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.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

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

Previous weeks:

AFC South Gone Wild: Texans at Titans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riverboat Ron at It Again

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

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

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

Aaron Rodgers: Reality Check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 NFL Divisional Round Preview

The NFL’s best weekend is a little sweeter this year. Thanks in large part to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Titans these last two weeks, we don’t have to talk about the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. This hasn’t happened in a decade, and I said when they were 8-0 that this was not a legitimately great Patriots team. So let’s enjoy it by not giving them any more time than they deserve. The AFC is moving forward with two better teams in Baltimore and Kansas City, but both must avoid an upset as two-score favorites this week if we’re going to get that desired title game next Sunday. I don’t think the Titans and Texans will go away easily.

The Wild Card weekend was excellent with four close, low-scoring games. Every game was decided by 3-8 points and no team scored 21 points in regulation. None of the offenses performed at a high level, which had a lot to do with the games being close, but it was good for dramatic reasons.

You should be counting on more points and at least one multi-score win this week. Seahawks-Packers is the easy choice for the close game lock, and it is the only game with a spread under 7.0 this week. However, we know the greatness of this round is from the road team upsets. They are not easy to come by either. Since 1970, the home team is 141-55 (.719) in the divisional round and that hasn’t tailed off in recent years. In fact, since the new CBA in 2011 the home team is 25-7 (.781) in the divisional round. Since 2002, home teams favored by at least 9 points in the divisional round are 9-5 straight up and 6-8 against the spread. There hasn’t been an upset loss of this magnitude since the 2012 Ravens (at Denver) and 2010 Jets (at Patriots).

Even though every home team won this round last year that is still a pretty rare feat. The only other times it happened in the current playoff format were 2015, 2004 and 2002.

Vikings at 49ers (-7)

You probably could have simulated the season 10 million times in August and not once would you have ended up with this as your #6 at #1 matchup in the NFC. But here we are and I actually believe the Vikings are a very formidable foe. The team is loaded with talent, but the offense just happened to play its worst against Green Bay in two important games this year. Kirk Cousins showed last week he can lead a clutch drive to beat a good team on the road, finishing off the Saints in overtime.

The 49ers don’t have much of a track record to point to, but they are 13-3 this year with three losses on the final play of the game. They were a missed field goal in OT against Seattle and a single defensive stop (inches on one snap) from beating the Falcons to win 15 games, only losing in Baltimore on a last-second field goal. The only times they didn’t score 20 points this year were in very wet conditions in Washington and Baltimore. It’s been a great Year 3 so far for Kyle Shanahan.

For me this game comes down to the Minnesota offensive line. Can they hold up on the road against a front seven that has slipped in the second half of the season? If Dalvin Cook has holes to run through, he and Alexander Mattison could have a nice day together. The 49ers run defense is nothing special (11th in DVOA, 23rd in yards per carry). Cook looked ready to Derrick Henry his way through the Saints defense until they got to him more in the second half. With the passing offense, Cousins clearly has the weapons as Adam Thielen stepped up with big catches and Kyle Rudolph caught the game winner in OT. Stefon Diggs was hardly involved, but that’s just another great option for this offense to go to this week. The 49ers allowed the fewest passing yards in the league this year, including 10 games where the opponent had fewer than 200 net passing yards (five games of no more than 100 yards). That’s very impressive, but the Vikings aren’t looking to go pass-happy in any game this year. Cousins was 11-2 (only losses to Green Bay) when he didn’t go above 35 pass attempts this season. They just want to run Cook and take advantage of play-action as much as they can.

The Saints had greater pass pressure metrics than the 49ers defense finished the year with. Cousins took a couple sacks and five QB hits in New Orleans, but overall the protection held up enough. The 49ers were destroying quarterbacks earlier this season, but that has really eased up. Rookie Nick Bosa had 7 sacks and 13 hits thru Week 8, but in the last nine games he’s only had 2 sacks and 12 hits. Through 11 games, the 49ers sacked 10 of their opposing quarterbacks at least three times. They haven’t done so since Week 12 and they have four sacks total in the last five games. Since Week 9, the 49ers have allowed at least 20 points in every game except for the big Packers win (37-8). Even though the Packers own the Vikings this year, the transitive property does not apply in the NFL, so don’t expect the 49ers to just own the Vikings too. San Francisco’s defense clearly peaked early as some injuries have set in too.

