Week 2 Football Recap (9/17/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, September 17 at 11:30 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.

College Football Week 3 Thoughts:

What to make of the Pac-12 Race… Before the season, we outlined USC as the most likely team in the country to go to 13-0. It is important to note that the Trojans were just 9.6% likely to do that in the projections (with roughly a 65% chance to win at Stanford and home against Oregon twice). That chance is now 0%. For what we evaluated last week as the second best conference in the country, it could easily end up with the best race to the finish.

Stanford lost three offensive linemen (including tight end Coby Fleener with David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin) early in the draft, the top overall pick and its top three receivers – plus, star linebacker Shayne Skov was coming off of multiple knee ligament replacements and a DUI arrest and the new quarterback, Josh Nunes had thrown two career passes (two years ago). While not without some returning promise – RB Stepfan Taylor, LB Chase Thomas and Jim Harbaugh protégé, head coach David Shaw – there were too many question marks about this team to expect it to contend in the Pac-12 or nationally this early. The Cardinal has yet to leave the farm, but it has already proven itself to be a force by being the first team to knock off one of our preseason “super seven” most likely BCS national champions – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, USC, Oklahoma, Florida State and Oregon.

USC is not out of it yet, but the Trojans’ focus is first and foremost to win the division in the Pac-12 South where Arizona and UCLA are undefeated, Arizona State is also already exceeding expectations and USC has to go to Rice-Eccles Stadium to face a very good Utah team.  All but one of the Trojans’ remaining games is against a team in our top 50 in the College Football Power Rankings.

Seeing USC fall to Stanford was the most significant outcome of the season thus far and it almost guarantees that whichever team wins the Pac-12 will have at least one loss when that happens – and that could come from any of the six teams that currently rank in our top 35. Despite having TEN teams in our top 35, the SEC is currently a race for third after the winners and losers of the Alabama @ LSU game November 3 (or more importantly – a scramble in the SEC East to be the team that loses by double-digits to the Alabama @ LSU winner.

Where are the elite quarterbacks? Oh, apparently they run the ball… As much as the previous few seasons have been defined by the elite, future high NFL Draft pick quarterbacks, there is little to get excited about at the quarterback position in college football right now. This is not a Heisman conversation, but a position conversation in the current game where that position has yet to impress.

  • Matt Barkley came into the season with all of the accolades and the BCS title hopes. Lane Kiffin did everything he could to reward Barkley for sticking in school by handing him ten TDs in two non-descript games. Then Barkley completed fewer than 50% of his passes and threw two picks in a loss against a team it was favored to beat by more than a touchdown.
  • Other high-profile quarterbacks like Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Tyler Bray (Tennessee), Bryn Renner (UNC), Mike Glennon (NC State), Denard Robinson (Michigan), B.J. Daniels (USF) and others have already struggled mightily in big games.
  • Quarterbacks with big numbers like Geno Smith (West Virginia), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Seth Doege (Texas Tech), Casey Pachall (TCU) and EJ Manuel (Florida State) have not played anyone of significance yet (and, outside of Smith, few of those project as NFL prospects).
  • Others like Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), James Franklin (Missouri), Brett Smith (Wyoming), Connor Shaw (South Carolina), Jordan Wynn (Utah), Nate Scheelhaase (Illinois) and Jeff Tuel (Washington State) have dealt with injuries.

Ultimately, the guys who are standing out the most in this age of 6’4”, 230 lbs future NFL super-stars throwing the ball around 40+ times are dual threat quarterbacks whose preferred option is more to run than to pass. Quarterbacks like Braxton Miller (Ohio State), Colin Klein (Kansas State), Everett Golson (Notre Dame), Jeff Driskel (Florida), Tyler Tettleton (Ohio), Kain Colter (Northwestern), Matt Scott (Arizona), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville – though he is a great athlete who is an even better passer), MarQueis Gray (Minnesota), Munchie Legaux (Cincinnati – that one is for me) are nothing close to the prototype (I’d put the future NFL starting quarterbacks over/under from that list at 0.5), yet all lead undefeated teams that have made headlines thus far… And don’t forget about Chuckie Keeton (Utah State). He’s lost a game, but he hustles hard.

