- Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders
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Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game on the NFL schedule with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Much of the analysis is based on DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which takes every play during the season and compares it to the league average based on situation and opponent. DVOA and Football Outsiders' other advanced stats are explained here.
All times Eastern.
Giants at Bills (Sunday), 1 p.m.
Buffalo is the second-best defense in the NFL against tight ends. With Jeremy Shockey out for the rest of the season, the Giants will have a rookie tight end making his first NFL start. Good luck, Kevin Boss.
Bills cornerback Jabari Greer has allowed an average of just 1.3 yards after the catch when he's the main pass defender, the lowest figure for any defender with at least 30 charted passes. On the other side of the field, Terrence McGee has allowed an average of just 2.1 yards after the catch, which ranks eighth in the league. All praise the power of the Tampa 2!
Chiefs at Lions, 1 p.m.
For the Lions' offense, it's feast or famine: Most of the time they'll either gain big yardage on first down or they'll be stuck punting. The Lions' offense ranks eighth in the NFL on first down, but 31st on third down. The Chiefs' defense ranks 28th in the NFL on first down, but has the best DVOA in the league on third down. The Chiefs are great on third down no matter the distance -- fifth with 1-3 yards to go, third with 4-6 yards to go, and third with 7-plus yards to go.
(Bad news for Kansas City fans: A unit that is terrible on first down and great on third down is very likely to decline the following season.)
We're all used to Kansas City having one of the strongest home-field advantages in the NFL, but not this season. The Chiefs rank 21st in defense at home, but sixth in defense on the road. They are 29th in offense both at home and on the road.
Eagles at Saints, 1 p.m.
New Orleans ranks seventh in offensive DVOA, but only New England is better in the red zone. Philadelphia ranks 12th in defensive DVOA, but only Minnesota and San Diego are better in the red zone.
Our game charters have marked 67 different defensive backs as the main defender on at least 30 passes this season. Out of those 67 defensive backs, Jason David of New Orleans is last in both success rate (27 percent) and yards per pass (16.0). Mike McKenzie, on the other hand, is 13th in success rate (62 percent) and 12th in yards per pass (6.0). (Success rate explained here.)
Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m.
Neither Cleveland nor Cincinnati has a particularly good run defense, but they are the top two defenses in the NFL when it comes to preventing conversions on runs in "power situations" (third or fourth down, or goal line, with 1-2 yards to go). Runners only convert 47 percent of the time against Cleveland, 53 percent of the time against Cincinnati.
Cincinnati and Cleveland are two of only four teams in the NFL that have used the conventional two running backs on 50 percent of plays or more.
Cincinnati is below average on kickoffs, while Josh Cribbs is the best kickoff returner in the league. When these two teams met in Week 2, Cribbs brought one back 85 yards, and the Bengals started just squibbing it to him. Expect a repeat.
Raiders at Jaguars, 1 p.m.
In the red zone, Oakland has the league's best defense against the pass and worst defense against the run. Shockingly, despite their awesome running back tandem, the Jaguars are better passing in the red zone (ninth) than running (17th), but don't expect the Raiders to keep Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew out of the end zone.
The Raiders have the best DVOA in the league against No. 1 receivers, and the worst DVOA in the league against No. 2 receivers. Of course, with Jacksonville, good luck figuring out which receiver fits each role. Dennis Northcutt leads the Jaguars with 71 pass targets; every other team in the NFL has at least one wide receiver with more pass targets. Ernest Wilford has 62 targets, and Reggie Williams has 52.
Packers at Bears, 1 p.m.
The Packers' defense ranks 26th in the first half, but fourth in the second half, and third in "late-and-close" situations (second half, score within a touchdown). Chicago's offense is bad in all halves, with all scores, on all downs, and in any situation.
(OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration the Bears are average on second-and-long and third-and-medium, which means 4-6 yards to go.)
The Packers have gone empty backfield more often than any other team (15.2 percent of plays) but they've also gone with three running backs (aka the full house formation) more often than any other team (3.6 percent of plays).
Texans at Colts, 1 p.m.
What's the trick to scoring against the Colts? Stay out of long-distance situations -- all of them, and that includes first down. The Colts have the best defense in the league on first down; obviously, most of those situations come with 10 or more yards to go. On second down, the Colts rank 28th with 1-3 yards to go, but seventh with 4-plus yards to go. On third and fourth down, the Colts rank 30th with 1-3 yards to go, but third with 4-plus yards to go.
Overall, the Colts allow conversions on 71 percent of all plays that come with only 1-3 yards to go. The New York Jets have the only other defense to allow conversions more than 70 percent of the time.
