NFL Week 13 Predictions: Life Without Gronk Edition

There was a point earlier this season where the Patriots looked capable, if not likely, of running the table to finish 18-1 (the good kind of 18-1, not the embarrassing type). But seasons change quickly, and a big pop by Earl Thomas on Rob Gronkowski in Week 10 has seemingly turned this season in a much different, much more open direction. Gronk is now on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery, and Seattle showed that the Patriots are beatable in that game. In fact, I expect the Patriots to lose a couple of more times this season now. The health of Gronk has often been a huge determining factor in just how successful their seasons are. Last year, I thought Gronk leaving the Denver game with an injury (and the Patriots subsequently falling in overtime) was a huge turning point for the 2015 season. New England also lost its next game (Week 13 against the Eagles), and Denver was eventually able to secure the No. 1 seed and keep that AFC Championship Game in Denver.

This year, there are still good reasons to keep the Patriots as the favorites in the AFC, but now not likely the Super Bowl with no possibility of a Gronk return. For one, Martellus Bennett is a very capable backup, and would be the TE1 on more than half of the teams in the NFL. The other big part is that the AFC lacks contenders. This injury news is great for Oakland and Pittsburgh, two teams who would really have to outscore the Pats in January. That gets a little easier if Gronk isn’t there. Oakland especially could get a boost here with the No. 1 seed in sight, and the fact that Khalil Mack is starting to play at an All-Pro level again. Pittsburgh lacks that type of dominant pass rusher, but at least the defense wouldn’t get killed by Gronk again. Meanwhile, Denver and Kansas City were always going to try beating the Pats by holding Brady to 21 or fewer points. That gets easier with Gronk gone, but they’ll still have to find a way to manufacture points in Foxboro. Or maybe not. While the Patriots get a third weak opponent in a row (Rams) this week, those road games in Denver (Week 15) and Miami (Week 17), two places Brady-Belichick have had their share of struggles, look more daunting now, making a 12-4 finish probable. That may only be good enough for the No. 2 seed this year.

Gronk probably should go down as the best TE ever, but his back was an issue in the draft, and his physical style does take its toll on his body each season. We may have already seen him at the best he’s ever going to be, and the Patriots can only wish they would have gotten to see more of him over the years.

Giants at Steelers

This is the highlight game of Week 13, and I’m not just saying that because it involves the Steelers and I usually cover their games here. This is a nice matchup on paper between one of the best offenses (PIT) and one of the best defenses (NYG). However, much like how I felt about DAL-PIT a few weeks back, I don’t think the Giants have been tested by anything like they’ll see from Pittsburgh here. When you have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell on the field together, especially at home, it’s usually dynamic stuff. The Giants haven’t seen an offense to this level since maybe the Saints in Week 2, and we know New Orleans isn’t the same on the road. So I expect to see the Steelers play up to the competition here and put on a good offensive performance. The key matchup is really on the other side. Eli Manning has not had a great season, but he hasn’t been bad either. Odell Beckham Jr. seems poised for a monster day against this secondary, so that could help this one reach a shootout level or at least a very competitive game into the fourth quarter, which has been the case in all three career meetings between Ben and Eli (a 4QC in each with Ben getting two). The Giants have been squeaking by opponents all season. Records be damned, I think Pittsburgh is a more dangerous team and will get the home win.

Final: Giants 22, Steelers 28

2016 Week 13 Predictions

I had the Cowboys on TNF, and that was a little close for comfort, but an 11th straight win nonetheless.

Winners in bold: 

  • 49ers at Bears
  • Texans at Packers
  • Broncos at Jaguars
  • Eagles at Bengals
  • Rams at Patriots
  • Dolphins at Ravens
  • Chiefs at Falcons
  • Lions at Saints
  • Bills at Raiders
  • Giants at Steelers
  • Redskins at Cardinals
  • Buccaneers at Chargers
  • Panthers at Seahawks
  • Colts at Jets

Might be warming up down the stretch (Finally). And something is totally fvcked if Lions-Saints isn’t a very high-scoring game.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Season: 108-69

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Upsets & Awards

I almost refuse to work on Saturdays during the offseason, but I don’t mind it during the season when it comes to making predictions here or doing that last-minute research for Sunday.

I even got a rare Saturday article at FO, the first of its kind for me. I interviewed a former NFL player, picking Jamal Anderson’s brain over what was different for the 1998 Falcons, one of the biggest surprise Super Bowl teams and quick turnarounds ever. And you know I had to ask about the Dirty Bird and Curse of 370. So that was something cool and different for me to do.

