sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 10 is just about in the books, with one very good matchup coming still tonight. It was a week of surprise wins, including a Vikings victory that I 100 percent did not think was going to happen. In East Rutherford, someone had to win — and the Jets did!
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I like how the Jets wore the black unis a week after that black cat ran on the field.
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Transparent pandering to the football gods.
The Giants are dead last in yards per play and EPA per play against zone defense this season. The Jets gave them a heavy dose, and Week 10 they were again at the bottom of the league in yards per play.
neil: Every year, I’m like, “Hmm, I’d better write that story about how long it’s been since both the Jets and Giants were this bad at once.”
And it somehow is never too late.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I’m trying to mentally block out this entire Jets season. But 13 Saquon Barkley carries for 1 yard is one of the weirdest stats ever.
neil: One yard!
joshua.hermsmeyer: Inches per carry is my new advanced metric.
neil: That’s 2.8 inches per carry.
Salfino: Is that really the math? Hilarious.
The Jets are great at stuff that doesn’t matter, like run defense.
sara.ziegler: I was all ready for that game to be unwatchable, but the thing about two bad teams playing each other is that it can be pretty entertaining.
Salfino: Daniel Jones’s passing was top-shelf, but you have to think his inexperience is causing issues with Barkley’s running, as it relates to just getting into good looks and out of bad ones, pre-snap. But I’m speculating.
neil: Just to close the loop on Saquon: In 1974, Benny Malone lost 3 rushing yards on 14 carries. That’s the fewest ever by somebody with at least 13 carries in a game.
But Barkley’s performance is up (down?) there too.
joshua.hermsmeyer: If I were also speculating, I’d say that there’s a real lack of creativity in the running game. Saquon is clearly #good, and if he was in a system that wasn’t so “2019 vanilla,” I think they’d have more success in the run game, especially against defenses missing all their linebackers like the Jets.
neil: Yeah. Gotta stop running those “1974 Benny Malone” plays.
Salfino: That’s funny because Malone had arguably the greatest run in postseason history.
neil: Wow. Some shades of Marshawn Lynch, who had the other GOAT playoff run, in there.
sara.ziegler: That’s an interesting point, Josh, and I think it brings up something people don’t understand about running backs.
It’s not that the running game doesn’t matter. It does!
joshua.hermsmeyer: The running game matters very much, Sara.
sara.ziegler: I think people miss that when we talk about individual running backs being less important to the game overall.
neil: Although sometimes that is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the average run creates negative expected points added.
Salfino: Does the running game matter, though? Look at San Francisco, with their defense giving up almost 5 yards per carry. I mean, everything matters and everything at the extreme matters more, but if I were building a team, Job 1 is passing and Job 2 is stopping the pass. I don’t care about Job 3.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, the points can get conflated. The other misunderstanding I see regarding the argument for RB replaceability is that it’s not a negative assessment of talent. It’s really about overall excellence and talent evaluation at the position. Finding good backs is a solved problem at the NFL level.
Salfino: Yet we must endure Kalen Ballage.
neil: And even Ballage averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, his rookie year. Running backs, smh.
sara.ziegler: Speaking of Ballage, how about those tanking Dolphins!
Salfino: The only RB in the post-merger NFL with fewer yards per carry than Ballage through nine games, with a minimum 50 carries, is Ron Johnson of the 1974 Giants. See, 1974 is a theme today. Like it!
Did the Dolphins forget that losing is a key component to tanking?
neil: The Dolphins really blew their shot at the No. 1 pick. Now they have to leapfrog three other teams! According to ESPN’s model, Miami has only a 17 percent chance of picking first next year.
Salfino: Brian Hoyer thought he was tanking.
sara.ziegler: Easy mistake to make when you’ve played for as many teams as Hoyer has.
Salfino: Maybe Jacoby Brissett isn’t bad.
joshua.hermsmeyer: He’s slightly above average!
I think the issue with the Colts heading into the season was that they risked the 8-8 prison of mediocrity. It seemed like perhaps they would escape it with Brissett, but Hoyer may drag them back down.
neil: The past few weeks have been really rough for Indy’s playoff odds.
The Colts were 67 percent to make it and 47 percent to win the division two weeks ago. Now those numbers are 32 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
Salfino: What are the Steelers’ playoff odds? What an amazing turnaround. I never saw that coming without Ben Roethlisberger. I really have no idea how they’re doing it.
neil: Yeah, somehow they are now more likely to make it than not! We have the Steelers at 56 percent.
sara.ziegler: And then there’s Pittsburgh’s opponent on Sunday, the Rams. Eek.
