Rams, Bucs Celebrate the Jolly-Stomping Festival!
NFL Week 13 - Welcome to the Week 13 Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival, a celebration in which your favorite contenders (Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and quasi-contenders (Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings) wallop on the NFL's most reliable weaklings.
Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival Part One: Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, 1 p.m.
How the Jaguars Can Upset the Rams: Replicate a variation of their Bills upset or the Rams losses to the Titans and 49ers. Visit Matthew Stafford's Turnover Dispensary and make sure to come away with points. Avoid silly penalties, especially on special teams; Urban Meyer's staff may not be very detail-oriented, but it shouldn't be too hard to line up legally when the opponent is punting deep in their own territory. And when the Jaguars have the ball, let Trevor Lawrence run a few zone reads and hope Tavon Austin Revenge Game is a thing and not the fever dream of a bleary sportswriter who may be losing his damn mind.
Chance the Jaguars Upset the Rams: Let's go with 5%. The Jaguars didn't look like they could upset a preschooler's lemonade stand against the Falcons. And while the Rams are really vulnerable right now, they know this is their last rest stop before a vicious late-season stretch, and that they will be in deep trouble if they drive past it. Rams 27, Jaguars 13.
Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival Part Two: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, 1 p.m.
How the Falcons Can Upset the Buccaneers: Find 20 touches for Cordarrelle Patterson. Protect Matt Ryan, who was sacked just once in their Week 2 loss to the Bucs and was untouched by the Jaguars last week. Hope the Buccaneers suffer one of their recent penalty sprees. Don't let Gronk go into Gronk Mode. Avoid falling behind 28-10. Don't give up two fourth-quarter interceptions for touchdowns. Don't be the Falcons. Be any other sports franchise on earth but the Atlanta Falcons.
Chance the Falcons Upset the Buccaneers: Ain't happening. The Falcons are far weaker than their record suggests, and are also the Falcons. Buccaneers 34, Falcons 20.
Holly Jolly-Stomping Festival Part Three: Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears, Sunday, 1 p.m.
How the Bears Can Upset the Cardinals: The Bears locker room rallies to save Matt Nagy's job! That's totally a thing they appear likely to do, right? Andy Dalton's quasi-competence gets the Bears to 19 points. Kyler Murray glitches out in his return the way Lamar Jackson malfunctioned on Sunday night against the Browns and starts tossing footballs directly at linebackers.
Chance the Bears Upset the Cardinals: Roughly 20%, despite the snarky pessimism of the previous paragraph. The Bears defense can usually be counted upon for an upset or two down the stretch, and the Cardinals lack a confidence-inspiring December track record. If nothing else, Cardinals -7.5 in Chicago in late autumn feels a little ambitious. Cardinals 24, Bears 19.
Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival Part Four: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, Sunday, 1 p.m.
How the Texans Can Upset the Colts: Start out relatively hot, the way they did against the Browns, Patriots, and Jets. Slow Jonathan Taylor down. Force an Act of Wentz or two. OK, Texans, you are still in the game in the second half. Don't surrender. Wait, why are you punting on fourth-and-2? Why are you featuring Rex Burkhead and Danny Amendola in your offense? You are not the 2015 Patriots! Please stop. Pretty please?
Chance the Texans Upset the Colts: Less than 10%. Frank Reich's game plans are designed to prevent wanton acts of self-destruction. Colts 26, Texans 14.
Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival Part Five: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions, Sunday, 1 p.m.
When a football team consistently loses while covering the spread, one of three things is likely to happen toward the end of the season:
- that team starts converting close losses into victories;
- that team falls apart under the weight of all the heartbreak and starts getting blown out; or
- the house adjusts the spreads so that team becomes narrower underdogs down the stretch.
The Lions are 0-10-1 but 7-4 against the spread. They have been seven-point home dogs all week, so the house hasn't really adjusted. They're showing no signs of cracking and should be relatively fresh after their mini-bye.
That leaves the late-season victories. Of course, the Vikings didn't become America's Wild Card Team by losing games like this one; they have not lost to the Lions since 2017. And Kirk Cousins is having a Kirk Cousins Excellent Statistical Season™ and provides steady veteran leadership in critical late-game situations…
Kirk Cousins lined up under the guard 💀 pic.twitter.com/oAEq01DdVx
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) November 29, 2021
Eh, I think Imma take the Lions and the points. Vikings 27, Lions 21.
Holiday Jolly-Stomping Festival Children's Garden Happenings: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets, Sunday, 1 p.m.
