NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

This easily could be an epic rant about the MVP race, or the Patriots/Eagles in general, because I like to do that from time to time on here. 140 280 characters on Twitter just doesn’t do it sometimes, especially when people take one part out of context and jump into something they don’t understand.

However, you can even try to have a conversation about these things and still get stuck in the mud. Yes, I went on WEEI in Boston on Thursday, and instead of getting a debate about where things stand in 2017, I felt like I never left 2003 when Patriots fans started using W-L record to justify Tom Brady’s greatness. It’s been 14 years of lousy “count the rings/wins, ignore the individual performance” arguments ever since, and it does get tiring at times to keep reading them. I also had a busy week with an ALEX update and another FiveThirtyEight article.

Just like how I don’t really read my articles after I write them, I don’t listen to my radio appearances. All I know is after it was over, I didn’t understand why I was accused of jumping all over the place when my point was the same beginning to end. Brady has not given the Patriots an edge at quarterback since 2001 that would be any greater than if a handful of his peers were in his position and provided the same advantages and breaks he’s had. The key to NE’s success is that the gap between Bill Belichick and the other coaches remains the largest in the NFL, and it only seems to have increased in recent years. It’s a plug-and-play system in NE. You provide a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees with the best coaching, the best clutch kicking, the hardest team to score 30 points on, the hardest defense to crack in the fourth quarter, a sad division that can’t find a worthy rival at QB/HC, and you damn well should expect similar, if not greater success.

But I’m going to stop right there, because it’s not like these stories are going away any time soon this season. This could be 2004 all over again with the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers as the top three teams.

To be continued.

There are actually a few games I’m interested in looking at this week.

Jaguars at Browns

Really, this one? I’ve designed a career (recap close games, preview big games) where I can avoid covering games like this one that are crap on paper, but I can’t help but smell an upset here. While I gave the Browns this win before Week 1 when I picked the whole schedule, it is clear that Cleveland has been worse than imaginable and the Jaguars are better.

However, I like the matchup. Cleveland’s offense doesn’t really match up with any defense in the league, let alone one we’ve been calling the best in the NFL this year. But look at the contrast of styles here. The Jaguars shut down the pass, prefer not to pass with Blake Bortles, and are 30th in DVOA against the run. The Browns’ best trait is stopping the run, would like to run the ball on offense, and you can always get some takeaway opportunities from Bortles, who really cheated the football gods last week when he threw two picks after the two-minute warning and still got the win in overtime. Sure, the Jaguars have kicked some ass at times this year, but they’ve had their asses kicked too. Hell, Jacksonville already lost on the road to the Jets this year, albeit an overtime game. Cleveland lost by just 3 to the Steelers in Week 1 and played better than the final score suggests in Detroit last week.

The Browns are at home, and do you really want to pick an 0-16 season when there’s only been one in NFL history? A shaky, turnover-prone QB on the road with an injured crew of weapons sounds tempting to me. The fact that Jaguars are saying they’ll win in a shutout can’t sit well with the Browns. Hue Jackson needs a win in the worst way to save face.

Sure, the Jags may win 30-6 when it’s all said and done, but I like my gut enough on this one to go with Cleveland.

Rams at Vikings

This is the “Jeff Fisher Can’t Coach Bowl.” Case Keenum and Jared Goff had a terrible time in the Los Angeles offense a season ago, but give them real coaching and teams that understand how to use their talent, and both are in the top 5 in DVOA right now. This is a cool battle of 7-2 teams that probably no one expected to be 7-2 at this point.

I wrestled a lot with a winner in this game. In the end, I’m going with the Rams for arguably their most impressive win yet this season. I think Keenum is heavily dependent on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, while the Rams can use a larger variety of weapons. Both defenses are really good, and haven’t been playing the best of offenses, so it’s a step up in competition for both. Admittedly, the two games I focused most on with Keenum this year the two losses (Steelers and Lions), so I’m probably looking at him in more of a negative light than someone who would have focused more on his two huge games against the Bucs and Redskins. But even last week he had a couple of picks in the second half, and I guess I’m rooting for some chaos where putting Teddy Bridgewater back at QB1 is a reality.

