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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 9:43 AM

A few divisional races got very interesting this past weekend...with Cincinnati shockingly surging to first place in the AFC North in front of Baltimore and Pittsburgh...the Jets, Bills, and Patriots locking up into a three-way tie atop the AFC East...and Denver's upset of Oakland putting all four teams in the AFC West within one game of each other.

Let's review the key stats from Sunday and Monday action, as we do every Wednesday here in the NOTEBOOK. Games are presented in rotation order so you can make notes in your schedule.

  • Indianapolis left no doubts about their intensions for the #1 draft pick with a lethargic defensive effort against Atlanta. The Colts allowed 6.5 yards per play and 432 total yards to a team that's been inconsistent on offense this year. Indy's only TD came on a pick six. You have to assume the Colts are going to lay down until they have more margin for error. Upset wins from Miami and St. Louis the past two weekends have given the Colts a one-game lead on the field. Be careful giving Atlanta too much credit here. The Colts were a team on a mission.

  • Tampa Bay's had several negative red flags in their numbers this year...and many of them came into play in their road loss at New Orleans. The offense didn't do much until the game was out of reach. The defense allowed almost 200 rushing yards and 27 points on drives of 60 yards or more. The Bucs may be 4-4, but they have the stats of a 7-9 or even 6-10 type team in many areas. Keep that in mind going forward. New Orleans keeps finding ways to underachieve their production. You should reach 30 points in the NFL with 7.1 yards-per-play and only one giveaway. Not quite vintage stuff from the Saints during their 6-3 start.

  • Houston just beat Cleveland like a drum. The Texans won rushing yardage 261-44, and yards-perplay 6.0 to 3.7. The Browns didn't have a decent drive until the game was out of hand. Colt McCoy just doesn't have the tools to thrive at this terms of his own body and the caliber of his teammates. Cleveland does have three wins this year, but the vanquished are a combined 3-22 on the season...and two of the games were close! Quiet day in the air for Houston, which is going to matter more when they step up in class. Matt Schaub is playing like he has a bad shoulder in terms of the numbers. It may be the injury to his star receiver that is the real key though.

  • The Jets almost never look as good in the stats as they play on the field...and that was the case again in Baltimore. The biggest edge came on third downs.  The Jets converted 54% of their tires, compared to just 27% for the Bills. The defense also did a great job against the Buffalo aerial attack, holding the Bills below 200 passing yards while intercepting a couple. This was the Jets team people were expecting to see back in September. Same is true for the Bills. Only two of the three teams knotted at 5-3 in this division can make the playoffs.

  • Surprising day for Miami. They may have played themselves out of the Luck Sweepstakes. Kansas City just didn't have anything left in the tank after a string of important victories. Tough schedule spot for the Chiefs after beating Oakland and San Diego from their division the prior two weeks. Plus, there was short preparation after the Monday Nighter. Biggest edge was in the passing game, where Matt Moore was a very sharp 17 of 23, while Matt Cassell was 20 of 39. And, Moor had more yardage on his 16 fewer attempts! Miami definitely has defensive dog capabilities from this point forward, particularly if they're going to focus on getting some wins. Kansas City will have better days...but this team isn't any better than the playoff pretender that was badly outclassed by Baltimore last January.

  • San Francisco didn't play great in Washington, but seemed to have a stranglehold on the game the whole way because of their defense. The final stats were a bit misleading because Washington had a garbage time score after they had fallen behind by 16 points. Most important numbers were the rushing advantage of San Francisco (138-52), and the turnover edge (3-1). Coach Jim Harbaugh has greatly diminished the implosion potential of Alex Smith by taking risky passes out of the playbook. Frank Gore is doing a good job of carrying the load in recent weeks. The Niners aren't as good as their 7-1 record...but they are a legitimate playoff team with the "play great defense, manage the game on offense" model. That model hasn't been winning Super Bowls lately though.

  • The Seattle/Dallas game was more wide-open than the 23-13 final score made it seem. Dallas won yardage 442-381, and yards-per-play 7.4 to 6.2. Drives kept ending with field goals or turnovers after big plays in the middle of the field. Key to remember is that neither defense looked as good as the final score suggested. Tavaris Jackson is moving the ball, but making too many mistakes. Now that there's a good team in the NFC West, you can't back your way into the playoffs with a crappy team. Seattle's 2-6 start already has them thinking about next year. Dallas moves back to .500 with the win...but they sure weren't helped when the Giants upset New England.

