NFL Stat Oddity: Week 7

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

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

We’ve Seen This Seattle Show Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver’s Demoralizing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Bury Brees and the Saints Yet

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

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

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

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

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

F*** the Falcons

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

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

Enough is enough.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Steelers at Titans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Titans 27, Steelers 24

2020 NFL Week 7 Predictions

Here are the rest of my picks for the week.

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

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

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Reshuffling the AFC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Allen: Let’s Pump the Brakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 6 Predictions

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

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

Previous weeks:

Raiders Came at the King, Didn’t Miss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, Are You a Football Team?

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

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

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

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

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

Pennsylvania’s Historic Third Down Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Dalton: The Ginger Cowboy Rides Again

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

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

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

Russell Wilson’s Best Game-Winning Drive Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 3 Predictions: The Best Week of the Year?

Whether or not it was because of fears of COVID-19 wiping this season out soon after it started, the NFL really loaded up the Week 3 schedule in a way we’re not used to seeing.

I’ve already previewed the prime-time games this week with the Packers-Saints on SNF and my Game of the Year in Baltimore between the Chiefs and Ravens on MNF. If those aren’t enough, we’re also getting the Play-Action Bowl between the undefeated Rams and Bills, the Texans travel to Pittsburgh for a Watt family reunion, and the Seahawks host the Cowboys in what could be a major shootout with huge passing numbers if those offenses let the quarterbacks run the show. Hell, even the Raiders at Patriots looks much better going into Sunday than it has all year.

It could be hard to find another week in this regular season with games as big as the ones this week. After favorites finished 14-2 straight up last week, you have to wonder if we’ll see some big upsets this time. Thursday night in Florida was already a game where two teams, Miami and Jacksonville, looked much different from what they showed us the first two games as Miami easily won 31-13.

I’m going with a few upsets this week, including the aforementioned Packers in New Orleans, and I also like the Texans in Pittsburgh. Yes, Deshaun Watson is going to face a ton of pressure against that defense, but so did Daniel Jones and Jeff Driskel and both had a shot in those games until a hit in motion interception at the goal line and a sack on 4th down for Driskel last week. Watson is a better quarterback than that and the Texans can’t afford to fall to 0-3 against the contenders in this conference. Most teams in the NFL would be 0-2 if they started the season with the Chiefs and Ravens too. I looked it up and 0-2 teams are 14-31 (.311) against 2-0 teams in the third game of the season since 2001. Not the most encouraging record, but again, these teams have played completely different calibers of competition so far.

NFL Week 17 Predictions: Making History Edition

I would say this regular season has gone quickly, but it feels like eons ago when Antonio Brown caught a touchdown for the Patriots down in Miami. Things have changed a lot since and we only have four of the 12 playoff seeds locked up going into this final Sunday. A whopping four teams can still win the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

With some teams probably mailing in this last game, I’d save my money and look to bet big on the playoffs. Here are some musings on the history we could see happen on Sunday.

Top-Heavy Season

It’s been a season of the haves and the have nots. The AFC could have just five teams with a winning record if the Steelers (8-7) and Titans (8-7) don’t beat Baltimore and Houston teams that should be resting key players. The same thing can happen in the NFC if the Eagles (8-7) and Rams (8-7) don’t win. At best we’ll have 14 teams with a winning record, the fewest since 2015 (13). You’d have to go back to top-heavy 2011 to find a season with 12 winning teams.

Jameis Winston: 30 for 30

Jameis Winston can make history by having the first season in NFL history with 30 TD passes and 30 interceptions. He has 31 TD and 28 INT going into tomorrow and should surpass 5,000 passing yards to lead the league. If anyone could do it, it’s Jameis. He should be up to 29 after the first drive. Then it’s just a matter of chasing infamy.

