≡ Menu

538: NFC West Preview Articles

Yesterday, Neil Paine previewed the NFC East teams over at FiveThirtyEight. Today, yours truly is up with a look at the NFC West.

The Cardinals won 10 games last year, only the second time the team reached double digits in victories since moving to Arizona in 1988. Their run defense was the key. The Cardinals allowed just 1,351 rushing yards, the fewest in the NFL. They ranked first in rushing defense DVOA, Football Outsiders’ main defensive statistic, and stuffed opposing ball-carriers for no gain or a loss on 28 percent of runs, the most in the NFL.

But three of the key players responsible for that success are gone, including inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby was one of just two players in 2013 to record 100 tackles, more than four sacks, and more than four interceptions. He is a very good run defender, but he is also a strong pass-rusher and is excellent in pass coverage. Of course, that’s why the Cleveland Browns signed him to a four-year, $24 million deal on the first day of free agency.

The Cardinals were prepared for Dansby’s departure, but the other two exits left the team with little time to find a solution. In June, starting inside linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the season for (again) violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Like Dansby, Washington is a versatile player: He’s a great pass-rusher (his nine sacks in 2012 were the most by an inside linebacker since Bart Scott’s 9.5 in 2006) and above-average in coverage, in addition to being a strong run-defender.

And last Monday, defensive end Darnell Dockett was lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Dockett is not just an above-average 3-4 defensive end against the run, but a team leader and — along with superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald — the player on the team with the longest tenure.

You can read the full article here.

{ 7 comments }

The NFC West Won 75% of Non-Division Games

Kaep can't afford Beats by Dre

Kaep before he could afford Beats by Dre.

It was a very good year for the NFC West. Seattle is heading to Super Bowl XLVIII, as king of the best division in football. To get to MetLife Stadium, the Seahawks had to defeat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, which is only fitting after the scorched-earth run by the division during the regular season. Seattle went 9-1 outside of the division in 2013, losing only in Indianapolis (and 10-1 including the playoffs). The Arizona Cardinals went 8-2 when not facing NFC West opponents, with the only losses coming in Philadelphia and New Orleans. The 49ers went 7-3 (8-3 including playoffs), losing in New Orleans and at home to Carolina and Indianapolis. That means the top 3 teams in the NFC West went 24-6 outside of the division in the regular season, with all losses coming to 10+ win playoff teams.

Unlike the rest of the division, the Rams actually beat both New Orleans and Indianapolis. But St. Louis lost to Dallas, Carolina, Tennessee and Atlanta (in week 2), giving the Rams a 6-4 record outside the NFC West. All told, the division finished a remarkable 30-10 in non-division games this year. That’s tied for the 2nd best mark since 1970, and tied for the best performance since realignment in 2002. Wait until Richard Sherman hears this news.

[click to continue…]

{ 8 comments }

Since Sam Bradford was drafted by the Rams in 2010, the only consistent force in St. Louis has been change. Tackle Rodger Saffold, drafted in the second round of the same draft, is the only other player on the 2010 Rams offense who is still on the team. Bradford has already played under three offensive coordinators (Pat Shurmur as a rookie, Josh McDaniels in 2011, and Brian Schottenheimer last year), which means this is the first time in four years he isn’t learning a new system. And while his rookie season was always overrated, his performance last year was better than you think. After adjusting for one of the league’s toughest schedules, Bradford ranked 18th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, despite being saddled with an inferior set of receivers.

How inferior? The table below shows the top six leaders in receiving yards for St. Louis last season:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Chris Givens 2012 23 STL 15 12 42 698 16.62 3 46.5
2 Brandon Gibson 2012 25 STL 16 13 51 691 13.55 5 43.2
3 Danny Amendola 2012 27 STL 11 8 63 666 10.57 3 60.5
4 Lance Kendricks 2012 24 STL 16 14 42 519 12.36 4 32.4
5 Steven Jackson 2012 29 STL 16 15 38 321 8.45 0 20.1
6 Austin Pettis 2012 24 STL 14 2 30 261 8.70 4 18.6

Chances are, unless you’re a Rams fan or play fantasy football, you’ve never even heard of four of those names.  And while Amendola was productive when healthy, he missed five games last year (and it’s worth noting that Bradford’s numbers weren’t worse without Amendola in the lineup). Steven Jackson is of course a great player, but there’s only so much help a 29-year-old running back who catches 38 passes can provide to an ailing passing game.
[click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

Season in review: AFC and NFC West

AFC East and NFC East Season in review
AFC North and NFC North Season in review
AFC North and NFC South Season in review

In the case of the AFC West, a picture can say a thousand words.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Pre-season Projection: 8.5 wins
Maximum wins: 13 (after weeks 10 through 16)
Minimum wins: 9 (after weeks 3, 5 )
Week 1 comment: Watching Peyton Manning work his magic was a thing of beauty on Sunday night. The less John Fox touches this offense, the better, but I think everyone in Denver already knows that.

