We’re officially through nine weeks of the season, which, to quote Bon Jovi, means we’re halfway there! Alas, in what has been a turbulent season thus far, plenty of unexpected teams find themselves living on a prayer. Whether they make it? I cannot swear. Anyways, with four games decided exactly by a 20-17 score, the Bills losing as double-digit favorites to the Jets, the Chiefs almost following suit, and the Packers managing to score nine points against the Lions, the football gods gave us another gem of chaos in Week 9. Remember, chaos breeds entertainment.
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.
At the moment, only two games feature a spread of over a touchdown, with six of those remaining twelve being projected to have a margin of victory of three points or fewer. As such, we could be in for another week of late-game excitement, and the slate as a whole features plenty of fascinating matchups. In other words, it’s fair to get your hopes up for even more entertainment, which, with the MLB postseason over, is definitely what the doctor ordered.
Stats via Pro Football Focus, 33rd Team, Football Outsiders, 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 their overall success on early downs.
We touched on the Buccaneers last week as a frustrating team based on the gap between what they’re accomplishing on early downs and third downs, and the Jaguars are quite similar. With any further progression from Trevor Lawrence, they could be in line for improved offensive success, as should the Cowboys. Defensively, the 49ers, Seahawks, and Jets could be in line for even more defensive success, while the Chargers continue to be very concerning based on their lack of early-down production. At some point, look for that to catch up to them, if it hasn’t already.
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:
We didn’t see any notable turnaround from the Bucs last week, though hopefully that will change in the future. Keep an eye on the Giants to be in more high-scoring games in the future based on their position on these respective graphs, and we’ll see if this signals some sort of turnaround for the Raiders, as bleak of things look at the moment. Perhaps there is a legitimate reason for a few teams being on the extreme end of either spectrum, yet given the lack of statistical consistency, it would still be wise to not expect that to be the case. That’s the beauty of the NFL; so much can change is any given week.
Now, onto the previews!
Atlanta Falcons (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (2-7)
Spread: CAR (+2.5)
- Projected Spread: CAR (+10.2)
- My Pick: ATL (-2.5)
- Projected Total: 46.87
- My Pick: Over
- ATL: 69.08%
- CAR: 30.92%
Score Prediction: Falcons 27 Panthers 17
- The Falcons Offense Continues To Be Extremely Efficient
- Do The Panthers Have Any Fight Left Defensively?
- Monitoring The Emergence of Panthers WR Terrace Marshall Jr.
Since every team in the NFL gets a Thursday night slot at some point of the year, it’s easy to tell when the league tries to mesh two unpopular teams together to try to “get it out of the way”. Considering neither the Falcons nor Panthers have any other primetime game this year, that’s rather obvious here, but, hey, you’ll never hear me complaining about football on any day of the week. In fact, it was just two weeks ago where these two teams engaged in a 37-34 overtime battle that featured a PJ Walker hail mary, 884 total yards, and the a win probability chart that truly is one of a kind:
Now, just 12 days later, they’re back for an encore, though don’t be surprised if this game is a bit more one-sided. After all, in spite of their general public perception stemming from a run-heavy offense and very modest preseason expectations, the Falcons simply continue score points. Per Pro Football Outsiders, they now rank 8th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), which also aligns with them being a top-11 offense in EPA/play, success rate, and points per game as well. As alluded to, with the second-lowest early-down pass rate in the NFL, they’re not accomplishing this in conventional fashion, but when you’re one of six offenses to produce a positive EPA/rush, which is quite difficult with their absurd amount of rushing volume, that’s a strong foundation. That being said, don’t lose sight on their clear competence (13th in dropback EPA/play, 12th in pass DVOA) through the air. Marcus Mariota is benefitting from a play-action concept on 47.9% of his dropbacks, an absurd amount, and that’s leading to plenty of explosive plays down the field; Atlanta leads the league in air yards/completion, allowing them to get enough chunk plays to allow for such a run-heavy offense to function. Hmm, this almost sounds like the 2019 Titans. I wonder if head coach Arthur Smith has any connections there?
Plus, you’d assume the chances of that continuing are quite high here. After all, the Panthers defense we’re seeing now is much different that the feisty group we became accustomed to:
- Weeks 1-7: 11th in EPA/play allowed, 7th in success rate allowed, 4th in EPA/rush allowed
- Weeks 8-9: 30th in EPA/play allowed, 32nd in success rate allowed, 27th in EPA/rush allowed
Yikes! Heading into Week 9, Bengals running back Joe Mixon was averaging a paltry 2.9 yards/carry. Against Carolina, though, you wouldn’t have known that; he carried the ball 30 times for 153 yards. Now, meet a devastating rushing attack that even has Cordarelle Patterson back healthy, and you can see where this goes south for the Panthers in a hurry; remember, they’ve also had their fair share of struggles through the air (28th in pass DVOA) defensively as well. Meanwhile, what can we expect from them offensively? Take a look at quarterback PJ Walker’s yards/attempt by week:
- Week 6: 3.8 yards/attempt
- Week 7: 8 yards/attempt
- Week 8: 8.8 yards/attempt
- Week 9: 0.9 yards/attempt
In fact, Walker was benched after ten pass attempts was week in favor of Baker Mayfield, making his stance in this game quite shaky. On the bright side for him, the Falcons defense still ranks in the bottom-five in dropback EPA/play, dropback success rate, and yards/attempt allowed, and remain without starting cornerbacks AJ Terrell and Casey Hayward Jr. From a matchup perspective, that puts DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. , who has quietly performed at a high level since the trade of Robbie Anderson, in a good spot, similarly to the last time these two teams faced off- the duo combined for 239 receiving yards in that game. At the same time, if we simply take the season as a whole, only Sam Ehlinger has a lower adjusted EPA/play than Walker, and only Mayfield has a worse completion rate over expectation. Ultimately, to take advantage of a poor defense, you first need to have some sheer of faith in your quarterback to allow the offense to function, and that’s not the case in Carolina right now.
Hence, where the Falcons have a notable edge here. It can be easy to group these teams together given their preseason expectations and the division they play in, yet Atlanta is outperforming Carolina by a notable 4.67 points per game this week, and, in many ways, have a top-ten offensive unit to combat arguably the league’s worst offense. I’ll also use this space to remind the football world that, per PFF, they have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, and remain a legitimate threat to win the NFC South. Perhaps, this primetime game can serve as the attention-receiving event to give them the recognition that they honestly deserve.
Seattle Seahawks (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5)
Spread: TB (-2.5)
- Projected Spread: TB (+4.6)
- My Pick: SEA (+2.5)
- Projected Total: 44.61
- My Pick: Under
- SEA: 63.81%
- TB: 36.19%
Score Prediction: Seahawks 24 Buccaneers 20
- Any Day Now, Bucs!
