Week 13 Game Previews
by Rivers McCown and Andrew Potter
We're trying something new with Sunday game previews today. Let us know what you think in the comments. Listed percentages are the overall DVOA of each team heading into the game.
-4.0% Miami (+2) at -10.7% NY Jets -- 1:00 PM ET (CBS)
Rivers McCown: "Playoff implications!" I shout from the rafters, as if that would convince anyone but fans of these two teams to watch this game.
Andrew Potter: With Rex Ryan's creative pass rush and Miami's notoriously oblivious blocking scheme, you might convince Ryan Tannehill to watch it instead of running for his life behind what's left of his offensive line. Of the bottom six teams in Adjusted Sack Rate, five either have 'mobile' starting quarterbacks or did until Michael Vick's annual injury. The other is Miami, and I've read about ten articles this week analyzing their struggles with slot blitzes. Yeah, Rex won't be exploiting that.
Rivers McCown: Miami did a pretty good job of limiting the damage last week. Allowing three sacks against the Panthers given the respective talent differential between those two lines is a victory of sorts. The Jets are going to eat up the Miami running game, as the Jets have been wont to do all season. (The only team to have a positive single-game rushing DVOA against the Jets was the Patriots, in Week 7.) Unfortunately for the Jets, even with all Miami's offensive line problems, they still have the weakest passing attack in this game.
Andrew Potter: That Rex Ryan consistently coaches a defense which can keep the team competitive despite that perennially awful pass offense speaks volumes about his ability as a defensive coach. If the Jets can achieve even mediocrity with their passing game, they will be a very dangerous opponent in January: New York is currently 5-0 when its pass offense DVOA is above -16.0%, including wins over the Saints and Patriots, but has lost all six games when it was below that.
Rivers McCown: While Geno Smith has been clanking a lot of late, I think John Izdik and Mike Tannenbaum have to take some credit for that. Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes haven't really been on the field at the same time this year, and the Jets receiving depth behind them has been ... well, there isn't any. Stephen Hill is radically inconsistent. Everyone else is flotsam.
That said, Smith has been holding the team hostage more than the receivers of late. Really makes me wonder if the Jets will consider Matt Simms or Silky Garrard for an appearance soon.
Andrew Potter: Matt Simms would be the most efficient quarterback in the league if his 53.7% DVOA came on 140 attempts instead of 14. The Jets should clearly start him immediately. (I know that isn’t what you’re saying, incidentally.) Now that Blaine Gabbert doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify, Geno Smith is the third-least efficient quarterback in the league by DVOA instead of fourth-least. Miami, meanwhile, actually has a top-ten pass defense by DVOA. Their run defense is 29th though, so what are the chances Geno catches more passes than he throws this week?
Oh, New York’s run offense is also 29th. Time to start punting on first down and hoping for Tannehill to fumble on those slot blitz sacks?
Rivers McCown: Tebowcat! The Jets did actually fire Tony Sparano, right?
6.8% Arizona (+3) at 8.9% Philadelphia -- 1:00 PM ET (FOX)
Andrew Potter: Philadelphia finally announced Nick Foles as their starting quarterback this week, which might have been the most obvious quarterback decision in the history of obvious quarterback decisions. Looking at the opponent though, Foles may well be happy that the announcement was made this week rather than waiting until next.
Rivers McCown: Wade Phillips would be working feverishly to try to get Rob Johnson on the field right now.
This is actually the game I'm looking forward to most this weekend. The Chip Kelly offense against a very good Cardinals defense. As good as Foles has been recently, the Eagles still butter their bread with the No. 1 run offense by DVOA, and Arizona is well-equipped to stop that with a very stellar -22.7% DVOA. Left for punchline status about a month into the season, is it Riley Cooper against the non-Patrick Peterson cornerbacks that decides this game?
Andrew Potter: That raises a question I’ve wondered about since Torrey Smith’s torching of Champ Bailey last winter: why do top cornerbacks almost always solo up against top receivers instead of number two guys? If you have to double somebody, aren’t you better doubling the number one -- even if it’s with an inferior corner -- if your top corner can take the second guy away solo? Should Peterson be on Cooper while Jackson is doubled by a corner and safety?
