Football Outsiders
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Week 16 Open Game Discussion

New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

We've got Saturday NFL games! With good teams! And high stakes! First, the Houston Texans (9-5) visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7). That's followed by the Buffalo Bills (10-4) at the New England Patriots (11-3), and finally the L.A. Rams (8-6) at the San Francisco 49ers (11-3). The Sunday slate is a little light -- the New Orleans Saints (11-3) visit the Tennessee Titans (8-6) in the only contest where both teams have winning records, though the Dallas Cowboys (7-7) will travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles (7-7) in a contest that will virtually decide the NFC East, and the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) face some stiff competition when they visit the Chicago Bears (7-7). And Monday night sees a critical NFC North matchup as the Green Bay Packers (11-3) visit the Minnesota Vikings (10-4). 

Comments

120 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2019, 12:03am

1 Picks

Vyccaneers 34, Rexans 27
Patriots 17, Biols 13
49ers 27, Ramz 22
Squirrels 27, Gisnts 20
Falcons 38, Jaguars 27
Colts 24, apanrgers 20
Jets 20, Steelers 13
Ravens 31, browns 20
Titans 24, Saints 23
Dolpjins 30, Bengals 20
Raiders 44, Chargerz 16
Lions 33, Broncos 14
Seahawks 25, Cardonals 22
Cowboys 24, Eaglez 17
Vears 20, Chiefs 17
Vikings 30, Pakers 23

2 A bunch of hopeful picks this week

In reply to by Raiderjoe

Tecans 31 buxxaneers 28

Bills 19 pates 18

Rams 20 39ers 31

Steeless 24 jeta 29

Sainrs 41 titans 30

Panrhers 17 coltes 27

Bensgrls 17 ddokpihns 27

Jaguanrs 13 falcins 28

Rabens 31 beowns 27

Gienats 22 Red Clouds 24

Loiens 13 bronxos 30

Raidaes 31 cheagers 24

Cardonald 27 seahawks 35

Ragles 21 xowboys 28

Cheigs 31 beats 18

Pakcera 21 vikinge 35

3 Just tuned in. I gather…

Just tuned in. I gather Winston's performance in the first couple of minutes has been, ah, sub-optimal.

6 It's just Jameis continuing…

It's just Jameis continuing in his glorious quest to lead the league in passing yards, TDs, interceptions, and sacks. He has a huge lead in interceptions and is first in passing yards as well. He's three off Kyler Murray for the sacks lead and three behind Lamar Jackson in TDs. With Lamar likely to be taking Week 17 off Jameis has a real shot at passing him.

5 The announcers for this game…

The announcers for this game are Rich Eisen, Nate Burleson, and Joe Thomas, and I have to say I'm really enjoying them so far. They have great chemistry and charisma and so far haven't said anything too insipid. And Joe Thomas taught us the term "carcass tackle."

10 Thomas has given some great…

Thomas has given some great insights about line play, including succinctly explaining the hand technique a LT in Tunsil's position could use to avoid a holding call like that. I think they said this is his first game called? Make him a regular please!

8 These

turnovers are getting ridiculous.

9 Apparently that was just the…

Apparently that was just the 17th 3-and-out for the Houston offense? That seems almost impossible to me, that's barely more than one per game, and it's not like they're some unstoppable juggernaut. I wonder what the record is?

5 turnovers already, 4 by the Buc's, and that doesn't count that near-fumble by a Houston RB that was called a forward-progress stop. There is still 9:37 left in the second quarter.

Winston has an injured thumb, which might explain why his throws are so off (although the fact that he is Jameis Winston certainly has something to do with it; that pick-six looked like just a bad read). If this gets much more out of hand, I wonder if they'd bench/rest him to avoid risking further injury. But his status for next year is complicated, and they might not want to risk upsetting someone they might want back next year, but who can opt to go somewhere else if he wants.

12 As Bill Barnwell pointed out…

As Bill Barnwell pointed out on Twitter, Jameis picked up the thumb injury two weeks ago. Since then he's had consecutive 450 yard passing games, so it doesn't seem like it's been slowing him up before today.

11 Texans special teams looked…

Texans special teams looked impressive the past couple of weeks. Excellent kick coverage and a couple of blocked field goals.

13 6 turnovers in the 1st half,…

6 turnovers in the 1st half, that one a Winston-esque INT by Watson.

