Super Bowl Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Super Bowl XLVII…

Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.39 – Baltimore, 7.22 – San Francisco
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 26.95, San Francisco 30.94
Quick Thoughts:
1. Remember the era of NFL history when the Super Bowl was just one long string of blowout after blowout after blowout after blowout? I actually don’t, since I’m a young pup and have no recollection of Michael Jackson being any other skin color than white, but for the first, oh, 30 years or so of the Super Bowl, the game itself was usually lopsided and dull, with a close game thrown in every five years to keep everyone on their toes. And even the “close” games weren’t that particularly compelling. The Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V on a last-second field goal, but there were a total of eleven combined turnovers in that game and even the Colts players were embarrassed by their performance. The Steelers’ 35-31 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII is often regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, but the Steelers led that game 35-17 with seven minutes left and the Cowboys didn’t start going no-huddle until there were two minutes left. By the time they got the game back to four points, there were only 22 seconds left. That crap was never in doubt after the midway point of the fourth quarter. Really, if we’re making a list of truly great games from the first thirty Super Bowls, we’re left with XXIII (Joe Montana leading the the 49ers to the 92-yard game-winning drive), XXV (WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT), and maybe X (the first Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl). Outside of that, you basically just have a loop of the Vikings, Bills and Broncos getting slaughtered over and over again and America gaining a collective 1.2 billion pounds on one day for no good reason.
2. Starting with Super Bowl XXXII (Broncos-Packers), however, the game has been consistently entertaining and memorable. Sure, we’ve still gotten a few clunkers like Super Bowl XXXV (where Kerry Collins tried to complete more passes to the Ravens than to his own team) and XXXVII (where Bill Callahan THREW THE SUPER BOWL BECAUSE HE HAD A BROMANCE GOING WITH JON GRUDEN AND DIDN’T WANT TO SUCCEED IN THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF HIS LIFE! Sorry, Tim Brown just took over control of the keyboard). But think of how many other incredible, classic moments we’ve seen in this game just in the past fifteen years. Elway helicoptering his way to a first down and finally getting that Super Bowl victory. Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson one yard short of the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Adam Vinatieri thwarting Ricky Proehl’s heroics with a kick on the last play from scrimmage – twice. The Helmet Catch and the end to the perfect season. James Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and everything else about Super Bowl XLIII. Tracy Porter’s pick-six. Mario Manningham’s incredible toe tap last year. And now last night’s game, which, after a time where a old-time Super Bowl blowout seemed likely, turned into one of the wackiest and most thrilling games of recent vintage – which is saying a lot. Let’s all just say a collective thank-you for not having being subjugated to a Cowboys-Bills crapfest in a LONG time.
3. I remain fairly confident in saying that the 49ers were a better team than the Ravens this year  – just like New England and Denver probably were, as well – and as you can see above, the advanced stats seem to agree. In a vacuum, the 49ers were much more efficient than the Ravens last night, picked up large chunks of yards much more easily, and made far more amusing facial gestures from their head coaching position. But being “better” does not necessarily equal “deserving” a victory. The Ravens were much, MUCH better than the 49ers in situational aspects (9-for-18 on combined third and fourth downs compared to 2-for-10, 50% touchdown rate in the red zone compared to 33%, one killer turnover compared to two, etc.) and came up with a huge play in special teams as well. They shot themselves in the foot with far less frequency than the 49ers and they deserved to win.
4. Whenever an underdog team ends up going on a great postseason run like the Ravens did this season, the tendency from the advanced stats community is to badmouth the overachiever and explain all the factors that had to do with pure luck and weren’t related to team quality at all that caused the perceived “best” team to stumble. This always smacks a bit of sour grapes to me. Of course luck was involved! You usually don’t win three or four consecutive games against quality teams without getting a little good fortune tossed your way. Outside of a string of champions from the mid-to-late ’80s, the list of teams that pranced through the postseason without playing a one-score game is really small and limited to all-time great teams like the ’73 Dolphins and ’92 Cowboys. The fact that the Ravens needed a near-miraculous play in the Divisional Round to advance on doesn’t detract at all from their accomplishment. Good statistical analysis explains why a team is likely to win, not why they will win. An underdog team will always have a chance to win a single game and string together a streak of victories. It’s unlikely, of course. But it can happen. And from their opening-round dispatching of the lone inferior opponent they faced to their classic double-overtime win in Denver to their out-coaching and out-witting effort in New England all the way through their hang-on-for-dear-life victory last night against San Francisco, the Ravens personified that fact.
5. Okay, so Jerome Boger did a terrible-as-expected job as referee, but I have no complaint with the no-call on San Francisco’s final fourth-down play last night. If anything, it would have felt just a little wrong if the referees had bailed out the 49ers with an illegal contact call. Remember, Dannell Ellerbe was coming scot-free on a blitz that Colin Kaepernick did not recognize and forced Kaepernick to toss up an inaccurate, back-footed heave WAY before he wanted to. Baltimore completely dictated the play on its terms and to then have a cheap holding penalty in an instance where Michael Crabtree was doing just as much shoving would have made me just a bit queasy to my stomach. Players should be the ones deciding the Super Bowl and they ultimately did last night. So that’s at least one thing Jerome got right. (Compared to about 187 he got wrong, but still.).
6. The greatest play of the night was undoubtedly Joe Flacco’s scrambling heave at the end of the first quarter to Anquan Boldin. That was the point where you gave the person stuffing their face with food next to you a wide-eyed look and said, “It’s looking like Baltimore’s night.” Because Flacco had no business even getting out of the sack in that situation and his ambling heave while trying to not get effed didn’t exactly put a whole lot on the ball. That and Carlos Rogers did EVERYTHING HE COULD to prevent that completion. He had phenomenal coverage on that play. Anquan Boldin’s just a man, pure and simple. They didn’t end up scoring on that drive because Flacco ended up taking a dumb sack, but my golly if that didn’t set the tone for the whole game.
7. An early look at how Joe Flacco’s 11 touchdown, no interception postseason ranks among the greatest of all time (as measured by Adjusted Yards per Attempt). Short of some schmo going 27-of-30 for 400 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no picks every game in a single postseason, I don’t think anybody’s going to knock Joe Montana’s 1989 playoff run off the #1 spot in those rankings, but Flacco does come in at #2 on that list. I’d probably argue the non-21st century passers on that list were a bit more impressive than Joe was this postseason, simply because this is the easiest era in which to pass in NFL history, but even with all those caveats I’d think Flacco’s 2012 probably has to rank in the top ten or fifteen best postseasons of all time. He had to make such a high percentage of difficult throws to get to that figure as well; it’s not like he was throwing wide receiver screens half the time. For the record, Colin Kaepernick’s postseason run comes in #9 on that list; outside of that terribly overthrown interception, he played extremely well last night as well. Overall, Flacco and Kaepernick combined for the third-highest yards per attempt average in Super Bowl history (9.18), trailing only Terry Bradshaw and Vince Ferragamo (yes, Vince Ferragamo) in Super Bowl XIV and Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski in Super Bowl XV. Not bad, fellas.
8. The only practical effect the Super Bowl has on the next season is determining where the season-opening game will be held. So make your plans to be at M&T Bank Stadium on the night of September 5 now, Ravens fans. And as you can see from the list of 2013 opponents that has already been released, there’s no shortage of interesting possible sparring partners for the Ravens’ banner-raising party. My personal bet would be either the Patriots (two-time AFC Championship rematch, Tom Brady, etc.) or the Steelers (word has it that they’re pretty big rivals with the Ravens), with the Packers being a dark horse candidate. Least likely opponent? Cleveland. The NFL would sooner schedule the corpse of Alf Landon to appear at a huge nationally televised game than Brandon Weeden.
9. The Super Bowl’s been over for only about 15 hours at this point and I’ve already seen multiple commercials urging San Francisco fans to not feel so glum about things. I’m sorry, but if my team just lost the Super Bowl, I don’t think a free Jell-O pudding pop would make me feel all hunky-dory again. I’d more likely use that pudding cup as a weapon to besmirch any piece of Ravens merchandise I could find. But that’s just me, though. I have a natural inclination towards staining objects with chocolate pudding.
10. Finally…only 181 more days until the Hall of Fame Game. And, yes, it’s extremely sad that this is what we’re reduced to looking forward to. 2012-13 NFL season, we hardly knew ye…

Pro Bowl Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl (stop groaning)…

NFC 62, AFC 35
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.34 – NFC, 3.00 – AFC
AY/P Projected Point Totals: NFC 38.80, AFC 14.36
Quick Thoughts:
1. Call me crazy or, more likely, desperate for meaningful football, but I thought most players involved with the Pro Bowl last night gave a portion of a crap and that’s all you can really ask for. Of the four major professional sports in America, football is clearly the worst-suited for the entire concept of an all-star game. For starters, it’s the sport with the greatest emphasis on team unity, so throwing together 45 or so guys together to play a game on one week’s notice is going to make The Room seem meticulously planned and well thought out by comparison. You may have also heard that football is very violent. Those rumors are true and the likelihood of the players involved going full speed and risking serious harm to their careers in an exhibition game is about as high as the likelihood of Seth MacFarlane getting asked to host the Oscars again after the trainwreck that’s forthcoming in February. And when you dial back the intensity level a thousand notches from a sport that depends on that intensity for its very basic sense of excitement, you typically get a substandard product. The MLB All-Star Game is essentially a normal baseball game, only with way more pitching changes (excluding Tony La Russa-managed games, of course) and the wide-open natures of the NBA and NHL all-star games at least encourage more showmanship and dazzling athletics displays out of their sport’s greatest stars, which is the only real point of having an All-Star game in the first place. The poor Pro Bowl is forced to rely on Tweet stations and trick kickoffs from Phil Dawson to manufacture that showmanship. Not quite the same as LeBron going airborne for a dunk, if you were to ask me.
2. So we’ve established a fact. The NFL is the greatest sport in America currently yet somehow owns the worst all-star game in America, by far. What an incredible contradiction – a contradiction that would require thousands and thousands of words for proper analysis if the Pro Bowl were really a subject worth poring thousands and thousands of words out over. It of course isn’t, so I’ll just say that despite all my misgivings about the game, I did in fact watch most of it last night and was actually moderately entertained. Much of that entertainment was supplied by Al Michaels, who spent much of the evening passively-aggressively jabbing the sheer absurdity of the whole event without ever actually saying, “The Pro Bowl is a piece of crap.” Wait a minute, he actually did say that at the end of the game. My mistake.
3. As stated at the beginning of the post, however, the players involved took Peyton Manning’s impassioned plea from earlier in the week to heart (“Look, you guys. I love Hawaii, but I’m too cheap to pay for my own vacations. If Goodell pulls the plug on this game because some of you weren’t running your Levels routes at game speed, I swear to God, I will hunt you down and I will kill you. Even you, Demariyus.”) and played a game that at least resembled the sport we all know and love. We were all treated to a series of wonderful Manning Faces from Eli, who seemed utterly stoned whenever he was on camera. Matt Schaub reminded Texans fans why they’re so enamored of him with an interception to the Falcons’ William Moore. Fellow Texan J.J. Watt bloodied up his finger real good under orders from Peyton as proof for the world that, hey, we really do care about this, guys! And for his part, Andrew Luck engaged Peyton in some of the most painfully awkward small talk ever captured on tape (for the record, Peyton believes Cooper’s children are 9, 7, and 5 years old, respectively). The magic of the Pro Bowl,everyone.
4. If you’re looking for interesting subplots to watch for during the game – and Lord knows you have to make some up to get all the way through this facsimile of a game – one reliable one is noticing how the veterans react to the youngsters making their first appearance in the game. If nothing else, you can sometimes figure out the attitudes and feelings the old guard harbor for the next generation. Last year, for example, the AFC defense couldn’t be bothered to move more than three feet at a time for most of the game, but suddenly found the energy to crank out a playoff-level pass rush once Cam  Newton entered the game. The lesson: veterans don’t like Cam Newton. This year, I thought it was interesting how often Drew Brees and Eli Manning targeted Kyle Rudolph, a guy who averaged 5.3 Yards per Target this year and looked to my eyes like an enormous stiff for most of the year. Now after seeing Rudolph get 122 yards and a touchdown on five catches yesterday, I’m wondering how much that stiff-like appearance was due simply to the odious nature of one Christian Ponder. Seems to just lend more credence to the theory that quarterbacks make receivers way more often than the other way around. Either that or I’m reading way too much into action that occurred during the Pro Bowl. Probably both.
5. J.J. Watt at wide receiver turned out to be a bit of bust – Peanut Tillman knocked the ball out of his hands on the opening series (a delightful play for my sanity’s sake, even if it’s just a meaningless exhibition) and Jason Pierre-Paul made his first impact play in three months when he outjumped Watt for an Andrew Luck lob at the end of the game. With all of that said, however, seeing J.J. on offense yesterday gave you some ideas for next season, Gary Kubiak. As Herm Edwards might say, “NO BETTER CURE FOR RED ZONE ISSUES THAN PLAYING A 6’6” DEFENSIVE LINEMAN ON OFFENSE.”
6. And, finally: yes, I will start previewing the Super Bowl tomorrow. This game can’t come fast enough.