Rivers McCown: I don't think unless you plan to do it at the line -- a la how some teams have played Calvin Johnson -- it's that effective. There's still too many holes to drop the ball in.
On the less interesting side of the ball, Philadelphia's defense has had a negative DVOA in three of their last five games. But let me ask a question I'm actually curious about: Last year we all made excuses for Larry Fitzgerald's terrible DVOA and conventional stats because that offense would hold anyone hostage. I know he's dealt with injuries this year, but Carson Palmer is an acceptable quarterback, and Michael Floyd has come on ... why is Fitzgerald toting a -8.8% DVOA?
Andrew Potter: A.J. Green has negative DVOA. Steve Smith is right there with Fitzgerald, and Smith’s in a better offense. I think the low efficiency is a function of Fitzgerald no longer being quite as good as he was in 2008, and him still being the go-to guy for hopeful passes lesser mortals wouldn’t even be thrown. Carson Palmer is the best quarterback Fitzgerald has had since 2009, but I continue to be surprised how many people still think Palmer is a good quarterback. He is, as you say, acceptable -- just good enough to let you see whether the rest of your offense is worth keeping around. Anyway, if this holds it will be Fitzgerald’s third sub-minus-8.5% DVOA season out of the past four, but I’m still comfortable saying that he’s a very good receiver -- just no longer 2008 playoffs good.
Rivers McCown: I'm sure that this will not be lost on anyone in the upcoming Andre Johnson vs. Larry Fitzgerald Hall of Fame debates. Just kidding, everyone will forget about Andre Johnson.
A good long-term project would be for someone to study Fitz's (or Green's, or Smith's, etc.) targets and see if there is a rhyme or reason to the inefficient ones.
Andrew Potter: Why does that sound to me like a task to fob off on an intern?
-7.6% Tennessee (+3.5) at 0.1% Indianapolis -- 1:00 PM ET (CBS)
Rivers McCown: The bad news: One of these teams has to win the AFC South. The good news: Oh, sorry, there is no objective good news. But if you're like me, and Tennessee led you to live a football-less life at home for about a half-decade, you can at least revel in their fans trying desperately to get behind Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
Andrew Potter: By "one of these teams," you mean the Colts, right? Tennessee lost at home to Jacksonville. Doesn't that automatically disqualify teams from the playoffs? Our numbers actually have Fitzpatrick as an upgrade over Jake Locker, which won't be any consolation to Titans fans. At least they have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league ... but then, I tend to interpret a top backup (and formerly starting) quarterback joining a franchise one of two ways: he thinks he'll get the chance to start because the starter's injury-prone, or he thinks he'll get the chance to start because the starter's not any good. (Kyle Orton is the exception who proves the rule.)
Rivers McCown: See, but the Colts have spent their last four games getting bludgeoned in the first half. And as great as the Andrew Luck Comeback Narrative is, it only really works against bad teams if your defense is frequently digging you into enormous holes. Without Greg Toler, the Colts' lack of cornerback depth has been exposed, and Vontae Davis may also miss this game. Trent Richardson aspires to reach the adjective pedestrian. Thankfully, the Colts play in the AFC South!
...Boy, writing these chapters is going to be sad this offseason.
Andrew Potter: The Colts pass defense has been astoundingly awful since the bye. The Chargers have the worst pass defense in the league at 32.5%. Since the bye, the Colts pass defense has been 52.0% or worse every single week, including two weeks ago against Tennessee. I can’t imagine DVOA has seen too many stretches that bad. The Colts haven’t held an opponent below 24 points in that period despite facing such luminaries as Case Keenum, Kellen Clemens, and Carson Palmer. By DVOA Fitzpatrick’s the best quarterback they’ve faced since Week 7, so whether early or late it’s looking like Luck will need to score points here.
Rivers McCown: Cascade effects from the Reggie Wayne injury run deep, but the worst part about it is that only T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener qualify as quality receivers for Luck at this point. Luck's passing DVOA is -7.3% since the bye week. And yet ... I still can't shake the feeling that the Colts are going to win this game, because they probably have fewer delusions of grandeur about their running game working than the Titans do at this point. And Andrew Luck Is A Witch.