On the other side of the ball, the San Francisco offense is pretty legit. They were fifth in points per drive and 10th in yards per drive. It helps to be second in starting field position, but they still moved the ball well throughout the season. Jimmy Garoppolo started a bit shaky in the first half of the season when he was only averaging 212.7 passing yards per game with nearly an equal TD:INT ratio. Ever since the Arizona game in Week 9 he’s up to 276.6 yards per game with 18 TD, 6 INT, 107.6 PR, and a strong 8.67 YPA. He’s been asked to do more and he’s delivered so far. You know to expect a good running game from a Shanahan offense and they certainly have had that. The trade for Emmanuel Sanders was smart and the draft pick of Deebo Samuel was good. It may not be the flashiest receiving corps in the NFL, but it’s more than enough to win a Super Bowl when you factor in the run and George Kittle at tight end.

If there’s an area of concern I would say the red zone could be rough, especially on Garoppolo as a passer. Kittle is awesome, the best TE in this post-Gronk NFL, but he’s not much of a receiving threat in the red zone. He only has 12 TD catches in his career (on 216 catches) and only three this season came within 30 yards of the end zone. That’s just not something they do, which is why the 49ers led the league with 23 rushing touchdowns. But make no mistake about it — the 49ers are a middling red zone offense while the Vikings are No. 2 in most red zone defense metrics. The Vikings were also one of the best defenses at creating takeaways and were the only defense to get multiple turnovers from the Saints in 2019. I mentioned Danielle Hunter last week as a top pass-rusher this year. He and Everson Griffen delivered in New Orleans and will have to do so again here. Garoppolo has fumbled 10 times (equal to Cousins’ total) with five lost this year.

Something to keep in mind is that the Vikings are quite poor at coming from behind in the fourth quarter. Garoppolo is 7-3 (.700) at 4QC opportunities in his career compared to 8-25-2 (.257) for Cousins. Minnesota’s only 4QC win in the last two seasons was against Denver this season. Garoppolo (50%) and Cousins (48%) were the top two quarterbacks in 2019 at converting third-down passes into first downs.

I almost want to pick the Vikings to pull off another upset here, but I just picked the 49ers last week to reach the Super Bowl. Plus it’s January and we’re talking about the Minnesota Vikings having everything go their way in two straight playoff games. That just doesn’t compute for me, but this should be a pretty good game.

Final: 49ers 26, Vikings 23

 

Titans at Ravens (-9.5)

This was a short-lived AFC rivalry after the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens while the Oilers moved to Tennessee and changed their name to the Titans. The Ravens knocked the No. 1 seeded Titans out of the playoffs in 2000 and 2008. Those were potential Super Bowl years for Tennessee, and there really hasn’t been that type of excitement about this team ever since that day a rookie coach named John Harbaugh took his Baltimore team into that building and won.

Now the Titans can return the favor to the top-seeded Ravens, who are coming off a bye week and a Week 17 win where they rested key starters, including likely MVP QB Lamar Jackson. That means 20 days will have passed since Jackson played a game, and it’s a time in which he reportedly fought off the flu too. When your QB is such a unique player, a 1,200-yard rusher and not a high-volume passer, maybe rest is more important than any concern for rust. We saw in the past how precision-passing offenses like the 2005 Colts and 2011 Packers were hurt by giving their offense too much rest in addition to the bye week, but Baltimore is the most prolific rushing offense in NFL history (3,296 yards). No one has held the Ravens under 118 rushing yards this year and they’re the only offense in NFL history to rush for at least 170 yards in all eight home games. Baltimore hasn’t trailed in the fourth quarter since Week 5, a comeback win in Pittsburgh. The 2019 Ravens are the 11th team in NFL history to score at least 20 points in all 16 games of a season.

Still, I think Tennessee’s best shot at another upset is a fast start and some rust (or regression) from the Ravens. This is pretty hard when Baltimore leads the NFL in first-quarter scoring (128 points) and has allowed the fewest first-quarter points (31). I’m not trying to anger Tennessee fans, but the fact is your defense is not that great, and the Ravens have the most efficient offense in the league this year. It’s historic really as they averaged over 200 yards per game in passing and rushing. You need some help from the offense (unforced errors & mistakes) to slow them down. Jackson has improved his accuracy this year, but there are still times where the ball comes out a little high and one of his big tight ends needs to make a great catch. You hope he has a few of those bad throws on high-leverage third downs, or maybe a fourth down that the Ravens are very willing to go for this year. The Ravens also had the second-lowest rate of dropped passes in the league this year. Maybe this receiving corps, which is basically a rookie (Marquise Brown), a retread (Willie Snead) and three tight ends (Mark Andrews has been exceptional) have some yips on Saturday night and drop important passes. Jackson is hard to sack and the Baltimore line does a great job of protection and the defense always has to be cautious of the running attack.