Conference Championship Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Conference Championships…

San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.90 – San Francisco, 6.70 – Atlanta
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 28.78, Atlanta 31.59
Quick Thoughts:
1. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for Matt Ryan yesterday. The result ended up being a San Francisco victory after Atlanta scored the first 17 points of the game, thereby becoming the greatest comeback in NFC Championship history and likely further tainting the Falcons’ already-poisoned postseason image for the considerable future. And as someone who has hated the Falcons’ guts in the past and will likely hate their guts in the future, I will admit to being more than amenable to yesterday’s outcome. The problem is, as the face of the franchise, Ryan will likely bear much of the blame for the loss, particularly from the Atlanta fans who have never quite forgiven him for not being as exciting as Michael Vick. This would be an acceptable scapegoat election if Ryan hadn’t played the best game of his life or something close to it yesterday, but he did. His one major mistake was dropping the perfect shotgun snap from his center and subsequently getting out-wrestled for the ball by Aldon Smith when Atlanta was driving in San Francisco territory in the third quarter. Rex Grossman was snickering at that.
2. Outside of that play, however, Ryan carved up one of the two or three best defenses in the league to the tune of 396 yards, 9.21 Net Yards per Attempt, three touchdowns and one interception that occurred when Roddy White fell down. Julio Jones’ second touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone required some amazing leaping and body control, but he would never have had a chance to make that great catch if Ryan hadn’t thrown him open. The Falcons ultimately came up short on their last real drive of the game, but they would never have gotten close if Ryan hadn’t made several tight, contested throws for first downs. San Francisco just played phenomenal pass defense.
3. The bigger issue was that, because Ryan had fumbled that snap away in the third quarter, the Falcons needed more than a field goal to win. And as we covered in the NFC Championship preview Thursday, if you had to bet your life on one home team coming through with a game-winning field goal on the last drive of the game, it would be the Falcons. I’m positive that 70% of their practice time during the week is devoted just to those situations. So if Ryan holds onto that snap like a normal person, Atlanta probably gets at least a field goal out of the drive and thus would only need a field goal at the end of the game. That’s shooting fish in a barrel for them. But a four-point deficit? HOLD UP NOW WE GOT SOME REAL ISSUES HERE.
4. And, of course, the biggest reason the Falcons lost was because they couldn’t remotely slow down the 49ers after their first two possessions. The jerseys and helmets may have looked different, but the outcome was largely the same for Atlanta’s defense as it was last week against the Seahawks. Seven days after Marshawn Lynch ran through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Russell Wilson tore up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Zach Miller), so too did Frank Gore run through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Colin Kaepernick tear up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Vernon Davis). Moral victory for the Falcons: they held Kaepernick to 159 fewer rushing yards than what he gained against the Packers. And moral victories always count for so much once you reach the NFC Championship.

5. It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make. To win the Super Bowl, you have to consistently complete passes over the middle. Ryan’s last incompletion to Roddy White in the fourth quarter illustrated that truth in a heartbreaking way for Atlanta.

Baltimore 28, New England 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.14 – Baltimore, 3.76 – New England
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 31.14, New England 22.02
Quick Thoughts:
1. The AFC Championship preview on Friday made a big deal about how Baltimore seems to be the only team in the AFC that can beat New England without receiving a lot of help from the Patriots along the way. Well, there’s no question that Baltimore earned its way to the Super Bowl yesterday – Anquan Boldin made everybody remember why he’s one of the greatest receivers who has never, EVER created separation on a route in the history of the league and the Ravens’ defense was prepared from the start for the Pats’ lightning-fast no-huddle offense. There’s also no question that they received a lot of help from the Patriots as well. The Ravens’ shocking blowout win over the Pats in January of 2010 was obviously a worse performance overall, but I can’t remember another time where New England just flat out bungled so many game management situations. Why did they punt TWICE from inside the Ravens’ 35-yard line? Yes, 4th-and-7 and 4th-and-8 are tough first downs to pick up, but they’re the freaking Patriots. If any team in the league should feel that they can pick up eight yards on command, it should be them. Sending out Zoltan Mesko from the 35-yard line is a Mike Tomlin move, Bill! YOU OF ALL PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THAT!!
2. Game Management Bungling, Part Two: what exactly was Tom Brady thinking at the end of the first half when he had approximately sixteen seconds and one timeout left? Wouldn’t an experienced field general such as himself find it useful to take that last timeout and throw a couple heaves into the end zone just for the heck of it, rather than half-heartedly bringing his team up to the line and standing around idly for three seconds? Just because the Seahawks got burned last week by taking their last timeout doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you! Even Phil Simms was calling Brady out for that. That’s like Ed McMahon testifying against Johnny Carson at a murder trial (sorry, couldn’t come up with a less dated reference).
3. Okay, enough of the Patriots. They made things considerably harder on themselves by dropping passes and missing wide-open receivers, but the Ravens ended up putting together one of the best defensive performances New England had faced all year. Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd wound up with 153 receiving yards combined, but it took 28 pass attempts for the two of them to get there. Before the Curse of Bernard Karmell Pollard struck in the fourth quarter, Stevan Ridley and the rest of his running mates were running at a decent clip and wound up with over 100 yards at approximately four yards per carry, but no Patriot running back had a longer run than nine yards. Outside of the Wes Welker 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter, the longest play the Pats had from scrimmage was 17 yards. The Ravens were outstanding at keeping everything in front of them and not getting burned by big plays, thus proving that conservative yet fundamentally sound defenses can be effective even against the best ball-control offenses in the NFL.
4. How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.
5. And, finally…get ready for approximately 356,000,000,000,000,000 HarBowl references over the next two weeks.

Divisional Round Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Divisional Playoffs…

Baltimore 38, Denver 35 (2OT)
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.88 – Baltimore, 3.66 – Denver
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 36.37, Denver 22.74
Quick Thoughts:
1. Photographed above is the exact moment Ravens-Broncos jumped a level from “Great Playoff Game That Will Probably End Up Being Forgotten in a Few Years” to “All-Time Classic NFL Game” – and it’s all because the spirit of Madieu Williams invaded Rahim Moore’s body at a most inopportune time for Denver. The Broncos defense brain-farted their way through most of the game – Champ Bailey forgot on numerous occasions that Torrey Smith is fast, Elvis Dumervil jumped offsides approximately thirty-seven times, etc. – but no defensive cranial flatulence was more damaging (and ultimately more entertaining) than Moore’s strange insistence on guarding an area of the field twenty-five yards off the line of scrimmage even after Jacoby Jones was flying past him. Even Adam Archuleta was yelling at the screen, “YOU’VE GOT TO GET BACK IN COVERAGE, RAHIM!!” before allowing his mailman to steal his television. So on the one hand: you blew it, Rahim. You really, really blew it. On the other hand, you can’t really have an all-time classic game without one or two crazy plays that should never, EVER happen. So in a way, we should all be thanking Rahim right now for his dedication to providing enthralling endings for NFL audiences. Even you, Broncos fans. Okay, maybe not just yet…
2. It was thrown about thirty miles an hour slower and on two healthy legs instead of one, but other than that, Peyton Manning’s back-breaking interception across his body late in the first overtime was pretty freaking similar to Brett Favre’s back-breaking interception across his body in the 2009-10 NFC Championship Game against the Saints. I consider myself a pretty big Peyton Manning fan, but if this unfortunate turn of events is going to lead to him retiring every March and then groveling to un-retire every August and give emotionally fragile quotes to Peter King over beers at his new summer home in Mississippi…I’m sorry, Peyton, this is where I get off.

3. Outside of a period in the second quarter where he went cold, Joe Flacco was outstanding. The below-zero wind chills clearly affected his arm far less than Peyton’s, who was off on virtually every throw outside the numbers all night. For Joe, on the other hand, it could probably be seventy below zero and he’d still probably be able to chuck it seventy yards. And if he was ever asked about the cold, he would probably just shrug his shoulders and reply with no hint of emotion on his face, “Huh. Yeah, I suppose it is.” He’s a live wire, that Joe Flacco! Played really well on Saturday, though.

Atlanta 30, Seattle 28
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.34 – Atlanta, 7.21 – Seattle
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Atlanta 27.62, Seattle 33.99
Quick Thoughts:
1. The ending to this game struck a deep nerve within my soul and hit on what I think is the real reason I hate the Atlanta Falcons: I’m still bitter over what they did to the Bears in 2008. That game, you may remember, was the time Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis with a touchdown pass with eleven seconds remaining to give the Bears the lead. No team can possibly blow a game with eleven seconds left, right? Well, a short kickoff, a twenty-six yard pass to Michael Jenkins, and a 48-yard field goal by Jason Elam later, the Bears proved that, yes, it is indeed possible. I like to think that started the proud and not-annoying-at-all tradition of the Falcons pulling games out of their keesters that they had no business winning – as a Bears fan, I take 100% of the blame for that occurring, fellow NFL fans. What the Falcons were able to do with 31 seconds left yesterday was mere child’s play by comparison.
2. I know it’s a big deal for Tony Gonzalez for finally get a playoff win after all these years in the league. But the rest of the Falcons have no excuse for their Super Bowl-level giddiness after Matt Bryant saved them from what would have been one of the worst collapses of all time – a collapse so bad, they would never have been able to be taken seriously again. Why the hell were Matt Ryan and Arthur Blank fondling each other with looks of pure joy on their faces on the sideline? Do they not know they still have to win two more games or did the fact that they’d lost every playoff game prior to this lead them to believe that there’s only ONE postseason game per team, period? If I escaped with a last-second victory after blowing a twenty-point fourth quarter lead, I would look like I’d just made it out alive after marching fifty miles through the heart of ‘Nam with poop in my pants. The expression we’re going for here, gentlemen, is relief.

3. Russell Wilson is really good. I don’t particularly blame him for the sack at the end of the first half that ruined both the Seahawks’ chance at points and ultimately their shot at victory – Jonathan Babineaux was on him almost instantaneously and if he tries to get rid of the ball after he’s in Babineaux’s grasp, then it’s intentional grounding and a ten-second runoff and the half’s over, anyway. I take more issue with the Seahawks’ fourth-down play call on the prior series – running the fullback up the middle with no sort of deception or misdirection against a defense that has its ears COMPLETELY PINNED BACK against the run up the gut? I ain’t got a good feeling about that, Muddy.

San Francisco 45, Green Bay 31
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.72 – San Francisco, 6.55 – Green Bay
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 46.71, Green Bay 26.20
Quick Thoughts:
1. Before we go any further, we must acknowledge that, yes, HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK. However, we must also acknowledge that HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t happen if Dom Capers remotely trains his players against the possibility of the quarterback running. Now Dom’s a very good defensive coordinator, he has been for decades, he’s led the Packers to an above-average defense 3 out of the 4 years he’s been there – firing him over one game probably is an overreaction. But the fact that it’s even a question? Oh, man. It’s like the Packers just re-watched the game film from their Week 1 game against the Niners, got their blitzes all dialed in for Alex Smith, and tossed out the play at the end of the first half where Kaepernick gained 17 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. “Who? Kaeperdinck? Don’t think they’re gonna run that surprise play again, let’s just delete that play off the hard drive.”
2. Sorry, this needs two whole paragraphs. Even in the fourth quarter, even after Kaepernick had already run for over 150 yards and set the NFL record for most single-game rushing yards by a QB – even after all that, Erik Walden and Clay Matthews were STILL completely baffled whenever Kaepernick pulled the ball back from Frank Gore or LaMichael James or whoever and just ran around the end. CLAY MATTHEWS, one of the three or four best outside linebackers on the planet, got turned around THREE TIMES on one Kaepernick read option. And it’s not like they were even slowing down the 49er running backs – take away Kaepernick’s carries and the 49ers still ran for over five yards per carry. All in all, this has to be one of the most poorly gameplanned defensive showings in playoff history. …*thinking*…Actually, on second thought, maybe Dom does deserve to be fired.