- The Seahawks’ Defensive Turnaround Remains Impressive
- DK Metcalf + Tyler Lockett vs Jamel Dean + Carlton Davis = Fun
If you would’ve said a year ago that these two teams would have the records they have now heading into the NFL’s first game to take place in Germany, it would have made sense. Clearly, the Seahawks were continuing to keep their window with Russell Wilson, while the Bucs were in a transition phase with Tom Brady retiring. Wait, neither of those are true? What is this madness! Really, we’re looking at many’s preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl versus a favorite for the #1 pick, yet, now, it’s the latter who has been the significantly better team thus far. At this point, there’s no reason to look past that.
In all honesty, there may not be a team more perplexing that the current version of the Bucs. As a top-ten offense on early downs, Tom Brady the eight-highest graded passer by PFF, a still-talented receiving corps, and a top-ten graded pass-blocking unit you’d figure things would be clicking on all cylinders, but that has been far from the case; they’re scoring just 18 points per game. So, what gives? Having the sixth-worst EPA/play on third down doesn’t help, nor does having the third-lowest red-zone touchdown rate. Theoretically, you’d hope that gets better over time, though your margin for error in short-distance scenarios decreases with the least-efficient rushing attack in the NFL, which, combined with a passing game in air yards and yards after the catch per reception, also leads to an offense with no explosiveness whatsoever. Again, there are still clear signs of positive regression, but with Chris Godwin (1.50 yards/route run) struggling and no other complementary option in the passing game stepping up behind him and Mike Evans, there are also fundamental issues in place that need to get addressed in a hurry. If not, Brady’s last season, where he’s still playing quite well, will go for naught.
A few weeks ago, a matchup against the Seahawks would have been the perfect “get right” spot for the Bucs. No? Perhaps not:
- Weeks 1-5: 31st in EPA/play allowed, 23rd in success rate allowed, 32nd in dropback EPA/play, 25th in EPA/rush
- Weeks 6-9: 2nd in EPA/play allowed, 1st in success rate allowed, 5th in dropback EPA/play, 1st in EPA/rush
That’s quite the turnaround! In many ways, it makes sense for a defense that was rebuilt with youth this past offseason, yet even when looking at their full-season numbers, they’re 12th in DVOA and 3rd in success rate allowed, which is extremely impressive. To boot, they’ve done a phenomenal job limiting air yards per completion (7th-lowest), but, like the Rams last week, most of the damage against them has come after the catch. Fortunately for them, the Bucs aren’t the team to exploit that, and if Brady is forced into trying to get by with another “uber-efficient” performance with a very low depth of target, that plays right into Tampa Bay’s offensive troubles. On the other hand, the Seahawks remain a top-ten offense in EPA/play both through the air and on the ground, ranking in the top-12 in PFF grade in every offensive category other than run-blocking. Now, it’s fair to be concerned about Geno Smith’s slight struggles (0.03 EPA/play vs .330 EPA/play) when facing zone coverage, which the Bucs run at the fourth-highest rate; to their credit, they also enter this game with the fourth-best PFF coverage grade and dropback success rate allowed. Consequently, we may be looking at a slightly lower-scoring game than you’d hope for, but, even with that in mind, it’s the Seahawks who come into this game with far fewer questions on both sides of the ball.
That still feels remarkable to write out, but, hey, there’s a reason they play the games; football can be quite unpredictable. In reality, Seattle has proven to be the significantly more dynamic offense, the gap between the defenses is becoming slimmer by the day, and this game is being played in a neutral sight. It’s understandable why Tampa Bay is still favored in this game, yet we can acknowledge the prodigiousness of the Seahawks while leaving the window open for a second-half rebound. Following a bye week, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen for the Bucs, but, for now, we’ve essentially been holding out the same hope for a full month, and little progress is evident. The gap in coaching here, specifically offensive play-calling, is massive, and, ultimately, Tampa Bay’s struggles there are impacting them in situations of the highest leverage (third downs, red zone) in a way that may not be 100% due to variance. In fact, look for that to cost them again here, while the Seahawks astonishingly continue to be the surprise of the year, this time in another country! Can we give Geno Smith his comeback player of the year award now?
Denver Broncos (3-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-3)
Spread: TEN (-3)
- Projected Spread: TEN (-1.5)
- My Pick: DEN (+3)
- Projected Total: 38.08
- My Pick: Under
- DEN: 47.93%
- TEN: 52.07%
Score Prediction: Broncos 16 Titans 17
- Can The Broncos Make Any Sort Of Adjustment Coming Out Of Their Bye Week?
- How Long Can The Titans Hide Their Inability To Have a Standard Passing Attack?
- A Potential Massive Coaching Mismatch: Titans Defense vs Broncos Offense
Want to know the significance of coaching in the NFL? Look no further than these two teams. Between trading multiple first-round picks, second-round picks, and players for Russell Wilson only to sign him toa $245 million, along with the hiring of head coach Nathaniel Hackett, expectations were soaring high for the Broncos to finally make good on their illustrious roster talent. Alas, they find themselves just 3-5 in spite of the second-easiest schedule in the NFL, per PFF, with Wilson in the midst of his worst season as a pro and Hackett already on the hot seat. The Titans, meanwhile, are fresh off of taking the Chiefs to overtime with a backup quarterback, and continue to win within the margins just enough to continue to defy any sort of reasonable projection for them. Will that take over this game, or do we finally see Denver start to make good on their overall roster talent fresh off of their bye week? Truly, we’re seeing two completely different worlds collide with one another here.
When it comes to this matchup, the intrigue lies with one specific head-to-head battle: Denver’s offense trying to get back on track against a Tennessee defense that is has proven to be quite the irritating unit to go up against. While we can examine the schematic deficiencies the Broncos continue to deal with, it ultimately comes down to Wilson, and what we’re seeing is a continued decline that may have started last year:
In essence, his accuracy has taken a hit, which, for a quarterback who relies so much on precision throws outside the numbers with very low expected completion rates, is a massive concern. Meanwhile, he’s also making matters worse by taking more sacks despite being under pressure at a notably lower rate, and has succumbed to being a much more stationary quarterback. Thus, that leaves you with zero efficiency, far fewer positives (keep in mind that explosive plays are also down due to more two-high shells anyways), and as many negatives as before. To make matters worse, Denver is the third-least efficient rushing attack in the NFL based on EPA/rush, are now without multiple starters on the offensive line, and have faced the seventh-easiest schedule of opposing defenses, per Football Outsiders. On a positive note, not many high-end defenses are on their remaining schedule, but the Titans may be the exact type of defense that continues to expose them in the worst way imaginable.
After limiting the Chiefs to their least-efficient offensive performance of the year, Tennessee is certainly garnering significantly more attention for their defensive efforts, yet their ability to perform at that side of the ball regardless of their personnel is remarkably impressive. For the second straight season, they find themselves in the top-two in success rate allowed on third downs, which is a testament to what defensive coordinator Shane Bowen has been able to accomplish in obvious passing situations; that’s also much easier to do when have a deep defensive line with the fifth-highest PFF pass rush grade in the NFL, to go along with the 12th-highest graded coverage unit and third-highest graded run defense as well. Remember, they’re doing this while giving legitimate time to players such as Andrew Adams, Terrace Mitchell, and Mario Edwards Jr., all of whom weren’t even on the roster at the beginning of the year! It’s a physical, incredibly well-coached group where there is simply no meat left on the bone, which is a far contrast from what we’ve seen in Denver this year.
