Lombardi Ave Picks 2016: National Football League Week 10 roundup
Week 10 of the 2016 NFL season brought us some overall exciting football — a welcome reprieve from the general mediocre performances on display in this strange year.
This week saw all of our usual four-man group successfully make their picks on time — another welcome return.
Here’s how we did:
What We Got Right
With this being a time where every pick begins to count a lot more as the season gets closer to its conclusion, we had only a couple of games which we all correctly agreed upon.
Baltimore — despite looking brutally awful this year on offense (#32 in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA metric) — had managed to come into this game at 4-4 and tied for the lead in the AFC North. Cleveland meanwhile has been the league’s worst team record-wise, and it showed up here. As bad as Baltimore has been on offense, their defense has been among the best in the NFL this year (#2 in Defensive DVOA; #6 vs Pass/#1 vs Run) and they held down the Browns in a stellar showing (7 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 33 total rushing yards) to offset 2 turnovers by Joe Flacco in a 28-7 victory.
Arizona has not been nearly the Super Bowl contender many believed they were before the season, but even as they struggled to a 3-4-1 start there seemed to be plenty there to handle a San Francisco team that was 1-7 and had been beaten by these same Cardinals a month ago despite Arizona starting Drew Stanton at quarterback.
That was far from the case however, as Arizona struggled to an ugly 23-20 victory against the doormat 49ers. Arizona’s supposedly excellent defense (#4 Defensive DVOA) let Colin Kaepernick have perhaps his strongest game since returning to the starting QB spot for the 49ers (2 TDs, including one rushing), while their offense (#26 Offensive DVOA) kept on flailing (4 turnovers given to San Fran’s #25 Defensive DVOA unit). Despite a late INT by Carson Palmer (who REALLY has fallen off this year) which led to a game-tying touchdown run by Kaepernick, the Cardinals managed to mount one final drive for a game-winning field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired.
What We Got Wrong
As with the picks we all got right, there were few we all came away being wrong about, but those particular matchups give us some of the most important insights as to what teams may be for real over the next seven weeks.
Start with Atlanta and Philadelphia. We all expected the Falcons to come out victorious, with their offense grabbing our attention with their high-scoring ways. We may have grossly overlooked the power of that Philadelphia defense, however. That group has been far and away the top-rated defense by DVOA to this point, and this contest against the Falcons may be the most impressive showing to date. Atlanta brought in the #1-rated DVOA Offense, routinely putting up 30+ point outings against any defense behind their array of weapons. Against the Eagles though they managed just a single touchdown (with a missed PAT), getting held to 4 punts, 4 field goal attempts (1 which was missed), an interception, and a turnover on downs. Philadelphia didn’t impress on offense (24 points; 2 touchdowns, 5 field goal attempts — 2 missed — 2 punts, 1 fumble lost, and one turnover on downs) against a beatable Falcons defense (#26 Defensive DVOA), but they did enough to win a close contest.
San Diego-Miami was another sort of game where we may have been overrating one team and underrating the other. San Diego has been one of the better-rated teams in advanced metrics despite their 4-5 record coming in; their defense jumped up to #11 in DVOA after years of being pushovers there, while their offense has a still-great Philip Rivers passing with a resurgent Melvin Gordon rushing like the 1st round pick he was supposed to be from the start. The Dolphins have turned around a terrible start though, finding an elite run game to pair with a dominating defensive line to make games hell in the trenches on their opposition. Though the Chargers got out to an early 10-0 lead, Rivers and Co. found themselves losing their 6th game of the year to this awoken beast of a Miami team. Their defense picked off Rivers 4 times and sacked him thrice to resoundingly announce themselves as a potential playoff contender; should the rest of the Chargers’ AFC West division mates stumble down the stretch, that may be more than a seemingly faraway dream.
The biggest game of the weekend though was New England-Seattle. Two teams undoubtedly expected to challenge for the Super Bowl at this point put on a great show, though maybe not in the way we would have expected. Coming in, Tom Brady had been lighting up every defense he faced following the always-ridiculous four-game suspension for DeflateGate (he’d done so well many considered him their early MVP despite playing four less games than anyone); here, he put up yards but no touchdowns and an INT.
