MNF Stat Previews
AN AFC PLAYOFF FEEL TO THE FIRST
MNF ACTION OF THE SEASON
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
The Indianapolis Colts won the AFC last season...and they're NOT on the Monday Night twinbill tonight on ESPN. But, the two teams they defeated on the way to the Super Bowl are playing each other (Baltimore at the NY Jets). And, the other team that earned a first round bye with the Colts (San Diego) is on the schedule against an upstart some pundits are picking to give them a run for their money.
You never know how a season is going to play itself out. There's certain an AFC playoff feel to tonight's festivities.
*Baltimore is a popular pick to go to the Super Bowl this year because many expect Joe Flacco to mature at quarterback. He was really all that was keeping the Ravens from making a championship run in the 2009 season. He didn't know how to win close games. When he learns that, the Ravens will have arrived.
*New York is also a common pick. They were just one game away last year, and they also have a young quarterback that's likely to mature and have a greater impact. The main differences between the Ravens and Jets are that Baltimore's QB is further ahead on the learning curve, but the Jets had the superior defense last season.
*San Diego is actually a popular choice to fall off the map this year. They struggled on defense despite earning a bye last year. The running game has disappeared. And, they were exposed by the Jets as not being as good as everyone thought. Offseason issues might make it very difficult to match last year's won-lost record. How far will the Chargers fall? Will they fall?
*Kansas City and Oakland have become popular darkhorse choices from pundits who A: think San Diego will fall, and B: don't trust Kyle Orton in Denver. Oakland laid a monster egg at Tennessee yesterday. Will Kansas City do the same? Or, is this young team ready to take a step forward?
Maybe Flacco isn't ready. Maybe the Jets are a one-year wonder (big mouth coaches eventually get punched in the chops). Maybe San Diego angered one too many key contributors and is about to implode. New England and Miami are waiting for their shots at the Jets (the Patriots get them Sunday). Indianapolis, Houston, and Tennessee may wage quite a battle in the AFC South. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would love Baltimore to take some big hits tonight. The AFC race is wide open. At the very least, what we see and learn tonight is going to have a big influence on how the AFC landscape grows in the coming days and weeks.
Let's preview tonight's games with our standard NOTEBOOK stats. We'll focus on DRIVE POINTS from last season (those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more) plus turnover differential. We didn't use these in our Sunday preview because Dallas has offensive line injuries, and Washington has a new coach and quarterback! There's more stability with the teams on the field tonight. Let's pick up where we left off and see what might be on tap this evening.
BALTIMORE AT THE NY JETS (7 p.m. ET)
Baltimore: 14.9 on offense, 10.3 on defense, (+10 turnover differential)
NY Jets: 10.5 on offense, 7.1 on defense, (+1 turnover differential)
Vegas Line: NY Jets by 2.5, total of 36
NOTEBOOK: You can see what we mean about the Jets having the better defense. They held opponents to just one TD per game on average on a long drive. That was best in the AFC and second best in the whole NFL. Scoring has been going up in recent seasons. That 10.3 for Baltimore is strong as well. It ranks in the top 10. Note that both teams were good at forcing turnovers. Baltimore had a big edge in differential because their offense wasn't making them. Mark Sanchez is a turnover machine for the Jets when he HAS to do the work himself. Well, that was true during the regular season anyway. He did show improvement in the playoffs.
If you look at pure Drive point DIFFERENTIAL, it's +4.6 for the Ravens, and +3.4 for the Jets. This stat serves as a fairly good power rating. Throw in three points for home field on the Jets side of things...and you're right at the Vegas number. That low total of 36 clearly suggests a defensive struggle. Nothing in our numbers would argue with that.
You regulars know we can't post our official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. We may be on the side or total here for our clients. We can tell you that the key will be information we've gathered from our New York sources about the Jets readiness for the season. Did they spend the summer preening for HBO cameras? Or, will they pick up right where they left off last January in terms of execution and intensity. That by itself will determine how this game plays out...both for the side and the total.
SAN DIEGO AT KANSAS CITY (10:15 p.m. ET)
San Diego: 14.8 on offense, 13.2 on defense, (+8 turnover differential)
Kansas City: 9.3 on offense, 16.3 on defense, (+1 turnover differential)
Vegas Line: San Diego by 4.5, total of 44.5
NOTEBOOK: The defenses are going to look like sieves when compared to the Jets and Ravens. Well, that was the case last year anyway. Kansas City was helpless much of the season. San Diego was a disappointment on that side of the ball. And, if they didn't play in such a weak division, it would have hurt them much more than it did. Philip Rivers was able to put enough on the board to outperform what the defense was allowing. Kansas City's offense was nowhere near that. In fact, Kansas City made ALL defense look about as good as Baltimore's!
The good news for Kansas City is that they were a young team that's due to get better this year. They should improve on a dismal third down conversion percentage (27%), and are likely to find the end zone more often. But, are they really good enough to catch the Chargers in the standings from NINE games back like some pundits are suggesting? The market doesn't think so. Vegas says San Diego is still about a TD better right now based on tonight's line (factoring in three points for home field).
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