Is that the sound of in-season trades that I hear? We already saw Christian McCaffrey traded to the 49ers last week in exchange for extensive draft capital, but now Bears edge rusher Robert Quinn is on his way to Philadelphia, and rumors are heating up regarding notable wide receivers and edge rushers. In a season with so much parity, there are plenty of teams in the race, making it very interesting to see how they’re internally able to evaluate themselves. Thus, with the trade deadline next Tuesday, this is a significant week for organizations stuck in that middle ground.
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.
Last week, we saw an 8.5 point underdog (Bears) win by three scores, but that’s not all; the Panthers (13 point underdogs) beat the Bucs by three scores and the Commanders (4.5 point underdog) came out victorious against the Packers. In fact, we’re in a world where the Giants and Jets are a combined 11-3, yet the Packers and Bucs each have losing records. In other words, are we sure hell is freezing over? With there only being one game this week between two teams with a winning record, there are plenty of opportunities for upsets this week, though, of course, which one that is remains the clear mystery- expect the unexpected.
Stats via Pro Football Focus, 33rd Team, 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 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.
This drum was beaten last week, but f there’s one clear source of optimism in Tampa Bay, they’ve remained very efficient on early downs, and there’s no reason why they’ll continue to struggle on third downs, based on the talent they have on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are peculiarly performing poorly on third-down situations on offense and defense, as are the Jets. Defensively, the 49ers, Bills , and Rams are likely being undersold right now based on their performance on early downs, whereas the Titans, Colts, Commanders, and Saints are holding on by a thin thread. The Saints, in particular, come out of this analysis looking to be in very rough shape; it’s taken tremendous third-down variance to simply be 2-5, and they don’t even have their first-round pick!
Finally, there’s one other notable measure of variance that we’d be remiss not to mention. Since 2018, the percentage of touchdowns scored in the red zone by team is as unstable (r^2= .026) as it gets, meaning that, in theory, the teams that score the most red-zone touchdowns should be the ones who get to the red zone all together. Thus, if we adjust each offense and defense’s performance for red-zone variance, we can better grasp their true level of performance:
If anything, the Seahawks and Giants, two very surprising offenses, are leaving meat on the bone. It’s also fascinating how much of an outlier the Broncos are on both sides of the ball, and one should definitely come away from this exercise optimistic about the Raiders. Meanwhile, do the Titans have some secret sauce, or is reality going to come crashing down eventually for them? That’s the beauty of football; we’ll get our answers soon enough.
Now, onto the previews!
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
Spread: TB (-2)
- Projected Outcome: TB (-2.68)
- My Pick: TB (-2)
- Projected Total: 45.33
- My Pick: Under
- BAL: 42.61%
- TB: 57.39%
Score Prediction: Ravens 20 Bucs 23
- Which Struggling Unit Gets On Track: Bucs Offense or Ravens Defense?
- Can The Ravens Get Their Passing Game Back On Track Against a Depleted Secondary?
- How Does Baltimore Deploy Marlon Humphrey?
This has generally been a theme with every NFL season, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that this perhaps hasn’t been the most exciting slate of Thursday Night Football games. I mean, between Weeks 5 and 6, we saw two total touchdowns scored, to the point where the offensive struggles became quite the focus of comedy. Yet, the NFL world got what they wanted with a 42-34 affair between the Saints and Cardinals last week, and, now Al Michaels and the rest of the Amazon broadcast team can take great joy in this matchup, where the stakes are extremely high.
Sometimes, can you can be so determined to keep the “good times rolling”, leaving you to completely overlook clear signs of demise? Tied for the highest win total in the NFL coming into the year, the Buccaneers, in what could be Tom Brady’s final season, were fully expected to be right at the top of the NFC; heck, I personally picked them to win the conference altogether! Fast forward to Week 8, and they’re scoring as many points per game (17.7) as the Panthers and Texans, have lost back-to-back games as double-digit favorites, and have a losing record as well. Wait, how did this happen? Surely, there were notable issues, such as the reliance on multiple inexperienced interior offensive linemen and the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski, yet when you also have the talent they had at clear impact positions (quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, secondary), it was pretty easy to look past it. Now, though, it’s time to reflect.
I could cite statistics such as that the Bucs rank just 20th in EPA/play, but the real question is: why? After all, Brady is still PFF‘s sixth-highest graded quarterback, the receiver duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans each are playing up to their normal capabilities, and the team’s offensive line is rated as a top-ten pass-blocking unit by PFF. So, how does this add up? For starters, being the league’s eighth-worst offense on third downs doesn’t help, nor does having the least-efficient rushing attack in the NFL. Simply put, it’s remarkable how poor they’ve been running the ball:
This lack of rushing efficiency does a few things. Of course, there’s the little production on running plays, putting you behind the eight-ball on specific early downs, as well as short yardage situations. Yet, it also takes away a threat for opposing defenses, leading to them being in an even stronger position in pass defense. As Judah Fortgang of PFF shows, Tampa Bay has had to deal with extremely tight coverage all season long:
Right now, Brady’s 9.6 yards per attempt when throwing 20+ yards down the field is in the bottom-ten in the entire NFL, despite the fact he ranks second in PFF grade (93.5) and is tied for fifth in big-time throw rate (30%) in those situations. That disconnect is very peculiar, and may speak to some inconsistencies they’ve experienced on the perimeter, as well as the dangers of an offense that tries to create so many explosive plays outside the numbers. At the end of the day, with the level of performance from Brady, the wide receivers (Julio Jones will be back for this game), and the offensive line, it’s more than likely they get in sync and succeed more naturally on third downs. Of course, though, the same could have been said previously.
Fortunately for them, the Ravens have had their fair share of struggles on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, only three defenses are allowing a greater EPA/play (.069) than them, with their issues balanced between pass defense and run defense. Similarly to the Bucs, this seems strange considering the investments they’ve made in the secondary with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, a strong safety group even without Marcus Williams, and a defensive line ranked 11th in PFF pass-rush grade. Yet, whether it’s the inconsistencies of Peters, the unexpected struggles of safety Chuck Clark (116.3 passer rating allowed), or issues in the slot with Damarion Williams (135.3 passer rating allowed, 37.3 PFF coverage grade), teams have found ways to attack them consistently. They’ll need to look to put Humphrey into the slot to avoid the matchup of Williams against Chris Godwin, but, even then, a healthy Julio Jones creates a notable mismatch here. It’s easy to talk yourself into them eventually figuring it out in a new defensive scheme, though it’s also Week 8, meaning those excuses are mainly invalid. Thus, this will be a pivotal test for them.
They’ll need for their defense to set up too; their offense, which has already had some issues as of late, has to deal with tight end Mark Andrews and receiver Rashod Bateman potentially being limited in effectiveness dealing with injuries on a shortened week. As we illustrated, the Bucs could have the #1 EPA/play allowed in the NFL with ideal red-zone luck, and, as is, have been very difficult to move the ball against through the air (5th in dropback success rate allowed). Now, this is where I’m supposed to tell you about them being without cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Antoine Winfield Jr., but do the Ravens actually have the capability to test them outside the numbers; given how little they run 11-personnel, they won’t be able to take advantage of the Bucs’ deficiencies defending the slot without Winfield Jr. Over the past three weeks, despite facing the Giants and Browns in that span, Baltimore ranks just 17th in EPA/play, and have been a bottom-11 unit both in EPA/dropback and dropback success rate. Yes, Tampa Bay has had issues defending the run this year, yet without Baltimore being quite as proficient running the ball on early downs (11th in EPA/rush), they’re not in position to rely on that the way they once were. This is an offense that’s quietly been in a rut as well (it took major special teams help to beat Cleveland last week), and, right now, that’s an issue with how much they’ve struggled on the other side of the ball.
Hence, where the Bucs may have an edge here. Right now, both of these teams are struggling to find any sort of identity, and while Baltimore clearly has a coaching advantage, Tampa Bay still should control this game through the air on both sides of the ball, and I don’t think the return of Julio Jones can be discounted. It’s very humorous that two teams in need of a step back now have to do battle in a short week, but, hey, that’s football for you! In many ways, consider this a turning point for each of them; they haven’t built up the wiggle room for their struggles to go on any longer. With pressure, creates entertainment, perfect for a beautiful Thursday night in Tampa Bay.
Denver Broncos (2-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5)
Spread: JAX (-2.5)
- Projected Outcome: DEN (-1.84)
- My Pick: DEN (+2.5)
- Projected Total: 39.67
- My Pick: Under
- DEN: 55.94%
- JAX: 44.06%
Score Prediction: Broncos 20 Jaguars 17
- Hey, Maybe a Trip To London Gets Russell Wilson and The Broncos In Sync
- Can Trevor Lawrence Handle What The Broncos Defense Is Bringing His Way?
- What Version of Bradley Chubb Do We Get Ahead Of The Trade Deadline?
