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06 Jan 2006

AFC Wild Card Preview

by Aaron Schatz, with additional analysis by Michael David Smith

The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are used to playing in January. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals are not. But this isn't about who played better last year, or even who played better in September. This is about who will play better this weekend.

For those who may be visiting this site for the first time to read this preview, some explanations for our statistics. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here.  Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative VOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses.  (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.)  WEI DVOA is WEIGHTED DVOA, which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). Red zone DVOA is also listed.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average.  Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances.  All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense.

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline.  That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice." Note that even though the chart appears in the section for when each team has the ball, it represents total performance, not just offense. Note: Though the tables and charts include Week 17 for all teams, the trendlines do not include Week 17 for Cincinnati or New England.

In past years, these preview articles have also served as the in-game discussion threads for playoff games. This year, we've created separate discussion threads for Saturday and Sunday on our open discussion threads page. You can also find the preview for the NFC wild card games here.

One more note. Offensive and defensive line stats here, as well as defense vs. receivers, are based on all 17 weeks even though the stats pages on the site currently only include 16 weeks. Those pages will be updated soon.

Jacksonville at New England



Jaguars on Offense
  JAC OFF NE DEF
DVOA 7.1% (11) 12.9% (27)
WEI DVOA 9.5% (8) 11.3% (26)
PASS 14.4% (9) 32.3% (29)
RUSH 0.1% (12) -8.7% (13)
RED ZONE 40.5% (5) 27.1% (29)


Patriots on Offense
  NE OFF JAC DEF
DVOA 15.2% (7) -11.8% (5)
WEI DVOA 13.9% (7) -5.2% (13)
PASS 35.4% (2) -15.4% (5)
RUSH -8.9% (19) -7.9% (14)
RED ZONE 42.0% (4) 22.7% (27)


Special Teams
  JAC NE
DVOA 2.0% (10) 2.9% (8)
JAC kickoff 8.7 (9) 6.2 (8)
NE kickoff 5.0 (9) 4.9 (14)
JAC punts 7.0 (21) -8.6 (17)
NE punts -2.1 (8) 7.1 (20)
FG/XP -2.6 (24) 1.7 (20)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Saturday Wild Card Discussion Thread.

A few weeks ago, nobody would have favored New England in this game. Jacksonville beat a number of impressive opponents in the first half of the year, and the Patriots -- whose defense had completely collapsed -- were only stumbling to first place thanks to a weak division.

But then New England reeled off a series of impressive victories, with the defense suddenly looking as strong as ever. The talk went up around the league -- the defending champs were back just in time for the games that really mattered, and even the undefeated Colts should be afraid. And while the Patriots were making noise, the Jaguars put together a string of unimpressive performances, particularly on defense.

WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL

There is no doubt that New England's defense was dominant during their four-game winning streak, but all the excitement ignores that the opposition in these games wasn't exactly top notch. The Patriots stopped the Brooks Bollinger-led Jets twice, along with the J.P. Losman-led Bills and a Tampa team playing its third straight road game.

The winning streak has been attributed to a number of personnel changes, but all of these changes were in place when the Patriots were slaughtered by Kansas City six weeks ago. Defensive end Richard Seymour and linebacker Tedy Bruschi were back from injury and Ellis Hobbs and Artell Hawkins had moved into the starting secondary.

Although Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich has missed five weeks with an ankle injury, he should be good to go this week. The receiver to look for is not veteran Jimmy Smith, who led the team in receiving yards, but Ernest Wilford. Wilford led the Jaguars in yards per catch and was one of the league's ten most valuable receivers per play according to DVOA -- and the Patriots have been burned by second receivers over and over again this season. They rank 27th in DVOA against number two receivers, but 15th in DVOA against number one receivers.

Though New England's improved pass defense isn't all it is made out to be, their improved run defense is. In the first half of the season, the Pats allowed 4.1 yards per carry. Since Seymour returned in Week 10, the Pats have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry. And the Patriots never, ever let the opposition break a long running play. The Patriots have led the league in preventing runs over 10 yards for three straight seasons. No other team has even been in the top ten all three seasons.

When the Jaguars do run, they will do it with three different running backs. Veteran Fred Taylor, while no longer a star, is still useful. The larger Greg Jones has been injured and will be limited. LaBrandon Toefield had a huge game against Tennessee last week but standard caveats about the meaningless last week of the season apply. No matter who is running, the Jaguars should never run to the right, as they are the absolute worst team in the league running either behind the right tackle or around right end.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

This is where the Patriots will win this game. Even when every other part of the team was struggling at midseason, the New England passing game never wavered. It is led by two Super Bowl MVPs, quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Deion Branch. Only Indianapolis had more success passing this season.

The Jacksonville pass defense, meanwhile, has fallen apart over the past two months. After 10 weeks, the Jaguars led the league in pass defense DVOA. In the period of the past seven weeks, the Jaguars rank 28th. They are giving up more yards and more completions to every position except tight end, and intercepting the ball half as often, and this decline has come against the easier half of the schedule.

The only part of the Jacksonville defense that hasn't declined is the pass rush. Jacksonville ranked number one in adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks per pass play adjusted for situation and opponent. But New England's offensive line ranked sixth, so this is strength against strength.

Could things get any worse for Jacksonville? Actually, yes, because while New England's offense is fairly healthy, Jacksonville's defense is badly hurting. Middle linebacker Mike Peterson will try to play with a cast on his wrist, and could be ineffective or unable to play at all. Defensive ends Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer are questionable with a hamstring injury and a broken hand, respectively. Those happen to be the three players that lead the Jaguars in sacks. In addition, starting cornerback Kenny Wright left last week's game with a knee injury, though he is listed as probable.

The Patriots, with Corey Dillon slower than last season, are average running the ball, while the Jaguars are average against the run. Despite the notoriety of defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, the Jaguars do not stop runs up the middle as well as they stop runs around the ends.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are generally balanced for both teams. Jacksonville's Chris Hanson and New England's Josh Miller are both excellent punters, though Miller was often betrayed by his coverage unit. Of course, New England's Adam Vinatieri is the greatest postseason kicker of all time, while Jacksonville's Josh Scobee specializes in distance, not accuracy.

OUTLOOK

There's one more issue to discuss. No, not New England's January experience -- the issue is New England's January temperature. Home field advantage increases by roughly 15 percent when a southern team plays in a northern outdoor stadium after November 1, and the effect is even stronger when the game is played at night.