That being said, Tennessee will be without interior defender Justin Simmons and edge rusher Bud Dupree, and, of course, need to find a way to score enough points themselves. Fortunately, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is in line to return from his ankle injury, which is ideal for. a team that has attempted just 26 passes over the past two weeks. Still, with a receiving corps averaging a paltry 1.21 yards/route run against the #1 defense in passing DVOA, the chances of them being efficient through the air are quite miscule. As such, a lot of pressure will be on them to find success on the ground, which can be done considering Denver’s issues (21st in EPA/rush, 25th in rush DVOA) as a run defense. At the same time, it’s not as if the Titans have been performing as an elite rushing attack (19th in EPA/rush and rushing success rate), and they’ve been a bottom-ten offense despite facing the sixth-easiest slate of opposing defenses. For them to win this game, it’ll come through red-zone success, defensive play, turnovers, and other small edges. While that looks fine in theory, that’s not something you want to be banking on.
If you can’t tell, I have absolutely no idea how this game will go, other than that points should be at a premium. In the end, Tennessee is dealing with a lot of injuries defensively, have the lowest-graded pass-blocking offensive line from PFF against a strong pass rush, and offer very little upside via explosive plays, while the Broncos also have a notable rest advantage. At a time where coaching is seemingly making as much of an impact as ever, it’s strange to imagine Denver winning this game, yet the Titans are simply playing with too fine of a line here. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t call their remaining schedule a cake walk, though given the division they play in, they’re still in a very comfortable spot to make the postseason. The chances much happens from there remain slim, but as they showed in Kansas City, they’re certainly not a team that a perceived favorite would want to face in the postseason. That being said, they’re also the exact type of team that has such clear deficiencies that they can lose a game like this; don’t rule out any possibility for one of the week’s more interesting matchups.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)
Spread: KC (-9.5)
- Projected Spread: KC (-7.8)
- My Pick: KC (-9.5)
- Projected Total: 48.66
- My Pick: Under
- JAX: 26.44%
- KC: 73.36%
Score Prediction: Jaguars 17 Chiefs 27
- Trevor Lawrence Coming Off Of Arguably His Best Game as a Pro In a Hostile Environment
- An Obvious Bounce-Back Spot For The Chiefs Offense
- Keep An Eye on Kansas City’s Young Secondary
Back to the well with another AFC South/AFC West matchup! As a matter of fact, this is the Jaguars’ third straight game against an AFC West opponent, whereas its the Chiefs’ second straight versus an AFC South team. Sometimes, the NFL schedule works in strange ways. Generally, the gap in these two team’s records would take away a great amount of intrigue for this game, but give credit to the Jaguars, who finished the first half of the year with a positive-21 point differential. Regardless, that’s come against a schedule that many, including PFF (27th) would deem to have been quite favorable. Consequently, this can serve as a tremendous litmus test for them moving forward.
It has certainly been a roller-coaster season for Trevor Lawrence, who led the Jaguars to back-to-back wins while being at the top of most efficiency metrics between Weeks 2 and 3, only to be the lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL by PFF between Weeks 4 and 8. Naturally, those struggles would be enough to create real concern about a player expected to be the team’s franchise quarterback, which is why his Week 9 performance was so critical; he averaged a strong .370 EPA/play, completed 17.6% of passes above expectation, and earned his highest PFF grade for a single game in his career (87.6) in a win against the Raiders. As he’s generally done during his most efficient games, it came with a very low time-to-throw (2.19 seconds) and a lighter average depth of target (6.7 yards), which may seem strange for a player seen as having immense physical talent. As one of the league’s least-effective passers on throws of 20+ air yards in back-to-back years, however, taking advantage of some of his other traits (processing, limiting negatives) has proven to be the optimal strategy to get the best version of him possible, and a similar style of play can be expected against a Chiefs defense allowing the 10th-lowest average depth of target in the NFL. Now, as 9.5-point underdogs, whether they have the option to play in the script they’d like to play with (less passing volume, condensed target depth) is to be determined, but there’s a pathway for them remaining the efficient-enough offense (10th in EPA/play) they’ve proven to be thus far.
As a bottom-11 defense in EPA/play allowed and DVOA, Kansas City’s ability to limit opposing offenses just enough to make good on their Super Bowl expectations will continue to be a focus. Thus, it’s quite promising to see the growth of their young secondary; first-round rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie returned from injury this week and has shown very positive signs (79.3 PFF coverage grade) thus far, while L’Jarius Sneed (75 PFF COV grade) and fourth-round rookie Joshua Williams (70.4 PFF COV grade) have also performed at a relatively high level as well. Add that to contributions from linebacker Nick Bolton, safeties Juan Thornhill and Justin Reid, in addition to a pass rush with the fourth-highest pressure rate, and the makings of some sort of defensive turnaround are there, particularly as the schedule lightens up. Simply getting back to the middle-of-the-pack is all that is needed to support an offense, which, even with some struggles last week, continue to lead the league in EPA/play (.190), and are in position to feast against one of the league’s more deficient pass defenses (27th in pass DVOA) in the NFL. As the schedule lightens up exceptionally (30th, per PFF) moving forward, expect them to start to demonstrate more well-roundedness, which, certainly, is a nightmare scenario for the rest of the NFL.
In a vacuum, the Jaguars’ underlying numbers are enough to indicate their ability to keep this game competitive, but it’s hard to get past the fact that the Chargers with an injured Justin Herbert and Giants are the only two teams they’ve played with a winning record this season, whereas Kansas City has already been put to the test. Ultimately, it’s likely we see them a bit overwhelmed in a way that forces them out of their preferred style of play, which, in turn, could lead to the similar woes from Lawrence that became common prior to last week. Honestly, this is what’s best for them; at some point, your franchise quarterback has to be someone who can succeed even when things go off schedule, and there isn’t a better way for them to continue to assess their roster for next year than a game against the potential AFC champions. For the Chiefs, it’s back to business as usual, which is definitely worth the watch with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the call! See, not so bad for the largest spread of the Sunday slate.
New Orleans Saints (3-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
Spread: PIT (+1.5)
- Projected Spread: PIT (+6.7)
- My Pick: NO (-1.5)
- Projected Total: 41.91
- My Pick: Over
- NO: 70.44%
- PIT: 29.56%
Score Prediction: Saints 24 Steelers 17
- Is There Any Sort of Post-Bye Bump For Kenny Pickett and George Pickens?
- The Return Of TJ Watt
- A Game With All The Makings Of Chris Olave Taking Over The Offensive Rookie Of The Year Race
Let’s circle back to the last time the Saints and Steelers faced off, because, man, a lot has changed since then. The day was December 23, 2018, in which New Orleans came out victorious 31-28 with a late fourth-quarter comeback. Why was this game notable? Well, it clinched the #1 seed for the Saints, ultimately leading to the infamous miss of a pass interference call versus the Rams, and kept the Steelers out of the postseason, ushering a new era in Pittsburgh. After all, this was a game quarterbacked by Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger throwing passes to Antonio Brown, a healthy Michael Thomas, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Now? The two teams meets up with a combined 5-11 record, with familiar Steelers foe Andy Dalton and first-round rookie Kenny Pickett the two signal callers. Folks, never take anything for granted in the NFL.