The Ravens just offer a different challenge that NFL teams really aren’t used to competing against. That’s why I think it’s crucial for Ryan Tannehill to have a fast start and get the Titans ahead early to hopefully get the Ravens out of their element and play from behind like the Chargers did to a rookie Jackson in the playoffs last year. Then Derrick Henry can take the game over in the second half and kill the clock, but hopefully it will lead to more points this time. Just 14 points won’t win like it would have in New England last week. There’s no way Tannehill can get by without throwing for over 100 yards again. I wasn’t too encouraged by how he played in the biggest game of his career last week, but at least he made a couple key throws on third down. He’ll have to continue that here and get rookie A.J. Brown involved, which he didn’t last week. You don’t want to get into a big shootout with the Ravens, but I think the Titans have an explosive offense to put up the points necessary to grind out a win.

This tweet from ESPN’s Seth Walder caught my eye:

I thought the Patriots last week would use Cover Zero blitzes to force Tannehill into mistakes since he has taken a very high rate of sacks this year. However, he threw 15 passes in the whole game so it wasn’t that kind of night. He did take one sack and fumbled twice, but the Patriots were unable to recover either. Baltimore will look to force him into more mistakes in what should be a much higher volume passing game this time. I’m not sure it means anything this week, but the Titans have faced Baltimore in each of the last two seasons and Henry finished those games with a pathetic 15 carries for 47 yards (combined two games). That also can’t happen again. That was the day Mariota took 11 sacks for Tennessee. Tannehill’s not that bad thankfully.

We don’t think of the 2019 Ravens as a classic Baltimore defense, perhaps because there’s no Ray Lewis or Ed Reed or Terrell Suggs on the unit this year. They also struggled early in the season after allowing huge numbers in Kansas City (33 points and 503 yards) and to the Browns (40 points and 530 yards). That gave us an early impression that things weren’t good this year. However, in the other 14 games this year the Ravens never allowed more than 23 points or 349 yards. Only the 2010 Steelers (15 games) and 2011 Steelers (14 games) can say they’ve done that at least 14 times in a season this decade. Matt Judon emerged as their new star pass-rusher and the trade for corner Marcus Peters in Week 7 proved to be a steal as he made the All-Pro team thanks to his ball-hawking abilities. So the Ravens are in this familiar spot of having the best defense left in the AFC playoffs, but now they have the best offense to boot as well.

Not to trigger fans of the 2000 Titans, but it could be a bad thing if this game comes down to field goals. Justin Tucker is arguably the best kicker to ever do it, while the Titans were just 8-of-18 on field goals this year. Their current kicker, Greg Joseph, hasn’t even attempted a field goal in 2019. He missed three field goals and four extra points for the 2018 Browns.

That’s why the red zone matchup could be so huge in this one. Baltimore’s passing game was the best in the league in the red zone. Jackson’s 24 red zone touchdown passes trail only Russell Wilson (25), but he had 29 fewer pass attempts in the red zone than Wilson. That’s a lot different than the matchup with Tom Brady last week. Brady had 13 TD on a league-high 91 red zone passes in 2019. The only player coming close to Jackson’s absurd red zone TD% of 40% is Tannehill (37.8%).The Titans have been absolutely bonkers in the red zone with Tannehill since Week 7. Including the playoff game, they are 28-of-32 (87.5%) at scoring touchdowns in the red zone after starting 8-of-15 (53.3%) with Marcus Mariota. They are going to need to continue that hot streak and realize that field goals aren’t going to beat the best offense in the league on the road (unless it’s the final play of the game of course).

We’ve seen bigger upsets in NFL history before, but I just don’t like the Titans enough to pick them here. Baltimore is the better team in all three units, the home team, and the rested team. It would be cool to see another sixth seed make a run at things here, but the Ravens are legitimately great this season.

Final: Ravens 30, Titans 20

 

Texans at Chiefs (-9.5)

We usually have some rematches from the regular season to talk about in the playoffs, but this is only the second one through two rounds this year. The other one was last week when the Seahawks beat the Eagles by the same score (17-9) again. That would be very disappointing for the Chiefs, a two-score favorite, since Houston won 31-24 in Arrowhead in Week 6.

So what happened that day and why will things be different this time?

