Looking Back and Ahead In The NFL

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
 
LOOKING BACK...LOOKING AHEAD IN PRO FOOTBALL

Another very interesting week of NFL action, with many games going right down to the wire. You don't it's a year of parity when two games go into overtime simultaneously with 20-20 scores!

As we do every Wednesday, let's run through our "big three" key stats in pro football...rushing yardage, Drive Points (those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more), and third down conversions. You win these categories you win the game barring a turnover debacle. Coin flip games often have coin flip performances in the data.

After posting the numbers from last week, we'll make a brief mention of what that might mean for next week's action. Hump day is a transitional day from one slate to the next.

For your convenience, games are presented in rotation order...
 
ST. LOUIS 20, SAN DIEGO 17
Rushing Yardage: San Diego 79, St. Louis 117
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: San Diego 14, St. Louis 14
Third Down Conversions: San Diego 33%, St. Louis 41%
NOTEBOOK: It's amazing how badly San Diego has mangled the first half of this season. They had a very easy schedule, yet have now managed to lose road games to Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland, and St. Louis. They could have wrapped up a playoff spot already! You see here that clear problems exist. The Chargers were outrushed and couldn't do much on third downs. Philip Rivers can get them Drive Points through the air, but it's hard to avoid turnovers with that approach. San Diego lost that category 1-0. The Chargers must deal with New England next week. At least that's at home...and the Patriots will be in a letdown spot off an overtime win over Baltimore. St. Louis visits Tampa Bay. A road win keeps them in the midst of the NFC West race. They're hoping for a better road effort than their last outing in Detroit.

HOUSTON 35, KANSAS CITY 31
Rushing Yardage: Kansas City 228, Houston 132
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Kansas City 31, Houston 28
Third Down Conversions: Kansas City 56%, Houston 51%
NOTEBOOK: How did Kansas City lose this game? They won all of our key categories, with a monstrous win on the ground. Houston was able to eke out a victory because they posted a ton of passing yardage with no turnovers. Usually teams making a run at 300 passing yards throw a pick or two (or three) in the process. Houston was 25-33-0-289 in the air, completely trumping the Chiefs rushing edge. Congrats if you had the Over. Houston is back to looking like the team that isn't quite good enough to reach the playoffs. They can't count on perfection every time out. Kansas City loses, but still looks to have improved since last season. They get a home game with Jacksonville next week...and the Jags will be in a short week after a Monday Night appearance. Great spot for the Chiefs. Houston has a bye, which will give their much-maligned defense some rest.
 
NEW ENGLAND 23, BALTIMORE 20 (in overtime)
Rushing Yardage: Baltimore 99, New England 127
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Baltimore 13, New England 20
Third Down Conversions: Baltimore 31%, New England 28%
NOTEBOOK: This game certainly had a playoff feel, and it was a playoff rematch from last season. New England got its revenge, and looked to be the better side based on the key stats. Both have some work to do on third downs in big games. Baltimore gets a relative bye next week at home against Buffalo. And, they have a strong recent history vs. low level teams. New England makes that trip to San Diego that we mentioned above. New England's performance in the turnover category will likely determine who wins and covers that one.

NEW ORLEANS 31, TAMPA BAY 6
Rushing Yardage: New Orleans 212, Tampa Bay 40
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: New Orleans 17, Tampa Bay 6
Third Down Conversions: New Orleans 75%, Tampa Bay 40%
NOTEBOOK: Now, THIS is the New Orleans Saints team we've been waiting to see. The Super Bowl champs are back on the field. And, whatever imposters were wearing the uniforms in the first month of the season have been sent back to the French quarter to shell crawfish. Complete and utter dominance in our key categories. New Orleans hosts Cleveland next week. And, that game is over now if the real Saints are back. Tampa Bay will try to bounce back at home against the Rams.
 
