The Birthday Picks (Week 6)

In honor of my 20th birthday, I decided to write this week’s picks articles in a different fashion. Rather than discuss the teams currently playing, I am going to pick the games and talk about the best game between the two teams in the past twenty years.

New England Patriots 24 (-3.5), Buffalo 19
Best game: Buffalo 31, New England 0 (2003. Week 1)

The Bills humiliated the Patriots. I do not think I have ever seen the Patriots play so poorly. Tom Brady threw four picks and got benched at the end of the game, just like two weeks ago. That being said, the Patriots went on to win their second Super Bowl. Spygate did not really help them stop Bledsoe that week.

Cincinnati Bengals 28, Carolina Panthers 21 (+7.5)
Best game: Cincinnati 17, Carolina 14 (2006, Week 7)

Nothing spectacular about this game, but we got to see a come from behind winning touchdown from T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Steve Smith had over 100 receiving yards and Rudi Johnson had over 100 rushing yards. The mediocre quarterback play from Carson Palmer and Jake Delhomme stagnated the offenses.

Cleveland Browns 20 (-1.5), Pittsburgh Steelers 18
Best game: Cleveland 13, Steelers 6 (2009, Week 14)

On a cold day, the Browns reduced the Steelers chances of making the playoffs. This game is the lone win the Browns have against Ben Roethlisberger. Future bench warmer Brady Quinn went 6-19 for 90 yards. Yes, the Browns won with a quarterback who completed less than a third of his passes. Really, it was the play of Joshua Cribbs on end-arounds that won the Browns the game. This Cleveland fan helps put the win into perspective.

Denver Broncos 33 (-8.5), New York Jets 12
Best game: Denver 17, New York 13 (2011, Week 11)

TIM TEBOW!! I am not a huge fan of the former Heisman winner, but no one can take away his ability to perform well under high pressure situations. The media inflated his stature a bit too much, but he does have more playoff wins than many good quarterbacks.

Detroit Lions 35 (-1.5), Minnesota Vikings 16
Best game: Detroit 26, Minnesota 23 (OT) (2011, Week 3)

The Lions of recent memory tend to be the team blowing the lead, but in this week, Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson shredded the Vikings pass defense to overcome a 20 point defecit. Yes, Donovan McNabb was starting for the Vikings, but the young Lions started 3-0 just three year after not winning a game for an entire season.

Green Bay Packers 34 (-3.5), Miami Dolphins 24
Best game: Miami 23, Packers 20 (2010, Week 6)

There is nothing notable about this game, except that Chad Henne was once a decent quarterback and that we should recognize that the media will always ask if the Packers are not good. As long as they have Aaron Rodgers, they are going to play well.

Tennessee Titans 19, Jacksonville Jaguars 13 (+6.5)
Best game: Tennessee 33, Jacksonville 14 (1999 AFC Championship Game)

What a difference 15 years makes. The Jaguars went 15-3 in ’99 with all three losses to the Titans. One thing the NFL should note when discussing the whole concussion debate is Steve McNair. Who knows what effects football had on him prior to his tragic death?

San Diego Chargers 42 (-7.5), Oakland Raiders 20
Best game: Oakland 27, San Diego 17 (2013, Week 5)

The only game to start at 11:30 EST, hopefully. Rivers has made such great strides since this game, but it was an impressive performance. Who knows if the Raiders can rally together again after the dismissal of Dennis Allen.
Atlanta Falcons 31, Chicago Bears 28 (+3.5)
Best game: Atlanta 22, Chicago 20 (2008, Week 6)

In the final eleven seconds, both teams combined to score ten points. In one of the wackier finishes in history, Kyle Orton, now starting for the Bills threw a touchdown. A great return and a Matt Ryan strike for 26 yards put the Falcons in position to win.

Seattle Seahawks 29 (-7.5), Dallas Cowboys 20
Best game: Seattle 21, Dallas 20 (2007 Wild Card Round)

This game was Tony Romo’s first playoff appearance, and the beginning of his reputation as a choke artist (whether it is fair or not). As John Madden states at the end of the video, football is unpredictable; it is why we love it.

Arizona Cardinals 21 (-3.5), Washington Redskins 17
Best game: I do not remember one. Sorry.