How the Jets Can Upset the Eagles: Figure out how to turn Second-Half Zach Wilson into 24-7 Zach Wilson (which should also be the team's overall goal for the rest of the season). Let John Franklin-Myers come out and play again. Hope the Eagles feature Jalen Reagor in their offense instead of running the ball down the Jets' gullet like they should have done against the Giants. Lull the Eagles into a variation on the Titans upset, where a few turnovers and a pile of penalties decide the outcome. We're assuming Jalen Hurts (ankle) plays because everyone is assuming Hurts plays, but if Gardner Minshew gets the start, pressure the daylights out of him and hold him to his one highlight per game.
Chance the Jets Upset the Eagles: Maybe 25%. It's conceivable that the Jets are making progress. But the Eagles should win simply by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides. Eagles 22, Jets 16.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
How this game will go:
- Fitful field goal drive on the first Ravens possession.
- Desperate Steelers Offensive Strategy One: Build an offense out of nothing but mystique and contrarian arguments.
- Fitful field goal drive on the second Ravens possession.
- Desperate Steelers Offensive Strategy Two: Ben Roethlisberger launches 50-50 balls: 50% chance of pass interference, 50% chance of an interception.
- Two Ravens drives stall; luckily they are up 16-0 thanks to a pick-six.
- Desperate Steelers Offensive Strategy Three: Time to establish the run and throw in front of the sticks on third-and-8!
- LAMAR JACKSON BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH: Jackson tosses interceptions on three consecutive pass attempts. Steelers capitalize with one field goal.
- After Jackson's third interception, a Steelers defender performs an act on him which would be a felony in 38 states and cause for public execution in Foxborough. No flag, ejection, or fine.
- Ravens realize that the Steelers run defense quit in late October and just start grinding down the clock.
- The Steelers stage a late comeback to keep the wishful "Big Ben Still Has It" thinking alive and because tradition dictates that we predict a final score of … Ravens 23, Steelers 20.
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Bengals rank 7th in the NFL in variance, meaning that six teams are theoretically less predictable than they are. But those teams are either steadily improving (Patriots), somewhat steadily declining (Bills), or have been forced to start wildly different rosters due to injuries throughout the season (Saints, Panthers, Browns). The Bengals are truly the NFL's most unpredictable team.
The Bengals have posted single-game passing DVOA figures ranging from -89.1% (Week 2, Bears) to 96.0% (Week 3, Steelers). Their rushing DVOA has ranged from -36.6% (Week 8, Jets) to 19.2% (Steelers, last week). The Bengals pass defense DVOA reached -20.7% against the Steelers in Week 3 but "fell" to 56.2% against the Browns in Week 9. Their run defense has been relatively consistent and effective, though it reached a below-average 10.3% against the Jaguars in Week 4 and 8.3% in the Jets upset. Special teams? A low of -12.3% against the Packers in Week 5 (missed late-game and overtime field goals), a high of 10.9% against the Raiders in Week 11 (three 50-plus-yard field goals).
It's true that the Bengals are playing much better since their bye, but they posted their worst back-to-back DVOA games just before the bye, so it's unclear how real their improvement is.
The Chargers are far more reliably unreliable. They'll move the ball on offense and allow opponents to move the ball on defense. Wins and losses come down to field goals (a Chargers weakness), field goal luck (another "weakness" right now), fourth-down conversions (a Chargers strength) and fumble luck (yet another "weakness"). In one three-play early-game sequence in last week's loss to the Broncos, an apparent Teddy Bridgewater strip-sack was reversed into an incompletion and a lunging Drew Lock fumble turned a sack into a holy-roller third-down conversion that extended a Broncos touchdown drive. The Chargers have recovered just five of opponents' 16 fumbles, which is another one of those indicators (like hidden points on special teams) that point toward improvement down the stretch.
Walkthrough isn't wagering on this game, because it's crazypants to try to choose between an unlucky team that cannot play special teams and a Random Result Generator. The Bengals have the higher ceiling but lower floor. Yet we feel fairly certain that the Chargers are the better team. Chargers 31, Bengals 24. Or maybe vice versa. Who can tell?
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
The 49ers' time of possession over their last three games: 39:03, 38:22, 37:07.
The Seahawks' time of possession over the last three games: 20:51, 19:38, 18:20.
As has been covered elsewhere on Football Outsiders this week: the Seahawks average 5.0 plays per offensive series, the lowest figure in the NFL since 2018. Their offense is collapsing into a three-and-out singularity, with approximately 1.5 60-yard passes per game sprinkled in.