It’s easy to forget now, but by trading a future first-round pick for an extra 2022 draft selection and committing the third-most amount of money for this year, the Saints have continued to operate with a “win now at all costs” mindset, and it’s starting to backfire considerably. On a positive note for them, the woes of the Bucs have left the opportunity to win the NFC South at least open, and we can perhaps say that they’re not as poor as their record would indicate. At the moment, no team has a worse turnover differential, which was one thing when Jameis Winston was under center, but Andy Dalton has more turnovers (6) than turnover-worthy plays as charted by PFF (5), while turnovers aren’t a very stable statistic anyways. Exclude turnovers, and New Orleans ranks 9th in EPA/play and 5th in success rate, a product of Dalton having one of the lowest sack rates in the NFL (3.9%) and consistently producing positive plays (4th in success rate), leading to an offense generally in rhythm when turnovers aren’t an issue. Certainly, that is nothing to scoff at.
The Steelers do get star edge rusher TJ Watt back for this game, but color me skeptical that his return is the sole solution for the 26th-ranked defense in EPA/play, who is also allowing the second-most yards/pass attempt in the NFL. A schedule that has included the Bengals, Bills, Dolphins, and Eagles plays a role in that, but so does the fact that Cameron Sutton is their only cornerback with a PFF coverage grade over 50. Inexplicitly, though, they continue to run the third-most man coverage in the entire NFL, which is leaving them quite vulnerable to explosive plays through the air- the most yards/reception allowed in the NFL, as a matter of fact. This all sets up tremendously for rookie receiver Chris Olave, who, per The 33rd Team, is averaging 3.15 yards/route run against man coverage and 16.4 yards/reception, which is notable for a passing attack largely funnelled around him (third in air yard share), while Jarvis Landry’s return from injury finally deepens a previously decimated receiving corps. In a game where the pathway for victory in terms of points scored isn’t significant, there’s a lot in their favor here.
After all, that’s what happens when you face a Steelers offense in the bottom-five in EPA/play, in addition to a quarterback (Kenny Pickett) averaging the fewest yards/attempt (6) from a clean pocket. Whether that’s more due to him or the scheme is another complicated factor, and something we may not know until offensive coaching changes are made. For now, though, Pittsburgh remains a static offense mainly based around low-percentage isolation routes outside the numbers, the third-fewest amount of play-action concepts, and a bottom-five ground game in rush DVOA. In the midst of their inconsistencies, New Orleans still is a top-12 defense in success rate allowed, has given up the second-fewest yards to tight ends (notable considering Pittsburgh’s most-efficient pass catcher has been Pat Freiermuth), and in the upper-echelon in the league in yards surrendered per pass attempt. Perhaps a bye week is enough to turn the tide, especially after such a difficult schedule to start the year. At the same time, it’s hard to find a shred of evidence that supports that.
Looking ahead for the Saints, they’ve likely lost too much ground to compete with Tampa Bay for the NFC South crown, and, now, are going to find themselves in a brutal spot next offseason with no first-round pick and the least amount of cap space in the NFL. For one week, though, they can put those worries aside in a favorable matchup, putting the Steelers even further in a position that they’ve never found themselves under head coach Mike Tomlin. When you watch this game on Sunday, just remember: change happens quicker than you’d expect.
Detroit Lions (2-6) at Chicago Bears (3-6)
Spread: CHI (-3)
- Projected Spread: CHI (+3.8)
- My Pick: DET (+3)
- Projected Total: 46.78
- My Pick: Under
- DET: 61.43%
- CHI: 38.57%
Score Prediction: Lions 24 Bears 23
- The Rise Of Justin Fields
- A Shift In Defensive Philosophy For The Lions: Has Aaron Glenn Made Enough Adjustments To Support Them?
- Early-Season Lions Offense, Please Come Back
Somehow, someway, could we make a legitimate argument that this is one of the most intriguing matchups this weekend? This game may not have any sort of playoff implications whatsoever, but these franchises have quietly been two of the more entertaining teams this season, with every game allowing them to inch closer to what they hope is a very successful rebuild. That being said, where the focus lies for each team may be in completely different spots.
For the Bears, it’s quite obvious what the source of interest is. That’d be Justin Fields, who has produced the seventh-most EPA/play over the past three weeks, while also making major strides with his accuracy (1.6 CPOE) and efficiency (6th in success rate). On the surface, this may seem like an arbitrary sample size, yet let’s consider the facts. Following a Week 6 loss to the Commanders on Thursday Night football, Chicago had 11 days before their next game, giving them a chance to treat it as an extra bye week. Since that point, Fields has had 24 designed quarterback carries (only four in the previous three weeks), and is averaging over 100 rushing yards in those games. On its own, the upside provided in terms of his success on designed carries and scrambling would be enough of a development, but he’s also committed just one turnover-worthy play over the past two weeks, took just two sacks on 38 dropbacks last week, and has now finished with a PFF grade over 71 in four of his last five games. In fact, for a Bears offense with such barren talent on the offensive line and receiving corps, getting everything they can out of Fields is their way of producing a competent offense, but, in the future, the added element as a runner and some key developments as a passer (accuracy, limiting negatives) should be enough to completely sway any thought of the Bears not giving him at least another year to perhaps take another step in his progression.
Then, there are the Lions, who are still searching for their next quarterback, but have created enough of an infrastructure around Jared Goff to have the 12th-best offense based on DVOA; they’ve faced the second-most difficult schedule in the league when it comes to opposing defenses, per Football Outsiders, and have still scored the 11th-most points per game. While a ground game averaging five yards/carry can often take center stage, it’s really their passing attack (12th in EPA/dropback when excluding turnovers) that has done a bulk of the damage, with their production after the catch (5th in yard after catch/reception) sticking out. Remember, those numbers have come without receiver Amon-Ra St.Brown for multiple games, who’ll have plenty of opportunities in the slot against rookie corner Kyler Gordon (41.6 PFF COV grade), and Goff should have plenty of clean pockets to operate from against the lowest-graded pass rush in the NFL by PFF. Both teams are going to create yardage on the ground, but, ultimately, the difference in passing attacks is what ultimately may turn the tide in Detroit’s favor.
For what it’s worth, we’ve seen defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn cut down on the amount of man coverage and blitzes for this defense considerably, and now-healthy second-year cornerback Jerry Jacobs represents a massive upgrade over Amani Oruwariye, the second-lowest graded cornerback in the NFL by PFF. That’s likely enough to allow them to not be the complete liability that they were at the beginning of the year, which cannot be said about the Bears following the trades of edge rusher Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith. In reality, Detroit possesses the more productive offense, especially through the air, and dare I say they may have the slightly better defense as well? Even with how encouraging Fields has looked, it’s stunning to see the Bears as a three-point favorite, though it’s clear to see the positive energy that was in Detroit has now shifted to the Windy City. Right now, both of these organizations are doing the right things to put themselves in position to find success in the future. Really, is it in the best interest for either of these two teams to win? It’ll be a conflicting time for fans of both sides.
Minnesota Vikings (7-1) at Buffalo Bills (6-2)
Spread: BUF (-6.5)
- Projected Spread: BUF (-6.8)
- My Pick: MIN (+6.5)
- Projected Total: 47.98
- My Pick: Over with Allen, Under With Keenum
- MIN: 29.34%
- BUF: 70.66%
Score Prediction: Vikings 21 Bills 27
- Is Josh Allen Fit To Play?
- Can The Vikings Sustain Offensive Production Against an Elite Defense?
- Which Offensive Line Is Exposed More?
In life, it’s critical that we consistently show appreciation for what we’re most grateful for. That’s particularly true in football, where one hit can change everything. For the average football fan, it’s hard to find a more entertaining player than Josh Allen, who has certainly made the Bills arguably the most exciting team to watch. Alas, after injuring his elbow in last week’s loss to the Jets, his status for this game is in a precarious spot, which is a massive bummer for the sport. Still, as they look to fend off the Chiefs for the #1 seed, this is a game they need to find a way to win, though it’ll have to come in a much different way than normal.
Should Allen be out, it’ll be Case Keenum under center, who, since 2017, has performed at a competent level (.066 adjusted EPA/play, 0.2 CPOE) when called upon in Minnesota, Denver, Washington, and Cleveland. That being said, is there a more difficult quarterback to replace in one game than Allen? Whether it be compensating for offensive line woes by being the most efficient passer when under pressure, leading the league in big-time throw rate, or being the team’s top rusher, no team relies on their quarterback to create on his own more than the Bills; a great portion of their passing game success also comes from them averaging the second-most air yards per completion. On the other hand, Keenum isn’t bring any sort of direct or indirect threat as a runner, was a bottom-seven graded quarterback by PFF when under pressure in both 2018 and 2019, and naturally won’t be able to replicate the absurd production Allen has had on passes of 20+ air yards (leads with 748 yards). On the other side, the Vikings possess PFF‘s second-highest graded run defense, have two edge rushers ranked in the top-15 in pass-rush win rate (Za’Darius Smith, Danielle Hunter), and have performed more than competently (14th in EPA/play allowed) this year. If Allen plays, even if limited, that changes the calculus here, though it’s fair to be wary about what a Keenum-led offense would look like.
With so much uncertainty with regards to Buffalo’s quarterback situation, the focus has to fall on what the Vikings can accomplish offensively here. After finishing 14th in EPA/play between 2020 and 2021, where they finished with a negative point differential and 15-18 record, you’d assume that their path to starting 7-1 this year was with a major offensive boost, especially with new head coach Kevin O’Connell taking over. Rather, they rank 15th in EPA/play, which is a perfect encapsulation of this version of Minnesota; completely average in a way that puts them in position to win any game, but, also, could leave them outclassed against upper-tier teams. Fortunately for them, few exist this season, though they were already blown out by the Eagles, face the Cowboys next week, and this game will certainly be a major test if Allen can play. After having the lowest “deep pass rate” in the NFL prior to last week, it was encouraging to see Kirk Cousins air it out with an extremely high 11.8 average depth of target in what was arguably his top performance (79 PFF grade, four big-time throws, zero turnover-worthy plays) of the year, but that was also against a Commanders defense that is allowing the most air yards per completion in the NFL; the Bills, on the other hand, are just 21st in that category. Thus, the lack of explosive element to their offense that separates their EPA/play rank from their success rate (8th) likely is to be on display here, and two of the league’s worst-three guards (Ed Ingram, Ezra Cleveland) in terms of total pressures allowed now has to face the league’s second-highest graded pass rush by PFF.
Ultimately, Minnesota’s way to win this game may come from getting enough efficiency on the ground against a run defense allowing 5.7 yards/carry over the past two weeks, while taking advantage of a Bills offense led by Keenum or a compromised Allen. That level of stability is something that plays into their favor here, though, should Allen play, we’re still talking about the #2 offense in EPA/play and #5 defense despite there being a massive strength of schedule difference (2nd for BUF, 29th for MIN, per PFF) between these two teams. I’d hope for more conviction here, but when arguably the league’s most irreplaceable player’s status is an unknown, that changes everything. Regardless, let’s just hope whatever decision is made with Allen is in his best interest moving forward.
Cleveland Browns (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (6-3)
Spread: MIA (-3.5)
- Projected Spread: MIA (-1.6)
- My Pick: CLE (+3.5)
- Projected Total: 51.06
- My Pick: Over
- CLE: 47.19%
- MIA: 52.81%
Score Prediction: Browns 24 Dolphins 26
- All The Makings of a Shootout
- Can Cleveland’s Star Defensive Players Step It Up After Their Bye?
- Similarly, the Dolphins Need To Make Notable Strides Defensively To Make a True Super Bowl Push
This, my friends, is going to be a good one. Two top-five offenses in DVOA against two bottom-eight defenses with a lot of star power present? Sign me up for that! Ironically, per Spotrac, these two teams are in the top-seven in cash average annual salary committed to their defensive starters, making their respective identities far from what they expected. Football truly is a strange sport.
Let’s start with the Dolphins, who, considering their record and remaining schedule, are the only team here who’ll make a legitimate impact for this year. On one end, since Week 1, they’ve failed to win a game by more than one score, having to go to the last minute to secure victories against the Steelers, Lions, and Bears. Certainly, though, there isn’t much more the offense can do. It truly is astonishing how much of a “best case scenario” it’s been for them on that side of the ball:
- The Dolphins ranks 2nd in DVOA and 1st in passing DVOA despite starting three different quarterbacks
- Tua Tagovailoa leads all quarterbacks in PFF grade (89.5) and adjusted EPA/play (.405)
- Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle each rank in the top-three in yards/route run
- As for head coach Mike McDaniel, Miami ranks 8th in early-down pass rate, uses the most pre-snap motion, and Tagovailoa is throwing out of play-action concepts at the second-highest rate
- They’re also averaging the most air yards/completion and now have a 73.9 or better PFF pass-block grade in three straight games, correlating with the return of star tackle Terron Armstead
I could go on and on about how McDaniel is able to exploit the explosiveness of Hill and Waddle to attack linebackers over the middle of the field (by the way, Cleveland’s top linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is out for this game) in addition to Tagovailoa serving as an elite distributor due to his accuracy and quick processing, but the fact of the matter is that this is the definition of an elite offense. On the other hand, Cleveland is allowing the tenth-most yards/pass attempt, the fifth-most yards/reception, and rank dead-last in EPA/rush this year. The struggles of cornerback Denzel Ward (43.2 PFF coverage grade) and safety Grant Delpit (48.6 PFF coverage grade) have played a great role in that, and, now, they’re down to the bottom barrel in terms of linebacker depth. Theoretically, a pass rush of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined with a secondary of Ward, Greg Newsome II, Martin Emerson, John Johnson III, and Delpit should equate to a high-end pass defense. Thus, could the bye week have served as a needed rest period? The answer to that question may dictate the fate of defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ place in the organization moving forward.
