Thursday, September 11, 2008
Updated: September 13, 5:02 PM ET
Week 2: Numbers Crunching
By Bill Barnwell
Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game on the NFL schedule with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Much of the analysis is based on defense-adjusted value over average, which takes every single play during the season and compares it to the league average based on situation and opponent. DVOA and Football Outsiders' other advanced stats are explained here.
All times Eastern
Bears at Panthers, 1 p.m.
The Bears will be licking their chops when Jake Delhomme drops back in third-and-long situations. Last year, the Panthers' DVOA when passing the ball on third and fourth down was 31st in the league; the Bears' defense was second-best in the league at stopping the pass in the same situation.
Carolina would be well advised to avoid punting to Devin Hester. The Panthers lost nine points of field position last year on their punts (27th in the NFL), and that was without having to play Chicago.
• More Bears-Panthers: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Bills at Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Play-action is a good way for the Bills to try to take advantage of Jacksonville's defense. The difference between the Bills' DVOA on standard passes and play-action passes was seventh-highest in the NFL, while the Jaguars had the eighth-highest disparity in their ability to defend the play-action pass.
Buffalo will need to stand its ground on first down. The Jaguars were fifth in the league at running the ball on first downs, according to DVOA, but the Bills were only 26th in the league last year at stopping teams from doing so.
• More Bills-Jaguars: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Raiders at Chiefs, 1 p.m.
The Raiders were one of two teams to use play-action on more than 25 percent of pass plays in 2007. (The other was Miami.) That's a good strategy against the Chiefs, who ranked 31st in defensive DVOA against play-action passes last year.
Oakland should be able to handle Kansas City if the Chiefs throw the ball in the red zone; in 2007, the Chiefs were a mediocre 20th at throwing the ball inside the opposition 20, and the Raiders' pass defense was third in the league at stopping it.
• More Raiders-Chiefs: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Colts at Vikings, 1 p.m.
Although Adrian Peterson helped the Vikings put up the best rushing DVOA on second down, the Vikings were only 13th in the league when running the ball on first down. That could tip the advantage to the Colts, whose rush defense on first downs was seventh in football last year. Of course, things may change now that the Colts have released starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson because of legal problems.
Expect a game with lots of opportunities for Peyton Manning. Because of teams avoiding Pat and Kevin Williams, the Vikings had the third-fastest Defensive Pace in football last year; naturally, the no-huddle attack of the Colts was the league's fastest Offensive Pace. (Pace explained here.)
• More Colts-Vikings: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Saints at Redskins, 1 p.m.
The Redskins had a bizarre split last year; according to DVOA, their defense was the best in the league in the first two quarters but went all the way down to 25th in the league after halftime. The Saints? Their offense was ranked eighth in both halves.
Washington might consider using the shotgun more frequently to challenge the Saints' defensive backs. New Orleans had the third-worst pass defense against the shotgun last year.
• More Saints-Redskins: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Giants at Rams, 1 p.m.
In 2006, the Giants had the fourth-most injuries to their starting defense, and the Rams had the healthiest 22 starters in all of football. A year later, the Rams were riddled with injury, and the Giants got healthy and won the Super Bowl.
The Rams could surprise the Giants on first down. The Giants' defense was 29th in the league in defensive DVOA on first down, by far its worst down. The Rams' best down on offense was also first down, where they ranked 14th.
• More Giants-Rams: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Packers at Lions, 1 p.m.
If the Lions get a small lead, they'll struggle to keep it. Detroit was 31st in the league in defensive DVOA while holding a lead of one touchdown or less, while the Packers' offense was fourth in the league in the same situation.
There was a dramatic difference in the two teams' kicking games. The Packers gained 7.1 points of field position from their kickoffs last year, good for fourth in the league, while the Lions' feeble kickoff coverage cost them 15.7 points, third-worst in the NFL.
• More Packers-Lions: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Titans at Bengals, 1 p.m.
The Bengals' defense was by far at its best on third down in 2007; it ranked eighth in the league at stopping opponents on third down, while the Titans' offensive DVOA was only 25th.
Goal-to-go situations will be an absolute war come Sunday. The Bengals had the best offensive DVOA in that subset of plays in 2007, while the Titans' defense was a respectable ninth at stopping opponents inside the 10.
• More Titans-Bengals: Intel Report | EA Simulation
49ers at Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.
The punting game was a huge differentiator between these two teams last year; the 49ers added a league-best 18.1 points of field position from their punts, while the Seahawks lost 9.8 points, the third-most of any NFL team.
Seattle might not want to bother with the play-action pass. Unlike most teams, the 49ers played better defense against play-action passes than they did against standard passes -- with by far the largest difference among the few teams that were better against play-action.
• More 49ers-Seahawks: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Falcons at Buccaneers, 4:05 p.m.
A positive factor for the Falcons from last year's performance is their ability to get stops on the road; while the defense ranked 31st in the league at home according to DVOA, it ranked 16th in the league on the road.
Stopping the run will be a pleasant surprise for the Falcons; they face DVOA's fifth-best rushing attack from a year ago and have only the 28th-ranked rush defense to defend with.
• More Falcons-Buccaneers: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Dolphins at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m.
Expect to see the Cardinals go through the air inside the 20-yard line; their DVOA on passing plays inside the red zone was second in football, while the Dolphins were only 30th in the league at stopping teams in the same situation.
Miami ran the play-action on 26 percent of its passes in 2007, tying for most in the league; Arizona, meanwhile, ran the play-action on only 10 percent of its passes, second fewest in football.
• More Dolphins-Cardinals: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Patriots at Jets, 4:15 p.m.
This would be a good week for the Patriots to run a more conventional offense -- and not just because quarterback Matt Cassel is starting his first game since high school. Last year, the Jets had the worst defense in the league when the opposing quarterback was under center, but the second-best defense in the league against shotgun formations.
One of the places the Jets hope Brett Favre will help is inside the red zone; the Jets' offensive DVOA inside the red zone was 31st in the league last year, while Favre and the Packers were seventh.
• More Patriots-Jets: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Chargers at Broncos, 4:15 p.m.
The Chargers may have a hall pass to convert third-and-short at will; their offense was ranked third by DVOA on third-and-short situations last year, while the Broncos were 26th in the same scenario.
Jay Cutler has earned his gunslinger reputation with fantastic performance inside the red zone; the Broncos' DVOA was third-highest in the league on passes inside the opponent's 20. Unfortunately for them, the Chargers' defensive DVOA in the same situation was highest in the league, buoyed by Antonio Cromartie.
• More Chargers-Broncos: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Steelers at Browns, 8:15 p.m.
The Browns absolutely need to stop the Steelers on third down to have a chance. Pittsburgh was best in the league at running the ball on third down, and second-best on all third-down plays.
The Browns might wish they were away from home. Cleveland's defensive DVOA was 28th in the league at home but was 13th in the league away from The Pound.
• More Steelers-Browns: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Eagles at Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)
Don't be surprised if the Eagles are ahead after the first quarter. Last year, the Cowboys' offense ranked 25th in DVOA in the first quarter but third for the rest of the game. The Eagles' offense ranked third in the first quarter but 12th for the rest of the game.
Expect one of these teams to go for it on fourth down and the other to punt; in 2007, the Cowboys were the fourth-likeliest team to attempt a fourth-down conversion; the Eagles were the least-likeliest team in football to send the offense out there on fourth down.
• More Eagles-Cowboys: Intel Report | EA Simulation
Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.