Week 13 NFL Preview
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New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals
The Saints have managed to keep their passing efficiency together through the last two months, despite the absence of Reggie Bush (his one carry for one yard and one catch for 12 yards against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving probably didn't matter too much). New Orleans finished 13th in Passing DVOA (26.6%) from Weeks 1-9 and 14th (33.6%) in Weeks 10-12. The problem was in the running game early on - the Saints ranked 26th (-11.0%) in Rushing DVOA in the season's first half, and fifth (23.5%) over the last three games. The Bengals' pass defense has been similarly consistent to the Saints passing offense (11th and 12th in DVOA over those same splits), but their run defense hasn't improved at all - 26th in Weeks 1-9, and 25th in Weeks 10-12. Bush and Chris Ivory are the ones to watch here.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Upset alert? The Bears have the league's worst Offensive DVOA (minus-33.4%) on the road. Jay Cutler averages 8.37 yards per attempt at home, and 6.98 on the road, though his sack totals (23.0 in 197 sacks at home; 14 in 95 attempts away from Soldier Field) are worse at home. The Lions' defense actually has a slightly better road defense (21st in Defensive DVOA at home; 17th away), but a sack total with a little more home cooking (15 to 13). Cutler has experienced a backslide in protection over the last month as well - from one, to two, to three, to four sacks in the last four games. Not a good time for the Bears' porous line to meet up with Lions super-tackle Ndamukong Suh.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is generally one of the league's best quarterbacks under pressure - in 2009, he led the league in Passing DVOA when hurried - but in defensive end Manny Lawson, Rodgers might have a problem. Among defenders with at least five quarterback hits this season, only Baltimore's Terrell Suggs has caused a larger negative pass yards per play than Lawson. On Lawson's six hits, enemy quarterbacks have averaged minus-1.0 yards per pass. Overall, the 49ers have 35 quarterback hits this year (tied for seventh in the NFL), and they've allowed 3.3 passing yards per play on those. Rodgers has been hit 24 times this season, and his 5.7 yards per pass when hit is one of the NFL's best totals among starting quarterbacks.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
The 6-5 Jaguars are slowly moving from "lucky" to "good", but they'll have to improve their pass defense (30th in DVOA) before they can be considered among the league's elite. One key to that improvement would be facing Tennessee rookie quarterback Rusty Smith, who started last week against the Texans and made the Houston league-worst pass defense look positively shutdown. However, indications point to veteran Kerry Collins starting this game, and Collins completed 10 of 16 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Jags in a 30-3 Week 6 win. Both teams have great special teams in common - the Jags are one of the league's best kick coverage teams and rookie Mike Mariani has put Tennessee near the top of the NFL on kick returns.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
The strength-on-weakness matchup in this game is painfully obvious. Kansas City ranks fifth in Rushing DVOA, second in Adjusted Line Yards and is among the best teams in open field yards (five yards and more beyond the line of scrimmage). Meanwhile, the Broncos rank 23rd in Run Defense DVOA, 26th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards and struggle to create negative plays. Among the questionable moves Josh McDaniels has made, letting former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan walk out the door to Miami was one of his bigger mistakes.
Cleveland Browns at Miami Dolphins
Two McDaniels castoffs meet in this game - Browns running back Peyton Hillis was famously traded for career inactive quarterback Brady Quinn, and Nolan will set his defense on the ridiculously productive Hillis. The epicenter of the Cleveland offense, Hillis currently ranks fifth in Football Outsiders' cumulative and per-play metrics, and ranks fourth in Success rate, which reflects productive, drive-extending plays. Miami's defense is the sixth-best in creating negative rushing plays (22 percent of the runs against them gain zero or negative yards), and among the leaders in stopping running plays 10 yards and beyond the line of scrimmage.
