NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

After 271 games, the 2022 NFL regular season is over. The simplest preview of the playoffs is that it looks like a 3-team buzzsaw in the AFC (Chiefs-Bills-Bengals) and the 49ers may be tempting fate in the mine field that is the NFC and get to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback playing better than anyone could have imagined.

Plenty of playoff articles to come, but for now, let’s put Week 18 to rest with its eight comeback opportunities and relatively low drama. Let’s face it, there isn’t much to say about many of these games, and I don’t want to go into 2023 preview mode this early, so this will be a light finish.

But first, a look at how I did on the preseason predictions.

Season Predictions: Worst Fears Confirmed, But Not Exactly the Worst Year Ever

I always knew I had my work cut out for me after nailing so many picks for the 2021 season when I got 28 teams within two games of their final record. Regression to the mean was coming, and I took some chances on my 2022 NFL predictions with picking the Colts and Broncos to win double-digit games and make the playoffs, for Arizona to turn a messy offseason into another postseason, for the Rams to finish as the No. 1 seed for their title defense, and for the Chargers to unseat the Chiefs in the AFC West by one game.

Even one of my best predictions was one I couldn’t ultimately reap, because I said before Week 1 that my initial run through of the schedule was too kind to give the Eagles a 14-3 record, so I watered it down to 11-6 as my final prediction. Sure enough, they did finish 14-3 on their way to the top seed in the NFC.

At the end of the day, I was off by 2.78 wins on average, which is the same as I did in the 2020 pandemic season. A far cry from the 1.28 games in 2021, but not unchartered territory for me.

Since I had the Bills finishing 13-4 and Bengals finishing 9-8, and that game was thrown out, it probably deserves an asterisk to say I had a second team to the exact record when Buffalo was 13-3 and I had 13-4. But the Bills, my Super Bowl pick, still look good going into the playoffs, and after the Damar Hamlin story, I actually feel even more confident in them pulling together to finish this job. But still much work to be done for the Bills.

I’ll have more articles this week looking back where some of these teams went wrong or where I went wrong. Those West divisions certainly had me hoodwinked and bamboozled.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Lions at Packers: Did Detroit Just End Aaron Rodgers’ Career?

It is 5:30 AM and this is my last game to write about after a long weekend. I don’t really want to go down the eulogy for Aaron Rodgers rabbit hole again, but that could have been the end last night. The way he walked off the field with Randall Cobb at his side, the subtle salute to the fans before going in the tunnel, this felt different than the playoff loss to the 49ers last year.

As for the game, it was pretty much a greatest hits of Green Bay in a big home loss with playoff implications:

  • Aaron Jones lost another big fumble in scoring territory before halftime that the Lions turned into a field goal.
  • Defense gave up a huge 43-yard bomb to Kalif Raymond to the 1-yard line.
  • Some bad play around the red zone (misfires, sacks on third down) left the Packers settling for too many field goals.
  • A terrible fourth-and-1 run was snuffed out by the Lions at Green Bay’s own 32, which led to an early Detroit field goal.
  • Mason Crosby hit the crossbar on a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter.
  • Lions converted a fourth-and-2 on their way to the go-ahead touchdown drive with 5:55 left as Jamaal Williams scored two short touchdowns against his former team.
  • On a third-and-10, Rodgers flinched under pressure and just threw up a deep ball that was picked. Better than getting sacked or checking down for a yard, but he never saw the ball again with 3:27 left.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a pass in his prostate area.
  • The fearless Lions, playing with nothing to lose, were aggressive and smart in running out the clock by declining penalties, trying bold laterals by design, and ultimately putting the game away with a fourth-and-1 pass conversion from Goff to DJ Chark.

It really is a shame the Lions (9-8) were eliminated before the game started with Seattle’s win, and that their season is not continuing next week. Because this team is playing well and they can score. Jared Goff did not throw an interception in the last nine games this season and he will finish No. 5 in QBR (61.2) on the season. Crazy stuff.

Rodgers will turn 40 next season in December. Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all recently retired after their age-39 season. Does Rodgers follow suit? We’ll just have to wait and find out, but it really does seem like he’s gotten all he could get out of this run with the Packers. I have some faith that Matt LaFleur can make Jordan Love work, but it will be a lot different not seeing Rodgers in Green Bay.

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

Going back to Saturday night’s showdown for the AFC South, this really felt like some 1990s Tom Coughlin vs. Jeff Fisher matchup to me. The game was a grind after some early fireworks, including rookie Treylon Burks trying one of the wildest laterals you will ever see in a play where the clock was not a factor.

But the Titans ended up blowing a 10-0 lead, the 50th time (NFL record) that happened in the 2022 season, and they failed to score on their final five drives. You have to wonder if they win the game if they just play the most conservative approach possible down the stretch.

In the biggest game yet for the Trevor Lawrence era, the offense wasn’t exactly dealing. In fact, the Jaguars are the first team to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback win without gaining a first down in the fourth quarter since the 2000 Panthers against the Chargers (credit to ESPN Stats & Info for putting that one out there).

A game like this is why I really need to add a no decision column to my fourth-quarter comeback opportunity records for quarterbacks, teams, and coaches. Lawrence had the ball in a 16-10 game to start the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars were already in field goal range thanks to a Josh Dobbs interception. The drive gained 7 yards (no first downs) and ended with a 36-yard field goal.

Okay, but it was still a 16-13 Tennessee lead. The Jaguars went three-and-out on their next two drives with Lawrence going 0-for-5 in success rate (0-for-6 in the quarter).

But after draining more than 5:00 off the clock and barely over 3:00 left to play, the Titans faced a third-and-6. Josh Dobbs had a decent game all things considered to this point. But the last thing he could do was turn the ball over. The blitz came and got him from the blind side and he lost the ball on a strip-sack that was picked up and returned for a 37-yard game-winning touchdown by Josh Allen with 2:51 left. It was close to being a forward pass, and the review was surprisingly fast, but it did look like a fumble.

Huge mistake. The Titans aren’t built for comebacks this year with the weak passing game. Dobbs took a sack at midfield that brought up a third-and-12, and the Titans took their first timeout at 1:46. Right there, I felt like they should have hurried up and ran the next play. If they couldn’t make 12 yards in two plays, then maybe they could use their three timeouts to get the ball back for a second drive.

But when you use the timeout, you are basically putting the game all on this drive, and a false start only made it worse to bring up third-and-17. Then a 4-yard completion burned a second timeout for the Titans, and now the game was going to be decided on a fourth-and-13. I thought that was managed poorly.

Dobbs threw well short of the sticks and the play gained 9 yards before the Titans turned it over on downs. Game over. Jaguars win the AFC South and their biggest game since the 2017 AFC Championship Game. Jaguars come back from 2-6 to 9-8 while the Titans lost seven in a row after a 7-3 start. We’ll see if Mike Vrabel doesn’t fall on the sword for this slide. They already canned the general manager (Jon Robinson) in December.

The Jaguars are going to have to play better to beat the Chargers, but that should be a much more offensive game than this one. Tennessee was tough against the run and the Jaguars only had 10 handoffs for 22 yards. Look for much more from Travis Etienne against the Chargers.

But yeah, I did not credit Lawrence for a fourth-quarter comeback in this one since the game-winning score was fully provided by the fumble touchdown. It clearly was not a game-winning drive either. I’ll have to consider working on a no contest column after this game in the offseason. Similarly, Kirk Cousins should get a no contest for his 4QC attempt against Buffalo since the go-ahead score was that fumble return touchdown. Games like this are tricky and they seem to be popping up a little more frequently these days.

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

Before this season, Geno Smith had three fourth-quarter comeback wins in his career, but he had two huge ones this year against the Rams to help push the Seahawks (9-8) into the most unexpected playoff spot of the season.

The Seahawks had to come back in the fourth quarter against the Rams to win 19-16 in overtime, then needed to watch the Lions upset the Packers at night to get the job done for the playoffs.

It didn’t seem likely when the day started, but what has ever seemed likely with this Seattle team? From Geno making the Pro Bowl and leading the NFL in completion percentage to Kenneth Walker quite possibly winning Offensive Rookie of the Year – he was my pick at +3000 odds in an August article – to winning four more games than Russell Wilson’s Broncos to losing home games against the Raiders and Panthers, this season has been crazy for Pete Carroll’s group.

Baker Mayfield threw up a prayer in overtime that was intercepted, and from there, Seattle drove into field goal range to let Jason Myers redeem himself from missing off the upright to end regulation with a 32-yard field goal to win the game.

The Seahawks are going to be a double-digit underdog in San Francisco next week, but you never know against a rookie quarterback in a division game.

Crazy to think we may have seen the last of Sean McVay coaching the Rams (5-12) in this game too. Big changes coming there.

Jets at Dolphins: Can We Just Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water Here?

I’m sorry, but Skylar Thompson vs. Joe Flacco in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter just reeks of irrelevant end to the season for AFC East Stooges rather than a postseason-clinching game.

But this is where we were after Miami’s five-game losing streak. They got the proper help from the Bills beating the Patriots, and they just needed to beat the lowly Jets.

As much as I didn’t want to see overtime either, I wish the refs didn’t feel the need to call a phantom horse collar tackle.

That wiped out a third-and-7 situation and put the Dolphins inside the Jets 40. Four plays later, the Dolphins hit a 50-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead with 18 seconds left. The Jets tried the lateral play, but all it did was go down as a safety, giving the Dolphins (-3.5) perhaps the most unearned, inexplicable cover of the season in a 11-6 final.

Miami gets the rubber match in Buffalo next week. They probably will give the Bills a better game than the Steelers would have, but if Tua Tagovailoa cannot go, then it is not an attractive matchup in my book. The AFC East was awfully close to sending just one team to the playoffs, but we’ll see what the Dolphins can do in Buffalo.

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

We can stop talking about the coin flip and unsettled AFC North race. The Bengals won it fair and square this year after beating the Ravens 27-16 in a slog of a game that saw 28 total possessions between the teams.

The Bengals quickly led 17-0, but things did not come easy for the offense after that. They were fortunate to be facing third-string rookie quarterback Anthony Brown, who threw two early picks before hitting some big plays later.

Really, I’m not looking forward to seeing these teams match up a third time next week in Cincinnati. Not unless Lamar Jackson makes his return, but even then, given his playoff history and more than a month of missing practice, how good can he be? I think the Bengals could have held back and ran a fake game plan in this one to still get the easy win. I’m not expecting much from the Ravens next week.

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

While it was likely hard for the Bengals to take the field of the site of Monday night’s tragedy with Damar Hamlin collapsing with cardiac arrest, imagine the emotions going through Buffalo players on Sunday. Fortunately, they got the best news possible on Hamlin this week, and they were able to put on a show with him following along on social media.

Nyheim Hines put his name in the history books by returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, the kind of thing you could only script if we’re being honest. Then he did it again later for a 101-yard return just 13 seconds after the Patriots took their only lead of the game. There were four kickoff return touchdowns all season before Sunday, and Hines just added a pair himself. Incredible stuff.

And yes, this is just the second time under Bill Belichick that the Patriots have allowed two special teams return touchdowns in a game. The last was against the 2015 Eagles and those were both related to punts (one return, one blocked punt return).

The Bills needed this too after a shaky start with back-to-back turnovers between the quarters. But Josh Allen found some big plays and continues to be one of the toughest quarterbacks Bill Belichick has had to defend. He finished with 254 yards and three touchdown passes, including a dagger to Stefon Diggs for 49 yards on third-and-10 to take a 35-23 lead in the fourth quarter. That stood after Mac Jones tossed two picks, including a deflected one in the final minutes.

For the third year in a row, the Bills emphatically beat the Patriots late in the year to show who runs the AFC East now. This is technically the second season in a row the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss against the Bills.

The Bills are the No. 2 seed, will probably be the last 13-3 team we ever see, but they are still in position to do what they wanted to do all along this year. The AFC Championship Game will even be played at a neutral site should it be Bills vs. Chiefs again.

Something tells me that crowd will be heavily tilted to Buffalo no matter where the game is played.

Browns at Steelers: Pittsburgh Bests Cleveland for 30th Straight Season

What does that title mean? Since 1990, the Steelers have finished ahead of the Browns in the final regular-season standings in every season for a total of 30 straight. Remember that the Browns did not exist in 1996-98 before coming back in 1999.

When you get to face a sack merchant like Deshaun Watson, it was kind of inevitable that Pittsburgh would pull this off. I called it months ago:

I did not call for a 9-8 season and nearly sneaking into another postseason, but that happened too. The Steelers finish the season allowing no more than 17 points in seven straight games, their longest streak since 2001.

It was not the prettiest win. Diontae Johnson came up just short of a touchdown, making scoreless history with the most targets (147) and catches (86) in a season without a touchdown catch. Kenny Pickett also failed to throw multiple touchdowns in any game this season, though he did find George Pickens on a 31-yard score in this one – only the second offensive touchdown that occurred outside the red zone for Pittsburgh in 2022.

Watson took seven sacks, and it could have been several more if he wasn’t elusive. But on one sack, he was clearly pulled down by the facemask, yet no flag was thrown as if the referee acknowledged who he was, sided with the dozens of accusers, and said to hell with this predator. I can’t say I didn’t laugh my ass off at that moment. However, if you ever wanted hard proof that make-up calls exist in major sports, watch the roughing the passer call on Cam Heyward they later bailed out Cleveland with to make up for that missed facemask. Total bullshit.

The fact that came the drive right after the missed facemask makes it such a clear case of a make-up call. The Browns would get a touchdown to make it 20-14, but for Pickett’s inaccuracies on the day, he was money on every third-and-long down the stretch. The Steelers scored to put it away at 28-14, just the second time all season they scored more than 24 points.

At the end of the day, losing 16-10 in Miami was a killer for the Steelers’ wild card hopes, but I think this team would have been smoked in Buffalo next week anyway. I’m mostly just mad that they let Zach Wilson and the Jets score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in Week 4. That was the real kick in the nads this season.

It was a weird season for the Steelers. They beat Brady, they beat the Raiders, they split with every AFC North rival, and yet they still missed the playoffs despite a 9-8 record to extend to a 19th straight non-losing season, tied with the 2001-19 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Expectations should be higher next year. As for Cleveland, what a joke Watson was this year after Jacoby Brissett played so well. Believe it or not, Brissett is going to finish No. 8 in QBR (59.7) this season. Watson did not qualify with enough attempts, but his 38.6 would have ranked 27th between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

Yeah, it’s been a wild year for many around the NFL. But at least we still have the standard of Pittsburgh finishing ahead of Cleveland in the AFC.

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

The first game this weekend had some of the least drama as the Chiefs made quick work of the Raiders to wrap up the No. 1 seed in a 31-13 win. No 17-0 comeback this time. No 30-29 finish. No 37-34 shootout between Jarrett Stidham and Patrick Mahomes like Stidham had with the 49ers’ top-ranked defense a week ago. No, just domination by the Chiefs, who had six sacks.

The game was a letdown in that regard as you would have thought it’d be more dramatic with the way these teams played so many close games. It was only the second time this season the Raiders were not in a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs no doubt picked on an easy schedule down the stretch and took full advantage of the Bills-Bengals cancellation to get to 14-3 and the No. 1 seed despite losing to the next two seeds. But one thing I will say about the AFC West race that never materialized is that the Broncos (5) and Raiders (6) both finished with as many wins as they had blown leads in the fourth quarter. Those teams were absolutely underachievers, but they were also much better than their records.

Things could improve quickly with better coaching in 2023, though it seems like McDaniels will be safe in Las Vegas. I’m not sure how – just losing to Jeff Saturday should be a firable offense.

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

Jalen Hurts returned after a two-game absence for his shoulder injury, but it was not the most inspiring 22-16 win over a Giants team playing a bunch of backups and the Eagles favored by 16.5 points at home.

You could twist yourself into a pretzel debating if the game’s final score was indicative of the closeness, but you cannot deny Hurts showed some rust and it just wasn’t that impressive of a win given who New York was playing, including Davis Webb at quarterback. It was the first game all season where Hurts did not throw or run for a touchdown, though Boston Scott scored another one to prove he is the Giants Killer.

But the Eagles let a 19-0 game get to a miracle onside kick recovery away from being really interesting at the end. Ultimately, they are still the No. 1 seed, but I will take the 49ers over them in a playoff game, and I still think Tampa Bay will beat this team if they match up in the divisional round.

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

I did not watch a lick of rookie quarterback Sam Howell in the preseason, but I know his stats were impressive and likely the result of good work. Granted, we’ve seen fool’s gold from rookie quarterback preseason stats before with Blake Bortles and Daniel Jones, so take those with a grain of salt.

But if I was given a choice of Carson Wentz or Sam Howell to start against the Browns last week, I would have gone to Howell no doubt. You know how I feel about Wentz. He’s the guy you go to if you don’t want to advance in the playoffs. If he played this game, I doubt he wins it too.

We have our first .500 team in the 17-game era as Washington’s upset win produces an 8-8-1 record. It was an upset with Dallas favored by 7.5 points on the road, and even if the Cowboys were not properly motivated, this performance was a shit show. They were trying to become just the seventh team to score 27 points in a 10th-straight game, but they couldn’t even get to 7 points this week.

Prescott threw another pick-six and was 14-of-37 for 128 yards. This was even worse than the performance he started the year with in Tampa Bay in Week 1’s 19-3 loss.

Oh yeah, it’s finally time for the playoff matchup I’ve been talking about since October. Is there any doubt the Cowboys are going to shit the bed in Tampa Bay with turnovers and lose that game too? I don’t even think they should be favored at this point.

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

Watching Brock Purdy throw multiple touchdown passes in six straight games while Kenny Pickett couldn’t do it once this year in twice the games is frustrating. You can’t just put it all on scheme and weapons either. George Kittle caught 11 touchdowns this year, most of them from Purdy in the last month, and he never had more than six scores in a season before 2022. It just seems like Kyle Shanahan trusts this rookie in a way he didn’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo.