Hurting, shivering, and struggling to cover opposing receivers is not a recipe for playoff success. Jacksonville's passing game should make some big plays despite the cold, but New England's passing game will make more unless the Jaguars can somehow revert to the team that held Indianapolis and Seattle to a combined 24 points in two games way back in September, not the team that narrowly beat San Francisco and Arizona in recent weeks.

(Note: As always, I want to point out that I am a Patriots fan lest anyone think I am hiding my biases. Nonetheless, this website specializes in objective analysis. Trust me, a preview of the Patriots against Denver or Indianapolis is going to read a lot differently.)

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati



Steelers on Offense
  PIT OFF CIN DEF
DVOA 10.4% (8) -2.1% (17)
WEI DVOA 6.1% (10) 8.9% (24)
PASS 23.8% (8) -9.1% (10)
RUSH 1.1% (11) 5.7% (24)
RED ZONE 48.7% (3) 22.6% (26)


Bengals on Offense
  CIN OFF PIT DEF
DVOA 21.8% (6) -15.4% (3)
WEI DVOA 20.0% (5) -14.5% (6)
PASS 26.5% (6) -13.1% (8)
RUSH 16.3% (6) -18.2% (2)
RED ZONE 29.8% (7) -41.2% (2)


Special Teams
  PIT CIN
DVOA 0.3% (19) 1.2% (12)
PIT kickoff 0.8 (20) 6.7 (7)
CIN kickoff -0.4 (16) 2.9 (17)
PIT punts 2.1 (24) -10.7 (21)
CIN punts -4.0 (12) 0.1 (26)
FG/XP 3.3 (16) 7.7 (5)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Sunday Wild Card Discussion Thread.

This is the premier game of the weekend. Two bitter division rivals face off a third time, each one having beaten the other on the opponent's home turf. But this time, the loser heads home until September.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

In Week 7, the Steelers ran on the Bengals at will. Willie Parker gained 131 yards on just 18 carries, and Jerome Bettis gained 56 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to throw only 14 passes, and just two Steelers -- receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller -- had receptions.

But in Week 13, Parker and Bettis combined for just 84 yards on 23 carries, and Roethlisberger ended up throwing 41 passes.

This is not an issue of the Steelers running when they had a second half lead. The Steelers had 14 first-half carries in the first game, 16 in the second. But they were getting 5.1 yards per carry in the first game, only 2.8 yards per carry in the second.

Two players made the difference, both named Smith. Pittsburgh left tackle Marvel Smith was injured for the second game, replaced by rookie Trai Essex. Essex struggled, and left-side sweeps broke down completely. Even All-Pro guard Alan Faneca looked lost. And moving the tight end to the left side to help Essex meant that right-side runs had problems as well.

Marvel Smith is back now, so the running game should be better. But the Bengals have been concentrating on stopping the run in recent weeks. Before their Week 10 bye, the Bengals allowed 4.9 yards per carry. From that point until Week 16 (they pulled the starting defense in the final game) the Bengals allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. Part of that is the other Smith, Cincinnati defensive tackle Shaun Smith. The Bengals only use Smith as a situational run-stopper, but he can provide a major impact in the middle of the line. He was inactive for the first game with the Steelers, but a big part of the run defense in the second game.

The problem is that by concentrating on the run, the Bengals hurt their pass defense, so they've gone from allowing 5.5 net yards per play to allowing 7.4 net yards per pass play. The Bengals pass defense leads the league with 31 interceptions, but they are also overly dependent on interceptions, and when they aren't picking off the ball they give up plenty of yards.

The Bengals also have a huge weakness defending passes to tight ends, ranking 29th in the league, so Steelers rookie Heath Miller could have another huge day against them. This is part of why the Bengals are poor against the short field, with DVOA ranking the defense 26th in the red zone -- while the Steelers offense ranks third in the red zone.

One more note: watch for the run around left end. The Steelers offense ranked fifth in adjusted line yards left end; the Bengals defense was last in the league at preventing such runs.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

One of the most interesting parts of this matchup is the way the Pittsburgh defense and Cincinnati offense are almost perfectly matched.

The Cincinnati offense is powerful and diverse. The Bengals are great on the ground and in the air, and they can beat you with multiple combinations of players. They have two great wide receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but they also have Rudi Johnson at running back -- and when you least expect it, the big play will be made by shifty third-down back Chris Perry or rookie receiver Chris Henry or even underrated tight end Matt Schobel.

The Pittsburgh defense is powerful and diverse. The defense is packed with All-Pros (linebacker Joey Porter, safety Troy Polamalu) and should-be All-Pros (defensive end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Casey Hampton). Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau invented the zone blitz and the pass rush could come from anywhere at any time.

Cincinnati's offensive line is excellent -- it ranks second in the league, allowing just 22 sacks. Pittsburgh's pass rush is also excellent -- it ranks third in the league with 47 sacks.

The Bengals running game is best when Johnson is running up the middle or behind one of Cincinnati's outstanding tackles, Levi Jones or Willie Anderson. But the Steelers run defense is best at stopping runs up the middle or behind one of the tackles.

Weakness also matches weakness. In Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, one linebacker usually drops back into deep coverage. That exposes Pittsburgh to big gains on passes to running backs. But Cincinnati doesn't throw to its running backs particularly well.

The biggest difference between the two games on this side of the ball? In the first game, Carson Palmer threw interceptions and Shayne Graham missed an easy early field goal. In the second game, Palmer threw touchdowns on three straight drives in the first half.

The second game also saw Cincinnati leaving tight ends or backs behind to protect against the Pittsburgh blitzers. The Bengals did an excellent job picking up the pass rush, and that led directly to some of their biggest plays, such as a six-yard pass to an open Houshmandzadeh for the third Cincinnati touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Each team has a particular advantage here. The Bengals ranked seventh in our kick return ratings while Pittsburgh ranked 20th on kickoffs. The Steelers ranked 12th in our punt return ratings while Cincinnati ranked 24th in punting. Of course, for Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El, every punt return is an adventure. He had two punt return touchdowns and a third long return for 72 yards, but also five returns that lost yardage and two lost fumbles.

Also, watch for undrafted rookie linebacker Andre Frazier, an excellent athlete. He'll play a few snaps on defense and a lot on special teams, and he'll have an impact on the game.

OUTLOOK

These two teams are evenly matched and basically tied in our statistics. The Bengals are trending down while the Steelers are trending up -- but this is partly because the Bengals wrapped up their playoff spot weeks ago while the Steelers were desperate for every win. Cincinnati has the home-field advantage, but that didn't seem to mean much in the first two meetings. The players are emotional, the crowd even more so, and the result is completely up in the air, so just sit back and enjoy the action.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 06 Jan 2006

82 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2006, 4:48am by Sid

Comments

1
by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 8:27pm

Way to be totally non-commital on the outcome of Bengals/Steelers! Good pick on Andre Frazier though. He's a very bad man. Very bad.

