Podcast: College football championship week, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins

thefootballanalyticsshow_cover_landscapeCollege football is getting real, folks. In this week’s podcast, I discuss the scenarios for all the top teams.

Ohio State isn’t a lock. There just aren’t any locks in sports, although it is highly likely the Buckeyes make the playoff.

Michigan isn’t dead. But they do need help, and maybe more than you think.

Then I transition to the NFL to discuss the Atlanta Falcons, the surprising top team in my member NFL rankings. We shall see how long they last there.

Last but not least, I look at the Washington Redskins and their potent offense. They have an interesting game at Arizona this week.

To listen to the podcast, click on the play button.

To listen on iTunes, click here.

Predictions for week 17 of the NFL, 2014

nfl2014Week 17 of the NFL is one of, if not the hardest, week to predict outcomes of football games. You must consider which teams will play full out and which will sit starters or play cautiously. To avoid these situations, let’s focus on important games to both teams.

The analysis below is based on calculations available to members of The Power Rank. The offense and defense rankings for passing consider yards per attempt and adjusts for strength of schedule, since the NFC South is just that bad.

The team rankings shown in the visual aggregate these offense and defense rankings with calculations based on margin of victory. The predictions come from these ensemble rankings and add a constant factor for home field.

Panthers @ Falcons

Sadly, either the 22nd or 28th best team by The Power Rank will win the NFC South and host a playoff game.

When evaluating football games, a large portion of the analysis and focus should depend upon the offensive and defensive match ups for each team. I believe the Panthers have a decent advantage on Sunday.

The Falcons have the worst pass defense in the NFL. They also don’t pressure the quarterback, ranking 31st in sack rate.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers don’t throw the ball particularly well but I don’t foresee much of an issue against this defense.

The Panthers offensive weakness is pass protection, as they rank 22nd in sack rate allowed despite having an extremely athletic, mobile quarterback in Cam Newton. However, the Falcons front can’t get to anyone, so Newton will have success running and throwing the ball.

Contrary to popular belief, the Falcons have been just slightly above average on offense. They rank just one half of a yard ahead of league average in adjusted yards per pass attempt.

Similarly, the Panthers pass defense has been just slightly above average this season. As they’ve gotten healthier and as the season has worn on, they’ve gotten better, allowing more than 20 points in one of the last five games.

The ensemble predictions suggests a one point win for the Falcons. The public has backed the Falcons at a three to one rate early, moving the line from Falcons by three to Falcons by four already.

I’d gladly take the Panthers north of three points with the money line having some value as well.

Cowboys @ Redskins

Now that the Cowboys have clinched a home playoff game, this game will be a matter of seeding in the upcoming weeks.

Like I wrote last week, the Cowboys are the most hot and cold team in the eyes of the public. If they are winning, they’re highly respected. If they are struggling, they get no public backing.

Looking back on it, it’s somewhat comical that the Cowboys were four to five point underdogs at Tennessee in Week 2.

I also wrote last week about the one fatal flaw in Robert Griffin’s struggles and how he could exploit the Eagles poor secondary with a little bit of time in the backfield. As the Cowboys have generated very little sacks on defense (4.6% sack rate), Griffin should be able to find similar success against a bottom five secondary.

There’s also a chance the Cowboys play it a little safe in this game. Sure, seeding is important in the playoffs, but keeping everyone healthy could be equally important for an offense that relies heavily on their offensive line and just a few skill position players.

There’s little chance the Redskins have given up at this point. Robert Griffin is playing for a starting job next year, whether it’s with the Redskins or another team, and DeSean Jackson definitely hasn’t taken a play off.

This match up is much closer than one would expect as both teams do not play defense. The six and a half point line is too many points to lay for the slightly better defense at home. If you move this game to Dallas, this line would suggest the Cowboys to be nearly two touchdown favorites.

That’s too many points to lay for a cautious team with a horrendous secondary. The Skins have another chance to win this week. The numbers agree, giving the Cowboys an edge of only 1.4 points.

Bengals @ Steelers

The game of the week is Cincinnati traveling into Pittsburgh for the AFC North Championship and the opportunity to host a playoff game. Considering how well both of these teams have played in recent years at home, this game should be of high importance to each team.

Most of the public, and the books, will more than likely remember the 21-point win by Pittsburgh in Cincinnati just a few weeks ago. However, the full season statistics suggest the Bengals have better match up with the Steelers this week.

The Steelers have the 4th best pass offense while the Bengals feature the 7th ranked pass defense, which is surprising. It’s safe to expect the Bengals to hold the Steelers offense under 42 points this time around.

The mismatch comes on the other side of the ball. The Bengals passing game hasn’t performed as well as one might expect from their talent. But the Steelers pass defense is bad (30th) and has been exploited over the top.

The Steelers have won games with big plays on offense. It’ll be a little harder this week against a good, underrated Bengals defense.

A standard three points to the home team gives the Steelers a slight edge. The Power Rank says Steelers by a point. Flip a coin, the last possession determines the outcome in the game of the week.

Thanks for reading. We’ll cover all of the games next week as the playoffs get underway.