Rather, it’s been the prowess of Cleveland’s offense that has led them to a positive point different, something you wouldn’t have anticipated with Jacoby Brissett under center. Nevertheless, Brissett has been a top-ten quarterback in terms of adjusted EPA/play and completion rate over expectation, while Cleveland generates more EPA/play on the ground (0.099) than all but eight passing offenses. The Dolphins run the league’s sixth-most amount of man coverage, which is tremendous news for receiver Amari Cooper, who, per PFF, ranks eighth in yards/route run in those situations. In fact, him lined up with Xavien Howard, who is allowing the third-highest passer rating in the NFL, is a matchup Cleveland should look to exploit consistently, in addition to the field-stretching ability of Donovan Peoples-Jones lined up against third-string corner Keion Crossen. As for Miami’s newly-formed defensive line? I’d take my chances with the #2 pass-blocking offensive line in the NFL, per PFF. The Dolphins may possess an incredibly dynamic offense, yet, so do the Bills and Chiefs; to be the Super Bowl contender their trade for edge rusher Bradley Chubb indicates they want to be, they can’t be allowing the fourth-most EPA/dropback in the NFL, as well as 29.5 points per game to the Lions and Bears. As such, this game is a tremendous test for them.
In the end, Miami’s passing attack is the difference maker, but I’d caution you to dismiss the Browns, who are also in position to produce tremendous on the offensive side of the ball coming out of their bye. At some point, you’d want to see the Dolphins demonstrate the ability to stand out more than they have, but it’s hard to say that’s the case with how little resistance they’re providing defensively, and that may come back to bite them here. Or, the trio of Tagovailoa, Hill and Waddle will simply continue to win games on their own, as they’ve essentially done for two straight games. Ultimately, there is no game that deserves your attention more than this one.
Houston Texans (1-6-1) at New York Giants (6-2)
Spread: NYG (-4.5)
- Projected Spread: NYG (-2.7)
- My Pick: HOU (+4.5)
- Projected Total: 43.14
- My Pick: Under
- HOU: 41.68%
- NYG: 58.32%
Score Prediction: Texans 17 Giants 20
- A Whole Lot of Running
- Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams Against a Very Week Giants Interior Offensive Line
- The Status of Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks Versus a Man-Heavy Defense
Heading into the season, had you said that these two teams would be competing for the #1 pick, it’s highly unlikely anyone would’ve batted an eye. Now, only the Texans remain keened in on the Bryce Young sweepstakes; following a remarkable start to their season, the Giants currently have a 76% of reaching the postseason, according to PFF. What Big Blue has been able to accomplish in Brian Daboll’s first year as head coach is truly remarkable, and they now find themselves out of their bye in unfamiliar territory as a sizable favorite.
Want to understand the absurdity that is the Giants? At the moment, Daniel Jones has the lowest big-time throw rate (1.3%) among starting quarterbacks, New York ranks in the bottom-ten in PFF passing grade and receiving grade, and they’ve allowed the third-most amount of pressure in the NFL. Nevertheless, that somehow equals the ninth-most efficient offense based on EPA/play. Make it make sense! The team’s efficiency on the ground, particularly Jones, who has totaled the fourth-most rushing yards by a quarterback, is very helpful, as is other quirks the coaching staff has implemented; the third-highest play-action rate, utilizing plenty of two running back sets, etc.. It’s unclear how long offensive success completely dictated by coaching can last, but the Texans have the lowest-graded run defense in the NFL by PFF, and also are in the bottom-eight in PFF grade for pass rush and coverage. I wouldn’t bank on the Giants scheming their way to success against the Cowboys or Eagles, per se, though you’d expect some continued success here, particularly off of their bye week. Let’s just say the future of this offense is quite promising once more talent is added.
On the contrary, with the third-least efficient offense in the NFL based on EPA/play, the Texans have been exactly as advertised. Coming out of their bye week, they’ve adopted an even stronger run-heavy mindset (fifth-lowest early-down pass), placing an extensive amount of pressure on rookie running back Dameon Pierce. With the third-most missed tackles forced in the NFL, he’s doing everything in his power, though in spite of that they remain a bottom-eight offense in rushing DVOA, though there’s reason to be optimistic against a Giants defense allowing a healthy 5.5 yards/carry this year. That being said, the key lies with them moving the ball through the air, and the likely returns of Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks would help tremendously against a defense utilizing the second-most amount of man coverage in the NFL, in addition to the highest blitz rate. To be fair, Davis Mills has actually performed much better when blitzed (7.7 yards/attempt, 111 passer rating), which makes sense for a quarterback with one of the quickest time-to-throws in the NFL, and the Giants secondary (second-lowest PFF coverage grade) can be exploited. Hey, perhaps there is hope after all!
This may seem contradictory, but the Giants are the exact type of team that exceeds expectations as an underdog, but can’t be trusted as much as a favorite. That all comes down to talent deficiencies that decrease their margin for error significantly, particularly in a game expected to be extremely low-scoring. Due to their remaining schedule and start to the year, simply “winning ugly” is good enough to get them to the postseason this year and set a strong foundation, though I’m sure Texans fans wouldn’t be complaining about a future including Bryce Young. Hey, I guess all parties win here!
Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (2-6)
Spread: LV (-4.5)
- Projected Spread: LV (-9.3)
- My Pick: LV (-4.5)
- Projected Total: 40.94
- My Pick: Under
- IND: 21.78%
- LV: 78.22%
Score Prediction: Colts 13 Raiders 23
- So…… What’s Going On Indianapolis?
- Can The Raiders Eventually Put It Together Offensively?
- The Yannick Ngakoue/Rock Ya-Sin Trade Revisited
A head coach being fired midseason in the midst of a disappointing year isn’t a new development, even if you may have assumed a coach as accomplished as Frank Reich may have had more leeway. What is more bizarre, though, is bringing in someone who not only wasn’t even on the coaching staff, but, in Jeff Saturday, a former player with no coaching experience above the high school level. Even better is the statements in the subsequent press conference by owner Jim Irsay, which created as much entertainment as possible for a on a Tuesday night, and leaving a quite concerning outlook for the Colts’ outlook moving forward- we’re clearly looking at an owner who has grown impatient, and, thus, appears to be taking over the reigns. All of a sudden, Saturday needs to get ready for a game in less than a week, with no coach with prior play-calling experience on the staff. What’s the worst that can happen.
To be fair, we’ve already reached a disastrous state in Indianapolis. The organization had hoped that the benching of Matt Ryan in favor of the more mobile Sam Ehlinger could provide a spark, but in the two games since then, they’re averaging -0.369 EPA/play and -0.339 EPA/dropback, which, to be clear, puts them in a tier of their own in terms of incapability. Ehlinger, meanwhile, has performed worse than Ryan (46.8 PFF passing grade), has already taken 11 sacks, and is in a rough spot considering the following issues; a bottom-ten PFF grade for pass-blocking, run-blocking, rushing, and receiving as well as a new play-caller with zero experience doing so. Really, what are we supposed to expect here other than what we’ve already seen? For as poor as the Raiders have been defensively (31st in EPA/play), they’ve at held their own against the run (4.2 yards/carry), which is notable considering they’d already established themselves as a run-oriented offense with Ehlinger, and their new head coach is a former offensive lineman. Consider me skeptical of them putting many points on the board for this week, and moving forward.