2
by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 8:43pm

"so just sit back and enjoy the action"

i think you mean, "unclench your fists and try not to yell too much."

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 9:03pm

We need some names for the DVOA trend graphs.

Pitt's should be "the smile" for a couple reasons: both the shape and the upward trend recently.

Cinn's? Maybe the "drunken tumble down the icy stairs in the dark?" These trends do not indicate an even game... we'll see. I foresee a visit to Indy for the Steelers, but the info on Cinn's run-stuffing tackle (Mr. Smith, part 2) not being active for their loss to Pitt and being very active in their win over Pitt has me intrigued.

Likewise, NE has what I'll call a "Dick Cheney Smirk", that wry one-sided smile that says up-yours, pal (on the Senate floor only, of course), with the uptick in the right place (recent past). And Jax has a noncommital "frown", trending the wrong way. Not looking good, and it's impossible to say how much Leftwich will change the frown to a modified smile, if at all.

These previews are always super.

4
by JonL (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 9:18pm

and the result is completely up in the air

All I know is my gut says "maybe."

5
by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 9:18pm

While Cinci's been allowing less running yards in recent weeks, isn't there adjusted rush D for those weeks still pretty low? Just looking at the numbers it looks like the Steelers have this overwhelming advantage in rushing vs. Cinci D.

6
by MattinDenver (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 9:28pm

Excellent preview, as always. I didn't realize Jacksonville had been struggling against the pass so much recently. That's not a good thing for them going into New England. I was looking forward to a 'great offense v. great defense' scenario for the game on Saturday night. I didn't know about all of Jacksonville's injuries.
And Cincy v. Pittsburgh should be great. Pittsburgh has looked much better recently, and Cincy has to be ashamed for losing to the Bills at home in week 16 when they still had a shot at the #2 seed in the AFC.
Being a 3 point dog (latest line I saw) against Pittsburgh at home has got to motivate the Bengals though. I expect a great game though. Actually both games should be good, if Leftwich is somewhat healthy Jax v. NE should be a shootout.

7
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 9:40pm

Nice analysis and it should make me optimistic. But I still can't get myself to believe in anything wider than a 21-17 NE win. I'm still too haunted by the NE secondary. And the Pats defense didn't look that great against Miami even before all the starters were pulled.

8
by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 10:32pm

Bobman,
Cincy clearly shows a rollercoaster ;)

9
by deuce (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 11:17pm

"...Jaguars can somehow revert to the team that held Indianapolis to a combined 24 points in two games way back in September"

Did you mean Indianapolis and Seattle?

10
by Jason (not verified) :: Fri, 01/06/2006 - 11:18pm

I've never seen a 10-6 team from a bad division receive as much Respect as the Patriots. This game follows the classic Simmons logic of look where everyone is going then go the other way

11
by admin :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:10am

Re: 9. Yes, I'm an idiot. That's fixed.

12
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:31am

Re:#10

Not that Simmons would ever use that logic with regards to the Patriots...

13
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:54am

Just curious... how much of Jacksonville's form curve in DVOA can be attributed to the adjustments that resulted from playing so many crappy teams? Obviously, nothing would make the SF stinker look good... but after the bye week, they played nine awful teams and the Colts, and as the controversy with the Colts earlier in the season showed, the DVOA adjustments due to schedule can sometimes be overwhelming.

14
by jebmak (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 1:30am

With NE's bad pass D and the Jag's recently terrible pass D, doesn't an over/under of 37 seem a little low?

15
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 1:42am

14: Maybe a little low. One thing, though, is that Jacksonville doesn't give up a ton of points, even during the past few "soft" weeks. Still, you know New England is going to give up 16 or more... since they do whenever they're not playing a totally inept passing offense (read: three games vs. NYJ, Buffalo, TB).

16
by Al (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 2:04am

Still, you know New England is going to give up 16 or more… since they do whenever they’re not playing a totally inept passing offense (read: three games vs. NYJ, Buffalo, TB).

Jax will be lucky to score 6 points in this game.

The Patriots will stuff their run game all day (as they've done for quit some time now) and force Leftwich to beat them.

While the secondary may be a weakness, the Patriots front 7 definitely is not. Leftwich will NOT have the time to sit back there and pick them apart, as the offensive line of the Jags will get exploited all day by Wilfork, Seymour, and whomever the Patriots have coming from the LB core.

If the Jags can't run the ball -- which I don't believe they can do -- Leftwich will find it impossible to exploit the secondary with anything other than throw it up there and hope his guy can out jump the NE guy (jump balls, hoping the Jags size wins out) type plays.

Leftwich wasn't very mobile to begin with, and is probably less mobile coming off his injury. He hasn't taken a live snap for about 6-7 weeks. Do you really think he has the timing down, and the ability to decipher the Patriots good pass rush quickly and effectively on a continuous basis?

Peyton Manning and the Colts may be able to exploit the Patriots secondary, but I just don't see Byron Leftwich doing it.

As a Pats fan, I'd be a little more worried if Garrard was playing. Due to Leftwich's lack of mobility, he won't be able to escape the pass rush effectively and buy time for his receivers to get open. Garrard, on the other hand, is very mobile and can escape the rush, forcing the NE seconary to cover their receivers for more than a few seconds... which I don't believe they can do.

This may sound weird, but I think Jax has no chance in Foxboro with Leftwich at the helm, but a punchers chance with Garrard.

Final Score: Patriots 26, Jax 6

NOTE: I think the Patriots defense got a bad rap for the Chiefs game, considering they tightened up considerably in the second half, and they were put in awful positions (in terms of field position on some plays, and getting right back out on the field on others) by Brady having a bad game and throwing 4 picks. The defense held a very good offensive team to 2 TD's, and a bunch of field goals. If anything, their defense (especially red zone D) was the reason they were in that game... not their offense.

17
by zip (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 2:51am

"Jax will be lucky to score 6 points in this game"

Homer alert!

18
by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 4:00am

I concur with the Leftwich/Garrard view in #16. Not much else, but if BL falters in the first half, say, DG could come in and save the day for Jax.

Del Rio might be able to save face by saying his ankle is a week away and put in Garrard who gives them a better chance. A few 15 yard scrambles or pure keepers, and the NE D will have to change things, maybe enough to connect on a few 25 yard passes.