PHILADELPHIA 31, ATLANTA 17
Rushing Yardage: Atlanta 65, Philadelphia 154
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Atlanta 10, Philadelphia 14
Third Down Conversions: Atlanta 28%, Philadelphia 50%
NOTEBOOK:  The mainstream media was buzzing about the no-show from Michael Vick for this game. They should have been buzzing about Kevin Kolb! Kolb was 23-29-1-320 in the air against a playoff contender. We'll have a quarterback controversy once again when Vick regains his health! Better to have two good options than zero. Disappointing performance for the Falcons, who were expected to be more consistent than they've shown. A home game with Cincinnati will give Atlanta a chance to get well, though the Bengals had a bye last week. Philadelphia takes a newfound swagger to Tennessee. If Kolb shows well in that one, we'll be looking at the Eagles often in the second half of the season.

NY GIANTS 28, DETROIT 20
Rushing Yardage: Detroit 64, NY Giants 167
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Detroit 7, NY Giants 7
Third Down Conversions: Detroit 45%, NY Giants 38%
NOTEBOOK:  A win is a win, but the Giants can't be too happy about the lack of production here. Eli Manning passed for less than 170 yards. Posting only seven Drive Points and 38% on third downs in a home game vs. Detroit isn't very good. Though, the Lions are improving this year so it's important to adjust expectations on the fly. Maybe New York was looking ahead to next Monday Night's game in Dallas. A win will stick a fork in the Cowboys season. Detroit has a bye next week...which they need because they're #2 quarterback broke his non-throwing arm! Matthew Stafford is expected to be back after the break. The Lions have been a good cover team. We'll expect that to continue until the line catches up.

SEATTLE 23, CHICAGO 20
Rushing Yardage: Seattle 111, Chicago 61
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Seattle 14, Chicago 13
Third Down Conversions: Seattle 38%, Chicago 0%
NOTEBOOK: Wow...ZERO percent on third downs for Cutler's return to the lineup. Is he still concussed? It's hard to say, because a Mike Martz offense can struggle badly even if the QB has all of his faculties.  This surprising loss for the Bears, and the first half against the Giants a few weeks ago combine to paint a pretty bleak picture for this offense. The league made some adjustments, and Cutler just isn't that scary any more. The defense los a step this week too. Chicago hosts Washington next week in a good tester game. Seattle has a huge game with Arizona, as we have a real race in the watered down NFC West.

MIAMI 23, GREEN BAY 20 (in overtime)
Rushing Yardage: Miami 150, Green Bay 76
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Miami 7, Green Bay 17
Third Down Conversions: Miami 42%, Green Bay 23%
NOTEBOOK: Green Bay and San Diego are starting to look a lot alike. Great quarterbacks, but a limited running game and a defense that's not playing up to expectations. That leads to rushing deficits, inconsistency on third downs, and a passing game that has to be perfect to make up for other deficiencies. That gives you a shot at 9-7. If you were expecting a 13-3 or 12-4 type season, it's a big step backward. Green Bay will have to figure out how to plug gaps created by injuries, or they'll basically play this game every week. They went overtime vs. Washington last week. Don't forget about the nailbiter in Chicago not too long ago. A home game with Brett Favre and Minnesota is up next. Miami, not getting many breaks in the schedule this year, draw Pittsburgh at home next week. It's a borderline SCANDAL that so many crappy teams are playing crappy schedules this year, while somebody like Miami keeps running into quality week after week.

PITTSBURGH 28, CLEVELAND 10
Rushing Yardage: Cleveland 70, Pittsburgh 121
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Cleveland 7, Pittsburgh 14
Third Down Conversions: Cleveland 46%, Pittsburgh 50%
NOTEBOOK: We'd have to say that Colt McCoy held his own for the Browns. He didn't look ready for the pro's in limited preseason action. No complaints here for a 23-33-2-258 passing line on the road against a great defense like Pittsburgh's. Of course, if you only post seven Drive Points, and 10 overall, you're not going to win many games. Ben Roethlisberger took a half to get his rhythm back...then led the Steelers to a 21-7 edge in the last two quarters. We still see Pittsburgh and the NY Jets as the two best teams in the AFC right now based on our key numbers and schedule strength. Big Ben gets his first road test of 2010 in Miami next week. Cleveland will have to figure out which of its quarterbacks wants to match up with Drew Brees in New Orleans next week.

