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Week 1 of the 2013 Regular Season

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

Baltimore at Denver (-8)

The NFL on Thursday night will do what it does best, and launch the new season with a game with that features more storylines than a Tolstoy novel.

You know these storylines, of course: the Super Bowl champ Baltimore Ravens take the field with a new-look team empty of many of the franchise’s most famous faces, future Hall of Fame defenders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, most notably.

The Broncos, a statistical juggernaut in 2013, are forced to face the team that knocked them out the playoffs without a single postseason victory last year – and embarrassed them in the process.

And they do it with their own skeleton crew on defense: No Elvis Dumervil this year due to embarrassing clerical error. And no Von Miller for six games due to off-field, ahem, habits.

And, in an odd reversal of recent tradition, the most powerful sports league in the world was forced by Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles to send the defending Super Bowl champs on the road for their first game.

No firework-packed flag-raising ceremony in the championship city to launch the new season for the first time in a decade. Just because the little ol' Orioles wouldn't move 1 of its endless 162 games so that the defending Super Bowl champs could take the limelight.

How plucky of them.

That last storyline may be the hardest to figure out. It pays to remember the NFL is so powerful that it essentially buys out entire cities for the Super Bowl and had the financial war chest to dish out $765 million in hush money to former players to quiet the many lawsuits facing the league.

All of which brings us to the game at hand, and the obvious challenge of any Week 1 game: knowing which stats and factors will carry over from the year before and which will not in the Not For Long League.

We should begin with what we do know:

ONE – We don’t expect either team to be as good on defense in 2013 as it was in 2012.

TWO – Joe Flacco was the best quarterback in the 2012 postseason; but Peyton Manning is habitually the best quarterback in football in the regular season.

THREE – The Broncos beat up the Ravens, 34-17, in Baltimore last December (Week 15). But providing proof that past performance is no guarantee of future results in the NFL, the Ravens won the divisional rematch, also in Denver, 38-35, in double overtime.

FOUR – 8 points are a hell of a lot to give in any NFL game, especially when the team getting those points is the defending Super Bowl champ. Quite frankly, it’s a ridiculous number.

FIVE – More than half of all games in 2012, 131 of 256 (51.2%), were decided by 8 points or less, largely consistent with historic results.

SIX – The Denver Broncos will in all likelihood win fewer games against the spread in 2013 than they did in 2012 (10), a topic we covered in detail this week for CHFF Insiders.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts will shine their everlovin’ light on us as the season progresses, becoming more relevant and more trustworthy as the season progresses.

We anticipate the Broncos will not be as good in 2013 as they were in 2012, largely because of huge losses on defense.

The jury remains out on Baltimore: if Joe Flacco of the 2012 postseason is the quarterback we see again in 2013, the defending champs will be even better this year than they were during the 10-6 campaign of last year. If he proves to be just the Ordinary Joe we’ve seen the rest of his career, the Ravens are in for a long season.

In either case, we see little reason for most any team to be getting 8 points in Week 1, let alone the defending champs.

Pick: Denver 24, Baltimore 21

NOTE: all stats below are year-end 2012

Ravens Pre-Game Analysis Broncos
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
17.36 16

Quality Stats Power Rankings

11.23 7
33% 15

Quality Standings

0% 24
14.72 15

Scoreability

11.13 1
16.30 12

Bendability

14.18 21
5.61 25

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

8.26 1
6.13 16

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.77 23
68.49 24

Real Quarterback Rating

109.31 1
79.34 17

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

76.92 13
- 10.85 23

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

32.39 2
77.31 24

Offensive Passer Rating

120.58 1
89.49 20

Defensive Passer Rating

83.69 14
- 12.18 23

Passer Rating Differential

36.89 1
26.00 31

Offensive Hog Index

9.67 5
5.33 1

Defensive Hog Index

10.67 5
- 0.50 17

The Relativity Index

12.44 1
3750 22

Total Team Yards

5021 1
3817 10

Total Team Yards Allowed

4053 18
-67 17

Total Team Yards Differential

968 1
76.55 25

Offensive Rusher Rating

88.40 16
65.08 3

Defensive Rusher Rating

100.19 29
11.47 10

Rusher Rating Differential

- 11.80 24
16 18

Total Turnovers

18 27

 

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

Atlanta at New Orleans (-3)

This high-powered Week 1 NFC South clash is so sexy it belongs in a Real Girls of Bourbon Street video. And among other things, it's going to offer us some insight into the mindset of the Saints and their coach Sean Payton after a year of Gridiron Godfather-imposed exile.

The ESPN documentary “Pony Excess” chronicles the rise and fall of SMU football in the 1980. A member of SMU’s 1988 team, which actually practiced every week despite being ineligible to play any games, tells an interviewer that the squad’s chant all season long was “9-2-89."

That  was the date of SMU’s first scheduled game after the two-year “death sentence” imposed on the football program by the NCAA in 1987.

We’re not sure if the Saints have been chanting “9-8-13” for the past 12 months since the Gridiron Godfather essentially imposed a one-year death penalty on the franchise in the wake of “Bounty-Gate.”

However, we’re pretty certain that the return of head coach Payton to the sidelines will make a big difference in The Big Easy after last year’s 7-9 season that, due to the Godfather’s bloody wave of vengeance, was over before it even began.

Based on 2012 numbers, this appears to be a statistical mismatch in Atlanta’s favor.

But we all know that performance from one year does not necessarily translate to the same performance the following year in the Not For Long League. 

And we do know this: the Saints will be a better team in 2013.