The announcers had a funny exchange earlier:

Eisen: 'The audience at home could take a drink every time I mix up "Winston" and "Watson"'

Burleson: 'They wouldn't make it to half-time.'

15 Four turnovers and you aren…

Four turnovers and you aren't even leading at the half. This Texans team doesn't deserve to make the playoffs, much less host a home game. They'll be the weakest team to qualify.

17 The defense is certainly a…

The defense is certainly a worry. The offense is explosive, but you can't shake the feeling it should be capable of more. 

Regardless, they've got some good quality wins on their schedule (Chiefs, Patriots, Titans), so it's a bit of a stretch to say they don't deserve to make the playoffs. 

18 They are 17th in DVOA and I…

They are 17th in DVOA and I see no reason to believe that ranking is underrating them. In theory DeShaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins should give you a top offense, but Houston is 11th in both overall offense and passing. Horrible games like their humiliating annihilation against the Broncos two weeks ago should be weighed as much as their wins against good teams.

16 Amazing and kind of…

Amazing and kind of hilarious that this is tied at the half. While they've already got 3 INTs, that dropped pick that Winston threw to about 4 Texans defenders right before the tying TD looms pretty large.

20 TB has the a strong defense…

TB has the a strong defense in general and the top rushing defense in the league so I can't disagree with Houston's decision to punt on that fourth down.

24 First mistake is by NE. …

First mistake is by NE. Buffalo's offense des nothing with the great field position after Burkhead's fumble, which is likely to be a theme this game, but team who makes fewer errors is likely going to be the winner considering D >> O for both teams.

25 Fumble aside, the Pats haven…

Fumble aside, the Pats haven't had any particular trouble moving the ball against the Bills D so far. Not a great sign for Buffalo...

27 The Bills can't possibly…

The Bills can't possibly compete against the best teams in the league with a passing game this remedial.

32 Good thing we have an entire…

Good thing we have an entire season's worth of games to judge them by and don't have to rely solely on one half of football. Josh Allen is a bad QB but he's not normally as bad as he's been in this game. They have the 20th ranked passing offense by DVOA, which is of course not good but does not prohibit them from competing with top teams. We've already seen them beat Dallas (ranked 8th in DVOA), hang around with the best team in the league (Baltimore) and almost beat the Pats the first time they played.

34 Not to mention, they're…

Not to mention, they're literally playing the best defense (and specifically pass defense) in the league right now. They are certainly "competing." And as not-good as Allen is, he hasn't imploded today (unlike a certain someone earlier), and has only ("only") two complete implosions this year. And one of those implosions was against the Pats in their last game, and they still kept it close.

29 Uh... speaking of games that…

Uh... speaking of games that are shockingly tied at the half despite one team clearly outplaying the other...

EDIT: Spoke too soon, looks like he's down about 6 inches short.

EDIT2: Okay, they got it. On a pass to the extra tackle. Belichick is livid; announcers said they didn't announce 73 was eligible. Not 100% sure what the rule is re: reporting as eligible and announcing it, but I have to think a whole crew of refs wouldn't miss that an ineligible receiver caught a TD, right?

30 I was preparing to make a…

I was preparing to make a post about about how this game looked basically over even with just a 7 point margin because it didn't look like the Bills were capable of scoring, and whatta ya know, we're suddenly tied. The Patriots have been the much better team and will probably still win, but at least it's more competitive.

33 That's what makes the Bills…

That's what makes the Bills scary to me. Their defense is good enough to keep the game close so a few big plays make the difference, and while Allen generally sucks, with the physical gifts he has he can pull out one or two of those big plays that most QBs can't. They're kind of like those 2007 Giants.

37 Bills face 4th and 1 on…

Bills face 4th and 1 on their own 37, up by 4 in the 3rd quarter. They punted; I bet going for it would have been slightly better.

40 What on earth was the…

What on earth was the blocking scheme on that last play for Buffalo? I don't remember ever seeing both ends completely unblocked in a real game before.

The Pats vastly outplayed Buffalo overall, but if Allen had just been able to get another couple of yards of distance on that hail mary (or hadn't overthrown the open receiver a couple plays earlier), this could've been going to overtime.

41 If the Bills get a third…

If the Bills get a third shot at NE in the playoffs, they need to build more of their offensive game plan around Allen running.

