sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): It was another wild week in the NFL. The nearly completed Week 9 saw a win for the Dolphins, a loss for the Patriots and FOUR losses for the NFC North.
Let’s dive right in: Anyone surprised that Baltimore took down New England?
And yet, Lamar Jackson had the best game of the week according to our QB Elo! His development this season continues to be incredible.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I was not surprised. The Ravens are a unicorn team that’s tough to prepare for and impossible to tailor a roster to stop. Most teams can’t replicate the Chargers’ plan during the playoffs last year, borne out of injury desperation, to play seven defensive backs on base downs. Plus you have a very vanilla Patriots offense in terms of skill talent with a QB who is playing well for a 42 year old, but, let’s be real, is having quantifiably his worst season since at least 2006 (in terms of QBR).
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I don’t think the Ravens feared the Patriots offense, and as Mike said, they have a scheme and roster that can give a defense fits — even a defense as outrageously good as New England’s has been. They also executed their plan perfectly. One play sticks out to me: the Marquise “Hollywood” Brown jet motion pitch play:
It had all the components of the offensive strategy: Make New England account for Lamar, use misdirection and really lean on some great blocking
Salfino: Lamar — with two rushing TDs and 61 yards rushing on Sunday — continues after Week 1 to score more fantasy points with his legs than with his arm, which is extremely unusual. He did it last year, too. Only Bobby Douglass of the Bears (1972, 1973) has repeated this feat since the AFL-NFL merger was completed in 1970, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
I do think that it’s a bad break for the Ravens that they had to face the Patriots in the regular season. You wanted this to be the playoff game.
sara.ziegler: The Ravens got off to such a strong start that it seemed to shell-shock the Pats a little. I was still surprised New England didn’t make it all the way back.
neil: Especially once the Ravens gifted the Pats the ball on that muffed punt — that felt like a here we go moment, where the Pats would start their climb back. And NE got within 4 points, but the Ravens kept answering in the second half.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Fumble luck regression really helped.
Salfino: That kind of stuff never happens to New England. The Patriots have committed only 13 turnovers that resulted in the opposing defense returning the ball for a TD since 2010.
sara.ziegler: It was also interesting to me that Belichick was faced with a fourth down on the opponent’s side of the field and chose to punt, and he had a fourth-and-goal from the one and kicked a field goal.
The Ravens went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter, got the first down and then a touchdown on that drive, and that put it away.
Salfino: Well, Belichick doesn’t believe in analytics, Sara.
joshua.hermsmeyer: “Less than zero”
sara.ziegler: Just more evidence we can add to the pile!
Salfino: Belichick uses Bret Easton Ellis’s analytics. Or Elvis Costello’s, if you prefer.
neil: And his aim is usually so true!
Salfino: Awesome, Neil.
sara.ziegler: From one analytics move to another, what did you all think about the Chargers **taking points off the board** against the Packers?? Green Bay stopped Los Angeles on the 2-yard line but jumped offsides on the field goal attempt, giving the Chargers another fourth down. L.A. coach Anthony Lynn pulled the field goal unit off the field, sent his offense back out and Melvin Gordon ran it in for a TD.
Salfino: The game was over, so I like the macho move to make a point.
Lynn can build a whole narrative around that now, and it was not going to cost him anything. So, worth it.
sara.ziegler: But … giving Aaron Rodgers an opening?!?!?!?
Salfino: Rodgers was hopeless before the “home crowd” in Los Angeles.
joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s not always “correct” to be aggressive, but you’ll be right far more often than wrong if it’s your default mentality. For that reason alone, I liked the call.
Salfino: But wasn’t that free money, Josh?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I haven’t looked it up, but my intuition is yes, it was a no-brainer.
sara.ziegler: I liked the call too, though up just two touchdowns with 10 minutes to go against Rodgers doesn’t seem like a situation where the game is put away.
neil: Maybe given the Chargers’ difficulty actually closing out opponents, though, you’d think they’d be skittish about giving somebody like Rodgers a potential opening.
Salfino: Yes, but Neil, you are forgetting the Chargers rules. They shock us by falling out of the playoff race and then shock us again by charging back into it (almost). This is part two of their annual metamorphosis. I refuse to be played again.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I am fairly sure based on discussions with analytics people around the league that the Chargers are not a team that has a chart and uses it. So I think the touchdown call was all gut, and on those terms I agree with it.
Salfino: It’s good that the Chargers reject analytics, otherwise they would be mentally crushed by all the win probability they have frittered away.
sara.ziegler: If the Chargers don’t get the TD there, and the Packers answer with a touchdown, you can see things falling apart fast!
This is why these questions are interesting, right?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’d look at it as if it had been a great punt instead and just get after Rodgers at his own 1 yard line.
neil: Maybe you can trick him into pulling a Ryan Fitzpatrick and kneeling down in his own end zone.
Salfino: Rodgers was already on the slab, IMO. Toe tag in place for Week 9. He will rise again, I guess, but the Packers are not a good team.
sara.ziegler: You know who else in the NFC North isn’t a good team?
NO ONE in the NFC North is a good team.
