugh did not go for two when the Ravens scored their first touchdown.

Not to get back into last week’s decision again, but I guess you can say I don’t agree with the general thrust of the analytics community when it comes to a lot of 2PC decisions. I think in many cases, they should be held off until you absolutely need one, and I do not want to make the choices in a game that are more likely to lead me to needing to recover an onside kick (or two). I highly value a 9-point lead and greatly fear a 9-point deficit, which seems to be no big deal for people who prefer going for two early. But that’s not me, and based on all my years of research on comeback attempts, I don’t think I’m going to change that view.

But one 2PC decision I am totally down with that analytics will support is to go for two on your first touchdown when you’re down 14 points. Make it a 6-point game and then you can win with a touchdown and extra point on your second touchdown. If you don’t get it, then it’s still an eight-point game and you can try it to tie on your second touchdown. It makes a ton of sense. For years, coaches play down 14 as a tying situation anyway. So by going for two on the first one, you might set yourself up for a win in regulation. I’m all for it in pretty much any situation unless I think my offense is total shit against this defense. But in that case, I’m probably not expecting to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter anyway.

Harbaugh has to know this too as the Ravens are ahead of the curve on these things. Yet, the Ravens kicked the extra point on their first touchdown at 4:47 to make it a 31-24 game. They went for two with 42 seconds left in an attempt to take a 32-31 lead, and once again a pass to Andrews was incomplete. Green Bay recovered the onside kick and the game was over, putting more doubt into Baltimore’s playoff hopes.

I think Harbaugh going for two at 4:47 would have been his best 2PC decision this month. I think Harbaugh going for two at 0:42 was his worst 2PC decision this month. When he did it in Pittsburgh, there were only 12 seconds left, so that should have been enough to win the game with the Steelers not having a good deep passing game in a stadium that is difficult to get super long field goals. No 66-yard miracle is happening at Heinz Field like it did in Detroit for Justin Tucker this year. I liked that decision that day.

But 42 seconds when Rodgers still has a timeout left? That’s too much time as he has set these up multiple times before (ask the 49ers this year). I think under 20 seconds is the ideal spot of when it’s right to go for the win like that. When you do this to take a 1-point lead, you force the opponent to go balls out aggressive for the win. No throw is off limits. But if the game is tied with 42 seconds left, Rodgers is not in four-down territory. He’s got to be a little more careful with the ball as playing hero ball in that situation can make you look foolish. As someone who studied under Brett Favre, he knows better than most.

But the fact is in a tied game you are more likely to get a conservative approach from the opponent with 42 seconds left. Then when it comes to overtime, they may never see the ball a la the Chargers on Thursday against Kansas City if you take care of business with your offense. The clock is the main reason I liked the Pittsburgh 2PC call and did not like the Green Bay one on Sunday.

Baltimore (8-6) has managed to lose all of these games and will have to fight just to make the playoffs, let alone win the division. I could easily see a 8-7-1 Pittsburgh team going into Baltimore to take on a 9-7 Ravens team in the final game of the regular season. That might be the best game on the Week 18 schedule if things fall into place for it.

But the Ravens need to find a win in Cincinnati or against the Rams first. Maybe even a game that does not come down to us arguing about Harbaugh’s 2PC decision.

Titans at Steelers: Fumbled the Top Seed

Over 10 hours later, I’m still shocked the Steelers won this one. They trailed 13-3 at halftime and were outdone at every phase.

The offense couldn’t buy a third-down conversion or open a running lane for Najee Harris, and that really never improved after halftime either. The Steelers finished 2-of-11 on third down and Harris had 12 carries for 18 yards. Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass streak ended at 27 games, and this is the first game in his career where Pittsburgh won despite not breaking 200 yards of offense (168). In fact, it’s only the second time during his career where they won like that as they had 127 yards in a 19-11 win over the 2010 Titans when he was suspended.

The defense could not stop the run again as D’Onta Foreman had 108 of the team’s 201 rushing yards. Imagine if Derrick Henry played, not to mention A.J. Brown or if Julio Jones didn’t leave again with his hamstring bothered. Devin Bush dropped a red-zone pick on Tennessee’s only offensive touchdown drive. Some of Ryan Tannehill’s best throws were dropped or fumbled by his receivers as the Steelers got solid pressure on him, but stopping the run is still a nightmare for this unit.

The special teams had terrible punts and coverage again. Chris Boswell even missed a 56-yard field goal before halftime on a cold day, but that kick never should have been that long. That happened because Mike Tomlin mismanaged the clock, not using his timeouts to save the offense a minute to respond to a 19-play drive by the Titans, who were getting the ball to start the third too. Roethlisberger only had 12 seconds at his own 22 to work with but still did a good job to put Boswell in position for an attempt.

It was another shitshow from a team that’s been getting clobbered in the first half for a month. So, what were the magic adjustments in the second half to spark the 19-13 comeback win? Simply put, the Titans kept turning the ball over. Pittsburgh’s defense made some good plays, but also caught some breaks with Tennessee’s lesser skill players putting the ball on the ground. They also got a tipped pick from Tannehill in the fourth quarter.

But even with the outstanding field position, Pittsburgh’s offense kept stalling. The Steelers started three straight drives at the Tennessee 41 or better after turnovers, and they gained two first downs and settled for three field goals. The last two field goal drives were technically three-and-out performances.