These two teams may each be 2-5, but they couldn’t have gotten there in a more distinct path. Coming into the year, the Broncos were seen as a darkhorse Super Bowl contender, whereas the Jaguars just finished with the worst record in football. Then, fast forward to the first three weeks of the year, where Denver was in the midst of mighty struggles that have only gotten worse, while Jacksonville seemed to be on the verge of breaking through after outscoring their opponents 62-10 in Weeks 2 and 3. Since Week 3, though, neither of these teams have won a game, and, even after this week, will have gone a full month without winning a game in the United States. Sometimes, though, a literal change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.
In a way, could last week, with Russell Wilson sitting out with a hamstring injury, serve as a useful reset for the Broncos? Prior to his injury, it had completely bottomed out for Denver offensively, who ranked in the bottom-five in: EPA/play, success rate, dropback success rate, and EPA/rush. As simple as it sounds, they simply cannot convert first downs, as illustrated by Timo Riske of PFF:
When you trade two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and multiple players for a well-regarded quarterback, and pair him with an offensive-minded head coach, this certainly is not the expected result. Wilson has continued to do a tremendous job taking care of the football (2.4% turnover-worthy play rate), but with his big-time throw rate cut in half, the positive plays are there, which is unideal when you’re in the bottom-five in completion rate and are taking sacks at the fourth-highest rate. The league’s lowest-graded receiver corps from PFF, which has gotten zero contributions outside of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, is a factor, as all of the underneath targets are going to tight ends and running backs. Plus, there’s also the mere fact that, at a time where teams are playing more two-high shells than ever and are limiting explosive plays, Wilson’s reliance on a “boom-or-bust” play style doesn’t mesh; a decrease in scrambling over time limits that ceiling as well. On the bright side, you wouldn’t expect them to convert a touchdown on just 23.53% of their red-zone trips – that’s simply too much of a historical outlier – though it’s been disastrous thus far.
For Denver, perhaps they can take light in how much Jacksonville’s defense (fourth-worst EPA/play allowed) has floundered over the past two weeks, despite not being tested significantly with the Colts and Giants. The injury to cornerback Shaquill Griffin forces Tre Herndon, last year’s lowest-graded cornerback from PFF with the highest passer rating allowed among cornerbacks with 200 snaps, into a starting spot. For a team as reliant on production outside the numbers as the Broncos, that’s a spot they’ll need to exploit, and the emergence of tight end Greg Dulcich gives them some sort of option to take advantage of a volatile linebacking corps. It’s hard to have faith right now, but, remember, the same Colts who are now benching Matt Ryan were the second-most efficient passing offense in the NFL against the Jaguars in Week 6; this is a unit with a lot of current discernable flaws, and there will be opportunities for Denver to do just enough to win in the model they currently have to.
What does that entail? Fortunately, when you have a defense that, excluding turnovers, lead’s the league in EPA/play allowed, success rate allowed, dropback EPA/play allowed, and dropback success rate allowed, the bar for you to clear offensively is much smaller. At the moment, Patrick Surtain II (86.8 PFF coverage grade, 65.6 passer rating allowed) is making his case as the top cornerback in the NFL, but the success extends to the safety trio of Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, and Caden Sterns, and overachieving linebacking corps, and what K’Waun Williams provides out of the slot- notable when facing Christian Kirk this week. On top of that, though, they’re also pressuring opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate, and while not elite in run defense, still have the sixth-best PFF run defense grade. For whatever is going on regarding the team’s offensive coaching staff, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has done a phenomenal job, and certainly has put himself in the spotlight as one of the best coordinators in the NFL.
While the Jaguars (10th in EPA/play) have had plenty of offensive success this season, it’s also worth noting that they haven’t exactly been tested, and they don’t match up well with Denver whatsoever. Currently, only Mac Jones and Zach Wilson have a lower PFF grade when pressured than Trevor Lawrence, whose accuracy (52.7% adjusted completion rate) and decision-making (8.4% turnover-worthy play) fall off a cliff. Considering how dominant the Broncos have been at limiting explosive passes (#1 in yards/receptions), you’d expect Lawrence and Jacksonville’s offense to operate how they’d like to, which means getting rid of the ball quickly and creating space for players like Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, and Travis Etienne to work with. At the same time, that’s a lot easier to do when a) you’re not facing a discipline defense getting strong production from their linebackers, safeties, and slot corner, and b) you actually have clean pockets to work with. If you agree with the betting markets that this is going to be a very low-scoring game, it’s one where one or two plays shift the outcome, and with chunk plays through the air more likely for the Broncos, while Lawrence could find himself in disadvantageous situations, it’s easy to see how this may favor Denver.
Then again, it’s a Jaguars game in London, so perhaps we should write this game off before it starts! Of these two teams, the Jaguars who have played much better than their 2-5 record indicates, have shown significantly more. That being said, the impact talent and matchups still give the Broncos a strong shot in this game, and, to be honest, let’s not act like they’ve gotten blown out; all but one of their losses has come by one score. At this point, saying things are going to click anytime soon is hard to do, but can they find a way to secure an “ugly” victory ahead of their bye week, where they’ll come out of it with three straight winnable games? Certainly. By now, I’m sure the Denver faithful will take whatever they can get.
Chicago Bears (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (5-2)
Spread: DAL (-10)
- Projected Outcome: DAL (-14.39)
- My Pick: DAL (-10)
- Projected Total: 41.25
- My Pick: Under
- CHI: 22.54%
- DAL: 77.46%
Score Prediction: Bears 10 Cowboys 24
- Another Week To Get Dak Prescott Into a Groove
- Oh My, This Is a Very Scary Matchup For Justin Fields
- A Chance For RB Tony Pollard To Boost His Free-Agent Stock
Per Forbes, these are two of the top-five most valuable franchises in the NFL right now, and for good reason; they have quite the storied history. A few weeks into the year, the Bears looked like potentially the worst team in the NFL, while the Cowboys appeared doomed with Dak Prescott out with a thumb injury. Now, though, Chicago has sneaked their way to a 3-4 record, and Dallas, at 5-2 and with Prescott back in the fold, is in a tremendous spot. It can be easy to jump on board with a young rebuilding team showing signs of progress, but there’s still a talent deficit that is very difficult to overcome. In this instance, expect that to be on display.
To give credit to the Bears, there was so much to be impressed by in their 33-14 Monday night trouncing in New England. After having just four designed rush attempts in the three games prior, Justin Fields was given a designed carry 12 times in Week 7, which, combined with extra production as a scrambler, contributed to 82 yards on the ground. Having a quarterback who can be a part of a very efficient rushing attack is a major tool that ought to be taken advantage of, and it showed with them accumulated a positive expected points added on 55.8% of their rushing plays. Think about this; 83% of Fields’ runs produced a positive expected points added, 50% when for first downs, and, in total, four of the first downs came on third down situations. With limited investments in pass protection or the receiving corps, this isn’t a team that’s going to find success in traditional style, and, to be honest, the only traditional method should be one that puts your best players in position to succeed. Similarly to the Eagles last year, perhaps this serves as the pivot point to a more effective offensive strategy.
That said, it’s very likely that the positive mood dissipitates quicker than they’d hope for. Alas, that’s the challenge for any offense, but particularly this one, facing the Dallas Cowboys. If it weren’t for the Broncos, they’d certainly be the top-performing defense by every critical metric, yet it’s how they line up with the Bears that should particularly concern Chicago. See, not only is Fields the only quarterback to be pressured on half of his dropbacks, but his sack rate (13.64%) is an outlier compared to the rest of the NFL, severely limiting the offense’s ceiling. Well, all they have to do now is cover up those woes against the defense with the highest pressure rate and PFF pass rush grade in the NFL, while also being down multiple starters on the offensive line. That doesn’t sound fun. On top of that, for the team with the third-highest intended air yards per pass attempt, facing the defense allowing the fewest air yards per attempt is even less ideal, causing even more chaos for the Bears. So, in other words, Fields could be under pressure more than any quarterback has in a given game, won’t likely have the chunk plays to compensate for the sacks taken, and is also likely to be playing in a game script forcing them into obvious dropback situations? Really, considering the circumstances, anything other than an offensive disaster could be seen as a success.
Dallas’ defensive prowess is well known, but what ultimately will define how legitimate their Super Bowl aspirations are lies with the offense. On the whole, seeing them take what was working with Cooper Rush, and extend it to Prescott – 50% play-action rate – was tremendously encouraging, especially since Prescott’s accuracy (10% completion rate over expectation) didn’t miss a beat. At the same time, their overall yards/play output (5.6) was a bit underwhelming against an easily exploitable Lions defense, with the field position provided by five turnovers and multiple dropped interceptions (Prescott did have two turnover-worthy plays) playing a major role in their EPA numbers potentially looking stronger than they should. The Bears already have PFF‘s lowest-graded pass rush and just traded Robert Quinn, have struggled to defend the slot this season, and, also are a bottom-five graded run defense; Prescott likely has too many clean pockets to work here, especially since Tony Pollard, as the sole lead back with Ezekiel Elliot injured, may just run wild enough that Prescott isn’t asked to do much in this game. At the same time, it’d be also be a tremendous sign if they could go into their bye with Prescott and the offense clicking as the fringe top-ten unit they could be. With what else they bring to the table, that would be a scary package.