Three Stooges Alert

The Buffalo Bills (10-5) are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC and have little reason to go full throttle against the Jets. However, if they win this game and finish 11-5, it will trigger a little history for the Three Stooges of the AFC East. It’ll be the first time since realignment in 2002 that the Patriots had a division rival win 11 games without their help. The 2008 Dolphins finished 11-5, but one of those wins was against the Patriots (Wildcat game). The 2010 Jets finished 11-5, but one of those wins was against the Patriots. The Bills could get to 11-5 even after getting swept by the Patriots.

We’ll see if the Bills can come anywhere close to the 2010 Jets’ playoff run. The Jets haven’t returned to the playoffs since.

CLE/JAX: Don’t Promote from Within

It’s possible Freddie Kitchens (Browns) and Doug Marrone (Jaguars) could coach their last game for their team on Sunday. It reminds me of this tweet about promoting an interim coach or someone already on the staff to head coach. It’s usually a bad idea.

Patriots Defense

As expected, New England’s historic defense slowed down once the schedule put some good QBs/offenses on the field. But few teams have had much success against them this year. The Patriots go into the final game allowing 198 points on the season. Their most dominant game of the year was the 43-0 win in Miami in Week 2. If they can pitch a shutout again, they’ll become just the second team since 2001 to allow fewer than 200 points in a season. The 2002 Buccaneers allowed 196 points. If they just allow a field goal they’ll be tied with the 2006 Ravens (201) for the second fewest allowed.

As long as the Patriots don’t allow 25 points at home to Ryan Fitzpatrick, they’ll have the best scoring defense of any team since 2007.

Saints Eyeing 75/150

Michael Thomas already broke Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 catches in a season with 145. He just needs five to become the first player with 150 catches in a season. Drew Brees can break the single-season completion record for the third year in a row, becoming the first player to exceed 75% (he’s at 75.3%).

Golladay: The Last Hope?

It’s been a weird fantasy season with a lot of big names disappointing. Passing touchdowns are down a little, so it’s not that surprising to see receiving touchdowns down as well for the leading receivers.

Detroit’s Kenny Golladay leads the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. If that number holds through Sunday, it’ll be the first non-strike season in the NFL since 1975 that no one caught more than 11.

Steelers at Ravens: Not Meaningless

A bit more than pride is on the line for the Steelers and Ravens despite Baltimore resting key starters, including likely MVP winner Lamar Jackson. The Steelers need a win and help to make the playoffs. They also need to not lose by more than a field goal to extend their streak of .500 seasons with a positive scoring differential to 16 years. That would tie for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Only the 1965-1983 Cowboys (19 years) and 2001-2019 Patriots (19 years) have longer streaks.

The Ravens also need just 93 rushing yards to break the single-season record held by the 1978 Patriots (3,165). That should be easy with a running QB (Robert Griffin) and a gameplan that should try to run the clock faster than anything. It’s not like the Ravens need this win. The 1948 49ers actually rushed for 3,653 yards in 14 games, but that’s not the official record because the AAFC doesn’t count.

49ers at Seahawks: Playoffs Start Early

Sunday Night Football has the pleasure of giving us 49ers-Seahawks to end the regular season. It was a wild overtime finish last time, won by Seattle. Both teams are in the playoffs regardless, but this is still a huge game since a win would give the 49ers the No. 1 seed and next week off. Lose and they’re the No. 5 seed with Seattle likely sliding into No. 3. If you think the 49ers are the team of destiny this year, then they really need to come through and win this one in a building they haven’t won in since Russell Wilson was drafted (0-8).

Wilson, starting with that SF game, has not been as sharp over the last six games. Seattle has dropped two of the last three games and actually have three losses by 14+ points this year. The 49ers are 3.5-point favorites on the road here.

Due to the 49ers shockingly losing to the Falcons a few weeks ago, this game is still important to the team even if they did make a better decision in the first matchup. Remember when the 49ers had a chance to run out the clock and take a tie with Seattle, but threw three incomplete passes and watched Wilson drive for the win? At the time I thought it could be a huge blow to their chances of getting the No. 1 seed:

Had the 49ers taken the tie, they likely would have the division already clinched. They still would have needed to win this one to get homefield advantage, but the division wouldn’t be up for grabs like it is now.

