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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Tuesday's Gone: Week 4 #NFL Game Reviews

Week 4: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

Week 4 results: 9-6 (wins); 6-7-2 (v. spread); 6-9 (O/U)
Season totals: 38-23-2 .623 (wins); 28-33-2 .459 (v. sp); 33-30 .524 (O/U)

Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS).

 Todd Gurley leads the Los Angeles Rams against the reeling Minnesota Vikings at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Thursday Night Football.

Minnesota Vikings 1-1-1 (+7) @ Los Angeles Rams 3-0 (49.5): Rams 28-20 Rams 38-31
Thursday, 8:20 PM, Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles, CA (Weather: Clear; mid-70s)

Reasons: The Vikings season hasn’t exactly started the way they envisioned, especially on defense. Minnesota is giving up 24 ppg, 27 ppg their last two games, the lastest coming against the Buffalo Bills and rookie quarterback Josh Allen at home. Now the Vikings are on the road against one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL (34 ppg) in the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams also boast the largest point differential in the league at 22 ppg, because the Rams defense is special, too (6th total defense). Minnesota could catch a break if Marcus Peters doesn’t play, especially considering Aqib Talib is already on IR, because the one thing the Vikings have done right so far this year is throw the ball (5th-ranked passing offense). Unfortunately, Minnesota has their own attrition (Dalvin Cook) and mental stability (Everson Griffen) issues, so I don’t give them much of a shot against the Rams on the road. Apparently, Las Vegas doesn’t, either.

The Rams and Vikings supposedly have two of the better defenses in the NFL yet both teams combined to yield more than 1,000 yards of total offense. Most of those yards came in the air; in fact, Kirk Cousins led the Vikings with 28 rushing yards. Cousins also led the Vikings with 422 passing yards and three TD passes, but it wasn't enough to beat Jared Goff (465 passing yards; 5 TD passes) and the Showtime Rams. 

Cincinnati Bengals 2-1 (+5.5) @ Atlanta Falcons 1-2 (52): Falcons 28-24 Bengals 37-36
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors) 

Reasons: This game features two of the more evenly-matched teams in the league. Only 17 ypg separate the two teams in total offense and even fewer (8 ypg) separate them in total defense. Both teams rank in the top-10 in scoring because both teams have dynamic wide receivers and quarterbacks with elite arm talent. The problem is both teams give up almost as many points as they score, and those aforementioned quarterbacks can be turnover prone, especially on the road. Andy Dalton already has five INTs on the season, all on the road, and four of them coming last week. Some might argue for a regression to the mean, but I would argue that is the mean, and point out he’s on the road again. I love Willy Nelson. Expect the over for an indoor game between two teams that combine to average more than 56 ppg, in games against good defense, too. 
The game with the highest O/U on the week didn't disappoint. The Falcons kicked a field goal with 4:07 left in the 4th quarter to go up 36-31, but it wasn't enough as Andy Dalton (337 passing yards; 3 TDs 2; 1 INT) finally hit AJ Green in the end zone with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal a huge win on the road.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-1 (+3) @ Chicago Bears 2-1 (46.5): Bears 24-20 Bears 48-10
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 50% rain; low 70s)

Reasons: Just when we thought the magic has Fitz-led away last week the veteran surprise of the season threw for 400+ yards and at least three touchdown passes in his third straight game to open the season. That will not happen Sunday. Not only will the weather be questionable, but the amount of time Ryan Fitzpatrick’s will have to throw the ball will be in question, which will make Chicago’s secondary health issues seem irrelevant. The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks and it doesn’t seem like there’s been a game yet where Khalil Mack has failed to do something special on defense.

Mitch Trubisky became the first Bears quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a game, let alone a half. He ended with six on the day, five to different recievers, on 354 yards passing. Chicago's defense also played great, sacking Ryan Fitzpatrick four times and forcing three INTs while holding the Bucs to 3-12 on 3rd-down conversions. 

Detroit Lions 1-2 (+3) @ Dallas Cowboys 1-2 (43.5): Lions 23-21 Cowboys 26-24
Sunday, 1:00 PM, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Things have not gone as planned for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, but one thing that was almost certainly guaranteed was the absence of linebacker Sean Lee at some point, and this time that point was the start of the season. His absence will start to hurt Dallas, because after opening against the Carolina Panthers the Cowboys have played teams that either struggle to score points and have serious offensive line issues. The Lions can score points and have the veteran skill guys at wide receiver to exploit the Cowboys defense, but all this talk about how terrible the Cowboys are should light a fire under them, no? Probably not. The Lions are coming off a big win against the New England Patriots and the Cowboys are worse at home then they are on the road.

