NFL Week 14 Review

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

MANY FACTORS WORKING AGAINST PRODUCTION DURING SLOPPY NFL WEEKEND

It wasn't very pretty, needless to say. Bad weather, backup quarterbacks, and weird travel scenarios all combined to hurt offensive production this past week in the NFL. There were a few exciting shootouts. Those were mostly confined to decent weather or domed sites (Jacksonville, Dallas, Houston). For the most part, the league struggled to move the chains and put offensive points on the board much more than usual.

Let's run our standard indicator numbers and see what happened...
 
INDIANAPOLIS 30, TENNESSEE 28
Rushing Yardage: Indianapolis 107, Tennessee 121
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Indianapolis 13, Tennessee 21
Third Down Percentage: Indianapolis 53%, Tennessee 45%
Notebook: It was a chilly night, but not enough to keep the quarterbacks from moving the ball. You see decent third down rates (particularly compared to what you're about to see!), and 34 points scored on long drives. Indianapolis was ahead 21-0 early, and wasn't really threatened in the second half. You probably remember Tennessee scored on the last play of the game to cut the lead to two and come through the backdoor.

JACKSONVILLE 38, OAKLAND 31
Rushing Yardage: Oakland 153, Jacksonville 234
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Oakland 31, Jacksonville 10
Third Down Percentage: Oakland 46%, Jacksonville 41%
Notebook: A rare shootout amongst the early games, because most of the other games were up North! Jacksonville looks outclassed in the area of Drive Points. That's misleading here because they had several scores on drives that just missed the threshold. Quite a good game...but a reminder that Jacksonville's defense really isn't up to playoff standards right now even if they currently lead their division. Oakland has some weeks where they play like this, and some weeks where they don't have a clue. They could be "next year's Kansas City" if they learn to sustain consistency.
 
PITTSBURGH 23, CINCINNATI 7
Rushing Yardage: Cincinnati 34, Pittsburgh 123
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 3
Third Down Percentage: Cincinnati 25%, Pittsburgh 46%
Notebook: You can see how the Steelers grinded out another win with third downs and rushing yardage. They were only turning that into field goals though, as both of their touchdowns came from the defense. This was basically a 9-7 win for Pittsburgh! As we've pointed out often, Pittsburgh's offense hasn't yet solved the riddle of driving the field for points this year. Big Ben's been back long enough for that to no longer be an issue.

NEW ENGLAND 36, CHICAGO 7
Rushing Yardage: New England 124, Chicago 47
Drive Points (60+ Yds): New England 20, Chicago 0
Third Down Percentage: New England 63%, Chicago 37%
Notebook: Dominant performance from the Pats...because the numbers above don't even acknowledge the amazing 27-40-0-351 passing line from Tom Brady in a blizzard. The Pats defense has shown they know what to do in cold weather the last two weeks too. That's going to be meaningful in the playoffs because Foxboro is the city opponents will have to go through if they want to play in Dallas for the Lombardi Trophy. New England has moved several steps above the other contenders right now in our view based on the key indicator stats of the past month.

BUFFALO 13, CLEVELAND 6
Rushing Yardage: Cleveland 105, Buffalo 192
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Cleveland 3, Buffalo 10
Third Down Percentage: Cleveland 20%, Buffalo 35%
Notebook:  Boring game, with Buffalo turning their edges into a clean victory, but not a decisive one. Those numbers will typically yield a bigger margin. Buffalo showed the same tendency at home a few weeks ago when they almost blew the Detroit game.  We love the effort...but at some point you have to know how to seal the deal. Do we all agree it's time for Jake Delhomme to retire?

NY GIANTS 21, MINNESOTA 3
Rushing Yardage: NY Giants 213, Minnesota 61
Drive Points (60+ Yds): NY Giants 14, Minnesota 0
Third Down Percentage: NY Giants 23%, Minnesota 12%
Notebook: This was time-changed to Monday Night, but we're running the stats in rotation order. Dominant win for the Giants outside of third down conversions. Eli Manning didn't play well when it mattered. But, his running game picked him up with a few game-changers. Definitely a "defense and rushing" win for the Giants, who still have a knack for beating up on losing teams but not impressing vs. quality. They'll host quality this Sunday when the Eagles come to town.

DETROIT 7, GREEN BAY 3
Rushing Yardage: Green Bay 66, Detroit 190
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Green Bay 0, Detroit 7
Third Down Percentage: Green Bay 16%, Detroit 20%
Notebook: Ugly, with the third-string quarterback of Detroit outlasting the second-string quarterback of Green Bay because of one clutch fourth quarter drive. Neither offense could move the chains. Detroit most mostly rushing before punting until that late score. Green Bay has a killer road game at New England this week, but then will be home for the NY Giants and Chicago to end the season. Amazing that injuries may keep one of the preseason NFC favorites out of the playoffs entirely.

ATLANTA 31, CAROLINA 10
Rushing Yardage: Atlanta 127, Carolina 212
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Atlanta 10, Carolina 7
Third Down Percentage: Atlanta 52%, Carolina 23%
Notebook:  Odd to see a losing team rush for over 200 yards. That's a case of Carolina having no trust in Jimmy Clausen, and Atlanta's defense allowing yardage with a big lead just to get the game over with. Third Downs tell the story better here. Atlanta knows what it's doing, and did enough to survive the weekend safely. Carolina has no idea what it's doing, but the running backs gladly took some charity that may help them come contract time.