But we’ll find out plenty in the weeks to come with Purdy in the playoffs as he attempts to become the first rookie quarterback to start (and win) a Super Bowl. He’s already seen Seattle’s defense once and did fine in that game, but we’ll see how it goes. Being the No. 2 seed is pretty good this year in the NFC as it likely means Seattle, Minnesota, then possibly hosting Tampa Bay, the team they were up 35-0 on a few weeks ago.

This could be the year we see a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl, and let’s face it, in the first 56 seasons there were almost no situations this advantageous between the weapons and defense around a rookie quarterback. No one would really blink an eye if he wasn’t Mr. Irrelevant and a third-string rookie quarterback.

As for Arizona, a miserable season, but salute to J.J. Watt on an incredible career. One of the best to ever do it and he was a force down the stretch this season. Injuries are the only thing that slowed him down.

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

The Buccaneers were my upset pick this week, because there was no way Tom Brady was going to play in a game just to accumulate some meaningless counting records for most pass attempts and completions in a season just because he throws the ball more than anyone in 17-game seasons.

No way was he playing for records over not having his first losing record (8-9) or suffering his first loss against an Atlanta team he was 11-0 against.

But it happened. Even when Brady could have come in at the Atlanta 22 after his defense forced a fumble in a 10-10 game in the second quarter, he stayed on the bench while Blaine Gabbert came in to lead that short-field touchdown drive. It would be the last score of the game for the Bucs, who also played Kyle Trask in the fourth quarter of a 30-17 loss. Total preseason approach.

The Buccaneers finish with a losing record and Brady’s first loss to the Falcons. I’m still stunned that happened. At least Desmond Ridder finally threw the first two touchdown passes of his career, and rookie running back Tyler Allgeier had a big game to finish with over 1,000 rushing yards.

But the Bucs are still beating Dallas next week. Just accept it. It’s inevitable.

Chargers at Broncos: Who Was Brandon Staley Trying to Impress?

You could argue Brandon Staley did as poor a job as anyone in managing their team’s situation in Week 18. He is new to this postseason thing, but Staley came into the game locked into the No. 5 seed and going to Jacksonville next week. I’m not one for blowing these games off with 60 minutes of rest, but you have to keep the big picture in mind at some point.

It’s not like the Chargers were getting productive minutes out of this game. They lost Mike Williams to injury in the second quarter. That’s tough to blame Staley for, though he has been an injured player this year and probably should have been made inactive in the first place. But the Williams injury should have been a reminder to not push for this one, and to definitely not have Keenan Allen in the game late in the fourth quarter catching a touchdown pass from Chase Daniel in a losing effort.

Like, what the hell was the point of that? It’s not like he was trying to get to 1,000 yards on the season or anything. Asking Justin Herbert to throw nearly 40 passes in three quarters of action was just insane on Staley’s part, and all the Chargers got out of it was a loss, no momentum going into next week, and possibly a big injury to one of their best receivers. Not good.

Meanwhile, I got burned badly riding with Russ this season in Denver, but this game was the kind of player I expected to see show up more often. Wilson had three completions of 50-plus yards on his way to 283 yards and three touchdown passes. It was the first time all season the Broncos scored 30 points.

Depending on the head coach hire in Denver, I’ll probably pick them again next year to do well. The jokes have been there all season, but I think we’re underestimating how quickly they could turn things around with the right coach. This team blew five fourth-quarter leads and had plenty of talent on injured reserve. Let’s not bury Wilson’s career just yet.

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

Unlike the Chargers, the Vikings did this right by getting good work in for the starters before resting and winning comfortably, 29-13 for a change, against the Bears. They even won big without intercepting Nathan Peterman, who started in place of Justin Fields, once on 19 passes. Tim Boyle played too and played the role of Peterman better than the OG himself, throwing two picks on eight passes.

With the Chicago loss and Houston win (thanks, Lovie), the Bears hold the No. 1 pick with a 3-14 record. A lot to say about this going forward, but I think you have to at least work out and interview the top quarterbacks, including Alabama’s Bryce Young. It’s a really bad look for Fields to get drafted high in 2021, then two years later you are picking No. 1 in the draft with him there. That’s not normal nor is his lack of passing production.

Interesting times ahead in Chicago with major cap space and draft capital.

Texans at Colts: Lovie Smith’s Last Victory for the Bears

The Texans already fired Lovie Smith on Sunday night, not even waiting for the clock to strike on Black Monday as it’s known around the league. I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place, but that makes two years in a row the Texans went one-and-done on a coach. That’s some Jim Tomsula/Chip Kelly stuff there (2015-16 49ers).

But I hope it was an act of defiance and a nod to his old team in Chicago that Lovie played for the win in his final game even though it would hand over the No.1 pick in the draft. He’s not losing to a chump like Jeff Saturday, who only beat a bigger chump in Josh McDaniels in his first game coaching.

The Texans led by 10 points multiple times but sure seemed to be in tank mode after back-to-back interceptions by Davis Mills, including a pick-six. The Colts took a late 31-24 lead and it would have been very easy for the Texans to come up short while looking like they tried everything to win.

Maybe that was even the plan, but the Colts kept giving up fourth-and-long conversions. The worst was a fourth-and-20 when an Indy defensive back made Rahim Moore look competent by going up for an interception, seeing the ball go through his hands, and landing in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left.

Of course you go for two in this situation, and even then the Texans could have intentionally ran a garbage play to secure the No. 1 pick. But they converted and held on for the 32-31 win.

The Texans finish 3-13-1, edged out by the Bears and their 3-14 record. The Bears even beat Houston way back in Week 3, so you can say Lovie gave them two gifts this season.

Was it worth it? We’ll see if someone offers a king’s ransom to the Bears for that top pick. Lovie wasn’t a good hire, but they gave him a terrible team to work with. It was a no-win situation this year.

Panthers at Saints: They’re Going to Do This Shit Again Next Year, Aren’t They?

I’d prefer to pretend this 10-7 game didn’t even exist, but I guess I have to cover Sam Darnold getting a game-winning drive in a game where he was 5-of-15 for 43 yards, two interceptions, and a 2.8 passer rating. Yes, 2.8.

This was about the worst outcome possible for the NFC South if you wanted to see major changes next year. Just the last two minutes alone encapsulate why these teams need to clean house at head coach and quarterback. Darnold threw a pick, the Saints totally botched the situation and burned 16 seconds before having a 55-yard field goal blocked, then Darnold made one completion that set up a game-winning field goal with no time left.

It is the first Carolina game-winning drive since September 29, 2019. The streak of 50 straight losses when trailing in the fourth quarter still stands and will have to be broken next season. But if the Panthers keep the same coach and quarterback, it may not end again.

With the bottom three teams finishing at 7-10 and Tampa Bay at 8-9, watch them all think this is fine because they “were close” to winning the shit division. So, they’ll stick with Steve Wilks and Sam Darnold in Carolina, Andy Dalton and Dennis Allen in New Orleans, Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder (better argument there at least) in Atlanta.

Why would Brady bail on that division when it’s practically a free ticket to a home playoff game in a sad conference? Look at the AFC where seven first-round quarterbacks are in the playoffs, and someone like Kenny Pickett is going to want to crash that party next year. Don’t sleep on Russell Wilson turning things around with a new coach either, and Bryce Young might still end up in Houston.

The NFC is a con and I expect this postseason to play out accordingly. Bet on the LOAT now if you want the best price you’re going to get.

Next Week

  • PLAYOFFS!?
  • A 3-0 sweep coming for the Seahawks at the hands of San Francisco?
  • Was 38-10 a rib-injury influenced fluke between the Chargers and Jaguars?
  • Can Tua Tagovailoa (or at least Teddy Bridgewater) return for the playoffs in Buffalo?
  • Will the Giants finally put an end to Minnesota’s close-game win streak?
  • Can Lamar Jackson return for the playoffs, and will he actually play well this time?
  • How badly are the Cowboys going to implode in Tampa Bay on Monday night? Thank Christ that game will not have Tony Romo on the call. I’ll Manning Cast the shit out of this one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

When your weekend starts with the biggest comeback in NFL history, you know things are going to be wilder than usual. The NFL’s Week 15 can lay claim to being the wildest week of the 2022 season with a record 33-point comeback, two more 17-point comebacks, three overtime games won on touchdowns, two non-offensive game-winning touchdowns, a snowy fourth quarter classic in Buffalo, and we still have to see what Baker Mayfield can do in Green Bay on Monday night.

After a lack of drama and lead changes in Week 14, the week I called the worst of the year, every single game but one was within one score at some point in the fourth quarter. It took the greatest kicker of all time having a 50-yard field goal blocked in his face to not have it happen in 100% of the games this week.

That does not mean we had 15 games with a comeback opportunity. We had 11 for the first time since Week 5 now that the bye weeks are over. But what a week it was with plenty to recap.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Vikings: The Biggest Comeback/Collapse in NFL History

For a special recap of this historic game, check out my feature, The 2022 Vikings Are Young, Dumb, and Full of Comebacks

Giants at Commanders: Fumbles and Bad Refs

We finally had a winner in Giants-Commanders this year despite how close this was to going to overtime with the score 20-20 again. But Taylor Heinicke and Washington had a brutal night at the ends of each field. The Giants got back on track with a win thanks to the familiar formula of pressure defense and grinding out the fourth quarter.

The Commanders could have taken control early like they did two weeks ago when these teams met, but a third-down sack of Heinicke knocked them out of field goal range on the opening drive, then rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux had perhaps his play of the season with a strip-sack returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Washington trailed 17-9 to start the fourth quarter but struggled to hold onto the ball and put it in the end zone. Antonio Gibson narrowly avoided another lost fumble on a drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal two plays later to make it 17-12. Just like two weeks ago, the Giants couldn’t put things away on offense despite driving into Washington territory.

But after Heinicke hit a deep ball to Jahan Dotson for 61 yards, that drive would also stall after he was strip-sacked for the second time on third-and-goal with 6:06 left. The Giants added another 50-yard field goal to make it 20-12, but we were in almost the exact same situation as two weeks ago with Heinicke having the ball with a chance to tie. The clock was less favorable, and they would need a two this time, but it was very close to the same thing.

The Giants also looked like they were going to blow it again on a night that showed the Commanders have a really nice trio of wide receivers in Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and rookie Dotson. But do you know who apparently are not fans of this receiving trio? The refs. After a Heinicke scramble set up third-and-goal from the 1, Brian Robinson’s touchdown plunge was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on McLaurin.

This is the kind of thing you could struggle to notice at the snap, and according to former official Terry McAuley via NBC broadcast, this was a weak call that did not need to be made. McLaurin says the ref told him he was lined up fine, so make of that what you will.

But the big stink came on fourth-and-6. Heinicke threw a pass out of desperation to Samuel in the end zone, and corner Darnay Holmes was there early, interfered with Samuel, but no flag was thrown for defensive pass interference. Game over, Giants win.

Now in that video, Holmes is perfectly fine at the beginning. Samuel even uses his right hand to push Holmes away at the 7-second mark. But after that push creates some separation, you can see Holmes panic and start to ride Samuel’s back at 9-10 seconds. By 12 seconds, he decides to grab onto the receiver’s chest with both hands and leap on his back again to help knock the ball away.

What more do you need for DPI? Oh yeah, I guess it would help if Samuel was Mike Evans and Heinicke was Tom Brady, because we know that is getting flagged 100% of the time if they were involved. It would also have gone the way of Davante Adams no matter if Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr threw him the ball, and the same is true for Mahomes and Kelce, or any other star players you want to throw into the mix.

Officials call the game differently at the very end of the game even though a foul is a foul is a foul. Call it preferential treatment or giving the benefit of the doubt, but some players tend to get calls others wouldn’t from refs too. That’s just an unfortunate part of the game.

What can be done to change that? I’m not sure. I just know it is a very bad look for the league when NBC’s rules expert (McAuley), a former official himself, can quickly look at these plays and call the illegal formation unnecessary and the missed DPI blatant.

I am not saying we need a game where every play in the final 2:00 is highly scrutinized and reviewed for every possible little penalty. But maybe some kind of “eye in the sky” in New York with all the best angles and replays can quickly be the third-party ruler in these cases and come up with the best calls for game-deciding plays like this one.

But they know we’re still going to watch the next game no matter how bad the last call (or no call) was.

Patriots at Raiders: Belichick Is Going to Bury Jakobi Meyers with Joe Pesci in the Desert

Bill Belichick is now 11-12 against his former New England assistants, including an 0-2 record against Josh McDaniels. But in none of those games did his team ever look as stupid and undisciplined as they did in Vegas.

Forget that play. We’ll get to that. Before the final minute, you had the Patriots completely botch a goal-to-go sequence, blow a coverage on a second-and-20 resulting in a Darren Waller touchdown, have a punt blocked, and Mac Jones struggled to throw for 100 yards.

But the nice thing was they were playing the 2022 Raiders. Despite leading 17-3, you know this team forgets there are two halves to each game. Once again, the Raiders blew a two-touchdown lead after some big plays by the Patriots quickly put together a go-ahead touchdown drive with 3:43 left. New England went from trailing 17-3 to leading 24-17.

Derek Carr adopted the Brady approach of “suck fast and hope for DPI” after throwing three incomplete passes, the last being a deep ball on third down that almost connected with Mack Hollins. But since the drive was so bad and only consumed 27 seconds (punt included), Carr was going to get another shot, because you knew the Patriots would be conservative with Jones and the lead.

In fact, Carr had 2:11 left to tie it. The game could have been over with a four-and-out, but the New England defense lost Hollins on the sideline for a 12-yard gain to keep the game alive. On a play that should quiet the Raiders fans who think the refs are always out to get them, the Raiders were ruled to have scored a touchdown when Keelan Cole hauled one in the back of the end zone from 30 yards out with 32 seconds left.

There was a video of what looked like his one foot may have been on the white and out of bounds. But this was one of those plays where it stood just because you had to stay with the call on the field, which was a touchdown. Had they ruled it incomplete on the field, it likely would have stayed incomplete and brought up third down.

Tough one for Patriots fans, but they have a long way to go to make up for all the crap that went their way the last two decades. The game was only tied and likely headed for overtime, except the Patriots did one of the dumbest things in NFL history:

We have seen fumbles returned for touchdowns on the final play of the game before. It happened when Washington upset the Eagles this year. It happened to the Raiders in overtime in Arizona when Hunter Renfrow coughed up the ball.

But those were different situations. You don’t see a team try to lateral in a tied game with overtime in their back pocket, because that would be stupid for the exact reason we saw. I just said the other day that Chandler Jones was having the worst season of his career, but hey, at least he has a highlight play for the rest of his life to enjoy.

I don’t actually mind the initial lateral from Rhamondre Stevenson. It was risky and it wasn’t planned that way, but he made a decent play. But if you are Meyers, who says he knew it was tied and not meant to be a lateral, then how in the world do you make that lateral that far back into the field of play because you thought Mac Jones was open?

Him?

If he can’t throw a Hail Mary from his 45, he wasn’t going to do anything here. Just an incredibly bad decision by Meyers and maybe even a worse throw as that ball was right to Chandler Jones and nowhere close to Mac Jones. If Kendrick Bourne or Nelson Agholor made the play Meyers did, they probably get cut Monday.

With games coming up against the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, the Patriots (7-7) are likely toast for the playoffs. When you look at the roster, it makes sense. But you never expect the Patriots to do something so incredibly stupid like they did on Sunday.

That’s what you expect the Raiders to do.

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Powder Is Different Than Miami Powder

Unlike Sunday night, this was just a great, dramatic game between two quality division rivals in Buffalo on Saturday night. I could watch these teams play a best-of-seven if things are going to be as good and interesting as the first two games this year.

I had been waiting since Week 3 to see this rematch, because I thought the Bills shot themselves in the foot that game and blew it way more than Miami found a way to win it. I was ultimately wrong about the Bills blowing them out here in the cold, but it was a great game with neither team able to lead by more than one possession.

The much-hyped snow did not arrive until the fourth quarter, but when it did, that made every snap an adventure down the stretch. But the game was filled with intrigue as a better version of Tua Tagovailoa showed up than the last two weeks. But the biggest surprise was Raheem Mostert (136 yards) giving the Dolphins a dominant run attack they haven’t had this year.

That’s what made the fourth quarter so questionable when the Dolphins took to the air on six of their final seven plays after the snow started. How do you not feed Mostert on a third-and-1? Instead, Tua threw a quick pass that lost 2 yards and the Dolphins settled for a 47-yard field goal.

Allen made up for his strip-sack on the previous drive with an excellent 44-yard run and a great touchdown throw to Dawson Knox for a 5-yard score. Allen dove for the end zone on the game-tying two-point conversion, and despite NFL Network cutting to a commercial break long enough for analyst Mark Sanchez to scarf down two hot dogs, the play was good and not a fumble as it appeared.

Miami’s pass-happy drive in a tied game with the snow coming down just did not make sense to me. The Bills had the ball back with 5:56 left in a 29-29 game. Allen led a drive as good as any in his career with pinpoint accuracy and sharp decision making. When any little slip or bad bounce of the ball in the increasingly slick conditions could end the game, this was impressive stuff in a very important game. I would say he’s put himself back in the MVP race if the losses to the Jets and Vikings weren’t so damaging.

Devin Singletary pulled up short of a go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left, which was probably the smartest thing to do in that spot. The field was cleaned off by Buffalo players well enough to give kicker Tyler Bass a very fair shot at a 25-yard field goal. He nailed it and the Bills won 32-29 and should be the AFC East champs when it’s all said and done.

I still think Miami is a playoff team this year, but with its second three-game losing streak of the year, you can see how the inexperience with success is hurting Mike McDaniel and Tua.

After zero game-winning drives in the 2021 season, the Bills are already up to four engineered by Allen this year (at Ravens, at Chiefs, at Lions, and vs. Dolphins). When you take away someone like Von Miller, on top of a loss like safety Micah Hyde, it is going to be more of a grind for this team. There is no easy path to the Super Bowl in this AFC.

More and more, the AFC is looking like a three-team race that will be a repeat of last year: two coin-flip games between the trio of Buffalo, Kansas City, and Cincinnati. Fortunately, we get to see the Bills and Bengals in prime time in Week 17, the first matchup between Allen and Joe Burrow in their NFL careers.

Eagles at Bears: Just Some Hiccups

How did Jalen Hurts fare in his first game as the odds-on MVP favorite this year? He probably played his worst game of the season with two early picks, but he still finished with 376 total yards (315 passing) and scored three rushing touchdowns in a 25-20 win.

The Bears did their usual thing: plenty of rushing yards, some good highlights from Justin Fields, but not good on third down, not enough passing, and no fourth-quarter comeback despite the Eagles letting them hang around in a 17-13 game after a doinked field goal attempt.

A.J. Brown got open for a 68-yard catch that set up Hurts’ third touchdown to basically wrap it up at 25-13 with 4:20 left. The Eagles had some blown coverage on a 35-yard touchdown to Byron Pringle with 2:42 left, but Philadelphia was able to convert one more third down to Brown to move the chains and end the game with a 25-20 win to move to 13-1.

A better team could have made the Eagles pay in that first half, but Fields had some really bad plays on third-and-1 early, and too many sacks (six for 61 yards) on the day.

The Eagles will not go into their big game with Dallas next week at their sharpest like the last three weeks, but after the way Dallas has played against Houston and Jacksonville, does it matter? Even a Dallas win is unlikely to cost the Eagles the No. 1 seed. Still, I am surprised to see the Cowboys are a 1.5-point home favorite next Saturday.

Cowboys at Jaguars: The Return of McCarthyism

If Houston was supposed to be the wake-up call for this Dallas team to get its shit together before the showdown with the Eagles, then the message was initially received. Then in the third quarter, (Mike) McCarthyism crept in and this team fell apart, blowing a 27-10 lead and losing 40-34 in overtime.

I do not know if the Jaguars are legitimately turning it around after a 2-6 start, or if they’re just the lucky beneficiaries of playing two of the worst teams ever to hold leads (Raiders and Ravens), a Tennessee team during its worst losing streak in years, and now this Dallas team that should have lost to Houston a week ago.

I do know turnovers have played a crucial part in Jacksonville’s recent wins against Baltimore, Tennessee, and now Dallas. A Dak Prescott interception late in the third quarter set the Jaguars up 39 yards away from another touchdown to quickly make this very interesting after it was 27-10 not even three minutes before that.

Like last week against Houston, Prescott would atone for his mistake with a 75-yard touchdown drive, finding Noah Brown for another 13-yard score to take a 34-31 lead. The great Dallas defense we keep hearing about? It mostly did its job the rest of the way. Trevor Lawrence put a nasty spin move on the defense, but he got a bit greedy on the play and fumbled in Dallas territory with 1:28 left.

It wasn’t a dagger with the Jaguars having all three timeouts left, but the Cowboys botched this drive. Two runs for net 0 yards by each back, then Dak tried to throw a deep one to Brown that fell incomplete. The Cowboys burned 27 seconds and even saved the Jaguars a timeout, which they desperately needed.

With CeeDee Lamb catching all seven targets on the day – he had five of the offense’s seven longest gains – I think you have to be aggressive and work an early-down pass in there, maybe off play-action. If the end result is just going to be giving them the ball back anyway with time to do something, then I am giving my best players a chance to end things on offense.

Lawrence had 1:01 to get a field goal and he needed just about every second of it. Zay Jones was the big target on the day with three touchdowns, and his 19-yard catch to the Dallas 30 was a game saver. The game is over there if the Jaguars didn’t have that last timeout. Silly Cowboys.

The Jaguars were good from 48 yards out on the field goal to send it to overtime. The Dallas defense again did a great job to force a three-and-out. But after a few Tony Pollard runs, Dak’s first dropback in overtime was a disaster with a tipped ball going to Rayshawn Jenkins for a 52-yard game-winning pick-six.

You just can’t trust these teams this year. It would be such a McCarthy thing to restore false hope and beat the Eagles next week. But guess what? The Eagles are unlikely to be caught for the No. 1 seed, let alone the division at this point.

We would really be looking at the NFC’s Game of the Year next week in Dallas if this team didn’t blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Green Bay and a 17-point third-quarter lead in Jacksonville.

13-1 at 12-2 on Christmas Eve? Hell yeah, that would have been a spectacle. But if you’re talking about the NFC Game of the Year this season, the answer has never been more obvious what that should be.

It’s the 49ers at Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It sure isn’t a game involving this Dallas team.

Bengals at Buccaneers: Joe Burrow Pulls the Remaining Horseshoe Out of Tom Brady’s Ass

If I told you a team in this game blew a 17-0 lead by doing a stupid fake punt, turning the ball over four times in a row, which set up three touchdowns inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, then wasted a huge fourth-down sack with a tacky 5-yard penalty, you’d bet everything you owned on the team who blew it being Cincinnati, right?

Well, this was some role reversal. This game went from nauseating (blame Tony Romo’s hard-on for Tom Brady) to hilarious in record time. The Bengals trailed 17-0 late in the first half and got into the locker room with 83 yards, the worst first half for any Joe Burrow start in his career. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers actually looked like a competent, balanced team like they were in 2020-21.

But before I could even start joking that Brady at age 45 plays tighter defense on Burrow’s receivers than Mahomes or Allen could ever dream of, this one took a sharp turn in the third quarter. The Buccaneers tried a fake punt from their own 26, and the direct snap to Gio Bernard seemed to catch him by surprise, and the play failed. The Bengals only got a field goal out of it, but better than nothing.

Then Brady threw a pick as he tried to make one of those very low throws to a diving receiver, but he got the defender instead. Still, his defense looked like it was going to force a four-and-out after Burrow took a 23-yard sack on fourth-and-3, or one of the worst plays you’ll ever see a quarterback make. However, he was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty on Lavonte David.

If Kevin O’Connell stole part of Brady’s lucky horseshoe back in January with the Rams, then Burrow must have snuck in there at halftime to extract the other piece lodged up Brady’s ass. This turnaround was absurd.

The Bengals turned that first turnover into a touchdown. Three plays later, Brady was strip-sacked and the Bengals were 13 yards away from the lead, which they took quickly at 20-17.

How about three in a row? Brady was just trying to hand off on a running play, and I’ve never seen the ball just pop right out of a quarterback’s hand when he was about to do so. The ball never got to the back and that goes down as another turnover for Brady.

The Bengals turned that into a touchdown too on a drive from 39 yards out with Ja’Marr Chase getting in on the action. Burrow even got away with a dropped interception or two this half. Everything was clicking for our young LOAT.

But Brady could come back, right? Cue the DPI throw to Mike Evans, and this was still a ballgame at 27-17. But nope. Under pressure, Brady’s pass fluttered from the contact and the Bengals came up with a diving interception and great defensive effort for the fourth straight turnover. That one only led to a quick three-and-out, but it changed field position, and Tampa responded with a three-and-out back. Perhaps a curious decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from your own 11 with 9:26 left after the game this team was having.

This time, Burrow put together a more legitimate drive on a longer field (62 yards) and he put away the Bucs with his fourth touchdown pass to a fourth different receiver. He even drew the Bucs offsides on a fourth down during the drive.

Brady added a 75-yard touchdown drive in garbage time to get the Bucs to 23 points for just the second time in 2022, but the Bengals recovered the onside kick to end it at 34-23.

I should be enjoying this Tampa Bay season a lot more than I am, and I know I would had the Rams and Saints not blown those two games against them. This team should be 4-10 right now, last place in the worst division. But ever since Week 1, I felt it was inevitable they were going to win the division and get rewarded with a home playoff game. Even as they continue to lose, I still think the odds of them beating Dallas in the wild card round in Tampa are incredibly high.

But this was still stunning because they went from looking the most competent they have all season to just a pure disaster all around.

Are the Bucs the first team in NFL history to give up at least a 34-0 scoring run in back-to-back weeks? They were down 35-0 to the 49ers last week. The quick answer is no. The 1961 Raiders were shut out 55-0 and 44-0 to start their season 0-2 if you can believe that. The 1978 Colts also did really bad with 38-0 and 42-0 losses to begin their season.

But for Brady, eight days ago he had only experienced a team scoring more than 31 straight points on him once (2020 Saints led 38-0 and won 38-3). Now it’s happened the last two games.

I just hope this doesn’t somehow end up as the Super Bowl matchup, because there is no way the Bengals are repeating this.

Chiefs at Texans: Just Needed the Rosencopter

The comparison of Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t be complete without a hard-fought win in Houston against the Texans when you least expect it. But the Chiefs are now 4-9-1 ATS, second-worst record in the league, after failing to cover a 14.5-point spread that was, frankly, ridiculous for a road team. Not to mention what happened with these teams a week ago.

This would have been a brutal loss for the Chiefs as they had nearly 300 more yards (502-219) than the Texans. But once again it was the turnovers that kept it close, and it was a turnover that made sure the Chiefs would still win.

This week it was not one but two obligatory fumbles by the Chiefs, including one from Isiah Pacheco and one from JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu’s led to the Texans taking a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

But Patrick Mahomes used his legs again on a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown run. He completed the two-point conversion pass and the Chiefs led 24-21. But like I said in Week 11 after the Chargers game, we got to see what is becoming the signature Mahomes comeback. He leads them from behind with a go-ahead touchdown, the defense gives it up, then he still gets the win with a touchdown anyway.

But this one had no business going to overtime like that. After the Texans used a long drive to kick a game-tying field goal, Mahomes had the Chiefs right back in scoring range thanks to a 14-yard scramble on another third down. But instead of trying to get a little closer for a kicker who had missed another extra point, Andy Reid seemed content with staying conservative and settling for a long field goal. A designed run by Mahomes for 2 yards and a RB screen that lost a yard prove that.

Butker has been solid from long range, but from 51 yards out with 12 seconds left, he was wide right and the Chiefs were going to overtime. The Chiefs won another coin toss, but Mahomes made one of his few mistakes in the game by taking a sack on third down that knocked the offense out of field goal range.

But Davis Mills immediately returned the favor on a scramble when Frank Clark knocked the ball out and the Chiefs recovered. All that was missing was Mills spinning through the air a la the Rosencopter.

Unable to trust Butker, the Chiefs couldn’t just take a knee from the 26. With Pacheco fumbling earlier, the Chiefs turned to Jerick McKinnon, who has been money for them as of late. He immediately ripped off a 26-yard touchdown run against a run defense I crap on every single week in previews, prop picks, and recaps. That was the right call for sure, and while Mahomes gets a cheap game-winning TD drive, he should have had the game won on a field goal in regulation. Mahomes had the highest QBR (92.3) in Week 15.

Still, it turns out to be the fifth time that Mahomes has led a fourth-quarter comeback win with two go-ahead touchdown drives. That’s already more than the total Aaron Rodgers (two), Peyton Manning (one), and Tom Brady (one) have in their careers combined.

Mahomes finished 36-of-41 passing, setting an NFL record for highest completion percentage (87.8%) in a game with at least 40 pass attempts. He hit his last 20 passes, starting with a great touchdown grab by Marquez Valdes-Scantling to end the first half. He also had the two-point conversion pass in there, so it’s arguably 21 in a row.

Mahomes didn’t hit anything deep in this game as the Chiefs dinked and dunked and picked the Texans apart in the 0-15 yard range. They used short passes as an extension of the run game against the worst run defense, so it was a smart plan. Mahomes’ success rate was 30/49 (61.2%), which is very high for a game. If they can ever figure out how to hang onto the ball better, they wouldn’t need overtime and late-game heroics to beat teams like this.

Titans at Chargers: Herbert Gets Help

Justin Herbert is back to .500 (23-23) in his career after getting more help than usual in a 17-14 win over the Titans. Sure, he still had to throw for over 300 yards, including an absolute dime for 35 yards to Mike Williams on the game-winning drive, but he got some decent contributions from his running game and defense in this one.

Herbert was able to win his first game when throwing multiple interceptions. He was previously 0-6 when that happened. Hell, before Sunday, Herbert was 6-20 when throwing an interception.

The Titans had a team record four straight games without a takeaway before playing some volleyball in the end zone before halftime to end that streak with a Herbert pick. Incredible play. It was that kind of stuff that kept this a 7-7 game for so long. It didn’t help that Ryan Tannehill and Austin Ekeler were knocked out early, but both returned to finish the game. Ekeler showed his strength on a touchdown run and finished with 12 carries for 58 yards. That may not sound like much, but when you can get Herbert 22 carries for 82 yards from the running back position, that’s better than a lot of Chargers games.

After Ekeler’s touchdown gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter, both offenses struggled. Eventually, the Titans got the ball back with 2:57 left. Derrick Henry was able to get over 100 yards rushing, and the Titans needed it with Tannehill looking limited on his ankle injury. The drive was starting to flounder before back-to-back throws by Tannehill picked up 45 yards. The Chargers were wise to use timeouts after each red-zone snap, because Mike Vrabel is definitely a coach who will wind the clock down and go for two to win after the touchdown.

Tannehill snuck in the touchdown himself with 48 seconds left. The extra point was the right decision. Overtime and a possible tie would still be advantageous to the Titans in their division race with Jacksonville.

But even without a timeout and 44 seconds left at his own 23, Herbert is good enough to get the job done. He picked up 22 yards in 12 seconds with receivers getting out of bounds, hit the great throw to Williams for 35, then got the spike down. A delay of game penalty wasn’t great, but it wouldn’t be a Chargers game without some drama.

Dicker the Kicker was true from 43 yards with 4 seconds left. The Titans were stopped on the kick return to end the game at 17-4. Tennessee (7-7) has lost four in a row while the Chargers (8-6) are up to the No. 6 seed thanks to the head-to-head win over Miami last week and the losses by the Patriots and Jets.

We are getting closer to Herbert in the postseason after he’s led five game-winning drives in consecutive seasons. Herbert’s 13 game-winning drives are tied with Matt Ryan for the third most in a quarterback’s first three seasons. Only Russell Wilson (15) and Dak Prescott (15) had more.

Lions at Jets: Greg Not Enough Leg Helps Detroit Continue Playoff Push

Bit of an unexpected passing duel outdoors in December between Jared Goff (252 yards) and Zach Wilson (317 yards on 18 completions) with only one turnover in the game.

But most of the game was about defense. You figure the Lions would be at a disadvantage with the No. 31 defense in points and No. 32 in yards while the Jets have been one of the best, but it took one play to swing things. After the Jets took a 17-13 lead, the Lions faced a fourth-and-1 at midfield at the two-minute warning. The Lions rolled the dice with a pass, and backup tight end Brock Wright leaked out uncovered and caught an easy one that he was able to turn into a 51-yard touchdown. It was Detroit’s only 20-yard offensive play in the game.

Only needing a field goal, Wilson took some annoying sacks, but he also did a good job with some miraculous throws and catches by rookie Garrett Wilson. An even greater fourth-and-18 conversion went for 20 yards to Elijah Moore, and the Jets were able to use their final timeout with a second left after that play.

Overtime or a Detroit win would come down to the leg of Greg Zuerlein on a 58-yard field goal. The kick wasn’t even close, and the Lions escaped with the 20-17 win. Both teams are .500 now with 7-7 records. Huge win for Detroit with a more than doable remaining schedule of Panthers, Bears, and Packers.

Ravens at Browns: Not Baltimore’s Day

Hard to believe this was the only game in Week 15 where one team led by 10+ points for the entire 15 minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a lousy kicking day with both kickers missing twice, though Justin Tucker being one of those kickers is the shocking part. He had a 50-yard field goal blocked in the first minute of the fourth quarter to keep it a 13-3 game.

Beyond the uncharacteristic, awful kicking day, the Ravens just didn’t seem to recognize the situation. Cleveland’s offense sucks with Deshaun Watson, who has managed two touchdown drives in three games, and you were playing this game without Lamar Jackson again. Take easy points when they come, so that means not going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 7 on your long opening drive by giving the ball to the fullback Patrick Ricard, who was stuffed.

There went three points. Tucker missed a 48-yard field goal before halftime despite making from 53 earlier, so that’s six points. To start the third quarter, Huntley forced an awful pass on third down in the red zone that would have been short of the sticks even if it was caught, and that was intercepted. There’s nine points. The Tucker blocked field goal could have been 12. DeMarcus Robinson also lost a fumble near midfield on a completion in the third quarter.

Just a poor game all around by the passing game and kicking unit. Defense and run game (nearly 200 yards again) were just fine.

It’s the first of Huntley’s eight major appearances that wasn’t decided by 1-to-3 points. The Ravens (9-5) are now in second place in the AFC North and things may very well stay that way the rest of the season.

Falcons at Saints: Bad Start to the Ridder Era

Atlanta rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder made his first start, getting a quick taste of the Saints rivalry. It did not go well. Ridder finished 13-of-26 for 97 yards, took four sacks, and ran six times for 38 yards. The Falcons gave him nearly 200 yards of rushing support to help keep the game close, but he definitely showed some inaccuracy and a lack of experience as you would expect from a third-round rookie in his first start.

Ridder joins a weird list of five other quarterbacks to throw for fewer than 100 yards on more than 25 pass attempts in their first NFL start since 1950:

  • Don Meredith (1960 Cowboys; turned out to be a good player for Dallas)
  • Will Cureton (1975 Browns; only game in his career)
  • Heath Shuler (1994 Redskins; first-round bust for Washington)
  • Jonathan Quinn (1998 Jaguars; forgettable career backup who was a third-round pick in 1998)
  • Doug Pederson (1999 Eagles; much better career as head coach)

We’ll see where Ridder ends up. Rookie wide receiver Drake London had 70 of Ridder’s 97 passing yards, but he also had the big blunder of the game that prevented Ridder from becoming a legend in his first start against the hated Saints. Down 21-18, Ridder looked to convert a fourth-and-5 to London at midfield, but he was stripped of the ball and the Saints recovered with 2:06 left.

The Saints kind of botched the clock situation from there, so Ridder got the ball back with 9 seconds left. After a short completion, he took off for an 18-yard run and dipped out of bounds even though the clock had already expired.

Take note, New England. That’s the moment where you are supposed to throw a lateral back into the field of play.

Ridder will learn. Maybe.


Steelers at Panthers: Pittsburgh Sweeps NFC South

I should have known better with that shit division. The Steelers completed their 4-0 sweep of the NFC South with a 24-16 win in Carolina that wasn’t even that close. The Steelers converted 12-of-16 third downs, used the first 11:43 of the third quarter to go on a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive, and completely shut down Carolina’s running game (16 carries for 21 yards).

Earlier this week, I researched what happens the next game after Mike Tomlin’s run defense gives up 180 yards like it did last week against Baltimore, and they still usually allow an average of 107 yards the next game. There’s rarely a huge improvement. But this was a complete shutdown of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.

The Steelers would be right in that 8-6 or 9-5 wild card mix if they played this complete of a game a few more times this year against those weaker opponents like the Jets, Patriots, Browns, and even the Dolphins.

Surprisingly, the AFC is only 34-34 vs. NFC this season. However, the NFC South is 3-15 against AFC teams. Of course.

Cardinals at Broncos: Playing Out the String

Week 15 is a little early for a game to be irrelevant, but this matchup had it in spades with the 4-9 Cardinals against the 3-10 Broncos with backup quarterbacks for both sides. Even Colt McCoy didn’t finish the game for the Cardinals due to a concussion. Backup Trace McSorley had to replace him, and McSorley was intercepted in the fourth quarter while trailing 17-9, giving safety Justin Simmons a pick off each Arizona quarterback.

That led to a 5-yard touchdown drive, which all but put the game away at 24-9 in case you were wondering how Denver managed 24 points. Keep in mind the Cardinals entered the week allowing the most points in the league this season, so giving up 24 to Brett Rypien and the Broncos is on brand.

Both teams are 4-10 now and their recaps will only get shorter from here on out. Happy holidays.

Next Week

  • Jags-Jets is the NFL’s classic “if you want to get some late Christmas shopping done Thursday night, go for it” matchup. But this year it’s better than usual with both teams in the playoff hunt and must-win mode.
  • Saturday’s early slate is a bit meh when NYG-MIN is the highlight, but we’ll see how the Vikings follow that 33-point comeback.
  • The Game of the Year in the NFC is probably going to be a 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game that we deserve, but I guess Eagles at Cowboys in the 4:25 slot will have to suffice for the regular season. Dallas’ loss in Jacksonville takes some more luster off this one.
  • Watching Derek Carr against the Steelers or a Christmas movie at night? Tough call.
  • Boy, the NFL got hosed on Christmas day. Hard to blame them for thinking GB-MIA, DEN-LAR, and TB-ARI would be hits, but they ended up scheduling five of the most disappointing teams in the league this year.
  • Chargers-Colts should be up for some shenanigans on Monday night.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 14

If Baker Mayfield can put together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives 48 hours after joining a wounded roster, what’s holding the rest of the league back? The only fourth-quarter lead change on Sunday involved the 1-win Texans blowing a late lead to the 17.5-point favored Cowboys.

It was one of the least dramatic days of NFL action we have seen in some time. The seven comeback opportunities (six on Sunday) are tied for the fewest in a week this season. But some of the opportunities weren’t even that good with teams like the Ravens and Panthers just running the clock down on the Steelers and Seahawks after drives earlier in the quarter failed.

Beyond that lack of fourth-quarter drama, most of the best teams won again (Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bengals, 49ers, Ravens).  

A strong contender for worst week of the season so far. Hard to believe there are only four left in this regular season, and the next two weeks will split up the action with Saturday triple-headers.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Chargers: The Uncomfortable Justin Herbert Conversation

I was able to write the other 10 recaps during Sunday Night Football, and after taking a break to watch The White Lotus S2 finale, I’m still not sure what the hell was going on in Los Angeles tonight.

It was a game without a turnover, yet one of the pivotal plays was a fumble at midfield that just so happened to be picked up by Tyreek Hill for a 57-yard touchdown return.

Tua Tagovailoa went from being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league this year to staring down a start that had him 3-for-17 for 25 yards more than halfway through the third quarter. Then he found Hill down the sideline and 60 yards later it was a 17-14 game.

So, it felt like there was some Chargering in store for us, but 43 yards away from the lead in the fourth quarter, Tua threw his Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI pass into the dead sea way down the field with no one in sight. He was slapped with an intentional grounding penalty, which brought up third-and-19 to kill that drive.

The Chargers went on another long drive with Herbert throwing darts that ended short of the end zone, but at least this one still put a field goal on the board despite a scary fumble at the 6-yard line with just over four minutes left. The Chargers were able to recover and saved the field goal for a crucial 23-14 lead.

Miami did not have the greatest of response drives, but the Dolphins were able to convert a 55-yard field goal to keep the game alive with 1:10 left. Hope finally ran out after the onside kick failed, but not before a nice bounce that at least made it dramatic. But the Chargers recovered, and it was over at 23-17.

Herbert is now 9-0 when the Chargers allow fewer than 20 points. I think the main takeaway from that stat is that they’ve only held nine of his first 45 opponents under 20 points.

There is still enough season left for the Chargers (7-6) to be that 11-win team many of us thought they should be this year. It will take more efforts like this, though it’s not like the Chargers were on top of their game here. They gave up two big touchdowns to Hill and somehow turned 39 completions from Herbert to 23 points. Watching a quarterback throw the ball 51 times in a game where he never trailed and his team allowed 17 points is weird. That’s Brady stuff.

But they looked better than Miami, who got a 10-of-28 for 145 yards game out of Tua. Nearly half his yards came on that one pass to Hill. Is there an injury throwing Tua off his game the last two weeks? Something is off.

All I can safely conclude is that these two teams are in a tier below the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the AFC.

Texans at Cowboys: Texas-Sized Upset Narrowly Avoided

Well, that was a hell of a lot closer than it should have been. The Cowboys were a 17.5-point favorite at home against a Houston team that was 1-10-1 and was alternating Davis Mills with Jeff Driskel at quarterback.

Had Dallas lost, you’d have to go back to 1977 to find a bigger upset by point spread when the Patriots lost 24-14 to Buffalo as an 18-point favorite. The last 17.5-point favorite to lose in the NFL was the 2020 Rams against the Jets. The 2019 Patriots also did it in Week 17 at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins in a game that cost them a first-round bye.

This would have been more embarrassing given the record of the Texans, their quarterback situation, and just how hot the offense has been for Dallas.

But the Texans have not been allowing many offensive touchdowns in recent weeks, and that showed up again here. Tony Pollard had a couple early scores, but he finished with just 42 rushing yards. In between their second and final touchdown, the Cowboys had two field goals, two interceptions, two punts, and Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed at the 1-yard line on the team’s only full third-quarter possession.

Dak Prescott has been a little sloppy with picks this season, and it looked like he threw one with 5:37 left that was going to bury the Cowboys who were already down 23-20. The Texans returned the pick to the 4-yard line and could go up two scores. But it was a bad run by Rex Burkhead that lost 2 yards on third-and-goal at the 1 that put the Texans in trouble.

If you’re going to do this Driskel QB runs thing, why not use him on third-and-1? I agree 100% with Houston going for the fourth down even after losing two yards, but it ended up being another bad call with Driskel looking confused on the designed run. The Cowboys stuffed him, and Prescott had his shot at redemption from 98 yards away with 3:20 left.

Prescott had 15 game-winning drives in his first three seasons (2016-18), but we have seen very little of this from Dallas in the last four seasons when he has just four game-winning drives (including this one).

In fact, this game was the first time all year the Cowboys had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. They were down too many points in the fourth against the Buccaneers (lost 19-3) and Eagles (lost 26-17) for those games to qualify. They were technically never down in the fourth quarter or overtime when they blew a 28-14 lead in Green Bay and lost 31-28 in overtime. This was the first one all year, and Dak made sure it was a success with his arms and legs.

Michael Gallup looked like he had a 2-yard touchdown catch, but a good hit when he landed dislodged the ball and made the play incomplete. The Cowboys went to old reliable on third down in Elliott, and he was able to cash it in this time for the go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds left. Dallas finally led 27-23.

Mills got the ball out to midfield, but his deep shot was intercepted in the end zone to end the game. Mills is a better quarterback for Houston than Kyle Allen, but it was still a surprise it was this tight.

Many of us thought the Eagles were disappointing in how they played in Houston when they won 29-17 on a Thursday night. But this? I think this game gives me the validity I need when I say the Cowboys are going to lose in Tampa on Wild Card Weekend in the 5-4 matchup in the NFC. I hope they prove me wrong, and a win is a win, but this was frighteningly too close to a loss for me.

Eagles at Giants: Philly Increases the Gap in Best Division

Welp, so much for the Giants forcing Jalen Hurts into a bad game like they did last year in a 13-7 upset at MetLife. The versatile Eagles passed for 156 yards in the first half and rushed for 192 yards in the second half in a 48-22 rout of the Giants.

The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three drives, effectively winning the game at 21-0. The Giants took seven sacks and only managed a garbage-time touchdown in the last minute when trailing 48-14.

Not surprisingly, once the schedule changed for the Giants to where they couldn’t win close games against mostly bad teams, the wins have dried up. As for the Eagles, I’m not sure what more you can say about this team. They are more balanced between offense and defense and the run and pass as any team in the NFL right now. Their stars have mostly been healthy. They were slipping a bit against Washington and Indy, but the offense has been money the last three weeks.

I guess we’re just waiting for that Christmas Eve game in Dallas to see if this team shows any cracks. It won’t happen in Chicago next week.

Buccaneers at 49ers: 35-Oh You Don’t Deserve a Home Playoff Game

Now if only Kyle Shanahan had this kind of knockout punch for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI with Atlanta…

The 49ers were starting rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for the first time, but he looked more than ready for the opportunity. Purdy finished 16-of-21 for 185 yards, two touchdown passes, and he ran for a short touchdown. He showed good poise and accuracy. He led the 49ers to at least 23 points for the second week in a row. Brady has led the Buccaneers to 23 points just once in 13 games this year.

It was another lousy game for the Buccaneers. It was also just the second time in Brady’s career (376 starts) where a team scored more than 31 points against him before he ever got on the board. The only game worse than the 35-0 start Sunday was that 38-0 run the 2020 Saints put on him in a prime-time game the Saints won 38-3.

This time, Tampa’s only score came on a deflected touchdown at the goal line. But there would be no collapse this time. Brady continued to throw almost each play in the fourth quarter down 35-7, and the drive stalled with another failed fourth down with 8:40 left. The teams just went through the motions after that.

The 49ers are still going to be a major threat with Purdy, especially if he can play like this with any consistency. But it was not a perfect day for the 49ers as Deebo Samuel was injured in the first half and carted off. Initial reports are optimistic that it won’t be a season-ending knee injury, but we saw how that goes with the Von Miller injury on Thanksgiving.

The 49ers are still a force with an offense led by CMC, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, but Samuel is the edge they need when they play a team like the Eagles or Cowboys in the playoffs. Hopefully his season isn’t over, but the cart is rarely good news.

But at least this game gave me some confidence that should these teams meet again in the playoffs, the 49ers should win barring a collapse from Purdy with turnovers. This Tampa team stinks, and if it wasn’t for the incompetence of the division and the way the Rams and Saints blew those late leads, this team would be 4-9 at best right now with Cincinnati up next.

In fact, this game just makes me more pissed off about what the Saints did Monday night, because this division should be a four-way tie at 5-8 right now. Tampa would probably still win it in that scenario, but it’s blasphemous that any of these teams get a home playoff game.

Chiefs at Broncos: Shaky Chiefs Win 14th Straight Against Broncos

It is a shame Russell Wilson had a concussion in the fourth quarter, because this first meeting with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs as a member of the Broncos was in an odd way his best game this season.

It was looking like the lowest point yet when the Chiefs took a 27-0 lead after a great defensive play on a pick-six put the Chiefs up big. But Mahomes got a little careless on a few picks up big, Jerry Jeudy went nuclear on the field and turned his anger into three touchdown catches, and the Broncos were right back in this game in a hurry after scoring a season-high 28 points.

But it was a fourth-quarter scramble where Wilson picked up 14 yards on a third-and-11 that he hurt himself. He banged his head on the ground and the bump was very visible. He also looked like he had no idea where he was on the ground. It was a scary moment, but he was able to walk off the field. Brett Rypien came in and fired the third touchdown of the day to Jeudy on a fourth down to make it 34-28 with tons of time (10:49) left.

These Chiefs rarely make it easy anymore. The teams exchanged some three-and-outs, then Mahomes threw his third interception of the game. When it looked like Rypien had his shot at the go-ahead drive, he was hit in motion and the pop-up was picked off with 4:21 left.

Mahomes had a key third-and-11 conversion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 20 yards, then Isiah Pacheco iced the game with an angry 10-yard run.

The Chiefs escaped Mile High with a 34-28 win, eliminating the Broncos from the playoffs and handing them a 14th straight loss in this rivalry.

Despite the highlight-worthy touchdown toss to Jerick McKinnon early in the game, Mahomes likely did himself no favors for the MVP race. But he did throw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. All three times in his career when he’s had three picks, he’s also had at least 350 yards and multiple touchdown passes. The Chiefs have also scored at least 30 points in all those games.

Jets at Bills: Defense Frustrates Allen Again, But Familiar Story on Offense

We should probably give the Jets some credit for their defense this year after holding the Bills at home to 20 points, 2-of-13 on third down, and just 232 yards of offense. The Bills already had a season-low 317 yards in the first meeting with the Jets, but this was worse in some wintry conditions with rain/snow coming down.

This game was scoreless late into the first half until the Bills got the Jets to jump offsides on a fourth-and-1. That led to an incredible 24-yard touchdown catch by Dawson Knox.

Mike White took some big hits in this game and left at one point in the third quarter. Joe Flacco came in and coughed up the ball on a strip-sack. The Bills turned that into a field goal and 17-7 lead. The next Flacco drive was a three-and-out that the Bills also turned into good field position and another field goal (20-7).

White returned, and after the punt team got a safety by blocking a Buffalo punt, it was Michael Carter’s turn to screw things up with a fumble inside the Buffalo 25 with 5:34 left. White, who has passed for over 250 yards in every start he’s finished, eventually got the Jets on the board with a field goal to make it 20-12 with 1:18 left.

The Bills went three-and-out after a brazen pass attempt on first down fell incomplete, saving the Jets a timeout.  But by the time White finally got a comeback opportunity, he was down 20-12 with 46 seconds and 79 yards to go and one timeout.

He threw four straight incompletions with his fourth-down pass batted down at the line to end the game. The Bills hung on, but it was far from pretty.

Ravens at Steelers: Son of a Mitch

You just had to expect the Steelers would turn the ball over in this game. They weren’t going to be the 10th offense in the Super Bowl era to go five straight games without a giveaway. That’s some Alex Smith type stuff there (three of the nine teams had Smith at quarterback).

But who imagined Kenny Pickett would leave early after another concussion, and Mitch Trubisky would throw three awful picks, including two in scoring territory? Those plays were the game as the Ravens didn’t do a lot in the passing game with Tyler Huntley starting, getting injured, and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown having to finish the game.

But the Ravens ran 42 times for 215 yards and the Steelers could rarely stop it. After the Ravens blocked a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to hold on to a 13-7 lead, they pounded ahead for their own field goal, and you know Justin Tucker was good with 3:19 left to make it 16-7. J.K. Dobbins was a factor in his return with 120 yards on 15 carries.

Trubisky was 22-of-30 for 276 yards, but those three picks were killers. While he did lead a late touchdown drive to give the team a chance at 16-14 with 2:30 left, the defense was unable to get the ball back. Gus Edwards plowed ahead on three straight runs for the game-clinching first down.

In the seven games where Huntley has at least 20 action plays, the Ravens are now 3-4, but the shocking part is the seven games have been decided by a total of 13 points. It’s always super close, which can be said for most Steelers-Ravens games too. But that’s why you can’t piss away three possessions with turnovers like Trubisky did.

Would Pickett have been better in the game? I’m not so sure he has been aggressive enough lately to hit some of the big throws Trubisky did in this game to the wide receivers. But obviously the mistakes were too much to overcome.

Vikings at Lions: The Close Game Win Streak Still Lives

As someone who does not like the NFL’s new playoff format, the 2022 Vikings may be the first team to make me glad the No. 2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye. If the Vikings even hang onto that seed, the fact is they are the first 10-3 team in NFL history to have a negative scoring differential. They are -1 now after a 34-23 loss in Detroit where the Vikings were an underdog despite having five more wins on the season than the Lions.

On the plus side, the close game winning streak is still alive at nine games. This game did not have an official 4QC opportunity. The Vikings were down 21-13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Lions had the ball and extended the lead to 28-13 with another touchdown on a day where Jared Goff (330 yards and three touchdowns) was hot.

Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards and didn’t get any help from Dalvin Cook, who was held to 23 yards on 15 carries and had a big fumble in the red zone.

Justin Jefferson had a career-low 14 yards against the Lions earlier this season. He went almost 200 yards beyond that with a career-high 213 this time, but that slow start by the Vikings never kept them close enough to steal another win.

Even after Minnesota scored a late touchdown to cut it to 31-23 with 2:50 left, the Lions converted a third-and-7 with a neat pass to Penei Sewell, an offensive lineman. That led to another field goal and the 34-23 lead that made sure this would finish as a two-score differential and that Cousins would never have the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.

So, the Lions by 1-13 points proved to be a great pick, but we’re technically still waiting to see the Vikings lose a 4QC/GWD opportunity and/or blow a 4Q lead this year. But the Lions are playing well right now with only a close loss to Buffalo since the start of November.

Browns at Bengals: Burrow Gets His Cleveland Win as Predator Sequel Flops

Joe Burrow finally has his first win against the Cleveland Browns in his fifth try, and Kevin Stefanski has his first loss against Cincinnati in his sixth meeting with the in-state rival. We can stop talking about the Browns having any playoff hopes this year. They should have kept starting the quarterback who doesn’t need supervision when he gets a massage.

The secret sauce to Cleveland’s flawless record against Burrow was getting big plays out of the quarterbacks even when those quarterbacks were Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. In those four games, the Browns averaged 36.3 points and 10.8 yards per pass attempt.

On Sunday, the Browns scored 10 points on 11 drives. The offense only had one 25-yard play, and that was a 28-yard completion in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with a failed fourth down.

Nick Chubb was held to 34 yards on 14 carries, the first time he was under 100 yards against Burrow’s defense.

Burrow was not at his best with 239 yards, but he only took one sack this time, and the Bengals lost Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to injury during the game. Ja’Marr Chase was great with 119 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals also hit a 45-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker to Trenton Irwin.

The Bengals are 9-4 and keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North. The Browns are 5-8 and will face the Ravens on Saturday. It was a good win for the Bengals to get over this annoying Cleveland hump.

Panthers at Seahawks: Second Episode of “Let Geno Cook” Bombs

Regardless of record, some opponents are just bad matchups. I picked Carolina ATS because I knew the Seahawks were at a big disadvantage in the ground game. The Panthers like to pound it with D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, and the Seattle run defense has been bad for most of the year. Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas were out for Seattle, leaving the offense very limited at running back.

Geno Smith was going to have to carry the offense for the second week in a row, and despite finishing with 264 yards and three touchdowns, he also had some turnovers. But despite trailing 17-0 early, this was still a 20-17 game going into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had the ball but unlike last week when Geno worked some rare (for him) late-game magic against the Rams, he was buried on a third-and-10 sack.

The Panthers kept the ball on the ground instead of going to the air with Sam Darnold like they mistakenly did on a goal-to-go sequence that failed in the third quarter. The end result was a touchdown and 27-17 lead. Another three-and-out by Seattle, another time-killing drive with the run by Carolina, and this one was all but over at 30-17 with 1:56 left. The Panthers were a bit lazy on defense with the 13-point lead, the most dangerous lead in football this month, but Geno’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin left only 24 seconds to recover an onside kick and set up a Hail Mary.

Onside kicks are now 3-for-40 this season after Carolina recovered to end the game at 30-24. The Panthers had 46 runs for 223 yards while Sam Darnold only had to throw 24 passes. That’s their formula. The Seahawks had 11 handoffs for 26 yards. They’ll be better when Walker comes back, but with the 49ers up next on a short week, the playoffs might be slipping away for Seattle.

Jaguars at Titans: Remember When the Titans Were Good?

Firing your GM on the first Tuesday in December can never be a good thing, but the Titans have lost the plot to this season with a third-straight loss. We thought the Eagles lighting them up for 35 points last week was just a result of the Eagles playing well and A.J. Brown making sure to embarrass their ass. But this was Trevor Lawrence, with almost no running game to speak of (22 carries for 53 yards), just tearing the defense apart with 368 yards and three touchdowns. You could argue he’s had his two best games in the last three weeks between this and the Baltimore comeback.

The turning point came at the two-minute warning in the first half. The Titans were up 14-13 and Derrick Henry caught a pass near the red zone. But he fumbled and the Jaguars turned that into a 78-yard touchdown drive. They took a 20-14 lead into the half and never looked back. The Jaguars were up 36-14 in the fourth quarter after Henry lost a second fumble. After one more touchdown, the best Tennessee could do was turn it over on downs while trailing 36-22.

The Titans probably are not in danger of blowing this division yet, but they are looking like an easy playoff win for a team like the Dolphins or Ravens/Bengals runner-up right now.

Next Week

  • All for seeing more Brock Purdy on Thursday night in Seattle. Big chance to all but put away the NFC West.
  • I was hoping to catch up on some TV this Saturday, but the NFL is giving us a triple-header that is less than exciting. Dolphins-Bills at night is the highlight.
  • Not looking forward to Steelers-Panthers one bit.
  • You know it’s a bad Sunday slate when the Giants-Commanders rematch is probably the highlight of the day.
  • Maybe Joe Burrow can definitively pull the horseshoe out of Tom Brady’s ass and assume the mantle of the LOAT for the next two decades.

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Haves vs. Have Nots

It really feels like the NFL stacked this Week 2 schedule at the front (LAC/KC) and back (BUF/TEN, MIN/PHI) and forgot about Sunday.

Also, I have no idea why there is a doubleheader on Monday night in Week 2, and it’s not even a true doubleheader since the games will be going on simultaneously. But I wrote about how Justin Jefferson could follow Cooper Kupp’s lead last year to an Offensive Player of the Year award and maybe more if Kirk Cousins can pull off a Matthew Stafford.

But I really do think the Sunday schedule is lacking tomorrow. Part of that isn’t really the NFL’s fault as Bengals-Cowboys could have been a fun game based on last year, but we didn’t know the Cowboys would be this injured already, especially Dak Prescott again. But check the picks below as I think Cooper Rush can surprise some people.

The weird thing about this week is that five games already have a team favored by 9.5 points, or another way of saying favored to win by double digits.

That is a lot for Week 2, because the spreads usually grow later in the season once we see these teams separate from one another. For example, there were five Week 2 games in 2019-21 combined (three seasons) where a team was favored by double digits. We’re possibly matching that this week depending on where the lines close.

This hasn’t happened in a while. The 2007 and 2006 seasons both had five Week 2 games with a 9.5+ point spread. It usually happens once or twice a season since. If this holds, then 2022 will tie 2006 and 2007 for the most Week 2 games on record of having a spread this big.

In Week 1, we observed a lot of unusually high underdogs at home (5.5+ points) for an opener.

So, what is going on with this season from a betting perspective? Is it a case of the haves vs. have nots?

Maybe some of it is the preseason predictions still carrying too much weight, and teams like Denver and San Francisco may not be as good as we thought they’d be with new quarterbacks. At the same time, maybe teams expected to be among the very worst like Seattle and Atlanta may actually be halfway decent.

We know Week 2 can always be the toughest week of the season to predict because you’re trying to wrap your head around what was real and what was an outlier in the first game. But something I’m looking at for this week’s slate is division familiarity and motivation, and how those factors can change sharply from last week. Here are some examples:

Are the Rams really going to be that bad this year, or were they just playing the Super Bowl favorites from Buffalo who haven’t punted in four of their last six games now? Something tells me the Falcons won’t look that good this week as they did last week when they blew a 16-point lead to division rival New Orleans. Guess what happened last year? A bad Atlanta team blew an 18-point 4Q lead (in less time even than last week) to the Saints, but Matt Ryan got the ball back with enough time to get a FG and avoid the blown lead. I’m not worried about the Rams yet.

Speaking of Ryan, after that slow start in Houston, another division team that usually plays Indy close outside of 2021, I think he has a chance to do big things this week. Sure, the Colts have shit the bed in Jacksonville every year since 2015, but I think he’ll be okay in this game. Still, it’s not one I’d be betting good money on for ML or spread.

Meanwhile, is Houston going to look that decent in Denver? Are the Broncos really this badly coached, or was it just a tough debut in a loud place to play with everyone fired up to beat Russell Wilson? At the same time, will the Seahawks play that well in San Francisco? Oh, that is one I can believe. The 49ers haven’t beat Seattle by 10+ points since the 2011 opener. Kyle Shanahan without Jimmy Garoppolo should not be trusted. The evidence keeps growing by the week. That’s another game I’d avoid ML bets.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

Justin Herbert seriously went from a painful looking injury that prevented him from running for an easy first down on a third down to throwing the pass of the night on fourth-and-1. It led to a touchdown and late cover for the Chargers, who I picked to lose 28-21 on the night. At least the under hit.

I picked the Jets for an upset at first, but I think I’ll just stick with the cover. It seems like every year the Jets are a team I keep betting ATS early, thinking they can’t be this bad, but time and time again, they prove me wrong. They are this bad. But we’ll see against Cleveland.

I think Tom Brady gets his first regular-season win over the Saints with Tampa, but I’d be lying if I said I felt confident about it. Saints look as unpredictable as last year.

This might be the Steelers-Patriots game with the least impact on the AFC since they met in 1991 during bad seasons. Not used to this not being a big game, but I expect low scoring and close. Just can’t imagine Trubisky avoids the big turnovers again this week. The Patriots haven’t been getting takeaways, but all those recent games with 0s in that column were against the Bills and Dolphins. The AFC East has absolutely caught up to them (Jets aside). They won’t be able to beat the Steelers the way they used to, but Mac Jones can dink and dunk to a high completion percentage at least. No T.J. Watt was the deciding factor for me. This is the kind of game he could win on his own with splash plays.

Dolphins-Ravens is potentially the best game on Sunday. We’ll see if the Ravens can protect Lamar Jackson this time. Miami roughed him up good on Thursday night last year. I like Tyreek Hill to score his first touchdown of the season.

I am giving the Cowboys a shot at covering against the Bengals. Maybe Cooper Rush can put on his best Mike White impression. The difference is Rush has a start and 300-yard game and win under his belt over Minnesota last year. Cowboys were beyond bad on offense last week, but maybe Micah Parsons can harass Joe Burrow into more turnovers and sacks. The defense has to get the job done for Dallas now.

On Monday, I think the Bills get some revenge on Tennessee for losses the last two years, but I’m not ready to count out the Titans from keeping it close.

Vikings-Eagles really might be the game of the week as Chargers-Chiefs didn’t quite deliver on expectations. If both of these teams are going to win 10+ games and win division titles, it will be interesting to see how they perform Monday as those are the opponents that both have been losing to for years. The Eagles are 1-15 against playoff teams since drafting Jalen Hurts. The Vikings usually never beat a good team not named the Packers. Looking forward to this one and I think I may end up watching more of it than the Buffalo game.

Why I have to choose at all between two games on a Monday in Week 2? Damned if I knew…

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 11

What did I say Saturday about Jonathan Taylor scoring a touchdown being the safest bet in the NFL this season? I never imagined him scoring five in Buffalo, the first time anyone has scored five touchdowns on a defense that ranked No. 1 that week, but he delivered in a big way to shake up the AFC playoff picture again. The Bills have fallen to the No. 7 seed while the No. 3 Patriots are leading the AFC East behind a dominant defense, great special teams, and a young quarterback propped up by the media for his win-loss record.

While I am going to lay into Josh Allen below, I swear to f’n Christ the last reboot I want to see is the Patriots dynasty. Buffalo better figure this out ASAP.

But Indy’s Taylor not only should be the front-runner for Offensive Player of the Year, but I think we need to punish the inconsistent QB play this season and put him in the MVP conversation. It’s not like anyone has stepped up to earn it with consistently high-level play.

Did the close games return in Week 11? Not exactly. We had seven games with a comeback opportunity and a couple fake close games in the late afternoon, but at least there were three games with multiple fourth-quarter lead changes this week. Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton (!), and Ben Roethlisberger all registered a lost comeback after their go-ahead efforts were wasted on Sunday. But we really haven’t seen too many finishes like that this season regardless of the NFL trying to push “games decided on the final play” graphics on us.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Steelers at Chargers: No BINGO This Time

I want to re-share one of my favorite bits of research from the offseason on the Justin Herbert-era Chargers:

We were so close to getting the first blown 17-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Brandon Staley era, but once again, this team has been different this year. Despite Pittsburgh scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter and taking a 37-34 lead, Herbert calmly responded with a game-winning drive, exploiting a blown coverage for a 53-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with 2:09 left. The defense responded immediately with back-to-back sacks of Ben Roethlisberger to set up a 4th-and-32 incompletion to clinch the 41-37 win.

The Chargers are tied with the Ravens for the most game-winning drives (five) this season, and no defense has more holds (five) of a one-score lead than Los Angeles. In fact, the only game the Chargers lost with a fourth-quarter lead this year was against the Patriots, and that was Herbert throwing a pick-six to turn a 17-16 lead into a 24-17 deficit.

This team is 6-4 and refreshingly different. Now on Sunday night, they got a break with Pittsburgh missing key defensive starters in T.J. Watt, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. But Pittsburgh still had Cameron Heyward, who wasn’t going to allow the Chargers to score on every drive as they did through three quarters. With the help of a blocked punt and a tipped ball for an interception, the Steelers scored on some short fields to make this a tied game. Then they got a fourth-and-1 stop in Los Angeles territory to take over with 3:43 left.

That’s where I think Pittsburgh really blew the golden opportunity. That could have been a moment to run out the clock and win on a field goal, but the Steelers couldn’t even get a first down. Maybe the lack of push all night on the ground and the absence of Najee Harris (concussion protocol) at the time limited their options, but that drive was poorly run. That led to the Chargers going 75 yards in just three plays after Herbert became the first quarterback to ever pass for over 380 yards and rush for over 90 yards in the same game. The Steelers had 18 carries for 55 yards against the worst run defense in the league.

I thought Roethlisberger looked very good after missing time and practice with COVID. He made some of his best throws in the last few seasons in this game. That last drive falling apart so quickly was a disappointing finish to a wild game. The Steelers (5-4-1) should have better defensive days ahead, but with the tough schedule, it’s going to be hard to finish better than 8-8-1.

Offense had been a struggle for the Chargers in three of their last four games coming into this one. I think the defense still showed a lot of cracks, but if Herbert can play at this level in the big games more often, then this team can hang with anyone this year.

It’s not like any team is running away with things this season.

Cowboys at Chiefs: The Shootout That Wasn’t

Thanks to the Steelers and Chargers for delivering the game we were supposed to get from the Chiefs and Cowboys. Both teams have had their offensive hiccups in the last month, but they were both red hot in Week 10. I can’t get behind the injury excuse for Dallas when we’ve seen this offense soar without Tyron Smith in the past and on days where Amari Cooper (COVID) was especially quiet. CeeDee Lamb played the whole first half on Sunday before leaving injured and was just ineffective as the whole Dallas offense was off.

While the Chiefs looked great in scoring on their first three drives, they too hit a funk in this surprising 19-9 final. There were two more turnovers for Patrick Mahomes, who again got hit with an interception on a pass that Travis Kelce should have caught. Kansas City only managed a field goal on its last eight drives, but that was enough to hang on for the win as the defense stepped up once again.

Prescott was just off and spent much of the game under 4.0 YPA. He finished with 216 yards on 43 passes but also took five sacks as the line was no match for an energized pass rush by the Chiefs. Chris Jones more than doubled his season sack total with 3.5 on the day.

It wasn’t the resounding “they’re fully back” performance the Chiefs may have hoped for, but it’s scary when you give Mahomes a defense. He is 38-1 when the Chiefs allow fewer than 27 points. The last time they played a stretch of football this ugly, it was 2019 and they were about to go on a Super Bowl run. They still have to avoid those bad-luck turnovers, but the defense has absolutely turned things around and getting to the bye with a 7-4 record against this schedule is an achievement.

As for Dallas, I think you have to be worried this is a typical Mike McCarthy team. Pass-happy offense and turnover-reliant defense. They’ll be ready for most of the scrubs on the schedule, but put them up against a good opponent, especially on the road, and they won’t look prepared or adaptable. That may work for a wild card win over a lesser foe, but go on the road against Green Bay, Tampa Bay, or Arizona, and I don’t see it working out for them this year.

Colts at Bills: Maybe Josh Allen Is Carson Wentz 2.0

The episode of What If…? that Marvel didn’t show you:

From the archives:

I still believe Carson Wentz’s success in 2017, which proved to be the outlier to his career, had people looking much harder than they normally would have at a raw Wyoming prospect named Josh Allen in 2018. Allen would struggle with accuracy and consistency for two years before putting together an MVP-caliber season in 2020.

But this year, right from the Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, something has looked off with Allen. The offense added the capable Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Dawson Knox has really taken off this year to give the Bills a deeper receiving corps than 2020. Yet Allen’s QBR has dropped from 76.6 to 58.8. NBC’s Cris Collinsworth was ready to give him the MVP in Week 5 just because the Chiefs couldn’t cover deep passes. But in the weeks since, we’ve seen Allen come up short at the end of the Tennessee game, play one ugly and one great half against Miami, implode against the Jaguars, light up the lousy Jets on an abundance of play-action, and now he struggled at home with the Colts on Sunday in a blowout loss.

Last year, I thought that wild card playoff game between the Colts and Bills to open the tournament was the best-played playoff game we got. It is the only good playoff performance for Allen in four tries so far. It was a rare feat of the pass-happy, offensive juggernaut overcoming bad field position and a balanced team to get a win.

But on Sunday, the Bills were anything but ready to match the Colts, who got an MVP-caliber effort out of Jonathan Taylor with five touchdowns and 204 yards from scrimmage. Buffalo’s No. 1 defensive ranking was influenced by a soft schedule, but the Bills were shredded by the running game in this one. Wentz only completed 11-of-20 passes for 106 yards as Frank Reich mostly kept him in a game manager role.

Wentz has had much better games this season, but what if covering up some of his flaws with a running game is something the Bills should be looking into for Allen? He was the show last year and it worked (outside of Kansas City games), but now the Bills are trailing the Patriots in the division and still have to play them twice.

Both the 2016 and 2018 quarterback draft classes have shown that we shouldn’t rush to conclusions and that situation does matter for how good these quarterbacks really are. But what if like 2017 for Wentz, 2020 was just the career outlier for Allen? A perfect storm that produced a mirage of an elite quarterback, but the rest of the career shows a talented athlete with some aggravating flaws still in his game.