Ultimately, this is a nightmare scenario for Fields and the Bears, and sets up perfectly for the Cowboys to position themselves to catch fire coming out of their bye. At a time where the NFC is as thin as ever, Dallas has a strong case for ultimately coming out of the conference on top, but with how much parity there’s been in the NFL, it’s taking advantage of matchup advantages like this that are critical in that assessment being valid. Let’s just say Jerry Jones may need to give the schedule makers a very special Christmas gift.
Arizona Cardinals (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-1)
Spread: MIN (-3.5)
- Projected Outcome: MIN (-7.46)
- My Pick: MIN (-3.5)
- Projected Total: 47.16
- My Pick: Under
- ARI: 34.42%
- MIN: 65.58%
Score Prediction: Cardinals 19 Vikings 24
- Can We Please Figure Out Who The Minnesota Vikings Are?
- Can The Cardinals Build Off Last Week’s Offensive Performance?
- Are There Any Explosive Plays To Have In This Game?
Are you what your record says you are? When a team is 5-1, it’s easy to buy into them making a Super Bowl run; it’s not every day you start a season on such a high note, and you want to take advantage of those limited opportunities. That being said, when your last four wins have been one-score victories against the Lions, Saints, Bears, and a Dolphins team with a backup, that becomes more concerning, especially when it feels like there’s plenty of meat being left on the bone. Welcome to the 2022 Minnesota Vikings experience.
Theoretically, the Vikings could have one of the better offenses in the NFL. After all, Kirk Cousins has continued to be a top-ten graded quarterback from PFF, the pass protection has improved to league average, they have arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, and an explosive rushing attack. That’s a lot of pieces for new head coach Kevin O’Connell, who is well-regarded as a play-caller in his right, to work with, yet something isn’t clicking. Mainly, I’d argue it has to due with a lack of explosive plays. Only Matt Ryan and Daniel Jones have a lower average depth of target than Cousins, with only Ryan attempting a fewer percentage of his passes 20+ yards down the field. To boot, Justin Jefferson has seen his average depth of target (8.6 yards) cut by over four yards, and without any other dynamic playmakers on the perimeter, that leads to what we’re seeing now. Hence, how Minnesota could rank third in success rate but 13th in EPA/play – it’s hard to keep drives going when you’re trying to win so methodically. The Cardinals, a defense that blitzes at the second-highest rate in the NFL, has allowed the fifth-lowest air yards/attempt this year, so this is probably not the game where much changes. That being said, can there at least be some sort of try at not having Jefferson run such a condensed route tree?
Even with a similar gameplan, Minnesota’s in line for plenty of offensive success; Arizona is allowing the most yards after catch/reception in the entire NFL, and, when excluding turnovers, they’ve been very vulnerable (26th in EPA/play, 30th in success rate). Even with recent improvements, this is still a defense in the bottom-ten in PFF grade for pass coverage, pass rush, and run defense, and it’s easy to forget they just let the Saints average 7 yards/play on them; the improvements aren’t as notable as you may think. With how strong of a baseline the Vikings have offensively, it’s hard to not see them having plenty of success here, even if we’re still waiting for the true ceiling outcome; perhaps that becomes a much bigger deal with the Bills and Cowboys up soon.
Speaking of struggling to create sizable gains through the air, the Cardinals are the poster child of this. After all, they’re currently averaging the fewest yards/pass attempt (5.9) in the NFL, ranking near the bottom of the league in both air yards/completion and yards after catch/completion. When that’s the case, you’re playing with zero margin for error, leading to more offensive ineptitude (18th in EPA/play, 20th in dropback EPA/play) than they should have considering they just extended their quarterback and head coach/offensive playcaller. It’s intriguing that DeAndre Hopkins was lined up much more in the slot (42.4%) in his season debut than he had been previously, and perhaps Robbie Anderson provides them with the vertical playmaking they desire. Yet, when 50% of your targets and receiving yards are going through one player, it’s probably an indictment on your receiver depth, and not something completely healthy considering Hopkins’ shorter target depth combined with limited production after the catch.
The Vikings, meanwhile, run the most zone coverage in the NFL and blitz infrequently, which may actually suit Arizona better given their very poor production (26th in EPA/play) against man coverage, especially since Minnesota’s secondary (second-lowest PFF coverage grade) has been problematic in spite of a very favorable schedule of opposing defenses. That being said, the way Minnesota is getting beaten (fourth-highest yards/reception) is not something at risk of happening here, and I’d be quite worried if I were the Cardinals, I’d be terrified of the prospect of Za’Darius Smith moving inside on passing situations (6th in pass-rush win rate) and Dalvin Tomlinson (8th in pass-rush win rate) against a depleted interior offensive line starting multiple backups, which isn’t ideal considering that’s been Murray’s most vulnerable spot when pressured. On the opposite end, you have Minnesota’s offense, which, in spite of its lack of dynamism, has certainly been well-structured and consistent, and you see where this game shifts in the home team’s favor. Whereas Arizona is where they are due to questionable roster construction, the Vikings have the pieces to take the next step to go along with a strong baseline, something to consider as they come off their bye week. With these two teams’ inability to play a normal game, though, expect late-game entertainment at its finest.
New England Patriots (3-4) at New York Jets (5-2)
Spread: NYJ (+2.5)
- Projected Outcome: NE (-8.01)
- My Pick: NE (-2.5)
- Projected Total: 42.14
- My Pick: Under
- NE: 66.52%
- NYJ: 33.48%
Score Prediction: Patriots 20 Jets 13
- A Defining Game For Mac Jones
- How Do The Jets Move The Ball At All?
- Can We Please Figure Who These Two Teams Truly Are?
For those with siblings, you’re well familiar with the “little brother” dynamic; the younger brother keeps trying to compete with the older brother, but, for a while, simply isn’t able to be competitive enough. At some point, though, little brother grows up and has a chance to flip the script, and when that opportunity comes, it’s extremely exciting. Since 2003, the Patriots have one 29 of their 36 matchups against the Jets, and, to be frank, it hasn’t been close as of late- they beat New York by a combined 63-14 score last year. That being said, it’s the Jets who come into this game 5-2 and with a chance to put New England in a likely irrecoverable deficit. The symbolic meaning of this game is just off the charts.
We’ll get to the Jets in a second, but can we just talk about whatever is going on in New England right now? Last year, Mac Jones not only performed admirably as a rookie (11th in adjusted EPA/play), but also made the postseason. Now, by Week 7, he’s being booed in his return from injury, with the fanbase preferring fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe to take over. Can we please take a step back and apply some logic here? Have things gone well for Jones? Certainly not; his turnover-worthy play rate (5.5%) has been indicative of careless football, and he’s surprisingly adopted an all-or-nothing play style with an extremely high average depth of target of 10.4 yards. Have we also seen him play just over three games this season? This is also true. Not only did Zappe play from a lead against the two worst defenses in the NFL in terms of EPA/play allowed, but he also has benefitted a play-action pass rate 2.5 times greater than Jones, which is a significant advantage. Over time, I’d much rather take my chances with the first-round pick who has only demonstrated a full season of notable production, especially when the surroundings (top-ten graded offensive line and receiving corps from PFF) could result in a productive offense; as is, they’re sixth in EPA/play when excluding turnovers! Now, can offensive coordinator Matt Patricia let Jones operate in a more efficient style of play, something the young quarterback has expressed a desire to do? That’d be helpful.
After all, any edge that can be gained will be needed against a Jets defense that, right now, is having their way with opposing offenses; they’re, in fact, the #2 defense in EPA/play allowed over the past month. Now, I could mention that has come against the Steelers, Skylar Thompson-led Dolphins, Packers, and Brett Rypien-led Broncos, but it’s easy to see why they’re performing at a high level. Mainly, they’ve completely transformed their cornerback group from a weakness to an elite unit through the signing of DJ Reed Jr. and the drafting of Sauce Gardner, both of whom rank in the top-ten in passer rating allowed, with second-year nickel corner Michael Carter II (69.9 PFF coverage grade) also holding his own to go along with the signing of safety Jordan Whitehead. Meanwhile, the investments on the defensive line via Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, and John Franklin-Myers have transpired into the league’s third-best graded pass rush from PFF; when you are getting tremendous impact in the secondary and supplement that with a strong pass rush, you’re in a great spot. The problem? They can’t score. Among teams who have played each of the past two weeks, they’re the least-efficient offense when passing the ball, which all stems back to the lack of development from Zach Wilson. Ultimately, these numbers are damning:
- Adjusted EPA/Play: -.068 (32nd among 36 QBs)
- Completion Rate Over Expectation: -5.8 (33rd among 36 QBs)
- Big-Time Throw Rate: 1.9% (T-30th among 36 QBs)
- Turnover-Worthy Play Rate: 5.6% (34th among 36 QBs)
- PFF Grade: 58.1 (31st among 36 QBs)
It’s hard to win when you’re this strapped at quarterback, leading them to passing for just 221 (!) yards over their past two games. That’s a very unsustainable path to success, especially when the source of your offense (explosive carries) gets neutralized with rookie running back Breece Hall tearing his ACL, to go along with a bottom-five graded offensive line from PFF that is now with Alijah Vera-Tucker for the year as well. Considering Wilson is averaging 1.7 yards/pass attempt when pressured (that’s not a typo) and has seen a significant drop-off in production when not kept clean, this is concerning. To make matters worse, only Baker Mayfield has as low of an EPA/play against man coverage going back to last year (-.360), and no quarterback has been worse when blitzed (-.350 EPA/play). Well, Zach, meet the New England Patriots, who run the league’s third-most man coverage, have the third-best pressure rate, and also blitz at the sixth-highest rate. h, and by the way, they’re also allowing the second-lowest dropback success rate in the NFL this year. Good luck?