Now back to the stuff I’m used to doing. The full season predictions posted below were an epic-length post even by my standards, so I left the award predictions for today.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • DPOY: Aaron Donald, Rams (think J.J. Watt’s health fails him)
  • Coach: Mike Tomlin, Steelers (really couldn’t think of a good answer for this one based on my playoff seeds)
  • OROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (would be cool if it’s Tajae Sharpe)
  • DROY: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Comeback: Andrew Luck, Colts (the “because he sucked the year before” variety)

In the last two years I picked the MVP from my top-seeded team, and both picks were disasters with the 2014 Saints (Drew Brees) and 2015 Colts (Luck). Hopefully I didn’t put the jinx on Roethlisberger and the Steelers, though you can read in my predictions why I’m already cautious about their success this year.

The reason I pick Roethlisberger is that I think he’s playing as well as he ever has in the last couple of seasons. I think QB should pretty much always win MVP, so when you look at his competition this year, it’s not very deep and there are some real question marks, including how Luck will play. But with Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady suspended, Aaron Rodgers coming off his worst year, Drew Brees on a bad team, and Tony Romo hurt, the field has really shrunk. Yes, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson are right there, and I think it comes down to these guys staying healthy and they should all be high up there again by the end of the season. Yes, I see some people picking Cam Newton for back-to-back MVPs, but I never thought he deserved it last year and he’s off to the wrong start this season. In fact, I put together a chart of every first-team All-Pro QB season since 1989 and Newton’s season stands out in a bad way.

dyarap

Newton is the only season with fewer than 1,100 DYAR. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has had passing DYAR of 1,114 (missed four games) and 1,572 (1st in 2014). In addition to his play, shouldn’t he have a preset argument with all the skill guys that have been injured or suspended around him? Le’Veon Bell suspended for three games, Martavis Bryant gone for the year, Heath Miller retired and they put Ladarius Green on PUP for at least six weeks. Now that gives me some concern about how good this offense will be, but I think as long as Ben and Antonio Brown stay healthy, they’ll have enough to be successful. And therein lies the rub. Instead of debating Roethlisberger for MVP, I see Antonio Brown for MVP, which would be the first wide receiver to ever win the AP’s MVP award. That’s some 7-9 bullshit thinking right there. They call it a passing league, not a catching league. What has Brown accomplished without QB1 in the lineup? Not much, and for a wide receiver to truly win MVP, I think he’d have to have a mediocre QB at best and make some unbelievable plays that tip the balance of several high-profile games for a team that makes the playoffs. You would need a passing offense with stats where the QB was significantly more efficient and productive when throwing to this wideout than the rest of the receivers. Calvin Johnson may have been able to do this in past years, yet he never even came close to being MVP in Detroit.

But it’s really just typical mainstream NFL media giving Roethlisberger the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” treatment. I wrote about this during the 2014 season, and not much has changed. I know he doesn’t help himself by missing games most years, but few quarterbacks play at his level on a yearly basis. As long as the health is there, he has to be a top MVP candidate.

Week 1 Upsets

I have a few games I wanted to share some thoughts on in particular this week.

Pittsburgh at Washington

Well, this might not help the Roethlisberger MVP campaign. My thinking on Monday night’s opener is that Washington is going to pounce on a weakened Pittsburgh roster. While the pre-game narrative is going to be “Washington didn’t beat a good team last year and is Kirk Cousins legit?”, I think the Redskins and Cousins will put on a show in this one. Or at least for 3.5 quarters before maybe a PIT comeback, but it’s a tough matchup when you lose Bud Dupree, don’t have much in the secondary, and will be without RB1 (Bell), WR2 (Markus Wheaton) and TE1 (Green). Washington may not be able to run much, but I think the receiving corps is very deep and will give the Steelers trouble as long as Cousins is getting rid of the ball quickly. I’ve just seen too many instances of the Steelers laying an egg, especially offensively, on road games in prime time. I think the offense will need to step up in this one (24-point minimum), and while I don’t have any real fear of Josh Norman shutting down Antonio Brown, it is a limited PIT offense this week and Brown shouldn’t go off all night. I’d play Sammie Coates a lot because I think he’s the closest thing to Martavis on the roster, but the coaches seem to be emphatically in favor of Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. And then Jesse James is the best TE at this point. Ho-hum.

I still have Pittsburgh going 12-4 and Washington 7-9, but at least for one night, I think it’s Hail to the Redskins.