Two deep strikes and the Burkhead fumble kept them in this game, but they shouldn't count on getting those again. The only way they seemed to be able to put some stress on NE's D was with Allen as a third option to the RB run or pass.

NE offense looked better than it had the last couple of times I saw them, but Buffalo's D was really good in the red zone. If they continue to avoid turnovers, I could see Buffalo going into Houston and winning.

42 Incredible play by Ramsey…

Incredible play by Ramsey there.

Announcers pointed out something I noticed during the Rams' pseudo-renaissance, that Goff is infinitely better rolling out and now McVay has him do that way more.

I get the personal foul call on the slide there but that was a rough spot for the defender, he slid pretty late.

43 Pates Points

NE has to feel pretty good about 400+ yards offense against FO's 4th ranked defense. The balance that's been missing for most of the year was there and while Brady still missed some easy throws, he showed better touch than in recent weeks. Wonder how predictive it will be going forward. Jonathan Jones being out and then Jason McCourty leaving with groin injury played a role in both of the Allen's big strikes (Allen had 19(!) yards passing before the last seconds of the 2nd quarter). Other than Allen scrambles, Bills couldn't run the ball, not that their 22nd ranked offense offered the greatest test but the run game has been the better part of their offense (and a relative Pats weakness). Game really shouldn't have been so close and the Bills will be kicking themselves over missed opportunities.
The bye week is essential for the Pats to advance. A Ravens/Pats rematch seems a lot more likely now.

44 The Rams are all over the…

The Rams are all over the place these last few weeks. They beat Seattle easily two weeks ago, then got annihilated by the Cowboys, and now are up 11 on the 49ers.

45 The first quarter was a…

The first quarter was a defensive slugfest, the second has been a shootout. Losing Ramsey doesn't help for the Rams but the Niners had some things going before that. On the other side, the Niners haven't figured out what to do about Goff rolling out; their pass D seems to rely on getting pressure with the front 4. Potential playoff opponents, take note - and pay close attention to what they do in the second half.

UPDATE: Well, that's one thing you can do about Goff rolling out.

48 Looks like they're having…

Looks like they're having the DEs focus on containing Goff in the pocket, spiced up with a safety blitz. Working like gangbusters so far. If Gurley were still Gurley he could shred that, but he's not.

46 That INT by Goff looked like…

That INT by Goff looked like one of the worst INTs I've ever seen a professional QB throw. Not sure if maybe somehow Warner was hidden from Goff's line of sight by a lineman? but it seemed like Goff just locked in on his guy coming out of the backfield and never looked around, just stared at this man until he threw it, oblivious to the defender closing in.

49 The Rams d-line suddenly…

The Rams d-line suddenly came to life, back-to-back sacks and Garoppolo is limping. Didn't notice any injuries or subs on the Niners line, maybe they're getting tired.

The Rams haven't really figured out what to do about the Niners' anti-bootleg adjustment - they just had one where Goff was chased by two guys and threw to Higbee, who was triple-covered, so it's pretty safe to say the Niners had that one figured out - other than just having Goff stand in the pocket and throw. He's done okay at it so far, but that TD to Kupp was a bit behind, and that deep throw that Higbee missed because he turned the wrong way might've been on Goff's inaccuracy as well, it's hard to say. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rams are done scoring for the night.

51 Thanks, NFL, for sticking…

Thanks, NFL, for sticking all these interesting games on your pay channel and screwing actual football fans.

59 That was amazing. I'm…

That was amazing. I'm actually not sure the defender actually touched the guy who caught it either. We almost got an Antonio Freeman play.

The Rams have no one to blame but themselves for missing the playoffs this year. To let both of those happen in the absolute do-or-die game ought to be disqualifying in and of itself.

60 Well deserved? They…

Well deserved? They outgained and outplayed the niners the whole game. A pick six and a blown assignment was the difference in this one. Oh also a Zuerlein missed field goal. 

And besides, when they rushed 3 earlier Garropolo threw for about 20 to the TE not named Kittle, so I don't know what your point is here, big plays happen.

61 Rams deserved to lose.

Officials or weather did not play a role. The ball did not bounce funny. If anything Harris dropped an interception. And Rams lost. Ergo they deserved to lose. 

62 My point is that blitzing…

My point is that blitzing increases the variancy of play outcomes, and that was a situation where the Rams absolutely did not need high variancy.