Ezekiel Elliot finally ate, gaining 240 totals yards on 29 touches (25 carries; 4 receptions) and scoring a touchdown in the win. The Lions still led 24-23 with just over two minutes left in the game, thanks to two 4th quarter Matt Stafford touchdown passes (307 passing yards), before Brett Maher kicked his second field goal of the 4th quarter as time expired to seal the victory for the Cowboys at home. 

 LeSean McCoy is questionable for Sunday's game against the Packers so rookie quarterback Josh Allen will continue leading the team in rushing.

Buffalo Bills 1-2 (+10) @ Green Bay Packers 1-1-1 (45): Packers 27-24 Packers 22-0
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: 50% rain; low 50s) 
Reasons: If you‘re expecting the Bills to win another NFC North matchup on the road in consecutive weeks I’d say it’s a bad bet, but if you’re expecting them to cover I’d say you’re on to something. I’d also bet that Clay Matthews still hasn’t learned anything in consecutive weeks and could likely incur another roughing the passer penalty against the rookie Josh Allen.

I suppose we should've expected this type of letdown after the Bills beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-6 last week on the road. Buffalo turned the ball over three times, including two Josh Allen INTs, and only managed 154 total yards of offense. Allen was also sacked seven times, but without a roughing the passer penalty. Congrats, Clay. Considering how bad the Bills played you'd have expected the Packers to have piled on, but such wasn't the case. Aaron Rodgers (298 passing yards; 1 TD) threw and INT and lost a fumble, but still manged to blame someone else for his poor performance. 

Philadelphia Eagles 2-1 (-4) @ Tennessee Titans 2-1 (41.5): Eagles 20-17 Titans 26-23 OT
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN (Weather: Sunny; mid-80s)

Reasons: These teams have lived off their dominant defenses in 2018, and both teams’ games have all been decided within a score. In fact, the Eagles point differential is 1.4 ppg while the Titans is -0.4 ppg. The bottom line is the Eagles are underachieving with Carson Wentz just getting his feet back under him and the Titans are overachieving and haven’t even needed Marcus Mariota to do it. I would expect another defensive battle and I would also expect the Titans (+1) to take advantage of the Eagles (-3) turnover issues. The question is, even if Tennessee wins the turnover battle, can they capitalize on them?

The Eagles got a boost from the return of Alshon Jefferey from injury (8 receptions for 105 receiving yards; 1 TD) and Jordan Matthews from being lost (1 reception for a 54-yard TD), but it wasn't enough as the Eagles lost to the upstart Titans on the road. Marcus Mariota (344 passing yards; 2 TDs; 1 INT) hit Corey Davis (9 receptions for 161 receiving yards) with five seconds remaining in OT in a game that was under as predicted by yours truly until that lousy OT period.

Houston Texans 0-3 (+1) @ Indianapolis Colts 1-2 (47): Colts 24-20 Texans 37-34 OT
Sunday, 1:00PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Colts are turning out to be much better than many expected, and the Texans have turned out to be as bad as some of us expected. Indianapolis (20 ppg) and Houston (19.7 ppg) are in the bottom third of the league in scoring offense, yet the Texans average almost 400 ypg. The Texans are also possess the ball the 5th least (27:39), which not only means the Texans can’t finish drives, but it means they get big plays in fruitless chunks, and don’t keep their dynamic play maker in Deshaun Watson on the field long enough to make plays. It also means the most talented part of the Houston team is on the field too long, hence the Texans giving up 24.7 ppg. The Colts continue to surprise Sunday at home.      

NFL coaches might not play for ties but I like getting my money back more than losing its. The Colts refused to go for the tie and instead failed to convert and handed the win to the Texans. What hurt more was the Colts tried to freeze Ka'imi Fairbairn on his game-winning kick: the initial kick was wide right, but the second post-freeze kick was dead center. Ahh, NFL betting.                            
Miami Dolphins 3-0 (+7) @ New England Patriots 1-2 (48): Patriots 24-21 Patriots 38-7
Sunday, 1:00PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: The Patriots have only lost three games in a row once in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, back in 2002, sandwiched between three Super Bowl win (2001, 2003 & 2004). 2002 also happens to be the last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots in New England. I’m a sucker for history and that doesn’t sound like good news to the superstitious sports types. The truth is Miami is a good football team and the Patriots are nowhere near the elite team they’ve been in previous matchups. In fact, for probably the first time in the 20 years Brady has led the Patriots against Miami, the Dolphins have a point differential (7.7 ppg) that normally reflects New England, while the Patriots have a point differential (-6.7 ppg) that normally reflects Miami. I doubt the Patriots lose three games in a row, but I’m done picking the Patriots to cover. 

