Cheap Points Wreak Havoc in NFL
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
TURNOVERS, DEFENSIVE TDS GALORE WARP THE NFL SCOREBOARD
This is a VERY important week for you to study the stat reviews in the NFL. An amazing EIGHT non-offensive TD's rained down from the heavens to create some misleading final scores. If you want to pick winners going forward, you need to know who dominated the stats that matter most!
You can't score defensive or special teams TD's on purpose. You WILL eventually impose your will on opponents if you can move the ball on the ground (rushing yardage), grind up yardage and clock on scoring drives (Drive Points), and convert third downs at a rate superior to your opponents (third down percentage). Those are our "big three" stats in the NFL. We believe THEY reflect team quality better than the final scores this week.
Let's run through the numbers in rotation order...
BALTIMORE 31, DENVER 17
Rushing Yardage: Denver 39, Baltimore 233
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Denver 10, Baltimore 28
Third Down Conversions: Denver 38%, Baltimore 53%
Notebook: What a slaughter! This is what Baltimore does at home against inferior opposition. Denver was in a tough fatigue spot playing the week after a victory at Tennessee...which made the Broncos an inferior opponent for all intents and purposes. This is the Baltimore many pundits were expecting to see this year. The Ravens need to figure out how to approach these numbers vs. quality. They'll get that chance Sunday at New England. Denver will have a challenging game at home against the NY Jets.
JACKSONVILLE 36, BUFFALO 26
Rushing Yardage: Jacksonville 216, Buffalo 110
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Jacksonville 7, Buffalo 3
Third Down Conversions: Jacksonville 36%, Buffalo 27%
Notebook: What got into Jacksonville? This should have been a hug letdown spot, but the rushing game and defense sure got the job done. It's worth noting though that the Jaguars didn't grade out well offensively in Drive Points or third down conversions. So, there was an element of flatness here. Cheap points from special teams play helped them pile up the points. The Jags weren't quite as good as the final score made it look. Buffalo continues to look really bad this year. They may really be the new Detroit. The Bills will have a bye week to think about that. Jacksonville is at home Monday Night vs. divisional rival Tennessee.
INDIANAPOLIS 19, KANSAS CITY 9
Rushing Yardage: Kansas City 113, Indianapolis 97
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Kansas City 0, Indianapolis 13
Third Down Conversions: Kansas City 10%, Indianapolis 47%
Notebook: The classic Colts win where they don't strike you as dominant, but still grind out success in the stats that matter most. They won Drive Points by double digits...and simply owned third down conversions. This is why Peyton Manning is so important. In a sense, he and Tony Dungy taught the league the importance of moving the chains to grind out victories. Kansas City suffers its first loss of the year by the way, with a defense that certainly didn't embarrass itself on the road against a potent offense. A road game at Houston could get interesting given the Texans inconsistent play of late. Indianapolis visits Washington in a Sunday Night game on NBC.
DETROIT 44, ST. LOUIS 6
Rushing Yardage: St. Louis 128, Detroit 89
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: St. Louis 6, Detroit 14
Third Down Conversions: St. Louis 42%, Detroit 46%
Notebook: Please don't let this score fool you! Detroit was nowhere near as good as this score makes it look. St. Louis lost the turnover category 3-0. Detroit had a kick return TD, and a pick six as well. You can see Detroit took two of the three stats that mattered. We won't argue about who was "right side." Give Detroit that nod based on Drive Points. They WEREN'T as good as the score suggests, which is what you need to take from this game for the future. The Lions face Eli Manning and the Giants this Sunday at the new Meadowlands. St. Louis draws San Diego, who's been awful on the road thus far.
ATLANTA 20, CLEVELAND 10
Rushing Yardage: Atlanta 165, Cleveland 48
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Atlanta 13, Cleveland 0
Third Down Conversions: Atlanta 40%, Cleveland 46%
Notebook: Solid edges for the Falcons here, if not spectacular numbers. Atlanta had a pick six, meaning they only won the "real" game 13-10. You should do better than that at Cleveland if you're thinking about making a run at the Super Bowl. Note that Seneca Wallace got hurt for the Browns. Jake Delhomme didn't bring much to the table off the bench. Atlanta visit Philadelphia...which would have been the most hyped game of the week if Michael Vick hadn't gotten hurt. Cleveland travels to face divisional rival Pittsburgh in Ben Roethlisberger's first game back from suspension.