Seattle meanwhile looked awful on offense most weeks to this point, getting by on defensive excellence (#5 in Defensive DVOA) and fortuitously-timed plays from Russell Wilson and Co; here, their usually-terrible offensive line did enough to hold off a non-existent Patriots pass rush and let Wilson toss the ball around for 348 yards and 3 TDs. We ended up with strikingly similar scenario at the end of this contest to what happened in the 2014 season’s Super Bowl; instead of Seattle having the ball on New England’s 1 yard line though, it was flipped. With the shoe on the other foot, New England’s seemingly unstoppable offense fell short on four straight downs in their attempt to tie things up, giving Seattle a sterling victory.
The Muddled Middle
This new section is to look at the games where at least one of us ended up correct, but not all of us. I’ll also end up including ties here — if more somehow manage to occur.
Green Bay looked awful from the start in a Week 9 loss, but somehow managed to do even worse in this game. Tennessee came out steaming mad — at least in part due to articles written by Packers-centric writers (one of which was Lombardi Ave’s own Kevin Culligan) used as motivation — and piled on early and often in a game that stopped being contentious before the 1st quarter ended. Tennessee scored on five of their first six drives en route to a 35-10 lead in what became a 47-25 blowout, elevating themselves to 5-5 and looking like a solid choice to win the AFC South. Green Bay meanwhile sits at a moribund 4-5 and could see their season fall by the wayside completely before they even get back to Lambeau Field; they still play Washington and Philadelphia on the road the next two weeks, and each looks far better than the Packers on all sides of the ball.
Minnesota started the year so well, jumping to a 5-0 record behind an excellent defense and an efficient offense; since, they have now lost four straight, including a bad showing against Washington. Their offense couldn’t find much effectiveness against Washington’s #21 DVOA Defense, and the defense fell short far too often against Washington’s offense, garnering just one sack of Kirk Cousins while he accumulated 262 yards and 2 TDs. Minnesota had one more chance at the end, but fell well short of the endzone needing a touchdown to win.
Tampa Bay and Chicago are two bad teams, but one is apparently much worse than the other despite both having surprising performances against relatively good teams (Chicago beat both Detroit and Minnesota; Tampa Bay beat Atlanta and nearly dueled Oakland to a tie). This wasn’t even a contest, as Tampa Bay jumped all over the Bears to force 4 turnovers with their defense in a 10-points-allowed afternoon; on the other side, Jameis Winston put up 312 yard and 2 TDs in a 36 point offensive effort to get Tampa Bay up to 4-5 — still surprisingly in contention for their division and the playoffs.
Carolina was finally showing signs of life the past couple weeks, getting to 3-5 after a 1-5 start. They even came out with a good game most of the way, looking likely to win against a then 6-2 Chiefs team which stands as one of the most consistently good squads in the league. They took a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter, and 4-5 — as well as officially announcing themselves back — seemed imminent. Kansas City was having none of that outcome, however; they scored 17 straight points — an INT TD and three field goals — while forcing two key turnovers to steal away victory from the jaws of defeat to keep up in the AFC West at 7-2.
The Rams and Jets have been mostly atrocious teams this year, but still found themselves on the outskirts of the playoff race. This game was about as ugly as you could imagine: 15 punts, one touchdown (with a missed extra point of course), 3 field goals, and a game-sealing INT. The Jets are only mathematically not eliminated from the playoffs now (that won’t last for long), while the Rams actually somehow still have a shot in the NFC despite being long overdue for a quarterback change to the rookie #1 overall pick whom they gave up a farm of draft picks for.
New Orleans-Denver gave us a classic offense-defense struggle. Drew Brees put up 300+ yards and 3 TDs, but threw a couple INTs while WR Michael Thomas lost two fumbles to keep things close. New Orleans probably should have won this game, with a touchdown tying the game at 23-23 with an extra point attempt set to happen and only 1:22 left on the clock. We got to experience a first in the NFL at this point. Under the new PAT rules set before 2015, not only were kicks moved back, but the defending team now could potentially run back any block/INT on those after-TD points plays. This had never happened in a situation where it mattered yet, so you could excuse anyone who didn’t believe it possible. Denver managed to get the kick blocked (by another guy clearing the offensive line!), but it didn’t stop there; Denver recovered, and ran it all the way back for their own two point play. As awesome as it was, it shouldn’t have counted: on the runback, the Broncos’ player stepped on the out of bounds line. Why wasn’t it called, even on review? There wasn’t sufficient evidence. How, you ask? Because the guy had white shoes, and there was no discernible camera angle to give officials enough evidence to see whether he actually stepped out of bounds or not. The best of football tends to rest on some degree of unbelievability; this was about as unbelievable as I’ve seen.