Pittsburgh 16, Washington 24

Green Bay at Jacksonville

So much great, young defensive talent in Jacksonville after the last two draft hauls and bringing Malik Jackson over from Denver. The problem is this unit has never played together in a meaningful game, and Dante Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey have yet to play a regular-season game period. They’ll get a great test right away with the Packers, especially if Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy are playing at a high level. But I think with the recent offensive line shuffle and the Jaguars being at home, the Packers are going to face some good pressure and struggle to run the ball. When healthy, I think Jordy Nelson is one of the best in the game, but I’m a little skeptical of him this week. No reason to think too highly of Davante Adams or new tight end Jared Cook either. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have plenty of options in their skill players, but Blake Bortles needs to avoid the mistakes that plagued him last year. He can make a lot of good plays, but just hasn’t been consistent enough in his first two seasons.

Much like with Pittsburgh, I still think Green Bay has a great season and the Jaguars lose double-digit games, but for one week, it’s about the home team.

Green Bay 20, Jacksonville 24

New England at Arizona

If you know me well, then you know I basically always pick New England to win its game. This would have been a good one to test myself as I think it’s a loss even if Tom Brady was the quarterback. Arizona is a very talented, tough road opponent. This is  rough spot for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his first start, and when you take Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder out of the game too, that’s just asking for trouble. Bill Belichick would be pulling off a major upset with a win here, which I think can only happen if Carson Palmer really has turned into 2009 Jake Delhomme and implodes again with turnovers. Maybe a Jamie Collins pick-six, because I do think the defense for New England will keep this at least competitive.

The Gronkowski injury news coming late in the week intrigues me as potential out-of-the-box thinking from the Pats again. Keep an eye on his status next week to see how quickly he heals. I honestly believe Belichick is the only coach who would not go all in on a Week 1 non-conference game that he doesn’t think his team has a realistic shot to win. If you expect to lose, why play one of your most important players at less than 100% health? I doubt Gronk will miss a division game coming up.

New England 19, Arizona 27

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I took an L to start the year with Carolina losing a 10-point lead in Denver and Graham Gano missing a 50-yard field goal at the end. Real “game of inches” stuff to start the season.

Winners in bold

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

Oh fudge, that’s 13 home winners including Denver. You know that’s not right, but this is part of what makes Week 1 so fun. And it is very important too. That Bills at Ravens game was my deciding factor in which team I picked for the AFC’s second wild-card team.

Sport Science Deceives Again After a Controversial Monday Night Football Ending

George Orwell probably could have envisioned a TV feature where propaganda is fed to the masses all under the disguise of “Sport Science.”

Oh, they used science, so us simpletons can’t possibly dispute it!”

ESPN airs Sport Science segments and it just so happens that Monday Night Football has had the two most controversial endings since the 2012 season. Last year it was the Golden Tate play, which of course prompted a Sport Science feature. The NFL supported the call the whole way, but the general public was outraged over the touchdown. Naturally, the feature flat out lied to say M.D. Jennings “made first contact with the ball” even though it’s clear he did not.

tate

Jump to this week and the game-ending play between the Patriots and Panthers. Luke Kuechly certainly makes significant contact with Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, but the pass was underthrown and intercepted in the front of the end zone by Robert Lester. A flag was thrown, but picked up and the game was over.

The NFL official said Monday night the pass was deemed uncatchable as it was underthrown. On Tuesday, the NFL added that the officials felt the contact on Gronkowski occurred at or about the same time as the pass was intercepted. Once a ball is touched, even by the smallest of fingertips, there is no pass interference.

Hardly the same negative reaction as last year’s play, but many (most?) people think a penalty was warranted. Once again we got a Sport Science feature on the play.

Again, their “scientific analysis” goes against the NFL call (and rules), satisfying the public in the process. Scientific? Hardly. Just as I did with the Golden Tate play last year, I took a copy of the game and broke it down with video editing software.

The first problem is Sport Science (SS) uses this spot for when Kuechly makes contact:

contact

That’s not a penalty. Players touch each other all the time down the field, often considered incidental contact, but for it to be pass interference, you have to do one of the following from the NFL rule book:

Actions that constitute defensive pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver’s opportunity to make the catch.

(b) Playing through the back of a receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.

(d) Extending an arm across the body of a receiver thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, regardless of whether the defender is playing the ball.

(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.

(f) Hooking a receiver in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the receiver’s body to turn prior to the ball arriving.

Now you can say Kuechly did a few of these at some point on the play, but SS determines it was a penalty as soon as he touched him, which is wrong. Also, there’s some very interesting language in the NFL rules about what is not pass interference:

Actions that do not constitute pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Incidental contact by a defender’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.

(b) Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball.

(c) Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players.