Andrew Potter: The Colts offense did fine against Tennessee in Week 11 without Wayne. They’ve struggled against capable defenses, but it’s a while since Tennessee’s defense looked capable against anybody other than Jacksonville.
Rivers McCown: I think Tennessee would've had a great defense with this unit's strengths in, say, 2001. Bernard Pollard, especially, strikes me as a safety that would be a borderline All-Pro in a different NFL world.
Andrew Potter: I'm not sure that's a world on which I'd like to dwell.
11.7% Chicago (+1) at -12.8% Minnesota -- 1:00 PM ET (FOX)
Andrew Potter: Last week, Chicago’s run defense was carved up by Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. The week before, the Ravens had their best (DVOA) rushing performance of the year. This week, the Bears get Adrian Peterson. What could possibly go wrong?
Rivers McCown: It's really a shame about the typhoon of injuries that have ruined the Chicago defense. I thought they were a potential Super Bowl team a few weeks into the season, and Marc Trestman should be lauded for what he's done to this offense. Alshon Jeffery has taken a clear step forward, Martellus Bennett has been acceptable, 72 passes at Matt Forte is a lot, but I assume that Michael Bush has simply hit the end of his usefulness as an NFL player and they have no choice.
And yet, as you point out, this is not the team you want to not be able to stop the run against. And Cordarrelle Patterson has been coming on.
Andrew Potter: The issues with the Bears defense go beyond simply injuries, though of course they’re an enormous factor. They haven’t held a single opponent below 20 points all year, even when healthy. Last year, they accomplished that seven times. That has left them needing their offense to win games throughout the season. What Trestman has been able to get from this offense is remarkable, however, considering what we’d seen from them in the previous two seasons. Josh McCown is a top-six quarterback by DVOA, which is incredible, and he has a great matchup against a Vikings defense which is 28th against the pass.
Rivers McCown: It is really that incredible though? I mean, every quarterback named McCown is logically the right choice in any situation. It's amazing that the Saints haven't benched Drew Brees for Luke yet ...
I'm kind of interested to see if Rick Spielman survives the offseason. Because on one hand, I think he's made a lot of quality decisions and picks in his short time here. On the other hand, Christian Ponder has been an abysmal selection and this team has rolled snake eyes on every issue they possibly could've had coming into the season.
Andrew Potter: Whiffing on a first-round quarterback will undo a lot of good will a general manager might otherwise accumulate. It’d buy him more grace if he’d shown any indication that he’s capable of fixing that mistake. Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are not fixes. The pass defense also isn’t improving, and a team in 2013 which can neither pass the ball nor stop the pass isn’t a great endorsement for its GM.
Rivers McCown: Well hey now, the book on McLeod Bethel-Thompson's NFL career isn't fully written yet. And you've forgotten Joe Webb! Why are you walking away from me?
-51.4% Jacksonville (+7) at -20.6% Cleveland -- 1:00 PM ET (CBS)
Rivers McCown: At one point this was circled as a battle for the No. 1 overall pick, but it looks like Mike Lombardi's Brian Hoyer pickup may keep the Browns' record from being a complete shambles. Also, the Trent Richardson trade is looking better everyday. ...So why does my gut tell me Jacksonville can come steal this game?
Andrew Potter: I've been saying all year that Jacksonville is a different proposition with Chad Henne at quarterback. Still not good by any objective measure, but nowhere near the historic awfulness of the Gabbert Jags. They've also won two road games this year, though that's tempered by the realization that both wins came in the AFC South. If I had to pick one reason for that feeling in your gut, however, it would be who's quarterbacking the Browns rather than who's quarterbacking the Jaguars.
Rivers McCown: I actually really have enjoyed some of Gus Bradley's decisions this year. He went for it on fourth-and-short inside his own 40 a couple weeks ago. The rest of the staff I'm less sanguine on. In particular, I feel like Jedd Fisch subscribes to the Todd Haley School of If You're Not Screening, You're Not Trying.
