PFR Originals

POLL: Most Important Game Of Week 15?

Only three weeks are left in the 2018 NFL regular season, and Week 15 offers a number of intriguing matchups that could impact the playoff race. With so much on the line, which game is the most important?

For some context, we’ll use Brian Burke of ESPN’s Playoff Probability Leverage, which Burke tweets out weekly. In short, playoff probability leverage indicates the change in chance of making the playoffs based on the results of the selected game. For example, teams like the Rams, Patriots, and Saints are so assured of earning a postseason appearance that this week’s contests have limited meaning for them (less than 1% playoff leverage). Teams like the Lions, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Bills, and Raiders etc. will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.

But for some clubs, Week 15 means everything. And by combining the playoff probability leverages of the two teams involved in a selected game, we can determine which contests will most determine the postseason entrants:

  • Miami Dolphins (19%) @ Minnesota Vikings (42%)
  • New England Patriots (1%) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (42%)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1%) @ Baltimore Ravens (40%)
  • Tennessee Titans (29%) @ New York Giants (1%)
  • Dallas Cowboys (2%) @ Indianapolis Colts (24%)

Of course, there are other factors at play here as well. It’s not just playoff bids that are on the line here, many coaches are coaching for their jobs as well. Ron Rivera, John Harbaugh, and Dirk Koetter are all in grave danger of being fired if their respective teams miss the playoffs, so each of their games this week have some added meaning.. There’s also a bunch of games with seeding relevance, as the number one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is still wide open with four teams in contention.

This week is massive for the AFC North, as both the Steelers and Ravens will see their playoff chances dramatically decrease if they can’t win. The Patriots are still battling for seeding in the AFC, and could clinch the AFC East with a win and Dolphins loss.

So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Dolphins/Vikings the most critical game of the weekend because it’ll go a long way toward determining wild card spots? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Buccaneers/Ravens mean more because of the coaching implications? Vote below (link for app users), and add your thoughts in the comments section!

 

PFR Originals: 12/2/18 – 12/9/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

POLL: Most Important Game Of Week 14?

Only four weeks are left in the 2018 NFL regular season, and Week 14 offers a number of intriguing matchups that could impact the playoff race. With so much on the line, which game is the most important?

For some context, we’ll use Brian Burke of ESPN’s Playoff Probability Leverage, which Burke tweets out weekly. In short, playoff probability leverage indicates the change in chance of making the playoffs based on the results of the selected game. For example, the Rams, Patriots, Saints, and Chiefs are so assured of earning a postseason appearance that this week’s contests have limited meaning for them (less than 1% playoff leverage). Teams like the Lions, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, and Raiders etc. will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.

But for some clubs, Week 14 means everything. And by combining the playoff probability leverages of the two teams involved in a selected game, we can determine which contests will most determine the postseason entrants:

  • Philadelphia Eagles (47%) @ Dallas Cowboys (42%) = 89%
  • Minnesota Vikings (33%) @ Seattle Seahawks (16%) = 49%
  • Baltimore Ravens (34%) @ Kansas City Chiefs (0%) = 34%
  • Indianapolis Colts (28%) @ Houston Texans (2%) = 30%
  • Denver Broncos (20%) @ San Francisco 49ers (0%) = 20%
  • Carolina Panthers (17%) @ Cleveland Browns (1%) = 18%

Of course, there are other factors at play here as well. It’s not just playoff bids that are on the line here, many coaches are coaching for their jobs as well. Ron Rivera, John Harbaugh, and Vance Joseph are all in grave danger of being fired if their respective teams miss the playoffs, so perhaps those games have a little added meaning. There’s also a bunch of games with seeding relevance, as the number one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is still wide open with four teams in contention.

So So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Eagles/Cowboys the most critical game of the weekend because it’ll go a long way toward determining the winner of the NFC East? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Panthers/Browns mean more because of the coaching implications? Vote below (link for app users), and add your thoughts in the comments section!

Poll: Which Spring Football League Will Come Out On Top?

The U.S. can’t get enough of the NFL, but the country’s appetite for professional football alternatives is highly questionable. Despite the collapse of the USFL, the first iteration of the XFL, and other challengers, there are now three ambitious spring football leagues in development. 

On Thursday, Ricky Williams, Terrell Owens, and other former NFL notables announced the formation of the Freedom Football League, a league that vows to give players an opportunity to speak out on social injustice while providing fans with an opportunity to become full-fledged shareholders. The FFL also intends to focus on player wellness with “support on and off the field.”