Additonal Leans:

Jaguars +10, Bills +10.5, Rams +13

Frank Brank founded cheapseatanalytics.com, a site devoted to analytical sports information and betting systems. He majors in baseball but also covers the NFL and NHL. You can follow him on Twitter @realFrankBrank.

NFL Preview

After months of drama, it’s time to forget Roethlisberger’s indiscretions, Favre’s indecision, and Al Davis’ incompetence and start the NFL season. Here is the Power Rank’s 2010 NFL preview.

AFC East.

If you’re like me you’ve been watching HBO’s Hard Knocks and head coach Rex Ryan has intimidated you into believing that his Jets are going to repeat their playoff run. Darrelle Revis (CB, 24) has a contract, Ladanian Tomlinson (RB, 21) is in town, and Mark Sanchez (QB, 6) has a season of experience under his belt. Add this to an underrated receiving corps and you’ll be hearing lots of “J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!” cheers this winter.

The division doesn’t stop in New York though. Randy Moss (WR, 81) and Tom Brady (QB, 12) are getting older but they’re still a major threat to any defense and head coach Bill Belichick can be expected to field a competitive team as he always does, even if they won’t be as dominant as they have been in the past.

The Miami Dolphins and their wildcat offensive scheme can be expected to make a splash again this year with the addition of receiving phenom (and headcase) Brandon Marshall (WR, 19). It will be interesting to see how Ronnie Brown (RB, 23) and Ricky Williams (RB, 34) will perform when teams can’t stack the box against them and their dominant offensive tackle Jake Long (T, 77).

The Bills have done little to improve, and their record will show it this year.

AFC North.

It’s the Raven’s year. Ray Rice (RB, 27) is looking to improve on a great season and Joe Flacco (QB, 5) is expected to break out with new targets like Anquan Boldin (WR, 81) and TJ Houshmandzadeh (WR). With a rock solid Greg Mattison coached defense led by Ray Lewis (MLB, 52) to keep opponents at bay, the Ravens are looking to play a game in February this year.

The Steelers and the Bengals will be looking to spoil the Raven’s Superbowl dreams with teams loaded with talent. The Bengals offense of Carson Palmer (QB, 5), Terrell Owens (WR, 81), and Chad Ochocinco (WR, 85), reads like an All-Star program… from the 2004 season. If they can collectively shake off the dust they will be a killer trio, but don’t expect this scenario to be likely. Pittsburgh enters the season without Big Ben (QB, 7) and in disarray offensively. But you can’t count out a Pittsburgh defense that’s 2 seasons removed from Superbowl glory. Expect some late season heroics that will see the men in black in the hunt for the postseason.

The Browns have been making moves to improve their team, but with Montario Hardesty (RB, 31) shredding his ACL they seem to be the wrong moves. At least they got rid of Brady Quinn though, right?

AFC South.

The Colts haven’t gone anywhere. Peyton Manning (QB, 18) will continue to be the best in the NFL (and possibly history) and he’s got all of the same targets that he had last year, plus Anthony Gonzalez (WR, 11). The really bad news for Colts haters: Bob Sanders (SS, 21) is back and is looking good in the defensive backfield.

Don’t expect to see anyone else take this division, but don’t be surprised if there’s at least one and maybe even two wildcards coming from the South. The Texans are a lot of analyst’s breakout pick this year, but they have been for the last few years running. Matt Schaub (QB,8) has the tools on the outside led by Andre Johnson (WR, 80), but injuries and running back controversy may continue to plague this team.

The Titans return with Chris Johnson (RB, 28) hoping to repeat and improve on his 2000 yard season, but that may prove difficult with the loss of blocker Kevin Mawae (C). Vince Young (QB, 10) rounds out the offensive attack that will keep the Titans competitive with any team in the NFL.

The Jaguars’ explosive back Maurice Jones-Drew (RB, 32) is expected to start the season healthy, but preseason injuries leave doubts about his effectiveness this year. With little passing attack and a lackluster defense, expect the Jags to stay in limbo this year.

AFC West.

Yet again, it’s going to be all Chargers this year in the AFC West. Phillip Rivers (QB, 17) will continue to throw touchdowns with or without Vincent Jackson (WR, 83), and running back Ryan Matthews (RB, 24) from Fresno State seems to be everyone’s pick for Rookie of the Year. Don’t forget the explosive and versatile Darren Sproles (RB, 43) and the solid defense that will help the Chargers slide into what may be the easiest playoff slot in the NFL this season.

Let’s look at the other quarterbacks in this divison: Cassel (KC), Orton/Tebow/Quinn (DEN), and Jason Campbell (OAK). Some people are big on Jason Campbell (QB,8) to finally breakout, others think Matt Cassel (QB, 7) will regain his Patriot glory… don’t buy it. These guys are mediocre at best and the only target worth mentioning on all three teams is Dwayne Bowe (WR, 82) of Kansas City. Don’t expect to see any of these teams in January this year. If you’re like me, you’re just hoping that rookie Tim Tebow (QB, 15) will get a chance to skipper the Broncos and show what his athleticism and poor mechanics can do.