After 2020, I thought Allen was legitimately going to remain a top-tier quarterback and not repeat Wentz’s career path. But after 10 games this season, I’m starting to think Wentz 2.0 is what Allen was destined to be. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an upgrade on the original, but like with Wentz, let’s not pretend the one season outweighs the rest combined.

Texans at Titans: They Didn’t Get Away with It This Time

Suddenly, losing to the Patriots wouldn’t be surprising for Tennessee. While I was joking in the tweet above, how does a team beat so many contenders, usually in impressive fashion, and take such ugly losses to the Jets and Texans in 2021? I liked and picked Houston +10.5. I cited on Saturday the two close games last year and that Tyrod Taylor might be able to play closer to the player he was in the first two games this season.

That happened in this one. Taylor rushed for Houston’s only two touchdowns. But it’s not like Houston’s offense did much to win this one. The Texans were 6/17 on third down and finished with 190 yards. This was about turnovers. Not only did Ryan Tannehill throw four picks, including a dagger in the fourth quarter when he was down 19-13 and had another chance for a game-winning drive. But that muffed punt on a fluky play halfway through the third quarter was a killer. That led to a 5-yard touchdown drive and 19-0 lead for Houston, which pretty much went into the tank offensively after that.

The Titans had the ball six times in the fourth quarter alone and only scored one touchdown. They had numerous chances in this one, but the offense doomed them with mistakes. This was bound to happen when you take away Derrick Henry and Julio Jones, but I still expected better than this. I can’t imagine Tannehill has had a worse game for the Titans than this one.

This team works better as an underdog. The conference-leading favorite? I never liked that role for them. Now we’ll just see if they can stop the Patriots from getting the top seed.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Russ & Pete Going Out Sad

Remember when the Giants won in Seattle last year as a double-digit underdog despite starting backup Colt McCoy? That was a rough day for Russell Wilson and the offense as McCoy did very little. Well, he won in Seattle again as the backup-turned-starter, and this time he outplayed Wilson in his second game back from injury.

The Cardinals leaned on McCoy, and he responded with a dink-and-dunk masterclass, completing 35-of-44 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He got away with three fumbles in a game that finished with zero turnovers. Even after Seattle closed it to 16-13 in the fourth, McCoy delivered a great touchdown drive to put it away at 23-13. It would have been decided sooner without an atrocious day by the usually reliable Matt Prater. He missed two sub-40 yard field goals and an extra point. But A.J. Green and Zach Ertz put in vintage performances to help this offense thrive without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins again.

The Cardinals are a league-best 9-2 and I think you have to say Kliff Kingsbury is the front-runner for Coach of the Year. The Seahawks are 3-7 and look like they will be shopping for a new coach and possibly moving Wilson in 2022.

Packers at Vikings: Captain Kirk’s Lucky Day

I don’t know if I even want to entertain Aaron Rodgers’ Toegate saga, but I know he was healthy enough to throw a touchdown pass on his last four drives after a slow start. He looked just fine doing that. This game was more about the other matchup where Minnesota’s offense really took it to Green Bay’s defense, which had been garnering praise this season. But remember, the Cardinals were crushing teams defensively and still should have lost to Minnesota, 36-34, had it not been for a missed field goal at the end. Most Minnesota games this season come down to a clutch field goal as this one did.

Minnesota (+1.5) was one of my favorite upset picks of the season in this one because this was the best team in the league with a losing record going into Week 11. They get a good lead on everyone but haven’t been able to hold enough of them. Their stars all showed up for this one as Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen all scored a touchdown.

Kirk Cousins had one of the best games of his career against a defense that has embarrassed him in recent years. But he absolutely caught a break in a tied game just before the two-minute warning when a Darnell Savage interception was overturned for not completing the process. Tough break for Green Bay, but a game-changer for Minnesota. Cousins completed his next three passes and set the Vikings up for the game-winning field goal from 29 yards out. They did not Blair Walsh this one and got the 34-31 win to move to 5-5.

Bet the farm on the Packers in the Week 17 rematch in prime time.

Hurry-Up Finish

Some quick thoughts as I race to complete another preview before getting to sleep.

Washington at Carolina: Ron vs. Cam

I think it’s a safe prediction that Ron Rivera and Cam Newton will enjoy their most NFL success together rather than apart, but they were opponents on Sunday for the first time. Rivera got the better of things behind a stellar game from Taylor Heinicke, who outdueled Newton in his first start back with the Panthers. Newton did rush for a 24-yard touchdown, which is only the third time out of 74 career scores where he was outside of the red zone on a touchdown run. But Heinicke threw three touchdowns and finished with a Week 11-best 92.5 QBR.

As the case has been for his whole NFL career, Newton came up a drive (and a yard) short in the fourth quarter. He threw a yard short of the sticks to Christian McCaffrey on a fourth-and-3, and then took a sack at midfield on another fourth-and-3 to end the 27-21 loss.

Carolina coach Matt Rhule is now 0-12 in games where his offense has a 4QC/GWD opportunity. This was the first loss with Newton, but if Cam’s career continues the way it used to go under Rivera, he won’t be helping Rhule on that record. Newton’s 20-44-1 (.315) record at 4QC/GWD opportunities is the worst among the 16 quarterbacks to win NFL MVP since 1984.

49ers at Jaguars: The Longest Drive Ever?

There’s not much to say about the 49ers blowing out a terrible Jacksonville team 30-10, but how about that opening drive? San Francisco ran 20 plays to cover 87 yards before settling for a field goal (after a timeout, no less) on a drive that consumed the first 13:05 of the game. It’s probably the second-longest drive in the NFL since 1997. Maybe the second-longest in history. Not sure.

The previous longest drive in Stathead’s database going back to 2001 is 13:00 by the 2010 Giants in Seattle during the fourth quarter of a 41-7 win. A drive people used to say was the longest (it’s not) was the 2000 Giants running out the final 12:53 in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, a 41-0 rout. I have seen the play-by-play confirm a 13:27 drive by the 1997 Titans against Dallas, a 21-play, 90-yard drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth. There are reports of the 1935 Boston Redskins, led by the incomparable Sammy Baugh, having a drive that lasted 14:03 against the Bears.

The previous longest drive to start a game since 2001 also belongs to the 49ers. It was a 12:07 drive that also ended in a field goal against the 2002 Rams in a game where the 49ers blew a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead after allowing St. Louis to score four unanswered touchdowns.

Let’s just say it might take the 2021 Jaguars the better part of a month to score four touchdowns.

Ravens at Bears: The Tyler Huntley Game

How is it the Ravens prepare Tyler Huntley in a surprise start without Marquise Brown better than the Bears prepare Justin Fields after a bye week and his best game in Pittsburgh? Oh, that’s right, a thing called coaching. This was shaping up to be your classic Kyle Boller vs. Craig Krenzel 9-6 game between these teams, but some offense broke out at the end. An injury to Fields gave way to Andy Dalton, who basically hit two fluky touchdown passes as Chicago’s only real offense on the day. The second came on a fourth-and-11 as Dalton tried to repeat his 2017 magic when he knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in Week 17.

But Dalton left too much time for… Is it Tyler or Taylor Huntley? Tyler Huntley. Taylor is the MAGA one. Huntley had his struggles, but that 29-yard pass to Sammy Watkins to set up Devonta Freeman’s 3-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left was a thing of beauty. That was all the Ravens needed to get to 7-3 and their fifth game-winning drive of the season.

Lions at Browns: Tim Boyle Edition

The top NFL rivalry of the early 1950s, these two teams have not seen much glory since. How about some memorable meetings? Remember the Brady Quinn-Matthew Stafford shootout in 2009? Well, Sunday’s game looked nothing like that. It was closer to the 2001 meeting where Detroit’s Ty Detmer threw seven interceptions, yet Tim Couch threw the only pick-six in what was still a 24-14 win for the Browns.

This time, Baker Mayfield (8.6) and Tim Boyle (6.7) had the only single-digit QBRs for Week 11. The Lions probably could have won this game with a healthy Jared Goff, but it was not meant to be. Boyle, who wasn’t even good in college, making his first NFL start and throwing to the worst receiving corps in the league. What could go wrong? Apparently, not enough to not cover the spread (+13) as the Lions were in this one thanks to their run game and defense. But the understandable lack of trust in the QB proved fatal to the Lions (0-9-1) in this one. Detroit ran the ball on a 3rd-and-14 with just over three minutes left before punting the ball back in a 13-10 game. Despite having four clock stoppages left, I feel that the run was a bad decision as it burned more clock. Let the bad QB throw a bomb and if it’s picked, it’s an arm punt. The Browns actually screwed up by Nick Chubb twice running out of bounds on runs that gained first downs. So it took three first downs to finally put the Lions away.

Who wants to learn how to cook this Thanksgiving instead of watching Andy Dalton vs. Tim Boyle?

Saints at Eagles: Hurts Them Again

Two of the trickiest teams in 2021, I improved to 3-7 ATS in picking New Orleans games this season by going with the Eagles (-2.5). I guess Jalen Hurts just owns the Saints on the ground after last year’s upset and now this effort with three rushing touchdowns. The 40-29 final – somehow not an NFL first – was more points than this one deserved, but the Eagles briefly made it too close for comfort despite leading 33-7 going into the fourth quarter.

Trevor Siemian warmed up after a terrible start and the Saints were only down 33-19 and in the red zone with half a quarter to play. But I have no idea what Sean Payton got out of kicking a 28-yard field goal on fourth-and-7 with 7:14 left. It was still a two-possession game. That seemed like one of the worst decisions this week. The Eagles then made the Saints burn their timeouts before Hurts put them away with his third rushing touchdown. The Saints were an elite rushing defense this season, but the Eagles finished with 50 carries for 242 yards in this one. Washington (131) had been the only offense to surpass 90 yards on the ground against the Saints before this game.

I still don’t know what the plan is for Payton this year, but at least things are trending in the right direction for Sirianni’s Eagles.

Bengals at Raiders: This Turkey Is Cooked

The Raiders really came out of their bye week with a 5-2 record before failing to score more than 16 points in their next three games, all losses. They haven’t even cracked 300 yards in the last two. They’ve had three straight games with multiple turnovers after having none in the first seven games. They are terrible on third down (1-for-7 in this game). The Bengals were nothing special in this one themselves, also failing to hit 300 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per play. But they finished drives in the fourth quarter and got Derek Carr to throw a bad interception with 4:43 left in his own territory.

This was one of the picks I was most confident in this week, but even I was surprised at a lifeless 32-13 final (surprisingly the fourth game in NFL history to end with that score).

Next week: All six teams playing on Thanksgiving lost on Sunday. Sounds fun. At least Sunday looks loaded as far as this season goes. Titans-Patriots and Rams-Packers are the marquee games of the day, and Bucs-Colts and Steelers-Bengals aren’t half bad either. Even Vikings-49ers is a potential launching point towards the No. 7 seed game in the NFC.

NFL Week 7 Predictions: Trick or Treat Edition

If you thought Week 6 was bad football, take a gander at Week 7. Chiefs-Titans could be a fun shootout (read my preview here), but the only other game that comes close on paper is Bengals-Ravens, and I’m still not sure if the Bengals are ready for a game like this.

I may have lost my mind, but I really did pick 11 underdogs against the spread this week (five to win). It’s a combination of things. It’s probably an overcorrection to a Week 6 that featured a lot of blowouts. It’s also a reaction to the couple large spreads. Since 2010, favorites of 14-plus points are 39-39 ATS. Flip a coin.

Plus I just don’t love certain things like the 49ers playing without George Kittle, the Bucs without Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, and that spread in Green Bay keeps coming down that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s -6.5 by kickoff.

I do love the revenge games for Matthew Stafford (Lions) and DeAndre Hopkins/J.J. Watt (Texans), but I feel uneasy about picking the Cardinals to cruise to 7-0 (can see Houston losing 34-17), and that Stafford game is interesting after Dan Campbell challenged Jared Goff publicly to do better this week. What better week than Rams week against Sean McVay and Stafford? Crazier things have happened, like when the Jets beat the Rams as a 17.5-point underdog last December. The Lions have given several teams a tough time this year, though that awful loss to the Bengals last week gives me pause. But I do at least love the props in this one for Stafford and for Cooper Kupp and Darrell Henderson to find the end zone. Maybe even Robert Woods and a bomb to DeSean Jackson. The full arsenal.

But one thing I wanted to look at for this week was how much should we trust those biggest favorites of the week to win? I’m talking about Arizona, Rams, and Bucs. They’re all favorites of 11 or more points, and if they come through (along with Derrick Henry), I can hit the parlay with the longest odds I’ve ever hit thanks to actually getting a correct score on TNF right (I took three stabs at it).

Since 2001, favorites of 11-plus points are 350-53-1 SU (.868) and 188-213-3 ATS.

But how safe are they to bet to win when there’s three in one week? It happened this year in Week 2 and all the favorites won. I looked at this data for 2001-present and found 46 weeks where at least three teams were favored by 11+ points. Here are their results:

  • Perfect record: 32/46 (69.6% of the time)
  • One tie: once (Week 10, 2012, thanks Jeff Fisher’s Rams vs. 49ers)
  • One loss: 11 times (4-1 once, 3-1 five times, 2-1 five times)
  • 1-2 record: twice (just happened Week 15 last year when Rams -17.5 lost to Jets and Steelers -14.5 lost to Bengals)

Ah yes, I remember Week 15 well. It’s a week where I needed the Rams and Steelers to come through as huge favorites and I would have won about $36,000. So, that’s not the week I like to think about when I’m expecting a huge Sunday (fading MNF for sure this time).

Hedge wisely just in case. And for those curious, the big favorites were perfect ATS just twice in 46 tries. Four times they were 1-3 ATS and four times they were 0-3 ATS.

NFL 2020: Close Game Summary

While 2020 may have felt like a year for comebacks in the NFL, let’s examine the data. There were 143 games (55.9%) 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. That is in line with recent years: 142 in 2019, 147 in 2018, and 139 in 2017.

So, the crowd-less, COVID season did not produce any shift in the closeness of games. There were just 43 double-digit comeback wins from deficits at any time in the game, which is an increase of nine or 10 games over 2019 (33) and 2018 (34).

The 2020 season featured 58 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 76 game-winning drives (GWD). That is remarkably close to the numbers last regular season with 56 4QC and 77 GWD. This is the third time in the last four seasons that 4QC numbers fell under 60 for the season after ranging from 68 to 73 every year from 2011 to 2016. We also can thank the NFC East for oddities, such as the season’s lone tie when the Eagles came back late on the Bengals, and the only non-offensive game-winning score of 2020 was a fumble return touchdown by the Giants against Washington.  

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 30.0%, or just about average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 35.0% (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 2021 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

More than usual, the playoff teams had the best records in close games with 11 of the top 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs. The only outlier happens to be Detroit, which was 4-2 in close games but 1-9 in non-close games. That is because of all the ass-kickings this team took this season, including Thanksgiving against Houston, losing 20-0 to P.J. Walker and the Panthers, and that demolition performed by Tampa Bay on a Saturday afternoon.

Washington (5-5) and the Rams (4-4) were only .500 in close games, but that is not uncommon for the coaching careers of Ron Rivera and Sean McVay. The most interesting playoff team here is Baltimore. For the second year in a row, the Ravens played in a league-low five close games. Last year, they were so dominant that they were 5-0 in close games. This year, the Ravens again finished with the best scoring differential (+165) in the NFL and led the league with nine wins of 14+ points. However, they were only 2-3 in close games, including a blown lead and overtime loss to the Titans in Week 11. Now the Ravens will have to avenge some past losses if they are to get back to the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs, Saints, and Titans are the only teams to not blow a late lead this year, though none of those defenses were tested more than four times in close games. The Titans were also bailed out heavily by their offense, including yesterday in Houston. Ryan Tannehill led the most 4QC (five) and GWD (six) in the league this season. Only Buffalo (6-1) tied the Titans for the best record in close games this season. No one really comes close to the 6-1 record the Titans had at GWD opportunities, and the only loss was against Pittsburgh after Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal to force overtime.

The Seahawks may have blown a double-digit lead in Arizona in prime time this year, but otherwise, Seattle led the league with nine holds of a one-score lead, or two more than any team in 2020. The Seahawks were 9-2 in close games a year after finishing 7-2. It wasn’t as obvious this year since it wasn’t always Russell Wilson leading comebacks like he did on Sunday against the 49ers. But it’s those drives late in games to put away the Patriots, Cowboys, Cardinals, Washington, etc. that added up for Seattle’s 12-4 season. Now if only they can get the offense going like it was early in the season to match with the way the defense has played down the stretch. Then Seattle would have a fair shot of getting to the Super Bowl.

A year ago, the Packers were living off close game success, going 10-1 with eight holds and no blown leads. They added another hold in the playoffs against Seattle before getting blown out by the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. This year the Packers are again 13-3, but it has come much differently with many more points scored. The Packers are still 5-2 at close games with five holds and one blown lead against the Colts.

The Eagles (15) and Chargers (14) played more close games than anyone. After winning some late in the season, the Chargers actually finished 6-8 in them while the Eagles limped to a 4-10-1 finish. The 10 failed 4QC/GWD (plus a tie) by the Eagles were the most in the league.

The 1995 expansion teams, Jaguars (1-7) and Panthers (2-9), had the worst records in close games this season. Jacksonville came back to beat the Colts in Week 1 and lost out the rest of the season, or what I’d call a “Weinke” as a nod to Chris Weinke and the 2001 Panthers, who also finished 1-15 with a 15-game losing streak.

The Panthers headlined five teams with a winless record at GWD opportunities. Carolina was 0-9 in a brutal year in crunch time for Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Rhule. The Falcons (0-7) did not have a single 4QC/GWD for the first time ever in the Matt Ryan era.

A year ago, I said that Houston could be a team to watch for with regression after 11 4QC/GWD in 2018-19. The Texans were 0-7 in their opportunities this year. The Jets (0-6) and Giants (0-5), with terrible offenses, were not surprisingly winless in these situations too.