I mean, is Bill Belichick not licking his chops thinking about what his team could accomplish on the defensive side of the ball? For all of the Patriots’ dysfunction on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve demonstrated a ceiling outside of negative plays that the Jets, now even further hampered on offense, haven’t, and, to be honest, the defensive performances of these two teams have been very similar. It’s just too hard to try to win every game via one or two explosive runs and elite defense, especially when negative plays are sure to come giving the head coach/quarterback matchup here. Perhaps the time for Gang Green is coming soon, yet not here. To be honest, I almost hope I’m wrong given how much pain Jets fans have had to deal with in recent years, but is any team that is having current success winning in a more unsustainable fashion? Eventually, you can’t get away with walking on eggshells forever.
Las Vegas Raiders (2-4) at New Orleans Saints (2-5)
Spread: NO (+1.5)
- Projected Outcome: NO (-1.32)
- My Pick: LV (-1.5)
- Projected Total: 46.85
- My Pick: Under
- LV: 46%
- NO: 54%
Score Prediction: Raiders 24 Saints 22
- The Raiders Have Seemingly Found Their Offensive Identity
- Are The Saints Playing With Too Much Fire Offensively?
- What Happened To New Orleans’ Vaunted Defense?
The position as a fringe playoff team is always a very difficult spot to be in. After all, if things break the right way, you supposedly have to talent to take advantage, yet, with a few early losses, you likely have put yourself in too large of deficit to overcome. Then, at that point, where are you left with? Both of these organizations operated this past offseason as they were ready to make a postseason push, but, now, find themselves with a combined 4-9 record. It’s safe to say that the loser of this game is almost certainly going to see any last-ditch postseason hopes wither away. That’s a bit unfortunate for two teams that have yet to lose a game by more than one score, but, hey, that’s the nature of the NFL.
In terms of how these teams are trending, however, that’s where the similarities end. When you bring in a completely new coaching staff, growing pains are to be expected, and that’s something the Raiders had to work through over the first few weeks of the year. Starting from Week 4, though, they’ve been the fourth-most efficient offense in the NFL, with Derek Carr in the top-seven in both adjusted EPA/play and completion rate over expectation. Even better, after being too stagnant of an offense to start the year, Las Vegas came out of their bye using a play-action concept on 42.9% of Carr’s dropbacks, and Davante Adams (35.4% target share, 86.2 PFF receiving grade, 3.21 yards/route run) has clear settled in during this stretch. Generally, you may say that this is a small sample, but when you consider the preseason expectations and the usual adjustment phase with a new regime, this shouldn’t be surprising. Should Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller get on track, this has all the makings of one of the better offenses in the NFL, if they aren’t there already.
Usually, you’d think that’d be setting up a “strength vs strength” matchup with the Saints’ well-regarded defense, but that doesn’t appear to actually be the case. It’s hard to believe, but after being such a constant force in recent years, they find themselves just 20th in EPA/play allowed and have been the fourth-worst pass defense in the NFL, and that’s in spite of a schedule that many would deem as not overly challenging. Being without cornerback Marshon Lattimore hurts, as do the struggles of second-year corner Paulson Adebo (35.4 PFF coverage grade, 156 passer rating allowed) to go along with an injury to Bradley Roby; suddenly, they’ve gone from a rather deep secondary to one as thin as it gets, and with the team’s pass rush nowhere to be found (fifth-lowest pressure rate), they find themselves in this rough predicament. Even more bizarre, in spite of their cornerback woes, they’re running the most man coverage in the NFL, which, on the surface, doesn’t seem ideal against an offense that not only has Davante Adams, but has also seen Mack Hollins (2.37 yards/route run) shine versus man coverage looks as well. Heck, they’re not even contributing in run defense (12th-worst yards/attempt allowed), and now have to face the most-efficient rushing offense over the past month. It’s astonishing how quickly things change in the NFL, and, once again, we’re reminded of the potential downfalls of relying on consistent defensive performance.
In actuality, the Saints have relied on their offense to remain competitive; in absurd fashion, they’re averaging 31 points per game in Andy Dalton’s four starts. The strangest part about this, though, has been how they’ve gotten the production they’ve had. With receivers Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry out in every game during that span, they’ve relied on the likes of Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway to do their part, while getting the occasional chunk play from Rashid Shaheed and Kevin White. Meanwhile, they have the league’s lowest early-down pass rate, and haven’t even particularly been efficient (12th in EPA/rush) on those early-down runs. Right now, Andy Dalton (84.7 PFF grade) is playing tremendously, and certain role players are stepping up to find a way to stay in games. Does that seem like a sustainable strategy? Absolutely not.
I remain fascinated by the Raiders, who, under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, have been an above-average defense on early downs, yet have the league’s third-worst third-down defense, and are allowing a touchdown in the red zone at the second-highest rate. To me, that screams “regression back to the mean”, which is very interesting against a team that, statistically speaking, has had the greatest reliance on third downs this season. Ultimately, the Saints’ current model is likely not sustainable, which is a concern considering they’ve only won one game with Dalton, whereas the Raiders are a talented offense that is well coached on both sides of the ball now coming into its own. Theoretically, this screams “chaotic, down-to-the-wire game”, though when a team has the talent and coaching advantage, it’s usually a good indication of what has the highest likelihood of happening. Don’t look now, but with winnable games ahead, we probably haven’t seen the last of the Raiders this season. Considering how they started the year, the mere fact I’m able to write that sentence is extremely encouraging.
Carolina Panthers (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
Spread: ATL (-4)
- Projected Outcome: ATL (-7.85)
- My Pick: ATL (-4)
- Projected Total: 45.08
- My Pick: Over
- CAR: 33.76%
- ATL: 66.24%
Score Prediction: Panthers 20 Falcons 27
- Well Then, PJ Walker
- Falcons’ Run Heavy Offense Against a Strong Run Defense; Will They Adapt?
- The Third-Year Breakout of Derrick Brown
There are many randomly peculiar facts about this year’s NFL season, but the fact that the winner of this Panthers-Falcons game will take sole possession of the NFC South lead is right at the top of the list. Yes, I’m sure we all expected PJ Walker or Marcus Mariota to have the upper hand over Tom Brady. In the end, the overwhelming likelihood is that Tampa Bay does enough to get out of this funk, but for the Falcons, there’s a pathway for them to take advantage of a very soft schedule and make things very tight for Brady and co. That starts by taking care of business here.
This is new territory for Atlanta, who have yet to be favored in a game this season. With that in mind, the fact they’ve come out of that with a negative eight point differential is impressive; their schedule has not been easy. They may not have gotten there in typical fashion, but, remember, this is still the #11 offense in the NFL based on EPA/play, and a top-ten group in success rate. Ironically, they’re doing so in the exact opposite way of the typically well-run offense – the second-lowest early-down pass rate – they’ve managed to remain efficient (9th in EPA/rush) in spite of notable rushing volume, and make the most of when they pass due to what they’re able to create for Marcus Mariota off the play-action passing game; his 45.9% play-action rate is the highest for a quarterback ever since PFF first starting tracking it. Say what you want, but few offenses have been as consistently productive on a week-to-week basis, though it obviously makes life challenging when things go off schedule. Tied for the fourth-lowest yards/carry allowed with interior defender Derrick Brown breaking out with the highest PFF run defense grade among interior defenders, the Panthers certainly are going to be a test for the Falcons, but given the schedule they’ve had thus far, I wouldn’t simply discount Arthur Smith’s unit; it’s kind of hard to when they’ve faced a top-ten defense in EPA/play in four of their seven games.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the Panthers, who’ve not only been the league’s least-efficient offense this year, completed one forward pass (!) with PJ Walker in Week 6. So, naturally, he then proceeded to earn PFF‘s highest passing grade (94) for a single game this year, but had six big-time throws on just 22 pass attempts, while DJ Moore (2.88 yards/route run) was finally able to come back to life. In theory, this could provide reason for hope for the rest of the year, but do remember that no quarterback with 100 snaps had a lower adjusted EPA/play (-.291) , with Jake Luton and Zach Wilson the only quarterbacks with a worse completion rate over expectation (-7.3). Of course, this is an extra data point to take into account, but, even when including it, he’s still the owner of the lowest adjusted EPA/play in this sample. Now, the Falcons, who have the third-worst pass defense based on EPA/play and are allowing the highest success rate in the NFL, also aren’t exactly a mighty opposition; remember, they’re without starting cornerbacks AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward Jr. Thus, as is the case with any game with Atlanta, there should be more points than expected, though let’s remember where we were at with the Panthers just a week ago.
Brace yourselves, folks; this will be our Thursday Night Football game in two weeks. With this spread shifting all the way from 6.5 points to 4, it’s clear that some are drinking the Kool-Aid with the Panthers, while perhaps equatting these two teams too much. That being said, we’re talking about a fringe top-ten offense against a team that has been an outlier in terms of their ability to move the ball down the field. It’s been a brutal run to this point for Atlanta, yet they’ve managed to keep afloat, and now find themselves in position to go on a notable run down the stretch against the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, per PFF. Talk about outperforming expectations!
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-0)
Spread: PHI (-10.5)
- Projected Outcome: PHI (-14.96)
- My Pick: PHI (-10.5)
- Projected Total: 44.11
- My Pick: Over
- PIT: 21.57%
- PHI: 78.43%
Score Prediction: Steelers 17 Eagles 28
- It Keeps Getting Tougher For Kenny Pickett
- Do The Eagles Eventually Open Up Their Passing Attack?
- Steelers Receivers vs Eagles Cornerbacks Head-To-Head
The state of Pennsylvania might be occupied right now, but with the World Series conveniently having a day off, here’s a chance for an interstate rivalry to be renewed. The last time the Steelers and Eagles faced each other, it was Pittsburgh who was the undefeated team earning national spotlight, with Philadelphia on the decline. Fast forward two years later, and those roles are completely flipped, with the Eagles fresh off their bye and a clear step ahead of the rest of the NFC. So, can the city of Philadelphia continue to shine? That’s very likely to be the case.
Now, I should preface this by saying the Eagles have not exactly had the most difficult of schedules; PFF ranks it as the sixth-easiest so far. That being said, they’ve certainly made the most of those matchups; they’re a top-four team in EPA/play on both offense and defense, which is remarkably impressive. I mean, good luck finding a clear weakness with this team. Offensively, Jalen Hurts is PFF‘s fifth-highest graded quarterback, their receiving corps features three elite players (AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, Dallas Goedert), they have the best PFF pass-blocking grade in the NFL, leading to them being both the fourth-most efficient rushing attack and passing offense. Regardless of how you attack them, they’re in a great spot. Want to run a lot of man coverage against them? Have fun against a mobile quarterback who you can’t turn your back to against two elite receivers against man coverage. Playing light boxes? They can run all over you. It’s not a fun dynamic for opposing defenses to deal with, and, in many ways, it doesn’t feel like they’ve hit their ceiling yet.
See, over their past three games, Hurts’ average depth of target (4.6 yards) is an outlier on the low side compared to the rest of the league, while he’s attempted a pass of 20+ air yards on just two of 100 attempts during that span. As such, they’ve gotten by with a very methodical, “high-efficiency with little explosiveness” strategy, which works better for a team as aggressive going for fourth downs as they are, but still significantly decreases your margin for error. For context, over the team’s first three games, Hurts attempted a pass of 20+ air yards on 10 of 79 attempts, with an average depth of target of nine yards. Now, I’m not saying that Philadelphia needs to embrace that completely, but it’d be nice to have as open and diverse an offense as it gets; when things go off the rails, you want to have as many counters as possible. Given their talent, I’m assuming they’ll pass that test, and the Steelers, allowing the second-most air yards/completion in the NFL, are a great defense to recreate some explosiveness; some of their strategy may have to deal with the opposing defenses they’ve played than anything else.
Speaking of the Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin’s run of never having a losing record may be coming to an end very shortly. For a team that has consistently prided themselves on superb defensive play, to see them in the bottom-ten in EPA/play allowed is a sore sight, and there isn’t just one issue; without TJ Watt, they’re pressuring quarterbacks at the third-lowest rate, and they have SIX players with 100 coverage snaps and a PFF coverage grade of 50 or lower. Plus, they’ve even been a below-average defense against the run, and, thus, there are several matchups for opposing offenses to exploit. Well, the Eagles aren’t the team to play when that’s the case! Then, there’s rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who, in spite of his seven interceptions, has shown signs of progress. At the moment, the first-round pick trails only Geno Smith in completion rate above expectation, while he’s only taken a sack at 16.4% of his pressured dropbacks and has taken care of the football (3.3% turnover-worthy play rate) much better than you may think. The real issue, though, is the situation he’s in. Pickett is only passing out of play-action concepts on 17.6% of his dropbacks, and, on top of that, there are simply zero route concepts over the middle of the field; it’s telling how inefficient he’s been even when in a clean pocket (6 yards/attempt), which makes sense for an offense, that, simply from the eye test, is as static as it gets.
Hence, they’re relying solely on their talent on the perimeter to compensate for that, and as exciting as the trio of George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool can be, they’re perhaps not at the level where you can get away with that. Add in a non-existent rushing attack with an offensive line that has had a PFF pass-blocking grade of 61 or lower in three straight games, and you end up putting Pickett in an unenviable situation. Factor in the defenses he’s faced (Jets, Bills, Bucs, Dolphins), and the fact he’s merely held his own is impressive. Of course, it only gets harder from here; the Eagles have the sixth-best PFF pass rush grade in the NFL, while their two starting outside cornerbacks (Darius Slay and James Bradberry) rank in the top-three in passer rating allowed. Again, perhaps there’s a reason the Eagles are where they are, and the Steelers may be heading towards a top-five pick.
You may wonder what it’ll look like when the Eagles are challenged by a stronger team, yet, per PFF, they have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule, with the Titans, Giants, and Cowboys their only opponents with a winning record right now. Outside of the Dallas game, they’re going to be a considerable favorite in every game they play, which plays right into the style of football (balanced offense, elite pass defense) they’re built to thrive in. So, do we send Howie Roseman his executive of the year trophy right now? It’s been quite the year for Philadelphia sports, and who knows what’s ahead.
Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Detroit Lions (1-5)
Spread: DET (+3.5)
- Projected Outcome: MIA (-4.18)
- My Pick: MIA (-3.5)
- Projected Total: 46.23
- My Pick: Under
- MIA: 59.96%
- DET: 40.04%
Score Prediction: Dolphins 26 Lions 21
- A Great Spot For Tua Tagovailoa To Get Back On Track
- With Multiple Key Players Back, Can The Lions Regain Offensive Promise?
- Can Aidan Hutchinson Build Off Last Week’s Performance?
What would happen if a dolphin fought a lion? Well, per Aesop’s Fable, maybe they’re supposed to be on the same team:
“A lion was roaming on the seashore when, seeing a dolphin basking on the surface of the water, he invited him to form an alliance with him; “For,” said he, “as I am the king of the beasts, and you are the king of the fishes, we ought to be the greatest friends and allies possible.” The dolphin gladly assented and the lion, not long after, having a fight with a wild bull, called upon the dolphin for his promised support. But when he, though ready to assist him, found himself unable to come out of the sea for the purpose, the lion accused him of having betrayed him. “Do not blame me,” said the dolphin in reply, “but blame my nature, which however powerful at sea, is altogether helpless on land.””
Well, in this case, the dolphin better be ready to come to land, as he now has to do battle with the lion. Oh wait, you want an actual football preview? At the moment, I don’t think we’ll be classifying the Detroit Lions as the “kings of the beasts”, though the Dolphins are the only team named after a fish, so I guess they can keep their title? Once again, though, expect the Lion to get the raw end of this relationship.
Has any team had a more chaotic season than the Dolphins? In seven weeks, they’ve had a 28-point comeback, beaten the Bills, proceeded to have their starting quarterback, each time someone different, leave a game due to injury, while also being under a microscope due to the misevaluation of Tua Tagovailoa’s potential concussion in Week 3, leading to one of the more gruesome scenes in a national-televised game the following week. With all of that in mind, the fact they remain the eight-most efficient passing attack is absolutely hilarious, yet, also, not a surprise. Head coach Mike McDaniel, utilizing the most pre-snap motion, a heavy usage of play-action concepts (39.4% with Tagovailoa), and creating a passing attack built to thrive over the middle of the field and create explosive plays after the catch. Naturally, that’s also easier to do when your passing attack is condensed around two of the top-four receivers (Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle) in yards/route run, while Tagovailoa (9.2 average depth of target, 76% adjusted completion rate) has shown an ability to remain accurate and take more chances down the field. At the same time, that accuracy (68.6% adjusted completion rate) wasn’t there in his return from injury last week, and he does have the second-highest turnover-worthy play rate in the NFL. Then again, you’d also expect some level of rust, and this offense’s infrastructure has still done enough to allow Tagovailoa to shine as the #3 quarterback in adjusted EPA/play this year. Especially with tackle Terron Armstead back healthy, I’d bank on this being a high-powered offense once again.
It’d certainly be disappointing if they looked like anything but that in this matchup; the Lions are an absolute outlier in terms of their defensive struggles:
That’s the wrong end of the spectrum to be in. For context, opposing offenses against the Lions have been as efficient as the Bills; only Kansas City and Buffalo have been more efficient through the air than any team against the Lions, with the Browns the only rushing offense more efficient than opposing offenses versus Detroit. The coaching staff has tried to respond by going from one of the league’s most man-heavy teams to rarely blitzing and playing mainly zone coverage, yet the talent deficit is too much to overcome right now- the thought of what could be in store for the team’s secondary against the speed and misdirection of the Dolphins is a scary thought. On a positive note, second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson had his best game (81.7 PFF pass rush grade) as a pro last week, and the development of young players is really all that the organization needs. tosee. At the same time, though, tell that to the coaching staff that may not have fun enduring this matchup.
