OK fine, let's do this chronologically. But you have to promise to read on after the first game.
New Orleans at Seattle, Saturday 1:35 p.m.
After fully practicing on consecutive days, Percy Harvin will at last take the fiel--
haha jk lol let's actually talk about future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Upon superficial inspection, Brees is having his usual stellar season. It's kind of uncanny, too:
He's posted his third-best amount of yards, third-most touchdowns to go with this third-least amount of interceptions while posting his third-best completion percentage. Yes, his passer rating of 104.7 is also the third best mark of his career. He's the third-best Drew Brees we've ever seen. Summary: scary good.
Then why are his Y/A, NY/A, and ANY/A only showing up as his fifth-best ever? Because of the all the sacks.
Brees made a reputation for himself last decade as the NFC's premier sack evasion artist, operating quickly and clinically behind a full-body-condom of an offensive line. The reputation of that Drew Brees may endure; however, reality tells a different story.
|Year(s)||Average times sacked||Sack percentage||Sack%+ (higher is better)|
|2006-08||15.7||2.5 (once every 40 pass plays)||124|
|2009-12||23.8||3.7 (once every 27 pass plays)||120|
|2013||37||5.4 (once every 18.5 pass plays)||109|
Brees can be sacked this season, behind this suddenly porous Saints line, almost as often as the average NFL quarterback. What does it mean for Saturday? Well, the Hawks only recorded one sack on December 2, although they also hit Brees multiple times as he was throwing and disrupted him on and off. If the Seattle pass rushers can get home more often on Saturday, it can only help, right? 2013 says they have a better chance than ever.
Indianapolis at New England, Saturday 5:15 p.m.
In a few weeks, probably Andy Reid or Chip Kelly will win NFL Coach of the Year. Neither one will deserve it. Neither one is even as deserving as the two guys manning the sideline in Foxboro tomorrow.
The Case for Bill Belichick
This one ain't hard. Synopsis: every Patriot is hurt, all the time, the club spent December signing guys off the street, they have no receivers left, Brady is suffering his worst statistical season in a decade (87.3 passer rating, 25/11 TD/INT, 6.9 Y/A). Yet amid all that, they won 12 games. Somehow, they're the No. 2 seed.
Look: their significant injuries, with games missed, in chronological order, go like this. Shane Vereen (8), Danny Amendola (3), Vince Wilfork (IR), Stevan Ridley (1), Tavon Wilson (1), Jerrod Mayo (IR), Aqib Talib (3), re-Amendola (1), Sebastian Vollmer (IR).
And that's just in the first eight weeks.
Since then? Two more WR's out and Brandon Spikes just joined Rob Gronkowski and Adrian Wilson on the IR. Also there was something with Aaron Hernandez in the off-season, no?
Forget the fact that the Pats would have gone 7-9 in the NFC West. Did I already mention they won more games than either the Chiefs or Eagles? Given the DEFCON-zero injury situation in New England, this is probably Hoodie Bill's best coaching job of his career. Yes, I'm counting his Cleveland days.
The Case for Chuck Pagano
First, don't laugh. I SAID STOP LAUGHING
The Colts appeared to make a copycat decision in an effort to set the franchise up for a deep playoff run. If you look at play calls, they reduced Andrew Luck's responsibility in their offense to start the season. 171 passes, 151 runs in the first five weeks, a 53-47 throw-run split. They took their exceedingly gifted, exceedingly hardworking, exceedingly mobile young quarterback, and just like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll had already done out west, they told him to hand the ball off as many times as he threw it. To prove their point, they acquired RB Trent Richardson for a first-round pick, to bolster a backfield that already contained Ahmad Bradshaw.
Indy was going to 49er-Seahawk its way to the AFC South title. Until that didn't work. Bradshaw hit IR, then so did Reggie Wayne, and Richardson stumbled his way to a 2.9 YPC stinker of a season.
Naturally, Pagano and the rest of the front office panicked. Oh wait, they didn't. They instead coaxed great defense out of their players -- the Colts allowed just 76 points in the final five weeks and finished as the league's ninth-ranked scoring defense. They also essentially forbade turnovers -- 14 all season. All the while, they told Luck, "Go win it with your arm, just without all the fun weapons we promised you."
And it worked.
From Week 6 onward, the Colts threw the ball 460 times and ran it 247. That's not a 53-47 ratio, in case you're wondering. It's 65-35. While Harbaugh and Carroll averted their eyes, Indy went 7-4 to close out the season. Along the way, Pagano's balls told Ryan Grigson's ego "thanks but no thanks for the guy you spent a first-round pick on."