NY JETS 24, DENVER 20
Rushing Yardage: NY Jets 129, Denver 145
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: NY Jets 14, Denver 14
Third Down Conversions: NY Jets 38%, Denver 38%
NOTEBOOK:  Both teams have reasons to be proud here. Denver played dead even (a little better actually) with the most dangerous team in the AFC. From the Jets perspective, they had to play on the road at altitude after a Monday Night game, and found a way to grind out a victory. Denver's got a roster that's going to play close games every week based on recent form. That's not great, but it's better than getting waxed all the time. A home rivalry game with Oakland is up next. The Jets have a bye week, which they deserve after several early challenges.

SAN FRANCISCO 17, OAKLAND 9
Rushing Yardage: Oakland 110, San Francisco 158
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Oakland 6, San Francisco 17
Third Down Conversions: Oakland 33%, San Francisco 41%
NOTEBOOK: San Francisco finally got a win...but you're supposed to win your home games over Oakland if you know what you're doing. The numbers are fine from the 49ers perspective, and disappointing for a Raiders team that had Jason Campbell back at quarterback. Oakland's passing line was 8-21-2-69...which suggests that Jamarcus Russell was back in uniform and wasn't drinking Gatorade before the game. Maybe Oakland was saving themselves for Denver next week. This franchise has a recent history of emphasizing certain games over others. San Francisco has no margin for error. They visit vulnerable Carolina next week in another must-win  game.

MINNESOTA 24, DALLAS 21
Rushing Yardage: Dallas 94, Minnesota 95
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Dallas 14, Minnesota 0
Third Down Conversions: Dallas 52%, Minnesota 50%
NOTEBOOK:  Dallas is losing too many games they should have won. This was similar to the season opener at Washington...where Dallas won stats but lost because of turnovers. The Cowboys are an odd duck this year. They're basically a 10-6 type team...that's getting priced in Vegas like a 12-4 type team...but their actual record could end up being VERY ugly if they keep blowing the coin flip games. A home game Monday Night with the Giants is a "backs to the wall" encounter. Minnesota goes to Green Bay, with an embattled Brett Favre who still hasn't found his form (14-19-0-93 was Minnesota's passing line vs. the Pokes).

INDIANAPOLIS 27, WASHINGTON 24
Rushing Yardage: Indianapolis 170, Washington 113
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Indianapolis 14, Washington 14
Third Down Conversions: Indianapolis 30%, Washington 30%
NOTEBOOK: The Colts found a running game! That was the tie-breaker in the numbers above. Though, the actual game was a bit more interesting. Indianapolis actually had a 469-335 overall yardage edge, but gave the ball away three times to make things closer than they should have been. Good win for the Colts though, after road losses earlier this season in Houston and Jacksonville. They're off next week. Washington visits Chicago in a game that will put the loser behind the eight-ball in what's destined to be a very jumbled playoff race.

TENNESSEE 30, JACKSONVILLE 3
Rushing Yardage: Tennessee 153, Jacksonville 76
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Tennessee 14, Jacksonville 0
Third Down Conversions: Tennessee 57%, Jacksonville 23%
NOTEBOOK: This was a surprisingly uncompetitive Monday Night game. You can see the domination in the key stats for the Titans. Not much to add to what you probably turned off in the third quarter! Tennessee won't have the usual short week fatigue when they host Philadelphia on Sunday. Inconsistent Jacksonville visits Kansas City, as the Chiefs continue to face an extremely manageable schedule.

That wraps up our midweek NFL report. Back tomorrow to preview UCLA/Oregon, as the newest #1 in college football takes the field. Another huge football weekend is on tap. And, we've got all that great playoff baseball going on too. JIM HURLEY'S daily dose of dynamite can be purchased a few hours before kickoff or first pitch. Seasonal rates are value priced. Don't forget about football services like the BLUE RIBBON, CLOSED CIRCUIT, and TOUCHDOWN clubs. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. BIG JUICY WINNERS are always just a few clicks or a phone call away!
 

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