When the Lions were also leading the league in points scored, then they were simply just an extremely entertaining team, but they’ve scored six points in their past two games. The good news? It’s probably unlikely they’ll have seven turnovers and six turnovers on fourth downs for every two games they play moving forward. Meanwhile, receiver Amon-Ra St.Brown is back healthy to supplement an injured receiving corps, and the return of D’Andre Swift brings some needed explosiveness to a rushing attack that was so dynamic over the first month of the year. Nevertheless, they’re also now facing the #1 rush defense in the NFL when excluding turnovers, which, for the team’s fourth-most run-heavy team on early downs, may lead to obvious dropback situations that they may want to avoid given some of their pass protection deficiencies (fourth-worst PFF pass-blocking grade) and the general limitations with Jared Goff, 32nd among 36 quarterbacks in our projected EPA/play metric. To their credit, the Dolphins have earned above-average PFF grades rushing. thepasser and in coverage in back-to-back weeks, and, in spite of a very difficult schedule, have been a competent unit (18th in EPA/play allowed when excluding turnovers). Well, I guess we’ll see how real momentum truly is!
In all seriousness, this simply has all the makings of a rough game script for the Lions, who, while they’ve played competitively, are going to have games where there’s simply too much talent on the other side for them to win games. With the foundation in place, that could be a blessing in disguise should it lead to their next quarterback (hello, Bryce Young), and the Dolphins have a chance. tofully get in sync and gear up for a postseason run. In some ways, it’s a win for everyone! Hey, the companionship between the dolphin and lion carries on.
Tennessee Titans (4-2) at Houston Texans (1-4-1)
Spread: HOU (-1)
- Projected Outcome: HOU (-2.91)
- My Pick: HOU (-1)
- Projected Total: 42.25
- My Pick: Under
- TEN: 42.23%
- HOU: 57.77%
Score Prediction: Titans 17 Texans 20
- The NFL Debut For Malik Willis
- Can Tennessee Continue To Win Within The Margins?
- The Texans Certainly Are Hoping For More Signs of Optimism With Their Rookie Class
Ah, the AFC South, where nothing goes as planned. Look no further than this slate of games, where both starting quarterbacks from last week’s Colts-Titans matchup aren’t playing, and the only team with a positive point differential (Jaguars) are 2-5! It’s not supposed to make sense, and that’s the fun in it- expect the unexpected. Well, in this game, what can we expect? With Ryan Tannehill out for this game, it’ll be up to third-round rookie quarterback Malik Willis, who received plenty of first-round buzz before a notable slip in the draft, to keep Tennessee’s four-game winning streak alive, making the Texans a…. favorite? There’s too much going on here to process.
Coming out of Liberty, it’s easy to see the reason for intrigue with Willis, who has exceptional arm talent that was on display with an 11% big-time throw rate his final year in college, while he also managed to run for over 1000 yards in back-to-back years as well; the perceived upside from an athletic tools standpoint is notable. Now, for the concerns:
- Despite being a fifth-year senior at Liberty, Willis never eclipsed a PFF passing grade of 77.5 or higher
- Meanwhile, his accuracy (71.7% adjusted completion rate) and mistakes (4.3% turnover-worthy play) were a notable problem
- His 3.33-second time-to-throw in his final year in college is astronomically high, even for a mobile quarterback, and is going to lead to a lot of sacks
- By falling to the end of the third round, the NFL gave you a clear depiction of what they thought about him
- His preseason (54.9 PFF passing grade) was filled with accuracy woes (68.1% adjusted completion rate) and a 3.72-second time-to-throw which led to him being under pressure on half of his dropbacks. That is simply too difficult to overcome; his 12.7% sack rate would be in Justin Fields/Bears territory.
If you had to guess, the Titans, who already are one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses as is, are almost a lock to run the ball they get, which perhaps can work with what Willis provides on the ground against the league’s lowest-graded run defense from PFF. At the same time, the chances that they’re actually able to win without moving the ball through the air is very minimal, and, when that happens, there’s no reason to be confident in that happening; need I mention the Titans have the second-lowest PFF pass-blocking grade in the NFL and don’t exactly have much in the way of perimeter weapons? In a game where they’d theoretically be in position to win sans mistakes, the volatility provided with Willis actually works against them.
On one end, I’m excited to see how the Titans, the league’s best run defense in success rate, handles a Houston rushing attack thriving off the legs of Dameon Pierce, second in the NFL in missed tackles forced. At the very least, Davis Mills, with the lowest turnover-worthy play rate, should be able to limit the types of mistakes Tennessee has relied upon; excluding turnovers, they’ve quietly been one of the league’s least-resistant defenses (27th in EPA/play), and a notable liability through the air (30th). Thus, even if the Texans aren’t an offense consistently moving the ball, the shere conservativeness they’re playing with actually works against Tennessee, who, for once, is the team at risk of making the costly mistakes the opposition takes advantage of. As is, we’re talking about a team with a negative point differential in the bottom-ten in EPA/play when excluding turnovers on both sides of the ball, now without their starting quarterback. What better way to test Mike Vrabel’s voodoo magic.
For the Texans, they’ll be looking for a second-half surge from their rookie class of cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., interior offensive lineman Kenyon Green, and safety Jalen Pitre, all top-40 picks who are amongst the lowest-graded players at their respective positions by PFF. The Titans, meanwhile, are simply looking to survive, and I honestly think they’d be better off with a backup that perhaps doesn’t offer any extra upside, yet has a very condensed range of outcomes as well; see, Chase Daniel. Really, though, the only predictable aspect of this game is the lack of predictability.
Washington Commanders (3-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-3-1)
Spread: IND (-3)
- Projected Outcome: IND (-6.09)
- My Pick: IND (-3)
- Projected Total: 40.52
- My Pick: Under
- WSH: 36.77%
- IND: 63.23%
Score Prediction: Commanders 16 Colts 21
- The NFL Debut For Sam Ehlinger
- Which Offensive Line Is A Bigger Issue Here?
- If The Colts Are Going To Lean Into a Run-Heavy Approach, It’d Behoove Them To Run The Ball Efficiently
The parallels between these two organizations are just too humorous to ignore. Both in clear need for a quarterback this past offseason, these franchises created a new sense of hope regarding change under center, but, now, probably regret those decisions. In fact, it was the Colts who first acquired Carson Wentz prior to the 2021 season, only then to move on and trade him to Washington after just one season; Wentz is now on injured reserve, and was “leading” a bottom-five offensive unit in EPA/play as is. Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ acquisition of Matt Ryan was another attempt to find any sort of stability at the position, but, instead, he finds himself benched for former sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger. Well, so much for the Carson Wentz game! Trust me; this may actually be more exciting.
As great of an unknown Malik Willis is, Ehlinger takes that to another level. Heading into 2020, he was coming off of a very strong junior year at Texas (90.1 PFF grade) that was putting him on the draft radar, but struggled with accuracy (66.9% adjusted completion rate), with concerns about arm strength, taking too many sacks, and overall processing ability causing him to eventually slip to sixth round. Then, all of a sudden, he was PFF‘s highest-graded quarterback in the preseason, and, clearly, has done enough for Indianapolis to have faith in him as their best option. Based on his college history, in Ehlinger, the Colts are going to get a quarterback that is going to take his fair share of sacks and has passing limitations, though adds an interesting element as a scrambler, and plays a high-variance style of play that makes him intriguing as a backup quarterback. How does that translate as the starter? That’s unclear, though a lot of it depends on the support around him.
After all, there’s a reason Ryan was struggling as much as he was; the Colts have the sixth-lowest graded pass-blocking offensive line from PFF and have been the second-least efficient rushing offense in the NFL based on EPA/rush. Without elite receivers or a quarterback to overcome those flaws, it’s hard to produce offensively with that being the case, and they’re clearly hoping Ehlinger’s requisite athleticism is enough to stir them afloat. Most likely, we’ll see them shift to a very run-heavy approach, which, of course, relies on them getting back to their levels of rushing efficiency from last year, something that may be hard to do against the #2 rush defense based on success rate. To be fair, with turnovers taken out of the equation, they at least weren’t an utter disaster (23rd in EPA/play), and maybe the unknown of Ehlinger is their only hope- the ceiling is so capped with Ryan, so why not take a shot? I’m not sure it leads to ideal results, though I respect the courage.
