Oh, you thought Week 1 was the golden standard in terms of entertainment? Well, boy, do I have news for you! In Week 2, we saw multiple 20-point come backs, an exceptional Chargers-Chiefs primetime affair, the Bucs/Saints drama reach a new level, and much more; heck, the Falcons almost came back from a 28-3 lead! It doesn’t get much better than what the football season has provided us with so far.
Welcome, everybody! Every week for the NFL season, we’ll be going over every matchup, analyzing storylines, key matchups, and, most importantly, making predictions. To help with this, having a strong foundation is paramount. Thus, using previous research on what facets of play, as measured by Pro Football Focus, leads to NFL wins, as well the effect of each offensive/defensive play-caller, I was able to create a statistical projection model that has been a feature on this site before. By factoring in each team’s projected PFF grades in each significant area based on their personnel, and than using a multi-variable formula to project a unit’s expected points added per play, and, thus, their points per game/points allowed per game, we can then project their expected point differential. Essentially, all of this can be leveraged to predict the winner of every NFL game, the margin of victory, what the actual betting line (spread+total) for each game should be, and much more!
As helpful as the model can be, though, something I’ve come to learn is the significance of added context upon it. In 2020, for instance, we perhaps leaned too much on the statistical projections at the expense on how each teams matched up against each other, losing significant predictive power. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to use all information at hand to make the most calculated decision, so cutting out any source of information puts us at a disadvantage. How else would you know that nobody came to a quarterback’s birthday party.
Kidding, of course- consider that part from Draft Day one that has always puzzled me. Regardless, whether you have a vetted interest in the game as fan of a specific team, are a sports better, or just a fan of football, there is nothing more fun than going through every game to find any sort of edge in terms of predictive power. Having betting lines give us a strong foundation for an expectation of the game, but nobody’s perfect, and you never know when the upset of the world (see Jets over Rams 2020) is going to happen.
This week, with only one team favored by a touchdown, we may be witnessing a massive upset, but this is also a good thing; closer spreads means a lot of exciting games that could go either way. There are several games this week that will serve as true litmus tests for specific teams, as it truly feels like the outlook for the rest of the season could look a lot more clearer after this week. Man, this is too much fun!
Stats via Pro Football Focus and rbsdm.com
Before we start, let’s go over a few key points of data that can help us shine a light on prior weeks in other to forecast future events. Let’s start with the most important position in all of sports- the quarterback. We recently delved into a method to project quarterback production, measured by adjusted expected points added per play (adjusted EPA/play), using several key peripheral metrics, and although this is more meant to project a full season output, there is great benefit of monitoring the performance of the players that almost entirely dictate the outcome of an individual game:
CPOE: Completion Percentage Over Expectation
BTT%: Big-Time Throw Rate
TWP: Turnover-Worthy Play Rate
Think of these as quarterback composite ratings for how they’ve performed, rather than an actual ranking of how they’ll do moving forward. Regardless, knowing which quarterbacks may have over/underperformed based on the overall data is significantly important for analysis sake, and allows us to paint a better picture.
So does knowing which team’s success is the most sustainable. Turnover luck is an easy way to measure this, but there is another underrated facet. See, third-down performance has been found to be much more unstable compared to production on early downs, yet success on third downs make a major difference in an individual game’s production. Alas, when projecting for the future, we want to focusing on how teams are performing in more stable areas of play:
Performance in specific situations is measured by EPA/play, and then converted to a percentile ranking. A positive difference on offense or defense means the team was better on early downs than third downs, and, thus, could be in line for positive regression, while the opposite is true vice versa. From there, the offensive and defensive ratings are combined for an aggregate ranking; the chart is sorted by the overall amount of positive regression a team can expect based on their production on early downs compared to that on third downs.
The Cardinals, for instance, have likely performed much better than their surface-level statistics would indicate, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, teams such as the Raiders, Commanders, and Patriots don’t share that those same excuses, and the 2-0 Giants may very well be playing above their wight class. With us being just two weeks into the season, the ability to decipher between stable and unstable situations ends up serving as a very significant part of the process.
Now, onto the previews!
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Spread: CLE (-4.5)
- Projected Spread: CLE (-6.42)
- My Pick: CLE (-4.5)
- Projected Total: 41
- My Pick: Under
- PIT: 30.56%
- CLE: 69.44%
Score Prediction: Steelers 16 Browns 21
- Can The Browns Cut Down On The Number of Coverage Busts?
- Is This The Last Straw For Mitchell Trubisky?
- Can The Steelers Front Seven Handle Cleveland’s Rushing Attack?
The last time these two teams faced off on Thursday Night Football, a helmet was used as a weapon in a live game. That almost certainly won’t be the case this time around, yet this is still a pivotal turning point for both of these organizations for the rest of this season.
Will this be the last stand for Mitchell Trubisky as the starting quarterback of the Steelers? No qualified quarterback is averaging fewer yards/pass attempt (5.1) over their first two games than Trubisky, who also ranks second-worst in adjusted completion percentage (65.2%) and fifth-worst in adjusted EPA/play (-.107). With the seventh highest-graded pass-blocking unit from PFF and a very well regarded receiving corps, that should not be the case, and prompts the question- is it time for first-round rookie Kenny Pickett to take the reigns under center? Considering one of the Pittsburgh alum’s top traits was his theoretical NFL readiness, it’s unclear what stands to be gained by keeping him off the field, especially when the current option has an established baseline of play that isn’t strong enough to keep the Steelers competitive all season long. With the extra rest the team will have after this game, there’s a clear pivot point to Pickett under center if Trubisky’s struggles continue.
In many ways, one could argue that Diontae Johnson (79.3 PFF receiving grade) is off the best start of his career, with 30% of the targets being funneled his way. The key, though, lies with Chase Claypool (0.59 yards/route run) and second-round rookie George Pickens (0.36 yards/route run) rounding out the team’s receiving corps; it’d sure help if Claypool wasn’t in the bottom-eight in average depth of target (5.7 yards), while Pickens has currently only been used as an outside the numbers option. Again, will that happen barring a quarterback change? That remains unclear, though the Browns have had their fair share of coverage busts to start the season, and Pittsburgh will need to take advantage of that.
Whether Pittsburgh’s offensive line can continue the current pace they’re at given preseason expectations is still a question, but what better way to find out than going up against Myles Garrett? I will concur that the loss of Jadeveon Clowney, who was off to a tremendous start (89.7 PFF pass-rush grade), is notable, but this still remains the toughest test for the offensive line this season. On Cleveland’s end of the spectrum, although they’re a bottom-five defense on EPA/play allowed (28th) on passing plays, they rank fourth in drop-back success rate allowed on early downs, which indicates one thing; for a great proportion of the plays, they’ve been a high-end defense, but it’s been the coverage busts that have been far too frequent that have hampered them. In many ways, that would appear to be something more likely to fix than simply struggling overall, and with the lack of explosiveness of the Steelers offense, this would be a strong start for them.