The FFL says it will have teams in San Diego, Oklahoma City, Portland, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Birmingham, St. Louis, Connecticut, and Oakland, but what it doesn’t have is a concrete launch date or a broadcasting deal like the American Alliance of Football. It’s also unclear whether it has the financial backing to match the returning XFL, which is owned by billionaire Vince McMahon.

These three leagues will fight for the biggest slice of a pie that may not be all that big in the first place. One could argue that the AAF – which boasts a roster of coaches including Brad Childress, Mike Singletary, Steve Spurrier, and Mike Martz – has the best chance for survival, though McMahon seems driven to eclipse the memory of his one-and-done football experiment of 2001. We don’t know much about the FFL, but we do know that it will be playing catchup when and if it launches.

 

Which spring league will reign supreme? Cast your vote below (link for app users) and head to the comment section to let us know whether you think large-scale spring football can be viable.

PFR Originals: 11/25/18 – 12/2/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

Poll: Who Will Be AFC’s No. 1 Seed?

Five two- or three-loss teams comprise the AFC’s group of surefire contenders. The Chiefs, Patriots, Texans, Steelers and Chargers are almost certain to extend their seasons into January.

But which team will wind up with the No. 1 seed? That question becomes more interesting after the events in Kansas City on Friday.

Although Sammy Watkins has missed time for the Chiefs this season, they trotted out their top offensive threats in every game. The Patrick MahomesTravis KelceTyreek HillKareem Hunt quartet led Kansas City to a 9-2 record — with losses coming by a combined six points against teams with a combined 18-4 record — and a runaway DVOA lead, but the NFL’s reigning rushing champion won’t be joining his former teammates Sunday in Oakland after the Chiefs cut him. Hunt totaled 1,202 yards from scrimmage for the Chiefs this season; no other K.C. back has more than 300. But next-man-up Spencer Ware did amass 1,368 for the 2016 Chiefs.

This may open the door for the franchise that has secured the AFC’s No. 1 seed in five of this decade’s eight seasons. Only two AFC franchises have held home field in the 2010s — New England and Denver — and no other team has represented the conference in a Super Bowl in six years.

The Chiefs have not had home-field advantage since 1997 but entered the week having the inside track to make the playoffs go through western Missouri. Football Outsiders gives Kansas City a 74 percent chance to lock down the No. 1 seed.

They have two games remaining against the 2-9 Raiders and also will be home against the Chargers, who haven’t won this matchup since 2013, and Ravens. The Chiefs must travel to Seattle in Week 16, and their margin for error may be slim.

The Patriots’ AFC East rivals are again cooperating with New England’s hopes of earning a bye and possibly the 1 seed, and three of the Pats’ final five games are against the Bills, Jets and Dolphins. Football Outsiders, however, gives the Patriots merely a 13 percent chance of securing home-field advantage. But they own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Chiefs and Texans. Despite this being a less-than-dominant Patriots edition (ninth DVOA, seventh in scoring offense, 12th on defense), they have an interesting chance to obtain home field again.

New England is 19-3 in Foxborough playoff games under Bill Belichick and 3-4 away from home in January, making that position rather important.

Football Outsiders tabs Houston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles as long shots, with none carrying better than a 6.9 percent chance (the Texans) to avoid January travel.

Houston, though, leads the contender pack with the No. 4 DVOA defense and plays just one winning team — the 6-5 Colts — the rest of the way. The Texans are riding the longest win streak in football and are the first team to win eight straight after starting 0-3. The Steelers and Chargers will encounter tougher opposition. Games against the Bolts, Patriots (both at home) and Saints still loom for the Steelers. Road trips to Kansas City and Denver are ahead for the Chargers, who also host the Ravens in Week 16.

Los Angeles is fourth in weighted DVOA and, especially with Joey Bosa back, possesses a far superior defense to the Chiefs. Will that end up mattering come Week 15 in what’s been a one-sided rivalry as of late?

So, which one of these teams will end up with the conference’s coveted postseason real estate? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Trey Flowers

Sack artists tend be among the highest earners in free agency, but in 2019 we’ll find out whether the same applies to a defensive end who has generated a ton of pressure against opposing QBs without a ton of sack dances. We’re talking about Patriots standout Trey Flowers, who will look to cash in among a star-studded class of edge rushers. 

This spring, teams will be champing at the bit for free agents like Frank Clark (10 sacks), Dee Ford (9 sacks), DeMarcus Lawrence (9.5 sacks), Jadeveon Clowney (7 sacks). Flowers, meanwhile, has just 3.5 sacks through ten games this season, meaning that he’s on pace for less takedowns than his seven sacks in 2016 and his 6.5 sacks last year.