The Seahawks are looking for their 12th win despite outscoring their schedule by 12 points this year. It’s been a great year for Wilson and the 49ers have been declining on defense as injuries pile up, but I still think I’m going to go with San Francisco to pull it off and earn the No. 1 seed.

NFL Week 17 Predictions

This is not the slate I want to try finish over .500 for, but I have some decent faith in the Browns, Colts, Falcons and Rams ending their season on a high note. I can also see Drew Lock edging the Raiders by a FG at home in Denver. I think the Chiefs keep rolling with this defense through the Chargers.

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For next season I’m probably going to move to a model approach to make my picks instead of going from the gut.

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NFL Week 12 Predictions: RC Cola Popping Edition

So last week kind of sucked in the NFL, which was my concern going into last Sunday. The early afternoon slate was especially low on drama. A total of six teams won by at least 17 points in Week 11, the most since Week 17 last year. Some teams clearly mailed in their performance to end that season, so this was especially one-sided.

When I look at the 1 P.M. slate for Week 12, I see very little to get excited for. My preference would be to just watch Seahawks-Eagles with some RedZone sprinkled in, because it’s one of the closest games of the season by many projection models. Could be a true pick ’em with a Seattle team that’s been scraping by all the close ones against an Eagles team that can stop the run and should be desperately playing to hang onto division title hopes.

But instead I’ll probably be focusing on the Steelers looking to continue their mastery in Cincinnati, or perhaps add another soul-crushing loss to a terrible team to Mike Tomlin’s resume.

Steelers at Bengals (+6.5): Don’t Bet on 0-16

It’s a safe bet to pick a team to NOT go 0-16 in the NFL. Only the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns have done it. Meanwhile, 10 teams have finished 1-15 and 32 teams have finished 2-14 since 1978. The 0-10 Bengals have a favorable schedule coming up for a win, but none may be sweeter than this opportunity against Pittsburgh (5-5).

I’ve probably been writing about this for a decade now,  but Mike Tomlin’s Steelers love to come up small in the small games, especially on the road against teams they’re expected to beat. Losing to the 0-10 Bengals as a 6.5 point underdog would certainly fit that bill. Since 2007, the Steelers are 16-9 (.640) straight up and 8-17 (.320) against the spread on the road as a 6+ point favorite.

It’s a bit surprising the Steelers remain a 6.5 point favorite. They beat the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field earlier this season, but they won’t have QB1 (Ben Roethlisberger), RB1 (James Conner), or WR1 (JuJu Smith-Schuster) for this game. You’d have to go back to 1999, if not further, to find a Pittsburgh offense this devoid of talent, and I’m saying that even with the consideration of the RB and WR returning soon. Oh, not to mention the center is suspended.

Yes, Mason Rudolph has already won a game against the Bengals, but he is coming off one of the worst QB performances of the season. There’s also obviously some controversy surrounding him from his role in the Myles Garrett incident. There’s no Maurkice Pouncey at center because of his suspension from the fight. The Steelers are going to rely heavily on defense to win this game, which it can do with the way it has gotten turnovers this year. Andy Dalton was also sacked a career-high 8 times in the last meeting. Ryan Finley has taken over and done nothing to really impress anyone. He’s not afraid to scramble though. The Bengals have been competitive at times with 3 blown fourth quarter leads, and the running game has gone for over 150 yards in consecutive weeks. It’s likely to be a game decided by turnovers.

One of the most stunning stats I’ve ever seen in the NFL is this one: ex-Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis was 2-16 at home against the Steelers. Rookie head coach Zac Taylor has done practically nothing to establish a name for himself this season, but reversing that home trend and pulling off an upset win over the Steelers would easily be the team’s highlight this year.

With the Steelers lacking so much talent on offense, I feel like this is a great upset to pick. Keep the RC Cola bottles ready, Detroit and Cleveland. Your 0-16 club may be closing up membership for at least another year very soon.