TAMPA BAY 24, CINCINNATI 21
Rushing Yardage: Tampa Bay 125, Cincinnati 149
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Tampa Bay 7, Cincinnati 3
Third Down Conversions: Tampa Bay 45%, Cincinnati 30%
Notebook: We've been talking about the noodle arm of Carson Palmer for a while now. Hat continued to be a theme here as Palmer passed for only 209 yards and suffered three picks. Tampa Bay won two of three categories above, which shouldn't happen for a TD underdog on the road with an inexperienced quarterback. The Bengals may be back to being the Bungles even with the addition of T.O. (who's playing well). Tampa Bay is an unlikely 3-1. And, these stats suggest they've climbed above patsy status under this coach and quarterback. Tampa Bay draws defending champion New Orleans next week (and the Saints still haven't covered a spread with that Super Bowl hangover!). Cincinnati has a bye week to find some spinach for Palmer's dead arm.
CHICAGO 23, CAROLINA 6
Rushing Yardage: Chicago 218, Carolina 85
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Chicago 7, Carolina 0
Third Down Conversions: Chicago 20%, Carolina 16%
Notebook: Both quarterbacks were helpless. The Drive Point and Third Down numbers are just pathetic. Chicago won and covered because of their edge on the ground. We respect both defenses. And, we should note that the Bears really look to have recaptured their magic on that side of the ball. Can Jay Cutler get any points on the board when he returns from his concussion? Chicago hopes Cutler will be back for a home game against Seattle on Sunday. Carolina has a bye.
WASHINGTON 16, GREEN BAY 13 (in OT)
Rushing Yardage: Green Bay 157, Washington 51
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Green Bay 10, Washington 10
Third Down Conversions: Green Bay 15%, Washington 29%
Notebook: What an odd game. Isn't Aaron Rodgers vs. Donovan McNabb supposed to be a fireworks show? Both guys threw more than 45 passes...but relatively few points were going up on the board. Both offenses look to be in trouble on third downs vs. good defenses. Washington needs to find a running game or their 3-2 coach will turn into a 6-10 pumpkin before too long. Green Bay can't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl threat until they do better than 2 of 13 on third downs in big road games. Very poor. Rodgers suffered a late concussion vs. the Skins, and may not be available for a home game against rested Miami. Washington hosts the Colts in a game that may not see 120 total rushing yards from the two teams combined.
NY GIANTS 34, HOUSTON 10
Rushing Yardage: NY Giants 117, Houston 24
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: NY Giants 17, Houston 0
Third Down Conversions: NY Giants 35%, Houston 18%
Notebook: Clean win here for the Giants. What happened to Houston?! The running game disappeared (which can happen when one guy explodes every so often...consistency is more powerful than random explosions in this sport). Heck, everything disappeared! Sometimes teams don't show up mentally for non-conference games. Houston better hope that's what has happened at home vs. Dallas and the NY Giants. This was never a game. As has been mentioned, the Giants host Detroit while Houston hosts Kansas City this week.
ARIZONA 30, NEW ORLEANS 20
Rushing Yardage: New Orleans 85, Arizona 41
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: New Orleans 14, Arizona 3
Third Down Conversions: New Orleans 45%, Arizona 26%
Notebook: The late games were bizarre to say the least. New Orleans won all three of our key categories by margins that would suggest an easy victory. In fact, we'd even say a double digit cover. You hold somebody to 41 rushing yards while winning the other two categories that handily...and you're talking about a workmanlike victory. How did the Saints NOT post a workmanlike victory? A 4-1 turnover loss...with a fumble return TD and a pick six creating illusions for Arizona. We couldn't believe all the credit new Arizona QB Max Hall was getting for this win. Arizona was 18-29-1-153 in the air. THAT'S what beat the Saints?! No, it was the fluke points. Don't let the final score trick you into backing Arizona down the road. They didn't play well here in the stuff that mattered. Hall and the Cardinals draw a bye this week. New Orleans will try to get a win and cover at Tampa Bay.