Lost in the Colts’ dysfunction is the Raiders, after hiring head coach Josh McDaniels, trading a first and second-round pick for Davante Adams, and committing over $50 million to Chandler Jones, starting the season 2-6 with THREE blown 17-point leads. Any offense featuring Derek Carr and Adams has no business ranking 20th in pass DVOA, and Carr’s struggles (19th in PFF grade) play a major role in it. In fact, a great portion of their offensive success has been tied to Josh Jacobs averaging 5.4 yards/carry, which is harder to bank on against a Colts defense allowing the second-fewest yards per carry. As a conservative defense that keeps everything in front of them (third-fewest air yards/completion), it’ll be up to them to generate offense via passing efficiency rather than explosiveness, and keeping things on schedule has not been their cup of tea. In this game, they’re fortunate to run into a team possessing zero offensive threat, but with Carr’s contract easy to get out of at the end of the year, progress needs to be observed in a hurry.
At the beginning of the season, this is a game that featured so much promise, but, alas, this is the end result. Let these two organizations be a key reminder in the need to set reasonable expectations, and both find themselves in a peculiar place moving forward. So, how successfully can someone with no coaching experience immediately pick it up on the fly in less than a week? Find out in a game that is sure to provide some sort of storyline either way.
Dallas Cowboys (6-2) at Green Bay Packers (2-6)
Spread: GB (+4)
- Projected Spread: GB (+1.2)
- My Pick: DAL (-4)
- Projected Total: 43.81
- My Pick: Under
- DAL: 50.7%
- GB: 49.3%
Score Prediction: Cowboys 24 Packers 19
- Time For Rock Bottom or a Resurgence In Green Bay?
- Can Dallas Continue To Mold Their Offense Into The Best Version Yet?
- Dallas’ Pass Rush Against Green Bay’s Strong Offensive Line
Oh, how the tables have turned. Circle back to 2018, and the Packers, fresh off back-to-back losing seasons, not only fired Super Bowl winning head coach Mike McCarthy, but made sure to leak negative information about him along the way; he was publicly ridiculed as the coach that held Aaron Rodgers back. Of course, that narrative didn’t change with Green Bay winning 13 games in each of the following three years, with Rodgers winning multiple MVP awards, in addition to McCarthy consistently being on the hot seat during his first two years in Dallas. Now, McCarthy returns to Green Bay with a chance to put a nail in the coffin on the Packers’ season, perhaps getting the last laugh in what was a very peculiar divorce. Regardless, let’s just say that national talk shows are going to have a field day with this game.
At this point, what can we say about the Packers offense? Following last week’s embarrassing loss to the Lions, Green Bay ranks in the bottom-ten in EPA/play in spite of slotting in 11th in success rate, pointing to a lack of big-play ability that is to be expected with a receiving corps that isn’t exactly rivalring the Dolphins anytime soon. Some of that is due to poor turnover luck – Rodgers has seven interceptions yet just six turnover-worthy throws, per PFF – but there are other fundamental flaws; no player is throwing to the intermediate areas of the field less than him, he leads the league in percentage of passes behind the line of scrimmage, and he’s averaging fewer yards/attempt in a clean pocket (6.7) than 32 other quarterbacks. Now, wide receiver Romeo Doubs is now injured, leaving Allen Lazard as the only receiver with a PFF receiving grade of 63 or higher. Something about that doesn’t seem ideal against the #1 defense in DVOA! Considering how dominant the Cowboys are in terms of their pass rush (highest sack rate, #1 PFF pass rush grade) and coverage (third-best PFF coverage grade), we’ll likely see Green Bay try to exploit them on the ground, though that doesn’t seem like a fool-proof strategy for an offense that hasn’t been perfect (17th in rush/EPA) in that facet as well. Rodgers, second in big-time throw rate and with one of the lowest turnover-worthy play rates,has shown plenty of flashes, but we’re too far into the season to expect things to automatically click simply based off reputation.
Not to be discounted in this game, though, is a Dallas offense that is suddenly coming into form. Does their offensive success in the two games with Dak Prescott back (55.2% success rate) have anything to do with playing the Lions and Bears? Sure, but the pieces are all there. In the past, we’ve seen the Cowboys run too far of a static passing attack with Prescott, relying on the talent around them to make up for that. Yet, that wasn’t going to work with Cooper Rush, and their adaptations have transitioned to Prescott- he’s passed out of a play-action concept on 49% of his dropbacks, an absurd amount, attacking the intermediate (30.8%) areas of the field at a high level. To make matters better, they’re also a top-notch rushing attack (3rd in rush DVOA) that now gets to face a Packers defense that has been brutalized on the ground (31st in rush DVOA allowed), while CeeDee Lamb (2.25 yards/route run) has continued to emerge as the high-end option in the passing game, mainly in the slot, that they’ve needed him to be in order to open up their passing attack further. Green Bay comes into this game without edge rusher Rashan Gary and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, arguably two of their top-three defensive players, which, considering their faults (18th in DVOA) as is, puts them in an absolute bind.
That leaves McCarthy in position to get long-awaited redemption for a team still hanging around the NFC East race and a clear Super Bowl contender, leaving the Packers as a team all-in on a thin championship window, yet with nothing to show for it. Things change quickly in the NFL, and the rest of the season is going to be quite fascinating to monitor in Green Bay. Can they build enough hope that they can feel comfortable coming into next year ready to compete for a Super Bowl before Rodgers retires? This is going to be a rough game for that. to happen.
Arizona Cardinals (3-6) at Los Angeles Rams (3-5)
Spread: LAR (-3)
- Projected Spread: LAR (-4.2)
- My Pick: LAR (-3)
- Projected Total: 38.7
- My Pick: Under
- ARI: 37.55%
- LAR: 62.65%
Score Prediction: Cardinals 14 Rams 20
- Two Backup Quarterbacks In Struggling Offenses
- Can Aaron Donald Exploit Arizona’s Poor Interior Offensive Line?
- Rondale Moore’s Production After The Catch Will Be Needed Here
With both starting quarterbacks for this game deemed game-time decisions, it becomes nearly impossible to properly preview this game. Should Colt McCoy and John Wolford start in place of Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford, respectively you’d expect the tides the turn in the Rams favor; in a low-scoring game, they’re the team with the much more productive defense. That being said, anything could happen here, which, I guess, makes it entertaining in a strange way?
Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
Spread: SF (-7.5)
- Projected Spread: SF (-7.6)
- My Pick: SF (-7.5)
- Projected Total: 43.24
- My Pick: Under
- LAC: 26.9%
- SF: 73.1%
Score Prediction: Chargers 17 49ers 27
- All Odds Stacked Against Justin Herbert
- Our First Real Look At The 49ers’ Fully Operational Offense
- Do The Chargers Have Any Answers Defensively?