Andrew Potter: Bradley’s done that a couple of times this year. He went for it in that situation very early against Denver too. It’s one of the reasons I like watching the Jaguars: they aren’t very good, but they aren’t afraid to use aggressive strategy to try to bridge the talent gap. It’s good to see them following up on some of the positive noises they made about involving analytics when the new owner took over.
Rivers McCown: They would've had a downright interesting offensive blueprint this offseason if Justin Blackmon's suspension hadn't thrown the whole thing for a loop with his substance abuse problems.
I'm a little confused about Cleveland's defense. 20th in DVOA, but it felt like we got a reasoned take of analysis about how good Ray Horton and the free-agency pickups would be weekly last offseason. They've had three games all year with a negative DVOA. Granted, this will probably make four. But still, seems like it hasn't exactly been a seamless transition to the new scheme as someone who has watched maybe two Browns games this year.
Andrew Potter: They’ve really struggled against receiving backs (28th) and tight ends (31st), but are great against number one receivers not named Antonio Brown, and middle-of-the-pack against other receivers. That seems to suggest where their problems lie. Even if they’re dumpoffs, giving up 13 underneath passes a game at high efficiency is going to hurt you overall.
Rivers McCown: That strikes me as the weakness of many aggressive defenses. Except on screens to the outside, which the Jaguars only seem to run 10 times a game.
Andrew Potter: Replace those with ten screens to Marcedes Lewis, and we might just have ourselves a shootout.
1.4% Tampa Bay (+8) at 26.9% Carolina -- 1:00 PM ET (FOX)
Andrew Potter: It’s suddenly looking awfully like Greg Schiano knew what he was doing when he benched Josh Freeman for Mike Glennon. This week, we get to learn how much of that is playing the Dolphins, Falcons, and Lions in consecutive weeks.
Rivers McCown: As much as I think the rush to bury Greg Schiano for the crime of being Greg Schiano created a bit of a pileup effect, I don't think I'm willing to give him credit for figuring out that the Josh Freeman ship had sailed. I am willing to give him credit for drafting a quarterback in the third round last year, though, and realizing that there definitely was a chance that Freeman would implode.
The last time these two teams met was the nadir of the Bucs season -- getting pasted on Thursday night while some of their fans wore biohazard suits to the game. Since that game, Mike Glennon has a 34.4% DVOA in 103 attempts. I'd say that he's been doing it against bad defenses, but he torched the Seahawks ... maybe he really can light up the Panthers here and force some Riverboat Ron Decisions Of Narrative Importance.
Andrew Potter: If the Panthers are stuck relying on their head coach’s new-found gambling tendencies in this game, that’s a problem. This is the type of game they should be winning comfortably, as they did in Week 8. Tampa Bay is better than it was then, but not that much better.
Rivers McCown: I'd not be shocked if Tampa hung around in this game. They can throw Revis on Steve Smith, and as average as Ted Ginn has performed this year, he's still not someone I feel comfortable with in a crucial role in my offense. I don't necessarily think that'd be a huge indictment on Carolina either -- we have been crowing for a lot of the year that Tampa was one of the better zero-loss teams we've seen.
Andrew Potter: I agree that Tampa Bay keeping this close wouldn’t be a surprise, but at the same time we were pointing out Tampa was better than a winless record indicated we were pointing out that Carolina was better than a 4-3 record indicated. Both teams have better records now, but there’s still a big difference in quality here.
20.1% New England (-9) at -26.2% Houston -- 1:00 PM ET (CBS)
Rivers McCown: Houston's possible options to cover Rob Gronkowski: Shiloh Keo, replacement-level safety. D.J. Swearinger, up-and-down rookie safety. Darryl Sharpton, linebacker made of glass. Yes, that line does look too low to me.
Andrew Potter: New England could be down to their third right tackle. Houston's best option for stopping Gronkowski may be to put J.J. Watt over Will Svitek and hope that forces New England to keep Gronkowski in as a blocker. That won’t fix their problems with New England’s hurry up, but at least they won’t be leaving Aaron Hernandez completely uncovered this year.