Philadelphia Eagles 35, New York Giants 34 (+2.5)
Best game: This one.

San Francisco 49ers 26 (-3.5), St. Louis Rams 18
Best game: San Francisco 24, St. Louis 24 (2012, Week 10)

Alex Smith’s injury opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to become the franchise quarterback. Inexpicably, the 49ers would go on to dominate most of their mediocre opponents, but not the Rams. The Rams gave Kaepernick fits and even beat them in their second game later in the season, which was also almost a tie.

Week 5 Thursday Night Pick

The Indianapolis Colts face off with the Houston Texans Thursday night in what hopes to be the first competitive Thursday night game of the season. The Colts (3-2) played like expected. They lost tight games to Philadelphia and Denver, while thrashing divisional foes Jacksonville and Tennessee. They also looked dominant against Baltimore this past Sunday, despite the final score. Andrew Luck has played well while Trent Richardson remains ineffective. The addition of Ahmad Bradshaw has really diversified the offensive attack for Indianapolis. The defense has slowly improved, conceding 30.5 points per game in the first two weeks and 15.7 in the past three games. Houston (3-2) could significantly boost their playoff odds with a win on Thursday. Houston still has four games against the Titans and Jaguars. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a game manager while the injury-prone Arian Foster and Alfred Blue carry the team to victory. The defense for Houston is not amazing. It is 15th in DVOA and has not had an impressive perfomance, aside from the inept Raiders. The Texans have a really good shot at the playoffs, but they are not a great team. They are a solid team with an incredibly easy schedule. Thursday night will play out like Week 3 for the Texans. Like Eli Manning, Luck will lead the Colts to victory.

Indianapolis Colts 30 (-2.5), Houston Texans 20

Week 5 Pythagorean Expectation Observations

Week 4 to 5

1. Despite both being 3-2, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts, who also squared off this weekend, are the fifth and sixth unluckiest teams in the NFL, respectively.

2. 3 AFC West teams comprise the 11 unluckiest teams in the NFL (Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders).

3. Luck has been even for the Houston Texans through 5 weeks.

4. Only one team, the Minnesota Vikings, has a losing record as well as a win percentage greater than the projected win percentage of Pythagorean Expectation.

5. The Arizona Cardinals, who remain the luckiest team for a second straight week have not fallen out of the top 3 luckiest teams all year.

Week 5 Picks

I was right about the Packers, wrong about the Vikings. Bridgewater’s injury could severely damage the Vikings’ hopes at a playoff birth. Well, here are this week’s picks. There are no explanations for this one, just know it is an interesting group of games:

New York Giants 34, Atlanta Falcons 31 (+3.5)

Detroit Lions 27 (-7.5), Buffalo Bills 17

Chicago Bears 20 (-2.5), Carolina Panthers 13

Cleveland Browns 23 (+2.5), Tennessee Titans 16

Dallas Cowboys 24 (-4.5), Houston Texans 16

Philadelphia Eagles 38 (-7.5), St. Louis Rams 28

New Orleans Saints 28, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21 (+10.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers 22, Jacksonville Jaguars 17 (+6.5)

Denver Broncos 21, Arizona Cardinals 18 (+7.5)

Kansas City Chiefs 29 (+7.5), San Francisco 49ers 27

San Diego Chargers 24 (-10.5), New York Jets 9

New England Patriots 23, Cincinnati Bengals 21 (+2.5)

Seattle Seahawks 31 (-7.5), Washington Redskins 19

Record: 39-23

With Spread: 35-27

I always pick the Ravens

Week 5 Thurday Night’s Pick

The theme of the Thursday night games this year is divisional matchups. This week’s game, the Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings, features two teams whose performances have varied. Both teams are 2-2, but the road to that record has not been easy. Aaron Rodgers needed to silence critics during Sunday’s game against Chicago, and did so by tossing 4 touchdowns. Teddy Bridgewater proved that he deserved to be a higher pick in this year’s draft, albeit it was against the sub-par Atlanta defense. Green Bay still has its kinks to work out, such as Eddie Lacy’s three yards per carry. Still, Green Bay’s at home and looks poised to start making their postseason run. Bridgewater and the Vikings will keep it close, but they will fall short at the end.
Green Bay Packers 30, Minnesota Vikings 21 (+9.5)

Week 4 Pythagorean Expectation Observations

Week 3 to 4

1. The Baltimore Ravens (3-1) have the second best Pythagorean Win Expectation at 78%. Only division rivals Cincinnati (89%) have a better percentage.

