Week 17 NFL Preview
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Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Carolina's offense is so bad, they'll have to score 14 points in their season finale just to reach the 200-point mark for the season. But as we've discussed before, the Panthers are developing a very solid defense. The newest standout: end Charles Johnson, who has 11.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries on the season. However, the Falcons will make it tough on Johnson and his cohorts to pressure Matt Ryan; they currently rank third in Offensive Adjusted Sack Rate.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
We know one thing for sure - the Steelers would far prefer that this game take place at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh ranks third in overall offensive efficiency at home, and 22nd on the road. Of course, the bad news for the Browns is that per those same efficiency metrics, no NFL defense is better on the road than Pittsburgh's.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
The Vikings have managed to keep their run defense up, even with the star players along their front seven getting on in years - they've allowed just 3.89 running back yards per carry this year after allowing 3.86 in 2009. But their Adjusted Sack Rate total (sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent) has plummeted from 7.8 percent in 2009, to 5.0 percent - from fourth to 29th.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs aren't just playing for playoff positioning; they're also looking at a bit of history. Jamaal Charles (6.39 yards per carry) is set to become the fifth running back in NFL annals to average over six yards per carry on 150 or more attempts. He's got a good shot at the best mark overall, beating Jim Brown's 6.4 YPC on 291 carries in 1963. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars allow more rushing yards 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage than do the Raiders, which could play right into Charles' hands when he's blowing up the sideline on another zone slide run.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Embarrassingly enough for a team coached by an offensive line specialist and run by Bill Parcells, the Dolphins are one of two teams (the Seattle Seahawks are the other) to not have a 100-yard rusher all season through Week 16. In fact, nobody's come close - Ronnie Brown had the highest single-game total with 80 yards in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Getting Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas back in the game, and adding Chris Ivory to the mix, has made the Saints a more dangerous rushing team - Ivory has the second-most rushing yards among rookies, Thomas is a dynamite blocker, and Bush is the ultimate zone-buster. The Saints ranked 25th in rushing efficiency in the season's first half; they rank sixth ever since. No team has allowed more running back yards per carry than Tampa Bay's 4.98, which makes their ability to take that matchup pretty questionable.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
Add Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to the short list of quarterbacks who may actually prefer to get away from the comforts of home. In the New Meadowlands this year, the second-year quarterback has been sacked 20 times and has a passer rating of 70.0. Away from home, he's been sacked just seven times, has thrown three more touchdowns (10 to 7) and has a passer rating of 80.3.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is obviously the marquee team here, as Cincinnati's offense has disappointed all year. But don't sleep on two young Bengals defenders - tackle Geno Atkins has the most quarterback hurries of any rookie with 16, and only Detroit super-rookie Ndamukong Suh has more sacks among first-year players than Cincinnati end Carlos Dunlap, who has eight sacks on the year and seven in his last five games.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Maurice Jones-Drew isn't expected to play in this game, but it shouldn't matter even if Jags starting quarterback David Garrard can't play either. Houston's pass defense (if you can call it that) is the NFL's worst in completion percentage allowed (65.5), yards per game allowed (277.1), passing first downs allowed (205) and passing touchdowns allowed (32). The Jags might be vulnerable to Houston running back Arian Foster, though - Jacksonville's run defense is the NFL's worst when it comes to allowing open field yards (rushing yardage at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage).
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
If the Giants don't make the playoffs, they have only their turnover ratio to blame. The G-Men have blown their total of 20 forced fumbles - the highest total since the Chicago Bears matched it in 2006 - by giving up a league-leading 17. Ahmad Bradshaw (six) and Eli Manning (five) are the primary culprits. The Redskins actually have a better turnover ratio (minus-1 to the Giants' minus-6) because they've given up just nine fumbles, but six of those have come in the last four weeks.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
If you want to know how misleading sack totals (and sacks allowed totals) can be, Eagles All-Pro tackle Jason Peters is credited this year with allowing just two sacks after allowing 23.5 in the last three seasons. But Michael Vick has taken 34 sacks in just 372 passing attempts, and sacks allowed totals frequently reflect offensive linemen getting beaten inline when protecting pocket quarterbacks. That's good news for the Cowboys, who rank 12th in Adjusted Sack Rate but sacked Vick just twice in their first meeting this year. They'll face backup Kevin Kolb in the rematch, because the Eagles need to rest Vick for the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Those arguing for the contraction of the NFC West will get little argument from those checking out Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics. The 49ers have been the most "efficient" team in the division, ranking 26th overall. The Cardinals rank 31st, with only the Carolina Panthers beneath. The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, the two teams actually fighting for this misbegotten foursome, rank 27th and 20th, respectively.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
By reputation, you may automatically assume that Jay Cutler is the better and more efficient deep thrower among the quarterbacks in this contest, but it isn't so - on passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air this year, Cutler is 9 of 40 for 387 yards (22.5 completion percentage) for 387 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, is 19 of 55 (34.5 completion percentage) for 743 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions. Both the Bears and Packers are tough for No. 1 receivers to deal with, though - Green Bay ranks fourth in DVOA against the top guys, and Chicago ranks 13th.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Well, here's a shocker - and perhaps less than good news for Colts fans. You'd expect a dome team like Indy to be far better on offense at home, but it's not so this year - they rank 18th in Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics at home, and third on the road. Tennessee's defense is portable, though - sixth in DVOA at home; eighth on the road. Peyton Manning has had an amazing run in our efficiency metrics, never finishing lower than second in DYAR in any year since 2003. And even this year, with so many of his targets injured, he ranks third in cumulative efficiency.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
How bad are San Diego's special teams? Well, they've allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL (4,008), but they've given 10 more touchdowns than the second-place team in yardage allowed (the Pittsburgh Steelers). Why? Because on average, San Diego's opponents start their possessions at right about their own 33-yard line - only the Buffalo Bills' defense starts in a bigger hole, and no team has a bigger differential between their own starting line of scrimmage. The Chargers start their own average drives at their own 28 - a full five-yard difference. The Broncos aren't much better - their average drive starts at their own 27.34-yard line; their opponents at the 31.36-yard line.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
One hidden factor for the Rams in this winner-take-all matchup could be Rams receiver/returner Danny Amendola, who leads the NFL with 2,283 all-purpose yards, and has become perhaps the most effective third-down receiver in the game. He's averaging 10.3 yards per catch on third down, and 8.2 overall. Another is the underrated St. Louis defense; end Chris Long leads the NFL in quarterback hurries, and battery mate James Hall is the least-known player with 10.5 sacks or more this season.