Bit of a change of focus for the rest of The League. Since I don’t know how many die-hard Buccaneers or Seahawks fans we have amongst our loyal Barkers, I’m going to focus less on individual team recaps/evaluations and more on some of that week’s upcoming matchups – specifically, those matchups that I think have a solid wagering angle. I’ll weave in my thoughts on the current state of the teams in question that should impact the matchup, of course, and if anyone has a burning desire for a take on any team/matchup that’s not listed just drop it in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.
My Cowboys piece from earlier today touched on a few of the adjusted stats and metrics that I’ve been tracking this season. Several of them are mentioned below, and while they are only a part of what I factor in when I’m evaluating a spread I’m including them in these write-ups where I feel they’re illustrative of an important matchup in the game. Here’s a quick n’ dirty primer on what these stats mean:
YPA +/- is the number of yards per passing attempt that a team has gained relative to what their opponents have been surrendering. If the Cowboys have been gaining 1.6 yards more per pass attempt than their opponents have been allowing, their YPA +/- would be 1.6. The same idea applies for rushing yards per carry (YPC), as well as rushing (YPCA – the extra ‘A’ is for ‘allowed’) and passing (YPAA)yards surrendered by the defense.
YPA60 is a team’s yards per passing attempt plus their YPA +/-. If the Cowboys are averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt and their YPA +/- is 1.6, their YPA60 would be 10. Again, same idea applies for rushing yards as well as rushing/passing surrendered by the defense.
PD60 is the differential between a team’s YPA60 (offensive) and their YPAA60 (defensive) figures, with an adjustment added in for the passing TDs and INTs for both their offense and defense. This is important because of how predictive passer rating differential (what the offense achieves vs what the defense gives up) has proven to be in determining Super Bowl winners as well as the winners of individual matchups. A table showing every team’s PD60 through Week Five can be found at the bottom of the Cowboys’ piece.
If you’ve got any question on these stats or anything else I factor in when evaluating games, ask away!
Games I Love
NO (-5) at TB – The Saints are rocking a 2.34 PD60 while the Bucs come in with a horrendous -5.31 figure which is the absolute worst in the league. What’s more, the Bucs are without the best player on their defense in DT Gerald McCoy, have a couple of banged-up LBs and are also likely to lack the prime mover in their run game, LeGarrette Blount. While almost any back can have a solid day facing the Saints’ poor LBs, it’s unlikely that 31-year old Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin can do enough to aid the Buc’s ailing pass game. The Buc’s pass defense is giving up 9.73 YPA60, and with the Saints’ air game averaging 8.60 look for Tampa Bay to get cooked alive by Brees. With ailing LBs and iffy safeties taking the field for Tampa Bay, monster TE Jimmy Graham in particular is in line for another tremendous day. The scariest matchup for the Saints is facing the Buc’s emerging DEs Michael Bennett and Adrian Clayborn, but LT Jermon Bushrod is doing a much better job of containing pass-rushers and newly promoted RT Charles Brown has thusfar kept Lucy from yanking the football away as well as preventing opposing DEs from smacking Brees. This line has held steady at 5 all week, but I think people are being seduced by Tampa Bay’s 3-2 record and division competitiveness last year while ignoring the fact that this year’s team has been shredded through the air by three opponents (Detroit, San Francisco and Indy) who aren’t as good throwing the ball as the Saints are.
Games I Like
PHI at WAS (+2) – Can anyone, anywhere, tell me why Washington is laying points at home to a team as direly discombobulated as Philly? There’s a decent chance that Vick doesn’t make it through this game, as the Eagles’ King Dunlap/Todd Herremans tackle combo figures to struggle mightily with Orakpo and Kerrigan on the outside while Jim Fassel will have some A-Gap blitzes ready to confound overmatched rookie center Jason Kelce. The Skin’s pair of competent safeties in OJ Atogwe and Laron Landry should keep DeSean Jackson from running free deep while capable corner Josh Wilson should compete well with whichever Eagle WR he lines up against. And you can forget about TE Brent Celek, because Vick certainly has. The Eagles could succeed by running a heavy, heavy dose of LeSean McCoy at the Skins’ Adam Carriker and Barry Cofield and wearing them down over the course of the AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA JK LOLZ the Eagles are coached by Andy Reid. Look for 11 carries from Shady and 50+ passes from a constantly harassed Vick.
When the Skins have the ball, look for success on the ground as the hot hand from the Torain/Hightower/Helu troika continues the season-long embarrassment of the Eagles’ LBs. Nnamdi Asomugha remains lost in the Eagles’ zone scheme, and don’t look for completely overmatched DC Juan Castillo to come up with any miracle cures prior to the Eagles’ bye (when he’ll probably lose his job anyway). It’s hard to put complete faith in Rex Grossman, but there should be plenty of candy available with the Skins’ TEs in the middle of Philly’s Donut D. As an extra special bonus, the Skins are coming off a bye week rested with some new defensive wrinkles ready to roll out while the Eagles battle dissension and disarray. If you like this call, then keep an eye on the line as it’s gone from a pick ‘em to Washington +2 and you might be able to get a full field goal close to kickoff.
