Vince Lombardi

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WELCOME to QuantCoach.com, the only site on the world-wide web that provides meaningful professional football coaching statistics. QuantCoach.com's revolutionary coaching statistics are derived from a peer-reviewed and generally accepted theory of competition known as Growth Theory. Veteran coach Bill Parcells once said, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." But Growth Theory teaches us that success "springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking." In professional football, those "recipes" are the plays that coaches design. Simply, QuantCoach.com's coaching statistics separate the contribution of plays to pro football success from the contribution of players.

THE ARCHIVES (2017-Part 3)

Championship Round Playoff Preview

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New England (-9.5) vs. Jacksonville

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 8th; Jacksonville 3rd
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 6th; Jacksonville 9th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 11th (+6); Jacksonville T5th (+10)

Since 2013, New England is 7-0 in Foxboro in the playoffs. In those 7 wins, Tom Brady and company are +10 TO and all of their giveaways occurred in just one game (34-16 blowout of Houston in 2016). Brady has tossed a whopping 17 TD passes in those games. His uniform rarely has been dirtied by opposing pass rushers. It has been so long since the Patriots lost a playoff game at home it almost seems like it would be impossible for them to do so. Brady and his receiving corps annhilated Tennessee in the Divisional Round with underneath passes. The ball quickly came out of Brady's hand and his receivers wracked up 178 yards in YAC. On the other side of the ball DC Matt Patricia's defense overran the Titans O-line and sacked Titans QB Marcus Mariota 8 times. New England seldom has looked better in any prior playoff appearance. But it is hard for any team to play that well 2 weeks in a row and now there are reports that Brady may have injured his throwing hand in a midweek practice. Further, New England's equisite execution in the Divisional Round masks the fact the Patriots defense has created only 1 takeaway in its last 5 games. That is not the Patriot Way. To beat Bill Belichick in his own backyard, a team must 1) win the turnover battle 2) harass and sack Brady with just a 4-man rush and 3) show up with swagger and a trash-talking leader. That is the formula the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets used to deal New England 3 home playoff defeats between 2009 and 2012. The Jaguars seem well-equipped to check all the boxes and they are better designed than any of the last 7 teams to come to Foxboro in the playoffs. DB Jalen Ramsey is the kind of brash, uber-talented, spark-plug that rekindles the memory of Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. The Patriots offensive line is suspect and if tall pass rushers Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus get quick gut pressure on Brady, he will have a tough day. The Giants made life hard for Brady in Super Bowl XLII by putting DE Justin Tuck inside on passing downs and Jacksonville can do the same, probably with Jackson, but don't be shocked if you see the 6-8 Cambell down low from time-to-time. The pass coverage came this/close during the regular season to joining a elite group of defenses. Only 4 teams have ever yielded the fewest passing yards and led the NFL in interceptions in the same season: 1963 Bears, 1982 Dolphins, 2002 Buccaneers, and 2013 Seahawks. All of those teams reached the championship game and 3 of them won it. Jacksonville gave up the fewest passing yards in the NFL and finished second in interceptions, just 1 pick behind Baltimore. Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and nickelback Aaron Colvin probably can lock up Brady's wideouts in man-to-man coverage and LBs Myles Jack and Telvin Smith should rally to the ball and tackle underneath much better than the pathetic Titans LBs. If all that happens, New England's passing game will be reduced to TE Rob Gronkowski. The Jaguars probably do not have an answer for Gronk, but Ramsey, Jack, and Smith may be able to get under Gronk and make it harder for Brady to get him the ball as Bouye did here on this pass to another monster TE, Jimmy Graham. Moreover, Denver showed in 2015 that the Patriots will struggle if they are forced to rely exclusively on Brady-to-Gronk. A report from Warren Sharp surfaced this week showing Jacksonville had trouble during the regular season with teams like the Patriots that use fewer 3-WR formations than normal, specifically Tennessee (2x), Arizona and San Francisco. But the Jaguars real problem in those games was its offense turned the ball over 13 times (56.5% of all their TO during the regular season), which provided their opponents the luxury of bulking up and forcing LB Paul Posluszny, a liability in coverage, to stay on the field. Nobody designs pass plays for FBs and TEs and bootlegs better than the 49ers Kyle Shannahan, but the 40-year-old Brady cannot run boot action like Jimmy Garoppolo and Patriots FB James Devlin and TEs other than Gronk caught just 20 passes collectively all year (about 1 catch per game combined). So formational design alone is unlikely to solve all of the Patriots' problems. However, if HC Bill Belchick and Patricia can trick or coax Jacksonville QB Black Bortles into impatience and 2 or more TO, the Jaguars are dead. Bortles played a perfect game last week against Pittsburgh. He will not be that precise again, but with third-down RB T.J. Yeldon on the field (he missed the game against Buffalo with an illness), Bortles has a reliable check down receiver who runs with speed and power after the catch. If Bortles can keep the Patriots off balance with short and medium range passes and a few timely runs and patiently let the game come to him, he should be able to make a play or two down the field against the Patriots D and approach his respectable regular season QCYPA of 7.2. Bortles has thrown 10 TD passes in his last 6 games, so if he can move the ball into the red zone, HC Doug Marrone may not have to settle for field goals. Finally, perhaps most importantly, the Jaguars O-line quietly has provided terrific pass protection all year. The Steelers game was the 7th time this year Bortles was not sacked even once. Jacksonville is the slightly better designed team and such teams cover 7 points on the road 71.8% of the time. If the Jaguars are even in turnovers and solid in the kicking game, that number jumps to 83.7% so taking Jacksonville and the points is an easy call, especially if you got +9.5 at the top of the market shortly after the open. And better designed road teams like the Jaguars win straight up 46.5% of the time. Jacksonville looks enough like the 2012 Ravens that QC won't be surprised if the Jaguars pull that off too.

QC's Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars SU and ATS

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Philadelphia (+3.5) vs. Minnesota

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philadelphia 9th; Minnesota 1st
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philadelphia 11th: Minnesota 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Philadelphia 4th (+11); Minnesota T12th (+5)

It is hard to imagine that this game can be anything but a low-scoring defensive slugfest. Both teams will start career backups at QB (Nick Foles and Case Keenum). Further, Philadelphia and Minnesota rank No. 1 and No. 2 defending the run. So it is unlikely that either will be able to control the game on the ground. The Vikings rank No. 1 in pass coverage and the Eagles rank No. 6 (per D-QCYPA). All of this data suggests that yards and points will be at a premium and the team that will prevail will be the one that avoids making a big mistake. The area that looks like the biggest mismatch is Philadelphia's pass rush against Minnesota's pass protection. New Orleans' outstanding pass rusher, Cameron Jordan, manhandled Vikings RT Rashod Hill in the second half of the Divisional Round Game. With G Nick Easton out of the lineup, Minnesota used former starting RT Mike Remmers at LG, so once again Hill is probably the only option at RT. That looks like a big problem. When under pressure against the Saints, Keenum's passer rating was a microscopic 5.1. And it was not the first time the right side of the Vikings line had trouble protecting their QB. In Week 4 of the season, Detroit DE Anthony Zettel sacked Keenum twice and pressured him 4 other times in the Lions 14-7 win. And Week 14 Carolina's physical front sacked Keenum 6 times and forced 3 TO. The Eagles' D-line is more than the equal of those units with DE Brandon Graham and DT Fletcher Cox leading the way and DEs Chris Long and Derek Barnett coming off the bench. The Divisional Round win was the first time Minnesota prevailed when running the ball less than 30 times. In their 3 losses, the Vikings never ran the ball more than 22 times and turned the ball over 7 times, which represented 50% of their regular season TO (14). Philadelphia limited opposing runners to less than 22 carries 9 times during the regulgar season, which does not bode well for Latvius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon. For Minnesota to prevail, OC Pat Shurmur probably is going to have to include screens, delays and quick passes to keep the Eagles' rush off-balance. When Philadelphia has the ball, HC Doug Pederson likely will try to run some of the same plays for Jay Ajayi that Carolina used to spring Jonathan Stewart for more than 100 yards and 3 TDs. Stewart averaged 6.4 yards per carry in that game and Ajayi is a big-play runner who can pick up yards in chunks. Obviously, Foles does not present the run threat that Cam Newton presents so it is hard to imagine that Ajayi can be that productive, but if Pederson can manufacture 65-70 yards and a TD from Ajayi, that could be enough. Mike Zimmer's D has been nails on 3DN all year and it is then that Pederson and Shurmur will most miss injured starting QB Carson Wentz, a 3DN magician before he hurt his knee. Only 3 QBs have posted better than 7.0 QCYPA against Zimmer's pass coverage all year: Drew Brees (2x), Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford. It is likely that Foles will produce QCYPA in the range of 5.50 to 6.00 like Matt Ryan, Jared Goff and Newton did. If so, the Eagles will not have any margin for error and will have to play turnover-free and be solid in the kicking game to prevail. Still, the only 2 games Philadelphia lost during the regular season when it tried its best (Kansas City and Seattle), the Eagles were -2 TO. Philadelphia also was -2 TO in the Divisional Round against the Falcons, but survived thanks to the D's fantastic last minute goal line stand. The Vikings are the slightly better designed team, but such teams cover 3.5 points on the road only 34.6% of the time. If you can find a field goal plus the hook, the Eagles are the ATS play. However, at even TO, a team in Minnesota's spot will win SU on the road 57.1%. If Shurmur and Keenum can be patient and not turn the ball over against Philadelphia's fearsome D-line, the Vikings are quite capable of limiting the Eagles to field goals and could squeak out a win like they did against Atlanta's tough D in Week 14. But QC is not confident Minnesota's O-line can hold up for 60 minutes against relentless pressure and thinks it is more likely the Eagles force Keenum into TOs and Philadelphia advances to play in the Super Bowl on Minnesota's home field.