GOTW: Cowboys at Patriots (-3)

It sure would be nice if this turns out to be a great game seeing as how Jags-Titans is the only other game scheduled for the late afternoon. I’m not sure how that happened, but clearly the NFL wants to milk what should be Brady/Belichick vs. Dallas for the last time.

Standing in the Cowboys’ way is The Clapper (Jason Garrett). The thought of him outsmarting Belichick is why I have no issue picking the Patriots in this one, but there are reasons to be optimistic about Dallas’ chances. Concern is do they run Zeke too much and put Dak Prescott in tough third-and-long situations. It could be tempting to run if you look at the success Cleveland and Baltimore had doing so against New England this year. If it’s working you really can’t knock it, but Dallas will have to be careful to not fall into the trap of continuing to slam Elliott into the line on so many early downs.

This is the best pass defense Prescott has seen in his NFL career. He’s playing better than ever this season, but he’ll definitely have to bring his A game to succeed in this one. If the Patriots want to take Amari Cooper away with Stephon Gilmore, then I think Dallas is still fine in this matchup. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are healthy and playing well. The tight ends can contribute as well. Cooper only had 38 yards in Detroit last week, but Dak still threw for 444. Dallas (52.1%) is the only offense in the league converting more than 50% on third down in 2019. That’s helped this offense lead the league in yards per game, yards per play and first downs per game thru Week 11. This offense has evolved thanks to the progression of a young QB and new OC Kellen Moore.

I just worry about this coaching staff preparing for a team they only see once every four years. The Cowboys have another game like that on Thanksgiving against Buffalo, so a lot of eyes will be on them this week. It’s the type of week that could launch Dak on an MVP path, or sink this team’s season if the Eagles can go on a run too.

The Patriots have really only played four teams of note this season: PIT, BUF, BAL, PHI. Everyone else has a losing record. If you look at the expected points added breakdown on Pro Football Reference, their three worst games on offense were against PHI/BAL/BUF. Their four worst games on defense were against BUF/PIT/PHI/BUF. Dallas has played a similarly weak schedule (plays the AFC East and NFC East), but this is one of the best challenges the Patriots will see all year. Dallas doesn’t have a great defense, but it has been respectable most weeks.

I don’t want to belabor the point about NE’s mediocre offense, because it should be obvious at this point. They basically peaked in the first two weeks of the season when they played a Pittsburgh defense they always murder at home and a Miami team that was completely lost. Since then the offense has rarely been good. Brady’s TD% is a career low 3.5% right now. Replacing Rob Gronkowski with an ancient Ben Watson isn’t doing a whole lot. They’ve already gone through Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. It’s basically Julian Edelman moving the chains and their big plays are coming down to James White turning a screen pass into 30+ yards.

Only the Patriots can trade a 2nd-round pick for a 30-year-old WR who was averaging a career-low in yards per catch and have people think it’s a great move. That’s Mohamed Sanu and now he’s injured and may not even be active. Oh and the Patriots stink at running the ball this year to boot. I’d love to see Dallas just double up on Edelman and shrink the field, forcing Brady to beat them deep.

New England basically loses one home game a year and blow one 4Q lead a year, so if there’s a game on the schedule where that’s most likely to happen this season, it’s probably this one. However, keep in mind that Dallas is 0-3 at 4QC opportunities this season as we knew regression was going to come in that area for them. Still, you can trust Dak on a game-winning drive opportunity. The Patriots offense has yet to have one this season since the defense always has them ahead, and they couldn’t do any better than trail by 10 in their lone loss in Baltimore.

I think this one goes down to the final drive, but I’m still going to take Belichick over Garrett every time.

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I had Houston by 6 points on TNF, but of course they wouldn’t kick a late FG and only won by 3. I should probably feel lucky that the Texans even won that game.

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The Bengals are not my only upset pick this week. I think the Jets take care of Oakland in the early game after showing some life offensively last week. I also have the Buccaneers beating Atlanta for no good reason other than the NFC South doesn’t make sense right now, but I still don’t believe the Falcons have magically fixed their defense the last two weeks.