Buffalo Bills at Minnesota Vikings
At Football Outsiders, one of our jobs is to unearth underrated players and tell you why they're special. This week, the spotlight goes in Buffalo's Kyle Williams - the fifth-year defensive tackle has put up Successes (down and distance stops) in each of the eight pass plays in his direction and 43 of the 52 run plays. Opposing backs are averaging just 1.9 yards per play against him, and only Ndamukong Suh has more sacks among linemen who play tackle most of the time than Williams' five.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Should the Redskins use more shotgun? It certainly seems so. Washington takes 22.78 percent of their offensive snaps away from center, but they have a plus-18.6% Offensive DVOA difference when they do so. It would be especially wise against the Giants' defense - Perry Fewell's squad ranks second in Pass Defense DVOA against quarterbacks under center, and 16th when those same quarterbacks drop back in formation. The G-Men also allow 5.7 yards per shotgun play, and just 4.4 per play under center.
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
How can the Chargers be 6-5 when they have the fourth most efficient offense and the second most efficient defense? Throughout the 2010 season, they've assembled the worst special teams metrics we've ever seen. Against a league-average baseline, San Diego is especially terrible on punt and kick coverage. Well, San Diego, meet return man Jacoby Ford of the Raiders - he has two touchdowns on his 33 kick returns, including a 101-yarder against the Dolphins last week.
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks
Not only do the Panthers have the league's worst offense, but they have a worse offense at home than on the road - an NFL-worst minus-49.9% DVOA on their home turf, and a 28th-ranked minus-22.8% DVOA away from the friendly confines. Seattle's defense hasn't inspired much fear in anyone lately, but at least they're slightly better at Qwest Field - the 25th-ranked Defensive DVOA as opposed to the 30th away from home. The main problem for Seattle's defense has been the season-ending injury to Red Bryant - the Seahawks allowed just 2.9 yards per rushing play in the first seven games of the season, when Bryant was active, Since then, they've allowed 5.0 yards per play.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Only Michael Vick, Tom Brady and Matt Cassel have a lower interception percentage than Atlanta's Matt Ryan (five picks in 405 attempts for a percentage of 1.2) who also boasts a 654 percent Catch Rate, and one of the higher average pass length per completion totals in the league. But he's facing a Buccaneers pass defense that has gone from 17th in Pass Defense DVOA in the first nine weeks of the season to eighth in the last three weeks. And against No. 1 receivers, they rank fourth in Passing DVOA. Atlanta main man Roddy White will be challenged by this defense.
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals
When they took the plunge with Derek Anderson after Kurt Warner's retirement, the Cardinals hoped that they would get the Pro-Bowl level quarterback the Cleveland Browns benefited from in 2007. What they have instead is very much what Anderson has been on all his non-outlier seasons - a decent deep passer (9.99 average pass length, third-highest behind Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger) with very little accuracy (his 52.5 completion percentage is second-worst among qualifying quarterbacks behind Panthers rookie Jimmy Clausen). As former Cards coach Dennis Green would say, Derek Anderson is who we thought he was.
Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts
Injuries have taken their toll on the Colts of late, and it's starting to show in the numbers. From Weeks 1-9, Peyton Manning's squad had the eighth most efficient passing offense, but that's dropped to 17th from weeks 10 through 12. Even worse is the rushing situation - from eighth to 30th in the same splits. The Cowboys have improved a bit in pass defense (30th to 18th), but the run defense has been an issue all season.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
With Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, the cliché is true: You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Wallace leads the league with a yards per reception average of 22.0 yards, with 17.5 yards per catch in the air, and 4.5 after the catch. Hines ward has a similar "aerial percentage", though he's not quite as dynamic. Of his 12.75 yards per reception, 10.2 yards per catch go through the air. In this game, that 1-2 punch plays a pass defense that does its worst against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers - 12th in DVOA against the top guys, and 18th against the second bananas.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Despite losing Randy Moss, relying on two rookie tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and putting their running game in the hands of relative unknowns Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the 2010 Patriots have the second-most efficient offense in the history of our metrics. Only the 2007 Pats, possessors of the most dynamic offense ever, have a higher Offensive DVOA through the first 12 weeks of any season. Now, it was about Week 13 that the 2007 Pats' offense started to go downhill, and that's what we'll be keeping an eye on. Maintaining this pace against the Jets' defense will be a tough one. The Jets are currently 15th against the pass and second against the run, as well as 13th in DVOA against tight ends.