Offensively, the Browns have to very content with their early-season performance, but consider this a very difficult test. Even when excluding turnovers, the Steelers rank in the top-five in EPA/play allowed on early downs, and you’d assume that their poor third-down defense eventually improves simply based on natural regression. Still being without TJ Watt hurts, yet Pittsburgh can hang their hat on a defense with the sixth-best PFF coverage grade in the NFL, making it a matter of them holding up on the ground. Through two games, Cleveland is averaging 5.8 yards/carry and ranks fourth in rushing EPA/play, which is no surprise given the reputation of their offensive line and the explosiveness of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt- it’s one of the very few instances where a rushing attack can truly move the needle. This an area where Pittsburgh struggled last week against the Patriots (54.1 PFF run defense grade), and something the Browns will once again use to perform well offensively.
If you buy into Cleveland’s coverage busts improving over time, you’re looking at two similar defenses, yet it’s the Browns who have been a top-ten offense on early downs, whereas the Steelers have been completely lifeless in that regard. With poor weather expected, Cleveland being able to lean into the explosiveness they can provide on the ground may prove to the difference, but the fact of the matter is that there are too many problems at hand with the Trubisky-led Pittsburgh offense for optimism to persist. Hey, who knows, maybe Pickett comes into this game and changes everything, but, until then, we’re looking at a grim, low-scoring affair where the Browns look better suited to hold their own. That being said, be careful to ever count the Steelers out as an underdog- the voodoo magic gets you when you least expect it.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1-1)
Spread: IND (+5.5)
- Projected Spread: IND (+8.09)
- My Pick: KC (-5.5)
- Projected Total: 55.52
- My Pick: Over
- KC: 74.5%
- IND: 25.5%
Score Prediction: Chiefs 31 Colts 23
- Will The Chiefs’ Destruction of Gus Bradley’s Cover-Three Defense Continue?
- Is This The Week The Colts Offense Comes Together?
- What Happened To The Colts Pass Rush?
Can you correctly guess which of these two teams entered the season with the better odds to win the division? If you didn’t answer the team that tied with the Texans and got shutout in a three-score loss to the Jaguars, I don’t blame you! For years, the Colts have been preaching patience as they try to build a complete roster and foster the returns of a strong 2018 draft. The problem? Those players are now expensive, and when you look at the state of the roster moving forward, it’s quite evident that the honeymoon phase with this franchise should be over.
Where do we start? What better way than at the quarterback position, which has been a clear impediment for the team in recent years- since Andrew Luck retired prior to the 2019 season, they’ve had a different quarterback in every season since. By immediately moving on from Carson Wentz and replacing him with Matt Ryan, they were giving a strong indication that they believed they were competent quarterback play away from getting back to the postseason, and, so far, that has not happened. Among the 30 quarterbacks to start and finish both Week 1 and Week 2, Ryan ranks 25th in PFF grade (55.2), has the third-highest turnover-worthy play rate (6.5%), and has the worst adjusted EPA/play (-.190) as well. Yeah, it hasn’t been pretty.
On the bright side for the Colts, they should get Michael Pittman Jr. back for this game, which is significant not just because they’re getting back a very productive receiver, but because of the lack of depth behind him; he had more receiving yards (121) as every other wide receiver combined in Week 1. To be this reliant on one receiver speaks to fundamental flaws in their roster construction, however, and the warts don’t stop there; they have the eight-lowest PFF pass-blocking grade of the year, mainly issues at right guard with Danny Pinter (39.1 PFF pass-block grade) and left tackle with Matt Pryor (53.8 PFF pass-block grade). Through two games, no team is getting more pressure on the quarterback (40.4%) than the Chiefs, and can you imagine what Chris Jones might be able to accomplish against the weaknesses the Colts have at right guard? It’s though to succeed in today’s NFL with a weak-link system if you don’t have the impact star players to compensate for it.
Meanwhile, it’s also been tough sledding for the Colts, who have the fifth-worst EPA/play allowed and success rate allowed on passing plays this season, despite facing one of the easier slate of opponents in the Texans and Jaguars. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley runs a static cover-three system and, in the past, has been unwilling to go away from that, which relies on getting pressure with four rushers and playing sound coverage in the back- you need to be very fundamentally sound. The problem? So far, only the Dolphins have a lower PFF pass-rush grade, while they also have a bottom-ten coverage grade as well. When you invest a first-round pick in Kwity Paye and then trade for Yannick Ngakoue, you’re expecting much more than that. Regardless, though, Bradley’s defensive rigidness may be the main issue here. See, at a time where teams are learning to stick to two-high coverages as much as possible against the Chiefs, Bradley, as the defensive coordinator of the Raiders, still insisted on running cover-three, a coverage Patrick Mahomes has destroyed (.210 EPA/play, 8.2 yards/attempt) since the start of 2021. Assuming Bradley doesn’t make any sort of adjustment, it could get ugly for Indianapolis.
That isn’t to say the Chiefs have some questions to address; Mahomes is currently a bottom-ten graded quarterback from PFF from a clean pocket, and they’ve relied on tremendous production under pressure (1st in PFF grade) to garner passing production. That being said, we’re still talking about the top offense on early downs this season, and facing a defense that plays much less man coverage is going to be very beneficial for them. Notable tests are on the horizon, but this is not one of them.
Even if things had gone as planned for the Colts, they would have always had their work cut out for them here, especially with Bradley’s effect on their defense. In the future, more competence on third downs on offense should allow them to at least mesh into an average group, and they’re still likely the favorites to win the AFC South. That being said, they may be waiting an extra week to get the first win in the Matt Ryan era.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) at Washington Commanders (1-1)
Spread: WSH (+6.5)
- Projected Spread: WSH (+9.26)
- My Pick: PHI (-6.5)
- Projected Total: 52.71
- My Pick: Over
- PHI: 78.06%
- WSH: 21.94%
Score Prediction: Eagles 31 Commanders 21
- Are The Eagles About To Pulverize The Commanders Defense?
- Washington’s Receiving Corps Against Philadelphia’s Secondary
- Will The Eagles’ Pass Rush Get Going?
Oh my, do the storylines write themselves here. From being the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft to being an MVP candidate in his second season to signing a lofty contract extension shortly after, Carson Wentz was fully expected to be the Eagles’ quarterback for a very long time. That, however, was before things completely bottomed out in 2020, which led to a relatively ugly divorce between the two parties. After a disappointing season in Indianapolis, he’s now trying to revive his career in Washington, but perhaps he’s in for a rude reminder of what could have been.
At the moment, it’s pretty easy to consider the Eagles the most impressive team in the NFC:
With a tremendous offensive line with complete continuity and the dynamic rushing ability that Jalen Hurts provides, it isn’t a surprise to see the Eagles continue to dominate (4th in rushing EPA/play) on the ground, but it’s been their productiveness through the air that may put them over the top. Through two weeks, Hurts is the highest-graded passer from PFF in the NFL, is notable attacking the middle of the field much more often, and the trio of playmakers between AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert is already showing out. Stack the box or try to play man? Good luck covering those receivers, and watch out for Hurts as a scrambler. Play light boxes? They’ll gash you for six yards a carry. It’s the unenviable dilemma that is going to keep a lot of defensive coordinators up at night.