I put my foot in my mouth at least once a week and this was certainly that moment for me this week. The Patriots have still only lost three games in a row once in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era after breaking their two-game losing streak, and the Dolphins are still, well, the Dolphins. Brady (274 passing yards; 3 TDs; 2 INTs) wasn't stellar, but it was enough to win backed by a New England defense that shut out Miami (174 total yards; 2 TOs) until 2:42 left in the game. Other than destroying the cover and my prediction of a sub-10 point score differential, this game went exactly how me et al expected it to, but as Dennis Green famously said, "They're exactly who we thought they were...", so I supposed no one should be surprised.

Sam Darnold was the talk of the draft after the New York Jets "stole" him with the 3rd pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

New York Jets 1-2 (+7.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 2-1 (38.5): Jaguars 17-13 Jaguars 31-12
Sunday, 1:00 PM, TIAA Bank Stadium, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny; low 90s)

Reasons: I suppose the reason we haven’t heard from Jalen Ramsey isn’t because they looked past the Titans and got smacked in their seldom shut mouths but because the Jets don’t really have anyone worth talking about. Rookie Sam Darnold (3 TDs; 5 INTs) has been inconsistent to say the least and New York doesn’t have a single skill player averaging more than 70 ypg from scrimmage. Statistically, the Jaguars are even worse on offense, and despite their elite defensive abilities, the inconsistent play on offense means Jacksonville can’t count on anything but their defense. Lucky for them they face the offensively-challenged Jets, who have only managed 14.5 ppg since their Week 1 48-17 blowout of the Detroit Lions.

A lot has changed for New York since that 48-17 Week 1 win and suddenly Sam Darnold (167 passing yards; 1 TD) and the Jets can't score. I wouldn't take too much away from a game against the Jaguars, as Jacksonville has the superior defense and is the superior team, holding the Jets to three points until several minutes into the 4th quarter. New York has played three of the better defenses in the league Weeks 2-4, so if anything these games are great learning experiences for the rookie quarterback. 

Cleveland Browns 1-1-1 (+2.5) @ Oakland Raiders 0-3 (44.5): Browns 23-20 Raiders 45-42 OT
Sunday, 4:05PM, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)

Reasons: The Browns and rookie Baker Mayfield travel across the country to face the winless Raiders in Oakland for Mayfield’s first NFL start. Sounds like a win on a silver platter for the veteran coach Jon Gruden. Not so fact my friend, Lee Corso would say. There’s not much film on Mayfield, but one thing we do know is that Mayfield has that “it” factor and the Raiders are simply horrible on defense, allowing 27 ppg. The Raiders getting 2.5 points at home basically means Las Vegas sees an even match up. I don’t. I see a defensive-minded Browns team on the rise with a +0.3 ppg point differential playing a disheveled Oakland team with a -9.7 ppg point differential and no one on defense to stop the charismatic Mayfield.

The officials rarely make calls that literally decide the game, but it happened Sunday night in Oakland. Carlos Hyde sealed the victory with a clear first down, but the first down was reviewed because it was within the final two minutes and the officials overturned the spot, awarding the ball the the Raiders on the Browns loss of downs. Clearly many things happened in a 45-42 game that featured over1,000 total yards, but the overturned call was the key, and overall takeaway besides the Raiders four takeaways from rookie Baker Mayfield (295 passing yards; 2 TDs; 2 INTs).

Seattle Seahawks 1-2 (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals 0-3 (38.5): Seahawks 23-17 Seahawks 20-17
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Indoors) 

Reasons: Rookie Josh Rosen and the abominable Cardinals (-18 ppg point differential) host the Seahawks in a game that just a few short years ago would be the defensive battle of the early season. Now it’s been reduced to the game no one wants to watch, not even Josh Rosen’s parents. Probably. 

The only thing of note stemming from this game was Earl Thomas' broken leg, the second of his career, which brought the holding out argument center stage once again. Poor Earl Thomas. It's also interesting that the Monday Night Football crew thought to criticize Thomas' gesture towards the management that ultimately screwed him, yet Baker Mayfield is called "competitive" by other ESPN commentators for grabbing his crotch and thrusting it towards the opposing teams and their fans. Double standards on fleek.

New Orleans Saints 2-1 (-7.5) @ New York Giants 1-2 (50): Saints 30-24 Saints 33-18
Sunday, 4:05 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)

Reasons: The Saints are once again firing on all cylinders, averaging nearly 35 ppg, and Drew Brees (1078 passing yards; 8 TDs) is an early season MVP candidate. The funny thing, though, is the Saints most productive game offensively was last week on the road v. the Falcons (W 43-37). One could argue one quarterback’s Mercedes Benz Superdome is another quarterback’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, but when your top skill guy Michael Thomas is a 6’3” target from Ohio State, suddenly the Big 10 represents (Brees went to Purdue) and there’s no real need for climate-controlled conditions. The Giants have their own Big 10 talent in rookie Saquon Barkley (216 rushing yards; 2 TDs), and so far, we’ve seen Good Eli (3 TDs; 1 INT); but the weather is fine and the Giants defense is still missing, so I expect Brees to keep connecting with Thomas to extend that NFL record for receptions to begin the season.

