Tuesday Trends – Monday Edition

I’m switching it up this week because the Packers are playing tonight. It would be pretty cool if they won by like seven touchdowns.

Now that we are 10 weeks into the season, many trends have solidified and the playoff picture is really starting to take shape. These were my five most important takeaways from yesterday’s action:

1. The Eagles had their wings clipped.

After looking like they had finally woken up following wins against the Redskins and Cowboys, the Eagles have lost two straight, dropping games to the Bears and lowly Cardinals. At 3-6, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim, especially considering Michael Vick broke two ribs in yesterday’s loss.

Yesterday’s match-up, against a 2-6 team starting a back-up quarterback, was a game that the Eagles absolutely could not afford to blow. The day began on a low note when DeSean Jackson missed a team meeting and was benched. The bad karma perpetuated. Vick was awful in the game, completing 16 of his 34 passes for 128 yards, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns.

If the Eagles do not end this season on a high note, they are going to have to think long and hard about firing Andy Reid. Net in net, the Eagles have been very successful–though not elite–with Reid at the helm, going 121-79 in the regular season, 10-9 in the playoffs, and attaining one Super Bowl appearance. If they fail to make the playoffs this season, which at this point is most likely, they will still have made it in 10 of the 13 seasons that Reid was in charge. Fans of the Redskins, Bengals, Bills, Lions, Browns, and Dolphins would be very envious of these past 13 years but, with the core of the team returning next season, it may be time to inject new leadership.

2. The Ravens continue to be really, really weird.

They’ve beaten the Steelers twice, the Jets, and the Texans–three teams in the top 10 teams in almost everyone’s NFL power rankings–but lost to the Titans, Jaguars, and Seahawks and barely beat the Cardinals. In case you are wondering why the 5-4 Titans are grouped in with those other awful teams when they are over .500, their other four wins have come against the Broncos (1-4 pre-Tebow), Browns (3-6), Colts (0-10), and Panthers (2-7).

Yesterday against the Seahawks, the Ravens turned the ball over three times and forced no turnovers. Joe Flacco, who many Ravens fans were hoping had turned a corner after leading last week’s thrilling final minute drive to beat the Steelers, promptly returned to being maddeningly inconsistent, going 29-52 and throwing one touchdown and one interception.

The good news for the Ravens is that this road loss versus and NFC team will not have any disastrous tiebreaker implications when it is time for playoff seedings. Still, though, they may find themselves in a road playoff game, look back on a these inexplicable losses, and kick themselves for not being the home team.

3. The Patriots are in the driver’s seat for the AFC East.

The NFL is a fickle beast and there is no greater example of how one week can change the complexion of invidual teams and overall divisions than where the Patriots now find themselves after last night’s convincing 37-16 victory over the Jets. Coming off consecutive brutal losses to the Steelers and Giants and struggling immensely with generating a pass rush and defending the pass this entire season, the Patriots were two-point underdogs on the road last night. With a loss, they would have been 5-4 and a game behind the Jets for the AFC East lead.

Instead, New England’s defense showed up in full force; Andre Carter had 4.5 of the team’s five sacks and Rob Ninkovich intercepted Mark Sanchez twice, once for a touchdown. Sanchez was under constant pressure.

Tom Brady was methodical, going 26-39 for 329 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Going forward, the Patriots have a laughably easy schedule as they face the Chiefs, Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills (combined record: 21-43) and should be able to win the AFC East with little resistance and potentially qualify for a first round bye and perhaps the best record in the AFC (their competition for those spots are the 7-3 Steelers, 7-3 Texans, and 6-3 Ravens).

4. Tim Tebow, who cannot throw the football with velocity or accuracy, is 3-1 as a starter.

Tebow’s passing stats from yesterday: 2-8 for 69 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.

On the season, he has a 44.8% completion rate but has impressively thrown seven touchdowns and just one pick; the way in which he misses throws, though, is sensational. As someone who is accustomed to seeing Aaron Rodgers fit throws into windows that are no more than a couple inches bigger than the size of the football, it is downright comical to watch Tebow overthrow and underthrow open receivers by several yards.

Whether or not it is sustainable for the Broncos to keep winning while getting virtually no contribution from the passing game, it is extremely fun to watch, analyze, and joke about. What if his intangibles and formidability in running the football actually do translate into a path for Broncos victories on a semi-regular basis? Could they actually keep winning?

At 4-5, the Broncos are just one game behind the Raiders–who they beat last week–for first place in the AFC West. There is no reason to believe that they can’t at least be in the race until the very end. I don’t ask for much from the football gods (between the Packers, gambling, fantasy, rooting against the Bears and Vikings, that’s actually a blatant lie), but pretty please with sugar on top can I have the ability to watch, analyze, joke about, and bet against Tim Tebow and the Broncos in a home playoff game against the Steelers, Ravens, or Jets this season? Come on come onnnnnnnnnnnn….

5. The Giants, Cowboys, Bears, Lions, and Falcons are competing for three NFC playoff slots.

At 5-4, the Cowboys are suddenly only a game behind the 6-3 Giants for the NFC East lead. Barring spectacular collapses from both teams, at least one of these teams will make it in. This will be an extremely intriguing race, especially since they still need to play against each other twice. The Cowboys won in spectacular fashion yesterday, thumping the Bills 44-7 while the Giants lost a close, winnable game to a 49ers team that might be the 2nd best in the NFL behind the Packers. Both the Giants and Cowboys have extremely high variances for the rest of the season, ranging from the depths of despair to even a Super Bowl title if all plays out perfectly.

Having lost three of their last four and facing a pretty tough schedule the rest of the season (road games versus the Saints and Raiders, a home game versus the Chargers late in the season when they usually are in stride, and two games versus the Packers), the Lions would currently seem as the best bet to fade away.

The Bears have been coming on strong of late–after starting 2-3 the Bears have won four in a row and look better each week. The combination of the offensive line’s protecting Cutler better and Mike Martz’s calling a higher proportion of plays that don’t require a seven-step drop has led Cutler to be one of the three or four best quarterbacks in the NFL for the past month. The defense also may or may not have gotten a mysterious mid-season HGH shipment because all of its players look a step or two faster than they did at the beginning (I kid, I kid–sort of).

The Falcons, meanwhile, had won three in a row before losing a heartbreaker to the Saints in overtime yesterday. Even though the play didn’t work, I loved Mike Smith’s call to go for it on 4th-and-inches from his team’s own 30-yard line. Unfortunately, coaches are judged by pundits on the basis of whether risks work or not as opposed to whether the calculation makes sense. If the Falcons had gotten that first down and gone on to win the game, Smith would have been lauded as someone who has great confidence in his team but because it didn’t work he has come under heavy fire.

Peter King interviewed Brian Burke of AdvancedNFLStats, who confirmed my suspicion that this play call had a positive expected value:

“I thought it was smart,” Burke said. “It just didn’t work.”

According to Burke, judging Smith’s call by using data of all similar game situations over the past 11 years found:

• If Atlanta punted the ball, the numbers say New Orleans would start its drive on its own 33-yard line, and the Falcons would have a 42 percent chance of winning the game. If they went for it on fourth down, they had a 47 percent chance of winning.

If the Falcons had won and they and the Saints were both 6-3 today, the NFC playoff picture would be a bit more jumbled and therefore even more fascinating. With seven weeks to go in the regular season, we are in the home stretch and I am pretty excited to watch it all play out.

 

 

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