The only way I see Jax winning, though, is if they break out the brass knuckles and switchblades and hit guys while they're on the ground like they did vs Indy in the second game (threee fines assessed after-the-fact by the League--that's not random chance, that's intentional game planning); yes, they lost pretty big, but if Brady loses a tooth or two or maybe tweaks an ankle, or Dillon gets injured, and NE is a different team.

Do the schedule-makers have a hard-on for NE, or what, slating this game for night time? Somewhere in a smoky room: "Let's see, we have a southern team heading to Foxboro in January... how else can we screw them?" "I got it, boss! Like Tennessee in the 11-degree bowl, we'll make it at night!" "Perfect, Kid, you have promise."

Same thing for Denver and Indy the following week: the outdoor game at altitude is at night to further screw the visitors, while the dome game, which could be played at 3 a.m. because it's always 70 degrees and sunny, gets the 1 p.m. slot. I thought the NFL wanted good games, not homer-victory bloodbaths... weird.

19
by Harry (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 10:41am

I think NE gets the night game simply because the networks think that game will draw more eyeballs than Wash-TB. NE are the defending champs and have a big fan base in the North-East.

Re #16 - Merril Hoge was making a similar point about Garrard on NFL Matchup, he also thinks it is a huge mistake to start Leftwich. Leftwich plays to the Pats strengths - he's not mobile and he's bound to be a little rusty meaning the Pats LBs can get to him and force mistakes. Logic would say start Garrard.

20
by Al (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 11:23am

Do the schedule-makers have a hard-on for NE, or what, slating this game for night time? Somewhere in a smoky room: “Let’s see, we have a southern team heading to Foxboro in January… how else can we screw them?� “I got it, boss! Like Tennessee in the 11-degree bowl, we’ll make it at night!� “Perfect, Kid, you have promise.�

If they had a hard on for the Patriots then they wouldn't have schedule the game for Saturday. That put the Patriots on a short week two weeks in a row (Monday night game against the Jets, Sunday against the Dolphins, and then tonight).

If anything, I think it's a little bogus that they were forced to play 2 short weeks in a row, when they could have switched it up and put Cincy/Pitt on Saturday night instead.

“Jax will be lucky to score 6 points in this game�

Homer alert!

It's got nothing to be with being a homer. I've watched both of these teams extensively and while I do like the Jaguars team, the circumstances surrounding this game, as well as the health of the Patriots front 7, lead in all the wrong directions for the Jags.

Look, I don't care how many snaps Leftwich has taken in practice. No matter how hard you try, practice CANNOT simulate the actual speed of game day. The Jaguars practice D (or even first team D) will not be able to simulate everything the Patriots do on defense (especially the front 7).

Leftwich is immobile and he will have trouble escaping the pass rush all day. Do you really think the Jags offensive line is going to stop the Patriots pass rush? They're going to have to double team both Wilfork and Seymour, which leaves Warren one on one, and any of the linebackers with good lanes to the QB.

The only way the Jags provide consistent protection for Byron is if they go max protect all day. The problem with that is that max protect limits the amount of receiers they can send out on routes. That again brings in Leftwich's ability to read the Patriots schemes, not to mention his questionable accuracy.

The key to this game is the Jags ability to run the ball. If Taylor, Toefield, or Jones are neutralized and don't provide a significant threat, then Leftwich will have no shot (play action won't work) at escaping the Pats pass rush.

I see no reason why the Jags will be able to stuff the ball down the Patriots throats on the ground, who are not 8th in the NFL against the rush (4th in the AFC).

They had a decent game on the ground against Tennessee (22nd against the rush), a great game against Houston (LAST in the NFL against the rush), a bad gamea gainst San Fran (18th against the rush), a BAD game against Indy (16th against the rush).

They haven't really run the ball particularly well against poor competition, so I'm not sure what makes people believe they can do it against the Patriots.

All that leads me to believe that the Jags will hae a tough time moving the ball and that they're going to have to get a consistent amount of big plays (30+ yard plays) if they're going to score. Right now, I just don't see how they can move the ball consistently against the Pats defense (the pass rush the Patriots get makes up for their susceptible secondary).

Again, Byron Leftwich is not Peyton Manning. He doesn't have the accuracy or the ability to read defenses the same way.

Could the Jags prove me wrong? Sure. It's one game and crazy things happen. If they can figure out a way to have Taylor, Jones, and Toefield be a threat on the ground (sucking the safeties up, and the corners in), then I think they have a great shot at winning this game.

However, as it is, I don't see how they're going to do that.

21
by RIck S (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 11:30am

In regards to #18 and Denver getting the prime time game, I think it is another way to make sure Tom Brady and New England play on Saturday night, which leads me to believe that the NFL is strongly expecting Patriot and Steeler victories.

Denver has NO stars with national appeal, so why put them in prime time unless you think they will be facing a prime time worthy opponent. If they did not think this, Peyton and his crew would be playing on Sat. night.

22
by Lou in Cincy (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 11:39am

I can't believe nobody's said this yet, so I'll go ahead...

Who-Dey! Who-Dey! Who-Dey think gonna beat them Bengals!!!!

There... I feel better.

That said, the analysis of the Bengals recent defensive struggles against the pass was spot on. I was at the Buffalo game and it was pretty scary to see Kelly Holcomb turn into Joe Montana on third and long all day.

Oh yeah, Matt Schoebal may be "underrated", but I think TE is still the week link in the Bengals "O" and needs to be addressed next year.

23
by Andy F (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 11:45am

You make an intriguing reference to home field advantage being 15% larger in these games (winter N vs. S.) I've seen numbers all over the map for this--can you point us to where this number comes from? And is that 15% in DVOA points (i.e. +17 -> +32) or 15% relative advantage(i.e. +17 -> +20)? Thanks

24
by admin :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:18pm

No, I don't remember the exact numbers but it is winning percentage. Look in my New York Times article on HFA in cold weather games against warm weather teams, and you'll see that the winning percentage of home teams in those games is 15% higher than the NFL's winning percentage for home teams overall.

25
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:20pm

20:Look, I don’t care how many snaps Leftwich has taken in practice. No matter how hard you try, practice CANNOT simulate the actual speed of game day. The Jaguars practice D (or even first team D) will not be able to simulate everything the Patriots do on defense (especially the front 7).

As far as simulate everything they do, of course not... the Jaguars don't ever play a 3-4, and they don't have enough short DBs who can't cover. ;) The real concern I might have is that Leftwich's release is still... shall we say... protracted? If he can't read the pressure when it does get by the line (including T/TE Kyle Brady, who is disrespecting the Pats by not changing his last name), then it'll get ugly. On the other hand, it's awful tough for the short corners to match up with Jacksonville's receivers, the shortest of whom is 6'1 and the other primary receivers are 6'4+.