That should be specifically true for Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who is overseeing the second-worst defense on early downs in football despite not being completely tested (Jaguars, Eagles) yet. So far, the amount of weak-links in the back-seven, in terms of their current play, are notable
- CB William Jackson III: 53.2 PFF Coverage Grade
- CB Kendall Fuller: 42.7 PFF Coverage Grade
- S Bobby McCain: 51.2 PFF Coverage Grade
- LB Jamin Davis: 29.3 PFF Coverage Grade
That’s two cornerbacks they’re paying over $11 million per year for each, as well as a linebacker whom they selected in the first round in 2021. Outside of safety Darrick Forest, no player has a PFF coverage grade above 64, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve also been a bottom-five defense against the run. After a man-heavy gameplan in Week 1, we saw them shift gears and play much more off coverage in Week 2, yet the results remained the same; either way, the mismatch here is substantial.
Thus, it’ll be up to Wentz to keep Washington in this game. So far this season, the Commanders are passing at the seventh-highest rate on early downs, with Wentz embracing a more volatile style of play; the highs (4.2% big-time throw) have been there, but so have the lows (4.7% turnover-worthy play). They’ve gotten the upgrade in production down the field (8th in Y/A 20+ yards down the field) that they were hoping for, yet one that has been completely reliant on explosive plays (23rd in successful play rate), and mainly on third downs. It’s likely that comes back to bite them eventually, which it easily could happen against an Eagles defense that ranks fourth in PFF coverage grade and theoretically should see increased production from their pass rush over time.
All told, it’s clear a lot is shaping well for the Eagles against a Commanders team that has been completely reliant on production in less stable areas of play (third downs, to be specific). Then again, at the moment, things would shape up quite well for them against plenty of teams. For now, it looks like Philadelphia will be getting the “final” laugh in the post-divorce world.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) at New York Jets (1-1)
Spread: NYJ (+6)
- Projected Spread: NYJ (+3.01)
- My Pick: CIN (-6)
- Projected Total: 46.53
- My Pick: Over
- CIN: 59.12%
- NYJ: 40.88%
Score Prediction: Bengals 27 Jets 20
- Can There Be Any Sort of Adjustment Made For The Bengals Offense?
- Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed Jr. Against Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins
- The Jets’ Receiving Corps Versus a Man-Heavy Cincinnati Defense
Believe or not, but these teams entered 2021 with just a half-win difference in their preseason win totals. Of course, the Bengals would go onto reach the Super Bowl, whereas the first year of Robert Saleh’s tenure as head coach of the Jets didn’t go as he likely hoped it would. Now, though, it’s Cincinnati who comes into this game with a lot on the line.
For those who believe in a Super Bowl hangover, particularly for the losing team, the Bengals are definitely a data point for them so far. Despite being a touchdown favorite against the Steelers and Cooper Rush-led Cowboys, Cincinnati has come away with back-to-back losses to start the year, and with a difficult schedule coming up, simply needs to find a way to win this game. One place to start? Some adjustments offensively.
Perhaps at some point the Bengals will make the adjustment to diversify their looks, rather than continuously passing out of shotgun and running under center. Until then, though, finding a way to not have so many negative plays via Joe Burrow sacks should certainly be a priority. The offensive line, which ranks in the bottom-ten in PFF pass-block grade, should hopefully get better with better play from their tackles, but can Burrow help himself out? No player has seen more of his pressured dropbacks be converted into sacks more often (28.2%) than him, and the heavy amount of five-man protection sets don’t help matters any easier. At some point, an tweak needs to be made, or it’s going to be too late.
Fortunately, this would appear to a positive matchup for Cincinnati. The Jets currently rank in the bottom-five in pressure rate (18.2%), and are built off of cover-three principles, a coverage Burrow has slaughtered (9 yards/attempt) since the start of 2021. Now, it is worth noting that New York faced two top-ten graded pass-blocking offensive lines in the Ravens and Browns, and have three rushers (Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Quinnen Williams) who are a notable threat. That being said, they’ve also continue to struggle in pass coverage (4th-worst PFF coverage grade), especially from their safeties, and have the second-worst defense in EPA/play allowed on passing plays so far. If not now, when?
On the other side of the ball, the Jets have to be quite ecstatic about the future of their offense with what has been an incredible start to rookie receiver Garrett Wilson’s career (2.83 yards/route run in Week 2) to go along with Elijah Moore, while Corey Davis rounds a strong receiving corps. As one of the most man-heavy defenses in the NFL, the Bengals will be entrusting their corners to handle this group, and we’ll see if their pass rush can make any sort of noice against a depleted offensive line (fourth-worst PFF pass-blocking grade and on their third-string left tackle). From there, we’ll see what version of Joe Flacco do we get- will he revert to a conservative style of play or continue to push the ball down the field? The latter is what the Jets need to see the type of offensive success they had last year.
With 92% of the money currently on the Bengals for this game, it’s clear that the expectation is that they’ll bounce back in a major way here. Even if they do, though, I don’t think we can simply write off some of the concerns about them. Teams are limiting the explosive plays they relied on last year through more two-high coverage sets and light boxes, and with the negative plays (sacks) still being there, they’re struggling to adjust. Can we see signs in the right direction here? That would certainly be the hope.
Detroit Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
Spread: MIN (-6)
- Projected Spread: MIN (-7.99)
- My Pick: MIN (-6)
- Projected Total: 43.41
- My Pick: Under
- DET: 25.8%
- MIN: 74.2%
Score Prediction: Lions 17 Vikings 24
- A Good Test For Detroit’s Young Defensive Players
- Detroit’s Explosive Rushing Attack Against a Light-Box Vikings Defense
- Who Steps Up For Minnesota’s Offense Outside of Justin Jefferson?
Did you expect a Week 3 Lions-Vikings game to be this interesting? I’m not sure there’s a team that has won the support of the public as much as the Lions have, while the Vikings went from the trendy Super Bowl pick following a Week 1 win against the Packers to the laughing stock of the NFL after an embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia. So, what version of Minnesota are we getting, and how “real” is Detroit? This game will give us a much better idea of that.
By facing the Packers and Eagles to start the season, one could make a case that the Vikings have had the toughest early-season schedule so far, which helps explain some of their lackluster (20th in EPA/play, 15th in EPA/play allowed) numbers thus far. That being said, I’d still implore Minnesota fans to remain optimistic. The game script clearly negatively impacted them in Philadelphia, and it was just one week ago Kirk Cousins was the talk of the town after an electric performance (83.4 PFF passing grade, 8.7 yards/attempt) to start the season. Head coach Kevin O’Connell is still pushing the right buttons in terms of increased passing frequency on early downs, a heavy usage of play-action concepts when the game script allows for it, and creating “easy looks” for Justin Jefferson, and it’d be peculiar to jump ship after one rough game against arguably the NFC’s best team.
