Week 9 NFL preview
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib typifies the difficult nature of total consistency at his position. Talib has five interceptions already this season, but he also gave up touchdown passes in each of his first four starts. That said, Tampa Bay ranks seventh in Football Outsiders' DVOA efficiency metric against the No. 1 receivers Talib frequently covers, and the team is also tied with the Redskins for second in the league in turnover +/- with +8; only the Pittsburgh Steelers are better with +9. Talib will face a stern challenge in this game -- Atlanta's Roddy White is the second-most targeted receiver in the league this season with 81 (behind only a certain Mr. Terrell Owens with 85), and he ranks second in FO's DYAR cumulative efficiency metrics among all receivers this season.
Chicago Bears at Buffalo Bills
The concept of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), Football Outsiders' per-play efficiency metric, is to place an opponent-adjusted value stat on a player, positional unit, or team. Positive or negative value is reflected against a baseline taken from an average of every play in a season. Values are reflected as a percentage. We make these things clear to put into very sharp focus just how atrocious Chicago's third- and fourth-down offense has been this season. On run plays, Chicago's third- and fourth-down DVOA is -49.8% -- only the Carolina Panthers are worse in that department. Standing at almost 50 percent below the league average baseline is bad enough, but Chicago's third- and fourth-down passing DVOA is truly historic -- an amazing -147.1%. The only saving grace for the Bears, who have had obvious trouble converting third downs all season, is that the Bills rank in the low third of the league in these same categories defensively: 24th against the pass, 22nd against the run, and 25th overall on third- and fourth-down.
New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns
The transformation in Bill Belichick's offense this season really has been remarkable -- in going from the deep-ball reliance on Randy Moss to a more varied and interesting set of schemes based to a large extent on the efforts of two rookie tight ends, the Pats currently have the NFL's most efficient offense. We were aware of the effects that Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski -- the aforementioned tight ends -- were having on that offense, but the newest X-factor is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He's the primary reason that New England also has the second-most efficient rushing attack in the league. Last week, only Kansas City's Jamaal Charles and Houston's Arian Foster beat Green-Ellis in our per-game metrics. Once again, the New England offense is a multi-faceted beast.
New York Jets at Detroit Lions
It's way past time to point out the absolutely ridiculous season rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is having. Through the season's first eight weeks, the second-overall pick and Nebraska product leads all defensive linemen -- not just defensive tackles -- in Pass Plays (15), tied with Tennessee's David Ball in Pass Successes (13), and Pass Defeats (11). Plays are total defensive plays in which a player is involved, Successes are instances in which a defensive player stops an offensive player from gaining meaningful yardage on first/second/third-down situations, and Defeats are plays in which an offense is stopped from gaining first-down yardage on third or fourth down, or stopped behind the line of scrimmage, or a fumble is caused. Put simply, there is no more disruptive force on any defensive line than Suh right now.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Drew Brees and the Saints' offense looked far more efficient in New Orleans' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers than in weeks before, but it's clear that Brees still misses Reggie Bush. FO comrade Bill Barnwell points out that against the Steelers, Brees was 22 of 27 for 238 yards to his receivers, and just 5 of 8 for 22 yards to his running backs. Against Carolina's surprising defense. Brees may want to take a good look at David Thomas and Jeremy Shockey, because no team is worse when defending tight ends than Carolina.
Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
It's all well and good that Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter went 5-for-5 in field goal attempts for the second straight week (13-for-13 in the last three games overall), but what does that tell you about Miami's ability to score touchdowns? Exactly. Carpenter has saved Miami's red zone and goal-to-go DVOA, and it could be argued that he's saved their season on the offensive side of the ball -- only the Bears have a winning record having scored fewer points than Miami's 133. Well, the Ravens have allowed just 129 points, fifth-best in the NFL despite certain issues with the front seven and defensive backfield, so Carpenter had best have his foot good and warmed up. On the other side of the ball, keep a sharp eye on Miami's Mike Nolan-led defense -- for the second straight year and for the second straight team (Denver in 2009).
San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans
If you, dear Fantasy Team Owner, are lucky enough to have San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers as an arrow in your quiver, start him without hesitation or reservation. If you can find a way to make it happen, start him twice! Only the Bills are worse against the pass than the Texans, and there isn't a type of receiver that defense isn't vulnerable against - they rank 20th in DVOA against No. 1 receiver targets, 28th against No. 2 receivers, 22nd against other targets not running backs and tight ends, 31st against tight ends, and 27th against running backs. It's unusual for a team to be this bad across the board -- even the Bills are best in the league against those same sub-targets who are not running backs and tight ends, and the Cowboys (30th in DVOA against the pass) defend passes to running backs better than any other team.
