The halfway point of the NFL season is fast approaching and after a good Week 7 for this column, .500 is within reach. Unfortunately, Week 7 was not so kind to a couple of teams who had had high hopes coming into 2019.
The Chargers continued their habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but more concerningly have struggled on both sides of the ball, sitting middle of the pack by offensive EPA and 26th on defense.
And, while the Bears sit at .500, it’s hard to watch Mitch Trubisky in Week 7 and have high hopes for the team. The defense has predictably regressed (still a great defense but sixth by EPA and not the dominating force of 2018) but the offense has averaged just 4.4 yards per play (30th) and sits 28th by EPA - one spot ahead of the winless Bengals.
I’ll be filing those two away for future plays. On to this week’s picks.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ATLANTA FALCONS (+5.5, 53.5)
The Atlanta Falcons are terrible: a 1-6 record and the worst defense in the NFL by EPA (worse than Miami) but at least their offense is good, right? Though they rank 17th in points scored, they sit ninth by EPA, fourth in number of first downs and 12th by yards per play. Not quite the Atlanta offense we’re used to but at least solid. Sadly, it’s much worse than that.
Atlanta has been the king of garbage time this season. Of its 19 touchdowns, 11 have come in the fourth quarter and five of those happened when its chances to win the game were sub-10 percent. Interestingly, Seattle sits not far behind in the garbage time rankings, scoring 10 TDs in the fourth quarter and four when they’d already lost the game (see Week 3 vs the Saints).
Now, it may be that Seattle jumps in front and the fourth quarter pushes this one Over, but I’ll take the side of the run-heavy Seahawks controlling the game and Matt Ryan having no reason to risk his tender ankle (if he does play) come garbage time in the final frame.
PREDICTION: Under 53.5
CLEVELAND BROWNS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-13, 46)
The Patriots Offense certainly looked better than it had in previous weeks, though again much of that can be attributed to the defense creating havoc in Jets territory in the first half. The Patriots rank middle of the pack by offensive EPA and yards per play and have struggled to produce big plays, ranking in the Bottom 10 in plays of more than 10 yards. Fortunately for the offense, the defense ranks first in just about every important category which has more than hidden their struggles thus far.
Baker Mayfield and the Browns, meanwhile, have been one of the big (negative) surprises of 2019. They sit 26th in offensive EPA, with the lone bright spot being Nick Chubb, who’s averaging over 100 yards rushing per game.
When you look at the Browns’ performances versus the good defenses, they put up 13 points per game against the Titans, Jets, Rams and 49ers. Not a recipe for success against the Pats. I’m looking for a repeat of the last few week, with the Patriots Defense doing the heavy lifting while the offense methodically moves the ball downfield, chewing up the clock.
PREDICTION: Under 46
MIAMI DOLPHINS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-14.5, 43)
Not exactly a marquee matchup but a perhaps a more interesting game than at first glance. Miami had a legitimate shot to win a game last week, putting up close to 400 yards of offense against a very good Bills Defense. And while you can never count on getting the good Fitzpatrick, he can be counted on to create big plays of one type or another.
Among all QBs this year, Fitzpatrick ranks first in plays with EPAs of +/- 3 or more (i.e. big plays or mistakes), producing 11 on just 104 throws. Mason Rudolph isn’t far behind, sitting sixth at 8.4 percent of throws.
Add in a dreadful Miami defense that ranks just ahead of the Falcons by EPA, and we have the makings of an ugly game where they put up enough points to top a well below-average total.
PREDICTION: Over 43
Week 7: 3-0
Season to date: 9-12