Week 15 NFL preview
CLICK TO REACT
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Why can't the Bengals win a game? Start with the fact that their offense has plummeted in the season's second half; especially in the run game. In opponent-adjusted efficiency, the Bengals ranked 21st in Weeks 1 through 9, and dead last ever since. The passing game hasn't been much better - from 15th to 25th in that same time frame. The Browns are equipped to deal with a struggling offensive team; they rank 11th in defensive efficiency but 10th in weighted efficiency, which rewards teams and positional units that play better down the stretch. Neither of these teams is equipped to do anything but play spoiler at this point, and the Browns may be the only team of the two really capable of even doing that.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of in-season trends, it's worth looking at what the Cowboys have done on defense since Jason Garrett took over as head coach, Perhaps surprisingly given Wade Phillips' defensive acumen, the 'Boys moved up from 31st to 17th in efficiency against the pass, and 28th to 18th overall. Unfortunately for the Redskins, they're singularly ill-equipped to counter defenses of any stripe - they ranked 24th in offensive efficiency in the season's first half, and they're 24th since. A lack of fluctuation is a good thing if you've got everything working, but Washington's numbers simply prove the consistent mediocrity of the Shanahan offense.
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
The 2010 Texans have the ninth-worst overall defensive efficiency metrics in the history of our numbers, but most of that is on the pass defense. This season, Houston is the seventh-worst team in sacks per pass attempt, sixth-worst in interception rate, second-worst in yards per pass play allowed, and second-worst in first downs allowed per game. Back when Vince Young was Tennessee's quarterback, the Titans may have been able to take advantage. But now that they're playing out the string, it's really showing - the Titans' passing attack has dropped from eighth to 27th in overall efficiency from the season's first to second half. If there's one offense that may see Houston's secondary as a Steel Curtain, it's this one.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Sack totals are often misrepresentations of actual line performance - there are times when a quarterback will force a line to protect too long, and other times when a signal-caller will help his line with precise reads and a quick release. No surprise that Peyton Manning is one of the latter players. Despite a patchwork like, the Colts rank first in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate metric. But the Jags have had a longtime problem with quarterback pressure that they're starting to turn around; they're 16th in Adjusted Sack rate this season, up from 31st in 2009.
Kansas City Chiefs at St. Louis Rams
Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford is showing a lot early on, but offensive coordinator Pet Shurmur doesn't seem convinced at times. Though he has an accurate deep arm, Bradford's Rams are averaging just 5.7 yards per pass play, third-worst in the league, and only Dallas' Jon Kitna has a lower average pass length per completion than Bradford's 4.78. The Chiefs have allowed just 6.35 yards per pass play this season, and cornerback Brandon Flowers has been the primary reason all season - he leads the team's cornerbacks in Stop Rate, which measures the percentages of drive-extending plays prevented.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
We've talked before about how underrated Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams is, and it's time to start putting safety Donte Whitner in that underrated category as well - or at the very least, overworked Among all safeties, nobody has more plays in their general area than Whitner's 120 - Houston's Bernard Pollard is the only other safety with more than 100 Plays. Miami's Yeremiah Bell and Chris Clemons also rank highly in plays among safeties and have done so for some tine.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs were certainly hoping that this game would provide argument fodder for which early-drafted defensive tackle would be the NFL's best - Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, or Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy. With McCoy now out for the season with an injury, it's safe to say that Suh took it going away - few defensive tackles of any status have his combination of pass pressure and sheer strength, while McCoy struggled to hold the point at times. In 54 total Plays, Suh has 15 Pass Defeats and nine Run Defeats (specific drive prevention indicators), and an overall Stop Rate of 85 percent. McCoy put up four Pass Defeats and six Run Defeats in 31 plays, with three sacks to Suh's eight. McCoy may be a great player in time, but there's no question who's had the biggest impact in season one.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
One thing you can be sure of - if you miss this particular contest (as must of America surely will), you won't deny yourself any passing highlights. The Panthers have the NFL's worst yards-per-pass average (4.81), and the Cards come in second at 5.26.
New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens
It isn't as if Saints receiver Marques Colston should be under the radar - he's done enough in his short career to merit more face time - but it seems as if it's tough to get people to notice him. Drew Brees has no such issues; Colston is the ninth-most targeted receiver in the league, and with a Catch Rate of 66 percent, he's also one of the most efficient.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
How dynamic is Philly's offense? Among the count for receiver "air yards" (yards from the quarterback's hand to the receiver's hand, with no yards after catch), no team has two more dangerous aerial receiving threats than DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson ranks third in the league with 15.5 air yards per completion, while Maclin ranks 14th with 10.6. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have two such receivers as consistent downfield burners.
Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks
No team has a bigger swing between its liabilities and its vulnerabilities than the Seahawks. Per Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics, they rank 29th in offense, 29th in defense and first in special teams. From that perspective, return specialist Leon Washington may be the team's most valuable player.
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers
And since we broke down the "air yards" exploits of Philly's receiver duo above, it's time to give Mike Wallace and Hines Ward of the Steelers their due. Wallace ranks fourth in the league with 15.4 air yards per completion, and Hines Ward (surprisingly enough) averages 10.4, which is also in the top 20.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Slowly but surely, the Raiders have been putting together a defensive front seven worth talking about (make a point to watch rookie tackle Lamarr Houston). Oakland currently ranks 10th in Defensive Adjusted Line yards, and no team has a better Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate.
Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots
There are so many aspects to a 2010 New England offense that is among the most productive in NFL history, but perhaps the most overlooked is the team's offensive line. The Pats rank second in Football outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards metric, and are allowing just 14 percent negative plays in all their rushing attempts (third-best in the NFL).
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
No matter where this game is played, Minnesota's offense is going to have trouble doing anything, and that would be true if Brett Favre were still healthy. The Vikings currently rank 27th in run offensive efficiency metrics, and the only time the Bears loosen up against the run is on third down when they go to more passing fronts. Between Patrick Ramsey and Joe Webb at quarterback, there aren't many options for the Vikings.