I will say that this is a game where Goff needs to show us something good. He’s getting MVP consideration after shredding the Giants and Texans the last two weeks, but he’s really been given an “EASY” button this year. He has the best starting field position, the highest play-action rate, doesn’t have to throw into tight windows, and gets the most YAC of any QB. If he can play some great games down the stretch I’ll change my mind, but he has probably the most misleading stats of any QB this season. I’m just glad he’s shown he can play competent football after last year, but I wouldn’t go all in on him being MVP caliber right now. He struggled with Seattle and special teams did much of the damage in Jacksonville. Let’s see how Goff does with this good road test this weekend.

Patriots vs. Raiders

I guess for six months I assumed this was a Monday night game, because that’s when Oakland played Houston in Mexico City last year. But it’s a 4:25 start, and it’s not nearly as interesting as we thought it would be for Oakland. Sure, the Raiders can prove something with a win, but I give the No. 32 pass defense that still doesn’t have an interception little chance here. The Patriots are starting to roll again offensively, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last five games. You’d like to think Derek Carr can move the ball in this one to keep it close and exciting, but his red-zone performance has been brutal this season. You can’t win by settling for field goals against the Patriots. Brady tears up Jack Del Rio defenses regularly, but this is one of the weaker units yet that he’ll see. With losses already to Buffalo and Baltimore, Oakland slipping to 4-6 is just another step closer to an irrelevant rest of season.

Eagles at Cowboys

This should be a much bigger game, but things have gone really sour recently for Dallas. Never mind the Jerry Jones saga that is amping up. Actually, that could be uncomfortable this week with Dallas in high-profile games (SNF and Thanksgiving). But let’s not worry about that. On the field, Dallas could be without three of its very best players in Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee. Hell, kicker Dan Bailey being out is a problem too.

This is why it’s annoying to hear the “Dak can’t score without Zeke” narrative when clearly there is far more missing than Elliott. Last week, Adrian Clayborn had six sacks with Smith out. He even admitted to having “one move” after the game, and Dallas failed to adjust for that. Regardless of who is on the field, a quarterback needs better protection than that, and the Dallas defense really struggled with Atlanta. It was a 10-7 game at halftime, but while Dallas missed a field goal in the third quarter, the Falcons added two long touchdown drives to take a 24-7 lead and blow that one open.

Philadelphia comes in  hot, fresh off a bye, and with one of the better defenses in the league at getting to quarterbacks. It’s a really tough matchup for Dallas, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this one. It would have been tough even with those players available.

2017 Week 11 Predictions

So I started picking against the spread last week. I went 6-8 compared to 12-2 straight up. This is a weekly thing now from me, and hopefully better weeks to come. Off to a good start with the Steelers impressing on Thursday night.

2017Wk11

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Season: 89-57 (Spread: 6-8)
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NFL Week 1 Predictions: Awards Edition

Once again I wrote so much for the season predictions that I left out the awards. So we’ll get right to those before I talk about a few Week 1 games of interest.

2017 NFL Award Predictions

  • Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers
  • Coach of the Year: Andy Reid
  • Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips
  • Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: T.J. Watt
  • Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

For the top coach, you know I was high on the Chiefs already going into Thursday night, so it’s not an overreaction to that. Andy Reid has won the award once, back in 2002. Surprisingly, every coach to win it in a 16-game season has won 10+ games except for Jimmy Johnson (7-9 with 1990 Cowboys) and Jack Patera (9-7 with 1978 Seahawks). If Todd Bowles finished 7-9 with the 2017 Jets, I would seriously consider him for the award. For real.