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
The problem with releasing Randy Moss is what it does to the rest of Minnesota's passing game. Now, Percy Harvin, who was making great gains in the slot and different motion packages, will be split side again, where he isn't as effective. More reliance will have to be placed in guys like Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe until Sidney Rice is ready to go again. With Moss on the field, Harvin averaged 15.1 yards per reception. Before that trade, 8.8 yards per catch. Even against a bad Cardinals defense, the Vikings are now doomed to a less-productive, run-first scenario. We'll go into what having Moss on the Titans' roster means next week when Tennessee comes off its bye, but it should be fairly obvious what Moss' absence will mean for that Minnesota offense.
New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks
We haven't seen a Giants front four like this since the unit that led the team to an upset win in Super Bowl XLII. No surprise that the G-Men rank first in FO's Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate metric -- that's what they're known for, and Osi Umenyiora was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for his seven-sack October. But this Giants defense brings it from all angles -- Umenyiora also forced six fumbles last month, Perry Fewell's squad also ranks third in Adjusted Line Yards, and the team has the NFL's best DVOA against the pass. Seattle's offensive line, missing its starting left tackle and left guard as it is, had better hope for a miracle. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked eight times last Sunday afternoon against the Raiders, and the Seahawks' starting quarterback is recovering from the attendant concussion which took him from that game.
Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles
It's good news for the Eagles and their fans that quarterback Michael Vick and receiver DeSean Jackson are supposed to be ready for this key matchup against the Colts, but with all the issues on that Indianapolis defense, one thing that has not been a problem is the Colts' ability to defend elite receivers. Indy ranks first in DVOA against No. 1 receivers, which is a dual boost to the team's pass rush and second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers. Houston's Andre Johnson did manage seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown last Sunday, but the next four leading receivers for the Texans were either running backs or tight ends. The Eagles are one of the best defenses against tight ends, but that may be a wasted stat with Dallas Clark out for the season. The Eagles' primary problem in this game is that they have an offensive line that ranks 25th in Adjusted Sack Rate, they're going to against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and Vick is a more easily sackable quarterback because of his mobile approach. We may have a Kevin Kolb sighting sooner than later.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
The cliché is to assume that the Raiders are always going to throw deep, but this year, Jason Campbell ranks 18th in "air yards" (yards the ball goes in the air before a receiver runs with it) with 8.34 per attempt, and 26th in air yards per completion (5.15). Louis Murphy leads Raiders receivers with an average reception length of 9.75, and that ranks 28th in the league. On the other hand, running back Darren McFadden leads the league in yards after catch at 11.65 yards per reception. Kansas City's defense is exceptional in just about every category, but they're slightly vulnerable to pass-catching running backs, and that could bite them in this game.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers
The Cowboys' offensive line has been a sieve all season; Tony Romo was (and now Jon Kitna is) getting hit by defenders when he isn't getting sacked, and it's a bad time to take that act on the road to meet up with Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Matthews doesn't just lead the NFL in quarterback sacks with 9.5, he's also high on the hits list with nine so far this season. One thing the 'Boys do have going for them is an equivalent pass-rush threat is the eminently reliable DeMarcus Ware, who currently ranks second on that NFL sack list with eight, However, Ware is more feast-or-famine; he has just four quarterback hits to go with those takedowns. Another thing to watch when Kitna throws the ball: three of his four picks against the Jaguars last week were not his fault -- they were balls that went right through the hands of his receivers and into the arms of defenders. Someday, we'll have a stat that absolves quarterbacks when their alleged receivers forget how to catch the ball...
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have long been known to have the league's best pure cornerback duo in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, but as with their quarterback play and run game, there are reasons to be concerned when looking at Cincinnati's secondary. That duo ranks 14th in DVOA against No. 1 receivers and 21st against No. 2 receivers. With Ben Roethlisberger back in the saddle, you can expect the Steelers to take advantage with Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. In addition, the Bengals will miss Adam (formerly Pacman) Jones, who was playing very well before he was lost for the season with a herniated disc in his neck -- Jones in the nickel spot was the main reason the Bengals rank eighth against other receivers who aren't tight ends or running backs.