3. We heard a lot last week about this being Aaron Rodgers’ first trip to Candlestick Park and how he was going to throw out an “EFF YOU” performance to the hometown team that snubbed him first overall all those years ago. Taking nothing away from Rodgers – he’s likely going to end up as one of the top twenty quarterbacks of all time, minimum – I just don’t think it’s that simple in football for one player, even the most important player, to completely take over a game. Simmons in particular gets this idea stuck in his head based on what he’s seen out of Jordan and Bird in basketball and tries to transplant that idea to other sports when, the reality is, there have only been a handful of guys in basketball that have been able to completely enforce their will over a game. And that’s in the easiest sport possible for one player to control play. In football, even the most important player (the quarterback, for those of you unclear on who I’m talking about) is only going to meaningfully touch the ball about 35-40 times a game – and even then, there are 21 other players on the field who realistically can alter the whims of that alpha dog dramatically (somewhere, Peyton Manning is shaking his head sadly). I swear I’m not trying to slight you, Aaron, I’m really not. Although I must say, I always thought you’d be taller in real life…

New England 41, Houston 28
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.57 – New England, 5.87 – Houston
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New England 39.79, Houston 31.45
Quick Thoughts: 
1. This was by far the most boring and uneventful game of the weekend, so my thoughts on this won’t run as long as the others. I must say, however, that for some reason I just don’t find myself that impressed with the Patriots offense anymore. And I know that’s crazy talk because look at how many points they’ve scored this year (598 in 17 games) and how efficient they were yesterday (8.57 Adjusted Yards per Play = PRETTY GOOD), but still. It feels like Brady’s missing more throws and Welker’s dropping more passes these days, even if that isn’t actually the case. Have I simply become immune to the continued excellence of the Patriots organization and take their historically good offensive prowess for granted? Perhaps. All in all, though, the 2007 and 2010 Patriots offenses scared the poo out of me and this year’s edition seems eminently beatable. We’ll see if the Harbaugh brothers agree.
2. If there ees anyone out there who ees not excited for two more geemes of Pheel Seemms announceeng, I weell find heem, I weell talk to heem and I weell explain hees merits to heem. Because when you can get points on the board by challenging a play, you should probably do eet.

3. GRONK FOUR ARM SMASH! OH NO! GRONK FORGET FOUR ARM STILL WRAPPED IN ARM CONDOM. STILL BRING MUCH PAIN WHEN NOT ON FOOTBALL FIELD AND TRYING TO TALK TO PRETTY LADIES. NOW GRONK CANNOT CATCH PASS FROM GISELE HUSBAND OR WRESTLE WITH J.J.! GRONK FOUR ARM HURT.

Wild-Card Round Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Wild Card Playoffs…

Seattle 24, Washington 14
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.44 – Seattle, 2.74 – Washington
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Seattle 26.42, Washington 10.57
Quick Thoughts:
1. Frankly, given the circumstances, the Washington Redskins’ season just ended at the perfect time. With Seattle halting their phenomenal win streak in absolute must-have games at seven, now Mike Shanahan no longer has the temptation to send Robert Griffin III out on the field when he should clearly be watching from the sidelines and frustrated that he isn’t allowed to play. We can all admire RGIII’s competitive desire to get back on the field so quickly after sustaining the sprained MCL against the Ravens four weeks ago, but over the past three games against the Eagles, Cowboys and now the Seahawks, we all watched a player who wavered between 30 and 60% of his normal efficacy. Against the Eagles and Cowboys, 30-60% of RGIII was enough to keep Washington’s well-oiled offensive machine humming. And it looked like it would be enough in the first quarter against the Seahawks, as the Redskins continued to run the ball at will and RGIII overcame some uncharacteristically sloppy throws to slip a couple touchdowns into tight coverage. But as Seattle fixed the leaks in its front seven and once again began to resemble the top-five defense they’ve been for the entire season, so then did RGIII begin to slip further and further from even the shell of himself he was last week and into a guy who was unable to get the ball anywhere near wide-open receivers. I winced every time I saw the replay of his knee buckling. Let’s all hope and pray there’s no serious injury.
2. After that disastrous first quarter, the Seahawks began dominating play in the second and were the far superior team from then on. But until midway through the fourth quarter, this felt like the one playoff game a weekend we usually get where one team completely controls play and yet somehow winds up losing anyway. Toss Marshawn Lynch’s fumble inside the five with two short field goals, combine that with poor third down efficiency for the lion’s share of the game and then throw in Steven Hauschka’s rolled ankle on top of all of it and it seemed to all the world like this game was destined to end with the Seahawks losing by one because Hauschka didn’t have good enough ankles to kick a forty-one yard field goal. Tip your hat one last time to the Redskins’ defense this year. They’re not very good but battled and scrapped and kept it close as long as they could. The better team won today and that would have been true even if RGIII had played at 100%. It would have been a whole lot more exciting to watch if he was himself, however.

3. On a somewhat unrelated note, I love the name “Breno Giacomini.” I love it to an almost unhealthy level. I found myself spending large swaths of the second and third quarter just watching the Seahawks offensive lineman work and yell “YOU JUST GOT BRENOED” at the TV screen whenever his back was featured prominently in a close-up of Marshawn Lynch. Just a phenomenal moniker. I bet Breno enjoys himself some good Italian pasta.

Green Bay 24, Minnesota 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.76 – Green Bay, 4.02 – Minnesota
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Green Bay 27.57, Minnesota 17.80
Quick Thoughts:
1. Once it became clear that Christian Ponder wasn’t very good (and for me, I’d like to think it became clear about mid-October), I became obsessed with the idea that Joe Webb should be starting for the Vikings. I had no idea whether he would turn them into a 12-4 team or a 4-12 team, but I knew it would be one or the other and that it would be wildly entertaining either way. And Joe’s emergency start against the Packers on Saturday was everything I could have hoped for. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, he may not be the type of guy you want to sidle up to two-and-a-half hours before a playoff game and say, “Hi there, Joe. We know you haven’t any practice reps this week – or this entire season, if we’re being honest – but we’re going to need to you to come in and play some quarterback for us this Saturday. Mmmmkay?” He’s exciting as crap when he’s running the ball, but holy balls was he a disaster whenever he tried to throw it (outside of the last five minutes of the game, anyway). My personal favorite was when he was wrapped up in the first quarter for a probable sack and on the way down threw the ball STRAIGHT UP into the air five yards down the field. The Packers’ defensive linemen will be kicking themselves for the rest of their lives for not picking that crap off. I’m still rooting for you, Joe, but you probably didn’t do yourself too many favors the other night.
2. Last Bears fan all-CAPS rant of the year, promise. WHAT THE HECK, GREEN BAY? YOU COULDN’T HAVE DONE THIS LAST WEEK? YOU COULDN’T HAVE COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN THE VIKINGS OFFENSE LAST WEEK WHEN YOU HAD A FIRST-ROUND BYE IN YOUR GRASP? I FOR ONE WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THE BEARS GET DESTROYED BY THE 49ERS IN ROUND ONE. YOU’RE DESPICABLE, DOM CAPERS. CUT YOUR FREAKING HAIR, CLAY MATTHEWS. YOU SHOULD ALL BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES AND I HOPE THE 49ERS BEAT YOU BY 72. /end rant

3. The Vikings-Packers game is the last real game Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will get to announce this year – they’ve still got the Pro Bowl left to go, but we all know that doesn’t count – and that’s a real travesty. Faith Hill may stretching the truth quite a bit in some of the verses to “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night,” but the one lyric she tells the impeachable truth on is without a doubt “Al and Cris are the best on TV.” No other announcing duo remotely combines the insight, appropriate tone for the situation, and entertainment those two bring on a weekly basis. I’ve listed my fair share of favorite Al moments this year, but Cris is a hoot-and-a-half as well, particularly when he knows a team’s committed a brain-dead penalty (like the Vikings 12 Men on the Field penalty on the Packers’ field goal attempt in the third quarter) and he says “Uh-oh…UH-OH…” like a bemused bystander watching a husband tell his wife she looks fat. Man, I’m going to miss those guys. WHY DOES FOOTBALL SEASON LEAVE US SO QUICKLY?

Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 9
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.16 – Baltimore, 3.72 – Indianapolis
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 28.64, Indianapolis 23.12
Quick Thoughts:
1. Noted homer and Chicago White Sox annuoncer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson is, for some reason, fond of saying “You couldn’t pull a greased tee out of my behind with a pair of pliers” whenever the White Sox win by the skin of their teeth. What that statement is actually supposed to mean is open to debate, but amongst me and my friends the shortened term “greased teeing” has become an important part of our everyday lexicon. And this season I think we can all agree that no team greased teed things more than the Indianapolis Colts. Football Outsiders mentioned a stat in their Wild-Card preview last week that FINALLY made the Colts’ incredible run make some sort of sense: according to their DVOA numbers, the Colts were the best team in the league in third-and-long situations. A BEAUTIFUL METAPHOR FOR THEIR SEASON, Bob Costas likely shouted somewhere when he first read that sentence. And even though the Ravens were moving the ball at will against them yesterday, it always seemed like the Colts were going to pull one out again. Ray Rice was fumbling, Andrew Luck was hitting receivers five yards short of the marker but the receivers would run around like chickens with their heads cut off until they got the first down – it had all the hallmarks of a classic Colts win, really. I’m still shocked Baltimore won, I really am.
2. Is Ray Lewis the best middle linebacker of all-time? According to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value statistic, he is. Old-timers may champion Dick Butkus or Joe Schmidt or Mike Singletary instead. That’s fine. The point is, Lewis is in the discussion. Is Ray going to be a phenomenal studio analyst on ESPN after the Ravens get killed by Denver on Saturday? Maybe. He’s either going to be Charles Barkley or Shaq and there’s no in-between. Jared Allen gets my vote for Current NFL Player Who’s Most Likely To Be A Great Announcer.

3. In between the Colts-Ravens and Seahawks-Redskins games yesterday, I was exposed for the first time to the comedic stylings of the show entitled Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It was brought to my attention to the internet that this program hasn’t been on the air for two years, thus continuing my run of not watching comedy programs (i.e. Arrested Development, Party Down) until they’re already off the air. So I’m well aware I’m behind the times here and that most of you have already made up your minds on this show, but holy freaking crap was the episode I saw an abortion. Just horrendous. It made According to Jim look like the freaking Simpsons by comparison.

Houston 19, Cincinnati 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.13 – Houston, 3.19 – Cincinnati
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Houston 28.22, Cincinnati 10.94
Quick Thoughts:
1. Houston controlled this thing from the opening play and still has to feel relatively sick to their stomach about their performance. Matt Schaub looked like he was going to poo his pants out there. His last throw of the game (the game-clinching completion to Garrett Graham), he lobbed that sucker in there so softly, it was like he was trying to transport himself to a time and place where he was gleefully playing catch with his grandma. BUT GARRETT GRAHAM IS NOT YOUR GRANDMA, MATT. Graham saved his bacon by snagging the high and soft pass, then got concussed by a couple of Bengals. It was the polar opposite of the old Peyton Manning-Austin Collie concussion combination from 2010, where Peyton would throw a bullet pass in between four defenders in such a way that the only way Austin would be able to catch it is if he dove at full speed straight into a safety’s knees. Man, I miss those days. Austin probably doesn’t.
2. Andy Dalton’s day, everyone: 14-of-30, 127 yards and a pick. He alternated between not throwing the ball to A.J. Green at all (first half) and throwing every single pass A.J.’s direction (second half). Of course, he wasn’t particularly accurate when he was trying to throw it to A.J.: that missed end zone shot to Green that Shawshank overthrew by seven yards probably won’t sit well with all seven Bengals fans this offseason. Compared to Dalton, Matt Schaub looked like Kurt Warner.
3. Starting with the next TV contract in 2014, NBC will be getting rid of their Wild-Card Doubleheader and exchanging that for one Wild-Card game and one Divisional Round game, thus allowing Al and Cris to pick up one more paycheck for the season (Lord knows they deserve it). Hence, there will finally be a time when NBC doesn’t have to awkwardly trot out a play-by-play announcer who hasn’t called an NFL game all season (a real NFL game, anyway – Dan Hicks did call a Sunday Night preseason game this year) to go along with the mighty lisp of Mike Mayock for only one of the eleven most important games of the year. I look forward to that day, my friends. I look forward to that day.

