Crunching the Numbers: Week 14

Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks and Giants make a statement; Patriots ensure their place at the top; a look at the AFC Wildcard

This week, before I go into the rankings, I'm going to give my two cents on Nick Foles while we're all still enthralled by his play against the NFL's worst pass defense. And while you may give me some flack for wording it that way, I don't think it can be ignored. Tampa's secondary is God-awful, and in the last two drives Bill Sheridan inexplicably called off the blitzes that had already downed Foles six times in favor of the prevent defense. And we all know what happens when you call prevent.

So while I really didn't judge him by his numbers, I was very impressed by his intangibles, which he proudly displayed in Tampa on Sunday. We've been reading the glowing reviews of his pocket presence and poise all week, but I personally think that all of that stuff pales in comparison to what he did on the final two plays of the game. Drawing routes in the sand, combined with suggesting the game-winning play to his coaches, are simply traits that we don't often see from rookie quarterbacks. Those are football smarts normally exhibited by hardened veterans who have been around the block a couple times. Foles still has to make a stronger case for himself before he has the luxury of going into camp as the starter next season, but for the moment he's off to a great start.

But before I ramble, the rankings and some thoughts:

Rank Team Score Change
1 New England 43.628 0
2 New York Giants 24.796 +2
3 Houston 24.660 -1
4 San Francisco 22.297 +1
5 Chicago 20.897 -2
6 Seattle 18.940 +4
7 Baltimore 15.904 -1
8 Atlanta 12.266 -1
9 Tampa Bay 11.307 -1
10 Denver 10.522 -1
11 Green Bay 6.690 0
12 Washington 6.006 0
13 Cleveland 5.847 +2
14 Cincinnati -0.699 0
15 San Diego -5.580 +1
16 St. Louis -7.378 +3
17 Carolina -9.627 +3
18 Minnesota -10.216 0
19 Pittsburgh -12.852 -2
20 Miami -17.102 +2
21 Arizona -17.177 -8
22 Detroit -17.463 +1
23 New Orleans -19.331 -2
24 New York Jets -19.625 +1
25 Dallas -20.740 -1
26 Buffalo -22.725 0
27 Jacksonville -25.340 0
28 Indianapolis -29.899 0
29 Tennessee -31.939 0
30 Oakland -33.665 0
31 Philadelphia -38.383 0
32 Kansas City -47.943 0

Who will win the AFC Wild Card race? Right now, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are holding down the fort. At 9-4 the Colts are pretty much a lock for the postseason and are still technically able to win their division. However, as I noted last week, their shortcomings might be too much to win in the playoffs. The Steelers are sitting at 7-6 and have the Bengals and Jets (sort of) right on their heels. Cincinnati has been pretty consistent the past few weeks - even with their loss to the Cowboys - so don't be surprised if they overtake Pittsburgh for the final seed. The Browns, at 5-8, are still technically in the hunt and are predicted to make the playoffs in my system... but it's probably not going to happen, barring a meltdown of everyone ahead of them. More on Cleveland later.

Statistic of the Week. I've been doing defense lately with sacks and rush yards per attempt allowed, so I thought I'd float back to the offense. In previous editions I've looked at the effect on sacks allowed and yards per pass attempt on overall success. This week, I'll breakdown the most basic statistic in all of football: rush yards per attempt. For a while in the NFL this was the pretty much the only offensive statistic that existed. The best team in the league is Minnesota, with 5.4 yards per carry. They're buried deep in the playoff race, and that incredible number is probably a combination of having a relatively athletic quarterback and Adrian Peterson being Adrian Peterson. After that the Redskins (one game out) and the 49ers (second seed) are tied for second at 5.3. Buffalo picks up fourth at 5.1 yards per carry. Of the top four teams not mentioned above in playoff seeding, the Patriots are the best... and a whole yard beneath the top teams at 4.2. The worst current playoff team at running the ball is actually Atlanta, who only average 3.7 yards on the ground per attempt. So while it's seems clear that running the ball may not be necessary to get you into the playoffs, I'll be paying attention to how these teams actually perform in the postseason.

Playoff Picture. Just like last week: italicized teams are currently projected to make the postseason according to my rankings and by the league at NFL.com. Teams that are italicized boldface also have the same seed in my projections as they do on NFL.com.

AFC
1. New England, 43.628 (1)
2. Houston, 24.660 (3)
3. Baltimore, 15.904 (7)
4. Denver, 10.522 (10)
5. Cleveland, 5.847 (13)
6. Cincinnati, -0.699 (14)

NFC
1. New York Giants, 24.796 (2)
2. San Francisco, 22.297 (4)
3. Chicago, 20.897 (5)
4. Atlanta, 12.266 (8)
5. Seattle, 18.940 (6)
6. Tampa Bay, 11.307 (9)

Overall, I have nine teams correctly projected to make the postseason and two teams projected to land in their current playoff position. The Giants and Seahawks really took some steps forward with their large wins last Sunday, with Seattle forcing a ridiculous eight turnovers. The question that remains is who is pretending, my rankings or the current playoff schedule on NFL.com? For example, are the Giants pretenders because they are first on my list but fourth in reality? Or are the Falcons pretenders for the exact opposite reasons? I'll be paying attention to this in January to see how I can improve upon my algorithm for 2013. As far as Cleveland goes, while they are a long shot to make the postseason, I might have to admit that they could just be playing good football right now. They have beaten their last two opponents, the bottom-feeding Raiders and Chiefs, by a considerable margin of victory and have beaten the Steelers. Things could tilt away from their favor, though, when they play a better opponent this week in the Redskins.

Eagles-Bengals Preview
I'll take a look at Thursday's matchup with Cincinnati since this is being authored before kickoff. The good news is that the Eagles don't have to make another God-awful trip to the West Coast on a Thursday night. The bad news is they are playing a team who is probably still sore over blowing a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and are still very much alive in the playoff hunt.

The Eagles will win because the Bengals have a mediocre run defense (you thought I was going to say Nick Foles, didn't you?). Bryce Brown has made a habit of completely obliterating weak run defenses this season, and with the way that Cincinnati punishes the quarterback (3.2 sacks per game) the running game should ease some of the pressure. While the Eagles had the luxury of playing a terrible pass defense last week, they won't see the same kindness from the Bengals. If they lean on the running game, a relative weakness for their opponent (4.2 yards per carry allowed), it should be enough to at least keep the game close. Defensively the secondary has no hope of stopping A.J. Green, so unless they wake up actually force a turnover (hasn't happened since Week 6 against the Lions), don't expect any help from them.

The Eagles will lose because Andy and Marty might have gone and visited the Folesapalooza that's been setting up camp in the media this week. We saw this happen last year: Kafka comes in versus the Falcons, throws one deep pass to Maclin, and then when he played the next week versus the Giants Marty tried to force the ball down the field, with disastrous results. The Bengals have a stiff pass defense (6.2 yards per pass attempt allowed, 2.15 interception percentage), so if Marty abandons the run early the Eagles could possibly be in for a long night.

If that ends up being true it honestly wouldn't surprise me. But I was pleasantly surprised last week with the clutch win (the draft be damned!), so it's happened before. And if the incessant amount of hype that the NFL Network gives to its Thursday night games is to be believed, than I still have hope. And that's the good thing about sports: no matter how bad the team is, there's always hope. The only difference between teams is how far in the future that hope really is.

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