  • Wow, Denver looked like a 3-13 caliber team a couple of weeks ago. Now they're just a game out of first place! Denver is 3-5 in a division where 4-4 represents a first place trio. Tim Tebow (10-22-0-113) got a lot of help this week from his running game (298-100 edge on the ground) and special teams. Most importantly, Denver played like they cared. Blood rivalries can do that to a team. Now there's reason to care every week. Oakland has to be discouraged that Carson Palmer has been so interception prone since joining the team. He was picked three times here after a bye week should have helped his timing. Note that both teams averaged 6.6 yards-per-play, which reflects badly on both defenses.

  • Cincinnati continues to grind out wins with a solid defense, acceptable running game, and a rookie quarterback who's playing very smart. Think of how composed Andy Dalton is going to be in a few years given his high maturity level now. Biggest stat edges for the Bengals were in Drive Points (21-14), third down conversions (50-35), and turnovers (0-1, with 0 being a fantastic number with a rookie QB in a road game). Tennessee's hot start is a distant memory, and their 4-4 record puts them in a Wildcard logjam. It's almost unimaginable that the Bengals could be 6-2 given their Preseason outlook.

  • St. Louis/Arizona had an exciting ending at least. The Rams had to be crushed that they blew a game where they led 13-3 against unheralded John Skelton. Arizona can celebrate the win...but the offense only converted 20% of third down tries and got nailed twice with safeties. The Rams never found the end zone. Arizona's only offensive TD came late in regulation. These teams are a combined 3-13, and are playing as bad as those records would suggest outside of the St. Louis stunner over New Orleans. Bring back A.J. Feeley!

  • Neither the NY Giants nor the New England Patriots looked like playoff caliber teams until the final minutes...then BOTH looked like savvy veteran squads with go-ahead touchdowns. Eli Manning in particular made a statement with a dramatic last second road win. There were six combined turnovers in the game, and the offenses were just nine of 29 on third downs. Normally you'd point to great defense. But, neither of these defenses have been playing all that great this year. The Patriots continue their stunning slide toward mediocrity. Inconsistent New York can't hope to keep winning nailbiters against a very tough second half schedule.

  • Green Bay has its blueprint figured out. They light up the scoreboard on offense, and let the defense run out the clock by allowing garbage time points. If the offense falters a bit late in the game, then the pointspread is in doubt. That's going to bite them very soon if they don't bring a bit more defensive intensity. But...this is such a talented team that it may be hard to get peak intensity in November when the most important games are two months away. Amazing that they can reach 8-0 in cruise control. The "what's wrong with Philip Rivers?" questions should continue for awhile longer thanks to two pick sixes.

  • We've been very hard on Joe Flacco over the years because of his shaky performances vs. quality opposition. We were about to be very hard on him again after a late fumble set up Pittsburgh's go-ahead score. But, in what may be a "red flag" performance for the true "arrival" of the Ravens as a Super Bowl threat...Flacco led his team confidently down the field for the game winning touchdown. THIS is what we needed to see before thinking about jumping on the bandwagon. We'll need to see it one or two more times before we sit down on that bandwagon! You may have heard the NBC announcers mention this late in the game...Baltimore was 14 of 21 on third down conversions for a gaudy 67%. That's a fantastic performance on the ROAD against a BLOOD RIVAL. Flacco's passing line of 28-47-0-289 had too many incomplete passes for our taste. But, no picks and almost 300 passing yards against a good defense.

  • Chicago was very impressive in its road upset of Philadelphia on Monday Night. The Eagles were supposed to be the classier side as a 9-point favorite. Yet Chicago won total yardage 372-330, rushing yardage 164-119, yards-per-play 5.6 to 5.2, and Drive Points 10-7. It was a clean win to be sure. In fact, the Eagles padded their scoring with a defensive touchdown. This is the first time all year that the Eagles were outgained by an opponent. Turnovers were an issue for Philly...but they didn't lose that category so they can't call this a turnover loss. Philadelphia was just flat home by Jay Cutler! So much for getting the dream team back on track. And, now Chicago can catch Detroit in the NFC North with a home win over the Lions on Sunday.

That wraps up this week's look at NFL stats. We hope they'll help you pick some winners this weekend. Note that we'll run a prime time stat preview for Oakland-San Diego in tomorrow's edition of the NOTEBOOK. We'll spend Friday and Saturday getting caught in up the SEC and Pac 10 races (with Saturday's showcase game being Oregon/Stanford). We return to the NFL Sunday and Monday to crunch the numbers in New England/NY Jets and Minnesota/Green Bay.

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's really happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK online or in the office at 1-800-323-4453 for BIG JUICY WINNERS!

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