Leftwich is immobile and he will have trouble escaping the pass rush all day. Do you really think the Jags offensive line is going to stop the Patriots pass rush? They’re going to have to double team both Wilfork and Seymour, which leaves Warren one on one, and any of the linebackers with good lanes to the QB.

Well, according to last night's NFL Matchup, Leftwich leads the league in passer rating on plays where he's being hit... up in the 90s. His lack of mobility doesn't hurt him much as long as he recognizes the pressure -- its when he doesn't that turns into a major problem. Abraham on the Jets and I think Vanden Bosch on the Titans both got clear runs on him that he didn't notice and it ended up being a sack and six.

26
by spenceKarl (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 12:35pm

Aaron, have you considered, for next season, included weighted DVOAs for pass/rush breakdowns in the weekly ratings? It would definately be helpful.

27
by HLF (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 1:36pm

re: 10

Um, 10-6 teams that have won a majority of Superbowls played over the previous five years have historically, I'm willing to bet, been given as much "Respect" (whatever that means) as this year's Patriots team. Duh. If you think their chances are at least "slightly" better than the rest of the 10-6 playoff entrants this year, I can only hope you're not a gambler. Does that make them favorites to win it all? Of course not. Does that make them a better bet to win it all than the other 10-6 playoff entrants this year...? And is that illogical?

28
by KSR (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 1:36pm

I have a sneaking suspicion that Del Rio will pull a Jim Mora and start Garrard anyway, and we can look forward to Belichick clearing the injury report next week in response.

29
by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 2:08pm

Did I miss something?
when did the Pats aquire a good pass rush?

30
by Ned Macey :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 2:55pm

I for one have no idea why people think Garrard should play this game assuming Leftwich is mostly healthy (and he's taken all the snaps in practice). The only way they can beat the Patriots is to go for big plays against their secondary.

Garrard has 10 completions over 20 yards in 167 attempts and 0 40 yard completions. Leftwich has 31 20+ yard completions in 302 attempts and 5 40+ yard completions. Leftwich takes a lot of hits, but he's not Drew Bledsoe in terms of taking sacks. Neither quarterback throws many interceptions, but considering that Leftwich also throws the ball down the field, that is much more impressive.

In Leftwich's last four full games, Matt Jones caught 15 passes. In the six games Garrard played, he caught 9. In Leftwich's last four games, Wilford topped 45 yards three times. In Garrard's six games, he did it once.

Jimmy Smith, on the other hand, averaged 3.5 catches per game in Leftwich's last four games, while under Garrard he averaged 5.5 despite sitting out the 2nd half of the last game. Which quarterback would you trust more to go after a confusing defensive scheme whose secondary has to be exploited for you to win?

By the way, I always went to Leftwich's last four games because that is when Wilford moved ahead of Reggie Williams and the offense started to play better.

31
by Al (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 2:56pm

I have a sneaking suspicion that Del Rio will pull a Jim Mora and start Garrard anyway, and we can look forward to Belichick clearing the injury report next week in response.

That would be the smart thing to do, and if that was his plan... kudos to the man.

However, I don't think Del Rio has the balls to start Garrard over Leftwich.

Not only do I think it's a mistake because I believe Garrard gives them a better chance to win... but I think there's a possible psychological advantage here as well.

Think about this scenario, and the difference between if Garrard or Leftwich starts.

Patriots dominate early, and go up 17-0 by the end of the first half. Garrard got the start, and he's playing awful. You bring in Leftwich, and the team rallies around their number 1 guy (kind of the way the Patriots did around Bledsoe in the AFC Championship game in Pitt in 2001). There is a possible psychological boost for bringing in Leftwich in this situation... as he is your 'star'.

Reverse the situation, however. Leftwich starts and gets mauled. Do you really think going to your backup QB -- whom you decided not to start because you thought Leftwich was the better option in the first place -- would do anythiing by that point? It's clear that you didn't believe he was the best option.

In the case of Garrard starting, if he sucks it up and you bring Byron in, you don't have the same feeling because the case can be made that you stuck with Garrard because he was the one that was in rhythm and had taken all the snaps in the past 6 weeks.

I do believe there is that type of psychological aspect here if things go bad for the Jags early on.

Did I miss something?
when did the Pats aquire a good pass rush?

Apparently you did.

32
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 3:16pm

when did the Pats aquire a good pass rush?
When Seymour got healthy.

33
by Israel (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 3:38pm

I'm delighted that Aaron has even heard of Andre Frazier, especially since the rookie hasn't played for maybe two months due to injury.

34
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 3:38pm

Like most of the rest of their defensive stats,* the Patriots' sack rate for the season is below average.

But (I'm working from memory here, as I can't find the by-week stats) that divided fairly evenly between the bottom-three status in the first half of the season, and well above average for the second half. Also like most of the rest of their defensive stats.*

* The glaring exception is pass coverage, which improved from sucking out loud, to sucking quietly.

35
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 5:01pm

#3: We could go on a limb and call it "cubic equation."

Sorry, couldn't resist.

36
by BG (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 5:19pm

the reason the Colts are locked in on Sunday is because CBS has the early Sunday game. It would have been 11AM local start at Denver vs. 1PM for Indy. The Bengals should be upset though because if they win they get a short week to prepare for Denver.

37
by fingers crossed (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 7:01pm

I must be the only pats fan who sees this match up as more troubling than the Steelers. The size difference between our secondary and their offense is shocking. We already know we can compete with the Steelers. I just don't believe in our secondary much at all. The fact that Leftwich is immobile is the only positive because Seymour can get up the middle if not restrained by our stupid two gap defense and allowed to pass rush for a change.

38
by Rollo (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 7:15pm

I think the discussion over changing QBs down 17 is a wee bit pointless, as I doubt anyone is going to come back from down 17 and win in New England against this Pats team regardless of who plays at QB. As Ned points out, Leftwich possess a superior deep ball and spread the ball more often, both of which are key imo to scoring against the Pats.

39
by Al (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 8:04pm

Leftwich possess a superior deep ball and spread the ball more often, both of which are key imo to scoring against the Pats.

Doesn't matter if he can't get the pass off. Garrard can buy time to get those passes off, Leftwich can't.

40
by Sam (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 9:06pm

How much have you really watched the Jaguars this season? According to your own statistics, Jacksonville protects the quarterback better than New England and sacks the quarterback more often. For someone the media makes out to have concrete blocks for feet, Leftwich has done a passable job getting out of trouble and running when he needs to.