Plus, for all the current excitement with the Lions, they’re still the third-least efficient defense so far based on EPA/play allowed. That being said, there are reasons for optimism. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has performed adequately (67.3 PFF coverage grade) in his third season, while their run defense (12th in PFF run defense grade) is far improved and sixth-round rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has been a revelation so far. Heck, we haven’t even mentioned second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, who has been productive in the sack column, though can take the next step with more true “wins” (only a 7.5% pass-rush win rate) as opposed to clean-up pressures. Now, does that mean they’re ready to shut down a very talented offense. No, but between what Minnesota brings on the ground, Okudah potentially tracking Justin Jefferson, and the Vikings trying to create chaos over the middle of the field, this will be a tremendous test for Detroit’s young defenders.
Meanwhile, as the league’s second-highest scoring team, it’s been a very strong start for the Lions offensively, though questions remain. While they’ve been very explosive, they rank just 25th in successful-play rate, while quarterback Jared Goff is the fifth-lowest graded quarterback from PFF amongst quarterbacks to start and finish Week 1 and 2. Kudos to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson for creating opportunities for explosive plays, particularly through the running game, yet is that sustainable? There’s plenty of room for rushing success against a Vikings defense that utilizes a lot of light boxes and has struggled to defend the run thus far, but when push comes to shove, can Goff be efficient enough through the air to keep them in this game? That’s a question that, unfortunately, may not end in the answer Lions fans are hoping for.
If there’s one thing we know about the Lions, it’s that they’re not going to go away easy. That being said, with fewer explosive plays likely on the horizon, things may not go quite as well moving forward, especially when going up against an offense that ranks in the top-ten in EPA/play on early downs, and is mere third-down regression away from potentially reaching their peak. There is certainly a world where the Lions’ young players step up and they dominate on both sides of the line to potentially even win this game, yet I’d expect the massive passing offense gap to show up here.
Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1)
Spread: NE (+2.5)
- Projected Spread: NE (-3.68)
- My Pick: BAL (-2.5)
- Projected Total: 50.58
- My Pick: Over
- BAL: 38.85%
- NE: 61.15%
Score Prediction: Ravens 23 Patriots 20
- Can Baltimore Have Any Sort of Rushing Attack?
- Will The Patriots Receivers See A Lot of Man Coverage In This Game Again?
- Is Ravens’ Third-Year IDL Justin Madubuike Breaking Out In a Major Way?
Since 2010, the Ravens and Patriots have faced off in three AFC Championship Games, another playoff game, and have been arguably the class of the AFC. Times have changed since then, but the head coaches still remain in place, as does the competitiveness of both of these organizations. As such, expect another down-to-the-wire affair.
It’s been a confusing start to the season for the Ravens, who, through the first seven quarters of the season, they were outscoring their opponents 59-23, and appeared to be back to the dominant force they’ve proven to be recently. That was before the fourth quarter in Week 2, however, where, due to several blown coverages and the offense stalling out, they blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins, which creates a much different mood as they get ready to face three straight playoff teams from a year ago.
That’s not all, though. Remember the 2019 and 2020 Ravens, who ran the ball more than other team in the league and were an outlier in terms of their efficiency? This season, though, they’re the fourth-least efficient rushing attack in the league excluding turnovers, and, as a result, have the highest neutral-pass rate in the NFL. As the second-most efficient offense on early downs, that approached has suited them quite well, yet you wonder if there are enough playmaking options on the perimeter for this to be a sustainable strategy long-term. Yes, they’re dealing with injuries to their running backs and JK Dobbins will be back this week, though this was still a top-five rushing offense in terms of EPA/play when Lamar Jackson was healthy last year, and that was in spite of similar running back problems. With the fourth-highest graded run defense in the NFL from PFF so far this season, the Patriots could continue this trend, and, as such, continue to turn this into a “Lamar Jackson needs to do everything” offense.
To be fair, that is something Jackson is more than capable of doing, but the Ravens have been quite reliant on explosive plays- they rank just 18th in successful-play rate for the season, and it’s unlikely Rashod Bateman is able to averaged 27.5 yards/reception for the rest of the year. There are holes to exploit with New England’s defense, but they also allowed the fewest yards to tight ends last year and historically have performed well against play-action concepts and over the middle of the field, so it’s not going to be easy for them.
After a reportedly turbulent offseason with Matt Patricia calling plays, the Patriots’ offensive concerns have carried over into the season; they’re the fourth-least efficient offense on early downs so far. No team is utilizing a play-action concept on a lower percentage of their dropbacks than the Patriots, which, considering his success on those concepts last year, seems quite peculiar. With a very static offense, perhaps it’s not a shock his performance (56.4 PFF grade, 1.4% big-time throw rate) has taken a nosedive this year, and he just held onto the ball (2.81 time-to-throw) for the fourth-longest time in a specific game. What does that indicate. An inability for the team’s receivers to create separation, and teams are responding by playing the fourth-most man coverage against them thus far, per Haley English of PFF. The team’s pass protection has been admirable, yet the way to beat the Ravens has consistently been to exploit them over the top, and the Patriots don’t have the playmakers to have that option.
Another fun storyline here is the potential development of interior defender Justin Madubuike, who, in his third season, has been dominant (85.2 PFF run defense grade, 81.2 PFF pass-rush grade) but now faces his toughest test against a strong offensive line. In the end, though, we’re looking at the second-most efficient offense on early downs compared to the 29th-ranked offense in those situations, and it’s hard to see where consistent offensive production comes from for the Patriots. That’ll likely be the difference here, even if it’s slightly harder than the Ravens would hope for.
Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (0-2)
Spread: TEN (+2)
- Projected Spread: TEN (-0.36)
- My Pick: LV (-2)
- Projected Total: 44.3
- My Pick: Under
- LV: 48.92%
- TEN: 51.08%
Score Prediction: Raiders 24 Titans 21
- What’s Going On With Derek Carr?
- Is This The Game Where The Raiders’ Pass Rush Makes An Impact?
- Another Test For The Titans’ Young Secondary
Rarely do you say it’s “do-or-die” time in Week 3, but that’s the case for both of these teams, who, as postseason teams as a year ago, fully anticipated on getting back there this year, but, as they’ve come to learn, that’s easier said than done.
Certainly, the Raiders knew they’d have their work cut out for them in the AFC West, and losing a 20-point lead in the second half to the Cardinals isn’t the blueprint to competing in said division. With them hiring Josh McDaniels as head coach, trading a first-round pick and second-round pick for Davante Adams, and signing Derek Carr to a lofty contract extension, all expectations clearly were that they’d be amongst the league’s most prolific offenses. Instead, they’re the least-efficient offense on early downs, with Carr currently the second-lowest graded passer in the NFL by PFF. Eventually, you’d expect that to change since we have such a long track record of production from Carr, and you’d expect his deep-passing production to regress back positively. Facing a Titans defense with a very inexperienced cornerback group, what better time for that to come to fruition, even without Hunter Renfrow?
