Week 11 NFL preview
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Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals
It's been a tough go for the T.O. and Ocho show of late, especially with quarterback Carson Palmer throwing easily pickable airballs to enemy defenses. But if Palmer can't get it to his No. 1 and No. 2 receivers against this defense, Marvin Lewis might want to consider benching Palmer for his younger brother, Jordan - the Bills rank 28th in Defensive DVOA against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. One thing is for sure - the Bengals won't miss right tackle Andre Smith, who's been put on the shelf for the rest of the season with a foot injury, raising further questions about his ability to stay healthy and in shape. Smith gave up two sacks in just four starts this season.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna had best be aware against the Lions' front four - he was able to hang in the pocket and burn the Giants deep in an upset win last week, but the Lions have the NFL's most quarterback hits this season (35), and they rank seventh in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate metric. If you want to know why defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is running away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, this is a good place to start. The Cowboys have allowed 33 hits this season, but just six in the three weeks that Kitna's been a starter in place of Tony Romo.
Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans
The challenges don't get any easier for Redskins safety LaRon Landry after his debacle against the Eagles' deep passing game. As we've detailed before, the Titans' Vince Young has the best average pass length this season (11.87 yards per) and he's second behind Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in average pass length per completion (8.94). However, Young has just 11 "big plays" (completed passes of 25 yards or more), while NFL leader Philip Rivers has 32. Still, with a week of game tape of the Redskins' deep pass defense and Randy Moss in his arsenal, don't be surprised if Young airs it out to an extreme degree. If he doesn't, he can always hand off to Chris Johnson, who can make tracks against a Washington front seven that ranks 29th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards.
Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have experienced quite the little freefall after their hot start. In just the last two weeks, Todd Haley's team has dropped from first to 15th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, and their chances of making the playoffs, based on advanced efficiency metrics, has dropped from 94.2 percent to 48.0 percent. Even Jamaal Charles, who's been one of the game's most efficient running backs, managed just 2.9 yards per carry in a 49-29 beat-down against the Denver Broncos. Perhaps the Chiefs should get Charles going more often in first down - despite having just 127 carries this year, Charles has 478 of his 760 yards on first down, and that comes in just 67 carries (a 7.6 yards-per-carry average). Charles is also a hot starter in the first quarter; in fact, his highest YPC totals and all of his touchdowns come on first-down, first-quarter situations.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings currently have the NFL's worst giveaway/takeway ratio at -11, but that's not on running back Adrian Peterson. After fumbling four, nine, and six times in his first three regular seasons, Peterson hasn't fumbled once this season. The problem, obviously, resides with Brett Favre, who has thrown 16 picks through nine games after giving the ball away just seven times through the air in 2009. Add in his three fumbles, and you have to wonder how much good Favre is doing his team at this point. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has a team with a +6 balance on the turnover side (tied for fourth-best in the league), and he's right in line with just nine picks and no fumbles. Part of Favre's problem is that he's been hit in the pocket 34 times, the most among all NFL quarterbacks.
Houston Texans at New York Jets
One of the week's best matchups will be Houston's running game against the Jets' front seven. Rex Ryan's defense ranks first in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards, allowing just 3.3 running back yards per carry. Meanwhile, Houston's Arian Foster is the NFL's most efficient and productive runner on a cumulative and per-play basis, per our advanced numbers. Quarterback Matt Schaub has been dealing with knee injuries this week, which could put the Jets in more eight-in-the-box situations. However, with Darrelle Revis still recovering from injuries and a case of contractitis early this season, the Jets rank 15th in Defensive DVOA against No. 1 receivers, and 27th against No. 2 receivers.
Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
All of a sudden, we have to look at the Oakland Raiders and wonder if they could pop up and win a very weak AFC West. The offense is humming along rather nicely with Jason Campbell and Darren McFadden, and the defense is performing at a Top 10 level despite shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha being in and out of the lineup over the last month. On the other hand, if you have Raiders tight end Zach Miller in your fantasy lineup and Miller overcomes his recent foot injury, see if you can manage to start him twice - especially if cornerback William Gay is lined up over him. Last week against the Patriots, Gay was beaten outright on two of the three touchdowns caught by rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, and he was slow to cover on the other one. Ben Roethlisberger's main problem will be pass protection; the Raiders bring their first-overall Adjusted Sack Rate against a patchwork offensive line that has looked awful in recent games.
Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers
We know that Carolina's offense is nothing to worry about, especially with quarterback Brian St. Pierre and running back Mike Goodson as injury replacements, but it's time to give a few kudos to one underrated Panthers defender. Linebacker James Anderson, a third-round pick in 2006, currently leads all NFL defenders in Football Outsiders' Defeats metric (plays that prevent positive plays and short-yardage conversion), and he ranks third in Successes (based on conversion percentage and incompletions/interceptions) behind Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons and Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Browns hear it a lot - they're the best 3-6 team in the NFL, and they're probably sick and tired of it. Moral victories don't get you very far. However, there's statistical proof that it is indeed so. The Browns currently rank 14th in overall efficiency, and their Estimated Wins total (a figure based on efficiency metrics) is 5.0. Meanwhile, the 5-4 Jaguars rank 22nd in team efficiency, and their Estimated Wins total is 3.9. Moral of the story: The won-loss total tells you where a team is in the standings, but it doesn't tell you where a team is going, how it got there, or how lucky/unlucky they are. Last week, the Jags won a game on the most improbable Hail Mary you'll ever see, and the Browns lost a game with just seconds left in overtime.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Every quarterback has his security blanket of a receiver. For Troy Smith, who has started the last two 49ers games, that man has been tight end DeLanie Walker. Often obscured by Vernon Davis as a pure pass-catcher, Walker has amassed nine catches for 165 yards in those last two games after picking up just seven passes for 65 yards with Alex Smith under center. The Bucs' defense is about league average against tight ends, ranking 16th in Defensive DVOA against that position.
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
With Reggie Bush back in the Saints' lineup for the first time since Week 2, the Seahawks' defense finds itself in a bit of a poke. With Bush lining up all over the place, New Orleans' offense becomes much more multi-dimensional. Drew Brees has managed to keep the passing game afloat, but with Bush and Pierre Thomas out at various times with injuries, the Saints have had just three productive rushing days per FO's opponent-adjusted DVOA efficiency metrics. Seattle's run defense received a boost when defensive tackle Brandon Mebane returned from a calf injury last week, but Seattle's linebackers will be tested against this particular rushing attack, especially with Aaron Curry being used more as an edge rusher or blitz addition in certain packages.
Atlanta Falcons at St. Louis Rams
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will have to keep a sharp eye on Rams defensive end Chris Long (son of Howie). One week after demolishing 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis, Long will go up against right tackle Tyson Clabo, who's already allowed four sacks this season after giving up four all of last season. Long already has 5.5 sacks - add nine quarterback hits to that total, and it's clear that he's developed into one of the best pure pass-rushers in the league. He's had at least one sack in each of his last four games, and he's one of many reasons that the Rams' defense is surprising people this season.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
The Patriots' passing offense may be more conservative this season, with more two-tight end sets and Randy Moss out of the picture, but that doesn't mean it's more consistent in one particular area. With a litter of young receivers, Tom Brady has experienced the highest number of receiver drops in the league with 27. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is undergoing a similar experience with a young group of receivers in his injury-plagued offense - Indianapolis ranks third in receiver drops behind the aforementioned Patriots and the Detroit Lions. The classic Patriots-Colts matchups of yore, with the two best quarterbacks on earth leading precision aerial attacks, may now come down to the short-yardage efforts of underrated running backs - the Colts' Javarris James (the cousin of former Indy great Edgerrin James), and New England's BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
NY Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
When facing the Michael Vick-led Eagles offense, one must look hard for signs of encouragement. Here's one: It seems that if you force the Eagles to run the ball, they're not very good at it after a while. Philly has the NFL's best yards per carry in rushing attempts 1-10 per game (5.8), but fall to 20th (3.8) on carries 11-20, and 29th (0.0) from 21 on. No mystery there - when the Eagles are trying to establish a lead, Vick's more likely to make a designed run, especially if his reads are covered, and he's run 10 times or more in just two games. Also, LeSean McCoy's per-carry average drops a full yard from 1-10 to 11-20 - from 5.0 to 4.0. So, hang in there, Giants ... perhaps slowing this offense down is just a matter of time?
Monday, November 22
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Mike Vick may have taken some of the steam out of Philip Rivers' MVP candidacy, but there's no denying the season Rivers is having. We already detailed his ability to make big plays with an undermanned receiver corps; he's also going to be a major problem for any defense at home, where he's completing over 72 percent of his throws. Of course, let's not sleep on Denver's Kyle Orton - right now, Orton ranks first overall in cumulative opponent-adjusted quarterback efficiency, and he ranks third in per-play production. Denver "superczar" Josh McDaniels has his faults as a personnel man, but he does know how to build offenses in which quarterbacks can succeed beyond their wildest dreams - remember that he was the man behind the Patriots' all-time 2007 passing game.