Game Result: 40 points
The Bengals defense without Mike Zimmer are one of the better performing units in football, which may not have surprised many, but with my respect for Zimmer, they surprised me. They already played Joe Flacco on the road (Joe is very good in Baltimore) and Matt Ryan after that Falcons offense put up career numbers vs the Saints week 1. But they held Ryan & Flacco to 55.7% completions, only 576 total yds (5.43 YPA), 2 TDs/4 INTs and added 5 sacks.
They are rated 3rd in yds/pass allowed, 5th in yds/point allowed, 4th in red zone defense and 4th in pass defense efficiency. Overall, they are the 8th most efficient defense in the NFL.
They go up against Jake Locker and the Titans, who, vs the Dallas defense, struggled mightily at home. They recorded the worst 3rd down conversion rate, the 3rd fewest overall 1st downs, were 5th worst in EDSR offense and made it to the Dallas red zone just once, failing to convert.
The best thing going for the Titans was their run offense, which gained 6.3 ypc (3rd best) but they ran just 13 times (passed 34). Their defense did hold Romo to 5.1 yds/attempt, which was low, and forced him into a 89 passer rating, even though he didn't throw an interception.
So defensively, the Titans have some strength. They are 7th best in the red zone and on 3rd down, and are the 9th most efficient defense overall. They are 5th vs the pass and 2nd most efficient in pass pressure efficiency. So I look for the Bengals to take advantage of the weakness on the Titans defense, their run defense (22nd).
The only problem for the Bengals is they gained just 3.8 ypc vs the Falcons last week, but that didn't stop the coach (their former RB coach) from calling 45 run plays to only 24 pass plays. And that was against the Falcons 27th ranked run defense. So the moral here, if the same holds for this game, is the Bengals will run even if its only somewhat productive.
In their 24-10 win last week over the Falcons, the Bengals threw for 12.6 ypa, which was the best in the NFL by far, but there were some huge gains in the pass game. Without Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, this pass offense was still productive. However, remember this statistic:
Andy Dalton's YAC accounts for 70.9% of his total passing yards. In other words, the ball travels in the air (air yards) just 29.1% of the time, and the rest has been YAC. They've just been very good in the YAC department thus far. But only Geno Smith has a higher % in the NFL.
It remains to be seen if AJ Green will play, but my numbers assume he is in there. If he's not, the under is an even stronger play.
12/14/14 || 322 Buffalo Bills +4.5
Game Result: Buffalo 21, Green Bay 13
For a number of reasons, the Packers struggle on the road this year. They are just 3-3 SU and 2-4 ATS. They have won just 1 game of those 6 by more than 3 points (vs the Bears). In addition, the Packers have the strange quirk of playing just 1 road game since week 8 prior to this one. It was week 12 vs the Vikings, which they won by just 3 points. Coming off the big Monday night win over the Falcons, in a game they scored a bunch but allowed a lot as well, there are a lot of negative trends to associate with the Packers.
Since inserting Kyle Orton into the lineup, the Bills lost just once at home by more than 4 points, and that was to the Patriots. This is the last home game for the Bills this season, and they still have the slightest shot at the playoffs, and they know it. They were very frustrated by the loss in Denver, as numerous calls went against them.
Oddly, the Packers defense has allowed every single trip into their red zone to be converted into a TD the last 3 weeks (vs MIN, NE and ATL). This will be vitally important this week because while the Bills are scoring 22 ppg this year, they are one of the league's worst red zone offenses. But examine this matchup:
The Bills offense is actually converting a better rate in the red zone the last 3 weeks than the Packers offense. And the Bills defense is holding opponents the last 3 weeks to fewer conversions as well. But the red zone TRIPS is the big factor. Offensively, the Packers avg over 4 trips/game, the 3rd most in the NFL. But on the road, they drop by 1 full trip (from 4.6 to 3.7). And now they must face the Bills defense, who allows just 2.6 red zone trips/game (4th best) and the best the Packers have faced since they lost 36-16 vs Seattle week 1.
My singular prime concern is this game is the tendency for the Bills secondary to get beat deep. Jordy Nelson could have a field day. But to do that, its incumbent that Rodgers has time in the pocket. And the Bills have the league's #1 pass rush efficiency defense. Its a far cry from what Green Bay saw last week from the Falcons (who rank 30th). I believe this game is decided upon whether or not the Bills can prevent the deep shots from Rodgers, and whether or not the Bills offense can convert at a respectable rate in the red zone.
10/19/14 || 461 Carolina Panthers Over 49.5
Game Result: 55 points
I mentioned strength of schedule in my weekly NFL podcast (which you should try to give a listen weekly) and how it was becoming more and more critical when trying to understand teams, because variance is so high on many teams on a week to week basis.
The key takeaway for this matchup? There is NO other matchup this weekend pitting 2 teams who have faced MORE BRUTAL defensive matchups.
The Packers have faced the 2nd hardest schedule from a defensive perspective. Just take a look: SEA, NYJ, DET, CHI, MIN, MIA. One of the main reasons I took this team when they were just a small 1-2 point favorite over CHI week 4? The Bears defense was NOTHING like the 3 they had to face prior. And sure enough, on the road no less, the Packers thumped the Bears, putting up 21 in the first half alone, and 38 for the game. Last week they played the 5th rated Dolphins, a much more difficult challenge, after playing the 26th ranked (at the time) Vikings. And they only put up 27 on the Dolphins. Against the current top 5 defenses (SEA, DET, MIA) the Packers put up 16, 7 and 27 points (avg of 17 ppg). Against the current ranked defenses they faced of NYJ (19th), CHI (8th), MIN (22nd) they put up 31, 38 and 42 (avg of 37 ppg).
Meanwhile, it seems obvious at this point in time that: