Zombies Redux: Heartless Horrors Feast Upon Pigskin Prevalents!
by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Descended men ascend from cracked tomb
Infestation of the damned in full bloom
Cannot stop them all
You'll be gnashed in that maw
Appending the zombie parade is your doom
Did I not warn you? Was I not clear enough in my proclamation?
We here at the Cold Hard Cremetorium do not wave false flags, nor do we sound misleading alarms. When there is something to alert the world over, then and only then do we provide the appropriate notice.
On Halloween night, 2013, I did just that: I foretold of a coming zombie apocalypse in the National Football League.
A week later, it hit harder than even *I* thought it would!
I warned of three decaying football teams that still posed a threat to the happy-to-be-alive rest of the league: the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Lo and behold, all three teams won in Week 10.
Of Minnesota, I specifically warned the Redskins would be preyed on by Adrian Peterson's deadly running game, and that their terrible defense would struggle as a whole:
"The Redskins get worse marks for their rusty-gated defense, which gives up 32.7 PPG, and owns a Bendability rating of 12.14 (a touchdown merely every 84.98 yards given up).
Sure enough, Peterson pounded in two touchdowns (albeit on just 3.75 yards a carry), with one of those scores coming on Minnesota's unanswered 20-point run to end the game. Minny hung 34 points up on Jim Haslett's defense when all was said and done.
As for Tampa Bay, before their matchup with the Dolphins, I stated this:
"The Dolphins.....struggle in the passing game...If the Bucs shut down the run, the pressure goes to the QBs, and one dimensional offenses have uphill battles."
The Bucs annihilated the Dolphins running game (14 carries, two yards), and it wasn't until the third quarter that Ryan Tannehill mounted a comeback. That wasn't before Tampa was spotted 15 points (in part, thanks to a run-gone-wrong, turned into a safety). In the end, the Dolphins had to throw, and a Darrelle Revis pick sealed their fate.
In Jacksonville's case, I couldn't find any specific opponent that their rotted team matches up favorably with, but that didn't stop them from unfurling a hostile takeover of LP Field, in a bloody victory over the Titans. The Jags can't take credit for Jake Locker's season-ending injury in anything less than a peripheral capacity, but hey: bad things happen, even against the bottom of the league barrel.
All three losers have realistic playoff aspirations. The Dolphins and Titans each fell to 4-5, when a win over their putrid opponents would have them tied with the sixth-seeded Jets. Washington would have climbed to 4-5, and found themselves half a game out of first place in the wide-open NFC East.
Alas, they all lost. They all lost to the league's three worst teams, and now look at them: each a step closer to the figurative grave.
As it stands now, there are five teams with just one or two wins. Chances are, a playoff run for any of them is highly unlikely, but that doesn't disqualify any of them from dragging better teams to the fiery depths along with them.
Let's examine those five teams, as well as which of their remaining opponents (those with a .500-or-better win percentage) is most in danger of slipping up to them.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-7)
Remaining Opponents at .500 or Better: New England, Indianapolis, Denver
Team Most Likely to Lose: Indianapolis. The Case Keenum puzzle could certainly be solved by their December 15 meeting. For now, Indy's defense gives up 8.05 yards a pass attempt (tied for fifth worst with Atlanta).
The Colts will, of course, be able to draw intel from their narrow 27-24 win on November 3 (the game in which Gary Kubiak had his mini-stroke). Houston held a 21-3 halftime lead before Andrew Luck put his team on the comeback trail, and Randy Bullock wound up missing vital kicks, including the potential tying boot as time expired. Point being, Houston could be 2-11 at the time of kickoff, and Indy's not winning in a walk.
ATLANTA FALCONS (2-7)
Remaining Opponents at .500 or Better: New Orleans, San Francisco, Carolina, Green Bay
Team Most Likely to Lose: Green Bay. Even then, this is going to be a stretch. With a non-existent running game (last in both yards and attempts), Atlanta has to heavily rely on Matt Ryan's arm to compete. Of the four listed teams, only Green Bay doesn't rank among the six best Defensive Passer Ratings.
As a matter of fact, the Packers have the NFL's fifth worst rating of 99.51. Nick Foles boldly threw deep on the Pack in Philadelphia's win Sunday, with three long touchdowns doing all of the necessary damage. Then again, Philly was also able to run effectively with LeSean McCoy, a luxury Atlanta lacks. If the Falcons are going to spoil Green Bay's hopes, it'll have to be in a shoot out, as Aaron Rodgers is likely to have returned by then.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-7)
Remaining Opponents at .500 or Better: Seattle, Green Bay, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit
Team Most Likely to Lose: Chicago. The Vikings have run for 100 yards or more as a team in six of their nine games, while posting 91 and two ground scores on the Redskins a week ago. In addition, Minnesota runs for 4.68 yards a carry, and their third down percentage (40.17) is 11th best in the league.
The Bears have struggled mightily against the run, allowing 4.52 yards a carry (seventh worst in the NFL), and their third down allowance percentage of 41.28 is also seventh worst. Lance Briggs is likely going to miss that Week 13 battle, so there's a real danger of the Vikings inadvertantly aiding Detroit's division title hopes with their consistent charge on the ground.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-8)
Remaining Opponents at .500 or Better: Arizona, Indianapolis
Team Most Likely to Lose: Arizona. Across most categories, it would seem the Cardinals have a decided drop on perhaps the league's most beleaguered team. Throw those stats out for right now, because the Jags can certainly do to Arizona what they did to Tennessee.
The biggest winning point for Jacksonville this past Sunday was turnovers, four of them. A rabid effort from Gus Bradley's defense made that win possible. The Cardinals' 21 offensive turnovers, and 15 interceptions, each rank as second most in the NFL. Now that Jacksonville's D may have seemingly found their niche, they can break a mistake-prone Carson Palmer for a once-unfathomable second win in a row.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-8)
Remaining Opponents at .500 or Better: Detroit, Carolina, San Francisco, New Orleans
Team Most Likely to Lose: Detroit. Mike Glennon, if nothing else, runs a pretty safe offense, with little more than some erratic passes being stricken against him. Combined with a solid running game from a slew of surprising backups (Brian Leonard, Bobby Rainey, and the now injured Mike James), the Buccaneers offense isn't spectacular, but it's gaining steam in terms of consistency and push.
Detroit's defense lacks a solid counterpunch. The Lions possess the fourth worst Negative Pass Play percentage, garnering a sack or pick every 7.1 percent of dropbacks. Compound that by the Lions giving up 4.46 yards a carry (eighth worst average), and Tampa could outlast Detroit with the slow-and-steady approach.