Salfino: Jared Goff has a lower QBR than Sam Darnold, and Jets fans are checking the return policy on Darnold. But Goff’s offensive line is banged up and has been bad all year. No catches for Cooper Kupp on Sunday? That’s almost as shocking as Barkley’s day. What is the problem here? Are the Rams just dead now?
neil: But I thought Sean McVay was a generational talent! Shouldn’t he be able to scheme out of this?
Salfino: I would think so, if he were worthy of his hype, yes.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I think that when the scheme experts break down the Rams’ season the conclusion will be that Bill Belichick (and Matt Patricia’s scheme) broke McVay.
And while analytics types like me sometimes say the league is inefficient, this is clearly an example of it being wildly so.
Salfino: Is there an RBs-are-not-fungible thing going on with Todd Gurley? They can’t find anyone to replace what he’s lost.
neil: So it turns out CJ Anderson’s playoff success didn’t prove that Gurley was just a cog in the machine after all?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Aren’t they running OK?
neil: Ehhhhh … they’re 23rd in rushing EPA per game, 22nd in yards per carry.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, bottom third. But ahead of the Patriots.
Salfino: Plus zero explosion in the running game.
neil: Somehow they are actually tied for 13th in net yards per passing attempt.
Salfino: But Goff’s QBR is trash.
neil: His TD-to-INT ratio sucks.
sara.ziegler: He looks lost out there.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Ah, I found the stat showing the Rams aren’t horrible at running: eighth in success rate, which relates to plays that generate a positive EPA.
That said, without the explosive plays, as Mike mentioned, that’s not a really fearsome part of their offense.
Salfino: Bigger disappointment: the Rams or the Cowboys?
sara.ziegler: Well, the Rams are down to just 25 percent to make the playoffs, and the Cowboys still have a 50 percent shot.
Salfino: Dak Prescott looked so unstoppable that I’m shocked the Cowboys lost. Jerry Jones has put up with a lot, but this might be a new standard. Dallas is just 5-4 with all this talent on both sides of the ball: They lead the NFL in yards per play and overall offense, they’re seventh in overall defense and they’re third in net yards per pass play gained minus those allowed (the two teams above them in that measure have combined for one loss). Has any coach ever won less with more than Jason Garrett this year?
Would you fire Garrett?
joshua.hermsmeyer: No, I don’t think you can. But I would certainly tell him to not meddle in offensive play calling.
Salfino: Cowboys are plus-81 in points. Yet 5-4. Do we give the coaching credit for all the stats or crush it for the meh record?
sara.ziegler: I think that as long as they make the playoffs, it won’t matter.
Salfino: Getting to Josh’s point, Dallas should abandon the run more because Ezekiel Elliott seems to have lost a little, and Dak and the passing game has passed him by. This should be Dak’s team now.
neil: For the record, Dak continues to have an amazing season. He ranks third in our Elo QB metric, behind only Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
(Then again, both Mahomes and Dak played great and lost this week. Go figure.)
Also, the Cowboys lost to a GOOD TEAM.
aka Sara’s VIKINGS.
Salfino: Sara won’t admit it, but correct.
joshua.hermsmeyer: With a QB in the MVP discussion!
sara.ziegler: They’re FINE.
Sara has an adjusted scale for the Vikings.
“Bad” = Average
“OK” = Pretty good!
“FINE” = Great
joshua.hermsmeyer: That scale is uniquely Minnesota.
Salfino: I think the Vikings have problems in the defensive backfield, but they somehow get away with it. Not just yesterday but more generally, too.
sara.ziegler: This game went a long way toward me getting my hopes up way too high before they are eventually dashed. So that’s fun.
neil: The thing I worry about for them is that they’re still not favored to win the division. We only give them a 34 percent shot.
So that means a wild card date and … probably some kind of season-ending kicking mishap.
sara.ziegler: LOL, sigh.
neil: Trouble is, those darned Packers keep winning.
sara.ziegler: Green Bay impressed me on Sunday with one of those classic, snow-in-Lambeau wins.
neil: I love the snow at Lambeau. Is there anything more “football” than that?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Nope. There’s something very backyard football about it. It’s awesome.
Salfino: The Vikings are better than the Packers, but that may not matter in winning the division.
sara.ziegler: The Vikes get another shot at the Packers — and another shot at losing inexplicably to the Bears.
neil: Yeah, I think we said at the time that earlier Bears loss could haunt them.
sara.ziegler: ^^^ evergreen
Salfino: Can’t get excited by the Packers notching a home win against Kyle Allen.
neil: At least you can get excited about them stopping Christian McCaffrey in a game-deciding situation!