OAKLAND 35, SAN DIEGO 27
Rushing Yardage: San Diego 91, Oakland 111
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: San Diego 24, Oakland 13
Third Down Conversions: San Diego 41%, Oakland 40%
Notebook: This wasn't as bad as New Orleans/Arizona...but we again have a road favorite surging to a big Drive Point victory only to lose on turnovers. This one want 3-0 in favor of the home undnerdog. Oakland had a fumble return TD, a blocked punt return TD, and picked up two bonus points on a safety. How bad have San Diego's specials teams been?! Oakland played better than Arizona did (compare the "big three" numbers for both. They're not better than San Diego on a neutral field in our view. Oakland visits bay area rival San Francisco on Sunday...hoping to send the 49ers to an 0-6 start. San Diego will hope to execute kickoffs and punts properly in St. Louis.
TENNESSEE 34, DALLAS 27
Rushing Yardage: Tennessee 158, Dallas 141
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Tennessee 14, Dallas 21
Third Down Conversions: Tennessee 33%, Dallas 50%
Notebook: No non-offensive scores here, but Tennessee did enjoy a 3-0 turnover advantage. That means the three later afternoon games this past Sunday say a 10-1 turnover advantage for the underdogs! Weren't superior teams supposed to be better in the turnover category? Weren't the Saints, Cowboys, and Chargers supposed to be on the short list for potential Super Bowl teams this year? Dallas won two of the three categories here, and should have won the game. Tennessee probably would have covered a TD spread with that rushing volume. It would have been close. This shouldn't have been a TD win for the Titans though. Tony Romo of Dallas is back to his 2008 form in terms of turnovers, which is TERRIBLE news for Cowboys fans. Dallas has a make or break game at Minnesota Sunday (in a rematch of a game that started this bad slide). You'll be watching Vince Young and Tennessee next Monday Night in Jacksonville.
PHILADELPHIA 27, SAN FRANCISCO 24
Rushing Yardage: Philadelphia 125, San Francisco 74
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Philadelphia 7, San Francisco 7
Third Down Conversions: Philadelphia 25%, San Francisco 61%
Notebook: Turnovers didn't warp the scoreboard (providing just a one-game hiatus in that regard). It should have been a close game based on the numbers above, and it was. Oddly, San Francisco lost turnovers 5-1! This suggests Kevin Kolb isn't very good at maximizing his opportunities (or converting third downs). And, it's just more confirmation that Alex Smith and the Niners can't execute at a playoff caliber level when it comes to protecting the ball. It's not like this is a new issue for Smith, or the Singletary regime. San Francisco falls to 0-5, though a favorable schedule gives them a shot to get back in the NFC West race. We talked about a potential surge from 0-4 to 7-4 in our Sunday preview. Do we here 0-5 to 6-5 from anyone in the audience? The owner says they'll still make the playoffs. Philadelphia hosts Atlanta in a game that should have a playoff atmosphere. San Francisco better hope they can beat Oakland Sunday, or they're staring a major overhaul right in the face.
NY JETS 29, MINNESOTA 20
Rushing Yardage: Minnesota 96, NY Jets 155
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Minnesota 13, NY Jets 7
Third Down Conversions: Minnesota 46%, NY Jets 29%
Notebook: Back to turnovers spiking stat edges. Minnesota should have covered a +4.5 spread based on the Drive Points and Third Down conversions. The Jets edges on the ground basically made it a coin flip tight game. A 3-0 turnover advantage for the Jets put them over the top, particularly when one of those was a late Favre interception that was returned for a TD in the final moments of the game. Our condolences to those thinking a 22-20 game was going to the dog. The Jets will be at altitude in Denver on Sunday. Minnesota will fall to 1-4 if they don't' beat Dallas.
That wraps up our look at this past Sunday. Be sure you look for reversals of luck as you handicap this week's games. If you'd like some help picking winners, link up with JIM HURLEY online. We have great rates for the rest of the season in the colleges and the pro's. Don't forget out special $79 WEEKEND PASS offer that gets you the BLUE RIBBON, CLOSED CIRCUIT, or TOUCHDOWN clubs, Saturday through Monday. Build your bankroll with some weeknight football, then go deep for a WEEKEND PASS!
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