NFC West: Cardinals Host Dolphins, Primed For 4-0 Start

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 27, 2012



By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)

Well, the NFC West went 2-2 in Week 3, but was a replacement referee's blown call away from going 1-3. 

Not exactly a strong showing for a division that went undefeated in Week 2. 

The 49ers were shocked by the precise passing of Christian Ponder in a 24-13 upset loss to the Vikings, and the Rams didn't stand a chance in Chicago, falling 23-6. Arizona was the only "legitimate" Week 3 winner, erasing the Eagles in convincing fashion. 

No worries, though. The NFC West is not suddenly fading back into another long stretch of disappointing football. Not yet, anyway.

1. The NFC West Has Been "PRD" Damn Good So Far

Passer Rating Differential.

Familiar with the term? You should be. Passer Rating Differential, or "PRD", is simply the difference between a team's Offensive Passer Rating and Defensive Passer Rating. It is considered the Mother of All Stats around here, due to its striking correlation to victory and winning championships.  

In fact, 69 of 72 NFL Champions since 1940 have finished in the top 10 in PRD. 

At this point in the season, the NFC West is the only division with all four teams ranking in the top 10 in PRD. That's right, the Cardinals (No. 3), Rams (No. 5), 49ers (No. 7) and Seahawks (No. 9) have all claimed their spots inside the top 10 in the league in this critical stat.

Only one other division has multiple teams in the top 10. That would be the NFC North, with the Packers (No. 4) and the Vikings (No. 10) making the cut. 

Given PRD's correlation to the all-important W, it should come as no surprise that the NFC West leads the league in wins, with eight. Here's a breakdown of divisional win-loss totals and their average rank in PRD.

DIVISIONWIN/LOSSAVG PRD RANK
NFC West8-46th
NFC East7-512th
NFC North6-615th
AFC East6-618th (17.75)
AFC South6-620th
AFC North5-716th (15.5)
NFC South5-719th (18.5)
AFC West5-726th
  • In 2011, the top eight finishers in PRD qualified for the playoffs.
  • Five of the top six finishers in 2011 won 12 or more regular season games.
  • Six of the teams who finished in the top 10 in PRD at end of 2011 season were already inside the top 10 after three games.
  • In 2010, the only one of 12 playoff qualifiers to rank outside the top 14 in PRD was the Seahawks, who finished 7-9.

The NFC West hasn't claimed a wild card spot since 2004. If they continue to dominate in Passer Rating Differential, though, the wins will keep piling up.

2. Cardinals Look to Stay Hot in the Desert

So far, Arizona has trumped a division rival in Seattle, shocked the Patriots in Foxborough and rocked Michael Vick and the Eagles 27-6. They're allowing just 13.3 points per game (2nd lowest total in NFL) and lead the NFL in Bendability

The Miami Dolphins are headed to the desert for a Week 4 matchup with the undefeated Cardinals, and the odds are not in their favor. For beginners, Arizona is undefeated in their last seven home games. 

The Dolphins just happen to be dead last in Offensive Passer Rating, which could be an enormous issue playing on the road against a team who's No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating. Miami played Houston (No. 4 in DPR) on the road in Week 1 and turned the ball over four times in a 30-10 loss. 

The Cards' swarming D has forced six turnovers, recorded 12 sacks and blocked two kicks in three games. You can expect a substantial amount of chaos in the Dolphins backfield on Sunday as well.

One area Miami does hold an advantage is in the running game. Reggie Bush has 302 rushing yards in three games and is averaging a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry. Bush and the Dolphins ball-carriers are aided by an effective offensive line, one that ranks No. 3 in the Offensive Hog Index.

On the flip side, the Cardinals rank 30th in Rushing Yards Per Attempt, while the Dolphins are No. 2 in Defensive Rushing Yards Per Attempt. Miami's D is allowing a meager 2.37 YPC, while Arizona's offense is only gaining 2.84 YPC.

If Miami controls the ground game (on both sides of the ball), an upset could be in the cards. But the lack of a run game hasn't stopped Arizona yet, and I don't see it happening here, either.

3. Jim Harbaugh's Streak on the Line in the Meadowlands

The 49ers look to rebound from their largest loss since December of 2010, and recent history says they will. 

A Harbaugh-led squad hasn't tasted bitter defeat in consecutive games since he was head coach at Stanford in 2009. The 49ers were 3-0 coming off a loss in 2011, and outscored opponents 59-11 in those contests. 

San Fran also holds a considerable advantage in the run game, averaging 5.35 YPC (No. 3 in NFL), while New York gains just 3.25 YPC (No. 29 in NFL). The latter stat should be somewhat concerning for the Jets. The 49ers were No. 1 in the league in stopping the run last year, and are No. 7 in Defensive Rushing Yards Per Attempt through Week 3 in 2012.

Turnovers will play a huge factor in what is shaping up to be a low-scoring contest. Since 2011, the Jets are 6-2 when winning the turnover battle and 0-7 when they lose it. San Fran is 12-2 when they win it and 1-2 when they don't. 

The 49ers uncharacteristically coughed up the ball three times against Minnesota last week, after committing just 11 turnovers in their last 18 regular season games. They haven't lost the turnover battle in consecutive games since Harbaugh came to San Francisco, either.

4. Seattle Should Be Able To Build Off What Put Them In Position To Earn Replacement Ref Love

The Packers-Seahawks Week 3 Monday Night Football matchup will always be known for the "touchception" that cost Green Bay the game, causing the eight sacks Seattle racked up in the first half to be forever overlooked. 

St. Louis is No. 24 in our Offensive Hog Index, and the O-line has allowed Sam Bradford to be sacked twelve times in three games. The Rams are suffering from horrible play at both guard positions, namely in pass protection. 

Will we see more of the Hawks' pass rush that dominated Rodgers in the first half Monday night? Or will they look more like the unit that recorded just a sack apiece in the first two games? According to Pro Football Focus, 10 of the Rams 12 sacks allowed have come without a blitz from the opponent, so the Seahawks should be able to fluster Bradford without added pressure.

It should be noted that away games have been troublesome for Seattle in recent years. They've posted a 11-30 record on the road dating back to 2007. No team prefers to play away from home, but the Seahawks struggle mightily without the "12th man" on their side. 

5. Predicting Post-Week 4 NFC West Standings (3-1 in Week 3)

1. Arizona Cardinals (4-0)

I said I would no longer doubt the potential of the Cards' D last week and they came through with another huge performance against Philly. Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Michael Vick all struggled against Arizona, so why won't Ryan Tannehill?

2. San Francisco 49ers (3-1)

Harbaugh just doesn't lose back-to-back games, and the Jets losing Darrelle Revis for the year to an ACL tear hurts New York's chances even more. They also struggle in pressuring opposing quarterbacks, which is perhaps the main way to keep San Fran's offense from finding a rhythm.

3. Seattle Seahawks (3-1)

The last six games between the Rams and Seahawks have been decided by 10 points or more, with Seattle winning five of them. I doubt Sunday's matchup will alter the trend.

4. St. Louis Rams (1-3)

The Rams offense is sputtering, and it's really no match for a Seattle D allowing a league low 13 points per game.


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