It was a close battle, but the right team won in the end. The Atlanta Falcons led the league with five blown leads in the fourth quarter, beating out the Chargers and Texans with four each. All three teams fired their head coach this season. Atlanta (4-12) finishing dead last in the NFC despite only a -18 scoring differential is a shocker, but that’s what happens when you blow such winnable games in incredible fashion like the Falcons did this year.

In fact, the 2020 Falcons are hands down the best team to finish last in a conference in the 32-team era. I would advise owner Arthur Blank not to hang a banner for this achievement, but it is the closest thing the Falcons have to a trophy from this miserable, no good, rotten season.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

If last Sunday in the NFL was boring, then this week more than made up for it. Even though the “Game of the Year” (Chiefs-Saints) wasn’t even the best game played in the last seven days (Ravens-Browns), this was a Sunday filled with memorable action.

Favorites were 11-4 SU, but the Rams christened SoFi Stadium with one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Rams Lose, Jets Lose Out, Only Trevor Lawrence Wins

It is not hyperbole to say that the course of NFL history for the next two decades could have just been drastically altered on Sunday when the 0-13 Jets beat the Rams 23-20 for their first win of the season.

For a franchise familiar with low points, the 2020 season may have taken the Jets to a new low under head coach Adam Gase. Some people have been calling the Chiefs “inevitable” this year, but the most inevitable thing felt like the Jets cruising to 0-16. That is a horrific season, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns already do this. In fact, the biggest surprise would be that the Jets weren’t already in the club (the 1996 team finished 1-15).

The reward at the end of such a terrible season was supposed to be a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft, undoubtedly, to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Gase will now likely go down as one of the most hated coaches in NFL history as he could not even finish 0-16 properly. The Jaguars are now in the driver’s seat for Lawrence in the draft, and if he is as generational as advertised – a mobile, long-haired Peyton Manning – then it is sure to be a move that has massive ripple effects around the league for years to come.

Why are the Jets always the ones botching history? They could have drafted generational passer Dan Marino in 1983 but chose Ken O’Brien instead. They drafted wide receiver Al Toon over all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. They drafted running back Blair Thomas over all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith in 1990. Maybe none of those picks lead to Super Bowls for the Jets, but they absolutely changed the course of the league at that time. Imagine the Dolphins without Marino and Don Shula. Imagine the 49ers’ dynasty without Rice. Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams may have been the dynasty of the 1980s instead. Likewise, Emmitt is probably not the all-time leading rusher if he started with the Jets instead of the dynastic Cowboys in the 90s.

Maybe Lawrence is better off if he doesn’t go to the Jets. In 1997, the Jets thought they could cash that 1-15 season in for Peyton Manning at the top of the draft, but Manning returned to Tennessee for another year and ended up going No. 1 to the rival Colts in 1998. Good move, but also a massive one for the league’s next two decades.

Oh, and never forget the Jets are more responsible for the New England dynasty than anyone after botching the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000 and injuring Drew Bledsoe in 2001, leading to the rise of Tom Brady.

Never has a win felt like such a loss for a team than this one. The fact that Frank Gore put the game away with two first downs is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Jacksonville fans will for sure be pushing Gore for Canton now.

And how about these Rams? So much for the new hyped “best team” in the NFC. I’m going to remember Sean McVay as the photographic memory wunderkind coach who lost a Super Bowl 13-3 and lost to the 0-13 Jets.

There has just been something about Game 14 where perfect seasons go to die. As I pointed out in my preview for this one, the 10 teams to start 0-13 are now 5-5 SU in Game 14. That means these teams went from a combined 0-130 to 5-5 in that 14th game. Interestingly enough, four of the eight 13-0 teams in NFL history also lost their first game in Game 14 (1998 Broncos, 2005 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers).

This is not quite the biggest upset in NFL history. You only have to go back to Week 17 last year to find a worse loss by the point spread when the 17.5-point favorite Patriots lost at home to the Dolphins to lose out on a first-round bye. However, this is only the fifth time since 1978 that a 17-point favorite lost outright.

But this is almost surely the most embarrassing loss a team has ever had to a team 0-13 or worse that notched its first win. The Rams lost this game wire-to-wire, meaning the Jets led the whole way, including a 20-3 lead. Only the 1962 Patriots can say they lost wire-to-wire to an 0-13 (or worse) team after they fell 20-0 to the Oakland Raiders to end the 1962 AFL season.

This was not some December game in trash weather at MetLife Stadium with a full, roaring crowd where Jared Goff melted down and threw a pick parade. The Rams only had one turnover (and one blocked punt) in the game, played in new SoFI Stadium. This was not a blown lead by the Rams. This was not a game where the Rams missed any field goals. The only fumble (on a Sam Darnold sack) went out of bounds.

The Rams were just outplayed by an inferior team. The Jets were able to convert 7-of-17 on third down while the Rams were only 2-of-11. Show up on a few more of those plays and this outcome is likely different, but the Jets deserved this win.

They just had no business actually pulling it off, putting the future of the franchise in doubt again.

The final magnitude of this loss for me personally remains to be seen after the Steelers play on Monday night. I was hot on my bets this weekend, but one game I needed was for the Rams to win and Cam Akers to score a touchdown. That seemed simple enough after Akers’ breakout game last week and the mismatch here, but neither part came through. I also liked Robert Woods scoring (he did), but still would have been screwed by the moneyline. I’ll scowl over this day forever that Akers’ 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was called back for a holding penalty if Diontae Johnson and the Steelers come through. I stood to win more than $36,000 on a series of round robin parlays that only cost $105.

I’m sad. Rams fans are sad. Jets fans are sad. Only Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville fans are probably happy right now. And just think, if the Jets finish on a winning streak, they just may bring Gase and Darnold back for 2021…

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 50: Week 15 at Saints

Despite holding 14-point leads early and late, the Chiefs had to grind out another close win, 32-29, in the four-minute offense to knock off the Saints in Drew Brees’ return. The big matchup had some really strange plays, Brees got off to the slowest/worst start to a game in his 300th career start, and it technically never had a game-winning drive opportunity, but it was a decent game in the end.

How did New Orleans fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Not good as the only achievement was #6 as the Saints racked up four sacks, getting some of the best pressure any defense ever has (without blitzing too) on Mahomes, which was to be expected with the offensive line situation there.

The 29 points were not bad, but the Saints absolutely hurt themselves before halftime by not recovering the obligatory fumble on a ridiculous punt fielded by Demarcus Robinson with only seconds left in the half. The Saints had a great chance to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but Alex Anzalone botched that play and the Saints only got a safety out of it. Those five points were a huge miss.

You know the standard for Mahomes is getting ridiculous when people scoff at putting up 32 points and 34 first downs on what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Saints had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since doing it four games in a row in Weeks 2-5, but the Chiefs were able to do that in this one, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Saints down.

Much like the 26-17 win in Buffalo, the Chiefs were able to mix the pass and run in moving the ball effectively. This team’s success on the road is historic this season even if it could be asterisk worthy given the pandemic impact with limited or no crowds.

Still, the 2020 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win five road games in a season against teams with a winning record. This is set in stone with the Bills (11-3), Saints (10-4), Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), and Buccaneers (9-5) all guaranteed to have a winning record this season. The only mystery is if the Chiefs will pick up a sixth win if the Raiders (7-7) finish 9-7.

The Chiefs just had the seventh game in NFL history where they put up 32 points and 34 first downs on the road in regulation. That’s impressive when you also consider that they have the sixth such game this season when they did it in Las Vegas.

Now 50 starts into his career, I am still waiting to see what a legitimately bad game from Mahomes looks like. His consistency is unmatched. The 2020 Chiefs are now the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 22 points in each of their first 14 games in a season. The other teams on that list are the 1983 Redskins, 1998 Vikings, and 2018 Chiefs, so they have already done it twice here. Only that 2019 Colts game (19-13 loss) is stopping it from being 50-for-50 for Mahomes in scoring 22+ points as a team.

Sunday is the 33rd time Mahomes has led the Chiefs to at least 30 points in one of his starts. If he does it again next week against Atlanta, then that will be 34 times over his last 50 starts. That would match the best 50-game stretch of the careers of Manning and Brady. I included a chart that shows how the count of 30-point starts over those quarterback’s last 50 starts progressed over time, as well as the same data for Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Brees.

Like Mahomes, Marino got off to that super-fast start to the point where his best 50-game stretch was the first 50 games when he led the Dolphins to 30+ points 26 times. Marino and Mahomes are the only two listed to top 20 games in their first 50 starts (this includes playoffs). Some of this is about league trends as scoring went up in the later stages of these careers (think Manning in Denver or Brees in the Michael Thomas-Alvin Kamara years), but you can see where the peaks and valleys are.

These are just team points, but Mahomes has plenty of other superlatives through 50 games that we could go on about. Sunday was his 24th game with at least three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history for a quarterback through 50 starts (including playoffs). Marino had 22 such games that early.

It can still be debated if Mahomes is the best 50-game stretch of quarterback play in NFL history, but there is no debate if this is the best 50-game start to any quarterback’s career.

Eagles at Cardinals: The Jalen Hurts Era Is for Real

Carson Wentz may understandably not like it, but the rest of us are better with the Eagles moving forward with Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. Hurts impressed again in a fun 33-26 shootout with Kyler Murray in Arizona. Sure, the Eagles lost after playing in their 23rd straight game that was within one score in the fourth quarter, but Hurts showed so much poise and promise for a rookie.

Hurts passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 63 yards and another score. That 401 yards of total offense in Hurts’ second start is more than Wentz ever had in 69 career starts. Had Dallas Goedert been able to pull in a dagger of a throw from Hurts in the end zone late to tie the game, Hurts may have finished with over 365 passing yards, which also would top Wentz’s career high.

Look, I have said these things well before Hurts was drafted. Doug Pederson’s offense works best when his quarterback is NOT Carson Wentz. With Nick Foles, the Eagles could actually win high-scoring games, beat good teams, win without much rushing support, and come through in the clutch. Hurts still has plenty of room to grow but he is only a second-round pick with three games of relevance under his belt.

The fact that this was such an exciting game between two young, mobile quarterbacks who could run and throw is a great sign for the future of the NFC. Let Wentz go do his thing in Indianapolis where he thinks Frank Reich is the answer to all his problems.

The Eagles are in a better place now, and likely would still be in position to win this terrible division had Wentz been benched sooner. You can talk about heart and leadership if you want, but there’s just something about Wentz where things don’t all click with this coach and team when he’s the quarterback.

Bucs at Falcons: The Most Predictable 17-Point Comeback in NFL History

You could say Tom Brady holds a psychological edge on the Falcons after 28-3, but it could just be as simple as the Falcons are a joke of a franchise and blowing leads is what they do best. We have already seen it this year with the losses against Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit.

In fact, I even wrote in my preview for this one that Atlanta would blow a double-digit lead to the Bucs. Not even at 24-7 in the third quarter did this feel in doubt. Sure enough, the Atlanta offense folded while Tampa Bay scored on five straight drives. Antonio Brown made by far his biggest play for the team yet with a 46-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 6:19 left. Matt Ryan is still gunning for the only season of his career without a 4QC or GWD.

Tampa Bay scored 31 points in the second half. Something like that hasn’t happened in the NFL since… well, when the Falcons allowed 30 in the second half to the Cowboys this year.

Tampa Bay is now 4-3 when falling behind double digits this season. Doing that in half your games seems like a bad formula for the playoffs where you absolutely will not see a team as dumb as Atlanta. These slow starts are a problem, but the talent on this roster is still a lot to deal with as well. Don’t rule out Tampa lucking into a No. 2 seed with the way the other NFC teams are playing down the stretch. I still ultimately think the Saints will beat Carolina in Week 17 to secure the division if it’s not done on Christmas, but there is a chance here after this comeback for Tampa Bay to move up the standings.

In a crazy year, here is something that at least feels right: Falcons and Chargers lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Browns-Giants: What a Change from 2016

Sunday Night Football may not have been the most exciting game, a 20-6 win by Cleveland over the Giants, but consider where these teams were four years ago. The 0-11 Browns lost 27-13 to the offensively challenged Giants in a game with 17 punts and four turnovers. Gross.

Four years later, the Browns actually have a fun offense and won their 10th game last night. The Giants are still offensively challenged but did better than the 20-6 score shows. They just failed on too many fourth downs.

In fact, this is one of the most offensive-driven 20-6 games you’ll ever see in the NFL. This game only had 14 total possessions with five punts, no turnovers, and three stops on fourth down. The Browns scored 20 points (another Cody Parkey missed extra point) on their first five drives before staying understandably conservative with the big lead. The “Browns only scored 20” crowd seems to have overlooked just how few drives were in this game.

In the last three games, Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 900 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. These were marquee games for the Browns too, including two in prime time and a big matchup in Tennessee. Winning two of these three games and only losing 47-42 to the Ravens is huge progress for this franchise. I’m not going to say the Browns have what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run this year, but this team has definitely improved and so has the quarterback. I’m not sure what more he should be doing in the last month to silence the critics, but I’m coming around on him with this recent performance.

It’s weird to talk about the Browns offense being worth a damn, but it’s 2020. All bets are off. Hell, even the Chicago Bears have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 1995. If the Bears can do that, the Bills can win the division, then why not see Cleveland win 11 games and make the playoffs?

Patriots Done (For How Long?)

New England has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season after a 22-12 loss in Miami. The Dolphins will have a winning record this year while the Bills (11-3) have already won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Jets were also in position to get Trevor Lawrence, but you know what happened there.

It leaves the Patriots in a tricky position with quite arguably the worst long-term quarterback situation in the division depending what the Jets do. Cam Newton is not the answer but there is also not much of a roster here.

This last-gasp effort in Miami, a familiar losing venue for New England in December, showed some signs of life early that the Patriots could pull one out and stay alive another week. They were playing a Miami team missing its top wideouts and tight end. In classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Patriots turned a 95-yard, 9:11 drive by the Dolphins into an interception after making Tua throw under pressure. Then Newton got away with a would-be 86-yard fumble return because the ball just grazed a Miami defender who was out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Patriots scored a field goal to lead 6-0. Miami finished off the half with a missed 52-yard field goal, because again, this is what the Patriots do.

But the second half was a different story. The Dolphins continued to put together long drives and finished them off this time while Newton and the limited offense couldn’t answer. Tua was credited with his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the defense shut things down with a fourth-down sack of Newton with 1:08 left.

It was the first time all season the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead, but this team was never in much of a position to do any damage in 2020 between the loss of Brady, the COVID opt-outs, the losses on defense, Julian Edelman’s surgery, and just general roster flaws like not having a tight end.

It would actually be a lot more enjoyable to see this team struggle if only they were recognizable as the Patriots, but they never really were such a team this season. Now they’re just another team, and it’s only fitting that the Bills and Dolphins have gotten some decisive licks in on them.

Can the Jets do it too? They almost beat them last time in a 30-27 game, and this may be one where Belichick decides to just let the Jets win to make sure Trevor Lawrence doesn’t find his way to the Jets after all.

I mean, there’s always a plan with Belichick. Just not much of one this year as far as a contender goes.

Cruel Close Game Regression: Texas Edition

My goodness, I know I said Houston could be in trouble in close games this year after Deshaun Watson led five game-winning drives in both 2018 and 2019, but this is ridiculous. For the second time this season, Watson had the Texans knocking on the door of a tying or go-ahead touchdown against the Colts. Last time it was a bad snap that led to a game-ending fumble in a 26-20 loss.

This time, down 27-20, Watson converted a 4th-and-5, but Keke Coutee went from looking like he was about to score to fumbling the ball into the end zone where the Colts recovered with 19 seconds left to end the game. Watson had some huge numbers again with 373 yards, but his teammates found another way to blow a game even without Bill O’Brien involved.

Houston is now 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys had a minor upset of the 49ers in a 41-33 final that was filled with big plays and turnovers. Nick Mullens had three turnovers himself, including an interception that set up Andy Dalton for the lamest game-winning drive of the year: three incomplete passes and a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In a game that would never end, the final 43 seconds saw a field goal, an onside kick returned for a touchdown, and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown with no time left. Well, not entirely meaningless. Someone (not me) won or lost money on that bullshit.

So we will have a new NFC champion with San Francisco eliminated after an injury-ravaged, disappointing season. The 49ers are now 1-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season, which has always been a problem during the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco outside of some Jimmy Garoppolo starts.

But last year with a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were 4-2 at GWD opportunities and only blew one fourth-quarter lead in the regular season. However, we know this team was struggling late in the year with that against Atlanta (lost), New Orleans (offense had to bail them out), and the Seattle game in Week 17 came down to the final stop at the 1-yard line. Then we of course know what happened with a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Stung by the Wasp.

The 49ers started this season with blown leads to the Cardinals and Eagles before the injuries and a tough schedule just seemed to be too much for this team to overcome. Will 2019 be a one-year wonder in the NFC again? We’ll need to see next year to verify, but it’s not a bad bet to say it was.

That is why every opportunity in this league must be taken seriously. You never know if things will come together at the right time again. You know, like when you’re going to finish 0-16 and draft a generational talent quarterback, but oh fuck, that’s enough about the Jets and Rams.

On to Week 16.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 13

It is getting harder to tell when an NFL week begins and ends this season, but the best of Week 13 may still be ahead of us on Monday and Tuesday. Even during a very “meh” late afternoon slate on Sunday, the NFL still surprised us with one of the biggest upsets of the season in Seattle, a ridiculous blowout in Los Angeles, and maybe the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia.

Even though I did not love these 12 games on Sunday, I still found something to write about eight of them. You might as well enjoy these NFL Sundays while you can as there are only four more of them this season.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes: Week 13 vs. Broncos

We start with the last game on Sunday night, the surprisingly low-scoring 22-16 win by the Chiefs over Denver. The Broncos not scoring much should come as no surprise, but for only the second time in 48 starts, Patrick Mahomes did not put up 23 points with the Chiefs.