Sure, the 49ers converted a 3rd-and-long just a few plays ago.  That's a low probability play.  Letting them try to do so again against a 3- or 4-man rush is the smart play call there.  Even if they convert, with a normal defence they're still not in field goal range.

If Game Winning Chance measured these sort of defensive calls, I'm pretty sure it would show that blitzing there dramatically increases the chances of the 49ers winning the game. 

65 Blitzing also increases the…

Blitzing also increases the chance you get a sack and perhaps a forced a fumble. That's the positive to the high variance. The Rams would've been underdogs in OT so aggression in that situation did have its advantages.

105 Even the worst pass defenses…

Even the worst pass defenses in the NFL don't routinely give up 16+ yard throws down the field.  

However, the main point is that while stopping them on 3rd down was ideal, it wasn't essential to get the opposition off the field at that point.  It was, however, absolutely critical to prevent them from getting into field goal range with time running down.  A 20 yard completion would have still left them outside of field goal range, and therefore needing to complete additional positive plays with little time left on the clock before they'd have a chance of winning.  Blitzing increases the chance that the opposition makes a big play of the sort that would get them into field goal range quickly.

The argument above that the blitz may have also increased positive variance by increasing the chance of an INT or strip fumble is an interesting one.  If true - and I haven't seen the stats on that, especially the chances of an INT or strip fumble compared to a situation where the QB is trying to stay in the pocket long enough to convert a long 3rd-down - then maybe that was LA's idea:  we'll probably lose in OT so let's try for a turnover now even though it increases the chance we lose in regulation.  Personally, I think their chances of winning in OT was 50/50, so I'm sceptical that's the right strategy, but maybe McVay and Phillips thought they would lose in OT and gambled on a slim chance to win in regulation.

109 It was 3rd down but they would have used 4th down as well

When they snapped the ball 58 seconds were left and SF had two timeouts. The needed to convert a first down for 16 yards in two tries and then need to go another 23 yards to get to 30 yard line. I think it would have made a better strategy to let them try that without blitzing. 
On the other hand allowing 31 points up to that point is what made Rams lose the game. Not one particular play. In fact had Harris not dropped one of the easier interceptions the drive before the game probably would have finished with a Rams loss without that play ever happening. 

63 It's time for late-season FO…

It's time for late-season FO gameday chat! Join a star-studded cast of your favorite FO posters as we say smart, analytic and totally backed by data things about the football games...in real time!

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64 These refs are absolutely…

These refs are absolutely hell-bent on making sure Cleveland scores at least once in this game. They succeed; lord knows the Browns need it. But in karmic penance, they miss the extra point.

68 The Steelers switch QBs…

The Steelers switch QBs again, back to Mason Rudolph. It's remarkable this team is anywhere close to the playoffs with the QBs they have available. They don't really deserve to qualify but with the Ravens likely to be in position to rest their starters next week Pittsburgh's chances of making it are good.

70 Lamar Jackson breaking…

Lamar Jackson breaking ankles without mercy. It won't look like all that much in the stat sheet - 12 yard scramble - but holy crap the Browns had him bottled up on a roll, and then he just teleported around the defenders because he's a glitch in the Matrix.

71 Oh no, a couple of plays…

Oh no, a couple of plays later he did something similar, and downfield was trying to direct the TE to block instead of just going out of bounds, but the TE misunderstood and didn't block, and Jackson got absolutely leveled. He hopped up and laughed it off but I can't imagine he can take too many of those. Perhaps not coincidentally, on the next scramble he contentedly jogs out of bounds.

74 Good lord, Jackson, Ingram,…

Good lord, Jackson, Ingram, and Andrews are all limping after the last few plays. Take them out, there is no glory in a pyrrhic victory against Cleveland.

75 An injury puts Devlin Hodges…

An injury puts Devlin Hodges back in for Pittsburgh. They have 2nd and 7 at the NYJ 29, down 3... And end up punting on fourth down from the 46.

97 On one of the games a week…

On one of the games a week or two okay, it was opined that Michael Thomas doesn't get as much recognition as his stats would warrant because of his vanilla-name.

I suspect playing in NO instead of say Dallas or NY is a bigger factor, but the name angle is an interesting take.  Guy's agent should have worked harder at getting him a catchy meme moniker.

80 The Bengals and Fins are…

The Bengals and Fins are doing the same thing. Cincinnati went down by 23 with 11 minutes left in the fourth. They just tied it up as time expired.

