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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 9:45 AM

It's Wednesday, which means it's time to crunch some numbers from last week's NFL action here in the NOTEBOOK. Our first preview of the new football week will run tomorrow when we crunch the numbers in Jacksonville/Atlanta and talk more about the NFC Wildcard race. Note that our first bowl previews will run Friday for Saturday's day-night tripleheader. Saturday's edition of the NOTEBOOK will preview the Dallas-Tampa Bay game scheduled for prime time that evening. 

Here are some stat keys you might have missed this past week in pro football. Games are presented in rotation order...

  • Pittsburgh was more dominant in the stats than the 14-3 final score made it seem in last Thursday's win over Cleveland. Total yardage was 416-304, and yards-per-play was 7.8 to 4.4. The Steelers have had some troubles this year vs. decent defenses turning yards into points though. Remember they had to sweat close wins over Kansas City and Jacksonville... which is pretty embarrassing the way the season has gone for those two teams (both fired their coaches!). Colt McCoy continues to struggle, even when clear-headed. Maybe Seneca Wallace will get a chance to put some points on the board.
  • Baltimore just squashed Indianapolis in their 24-10 victory. The Colts were fortunate to cover with a TD on the final play of the game. It took garbage time yards just to get to 167 for Indy... while Baltimore coasted to 358 yards. It would be redundant to run all the numbers. Baltimore dominated this game in a way that was more in tune with a 31-3 spanking.
  • Houston had a lot of plusses in Cincinnati, which they needed to overcome the minus of FOUR turnovers! Houston won total yardage 412-285, yards-per-play 5.4 to 4.9, rushing yardage 144-101, and third downs 56% to 38%. That speaks very well for rookie QB Yates, and for the team as a whole in rallying while shorthanded. Cincinnati has begun to fade pretty badly as the wear and tear of the season takes its toll. This was a game they really needed to win. Andy Dalton's future is very bright. The 2011 future for this team has truly dimmed at the moment though.
  • Green Bay has tripped up many stat handicappers because the offense makes the most of its yardage, while the defense allows a lot of rope-a-dope yardage while going for turnovers. The raw boxscore data would suggest a 46-16 rout (or a 31-0 halftime lead!). The 1-5 edge in turnovers helps explain part of the blowout. The rest? Green Bay knows how to finish drives much more consistently than everyone else in the league. For many teams, the scoreboard is misleading but the stats tell the story. In Green Bay, the scoreboard really is telling the story this year while the stats are mostly misleading.
  • The Jets win over Kansas City had a lot in common with Baltimore over Indianapolis. The most dominant edges were in rushing yardage (159-65), and Drive Points (21-7 on drives of 60 yards or more). New York's defense held Kansas City to 3.8 yards-per-play and 2 of 12 on third downs too. Once again New York is peaking late in the season. The Chiefs fired their coach the day after this game... because the offense has basically been this inept for the last six weeks in a row.
  • The Minnesota/Detroit game was WILD, because the Lions score a lot of cheap points early on Minnesota miscues... then kind of tried to run out the clock with their defense while blowing most of a big lead. So, Minnesota won a lot of the stat categories by default. What's amazing is that the Vikes almost won the game despite a 6-0 turnover deficit! It was 5-0 when back up quarterback Joe Webb fumbled on the final play of the game. Webb really lit a spark after Christian Ponder was benched, which will make the final few weeks of the season very interesting. Webb really is better now. Minnesota believes Ponder has the brighter future.
  • New Orleans/Tennessee was a fun one to watch. New Orleans showed its edges in maturity and experience together with a 57% to 10% advantage on third down conversions. They needed every bit of that to survive though because Tennessee backup quarterback Jake Locker made a few big plays down the stretch. Locker was more of a Tebow type in college, using his running ability to make up for inaccurate passing. Now, he's suddenly strong AND accurate... giving him a bright future at the pro level. Tennessee won Drive Points 14-13, yards-per-play 6.8 to 5.8, and didn't turnover the ball over once despite facing a playoff caliber team with an inexperienced QB. Tennessee still has a shot at an AFC Wildcard thanks to Cincinnati's loss to Houston.
  • Philadelphia wasn't quite as dominant in Miami as the 26-10 final score makes it sound. Total yardage was just a 239-204 edge, and yards-per-play was 3.6 to 3.2. It was actually another embarrassing performance for the offense... but the defense kept setting up cheap points for them. Credit the Eagles defense for this win... even if you kept seeing highlights of Philly touchdowns. There are some big games left this season that involve Philadelphia, even if they're still a longshot for the playoffs. An improved Eagles team could make things very interesting for their final opponents. Miami fired its head coach the day after this game.
