Week 1 Football Recap (9/10/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, September 10 at 7:00 PM ET

For the weekly football review blog throughout the season, I am stealing a page from our weekly football podcasts (while also preparing for said podcasts) and will identify three things that stood out to me in college football and the NFL from the weekend as well as a play or two from the Live ScoreCaster in game projected results that  had the most notable bearing on a pivotal game. I have also added a few reminders about new content at the bottom of this blog.

NFL Week 1 Thoughts:

The rookie quarterbacks are who we thought they were… Before the season started, as anyone who has followed the NFL draft, fantasy and preview content on the site would be able to surmise, I ranked the starting rookie quarterbacks in their respective situations  in this manner: 1) Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins; 2a) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts; 2b) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks; 4) ENORMOUS GAP THAT MAY INCLUDE EVERY OTHER ROOKIE QUARTERBACK WHO STARTED WEEK 1 IN NFL HISTORY; 5) Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns; 6) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins.

While the extremes were even more notable than anticipated with Griffin topping New Orleans on the road and Tannehill (somehow) scoring about one-third the fantasy point total that we projected (we already had him ranked last among starters for Week 1, but then he only ended up scoring one more fantasy point than Colin Kaepernick and Matt Hasselbeck and lost out to both John Skelton and Kevin Kolb from Arizona), I’m pretty comfortable saying that that is exactly how I would still rank those players.

With a strong defense, decent weapons and system crafted around him, Griffin is in a great position to succeed in year one in Washington. We already had the Redskins as our top OVER (6.0) team win total pick for the season and that assumed they would lose to New Orleans (or at least had a 65% chance of losing to the Saints – we loved Washington +9). Griffin totaled 320 yards on 73.1% passing (12.3 yards-per-attempt) and 42 rushing yards on ten carries with two touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with a seven point victory. Griffin scored four fewer fantasy points than the four other rookie quarterbacks combined.

The group of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson played much better defenses – Chicago and Arizona respectively – than we expect to see out of the Saints and combined for 462 passing yards on 51.9% passing (5.8 yards-per-attempt), two touchdowns and four interceptions. The Colts and Seahawks went 0-2 and combined to lose by 24 points. Both quarterbacks showed enough signs to believe that the future will be successful, but there is a ways to go – especially on their respective teams.

And then there is the not-so-dynamic (unless you are a defensive player looking to make a big hit to take down a statue or want a pick six on your resume) duo of Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Collectively, against the Texans and Eagles (admittedly our top two pass defenses in the league), the rookie quarterbacks completed 45.1% of their passes for 337 yards (4.7 yards-per-attempt) and seven interceptions (with no touchdowns) in losses. The Browns defense may keep the team in games, but it will be a very long and trying season for Cleveland and Miami offenses. Miami blew its chance at Luck or Griffin last season. If they stick with Tannehill all year, that should give the Dolphins a great shot at landing Matt Barkley for next season.

The Jets and Bills will both be fine… And by “fine,” I mean totally average. In the CBS Sports NFL Experts Picks, which we are very proud to take part in this season – thank you CBS, seven of the eight experts besides the Predictalator picked the Buffalo Bills to defeat the New York Jets. According to SportsInsights.com (which is tremendous as a complementary tool to the picks information we provide), 56% of the against-the-spread and 62% of the money-line action was on the Bills. And, the line dropped from -6 when it first opened in the offseason to -3 at game time.

None of this is too surprising given the ridiculous amount of attention that the New York Jets received after acquiring Tim Tebow and how bad the aforementioned “quarterback” and the offense looked over the preseason, but, a) this team does not win with offense; it wins with defense and it still has one of the best defenses in the NFL, b) it was the preseason and, c) Buffalo is flawed as well.

Before the season, we had Buffalo in the AFC Playoffs and not the Jets, but we actually had the Jets winning more games (8.7 to 8.6) and ranking two spots higher in our initial NFL Power Rankings. The Bills have a much easier schedule than the Jets do and, assuming the injury to Fred Jackson is not as serious as last year’s, should still win around eight games and be in playoff contention throughout the season. They’re fine.

Meanwhile, the Jets, a popular team to fade by the public and “experts” (while we capitalized), may see the opposite happen after an impressive win. New York is still an eight or nine win team. It won a game it was supposed to win at home in the division. The win-loss result of this game was expected and predictable – just like the overreaction to it.

The San Francisco 49ers are the NFL equivalent of Dan from Big Brother 14… You don’t have to be watching this season of Big Brother (though my wife and I are addicted to it right now) to get this analogy. In most competitive circumstances, to the aggressor often go the spoils. I often discuss “aggressiveness” in football in what I believe is its currently most understood definition – teams that take chances by throwing the ball vertically and blitzing frequently. In a “Survivor-esque” game like Big Brother, aggressiveness is often applied to those who dominate physical challenges and/or are confrontational.

But there are different types of aggressiveness that can lead to positive results. For Dan and the 49ers, in this case, it’s a similar mentality. Both play a deceiving game, walking a fine line on the edge of right and wrong and forcing others into mistakes (which, in San Francisco’s case refers to both the opposing team and the referees). It’s a brand of gamesmanship that is tough to respect, yet it’s impossible not to. It is also a form of aggression that results in an incredibly slim margin for error. It can certainly be successful, but one minor mistake can also derail everything that the team or player has done.

Everything that I have ever analyzed leads me to believe that the San Francisco 49ers cannot sustain such a high level of mistake-free football, yet they have essentially done just that since Jim Harbaugh took over the team leading into the 2011 season. Personally, I would rather play like the 1999 St. Louis Rams (or this year’s New England Patriots or Frank from Big Brother) than the 2000 Baltimore Ravens because the tempo and traditional aggressiveness of a team like the Rams can overcome mistakes, while a team like the Ravens (or this year’s 49ers or Dan from Big Brother) must play such a precise, physical, sound brand of football that other teams ultimately give them just as many victories as they take.

This week, with few major surprises in college football (aside from ULM over Arkansas, since we expected UCLA, Florida, Georgia and Oregon State to all do well) and Week 1 of the NFL season fresh on the mind, I will focus on the NFL (plus, John Ewing already highlighted three good and three bad outcomes for teams in his weekly 3 Up 3 Down column). Here are some quick hit thoughts on college football from the weekend.

College Football Week 2 Thoughts:

The Pac-12 is the second best conference in college football… This is not a revolutionary concept by any means, but there are a few important things to note about that conference. First of all, the SEC is still, even after the loss of Arkansas to Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt at Northwestern, SIGNIFICANTLY better than the Pac-12 (Example: If Tennessee or South Carolina or Texas A&M – pick your equivalent -  goes into USC or Oregon it is not losing 41-3 like Washington lost at LSU). Second, Washington, Washington State, Cal and Utah are not as good as we thought. Third, Arizona, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA are much better than anticipated right now (even though we had UCLA and Oregon State as likely to pull off upsets this weekend). And, lastly, the conference still has two legitimate national championship threats in Oregon and USC.

Then are we ignoring the Big 12?… Kansas State made the headlines this weekend with a 52-13 win over Miami and it would be very difficult for me to make the argument that the Wildcats are even among the top four teams in the conference. That being said, Oklahoma State and Kansas embarrassed the conference on Saturday. When is it again that Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor start playing meaningful games? Then we’ll know a lot more about this conference.

Anyone have Bobby Petrino’s number?... Seriously, as slimy as Bobby Petrino is/has been, he is on a short-list of the best offensive play callers in the college game over the last decade. (Note: Dana Holgorsen not only has a job but he is the head coach of a top ten team.) Petrino may not have been able to keep Tyler Wilson healthy on Saturday either, but I bet he would have been able to get more than 281 yards out of the Razorbacks 40 passes.

Live ScoreCaster Play of the Week:

The Live ScoreCaster App has several notifications that can be turned on for games that will keep users up-to-date on things like quarterly scores and projections, games ending, projected lead changes and major swing plays. I love utilizing all of these, especially the latter two as it’s interesting to see which plays lead to teams being favored and ultimately winning the game (as it happens).

For the Major Swing notification, when the projected winning percentage in a game shifts by 35% or more over the course of up to two plays, the notification is activated and the user learns the play, the current score and the new projection. Most games don’t actually have these kinds of plays. And those that do often come in the form of late, game-winning field goals that are less than 65% likely to convert. But there will still be a few other plays each week that stand out for playing pivotal roles in big games.

This week, the most notable plays from a big game occurred in the third and fourth quarters of Sunday’s NFL free game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, which had one of the more interesting, and to us, surprising outcomes of the week.

With the Steelers leading 13-7 more than half way through the third quarter, we projected Pittsburgh to win the game 81.9% of the time and by an average score of 21-14. Peyton Manning, who at the time had only thrown for 98 yards in his first action in 611 days, started the drive for the Broncos with a nine yard completion to Eric Decker to the Denver 29 yard-line. Then, on second-and-short, he flipped a screen pass out to Demaryius Thomas who split the Pittsburgh Steelers defense (again – seriously, is the gap between Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy at safety for the Steelers the biggest gap between a non-QB starter and back-up in the league?) for 71 yards and a touchdown. After the extra point, Denver, which had taken a 14-13 lead with 5:29 left in the game, was now essentially 50/50 to win a game (51.1% Pittsburgh at the time).

About ten minutes of game time later, now down 19-14 with less than ten minutes left in the game, Manning threw another short pass that was converted into a touchdown, this time by Jacob Tamme. Before the play, Pittsburgh was still favored to win 60.8% of the time. After the score, which made it 20-19 Broncos, Denver was favored to win 57.9% of the time. And, after a successful two-point conversion that put the home team up by a field goal, the Broncos because 67.5% favorites to win over Pittsburgh and by average score of 25-22. A field goal and a Tracy Porter interception return for a touchdown (again) later, it looks like a Broncos blowout.

See the chart that tells the story of this game: Denver 31 – Pittsburgh 19

New Football Content:

Now that almost every team has played a game, we can really start to show off some of our new content for this season. In addition to the weekly 3 Up 3 Down College Football (John Ewing), Tuley’s Vegas Beat (Dave Tuley) and NFL Draft Prospect Watch (Matt Richner) columns and the normal weekly Power Rankings, Playoff Probabilities and Fantasy Projections (including value projections for daily salary cap fantasy sites like DraftDay.com), we have added the following resources and articles:

·         Injuries – Thorough Listing of All Players Removed from College Football and NFL Simulations

·         Team Stats – In-Depth NFL and College Football Team Statistics

·         Player Stats - In-Depth NFL Player Statistics

·         ATS Stats – Comprehensive Against-the-Spread and Over/Under Records for NFL and College Football Teams

·         Rest of Season Fantasy – Fantasy Football Projections for Every Future NFL Week

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