2. The Carolina Panthers, after starting 2-0, have the sixth worst Pythagorean Win Expectation at 34% as well as the second luckiest team in the NFL.

3. The Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars go head to head in two weeks. Combined, the teams are expected to win 4.48 games.

4. Despite both teams getting manhandled in prime time games, the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins are two of the three most unlucky teams in the NFL this season. The Indianapolis Colts are the unluckiest team in the league.

5. Every team in the NFC West has a better win percentage than their Pythagorean Expectation: Arizona (+29%), St. Louis (6%), Seattle (3%), San Francisco (1%).

Week 4 Picks

Yikes. The Giants thrashed the Redskins after I gave them the vote of confidence early Wednesday. Maybe the South Park episode lingered in their minds Thursday night, but they sure did not come to play. Let’s hope I do better with the rest of this week’s picks.

 
Bills 19 (-2.5), Texans 14
EJ Manuel has thrown one more pass attempt (87) than Andrew Luck has completions (86). Fitzpatrick has thrown the ball 75 times, least out of any quarterback to start three games this season.

 
Bears 24 (+.5), Packers 17
Eddie Lacy averages 3.1 yards per carry, 41st out of the 49 running backs who qualified. Matt Forte is 40th with 3.2 yards per carry.

 
Lions 35 (-1.5), Jets 24
Aside from rookie Jace Amaro (49th pick of the 2014), Eric Decker is the highest drafted wide receiver or tight end on the team at 87th. Could the Jets help Geno a little bit more with their 20 million dollars of cap space?

 
Colts 31 (-7.5), Titans 14
Titans are 11-38 on third downs this season, second worst to only the Jaguars. Yet, they are the sixth best at stopping third down conversions (13-37).

 
Dolphins 24, Raiders 20 (+4.5)
Oakland has the fourth best pass defense and the fourth worst pass offense. Miami has the third worst pass offense and the seventh best pass defense. Expect to see a lot of Knowshon Moreno and Maurice Jones-Drew.

 
Steelers 41 (-7.5), Buccaneers 20
Is Mike Glennon really any better than Josh McCown? Advantage Steelers.

 
Chargers 44 (-13.5), Jaguars 17
Jacksonville is the only team in the league who has not recorded a rushing touchdown. Your move, Toby Gerhardt.

 
Falcons 17 (-3.5), Vikings 13
Since November 29th, 2012, the Falcons have won only one game outside of a dome. The Vikings, who now play outdoors, have not won a game outdoors since playing in Houston on December 23rd, 2012.

 
49ers 28, Eagles 24 (+5.5)
McCoy is third in the league in rush attempts, despite averaging 2.6 yards per carry (46th out 49). San Francisco is only one of eight teams who have not conceded 300 yards rushing this season.

 
Saints 30 (-3.5), Cowboys 23
Austin Davis’s stat line against the Cowboys? 30-42, 327 yards, and 3 TDs. Drew Brees might be a little bit better than a third string quarterback who went undrafted and walked on to Southern Miss.

 
Chiefs 17 (+3.5), Patriots 16
Julian Edelman has ran the ball four times this season while Danny Amendola only has three receptions. Travis Kelce leads the Chiefs in receiving. It is clear that both teams are still searching for an identity.

Record: 31-18

With Spread: 29-20

I always pick the Ravens

Statistics from ESPN

Thursday Night Prediction

Thursday night’s game will feature two teams whose wins came against the lowly AFC South. The New York Giants (1-2) have looked anything but impressive in their first three games while the Redskins have dealt with an early season quarterback switch. This will be Kirk Cousins 7th professional start at quarterback, but his second against the New York Giants. In one of the uglier games from last season, the Giants held Cousins to under 200 yards in a 20-6 win. The outcome should be different this time. The Giants’ offense lacks depth at wide receiver, and Victor Cruz’s performance fluctuates every down. On top of this, Rashad Jennings is not the upgrade at running back the Giants needed to be a playoff contender. Washington still needs to prove they are a good team, but for right now, I am on the Cousins bandwagon.