Speaking of the Titans, it hasn’t been easy sledding for the least-productive defense on early downs. Sure, some of that has to due with facing the Bills, but they also had the seventh-worst EPA/play allowed in those situations against the Giants in Week 1, and they’ve now shown issues in both pass coverage and run defense. The former is a particular concern when defending Davante Adams and Darren Waller, making this a perfect “breakout” game for the Raiders offense. For Tennessee’s offense, however, that may not be the case. Without left tackle Taylor Lewan, the lowest-graded pass-blocking offensive line of the league is relying on a tackle duo of Dennis Daley, who was a liability in Carolina last year (36.4 PFF pass-block grade) and third-round rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere, who has also struggled mightily (35.3 PFF pass-block grade). Why is this a big deal? Well, they just have to contain the edge rush duo fo Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. Yeah, Ryan Tannehill may be under a lot of pressure here.
If so, it’s hard to see him performing well, especially against a defense not afraid to run a lot of man coverage concepts against a receiving corps headlined by players (Robert Woods) who are much better options in zone coverage creating after the catch. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry (64.9 PFF rushing grade, 2.9% explosive rush rate, 3.1 yards/carry) certainly hasn’t been able to engineer any sort of rushing efficiency (second-least efficient rushing offense when excluding turnovers), and you have to wonder, at 28-years-old, if the general decline of running backs is hitting him hard. If so, you’re looking at a team that can’t pass protect, can’t push the ball down the field, and can’t have any sort of efficiency through the ground. That’s certainly not an ideal combination!
With how much they’ve invested into the edge rush duo of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, the Raiders certainly are looking for more from their pass rush (seventh-lowest pressure rate), as they’ve actually gotten strong returns from their run defense, while their secondary has been a league-average group, which is all they wanted. The key is for the offense to complement that, and when comparing these 0-2 teams, they’re the only team who can create explosive plays through the air and, in any given week, compete with the better teams in the AFC. In other words, things are likely to only continue to go south in Tennessee. It’s days like this where having AJ Brown would probably help.
Buffalo Bills (2-0) at Miami Dolphins (2-0)
Spread: MIA (+4.5)
- Projected Spread: MIA (+11.43)
- My Pick: BUF (-4.5)
- Projected Total: 56.9
- My Pick: Over
- BUF: 83.74%
- MIA: 16.26%
Score Prediction: Bills 34 Dolphins 24
- Best on Best: Bills Defense vs Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle
- Will The Dolphins’ Pass Defense Continue To Get Exposed By Buffalo?
- How Does Buffalo Compensate For Key Injuries?
A significant AFC East game that doesn’t involve the Patriots? What is this, 1990? For many, we’re looking at the potential game of the week here, and for good reason- there is so much star power!
Wait, the Dolphins are in the spotlight? That’s what happens when you come back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter in a 42-point showing in Baltimore and rank 2nd in the NFL in EPA/play, and it goes beyond that. It’s one thing to have an insanely dynamic receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but it’s another when you have a head coach that can fully take advantage of their skillsets. That’s what head coach Mike McDaniel has done; he’s created plenty of favorable run-pass option looks for Tua Tagovailoa, condensing the offense around those two playmakers, not being afraid to pass at a high frequency, and also creating opportunities in the running game from the looks he’s provided. Now, Tagovailoa, a generally accurate quarterback simply needs to be a distributor with the occasional ability to push the ball down the field, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
That being said, this is going to be an awfully tough test for McDaniel and co. How elite have the Bills been defensively? Oh, they just rank in the 103rd percentile in EPA/play allowed on early downs. By getting pressure (top PFF pass-rush grade) with strictly four pass rushers and playing technically sound off coverage, they’re able to combine the ability to limit big plays with creating havoc on the opposing quarterbacks, which creates a notable dilemma here. See, the Dolphins offense is mainly predicated on creating chunk plays with Hill and Waddle, so are they matchup-proof enough to go beyond that? Most likely, more is placed on Tagovailoa’s plate, which won’t be easy given the pass rush he’s dealing with combined with issues on the interior offensive line and right tackle. Now, the Bills will be without safety Micah Hyde for the rest of the year, are without multiple interior defenders, and may also be without safety Jordan Poyer. In spite of that, though, they’re too technically-profficient and well-coached to expect a significant drop-off.
Plus, at the end of the day, there are worse things to hang your hat on than an offense that is starting to clearly establish itself as the premier unit in the NFL. We’re well aware of absurd big-play ability that Josh Allen brings to the table, creating the type of high-end variance that has made him a prestigious quarterback. Yet, perhaps he’s taken the next step in his progression; he’s made dramatically quicker decisions (2.48-second time-to-throw) without losing the ability to produce chunk plays (5.6% big-time throw), and has also been extremely accurate (85.2% adjusted completion percentage) as well. All told, you’re looking at a quarterback with as much of a ceiling in terms of high-end play as anyone else, but is now also continuing to be more efficient and, honestly, not have a weakness to exploit. Oh, and he’s also one of the league’s most dynamic rushing threats. Good luck!
If that wasn’t enough, Stefon Diggs (4.22 yards/route run) continues to be, well, Stefon Diggs, and Gabriel Davis is likely back from injury for this game. The Dolphins remain an aggressive defense that likes to blitz at a very high rate (sixth-most) and are playing the most man coverage in the NFL, yet that doesn’t exactly seem like an ideal strategy here. So, will they stick true to their guns, make the adjustments, or will any of that matter for a pass defense in the bottom-two in PFF pass-rush and coverage grade? Most likely, fireworks will continue for Buffalo here.
Even if the Dolphins don’t win this game, simply keeping it extremely competitive and continuing to produce offensively would be a moral victory in some sense. That being said, we’re still looking at a notable gap in terms of quarterback play and defensive efficiency, which likely rears its ugly head here. Regardless, though, points will be scored, fantasy football managers will be happy, and you should definitely watch this game.
New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-2)
Spread: CAR (+2.5)
- Projected Spread: CAR (+5.73)
- My Pick: NO (-2.5)
- Projected Total: 40.58
- My Pick: Under
- NO: 67.36%
- CAR: 32.64%
Score Prediction: Saints 20 Panthers 14
- Can The Saints Rush The Passer At All?
- Will Baker Mayfield Turn Things Around?
- The Need For Any Sort of Offensive Consistency From The Saints
It’s not every day two former #1 overall picks go head-to-head against each other, though perhaps that’s not your first thought when looking at this Saints-Panthers game. As things stand, these two teams are in the bottom-four in cap space next year. In fact, they’re both over the cap for next year. If that doesn’t speak to both of them being “all-in” on competing this season, realistic or not, I don’t know what is, but neither team has to be thrilled with their early-season performance, making this a very important game.
Who are the real Saints? I don’t there’s a better way to sum up their season thus far this: over half of their points scored this season came in the fourth quarter in their heroic fourth-quarter comeback in Atlanta. Outside of that, they’ve been the least-efficient offense in the NFL, and though that’s conflated by turnovers, that’s also part of what you sign up for with Jameis Winston under center. Theoretically, Winston paired with Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry is going to lead to high-end weeks, especially with how the team’s pass protection has held up. As long as they’re willing to embrace that type of volatility, it makes them dangerous against any team, but also susceptible in games they should win.
