Thursday, November 26, 2015

NFL Thanksgiving 2015

by JASmius

The flesh of the bird, the skin of the pig, the tryp to the phan, and huge mounds of carbohydrates - when it's dark, cold, wet, and dismal outside, does it get any better than that?

From the NFL's point of view, it's kind of a mixed bag this Thanksgiving. Typically, with Detroit and Dallas always playing host on Thanksgiving, and with Detroit and Dallas usually the epitome of mediocrity, the quality of the day's football fare tends to be more than a little lacking.  This year, one of the participants is so mercurial that its game could be either a snoozer blowout or highly competitive, while another is much, much better now than their record indicates and could be the ultimate trap game.

But don't worry, the third game sucks every bit as much as it looks at first glance.

Here's what I mean by "mercurial": Last offseason, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly wheeled and dealed like he had a bad pompadour toupee.  He traded his starting quarterback, Nick Foles, the man who in 2013 threw for twenty-seven touchdowns and two interceptions but broke his collarbone last season, to St. Louis for the Rams' starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, who missed large portions of both seasons with knee injuries and never once put up Foles' 2013 numbers.  He let his Pro Bowl halfback, LeSean McCoy, sign with the Bills and signed away Pro Bowl halfback DeMarco Murray from the Cowboys.  He effectively swapped cornerbacks with Seattle, sending us Cary Williams (who was benched this past Sunday) and signing away Byron Maxwell, who hasn't exactly made anybody forget Richard Sherman in Philly.  And so on.  This was the kind of fractal chaos that (1) was unnecessary, as the Eagles had won ten games in each of the previous two seasons, even if they faded down the stretch last year, and (2) had better produce prompt and dramatic results this season if Kelly wanted to keep at least the GM half of his job.

The result?  The Eagles are 4-6.


The Lions, on the other hand, pretty much straightforwardly stink.  They absolutely cannot run the ball (dead last in the league), which helps explain why they're #8 in passing, with Matt Stafford having to throw on every down.  Given that Philly is #28 against the run and #16 against the pass, this could be a case of the resistable force clashing with the movable object.

But on the other side of the ball, the Eagles are sufficiently superior to Detroit's defense that they should be able to prevail.

I'd leave it at that were it not for their getting hammered at home by Tampa last Sunday.  That makes this game either a "take it out on the Lions" blowout or the wheels coming off the Chip Kelly Express.

Better start updating your resume, Chip.

(#27) Philadelphia
(#25) Detroit* (+1)

Flipping past this game you would conclude that it didn't even need a second glance.  The Panthers are undefeated, while the Cowboys just broke a seven game losing streak.  Slam, bam, thank you, m'am, Carolina wins.  Next!

But neither version of Tony Romo (the football stud and the weirdo cookie/brownie/"crownie" baker) will permit that, ladies and gentlemen.  Because the 'pokes' record with their Pro Bowl QB this season is 3-0, and without him, sidelined with a broken clavicle, they were 0-7, laboring painfully along with a succession of Arena League-caliber signal-callers with no Pro Bowl halfback on whom to lean this year.  That does much to explain why Dallas is #26 in passing offense while undiminished in every other offensive and defensive category.

The contest will hinge on the respective running attacks, and which defense can better contain them.  Carolina is #4 on the ground, the Cowboys are #8 (entirely on the strength of that bulldozing offensive line, which is as good a unit as ours is horrendous).  On the other side of the ball, the Panthers are #8 against the run, and Dallas is #15.

That should be the difference.

(#  4) Carolina* (-1)
(#15) Dallas

But if there's going to be an upset today, given "the undefeateds' curse," this will be where it happens.  Think Greg Hardy putting Cam Newton in the hospital.

I wouldn't waste more than a couple of sentences on what one would assume to be a total mismatch, except that if you substitute statistical rankings for season records, you'd conclude that the mismatch goes the other way.

Read it and gape:

TOTAL OFFENSE: Bears #16, Packers #21
RUSHING OFFENSE: Bears #15, Packers #16
PASSING OFFENSE: Bears #18, Packers #22 (I guess Aaron Rodgers really does miss Jordy Nelson)

TOTAL DEFENSE: Bears #14, Packers #21
RUSHING DEFENSE: Packers #22, Bears #25
PASSING DEFENSE: Bears #4, Packers #23

Just as a side note, the Seahawks are #10 in total offense, #1 in rushing offense, #27 in passing offense, #2 in total defense, #10 in rushing defense, and #2 in passing defense, far surpassing the Pack in all but one category, and yet they're 7-3 and we're 5-5.  I'm still having trouble getting my immense brain around that without losing my composure.

If Green Bay hadn't woken up and stomped the Vikings into their own turf four days ago, I'd have had to give this pick some serious thought.  But it could be competitive, at least.  And Bret Favre will be there to get pelted by snowballs from unforgiving Packer fans.

Who says upper Midwesterners are nice?

(#14) Chicago (+9)
(#  6) Green Bay*

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