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NFL Week 2 Predictions: Mono vs. Stereo Edition

My gut still tells me Week 2 is arguably the hardest to predict in a season since you’re trying to weigh your preseason expectations with that 1/16th of reality from a week ago. What’s real and what’s opponent-based fluff? Some injuries are already real this year, and that can change things for  teams, but I want to see if Lamar Jackson is the new sophomore demigod QB, if the Browns are actually still disappointing, and if the Bears just had another one of their one-year wonder seasons in 2018.

Frankly, there’s a lot of stuff I want to see pan out, so let’s just go over a few select Week 2 games.

Vikings at Packers (-3)

Is the Green Bay defense really that improved, or was Mitchell Trubisky just god-awful bad in Week 1? Can the Packers even prepare much for the Minnesota passing offense after Kirk Cousins threw just 10 passes last week? This was a fantastic game in Lambeau last year that ended in a tie. The Vikings had horrible special teams that day and I felt like Cousins outplayed Rodgers and should have got the win. I’m going with this improved Minnesota team to put the clamps on Rodgers again and for the Vikings to get the upset road win.

Patriots at Dolphins (+19)

A-Fucking-C East I tell ya. What a legacy this division has behind the Patriots. Last year it was Buffalo as a 16.5-point underdog in Week 3 to Minnesota, but the Bills actually won that game. Now the Patriots are a 19-point favorite in Miami, the biggest spread in September since the Seahawks were a 20-point favorite against the 2013 Jaguars (Seattle won 45-17).

Teams favored by more than 14 points in September are 6-14-2 ATS and 18-4 SU since 1978.

As for the Patriots specifically (all months), they are 0-5 ATS when favored by more than 17 points. All but one of those games came in the 2007 season. It’s still worth mentioning that the Patriots are 10-1 ATS when favored by 15.5 to 17 points since 2001. That’s an excellent record as the only game they didn’t cover was the 2008 opener when Tom Brady tore his ACL against the Chiefs.

So the Patriots usually don’t cover spreads this large, and I think -19 should piss every person off in Miami. Of course, that’s assuming anyone there still gives a damn after a housecleaning offseason and a 59-10 destruction last week when they made the Baltimore passing offense look all world and even were destroyed on the ground as well in one of the worst openers ever for a team.

The 2019 Dolphins might be looking to set a record for least effort in a season in NFL history.

Now Belichick’s former assistants have had some success against him, including wins by Eric Mangini (2006 Jets), Josh McDaniels (2009 Broncos) and Matt Patricia (2018 Lions) in the past. Mike Vrabel (2018 Titans) also got a big win over his former head coach last year. The problem with Brian Flores is I just don’t think he’s cut out for this job and his team seems to be quitting on him in record time. I originally thought in my season preview that this would be Miami’s lone highlight of the season as Ryan Fitzpatrick would throw for 350 and the Patriots would drop another shocker in Miami. However, after the way these teams played last week I just can’t see that happening, and we haven’t even mentioned the destructive force named Antonio Brown, who still has some hours to cause another ruckus and not actually make his team debut.

With or without Brown, the Patriots are going to win this game with ease, though I think I’d be all over the “Patriots win by 19-24” bet in this one as I can see it being very close to the Vegas mark.

Seattle at Pittsburgh (-3.5)

I think it’s an advantage for Pittsburgh to get the Seahawks at 10:00 A.M. PST, because I remember the 2007 and 2011 meetings where the Steelers caught them sleepwalking early, winning 21-0 and 24-0 in seasons that still resulted in the postseason for Seattle.

However, those teams didn’t have Russell Wilson at QB. The good news for Pittsburgh is that the Seahawks still insist on running the ball so much on early downs, leading to Wilson having to be a magician on 3rd down and in the 4th quarter. We know he can be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this game comes down to the final play, but I think the Pittsburgh defense will play much better at home this week against a more old-school offense. We know the Pittsburgh offense also plays better at home generally, and it’s hard to not do better than the 3-point output last week. I think people selling this offense after one game in NE are premature. The Steelers had four drives in a row where they just needed a yard to continue and failed every time by calling really stupid plays or not holding onto the ball. Donte Moncrief had a horrific debut and the Steelers have to get Vance McDonald and James Washington more involved. I think JuJu Smith-Schuster will be fine and Ben Roethlisberger should like what he saw with Andy Dalton throwing for over 400 yards against the new Seattle secondary (in Seattle even) last week.