As for DROY, might be wishful thinking with T.J. Watt, but encouraged by his preseason and winning a starting job. I would have probably picked Myles Garrett if he wasn’t starting his career injured, which is unfortunate. Was looking forward to seeing him in action tomorrow.

Week 1 Games of Interest

I think the top AFC game is Raiders at Titans, a game I picked to happen again in the wild-card round. It was only a 17-10 game last year, but I’m expecting to see a lot more points with two quarterbacks returning from a broken leg suffered on the same day last year. I still don’t trust these defenses too much, and I am excited to see Marshawn Lynch back in action. I think the Titans will take this one at home, making a statement that this is their year in the AFC South.

The top NFC game for me is Seattle at Green Bay. It really could end up determining the No. 1 seed for all we know, just like it did in 2014 when these teams opened the season. Earl Thomas was out last year and the Seahawks were roasted in Green Bay. They also lost there in 2015, so it’s an important game for this team to win if they want to better their shot of not returning to Lambeau. I think with a loaded defense and healthy Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have the edge over a Green Bay team that still looks shaky to me on defense.

Giants at Dallas is often a solid choice for SNF. I think Dallas gets over that hump after getting swept by its rival last year. Odell Beckham Jr.’s health status is a big question mark, but the Giants still have other weapons. I just think the Cowboys embrace this somewhat unexpected opportunity to still have Ezekiel Elliott available and run a balanced offense with Dak Prescott having his best game against the Giants. That defense has really been his biggest weakness so far in his brief career. The defensive line and secondary are very strong, but I would advise that CB performance can always oscillate wildly. Maybe Janoris Jenkins isn’t as good this year, but Eli Apple could also make up for it by improving in his second season. This is another really important NFC game even though it is just Week 1.

2017 Week 1 Predictions

I start the year 0-1, just like the Patriots. How crazy was that game on Thursday night? I wrote about all the history the Chiefs overcame to win where few teams ever do. I’ve been saying for months that Kansas City is the team to beat New England, not Oakland and Pittsburgh. I just didn’t think we’d see that type of game from Alex Smith, and that was about the most unorthodox passing night for the Patriots in the last 11 seasons. One of Tom Brady’s worst throwing nights in that time for sure. Now it is just one game, but there are going to be some problems for the Patriots against any quality opponent if that front seven doesn’t play a lot better, and if the passing offense doesn’t get back to more short, quicker passes.

Winners in bold:

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

I’m interested in seeing how several of the rookie head coaches fare, including both guys in the MNF finale in Denver. Maybe times are a changin’ if the Chargers can go into Denver and hold onto a late lead for a big road win. I also think the Rams get a golden opportunity to start 1-0 with an Indy team missing its best player on each side of the ball (Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis). Tough break for the Colts in an otherwise winnable game given no Aaron Donald (holdout over though). Also think the Panthers could get a good effort from the 49ers’ new-look offense under Kyle Shanahan. I’m excited to see Christian McCaffrey’s debut in that one against a talented, but young front seven.

Quarterbacks: Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives by NFL Team

Lost even on me in Sunday afternoon’s chaos was the fact that Tony Romo moved past Roger Staubach for the most game-winning drives in Dallas Cowboys history. He has 24 now. Last season Romo took the lead in fourth-quarter comeback wins (21 now) in Cowboys history as well.

That’s newsworthy by itself, but what about the other 31 NFL teams? Who are their all-time leaders in fourth-quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives? I compiled the table, which will be added to the NFL STAT TABLES section I plan to do much more with in the near future.

TM4QCGWD

As usual, playoffs are included. How typical of the Jets to feature three different quarterbacks here. Not much else surprised me, but I’ve been working with this data for years so that’s to be expected. Let’s just say the bar is really low in Tampa Bay, but I doubt Mike Glennon will ever step his big ass over it.

Matt Ryan needs two more 4QC wins to move past Bartkowski for the outright Atlanta lead. He would be the 9th active quarterback to hold the lead in 4QC and GWD for his team, which just goes to show how impressive this current crop of quarterbacks really is.