Rivers McCown: You are free to double-team Watt as you'd like this year, as the outside linebacker combination of Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed has provided so little pass rush that actually getting a sack last week was enough to get Mercilus the "best game in awhile" tag in the local media.
Shane Vereen wheel routed Barrett Ruud pretty bad in the Divisional Round last year, in a play that will forever be seared into my corneas. This year the Texans middle linebackers of note are Joe Mays, Sharpton, and something called a "Jeff Tarpinian," which I assume is a stage name. I am putting the over/under at 2.5 wheel routes in this game.
Andrew Potter: Then the Texans still have to consider who’s going to attempt to cover which New England receiver, out of their underperforming (or just plain bad) defensive backs. It’s reasonable to expect from all this that New England will score points. That leaves, presumably, Case Keenum trying to keep up by throwing pass after pass in the general direction of Andre Johnson. Over and over and over again. Whatever happened to DeAndre Hopkins?
Rivers McCown: Even when Schaub was in, Hopkins was frequently misused and missed when he was open. With Keenum, the problem is that every defense tries to speed things up and make him take hot reads, because he hasn't exactly been stellar in that area. Why Hopkins is never one of those hot reads is Chapter 938 of my 4,403 chapter novella Gary Kubiak's Decisions Are Puzzling, but that's been the case thus far. I actually don't think Keenum has been THAT bad the last few games ... the Texans offensive line has just been much worse than people are willing to give it credit for this year. Put Three Pro Bowlers (TM) on a line and you expect better, but I think you can argue that injuries have hurt Duane Brown, and Chris Myers has always been only adequate in pass protection. Wade Smith is a liability pass blocking, as he was last year. Brandon Brooks has not caught on as fast as Houston has hoped. Derek Newton is the most abysmal right tackle nobody talks about.
Andrew Potter: Pro Bowl line selections are reputation picks, and the Texans line had a good reputation until fairly recently. The Texans offense has been a mess this season, but I’m actually more concerned about the defense. You mentioned Mercilus and Brooks Reed, but it seems like it’s everybody apart from J.J. Watt. The safeties are bad, the best corner is in a slump, only one linebacker’s performed, and they’ve just failed to stay below 26% DVOA against the pass in a three-game stretch against the powerhouses of Arizona, Oakland, and Jacksonville.
Rivers McCown: The downgrade from Brian Cushing to Sharpton can't be understated. And the dropoff from Kareem Jackson to Brice McCain is unquantifiable. I don't think the Texans defense is quite this bad on a long-term view, but their bench players are seemingly all failed prospects that never cracked the lineup for a reason.
Andrew Potter: At least, if the draftniks are to be believed, they chose a good year to suddenly discover a desperate and immediate need for a quarterback, and they probably still have the best overall roster in the division. This feels like one of those 2-9 teams it wouldn't be the slightest bit surprising to see in the playoffs a year later.
2.1% St. Louis (+8) at 16.6% San Francisco -- 4:05 PM ET (FOX)
Andrew Potter: Even though the Rams won 42-21 last week, Kellen Clemens still completed under half of his passes and they continued to have penalty problems. I don’t see either of those improving against the 49ers, and unlike the Bears the 49ers do still have something that passes for a run defense.
Rivers McCown: On some level, the idea that Michael Crabtree could immediately come back and make a huge difference off his torn Achilles is wishful thinking. On another level, the Rams just placed Cortland Finnegan on IR, and Janoris Jenkins has tools to work with but has been way too soft in my opinion, so Crabtree isn't exactly going to face top competition here.
Andrew Potter: Even with Finnegan in the lineup, Crabtree wouldn’t have faced top competition. The Rams defense is all about the line: when it gets pass rush, as it did against Chicago, it masks the deficient secondary. San Francisco’s line has struggled this year -- 30th in Adjusted Line Yards and 20th in Adjusted Sack Rate -- so it’s not impossible that this will end up being another defensive slugfest, but the 49ers already blew out the Rams once and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen again. It’s just too easy for disciplined opponents to take advantage of the Rams’ indiscipline.