Well, he actually did, but Andy Reid sent the punt team out in a hurry instead of challenging what would have been a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill in the second quarter after the receiver bobbled the ball, only for it to land on him without touching the ground.

That was one of just three drives (out of nine) where the Chiefs did not score points on the night, however the red zone was again a huge problem with Kansas City settling for four field goals down there.

One problem I see is too many cutesy, horizontal plays. Stop trying to flip the ball to multiple players or get Travis Kelce to throw a touchdown to Mahomes (that one was last week in Tampa Bay, another bad red zone day). In fact, the NBC graphic said that the Chiefs had seven straight red zone drives that did not result in a touchdown, the longest streak in the NFL this season. The Jets and Giants had streaks of six drives. You do not want to be compared to those offenses for anything. The Chiefs eventually ended that streak in this game with Mahomes’ lone touchdown pass to Travis Kelce late in the third quarter, but again, the Broncos are the only defense this season to hold Mahomes to a single touchdown pass and they did it twice. Mahomes has still technically never led his offense (not counting return touchdowns or the backup QB drives) to more than 30 points against Denver in seven starts, but he is 7-0 against them.

This game is another great example of how the Chiefs are their own worst enemy. Mahomes and Hill couldn’t connect on a potential 64-yard touchdown drive on the first drive of the game. You had Hill and Reid screw up the no-challenge, no-catch 40-yard touchdown. The only other drive without a score came in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs up 19-16. Mahomes thought he had an 18-yard completion to Sammy Watkins, but the pass was dropped. Two plays later, Mahomes threw a great 48-yard touchdown bomb to Hill, but a shady holding penalty negated that to bring up 3rd-and-20. Even then Mahomes nearly had the connection to Kelce, but the Chiefs had to punt.

This was the exact same stuff we saw in Tampa Bay last week between the red zone problems and the long fourth-quarter drive bogged down by penalties with Mahomes just missing on a 3rd-and-27 when it looked like the Chiefs were ready for the dagger.

But this time, the Chiefs failed to run out the final 6:07 on the clock. Mahomes was leading a good drive, but Reid was not quite aggressive enough after the Broncos used their final timeout at 2:28. If you have a 2nd-and-9 at the Denver 31 in that situation, you cannot worry about bringing the clock down to the two-minute warning with a “safe” run. You do not worry about the clock stopping for an incompletion. You have Mahomes. You let him touch the ball three straight plays if you have to, because he’s probably going to get those 9 yards and end this game. Instead, the “safe” run turned out to be a 3-yard loss by Le’Veon Bell, setting up a tough 3rd-and-12. Mahomes got 9 yards to Kelce, and then Reid let the clock go down to 1:12 before sending out the field goal unit.

Again, that is a mistake. Do not go for the 6-point lead and give the Broncos a minute to beat you with a touchdown. Let the best player win the game with one more play, and if he doesn’t get it, you know they’ll have a long field and will play for the field goal in that situation.

Harrison Butker made the 48-yard field goal after a penalty, but Drew Lock still had 64 seconds to drive 75 yards for the win. The Chiefs were fortunate to be playing Denver. The running game had a strong performance, but this was a time Lock had to make plays. He couldn’t even get one first down and ended the game the way he started it with an interception thrown to Tyrann Mathieu.

The Chiefs (11-1) escaped this one with another close win, but this felt more like a 2016-17 Chiefs game than what we are used to seeing. The play-calling in the red zone and the game management here would likely lead to playoff disappointment if the Chiefs were facing a stronger opponent with a more competent quarterback.

We are two weeks away from the Chiefs heading to New Orleans where maybe Drew Brees will be back for that game. That is one that could be so decisive for the No. 1 seed in both conferences, especially if the Steelers slip up on Monday or Sunday night in Buffalo.

Biggest Win for the Browns Since…

The Cleveland Browns have not won a playoff game since the 1994 season, but on Sunday they took a step closer to getting back to that level with a 41-35 win in Tennessee that was not as close as the final score suggests. Cleveland jumped out to a 38-7 halftime lead behind a monster half by Baker Mayfield before hanging on for the one-score win after a more than respectable comeback attempt by Tennessee.

The Browns were a 5-point underdog in this one and still have a negative scoring differential (-15) for the season, but Cleveland’s 9-3 record is now the third-best record in the AFC.

Since 1995, the Browns have had bigger upsets by the point spread than this game (most notably: a 12.5-point underdog in New Orleans in 2010). They have beaten higher-caliber playoff teams than the 2020 Titans, including last year’s 40-25 upset in Baltimore. They have certainly won some of these games by bigger margins, such as their 34-14 win over the 2010 Patriots that no one saw coming.

But none of those games happened in seasons where the Browns really mattered. Even in 2007, Cleveland’s only 10-win season since 1995, the only playoff team Cleveland beat that year was Seattle, and it was 33-30 in overtime. The only time the Browns have beaten a playoff Pittsburgh team in this time was in 2014, a 31-10 rout where the Browns were actually favored by 1.5 points at home.

When you consider the quality of the opponent and the magnitude of the game, you could argue this was the best Cleveland win since that 1994 playoff win.

Mayfield threw for more yards (290) and touchdowns (four) in the first half than he’s had in 15 of his last 16 full games. Will he get this many favorable looks against a defense better than the Titans in the playoffs? Probably not, but if the Browns are this prepared for a big game under rookie coach Kevin Stefanski as they were on Sunday, then it’s not unreasonable to think the Browns could win in Tennessee or Indy or Buffalo in the wild card round.

As for Tennessee, we can cancel the Derrick Henry MVP campaign immediately. Henry’s early stuffed run on 4th-and-1 and lost fumble set the tone for the avalanche Cleveland unleashed in the first half. Henry finished with 15 carries, ending his 20-game streak with at least 18 carries, the second-longest streak in NFL history (Emmitt Smith had a 23-game streak).

Had Henry been better on those two plays, the Titans may have had a real shot in this one. As it stands, the Titans are only the second team in NFL history to trail by 31 points at halftime and lose by fewer than seven points. The 1989 Packers trailed the Rams 38-7 at halftime and lost 41-38. Coincidentally enough, that game turned late on a fumble by fullback Brent Fullwood (a Pro Bowler in 1989 too) at the Rams 1-yard line after a 40-yard pass interference penalty put the Packers one yard away from tying the game after being down 31.

God damn, overrated power backs.

Seattle’s Giant Letdown

The last time I recall seeing the Seahawks trailing a mediocre team 14-5 in the second half, it was a 2016 game in Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson threw two picks and suffered six sacks while the 14-5 score never changed from halftime. It ended Seattle’s historic 98 game “no blowout” streak:

There was a sense of déjà vu seeing the Seahawks trail 14-5 into the fourth quarter on Sunday against a Giants team that was a 10.5-point underdog and starting Colt McCoy at quarterback. McCoy was about as limited as expected, throwing for 105 yards on 22 attempts. However, he kept his turnovers limited to one and took advantage of some big runs and field position provided to him.

This 17-12 loss, the final nail in Wilson receiving a single MVP vote this year, lies mostly with the offense, which scored 10 points on 12 drives (Seattle added a safety on a blocked punt before the end of the half).

Much like that 14-5 loss in 2016, Wilson accounted for two turnovers and five sacks in this one. However, the fumble was a botched exchange from center and the fourth-quarter interception was a drop-turned-pick by running back Chris Carson. That’s not to say this is not one of the most disappointing losses of the Pete Carroll-Wilson era. This was supposed to be the easiest part of Seattle’s schedule as it looked to take control of the NFC West, but now could have to settle for facing the NFC East division winner (and a potentially embarrassing repeat of this loss) in January.

Wilson had only lost one game in his career as a double-digit favorite before Sunday: a 27-13 loss to the 2015 Rams as a 12-point favorite. Multi-score favorites (9+ points) were absolutely crushing it this season, posting a 20-1 record coming into Week 13. The only loss was the Chiefs (-11) hosting the Raiders. That record is now 23-2 after Sunday.

Wilson had the chance to be the hero again on the final drive, but only moved the ball 26 yards to midfield before his 4th-and-18 Hail Mary fell incomplete with 37 seconds left. It was 4th-and-18 due to a third-down sack.

Seattle is hardly immune to offensive performances such as this one, but you have to go back to November 2017 against Washington (17-14 final) to find the last time Seattle lost a game without allowing at least 23 points. That covers a span of 20 losses.

Again, Wilson’s problem is that his “MVP seasons” always last for seven or nine-game spurts. After getting off to his best start ever in 2020, this year appears to be no different.

Eagles at Packers: Scrap the Wentz Wagon for Parts

It’s time, Philadelphia. No, not the time for me to write an “I told you so” essay about Carson Wentz. That will come later. It’s time for head coach Doug Pederson to do the right thing and bench Wentz for rookie Jalen Hurts.

He did so in the second half of this 30-16 loss to Green Bay, and it did provide some life and enough positives for the Eagles to go forward with this switch. Five of Philadelphia’s six longest gains on Sunday came with Hurts at quarterback and on his arm or legs, including a 32-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-18. The Eagles were down 23-3 in the fourth quarter but still made this a one-score game with that miracle touchdown and a punt return touchdown. Of course they failed again in the clutch, but Hurts showed more than Wentz did on this day and he did not look like the human pinata that Wentz masquerades as this season.

The Eagles have to face New Orleans (10-2) next, a tough task. However, the last time Wentz faced the Saints, he lost 48-7 in 2018. How could it be any worse with Hurts starting for the first time? Also, the Saints still have an unconventional quarterback in Hill instead of the efficient Drew Brees, and Philadelphia’s defense is decent enough to keep the game winnable.

With the Eagles (3-8-1) continuing to lose ground in the worst division ever, Pederson has nothing to lose by making the quarterback switch now, and everything to gain if Hurts looks like the real deal. The Eagles could still sneak into the playoffs if this run happens, or they can at least feel confident about not having to acquire another quarterback for 2021 with what will be a high draft pick.

Any other quarterback playing as poorly as Wentz has this season with sacks and turnovers would be benched by now. He’s not the franchise quarterback. He’s not owed anything for a Super Bowl run that Nick Foles finished three seasons ago. Wentz is just there dragging the team down while there might be a better option already available to the Eagles.

The Most Patriots-Chargers Game of All Time

I loathe seeing the Chargers play the Patriots because I just know they are going to find some way to shoot themselves in the foot and lose the game like they have almost every single time since the 2006 AFC divisional round loss.

While that playoff game was a sign of things to come, Sunday’s 45-0 blowout is probably the most hilarious Chargers-Patriots game yet, and it didn’t even need to feature Philip Rivers or Tom Brady.

Bill Belichick took his misfit toys to SoFi Stadium and won 45-0 in a game where Cam Newton only passed for 69 yards. The Patriots scored on a 70-yard punt return and blocked a field goal for a touchdown to end the first half. The Chargers have been horrible on special teams this year, but this game was quite the masterpiece even for their standards in this series.

While he was there, Belichick also saw his defense embarrass rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. If last week in Buffalo was Herbert’s first bad game, this week was his first terrible one. While the special teams stole the show in the first half, in the second half Herbert threw two interceptions and failed on three different fourth downs to end the game. He should not have even been playing that quarter with the deficit out of control, but this is why Anthony Lynn should not be the coach in 2021 and it was laughable to see the Chargers favored in this game (-1.5) with that disparity in coaching on display.

Holding the Chargers scoreless is an impressive feat. This franchise once scored at least 10 points in 105 consecutive games, which is still the NFL record. This current team, going back to 2015, had scored at least 10 points in 80 straight games (including playoffs), which was the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. That streak is now over and the longest active streak belongs to Kansas City at 56 games. You can see the scoring streak for each number of points in the table below, including a New Orleans streak that is still active and the domination the Chiefs have had with scoring 22-26 points (three separate streaks there).

Lions Stun Bears Without Matt Patricia

Just last week, I pointed out that Matt Patricia’s Lions were 3-15-1 (.184) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 5-16-1 (.250) in all game-winning drive opportunities.

However, you might be shocked to know that the Lions are now 4-1 in GWD opportunities and close games this season. It was the ugly losses by 14+ points that got Patricia canned a week ago. The Lions didn’t start this first game with Darrell Bevell as the interim coach much better, but they had a strong finish.

Matthew Stafford led the 30th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, and one that could be among the most memorable given he passed for 402 yards in the game. The Lions returned the favor to Chicago from Week 1 when the Bears rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter in a 27-23 win. Here, Detroit was down 30-20 with 4:33 left at its own 4. Stafford led a 96-yard touchdown drive with 2:18 left. Three plays later, Mitchell Trubisky fumbled on a sack and the Lions were 7 yards away from the end zone. No passing fancy here, the Lions handed off twice to Adrian Peterson, who scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:37 left. The Bears lost 34-30 after David Montgomery was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 at the Detroit 20 with 11 seconds left.

The game-winning drive was gifted to him, but it never means a thing without Stafford’s 96-yard drive to get things going. Stafford is the 13th quarterback to have 30 fourth-quarter comeback wins, and he did it in 164 games. Only Johnny Unitas (163) did it in fewer games.

Is Stafford the worst quarterback on this list? Yeah, I think that’s more than fair to say. But it would be nice to see how he would look on a competent team with an actual defense and everything. Maybe we still get that chance someday, but for now, the Lions are 1-0 in the post-Patricia era. Hell, win out (GB, at TEN, TB, MIN) and Detroit will probably promote Bevell to head coach.

With a 5-0 finish against that slate, it might actually be the right move too.

Jets Deliver Masterpiece on Way to Imperfect Season

As I was eating my steak dinner, I saw Derek Carr drawing multiple defensive holding flags on third and fourth down incompletions with the Raiders (-8) trailing the winless Jets late by a 28-24 score. I have seen this too many times before. Carr gets bailed out by the refs, then he finishes off a game-winning drive.

Except this time, it did not happen. He threw incomplete on another fourth down and the Jets took over with 1:37 left. I figured they had finally found a way to win a game in 2020. They will not join the 0-16 ranks of the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns.

I was already thinking of how to trash the Raiders for this loss – I had money on Devontae Booker TD/Raiders ML combo — but the Jets seemed to have other ideas in mind. First, they ran the ball on 3rd-and-6 with the Raiders out of timeouts. It is not an indefensible call. Running would burn more time, you’re up a touchdown, and Sam Darnold is totally unreliable as a quarterback. I can justify giving the Raiders the ball back with 35 seconds, needing 61 yards.

But what in the bloody fvck was that defense on the final drive? They didn’t cover Darren Waller (200 yards, 2 TD) all day, so those 15 yards make sense. But how does Nelson Agholor get by three defenders in the back of the end zone when only a touchdown can beat you? Carr overthrew him and only 13 seconds remained.

On the next play, Jets defensive coordinator Greggggggg Williams just had to send seven pass-rushers at Carr, leaving speedy rookie wideout Henry Ruggs in single coverage on the outside. Ruggs burned his man for a 46-yard touchdown bomb with five seconds left.

The Raiders were going to win, and it seemed like the Jets wanted exactly that. Why not? You can get the No. 1 pick and Trevor Lawrence in the draft if you keep losing. If there was a way to compete hard, look like you want to win, but ultimately offer the game up on a silver platter if the opposing QB will take it, then this was exactly that kind of tanking finish.

ESPN had the details on that defensive play call:

Out of the last 251 plays, no one sent the house like Greggggggg did. Is it uncharacteristic for him under normal circumstances? Absolutely not. But is there any sense to doing that when a team needs a Hail Mary and only a touchdown will beat you? Hell no. Make him throw a jump ball to a crowd instead of attacking single coverage like that.

Carr is the 32nd quarterback to have 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He’s done so in the third-fewest games (106).

This was a disgraceful ending, but also the most perfect ending yet for the Jets this season as they look to achieve imperfection.

Colts at Texans: What the Half?

If there is anything more certain than the Patriots beating the Chargers or Derek Carr drawing crucial flags for a game-winning drive, it’s T.Y. Hilton dominating the Houston Texans. Hilton came into Sunday averaging a career-low 40.8 yards per game with just one touchdown this season. But sure enough, against his favorite team to face, Hilton had a season-high 110 yards and a touchdown to pace the Colts in their 26-20 win to move to 8-4.

I remember seeing the 24-20 score at halftime and thinking we were getting a pretty good shootout between the Colts and Texans, including Deshaun Watson still playing very well despite the six-game suspension for Will Fuller starting Sunday.

Then an odd thing happened in the second half: two more points were scored. Both offenses struggled mightily with sacks in the second half, Watson threw his first interception in almost 300 attempts after Brandin Cooks had the ball taken away from him by Kenny Moore, and the only scoring play was Justin Houston sacking Watson in the end zone for a safety with 6:02 left.

Watson still had a great chance for a game-winning drive, but a bad snap and fumble at the Indy 2-yd line doomed the comeback effort with 1:22 left. The game ended 26-20 after that 24-20 halftime score.

Props to Stephen Holder for pointing out the huge difference in scoring between the halves. After looking into it, I don’t think there’s ever been a game like this in NFL history before.

A couple teams, the last being Oilers-Chargers in 1964, got to at least 17 points in the first half before scoring nothing in the second half, but never just two points on a safety after at least 20 points in the first half before this one.

From my preseason predictions on Houston:

After leading five game-winning drives in each of the last two seasons, there’s a chance things don’t break Houston’s way for Watson in close games again. Maybe that loss of familiarity and comfort with Hopkins comes into play there. A more balanced team in Tennessee or a Philip Rivers resurgence in Indy could be enough to take the division away from Houston this year, but for now I’ll trust Watson. If things go too south, maybe it will be time for O’Brien to do the right thing and fire himself.

Sure enough, the Texans are 0-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season and 2-4 in close games. At least Bill O’Brien was fired, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Houston.