Of course, sacks don’t tell the whole story when it comes to evaluating edge rushers. Flowers has been terrorizing opposing QBs all season long and Jets signal caller Josh McCown can attest to that after he was hit four times by the Arkansas product last week. Heading into the meat of Week 13, Flowers ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 ranked edge defender, behind only Texans superstar J.J. Watt. That’s not too shabby for a player who won’t turn 26 until August.

Watt, by the way, is under contract through 2021 thanks to the six-year, $100MM contract extension he inked in 2014. Given the widespread need for high-level pass rushers, the increase of the salary cap, and the advancement of the market for DEs, it’s possible that Flowers can flirt with or best Watt’s $16.67MM average annual value.

The Patriots typically don’t shell out big bucks for defensive linemen, but they may want to make an exception here. The Patriots’ group of defensive ends beyond Flowers is far from star-studded and they should have the cap room to make his salary fit. A long-term extension with Flowers would cost no less than $13MM annually, so if they’re unwilling to commit, they can franchise tag Flowers for about $17.1MM.

If Flowers hits the open market, what kind of contract will he command? Which teams do you think will be in the mix for him? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Most Important Game Of Week 13?

We’re just five weeks away from the 2018 NFL postseason, and Week 10 offers a number of intriguing matchups that could impact the playoff race. With so much on the line, which game is the most important?

For some context, we’ll use Brian Burke of ESPN’s Playoff Probability Leverage, which Burke tweets out weekly. In short, playoff probability leverage indicates the change in chance of making the playoffs based on the results of the selected game. For example, the Rams, Patriots, Saints, and Chiefs are so assured of earning a postseason appearance that this week’s contests have limited meaning for them (less than 1% playoff leverage). The Lions, Buccaneers, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.

But for other clubs, Week 10 could mean everything. And by combining the playoff probability leverages of the two teams involved in a selected game, we can determine which contests will most determine the postseason entrants:

  • Washington Redskins (38%) at Philadelphia Eagles (16%) = 54%
  • Baltimore Ravens (32%) at Atlanta Falcons (4%) = 36%
  • Indianapolis Colts (30%) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1%) = 31%
  • San Francisco 49ers (0%) at Seattle Seahawks (31%) = 31%
  • Minnesota Vikings (26%) at New England Patriots (1%) = 27%
  • Carolina Panthers (24%) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1%) = 25%
  • Denver Broncos (15%) at Cincinnati Bengals (5%) = 20%
  • Los Angeles Chargers (7%) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7%) = 14%

Week 13 is a strange week in terms of playoff leverage, as nearly every matchup with a combined leverage of at least 20% is extremely one-sided. In other words, a lot of the games this week are critical for one team involved, and nearly irrelevant for the other club. In fact, there are only three contests in which both teams face leverage of at least five percent: Redskins/Eagles, Broncos/Bengals, and Chargers/Steelers. In the latter case, neither Los Angeles nor Pittsburgh is in danger of missing the postseason, but their showdown could be important for playoff seeding.

It’s also important to note that not all playoff probability leverages are created equally. For example, even if the Cowboys — who face a 23% PPL — lose to the Saints on Thursday, they’ll still have a greater than 55% chance of making the postseason. On the other hand, the Eagles, while facing a similar PPL to the Cowboys (24%), will have roughly a one-in-ten chance of earning a postseason berth if they fall to the Buccaneers. If Philadelphia wins, that number rises to about 35%.

So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Redskins/Eagles the most critical game of the weekend? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Broncos/Bengals mean more? Vote below, and add your thoughts in the comments section! (Link for app users).

Poll: Who Will Win The NFC East?

From a divisional perspective, the NFL playoff race isn’t all that exciting in 2018. While there is certainly intrigue regarding the No. 6 seed in the AFC, and the NFC wild card race still needs to shake out, there is only one divisional race that is truly up for grabs. The NFC East is still wide open at the moment, with three clubs still realistically in the hunt to take the division crown.

Let’s take a closer look at each contending team in the NFC East, along with their odds of winning the division via the New York Times, FiveThirtyEight.com, and Football Outsiders:

Dallas Cowboys

  • NYT: 52%
  • 538: 60%
  • FO: 49.4%

Two weeks ago, I asked PFR readers which team that wasn’t at first place at the time still had a shot of winning its division. The Cowboys had roughly a 10% chance of taking the NFC East, and only nine percent of PFR readers believed Dallas was the most likely non-first place club to end up as division champions. Oh, how things have changed. The Cowboys have won two consecutive games since (bringing their current win streak to three), first defeating the Falcons before winning a critical matchup over the Redskins on Thanksgiving. Dallas has topped 130 yards rushing in each of its last three contests, while Dak Prescott has remained interception-free during the same period.