Salfino: Well, you want to put the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
neil: The Panthers certainly were determined to do that.
sara.ziegler: The game that confused me the most on Sunday was Saints-Falcons. Atlanta’s defense looked … good? How?
neil: That was basically the Falcons team that has been MIA all year. Or, like, two years.
Salfino: Drew Brees was sacked a Saints-high six times for the third time in his career, and they’re 0-3 in those games. He’s been sacked five or more times seven times, and they’re 1-6 in those. We all know sacks are bad, but few understand how truly terrible they are. They are like mini-turnovers.
neil: That was also the biggest upset of the entire season per Elo. It gave ATL only a 12 percent chance to win. (And that was knowing Matt Ryan would play.)
In fact, two of 2019’s five biggest upsets happened yesterday: The Falcons over the Saints (12 percent), and the Dolphins over the Colts (20 percent).
joshua.hermsmeyer: Well, it’s become increasingly hard to accuse Miami of in-game tanking.
neil: The funniest thing in the Falcons’ win was that Ryan didn’t even play very well. He only had a 78.5 passer rating.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Boo passer rating!
neil: I mean, it’s shorthand.
His adjusted yards per attempt was 5.06. Still subpar by his standards.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, that’s not great.
Salfino: Yes, Atlanta’s offense was generally underwhelming. They won the game on defense. Alvin Kamara did not look like himself off the leg injuries, and while Michael Thomas is super efficient, he does not produce a lot of points with big plays/touchdowns. The longest of his 13 catches was 18 yards.
neil: The Falcons have lost games where Ryan had passer ratings (I know, I know) of 145, 121 and 103 this year.
They win the one where he has a 79.
Salfino: Passer rating generally correlates pretty well to winning, FWIW.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Gase said recently that the Jets were sacrificing stats to try and win. Perhaps Matty Ice sacrificed his for the Falcons.
neil: Certainly he was having one of the all-time “great stats, no wins” seasons up to this point. Maybe he took on a Costanza Strategy?
Salfino: The 2019 Cowboys are one of the all-time stats teams without the winning.
neil: Nothing will ever top the 2010 Chargers, but we’ll see how close they can get.
sara.ziegler: To Josh’s point about the Dolphins and their lack of tanking, why are they starting Ryan Fitzpatrick over Josh Rosen? It’s bad on every level: You’re not giving Rosen the chance to develop, and you’re not actually losing games to get the top pick to replace Rosen next year.
Salfino: But who even is the top pick? I think that’s the problem with tanking in the NFL. I know Josh says it’s about draft capital throughout the draft, but then why does it matter that much if you pick first or fourth overall? Unless you want to trade the QB pick, then you clean up.
neil: Yeah, is Tua Tagovailoa really the clear-cut home run guy you tank for?
Salfino: And Joe Burrow is very old for a QB prospect. He’s older than Darnold, for example.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’ve seen arguments that the Dolphins could still trade up, and perhaps that explains why they are less concerned with a smattering of wins this season. But I think there’s a simpler explanation: It sucks to be on a team that’s losing. I was talking to a guy with a team over the weekend and he said, “Man I get the tanking argument, but do you know how terrible it is to spend a year losing?” So living through that hell in the hyper-competitive NFL can take its toll. These two wins might be beneficial despite the loss of draft capital.
Salfino: Plus the coaches want to win. You tank and your career is probably over. The fans will demand it.
neil: I could see that. Baseball and basketball offer up more total losses for tankers, but the physical and emotional toll of playing football — destroying your body and losing — is on another level from those other sports.
Salfino: The Bengals are probably unintentionally executing the perfect tank. They snuck up on us.
Benching Andy Dalton was a master stroke. The Bengals are bageling for Burrow?
neil: Dalton currently has a higher QB Elo than Mitch Trubisky. LOL
sara.ziegler: Oooh, that Bengals game. At least it gave us a Lamar Jackson spin move for the ages.
neil: I loved this moment in the postgame presser:
Salfino: Ironically, the people who said Jackson is a great running back were right. He just also happens to be a quarterback.
joshua.hermsmeyer: * WR
Salfino: Oh, that makes zero sense.
neil: The lines between QB and RB are blurring in Baltimore. They used RGIII at RB yesterday.
Salfino: That’s going to mess up game logs forever, Neil.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I mean they said he was everything other than what he is: a great QB. Since we talked about passer rating, Lamar is the first QB since 2007 to have two perfect passer rating games in one season on his resume.
neil: At one point, they had three Heisman winners — Jackson, Griffin and Mark Ingram — in the backfield at once.
That has to be a record.
Salfino: Love that stat.
joshua.hermsmeyer: My only comment — and the only comment needed, really.
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