I had the Steelers winning in Week 2 last year, but Patrick Mahomes carved them up with 6 TD passes. I don’t think Wilson will be allowed to be that great in this spot, but I still think the Steelers are in a dangerous spot to fall to 0-2 here if they aren’t sharp early. I can see this coming down to a last-second field goal win or a straight up loss. Also, Wilson has only lost 4 games out of 126 by more than 9 points. That’s why I love the teaser with Seattle +9.5.

Chiefs at Raiders (+7)

I would put the Chiefs on upset alert this week as they go on the road for the second game in a row. Tyreek Hill is out and Patrick Mahomes was limited a bit after an injury scare in Jacksonville. He didn’t attack deep and may not do much without Hill active as well. I still think he’ll keep his points streak (26+ in every game) alive, but Derek Carr can score on this defense too. He has the last couple of years at home and looked good last week as well. I won’t pick the Raiders to win, but I like them to cover.

Bears at Broncos (+2)

In my season preview I thought this was a lock for Denver at home, but now I’m not so sure after how these teams played last week. Sure, Trubisky and the offense sucked, but the defense still looked 2018 caliber. That’s bad news since Joe Flacco still looked 2013-2018 caliber, and the vaunted Denver pass rush did absolutely nothing against Oakland. Now the game does switch to Mile High where the Broncos are amazing in September, and Vic Fangio should know the Bears very well after being there for four seasons. So I still like some of those matchups, and I will admit that while Flacco was no fun to watch, he finished with a fair stat line and even had an easy TD dropped.

So I think I’m still leaning towards Denver at home, but it’s nowhere near the lock I felt it was going to be. I guess it basically comes down to which struggling QB do you expect to fold more against an elite pass rusher (Mack or Von).

Browns at Jets (+7)

This was a fun game last year as it turned out to be Baker Mayfield’s NFL debut (off the bench). It could have been even better this year if these two teams were looking to turn the tide an AFC where New England and Pittsburgh have reigned for so long. Of course, it’s only Week 2 and this looks like a shitshow already. The Browns were embarrassed at home by Tennessee last week and the Jets blew a 16-0 lead to Buffalo and lost Sam Darnold to mono.

Good luck, Adam Gase. You’re starting Trevor Siemian, though it’s hard to think he can be any worse than Darnold’s dink-and-dunk performance a week ago. The Jets also lost Quincy Enunwa for the whole year again, and there are other notable injuries with C.J. Mosley and Le’Veon Bell banged up.

The spread still looks a little high here as I’m not sure we can trust the Browns just yet, especially on the road where they almost never win this decade. Sure, it’s the Baker era and things are different, but as last week showed, they haven’t earned our trust just yet.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I tend to believe in regression to the mean almost to a fault. So when I start a season 12-4 ATS, I expect a bloodbath in Week 2 to even things out. As I went over in the above games, not a lot of confidence flowing here, but these are my picks:

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I loved Panthers by 1-6 on TNF, and it likely would have worked if they called a QB sneak with Cam instead of the atrocity they used on 4th-and-inches.

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NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards and WTF, AB?

Normally I would start this by making my predictions for individual awards this season, but Saturday blew that up with some unsettling news that likely would have changed my season predictions on Thursday had it happened sooner.

WTF, AB?

Antonio Brown has a third team this calendar year after getting released by Oakland and signed very quickly by the Patriots on Saturday. I know Mike Tomlin believes the standard is the standard, but why does it feel like 31 teams continue to uphold the standard that the Patriots are brilliant because everyone else is so dumb?