TAMPA BAY 17, WASHINGTON 16
Rushing Yardage: Tampa Bay 103, Washington 188
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Tampa Bay 11, Washington 6
Third Down Percentage: Tampa Bay 41%, Washington 37%
Notebook: Another weird game. Washington kept blowing short kicks, which prevented them from winning Drive Points or the game. You can see a solid rushing advantage. The Skins also won turnovers. Teams in turmoil find ways to blow games they should have won. This is just making up for earlier games the Skins won that they shouldn't have. A 5-8 record is still probably overstating their true quality right now. Tampa Bay survived the flat spot off the Atlanta war, but was lucky to do so.

NEW ORLEANS 31, ST. LOUIS 13
Rushing Yardage: St. Louis 136, New Orleans 132
Drive Points (60+ Yds): St. Louis 3, New Orleans 21
Third Down Percentage: St. Louis 9%, New Orleans 68%
Notebook: Note how the differences between quarterbacks show up best in our indicator stats. Drew Brees led three long TD drives. Sam Bradford got close to matching him on the field, but miscues derailed probable scoring drives and the team could post only one field goal in that category. Moving the chains? A mismatch for the veteran. A quick reminder that charting third down conversions is a GREAT way to monitor the growth of young quarterbacks. Youngsters have a few games like this, particular in crunch time. Quality veterans are hardly ever this bad unless half their options are on the injured list.

SAN FRANCISCO 40, SEATTLE 21
Rushing Yardage: Seattle 84, San Francisco 95
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Seattle 7, San Francisco 14
Third Down Percentage: Seattle 40%, San Francisco 41%
Notebook: What would have been a tight game became a blowout because of a 5-0 turnover edge for the 49ers. Be careful penciling in a strong finish just because Alex Smith returned to the lineup. Opponents aren't going to self destruct at his feet every week.

MIAMI 10, NY JETS 6
Rushing Yardage: Miami 101, NY Jets 87
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Miami 0, NY Jets 3
Third Down Percentage: Miami 20%, NY Jets 28%
Notebook: A lethal mix of cold weather and poor quarterback play made this one of the ugliest games of the year involving a playoff contender. Sure, Cleveland-Buffalo was a lot like this. But, those guys won't be sniffing the playoffs at all. The Jets were supposed to be a Super Bowl threat. Miami hung around the Wildcard race for awhile longer with the win. These are now teams number eight and nine who failed to reach 30% in third down conversions as we work our way down the schedule. Weather really is a 12th defender in the modern passing game. And, maybe a 13th in the Meadowlands (old or new)!

ARIZONA 43, DENVER 13
Rushing Yardage: Denver 132, Arizona 211
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Denver 10, Arizona 10
Third Down Percentage: Denver 20%, Arizona 25%
Notebook: Two more awful third down rates. At least Arizona has an excuse. They were trying to move the chains with a rookie from Fordham. His teammates bailed him out, and Denver kept handing away free points in a surprising blowout. Kyle Orton lost his lifeline to respectability when the head coach was fired. He was a B-minus quarterback creating illusions with A-plus fantasy stats. Now he's turned back into a pumpkin.

SAN DIEGO 31, KANSAS CITY 0
Rushing Yardage: Kansas City 48, San Diego 207
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Kansas City 0, San Diego 21
Third Down Percentage: Kansas City 0%, San Diego 73%
Notebook: Brodie Croyle was the starting quarterback for Kansas City. Though, it may just have been a mannequin with a look of panic painted on its face. A walk in the park for the Chargers, who still have an outside shot at the playoffs even after last week's big loss to Oakland.

PHILADELPHIA 30, DALLAS 27
Rushing Yardage: Philadelphia 171, Dallas 110
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Philadelphia 14, Dallas 14
Third Down Percentage: Philadelphia 36%, Dallas 27%
Notebook: Odd game, in that it was a defensive struggle in terms of moving the chains, but a high scoring game because both teams could make big plays. Playoff opponents of Philadelphia will have to guard against the deep ball (the VERY deep ball!). Weather should help them in that regard...until the Eagles face Atlanta in a dome. Dallas is playing better under the new coach...but home losses to New Orleans and Philly suggest this is a .500 team at best without Romo.

BALTIMORE 34, HOUSTON 28
Rushing Yardage: Baltimore 63, Houston 111
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Baltimore 0, Houston 25
Third Down Percentage: Baltimore 53%, Houston 38%
Notebook: Odd to see a loser win rushing yardage and Drive Points so handily, particularly when it's Baltimore that they're playing! The Ravens scored cheap field position points in the first half...then had a kickoff return to start the second half...and a pick six to win the game in overtime. Like usual, Houston didn't do much until they fell behind...then they did a lot! Standard Houston result...an exciting loss.

That wraps up our look at the key stats from this past weekend. We'll run updated Drive Point averages in our previews Thursday to get you ready for San Francisco-San Diego and a full NFL weekend. Don't forget that the college bowls start on Saturday. Our first bowl stat preview will run in Friday's report so you have plenty of time to make your choices in the tripleheader. Look for bowl previews and boxscore summaries from this weekend all the way through the Auburn-Oregon BCS Championship game in a few weeks.

Oh, don't forget we have nightly basketball too! Most of our coverage here in the NOTEBOOK will focus on football (with a special report Saturday devoted to college hoops). That doesn't mean we're not picking winners each and every night on the hardwood. You can purchase game day selections online with your credit card a few hours before first tip. Or, call 1-800-323-4453 to sign up for any longterm football or basketball package.

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