All nine of the active leaders have been with their team since at least 2009. That’s when Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago and Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft.  If we think about that season some more, Marc Bulger (STL), Jake Delhomme (CAR), Donovan McNabb (PHI) and David Garrard (JAC) were still on their teams, so that’s 13 quarterbacks who went on to become their team’s GWD leader all active in 2009. Peyton Manning (IND) and Matt Schaub (HOU) were still on their teams too, so that’s 15. Brett Favre was in Minnesota, but he was already Green Bay’s all-time leader, so that kind of makes it 16, which is half the league.

So in 2009, there were 16 active starting quarterbacks who have eventually led an NFL franchise in career game-winning drives.

Some people disagree that this is a really special era of quarterbacks, but I keep finding evidence to support that it is. When teams like Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis keep going through quarterbacks, I gain more respect for the players who keep starting year after year.

Even Flacco and Eli.

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NFL Week 9 Predictions, Adjusted 4QC Records and Writing Recap

Only five articles this week, but that just means a bonanza next week when we officially hit the midpoint of the NFL’s regular season.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 8: Eli Manning Out-Clutches Tony Romo in Dallas – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Stat of the week: Eli Manning has produced just as many 4QC/GWD (3) in new Cowboys Stadium as Tony Romo. Only problem is Manning’s played there four times compared to 23 starts for Romo. Also: Cam Newton bounces around from Superman to Scam in Chicago, Matthew Stafford comes up big again, and Andrew Luck gets to 3 game-winning drives in just seven games. We also find that Betty White scores more in Cleveland than Philip Rivers.

Breaking Down What Went Wrong with Redskins’ Receivers in Loss to Steelers – Bleacher Report

Just how many passes did the Redskins drop in Pittsburgh on Sunday? Depends on which site you look at. I went through every incompletion and offered a look at each. Robert Griffin III’s stats were definitely impacted, but most of the plays weren’t as harmful to Washington’s cause as you might have expected.

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 8 at Tennessee Titans – Colts Authority

Oh we have a logo now, and Andrew Luck has his second comeback and third GWD already with his best game of the season. Despite being pressured so frequently, Luck was very efficient and was at his best late in the game: 10/12 for 115 yards, TD and both incompletions were dropped. The Colts had a different gameplan this week, and I have the data to back it up.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 9 Predictions – Bleacher Report

This week we look at the 37 teams to start 7-0 since 1940. Tony Romo is the only QB in NFL history to defeat two undefeated teams who were 7-0 or better (9-0 Colts in 2006, 13-0 Saints in 2009). When Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger meet on Sunday, it will only be the 9th time a pair of quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings face each other (as active owners of 2+ rings). It is the 7th time the Steelers are involved in such a game, and the third year in a row for Roethlisberger. We also have a potential first meeting of rookies with winning records this late into the season with Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. Finally, some perspective on how great Drew Brees has been in the Superdome in prime time, and how the Eagles and Michael Vick will try and save their season with a road win.

Best and Worst Quarterback Records In the Clutch Adjusted for Strength of Schedule – Cold, Hard Football Facts

I compiled over 800 fourth-quarter comeback opportunities for 25 active starting quarterbacks and broke them down for strength of schedule (SOS), looking at strength of victory, and the records against teams .500 or better and teams with a losing record. Some individual notes on all 25 quarterbacks included. Definitely some interesting results.

2012 NFL Week 9 Predictions

Originally I picked Atlanta to go 8-0, but doesn’t it seem like the stars are aligning for a Dallas upset? The Falcons are hardly dominant, even though they are hard to beat in that dome. The Cowboys have upset two undefeated teams in recent years, have a good  matchup here, and let’s not forget Tony Romo is Mr. November with a 19-2 record in the month. After all the criticism this week for the loss to the Giants, this is actually the perfect opportunity for the Cowboys to show up and deliver a big win.