Fortunately, for them, they face a team that is about as discombobulated as them. Theoretically, the Commanders have one of the better-performing defenses in the NFL (3rd in EPA/play allowed excluding turnovers), but when your last four games are against the Cooper Rush-led Cowboys, Titans, Bears, and whatever the Packers are right now, that helps. Even as is, they’re allowing the fourth-most air yards/attempt in the NFL, and are the sixth-worst defense on early downs, so I’d still be pessimistic about the legitimacy of their production. Meanwhile, only the Panthers and Broncos are producing plays with a positive expected points added at a lower rate than them, and Taylor Heinicke’s first start (33 PFF passing grade, 13.9% turnover-worthy play rate) combined with a run-heavy approach for a team with the second-worst rushing success rate in the NFL, doesn’t inspire reason for optimism. The Colts, to their credit, are also a top-ten defense this year when excluding turnovers, and have done a tremendous job limiting chunk plays through the air- the seventh-lowest yards/reception in the NFL. Right now, I certainly wouldn’t be holding by breath on the Commanders sustaining efficient drives.
There is so much variance present in a game between two quarterbacks that have started just one game this year, including one who has never played in an NFL game. Most likely, though, we’re likely to see a run-heavy, low-scoring matchup that honestly comes down to the team that makes just enough splash plays. Given Washington’s weaknesses on both sides of the ball, it’s easy to see them coming on the short end of the stick, though practically any result would not surprise me. Folks, may I present to you the average football game in 2022.
New York Giants (6-1) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Spread: SEA (-3)
- Projected Outcome: SEA (-10.53)
- My Pick: SEA (-3)
- Projected Total: 48.44
- My Pick: Over
- NYG: 29.15%
- SEA: 70.85%
Score Prediction: Giants 22 Seahawks 27
- The Giants’ Continued Quest To Defy The Odds With Offensive Success
- Another Chapter In The Book Of Geno (This Time Without DK Metcalf)
- Two Top-Ten Rookies Clash Off: Kayvon Thibodeaux vs Charles Cross
Want to know just how unpredictable this NFL season has been? This is the only game of the weekend featuring two teams with a winning record, which isn’t too shabby considering the preseason expectations for them. We’re about to live in a world where the Giants are 7-1 or the Seahawks have a full game lead in the NFC West halfway through the year, which is the football gods’ way of trolling us at this point. So, in what suddenly has become the most exciting game of the weekend, which lovable underdog continues the fun? Is it even worth trying at this point?
Frankly, it remains astonishing that the Giants have maintained the offensive production that they’ve had. At the moment, New York ranks in the bottom-half of the league in PFF grade for passing, receiving, pass-blocking, and overall offense, with their leading wide receiver being Richie James Jr. with 191 yards in seven games. Yet, somehow, that equates to the seventh-most efficient offense in the NFL, Having an explosive rushing attack that is only strengthened with the increase use of Daniel Jones’ mobility helps, but how does this group also rank as a top-ten offense in dropback situations? Jones’ scrambling helps, and, to his credit, he’s been tremendous (5th in PFF passing grade) over the past month. Yet, there’s also no explosive element to the passing attack (he has zero big-time throws during that span), he’s the second-most pressured quarterback in the NFL, and they’re down even further on offense with tackle Evan Neal and tight end Daniel Bellinger injured. If this coaching staff keeps this up, just build them a statue already.
Don’t look now, but is the Seahawks defense coming into form? As you’d expect for a very young group, they’ve definitely experienced their growing pains, yet they’ve been exceptional (3rd in EPA/play allowed, 2nd in success rate allowed) over the past two weeks against the Cardinals and Chargers, and they quietly now rank 10th in success rate allowed for the entire year. If so, are they a legitimate impact team? After all, it’s hard not to have faith in their offense the longer time goes on with Geno Smith, fifth in adjusted EPA/play, first in completion rate over expectation, and fourth in PFF grade, playing at such a high level. To boot, thanks in large part to the development of rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, they’ve become to an above-average pass-blocking offensive line, have PFF‘s sixth-highest graded receiving corps, are averaging 5.8 yards/carry(!) on the ground, and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has certainly become a candidate for head-coaching interviews. The Giants, who run the league’s second-most amount of man coverage and have the league’s fourth lowest-graded coverage unit, are a particular good fit for Smith, whose production against man coverage (11 yards/attempt, .530 EPA/play) is on another stratosphere compared to the rest of the league. DK Metcalf being injured hurts, though Marquise Goodwin (3.05 yards/route run, 67 yards on 5 targets) stepped up tremendously last week, while Tyler Lockett (2.78 yards/route run) has flourished against man-coverage looks as well. Add in New York’s league-leading 5.7 yards/carry allowed, and it’s hard to not see Seattle finding plenty of offensive success. Alas, the story of Geno reaches another chapter of excellence.
Words cannot describe how randomly excited I am for this game; these two teams continue to exceed expectations, and are putting themselves in excellent position to turn things around much quicker than expected. In this particular game, the Seahawks’ advantage in the passing game cater it in their advantage, though, at this point, the real question is: in what heroic fashion do the Giants find a way to magically win yet another game? Folks, the vibes are tremendous with this game- it just breeds happiness!
San Francisco 49ers (3-4) at Los Angeles Rams (3-3)
Spread: LAR (-1)
- Projected Outcome: SF (-4.67)
- My Pick: SF (+1)
- Projected Total: 41.83
- My Pick: Under
- SF: 60.97%
- LAR: 39.21%
Score Prediction: 49ers 21 Rams 17
- Does Matthew Stafford Have Any Fighting Chance Here?
- Any Reason To Be Concerned About An Injured 49ers Defense?
- What Does The Return of Van Jefferson Mean For The Rams?
Since it’s been advertised as such by FOX, I have to ask: is this the best rivalry in football? On one end, these are divisional foes led by coaches who are quite familiar with one another, and just met in the NFC Championship Game. At the same time, I’m not sure either team’s current performance warrants that label, in addition to other critical historical values as well. Both of these organizations are mirror images of one another in terms of consistently going “all-in” to compete for a Super Bowl title, and while it’s led to success as of late, is it starting to come back to bite them? A loss for either team in this game would be absolutely devastating, and it’s time for them to start showing signs of progress before it’s too late. Thus, it’s rather fitting they meet up here.
If there’s one team to be sounding the alarm bells on, it’d be the Rams, who’ve definitely not had the offensive success they hoped to have. With an offensive-minded head coach and the star talent they seemed to have, it was hard to imagine anything other than another top-ten offense, but, now, they’re 31st in EPA/play and have the worst-performing offense in the NFL on early downs. So, how did this happen? There are several reasons, all of which point to the dangers of their team-building methods. The retirement of Andrew Whitworth and the loss of Austin Corbett was expected to be notable blows on the offensive line, yet Los Angeles has gone from the #1-graded pass-blocking unit from PFF to the third-worst, leading to Matthew Stafford having the third-highest sack rate in the NFL. Combine that with the inevitable turnovers that have consistently been a problem for Stafford, and you’re going to need chunk plays to compensate for that, but Stafford’s big-time throw rate (3.1%) has been cut in half, while his average depth of target (6.6 yards) is the fourth-lowest among qualified quarterbacks;only Jimmy Garroppolo has fewer passing yards on throws 20+ yards down the field. The offensive line is a factor here, as is the team’s lack of vertical speed. The signing of Allen Robinson (0.72 yards/route run) has not gone as expected, and, as such, 55% of the team’s targets have gone to Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee. Now, the return of Van Jefferson could be critical in terms of stretching the field, but that also depends on Stafford having enough faith in his offensive line holding up, which, with tackle Joseph Noteboom out left the year, is definitely not something to feel confident about. Add in a completely deficient rushing attack, and you end up with where the Rams are now, and, to be honest, I’m not sure it gets better.
That’s especially true against the 49ers, who sacked Stafford seven times in their Week 4 matchup, and, although they’re dealing with injuries, still have plenty of defensive line depth to go along with a secondary that has still, overall, been fantastic (5th in PFF coverage grade) this season. Now, as we saw last week, are they capable of carrying San Francisco to victories on their own? No, but what defense is? Ultimately, it’s up for Kyle Shanahan’s offense (15th in EPA/play, 20th in success rate) to live up to its billing, which becomes more challenging with Deebo Samuel unable to play in this game. That being said, though, it isn’t a coincidence the offensive line earned its best overall PFF grade in pass protection and run blocking with Trent Williams since before the star tackle was injured, which creates a strong infrastructure for Jimmy Garoppolo to have success in; for what it’s worth, he’s been terrific against the Rams (.220 EPA/play) dating back to last year, which is notable since not a lot has challenge about either unit. To give credit to Shanahan, Aaron Donald only has 11 combined pressures in those four games, which, considering he’s already accounting for 43% of the team’s pressures is notable; I’d bet on Garoppolo having plenty of clean pockets to operate from, which is fantastic news for the 49ers.
Whereas the 49ers perhaps have more natural limitations, they’re also the team here in a much better current spot than the Rams, who can’t pass protect, create any explosive plays through the air, or run the ball effectively at all. Sure, you can think head coach Sean McVay will “figure things out”, but when it’s this much of a personnel issue, can he? That’d seem to be awfully challenging against the 49ers in particular, and the road isn’t getting any smoother for them down the stretch. Really, this is a time of desperation for both franchises considering how much they’ve invested into immediate contention, and that’s what makes this game remarkably fascinating. Even if points aren’t scored often, every snap is going to have an extra bit of anxiousness and intensity surrounding it. With that, comes entertainment.