Play Analyzer... It was a strong weekend (this isn’t the place for focusing on performance – but the ResultsFinder is and breaks everything down from the seasons thus far) for the picks all-around across all sports, but it was an even better weekend on the Play Analyzer, our tool for updating picks against consensus and customized lines. It’s important to me to check in often regarding the Play Analyzer as the best possible tool for leveraging our prediction information for optimal bankroll and money management.

As an example, on the closing consensus lines on Saturday, the Alabama @ Arkansas total had fallen to 51. Even with Tyler Wilson out in the original projection, we liked the over on the original line – 53.5. At 51, we loved the over. After a 52-0 Alabama win (which included two missed field goals and two turnovers in opponent territory), it’s a loss in our records, but a win (and a bigger win than it was a loss) to those who capitalized on the added value on Saturday.

In total, on Saturday and Sunday, there were five picks that qualified as “2X” or better plays against lines that had moved significantly in our favor. Those plays went 5-0 against those lines. It’s obviously not always going to be that perfect, but it’s an application that cannot be ignored on gameday.

NFL Week 2 Thoughts:

Temper expectations… The word that I used most in interviews leading into Week 1 was “uncertainty.” Week 2’s word was “overreaction” – as in that it is important to guard against overreactions early in the season. For Week 3, I think my favorite word will be “temper.” I don’t mean “temper” in the sense of post-game coaching conversations or players’ reactions to the replacement referees – though I am sure that will come up. I mean “temper” as in “temper expectations after two games and with 15 weeks to go.” Here is where everyone must remember that, even though the season is just 16 games long for each team, we are just barely greater than 10% of the way through the season. Consider this the milder version the “overreaction” cliché – or maybe some combination of two clichés: “overreaction Monday” and “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Some examples:

  • New England lost to Arizona at home, 20-18. When the Playoff Probabilities update on Tuesday, New England will be one of our top three most likely Super Bowl champions and the Arizona Cardinals will still project as something in the 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • Baltimore looked like one of the best teams in Week 1 and lost to the team that looked like the worst winning team in Week 1 (Philadelphia). In a game that looked a lot like we projected, Baltimore lost to Philadelphia. The Ravens did something similar last year and easily made the playoffs. They’re the most likely team to win the AFC North and look like a virtual lock for double-digit wins.
  • San Francisco is really good. So is Houston. The 49ers are just 0.6% and the Texans are just 0.8% likely to go 16-0. No team is more likely to go 16-0.
  • Jacksonville is really bad. So is Cleveland.  Jacksonville is just 0.4% likely to go 0-16. Cleveland is just 0.1% likely to go 0-16.

We have a long ways to go.

Home field advantage matters… As we have discussed in the past, home field advantage is not as important for elite or terrible teams as it is for every other team, but, for whatever reason, it certainly means something and it still can help neutralize situations between reasonably competitive teams.

There were six games involving home teams as underdogs in their home openers in Week 2. Five of those teams – Seattle +3 vs. Dallas, St. Louis +3 vs. Washington, Indianapolis +1.5 vs. Minnesota, Miami +2.5 vs. Oakland and Carolina +2.5 vs. New Orleans – won outright. The only team that lost, Jacksonville, ranks last in our power rankings and it played the best team, Houston in said game.  

I am not one who subscribes to trends beyond what should be expected when the specific rosters from either team compete against each other, but this – the undervaluing of road teams as underdogs - is potentially something we could see going forward (especially as we illustrated last week that short underdogs with a good chance to win outright provide a great opportunity to exploit the markets and find value). In 2011, home underdogs went 46-39 ATS – not an enormous sample size and not a huge percentage, but that’s still in line with what we saw this week. Also, home underdogs of a touchdown or greater actually went 13-12 straight-up last season.