Want to know how much the football public has soured on the Chargers? Heading into the season, Los Angeles was expected to not even be an underdog for this game. Now? They’re not even expected to keep it within a touchdown. They may be 5-3, but few teams have been as disappointing in terms of preseason expectations; their negative-22 point differential may be a better reflection of their abilities. Now, they face a 49ers on the rise coming off a bye, and let’s just say things could go poorly.
On the bright side, Justin Herbert had his best performance of the season from a PFF grade standpoint (80.8), and has been cited as being much more healthier after suffering a ribs injury earlier in the year. Nevertheless, despite facing one of the league’s worst defense in the Falcons, it took that just for them to reach 20 points and for him to average 5.7 yards/pass attempt, which illustrates the underlying issue; the situation around him may be the worst in the NFL. With Keenan Allen and Mike Williams out, the Chargers are relying on a trio of wide receivers (Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, Michael Bandy) averaging 1.08 yards/route run, with running back Austin Ekeler leading the team in pass attempts. Couple that with a struggling offensive line that may be without tackle Trey Pipkins in this game, and it’s no surprise Herbert is averaging the fourth-lowest depth of target (6.8 yards) in the NFL, leading to the ineffectiveness (6.4 yards/attempt) they’ve gotten this year. Ultimately, this is how you end up with the 18th-ranked offense in EPA/play despite having one of the league’s premier quarterbacks.
These are the types of problems that can perhaps be compensated for when you’re facing the Falcons, yet the 49ers (6th in EPA/play allowed) are a much tougher challenge. We’ll likely see Nick Bosa lined up against tackle Foster Sarell, just called up from the practice squad, while relying on running back targets doesn’t go as well against two of the top-13 linebackers in the NFL in PFF coverage grade. Simply put, the ceiling here is very low, and let’s just hope Herbert comes out of this game still intact. This would work better if the league’s sixth-highest paid defense was taking a step forward in head coach Brandon Staley’s second season as head coach, but, instead, their a bottom-ten unit in EPA/play allowed, and are allowing the most yards/carry in the NFL.
On the surface, the 49ers (12th in EPA/play) haven’t been a dominant offense this season, but this is really their first game fully formed; they’ve dealt with offensive line and playmaker injuries throughout the year. As a passing attack, they’ve been as efficient as ever (6th in EPA/dropback), thanks to yardage created after the catch (league-leading 6.9 yards after catch/reception), and their deficiencies on the ground (25th in EPA/rush) get a lot better with tackle Trent Williams back healthy, in addition to any added explosiveness via Christian McCaffrey. Then again, having efficiency on the ground against the Chargers is merely taking candy from a baby, so there’s also that. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and McCaffrey, combined with a strong offensive line, is simply a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and you wouldn’t expect Staley’s struggling unit to be the one to solve that puzzle.
When all else fails, believe in Justin Herbert to make a miracle happen, though that may just be him finishing this game in one piece. Make no mistake about it, despite their record, this is far from the Super Bowl contending Chargers team we were hoping to see, and, ultimately, these are two teams heading in completely different directions. All I’m going to say is that Sean Payton would look quite good in powder blue.
Washington Commanders (4-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-0)
Spread: PHI (-11)
- Projected Spread: PHI (-12.4)
- My Pick: PHI (-11)
- Projected Total: 42.56
- My Pick: Under
- WSH: 12.52%
- PHI: 87.48%
Score Prediction: Commanders 13 Eagles 27
- Is This The Game Where Taylor Heinicke’s Playing With Fire Strategy Blows Up?
- Can Washington’s Defense Provide Optimal Resistance Against a High-End Offense?
- Terry McLaurin versus Darius Slay/James Bradburry
When the NFL decided to schedule this game on Monday Night Football, they did so believing it’d be their chance to have the return of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia on national television. Instead, Wentz is sidelined with a finger injury, so the on-field storylines will have to do. Certainly, though, this is not a game where one will be watching with bewaited breath.
See, even as the Commanders won three straight games between Weeks 6 and 8, they did so while averaging 17.3 points per game, only played teams with a losing record, and now have scored over 17 points just one time starting in Week 3. Meanwhile, in his three games filling for Wentz, Taylor Heinicke ranks dead last in PFF grade (42) and turnover-worthy play rate (8.2%), with the latter a sign of very poor turnover regression looming in a way that the third-worst offense in success rate can’t handle. If that wasn’t enough, almost all of Heinicke’s struggles have come when under pressure (25.6 PFF passing grade, 13% turnover-worthy play rate), which is problematic considering he’s been under pressure on roughly half (47.7%) of his dropbacks, and now faces a defense with the fourth-best PFF pass rush grade in the NFL and fifth-best coverage grade. Yeah, this could be a long night.
So, how has Washington found any sort of success this season? Ultimately, it’s come via their defense, which is allowing the lowest success rate in the NFL. Notably, they’ve been stout in run defense (4th in rushing success rate allowed) and generating pressure (3rd in pressure rate), but have had their fair share of problems when it comes to allowing explosive plays through the air; they’re yielding the second-most air yards/attempt this year. In fact, the last time these two teams faced off, Jalen Hurts passed for 127 yards solely on throws of 20+ air yards, with the dynamic receiver tandem of AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith totaling 13 catches for 254 yards in the process. The best part about being a fool-proof offense ranked in the top-four in EPA/play on the ground and through the air is that you can be flexible depending on the opponent, and, in this game, everything sets up for Hurts to push the ball down the field, likely to much success. Of course, a second divisional matchup can change things, and Washington has run more zone coverage as the year has gone on. That being said, usually one of the league’s best passing attacks against a very vulnerable defense on the back end goes a certain way.
To be honest, I’m surprised the Eagles aren’t a full two touchdown favorite, though perhaps I should learn my lesson after we as a football community perhaps were a bit too sure of them humiliating the Texans in Week 9. With the easiest strength of schedule so far per PFF, their path to an undefeated record has mainly come from “out talenting teams”, taking advantage of specific vulnerabilities due to the flexibility of their offense, and their roster as a whole. Eventually, you’d like to see them tested, but have you taken a look at the NFC? They’ll face just three teams (Titans, Giants, Cowboys) with winning records the rest of the year, and if that leads to a first-round bye and home field advantage, are set up beautifully to get back to the Super Bowl, this time hopefully without needing a heroic performance from a backup quarterback. Really, this is just more of the same for Philadelphia- we may not learn a lot from this game, but, man, it is too fun watching this team to pay attention to that.
ATL/CAR: The Falcoholic
SEA/TB: Draft Kings
DEN/TEN: CT Insider
JAX/KC: News Tribune
NO/PIT: Pro Football Talk
DET/CHI: NBC Sports
CLE/MIA: Dolphins Wire
HOU/NYG: Odds Shark
IND/LV: Sharp Football Analysis
DAL/GB: Blogging The Boys
ARI/LAR: Turf Show Times
LAC/SF: Sporting News
WSH/PHI: Action Network