It was on the defense to make one more stop with Tannehill having 4:29 to drive for the go-ahead touchdown. This half, Tomlin had burned two of his timeouts foolishly, so it was looking like the Steelers might give up the go-ahead score with under 30 seconds left. But another critical sack changed things, and on fourth-and-7, Tannehill got into the business of throwing short of the sticks. Westbrook-Ikhine, who dropped a 40-yard bomb earlier in the game, was unable to gain the first down after a great tackle by corner Joe Haden, who returned in the nick of time for this one. It was absurd that the spot was so good for Tennessee when he clearly was never that close to converting, but replay got it sorted out and the Steelers held on for the much-needed win.

NFL teams who rush for 200 yards and hold their opponent under 200 net yards were 366-8-1 (.977) since the merger. But add a ninth loss to that stat for the Titans on Sunday. Losing the turnover battle 4-0 is the simplest way to lose a game like this.

What does it mean? The Titans (9-5) should be safe for the division, though they’ll need an upset of Kansas City to reclaim the top seed. As for Pittsburgh (7-6-1), I still think there’s nothing more on brand for Tomlin than to go 8-8-1, miss the playoffs due to a tie with Detroit, and keep up this “he’s never had a losing season!” thing. Lose in Kansas City, beat the Browns on MNF in Ben’s last home game, and have a hell of a finale in Baltimore in Week 18.

That’s really the best-case scenario at this point, and this goofy win makes it possible.

Cardinals at Lions: Broken Arizona

Matthew Stafford vs. 2021 Cardinals: 1-1. Jared Goff vs. 2021 Cardinals: 1-0. So, who really won that trade?

Jokes aside, this week was a f’n disaster for Arizona after losing to the Rams on Monday night, losing DeAndre Hopkins for possibly the season, and getting clobbered by the 1-11-1 Lions in Detroit. I liked Detroit +12.5, but my goodness, this was a wire-to-wire rout. Goff didn’t even have his best RB (Swift) or TE (Hockenson), yet he was 21-of-26 for 216 yards and three touchdowns while Kyler Murray struggled.

Kliff Kingsbury didn’t have a good day either. I thought he should have kicked the field goal on 4th-and-goal at the 3 while trailing 10-0 with 2:02 left. Get something on the board after a rough start, back to a one-score game, and use your timeouts to get the ball back. They went for it, failed, and the Lions drove 97 yards for a touchdown thanks to two roughing the passer penalties. Brutal.

The Cardinals had another shot to make it a game after getting a fumble in the third quarter, down 17-3. But Murray’s pass was jumped for a huge interception that set up a 6-yard touchdown drive to make it 24-3. It was boring from there as Detroit won 30-12. This is a team that had a 2-point win over Minnesota on the final play and a tie with the Steelers this year. They just blew out the former top seed in the NFC.

In fact, this is the first time the Lions beat a 10-win team by 18 points since a 27-9 win over Tampa Bay (10-6) in 1997. But that was early in the season when Tampa Bay was 5-1. The last time the Lions beat a team this bad that had 10 wins coming into the game? 38-6 over the 1991 Cowboys (12-5) in the NFC divisional round, the only Detroit playoff win since 1958.

Kneecaps were f’n devoured on this day by Dan Campbell’s boys.

Bengals at Broncos: Lock Down

A competitive, low-scoring game in Denver really turned in the fourth quarter when backup Drew Lock had the ball taken away from him on an ill-advised designed run that never had a chance. It was very close to being a play where the defender fumbled the ball back to the offense, but replay showed the defender was just down by contact after first getting the ball. That was still a contender for the wildest snap of the season, and it proved costly to the Broncos, who never got past midfield again in a 15-10 loss that buries them in the AFC playoff race.

This was the second week in a row where Zac Taylor’s Bengals were playing a team nearly as shitty as they are in close games. Last week, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers came back to win in overtime. But this time, Vic Fangio dropped to 3-13 (.188) in 4QC opportunities as Denver’s coach with Lock in the game for the injured Teddy Bridgewater.

However, a mismanaged sequence before halftime also proved costly when the Broncos failed to call a run on 3rd-and-1 at the Cincinnati 33 with 17 seconds and one timeout left. Let’s be realistic. You’re not throwing a touchdown there with Bridgewater as your quarterback. This is all about the field goal and getting that first down with your offense that has been pushing the run with your duo of backs is the goal to close out this half. Run the ball, get the first, call your last timeout, then maybe you could try one throw at the end zone before sending out the kicker. Denver threw an incomplete pass, Brandon McManus missed the 51-yard field goal with nine seconds left, and Joe Burrow had enough time and a timeout to complete a 19-yard pass. That set up the Bengals for a 58-yard field goal that was good to take a 6-3 lead into the locker room.

Fangio does a lot of good things with the defense, but his teams lose a lot of these excruciatingly close, low-scoring games because of mismanaged situations like that and the red-zone play with Lock in the fourth quarter.

Next week: What? When does this week even end? There are two games on Monday and Tuesday, a Thursday night game, and two games on Saturday (Christmas). I suppose my main interest is to see if the Roethlisberger-era Steelers have one more crazy road upset left in them when they take on the Chiefs in Kansas City.