EDIT: They were also down by 16 with 30 seconds to go. That's the more amazing part. One of the best comebacks I can remember.

85 Wilson on pace to be sacked 10 times today.

Noticed yesterday that Lamar Jackson holds the ball longer than Wilson. Yet has one third the QB Hits, far less sacks and not nearly as many hurries. Must be easy to be MVP when you have 11 other pro bowlers on your team.

98 It's the pro bowl equivalent…

It's the pro bowl equivalent of the "I once had a conversation with Sean McVay" coaching halo.

"Hey, I saw that guy in some really great highlights this year!  He must be really good."

88 Uh oh, Murray's out with a …

Uh oh, Murray's out with a "hamstring injury." They haven't said anything official, but it doesn't look like he's going to return. Brett Hundley is in now, in case you were wondering what he was up to these days.

94 Facing fourth and five the…

Facing fourth and five the Eagles opt for a 55-yard FG having already missed earlier from 53. I'm not sure I like that decision. The kick is missed.

96 The Eagles are still a shaky…

The Eagles are still a shaky team. It wouldn't be shocking if they lost on the road to the Giants next week. The most amusing outcome would be for the Cowboys to simultaneously lose to the Redskins.

99 As amusing as that would be,…

As amusing as that would be, the Cowboys have been reasonablly efficient at beating up on weak teams this year.  I like them to beat Washington next week.

Philly losing to the Giants seems like a bigger possibility, considering it appears their line up is being kept together with bailing twine and duct tape.  An 8-8 NFC East Champion wouldn't seem out of place the way this year has gone. 

I'm still disappointed, though, that the 6-10 division champion scenario didn't pay out.

104 Kudos to Collinsworth for…

Kudos to Collinsworth for bringing up # of games started in college as being an important stat for QBs

107 Loving the talk about…

Loving the talk about Trubisky vs Mahomes. Trubisky admits he needs experience that Mahomes somehow didn't. Also how KC has more talent than CHI. I think the Bears have enough talent (e.g. Robinson, Cohen, etc.) but Trubisky doesn't  have the ability to deal with it.

112 Not to take anything at all…

Not to take anything at all away from Mahomes, but when comparing him to Trubisky, we also have to acknowledge that having Reid as your head coach is like winning the lottery for a QB, whereas having Nagy as your head coach is … seemingly not as great, at this stage of Nagy's career.

And maybe if Nagy had Mahomes he'd be looking like a true offensive genius, and maybe if Reid had Trubisky he'd be … well, probably he'd still have Alex Smith as his starting QB, but if Smith also suffers a career-ending injury in this make-believe timeline, then maybe people would be wondering if Reid should retire.

But I tend to think Reid would be making his offense work with Trubisky under centre, even if it weren't as good as the current KC offense.  And I tend to think Mahomes may have shown a few more growing pains in most other NFL cities than he has in KC.

115 I wasn't trying to suggest…

I wasn't trying to suggest that Mahomes isn't a better QB than Trubisky.  I'm suggesting that the relative difference between them seems bigger because of the different coaches they have, in addition to the team talent around them suggested above.

108 Wow, that roughing the…

Wow, that roughing the passer penalty against KC didn't even qualify as ticky-tack. Slapping the shoulder of the QB Is a foul? Anything to deny the visiting team a shutout, I guess.

116 Nothing about the Monday…

Nothing about the Monday night game? Packers hurt by early turnovers, now have a 14 point lead. Cousins looks terrible, under 100 yards passing

118 The Vikings OL is getting…

The Vikings OL is getting beat left, right and centre (sometimes in all three places at once).  Based on this game, Cousins doesn't appear to be the sort of QB capable of dealing with a porous line in front of him.

120 As Dominating as GB Has Been in a Long Time

The temptation will be to beat up on Cousins and blame it on Cook's absence. That was an absolute beat-down. Without the three first half turnovers it could easily have been 24-28 pts... I have not believed this all year but this is absolutely a legit SB contender... Do they lack a quality 2nd receiver, and a game break threat in terms of pass catching? yep. But they have Aaron Jones, Devante Adams and defenses are going to have to choose which threat is more vital to stop. is their secondary still questionable? Yep. But if the Smith brothers do half of what they did tonight, Brees or Garappolo are going to have problems- partic. if it's Lambeau. That was a late era Belichickian victory. And I love it.