41
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 12:38am

With 10:09 left in the game the only compelling issue is whether Al's going to be right on his 6 points call for Jax. Looking mighty good, Al. Hope you took it to Vegas.

42
by Al (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:14am

Thanks, Dan. Oh, but I forgot, according to someone in here, I'm a 'homer'.

Looks like I nailed this game pretty good.

Predicted 26-6... got 28-3.

Like I said, I didn't see how Jacksonville was going to score more than 6 points in this game.

Heck, I would have been right on the 6 had Jacksonville hit that extra point.

Of course, to be fair, had Brady actually been on his game in the first half (not to mention two dropped passes... one by Branch that should have been a TD, and one by Watson that would have put them on the 5 yard line with a first down), the Patriots probably would have had 42 points on the board rather than 28.

Like I said... the Jags just didn't have the team to beat the Patriots.

Now next week is a much different story. If the Patriots play the way they did tonight -- which, despite the score, wasn't one of their better performances -- they won't make it to the AFC Championship game... regardless of who they play.

PS - What happened to the 'poor' secondary? Anyone else getting the same feeling as last year? You know... where everyone keeps arguing against the Pats because of their 'poor' secondary, and week in and week out they can't figure out how other teams can't exploit it.

New year... same story.

43
by J (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 2:22am

42

"PS - What happened to the ‘poor’ secondary? Anyone else getting the same feeling as last year? You know… where everyone keeps arguing against the Pats because of their ‘poor’ secondary, and week in and week out they can’t figure out how other teams can’t exploit it.

New year… same story."

With the current pass-friendly rules, the best pass defense is pressure from the front 7.

NE has proven this. Indy and Pitt certainly know it as well.

IMO, any team that pays a CB big money is out of their minds - regardless of the player. No CB can consistently shut down a decent WR.

Safeties are a different story for three reasons...

1- relatively cheap price for even the top safeties
2- run support
3- pressuring QBs

44
by thad (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 2:49am

re 43
ok i do not want to come across as son of TMQ but it seemed to me like like the Pats totslly mixed it up.
On many plays there was pressure from the front 7,
on many plays there was great coverage,
and on just about every play there were no deep passes.
I in no way mean to imply that the front 7 had no effect, but in the first half it seemed like the Jags never threw deep,
and the Pats CB's seemed to be playing very well.
Now in the first game they only mentioned throwing deep to Galloway about a zillion times, so that may be affecting my perception.
At times the pats had a great rush, at times they seemed to get coverage sacks.
I thought they mixed it up very well.
3 points right?
enough said.

45
by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 3:00am

Yeah, I'll say that the Jags did a GREAT job of covering our receivers for most of the night. Well...the first half and some change anyways.

46
by Dr. Evil (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 3:22am

Did anyone happen to see the Pats absolutely MUGGING the Jax WRs all freaking night long? The refs are obviously riding the Pats nuts along with the rest of the NFL. Then the suspected RF jamming of Leftwhich's transponder. They pretty much handcuffed the Jax wideouts all night. Parity my ass...

47
by richconley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 4:06am

re:14

The patriots pass D has been rediculous the last 5 games theyve actually played (discount miami). People keep saying their Pass D is bad, and its actually gotten quite good.

The one weekness I see with this team, is they offense seems to blow a LOT of early scoring opportunities. I think their average starting position in the first half tonight was Jax 40, and they only scored 7 points.

48
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 10:24am

Dr. Evil (#46 )--

I can't tell if you're being serious, but if receivers the size of Jimmy Smith, Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams, and Matt Jones are getting "mugged" by cornerbacks the size of Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Hank Poteat, and Troy Brown -- well, maybe those receivers should retire from football and take up flower arranging.

49
by Falco (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 11:25am

It rarely happens, but the 5 wildcard round home underdogs since 1993 are 4-1 (source: Goldsheet):

2003- Baltimore (+1) 17 -- Tennessee 20;
2000- Philadelphia (+3) 21 -- Tampa Bay 3
2000- New Orleans (+6.5) 31 -- Saint Louis 28
2000- Miami (+1.5) 23 -- Indianapolis 17 (OT)
1995- Philadelphia (+3) 58 -- Detroit 37

I like Cincinnati in this one. The downward trend is two games, not 5 or 6. Kitna and other backups played horribly in the second of those two, after the seeding was locked up. 90% of the media pundits are taking the Steelers, yet another reason to like Cincy.

50
by RIck S (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 11:35am

The Patriots have had better statistics the last half of the season because they have played poor competition, except for KC where they lost big and TB who they played in very cold weather and everyone knows how poorly TB is below 32 degrees.

Playing Indy or (most likely) Denver on the road is much different than playing an inexperienced Florida team at home in the cold.

51
by Al (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 11:44am

The Patriots have had better statistics the last half of the season because they have played poor competition, except for KC where they lost big and TB who they played in very cold weather and everyone knows how poorly TB is below 32 degrees.

If the Pats had gotten slightly better on defense you'd have a point. The fact that they did a completely 180 and started absolutely dominating makes the competition point moot.

Good teams or bad teams, it's still the NFL. Earlier in the season, against the same style competition, they were winning but giving up tons of points and yardage.

NOw they're dominating these teams. It doesn't take a genius to figure out their defense IS much better.

Playing Indy or (most likely) Denver on the road is much different than playing an inexperienced Florida team at home in the cold.

I do agree. The one thing the Patriots haven't faced is a really good quarterback. Although, I don't really fear Jake Plummer. I don't care what he's done this year. The Patriots will load up and stop Anderson and Bell and force him to win the game by throwing at least 25 times. I don't think he can do it without reverting back to old Jake. If he can, then the Patriots just tip their hat and walk of the field knowing the better team won.

By the by... they lost by 10 points in KC, and that had nothing to do with the defense. Tom Brady threw 4 interceptions that game, and they still had a chance at the end of the game to at least bring it to OT. People look at that score and think the defense was awful... it wasn't.

52
by admin :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 12:03pm

Hey. Can we ask "Al" who has been making comments here to pick another name to use on the discussion threads? People are clearly confusing you with "Al" the author of Scramble for the Ball ... we're working on something that will specifically tag comments by FO staffers, but for now, if you could add your last initial or something, that would be great.

