NFL Week Fifteen After Action Report (AAR)

Questionable calls and lots of turnovers seemed to be the deciding factors this weekend but for the most part we saw the correct team(s) win. Yep, I’m talking about the Rams. Sorry, Danny. And with that, let’s get into the After Action Report for NFL Week Fifteen.

Brad’s Picks

Miami Dolphins (6-7) @ Buffalo Bills (7-6); Line: Bills by 3

Prediction: Dolphins 17, Bills 20

Outcome: Dolphins 16, Bills 24

Did they cover? Yes

The Bills were even more dominant in this contest than I expected. Yes, they covered the spread and won by a touchdown, but the truth is they took a 24-6 lead to the 4th quarter and coasted to victory. Jay Cutler was nothing short of catastrophic in throwing three INTs and putting the ball on the ground four times (none lost to the defense, but still!). I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami ambushed Buffalo in Week 17 to spoil their playoff hopes, but Sunday was all Bills in the comfort of their home stadium at sub-freezing temperatures.

Both Buffalo and Miami are double-digit road underdogs in Week 16 (Bills @ Pats, ‘Phins @ Chiefs), but Buffalo will have a lot more on the line this weekend. They occupy the last playoff spot based on possession of a marginal tiebreaker over the Ravens who have a much easier final two games. I’d much rather see the Bills in the playoffs than the Ravens, so let’s circle the wagons!

Los Angeles Rams (9-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (8-5); Line: ‘Hawks by 2.5

Prediction: Rams 28, Seahawks 31

Outcome: Rams 42, Seahawks 7

Did they cover? No

By kickoff this line had moved a long way and saw the Seahawks playing the role of home underdog for the 2nd time in a few weeks. Unlike Week 13’s Philly game however, the betting public was right on Sunday. The Rams handed the Seahawks the worst beating of the Pete Carroll era and seized control of the NFC West behind a dominant defensive effort and an all-world performance by Todd Gurley. After the Minnesota loss it looked like the Rams might have peeked too early, but this team might just be scratching the surface. I probably should have known that the Rams had a victory over the Seahawks in them since they seem to take a game off their division rival every year, however no one could have predicted the game would look this different from the matchup LA lost 16-10 at home back in Week 5.

LA goes to Tennessee next week and closes at home against the 49ers, both winnable games for sure. Getting to 12-4 doesn’t guarantee them a first round bye in the deep NFC, but they won’t be too worried about welcoming the 2nd wild card seed no matter who it is. This brings us to the Seahawks who can only hope and pray to get another crack at the Rams in the Wild Card round as they no longer control their own fate. Even if they win out at Dallas and at home against Arizona there is no guarantee they can catch the Falcons or Lions. If they miss the postseason, it would be the first time since the 2011 season.

Atlanta Falcons (8-5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9); Line: Falcons by 7

Prediction: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 9

Outcome: Falcons 24, Buccaneers 21

Did they cover? No

Much like that weekend I picked against the Colts when they were unveiling the Peyton Manning statue, I should have been more cautious with Tampa Bay playing in prime time on the night they were inducting Chuckie into their Ring of Honor. The Falcons had dozens of opportunities to break this game open, but Jameis kept his team in it with his best overall performance of the season. I’m still not taking back my remarks about his regression though.

Atlanta won a game they had to win and can still win the best division in the NFL by taking out New Orleans on the road (5.5-point dog!) and Carolina at home. It’s a tall order, but every team would tell you that all they want is a chance to control their own playoff destiny once they get to Week 16. Conversely, Tampa plays the Panthers at home and the Saints on the road to finish their dreadful 2017 season.

Week Fourteen Accuracy: 2-1
Overall Accuracy: 26-11

Chris’s Picks

Chicago Bears (4-9) @ Detroit Lions (7-6); Line: Lions by 5

Prediction: Bears 17, Lions 35

Outcome: Bears 10, Lions 20

Did they cover? Yes

Statistically, two stats jump off the page at me in this one. The Bears yards per rush sitting at a meager 2.9 and Jordan Howard’s touches at a low, low 10 carries for the night. Now, the Bears season is certainly over from a playoff perspective but the goal is to still win football games, no? That whole pride, competitive thing… nevermind.

Howard is having a fantastic two-year stint in which he’s rushed for 2300+ yards and a combined 13 touchdowns. The Bears are playing with a turnover prone rookie quarterback after benching an awful Mike Glennon, and yet, Trubisky is allowed 46 attempts through the air. I’m not surprised that he has three interceptions for the game. This team lacks identity on the field. An example of identity on the field, is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Early on they embraced the not-so-great play of their quarterback and built a stout defense to house a punishing run game. We know what kind of football we are going to get from the Jags and I believe that’s allowed Blake Bortles to play pressure-free football down the stretch. The Bears don’t have the defensive pieces, but they have a solid run-game, and I hate watching a team go away from their bread and butter.

The outcome of this one was predictable. I was off on the numbers a bit and I’m surprised and disappointed by the play calling disparity for the Chicago Bears.

Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-6); Line: Bolts by 1

Prediction: Chargers 24, Chiefs 28

Outcome: Chargers 13, Chiefs 30

Did they cover? No

I don’t know how much home field advantage played into this one, but the Chargers looked out of sync. Melvin Gordon was about the only thing they had going offensively and you just don’t see a three pick game from the old man. Kareem Hunt came to play with 206 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns and I do enjoy watching Tyreek Hill turn on the wheels. A nice lob from Smith turned into a 64-yard score for Mighty Mouse and I can only assume Casey Hayward was feeling that calf injury from earlier this week as he pulled up well short of factoring in on the play.

The difference in this game was the turnovers. It was fairly even coming into the second half but three interceptions from Rivers and a fumble from Austin Ekeler prevented any forward momentum from happening. This late in the season it’s the details that matter and the Chargers weren’t able to overcome their own mistakes.

Too many turnovers appears to be a theme moving through this week, three picks for Trubisky, and now three for Rivers. You’ll see this stat again before long.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) @ New York Giants (2-11); Line: Iggles by 8.5

Prediction: Eagles 28, Giants 14

Outcome: Eagles 34, Giants 29

Did they cover? No

I don’t think many saw this game being this close. It’s true the Eagles were without starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, but we all know Nick Foles can be dangerous. He managed to go toe-to-toe with an aging Eli Manning, and while that doesn’t sound too impressive, Manning is still a starter and Foles is a backup.

Predictably, the Giants didn’t get much from their run game but Manning was able to air it out with Sam Shepard and Evan Engram having big games this Sunday. Manning also collected three touchdowns but gave up a costly interception near the end of the first half to give the Eagles life before heading into the locker room. Nick Foles said he channeled his inner Carson Wentz, but I think he did his best Matt Ryan MVP imitation as he spread the ball around on offense allowing six different teammates to have at least two receptions and double digits in yards. Foles ended the day with four touchdowns and no interceptions as well.

In the end, the Giants had a chance to win it but Eli Manning couldn’t connect with Evan Engram on a crucial fourth down pass attempt and the Eagles held on to win it. I’ve been critical of Ben McAdoo this season and I’m not sure if this Giants performance validates my opinion or is a one off, but Steve Spagnuolo might be working himself into a head coaching position if the Giants look competitive until the end.

Green Bay Packers (7-6) @ Carolina Panthers (9-4); Line: Panthers by 2.5

Prediction: Packers 31, Panthers 28.

Outcome: Packers 24, Panthers 31.

Did they cover? Yes

Packer fans were ready for the miracle but it wasn’t meant to be. The stage appeared set with Aaron Rodgers coming back off the IR after just eight weeks, and while his collarbone held up, he makes the third quarterback this weekend to give up three interceptions. That’s right, Aaron Rodgers tossed three of them in this loss and they still had a chance to win it late.

