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What We Learned From The NFL’s Upset-Heavy Week 6

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Upsets abounded during Week 6 of the NFL season. The Jets got a healthy Sam Darnold back and grabbed their first win, Pittsburgh won on the road (but in front of a lot of their fans) against the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Vikings beat the Eagles in what felt like an upset to me (though Minnesota was in fact favored). Even Washington got on the board with its first win of the season — though just barely, and only against Miami.

We were expecting a fun back-and-forth between Patrick Mahomes’s Chiefs and Deshaun Watson’s Texans, and we sure got it. What was most interesting to you guys about this Texans win?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): There was a lot of talk about how the Texans basically kept Mahomes off the field. Houston limited the Chiefs to just 20 minutes and 12 seconds of possession, which — according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group — was K.C.’s lowest time of possession in a home game since the stat was first kept in 1977.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Watson didn’t get sacked again. That’s two games in a row now. Before this month, he’d only had one game where he didn’t get sacked previously in his career. The Texans have 126 points in those three games — and this week they left three touchdowns on the field because of dropped passes.

As for the Chiefs, I think they need to make an adjustment that probably involves running more, as much as we stats people hate that. They are exposing their defense to too much time of possession, and Mahomes is slowed down by that ankle — he has taken such a pounding in recent weeks. LeSean McCoy had eight carries for 44 yards Sunday, though I know everything was depressed by their anemic play count.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I think running the ball is a great idea for teams with QBs who aren’t Mahomes. I’m not sure how much it helps the Chiefs in this game though. They got Tyreek Hill back and he scored an amazing early touchdown on a Hail Mary-type pass where he leaped ridiculously high in the air. Then Reek did a backflip after another score later in the game. The Chiefs’ overall expected points added per play was 0.16 to the Texans’ 0.19, and that was the difference in the game, to my way of thinking. So on the whole, I’d lay this loss on the Chiefs’ defense — not a lack of running.

Salfino: I hear you about the passing game. I hate the idea of running with Mahomes, as it seems to be doing the defense a favor. But guys are teeing off on him, and I can’t think of a better way to slow that down, though they did have the screen pass for the TD.

joshua.hermsmeyer: One bit of data to support Mike’s point about running, though: The Chiefs led the league in first downs per rush yesterday with 45.5 percent. Passing was 31.4 percent, which put them 19th of the 26 teams that have played so far in Week 6.

neil: Mahomes passed for only 41 yards in the second half — which is the fewest he’s ever thrown in a half in his whole career.

Salfino: My favorite stat is that Mahomes, this is not a misprint, had 116 passing yards on the opening drive (because of penalties). He had 157 the rest of the game.

sara.ziegler: I saw that opening-drive number and needed a quick refresher on exactly how long a football field is.

neil: Yes, that part is also unbelievable.

Salfino: They started the drive at the concession stand, Sara.

sara.ziegler: Hahahaha

The Chiefs have had a bunch of injuries on the offensive line. How much is that hurting them?

Salfino: Kansas City is having a much milder version of the offensive meltdown that’s afflicted the Rams. Injuries are part of the game, so adjustments need to be made. Protecting Mahomes is Job No. 1 for the offense.

neil: Mahomes has been hit 16 times in 128 dropbacks over the past three games (12.5 percent); in the previous three games, it was eight hits in 118 dropbacks (6.8 percent).

Salfino: And he’s hurt, so he should be protected more — with more blockers if necessary.

sara.ziegler: Michael, you mentioned the Rams’ offensive woes. As a very irritated fantasy owner of Jared Goff, let me ask: What the hell is going on with them?

Salfino: This is a regular story now with Goff. In his past 14 games, including the postseason, he has 14 TDs with 15 picks and 14 fumbles.

joshua.hermsmeyer: He looked lost out there. Really kind of sad. Especially for me, since I lost a bet to Mike on this one.