The Falcons had only a few weak spots in 2012, most notably on the defensive front seven, where Atlanta fielded our 23rd-ranked Defensive Hogs and ranked No. 27 in Defensive Rusher Rating.

Atlanta ranked No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating, but was undone by too many big plays, as it ranked No. 22 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.

Everywhere else, however, Atlanta was extremely good in 2012, ranking in the top 11 in 12 key categories and finishing No. 8 in our overall Quality Stats Power Rankings.

New Orleans, on the other hand, had the same problems in 2012 without Payton on the sidelines as it had in 2010 and 2011, when the Saints failed to recapture their Super Bowl glory of 2009: poor defense.

The Drew Brees-led offense still put up good numbers in 2012, but defensively, the Saints were a disaster, ranking No. 23 or worse in five key defensive Quality Stats, including the very important Defensive Passer Rating (No. 28) and Defensive Real Passing YPA (No. 31) categories.

They were also, as we and others noted throughout the off-season, the first defense in history to surrender more than 7,000 yards of offense, and nearly 1,000 yards worse than the 31st-ranked Giants.

The Falcons have had eight months to stew over a lost Super Bowl opportunity in 2012 that fell a few agonizing yards short of the San Francisco end zone in a 28-24 NFC title game defeat.

Of course, the Saints, like the 1980s SMU Mustangs, have had even longer to stew over their death penalty.

This division tilt on the road against a talented and very hungry opponent will provide an excellent early season test of Atlanta’s Super Bowl mettle for 2013. Keep in mind the two teams split their 2012 series, with each team winning at home.

While this big Week 1 encounter will no doubt offer an emotionally charged atmosphere in the Superdome, we still believe the Falcons are the better team until more evidence tells us the Saints have risen to what we expect they can become.

The New Orleains defense is still filled with far too many holes for us to expect them to win against a very strong quarterback and offensive team in Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Picks: Atlanta 28, New Orleans 27

 

Falcons Pre-Game Analysis Saints
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
22.55 30

Quality Stats Power Rankings

7.32 2
0% 30

Quality Standings

50% 4
16.42 22

Scoreability

14.35 13
13.58 25

Bendability

17.53 7
6.43 11

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.61 3
7.09 28

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.66 10
85.14 9

Real Quarterback Rating

101.74 2
94.63 30

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

63.74 3
- 9.49 22

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

38.00 1
90.90 10

Offensive Passer Rating

108.88 2
103.47 31

Defensive Passer Rating

75.53 6
- 12.56 25

Passer Rating Differential

33.35 3
14.33 11

Offensive Hog Index

11.33 9
27.67 31

Defensive Hog Index

13.00 14
- 5.34 24

The Relativity Index

10.14 2
3540 28

Total Team Yards

4394 9
3874 13

Total Team Yards Allowed

3573 4
-334 24

Total Team Yards Differential

821 3
70.62 29

Offensive Rusher Rating

90.60 13
95.41 21

Defensive Rusher Rating

99.79 28
- 24.79 30

Rusher Rating Differential

- 9.19 21
16 18

Total Turnovers

10 2

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears

Cincinnati at Chicago (-3)

Bengals-Bears is one of the more intriguing Week 1 match-ups, pitting two teams that had identical 10-6 records in 2012 but widely different "feels" to the season.

Cincy’s 10-6 record was good enough to sneak them into the postseason for the second straight season, however fraudulent a playoff pretender they really were.

Chicago, hailing from a brutal NFC North in which three teams won at least 10 games, ended up on the outside looking in when the playoffs kicked-off in January.

Cincinnati was statistically solid, if unspectacular in 2012, finishing No. 11 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings behind an efficient offense and stout defense.

The 2012 Bears finished No. 9 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings behind an efficient, near-dominant defense that ranked No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 1 in Defensive Real QB Rating and No. 1 in Defensive Rusher Rating.

Chicago’s problem in 2012, as in other recent seasons, was utter incompetence in the passing game—a longstanding problem that finally got Lovie Smith fired and ushered in the Marc Trestman era. He's the offensive specialist most recently out of the CFL.  

The main issue in Chicago been a shoddy offensive line that has gotten Jay Cutler sacked more times over than past few years than Ancient Rome before its fall.

If the Bears don’t fix that mess in 2013, Trestman, even with a reputation as an offensive guru, won’t be able to improve things very much.

Chicago’s specialty in recent years, however, has been an ability to score by any means necessary, including explosive special teams and defensive production. As a result the Bears, with a struggling QB and poor offensive line, were No. 3 in Scoreability last year behind Tom Brady’s Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Broncos.

Chicago, perhaps surprisingly, was also No. 3 last year in Time of Possession – a tribute to its strong defensive dominance, but also to the fact that TOP is a largely overrated measure of offensive success.

Based on our 2012 Quality Stats, game comparisons do not get much closer. Of course, as we and you know, those 2012 comparisons will not necessarily translate to 2013.

The teams had a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses last year and ended up being separated by just a few notches in several Quality Stats categories.

It should be noted that Cincinnati’s Offensive Hogs, ranked No. 28, fared even worse in 2012 than the Bears’ 26th-ranked group. Not good against a defensive front that is typically among the best in football, including No. 5 last year on the Defensive Hog Index. The impact of retired franchise MLB Brian Urlacher, of course, remains to be seen.

It should also be noted that Bengals QB Andy Dalton is widely considered on the edge of being one of the NFL’s bright young guns. But his actual production has been very middling: Cincy was No. 15 last year in Real Quarterback Rating.