That’s precisely where they find themselves in Carolina, though the Panthers (9th in EPA/play allowed, 4th in successful play rate allowed) aren’t a slouch defensively. Sure, some of that has to do with a soft start to the schedule (Browns, Giants), yet they were also a top-ten defense last year and are the 11th-highest projected defense moving forward. Unfortunately for them, though, that hasn’t meant much so far. Only the Bears have a lower successful play rate through the air than the Panthers, with Baker Mayfield (45.5 PFF grade) struggling mightily, receiver DJ Moore (1.25 yards/route run) not a focal point of the offense, and first-round rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu (33.1 PFF pass-block grade) struggling mightily. Under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, this is a very static offense without much rhyme or reason to it, and it’s clear the parts don’t fit together.
To make matters more difficult for Carolina, they now have to deal with a Saints defense that, when excluding turnovers, has been a top-five defense in EPA/play allowed, remain loaded in the secondary, and, theoretically, should get more pressure (last in pressure rate) over time given the bodies they have on their defensive line. Should we be looking at a defensive grudge match here, they’re better built in that regard, and, most importantly, have the high-end offensive upside to create enough chunk plays to make the difference here. Really, they could win by 40 or get shutout; when it comes to the Saints, everything is going to be on table. All we can do is sit back, and enjoy the show.
Houston Texans (0-1-1) at Chicago Bears (1-1)
Spread: CHI (-3)
- Projected Spread: CHI (+1.15)
- My Pick: HOU (+3)
- Projected Total: 38.75
- My Pick: Under
- HOU: 53.48%
- CHI: 46.52%
Score Prediction: Texans 19 Bears 17
- Are The Bears Actually Going To Pass The Ball?
- A Bounce-Back Spot For Many Young Defensive Players
- Can LB Roquan Smith Get Back On Track?
This may not be a rendition of the upcoming Super Bowl, but, hey, if you’re into rebuilding teams giving young players opportunities to prove themselves, perhaps this is the game for you!
Ready to for a very puzzling stat? Heading into Week 3, Justin Fields ranks 33rd in pass attempts. Why is that weird? Well, there are only 32 starting quarterbacks! Currently, the Bears are attempting just 14 pass attempts a game and just 6.5 completions per game, which is simply mind-blowing, and not exactly how modern football is expected to be played, especially when you’re trying to evaluate what you have in Justin Fields. Of course, the Texans have the lowest-graded run defense by PFF, so perhaps they can get by with a similar strategy, but they owe it to themselves to at least try the concept of the forward pass. If not, what are you getting from this season?
Speaking of which, this will be a nice rebound spot for third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. after a rough showing (29 PFF coverage grade) in Denver, and their pass rush (15th in PFF pass-rush grade, 17th in pressure rate) has shown enough to expect them to take advantage of a rocky offensive line. On the other side of the ball, they’ve actually been a pleasant surprise as the 14th-most efficient offense on early downs, albeit with some rough luck on third downs, and the Bears (bottom-ten in PFF run defense, pass-rush, and coverage) aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders defensively. Thus, in a game that may simply come down to which team can demonstrate any sort of competency, they’d seem to have the upper hand.
What else is there to say there? This is a nice situation for young players on both sides of the ball to face a smoother pathway to success, and perhaps the Bears try to move the ball through the air in the slightest bit of fashion against a less-daunting pass defense. Honestly, pick your poison in terms of who actually wins this game, though Chicago being a three-point favorite against anyone seems quite perplexing. At the end of this game, one of these teams could be in first place in their division, though, so at least that’s exciting?
Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
Spread: TB (-1)
- Projected Spread: TB (+0.43)
- My Pick: GB (+1)
- Projected Total: 51.77
- My Pick: Over
- GB: 51.32%
- TB 48.69%
Score Prediction: Packers 24 Buccaneers 23
- How Is Going To Catch Passes For These Two Teams?
- Will Both Of These Offense Insist On a Run-Centric Approach?
- Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line Issues Against A Strong Pass Rush
Could this be the last time we see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady face off against one another? Unfortunately, with them playing in different conferences for most of their respective careers, we’ve only see them face off five times, with Brady holding a 4-1 edge in those matchups. That’s all the reason to treasure this matchup more, however, even if this one has a different feel to it.
I mean, in what world does a Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady matchup have an implied total of just 42 points? Man, we truly are living in weird times. Really, that just speaks to the receiving corps for both of these teams:
- Packers: Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Robert Tonyan
- Bucs: Russell Gage, Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller, Cole Beasley (who just signed on Wednesday), Cameron Brate
Yikes! For the Packers, this is a healthy group outside of Sammy Watkins, so they’ll need to learn how to adjust to this, while Tampa Bay simply needs to get by with Mike Evans suspended and Julio Jones and Chris Godwin both dealing with injuries. Consequently, both of these teams haven’t been able to have the offensive efficiency they were hoping for, and this will be a notable litmus test for them.
That’s particularly true for Green Bay, given that this is essentially the team they’re leaning on for the entire season. At a time where running backs are becoming less of a focal point of most offenses, both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon each are tied for the team lead in targets, while they’ve shifted to a run-heavy approach (8th-lowest early-down pass rate). For what it’s worth, the Bucs did allow the second-most receptions to running backs last year, and have also allowed the third-highest successful-play rush rate allowed this year. Thus, do the Packers try to condense everything around their running backs? Normally, I wouldn’t advocate for that, but it’s hard to see the team’s receiving corps making an impact against a very stout secondary (1st in PFF coverage grade).
For the Bucs, them going from an aired-out offense to one that passes at the fifth-lowest rate on early downs has been very peculiar, and may be an example of head coach Todd Bowles putting his stamp on the team. Of course, that becomes even more strange considering they’ve been the least-efficient team on the ground this year, and the strategy also can have ramifications on the team’s passing productivity around. Tom Brady (6.3% big-time throw, 1.5% turnover-worthy play) continues to perform at a high level, yet that hasn’t been able to translate into production mainly due to issues with the team’s receivers, and the pass protection is a concern with them down to their third-string left tackle and rookie guard Luke Goedeke (35.7 PFF pass-block grade) and second-year center Robert Hainsey (51.5 PFF pass-block grade) struggling mightily.
The Packers have proven to be vulnerable against the run as a light-box defense, but they also have, on paper, one of the league’s best secondaries and have pressured the quarterback (second-highest pressure rate) at a very high level. To be frank, Tampa Bay’s rushing attack likely doesn’t pose much of a threat here, and that’s going to put Brady is quite a tough predicament on later downs. Never put anything past these two quarterbacks, but, man, it doesn’t look pretty on paper. On the surface, Green Bay is much more familiar with the personnel they’re working with than Tampa Bay, and, as a result, are a more well-rounded team elsewhere. That sets Rodgers up well to get the potential final laugh over Brady, though consider this as close to a coin-flip as you can get. Would you really want it any other way?
