So, what should we make of Bryce Brown? He's been on fire since given a chance to start but is incredibly raw (see: fumbles). However, the Panthers' and Cowboys' defenses are mediocre at best against the run, so it'll be interesting to see if Brown's talent is truly good enough to go up against the best run defense in the league, or if he's just been able to take advantage of shaky defenses. But we'll get into that. First, the rankings and some observations:
|4||New York Giants||21.241||0|
|25||New York Jets||-22.184||0|
How good is Indianapolis? If the season were to end today, the Colts would be the fifth seed in the AFC with an 8-4 record. As you can see from the chart above, they are twenty-eighth in my book with a score of -30.803. Now, what's interesting about this is my model is not supposed to predict playoff teams, it's supposed to predict overall success. There have been many teams, like last year's Atlanta Falcons, that do well in the regular season and then lay an egg in January. Therefore, exclusion from the playoffs in my system does not necessarily invalidate my model, but if the Colts find themselves in the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl then I may have to go back and rework a few things. And who knows - they could end up missing the playoffs altogether.
Statistic of the Week. In the last installment, I looked at how sacks affected success and found that it was ultimately tied to the running game. I'm going to flip the coin here and see if it's a mutual dependence or if the running defense can stand on its own. Tampa Bay is the best at stopping the run, giving up only 3.4 yards per carry. Denver and San Francisco are tied for second at 3.6. Both Denver and San Francisco are leading their divisions while Tampa Bay is in good position to make a run at the playoffs, so it would seem that there is some correlation there. The sack numbers are certainly helping San Francisco and Denver (2.5 and 3.2 per game, respectively) which are better than the Buccaneers' atrocious 1.5 sacks per game. The worst in the league are Indianapolis and Atlanta (4.8), Buffalo (4.9), and New Orleans (5.1). Only Atlanta has a postseason berth out of those four teams. None of those teams are great at rushing the passer (Buffalo is actually the best at 2.6 sacks per game; Indianapolis is terrible at 1.9). Before I write off any possible connections between success and the defensive line play I'm going to wait and see if Indianapolis and Atlanta are exceptions to the rule or if they slump down the stretch.
Playoff Picture. We've reached December, which is the magical time of the year where teams seem to either go on a run or collapse. For the last four games, I'm going to up the ante on comparisons. Teams listed in italics are projected to make the postseason in both my rankings and in the NFL's seeding procedures. Teams listed in italicized bold face are also correctly seeded according to the NFL. (The number in parenthesis is their rank above, in case that causes confusion.)
1. New England, 41.719 (1)
2. Houston, 29.080 (2)
3. Baltimore, 18.627 (6)
4. Denver, 6.739 (9)
5. Cincinnati, 0.251 (14)
6. Cleveland, -0.814 (15)
1. Chicago, 23.387 (3)
2. New York Giants, 21.241 (4)
3. San Francisco, 20.936 (5)
4. Atlanta, 14.883 (7)
5. Tampa Bay, 10.913 (8)
6. Seattle, 6.266 (10)
Cleveland still bothers me quite a bit, since they really shouldn't be anywhere near the playoffs. I don't think you can make the argument that they've been a spectacularly bad team; they actually remind of the Lions from a few years ago: a team that plays well, just not well enough to win. Still, they're not a playoff team and shouldn't be listed. I've already identified the issue and will make the improvements once the season is over, for the sake of consistency. For the most part, though, the rankings have been fairly accurate; I have nine teams locked into the playoffs correctly and three teams with the correct seed, all without taking wins and losses into the equation. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.
I see that we have fans here who are already eyeing the number one pick in the draft. While that pick is always exciting, I would rather experience another win somewhere in this disaster of this season and settle for a top-five pick. I'm not really a big fan of any of the top quarterbacks going into the draft and would rather seen the pick taken on a safety or cornerback, which (excluding offensive line depth) is really the only issue on the roster for the moment. I think Nick Foles has done enough to deserve a shot at a sixteen-game season and that the Eagles' problem overall is more of an attitude issue... but before this rant gets too long, we'll move onto the game on Sunday.
The Eagles will win because of Bryce Brown. This is really more of a leap of faith than it is an assertion. Tampa boasts the league's best run defense (see above) and are +11 on the turnover ratio. Brown has certainly made the most of his opportunities against average defenses so this will be a true test of his raw talent and ability. Another good side effect from his play is Marty's more balanced offensive plan. Brown carried the ball over twenty times last Sunday and I'm sure he'll continue to see that type of workload as long as it works, provided he doesn't keep fumbling. The run-first approach has certainly made it much easier for Nick Foles to be effective, and I think Andy and Marty have noticed. I'm also curious about how the defensive line plays without Washburn, but I'm more of a "seeing is believing" person.
The Eagles will lose because of Vincent Jackson. He's a big, physical receiver (albeit slow) and will have no problems creating space against the Eagles' haplessly disorganized secondary. Toss in the fact that the majority of the starters on defense think tackles are made by trying throwing yourself as high as possible at the ball carrier, and I see a big day in store for Jackson and other Buccaneer receivers. And don't forget about Doug Martin, who has absolutely been the player Tampa Bay hoped they were getting when they drafted him in April. The offensive talent that Greg Schiano has assembled, combined with their efficient defense, may be too tall an order for the Eagles.
Anyway... Is it April yet?