Week 17 Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Week 17 of the 2012 NFL Season…

Washington 28, Dallas 18
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.57 – Washington, 3.30 – Dallas
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Washington 28.63, Dallas 14.38
Quick Thoughts:
1. This sucker had a weird feel to it for the first three quarters. These two explosive offenses played tight against opposing defenses that have had trouble lately stopping Ryan Seacrest from moving around network to network willy-nilly. Or is that ABC and FOX’s fault? I can’t remember. Anyway, Washington’s slow start was understandable: RGIII is somewhere between 40-60% physically right now and is perpetually stuck in second gear. Dallas’s slow start on the other hand…actually, that was understandable, too, it was Tony Romo in an elimination game. No more explanation needed. Even the refs seemed to be feeling the pressure, not calling any penalties through three quarters and letting Dallas score touchdowns when the play clock had been at zero for longer than Britney Spears’ first marriage and letting DeAngelo Hall molest Dez Bryant on the outside. It felt funky, is what it did.
2. Then the fourth quarter hit and things finally opened up. Alfred Morris did his best to save all of his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign advertising for one game and drew a standing ovation from that noted master of eloquence Clinton Portis. Dwayne Harris woke the Cowboys up a little with a nifty punt return that gave Romo needed field position in the wake of Dallas’ wide receivers unit turning into a hospital ward. It was even a three-point game with three minutes left and Dallas with a chance for an exceedingly improbable NFC East-clinching drive. Of course, as it had to happen, Romo threw one of those devastating, backbreaking interceptions he’s unfortunately become synonymous with and the Redskins get to see if they can stretch their seven-game winning streak into eight in the playoffs.

3. We’ll talk a lot about Washington later in the week, so let’s get some final thoughts on Dallas’ season down here. The problems facing Botox Jerry’s roster right now are perhaps at their most numerous than in any time in the past decade. Contrary to what you saw last night, the one thing the Cowboys were generally good at this year was throwing the ball: Romo’s the acknowledged master of terrible interceptions but even in possibly his worst season as a starter he’s been an excellent quarterback. The issues are everywhere else: the offensive line has descended into a black hole of crap, DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee are potential superstars when they’re not hurt (this is only an issue because they’re always hurt), their safeties still take horrible routes to the ball, and you’ll find more depth in a Rick Reilly column than at any position other than quarterback on the Dallas roster. Will they be good enough to once again challenge for the NFC East title in 2013? Probably. Is this team close to being a true Super Bowl contender? Not really.

Minnesota 37, Green Bay 34
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.94 – Minnesota, 7.13 – Green Bay
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Minnesota 37.43, Green Bay 31.07
Quick Thoughts: 
1. Since this game turned out to be one of the best of the year, allow me to expound just a little further on this game at this expense of some of the non-playoff-related contests later on. I know. You’re devastated there won’t be a full column on Oakland-San Diego. I’m with you, buddy.
2. With that out of the way, HOLY CRAP WAS THIS A GOOD GAME. The Packers and Vikings are unnaturally worthy foils for each other because of the Packers’ perennially poor run defense. Even during their Super Bowl run, Green Bay has always had issues stopping the run even when they’ve been great against the pass. Is that a potential issue against Minnesota, a team that somehow averages more yards per play on the ground than through the air? I would say probably so. Hence, if Adrian Peterson looks like Superman against normal defenses, he becomes…Superduperman against the Pack? Give me a break, it’s early. Perhaps even more noteworthy was Christian Ponder’s sudden transformation into a competent NFL quarterback – without that, the Vikings still would have been sunk because the Packers’ passing game finally regained the spirit of ’11 and unleashed a reign of terror on Vikings’ fans psyches over the last three quarters. That last back shoulder throw from Rodgers to Nelson to (briefly) tie the game at 34? OH MY GOODNESS.

3. We would also be remiss if we didn’t note the unintentional comedy duo of Jordy Nelson and Mike McCarthy, who JUST NOW learned that he’s allowed to challenge plays and decided to throw the red flag after a turnover – which, as Jim Schwartz would tell you, ain’t always the best course of action. Nelson’s stealthy pickup of the flag and even-handed explanation of the situation to McCarthy was priceless, as was their hearty chuckle after the problem resolved itself in a manner most agreeable to their interests. Good times! However, as a Bears fan I must point out that I EFFING. HATE. THE PACKERS. Go beat Green Bay by 40 in the first round, Minnesota.

Chicago 26, Detroit 24
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.31 – Chicago, 3.84 – Detroit
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Chicago 30.65, Detroit 17.28

Quick Thought: My buddy Mark Murphy tends to get WAY DOWN on the Bears whenever something bad happens to them, such as a loss or blowing a 7-1 start and failing to make the playoffs. So his adamant claims that the Bears won’t contend for another five years aren’t particularly surprising. I must admit, however, that I agree with him on wanting Lovie Smith’s ouster. One playoff trip in six seasons ain’t too good.

Indianapolis 28, Houston 16
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.24 – Indianapolis, 4.70 – Houston
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Indianapolis 23.21, Houston 20.14

Quick Thought: Good for Chuck Pagano. The standing ovation he received from the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd before the opening kickoff was a genuinely inspirational moment, as has been just about everything he’s said over the past three months.

NY Giants 42, Philadelphia 7
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.91 – NY Giants, 4.49 – Philadelphia
AY/P Projected Point Totals: NY Giants 36.91, Philadelphia 20.85

Quick Thought: If the Giants were in the AFC, where would you rank them? Below Denver and New England, for sure, but after that they’d probably be the scariest team to face in the playoffs. You could make the same argument for the Bears, Cowboys and maybe even the Rams, Panthers and Saints. Tough time to be a good-but-not-great team in the NFC.

Denver 38, Kansas City 3
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.08 – Denver, 2.48 – Kansas City
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Denver 38.43, Kansas City 8.50

Quick Thought: Adrian Peterson’s freaking amazing, but Peyton Manning’s your 2012 Most Valuable Player. Somehow. 4659 yards, 68.6% completion percentage (the highest of his career), 37 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, a league-leading 7.89 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt – all in all, his best season since 2006. Absolutely incredible.

New England 28, Miami 0
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.97 – New England, 2.83 – Miami
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New England 37.34, Miami 11.52

Quick Thought: Everybody and their grandmother is now penciling a Pats-Broncos AFC Championship Game, which of course means we’re going to get Bengals-Ravens for the Super Bowl instead. “Dalton! Flacco! It’s the AFC Championship on CBS! PLEASE DON’T CHANGE THE CHANNEL.”

San Francisco 27, Arizona 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.97 – San Francisco, 3.53 – Arizona
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 33.36, Arizona 13.36

Quick Thought: Colin Kaepernick ended up finishing second in the league in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. He threw 500 fewer passes than Tom Brady, but still! NOT BAD.

Seattle 20, St. Louis 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.31 – Seattle, 5.02 – St. Louis
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Seattle 28.72, St. Louis 21.87

Quick Thought: Didn’t take long for Jeff Fisher to turn the Rams into Tennessee Slightly Northwest. Play ugly, be a pain in the keester, keep it close, maybe win the game. Nobody’s better at keeping a team perpetually around .500. Enjoy the next 17 years, St. Louis!

Cincinnati 23, Baltimore 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.27 – Cincinnati, 4.18 – Baltimore
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Cincinnati 14.95, Baltimore 24.78

Quick Thought: I ended up losing the Pigskin Pick ‘Em group to Lucas by two games – partly because Tony Romo enjoys screwing with people who bet on the Cowboys, but also because Tyrod Taylor threw a late pick-six to Carlos Dunlap and gave Cincinnati a late cover in a game they were getting thoroughly outplayed in. NO I’M NOT BITTER WHY DO YOU ASK?

Carolina 44, New Orleans 38
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.91 – Carolina, 7.56 – New Orleans
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Carolina 41.81, New Orleans 34.02

Quick Thought: The two likeliest 2013 NFC South winners, in my opinion. The Panthers will likely rebound from their terrible close-game performance this year (as long as they keep Ron Rivera far, far away from the Late Game Decision button) and the Saints will go from having a couple of guys who had no idea what they were doing to one of the five best coaches in the league. That counts as an upgrade, in my opinion.

Tampa Bay 22, Atlanta 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.55 – Tampa Bay, 5.13 – Atlanta
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Tampa Bay 25.77, Atlanta 22.72

Quick Thought: Because Atlanta looked so good the two previous weeks against the Giants and Lions, I won’t give them crap this week for losing to Tampa Bay at home in a game they were MOST DEFINITELY TRYING TO WIN. I’m a nice guy like that.

Pittsburgh 24, Cleveland 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.13 – Pittsburgh, 2.34 – Cleveland
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Pittsburgh 19.42, Cleveland 10.36

Quick Thought: It’s entirely possible that the following is because of my nonexistent expectations for him, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by Thad Lewis. He seemed remotely competent! Of course, maybe that’s just the magic of Pat Shurmur: any quarterback he coaches plays at a remotely competent level and no further. Maybe that’s why he’s getting fired?

San Diego 24, Oakland 21
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.00 – San Diego, 4.91 – Oakland
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Diego 17.86, Oakland 20.00

Quick Thought: SSLYAR received four visits yesterday from Google hits for the term “Jon Gruden poop.” All I can say is: I’m glad I’ve found a kindred spirit out there.

Buffalo 28, NY Jets 9
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.04 – Buffalo, 3.29 – NY Jets
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Buffalo 24.59, NY Jets 16.92

Quick Thought: Here’s hoping for a better 2013 for you, Timmy.

Tennessee 38, Jacksonville 20
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.73 – Tennessee, 3.94 – Jacksonville
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Tennessee 17.23, Jacksonville 19.98

Quick Thought: What a crazy game. Tennessee had four return touchdowns in a five minute span and then also gave up a punt block touchdown late in the game, too. Maybe if you two had been doing these things all season, people would be more likely to watch your games, guys! Keep that in mind for 2013.

Week 16 Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Week 16 of the 2012 NFL Season…

Seattle 42, San Francisco 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.47 – Seattle, 4.25 – San Francisco
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Seattle 28.65, San Francisco 17.00
Quick Thoughts:
1. My goodness are the Seahawks entertaining. This was basically a blowout from the get-go and it was still possibly the most entertaining Sunday Night game we’ve had all year. As Jon Gruden might explain it: “These Seahawks, I call ’em Warren Sapp because they’re tough to run on and have a BIG PERSONALITY. I see Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode-ing all over the place, putting a hat on a hat, Gruden-grinding, and doling out punishment for these defensive suckers who think they can bring him down with just three people. I look at Richard Sherman jawing with Michael Crabtree, sarcastically clapping after they complete a pass on him, and virtually molesting these 49er receivers all the way down the field – but you can’t call DPI every play, so it’s a smart move by a smart guy. I see Doug Baldwin turning easy catches into circus catches unnecessarily – but they still count the same, so why not turn every catch into a 10 difficulty rating? And I watch Russell Wilson and get FLASHBACKS to another guy who used to run around like a chicken with his noggin cut off. That’s right – I’m thinking of BRETT FAVRE. After all, everybody can be compared to Brett Favre at the end of the day. I tell ya, I get a kick out of watching these Seahawks every time I put on their film at 2:30 in the morning – they’re the late night caffeine boost this football junkie SORELY NEEDS. *right hand gesture*
2. With that said…the 49ers and Seahawks both ended up averaging 5.6 yards per play last night and Seattle only netted thirty-three more yards total than San Francisco – if you didn’t know what the final score was before looking at those stats, you would have assumed that this was a very tight game. The biggest reason why the Seahawks turned this into a rain-soaked blowout? Absurdly good production on third down. Seattle only failed to pick up a first down TWICE on thirteen third down plays; San Francisco, on the other hand, was 3-for-11. Much like it seemed EVERYTHING bounced the 49ers’ way during the first 35 minutes of last week’s game at New England, virtually everything seemed to go against them last night, most notably on David Akers’ blocked field goal that bounced RIGHT TO Richard Sherman streaking in the opposite direction. In summary: let’s neither exalt the Seahawks too highly or bury the 49ers too emphatically in the next week or so, okay?

3. Finally, your Al Michaels Golden Blowout Call of the Night: after referee Bill Vinovich picked up a flag on the final kickoff of the game with two minutes left, Michaels exhaled, “Thank God.” If there’s anyone out there who hates killing air time during blowouts more than Al, I’d like to meet that person!

Cincinnati 13, Pittsburgh 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 2.02 – Cincinnati, 2.54 – Pittsburgh
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Cincinnati 9.09, Pittsburgh 11.43

Quick Thought: Tough to say Todd Haley’s first season in Pittsburgh has been anything other than a disaster. After a rough start, the Steeler defense once again turned out to be one of the five best in the league this year – it’s Pittsburgh’s offensive woes that are keeping them out of the postseason and in danger of falling below .500 for the first time in nine years. Mike Wallace has been MIA for most of the season, failing to hit the home run plays he seemed to have in plentiful supply the last two years. And the running game has been ugly – Rashard Mendenhall’s been either hurt or ineffective and Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have been most proficient at running into the arms of defenders. Say, where’s Bruce Arians when you need him?

Baltimore 33, NY Giants 14
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.32 – Baltimore, 5.02 – NY Giants
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 42.35, NY Giants 16.14

Quick Thought: The Ravens illustrated a truth about the Giants defense that has been apparent all season but rarely seen in practice: if you don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, you’ll be able to move the ball at will. Still surprising to see the Giants essentially destroy their playoff hopes by playing so poorly in back-to-back road games. Did you know that if the Giants, as anticipated, do not come up with a miracle Sunday and sneak in as a wild-card, it will be the third time in four years they failed to make the playoffs? FIRE TOM COUGHLIN!

Minnesota 23, Houston 6
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.59 – Minnesota, 1.64 – Houston
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Minnesota 23.93, Houston 6.21

Quick Thought: As a Bears fan, I would just like to extend a hearty SCREW YOU to Houston for not showing up offensively yesterday. It warmed the cockles of my heart, it truly did.

New Orleans 34, Dallas 31 (OT)
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.06 – New Orleans, 8.50 – Dallas
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New Orleans 45.89, Dallas 34.00

Quick Thought: Holy crap that fumble scrum after the Marques Colston catch in overtime was exciting. Is there a way we could ensure that would happen in every overtime? Like, if the game is tied at the end of overtime during the regular season, just toss the ball at the fifty-yard line and have every player and coach from both sidelines dive for the ball. Whoever comes up with it wins. Seems more exciting than just shaking hands and calling it a tie, right?

Washington 27, Philadelphia 20
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.19 – Washington, 4.75 – Philadelphia
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Washington 23.43, Philadelphia 25.45

Quick Thought: I really don’t think Washington will go particularly far in the postseason if they get there – primarily because they’d likely have to face Seattle in the first round – but I’m definitely rooting for them to get there. Partly because, you know, screw the Cowboys and partly because, you know, RGIII. An RGIII-Russell Wilson matchup in the Wild Card round would NOT be unexciting.

St. Louis 28, Tampa Bay 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.63 – St. Louis, 2.70 – Tampa Bay
AY/P Projected Point Totals: St. Louis 17.86, Tampa Bay 15.62

Quick Thought: Jaaaaaaaaaaaassshhhhhhh Freeman just throws interceptions, apparently. Great day for Janoris Jenkins – he scored his fourth defensive touchdown of the season AND he gets to play in Seattle next week, where, as you may know, marijuana was recently decriminalized. Everything’s coming up Janoris!

Chicago 28, Arizona 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.62 – Chicago, 1.50 – Arizona
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Chicago 24.09, Arizona 7.71

Quick Thought: Speaking as a fan of a team playing against the Cardinals, I can’t tell you how much relief you feel whenever you score a touchdown against Arizona. If no lead is safe against Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, then any lead is safe against the Cardinals. My heart rate was nice and low after Zack Bowman scored the Bears’ first defensive touchdown Sunday. Thank you again for playing Ryan Lindley, Coach Whisenhunt!

Green Bay 55, Tennessee 7
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.90 – Green Bay, 1.86 – Tennessee
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Green Bay 42.89, Tennessee 7.84

Quick Thought: I don’t know how this went in other parts of the country, but here in the Chicago area yesterday we were stuck with the Packers-Titans rout until the bitter end while the Bengals and Steelers were only locked in a fiercely contested contest that would essentially decide a playoff spot.  Obviously, since the Titans scored a touchdown at the end, the game WAS in fact still competitive. Maybe I should start shelling out the dough for NFL Sunday Ticket? …*thinking*…Nah, still too cheap.

New England 23, Jacksonville 16
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.21 – New England, 4.28 – Jacksonville
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New England 21.35, Jacksonville 22.93

Quick Thought: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh….you feelin’ all right there, New England? Much more worrisome performance than in their loss to San Francisco last week. Chad Henne was more efficient than Tom Brady? Maybe the Mayans weren’t so wrong after all. Oh wait… 

Denver 34, Cleveland 12
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.56 – Denver, 4.22 – Cleveland
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Denver 35.14, Cleveland 18.09

Quick Thought: You don’t think Peyton Manning’s going to be pulling for his old team next week, do you? Heck, I’m pretty sure Peyton would cut off the big toe on his left foot if it meant he didn’t have to face the Patriots in the second round.

Indianapolis 20, Kansas City 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.74 – Indianapolis, 5.78 – Kansas City
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Indianapolis 22.01, Kansas City 27.66

Quick Thought: What in the ho-ho heck do the Colts have to do to lose a football game? They got outgained 507-288, averaged 4.4 yards per play to Kansas City’s 7.6 (KANSAS CITY!), and gave up 352 yards ON THE GROUND. Peyton Hillis ran for over 100 yards, for crying out loud. I…I’m at a loss.   Unlike the Colts, who APPARENTLY CAN’T LOSE EVEN WHEN THEY’RE ACTIVELY TRYING TO.

Atlanta 31, Detroit 18
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.71 – Atlanta, 5.09 – Detroit
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Atlanta 30.29, Detroit 28.36

Quick Thought: It utterly boggles my mind that Detroit is 4-11. Just utterly boggles the mind. How a team that has THAT talented an offense and THAT proficient of a pass rush can have two fewer wins than the Chargers is freaking crazy. Football doesn’t make sense sometimes, you guys.

Carolina 17, Oakland 6
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.51 – Carolina, 2.44 – Oakland
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Carolina 19.01, Oakland 10.28

Quick Thought: What happened to the plan of giving Terrelle Pryor a shot, Oakland? We all know what Matt Leinart is at this point – a whole lot of three-yard dumpoffs via a noodly left arm. Why put him in after Carson Palmer got hurt in a meaningless game? Time to see how bad Terrelle sucks so you can move on to the next blown draft choice!

Miami 24, Buffalo 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.82 – Miami, 3.17 – Buffalo
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Miami 25.77, Buffalo 14.72

Quick Thought: Not even Mark Murphy can muster enthusiasm for the Bills anymore. That’s a bad sign, folks.

San Diego 27, NY Jets 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.70 – San Diego, 2.88 – NY Jets
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Diego 18.80, NY Jets 12.14

Quick Thought: Uh, Rex, if you wanted someone to get sacked eleven times, Timmy Tebow would have MORE THAN OBLIGED, my good friend. In fact, he would have found a way to lose twenty-eight yards on one sack if only you would have let him. THE PEOPLE DEMAND TEBOW START AGAINST BUFFALO AND THEY DEMAND IT NOW.

Week 15 Power Rankings: ISSUE ONE

McLaughlingroup

Welcome to the Week 15 edition of Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron’s weekly NFL power rankings. To help us make sense of what happened during this last batch of NFL action, we’ve asked the panelists of the syndicated PBS program The McLaughlin Group to share their thoughts with us below. Please enjoy. 

Announcer voiceover: From Washington, “The McLaughlin Group,” the American original.  For over two decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

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John McLaughlin: ISSUE ONE: CAN’T HARDLY BEAR IT.

(voiceover) 

IN THE WAKE OF THEIR DISASTROUS 21-13 LOSS TO THE HATED GREEN BAY PACKERS ON SUNDAY, THE CHICAGO BEARS SEEM TO HAVE A NEW ENEMY TO WORRY ABOUT: THEIR FANS. AT LEAST THAT’S IF INJURED STAR LINEBACKER BRIAN URLACHER IS TO BE BELIEVED. MR. URLACHER ARGUED ON A CHICAGO TELEVISION STATION AFTER THE GAME THAT, QUOTE, “THE ONLY TEAM IN OUR DIVISION TO GET BOOED AT HOME IS US. IT’S UNBELIEVABLE TO ME” AND “TWO OF THE PEOPLE I DON’T CARE ABOUT, FANS OR THE MEDIA…IT DOES BOTHER ME BECAUSE THOSE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT, OBVIOUSLY.” END QUOTE.

(back on screen)

QUESTION: IS URLACHER CORRECT IN HIS INSINUATION THAT PAYING SPECTATORS AT A SPORTING EVENT DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXPRESS THEIR DISAPPROVAL AT THE HOME TEAM’S PERFORMANCE? OR SHOULD THEY BE ALLOWED TO HECKLE, JEER, BOO, AND TOSS ROTTEN EGG SALAD SANDWICHES ON THE PLAYERS AS THEY PLEASE, PAT BUCHANAN?

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Pat Buchanan: John, there’s a fine line between expressing natural disappointment and going over the edge into outright slander and I think Urlacher’s got a point on this. These people who are calling into these talk radio shows have no idea what’s going on in the inner workings of the Bears headquarters, of Lovie Smith’s team. Whenever I hear stories like this, I hearken back to my time in the Nixon White House, when we were accomplishing so much good for the country but were eventually overrun by a bunch of naysayers who didn’t have national interests in mind – only interest in exposing remarkable fraud and illicit activity. When I think of poor Lovie Smith, John, I think of Richard Nixon. I really do.

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McLaughlin: PERHAPS A MORE APT COMPARISON WOULD BE BILL BELICHICK, PATRICK. YOUR THOUGHTS, ELEANOR CLIFT.

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Eleanor Clift: Well, obviously fans have a constitutional right to express themselves in any capacity they so choose and their anger over the Bears’ performance is understandable and, in a way, endearing – it shows they really care about this team. But I think what this whole silly, overblown saga really shows is that Obama really does have everything in control and is above suspicion or rebuke in any form and anyone who raises slight suggestions to the contrary is really committing high treason against our fearless leader.

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McLaughlin: BUT DOES NOT THE SECOND PART OF YOUR TREATISE PERHAPS DIRECTLY CONTRADICT THE FIRST, ELEANOR?

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Clift: IT DOES NOT!!!

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McLaughlin: FAIR ENOUGH. ISSUE TWO: JETTING OFF TO NOWHERE.

(voiceover)

IN THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF REX RYAN’S TENURE AS HEAD COACH OF THE NEW YORK JETS, THEY MADE THE PLAYOFFS EACH YEAR AS A WILD-CARD ENTRY. THEY WOULD THEN GO ON TO REACH THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME BOTH YEARS BEFORE EVENTUALLY SUCCUMBING TO NOBLE DEFEAT AT THE HANDS OF PEYTON MANNING AND BEN ROETHLISBERGER. WITH LAST NIGHT’S LOSS TO THE TENNESSEE TITANS, HOWEVER, THIS MARKS THE SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR THE JETS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS AND THE TEAM’S STRUGGLES IN NATIONALLY TELEVISED GAMES HAS MADE THEM A BIGGER PUNCHLINE THAN BERNIE SANDERS’ FALSE TEETH.