Salfino: But yesterday was the low point. He’s been much better at home, so to flag a game so badly against their top division rival in Los Angeles is very alarming. He generated 48 net passing yards on 28 pass plays.

sara.ziegler: Wait … what was the bet??

Salfino: I bet net yards per pass play on the 49ers and it proved predictive. 🙂

I think Josh has to eat a live tarantula on YouTube.

neil: 😂

joshua.hermsmeyer: I took the Rams over the Niners. And Sean McVay was calling aggressive plays in this game! He led the league with four fourth-down plays! (And went 0-4.)

neil: Goff’s career has been an incredible roller coaster ride. Utterly terrible as a rookie, improved in Year 2, great at times in Year 3, and now sort of settling into mediocre with the occasionally very bad start.

Maybe that is what you would expect from a QB whose production is totally dependent on the matchup and his coach’s play-calling? Good enough to look solid when the situation is favorable, but not good enough to overcome any negative factor working against him.

Salfino: I really think it was a mistake for McVay to advertise what he was doing with the headset into Goff’s ear before the snap. I assume adjustments have been made. And I think it makes Goff seem like he’s the proverbial bus rider and not the bus driver, that is, a system QB. Even if he is, why make it so easy to make the case?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s interesting that the narrative is that heavy coaching is what’s made Goff good. McVay isn’t the only one who does it. I’ve been told that Josh McDaniels also talks to Tom Brady the full 15 seconds before the play. So it’s not just McVay who’s coaching right up until the snap. Maybe Goff’s unevenness is because he’s just not very good.

Salfino: I never knew that about McDaniels and Brady. It seems like it should be illegal — so of course the Patriots do it.

sara.ziegler: LOL

neil: On the other side, though, the 49ers look really good. In terms of Elo rating with current starters (so Teddy Bridgewater instead of Drew Brees for New Orleans, etc.), San Francisco is now third in the league behind only the Pats and Chiefs.

And they’re doing it despite Jimmy Garoppolo not necessarily being better than average.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, I saw someone say the Niners are the rare good team with no viable fantasy players (outside of George Kittle), which kind of sums up that offense to me.

Salfino: Speaking of fantasy football, the 49ers are the least-fun great team in recent memory. It’s a committee team.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Jinx.

Salfino: Hahaha

sara.ziegler: Their defense has helped me out!

neil: Only the Patriots have more defensive expected points added this season than the 49ers. And the Pats’ schedule has been cupcake-soft.

Salfino: Darnold’s spleen is going to devour the Patriots next week in East Rutherford.

sara.ziegler: Ewwww

neil: I thought we’d make it a week without talking about spleens.

sara.ziegler: Boy, were you wrong.

neil: LOL, apparently so!

sara.ziegler: It was fun to see what the Jets could do with a functional quarterback.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Just as Tony Romo was anointing Darnold, he threw the pick that almost cost them the game (more or less).

Salfino: It sort of felt like everyone outside of Dallas was rooting for the Jets yesterday. I still stubbornly maintain that the Cowboys are a Super Bowl contender. But losing Amari Cooper for any amount of time would be very bad.

neil: Every time you think the Cowboys have turned a corner toward true contention … they fall behind 21-3 to the Jets.

This was the second week in a row when Dallas fell behind big early and then couldn’t quite claw all the way back.

joshua.hermsmeyer: If it’s true that Jason Garrett has taken over some of the play-calling (Romo kind of hinted at it during the broadcast), I think I lay the recent slide at his feet. Though the injuries obviously haven’t helped.

Perhaps the players agree.

neil: Guys, you’re going to be shocked by this. But Jerry Jones is avoiding blaming Garrett for the losing streak.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Find someone who loves you like Jerruh loves Jason Garrett.

neil: LOL

Salfino: Funny how Jerry couldn’t wait to get Jimmy Johnson out of town after two Super Bowls but sticks forever by Garrett.