In Week 6, the Chiefs were coming off a rough 19-13 loss to the Colts, the first game where Patrick Mahomes didn’t lead the team to at least 26 points. Mahomes was injured a couple of times in that game and was missing left tackle Eric Fisher and Sammy Watkins for this Houston matchup. It started off really well when Mahomes notably threw for 116 yards on the opening drive thanks to some penalties. The Chiefs led 17-3 and seemed like they were going to roll over Houston, but the Texans came back. Mahomes got fooled on a second quarter interception when he thought the official was going to throw a flag on a free play, and he later lost a fumble that Deshaun Watson turned into a touchdown before halftime for a 23-17 lead. Watson engineered a 12-play, 93-yard drive in the fourth quarter — a drive that never featured a third down — to put the Texans ahead 31-24. The Chiefs had a very quick three-and-out with an odd call of a run on 2nd-and-14, and the Texans were able to run out the final 5:03 without giving Mahomes the ball back. Carlos Hyde was effective with 116 rushing yards, and Watson’s day could have been even bigger without some dropped passes. Houston racked up 35 first downs in that game, the most by any NFL road team since the Patriots had 36 first downs in their overtime win in Kansas City in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs were unable to gain 20 yards on any play after the opening drive.

That was arguably the low point of the season for the Chiefs on defense, but the good news is the offense is healthier now, especially in regards to Mahomes. They also have their leading sack defender back in Chris Jones, who missed that Week 6 game. The Texans got J.J. Watt back last week and he played well against Buffalo. The Texans didn’t have Kenny Stills in Week 6, but they’re looking to have their full wideout trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Stills and Will Fuller available for this one.

You expect the Chiefs to play better this time, but the spread rising from Chiefs -3.5 in Week 6 to Chiefs -9.5 given that last matchup is still a bit puzzling. Kansas City has cut down on penalties and turnovers since Week 6, but those mistakes and bad health have led the offense to take a step back from 2018’s historic level.

The injuries, most notably the dislocated kneecap that cost him nearly three full games, did take away from what was still an exceptional season for Mahomes. He actually had more touchdown passes of 40-plus yards (9) this year than he had in 2018 (7) despite throwing 24 fewer touchdowns overall. The big plays are still there in an offense built for speed, but in recent weeks we have seen a more pedestrian Mahomes. Since Week 11, Mahomes is at 7.28 yards per attempt with 8 touchdowns to 4 interceptions and a 92.0 passer rating. That’s fine for what the Chiefs needed to go 6-0 in those games, but Mahomes’ 16-game pace over this span is just 3,747 yards and 21 touchdown passes. That’s far from the record-setting dominance he showed us through his first 25 starts.

Mahomes has been overshadowed the last six games by his defense, which prompts the “watch out now that Mahomes has a defense!” angle. Yes, it would be scary to give this quarterback a legitimately great defense, but are we sure that’s the case? It was just in Week 10 when this defense was embarrassed by Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee, prompting us to take the Titans more seriously. I’m always leery of these “QB has [help]!” claims when we know the larger sample size usually points to that not being the case.

As always, the first thing to do is look at the schedule. Who have the Chiefs played in the last six weeks? That would be the Chargers twice. Philip Rivers had a turnover-heavy, washed-up type of season. Then there was Oakland and Derek Carr, who has a very poor history against the Chiefs. The only games he had this year with multiple interceptions were against the Chiefs, and he also had two picks in a 35-3 loss to the Chiefs in Week 17 last year. Throw in a 23-3 win over rookie Drew Lock and the Broncos in a snow game and that’s already four games out of six against division rivals they’re familiar with. The other two games were at New England and Chicago, where the quarterback play was close to equal for the first time in many years with Tom Brady having his worst season at 42 and Mitchell Trubisky being Mitchell Trubisky.

So color me unimpressed with this run. I think the Chiefs this postseason are more likely to look like the defense that had a few good moments mixed with tough times against the Packers, Vikings, Texans, Titans, Ravens and Lions (with Matthew Stafford). You know, better offensive competition.

If you look at the seven games where the Chiefs have positive EPA on defense on Pro Football Reference, five of the games are from Weeks 11-17. But you’ll also notice that the other two games were the early meetings against Denver (Week 7) and Oakland (Week 2). So those were just offenses the defense owned this season. By the same measure of EPA, the Chiefs had three games where they were worse than -17 EPA and those were against the Texans, Ravens and Packers so that could be interesting if that ends up being their next three opponents on a Super Bowl path.

Reid getting less out of the offense and more out of the defense is probably a net positive for this playoff run, but Mahomes is going to have to be stellar at some point here. If it’s not this week, then it will have to come in Baltimore most likely. Remember, Mahomes is getting the worst defense in the playoffs this week in Houston. He should play very well on Sunday, but the standards for his “very well” game are currently in flux.