  • New England/Washington was a wild shootout, which speaks poorly of the Patriots chances to go the distance this year. You just can't string together playoff wins with a soft defense! They couldn't get past the first round last year even though they were big favorites after a bye. Here, they made Rex Grossman look like a star... as he passed for almost 300 yards in a game where the whole Skins offense topped 450 yards. New England did win yards-per-play 7.4 to 6.7, and Drive Points 27-20 thanks to that final turnover from Washington in the final seconds. There are currently four teams in the AFC with 10-3 records. Only two of them will get byes.
  • It's funny how Cam Newton keeps piling up great stats, but Tim Tebow keeps piling up victories. Newton is a bit too erratic to play mistake-free ball for sixty minutes. And, when he makes a mistake, it often hurts badly. So, while Carolina wins total yardage 416-394, yards-per-play 6.5 to 5.7, rushing yardage 157-86, and earns a tie in Drive Points at 21-21... they lose the game because of a 0-2 turnover disadvantage and a 10-2 loss in Cheap Points (non-Drive Points).
  • You probably didn't watch much of Tampa Bay-Jacksonville, so don't get the idea that a 41-14 final score represented an offensive explosion for the Jags. They did hold slight edges across the boarding what was basically their standard defensive struggle. But, they won turnovers 2-7! Jacksonville had two non-offensive TD's and 27 Cheap Points for the game. This was basically a 16-13 or 17-14 type win for the home team... with a turnover explosion creating a misleading final score. Give them credit for the win, and for still playing very tough defense in a lost season. The Blaine Gabbert bandwagon hasn't even found the keys to start the engine yet.
  • The vulnerabilities of the San Francisco 49ers were made clear by Arizona, basically confirming what everyone saw when the Niners lost to Baltimore. If you can take away the run... .then Alex Smith isn't going to beat you. Smith managed just 143 passing yards on 37 attempts. He did avoid turnovers... which kept them in the game. But, you're just not going to win in this league with 3.7 yards-per-play. Arizona actually won a statistical rout (325-233 in yardage, 6.0 to 3.7 in ypp, 21-3 in Drive Points), but almost handed the game away with a 3-0 turnover loss. John Skelton can make some big plays, but he's still too mistake-prone. Arizona moved to 6-7 with this win... and they really are playing to that spot in the standings with their recent form.
  • Denver was very lucky to beat the Bears Sunday. That being said, the Broncos did win total yardage 345-245, yards-per-play 4.4 to 4.0, third downs 29% to 13%, and Drive Points 7-0. Lost in the hubbub was how poorly Caleb Hanie played for Chicago. He's just helpless right now, giving the team little hope to be a factor in the playoffs this year if they manage to sneak in. Tim Tebow is a fun phenomenon to behold. Anyone remember Mark Fidrych in baseball? One-year fun doesn't always lead to long term success. 
  • Buffalo-San Diego was kind of like the Oakland-Green Bay game but with smaller numbers. San Diego finished its drives well, while Buffalo couldn't even score an offensive touchdown. But, total yardage (366-281) and yards-per-play (5.5 to 4.8) don't paint a very accurate picture. Better numbers for the reality of the blowout are seen in Drive Points (21-3), third downs (57% to 36%), and turnovers (1-3).
  • What happened to the Dallas defense? The New York Giants gained a stunning 510 yards Sunday Night in Big D, with Eli Manning passing for exactly 400. So much for the Ryan-ization of the Dallas defense taking them to the promised land. You just get the sense that the pieces are never going to be in place here. Every time Jerry Jones thinks he's solved a problem, a new one pops up. Somebody's going to win the NFC East. That team will have a dangerous quarterback, but skeletons in the closet whoever it turns out to be. New York won yardage 510-444 and Drive Points 24-21. Dallas won yards-per-play 7.7 to 6.5, and third downs 50% to 42%. Two evenly matched teams who look like they'll have trouble stopping someone like Green Bay or New Orleans in the postseason. The Giants just lost to those two teams! The Dallas defense is shutting down poor QB's, but showing weakness vs. quality.
  • The Rams offense is so helpless that every play seems like a train wreck with a locomotive barreling down on Sam Bradford. He was repeatedly sacked and terrorized again vs. Seattle in this week's Monday Night game. He ended with fairly standard numbers, 12-29-1-167 passing, 3 of 14 on third downs, not much scoring until the game was out of reach. Seattle wasn't as sharp as the 30-13 final score made it sound... as the game was just 10-3 at halftime on a blocked punt return TD. The Seahawks would ultimately pull away in the stat categories that matter. They are the better team... it just took the full 60 minutes for that to become clear.

That wraps up this week's look at NFL stat notes. We hope they'll help you pick more winners this weekend. Here's our football preview schedule for the next few days:

  • THURSDAY: Jacksonville at Atlanta
  • FRIDAY: an early look at Saturday's bowl tripleheader
  • SATURDAY: Dallas at Tampa Bay in a Saturday Night Special
  • SUNDAY: Baltimore at San Diego in NBC's important Sunday Night game
  • MONDAY: Pittsburgh at San Francisco in the most anticipated MNF game of the season

You can sign up for JIM HURLEY'S FOOTBALL at 1-800-323-4453, or by making a few clicks here at the website. Game day releases go up a few hours before the first kickoff. We also have daily basketball. Even in this quiet week for college hoops during exams, our “play of the day” blowouts will get you the money.

See you tomorrow for Jags/Falcons. Thanks for reading the NOTEBOOK every day!

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