(back on screen)

QUESTION: HAS REX RYAN EARNED ENOUGH GOODWILL FROM HIS FIRST TWO SEASONS TO SURVIVE THIS RECENT DOWNTURN IN PERFORMANCE? OR HAS HIS RELUCTANCE TO BENCH THE TERRIBLE MARK SANCHEZ LED HIM ON A ROAD TOWARD RUIN AND DECAY AND WARM BUCKETS OF URINE BEING CONTINUOUSLY DROPPED ON HIS HEAD WHILE A HOMELESS RODEO CLOWN DANCES SADLY BESIDE HIM? I TURN TO YOU, MONICA CRAWLEY.

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Monica Crawley: Look, John. Rex has had his chance. He’s had FOUR YEARS to turn this team into a Super Bowl champion and it hasn’t happened. Frankly, I think the time has more than come for –

2011-05-15-Clift

Clift: SORRY I DON’T LISTEN TO ANYONE’S OPINIONS ON THIS SHOW OTHER THAN JOHN AND PAT’S SO I’M JUST GOING TO YELL OVER YOU FOR THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS UNTIL I GET TO MAKE THE COMMENT YOU ALREADY KNOW I’M GOING TO MAKE. OBAMA.

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Buchanan: I thought it was a point worth raising, the Jets HAVE been wildly underperforming their talent level the past couple of years. However, I don’t believe we have a right to interfere with their organizational decisions. In fact, just talking about it now on-air indirectly affects the choice they’re going to make in a way I’m not comfortable with. The safest thing to do here, as in all situations and scenarios we face in life, is to SIMPLY DO NOTHING.

mclaughlin_oreo_cookie_0713McLaughlin: IS IT NOT POSSIBLE, HOWEVER, THAT WE’VE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS IN AN ENTIRELY WRONG FASHION? WHAT IF REX RYAN IS A DIRECT DESCENDANT OF GHENGHIS KHAN, THE GREAT MONGOL WARLORD FROM THE 13TH CENTURY, AND IS USING HIS BULLY PULPIT AS HEAD COACH OF THE NEW YORK FOOTBALL JETS TO ORGANIZE A MONGOLIAN REBELLION AGAINST THE OPPRESSION OF THE HARSH WINTERS OF THE GOBI DESERT REGION? ON A SCALE OF 0 TO 10, WITH 0 REPRESENTING ZERO POSSIBILITY AND 10 REPRESENTING COMPLETE METAPHYSICAL CERTITUDE, HOW MUCH DOES THIS SCENARIO PERTURB YOU, CLARENCE PAGE?

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Clarence Page: Uhhhh….

McLaughlin - Christmas

McLaughlin: NO TIME FOR A RESPONSE, CLARENCE. PREDICTION: GRAPE NUTS WILL ONCE AGAIN BE THE MOST POPULAR BULK-PRODUCING AGENT IN THE COUNTRY BY THE YEAR 2016. BYE-BYE.

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A quick thought on Monday Night’s game…

Tennessee 14, NY Jets 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.96 – Tennessee, 0.68 – NY Jets
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Tennessee 23.84, NY Jets 3.06

Quick Thought: Is this not the quintessential Chris Johnson line or what? 122 yards on 21 carries – 94 of which came on one run. To paraphrase the Associated Press’s sympathy for the Rams yesterday, if there’s any consolation for the Jets, Johnson only had 28 yards on 20 carries if you take away that long one. Did you know that Chris Johnson is currently at 1159 yards with a 4.8 YPC this season? Every time I see something written about CJ2K these days, it’s about how he’s a lazy sack of crap who loves destroying people’s fantasy teams. That’s not fair at all. He’s just going to get 75% of his year’s rushing total off of five big runs and average a yard per carry the rest of the time. Big difference!

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Here’s SSLYAR’s Week 15 rankings by Adjusted Yards per Play Differential, which is a descriptive metric that is designed to give an accurate representation of how each team has played thus far. San Francisco remains #1 for the umpteenth week in a row; interestingly, for the second week in a row they will be playing the #2 team in this metric. Seattle continues its torrid stretch by leaping up to #2 and supplanting New England, who lead an AFC triumvirate in the 3-4-5 slots with Houston and Denver. Your biggest movers of the week come out of the Falcons-Giants game; Atlanta uses the blowout win to rise to #8 from #14 and the Giants drop to #12 from #6.

Adjusted Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00)

  1. San Francisco2.19 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>11)
  2. Seattle1.68 (last week: 4, high–>low: 2–>19)
  3. New England1.49 (last week: 2, high–>low: 2–>8)
  4. Houston1.42 (last week: 3, high–>low: 1–>5)
  5. Denver1.25 (last week: 5, high–>low: 4–>19)
  6. Washington: 0.94 (last week: 9, high–>low: 5–>15)
  7. Cincinnati0.80 (last week: 10, high–>low: 7–>32)
  8. Atlanta0.77 (last week: 14, high–>low: 1–>14)
  9. Baltimore0.76 (last week: 7, high–>low: 1–>9)
  10. Chicago0.75 (last week: 8, high–>low: 1–>14)
  11. Carolina0.72 (last week: 12, high–>low: 9–>23)
  12. NY Giants0.66 (last week: 6, high–>low: 4–>26)
  13. Green Bay0.59 (last week: 13, high–>low: 7–>22)
  14. Tampa Bay0.13 (last week: 11, high–>low: 7–>29)
  15. Pittsburgh0.05 (last week: 15, high–>low: 8–>24)
  16. New Orleans-0.06 (last week: 21, high–>low: 16–>29)
  17. Cleveland0.07 (last week: 16, high–>low: 16–>27)
  18. Minnesota-0.17 (last week: 18, high–>low: 7–>18)
  19. Detroit-0.18 (last week: 17, high–>low: 11–>22)
  20. St. Louis-0.30 (last week: 19, high–>low: 16–>28)
  21. Dallas-0.49 (last week: 22, high–>low: 7–>23)
  22. San Diego-0.59 (last week: 20, high–>low: 7–>25)
  23. Tennessee: -0.70 (last week: 26, high–>low: 23–>31)
  24. Miami-0.74 (last week: 24, high–>low: 18–>31)
  25. Buffalo-1.01 (last week: 23, high–>low: 5–>30)
  26. Arizona-1.04 (last week: 28, high–>low: 10–>28)
  27. Oakland-1.08 (last week: 27, high–>low: 16–>30)
  28. NY Jets: -1.17 (last week: 25, high–>low: 12–>30)
  29. Jacksonville-1.28 (last week: 29, high–>low: 23–>31)
  30. Indianapolis-1.52 (last week: 30, high–>low: 27–>31)
  31. Philadelphia-1.52 (last week: 31, high–>low: 8–>31)
  32. Kansas City-2.52 (last week: 32, high–>low: 30–>32)

Offensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 4.97)

  1. Washington: 6.39 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>6)
  2. New England6.17 (last week: 2, high–>low: 1–>12)
  3. San Francisco6.05 (last week: 4, high–>low: 1–>12)
  4. New Orleans5.93 (last week: 6, high–>low: 2–>22)
  5. Tampa Bay5.77 (last week: 3, high–>low: 1–>29)
  6. Atlanta5.77 (last week: 8, high–>low: 2–>9)
  7. Houston5.75 (last week: 7, high–>low: 6–>11)
  8. Seattle5.62 (last week: 13, high–>low: 8–>30)
  9. NY Giants5.61 (last week: 5, high–>low: 1–>17)
  10. Carolina5.53 (last week: 9, high–>low: 4–>22)
  11. Green Bay5.45 (last week: 11, high–>low: 6–>24)
  12. Denver5.45 (last week: 12, high–>low: 10–>23)
  13. Baltimore5.39 (last week: 10, high–>low: 1–>13)
  14. Detroit5.07 (last week: 14, high–>low: 9–>18)
  15. Dallas5.05 (last week: 16, high–>low: 3–>25)
  16. Cincinnati5.03 (last week: 15, high–>low: 7–>25)
  17. Oakland4.83 (last week: 17, high–>low: 10–>23)
  18. Minnesota4.78 (last week: 20, high–>low: 9–>24)
  19. St. Louis4.76 (last week: 19, high–>low: 13–>28)
  20. Buffalo4.69 (last week: 18, high–>low: 5–>20)
  21. Indianapolis4.67 (last week: 21, high–>low: 16–>28)
  22. Cleveland4.60 (last week: 22, high–>low: 22–>32)
  23. Pittsburgh4.59 (last week: 23, high–>low: 9–>24)
  24. Tennessee4.58 (last week: 24, high–>low: 14–>27)
  25. Miami4.39 (last week: 27, high–>low: 19–>31)
  26. Chicago4.33 (last week: 25, high–>low: 6–>30)
  27. San Diego4.10 (last week: 28, high–>low: 9–>28)
  28. Jacksonville4.09 (last week: 29, high–>low: 16–>31)
  29. Philadelphia4.05 (last week: 26, high–>low: 26–>32)
  30. Kansas City3.55 (last week: 31, high–>low: 20–>32)
  31. NY Jets: 3.48 (last week: 30, high–>low: 8–>32)
  32. Arizona3.07 (last week: 32, high–>low: 26–>32)

Defensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 4.97)

  1. Chicago3.58 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>5)
  2. San Francisco3.86 (last week: 2, high–>low: 2–>20)
  3. Seattle3.94 (last week: 3, high–>low: 3–>12)
  4. Arizona4.10 (last week: 5, high–>low: 2–>6)
  5. Denver4.20 (last week: 4, high–>low: 3–>20)
  6. Cincinnati4.23 (last week: 8, high–>low: 6–>32)
  7. Houston4.34 (last week: 6, high–>low: 1–>7)
  8. Pittsburgh4.54 (last week: 7, high–>low: 6–>23)
  9. Baltimore4.63 (last week: 10, high–>low: 7–>16)
  10. NY Jets: 4.65 (last week: 11, high–>low: 9–>21)
  11. Cleveland4.67 (last week: 9, high–>low: 4–>21)
  12. New England4.68 (last week: 12, high–>low: 3–>14)
  13. San Diego4.69 (last week: 13, high–>low: 6–>17)
  14. Carolina4.81 (last week: 17, high–>low: 12–>26)
  15. Green Bay4.86 (last week: 16, high–>low: 7–>28)
  16. Minnesota4.94 (last week: 15, high–>low: 6–>17)
  17. NY Giants4.95 (last week: 14, high–>low: 8–>30)
  18. Atlanta5.00 (last week: 20, high–>low: 3–>21)
  19. St. Louis5.06 (last week: 18, high–>low: 8–>24)
  20. Miami5.13 (last week: 19, high–>low: 8–>23)
  21. Detroit5.25 (last week: 21, high–>low: 12–>23)
  22. Tennessee: 5.28 (last week: 27, high–>low: 22–>30)
  23. Jacksonville5.38 (last week: 22, high–>low: 22–>27)
  24. Washington5.45 (last week: 25, high–>low: 11–>27)
  25. Dallas5.54 (last week: 26, high–>low: 7–>26)
  26. Philadelphia5.57 (last week: 28, high–>low: 1–>28)
  27. Tampa Bay5.64 (last week: 24, high–>low: 15–>27)
  28. Buffalo5.70 (last week: 23, high–>low: 12–>32)
  29. Oakland5.90 (last week: 29, high–>low: 19–>31)
  30. New Orleans5.98 (last week: 32, high–>low: 28–>32)
  31. Kansas City6.06 (last week: 31, high–>low: 27–>32)
  32. Indianapolis6.19 (last week: 30, high–>low: 24–>32)

SSLYAR also ranks teams according to Predictive Yards per Play Differential, a metric which doesn’t give as large a penalty or bonus to turnovers or touchdowns, will also take into account strength of schedule and will (theoretically) better able to predict future performance. This metric uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play. For example, because offensive performance is much more consistent from week-to-week than defensive performance, offensive play is more highly prioritized in these rankings.