(d) Laying a hand on a receiver that does not restrict the receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(e) Contact by a defender who has gained position on a receiver in an attempt to catch the ball.

The part in bold is most interesting as the involved players are Gronkowski and Kuechly. Since Lester intercepted the underthrown ball, it’s no stretch to say neither Kuechly or Gronkowski could have caught the ball, so it’s uncatchable and there’s no penalty. We see end-of-game defense played like this all the time with contact in the end zone. That’s why we’ve seen one pass interference on a Hail Mary in the last 15+ years, and that wasn’t even a good call.

So starting from the wrong time frame, SS concludes “the contact in dispute happened two-thirds of a second before the ball was intercepted.”

So they’re saying 0.667 seconds and the argument would be that’s enough time for the refs to see it before the interception. However, it wasn’t 0.667 seconds. We need to find the point where pass interference actually happened.

This element of the play is what I called “patty-cake” on Twitter. It’s just two guys touching hands; not a penalty by any means.

patty

At the end of the patty-cake, Kuechly reaches his left hand to Gronk’s shoulder, which is still not a penalty. The restriction comes when he reaches his right arm and makes that bear-hug that has been captured in many still images this week:

bhug

Now we start to have enough contact where one can call it PI should they feel it was catchable, but look where the ball’s at. It’s nearly arrived, underthrown, and Lester is reaching out to make the impending interception.

les

If we take the time from where Kuechly gets his right hand around Gronkowski to the point where Lester touches the ball, that’s at most 0.43 seconds (about a “one-miss-is”). It took 1.33 seconds for the ball to leave Brady’s hand and be intercepted by Lester, so the meaningful contact came on just under the final third of the play when the ball was in the air and pass interference was possible.

That’s not 0.667, and in live action with an underthrown ball and the defender already motioning to make the interception, it’s easy to see why the referees would declare the contact happened at roughly the time of the interception.

SS did play up the “Gronk’s superhuman, he can catch the ball!” — no really, that was spoken on TV by someone on another network yesterday — angle, but by botching the point of any infraction, there’s no scientific evidence he could have made a play on the ball had he not been contacted. He clearly never expected the pass to be underthrown and was not headed in the direction the ball ultimately did.

So it’s a good no-call, because the last thing we need is an offense getting a second chance for poor execution. This ending also adds to the overwhelming proof that referees would rather go with the result on the field (interception) than to make a critical, game-changing call. It happened with Golden Tate, it happened with Michael Crabtree in the Super Bowl and it will continue to happen. Maybe Gronkowski should have learned from Greg Olsen on how to sell it better.

The only reason a call like this gets so much attention is because it was a prime-time game between two good teams, it was a great game and the final play was everyone’s favorite meathead tight end trying to catch a pass from a golden boy quarterback.

If this was Rams at Panthers in a 1 p.m. Sunday setting on FOX and Kellen Clemens underthrew that pass to Jared Cook, you’d get no outcry over the ending. You would get NBC’s Dan Patrick reading the following over a highlight of the play: “Last chance for the Rams. Kellen Clemens, uhh, not quite enough air. Robert Lester with the interception. Carolina has won six straight. Stay tuned for Hines Ward’s ten words of analysis…”

And you know this, man.

Update, 11/22/2013: It was brought to my attention that the link to the Sport Science video on ESPN no longer works. One link says “NOT FOUND” while clicking on the one I used in this article takes you to this video page:

win

Interesting.

Patriots Should Know Pass Interference Well

Yes, another controversial NFL ending took place on Monday night when Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the final play. The ball was underthrown anyway and intercepted, but there was a flag thrown that was picked up for the pass being uncatchable, so no pass interference. Game over.

By the laws of physics, it really was uncatchable as Gronkowski’s momentum led him to the back of the end zone and he was not expecting such an underthrown pass.

Some people — let’s call them Patriot fans– want to contest that they’ve never seen a team get away with being able to block a receiver out of the play and that it’s okay to call uncatchable because an underthrown pass was intercepted.

Well, they must have forgotten the 2010 season:

PM10

Peyton Manning had the Colts on a comeback attempt, but when he was hit as he threw the ball, it was well underthrown to the intended target, who was Pierre Garcon. That target was also grabbed by the defense, but at least Garcon tries to come back to the ball, which is something Gronkowski never did. The defensive back also had to reach up much higher to make this interception than the Carolina play. Given the reach for the pick and Garcon’s movement, this play was just as close if not closer than what happened Monday night.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Maybe Gronkowski should have pushed someone in the end zone like he did in 2011 to free himself for a touchdown on fourth down against the Giants. We know referees are afraid to make the big calls.

Gronkd