Once Peyton Manning proved that he was healthy and back, the AFC West race was effectively over. Officially, that happened in the week 6 comeback over the Chargers. That win only made them 3-3, but here is what I wrote then: According to Advanced NFL Stats, Denver is the best team in the league. Their remaining schedule is absurdly easy, so I’m going to perhaps prematurely give them a two-win bump. Their week 15 game in Baltimore may be for a bye, and I now think Denver is the favorite.

Kudos to Brian Burke’s model for correctly identifying how good the Broncos were early in the year. After week 9, I pegged Denver at 12 wins, and wrote: As a matter of principle, projecting a team to finish 7-1 is never advised. But this seems to be a good place to make an exception.

The next week, I bumped them to 13 wins, and never moved off that number. They got a late Christmas present from Manning’s old team, and now the AFC playoffs will have to go through Denver.

San Diego Chargers

Pre-season Projection: 9 wins
Maximum wins: 9 (after weeks 1, 2, and 4)
Minimum wins: 6 (after weeks 10 through 13, 16)
Week 1 comment: Unimpressive on Monday Night Football, but the schedule lines up for them to succeed. Philip Rivers is still elite, so expecting them to only go 8-7 the rest of the way is probably more of a knock on them than anything else. A healthy Ryan Mathews back will help.

The Chargers schedule was ridiculously easy, but they lost to the Browns, Saints, and Panthers, and couldn’t beat the Ravens, Bengals, or Bucs. The decline of Philip Rivers from elite quarterback to throw-it-out-of-bounds master is depressing, and it’s easy and probably appropriate to point the blame at the general manager. Going into 2013, San Diego will have a new head coach and GM, and we’ll see if that is what was needed to resurrect Rivers’ career.

It’s not easy to remember, but the Chargers were actually 3-1. At that point, I wrote: An unimpressive 3-1 team with a struggling offensive line. I really wanted to keep them at 8 wins, but their schedule is too easy and Philip Rivers — even in a down year — is good enough to lead them to a .500 record the rest of the way.

But by the time they were 3-4, I had already started with the “I can’t think of anything positive to say about the Chargers right now” comments. I summed up the Chargers season after week 13, when I wrote: This team started 2-0 but hasn’t beaten anyone but the Chiefs since then.

Of course, San Diego being San Diego, the Chargers did finish with 7 wins, but it was another disappointing season for the franchise. It’s hard to think back to September, but Vegas really did project the Chargers to win this division.
[click to continue…]

{ 4 comments }

NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 3

This week’s Fifth Down post looks at the surprising 3-0 Cardinals. Did you know that Arizona has been an underdog in each game this season? Since 1978, Arizona is just the 7th team to start 3-0 despite being given points by Vegas each week:

  • 2010 Kansas City Chiefs: The 2009 Chiefs were 4-12, and 2010 wasn’t expected to be much better. But despite being underdogs against San Diego, Cleveland and San Francisco, the Chiefs won all three games, en route to a 10-6 season and an unlikely division championship.
  • 2007 Green Bay Packers: Surprised to see the Brett Favre Packers on here? Green Bay had gone just 8-8 the prior season and faced a brutal early schedule in ’07. The Packers were a 3-point underdog against Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles in the opener and 2.5-point underdogs against the eventual champion New York Giants in week two. In week three, San Diego — 14-2 the prior season — was a 5.5-point favorite at Lambeau Field. Green Bay would start 4-0 and finish the regular season 13-3, but the team’s hopes ended in overtime in the N.F.C. Championship Game against the Giants.
  • 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville had back-to-back-to-back crazy, last minute wins to start the season 3-0. In the season opener in Buffalo, Byron Leftwich threw the game-winning touchdown on 4th and goal from the 7 with no time left to Ernest Wilford, giving the Jaguars a 13-10 win. Jacksonville led Denver 7-6 in their home opener the next week, but the Broncos had the ball with 37 seconds left on the Jacksonville 23-yard line. Then Denver running back Quentin Griffin fumbled, Akin Ayodele recovered, and the Jaguars were 2-0. The theatrics continued the next week against Tennessee. Trailing 12-7 with 13 seconds remaining, Fred Taylor scored a one-yard touchdown to keep the streak alive. But the anemic offense eventually caught up to the Jaguars, who missed the playoffs after going just 6-7 the rest of the way.
  • 1997 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in 1995. Tony Dungy came in 1996, and Tampa finished 6-10. The Buccaneers drafted Ronde Barber in 1997, and the key cogs that formed one of the league’s most dominant defenses were then in place. Tampa upset San Francisco at home and then won at Detroit and Minnesota in week three; the Bucs would eventually go to 5-0, before finishing 10-6 and earning a playoff berth.
  • 1996 Carolina Panthers: Dom Capers completed one of the great coaching jobs in NFL history, taking Carolina from an expansion team in 1995 to the N.F.C. Championship Game in 1996. Carolina beat Atlanta and New Orleans, but really caught the attention of the NFL when they defeated San Francisco 23-7 in week three. Behind an excellent defense and an efficient offense, the Panthers finished the season 12-4.
  • 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers: Chuck Noll’s last season was 1991, when Pittsburgh stumbled to a 7-9 record. Expectations were not high for rookie head coach Bill Cowher’s team in ’92. As 12.5-point underdogs in Houston, the Steelers pulled off the upset 29-24, before handily defeating the Jets and Chargers in weeks two and three. Pittsburgh finished 11-5 and made the playoffs.

What can we make of the Cardinals’ surprising start despite being underdogs? Combining the three games, Arizona has been underdogs of 17 points so far this year. How does that compare to other 3-0 teams?

From 1990 to 2011, there were 111 teams that started the season 3-0. Only the ’92 Steelers were bigger underdogs at -18 points. The table below divides the 111 teams into four groups, based upon the total number of points they were given (or they gave) in their first three games. For example, 19 of the 3-0 teams ended up being given more points than they gave (i.e., were underdogs) in their first three weeks; on average, they were 2.4-point underdogs, and on average, they ended the year with 9.5 wins (which means they were an even .500 over their last 13 games). As you can see, there is a pretty clear relationship between expectations and ultimate results.

Spread            #Tms   Avgline SeaWins
Underdogs         19     +2.4      9.5
0-9.5 pt Favs     29     -1.6     10.2
10-19.5 pt Fav    37     -4.9     10.9
20+ point Favs    26     -7.9     11.7

You can read the full post here.

{ 1 comment }

[You can find lots of websites previewing each team as we head towards the 2012 season. You won’t find that at FootballPerspective.com, but instead, I’ll share some random thoughts on each franchise based on well, whatever springs to mind. We’ll kick things off with look at the San Francisco 49ers.]

The 49ers are an interesting team to me because they seem like the ideal candidate to regress. Generally, teams that make huge jumps in one season are better candidates to fall back to the pack than elite teams with a history of success. Additionally, defensive teams are generally less likely to retain their success than offensive teams. But since I don’t expect you to just believe me…

I looked at all teams since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that won at least 75% of their games (San Francisco went 13-3 last year) and then separated them based on their records in the prior season (the 2010 49ers went 6-10). There were 155 of them, and how they performed in the year before (Year N-1) their elite season was relevant in determining their record in the year (Year N+1) after that big season. The table below breaks down the teams based on their winning percentages in Year N-1 (for our purposes, that’s 2010 for the 49ers) and then shows how well they performed in Year N+1 (for our purposes, the 2012 49ers):

Year N-1# of TmsN-1 Win%N Win %N+1 Win %
Over 80%2486.3%79.7%67.2%
70-80%3274.2%81.5%70.2%
60-70%3965.1%80.6%62.6%
50-60%3553.8%79.6%63.2%
<50%2536.8%79%53.6%
Total15563.1%80.2%63.5%

Just so we’re all on the same page, the top row of that table informs us that of the 155 teams to win at least 75% of their games, 24 of them won over 80% of their games in Year N-1. On average, those teams won 86.3% of their games in Year N-1, 79.7% of their games in Year N, and then 67.2% in Year N+1. The 49ers would represent a team in the bottom row. There have been 25 teams like the 2011 49ers who won at least 75% of their games after having a losing record the prior year (on average, those teams won just 37% of their games – just like the 2010 49ers); in the following year (e.g., the 2012 49ers) those teams won just 53.6% of their games.

[click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }