I pegged Thursday night’s game as a toss-up, and I think that despite the touchdown difference for the final score we can say that was a fair assessment. It was close early, then Washington went on a run, then Minnesota went on a run, and Minnesota managed to tack on two field goals to make the final margin a bit more convincing when Washington couldn’t convert from 1st and goal at the 8. That was despite Alfred Morris doing roughly whatever he wanted to do, although his great effort was offset by the Washington defense allowing Christian Ponder to have probably his best game ever before leaving with injury (and then letting Cassel do pretty well too). I know Washington has RGIII, and was out of time-outs, but this was another game (following my account of the Rams-Seahawks game) where I think you have to try running the ball to win. Washington ran well all game, but they have three incompletions to come up short. But enough of that, let’s turn to the rest of this weekend’s games. I’ll cover a couple games that have unusual predictions.
Probably the most unusual pick the models have this week is Chargers-Broncos, where all three like the Chargers to win outright. The Broncos are 7 point favorites. What’s going on? Well, the game is in San Diego, so that’s one factor in favor of the Chargers. Denver is number 1 in the league in offensive yards per play, but the Chargers are 4th and only behind by .2 yards per play. Denver has the edge through the air, getting sacked a little less (although Rivers has also been getting great protection), getting an extra few tenths of a yard per pass attempt, and throwing a few fewer interceptions, but the Chargers have the less terrible run game. So your impression that the Broncos have the better offense is accurate, but it isn’t as big a gap as you might think. When you turn to defense, neither team has been especially good. Both give up yards through the air in bunches, but the Broncos have a decent interception rate to counter it a bit. Denver is much better at stopping the run, coming in 2nd best compared to San Diego’s 2nd worst. The Broncos defense isn’t good, but the Chargers’ is bad. Denver has been very fumble prone while San Diego has not, however, and San Diego has had bad fumble recovery luck so far. The Broncos have also taken a few more penalties. Overall, you have to say that the Broncos are the better team. But the gap is perhaps surprisingly close, and with the game in San Diego the Chargers may have a shot.
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Here are Bill Simmons’ picks, in a sidebar for a column where he guesses at what teams will make the playoffs. I don’t know what kind of voodoo he uses to make his decisions, but he’s going with the Lions to cover this week (which means win since the game is a pick ‘em) and make the playoffs. That makes me pretty nervous. I’m glad the models have Chicago as the favorite so I can be more pessimistic.
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The other maybe odd pick for the week is Oakland keeping it close with the Giants when New York is a 7 point favorite. Oakland has the better run defense and gets more QB pressure; the Giants give up fewer yards per pass attempt and get a few more picks. The Raiders are far better at running than the Giants and get more yards per pass as well, but also get sacked kind of constantly while both teams have thrown a bunch of picks. In sum, the teams are pretty close on offense and you might even give the nod to Oakland, but the Giants have the better defense. Is that worth a touchdown? The models think no.
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Let’s wrap up with our ‘exciting’ games for the week. Chicago-Detroit, Chargers-Broncos, and Saints-Cowboys are all expected to break 50 going by the over/under. Luigi also puts Packers-Eagles in that group, but doesn’t know that Rodgers won’t be playing. Those all seem like reasonable picks to me, so I hope you get to watch one of those instead of practically every other game this week, which has a big array of games pegged at 44 or less (the only exception is Atlanta-Seattle). And god have mercy on us all for the Monday night game.
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