Can the Texans take advantage of this weakness? Don't bet on it. Houston's offense is 25th in DVOA on first down, and 26th in average yards on first down (4.87).
Falcons at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m.
Jerious Norwood has the best individual rushing DVOA (33.3 percent) of any running back with at least 75 carries. Warrick Dunn ranks 45th with a rushing DVOA of minus-15.6 percent. Norwood has a success rate of 45 percent. Dunn has a success rate of 38 percent. Norwood averages 6.4 yards per carry. Dunn averages 3.1 yards per carry. Norwood has more receiving yards (240 vs. 220) despite being the target on 20 fewer passes (34 vs. 54). Why is Dunn still starting?
Arizona's offense ranks just 19th in overall DVOA, but ranks fourth in the red zone and sixth in what we call the "front zone," between the opposing 20- and 40-yard lines.
Buccaneers at 49ers, 4:05 p.m.
Despite their struggles in almost every phase of the offensive game, the 49ers are doing well when they run up the middle (11th in adjusted line yards) or behind right tackle (fifth in adjusted line yards). Those happen to be two areas where the Tampa Bay defense struggles. The Bucs' defense is 31st in adjusted line yards against runs up the middle and 25th against runs behind right tackle.
San Francisco is the only offense in the league that has faced more than four pass-rushers on 40 percent of plays. However, the Tampa Bay defense has sent more than four pass-rushers on only 14 percent of plays, which is the second-lowest figure in the league behind Indianapolis.
Jets at Titans, 4:15 p.m.
Tennessee has been fabulous against the run overall, but the Titans are terrible in power situations, where they give up conversions 79 percent of the time. That's tied for the worst percentage in the league with the Jets. (As noted in the stats for Cincinnati and Cleveland, that means the two best defenses in power situations face each other in the same week as the two worst defenses in power situations.)
The Titans lead the league with 67 quarterback hits (not counting sacks). No other team has more than 46. Jets quarterbacks have been hit 41 times, which is tied for fourth in the NFL.
Ravens at Seahawks, 4:15 p.m.
If the Seahawks want to win, they need to pass on first down. And pass, and pass, and pass some more. The Seahawks' offense is sixth in DVOA when passing on first down, but 29th when running on first down. The Ravens' defense is the worst in the league against the pass on first down, and the second-best in the league against the run on first down.
Baltimore is probably going to be punting to Seattle often, which is a bit of a problem. The Ravens rank 31st in the league in net punt value. Sam Koch is fine, but the Ravens have had terrible punt coverage. They'll face Nate Burleson, who has gained 12.6 points worth of field position on his punt returns. That's more than anyone else in the league -- and yes, that includes Devin Hester.
Dolphins at Patriots, 4:15 p.m.
No need to break it all down by down or number of pass-rushers or number of tattoos on the arm of each left tackle. This game is pretty straightforward. The Patriots have the best offense in the history of professional football. The Dolphins have the worst defense in the history of the Roger Goodell-led NFL.
(Yes, that means they have the worst defense of the past two seasons. It's a slightly smaller time period than "the history of professional football," for which Miami fans are eternally grateful.)
Miami has lost more field position from bad kickoffs than any other team in the NFL, while the Patriots rank fourth in value on kick returns. This will be a huge issue every time Miami has to kick off, which they will do at least once, perhaps twice, and, dare I say it maybe even three times during this game!
Redskins at Vikings, 8:15 p.m.
Thirty-three percent of the rushing yards by Minnesota's running backs have come 10 yards past the line of scrimmage or beyond, making this offense most likely to gain ground with long runs. Only 7 percent of rushing yards against Washington's defense have come 10 yards past the line of scrimmage or beyond, making it the defense least likely to allow you to gain ground with long runs. (The NFL average, by the way, is 17 percent.)
During the first seven games, Washington quarterbacks took 15 quarterback hits. In the past seven games, Washington quarterbacks took 28 quarterback hits. Yet, the Redskins' quarterbacks are getting sacked at the same rate: 12 sacks in the first seven games, 12 sacks in the past seven games.
Broncos at Chargers (Monday), 8:30 p.m.
San Diego has a significant special teams advantage over Denver. The Chargers rank second in our special teams ratings behind Chicago; Denver is 25th. The biggest impact will be felt on kickoffs -- San Diego ranks third while Denver has the worst kickoff returns in the league.
San Diego has the league's fifth-best offensive DVOA in the red zone. Denver has the second-worst defensive DVOA in the red zone.
Denver has the worst defense in the AFC against opposing tight ends. The first time these two teams played, Antonio Gates caught all seven intended passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of Pro Football Prospectus 2007 and 2008.
5dEric D. Williams
4dEric D. Williams
4dMel Kiper Jr.