The last thing I want to talk about is arguably the most important part in this game: Deshaun Watson. His A-level plays are just as good as Mahomes and Jackson, whether it’s the incredible runs or deep throws down the field. However, he does take too many sacks at times and we just haven’t seen him put together that consistent, MVP-worthy season yet like Mahomes (2018) and Jackson (2019) have. Of course, those quarterbacks have better support systems than Watson, who is stuck with Bill O’Brien and a franchise that doesn’t really have a GM. Mahomes has Andy Reid’s brain, and we know from Reid’s coaching tree that he puts together great staffs. Jackson has Harbaugh and Greg Roman, and the Ravens are on the forefront of analytics right now. Watson is basically pulling the weight in Houston himself, which is how the Texans end up falling behind 16-0 at home to lowly Buffalo in the Wild Card round, but also how they pull out a 22-19 win in overtime behind him.

Watson stands to be The Third Man in the AFC as Mahomes and Jackson battle for conference superiority in this new decade where the Patriots should finally be old news. Winning this game and breaking up the first of several expected AFC title games between Mahomes and Jackson would be huge for him, but the odds clearly aren’t in his favor Sunday.

But make no mistake about it — Watson is a gamer and the main reason Chiefs fans have to feel at least a little nervous about this one. If there’s someone who can match Mahomes, who isn’t coming in hot, score for score on that cursed playoff ground called Arrowhead, it is Watson.

Final: Chiefs 31, Texans 23

 

Seahawks at Packers (-4)

I have about 800 words left to keep this preview under 5,000, but how many does one really need for this game? Seattle’s offense is a little better than Green Bay’s, though the Packers have an edge in versatility with their top back (Aaron Jones) still healthy while the Seahawks won with 19 rushing yards from backs in Philadelphia last week. Green Bay’s play-action passing game remains broken this year and Rodgers still throws too many passes away and takes too many sacks he shouldn’t. Both teams are mediocre at best on defense and special teams. Both teams are in the running for the worst team to ever have the nice records (13-3 and 11-5) they have.

It would be shocking if we don’t see Russell Wilson in the fourth quarter of a lower scoring game trying to lead a game-winning drive. Does he get sacked in the arms of Za’Darius Smith, or does he make Green Bay blow its first fourth-quarter lead of 2019? From my 2019 close game summary, the Packers (NFL-high eight holds) and Seahawks (six holds including last week in Philly) have not blown any fourth-quarter leads this year, though Seattle did twice get lucky on missed field goals. The Packers are 10-1 in close games and haven’t lost one since Week 4 (Eagles). They have three more close wins than the next closest team. They also struggled like hell to sweep the 3-12-1 Lions this year, though I would be remiss to not mention Seattle’s 1-point win at home over a Cincinnati team that is picking first in the draft. Like I said, these teams are not that great; shells of the dominant teams they fielded in that classic 2014 NFC Championship Game.

Seattle just needs to survive the first quarter. That’s when Rodgers has by far been at his best in 2019 and Seattle has allowed more first-quarter points than all but five teams. The Packers rank third in first-quarter scoring, but are 27th in the second quarter, ninth in the third quarter and 26th in the fourth quarter. Much of Green Bay’s season has been about jumping out to an early lead, scoring 21-31 points in the game, and hanging on for the victory. That’s fine against most of the NFL, but Wilson is adept at leading comebacks.

However, Wilson has a very checkered past against the Packers: 4-3 record, 10 TD, 10 INT, 74.0 passer rating and 6.63 YPA. He’s had games with 4 and 5 INT against them, and the first meeting was the Fail Mary in 2012. His most complete game against Green Bay was probably last year’s win at home against Mike Pettine’s defense, but the Packers are better on that side of the ball in 2019.

After going through 2019 with next to zero pass rush, the Seahawks picked up 7 sacks and 9 QB hits in Philadelphia last week. That’s unlikely to repeat itself, but as the season has shown, Rodgers will take some sacks and leave teams hanging around late. The pressure will be on Wilson to deliver and for at least one more week I’m counting on him to deliver. Should Minnesota pull off the upset in San Francisco on Saturday, this game takes on even greater importance for the Packers because of how they have dominated that division matchup this year. The chances of going to the Super Bowl could go up before Green Bay even takes the field last this weekend.

If things go the other way, then we’ll just bet like crazy against the Packers in San Francisco next week.

Final: Seahawks 23, Packers 20