Los Angeles Rams (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-1)
Spread: ARI (+3.5)
- Projected Spread: ARI (+0.02)
- My Pick: LAR (-3.5)
- Projected Total: 49.51
- My Pick: Over
- LAR: 50.05%
- ARI: 49.95%
Score Prediction: Rams 27 Cardinals 23
- Is Matthew Stafford Going To Simply Shred Arizona’s Blitz-Heavy Defense?
- What’s Going On With The Rams Secondary?
- It’s Time For Kyler Murray To Get Some Semblance of Support
How about a playoff rematch between two divisional foes to add to the afternoon slate? For most of last season, the Cardinals appeared to be in the driver’s seat to win the NFC West, yet a late-season collapse prevented that from coming to fruition, and they were promptly humiliated in a 34-11 loss to the division-winning Rams in the postseason. Now, off of a 20-point comeback in Las Vegas, they’ll be looking to perhaps exorcise their demons here, though that may tougher than they’d imagine.
After all, there’s a reason the Cardinals were being outscored 64-21 through their first six quarterbacks of play- there are clear holes to exploit. Defensively, their issues in the secondary have showed up with the league’s worst PFF coverage grade, and it doesn’t help that, with the loss of edge rusher Chandler Jones, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph feels no choice but to blitz at a league-leading rate (50%). When you don’t have ample talent in the secondary and make matters more challenging by putting your defensive backs on an island, it’s a recipe for disaster, as has been the case thus far; they rank dead last in successful play rate allowed on passing plays.
To make matters worse for Arizona, in Matthew Stafford, they’re facing a quarterback who simply analiates the blitz; he averaged 9.2 yards/attempt with a 91 PFF grade when blitzed in 2021, both of which ranked in the top-three in the NFL. It’s simply too easy to see how the matchup between the Cardinals’ depleted secondary and the combination of Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson III goes, particularly as the Rams’ turnover luck improves. Alas, it’ll be up to Kyler Murray to keep pace here, and, as always, it’s not clear how much support he’ll have. At the moment, he’s working with a bottom-five graded receiving corps by PFF and an offensive play-caller (Kliff Kingsbury) who continues to run a very static offense, which isn’t ideal when playing from negative game scripts.
Now, the Rams are generating pressure at the third-lowest rate in the league and shown clear cracks in pass coverage (12th-lowest PFF coverage grade), and the Cardinals have still managed to be the sixth-most efficient offense on early downs. Yet, when push comes to shove, there’s the simple matter than the Rams remain a top-three projected defense with Arizona ranking 28th there, and the offensive firepower still presides in Los Angeles. Too much of this game feels like “defending Super Bowl champion versus Kyler Murray” to feel comfortable in Murray continuing to defy the odds, and it comes to questionable roster construction for an aging team lacking depth in key areas. Consider this a potential reality to check in Glendale.
Atlanta Falcons (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
Spread: SEA (-1)
- Projected Spread: SEA (+1.22)
- My Pick: ATL (+1)
- Projected Total: 45.39
- My Pick: Over
- ATL: 53.68%
- SEA: 46.32%
Score Prediction: Falcons 23 Seahawks 21
- Can Kyle Pitts Get Going?
- Will The Falcons Continue To Be Difficult To Match Up Against?
- Is This Going To Be a “Wash” Year For DK Metcalf?
I don’t know what this says about my sanity, but I’m randomly fascinated by this game. Here we see two rebuilding teams who just moved on from their franchise quarterbacks looking to establish a new identity, while showcasing several young players they hope to be impact contributors for their next contending team. Plus, if you’re looking for a relatively evenly-matched game, this gives it to you too!
Not to be lost amidst their 0-2 record is the fact that the Falcons have actually been a very intriguing offense. Despite facing two very strong defenses (Saints, Rams), they rank sixth in EPA/play on early downs, and a lot of the credit has to go to head coach Arthur Smith. The Falcons are using play-action at the second-highest rate, and Marcus Mariota (9.1 yards/attempt, 78.1 PFF passing grade) is thriving on those concepts. Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver Drake London (2.76 yards/route run) has been a standout player as the prototype physical receiver over the middle of the field that Smith’s past offenses have leaned on, and you’d figure it’s only a matter of time before second-year tight end Kyle Pitts gets into a groove as well. There are still issues with the offensive line and with how Mariota is performing on standard dropbacks (29.1 PFF grade, 5.3 yards/attempt), but in a game where they should be playing from a comfortable gamescript, expect them to keep performing well here.
Plus, they’re not exactly facing much resistance here. The Seahawks are allowing the highest EPA/play on passing plays, and with clear deficiencies in pass coverage and rushing the passer, gives them the lowest defensive projection. On the other hand, the Falcons actually rank 13th there thanks in large part to sound coverage (9th in PFF coverage grade), and Seattle has been quite poor (28th) on early downs this season. Hopefully, DK Metcalf doesn’t have an average depth of target of 6.5 yards with 35.5 receiving yards/game for the entire season, because, in theory, this should still be a team that can make an impact simply based on the combination of him and Tyler Lockett.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the Seahawks have done to be favorites in this game, as it’s been pretty clear that the Falcons have been the better-performing team over the first two weeks of the season. It’s very encouraging to see what Smith is accomplishing with the personnel he has to work with, and, finally, their one-score losses should turn into a one-score win. Well, it’s the Falcons, so can you ever count on that?
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
Spread: LAC (-3.5)
- Projected Spread: LAC (-9.59*)
- My Pick: LAC (-3.5)
- Projected Total: 43.46*
- My Pick: Under
- JAX: 20.93%*
- LAC: 79.07%*
Score Prediction: Jaguars 17 Chargers 23
- Please Stay Healthy, Justin Herbert
- Trevor Lawrence’s Potential Emergence Against Brandon Staley’s Defense
- Are We Witnessing The Christian Kirk Breakout Season?
Well, this is a strange game to preview. All week, it’s been remarkably unclear who would start under center for the Chargers, and, somehow, it’ll be Justin Herbert, with a rib cartilage fracture, who’ll be the team’s quarterback. That’s potentially a questionable long-term strategy, and, to be honest, it’s unclear what to expect.
Most likely, we see the Chargers, who are also without multiple offensive linemen, have a specific gameplan oriented around getting the ball as quickly as possible, which will once again mean a focus in the short passing game. What’s most intriguing, however, is the other side of the ball. The Jaguars currently rank third in the NFL in early-down EPA/play, with Trevor Lawrence (.553 EPA/play) having the best game of his young career. With his accuracy metrics better and him getting the ball quicker while thriving in a RPO-centric offense under head coach Doug Pederson, he’s starting to demonstrate what made him the clear-cut #1 overall pick in 2021, and it’s very excited to think about what the future can hold for him. Of course, continuing to leverage Christian Kirk as a matchup weapon out of the slot (2.79 yards/route run) would help.