Green Bay Packers (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-1)
Spread: BUF (-10.5)
- Projected Outcome: BUF (-8.82)
- My Pick: BUF (-10.5)
- Projected Total: 47.27
- My Pick: Over
- GB: 32.09%
- BUF: 67.91%
Score Prediction: Packers 20 Bills 31
- How Bad Does It Get In Green Bay?
- Strength vs Strength: Bills Passing Attack Against Packers Pass Defense
- Can Buffalo Continue To Hide Their Offensive Line Woes?
Coming into the season, you would have to assume that NBC was quite ecstatic to be able to broadcast a game that should have been a potential preview of the Super Bowl. Fortunately for them, the aura of the Packers and the Bills being the Bills will draw massive television ratings, but perhaps this game isn’t the tight matchup that it once appeared to be. We’ll see if the gap is even greater than we could have imagined.
To say things have been disastrous in Green Bay would be a notable understatement; losing three straight to the Giants, Jets, and Commanders while ranking 26th in EPA/play classifies as such. Yes, a step back offensively was expected when the Packers traded Davante Adams, but this much? Despite ranking 6th in success rate, they’re only 21st in EPA/play, and a great majority of that is due to a lack of big plays through the air- they’re averaging the fewest air yards per completion in the NFL. To add onto that, they’re the third-least productive offense in the NFL on third downs, and Aaron Rodgers is throwing behind the line of scrimmage on 25% of his passes. What does this speak to? The combination of a non-productive receiving corps and a quarterback simply not trusting them, which is a shame given how strong the rest of the offensive infrastructure is. To make matters worse, Allen Lazard won’t play in this game, Romeo Doubs is seemingly falling out of favor, and tackle David Bakhtiari’s health is a complete unknown. This is still a situation where the team’s overall success producing positive plays is enough to hope that more explosiveness leads to a stronger offense, though time is running out.
Now, I’m sure Rodgers would prefer to not be sorting out these issues against the Bills, who, despite dealing with injuries and playing a vaunted schedule (Chiefs, Ravens, Dolphins among the toughest schedule in the NFL, per PFF), still have the #1 defense in the NFL based on defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders. You’d think their general reliance on zone coverage (2nd) would suit Green Bay well, but they showed the ability to adapt by playing man coverage on over half of the time against the Chiefs. They have the second-best PFF pass rush grade in the NFL, have the eighth-best PFF coverage grade, are allowing the fewest yards/carry, and may I once again remind you that’s come against a brutal schedule with plenty of injuries! I don’t want to be overly simplistic, but what are the odds that the Packers are going to figure out against this group?
Honestly, there’s not a lot that needs to be said about Buffalo’s offense, which leads the league in EPA/play when excluding turnovers, and have found the perfect balance between efficiency and explosiveness; despite getting rid of the ball quicker (2.64 seconds) with the lowest average depth of target of his career, Josh Allen leads the league in big-time throw rate (7.3%) and passing yards of 20+ air yards. Ultimately, we’ll see if they can continue to support an offensive line that only has one starter with a PFF pass-block grade above 61, though Allen’s success under pressure and sack avoidance (fourth-lowest sack rate) has more than compensated for that. The Packers, fourth in passing success rate allowed and in the top-six in PFF pass rush and coverage grade, aren’t an easy matchup by any means, though the odds of that actually functioning into legitimate resistance against this offense is likely a pipe dream. Simply put, the Bills are absolutely absurd.
That’s the realization the Packers will see on full display on Sunday night, perhaps taking them back to their run of success in recent years. If 3-5 and even further behind the Vikings in the NFC North, it’s unclear how they’ll recover from that, which is a shame; there are still signs of optimism, such as their success on early downs, but the lack of receiver talent likely will continue to plague them. I don’t know about you, having Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers on primetime sounds good to me! Expect to see the gap between the few elite teams in the NFL and rest of the “pack” continue to be on full display here.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Spread: CLE (+3)
- Projected Outcome: CLE (-1.07)
- My Pick: CLE (+3)
- Projected Total: 48.11
- My Pick: Over
- CIN: 46.75%
- CLE: 53.25%
Score Prediction: Bengals 23 Browns 24
- How Do The Bengals Adjust To Life Without Ja’Marr Chase?
- Is There Any Second-Half Resurgence For The Browns Defense?
- Does Cincinnati Contain Cleveland’s Rushing Attack Enough To Prevent It From Being An Issue?
Monday Night Football on Halloween night? Even better, Monday Night Football featuring two interstate + divisional rivals and two top-eight offenses in EPA/play? Sign me up twice! At the moment, these two teams would appear to be heading in different directions based on recent results, though the same could have been said in Week 9 last year, where the then 4-4 Browns off a loss demolished an upstart Bengals team that was starting to earn public attention. Could we see a similar result here?
It’s hard to not say enough good things about the Bengals passing attack the last two weeks of the season; they’ve shifted to a completely shotgun offense (95.3% in Week 7), have created a more spread-out offense with Tyler Boyd be used more as the element over the middle of the field that combats the two-high coverages they’ve struggled with, and, in turn, have scored a combined 75 points during that span. Now, for the bad news- they’ll have to go at least the next 4-6 weeks without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is recovering from a hip injury. For a team as reliant on individual star talent on their offense – it’s a simplistic and generally stagnant scheme predicated on their skill position players winning their matchups – this is a monumental blow, on top of the fact that Chase, with 3.05 yards/route run over the past two weeks, is also an elite receiver that is difficult to compensate for. Thus, the onus falls on Tee Higgins, as well as Boyd in the slot, but without any true element on speed and an even more condensed target tree, there’s reason to be concern; remember, this isn’t a team adding any value on the ground (28th in rush EPA/play), nor is their offensive line (eighth-lowest PFF pass-block grade) particularly trustworthy. There’s an adjustment phase that’ll need to take place, and they’ll need everything from their remaining high-end talent to lead them through it.
On the bright side for Cincinnati, facing the league’s second-worst defense in EPA/play allowed always helps. At the same time, though, the Browns, ranked 13th in dropback success rate allowed and with players such as Denzel Ward, Grant Delpit, John Johnson III playing below clear baselines and edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney back healthy, pass defense isn’t a notable deficiency for them. Rather, it’s come from them being beaten on the ground, as they’re allowing twice the EPA/rush as the 31st-ranked team (Lions) in said metric. In reality, Myles Garrett and Clowney have the opportunity to take full advantage of a suspect offensive line, and, if not gashed on the ground by a very inefficient rushing attack, still have proven to be competent against the pass at full strength. Meanwhile, even if it may not seem like it, their offense still serves as the eighth-best unit in EPA/play, led by the league’s most efficient rushing attack and enough chunk plays through the air from Jacoby Brissett. Although his performance has declined as of late, he’s still in the upper half of the league in big-time throw rate, is reasonably accurate (1.3 CPOE), and, certainly, has been far from the team’s only source of issues this year. The loss of tight end David Njoku hurts for a generally condensed passing attack, but when your rushing offense is more efficient than all but eight passing offenses, lfe gets easier.
While the Bengals’ overall defensive numbers have been strong, they have been vulnerable against the run, ranking in the bottom-ten in EPA/rush, with these troubles being particularly noteworthy since the injury to interior defender DJ Reader. They also find themselves in a bind trying to figure out their other outside cornerback spot opposite of Chidobe Awuzie based on Eli Apple’s struggles (39.5 PFF coverage grade) and now injury, placing second-round rookie Cam Taylor-Britt into a starting role. Here, you have the Bengals offense without one of the league’s most irreplaceable skill position players with a vulnerable offensive line against a reasonable pass defense fronted by PFF‘s highest-graded pass rusher and the return of another impact player (Clowney), to go along with their defensive deficiencies being well exploitable by the Browns. It’s hard not have an icky feeling about this one for defending AFC Champions, who, with the second-most difficult schedule remaining based on PFF projections, face a tough road competing against a Ravens team that has about as favorable (32nd) of a schedule as it gets. At some point, head coach Zac Taylor needs to show he can add value as a play-caller beyond relying on his skill position talent, while the margin for error becomes much thinner for Joe Burrow and co. with their obvious source of explosive plays taken away- more man coverage against them can be expected, and Cleveland still has the talent in the secondary (Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome III, Martin Emerson) to operate with that strategy. It’s been a strange year for the Browns, who have lost four of their five ames by three points or less, but, here, there’s a legitimate chance they can be on the other end of that ahead of their bye week. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and the rest of the football world ought to be entertained by a treat here; isn’t football such a better reward on Halloween than your average Twix bar? Yeah, I’ll take the football game.
DEN/JAX: Sporting News
CHI/DAL: Fox 4 News Dallas Fort Worth
ARI/MIN: Raising Zone
LV/NO: TV Insider
CAR/ATL: Panthers Wire
PIT/PHI: Philadelphia Inquirer
TEN/HOU: NBC Sports
WSH/IND: Indy Star
NYG/SEA: The Ringer
SF/LAR: NBC Sports
GB/BUF: Buffalo Fanatics Network