San Francisco and Seattle are the top two teams in this metric for the second straight week, making their upcoming Sunday night showdown at CenturyLink Field even more attractive. New England and Denver come in at #3 and #4, but there are no other AFC teams in the top ten and only four total that rate above-average (Houston and Baltimore being the other two). One of the likely two AFC wild-card teams, Indianapolis, comes in #30! Their defense is in a virtual tie for last place with Oakland and the easy schedule their offense has faced merits a rating well below average as well. Another AFC wild-card hopeful, Cincinnati, experienced a severe drop in the ratings this week; the Bengals’ ugly win over the Eagles Thursday night dropped them from the above-average ranks and sent them falling from #13 to #19. New Orleans uses their 41-0 blowout over Tampa Bay to jump eight spots to #9.

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.989371)

  1. San Francisco: 1.897866 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>3)
  2. Seattle: 1.731994 (last week: 2, high–>low: 2–>16)
  3. New England: 1.551631 (last week: 3, high–>low: 3–>13)
  4. Denver: 1.47189 (last week: 4, high–>low: 1–>6)
  5. Carolina: 1.468313 (last week: 5, high–>low: 3–>18)
  6. Green Bay: 1.37573 (last week: 8, high–>low: 3–>20)
  7. Washington: 1.355724 (last week: 6, high–>low: 5–>18)
  8. NY Giants: 1.335121 (last week: 7, high–>low: 3–>12)
  9. New Orleans: 1.220264 (last week: 17, high–>low: 9–>23)
  10. Detroit: 1.178797 (last week: 9, high–>low: 5–>10)
  11. Houston: 1.175172 (last week: 10, high–>low: 2–>12)
  12. St. Louis: 1.162539 (last week: 14, high–>low: 9–>28)
  13. Dallas: 1.119301 (last week: 12, high–>low: 2–>17)
  14. Atlanta: 1.113746 (last week: 19, high–>low: 4–>20)
  15. Baltimore: 1.102786 (last week: 11, high–>low: 1–>15)
  16. Chicago: 1.07173 (last week: 15, high–>low: 2–>19)
  17. Minnesota: 1.022079 (last week: 18, high–>low: 9–>18)
  18. Tampa Bay: 1.017989 (last week: 16, high–>low: 12–>30)
  19. Cincinnati: 0.954953 (last week: 13, high–>low: 8–>24)
  20. Buffalo: 0.850746 (last week: 20, high–>low: 14–>27)
  21. Pittsburgh: 0.83781 (last week: 21, high–>low: 14–>24)
  22. Miami: 0.743459 (last week: 22, high–>low: 11–>30)
  23. Tennessee: 0.719024 (last week: 23, high–>low: 21–>26)
  24. Philadelphia: 0.718847 (last week: 24, high–>low: 10–>25)
  25. Oakland: 0.585621 (last week: 26, high–>low: 19–>29)
  26. Cleveland: 0.553743 (last week: 27, high–>low: 23–>30)
  27. NY Jets: 0.522444 (last week: 25, high–>low: 19–>32)
  28. San Diego: 0.522229 (last week: 28, high–>low: 22–>30)
  29. Arizona: 0.477874 (last week: 29, high–>low: 23–>29)
  30. Indianapolis: 0.345962 (last week: 30, high–>low: 17–>30)
  31. Jacksonville: 0.2253 (last week: 31, high–>low: 31–>32)
  32. Kansas City: 0.127693 (last week: 32, high–>low: 27–>32)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 2.835901)

  1. New Orleans: 3.4102 (last week: 4, high–>: 1–>11)
  2. New England: 3.387825 (last week: 3, high–>low: 2–>9)
  3. Washington: 3.386177 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>8)
  4. San Francisco: 3.303187 (last week: 2, high–>low: 1–>13)
  5. Seattle: 3.289295 (last week: 6, high–>low: 5–>25)
  6. NY Giants: 3.218282 (last week: 5, high–>low: 1–>6)
  7. Carolina: 3.181846 (last week: 8, high–>low: 7–>17)
  8. Green Bay: 3.114666 (last week: 10, high–>low: 1–>22)
  9. Detroit: 3.10479 (last week: 7, high–>low: 3–>11)
  10. Atlanta: 3.103723 (last week: 13, high–>low: 4–>16)
  11. Tampa Bay: 3.09425 (last week: 9, high–>low: 6–>26)
  12. Dallas: 3.085861 (last week: 11, high–>low: 5–>20)
  13. Denver: 3.005377 (last week: 12, high–>low: 3–>13)
  14. Houston: 2.931068 (last week: 16, high–>low: 10–>19)
  15. Buffalo: 2.902279 (last week: 17, high–>low: 9–>17)
  16. St. Louis: 2.892785 (last week: 18, high–>low: 13–>28)
  17. Baltimore: 2.875275 (last week: 14, high–>low: 1–>17)
  18. Minnesota: 2.811373 (last week: 20, high–>low: 18–>25)
  19. Oakland: 2.807262 (last week: 19, high–>low: 12–>21)
  20. Cincinnati: 2.76474 (last week: 15, high–>low: 6–>20)
  21. Tennessee: 2.675341 (last week: 21, high–>low: 14–>24)
  22. Chicago: 2.584486 (last week: 22, high–>low: 10–>26)
  23. Indianapolis: 2.566436 (last week: 24, high–>low: 11–>24)
  24. Miami: 2.546216 (last week: 25, high–>low: 16–>31)
  25. Pittsburgh: 2.515854 (last week: 26, high–>low: 17–>29)
  26. Philadelphia: 2.512859 (last week: 23, high–>low: 19–>27)
  27. Cleveland: 2.391454 (last week: 28, high–>low: 27–>30)
  28. San Diego: 2.320013 (last week: 30, high–>low: 27–>31)
  29. NY Jets: 2.269307 (last week: 27, high–>low: 23–>31)
  30. Jacksonville: 2.240596 (last week: 32, high–>low: 28–>32)
  31. Kansas City: 2.217063 (last week: 29, high–>low: 24–>32)
  32. Arizona: 2.138109 (last week: 31, high–>low: 27–>32)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 1.84653)

  1. San Francisco: 1.405321 (last week: 1, high–>low: 1–>5)
  2. Chicago: 1.512757 (last week: 2, high–>low: 1–>5)
  3. Denver: 1.533487 (last week: 3, high–>low: 2–>11)
  4. Seattle: 1.557301 (last week: 4, high–>low: 2–>6)
  5. Arizona: 1.660235 (last week: 8, high–>low: 5–>10)
  6. Pittsburgh: 1.678044 (last week: 5, high–>low: 4–>20)
  7. Carolina: 1.713533 (last week: 9, high–>low: 6–>25)
  8. St. Louis: 1.730246 (last week: 11, high–>low: 8–>18)
  9. Green Bay: 1.738936 (last week: 13, high–>low: 9–>17)
  10. NY Jets: 1.746863 (last week: 7, high–>low: 7–>21)
  11. Houston: 1.755896 (last week: 6, high–>low: 2–>12)
  12. Baltimore: 1.772489 (last week: 15, high–>low: 12–>20)
  13. Minnesota: 1.789294 (last week: 10, high–>low: 3–>13)
  14. Philadelphia: 1.794012 (last week: 18, high–>low: 5–>20)
  15. San Diego: 1.797784 (last week: 14, high–>low: 7–>17)
  16. Miami: 1.802757 (last week: 12, high–>low: 8–>16)
  17. Cincinnati: 1.809787 (last week: 16, high–>low: 16–>28)
  18. New England: 1.836194 (last week: 19, high–>low: 16–>23)
  19. Cleveland: 1.837711 (last week: 17, high–>low: 9–>22)
  20. NY Giants: 1.883161 (last week: 20, high–>low: 18–>32)
  21. Detroit: 1.925993 (last week: 22, high–>low: 10–>23)
  22. Tennessee: 1.956317 (last week: 25, high–>low: 22–>28)
  23. Dallas: 1.966559 (last week: 21, high–>low: 6–>23)
  24. Atlanta: 1.989978 (last week: 27, high–>low: 14–>27)
  25. Jacksonville: 2.015297 (last week: 23, high–>low: 16–>25)
  26. Washington: 2.030453 (last week: 26, high–>low: 24–>32)
  27. Buffalo: 2.051534 (last week: 24, high–>low: 23–>32)
  28. Tampa Bay: 2.076261 (last week: 28, high–>low: 19–>29)
  29. Kansas City: 2.089369 (last week: 29, high–>low: 22–>30)
  30. New Orleans: 2.189936 (last week: 32, high–>low: 30–>32)
  31. Indianapolis: 2.220473 (last week: 30, high–>low: 24–>31)
  32. Oakland: 2.221641 (last week: 31, high–>low: 23–>32)

Week 15 Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding Week 15 of the 2012 NFL Season…

San Francisco 41, New England 34
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.97 – San Francisco, 4.57 – New England
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 27.72, New England 30.03
Quick Thoughts:
1. So for the first 35 minutes or so of the game last night, those of us who had been saying all year, “You know, guys, San Francisco is pretty good,” felt pretty vindicated in our Harbaugh trust (and, yes, I am gratuitously tooting my own horn. What other point is there in writing a blog?). Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were flying around and completely neutralizing the massive advantage the Patriots usually have on every other team they play: intermediate passes over the middle. Did it help that the Pats were uncharacteristically charitable in putting the ball on the ground and that the Niners had a ball magnet (football, that is) attached to their chests? Why let facts get in the way of the narrative? The 49ers were ahead 31-3 five minutes into the third quarter, Colin Kaepernick was making great stick throws deep down the field, Aldon Smith was coming uncovered and talking smack to Brady, and Frank Gore was turning broken plays into untouched touchdowns. Clearly the 49ers were going to win by 52 and there was nothing that could possibly change that outcome from occurring…
2. Then all of a sudden, WHOA HEY TOM BRADY YOU CAN’T JUST SCORE THAT FAST WITHOUT SENDING A NOTE TO YOUR SUPERVISOR FIRST. The Pats started looking like the Pats again, hitting Welker and Woodhead underneath (not even Willis and Bowman can keep up with them in SHORT spaces) and coaxing Brandon Lloyd out of the early retirement he had announced in the first half to catch some deep passes for them in the second. In a span of fourteen game minutes and sixteen seconds (and seemingly five minutes of actual time), New England turned a 31-3 deficit into a 31-31 tie and had ALL THE MOMENTUM IN THE WORLD and obviously Kaepernick was going to throw a pick and Brady would milk the clock down and score one last touchdown and the Patriots would have their greatest win of the- oh wait, LaMichael James just took that kickoff back sixty yards. Oh wait, Kaepernick just hit Michael Crabtree on a thirty-eight yard touchdown pass. Huh. San Francisco won anyway. WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE, GUYS? WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE????

3. So, in an extremely roundabout way, we got the close game we expected, with San Francisco’s excellence on both sides of the ball proving to be juuuuuussssstttt a bit too much for the Patriots in the end. Well, that and San Francisco recovering SEVEN OUT OF THE EIGHT FUMBLES in the game. Is it possible the game’s outcome would have been different had the fumble luck been more evenly distributed? Absolutely. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Occupy Movement has not made much headway in the NFL nor in real life and thus they likely now await a game in the Wild-Card Round of the playoffs and a trip to Denver should the two teams meet in the divisional round. You picked a good time to be lucky, 49ers! You picked a good time to be lucky…

Green Bay 21, Chicago 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.65 – Green Bay, 3.44 – Chicago
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Green Bay 28.65, Chicago 11.79

Quick Thought: No comment.

Denver 34, Baltimore 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.47 – Denver, 3.60 – Baltimore
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Denver 29.30, Baltimore 15.94

Quick Thought: I’ll give Flacco credit for huffing and puffing all the way down the field on Chris Harris’s pick-six, trying desperately to prevent the TAINT from occurring. Even though he didn’t end up making the tackle, he deserves roughly ten thousand times the credit for his attempt than Tom Brady does for his actual “tackle” on Carlos Rogers last night. Brady couldn’t have made a more half-hearted slide than if he was stuck playing on the Astros in late September. Carlos Rogers should be ashamed of himself.

Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 24 (OT)
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.64 – Dallas, 6.61 – Pittsburgh
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Dallas 30.35, Pittsburgh 28.80

Quick Thought: Brandon Carr obviously made a great play on that game-winning interception in overtime, but after seeing that replay like ten times…HOW DOES HE NOT GET INTO THE END ZONE??? It’s like he got to the one-foot line and his computer programming completely malfunctioned at the thought of scoring. Ahmad Bradshaw could learn well to emulate Carr’s touchdown avoidance the next time he needs to take a dive on the one when the other team is trying to let him score in the Super Bowl.