One of the highest O/U of Week 4, this game was an offensive dud through the first half, with 19 combined points coming off of an Eli Manning-Sterling Shepard connection (1st quarter) and four Will Lutz field goals (2nd quarter). Then Alvin Kamara (19 carries for 134 rushing yards; 3 TDs) happened and the Saints continued their road warrior persona in 2018 with their second big road win in  row. The Giants are going nowhere fast, but luckily for them the division isn't either.

 One of these west coast teams still has their franchise quarterback and therein lies the difference in the game Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers 1-2 (+10.5) @ Los Angeles Chargers 1-2 (46.5): Chargers 27-21 Chargers 29-27
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Stub Hub Field, Carson City, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)

Reasons: The season isn’t even a quarter over and the 49ers franchise quarterback is already gone for the season. The Chargers franchise quarterback seems like he’s been around for 30 years and isn’t going anywhere soon. Nothing much has gone right for these teams so far in 2018, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change for San Francisco. As for Los Angeles, the season won’t be anything like they expected if they keep surrendering 31 ppg. The Chargers should be all over the reeling 49ers at home, but 10.5 points is a lot for a team losing games by an average of 3.7 ppg.  

For the third week in a row the 49ers scored at least 27 points, but the last two weeks it hasn't been enough to win. The 49ers defense scored the first touchdown of the game, a 32-yard pick-6 off of Phillip Rivers (250 passing yards; 3 TDs), but then the defense surrendered 29 points, capped off by a 9-play 72-yard Chargers drive that lasted five minutes and led to the winning field goal midway through the 4th quarter. 

Baltimore Ravens 2-1 (+3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1-1 (51): Steelers 28-27 Ravens 26-14
Sunday, 8:20 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Partly cloudy; low 60s)

Reasons: The Ravens have a winning record and possess a 15.2 ppg point differential yet remain underdogs in a divisional matchup against a Steelers team uncharacteristically giving up (30 ppg) more than they’re scoring (29.3 ppg) with some of the worst locker room chemistry in the NFL. The Steelers can pretend James Connor is Le’veon Bell all they want, but it’s not the case, and the numbers have nothing to do with it. Truthfully Las Vegas sees this as an even matchup, with a predictable nod to the home team. I don’t know what the hell I see, as Pittsburgh has tied, lost and won games that they could have easily lost or won in all cases. The Steelers have to get consistent soon, or else, so at home against a Ravens defense with guys questionable at key spots (e.g., Terrell Suggs; CJ Mosley) seems like the perfect time.

These AFC North games are always battles, but this game was more of a domination by the Ravens of the Steelers at Heinz Field, where the Steelers are now 0-2 to start the season. Ben Roethlisberger didn't look sharp and James Connor led all Steelers rushers with 19 yards. Still think Connor and Le'veon Bell are the same dude? This game was about the Baltimore defense and Justin Tucker, who kicked the go-ahead field goal and scored the final 12 unanswered points. 

Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 (-5) @ Denver Broncos 2-1 (56): Chiefs 31-24 Chiefs 27-23
Monday, 8:15 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Mostly cloudy; low 60s)

Reasons: Everyone in the country know this game is all about Patrick Mahomes (896 passing yards; 13 TDs), but the old heads know anything can happen in these AFC West divisional games, especially at Arrowhead or Mile High Stadiums. This time around the fans put the horses in the barns and the bongs in the cabinets and come out in full force to cheer on Von Miller (4 sacks) as he chases the young Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs skill force (Tyreek Hill, 4 TDs; Kareem Hunt, 3 TDs; Travis Kelce 2 TDs) in the thin air to try and keep pace in the division as Mahomes tries to continue his record-breaking season on Monday Night Football.

This AFC West battle went down to the wire with Broncos quarterback Case Keerum (245 passing yards; 1 INT) overthrowing Demarius Thomas for the game winning touchdown with 22 seconds left in the game after Kareem Hunt scored the go-ahead touchdown about 30 seconds prior in the 4th quarter. Patrick Mahomes (304 passing yards; 1 TD) was brought back to Earth to some degree, but not really, because he also ran for a touchdown, was only sacked once and came within a Travis Kelce push out of the end zone (a new rule in 2018 I believe) from throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to said Kelce. No, Mahomes still reigns supreme, as a rookie no less, and just went into Denver and beat Von Miller and the Broncos at Mile High. As for the spread, these ones hurt. They all do. 

BYEs: Washington; Carolina

Stay tuned for Week 5: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Thursday & Sunday!

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