NFC East.

The best division in the NFL is just too close to call. The Cowboys bring back Tony Romo (QB, 9), a stacked backfield, a nasty defense, and a possible future star in Dez Bryant (WR, 88). The Eagles return with their signature defensive power and a very young but very talented offense led by Kevin Kolb (QB, 4), DeSean Jackson (WR, 10), Jeremy Maclin (WR, 18), and Brent Celek (TE, 87). The Giants didn’t get the better of the Manning brothers but Eli (QB, 10) is a solid performer with good targets in Steve Smith (WR, 12) and Hakeem Nicks (WR, 88), and the third strong defense in the division.

The only team the won’t be on top of this royal rumble is Washington. The Redskins’ strategy of overspending on aging stars will continue to haunt them as Donovan McNabb (QB, 5) and Clinton Portis (RB, 26) will not live up to their 2004 stat lines, which will only be a shock to the Washington front office.

NFC North.

As a Packer fan, it pains me to say the you can expect to see more purple this January. Brett Favre (QB, 4) is back for one reason, and that is to win a Superbowl. The hall of famer is backed by the single most dominant player in the game, Adrian Peterson (RB, 28), and pass rushing media darling Jared Allen (DE, 69) (for more on Allen, check out this week’s Fine Line).

The Packers will be one of the most dangerous teams on the gridiron this year. Aaron Rodgers (QB, 12) is enjoying a statistically unprecedented start to his career with a bevy of targets that can score almost at will. Veteran slant receiver Donald Driver (WR, 80) and burner Greg Jennings (WR, 85) are joined by the emerging talent of Jermichael Finley (TE, 88), James Jones (WR, 89), and Jordy Nelson (WR, 87). Charles Woodson (CB, 21) and Clay Matthews (OLB, 52) lead the defense with the most takeaways in the league, but the Green Bay defense also has some big holes that make them more porous than consistent, which will cost them over the season.

The Bears welcome new offensive coordinator Mike Martz who will have little to work with this year. Calling Jay Cutler (QB, 6) a gunslinger won’t make him Brett Favre (MIN), and even though Matt Forte (RB, 22) is poised for comeback year it won’t be enough to keep this offense from stalling on a weekly basis.

The Lions are likely to continue to be the worst team in the NFL, but at least they are rebuilding aggressively with Matthew Stafford (QB, 9), Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (WR, 81), and Jahvid Best (RB, 44). Look for this squad to make waves in my 2013 season preview.

NFC South.

The reigning Superbowl champs won’t have the magic of 2009, but the Saints will still be a force this year. Drew Brees (QB, 9) and his targets Marques Colston (WR, 12), Jeremy Shockey (TE, 88), and emerging Robert Meachem (WR, 17) will perform on a weekly basis in one of the most potent offenses in the league. The defense was a surprise last year and won’t perform quite as well as last year, but the noise of the awakened “Who dat” nation will support them at home as a solid 12th man.

The Falcons whole team hit a sophomore slump last year as Matt Ryan (QB, 2), Michael Turner (RB, 33), and Roddy White (WR, 84) all failed to live up to high expectations as the team was plagued with injuries and misfortune. Expect this year to go by more smoothly, for Turner to return to dominance, and the Falcons to become competitive again.

The Panthers and Buccaneers have always been known for solid defenses but their lackluster offensive traditions will hold them back again this year. Carolina wisely dumped Jake Delhomme, but haven’t filled the spot with experience, and that will cost them. Tampa Bay also has quarterback woes even though Kellen Winslow Jr. (TE, 82) is sure to be one of the best targets in the league.

NFC West.

Someone has to get into the playoffs by default from this division, and it’s a shame.

The 49ers will most likely win out in this division with a nasty defense led by Patrick Willis (MLB, 52) and under the tutelage of head coach Mike Singletary. Their offense will continue to pound the ball on with Frank Gore (RB, 21) and the new addition of veteran running back Brian Westbrook the ground attack may be even more potent that usual. Vernon Davis (TE, 85) will snag a few touchdowns from Alex Smith (QB, 11) but don’t expect the passing attack to be featured in San Francisco this year.

The Cardinals still have Larry Fitzgerald (WR, 11) and Steve Breaston (WR, 15), but they’ve lost Anquan Boldin (WR) and Kurt Warner (QB), and have recently cut Matt Leinart (QB). For a team that lives and dies with their air attack, you can expect this team to die many painful deaths on the field this year.

Pete Carroll seems to be cleaning house in Seattle this year, cutting TJ Houshmanzadeh (WR) and picking up 6 million dollars of his salary while the Ravens enjoy his talent. Veteran running back Julius Jones is also unemployed this fall. The message from Seattle: we’re rebuilding, don’t expect us to win this year.

St. Louis seems to have picked a gem in Sam Bradford (QB,8) who’s looked sharp leading the offense this preseason, but the Rams’ problems go beyond what one rookie quarterback can fix. Expect Bradford and Steven Jackson (RB, 39) to pull out a couple wins this year but not a whole lot more than that.