Tonight’s game is a big one in the NFC North. The Lions sit at the top of the division at 3-1, but everyone else is tied at 2-2. And as I keep harping on, the most important games involve teams with average records. The Lions host the Bills this weekend and are currently big favorites, but it’s hard to say with a new QB coming in (Orton for Buffalo) and the Lions being the Lions. Chicago is traveling to Carolina, who may not have any running backs but is still a decent team. So it’s possible that the winner of this game will end up in a tie for first place with a division win under their belt.
Green Bay is favored by 8 points. I find this a little odd because the Vikings are arguably the better team, even with AP. I’m sure part of it is due to Aaron Rodgers looking like Aaron Rodgers again last week against Chicago. And losing in Seattle isn’t a terrible thing (although losing by 20 isn’t great). But these are still the Packers who only beat the Jets by 7 and lost in Detroit pretty convincingly. The Vikings lost to the Patriots and Saints, which is looking less impressive each week, but beat Atlanta (who look pretty decent) and the Rams (ok, point taken). What I’m trying to say is that the Vikings haven’t played a bunch of slouches so far. UPDATE: Just noticed that Bridgewater is worse for wear than I had read earlier in the week. Dropping to Ponder would obviously be a downer for the Vikings. I’m not sure if it’s an 8 point swing though.
Minnesota may have played a two-headed monster of glorified back-up Matt Cassell and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, but they’re still an above-average passing team in yards per attempt and not that far behind Rodgers and the Pack (7.4 to 7.7 yards per dropback). Green Bay looks much better when you shift to adjusted yards per attempt because Rodgers only has one interception so far (the Vikings have 4, all by Cassell), but they’re virtually tied again on net yards per attempt because Rodgers has been sacked more often. Once you note that Bridgewater has a higher completion percentage, yards per attempt (in any flavor), and lower sack percentage than Cassell, there’s at least some reason to think that the Vikings aren’t that far behind in the passing game.
The Vikes also have the advantage on the ground despite missing AP. Asiata’s yards per rush isn’t impressive, but it actually isn’t much different from Peterson’s one game, and Kerick McKinnon has killed it as the change of pace guy. Bridgewater has also been a positive runner so far. For any of you who drafted Eddie Lacy, you know the Packers haven’t been as effective. They’re 27th in the league in yards per rush, Lacy is averaging a flat 3 yards per carry, and he hasn’t broken anything longer than 17 yards. It really kind of seems like Minnesota could be the better offensive team.
On the other side, Green Bay has been more effective against the pass, although Minnesota has the better pass rush (going by sack percentage). Both teams are roughly average though. The flip is true for rushing, where Minnesota is a bit better though both teams are around average. For whatever reason though, the Vikings are doing much better on pro football reference’s expected points measure, where the Packers are abysmal.
Anywho, each of the models sees this as a close game with maybe a tiny lean towards the Vikings. Since Green Bay is favored by 8, they would obviously suggest Minnesota against the spread. And given the wide difference between the prediction and the line, there’s a good chance this game will be in the SuperContest picks. Although if you read the wrap-up from earlier today, you might not find that to be such a good sign for accuracy.
And now some power rankings!
Coming off a bye week and with no other big movers, the Bengals stay on top. Also unsurprisingly, the Jaguars are still on the bottom. The Chargers at second may seem a little odd. But they are killing it in the passing game, have an average enough defense, and have played some tough teams in Seattle (a win) and Arizona (a one point loss on the road) and another decent game in a road win in Buffalo. The models expect them to pile on against the Jets this weekend; a good showing against a tough defense would raise confidence in the Chargers as a good team. Since tonight’s game is all about the NFC North, I’ll just point out that the Lions are 7th in the rankings, Minnesota is 15th, Green Bay is 23th, and the Bears are toughing it out at 26th. Also, the top offenses in the league appear to belong to the Falcons and Colts while the top defenses are the Ravens and Lions.