2021 NFL Week One: Sunday Games Projections & Analysis: Part Two

2021 NFL Week One- Sunday Games Projections & Analysis Part Two

First, a Note on Cowboys and Buccaneers: 

We received great news last night. Both teams are who we expected them to be. There is nothing a sports bettor cherishes more than teams that perform as expected. I do not want to belabor the apparent offensive pass interference or the missed kicks. Those things happen in sports. We live with them. Although …

I mention this somewhat in jest. Of course, it was OPI. I cannot tolerate the idea that you cannot call a certain penalty during high-leverage moments of the game. It is nonsensical. An act either constitutes a penalty, or it does not. The clock has no bearing on pass interference calls. The non-call potentially hurt Cowboy moneyline bettors. I was on the over. The point is, I always know what crew is officiating a game before I place money on it. It does not often alter my wagers, but small edges help, and I want to know the propensities of the crew. This was a solid reminder.

I wrote earlier this week about the unquestioned advantage teams that employ personnel groupings to dictate the defense, pre-snap motion, and play action enjoy. I wrote on that topic because it is effective for the teams on the field. As a bettor, you need to know which teams maximize their advantages and which teams are not.  Brady proved my point with ease last night as the following tweet from NextGen Stats indicates:

The most successful quarterback in the league’s history, Brady, performed better last night when the Buccaneers utilized motion. If it helps Brady be more efficient, imagine what it can do for every other quarterback in the league. Teams that use every advantage they have at their disposal are successful. 

I was surprised that Tampa blitzed so often, but not at all surprised that Dak performed exceptionally well under pressure. He is displaying a consistency in this metric that is wildly uncommon. 

The other true thing I learned last night is that Mina Kimes retained her belt as the best in the world at naming your fantasy football team:

The Projections: Talk Data to Me

Green Bay Packers v. New Orleans Saints (3.5, 49)

The Saints are a team with such divergent probable season-long expectations. I will not be surprised if Winston has a career year and the Saints are in the playoffs. I will not be astonished if Winston throws for a million yards and a million interceptions and the Saints find themselves eliminated early. I am confident that Payton will have Winston playing mote consistently, but that does not mean he will be consistent … just more consistent than he has been.  

Aaron Rodgers’ Cheesehead Swan Song should have plenty of storylines. I am most interested to see how this emotion manifests itself on the field. Since April 23, 2005, when he dropped to 24, he has been pissed off. If he has another level, which seems impossible, we will see it this year. This year may be peak Rodgers. Given that he is already a three-time league MVP, it would be an unbelievable sight. 

The model takes no position but leans to the Over.

Pittsburgh Steelers v. Buffalo Bills (-6.5, 48.5)

This game is an easy pass for the model but a must-watch. The Steelers are primed for regression. Many think Josh Allen is as well. Pittsburgh’s defense is a legitimate top ten defense. It will tell us a lot about the sustainability of Allen’s progress. Specifically, I will be noting the accuracy of his throws.  

We will also see how real Pittsburgh’s ill-advised commitment is to the run. In addition to drafting a running back in the first round, they have openly stated that they will run the ball more often this season. Despite failing to fix their horrendous offensive line, they have done this, which is more important than the running back for running success. I would love it if they were Br’er Rabbiting everyone. Sadly, I doubt it.

Buffalo’s mode of operation is to throw early and often in the first half to establish a lead. This is a sound football philosophy. If they succeed here, the Steelers will be taken out of their game plan early, be forced to abandon the run, and play predictable offense from behind. The advantage is all Buffalo. 

The model is off this game. 

New York Jets v. Carolina Panthers (-5, 45)

This is weirdly a tough start for Darnold. He is now a first-round, top-five drafted quarterback that was traded on his rookie contract. That is not a good start to your career. He does not have any defenders. There are those convinced that he is just bad at football. The other camp, my camp, does not argue that he is good, just that we do not know if he is bad because he has had such awful coaching (Adam Gase). That is not good, but it gets worse.   

Darnold opens up the season as a five-point favorite against the team that drafted him. I do not doubt that he wants to destroy the Jets. I doubt whether he has the ability. On top of that, the Jets’ strength, the interior defensive line, goes directly against Carolina’s weakest link, the interior offensive line. This could be a disastrous start for Darnold. 

If the Jets blow up Carolina’s offensive line and Darnold looks like the Darnold of years past, then the onslaught of sudden Panther backers that emerged over the offseason will run for cover and try to hedge out of their positions. There are several people that I trust who are very high on the Panthers this year. My numbers just do not see it. Like Josh Waitzkin in Searching for Bobby Fisher, I never move until I see it. 

Even if it does not happen this week, I am still surprised by the number of people backing Carolina. Perhaps I will eat crow 17 weeks from now, but they are knowingly supporting a team with a quarterback who may not be, forget good, but even competent. Darnold may be awful at football on the professional level. The Panthers are a team with a bottom-of-the-league offensive line and a middle-of-the-pack, at best, coach.

I do find it interesting that my numbers are high on the Falcons. I think the various models are negotiating how the division will fill the Drew Brees void. My model is going with what it sees as the superior quarterback and coach combo, the Falcons.

