The models had a pretty atrocious week and I actually got to see a good amount of football, including going to the Monday Night game, so let’s talk about some actual games and leave the model results at the bottom for those interested.
I picked out two games as potential high-scorers: Denver-Washington and Detroit-Dallas. Both games looked to be disappointing on that front, as the former was 7-7 at halftime and the latter was 7-10. The Cowboys simply couldn’t get anything going; they punted on their first four drives after gaining only 57 yards before getting a field goal and then a touchdown after an interception gave them the ball at the Detroit 4. The Lions were held back by two interceptions, both in Dallas territory. The Broncos started off as expected, going 77 yards for a touchdown, but then punted the rest of the way while the Redskins went the opposite way; they punted every drive until they scored a touchdown on their last possession before the half.
Besides the low score, the favored teams weren’t doing very well. Denver was favored by 11 and the Lions were favored by about 3. Things went worse for the favorites after halftime, as the Broncos fumbled and Washington turned it into a touchdown and followed that up with an interception. The Lions fumbled twice themselves, which the Cowboys turned into a field goal for a 6 point lead. At this point, Denver was losing the turnover battle 2-0 and Detroit was down 4-0, which everyone was happy to tell you was a virtual death sentence. But both teams ended up winning. How did that happen?
The Broncos did it in perhaps the more traditional way: they started playing up their ability and Washington turned the ball back over to help even the count. After the interception, the Broncos scored three straight touchdowns and a field goal thanks in part to a Washington fumble and a shanked punt. From there Washington ended every drive with an interception, and while the Broncos threw one as well they also tossed in two more touchdowns. In the end, Denver won the turnover battle and the game.
Detroit did it a different way: with perhaps the most dominant 1 point victory in NFL history. The Lions outgained the Cowboys 623 yards to 268. Obviously some of Dallas’ low yardage can be attributed to good field position after the turnovers, but they also only got 4.8 yards per play, which is the season average for the Browns and Rams. According to pro-football-reference, the Lions outgained Dallas by 70 yards more than any other team that won by a point since the merger. Only 53 teams have gained 350 or more yards than their opponent in that same timeframe; only three have lost (one ironically being Dallas against Detroit in 1985) and only one other besides Detroit won by less than 10 points. The average score in those 53 games was 38-8. Many of those teams actually won the turnover battle; as you can imagine, it’s hard to gain yards if you’re busy turning the ball over. But not for the Lions. They got 4.9 yards per rush, which would be third in the league as a season average, and 10 yards per pass, obviously good for first. Their overall average of 8 yards per play would be first in the league by a yard and a half, which is the distance from number 1 Green Bay (6.5) to number 22 Tennessee (tied with the Jets). In short, the Lions absolutely destroyed the Cowboys, and the game was only close because they had to overcome a huge turnover deficit. Given the division race I’ve talked about previously, this was a big win for Detroit. And given how messy the NFC East is, this was a big loss for Dallas.
I was surprised by how the Seattle-St. Louis game turned out. Not that the Seahawks won, which I expected, but that the Rams gave the game away. St. Louis had a dominant defensive performance, holding Seattle to 3.4 points per play. That’s over a full yard worse than Jacksonville’s season average. The Rams didn’t do much better, but they did have an excellent night running the ball. They were held back by two interceptions and very cautious coaching. You have to assume that when one of the best teams in the league, which has a strong defense, comes to your stadium and you’re starting your career back-up back-up QB, that points will be at a premium. Yet the Rams kicked field goals on 4th and 6 from the 15, on 4th and 2 from the 10, and on 4th and goal from the 9. The end of the game was particularly frustrating. Needing a touchdown because Legatron missed a 50 yard field goal, the Rams managed to drive from their own 3 into Seattle territory by the two minute warning. It was obvious they were running the clock so that Seattle wouldn’t have time to mount a drive if the Rams took the lead. Zac Stacy was hurt during the drive, but Daryl Richardson was doing a fine job. He caught an 8 yard pass and had runs of 3, 5, 10, and 4 yards. By this point, the Rams were on the Seahawks’ 2 and took their first timeout with 31 seconds left. It was 3rd and 2.