Rivers McCown: Well, as with most games the 49ers have played this year, it kind of comes down to how their receivers play. When Colin Kaepernick has some easy looks, the offense starts chugging right along. When his first reads are covered, or Vernon Davis is out, it's just not a real impressive unit. I tend to agree that St. Louis is not in the best position to exploit that, because I don't believe in anyone in that secondary.
Aldon Smith notched two sacks last week on the Redskins, bringing him up to 6.5 on the season in just six games. That's not really an ideal situation for a team starting Joe Barksdale at right tackle, either.
Andrew Potter: Nothing’s an ideal situation for a team starting Kellen Clemens at quarterback. I think I expect this game to come down simply to the Rams defensive line. I don’t expect the Rams offense to generate points, but it’s possible that their defense could throw out some short fields and keep things tight much as they did against Seattle. Then it’s down to the luck of one or two plays. If the Rams line doesn’t get pressure though, forget it.
Rivers McCown: I really wish Ben Muth would write about this game, especially given his noted affection for the San Francisco line last year.
-8.6% Atlanta (+3) at -3.4% Buffalo -- 4:05 PM ET (FOX)
Rivers McCown: While the numbers don't necessarily bear this out, it's my opinion that Buffalo has the most talent of the AFC teams conceivably in the chase for the sixth spot. They lost a few games to backup quarterback play, and EJ Manuel has been up-and-down, but when he's on, the Bills have looked downright pedestrian! And the defense has been very good all season.
Andrew Potter: It's weird to see a Buffalo defense playing up to its talent level. It feels like they've had talented players on defense for years but never been able to do anything with it. Now, they have the defense sorted but they're stuck with a rookie quarterback who's missed a chunk of the year, two running backs who've played or are playing hurt, and a tough division the mediocrity of which is often overstated. That may be enough to keep them out of the playoffs in a down year for the AFC in general.
Rivers McCown: (Dave Wannstedt's majestic moustache bristles in the distance.)
This game's in Toronto. Toronto has a mayor that loves NFL football. It's a shame he's inherited this game, but at least there's a better-than-average chance he won't be able to tell the difference.
I hate to hit on the same thing twice in two weeks, but Atlanta does realize that Tony Gonzalez had a chance to win a Super Bowl if he was released, right? And that's not happening here, right?
Andrew Potter: Is there any reason to believe Gonzalez is better at picking Super Bowl teams than anybody else? Sure, he’d be a great addition for any of the competing teams, but he’s just as likely to end up with a team that goes one-and-done as with a team that wins it all. I don’t blame the Falcons for trying to keep their best healthy receiver: they have more than just this season to think about. I have to think the benefit of having somebody like that around goes beyond his on-field production.
Rivers McCown: Well, it's a lot easier to pick a potential Super Bowl team when there's five weeks left than it is when there are 17. If Gonzalez is going to retire, why not see what Levine Toilololololo can do in this last month? Is Gonzalez's leadership keeping the entire locker room from bursting into fistfights?
Oh, and I guess we should talk about Atlanta's defense. Second-worst pass defense in the NFL, 31st overall defense by DVOA. They're ahead of just three teams by Adjusted Sack Rate. Running backs are the only position they cover adequately in our DVOA by receiver types splits. This should all bode well for Buffalo, and I'm envisioning a nice reassuring touchdown strike to Marquise Goodwin.
Andrew Potter: Given the number of rookies they’ve been forced into starting, the performance of the Falcons defense isn’t surprising. I’ve never been more impressed with Matt Ryan than I am this season, however. The offense around him is an injury-plagued wreck, but he’s still seventh by DVOA and has an offense with no receivers and no running game ranking 11th overall. I thought he was good, but reliant on the talent around him. Now, I’m convinced that I was underselling him substantially.
Rivers McCown: People who want to undersell Ryan always forget about his rookie season, where he somehow managed to turn Roddy White + bailing wire into the fourth-best quarterback DVOA in the league.
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13.5% Cincinnati (+1) at -1.3% San Diego -- 4:25 PM ET (CBS)
Andrew Potter: We’ve had San Diego’s defense bottom of the league for several weeks now, but it was always neck-and-neck with the Jaguars. After last week’s performance against Kansas City, the Chargers are all alone in last place: 32nd against the run, 32nd against the pass, and 32nd overall. This has to be the start of the Andy Dalton comeback narrative, right?
Rivers McCown: Fitting that the first game that will be blacked out this year is between two of the only adequate teams in the AFC.
I wrote about the Chargers defense a little bit in putting up Tuesday's NFL column for Insider about the Chiefs, but I had no idea that they were on a historically bad pace when I wrote it. I guess this is what happens when your cornerbacks are Derek Cox and three guys signed off the street or picked up on waivers.
I have a friend who went to Andy Dalton's high school. (Texas high school football power Katy.) He always refers to Andy Dalton as Katy's Chosen Son. He also drinks a lot, which I think is an important fact in this discussion. Every time I hear that phrase now, I feel like there are 200 Katy graduates trying their damndest to make Andy Dalton a footnote.
Andrew Potter: The issue for the Chargers is that adequacy: the awfulness of their defense completely cancels out the excellence of their offense. In the conference’s toughest division, it takes better than adequate to make the playoffs. It doesn’t help that they’ve put up a couple of very poorly timed duds, particularly the losses in Oakland and Miami. That opening day home loss to Houston wasn’t unreasonable at the time, but also now looks very bad.
This is a very tough matchup for the Chargers: Cincinnati’s pass defense is second by DVOA, same as San Diego’s pass offense, and they’re also ranked similarly in the run game. The Bengals offense isn’t good, but San Diego ranks 32nd against number one receivers (hi, A.J. Green!) and 29th against running backs (hi, Giovani Bernard!).
Rivers McCown: As long as Dalton can get through this game without sailing half his throws, I think it's clear which of these teams is more talented. But I have no faith in that, and I do think the Chargers can pick up yards on the Bengals. Mike McCoy has done an excellent job hiding Philip Rivers' pocket mobility deficiencies. It's insane to think that, with the offensive line issues this team has had, the Chargers are fifth in Adjusted Sack Rate.
Andrew Potter: And second in offense. Philip Rivers is a pretty glaring example of a quarterback who would probably be in the MVP conversation if his defense was better. Yay for QB Wins.
Rivers McCown: Eh, I find it really hard to get worked up about who should belong in the discussion for an award that Peyton Manning could conceivably win annually. And this is from someone who is sick to death of reading about Manning. Much like the Bonds years in baseball, the contrarians are always at their silliest when the numbers get crazy.
32.9% Denver (-4.5) at 9.3% Kansas City -- 4:25 PM ET (CBS)
Rivers McCown: So glad the NFL could schedule this so the division rivals play twice in two weeks. That's not completely asinine or anything. Why doesn't the NFL just make the last three games on each team's schedule a division game, then put the other three before Week 9 or so?
Andrew Potter: Didn't this happen a couple of years ago with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, meaning the Ravens got both games against the Steelers while Roethlisberger was injured? At least Kansas City’s best player won’t miss both games. Agreed on the overall point though: Kansas City got to Week 11 having only played one divisional game, leaving them five in seven weeks to finish the season. That’s just begging for one key injury to completely derail a team’s season. Or in this case, two: without Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, the Chiefs defense collapsed against San Diego. There’s only one offense better than the Chargers by our numbers ... and that’s who they play this week.
Rivers McCown: It happens all the time these days.
I don't really see what Kansas City can pull out that Denver hasn't already seen. Yes, Andy, they've seen Jamaal Charles at wide receiver. We've all seen it. It's a cry for help. Granted, KC has seen receivers like Tony Moeaki and Jon Baldwin bust as early picks, but they really need to go back to the well in the offseason. Maybe they can use their second-round pi ... oh, right.
Andrew Potter: The Chiefs at least get a slight boost with Denver’s injury list. Champ Bailey is expected to return, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has missed practice this week and Omar Bolden could also miss out with concussion. Kevin Vickerson is out too. None of that’s even close to the importance of Hali and Houston, but it could at least make the game more competitive as long as the Chiefs receivers remember they’re allowed to catch the ball when it’s thrown near them. Unfortunately, on this season’s form that’s about as likely as Denver’s running backs remembering they’re allowed to hold onto it when they’re tackled.
Rivers McCown: I know these are probably two of the best three teams in the AFC, but given the quick turnaround and the new injuries, this is one of the less interesting games of the week for me. It's not even going to be cold enough to give the Peyton Manning cold weather narrative any fuel.
Frank Zombo does always manage to get "Zombie" by the Cranberries running through my mental playlist, so at least there's that. (It's the same old thing, since Week 13...)
Andrew Potter: It does seem a little bit as though we’ve seen these teams before, we know who they are and how they play, and we’re just waiting for the result so we can pencil one into a playoff bye and the other into the fifth seed.
Rivers McCown: Zombos Ate My First-Round Bye
-12.7% New York Giants (-1) at -24.2% Washington -- 8:30 PM ET (NBC)
Rivers McCown: Speaking of NFL scheduling ... is this game really unflexable? Because seriously, c'mon. I know we have to be downright sycophantic in our love of The NFC East That Deserves All Prime Time Spots, but this game is clown shoes.
Andrew Potter: It's pure TV ratings. Somebody has to win the NFC East, but it won’t be one of these two. The Giants secretly have a good defense, but they’ve done a great job of hiding that with their offense and special teams. Washington has no secret positives that I can see.
Rivers McCown: Andre Brown has also revitalized the run game -- 10.5% DVOA through his first 69 carries for the former Speed Score sleeper of the 2009 draft.
(Trying to think of positive things to say about Washington.)
Well, uh, Jordan Reed will be back. Mike Shanahan hasn't given anybody MRSA this year. That we know of.
Their historically bad special teams has made Giants and Texans fans feel a little bit better about themselves...
Andrew Potter: Making Texans fans feel better about themselves is quite an achievement this year.
Andre Brown has one touchdown this year and about 4.5 yards per carry. I’d guess that his biggest advantage over the rest of the Giants running backs is similar to Knowshon Moreno’s advantage over the rest of the Denver running backs. If a running back is aware that keeping the ball in his hands is desirable, that alone can make him an upgrade. He does get to play some terrible defenses in the next five weeks though, including this week’s opponent twice and San Diego, so he’s in a pretty favorable situation.
Rivers McCown: As an outside observer, do you feel like the Redskins have enough talent on offense to be a top-ten unit? This current version of Robert Griffin has sabotaged them somewhat, but take the long view here.
Andrew Potter: It was a top-ten unit last year, so the potential is certainly there. I don’t expect them to be able to achieve that consistently, however, without at least one significant upgrade -- whether that comes by acquisition or player development. By DVOA, a top-ten unit this season means roughly comparable to New England and better than Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Dallas. All of those teams have at least one very good receiver (counting Reggie Wayne, without whom the Colts do not have a top ten offense), and Washington doesn’t. All of those quarterbacks are also better pure passers than Griffin, but the Shanaclan scheme can compensate for that as long as he has more than just Jordan Reed to throw to.
Rivers McCown: I think Griffin will be fine long-term, and I wouldn't necessarily think he's the worst quarterback on those four teams. But by trading for him, the Redskins definitely have put a lot more pressure on him. Without their first-round pick again, the talent isn't going to be there for this roster to turn it around without Griffin operating at his peak form. I don't necessarily think this year has turned the Shanahans into terrible offensive coaches, but I do wonder what the next logical move is after the season as far as the scheme goes. People are going to complain about the read option next year if it's emphasized again, but they also need to make sure they don't marginalize what makes their quarterback the most effective. And I think that's lost by a lot of people focused on things like how often he should be sliding.
And really, given the lack of the picks, I think Bruce Allen has done a nice job with this roster. I also saw Reed as a late first-round pick, so your mileage may vary.
Andrew Potter: On offense, they definitely have the pieces to be effective if Griffin can get back to his best. On defense, this roster is a can't-cover-can't-tackle mess. I'm amazed by DVOA's suggestion that there are eight defenses worse than Washington's, as it seems like every time I see them they're either missing tackles or blowing coverage. How much of that is roster building and how much of that is coaching, of course, is open for debate. Mike Shanahan didn't exactly arrive from Denver with a reputation for mean defense.