Big picture: The Colts beat the 13-3 Broncos, the 13-3 Seahawks, the 12-4 49ers, the 11-5 Chiefs. One single team accounted for more than a quarter of those playoff teams' total losses. Those four franchises went 49-11 (.817) when they weren't playing the Colts.
Granted, Indy got blown out from time to time. But they also outwon the Eagles, and outclassed the Chiefs at Arrowhead.
Anyway, enjoy your trophy, Andy or Chip. Whichever. And don't get me started on Carroll or Rivera, or even Arians.
San Francisco at Carolina, Sunday 10:05 a.m.
Timeouts. Theoretically a very valuable commodity -- think savings accounts, rainy day funds, not prepaid debit cards. Unless you're Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kapernick, in which case you blow half your month's grocery money on non-winning lottery tickets and then hope the 24 boxes of generic mac and cheese have enough nutrients that you don't die of malnutrition.
Last Sunday, the Niners spent two early timeouts in each half. Before the first quarter was halfway through, they were down to one stoppage -- same in the third quarter. Most egregiously, Kaepernick called for time on SF's first play from scrimmage of the second half.
That kind of reckless spending isn't sustainable. I present to you a hypothetical situation.
Let's say Green Bay Packer Corner 9.3 subsection f), also known as Micah Hyde, hangs on to that gift interception with 4:14 left in Sunday's game. Super big play, but not a game-icer on its own.
Playing what-if, I'll choose to give Hyde a short return to the Niners 28, then grant the Packers just enough offensive credit: they get to manufacture one first down. But no more in this poor excuse for a fantasy.
To the clock!
1-10, SF 28, 4:08: Lacy up the middle for 5 yards
2-5, SF 23, 3:25: Lacy off-tackle for 4 yards
Timeout #3, SF, 3:20. Ruh-roh.
3-1, SF 19, 3:16: Kuhn up the middle for 2 yards
1-10, SF 17, 2:33: Lacy off-tackle for no gain
2-10, SF 17, 2:00: Aaron Rodgers up the middle for 4 yards
3-6, SF 13, 1:17: Lacy up the middle for no gain
Timeout #2, GB, 0:34
4-6, SF 13, 0:34: Crosby 29-yard FG good
Packers lead 23-20 with 31 seconds left on the clock. GB's win expectancy exceeds 90 percent.
Now, if the Packers don't get a first down, the Niners either take over on a missed FG or get about two minutes to create a tying FG of their own. The point is, timeouts could have played a giant role down the stretch in this one, and bad process for the Niners will inevitably lead to bad results. For them.
Either against Carolina or Seattle, a defensive back is going to make the play Hyde couldn't. If it's with less than five minutes left in the game, the Niners better have stashed away more than one measly timeout. For their sakes, again.
Chargers at Broncos, Sunday 1:40 p.m.
Peyton Manning has a Super Bowl ring, but there are those who fault him for not having more. As if he wouldn't be working on his second hand of jewelry by now, had he only been paired with the Steelers' defense of the last decade or the offensive weapons of the 49ers dynasty.
Manning's record in cold weather is often cited as a reason he has fewer titles than his little brother.
Peyton's not necessarily troubled by the temperature. He's just another guy who has trouble winning away from home... then fails to compensate by winning at home. He's historically chokey in the playoffs either, just slightly below average among his peers. Let's examine the overall playoff records of the 12 guys who led their teams to the postseason this year.
I have set you a gorgeous table.
|QB||Playoffs W-L||Win %||Home W-L||Away W-L||Neutral W-L|
|C. Kaepernick||3-1||.750||1-0||2-0||0-1 haha|
It turns out that as a road QB, Manning slots between Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Huh. I guess they all can't be Colin Kaepernick. What?
As a home QB, Manning is roughly a .500 performer: 6 wins in 11 tries. There's your pertinent piece of data. It's not necessarily temperature that sinks Peyton -- it's that he and his teams underperform in general come playoff time. In domes and non-domes alike.
|Playoff win %||At home||On the road|
|This year's QBs||.569||.647||.462|
As usual, "Peyton can't win in the cold" is lazy analysis. On the other hand, there might be something to the whole "Peyton doesn't rise to the occasion." Unless the Broncos win the next two Super Bowls. Then there won't be anything to that either. Right, John Elway?
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