We're not buying what Dalton is selling right now.

Ultimately, this appears to be a tight, defensive battle between two good, if flawed teams. But  the Bears are playing at home and can be typically counted on to make that one game-changing play that so often eludes the Bengals.  

Pick: Chicago 21, Cincinnati 17

Bengals Pre-Game Analysis Bears
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
11.59 8

Quality Stats Power Rankings

13.82 12
80% 2

Quality Standings

40% 9
16.18 20

Scoreability

12.95 5
16.74 11

Bendability

13.82 23
6.61 9

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.75 8
5.20 4

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.52 32
78.68 15

Real Quarterback Rating

84.97 11
72.50 10

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

82.04 20
6.18 11

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

2.93 14
86.73 14

Offensive Passer Rating

91.46 9
78.49 8

Defensive Passer Rating

88.37 19
8.24 10

Passer Rating Differential

3.09 13
16.67 19

Offensive Hog Index

9.33 4
12.67 10

Defensive Hog Index

24.33 27
4.44 7

The Relativity Index

1.28 13
4771 4

Total Team Yards

4809 3
4172 22

Total Team Yards Allowed

4218 23
599 5

Total Team Yards Differential

591 6
83.10 22

Offensive Rusher Rating

100.71 6
74.69 6

Defensive Rusher Rating

96.76 22
8.40 11

Rusher Rating Differential

3.95 14
20 30

Total Turnovers

12 6

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City (-3.5) at Jacksonville

Never let it be said the NFL does not have a sense of humor. While the Ravens-Broncos, Falcons-Saints and Packers-49ers battle it out in sexy Week 1 showdowns so, too, do the two worst teams in football from 2012.

How much did Chiefs and Jaguars suck in 2012? Let us count the ways.

First, they both finished 2-14 and picked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft—both teams picked an offensive lineman, which probably is a good thing considering their Offensive Hogs ranked No. 25 (KC) and No. 31 (Jacksonville) last year.

Second, they each finished ranked No. 22 or lower in 15 of our key Quality Stats in 2012, with the Chiefs finishing No. 30 or worse in an astonishing nine categories.

Third, they finished 31st (Chiefs) and 32nd (Jags) on our Quality Stats Power Rankings.

Fourth, the each posted the worst point differential in their respective franchise histories: -214 for Kansas City; -189 for Jacksonville.

That is called sucking on an industrial-sized scale—something we at CHFF know a lot about, given our weekly fee-for-service encounters with our pal “Candy” at The Jiggly Room.

As for 2013, however, the conventional wisdom is that the Chiefs have gained the upper hand over the sad-sack Jaguars, thanks largely to new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith.

We tried to tamp down the irrational exuberance surrounding the Chiefs in August. After all, the team was bad at everything in 2012, including the worst Defensive Passer Rating in franchise history. However, we do agree the team will improve under proven winner Reid.

Also, as reported elsewhere at Insider this week, Smith had been brutally efficient in 2012 before he was benched for the sexy younger model QB Colin Kaepernick. Smith fashioned a nifty 104 passer rating and produced two of the four best Real Quarterback Ratings of 2012 before he was yanked.

Jacksonville is still reeling from pissing away two consecutive high draft picks in 2011 and 2012 on a QB who seems unable to perform at the NFL level (Blaine Gabbert), and a Shiny hood Ornament wide receiver. Justin Blackmon, thus far, had zero impact on a very bad offense last year and was part of the Epic Fail wide receiver draft class of 2012.  

The Chiefs at least appear to be moving in the right direction after producing the worst team in franchise history last season.

That does not appear to be the case in Big Cat Country. Third-year QB Gabbert has not only struggled in his short career, but missed the last two preseason games with a thumb injury.

In addition, Jacksonville’s best player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, is still recovering from LisFranc surgery and has recently complained about pre-season playing time as he heads into a contract year. All signs point to another long year in Jacksonville.

Pick: Kansas City 20, Jacksonville 14

NOTE: all stats below year-end 2012

Chiefs Pre-Game Analysis Jaguars
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
8.59 4

Quality Stats Power Rankings

30.00 32
0% 23

Quality Standings

0% 32
13.28 6

Scoreability

21.79 32
26.50 1

Bendability

12.03 31
5.23 30

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.35 27
5.14 3

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.12 29
78.98 14

Real Quarterback Rating

57.98 32
58.89 1

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

96.73 31
20.10 5

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 38.75 32
81.44 20

Offensive Passer Rating

63.13 32
67.84 1

Defensive Passer Rating

103.35 30
13.60 6

Passer Rating Differential

- 40.22 32
16.33 18

Offensive Hog Index

31.00 32
11.33 6

Defensive Hog Index

30.00 32
7.00 6

The Relativity Index

- 16.65 32
4010 17

Total Team Yards

3305 32
3544 3

Total Team Yards Allowed

4364 26
466 7

Total Team Yards Differential

-1059 32
92.42 11

Offensive Rusher Rating

82.28 23
63.94 2

Defensive Rusher Rating

106.72 30
28.49 2

Rusher Rating Differential

- 24.45 29
8 1

Total Turnovers

17 23

 

Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns

Miami at Cleveland (pick’em)

The Dolphins had a very active off season and generated a lot of much-desired “media buzz” with their high-profile free agent signings of WR Mike Wallace and ex-Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe.

Those signings, plus an aggressive trade-up in the first round of last April’s draft to select DE Dion Jordan, have made Miami the latest flavor-of-the-month pick to finally unseat the Patriots at the top of the AFC East. Jordan has struggled to recover from shoulder surgery, but looks to be ready to go Sunday.

Of course, only one AFC East team has unseated the Patriots over the past decade: 11-5 Miami edge out the Patriots on tiebreakers to capture the division crown in 2008. But that’s ancient history by NFL standards.

Miami’s defense already was pretty good before the acquisitions of Ellerbe and Jordan: the 2012 Dolphins finished No. 4 in Bendability and in the top-half of the league in Defensive Passer Rating, Defensive Rusher Rating and Defensive Real QB Rating. They also had our No. 9-ranked Defensive Hogs.

So, the high expectations on the defensive side of the ball seem warranted.

Offensively, however, despite the signing of Wallace, whom Miami overpaid, the Dolphins are still led by second-year QB Ryan Tannehill. He struggled in his rookie season (76.1 passer rating) and remains unproven.

In addition, Reggie Bush, the team’s top RB, is now in Detroit, and All-Pro tackle Jake Long, Tannehill’s blindside protector, is now in St. Louis. Those losses could outweigh any benefits that adding Wallace will have on an offense that ranked No. 21 in Real QB Rating, No. 23 in Scoreability, No. 19 on the Offensive Hog Index (with Long on the roster) and No. 25 in Offensive Passer Rating.

Cleveland, which finished 5-11 last year, is also is led by a second-year QB, Brandon Weeden (72.6 passer rating), who struggled even more than Tannehill during his rookie season. He was also cursed with a bad offensive line (No. 27 Offensive Hogs).

The Browns under Weeden finished 2012 28th in Real QB Rating and 29th in Offensive Passer Rating. It’s the same problem that has plagued the organization since it returned to the shores of Lake Erie: you can’t win in the NFL without a decent quarterbacks.

Cleveland’s defense wasn’t bad last year, either. The 2012 Browns finished No. 11 in Bendability, No. 15 in Defensive Real QB Rating and No. 15 in Defensive Passer Rating.

But with an offense that couldn’t get out of its own way last year facing a Miami defense could be even better in 2013, we don’t see the Browns getting much done in this game.

One caveat: the Dolphins were 2-6 on the road last year, with mid-season wins over the playoff-bound Bengals (17-13) and AFC East rival Jets (30-9), their most impressive performance all year long. The Browns, meanwhile, were competitive at home (4-4), with wins over the Bengals, Chargers, Steelers and Chiefs.

But every game is a unique statistical event, in in this case the Dolphins appear the slightly stronger fish.

Pick: Miami 20, Cleveland 17

Dolphins Pre-Game Analysis Browns
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
18.50 20

Quality Stats Power Rankings

18.59 21
50% 6

Quality Standings

25% 19
14.17 12

Scoreability

16.58 23
15.38 14

Bendability

14.42 19
5.30 28

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.29 29
5.95 12

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.12 2
67.69 26

Real Quarterback Rating

72.08 23
69.54 7

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

76.42 12
- 1.85 17

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 4.34 20
81.21 21

Offensive Passer Rating

79.76 23
76.13 7

Defensive Passer Rating

82.44 12
5.08 12

Passer Rating Differential

- 2.68 19
21.67 26

Offensive Hog Index

25.00 28
11.33 6

Defensive Hog Index

15.67 18
- 1.67 20

The Relativity Index

- 2.18 21
3469 30

Total Team Yards

3853 20
4144 19

Total Team Yards Allowed

3481 2
-675 29

Total Team Yards Differential

372 9
87.12 18

Offensive Rusher Rating

70.22 31
99.65 27

Defensive Rusher Rating

94.56 20
- 12.53 25

Rusher Rating Differential

- 24.33 28
16 18

Total Turnovers

12 6

 

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

Minnesota at Detroit (-4.5)

Raise your hand if you thought Christian Ponder (81.2) would end up with a higher passer rating than Matthew Stafford (79.8) in 2012.

Well, neither did we.

Stafford’s decline from near-elite passer rating numbers in 2011 (97.2) to pedestrian status last year was one of the biggest reason for the Lions fall from 2011 playoff team to 4-12 disaster in 2012.

It didn’t help that Detroit was one of the dumbest teams in football, too: The talented by immature team was plagued by utter lack of discipline. The 2012 Lions ranked No. 27 in Scoreability and No. 31 in Bendability, our two most reliable Quality Stats efficiency measures and good indicators of how well coached and disciplined a team tends to be.

It also doesn’t help that Detroit is, institutionally, a sucker for Shiny Hood Ornament wide receivers. Long-time CHFF readers know the power of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, which tells us that WR is the most overvalued position in football, and maybe in all of North American sports.

The 2012 season was a perfect case study: Detroit super-freak wideout Calvin Johnson racked up a record 1,964 receiving yards and is high near the top of every fantasy football draft board. But it proved one of the most hollow performances in history outside the realm of imaginary fake football. The Lions won just four games and Johnson converted just 5 of 122 catches into touchdowns.

But this is a new season and the Lions once again bring a pretty talented group to the table heading into this Week 1 match-up with a Vikings team that punched above its statistical weight en route to a 10-6 playoff season last year.

The 2012 Vikings rode Adrian Peterson’s 2,000-yard season and an efficient defense that limited big pass plays (No. 10 in Defensive Real Passing YPA) and made opponents work hard for their points (No. 10 in Bendability).

Minnesota also went 2-0 against the Lions, outscoring Detroit 54-37. The Lions were actually 4-4 when their Week 10 loss at Minnesota launched them on a spiral of 8 straight defeats to close the season.

To make the leap from playoff team to Super Bowl contender, however, the Vikings are going to have to fix a passing game that ranked No. 22 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 30 in Real Passing YPA, despite Ponder’s solid sophomore season.

In addition, the Vikings’ pass defense, while limiting big plays, still ranked just No. 25 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 23 in Defensive Real QB Rating. Minnesota attempted to correct some of those flaws with some aggressive offseason moves that culminated in them making three selections in the first round of April’s draft (and trading top deep threat Percy Harvin to Seattle). Naturally, only time will tell if the Vikings made the right picks.

Detroit’s defense was actually worse than Minnesota’s last year: the Lions ranked No. 25 in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 25 in Defensive Real QB Rating and No. 21 on the Defensive Hog Index.

That last number is yet another indication of Detroit’s lack of focus: their defensive line is loaded with high draft picks as well as players who have performed at a high level in the NFL in past seasons. But they simply did not live up to the hype in 2012.

The Lions have the talent to beat Minnesota. But probably not the smarts and discipline to beat them up convincingly.

Pick:  Detroit 23, Minnesota 21

NOTE: Data below is year-end 2012

Vikings Pre-Game Analysis Lions
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
21.86 28

Quality Stats Power Rankings

12.95 9
0% 29

Quality Standings

40% 10
12.91 4

Scoreability

15.51 18
12.88 27

Bendability

15.68 13
5.66 24

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.21 6
6.59 20

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.78 24
72.24 22

Real Quarterback Rating

90.42 7
90.31 28

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

77.37 14
- 18.06 28

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

13.04 6
74.72 27

Offensive Passer Rating

94.09 8
98.39 26

Defensive Passer Rating

84.23 15
- 23.67 30

Passer Rating Differential

9.86 8
10.33 7

Offensive Hog Index

8.33 3
24.67 28

Defensive Hog Index

18.67 23
- 7.60 30

The Relativity Index

2.46 12
4130 14

Total Team Yards

4256 12
4614 28

Total Team Yards Allowed

4275 24
-484 27

Total Team Yards Differential

-19 16
118.78 1

Offensive Rusher Rating

92.34 12
94.20 19

Defensive Rusher Rating

91.83 17
24.58 4

Rusher Rating Differential

0.52 16
18 27

Total Turnovers

13 11

 

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

New England (-10) at Buffalo

The Patriots had quite an offseason, to say the least. First, they lost prolific slot receiver Wes Welker to Denver in free agency. Then TE Aaron Hernandez was released by the team after his arrest for (allegedly) being involved in as many as three murders in the Boston area over the past 18 months. Then starting DB Alfonso Dennard was arrested for a DUI in Lincoln, Nebraska—a violation of his parole if the charge is proven to be true.

Throw in the Tim Tebow circus that came to town during the pre-season, and things were anything but quiet and non-controversial for what’s usually the most stable franchise in the NFL.

It could be worse. The Patriots could be the Buffalo Bills.

How bad is it in upstate New York? Let’s put it this way: New England cast-off Tebow’s career Real Quarterback Rating is 81.2. Buffalo’s Real Quarterback Rating in 2012 was 76.7.

In the end, the Patriots are still the Patriots. They still have Tom Brady at QB. With TE Rob Gronkowski still recovering from multiple offseason surgeries, Brady begins the season with an entirely new receiving corps from the one that helped the Patriots roll up 557 points in 2012.

New England was a statistical juggernaut in 2012, with their only real weakness, once again, being a pass defense that ranked a horrid 27th in Defensive Real Passing YPA and a mediocre 17th in Defensive Passer Rating, courtesy of a late-season surge after the acquisition of DB Aqib Talib.

It was the pass defense’s collapse in the second half of the AFC title game last January that allowed Joe Flacco to rally the Ravens to a 28-13 win. Simply put: If the Patriots finally fix the pass defense problem, they have an excellent shot to be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII; if they don’t fix it, they’ll again be sitting home and watching the big game on TV.

As for the Bills, the Curse of Flutie continues to haunt them. Since Wade Phillips made the single dumbest coaching move in NFL history in 1999, the Bills have had as much stability at the QB position as Central American countries have had at the president position.

This offseason, Ryan Fitzpatrick became the latest starting QB to be shown the door, which was a fair enough move. But then first-round pick E.J. Manuel needed knee surgery during the pre-season and veteran Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion. Manuel gets the nod on Sunday against the Patriots.  

The rookie will be hard pressed to match the offensive output that Brady likely will generate against a Buffalo defense that ranked No. 32 (that would be last) on the Defensive Hog Index in 2012, and No. 28 in Bendability.

Buffalo’s pass defense wasn't as bad: it ranked No. 15 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 14 in Defensive Real Passing YPA—with that said, in two meetings last year, the Patriots averaged 44.5 PPG against the Bills.  The Patriots outscored the Bills 89-59 on their way to another 2-0 record against their AFC East rivals.

The Patriots are 18-1 against the Bills dating back to 2003 – yet for some reason Buffalo WR Steve Johnson felt the need to trash talk New England this week.

The Patriots have outscored the Bills by an average of 31.8-14.6 in those 19 games and have been even more dominant in Buffalo: an average score of 33.0-12.8 despite one loss.

At -10, the Patriots would have gone 11-7-1 ATS in those 19 games.

We’re wary of laying 10 points in a Week 1 game, especially with a team like New England that’s undergone such a dramatic offensive overhaul. We'd avoid this game if possible.

But we’ve seen little reason for confidence in the Bills historically or this year, little reason to believe that a rookie can keep pace with Brady and even an overhauled Patriots offense.

Pick:  New England 31, Buffalo 17

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Patriots Pre-Game Analysis Bills
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
10.68 5

Quality Stats Power Rankings

21.36 26
50% 5

Quality Standings

17% 22
13.89 9

Scoreability

16.73 24
18.57 3

Bendability

13.74 24
5.70 23

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.03 31
5.63 9

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.97 13
74.76 20

Real Quarterback Rating

64.11 30
67.51 5

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

75.72 11
7.25 10

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 11.61 26
82.67 18

Offensive Passer Rating

72.13 29
74.17 4

Defensive Passer Rating

84.60 16
8.50 9

Passer Rating Differential

- 12.47 24
16.00 17

Offensive Hog Index

19.67 22
18.00 21

Defensive Hog Index

12.67 10
4.36 9

The Relativity Index

- 3.42 22
4200 13

Total Team Yards

4019 16
3853 12

Total Team Yards Allowed

4753 29
347 10

Total Team Yards Differential

-734 30
102.38 4

Offensive Rusher Rating

86.38 19
76.76 7

Defensive Rusher Rating

78.58 9
25.62 3

Rusher Rating Differential

7.80 12
10 2

Total Turnovers

17 23

 

Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts

Oakland at Indianapolis (-9.5)

The 2012 Colts led an extremely charmed life in 2012 en route to an 11-5 playoff season, as a look at the Quality Stats comparison below reveals beyond the shadow of doubt.

No team punched above its statistical weight in 2012 more than Indianapolis, which ranked no better than 18th in any of our key Quality Stats and finished No. 27 in our overall Power Rankings.

Hell, even the pathetic Raiders, who finished 4-12 and extended their seemingly endless stay in NFL purgatory for a 10th consecutive season, ranked higher than 18th in one category last year—Real Passing YPA (No. 16).

Of course, the QB in Oakland last season was strong-armed veteran Carson Palmer, which helps to explain that solid ranking.

Palmer, however, was shipped off to Arizona, just two years after the Raiders gave Cincinnati a ton of high draft picks to acquire him.

The QB position in Oakland for this season, or at least here in Week 1, will be placed in the hands of Terrelle Pryor (70.8 passer rating in 2012).

Veteran Matt Flynn got a very nice contract from Seattle last offseason based on one great game subbing for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay at the end of the 2011 season, only to lose out on the Seahawks’ starting job in 2012 to Russell Wilson. He plays second fiddle again in Oakland, at least to start the season.

The Colts, of course, do not have a QB controversy. Andrew Luck is the man in Indy, though statistically, his rookie season was not all it was cracked up to be in the media, despite the team’s terrific won-lost record.

Luck and the Colts pulled off plenty of late-game heroics to win 11 games – which is all that matters at the end of the day.

But he produced a sub-par 76.5 passer rating and completed only 54.1 percent of his passes in 2012. In fact, Luck and the Colts were the most inaccurate team in football last year – a dishonor held by Tim Tebow’s Broncos in 2011.

The Colts’ ranked just 27th Offensive Passer Rating and 23rd in Real QB Rating. Those numbers need to improve in 2013, because Indy’s defense also scraped near the bottom of the barrel in most of our key Quality Stats last season, with Bendability (No. 18) the only defensive indicator in which Indy ranked inside the Top 20.

Still, this game matches a playoff team at home, with a promising young QB, facing a bad team with a QB situation in flux (and seemingly without a real long-term solution at the position on the current roster).

The large number gives us pause, as it always should. Indy won only two games by more than 10 points last year—against the utterly punchless Jaguars and against a playoff-bound Houston team that was resting most of its starters in Week 17.

Pick: Indianapolis 24, Oakland 17

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Raiders Pre-Game Analysis Colts
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
22.45 29

Quality Stats Power Rankings

13.68 11
0% 26

Quality Standings

100% 1
17.93 29

Scoreability

14.11 10
13.94 22

Bendability

17.15 8
5.41 26

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.28 14
6.68 21

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.03 27
68.31 25

Real Quarterback Rating

82.30 12
92.76 29

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

78.89 16
- 24.45 31

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

3.41 13
72.16 28

Offensive Passer Rating

86.50 15
102.48 29

Defensive Passer Rating

87.98 18
- 30.32 31

Passer Rating Differential

- 1.47 18
21.33 25

Offensive Hog Index

12.00 10
14.33 15

Defensive Hog Index

15.33 17
- 8.02 31

The Relativity Index

3.40 11
3717 24

Total Team Yards

3968 18
3836 11

Total Team Yards Allowed

4171 20
-119 20

Total Team Yards Differential

-203 22
101.08 5

Offensive Rusher Rating

99.27 7
82.93 11

Defensive Rusher Rating

85.79 12
18.15 7

Rusher Rating Differential

13.48 9
16 18

Total Turnovers

11 4

 

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Seattle (-3) at Carolina

Seattle fans are pumped and jacked about a possible second trip to the Super Bowl for the Seahawks franchise.

We feel their pumped and jackedness. In fact, we noted this week Six Reasons Why Seattle Can Win the Super Bowl.

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks seem to have all the tools necessary to make another deep playoff run, though WR Percy Harvin, Seattle’s high-profile offseason acquisition, will have to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List.

Still, Seattle should be a powerful force in 2013, coming off an 11-5 season during which it finished No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 3 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings and ranked in the Top 10 in more than 15 categories.

QB Russell Wilson (100 passer rating) may find it hard to duplicate his spectacular rookie season. But he doesn’t have to, either, as long as the Seahawks can run the ball (No. 9 in Offensive Rusher Rating) and play pass defense (No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating) the way they did in 2012.

If Seattle has a bit of an Achilles heel, it may be along the defensive front, where it finished a mediocre No. 17 on the Defensive Hog Index last season.

The Panthers, coming off a 7-9 season, are something of an enigma. They’re a statistically solid team in many areas, on both sides of the ball, but last year they were done in by a below-average pass defense (No. 23 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 20 in Defensive Real QB Rating) and team-wide inefficiency (No. 21 in Scoreability; No. 22 in Bendability).

Third-year QB Cam Newton has produced two statistically above-average seasons (86.2 passer rating last year; 84.5 in his rookie season), but if Carolina ever wants to be more than just a competitive, mediocre team, the time is now for the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 to step up and take his game to the next level.

Newton has also struggled in the clutch, as we highlighted a number of times this off-season.

The 2012 Seahawks were measurably better than the 2012 Panthers across the board. Of course, superiority one year does not always translate to superiority the next year in the NFL. But we suspect in this case it should.  

Seattle’s biggest problem may still be the dichotomy between its performances at home (8-0 last year) and on the road (3-5). They appeared to nip at that problem last year, with late road wins at Chicago and a dominating 50-point performance at Buffalo.

The Seahawks earned their first road win of 2012 with a 16-12 win at Carolina in Week 5, a time when Seattle was 2-2 and still finding its identity.

Pick: Seattle 28, Carolina 21

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Seahawks Pre-Game Analysis Panthers
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
6.23 1

Quality Stats Power Rankings

7.45 3
75% 3

Quality Standings

33% 14
13.66 8

Scoreability

13.61 7
18.18 5

Bendability

22.17 2
7.12 7

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.95 18
4.89 1

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.43 5
91.37 5

Real Quarterback Rating

85.03 10
63.53 2

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

64.19 4
27.84 3

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

20.84 4
104.30 4

Offensive Passer Rating

88.34 11
70.36 2

Defensive Passer Rating

74.57 5
33.94 2

Passer Rating Differential

13.77 5
15.00 13

Offensive Hog Index

15.67 16
12.67 10

Defensive Hog Index

6.00 2
9.45 4

The Relativity Index

10.08 3
4602 5

Total Team Yards

3572 26
3650 6

Total Team Yards Allowed

3157 1
952 2

Total Team Yards Differential

415 8
89.19 14

Offensive Rusher Rating

96.27 9
72.86 5

Defensive Rusher Rating

62.95 1
16.33 8

Rusher Rating Differential

33.32 1
15 16

Total Turnovers

13 11

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets

Tampa Bay (-3) at New York Jets

Nobody revels in the New York Jets comedy routine quite like the Cold, Hard Football Facts. It’s like watching the movie “Airplane” over and over. You know the same gags are coming, but they’re delivered with such oblivious detachment to reality that you can’t help but laugh.

Hey, even we need some mirth in an otherwise emotionless existence of crunching data.

Despite all of New York's struggles of 2012, which we chronicled the week, not to mention the infamous Mark Sanchez Butt Fumble still on a nearly endless loop on ESPN 40 weeks after the fact, something funny has happened on the way to the 2013 regular season.

Mark Sanchez and the Jets actually played fairly well – for what it’s worth – in the preseason.

The J-Men went 3-1, while Sanchez completed 66.7 percent of his passes with an impressive 8.7 YPA and a solid 90.0 passer rating – downright meteoric by his standards.

Rookie Geno Smith, meanwhile, struggled badly, completed 59.5 percent of his passes with 6.6 YPA and a truly Jets-esque 54.7 passer rating.

Naturally, Smith starts at quarterback in Week 1 against the Bucs, as Sanchez battles a preseason shoulder injury. Hell, Rex Ryan might have gone with him anyway, if his history of decision making is any guide.

Tampa Bay, of course, had its own struggles in 2012 under first-year coach Greg Schianao. But the 7-9 record and -5 point differential were vest improvements over the 4-12 and -207 (including franchise record 494 points allowed) in 2011.

In other words, we have two teams that are moving in opposite directions, or at least were in 2012: Tampa has a solid if unspectacular young QB, a new coach with power, a great young running back in Doug Martin and strong improvements up and down the stat sheet. The Bucs were No. 19 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings in 2012, after finishing No. 30 in 2011.

Oh, the Bucs also have former Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis to solidify the upstart defense. He should be ready to go after battling back from ACL surgery.

We’re fairly certain Smith never had to navigate his way over and around the likes of Revis Island while flying over Baylor and the rest of the defense-less Big 12.

However, the Bucs still have a long way to go defensively: they were No. 27 in Defensive Passer Rating last year and No. 29 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating.

Regardless, it’s easy to envision a debut for the rookie QB much like we saw out of Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden against the porous Eagles last year: he produced a 6.94 Real QB Rating that day, the single worst performance of the season according to our 2012 Real QB Rating Big Board.

