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There are lots of bad things one could write about the NFC South. But for the most part, the Atlanta Falcons had been a competitive team this year, and not just by NFC South standards. Entering week 17, Atlanta had posted an average Game Script of +0.7; sure, that’s not very good, but it’s above average! The Falcons had not been embarrassing, and in fact, had outscored opponents by 40 points through three quarters.

Sure, Atlanta had issues maintaining leads in the fourth quarter, but they were rarely soundly beaten from start to finish. The Falcons had (prior to Sunday) four bad Game Scripts this year. Three of them came on the road: -12.8 in Baltimore, -10.6 in Green Bay, and -8.5 in Cincinnati, and all three of those teams are notable for being much stronger at home in recent years. The fourth was a -8 against the Steelers, but even then, Atlanta had the ball down by just seven with 6 minutes remaining.

Then, week 17 came. The Panthers led by 10-0 after the first quarter, the largest deficit Atlanta faced after one quarter all year. Carolina upped that margin to 21 points at halftime, the second largest halftime lead an opponent had against the Falcons this year (Green Bay was up by 24 points). The 31-point margin after three quarters was easily the largest margin, too. It was a start-to-finish beating by the Panthers, who posted a Game Script of 16.4 in the process.

That was the second largest Game Script for Carolina this year, and by quite a large margin. Other than another December blowout over a division rival (New Orleans), the Panthers didn’t have a Game Script of over +7. But are the Panthers peaking at the right time, or just beating up on NFC South opponents? Tune in next week: actually, never mind. The Cardinals are an NFC West team in name only; with Ryan Lindley under center, Arizona is actually the fifth member of the NFC South.

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
  • The Steelers were the most pass-happy team of week 17, once you adjust for Game Script. Part of this may be due to the injury suffered by Le’Veon Bell, but the Steelers have a tendency to put the game in the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown when things matter most. With the division title on the line, Pittsburgh passed on 70% of plays despite holding an average lead of 5.3 points. That’s the highest pass ratio of any team with a positive Game Script in week 17, and the third highest of the week among all teams.
  • Among losing teams, both the Jaguars and Dolphins went pass happy in their final games. Both teams were involved in close games, yet passed on roughly 70% of all offensive plays. The Dolphins were playing a strong Jets run defense, so a pass-happy approach makes sense even in a game where Miami had a Game Script of just -0.9. For Jacksonville, passing on 73.1% of plays with a Game Script of -1.9 is a little more curious: Especially when the Jordan Todman gained 52 yards on 7 carries (Blake Bortles also picked up 61 yards on three carries). Such a game plan may not have sat well with the Jaguars, who fired offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch after the game (of course, the Jaguars also finished the year last in points scored and 31st in yards).
  • On the other side, the Packers, Jets, 49ers, and Bucs stood out as very run-heavy. With Aaron Rodgers injured for part of the game, Eddie Lacy wound up rushing 26 times for 100 yards, while the Packers had just 24 dropbacks. Green Bay set a season high with 38 runs, a pretty unexpected result given that the Lions finished 2014 as the number 1 rush defense in both yards and yards per carry allowed. The 152 rushing yards picked up by the Packers were not just the most allowed by the Lions all year, but also just the second time a team rushed for over 100 yards against Detroit.
  • In Rex Ryan’s last game, Geno Smith finished with a perfect passer rating… but the Jets still rushed more than they passed (even excluding Smith runs). New York was not very successful on the ground, as Chris Ivory and Jeremy Kerley combined for just 49 yards on 23 carries, but Smith’s efficient day allowed the Jets to stick with the run even when it wasn’t working. It was a run-heavy day at the office for Tampa Bay, which set up the Bucs to draft any quarterback they choose in April.
  • In Jim Harbaugh’s last game, the 49ers also displayed their trademark balance. Frank Gore rushed 25 times for an impressive 144 yards, while Colin Kaepernick was 15/26 for 204 yards with a pair of touchdown passes, and 7 carries for 63 yards. Tampa Bay lost, but had a Game Script of +6.6. The Bucs entered the 4th quarter up 13, but a touchdown by the Saints with 2 minutes left swung the game to New Orleans. Josh McCown finished with 26 dropbacks, while Doug Martin (19 carries, 108 yards) and Charles Sims (18 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD) carried the offense.

As always, you can view the Game Scripts data from each game this season here.

{ 1 comment }
  • Richie

    Three of them came on the road: -12.8 in Baltimore, -10.6 in Green Bay

    …and they only ended up losing the Green Bay game by 6 points. They were an onside kick away from a chance to win.