No player has improved more in the last 12 months than Patrick Peterson… Patrick Peterson, the fifth overall choice in the 2011 NFL Draft, was not a player on which I was very high for anything other than a punt return specialist.  Four punt returns for touchdowns as a rookie certainly represented quite a bit of value for the rookie, but his season as a cornerback did not get off to a great start. Peterson was absolutely torched in his Week 1 game against the Carolina Panthers in which Cam Newtown threw for 422 yards.

Arizona won that game, yet started the season 1-6. In the eighth game of the season, Peterson made headlines by winning the game in overtime with a 99 yard punt return in St. Louis. The punt returns hid Peterson’s quickly emerging strength. He was becoming a legitimately strong cover cornerback as well. With an improved pass defense that finished last season and started this season ranked in our top ten overall, Arizona finished the year on a 7-2 run to break even at 8-8. Peterson evolved into a top ten non-quarterback in the league (don’t believe me – our analysis agrees with Bill Barnwell and Football Outsider’s assessment here and just about any recent quarterback, including Tom Brady, would agree).

After shutting down Russell Wilson’s NFL debut and containing Brady and the vaunted Patriots’ offense, Peterson is a force as a play-making, true cover corner with game-breaking physical ability. He was half that at best a year ago. Peterson leads a defense that is 9-2 in its last 11 games and has allowed just 18.1 points-per-game in those contests. Did I mention that John Skelton and Kevin Kolb have been the Cardinals’ quarterbacks over that stretch? Oh yeah, and Peterson just turned 22 years old.

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.

There were many NFL games on Sunday, including Tampa Bay @ New York GiantsMinnesota @ Indianapolis  and Baltimore @ Philadelphia with some very interesting live game charts (click on those links for each game to see the play-by-play win probability charts), but I think the Arizona @ New England game provides the most compelling story.

Before the game, New England was an 81.9% favorite to win and by an average score of 32.7-19.5. With 46 seconds to go in the game, New England was 84.4% likely to win and by an average score of 21.3-20.3. What happened in between and right after that, especially in the fourth quarter, is what is interesting.

Despite being tied at halftime and leading 13-9 with 8:52 remaining in the third quarter, Arizona did not become our projected favorite for the game until 2:53 remaining in the game when Danny Woodhead was taken for a nine-yard loss on third-and-six at the Arizona 30. The negative play took the Patriots out of field goal range and forced a punt. The Cardinals took the ensuing possession 80 yards for a touchdown to take a 20-9 lead. After the touchdown, Arizona was a 90.8% favorite to win the game.

With 8:43 left in the game, Arizona had the ball, a 20-9 lead and a 97.6% chance to pull the upset (as +14 underdogs in New England). An incomplete pass and punt later, New England started its impressive comeback. But even after a field goal and a touchdown (no two-point conversion), Arizona still had the ball, the lead and a 78.2% chance to win the game on third-and-13 with 1:01 to go and a punt from near mid-field likely coming soon.

Instead of a punt, Ryan Williams fumbled a carry designed to run clock and New England recovered at the Arizona 30. Down two points with a minute left and staring at a 47 yard field goal if it didn’t pick up any yards, that one play shifted the Patriots’ chances of winning the game from 21.8% to 72.4% - a 50.6% swing. Two plays later, New England would have vaulted to greater than 95% favorites to win with what appeared to be a Danny Woodhead touchdown run, but an obvious Rob Gronkowski hold called the play back and cut New England’s chances to win to 66%.

Still with just a few seconds on the clock and lining up for what would be a game-winning Stephen Gostkowski 42 yard field goal, the Patriots, who had trailed the entire fourth quarter – often by double-digits – had a 60% chance to win the game.

Wide left. Arizona wins 100% of the time.

See the chart that tells the story of this game: Arizona 20 – New England 18

New Football Content:

Just a reminder about 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 RankingsPlayoff 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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