Washington 30 (-3.5), New York 24

Thursday Night Record: 3-0

With Spread: 3-0

Pythagorean Expectation Observations – Week 3

Week2 to 3

Click on the image for a better view of the graph.

1. Cincinnati is easily the league’s best team according to Pythagorean Expectation. The Bengals have a projected win percentage of 89%, 18% more than the next best team, the Arizona Cardinals. This in due in large part to their stalwarts on defense, who are limiting opponents to 11.0 points per game.

2. Jacksonville is the worst team in the league, managing to only have a projected win percentage of 9%. Tampa Bay comes in next at 15%. Combined, the two Florida teams have a worse projected win total than the Titans, who are fourth-worst at 24 percent.

3. Kirk Cousins’ phenomenal performance against the Eagles made the Redskins the unluckiest team in the NFL.

4. The Patriots (2-1) and the Giants’ (1-2) win percentages are the same as their projected win percentage.

5. Only Pittsburgh (2-1) and Arizona (3-0) are the only teams to remain in the top 5 “luckiest” teams through three weeks.

Records and Points courtesy of ESPN.com

The Eye of the Tiger: Why Dalton Deserves More Credit

Dalton

After Sunday afternoon’s drubbing of the Tennessee Titans, the Bengals are now the only team in the AFC with an undefeated record. Since drafting the combination of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, the Bengals have reached 3 consecutive postseasons, only to be bounced out in the Wild Card round each time. Critics have blamed Dalton for his poor postseason numbers while overlooking the fact he helped the team reach the playoffs. Last season, I wrote an article analyzing whether or not Peyton Manning performed worse in the playoffs. For Dalton, the answer is obvious as one touchdown, six picks and an adjusted yards per attempt of 3.80 is not even remotely close to his regular season numbers, whether it be against a formidable opponent or a bottom feeder.

Dalton against Non-Playoff Teams

Dalton Table 1
Not much needs to be said about Andy Dalton’s regular season games against non-playoff teams. Dalton went undefeated against such teams as a rookie and has continued to find success against them. His yardage improved immensely under the guidance of Jay Gruden (now in Washington), averaging over 70 more yards per game and throwing for more touchdowns each season. This part of Andy Dalton is the least worrisome for Bengals fans.

Dalton against Playoff Teams in the Regular Season

Dalton Table 2
Dalton’s rookie numbers against playoff teams are unbelievably low. He failed to beat one team that qualified for the playoffs that year in seven tries (which includes divisional sweeps by the Ravens and Steelers). Ultimately, Dalton’s inexperience showed in that first playoff matchup against the Texans. As a rookie Dalton just was not near the upper echelon of quarterbacks.
In the next two seasons, Daltons, completion percentage would increase significantly, as shown in the table above. Dalton averaged five less pass attempts in 2013, due in large part to the help he received in his backfield from rookie Giovanni Bernard. His performance against regular season teams does not vary too much from season to season. The increase in Total QBR also reflects Dalton’s improvement in higher pressure situations.

Dalton vs. Player B

Dalton Table 3
Dalton and Player B have fairly similar numbers, but how the NFL views both players is completely different. Player B is Peyton Manning from 1998 through 2002, his first five seasons as a professional quarterback. Manning started with a worse team, but in 1999 the Colts’ had three offensive pro bowlers and one defensive pro bowler, the same number as the 2011 Bengals. Manning also received much criticism from the media, but he became one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation. Odds are against Dalton that he will be as great as Manning, but dismissing him as an elite quarterback is unwise. Dalton still needs time to improve, just as Manning did. For Peyton, the big change occurred when the Colts hired Tony Dungy. While Marvin Lewis is a great defensive coach, maybe it is time for Cincinnati to consider a coaching change. Lewis has not won a playoff game during his twelve year tenure.
With the Bengals at 3-0 and one of the best defenses in the league, it appears that they are bound for another playoff appearance. The Bengals should feel confident with Dalton at the helm, despite his postseason woes of the past. With three playoff games under his belt. Dalton is more prepared than ever for playoff success.

Nick Barton
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
All statistics courtesy of ESPN