At the same time, Brandon Staley’s defense, which ranks 11th in EPA/play allowed despite two tough matchups in the Raiders and Chiefs, isn’t going to be an easy unit for Lawrence to have success against. Even without top cornerback JC Jackson, the emergence of second-year corner Asante Samuel is a notable development, while having Bryce Callahan in the slot certainly helps in terms of limiting Kirk’s overall effect. Meanwhile, with 18 total combined pressures, the duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack have already been as good as advertised, which is notable given how poor Lawrence has performed under pressure throughout his career.
Truly, this could be a much uglier game than anticipated, though a limited Herbert still is a massive edge for the Chargers, and it’s very likely this game serves as a learning curve for Lawrence and the Jaguars; there’s still a talent disparity regardless of Los Angeles’ injuries. Then again, does anyone have a clue how this will go? Just please stay healthy, Mr.Herbert.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Denver Broncos (1-1)
Spread: DEN (+1.5)
- Projected Spread: DEN (-2.86)
- My Pick: DEN (+1.5)
- Projected Total: 50.18
- My Pick: Over
- SF: 41.33%
- DEN: 58.67%
Score Prediction: 49ers 24 Broncos 26
- Can The Broncos Offense Get Into Sync?
- Is It Same Old, Same Old With Jimmy Garoppolo In San Francisco?
- Clock Management (Yes, Really)
Just when the 49ers thought they could escape having to face Russell Wilson, they’re back facing him again. In his career, Wilson has absolutely obliterated San Francisco (16-4), and as he looks to get in sync in Denver, perhaps a familiar foe will be a welcome sight for him.
To be fair, it hasn’t been all “doom and gloom” in Denver. Excluding turnovers, they’ve been the fifth-most efficient efficient offense in football, though that’s mainly been reliant on chunk plays- they’re just 15th in successful-play rate. Why haven’t they been scoring points. Well, they’ve been in the red zone six times, and failed to come away with a touchdown on any of those instances. That certainly should not sustain, right? The team’s pass protection (2nd in PFF pass-block grade) has been phenomenal, Jerry Jeudy coming back from injury gives them two explosive playmakers on the perimeter, and this also been one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the NFL. Eventually, given his track record of elite production, you’d expect better days ahead for Wilson, which, if so, would make this one of the better offenses in the NFL.
Perhaps this can be a start; there’s a reason Wilson generally thrives against the 49ers. See, for the most part, they’re a predominantly cover-three defensive team, and Wilson (8.7 yards/attempt) utterly annihilates that exact coverage. San Francisco (2nd-highest PFF coverage grade) has the talent in the back-seven to overcome it, but some sort of adjustment is likely needed. Meanwhile, the same can be said for a Denver defense that has blitzed at the second-highest rate in the league, but faces a quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) who shredded the blitz (9.5 yards/attempt) last year, which would expect for an offense so heavily reliant on production after the catch; the less defenders in the secondary, the more explosive plays available there. To their credit, the Broncos have been amongst the league’s best defenses (3rd) in limiting yardage after the catch, though that’s a small sample size, and, as a classic “Fangio-style” defense that also doesn’t have much in the way of reinforcements at linebackers, there should be concerns given Kyle Shanahan’s track record against this style of defense.
Ultimately, this is likely a game decided on explosive plays, and, to be honest, I’d rather assume that it’s Wilson, both in general and his recent history against San Francisco’s cover-three defense, who is able to create that. There’s too much talent for it not to come together in Denver eventually, and, to be honest, it probably has; the red-zone deficiencies cloud what’s actually been a relatively encouraging start to the year on some levels. This feels like a team that, in any game, has the chance to simply “break loose” and make good on their preseason hype, even if this is quite a tough test. I guess we’ll see if Broncos Country can finally “ride” here.
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at New York Giants (2-0)
Spread: NYG (-1)
- Projected Spread: NYG (+1.24)
- My Pick: DAL (+1)
- Projected Total: 40
- My Pick: Under
- DAL: 53.74%
- NYG: 42.26%
Score Prediction: Cowboys 20 Giants 17
- A Brutal Test For The Giants Offensive Line
- Can DC Wink Martindale Continue To Work His Magic In New York?
- Have The Cowboys Successfully Remade Their Receiving Corps?
If you enjoyed the Cowboys-Giants rivalry at its peak, well, here’s hoping you can enjoy it here. Hey, the Giants are 2-0! This may not exactly be a high-powered matchup between two elite quarterbacks, and it’s very likely points will be at an absolute premium. Of course, it’s the games like this that end up in a 42-40 shootout, so what do we know?
It’s very easy to be excited about the Giants starting the season with back-to-back wins, but it may be wise to pump the brakes in the Big Apple. Right now, they are Pro Football Focus‘ second-lowest graded team, and their performance on early downs leaves a lot to be desired:
Meanwhile, only the Bears and Giants have a lower sucessful-play rate on passing plays than the Giants. Some of that has to do with Daniel Jones, who has yet to record a big-time throw and ranks in the bottom-five in PFF grade (55.5), and it also doesn’t help that they’re working through a cycle of unknown commodities in their receiving corps. If that wasn’t enough, outside of tackle Andrew Thomas, the rest of their offensive line has struggled mightily, and they now have to face a pass rush headlined by Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence. We’ll see how well the “Saquon Barkley vs all 11 Dallas defenders” strategy works here!
That being said, it’s not much better on the Cowboys’ side of things, where Cooper Rush (53.6 PFF grade, 68.3% adjusted completion rate, zero big-time throws) hasn’t exactly stood out in a positive way taking over for the injured Dak Prescott under center. On the bright side, the tremendous start to the season for Noah Brown (2.24 yards/route run) and the return of Michael Gallup from injury may lead to Dallas getting away with a makeshift receiving corps around CeeDee Lamb, though this wouldn’t be able to come to fruition until Prescott returns. What’s more fascinating, though, is what the Giants are bringing defensively. No team has a greater disparity between early-down performance (third-worst) and third-down performance (first) on that side of the ball than them, and it’s unclear if that’s a product of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale use of exotic blitz packages and heavy man coverage, or simply something that will regress over time. We may not truly know the answer until they line up against better offenses, yet this sustaining would be a positive sign that the organization is in a great spot with how they’re being coached on both sides of the ball.
Which teams will make the fewest mistakes? Even without Prescott under center, it’s the Cowboys who have more talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, making it relatively confusing that they come into this game as an underdog. This may not seem like the most interesting game at first, but with head coach Brian Daboll trying to establish something special in New York and Dallas trying to stay afloat until Prescott comes back, there is more to be fascinated by this game than you may initially think. Plus, it doesn’t get much better than football under the lights!
PIT/CLE: Steelers Wire
KC/IND: Horseshoe Heroes
CIN/NYJ: Sports Chat Place
DET/MIN: Zone Coverage
LV/TEN: Titans Wire
NO/CAR: Who Dat Dish
HOU/CHI: NBC Sports
GB/TB: Packers Wire
LAR/ARI: Rams Wire
ATL/SEA: The Falcoholic
JAX/LAC: CBS Sports
SF/DEN: The Guardian
DAL/NYG: Blogging The Boys