53
by richconley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 12:25pm

i agree with AL, the D played great against KC. Tom brady gift wrapped that game for them

54
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:00pm

Wow. One of those games that just fell apart in the second half... but I'm happy with the Jags' effort. If Peterson tackles Graham (which, I think with two hands he might have), Leftwich doesn't throw a totally unnecessary pick six, a FG doesn't miss and Jones holds on for the TD, it's a much closer game. Unfortunately, the reasons the Pats won and have won are because they make the plays that become the "if only" plays for lesser teams. Hopefully lesson learned, and applied next postseason. :)

55
by hrudey (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:04pm

And "mauling the receivers?" I saw a few close to PI calls, but nothing major. I also thought that McGinest's tackling style on most of his sacks involved taking his arm and applying it liberally to Leftwich's helmet, but you can't expect to get calls like that in the postseason anyway -- you just got to make plays on the field.

56
by soft team (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 3:09pm

Well we know that Colts fans are already fitting their SB rings on and toasting their undefeated season and hailing their coach of the year!

57
by RIck S (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 3:47pm

One thing Denver has been able to do against the Pats is run on them. Look back to all of their games since Bellichick got there. Denver also seems to have had success against them. 2-1, I believe with the loss being a game Danny Kanel started (the take a safety game). For some reason Denver matches up well against them. In terms of dominating other teams

Shanahan and Bellichick are both great coaches, probably the two best left in the AFC playoffs. If you want to argue, you could say that the biggest difference in their success has been that Shanahan took over the Broncos at the end of Elway's career, while Bill got Brady in his prime. Trust me, when Brady gets hurt or retires, he will no longer be the genious, just as Shanahan no longer is the mastermind.

Plummer is not in the upper eshelon of QBs, but I think he is at the next level. I think the guy is a winner. At ASU he brought them within 55 secs of the Nat'l title. Where have they been since? He led the Cards to their only playoff win in 50 years (a Miracle). And has more wins as a starter than an QB except Brady and Manning since he came to Denver.

58
by TomC (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 5:59pm

I doubt anyone's even reading this thread anymore, but I just got around to reading it, and I had to give Bobman mad props for his DVOA trend graph interpretations. The subtle Belichik-Cheney comparison is especially satisfying -- they both tend to project that air of "I know more than you so shut up; besides, I run the world and you don't." And "drunken tumble down ... icy stairs in the dark" scans like Robert Frost. Loved it.

59
by Bruce (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 10:43pm

Steelers v. Colts should be as pick 'em. Steelers are at the top of their game after that miserabable 1st half against Cincy and teh Colts are playing "ok" ball right now. I will be curious to see the line.

60
by Athelas (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 11:17pm

Early line on the Steelers-Colts:
Indy -9.5

61
by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 11:28pm

re 51: Plummer and the Broncos did alright against the Pats earlier in the season. Of course, the Pats had the Human Toast playing CB for them at the time.

62
by Luke (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 12:19am

#59

Top of their game? You reckon?
Even-handed umpiring and the Steelers are down by 10 midway through the 3rd quarter instead of up by 4 - different game then. Kitna was slicing the defense up for a while there. Inevitably, he couldn't keep it up. The steelers close games out better than anybody. But I dont see them getting in front without a lot of bad calls going their way.

Also, looked like a brutal game. Lots of injuries. The colts will be fresh as daisies. I'm predicting a shellacking.

63
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 2:41am

Setting aside the question of who are the best coaches in general, I think that Shanahan has been the best at game-planning against the Pats defensive weaknesses this year. I remember Belichick sounding thoroughly disgusted at the press conference after the Denver game this year when he said the Pats didn't coach well enough. I think for comparison, that the Chargers and Colts just had the horses (ha ha) to line up and blow out the Pats on pure execution, which is not to say thier game plans weren't good as well. But I think Shanahan did a particularly good job and finding the Pats weaknesses on D. I remember thinking: "Crap, they found a hole. Crap, they found another one." I watched Belichick and I swore he was thinking the same thing. :D

The interesting changes since that game are the return of Bruschi (which may be for nought if he's still injured), the return of Seymour and the replacement of Starks with Hobbs. I think for the Pats to win, they not only need to stop the run, they need to force Plummer to make mistakes. With this edition of Plummer, I don't think that will be easy. Their offense also needs to stop wasting early opportunities, like they did in the Jags game.

Back on the Jags game, I really liked the look of Leftwich, of whom I hadn't seen much. I have no idea what DVOA will say, but it looked like he kept delivering the ball despite a lot of pressure and punishment (as hrudey mentioned), before he finally re-injured the ankle. He looked pretty calm back there, although I think he did get baited into that INT. Samuel looked like he knew it was coming and Belichick went over to congratulate Mangini as if Mangini had sniffed out the play ahead of time, or at least spotted a strong tendency. Jags fans (Rollo, hrudey), what was your take on this play?

64
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 2:44am

Drat. "good job AND finding the Pats weaknesses" should be "good job AT finding the Pats weaknesses"

65
by Stiller Mike (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 2:54am

Steelers will whip Indy bigtime in this one!!!!! They wont be able to pipe in artificial crowd noise over the PA system this time. Black and gold ATTACK

66
by Raven Claw (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 2:57am

I am a terribly smart football fan and I just abhor what you kid call "smack talk". This website is below me. I shall take my superior knowledge elsewhere.

67
by CraftonKid (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 10:58am

Re: #66

How's the weather, in Baltimore, in January? Ciao, baby.

68
by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:04pm

I love people that claim how superior their knowledge is. Fat lot of good it does with no one to talk to about it. :)

69
by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:13pm

A lot of ~120% performances. Wow.

70
by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:29pm

RE: 14

Still, you know New England is going to give up 16 or more… since they do whenever they’re not playing a totally inept passing offense (read: three games vs. NYJ, Buffalo, TB).

Bad logic. Since when is Jacksonville's passing offense that much better than Tampa Bay's?

71
by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:44pm

RE: 17

He was right, though.

The Patriots have led the league in preventing runs over 10 yards for three straight seasons. No other team has even been in the top ten all three seasons.

Aaron, you linked to a page that showed the success of NE's O-line, didn't you? If not, I don't understand.

72
by Björn (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:36pm

I like Denver to beat NE. I am a Bronco fan, so what I say will be tainted though.

Saying that NE will load up and stop Anderson and Bell is kinda stupid, IMHO. Everyone in the world knows that Denver can run the ball, so pretty much every defensive co-ordinator will game plan to stop Denver's running game. Besides, New England held Mike Anderson to 3.8 YPC last time they met, and if you take out Tatum Bell's 68 yard run, held Bell to 3.8 YPC as well. 3.8 is well below both runningbacks average for the year. This tells me that the Pats did contain the ground game, except for one play, yet still got beat. Yeah, the pats did come back in the game, but if Denver gets another 3 score lead, are they going to let up in the playoffs? Not likely.