Salfino: The Vikings are good, Sara. Sorry to get your hopes up. They just ran into Matt Moore!
Seriously, the Adam Thielen injury was crippling. Without him, they are pretty easy for even the Chiefs to defend.
sara.ziegler: I’m sorry.
You can’t say “They just ran into Matt Moore” about a good team.
Them’s the rules.
neil: “They just ran into Matt Moore” 🤣
Salfino: Moore is showing that playing QB in KC is very good for your stats. Also, seriously, the Vikings lost on a fluke 91-yard TD run by a guy who usually takes 45 runs to string together 90 yards.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I mean, if the QB drives the bus in terms of what makes a good team, then Sara is right. By total QBR, the Packers are 12th and the Vikings are 14th.
sara.ziegler: (BRB, pinning “Sara is right” to this conversation.)
I always think Kirk Cousins will do something amazing at the end of a game, and he never, ever, ever does.
Salfino: I agree on Cousins at the end of games. He’s like Matt Ryan in that regard: He can be relied on to not get it done. I know Ryan has a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks, but we need the batting average, not just the hits. And it turns out he’s lost 81 games by a TD or less in the period.
neil: Sheesh, you lose ONE Super Bowl after leading 28-3 …
Salfino: As for the other NFC North QBRs, the Lions — and Matthew Stafford — are sixth. We won’t talk about Mitch Trubisky.
neil: Sara probably has a lot to say about ol’ Mitchie!
But can we print it?
sara.ziegler: Trubisky, ugh. Can’t believe I had to start him in my fantasy football matchup against Neil. Let this be a lesson not to let jokes interfere with good fantasy football decisions.
Salfino: Just burn money in the street if you’re starting Trubisky in fantasy, Sara.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Or Allen Robinson, it turns out.
Salfino: Well, I believe in a QB-centric WR-ranking system. (And air yards :))
joshua.hermsmeyer: My man.
neil: And I started Cousins! (Because we traded them for each other.)
He may have lost the game, but he had a pretty good fantasy performance. Which, as you know, is all that matters.
joshua.hermsmeyer: oh noes
sara.ziegler: Shut up
Salfino: Sara gets the Price Is Wrong sounder.
One more game we must discuss, and that’s the incredible, amazing, UNBELIEVABLE first win of the season for the Miami Dolphins.
Mike … can you speak for Jets Nation and express your feelings at this one?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes, please.
I have a feeling this will be a treatise
sara.ziegler: “Salfino is typing”
Salfino: The most alarming thing for the Jets right now is Sam Darnold. But this is the product of so many losing drafts. The Jets have not had a hit in the first round of the draft, never mind the other rounds, since Darrelle Revis in 2007. And we’re talking a lot of draft capital. Another top-10 overall pick has just walked out the door in Leonard Williams.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Sixth overall selection for a third- and fifth-round pick. Yikes.
Salfino: The sad thing is that was a good trade for the Jets.
I mean, the Giants were insane to offer it. Now we have the Jets vs. Giants on Sunday in East Rutherford, which should temporarily be declared a toxic dump.
neil: Is it time to wonder whether Darnold is going to be any good? He had his moments but was mostly bad as a rookie and has been much worse this year. Maybe it’s still too early, but we’re 18 starts in and only five have been above average, according to our QB Elo.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I thought the game was really really interesting. There was another pretty glaring example (or two?) of Miami perhaps attempting to tank in-game, and yet Adam Gase and the Jets foiled them at every turn. The announcers even commented on it!
Salfino: It’s reasonable to wonder if Darnold is going to be any good, for certain. But if football is environment, and I think much of it is, he’s got a lot to overcome. Plus, who knows how long mono really lasts.
sara.ziegler: It’s really too bad when you can’t do the thing you’re trying to do … especially when that thing appears to be “losing.”
joshua.hermsmeyer: So frustrating!
neil: Well, idk why Miami continues to insist on starting Fitzy. They have a tank-ready QB right there in Josh Rosen.
sara.ziegler: Really not following the Tanking Playbook.
neil: Either way, Fitzy has turned in above-average Elo games in two of his past three starts since being reinstated as starter. Rosen never came within 150 Elo points of being average in any of his starts.
And you know that Fitzpatrick runs hot and cold — so he has upside potential that really hurts your tankability when he plays well.
sara.ziegler: Need a new QB rating that ranks them by tankability. Just as a helpful service for tanking teams.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’d like to go on the record that having a team or two tanking each season adds a bunch of entertainment value. Situations like this with the unexpected win, the team drama — all of it is good for the game IMO.
neil: Josh coming in with the pro-tanking take!
sara.ziegler: “Tanking = Good” was not the take I was expecting today.
joshua.hermsmeyer: The haughty anti-tankers reek of the folks that offer takes about amateurism in college football.
This is my fire for the week.
Salfino: I don’t think tanking can be leveraged in football because we don’t know if the QBs are going to be good or even what order to take them in.
neil: Right. First you Suck For Sam, then you just Suck Because Of Sam.
Salfino: My joke about the Jets, Sara, is the Jets lost to Glass Joe.
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