Washington Redskins

  • NYT: 31%
  • 538: 39%
  • FO: 29.9%

The Redskins looked to be in the NFC East driver’s seat as recently as two weeks ago, but they’ve since lost two straight games and their starting quarterback. Alex Smith was certainly limited as a passer, but Colt McCoy is perhaps even more restricted under center. Additionally, the interior of Washington’s offensive line has been absolutely decimated, which could present even more problems for the 6’2″ McCoy. The Redskins will face the easiest remaining schedule of the three NFC East contenders (indeed, the third-easiest remaining slate in the league, per FO), but they’ll go up against the Eagles in two tough matchups, the first of which comes this Monday night.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • NYT: 16%
  • 538: 24%
  • FO: 20.5%

Back in August, PFR readers deemed the Eagles as the least likeliest 2017 division winner to miss the postseason in 2018. But if the season ended today, they’d be one of only two 2017 division champions (along with the Jaguars) to not make the playoffs this year. Philadelphia’s fate certainly isn’t sealed — they’ll get to play Washington twice more, and face a pivotal Week 14 game against Dallas. But the Eagles’ other two contests are against the Rams and Texans, two clubs who can certainly take advantage of Philadelphia’s secondary woes. The Eagles can likely only afford one more loss over the remainder of the season.

So what do you think? Which one of these teams is going to win the NFC East crown? Vote below, and leave your additional thoughts in the comments section.

5 Key Stories: 11/18/18 – 11/25/18

Latest arrest ends Reuben Foster‘s 49ers tenure: The 49ers cut the cord on Foster after his third arrest of 2018. Foster was arrested for first-degree domestic violence battery Saturday night in south Florida. The alleged victim is Foster’s ex-girlfriend, who admitted to making false allegations that led to the linebacker’s arrest earlier this year. Foster avoided a conviction (but not an NFL suspension) on the previous charges — for marijuana possession and domestic violence — but GM John Lynch and ownership agreed on the decision to waive Foster. He will be on the waiver wire but would obviously be a controversial claim. The 2017 first-round pick has shown flashes of dominance and may well receive another chance. But for now, he saw his repeated off-field issues lead the 49ers to move on from him.

Texans owner Bob McNair dies: The Texans’ owner since their inception, McNair died on Friday at the age of 81. He was battling multiple types of cancer. He purchased an expansion team in 1999, three years before the Texans debuted, and oversaw three AFC South championships. McNair previously pursued ownership opportunities with the Dolphins and Rams but ended up bringing football back to Houston, doing so six years after the Oilers’ departure.

Jadeveon Clowney unlikely to hit market: The Texans are planning to apply their 2019 franchise tag to Clowney, who is in the final season of his five-year rookie contract. This will be an interesting process, since Clowney’s primary role is to rush quarterbacks. He’s listed as a defensive end/linebacker on Houston’s roster. Clowney’s camp will surely argue he should earn the defensive end tag (roughly $17MM), but he could also be tagged as a linebacker (roughly $15MM). The 2014 No. 1 overall pick would be in line for a $20MM-plus-AAV deal were he to hit the market.

Alex Smith recovery timeline illuminated: Suffering a Joe Theismann-esque injury in 2018 will give the current Redskins quarterback a chance at continuing his career, which Washington’s Super Bowl-winning signal-caller did not receive in 1985. Smith’s recovery process from his broken leg is expected to take between six and eight months. This would put training camp as a potential goal for the former No. 1 overall pick. The 34-year-old passer signed a four-year extension that runs through the 2022 season. Washington will go with Colt McCoy for the time being and signed Mark Sanchez to be the longtime backup’s new backup.

Browns’ coaching search heating up: Gregg Williams led the Browns to another victory on Sunday, but the team is expected to conduct a thorough search to replace Hue Jackson. Despite his rough stint in Denver and recent decision to spurn the Colts, Josh McDaniels has been connected to the Cleveland opening. The Cleveland-area native isn’t the only big name that may be involved. The Bruce Arians-Browns rumors continue to swirl, and the team is also expected to contact another Cleveland-area native: Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. Meanwhile, Jackson’s futility in northeast Ohio may not dissuade the Bengals from naming him as Marvin Lewis‘ successor. That was once the rumored plan and may be again.