To be fair, this throw was sort of a miracle. Darnold steps up to avoid a sure sack and then fires it perfectly almost 50 yards despite having a free rusher inches from his face.

sara.ziegler: Somehow, Washington was the only NFC East team that won this week. That’s … confusing.

neil: Well, I mean, they were playing Miami. Does that even count as a win?

Miami doesn’t want to win games, and opponents are honoring their wishes.

Salfino: That 2-point attempt seemed a little, um, fishy. I think Josh called that play for Miami.


joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, that play was garb.

sara.ziegler: In another matchup of not-great teams, Atlanta looked pretty bad against Arizona, and then the Falcons lost on a missed point-after with less than two minutes left.


Salfino: Falcons coach Dan Quinn deserves to be fired. I don’t want to sound glib about it, but it’s just business; he’s done a bad job. He fired both coordinators, and both units are far worse. And he took over the defense, which may be the worst in the league outside of Miami.

neil: Yes, the Falcons have the worst defensive expected points added in the league this year, even worse than the Dolphins.

The sad thing is, it’s wasting great Matt Ryan performances like the one you highlighted above, Josh.


This tweet is from last year, but it shows how this problem is not at all new. It’s endless.

neil: According to Elo, Ryan is having one of the best-ever QB seasons for a team with a terrible supporting cast.

When bad seasons happen to good quarterbacks

Best quarterbacks on teams with a QB-neutral Elo rating* of less than 1400 through a season’s first four, five or six games, 1950-2019

Team Elo with …
Quarterback Season Team Thru game No. Actual QB Average QB QB Elo vs. Avg
Drew Brees 2012 NO 6 1539 1376 +162
Drew Brees 2016 NO 7 1478 1346 +132
Jeff Garcia 2000 SF 7 1437 1319 +118
Fran Tarkenton 1967 NYG 7 1426 1315 +110
Drew Brees 2008 NO 7 1494 1394 +101
Ken Anderson 1983 CIN 5 1482 1382 +100
Matt Ryan 2019 ATL 6 1463 1366 +97
Fran Tarkenton 1968 NYG 6 1471 1380 +91
Sonny Jurgensen 1968 WSH 6 1421 1331 +89
Sonny Jurgensen 1967 WSH 7 1481 1393 +88

*A team’s QB-neutral Elo is what its Elo rating would be if the actual starter were replaced with an average starter.


Salfino: I like Ryan a lot, but my one criticism is that he has most of his TDs in the fourth quarter when games have been mostly lost. He did get down 27-10 yesterday.

A good simple stat for whether these losses can be pegged to the QB is what record we’d expect the team to have given how many points were scored, and 33 points (really should have been 34 at least with the missed extra point) is almost always a win. Since 2015, for example, teams are 321-42 when scoring 33+ points.

neil: Drew Brees was the king of this type of season. But now Ryan knows how it feels.

Salfino: Love how Sara is low-keying the Vikings.

sara.ziegler: If I don’t talk about them, I can’t jinx them.

That’s just science.

neil: According to QB Elo, Cousins had his best game since last November.

Salfino: I think they are very good. Like Super Bowl contender good.

sara.ziegler: Mike, no. We have been here before.


Salfino: He was No. 1 in QBR this week with a 91.7.

The Eagles secondary does get you an asterisk though, to be fair.



Never forget.

Salfino: Hahaha

joshua.hermsmeyer: Sara is channelling Zach Brown right now:

sara.ziegler: I mean

I sort of stand by Zach Brown?

I was happy that Stefon Diggs had a great game, though. Now both star wide receivers will be happy for a couple of weeks … until the Vikings start running nonstop again, and the cycle continues.

neil: On some of those throws, Cousins had multiple wide-open options to hit for a TD.

joshua.hermsmeyer: That one busted coverage TD to Diggs for sure. There were zero deep defenders.

Salfino: This was the game circled in flashing in neon lights for a Diggs breakout.

sara.ziegler: It was about time!

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer was a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.