QC's Pick: Philadelphia Eagles SU and ATS

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QC's Divisional Round Thoughts

Can anybody in the NFL tackle? New Orleans DB Marcus Williams' whiff (and wipeout of another pursuing teammage) on Stefon Diggs miracle 61-yard TD reception that propelled Minnesota over the Saints was the most obvious example of poor tackling. But it was hardly the only example. Nobody on the Tennessee defense rallied to the ball and New England receivers picked up an astronomical 178 yards after catching Tom Brady's passes in the Patriots' 35-14 beat down of the Titans. And both the Steelers and the Jaguars missed plenty of tackles in the Jaguars 45-42 victory. NFL rules discourage defenders from delivering a blow, but there is no rule against wrapping up and taking a man to the ground.

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Tennessee HC Mike Mularkey got a bum deal when GM Jon Robinson fired him after the loss to New England in the Divisional Round. Tennessee's play design differential was -.0282 and its turnover differential was -7 TO in 2015 when Ken Whisenhunt was fired and Mularkey was promoted to HC. The Titans finished that year, QB Marcus Mariota's rookie year, with a 3-13 record, -.0346 play design differential, and -14 TO. In 2016, Tennessee's play design differential improved 4.61% to +.0115--a significant improvement--and the TO differential improved to even and the W-L marke improved 6 games to 9-7. The Titans' regressed in both categories a little bit in 2017, but Mularkey still coaxed the same record from the team, made the playoffs, and upset Kansas City in the Wild Card Game. In the end, Mularkey was a victim of his own success. The Titans' rapid improvement made them a trendy pick in Las Vegas before the season started and they were favorites in the first 9 games of the season and 13 of 16 games overall. There is simply no performance reason for firing Mularky. Morover, it is widely reported that owner Amy Adams-Strunk was quite fond of Mularkey and after the win over the Chiefs stated Tennessee would go foward with Mularkey. Managing, whether it is managing an NFL team or any other competitive enterprise, is about creating options, not limiting options. But GM Jon Robinson has limited his options and painted himself into a corner about as clearly as any manager could by terminating a successful HC who the owner liked. If the Titans falter, don't expect Adams-Strunk to have any patience with Robinson.

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How did Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia reach the conference championship round with Blake Borteles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles at QB for all or parts of the regular season? The answer is pass coverage. In D-QCYPA, the coaching statistic that reflects pass coverage, these teams ranked No. 1 (Jaguars 5.674), No. 2 (Vikings 5.778) and 6th (Eagles 6.451). If New England's Tom Brady--the only "elite" QB left in the tournament--is to win his 6th Super Bowl ring, he will be tested by the best design the NFL has to offer in 2017.

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Divisional Round Playoff Preview

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Pittsburgh (-7.5) vs. Jacksonville

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Jacksonville 3rd; Pittsburgh 7th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Jacksonville 9th; Pittsburgh 8th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Jacksonville T5th (+10); Pittsburgh 14th (+2)

Both the linemakers and the bettors have been quick to dismiss Jacksonville's 30-9 win over Pittsburgh Week 5 because Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 5 interceptions (includng 2 pick-6) and Jaguars QB Blake Bortles ran for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) in a 10-3 win over Buffalo in the Wild Card Game. In Week 5, Bortles also struggled against Pittsburgh's defense, throwing for just 95 yards on 14 attempts. But that Steelers' defense included LB Ryan Shazier and its pass coverage was in top form. Since Week 8, the Pittsburgh pass coverage has yielded QCYPA figures of 9.133, 9.000 (Jacoby Brissett), 8.059, 9.855 (Brett Hundley), 6.750 (Andy Dalton in the game in which Shazier was injured), 8.029 (Joe Flacco), 8.371, 3.588 (Texans QB corpse), and 9.733 (DeShone Kizer). The Steelers' pass rush is ferocious (-.788 sack yards lost per attempt). But Bortles has been hard to sack (-.233 sack yards lost per attempt) and his regular season 7.216 QCYPA is far better than his last two performances and plenty good to win. Bortles should be better this week than he was against the Bills and should be able to generate competent 6.7 QCYPA or better. When Pittsburgh has the ball, most people think Le'Veon Bell will be able to run, but the Steelers only rushed the ball 20 times for 70 yards in the first meeting. If Pittsburgh does try to ride Bell, that will shorten the game and increase the value of the 7.5 point subsidy. Roethlisberger's 5.473 QCYPA in the first meeting was just a little worse than the average QCYPA to which Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and company typically hold opposing QBs (5.674). So don't expect Ben to go crazy. Moreover, of the two QBs, if the game is a defensive slugfest, Roethlisberger is probably the one who will lose his patience first and try to force something rather than waiting for the game to come to his team. In playoff rematches where one team beat another by 20 or more points during the regular season, the losing team (Pittsburgh) is 1-12 straight up. Look for Bortles to bounce back with a better performance and Jacksonville's superior pass coverage to advance the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game.

QC's Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars SU and ATS

New England (-13.5) vs. Tennessee

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 8th; Tennessee 16th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL: New England 6th; Tennessee 16th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 11th (+6); Tennessee T23rd (-4)

You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time New England lost in the divisional round, 28-21 to the NY Jets. In that game, the New York pass rush got to Tom Brady (-.889 sack yards lost per pass attempt), the Jets won the turnover battle (+1), New York ran the ball 29 times, QB Mark Sanchez threw 3 TD passes, and the Patriots Patrick Chung failed to pick up a first down on a fake punt (that he may have called himself). Tennessee's play design differential (-0.21) is about the same as that New York team (+0.18) and New England's differential (+.0252) is not quite as good as the 2010 Patriots (+.0335). Further, the TO differential between the teams (Patriots +10) is not near what it was in 2010 (Patriots +19). Marcus Mariota played out of his mind in the second half of the Titans upset of Kansas City in the Wild Card Game. That won't happen again. But in his last 5 road games, Mariota has been stymied only by Arizona, who played the best D in the NFL the last month of the season. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will have to design pressure to get to Mariota and their D came on strong in that area at season end (-.507 sack yards per pass attempt). When the Steelers and the Cardinals got to Maritota, he turned the ball over. Still, Tennessee should move the ball on Patricia's defense that gave up below average 7.220 QCYPA and 4.71 yards per rush. The bigger worry will be if Dick LeBeau can design a way to slow Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, et al. Brady has owned LeBeau's zone schemes during his career and the Titans ranked No. 29 in permitting YAC during the regular season. Yikes! Still, Tennessee's pass coverage (6.787) and pass pressure (-.436 sack yards lost per attempt) numbers look respectable on paper. The Patriots have covered 13.5 points in their last 6 divisional round games only 2 times, once when Andrew Luck and the Colts provided 4 TO and last year against the punchless Brock Osweiler. If LeBeau can pressure Brady like Miami and the Jets did in the last month of the season and if his defenders can rally to the ball and tackle effectively and if Mariota can avoids turnovers, the Titans can definitely hang around. Moreover, this is clearly a "teaser buster" line as the biggest subsidy QC could justify giving Tennessee is 10.5 points. For the Titans to repeat the Jets' 2010 feat, they will need everything to go as right as it did for New York in 2010. QC does not have the guts to predict a SU upset. But Tennessee and Mariota will have to fall completely apart for the Patriots to cover this big number.

QC's Pick: New England SU; Tennessee ATS

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Philadelphia (+3) vs. Atlanta

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philadelphia 9th; Atlanta 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philadelphia 11th; Atlanta 3rd
TURNOVER MARGIN: Philadelphia 4th (+11); Atlanta 19th (-2)

When these teams met in 2016, Philadelphia ran over Atlanta, hogged the ball for over 38 minutes, and won 24-15. HC Doug Pederson would be wise to try to do that again as the Falcons are 0-6 ATS when opponents run the ball 30 or more times. It will be more difficult though. In the 11-game stretch with a healthy Carson Wentz in which the Eagles won 10 times, Philadelphia runners racked up 30 or more carries 9 times. But since Wentz left the lineup with a knee injury, Eagles runners' heaviest workload has been 27 carries against the Giants. Although Atlanta improved its run defense by adding DT Dontari Poe before the year started, both Minnesota and New Orleans were able to run the ball more than 30 times in wins over the Falcons in the second half of the season. The Eagles rushing numbers for the season are nearly identical to those two teams so QC expects Philadelphia to get traction on the ground, which will take some pressure off QB Nick Foles. Pederson and Foles should be patient and probably will have that luxury because the Philadelphia defense matches up well against Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In games in which Atlanta ran the ball fewer than 26 times, the Falcons were 0-6 ATS. The Eagles defense only allowed 3 opponents to run the ball 26 or more times. Philadelphia also took the ball from opponents 31 times during the regular season, while Atlanta only benefitted from 18 subsidies. The bet here is the Eagles will run the ball better and take the ball away better than the Falcons and win a low scoring game.

QC's Pick: Philadelphia Eagles SU and ATS

Minnesota (-3.5) vs. New Orleans

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Minnesota 1st; New Orleans 4th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Minnesota 5th; New Orleans 1st
TURNOVER MARGIN: Minnesota T12th (+5); New Orleans T9th (+7)

The QB matchup in this game is "Drew Brees v. Poor Man's Drew Brees," a/k/a Case Keenum. Both QBs are a little below the typical stature of an NFL passer (6-1). Both began their careers with other teams before finding a niche with their current teams. Both depend on stonewall G-C-G pass protection from the core of their O-lines. And when they meet on Sunday, both will be without one of the most important blocks in their walls (New Orleans G Andrus Peat and Minnesota G Nick Easton). Of the two, QC is more worried about Brees. Last week, Brees made Carolina pay early for ganging up to stop the run by raining deep passes on the Panthers. But after Peat was injured, Panthers DT Kawann Short started to rampage inside and Brees often had to scramble to buy time. That is a big concern against the Vikings 'pass rush, particularly when Mike Zimmer brings Everson Griffen inside and lines LBs Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr up in the "A" gaps. HC Sean Payton probably will have to move Brees' pocket more than he would like and that will shrink the field against Minnesota's suffocating pass coverage (5.778 D-QCYPA). It will help if New Orleans RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara can get more than the 21 carries they mustered in Week 1, but only one team has rushed the ball more than 24 times at Minnesota, Detroit in Week 3, the only home game the Vikings lost. On the other hand, Minnesota has generated more than 30 rushes in every home game except that loss to the Lions. Even without Easton, Latavius Murray and company pounded out 36 rushes in the season finale against Chicago's highly compentent front 7. The Saints, on the other hand, have been soft against the run, yielding 28 or more rushes in 3 of their last 4 regular season games. Even though New Orleans enjoyed a big lead on Carolina almost the whole game, the Panthers still ran 26 times for 110 yards. In addition, Cam Newton, who had not topped 6.7 QCYPA in 9 of his last 11 games, found gaping holes in the New Orleans secondary in Q4 and almost brought Carolina from behind. If the Vikings get another strong performance on the ground, Keenum (7.55 QCYPA and 22 TDs) should be able to find WRs Adam Theilen and Stafon Diggs often enough to produce a victory that looks similar to the 29-19 win that Sam Bradford generated in Week 1. The bettors certainly think such an outcome is likely as the line has moved to Minnesota -5 from the -3.5 open. QC will swim with the line current and the team that is 7-1 ATS at home.

QC's Pick: Minnesota Vikings SU and ATS

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QC's Wild Card Thoughts

Any criticism of Kansas City HC Andy Reid and OC Matt Nagy for not running the ball more in the second half of what became a 22-21 loss to Tennessee is misplaced. The Chiefs lost because Titans QB Marcus Mariota threw a TD pass to himself, the first time that has happened in 20 years, KC's kicker doinked a field goal attempt and DL Chris Jones was injuired on the first play of the second half and left the game. With Jones out of the lineup, the Titans ran 39 plays in the second half to the Chiefs 21 plays. The strength of Tennessee's defense is its run defense, while the Titans rank No. 29 in the NFL in run-after-catch. So throwing the ball, which produced a 21-3 halftime lead, both made sense and was highly effecive. There is no disputing that it was a brutal loss for KC. But suggesting that Reid and Nagy could have prevented the reversal by running the ball more is rubbish.

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Atlanta HC Dan Quinn and his staff turned in stellar coaching performance in the Falcons 26-13 beat down of the LA Rams. Holding a precarious 13-10 halftime lead, OC Steve Sarkisian turned to the ground game that pounded out drives of 16, 10 and 8 plays that produced FG, FG, TD. All those folks who wanted Andy Reid to run the ball applauded the smash-mouth approach, right? No, not a chance. Rather, most people focused on Quinn's decision to kick the PAT after the TD and not go for a 2-point PAT. One person called it an "epic" mistake. Hey, Twitter, if you all want to be judgmental, that's cool. But first familiarize yourself with one of the universal, fundamenal rules of every court of appals: "Harmless error." If an error occurs--Quinn's decision was a mistake--but nothing comes of it, the error is meaningless, not epic. When Michigan's Chris Weber called a timeout his team did not have the end of the NCAA Championship Game, that was an epic mistake. When Georgetown's Fred Brown threw the ball to North Carolina's James Worthy at the end of another NCAA Championship Game, that was another epic mistake. It is absurd to roast Quinn for an error that had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the game and completely disregard the terrific designing he and his staff did to limit the impact of Rams RB Todd Gurley and to ram the ball down the throat of LA DT Aaron Donald. If you don't see that, then your judicial skills need improvement.

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Jacksonville's 10-3 win over Buffalo was panned by most fans, but QC loved this defensive struggle that was unsullied by impatience by either team. Jaguars punter Brad Nortman pinned the Bills deep in their own territory on almost every one of his 9 punts. Nortman was oustanding. But Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor and RB LeSean McCoy never flinched. They would grind out a few first downs and fight out to around midfield and punter Colton Schmidt would in turn pin down the Jaguars with 5 punts inside the 20. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles did not give in either. He threw for only 87 yards, but rushed for 88 yards, which keyed both Jaguars scoring drives, and did not commit a turnover, which is what the Bills really needed to pull off the SU upset. Finally, Bortles cooly flipped a 4DN TD pass to backup TE Ben Koyack for the winning points after a gallant goal line stand by the Buffalo stop unit. QC loved this game.

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New Orleans QB Drew Brees was in vintage form in the Saints 31-26 win over Carolina. Panthers HC Ron Rivera ganged up on New Orleans RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara and dared Brees to beat him with the deep seem throws that Brees used to annihilate opponents in 2009 and 2011. Brees obliged. Still, if Carolina K Graham Gano had not missed a chip shot FG early in the game, the Saints might not have survived Cam Newton's Q4 charge. HC Sean Payton will have to figure out how to get Ingram and Kamara on track next week at Minnesota if New Orleans wants to get back to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2009.

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Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Kansas City (-8) vs. Tennessee

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Kansas City 10th; Tennessee 16th
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Kansas City 7th; Tennessee 16th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Kansas City 2nd (+15); Tennessee T23rd (-4)

Andy Reid's team had a bit of donut season with a 5-0 start, a 4-0 close and a 1-6 nothing in the middle. The Chiefs regained their early season form the last month of the season as QB Alex Smith only turned the ball over 1 time in 3 games and the defense generated 12 takeaways. Kansas City won 3 straight home games by 11, 17 and 16 points. Tennessee, on the other hand, struggled on the road going 2-5-1 ATS, including 0-5-1 versus non-division opponents. QB Marcus Mariota had stinkers at Houston, Pittsburgh, and Arizona (combined 11 TO). To stay close, the Titans will have to run the ball and control time of possession. But Tennessee cracked 100 yards rushing only once on the road (at Jacksonville in Week 2). The Titans are in the playoffs as a result of tie-breaker math and there is good value on Kansas City.

QC's Pick: Kansas City Chiefs SU & ATS

Jacksonville (-8) vs. Buffalo

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Jacksonville 3rd; Buffalo 19th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL: Jacksonville 9th; Buffalo 18th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Jacksonville T5th (+10); Buffalo 7th (+9)

There have been some memorable playoff upsets built on virtually nothing but opponents turnovers. In 1979, the Houston Oilers stunned San Diego by picking off Dan Fouts 5 times. And Bill Belichick won is first Super Bowl mostly because Kurt Warner and the Rams were -3 TO. Buffalo finally ended its playoff drought and now it might have to play without star RB LeSean McCoy, who was hurt in the win at Miami last week. But that may not be as big a deal as you would think because this game will be decided by turnovers. The Bills were +9 TO during the regular season, but throw out backup QB Nate Peterman's 5 first half interceptions against the Chargers and Buffalo is +14 with Tyrod Taylor under center. Taylor has a passer rating of better than 90 when outside the pocket and the Bills block up the run about as well as anyone in the leauge. If Taylor can generate 6.7 QCYPA and play turnover-free football, the Bills can hang around even if McCoy cannot go. The Jaguars will want to run the ball on Buffalo with RB Leonard Fournette. When the Jaguars run the ball 30 more times, they are 8-1 ATS. When they don't and leave their fate in the hands of QB Blake Bortles, they have problems exept against the worst designed teams in the NFL (Colts, Texans). Jacksonville has committed 16 of its 23 turnovers in games it has run the ball less than 30 times. The last two weeks, both losses, Bortles and company turned the ball over 7 times. Buffalo received 2 or more turnovers in 7 of it regular season games and none of its opponents reached 30 rushes in any of those games. If Buffalo can bottle up Fournette, the Bills can cover and if Bortles provides more TO subsidies, the Bills could pull off the SU upset.

QC's Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars SU; Buffalo Bills ATS

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

LA Rams (-6.5) vs. Atlanta

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: LA Rams 6th; Atlanta 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: LA Rams 4th; Atlanta 3rd
TURNOVER MARGIN: LA Rams T9th (+7); Atlanta 19th (-2)

This should be a close game between teams that were rivals in the old NFC West. LA's play design differential took a significant hit when HC Sean McVay rested all his star power Week 17, but even if you handicap the game based only on the Rams first 15 games it still looks like a close match. McVay has made great use of RB Todd Gurley in both the run and pass game. But if there is one mild concern about McVay's design, it is sometimes he gets away from Gurley on the ground. That could be a problem. QB Jared Goff has been held below 6.0 QCYPA by Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Seattle (2x). Atlanta LBs Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell and S Keanu Neal are well-suited to checking Gurley as a pass receiver. The Falcons are 0-6 ATS when opponents run the ball 30 times or more, but the Rams have cracked that number just 1 time in their last 8 games. Dan Quinn's stop troops probably can hold up. That will put the game in the hands of OC Steve Sarkisian, QB Matt Ryan and the running game. Atlanta's TEs and FBs, who were devastating complimentary players in Kyle Shannahan's designs, are almost always non-factors under Sarkisian. That puts a lot more pressure on Ryan, who has pressed and turned the ball over in some of the Falcons losses. If he does that against LA, it will be one and done for Atlanta. The Rams defense has held only one positively designed team to lesss than 17 points (Seattle 2x) and the Falcons defense has given up more than 23 points just twice (Detroit 26, Seattle 31). It would be great if the linemakers offer an extra point to push the line to Atlanta +7. But even if they don't, the most likely result here is a field goal game one way or the other and 6.5 points should be enough.

QC's Pick: Atlanta Falcons SU and ATS

New Orleans (-6.5) vs. Carolina

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 4th; Carolina 21st
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 1st; Carolina 20th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New Orleans T9th (+7); Carolina T16th (-1)

New Orleans QB Drew Brees set an NFL completion percentage record (72%) and the Saints player productivity differential (3.81) ranked No. 1 in the NFL. But that figure is the lowest player productivity differential to lead the NFL since QC started tracking coaching stats in 2009. (Denver's 4.76 was the previous low in 2012, the last year a wildcard team won the Super Bowl (Baltimore)). Defense has ruled the NFL in 2017 and both of these teams play it pretty well. The Saints, however, enjoy a significant edge on offense. Brees QCYPA (8.236) is considerably better than Cam Newton's QCYPA (6.581). A lot of people are high on the Panthers, but Newton's passing accuracy has deteriorated badly. Carolina is -1.28% worse designed than its opponents and Green Bay (-.93%) is the only negatively designed team to win a road playoff game since QC begain tracking coaching stats in 2009. The Packers faced a 9-7 Washington team that was just barely positively designed (+.28%). New Orleans is significantly better than those Redskins. The Saints have committed 13 of their 18 turnovers at home so the Panthers only chance to win or even cover lies with Brees and his playmakers subsidizing Carolina and Newton cashing in those subsidies in the red zone where he is still a lethal force (22 TD passes, 6 TD runs).

QC's Pick: New Orleans Saints SU and ATS

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QC's Week 17 Thoughts

QC's 5 Best Bets covered 58% (47-34-4) after a 2-3 Week 17. (Not going to lie: The Bears (+11.5) yielding a safety and twice not scoring from first and goal inside the 5-yard line stung a bit.). The 2017 results were an improvement over 2016 when 5 Best Bets covered 55.4% (46-37-2). Like any coach, QC would rather see consistent improvment than a 60% one year and a 45% the next. So this is encouraging. QC gives you the foundational coaching statistics, but keeps some proprietary statistics secret. These results will keep the QC motivated to get into the lab in the off-season in order to try to improve again in 2018.

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Better designed NFL teams won only 72.7% of their games in 2017 (186-70), the worst winning percentage since QC began tracking coaching statistics. As QC says every week, we expect these teams to win about 75%. Coming into 2017, better designed teams had won 76.9% of all games so a bit of a correction is not surprising. Since 2009, better designed NFL teams have now won 76.5% of all games (1758-541-5). Here is the year-by-year breakdown:

2017: .727 (186-70)
2016: .768 (195-59-2)
2015: .778 (199-56-1)
2014: .784 (200-55-1)
2013: .773 (198-58)
2012: .749 (191-64-1)
2011: .746 (191-65)
2010: .766 (196-60)
2009: .789 (202-54)


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Cleveland finished 0-16, but the Browns play design differential (-.0459) actually improved 1.42% from 2016 (-.0601). The Colts (-.0502), who fired their HC Chuck Pagano, and the Packers (-.0556), who fired 1/2 their HC when they fired DC Dom Capers, were actually worse this year too. A near historic -28 TO differential is why HC Hue Jackson's team went winless. And that was in part bad luck. The Browns' opponents collectively were +30 TO and only the Raiders opponents (+46 TO) were better (and Oakland fired Jack Del Rio). Cleveland also faced the third toughest schedule in the NFL per play design differential. The metric that NFL owners most undervalue is marginal improvement. Detroit improved its play design differential an impessive 3.56% (albeit against by far the easiest schedule in the NFL) and its TO differential +11 (opponents were a geneous -22 TO combined) and the Lions management still sacked HC Jim Caldwell. That seems like an overreaction. Still, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam probably should move on from Jackson, who has never showed the ability to excel at waste minimization and succeeds only when his play design differential is outstanding. That is a tough way to win, especially when the QB is an NFL baby like DeShone Kizer or whoever is Cleveland's No. 1 pick in the 2018 Draft. My advice to Browns fans: Take up sports betting and fade the Browns. As far as QC is concerned, Cleveland was a robust 3-1 this year failing to cover the spread. Woo-hoo Hue!!

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Nine of the 10 best designed teams in the NFL made the playoffs. Only the Chargers (No. 2) missed because their kicker missed a game-winning field goal Week 2 at home against Miami. You simply cannot understimate how important it is to be solid in the kicking game and avoid turnovers in the NFL. Carolina (-.0158) is the worst designed team in the playoff field and Buffalo's and Tennessee's superior play design was just enough to edge out Baltimore's fantastic turnover differential (+17 TO) on tie-breakers. There is no dominant team in the NFL as measured by play design differential (like Atlanta last year) or turnover differential (which is not as reliable). Look for a wild-and-wooly month of playoffs. QC likes the way Kansas City is playing right now and thinks Andy Reid's Chiefs have all the ingredients to go on a roll like the Ravens did in 2012. In the NFC, QC will stick with the chalk and the Vikings, who finished the season No. 1 in play design and, more importantly, 8-0 ATS at home. If we get a rematch of Super Bowl 4, it will be on Minnesota's home field and the Vikings will be prohibitive favorites. That is a situation in which QC would like Andy Reid a whole bunch.

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Week 17 QC's 5 Best Bets

What is a bad beat? Almost everyone would agree a bad beat occurred when Philadelphia's Derek Barnett returned a fumble for a TD on Oakland's last desperate lateral play to turn Eagles' backers (-8.5) 13-10 ATS loss into a 19-10 ATS win. Sure, whenever a team recovers a fumble, a good bit of luck is involved. But this was the fourth time this year a team scored a defensive TD on the last play of the game when a backward pass on the lateral play went awry. It is starting to become part of the regular sweat. Further, the Eagles already were +2 TO before the final play and +2 TO teams at home almost always cover. Philadelphia put the Raiders in a position where they had almost no choice but to attempt a recklessly risky play (passing the ball backwards toward your own goal is always terribly risky because an incomplete backward pass is a live ball whereas an incomplete forward pass is not). What about the Falcons (+5.5) 23-13 loss to the Saints? Almost nobody would call this a bad beat. But Atlanta lost a fumble inside the New Orleans 5-yard line and was stopped on downs at the Saints 1-yard line. If the Falcons just got 3 points on those drives or 7 on one of them, the 5.5 point subsidy would have been enough. So it goes. Sometimes you eat turnovers and sometime the turnovers eat you. Maybe the bad beat is dead.

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1. Falcons -3.5 over Panthers
At home under HC Dan Quinn, Atlanta is 4-1 ATS against the NFC South and 2-0 ATS against Carolina. Against the Panthers, WR Julio Jones has had huge games in both encounters. In 2015, the Falcons dealt the Panthers their only loss and last year Jones erupted for over 300 yards receiving. Atlanta gave the ball away 5 times in its two recent games with the Saints and if that continues the Falcons will not win much less cover. But Quinn's defense will be a handful for Cam Newton and OC Mike Shula. The Falcons pass rush drops opposing passers for -.534 sack yards per pass attempt. Carolina's pass protection can be shaky and Cam Newton's QCYPA has been below 6.7 in 8 of his last 10 games. To win, the Panthers will need to run. Atlanta is 0-6 ATS when its opponent runs the ball 30 or more times and Carolina has run the ball 30 or more times in 8 of its last 9 games. For the Falcons to win, cover and reach the playoffs, Ryan needs to start fast and put Carolina in a deficit that discourages Shula from calling run after run.

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2. Bears +11.5 over Vikings
When these teams met back in Week 5, Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky was making his first start and all of the Bears LBs went down with injuries. Still, the Bears hung in the game and did succumb until a last-second field goal. Trubisky turned the ball over twice in that game and the Bears turnover differential plunged to -9. But since that game, Chicago is +9 TO. Chicago ran the ball effectively (29-115) and it should be able to do so again even though G Josh Sitton and T Bobby Massie are likely to miss the game. The Vikings have serious problems on the O-line of their own with C Pat Elflein and G Nick Easton out. When those two missed the game in Carolina, the Panthers registered 6 sacks of Case Keenum. The Chicago front 3 of Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Jonathan Bullard is as nasty as just about any other 3-man front in the NFL. And with LBs Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski healty, Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon should have a much tougher time than they did in the first meeting. In that game, Vikings QBs Sam Bradford and Case Keenum lost 1.094 sack yards per pass attempt and posted QCYPA less than 4.8. The Vikings are a perfect 7-0 ATS at home, but this is just the second time they have been a double digit favorite. Since Trubisky took over at QB, the Bears are 3-2 ATS on the road and have lost by 12 points or more only once at Philadelphia when the Eagles had Carson Wentz and were red hot. The Bears defense can keep Chicago in the game again and if Trubisky can eke out as much offense as he did the first time and avoid the turnovers the Bears should still be in the game in Q4.

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3. Redskins -3 over Giants
If Eli Manning is going to enjoy what could be his last game as the Giants starting QB, he will have to overcome a familiar adversary: Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan. In the first meeting of these teams, Kerrigan recorded 2 of the 11 sacks he has registered in 2017. His 7 sacks of Manning are the most by an active player. On the other side of the ball, Washington HC Jay Gruden has done a terrific job designing the Redskins offense despite the loss of Sean McVay to LA and numerous injuries. QB Kirk Cousins triggers an attack that has been 2.16% better designed than its opponents. Untimely turnovers are still a concern with Cousins, but the Giants dysfunctional secondary has generated only 4 TO in its last 5 games. DB Janoris Jenkins registered a pick-6 in the first meeting, but he is out with an injury and Eli Apple is suspended (and despised, if you believe S Landon Collins). When these teams met in Washington, the Redskins ran for a healty 122 yards on 31 carries. At even turnovers, a team better designed than its opponent by as much as Washington is better designed than New York covers 3 points a very healty 73.2% of the time and wins by at least 4 points 62.5% of the time. The Redskins have faced only 5 negatively designed teams all year and are 4-1 ATS in those games.

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4. Dolphins +2.5 over Bills
Miami has endured a tough year but the Dolphins have been very tough themselves in South Florida. HC Adam Gase's team is 3-1-2 ATS at Hard Rock Stadium. In their only ATS loss, Miami lost the turnover battle to Tampa Bay, 5-0, and still only trailed by a field goal until another failed last desperate lateral play gave the Bucs a TD. Until last week, Miami had found a running game since inserting Kenyan Drake at RB. Buffalo has been mostly terrible against the run since trading DT Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville. The Bills are just 1-4 ATS on the road in their last 5 games and Tyrod Taylor has not topped 6.60 QCYPA in any of those games. Buffalo will have to rely on the running game, but only Denver (103 yards) has cracked 100 yards against the Dolphins D at home.

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5. Chargers -7.5 over Raiders
It is never comfortable backing QB Phil Rivers, especially when a clutch performance is what is needed, but Oakland comes off a physical MNF game on a cold night in Philadelphia. You have to wonder if the Raiders have any fight left in the tank. When these teams met in Oakland in Week 6, the Chargers eked out a 17-16 win. The defense procured 2 TOs and held the Raiders QB Derek Carr to 5.833 QCYPA. Only Kansas City's Alex Smith has exceeded 6.7 QCYPA against the LA defense it its las 6 games. The Chargers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 homes games, winning by an average of more than 19 points per game and never by less than 9 points. The Eagles late cover left the Raiders 1-6-1 ATS outside Oakland. The Raiders' defense has allowed only 1 TD pass in its last 4 games and has acquired 7 TO during that stretch. With those numbers and Rivers at QB, this is no sure thing. But, QC is 7-1 ATS both backing (Titans, Jets, Redskins, Broncos) and fading (Ravens, Patriots, Chiefs, Eagles) Oakland. The hunch here is the Raiders are still too worn out from the Eagles' physicality and Rivers exploits their weariness and delivers a comfortable win.

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 45-31-4 (.592)

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QC's Week 16 Thoughts

QC often wonders what an NFL owner is thinking when he or she hires and HC, but rarely does he think this when an HC is fired. Probably around 80% of the time an NFL coach gets fired, the coach's play design differential ranks in the bottom 10, usually bottom 5 of the NFL. The Giants are the worst designed team in the NFL and Ben McAdoo already has been sacked. Chuck Pagano of the Colts (No. 31 in play design +/-) seems like a goner. Cleveland's Hue Jackson (No. 30 in play design +/-) also fits the description, although owner Jimmy Haslam so far has said Jackson will return. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy (No. 29), Houston's Bill O'Brien (No. 28), and Denver's Vance Joseph (No. 27) also may be in jeopardy. The media already has fired Tampa Bay's Dirk Koetter and Chicago's John Fox and they likely will go, but both have play design figures that could justify another year, particularly Fox and his staff who actually did an excellent job with a decimated receiving corps.

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Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave Jason Garrett a vote of confidence after the Cowboys lost 21-12 to Seattle to fall to 8-7 and were eliminated from the playoff race. It would be pretty stunning if Jones called a reverse and terminated Garrett. The Cowboys' play design differential (+.0044) is in the middle of the pack and the year was sabotaged by the Ezekiel Elliott saga. Next year, Dallas should be free of Zeke drama and its young defenders who have looked very good at times will be a year older. Jones should definitely keep Garrett and his staff in tact, draft a few more lineman, WRs and DBs and keep working on new pass/run designs for Dak Prescott to take advanage of his dual-threat skills. If the Cowboys do so, they could be strong Super Bowl contenders in 2018.

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Another team that could be greatly improved in 2018 is San Francisco, which beat Jacksoville, 44-33, to climb to 4-0 since Jimmy Garoppolo took over at QB. Garoppolo looks like a perfect fit for HC Kyle Shannahan's designs. The best way to track the production of Shannahan's designs is to track the productivity of his FB and TEs in the passing game. Against the Jaguars, FB Kyle Juszczyk caught 5 passes for 76 yards. Before Garoppolo became the QB, Juszczyk caught 16 passes for 120 yard (7.5 avg). Since Garoppolo went under center, he has grabbed 13 or 176 yards (13.5 avg). TE George Kittle (7-96-TD) also has come alive in the last 2 games.

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Week 16 QC's 5 Best Bets

Week 16 offers some great NFL Christmas nostalgia. First, whenever the Chiefs meet the Dolphins in Kansas City around Christmas Day, it conjures up memories of when Miami won the longest game in NFL history, 27-24 (2 OT), on December 25, 1971. And the Philadelphia playing on Christmas Day always kindles holiday feelings of cheery Eagles' fans pelting Santa Claus with snowballs in 1968. Let'stry to make some Christmas memories of our own.

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1. Falcons +5.5 over Saints
This seems like a large subsidy for teams that are separated by a mere .0014 points of play design. Atlanta is on a short-week after outlasting Tampa Bay on MNF and has had more turnover problems than New Orleans throughout the year. But Saints QB Drew Brees threw a devastating interception in his team's 20-17 loss to the Falcons two weeks ago and New Orleans turned the ball over 3 more times last week against the Jets. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and friends played TO-free football to overcome an outstanding performance by Tampa's Jameis Winston. Led by RB Davonta Freeman, the Falcons ran for over 200 yards against the Bucs even though RB Tevin Coleman missed the game with a concussion. Coleman should be back for this one. New Orleans is just 3-4 ATS at home this year, largely because they are soft against the run. The Jets hit 'em for 124 yards on 28 carries last week and the Falcons piled up 137 yards on the ground in the first meeting. New Orleans is 0-7 ATS when opponents rush the ball 25 times or more. Atlanta is 0-5 ATS when opponents run the ball 30 times or more, but only one opponent (Vikings) has mustered at least 30 carries against the Falcons in their last 6 games.

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2. Chiefs -10.5 over Dolphins
When these teams met in that epic 1972 Divisional Playoff Game, Chiefs RB Ed Podolak set a playoff record for all purpose yards that still stand by running, catching and returning kicks for 350 yards. It still was not enough. Kansas City has two players, WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt, who are both capable of a Podolakian explosion. But the Dolphins don't have anyone who resembes Larry Csonka or Paul Warfield. The Chiefs have scored 26 or more points in each of their past 3 games and are +6 TO in that stretch. The defense has held opponents to 15 or fewer points in 4 of the last 5 games. Miami has committed at least 3 turnovers in 4 of its last 5 games, the one exception being an inexplicably sublime, turnover-free home performance against the Patriots. Normally, one might think such teams are due for a turnover regression. But this is Alex Smith v. Jay Cutler in Arrohead Stadium so expect more of the same. The Dolphins are 2-5 ATS on the road, including blowout losses of 14 points or more at NY Jets, Baltimore, Carolina, and New England. Andy Reid's team, on the other hand, is 5-2 ATS at home and the memory of that 1971 game should have the Arrowhead faithful revved up for what otherwise might be a rather blah game. For Dolphins fans, you can watch the highlights of the 1971 playoff win here.

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3. Bills +11.5 over Patriots
Buffalo's defense has rebouned from a mid-season melt down and has yielded 16 points or less in 3 of their last 4 games, all wins. In the other game, New England struggled to reach 23 points as the game was just 9-3 going into Q4. Rookie DB Tre'Davious White is the highest graded rookie at any position by Pro Football Focus. The Bills D-QCYPA (6.621) is excellent, especially in light of the fact the pass pressure is strictly meh. The offense is still blow average (6.197). But if you throw out the 6 TO disaster against the Chargers with rookie Nathan Peterman at QB, the Bills are +13 TO with Tyrod Taylor under center. On the other hand, Tom Brady has not been nearly as stingy with TO subsidies as he usually is. In their last 4 games, the Patriots are averaging 1.5 giveaways per game. You can bet that this has Bill Belichick's full attention. The pass coverage also has regressed the last two weeks. It is not back to the abysmal state it was in during the first month of the season, but the D-QCYPA has inflated to a little less than pedestrian 7.386. Given the TO and pass coverage problems and that Dion Lewis led a ground attack that rolled up 195 yards in the previous meeting with the Bills, look for Belichick to play conservatively and try to grind out the win. In a defensive, run-oriented slugfest, an 11.5 subsidy is an attractive cushion indeed.

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4. Cardinals -3.5 over Giants
Nobody is paying attention to this game. The entire panel on the "Beating the Book Podcast" said they do no want any part of this game.... And ... that ... is ... awesome! Arizona has not scored a TD in 3 weeks, but K Phil Dawson has drained 9 of 10 field goals in his last 2 games. The last thing you want to see laying the hook is a K push a 42-yarder wide. And DC James Betcher's D is flat out balling, limiting both Tennessee and Washington to just over 200 yards total offense. The pass pressure (-.594 sack yards per pass attempt) and pass coverage (6.554) are both top-notch. The offense is a mash unit as only 4 players who started Week 10 started last week at Washington. But GM Steve Keim builds a deep bench and no NFL HC is better at "next man up" than Bruce Arians. For example, when RB Kervyn Williams (who was subbing for Adrian Peterson who was subbing for David Johnson) went down against the Redskins, Arians plugged in RB Elijhaa Penny and the undrafted rookie from Idaho banged out 45 yards on 10 carries. Moreover, Arians is re-inserting Drew Stanton as the starting QB. Arians loves Stanton and he probably would have been the full-time starter if he had not hurt his knee a month ago. Stanton is less likely to turn the ball over than Blaine Gabbert and should be able to generate a TD or 2 against New York's porous pass D (8.190 D-QCPYA) that has given up 30 points or more in 4 of its last 7 games. Giants QB Eli Manning was hot last week against Philadelphia, but New York has only won SU when the Broncos and Chiefs provided 3 TO subsidies apiece. Further, in practice the Giants gave rookie QB Davis Webb 6 of the 8 snaps during the First Team Offense v. First Team Defense session. The starting QB usually takes all these snaps. With Eli most likely playing his last game as a Giant next week at home, it would make sense for management to take a look at Webb if New York falls behind early. Throwing a QB who has never taken an NFL snap into the fire against the Arizona D could be ugly. HC Steve Spagnuolo said Friday that Webb remains the No. 3 QB and "I don't think we'd be able [to activate Webb]." But what incentive does Spags have here to do anything but lie about Webb's status? The Giants are the worst coached team in the NFL (-.0596 play design +/-). The Cardinals play design differential (-.0064) is about the same as the Raiders' differential a few weeks ago when New York visited Oakland. The bookmakers subsidized the G-men 8.5 points in that game with Geno Smith at QB for New York. That's about what the line should be here even with Eli Manning at QB. Act quickly to grab the bargain. If sharp bettors notice this game is being played before it kicks off, there may be flood of red Cardinals money that could drive the price up.

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5. Eagles -8.5 over Raiders
Philadelphia's offense looked about the same with Nick Foles at QB as it did with Carson Wentz. Foles tossed 4 TD passes and posted 7.184 QCYPA in a win over the Giants. In Wentz's last 4 games before his injury, he averaged 2.5 TD passes per game and posted between 6.96 and 7.49 QCYPA. The Eagles' offense is fine. The defense is another story. In the past 3 games, Russell Wilson, Jared Goff, and Eli Manning combined to throw 8 TD passes and posted at least 7.710 QCYPA. DC Jim Schwartz is not happy. Look for him to bring pressure hard against Oakland QB Derek Carr and to try to force some turnovers. The Raiders have had severe TO problems on the road, giving the ball away 3, 1, 4, 2, and 3 times in their last 5 road games after a TO-free road opener at Tennessee. Except for a win in Miami, Carr has not been very productive on the road either, including a pair of absolute stinkers at Washington and Kansas City. Oakland is 2-4 ATS on the road and 0-7 ATS when opponents run the ball 28 times or more. Philadelphia is 5-1 ATS at home, including wins by 27, 10, 23, 28, and 28 points. Moreover, the Eagles are 9-1 ATS when they run the ball 28 times or more. Look for HC Doug Pederson to give RBs Jay Ajahi and Cory Clement a Christmas workload similar to what Santa gives his reindeer on Christmas Eve.

Last Week: 3-0-2
Season: 42-29-4 (.591)

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QC's Week 15 Thoughts

The NFL's ambiguous catch rule claimed another victim: Pittsburgh. The Steelers were better designed, +1 TO and solid in the kicking game when QB Ben Roethlisberger found Jesse James at the 2-yard line and the 6-7 TE lunched and stretched the ball across the goal line. But the ball wobbled a little as it touched the ground although it was still in his hands. The call on the field was TD, but NFL HQ reversed and on the next play Roethlisberger threw into traffic and the ball caromed to Duron Harmon who squeezed the pick to preserve the 27-24 win. The James play was pretty close to duplicate of the "non-catch" by Bert Emanuel of Tampa Bay in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. The irony is the NFL changed the catch rule after the Emanuel play to transform plays like those involving James from "non-catch" to "catch." Nearly 18 years have passed and the NFL still can't get it right. The most recent contorversy is easy to avoid. A catch is a transformational play. If a receiver catches the ball, gets 2 feet down in the non-scoring zone and moves the ball by any movement to the scoring zone, a transformatin has occurred and the play should be a TD. It should not matter if after the tranformation the ball touches the ground or is dislodged. The player has accomplished the defining transformation in the game: Moving the ball from the non-scoring zone to the scoring zone. The NFL is making it harder on itself than it needs to. And every coach knows that'll get you beat.

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Following Jacksonville's 45-7 win over Houston and the LA Rams' 42-7 wipeout of Seattle, both teams are 10-4 and ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively in play design differential. The Jaguars oft maligned QB Blake Bortles surgically carved up the Texans defense. The Rams in the trenches in their 42-7 demolition of the Seahawks? On offense, LA ran the ball 43 times for 244 yards. On defense, they sacked Seattle QB Russell Wilson 7 times. The Seahawks' QCYPA (2.700) barely exceeded the average number of yards Wilson lost on sacks (2.367). Don't give up Cleveland.

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After providing 4 turnovers to the Ravens in a 27-10 loss that left them 0-14, the Browns have 36 giveaways on the season. But Cleveland is nowhere near the NFL record 63 giveaways provided by the 1978 49ers (2-14) the year before Bill Walsh arrived and started to construct a dynasty. The game is so different after Walsh. Offensive play designers post-Walsh have systematically reduced turnovers to such an extent that 63 turnovers in a season is an unbreakable record. The most giveaways any team has provided since 2003 is 46 by the 2006 Oakland Raiders (2-14). It seems unlikely Cleveland can match that figure with only two games left with Chicago and Pittsburgh. But it is not completely out of the question.

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Week 15: QC's 5 Best Bets

Got to love 5-0 any week but candid introspection yields the conclusion luck played a big role in the Falcons covering (-2 TO and a crazy penalty the zeroed out a Saints field goa) and the Eagles covering (had punt blocked for TD). Late turnovers in both games turned in QC's favor. Bet heaven is a place where all the late turnovers go in your favor. Earth, however, is not like that. But one can always hope.

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1. Redskins -4 over Cardinals
Washington's slim playoff hopes were snuffed the last 2 weeks in losses to Dallas and the LA Chargers. Still, the Redskins have proven to be a resilient bunch. QB Kirk Cousins has put up 7.611 QCYPA and RB Samaje Perine has had his moments. Other than when facing the two best teams in the NFC (Philadelphia and Minnesota), the defense has limited opposing passers to no more than 6.273 QCYPA at home. The Cardinals are 6-7, but just 1-5 ATS on the road. This will be Arizona's first road game in a month and their injuries are mounting. An already leaking O-line will be without T Jared Veldheer and RB Adrian Peterson is likely gone for the year. The Redskins should put 3 men on WR Larry Fitzgerald and dare Bruce Arians and QB Blaine Gabbert to beat them with anyone else. Arizona could only muster 4 field goals at home last week against a punchless, -2 TO Titans team. It does not figure to be any better away from the desert.

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2. Rams +2 over Seahawks
Seattle received 5 generous turnovers from the Rams in LA and still only won 16-10. The Seahawks defense is not nearly what it was that day. DBs Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are gone and at best superstar MLB Bobby Wagner will try to play on one leg. Wagner is a difference maker and if he is not around to throttle RB Todd Gurley, HC Sean McVay should have an easier time keeping the Rams balanced. LA is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS on the road including a win at Jacksonville where Seattle just lost. If QB Jared Goff plays within himself, the Rams should be able to contain Russell Wilson enough to take command of the NFC West.

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3. Patriots -3 over Steelers
Rolling with Bill Belichick afer a loss is about as Squary McSquare Pants as you can be. The Patriots almost always bounce right back. Tom Brady has owned the Steelers over the years. Like everyone else, Brady was flat in a suprise loss last week in Miami. But he will have TE Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup and WR Chris Hogan should be betteer after returing to action from injury agains the Dolphins. RB Dion Lewis has been reliable all year and he should have a big day against a Steelers D that is without some key players in LB Ryan Shazier and DB Joe Haden. DC Keith Butler's unit started out strong, but they have yielded at least 8.028 QCYPA in 5 of their last 6 games. Offensively, QB Ben Roethlisberger has put up big numbers the last 4 games (12 TD passes), but the Seelers have not run the ball more than 24 times in any of those games which is odd for a team with Le'Veon Bell. It is never a good idea to think another team will win a shootout in the air against Brady and Belichick. Miami ran the ball 30 times in its upset of the Patriots. If Pittsburgh loses connection early and abandons Bell, it could be another long day for the Steelers.