As discussed last week, Walkthrough is skeptical of the 49ers' ability to sustain offensive success the way they have been playing, because their Roundabout drives are too often sustained by defensive penalties on third downs. That said, the entire first half of this game could be a pair of 17-play 49ers drives, with a Seahawks three-and-out and a two-point conversion return after a touchdown wedged in between. 49ers 26, Seahawks 16.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Thursday's Walkthrough covered the Chiefs rather thoroughly. It also touched on the Broncos a bit when discussing hidden special teams points. This is a matchup of an on-paper Super Bowl contender trending in the right direction against an on-paper wild-card welterweight that is at least not trending in the wrong direction. Factor in Andy Reid's 273-and-Negative-6 career win-loss record coming off bye weeks, and it's hard to pick against the Chiefs, though the -10 spread isn't very appealing.
DraftKings is offering an odd little special of note: Patrick Mahomes and Teddy Bridgewater Over 49.5 total completions at -110. Teddy Bridgewater has cracked 25 completions three times and has also come in at 24, 23, and 22. Patrick Mahomes has thrown over 30 completions three times and has not completed under 20 passes in a game all season. Walkthrough would love this play at +150 or better, but this could turn into a dink-and-dunk-fest, so we may play it in the name of experiential wagering: it will give us something to root for if the game goes long and we just want to make deadline and then crawl under the covers. Chiefs 28, Broncos 20.
Washington Football Team at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel were back for Washington on Monday night. Thomas and Samuel make Washington a stealth wild-card threat, despite the losses of defenders Chase Young and Montez Sweat, whom Washington oddly doesn't miss very much. They will also provide a true late-season read on Taylor Heinicke, who has earned a 2022 bridge season but could earn much more if the franchise talks themselves into him as their starter. Walkthrough would trade Heinicke back to the Panthers for a pair of high draft picks (you know they would offer 'em) while his stock is high and the Panthers self-esteem is low this offseason, but there are sillier options than building a YAC-and-defense powerhouse around him for the short term if he plays well against beatable opponents down the stretch.
The Raiders were 2.5-point favorites at press time because of nonexistent home-field advantage, a better record, and the fact that the details of their 28-penalty upset of the Cowboys have been lost to a tryptophan fugue. Washington 23, Raiders 17.
New York Giants at Miami Dolphins, Sunday, 1 p.m.
These two teams are long-lost cousins. The Giants and Dolphins each:
- are coached by a "no-nonsense" Belichick Buddy;
- who could use another win to solidify his hold on his job for next season; and
- are led by young quarterbacks who always fall just short of being genuinely impressive;
- while playing behind perennially shaky offensive lines;
- for offensive coordinators who might not know what they are doing; and
- are coming off victories;
- against opponents who more or less beat themselves; while
- both exist in the razor-thin microclimate between the NFL's bottom feeders and the vast wild-card municipal swimming pool;
- but are desperate to advance into the latter category.
Brian Flores appears more capable than Joe Judge (a toddler driving a forklift appears more capable than Judge) Tua Tagovailoa has more upside than Daniel Jones, and the Dolphins' on-paper roster is superior to the Giants. So the Dolphins are the team the Giants aspire to someday be. And that, dear readers, is just sad.
Mike Glennon is likely to start for the Giants due to Jones' neck injury. Say what you will about Glennon, but he's no Jacoby Brissett. Dolphins 22, Giants 13.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Thursday's Walkthrough discussed the Patriots in detail. And I may have angered a high-profile Patriots fan or two with my gentle ribbing in the New York Times about how much a Patriots-Buccaneers Super Bowl would feel like a jackhammer to the temples for a vast percentage of football fans.
I think the Bills are a better overall team. I have no faith in their ability to pull themselves together enough during their Patriots-Buccaneers streak to matter. And I remain skeptical of the staying power of the Patriots as currently constructed, whether as a Super Bowl favorite in 2021 or the continuation of a dynasty. I also think this season would be more entertaining if the Chiefs and Ravens were playing to potential; if the Browns, Bengals, and Chargers didn't keep tripping over themselves; and if the whole story of the AFC didn't boil down to Josh Allen is Still Secretly the MVP versus Mac Jones is the Last Son of Krypton. But different strokes for different folks.
The Buffalo weather report suggests that the Fates agree with me. Come rain, and wash these stale storylines away! Come snow, and bury these teams that history may forget how quickly we came full circle!
I will probably revisit the spread and the forecast in Monday's Walkthrough, but Patriots +2.5 and an Over at 43.5 at +285 looked great before the storm rolled onto the radar. Patriots 24, Bills 21.