On another note, I think that Denver should come out in the second half with Bradlee Van Pelt. Belichek would have been scheming about how to get at Plummer all half, and nothing would screw him up more than bringing Van Pelt in to (literally) run a few plays. Just call 3 straight Van Pelt runs to frazzle the Pats, then bring Jake back in. Wow... the more I think about this, the smarter it actually sounds. I need some rest.

73
by Al 45 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 12:51am

Besides, New England held Mike Anderson to 3.8 YPC last time they met, and if you take out Tatum Bell’s 68 yard run, held Bell to 3.8 YPC as well. 3.8 is well below both runningbacks average for the year. This tells me that the Pats did contain the ground game, except for one play, yet still got beat. Yeah, the pats did come back in the game, but if Denver gets another 3 score lead, are they going to let up in the playoffs? Not likely.

What does this seasons game against the Broncos and the game the Patriots played against the Broncos before that have in common?

No Richard Seymour. In fact, if my memory is correct -- which I believe it is -- Seymour has NEVER played against the Broncos.

Seymour is a HUGE difference maker for this team on defense.

The fact is, regardless of YPC, Tatum Bell DID break for that 68 yard run.

In that game the Broncos scored 4 TD's... so out of their 12 possessions, they scored 4 times (and anyone would take that... especially when all 4 times were TD's).

However, when you look closer at the game, you realize 3 of those TD 'drives' were aided by HUGE plays. One a 55 yard pass to Lelie. A second by a 72 yard pass to Smith. And the third a 68 yard run -- straight up the middle no less -- by Tatum Bell.

Now maybe you envision those scenarios happening again... but I don't. And, to be quite honest, I don't think anyone who has watched the Patriots play since the return of Seymour and Bruschi -- and the old addition by subtraction of removing Duane Starks -- that the Patriots are going to give up 3 huge plays in one game again.

In other words, the Broncos are going to have to methodically drive the length of the field to score. Can they do it? With the way they've played this year, absolutely.

Do I think they'll do it? Maybe a couple times, yes. I don't think they'll do it more to the Patriots than the Patriots do it to them.

Even when the Broncos were sitting back waiting on the pass -- because the Patriots had to pass due to the huge defecit... and the fact that neither Dillon nor Faulk were active for the game -- Brady had a decent day against that defense (by no means great... and strictly statistically speaking not even 'good', but when you consider the circumstances... down by 25 in the middle of the 3rd quarter, and no running game to speak of... Pass and Amos Zeroue were the running backs).

Fast forward to this weekends game, and many things are different. As I stated, Seymour has returned, and returned with a vengence. EVERYONE on that defense is better because of his return. Colvin looks like he did with the Bears. Wilfork is dominating up front, and the linebackers are getting great lanes to stop the RB, or to get in and get pressure on the QB.

As was said in a previous post, with the rules favoring the wide receiving corp the way they do, the ability to be a 'lock down' cover corner is overrated. Everything works off of your front 7. If they can get pressure, you'll have a good day. If they can't, you'll have a bad day. I don't care if you put Champ Bailey and Ty Law in the NE secondary during the first half of the season... without Seymour and Bruschi in there to get pressure, the secondary still would have been hurting. Now they wouldn't have gotten beat like a rented mule the way they did with Duane Starks in there, but they still would have had problems.

If the Patriots continue their previous trend of stopping the run with only their front 7, and getting good pass rush pressure with only their front 7, I truly believe they're going to win this game. I see no reason why that won't continue, considering the skill and ability of the Pats front 7.

On offense, I don't expect the Pats to rack up the yards running the ball. In fact, it will probably bare a close resemblence to the Tampa Bay game -- no big runs, just a bunch of 3 yarders, setting up manageable third downs.

I fully expect the Patriots to come out in a spread offense to attack the Denver secondary (probably 5 wide receiver sets). This makes all the sense in the world since Denver is one of the worst teams at getting pressure on the quarterback. If they can't pressure Brady, he's going to pick them apart all day.

In the end, as I've stated on the other thread, the Patriots are going to attempt to force Jake Plummer to throw the ball 30+ times. In my opinion, if they can do that they will win the game.

The keys to the game for the Pats on defense will be stopping the run on first and second down to put Jake in 3rd and 6+ yard to go situations. If he's consistently put in 'known' passing downs, and the Patriots prove they can continue to stop the run with only 6 and 7 guys up, I think Plummer will have a tough time trying to continually find guys open down the field.

Final score:
Pats - 21
Broncos - 17

74
by Ricky (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 5:11pm

Will people just wise up? The Patriots played a bad game and still dismantled the Jags. They are back. Your lunch box commentary about their secondary holds no water. Samuel and Hobbs are playing very well. Wilson has done a 180 since early in the season, and Atrell Hawkins is playing like he was a third round pick, not a street signing. To boot, their front seven is flat out dominant. Did I mention Tom Brady and the offense? Spread the word, the Pats will flat out break the Broncos down this weekend.

75
by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 12:00am

I wish there was some accountability here. Ricky, if the Broncos beat the Patriots, will we ever hear from you again?

I think anyone who thinks the Patriots will trash the Broncos is pretty much nuts (well, maybe not nuts; just a typical homer). If I'm wrong, I will be back to eat my crow.

76
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 3:58pm

Sid, do we really want to hear from Ricky agian? I wonder if he knows where John Hannah went to college.

77
by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 9:04pm

Al45, I had like, an 800 word response and my computer froze. All due respect, but I don't have time to do that again!!!

One thing I will mention, though, is that Champ Bailey missed most of the second half of the game this year.

Other than that, thank you for your well thought out and overall quality posts.

78
by Sid (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 9:19pm

RE: 76

I guess you have a good point there. BTW, click my name for the FO frappr map.

79
by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 10:44pm

Han anyone noticed that geoff is in the middle of a lake? And if you have the zoom at level 6 (from the top) Sid lives IN the Van Wyck expressway! Then again, it puts me in the middle of a park right beside the train tracks. Too true, I fear.

80
by Björn (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2006 - 10:45pm

Han should read Has. Durrr.

Matt Damon!

81
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 4:43am

RE: 79

Maybe that's why it's always so noisy at my house... :P

82
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 4:48am

Eh, it actually has me just to the left of the Van Wyck, in the middle of nowhere. It DOES look like geoff lives in a lake, though.
I actually live on the other side of the Van Wyck. I guess they take your zip code and stick you wherever they feel like...