Again, to recap: it’s 3rd and goal at the 2, you have a career back-up at QB, and you’ve been running for nearly five and a half yards per pop. You still have two timeouts, so you can do whatever you want. I am typically a fan of pass-happy game plans, but I thought the Rams absolutely had to run the ball twice here. Instead they put Clemens in an empty backfield to throw, which goes incomplete. Fortunately for St. Louis, Seattle was offside and so they got to try again but now from the 1 with 27 seconds remaining. The Rams did try Richardson up the middle, but he was stopped for no gain. They then let the clock run down to four seconds before calling a time out, and let Clemens try another empty backfield pass that fell incomplete. Besides the fact that I would have tried to run again, I think this was a bad decision. If you think you’re going to pass to win the game, I think you still need to call a time out earlier.
If memory serves, the Richardson play was whistled with a good 12 seconds or so still on the clock. Let’s say you dial up that pass and you score. The Rams take the lead and now they have to sweat out maybe 8 seconds of a squib kick and a Seattle hail mary or hook and ladder attempt. That should be doable. Let’s say you pass and it’s incomplete; you lose just like the Rams actually did except they have to watch the Seahawks take a knee first, or maybe run around briefly before taking a safety if they feel like making it interesting. But most importantly, let’s say it’s incomplete but there’s a defensive penalty. Now you have another try; if it’s pass interference, you even have more downs. The game can’t end on a defensive penalty, so the Rams would have gotten one more try regardless. But if they call time out with 12 seconds left and then draw a pass interference or defensive holding or anything like that, they get first and goal at the 1, maybe with enough time to run two plays. I think the chance for that extra play, especially if you want to pass because there’s a better chance of drawing a penalty, is more important than the issue of sweating out a squib kick. I felt like the Rams were more worried about running the clock than they were with taking the lead first, and it cost them.
Alright, let’s do the rankings:
Still not many surprises or changes at the top. Kansas City seems low for an undefeated team, but I think it’s fair to say their offense is indeed pretty average. Their defense is great, but between the two that still just makes them a good team as opposed to elite. I think one team to look at on that list is Chicago. They have a very high offensive rating and a very poor defensive rating (actually, fourth worst in the league) to come out a bit above average. But with Cutler out, the offense is going to suffer. That does not bode well for the Bears. Let’s do the season predictions:
Those are mostly for your entertainment, but I might do another division race post soon when things have settled a bit more. I can’t decide if we’re already halfway through the season or only halfway through the season.
Ok, now to run through the model results real quick. I’ll start with the Hilton SuperContest picks. This past week Luigi was 2-3. That puts my SuperContest ‘entry’ at 22-17-1 for 22.5 points, and I’m pretty much in the same place in the standings as last week. Yoshi 1 went 2-3 for a total of 19-20-1, and Yoshi 2 went 2-3 (same picks as Luigi) for a total of 21-18-1.
In all games, Luigi was 4-9, but would have passed on five games and gone 2-6 on the rest. That gives Luigi a total of 51-52-1/43-41-1. Yoshi 1 was 4-9/3-9 for a total of 49-54-1/41-46-1, and Yoshi 2 was 4-9/2-8 for a total of 46-57-1/37-47-1. The consensus picks, where all three models agree, were 2-6 for a 31-28-1 total.
Using his lines, Bill Simmons went 6-7. Luigi went 3-10, Yoshi 1 went 4-9, and Yoshi 2 went 4-9. That makes the counts Bill 44-56-4, Luigi 50-50-4, Yoshi 1 52-48-4, and Yoshi 2 47-53-4.
Luigi was 1-9 on moneyline bets and was crushed. The Yoshis had a couple more hits, but did similarly poorly. And hopefully next week will be a better week.