Or, they will fall flat on their faces as the Falcons’ undefeated march continues. But I think I’m going to roll the dice and go with the upset.

Winners in bold:

  • Broncos at Bengals
  • Ravens at Browns
  • Cardinals at Packers
  • Bills at Texans
  • Dolphins at Colts
  • Lions at Jaguars
  • Bears at Titans
  • Panthers at Redskins
  • Buccaneers at Raiders
  • Vikings at Seahawks
  • Steelers at Giants
  • Cowboys at Falcons
  • Eagles at Saints

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Week 7: 12-1
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Season: 74-44

The Whistleblower No. 1 – Mark Kriegel and the Most Worthless Stat in the NFL

I had my heart set on doing a weekly “Captain Comeback” column ever since December 2010. Had that idea fail, I was going to do a series called “The Whistleblower”, where I keep my eyes and ears open for media people who use significantly inaccurate and/or misleading statements in their coverage of the NFL, and then I would expose them by stating the facts.

I know, the list could be huge depending how much NFL content one is willing to digest.

It finally crossed my mind that I could use this blog as a forum for “The Whistleblower” every so often, and here is the first edition. You could print it out if you want, but I’m sure it won’t be worth anything like a Batman No. 1 would fetch.

Perhaps it’s fitting my first edition would involve the NFL Network and Dallas Cowboys. That was motivation for my first article at Football Nation a little over a year ago.

Rather than Jamie Dukes and Tony Romo, this time it’s NFL AM’s Mark Kriegel and DeMarco Murray. On Tuesday morning, Kriegel mentioned that the Cowboys need to use their workhorse back DeMarco Murray more, and cited arguably the most useless statistic in football: “the Cowboys are 5-0 when he has 20-plus carries!” Surprised he didn’t support it with “and 2-6 when he’s under 20!”

To quote Kriegel from Monday: who cares?

Does something magical happen when a running back hits 20 carries? Is this to say Murray is really valuable when he gets a lot of carries? No, it just means it’s later in the game, and his team is likely leading and trying to ice the game. I’ll prove it in a second for Murray.

Beyond Murray, there have been 194 running backs with at least 10 career games (incl. playoffs) of 20+ carries (see link here).

Of those 194 running backs, 179 of them have a winning record when they get 20+ carries. Damn, that’s a lot of valuable running backs. And I thought this was the “dime a dozen” position?

Five more have a .500 record, and only an unlucky 10 have a losing record. Most notably, Steven Jackson is 27-30 (.474). Of course the Rams are 37-91 (.289) since 2004, so it’s not like Jackson has had a great opportunity to win no matter what he runs for.

Gerald Riggs (17-25-1, .407) and James Wilder (11-23, .324) are the only other players with a losing record in 20+ games.

Know who had the best records? The immortal group of Leroy Hoard (11-0), Edgar Bennett (18-1), Rob Carpenter (18-1-1),  Mike Alstott (12-1), and Craig James (12-1).

Even Joseph Addai was 15-2 with the Colts. If only Peyton Manning delegated more of the offense to him…

And what about Murray specifically? The five teams he did it against were 26-54 (.325) for starters. The defense allowed 14.0 PPG in the wins. Romo was very good.

And when Murray hit that nice, round number of 20 carries, it was always in the second half, and all but one time with Dallas leading (often by double-digits at that).

If your team is even just average, check your running back’s record when he gets 20 carries and chances are it’s respectable. Likewise, check your QB’s record when he throws 25 passes or less. It’s the same thing. A ton of winning records, because that means the team has taken the air out of the ball and are (literally) running out the clock.

This isn’t just Murray. This isn’t just Kriegel.

It’s the general lack of NFL fans understanding carries are a product of winning, and not the other way around. That is why “RB X’s team is [insert great record] when he gets 20-plus carries” is the most worthless stat in the NFL.

The whistle has been blown. It’s time to put an end to the use of this stat.