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4. Raiders +3 over Cowboys
It seems QC says it every week: Raiders QB Derek Carr is the most inconsistent player in the NFL. After 2 good games, he stunk it up in Kansas City (5.073 QCYPA). But he has been much better at home. Only the Ravens and Chargers stingy pass defenses have held Carr below 8.111 QCYPA in Oakland and the Raiders are 4-2 ATS in the East Bay. Dallas QB Dak Prescott had done next to nothing for the last 5 games until erupting late in the Cowboys 30-10 win over the Giants. Winning the turnover battle 6-0 the last 2 weeks has been Dallas' biggest weapon. DC Rod Marinelli was glad to have LB Sean Lee back on the field last week, but the pass rush that has been good most of year has failed to produce a sack in 3 of the last 4 games. The one thing the Raiders do consistently well is protect Carr. If that continues, look for Carr to bounce back with a quality performance against a young Dallas secondary that has not been tested much since getting torched by Phil Rivers on Thanksgiving Day.

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5. Buccaneers +6.5 over Falcons
Atlanta is battling for a playoff spot and needs a win here to set up a huge game the following week in New Orleans against the Saints. Tampa Bay is going nowhere and rumors are swirling that HC Dirk Koetter and QB Jameis Winston are iffy after the Bucs turned the ball over 5 times in a loss to Detroit last week. Still, the Falcons had a tough time closing out Tampa Bay just 3 weeks ago when Winston was still out with an injury. The Bucs found a RB in Peyton Barber the last time they played Atlanta and he has given the ground game some burst the last 2 games, both close losses. Tampa Bay has rushed the ball 28 and 35 times in its last two games and when Atlanta opponents have rushed the ball 30 or more times, the Falcons are 0-5 ATS. Defensively, Mike Smith's pass defense is bad (8.221 D-QCYPA), but his troops still take the ball away (14 TO in last 6 games). Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has had turnover problems from time-to-time, most notably at Detroit and at home against Buffalo and New Orleans. The Bucs have lost only 1 game at home by more than 5 points (to Carolina and its physical defense when Winston played hurt). If Barber continues to give the Bucs balance and Koetter can limit Winston's pass attempts to less than 30, the Bucs could win this one SU.

Last Week: 5-0
Season: 39-29-2

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QC's Week 14 Thoughts

Cleveland lost a gut wrencher to Green Bay, 27-21, to fall to 0-13. But it would be a mistake to give up on DeShone Kizer who tossed 3 TD passes. This past week QC looked at some "environmental data," i.e., statistics that show what Kizer and the Browns have been up against and cannot control. It turns out the Browns have faced the toughest pass coverage as measure by D-QCYPA in the NFL and the second best turnover differential (opponents were a combined +28 coming into Week 14). In contrast, Dallas QB Dak Prescott opponents' his rookie year ranked in the middle of the pack in both categories. And Prescott joined a much better team. It is difficult, perhaps impossible for fans to accept, but mostly what is going on in Cleveland is growing pains.

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Jacksonville dominated and then survived Seattle. But what made headlines was Seahawks defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson almost going into the stands to engage fans who hurled beers at him. QC has this advice for Jefferson and players who find themselves in similar ugly situations: Put your helmet back on big fella! When QC was in HS there were some places we visited where you were required to keep your helmet after the game on until the bus reached the highway. If you keep you helmet on, then at worst you'll catch some foam off a cold one, but not a concussion. Safety first. Just sayin'.

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Arizona HC Bruce Arians is quietly doing a nice job. The Cardinals lost super-back David Johnson early in the season and their starting and backup QBs soon after that. The O-line is a mash unit too. Arians is doing it on offense with Larry Fitzgerald, Blaine Gabbert and duct tape. Depsite the adversity, Arizona is averaging an competitive 6.807 QCYPA and has tossed 18 TD passes. The defense is playing tough too and has received 20 subsidies from opponents. In their 12-7 win over Tennessee on Sunday, the Cardinals D stifled the Titans running game snagged 2 takeaways. Winning the turnover battle +2 and eking out an edge in the design battle is always a sound recipe for NFL success.

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Week 14: QC's 5 Best Bets

QC is annoyed by field goals. A 3-2 Week 13 could have been a lot better but for field goals. In Chicago, the Bears won the turnover battle, returned a punt for a TD and kept San Francisco out of the end zone. But ex-Bears K Robbie Gould booted 5 field goals to undo all the good. Later, QC's nemesis, Phil Rivers, moved the Chargers up and down the field on the hapless Browns. But 5 drives of 10 plays or more ended in field goal attempts and LA could not climb the -14 mountain.

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1. Falcons PK over Saints
Candidly, this cover was gift from the Gambling Gods. The Falcons were -2 TO and a team with as narrow a pre-game play design edge as Atlanta held over New Orleans wins only 10.7% of the time at -2 TO. The Saints did not lose, 20-17, because Drew Brees forced a pass into the end zone that resulted in an interception with less than 2 minutes to play. Rather, Atlanta prevailed because it was awarded a whopping 9 first downs via penalty while the Saints received nada, zip, zero, zilch. Moreover, as time expired in the first half, a New Orleans field goal was nullified by a penalty on the tight end for lining up a smidge off the line leaving the Saints with an invalid 6-man line. That is a penalty that QC occassionally saw when the Coach was designing CYO plays for 7th and 8th graders in Cincinnati. But you NEVER see that called in the NFL. Thank you, Gambling Gods.

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2. Chiefs -4 over Raiders
Kansas City has lost 6 of 7 while Oakland has won 3 of its last 4. But the Chiefs still enjoy a 2% play design differential advantage and a massive turnover differential (+17) advantage over the Silver & Black. Alex Smith and his explosive playmakers Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt were held silent by the Giants and Bills and the defense collapsed against the Jets. So the Chiefs are probably grateful to see anyone who is not from New York. Before the funk, Andy Reid's team covered at home against Philadelphia, Washington and Denver and two of those teams are better than the Raiders. Oakland's recent wins have been against Miami, Denver and the NY Giants, who are all in the Bottom 10 in the NFL in play design differential. WR Amari Cooper destroyed KC in the earlier meeting, but he is coming off a concussion and still hobbled by an ankle. QB Derek Carr has been the most eratic player in the NFL. His last two games against the Broncos and Giants were strong, but the Raiders have 8 turnovers in their last 3 road games (counting a debacle against New England in Mexico City). The bet here is that Bob Sutton's defense turns Carr over and Smith and the KC offense stay hot againt a Raiders defense that has been shredded by veteran passers Flacco, Cousins and Brady.

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3. Eagles +2 over Rams
These surprise teams are separated by just .0007 points of play design. But it should not be that close on the field. The Eagles defense ranks No. 2 in the NFL in preventing explosive plays. When the Rams have faced the Seahawks and Vikings--both also excel in preventing explosive plays--they have lost. Philadelphia is super tough against the run and if Todd Gurley cannot keep the offense balanced, then Jared Goff's use of play action becomes limited and the explosive plays evaporate. In LA's 3 losses, the greatest number of rushing attempts Sean McVay called was 22. Philadelphia has limited opponents to fewer than 22 rushing attempts in 8 of 12 games. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have won every game except last week in Seattle in which they have run the ball 26 or more times. Opponents of Wade Phillips' defense--which likes to attack and sometimes does not get solid run fits--have rushed 26 or more times in 50% of the Rams 2017 games. Philly was -2 TO in the Seattle game and that is not likely to happen again, particularly if Doug Pederson calls 30 or more runs, which he probably will. QC loves the Eagles plus the points in this matchup.

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4. Cardinals +3 over Titans
These teams are a lot more evenly matched than you would think 8-4 and 5-7 teams would be. Arizona is 0.17% better designed than its opponents and Tennessee is 0.15%. That's about as close as it gets. While the Cardinals are just 3-8-1 ATS, they are 2-1-1 ATS in their last 4 home games against the Bucs, Seahawks, Jaguars and Rams. Bruce Arians picked up Blaine Gabbert and he seems to be a good fit for Arians' deep pass designs. Tennessee's defense has posted a solid D-QCYPA (6.773), but has allowed 22 TD passes. Gabbert has tossed 6 TD passes in his 3 starts, so if he avoids TOs, he should put some points on the board. Meanwhile, the road has not been kind to Marcus Mariota and the Titans. Mariota has thrown just 3 TD passes on the road and the Titans have committed 15 TO away from home. Arizona's defense has held opponents under 100 yards rushing and under 24 rushing attempts in 4 of its last 5 games. In games in which the Titans have run the ball 24 or fewer times, Tennessee is 0-5 ATS. If DeMarco Murray and Darrick Henry cannot get traction, Mariota could provide another generous helping of TO subsidies and the Cardinals could feast at home.

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5. Jaguars -2.5 over Seahawks
To QC, "The Spot" is a historic diner in Sidney, Ohio. But to situational handicappers, the spot is a game that falls in a disadvantageous spot on a team's schedule. One such "spot" is when a team plays a non-conference road game the week before facing a division opponent. Seattle is in just such a spot with the Rams on deck. To boot, the Seahawks are coming off a prime time game against uber-physical Philadelphia. Now that's a spot. Further, Russell Wilson is 0-2 lifetime in Florida. In 2012, the Seahawks tripped on the Dolphins, 24-21. In 2016, Tampa Bay won 14-5 and ended Seattle's lengthy streak of being within one score in Q4. Neither of those teams play defense like the Jaguars. Jacksonville's 5.316 D-QCPA and .742 yards lost on sacks per pass attempt are both best in the NFL. The Jaguars also have received a whopping 27 turnovers. The Seahawks' defense is a rugged too, particularly against the run and Seattle's D-QCYPA is a solid 6.454. That's about the same as Blake Bortles QCYPA (6.752). However, Seattle's QCYPA was even better on their past two trips to Florida and Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston enjoyed still enjoyed above-expectation success. And Canton is not exactly melting the bronze to make busts for Tannehill and Winston. Don't be surprised if Seattle is a little bit Florida flat again and Bortles has a better than average game. Hey, it's a long flight.