The model leans Jets + 5 & Under

Minnesota Vikings v. Cincinnati Bengals (3, 47)

Until Taylor shows that he can put Burrow in a position to succeed, It is impossible to back the Bengals when they face more talented coaches. If Burrow is throwing the ball outside the numbers often, then Cincinnati is going to struggle. That is the case here. 

Cousins has a weird public persona. He is much better than the average fan realizes. Burrow has more talent, but the model needs to see Taylor adapt to him. If he doesn’t, Taylor will be out. 

I expect the Vikings to run the ball often to the edge.  

The model leans toward the Vikings.

San Francisco 49ers v. Detroit Lions (7.5, 45.5)

The model does not see any value here. Yes, we all generally know that the 49ers are going to be much improved from last season. Likely they will be contending for playoff seeding. Given the injuries last season, there is simply no data on which to base a wager, especially at these numbers. The high spread and middle of the road total portend a blowout. That is the most likely outcome here. 

We also know that Detroit is in year ten of its rebuild. Detroit has a new coach and quarterback. The model is very low on both of them. Goff is familiar with the 49er defense, so it is possible he avoids a turnover, but look for him to check down constantly throughout the game. 

Look for Lance to get a series or some plays here and there in the first half. However, this will remain Jimmy G’s team early in the season as they stack wins for January. 

The model is off this game. 

Jacksonville Jaguars v. Houston Texans (3, 44.5)

Watching Houston is like watching reality TV. You tune in to watch the incredible amount of self-destruction. I have written about how Houston made a terrible decision in hiring  Culley as head coach. I will not repeat those reasons here. Now, he is openly stating that he will follow his “gut,” not analytics. Great. 

Forget the massive act of narcissistic hubris it takes to believe that one’s gut is more reliable than math. Instead, notice how his “gut” will never tell him to make a more aggressive decision than the analytics dictate, only less aggressive. If your “gut” only works in one direction, then it seems more like you are making decisions out of fear. By the way, he came from Baltimore, a team that openly embraces analytics. I do not get this dude. I am waiting for him to come out and punt on third down, explaining that his “gut” just saw nothing good happening on the play. 

Houston is engaging in next-level self-destruction. The Romans showed more compassion when they salted Carthage than McNair has demonstrated to his franchise. 

It is the Urban Meyer show now in Jacksonville. My over/under on years he coaches is 2.5. Lawrence will be a great quarterback. The team is significantly better than their record showed last year. Wait … none of this matters. They are playing the Texans. If Jacksonville losses this game, I would love, love, love to be in that locker room.  

The model leans Jaguar and Under.  

Arizona Cardinals v. Tennessee Titans (-3, 52)

The model wants nothing to do with this game. Titans are the better team and have the better coach. The dilemma arises because it appears that the Titans may have changed their entire offensive scheme in the off-season, or maybe they didn’t. 

Former Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is now the head coach of the Falcons. He used a specific scheme that unlocked Tannehill and Henry. His scheme relied on a heavy dose of 12 and 13 personnel. On the one hand, the Titans promoted their tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. This move seems to encourage continuity. On the other hand, they let their best tight end, Jonnu Smith, sign with the Patriots, and they traded for Julio Jones. These moves seem to indicate a shift away from Smith’s philosophical approach. 

The model does not know what to expect.   

One thing to watch for with Arizona will be Murray’s rushing. He had the highest EPA of any player in the league on rushing attempts in the first half of last season – before his injury. The benchmark numbers you want to look for are 8-10 attempts for approximately 65 to 70 yards. IF he is hitting those numbers, Arizona should stay in the game. 

The model has zero sides or leans on this game. 

Sunday Night Football Projections

Chicago Bears v. Los Angeles Rams (-7.5, 47)

And so it begins. Sean McVey has a quarterback. Stafford has a defense. The difference between Goff and Stafford is similar to the difference between Doc Brown’s Winnebago, and his Delorean in Back to the Future. Goff was a 5000-pound anvil shackled to the arm of McVey’s offense. And McVey still got him to a Super Bowl! I picture McVey just pacing in his office, like a caged lion waiting to go out and show the world what his offense can do with a competent quarterback. 

We all remember those moments in sports where we saw something completely different—the “where were you when …” moments. A 21-year-old Tiger Woods at The Masters in 1997 comes to mind. I sat in the same chair for four days, awe-struck, confounded by what I was witnessing. This kid just shredded Augusta. He finished 18 under par and won by 12 strokes. That type of performance is the ceiling for the 2021 Rams. 

Chicago is walking into a buzz-saw Sunday night. When you look at the yards the model predicts the Rams will accumulate, it is a little surprising the game is not expected to be even more lopsided. It is essential not to use hyperbole because everyone on the field for the Bears is good enough to get a contract and play in an NFL game. They are all good. Still, that Chicago offensive line has problems with middle-of-the-road defensive linemen. Aaron Donald is going to spend the evening in Dalton’s face. 

In preparation for this little blurb, I checked Nagy’s odds to be the first coach fired. I was a little surprised to see him with only the fourth-best odds at 15/2. The Bears are going to be bad. Nagy is going to be fired. If he starts Fields week four, that will buy him some time. His only hope is that Fields saves him. Fields will be a great quarterback, but probably not great enough, soon enough to save either this season for the Bears or Nagy’s job. The latter is a good thing for everyone. Nagy has done enough damage.  

Now, enjoy the show! 

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