Danny and I have talked about this Panthers team several times this season and we always circle back around to how awful they look at times and yet they’re still managing to win games. I think this largely revolves around the success of Cam Newton and in other columns I’ve pointed out his issues throwing the football, but he didn’t seem to have any problems against a depleted Packers secondary. Newton had 242 yards on an unusually efficient (for him) 64.5 percent completion percentage. He also connected with teammates four times in the end zone for four touchdowns.

And yet, a late touchdown gave the Packers life and an onside kick recovery appeared to be the beginning of a miraculous comeback. Unfortunately, Geronimo Allison couldn’t hold onto the football after making a grab in first down territory and the Panthers were able to recover the fumble. Don’t accuse me of being a homer, I thought it was a fumble the minute I saw it. There were plenty of questionable calls this weekend, but this was not one of them.

Week Fourteen Accuracy: 3-1
Overall Accuracy: 22-16

Danny’s Picks

New England Patriots (10-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2); Line: Pats by 3

Prediction: Patriots 25, Steelers 28

Outcome:  Patriots 27, Steelers 24

Did they cover? Push

Danny was wrong and he never learns his lesson. The Patriots have a knack for winning and making those who pick against them look foolish. Tom Brady looked like the Tom Brady we’ve come to know and love (or hate depending on your loyalties) with the return of his security blanket, Rob Gronkowski. Gronk exploited the absence of Ryan Shazier and absolutely dominated the Pittsburgh defense, particularly on the last touchdown drive. The Steelers had every chance to get the upset and seemingly did so after Jesse James appeared to catch a touch down with less than a minute left in the game. The officials reversed the call after further review and according to the rule book made the right call, but the call was another indictment against a rule that makes little sense. Nearly everyone I spoke with, including a couple of Pats fans all agreed it was a catch as they would personally define one. This call is similar to those that went against and Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson in  seasons past. In the NFL today, no one is quite sure what constitutes a catch. This game was about as even as they come, but the result puts Pittsburgh in a bind as they will likely have to win in Foxboro if they are going to make it to the Super Bowl. And to make matters worse the Steelers lost Antonio Brown to a calf injury.

Tennessee Titans (8-5) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-10); Line: EVEN

Prediction: Titans 21, 49ers 20

Outcome: Titans 23, 49ers 25

Did they cover? N/A

Danny was wrong again! This was a pick’em game early in the week and given that the Titans have a top-ten defense and are trying to secure a playoff spot, it seemed to me they would show up on the road. Jimmy Garoppolo has ignited this 49ers team, sparking a late season run. Garoppolo completed roughly 80 percent of his passes for 381 yards. Despite his heroics, the Niners were able to make it into the end zone just once and had to settle for six field goals. The next two weeks will give us an idea of how good Garoppolo can be as he faces one of the league’s best defenses in the Jaguars and then faces off against an insurgent Rams team.

Dallas Cowboys (7-6) @ Oakland Raiders (6-7); Line: ‘Boys by 3

Prediction: Cowboys 22, Raiders 20

Outcome: Cowboys 20, Raiders 17

Did they cover? Yes

Hey, at least I was right once this week. The Cowboys, even without Ezekiel Elliott, are just a better team than the Raiders. The Raiders had a chance late to win this game, but Derek Carr fumbled the ball out the back of the end zone giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 20. The play was emblematic of their season, and as the season winds down, Raiders fans are wondering whether the 2016 season was an aberration or whether this team has enough talent to make the leap in 2018. The last six games have been good for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. It will be interesting to see how they finish out the season.

Week Fourteen Accuracy: 1-2
Overall Accuracy: 21-12

SportsIntel Combined Total for Season Since Week Four (We generally pick three games a piece, per week): 69-39
Correct Pick Percentage: 63.89%
FiveThirtyEight’s ELO (Every contest this season except 50/50 matchups):  141-80
Correct Pick Percentage: 63.8%
Microsoft’s Cortana (Every contest this season except 50/50 matchups): 149-75
Correct Pick Percentage: 66.52%