It’s not that I want to be a conspiracy theorist, but something reeks here and I’m far from the only one smelling it. Tampering might be putting it lightly. I’ve seen conspiracies tracing as far back as the end of last season that Brown finessed his way out of Pittsburgh to get to his true destination of New England, but I don’t buy that. However, the Venn diagram of people who think Colin Kaepernick isn’t blackballed by the NFL and people who think New England only got in touch with AB late Saturday afternoon is a perfect circle.

There’s no way something shady didn’t happen here, and 31 teams should be pissed about that. “The Patriot Way” is really just BS media code for “Doing anything they can to win at all costs, even if it includes flat-out cheating.”

The Steelers were never going to trade AB to New England, their main nemesis in the AFC. There was talk in March of a trade to Buffalo, another team that would never trade AB to NE in the same division, but that reportedly never got close and AB didn’t want to go there.

So Oakland became the perfect patsy for AB to exploit this summer. First it was the frostbitten foot in cryotherapy. The Raiders supported him as he missed time for that. Then came the helmet story where he threatened to retire if he couldn’t play in his old helmet. The team supported that when AB filed his grievance with the league, which failed. He was a major distraction in August, even getting an ultimatum at one point from GM Mike Mayock that he’s either with the team or he’s out. AB was in, but things only got dicier this week when after posting a letter of a team fine, Brown reportedly called Mayock a “cracker” and swore at him before Vontaze Burfict had to hold him back. Even after Crackergate the team stood by him and Jon Gruden said AB will play Monday night. That didn’t stop AB from posting a well-crafted video on Friday night that included a recorded phone conversation with Gruden. A larger fine came that would void AB’s nearly $30 million in guaranteed money. So by Saturday, AB asked for his release and the Raiders had enough of this shit and granted it. For some reason AB had a camera crew recording the moment he got his release as well. Nope, nothing fishy there. A few hours later he was signed by the Patriots on a one-year deal worth up to $15 million. Somehow this was expected by everyone in the free world except the other 29 NFL teams. AB had plenty of Pro-Patriot social media posts ready for that occasion as well. Again, totally normal day.

When Robert Kraft is the owner and Drew Rosenhaus is the player agent, that’s a lot of slime involved. I’d suggest they could have done a deal under the table, but we know Kraft likes to operate above the table. AB has been acting up for a couple of years in Pittsburgh, though nothing to the level of the last month in Oakland. Should he suddenly clean up his act on social media and become a good foot soldier for Belichick, the whole thing will reek of a storyline only Vince McMahon could cook up in his prime.

Pat McAfee summed it up well in case you missed it:

So on the eve of the first Sunday of the season, the Patriots go from Super Bowl favorite to…stronger Super Bowl favorite? What, is Gronk going to come out of retirement after Thanksgiving to chase a 19-0 season now? The pathetic division wasn’t enough. The soft schedule that features their toughest games at home wasn’t enough. Now they get to add one of the most talented receivers in the world to an offense that already has one of those (Josh Gordon), plus the uncoverable slot machine who was MVP of the Super Bowl (Julian Edelman).

Frankly, Saturday lowered my interest in the season and in a league where one team always seems to pants everyone else. The only saving grace is that Brown and Gordon aren’t the most reliable guys in the league, Brady is 42, and it is a long season. It’s not like star wideouts are winning championships left and right this decade. AB is more likely to be 2012 Brandon Lloyd than 2007 Randy Moss for this offense. It’s not like Brady’s arm is what it was 12 years ago, nor are the go routes ever his thing. But the potential of it all is scary if he and Gordon stay on the right path.

But in AB’s case, it’s a path that almost certainly took some turns through shady places to get him from Pittsburgh to New England.

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NFL 2019 Awards Predictions

As I said the other day I was going to go all in on the Colts for some of these picks, including Andrew Luck as MVP/OPOY and Frank Reich for COY. But that sure blew up in a hurry.

  • Most Valuable Player: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • Coach of the Year: Freddie Kitchens, Browns
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Keith Butler, Steelers
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Julio Jones, Falcons
  • Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Devin Singletary, Bills
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Allen, Jaguars
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Le’Veon Bell, Jets

I want to explain a few of these.

MVP: Mahomes is at a disadvantage in that 2018 was so amazing for him it’ll be hard to repeat or improve on those numbers. MVPs have been won in clusters before, though usually the stronger stat year comes second. Think Peyton twice (2004>2003, 2009>2008) as the last two times it’s happened. However, I just think the kid is so talented and off to this amazing start that he can turn in another unbelievable season in that offense. I also just don’t care for the alternatives with the ages of Brady and Brees, and Carson Wentz is one of the favorites but I just have never seen the MVP-caliber performance from him before. I think Mahomes will have the lack of a defense on his side again as the Chiefs look to get another first-round bye. I’m very excited to see how he plays this season because it’s hard to say he’s yet to have a bad game thru 19 starts.

OPOY: As for why I didn’t pick Mahomes for OPOY too, I tend to split this award to someone who was more stat special at a skill position unless it was an all-time great QB season. So my gut says Julio Jones kills this noise about who is the best wideout in the NFL (OBJ and AB switching teams) and finally has a big TD season. Regression for Calvin Ridley in TDs and more to Julio to go with his usual outstanding yardage. I also have the Falcons back in the playoffs so let me feed that narrative too.

COY: I’ve seen people complaining about this award since Bill Belichick hasn’t won it since 2010, but what year did he really have a better argument than the winner? The only I arrived on was 2016 (Jason Garrett, Cowboys), but I also forgot that they only lost to the Giants before resting starters in Week 17’s loss. Getting Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott was a monster draft for them, but Prescott had to replace an injured Tony Romo in the preseason. So even that wasn’t an overwhelming argument for Belichick.

Anyways, for 2019 I wanted to pick someone who has to bring a team from nowhere to the playoffs, and the only coaches I have in my predictions doing that in their first try are Freddie Kitchens and Matt LaFleur. I was going to pick LaFleur here, and that’s not reactionary to Thursday night when I had picked GB to win the division (and that road opener), but I also saw the defense win the game so I’m not ready to go off on his offensive wizardry. Kitchens has the talent in Cleveland to win 10 games like I predicted, so if he can get the Browns back to the playoffs, I think that’s a pretty good argument for Coach of the Year. I also think if Frank Reich gets the Colts to 9-7 without Andrew Luck, he’ll win it, but I’m sticking with my season predictions (Colts 7-9) and going with Kitchens.

DPOY: No one has won this award four times in their career. I get that picking J.J. Watt to do that sounds unlikely, but is him getting a fourth really that more unlikely than Aaron Donald winning it for a third straight year? My thought is the Texans could again have a better overall defense than the Rams and Watt will get more recognition since the team traded away Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle late in the process. He really has to be great like he was last year when he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. Watt can still play at a high level and a defensive back hasn’t won this award since 2010. It’s skewed towards the linemen.

DROY: Finally, I expect a lot of early Sunday afternoon confusion on Twitter this year when Buffalo and Jacksonville are playing, which means a double dose of Josh Allen. There’s the second-year QB in Buffalo and now there’s a rookie defender in Jacksonville. We might need to agree on nicknames to differentiate the two. I’m thinking maybe Good Josh Allen and JAG Allen could work, though JAG Allen might confuse if the Jacksonville player becomes the good one (seems more likely) and people use it for the rookie instead of the Just Another Guy scrambler in Buffalo.

I’ve thought about this too much already, so let’s close with some picks.

NFL Week 1 Predictions

It was a good start on Thursday night after I had the Packers winning outright in Chicago, but man did that game suck. I’m looking forward to PIT-NE, LAR-CAR, KC-JAX and HOU-NO the most this week. More than anything, just show me some good offense again. The Super Bowl and GB-CHI were just miserable games to watch and I was happy when both ended.

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NFL Week 15 Predictions: Pennsylvania Blues Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Patriots 30, Steelers 24

NFL Week 15 Predictions

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

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

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