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 34-29-2

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QC's Week 13 Thoughts

Kansas City averaged more than 10 yard per rush and averaged more than 10 yards per pass and did not commit a turnover. And still lost to the Jets, 38-31. The Chiefs' defense was awful, but QB Alex Smith might have had a point when he complained afterwords about the officiating favoring New York. Wonderful football achaeologist @football perspective found it was only the second time since 2002 that a QB generated more than 37.5 fantasy sports and did not commit a turnover and his team lost. On the other occasion, the Giants Eli Manning lost a 2015 shootout to the Saints Drew Brees, 52-49, in which Manning tossed 6 TDs, but Brees tossed 7 TDs.

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Cleveland fell to 0-12 in a 19-10 loss to the Chargers and with the defeat Hue Jackson's record as Browns HC fell to 1-27. You have to feel for Hue. Cleveland is undergoing perhaps the most radical tear down and rebuild (hopefully) the NFL has ever seen. A year after stripping away almost all its veteran players, the Brown elected to go with a barely 21-year-old rookie at QB, DeShone Kizer. Not surprisingly, Cleveland is -19 TO. It is impossible to win even 1 NFL game averaging more than -1.5 TO per game. Impossible. Will Hue return? If QC owned the Browns, the question he would ask would not be what has Hue done well and what has he failed to do or done poorly. The question would be: What impact has this extreme losing had on him? Is he still the same guy we hired mentally and emotionally. Coaches do not lose knowledge. Hue is still essentially the same cocah that made him a great candidate for the job. But coaches are human. This takes a toll. It may be that like a cornerman in boxing, somebody should throw in the towel for Hue's own sake.

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After the first week of the season, it seemed like Kansas City's Kareem Hunt would run away with the 2017 NFL ROY Award, but like the rest of the Chiefs' offense, Hunt has cooled way down in the last 6 weeks. Then Houston QB DeShaun Watson started throwing TD passes at a stunning rate before suffering an injury. Now Saints RB Alvin Kamara is getting a lot of love after showing WOW! factor in a 31-21 win over Carolina. But QC's frontrunner is a player who is not getting any attention: Vikings C Pat Elflein. Center is a crucial position in the NFL. The center is the QB's sidekick, like a catcher in baseball, and is the control center of the O-line. It is hard to start much less excel as a rookie. And Elflein has excelled. Pro Football Focus ranks Elflein as only the No. 28 center in the league and gives him a poor grade. QC does not buy it. With a small QB like Case Keenum, core interior protection is crucial. New Orleans HC Sean Payton taught the NFL this, protecting smaller QB Drew Brees with massive G-C-G core protectors. Elflein is not enormous, but Keenum has been tearing up the NFL and the Vikings are on a 8-game winning streak. A year ago, Minnesota ranked No. 5 in pass protection (-.481 yards per attempt) and dead last in rushing yards. This year, the Vikings are No. 5 in pass protection (-.277 lost per pass attempt) and 6th in rushing yards. There is simply no way Minnesota could be playing at such a high level as a team if Elflein was not excelling in the trenches.

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Week 13: QC's 5 Best Bets

Week 12 offered a classic lesson that sometimes solid handicapping simply isn't rewarded. QC's picks were 2-2-1 but if the Colts and Ravens could have combined for just 2 more points, the picks would have been 4-1. Both Indy (+1) and Baltimore (+3) were turnover positive and playing at home. Such teams cover better than 70% at that turnover differential. The Jets (+4.5) failure to cover was even more painful. New York gave up a kick return for a TD and a fumble return for a TD, but Carolina still needed NFL HQ to deduct 4 points from the Jets by overturning a second half TD pass in order for the Panthers to cover. No tears. It's called gambling for a reason. All of those negative results arose from the elements of NFL football that are mostly emergent and undesigned and hence nearly impossible to predict. QC nailed the elements that can be predicted in 2016. Hopefully, that will happen again in Week 13 and the results will be better.

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1. Packers +1.5 over Buccaneers
You won't find this line anywhere. It is the Westgate Super Contest line. It is a mystery why the Westgate went with this number. Tampa Bay opened as the favority the line quickly was bet to Green Bay -2. Perhaps the Westgate feels that with the announcement that Jameis Winston will be back starting at QB for the Bucs there will be late money on Tampa Bay that will cause another line reversal. That shouldn't happen. The Bucs have been terrible on the road, including 1-3 ATS with Winston at QB. The defense has been terrible, yielding over 8.4 QCYPA. Green Bay QB Brett Hundley bombed Pittsburgh's stingy D last week and may have found a productive groove. He looked poised, confident and dangerous against the Steelers. It is forecast to be mild in Green Bay on Sunday but don't be surprised if Hundley stays hot and the Packers pass coverage freezes out Winston.

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2. Bears -3 over 49ers
At kickoff on Sunday, the Bears and the 49ers will have met exactly 364 days ago on Soldier Field. San Francisco came into that game 1-10 as it does this time and 3-8 Chicago entered 2-9. The Bears smashed the 49ers 26-6 as the franchise that produced Bill Walsh saw QBs Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert combine for a franchise record low 6 passing yards. This time Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first start for San Francisco. But the 49ers are even worse designed overall than they were last year. Chicago's design also is down a bit, but that mostly resulted from getting steam-rolled last week by the best team in the NFL, Philadelphia. The Bears have been tough at home and the 49ers still cannot stop anyone on the ground. Chicago RB Jordan Howard ran for 3 TDs in this matchup last year and he should bounce back from last week with another big outing. The Bears will miss LB Leonard Floyd, but they still have pass rushers and plenty of big-play cover guys to make Garoppolo's debut as the starter difficult. QB Mitchell Trubisky struggled in Philadelphia (like everyone else), but Chicago is +3 TO since he became the starting QB and the ground game and D should take the pressure off against an opponent as bad as San Francisco.

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3. Chargers -14 over Browns
QC never likes to back Phil Rivers. But this is the type of game where Rivers thrives. Cleveland is so terrible, but even more terrible on the road where they are 0-5 ATS. Per coaching stats, QC would make this line -19.5 so thre is plenty of value on the Chargers even laying a full 2 TDs. LA is surging. The Chargers D has generated multiple takeaways in 6 of the last 7 games (the only blemish was at New England and that really shouldn't count). The Browns have susidized opponents with multiple turnovers in 7 of their last 8 games. LA has covered 6 of its last 7 games and is 5-1-1 ATS against negatively designed teams. Hue Jackson is going to put WR Josh Gordon straight into the starting lineup even though Gordon has not played an NFL game since 2014. But if he designs a game plan that calls for rookie QB DeShone Kizer to hang in the pocket and look deep for Gordon, it could be an uncomfortable day for Kizer because LA's pass coverage is excellent (6.296 D-QCYPA) and pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should have big days.

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4. Saints -4 over Panthers
New Orleans has struggled on defense las week against the Rams as sensational rookie CB Marshon Lattimore and fellow CB Ken Crawley missed the contest with injuries. Lattimore at least should be back this week. In the four games that preceeed the Saints meeting with LA and Washington, New Orleans limited opponents to less than 5 QCYPA and player productivity below the JaMarcus Cable. Carolina QB Cam Newton has not looked right throwing the ball for some time now. He threw a lot of inaccurate passes last week against the Jets. In only 1 of the Panthers last 6 games has Newton posted QCYPA greater than 5.5. Carolina can run the ball and the Saints are pretty spongy against the run, but it is hard to outscore Drew Brees in the Super Dome merely by running the ball. Sean Payton vs. Ron Rivera currently the longest running design rivaly in the NFC. Mike Tomlin vs. Marvin Lewis and Tomlin vs. John Harbaugh are longer running in the AFC, but those rivalries don't have as distinctive offensive designer vs. defensive designer feel as Payton vs. Rivera. Carolina's defense is stingy against the run, so Payton might not be able to achieve the balance that New Orleans has developed this year. But Brees still should move the ball in the air and he rarely provides generous portions of eTOuffe in the Dome. Even if the game turns into a defensive slugfest, Rivera probably does not have enough weapons to cover this number.

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5. Seahawks +6 over Eagles
Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have owned the NFC East. Together they are 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS against the NFL's marquee division. OC Darrell Bevell has done another masterful job designing the Seahawks offense. Not only is Bevell saddled with Seattle's typical leaky offensive line, this year he does not have any difference-makers at RB. As a result, Wilson has become the team's most important producer in both the passing game and the running game. No QB does it better. Wilson accounts for more than 80% of all his team's offensive yards passing and running. While Cam Newton is the best QB ball-carrier in the NFL on designed runs, Wilson is one of the greatest improvisational scramblers in history. He will have to do so again because Philadelphia DC Jim Schwartz brings heat. Behind steady pass pressure, the pass coverage is has posted 6.150 D-QCYPA. The Eagles steamroller has covered 8 games in a row and QB Carson Wentz has thrown at least 2 TD passes in 7 straight games. In all of those games but one, Philadelphia has run the ball at least 30 times. The last time Wentz did not receive solid support from the ground game was in a Week 2 loss at Kansas City in which the Eagles ran the ball just 17 times. However, Carroll's D has held opponents under 100 yards rushing in 5 of their last 6 games. Only Houston--with a healthy and dynamic DeShawn Watson--cracked the century mark. It will be imperative for the Seahawks to continue to hold up on the ground. If they do, the uber-confident Wentz may try to do a little too much and provide a few turnovers that could support a SU upset.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 31-27-2

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