STL at GB (-15.5) – I can’t ever really ‘love’ a more than double-digit spread, but if the Packers are remotely interested in the proceedings Sunday this figures to be a slaughter. The Rams are without ALL THREE of their top cornerbacks while free-agent safety Quintin Mikell has played abominably thusfar. Their pass defense stats don’t look terrible – mainly due to a pretty poor outing from Rex Grossman in Week 4 and a couple of DeSean Jackson drops in Week 1 – but with their secondary this depleted Rodgers may be able to call out his target at the line of scrimmage and still hit him. As a bonus the Rams have the league’s worst run D by just about any measure, so Starks and Grant should be able to keep the Pack in favorable down and distance and protect a big lead late.
On the flip side, the Rams’ run game has been solid thusfar but is countered by an equally strong Green Bay run defense and BJ Raji/Ryan Pickett figure to play havoc with weak-link C Jason Smith. The Packers’ pass defense hasn’t been airtight but the Rams’ passing attack has been Cialis-commercial impotent – their 4.13 YPA60 is dead-last in the league as they’ve been absolutely crippled by the loss of Danny Amendola as well as shoddy pass pro from their tackles. I like this more as a teaser than a straight play to account for the Rams’ coming off a bye and a possible casual attitude from the defending champs, but I know I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be on the other side of this bet.
CAR (+4.5) at ATL – I like the +160 money line here as well, as I think the Panthers have a decent shot at winning outright. While both teams are near the bottom of the league in pass defense on an adjusted basis (CAR 9.60 YPA60, ATL 9.51), I’ve got Carolina’s passing attack at #6 in the league while Atlanta’s comes in at #29 – things figure to be even worse this week as Atlanta will be without hotshot rookie WR Julio Jones. Atlanta has been handicapped by poor protection as LT Sam Baker in particular has sucked out loud and both of Carolina’s DEs can make plenty of hay against him. Atlanta can have some success against the Carolina run defense, but Michael Turner looks sloooooow this year and can’t break enough big gainers to make up for Atlanta’s dink and dunk pass attack.
Carolina has re-discovered its own run game over the last couple of weeks, and even against Atlanta’s solid run defense their strong OL and running back tandem should keep Newton from having to operate behind the chains too often. The Panthers’ biggest disadvantage going into this one may be their punting game as they’ve been terrible in coverage, but if they don’t let the Falcons flip field position too often they should be in solid shape. Keep an eye on late-breaking injury news here, as Falcons’ DE John Abraham, S William Moore and CB Chris Owens are all iffy for the game and their absence would put the Falcons even further behind the 8-ball.
DAL(+7.5) at NE – While you’re free to be skeptical of this as a homer pick, this one is numbers driven – while the Pats have the league’s 10th-best PD60 at 2.28, the Cowboys are #4 in the league at 3.45. The biggest factor in this bet is the Pats’ horrendous pass defense, which I’ve got with the worst YPA60 in the whole league and the third-worst score in YPA+/- as they’re giving up 1.23 more yards PER ATTEMPT than they should be based on their opponents. ProFootballFocus has several of their pass defenders ranked decently in coverage, but a ton of passes are likely being completed against ‘hole in zone’ and not dragging down anyone’s individual score. Romo will be playing with his full complement of weapons for the first time since the first quarter of the Jets game and his top three weapons in Austin, Bryant and Witten will have favorable matchups on every snap. The most concerning thing about this matchup from the Cowboys’ side isn’t a Romo brainlock moment but rather how well G Bill Nagy and C Phil Costa will hold up in pass protection. However, unless Albert Haynesworth plays a lot more snaps and at a much higher level than he has at any point thusfar in 2011 the Pats don’t have a very scary interior rush. The Cowboys do need to hope that LT Doug Free got his head right with ball during the bye week, but his bookend in Tyron Smith has been outstanding thusfar.
When the Pats have the ball, let’s not kid ourselves – Brady and Co are going to rack up yards and probably points as well. The Cowboys do have a few advantages that should help them stay competitive on the defensive side, however. The first is the bye week – they’ll almost certainly be throwing out the most sophisticated pass D the Pats have seen this season by simple virtue of having a break in the action to install more of their scheme. While no one is shutting down Welker, a rested Terence Newman and a healthy Orlando Scandrick at least have the quicks to keep his typical 6-8 yard outs from becoming this season’s 40-yard scampers while LB Sean Lee has proven very disruptive in the middle of the field. A fully healthy Cowboys secondary compares favorably with any of the Pats’ opponents to this point (though they obviously lack an individual player with Revis’ singular brilliance). This one feels like a shootout and I like the Cowboys’ odds to stay within a TD (and a +250 money line might be tempting as well).
MIA at NYJ u42.5 – I like the Jets -7.5 here as well, but Sanchez’ recent struggles combined with Shonn Greene’s lack of foot speed and a Dolphins’ D with a week to scheme and the return of CB Vontae Davis make the under seem to be the safest play in taking advantage of what’s likely to be an ugly show from newly promoted Dolphins’ QB Matt Moore. Rex Ryan’s desire to return to the Jets’ ground and pound ethos should provide for some long, slow, clock-killing drives against a decent Dolphins’ run D. Moore won’t get much going – especially with his best receiver checking in to Revis Island – and unless the Jets run a few of the resulting turnovers all the way back like they did against the Ravens I think this one stays pretty low-scoring.