Atlanta 34, NY Giants 0
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.08 – Atlanta, 2.47 – NY Giants
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Atlanta 33.88, NY Giants 8.29

Quick Thought: WHOA HEY AN ACTUALLY IMPRESSIVE VICTORY FROM THE FALCONS. I acknowledge your achievement, gentlemen. Also, I remain convinced Tony Gonzalez could play until he’s 50 just on post-up moves alone. And he’d still probably be able to dunk even then. Take that, Vernon Davis!

Houston 29, Indianapolis 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.62 – Houston, 4.60 – Indianapolis
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Houston 31.21, Indianapolis 18.73

Quick Thought: Congratulations to Bryan Braman on setting the Texans single-season franchise record for most blocked punts in a season! His remarkable mark of TWO blocked punts truly shows what the human body is capable of accomplishing when completely unblocked twice in one season. Well done, big guy!

Minnesota 36, St. Louis 22
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.14 – Minnesota, 5.16 – St. Louis
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Minnesota 25.88, St. Louis 28.38

Quick Thought: Actual quote from the Associated Press’s game story yesterday: “Slight consolation for the Rams: Without the two long-gainers, Peterson had 78 yards on 22 carries.” WOO-HOO! You know, without the two kick return touchdowns and one punt return touchdown he has this season, Jacoby Jones has ZERO return touchdowns this year. EVERYBODY’S HELD THESE TWO GUYS IN CHECK SO WELL.

Washington 38, Cleveland 21
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.55 – Washington, 5.02 – Cleveland
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Washington 34.62, Cleveland 18.65

Quick Thought: Sooooooooo….it doesn’t really matter who’s under center for the Redskins, does it? I think we can all see that the real offensive masterminds in D.C. are the Shanahans and they could stick anybody in at quarterback and rack up 400 yards of offense, right? I’M JUST KIDDING, RGIII, PLEASE DON’T HURT ME.

New Orleans 41, Tampa Bay 0
Adjusted Yards per Play: 8.42 – New Orleans, 2.17 – Tampa Bay
AY/P Projected Point Totals: New Orleans 39.09, Tampa Bay 11.16

Quick Thought: How in God’s Name Did THIS Defense Get a Shutout, Vol. 1: in an awe-inspiring display of empty yardage that even the Raiders would stand up and applaud for, the Buccaneers actually racked up 386 yards against the Saints but turned the ball over five times and failed on two other fourth-down attempts. Pro Football Reference says it’s the most yards a team has ever accrued without scoring a point, narrowly edging the Dolphins’ 35-0 loss to the Colts in 1970 by three yards. Hey, if you’re going to underperform, why not do it spectacularly?

Seattle 50, Buffalo 17
Adjusted Yards per Play: 9.93 – Seattle, 3.48 – Buffalo
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Seattle 40.43, Buffalo 16.65

Quick Thought: Seattle is utterly terrifying right now, although I would like to point out that the Bills seemed to dial their defensive effort level back to October levels — which is to say it was non-existent. Additionally, Earl Thomas’s interception return for a touchdown seemed to answer the question: “Which NFL offense would make the worst defense?” Ryan Fitzpatrick’s attempts at tackling made Tom Brady look like Ronnie Lott.

Carolina 31, San Diego 7
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.43 – Carolina, 1.87 – San Diego
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Carolina 28.70, San Diego 6.01

Quick Thought: Mike Tolbert said after the game that he helped his Panther teammates with the Chargers’ terminology for their audibles and checks and keys and that was a major reason why the Chargers struggled to get over 150 yards on offense. Now with the way San Diego’s played offensively this year, it’s entirely possible that the Panthers could have accomplished this fine outing without the inside tips, but wouldn’t it be just like Norv to not pick up on little things such as, “Oh, we’re facing a team whose head coach and fullback were with us only for about five years, maybe we should mix up our terminology today?” Also, props to Tolbert for the following quote: “They don’t think a little fat man can jump, but I can definitely get up.”

Arizona 38, Detroit 10
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.14 – Arizona, 2.66 – Detroit
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Arizona 15.08, Detroit 14.06

Quick Thought: When you’re outTAINTing the King of TAINTs, the immortal Ryan Lindley, it’s perhaps a sign that your season should maybe be coming to a close…

Miami 24, Jacksonville 3
Adjusted Yards per Play: 5.74 – Miami, 5.25 – Jacksonville
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Miami 27.06, Jacksonville 21.38

Quick Thought: The Jaguars lost a touchdown in the second quarter when Guy Whimper failed to report as tackle-eligible on a play where Justin Blackmon caught a twenty-yard touchdown from Chad Henne. Guess Guy didn’t WHIMPER loudly enough to the official, eh? EH???????? Man, this post really needs to end soon.

Oakland 15, Kansas City 0
Adjusted Yards per Play: 4.47 – Oakland, 1.61 – Kansas City
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Oakland 23.95, Kansas City 5.29

Quick Thought: How in God’s Name Did THIS Defense Get a Shutout, Vol. 2: unlike the Saints, the Raiders were completely dominant defensively. The Chiefs didn’t get their first first down of the game until five minutes left in the third quarter. The Kansas City Chiefs: Making 4-10 teams look like the ’85 Bears since 2012.

Game of the Week: 49ers vs. Patriots plus the rest of the Week 15 Preview

49erspats

If there was any week to head over to the house of a good friend or casual acquaintance or even a serial killer – anyone who has NFL Sunday Ticket or the Red Zone Channel, basically – this would be the week, guys. Look at these early game matchups: Packers-Bears, Broncos-Ravens, Giants-Falcons, Colts-Texans, Jaguars-Dolphins. All of those games except the last one are AWESOME and they’re all going on at the same time. NOT COOL. Luckily, the Game of the Week will still be able to be viewed by all in primetime – and it may just be a preview of a little game coming up the first weekend in February…but most likely not. Still should be enjoyable, though!

Who: San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA

When: 7:30 P.M. Sunday, December 16th

Network: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya)

Key Storylines:

  1. The tortoise and the hare. I mentioned last week that the Patriots are once again one of the best ball-control offenses in the league, if not the best, and they’ve often played that style at warp speed. The decision to use an Oregon-style, fast-paced no-huddle attack for large swaths of games has led to the Patriots running by far the most plays in the league – something that may be an advantage when you have Tom Brady as your quarterback. On average, there have been approximately 138 plays run from scrimmage in games involving the Patriots this season; the Lions are the only team that is even in the vicinity of that pace. On the other side, the 49ers play much more methodically and deliberately; their games this season have typically only had 122 plays from scrimmage, a pace that is slower than every team’s except Seattle’s. If San Francisco’s style of play wins out on Sunday, that would mean one or possibly even two fewer drives for Tom Brady to work with. Needless to say, it would behoove the 49ers to slow this sucker WAY down…
  2. Great coaching matchup or GREATEST coaching matchup? Honestly, it’s near-impossible to find better strategical minds working the sidelines in a single game. I assume you’re familiar with Bill Belichick’s work; he may be considered slightly above-average. Jim Harbaugh may be this decade’s great coach, following in the footsteps of Belichick, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Vince Lombardi, and Paul Brown before him. Under his direction, 49ers players have rarely if ever looked flummoxed. They maintain outstanding discipline and almost never try to do something they’re incapable of. Like Belichick in the first half of last decade, Harbaugh has been excellent at drawing up novel concepts to play to his players’ strengths and putting them in a position where they can succeed. What will Darth Hoodie come up with to counteract the young gun’s strategies? Perhaps moreso than any battle that actually takes place on the field, Belichick vs. Harbaugh may be the matchup that decides the game.
  3. The playoff positioning battle. As of this week’s power rankings, the SSLYAR Predictive Yards per Play metric considers these two teams the most likely to emerge from their respective conferences and play in the Super Bowl. However, a loss Sunday night would throw a big wrench in those plans for either side. With New England and Denver both playing creampuffs in the final two games of the season, the AFC’s second first-round bye will likely be decided with the outcomes of this game and Broncos-Ravens. Since New England holds the tiebreaker over Denver, a win against the 49ers would virtually clinch that first-round bye and ensure that the Broncos would have to come to Foxborough in the playoffs. For their part, the 49ers don’t have a stranglehold on the NFC West title yet; if they lose this Sunday night and then the next at Seattle, the Seahawks could leap over them and force the Niners to go on the road for the entirety of the postseason. All that to say: no, there’s no incentive for either side here.

saidinstone

Steve Stone’s Said in Stone Cold Lock of the Game: “During my 14 professional seasons in baseball I always heard retired players saying, ‘The game was better during my era.'”

Projected Final Score: Patriots 28, 49ers 27

Team To Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: 49ers (+5.5)

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Before we get into the rest of our Week 15 preview, let’s post a quick recap on last night’s Bengals-Eagles game…

Cincinnati 34, Philadelphia 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 2.82 – Cincinnati, 0.87 – Philadelphia
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Cincinnati 14.91, Philadelphia 3.29

Quick Thought: Is it possible to have a less impressive 21-point win? Andy Dalton got less than three yards per dropback and lost a couple fumbles. Defensively, the Bengals often gave Nick Foles the appearance of confidence (when he wasn’t under-throwing Jeremy Maclin by twenty yards, anyway). I think Marvin Lewis summed up it best when he said: “We’ve got nothing to celebrate here.” What a fitting end to the Thursday Night Football slate. Please, Roger Goodell, give us more poorly-played games on three days’ rest next year!

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Below are SSLYAR’s Week 15 NFL Projections, ranked by the author’s subjective interest in watching each game. Home teams are italicized; projected winners against the spread are underlined. To see which games are being shown in your area, check out the506′s TV distribution maps. Our guest analyst this week is a deli owner from Quahog, Rhode Island who should have never, EVER under any circumstances received his own TV show: Cleveland Brown.

  1. New England Patriots 28, San Francisco 49ers 27: “You don’t win. You just do a little better each time.”
  2. Chicago Bears 21, Green Bay Packers 20: “No, no, no, no, no, NO!”
  3. Denver Broncos 24, Baltimore Ravens 23: “I’m no school administrator, but there’s an extension program goin’ on in my trousers.”
  4. Dallas Cowboys 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 16: “And boom goes the dynamite.”
  5. New York Giants 28, Atlanta Falcons 27: “I pity the fool! But I also suggest ways in which he may better himself.”
  6. Houston Texans 31, Indianapolis Colts 21: “A white man shouldn’t play sports in the first place.”
  7. St. Louis Rams 21, Minnesota Vikings 17: “Oh… that’s… nasty…”
  8. Washington Redskins 21, Cleveland Browns 20: “Well, I admit after a long day of work, I don’t always come home with that ‘Reuniti on ice, that’s nice’ mentality, and for that, I apologize.”
  9. New Orleans Saints 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28: “You just put Peter in the doghouse, which is where your mother…your mother smells.”
  10. Seattle Seahawks 24, Buffalo Bills 17 (in Toronto): “Nothing’s too far away from Maxine the Cheatin’ Queen. Women. That’s not fair, I’m just speaking out of hurt.”
  11. Carolina Panthers 21, San Diego Chargers 16: “Hey, baby. How would you like to go black, and then make a difficult decision regarding whether or not to go back?”
  12. Tennessee Titans 19, New York Jets 17: “I like all these electrical wires just nailed to the ice. That’s probably pretty safe, right?”
  13. Detroit Lions 20, Arizona Cardinals -3: “Public urination is just wrong. Except during the Million Man March when protesters burned our Porta-Potties. Then I used my stream of justice to put out the hate.”
  14. Miami Dolphins 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 12: “You can stay with us, Meg, I just hope you don’t mind that my uncle died in the guest bedroom. We think it was some time between the Tonight Show and the Today Show.”
  15. Oakland Raiders 24, Kansas City Chiefs 19: “I gotta stop takin’ my baths during Peter’s shenanigans.”

2012 Record Thus Far: 137-71-1 (13-3 last week)

2012 Record against the Spread Thus Far: 107-102 (12-4 last week)