Houston has looked about as bad as a 6-3 team can be. Their defense started strong but has taken multiple hits, dropping to #13 in Defensive DVOA (and #24 vs the run) as the weeks have passed since J.J. Watt’s injury took him out for the season; the offense has never reached anything but putrid awfulness though, as Brock Osweiler continues to cement his status as one of the worst free agent signings by anyone in its 23 year history. Still, Jacksonville has made those concerns seem like a dream scenario behind Blake “Garbage Time King” Bortles and his #27 DVOA offense. It went about as expected for these two teams: Osweiler put up only 99 passing yards while the Texans built a 21-10 lead heading into the 4th quarter, then Bortles did his usual act to make it close at the end. Somehow, Houston is still in the lead of the AFC South..and I can’t say I’m confident enough in anyone else there to take it away from them despite their efforts to give it up.
Dallas-Pittsburgh was one of the premiere games of the weekend, exactly what the NFL had to be banking on for weeks to give them a boost to their flailing ratings. I haven’t seen those numbers yet, but those teams did their damndest to put on a show worthy of the massive hype. Scoring and yardage were plentiful early, but the real excitement was saved right for the end. In the final 11 minutes, we got to see four TDs between these teams, each more impressive than the last. Pittsburgh took great field position to drive down for a 1 yard TD by Le’veon Bell: 24-23 Steelers lead after a failed 2 point attempt. Then, Dallas went 75 yards and ground down almost 6 minutes off the clock; it ended with an unencumbered Ezekiel Elliott 14 yard TD run: 29-24 Cowboys lead after a failed 2 point attempt of their own. With under two minutes left, Pittsburgh went down the field in 1:13 for a TD score on a perfect Roethlisberger toss to Antonio Brown on a patented Dan Marino-style fake spike: 30-29 lead following another failed 2 pt try — this one which was actually intercepted and attempted to be returned (on the same day as an extra point play just went back for game-changing points in the Saints-Broncos game!). With only :42 left on the clock, Dallas got the ball at their own 25. Dallas worked their way to the Pittsburgh 32 quickly, and then handed the ball to Elliott again (with one remaining timeouts, this was still plausible); he busted through to score on that play: 0:09 seconds left, Dallas now up 35-30 following yet another failed 2 pt try. Pittsburgh still miraculously had one last shot following the kickoff, and got the ball in Antonio Brown’s hands twice; the first went up to their own 36, then the next went all the way to the DAL 20. Too bad for them, there was no time remaining, and the Cowboys finished off another highly impressive victory. Outside of Pittsburgh though, this was really a win for anybody who enjoys football — even if it is the Cowboys who came away victorious.
Lastly came Monday night’s Cincinnati-N.Y. Giants matchup. The score was close, but the game was not the kind of entertaining affair rampant across Sunday’s contests. It was hard fought though, and the Giants were able to show off their high-priced defensive additions on the line to shut down both the Bengals’ passing and rushing games. Cincinnati found themselves needing just one single point with most of the fourth quarter at their disposal, but could not make it happen. Andy Dalton threw an interception on one of his three drives in that quarter while getting constantly harassed by the Giants’ smothering pass rush and penetrating interior line, and the Bengals gained a meager 37 yards on 16 plays across them. Eli Manning played well enough early on (3 TDs) to overcome a couple turnovers (including one following Dalton’s own INT) with the help of his team’s dominant fourth quarter defense, and his Giants sit in prime position at 6-3 to have a great shot at least at garnering a wild card slot in the playoffs. Cincinnati meanwhile may have officially put themselves too far out of contention in their division — and with the strong records in the AFC West right now, that appears to be their only option for a playoff berth even if they somehow were to win out from here.
Who Won The Week
Yet again, it was Brad who grabbed the week. It wasn’t as blatant as last week — where he set the best record for any of us during a single week (11-2) — but he continued to add to his group-leading tally.
As of now, he’s far and away the one we should expect to win this contest; with an 8-point lead on his closest competition (namely, me), there is a lot of catching up to do. Chances will have to be taken in the coming weeks, but I wouldn’t say this is over by any means.
Bring on Week 11!
Week 10 Picks Records:
2016 Picks Records:
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