Pick: Tampa Bay 23, N.Y. Jets 17

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Buccaneers Pre-Game Analysis Jets
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
21.32 25

Quality Stats Power Rankings

20.68 24
0% 28

Quality Standings

50% 7
18.48 30

Scoreability

17.64 28
14.34 20

Bendability

12.67 28
4.96 32

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.83 21
6.37 18

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.03 14
66.59 27

Real Quarterback Rating

65.14 29
89.11 27

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

82.68 21
- 22.52 30

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 17.54 27
76.26 25

Offensive Passer Rating

70.57 30
92.89 24

Defensive Passer Rating

90.68 21
- 16.63 27

Passer Rating Differential

- 20.11 29
15.33 15

Offensive Hog Index

20.33 24
17.00 20

Defensive Hog Index

10.33 3
- 4.88 23

The Relativity Index

- 7.12 29
3512 29

Total Team Yards

3750 22
3601 5

Total Team Yards Allowed

4032 17
-89 18

Total Team Yards Differential

-282 23
72.27 27

Offensive Rusher Rating

84.49 21
78.33 8

Defensive Rusher Rating

86.32 13
- 6.06 19

Rusher Rating Differential

- 1.82 18
12 6

Total Turnovers

17 23

 

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers

Tennessee at Pittsburgh (-7)

The Steelers fielded one of the best pass defenses in football in 2012: No. 2 in Defensive Real Passing YPA, No. 7 in Defensive Real QB Rating and No. 8 in Defensive Passer Rating. All those performances, specifically in terms of YPA, specialties of a Dick LeBeau defense.

Meanwhile, Big Ben Roethlisberger quietly produced a deadly effective season while healthy, with 26 TD, 8 INT and a nifty 97.0 passer rating in 13 games. Pittsburgh finished the season No. 9 in Real Quarterback Rating.

Those two factors are normally a formula for success. So what happened?

Not our newly developed Intelligence Index for CHFF Insiders which is so important in ranking teams ATS: the 2012 Steelers were No. 18 in Scoreabilty, No. 24 in Bendability and, as a result, No. 23 on the Intelligence Index.

Put another way: they were a mistake-prone team that played poor situational football.

Of course, Tennessee was even worse: No. 25 on the Intelligence Index.

Intelligence was only one of a tailgate shopping list worth of problems in Tennessee. The Titans ranked No. 20 or worse in 16 of 21 Quality Stats below, and finished the year No. 28 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings – well below Pittsburgh’s No. 11.

Pittsburgh was a talented team that played poorly; the Titans were a bad team that played poorly on top of it. To add injury to insult, Tennessee is battling injuries up and down the roster.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long looked at football from a macro, organizational and team level: well-managed teams consistently win in the NFL, more so than in any other sport.

There is no better example than the Pittsburgh Steelers: only twice since 1972 has the franchise posted back-to-back seasons of .500 or worse. We truly believe the team is headed for a rebound in 2013. They have the talent and the leadership to rebound, and even contend for the AFC title – as they usually do.

Look for them to kick off the season in strong style against the poorly managed and lightly talented Titans.

Pick: Pittsburgh 24, Tennessee 14

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Titans Pre-Game Analysis Steelers
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
14.18 13

Quality Stats Power Rankings

21.68 27
25% 18

Quality Standings

25% 20
14.53 14

Scoreability

16.95 26
14.98 17

Bendability

13.56 26
6.01 17

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.16 15
6.08 15

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.14 17
80.46 13

Real Quarterback Rating

72.32 21
71.40 9

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

83.69 22
9.06 8

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 11.37 25
82.67 19

Offensive Passer Rating

87.74 13
80.40 9

Defensive Passer Rating

85.76 17
2.27 14

Passer Rating Differential

1.98 15
14.67 12

Offensive Hog Index

23.33 27
10.33 3

Defensive Hog Index

21.67 24
- 0.49 16

The Relativity Index

- 6.43 28
3776 21

Total Team Yards

3899 19
3685 7

Total Team Yards Allowed

3906 15
91 13

Total Team Yards Differential

-7 15
92.96 10

Offensive Rusher Rating

71.11 28
99.47 26

Defensive Rusher Rating

111.52 32
- 6.51 20

Rusher Rating Differential

- 40.41 32
13 11

Total Turnovers

18 27

 

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams

Arizona at St. Louis (-5)

We reported on the Arizona Cardinals story a number of times this off-season: Super Bowl-caliber pass defense paired with worst quarterbacking in football. The Cardinals also fielded the worst offensive line in football and the worst rushing attack in football.

It added up to a 5-11 record.

Hard to believe at one point the Cardinals were 4-0 with wins over 2012 powerhouses Seattle and on the road at New England.

In the case of the Rams, the story is not a whole lot different. They were No. 9 on the Defensive Hog Index and No. 1 in the NFL at pressuring the passer, forcing a Negative Pass Play on 11.52 percent of attempts.

But they, too, stumbled through losing season (7-8-1) because of poor play at quarterback. In the case of Arizona, that poor play came from a collection of railroad bums and transients at the most important position in sports.

In the case of St. Louis, it came from former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. Three years into his career, at a time when other young quarterbacks are flourishing right out of the gate, the Rams continued to rank in the bottom half of the league in all the major measures of passing efficiency that win and lose games:

  • No. 17 in Offensive Passer Rating
  • No. 18 in Real Quarterback Rating
  • No. 21 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt

We don't pretend to be experts in everything. But we know this: you don't expend the No. 1 overall pick and a record rookie contract for 6.0 Real Passing YPA and an offense that has averaged 16.3 PPG in Brandford's three seasons.

His 2012 numbers were those of a team that’s slightly below average. And the Rams were slightly below average in 2012.

The Rams swept the season last year, brutalizing the Arizona offense in a 17-3 Week 5 win at home; and then running up a 31-17 win at Arizona in Week 12.

But of any unit on the field Sunday, the one most likely to improve is the Arizona offense, and the passing game in particular.

New Cardinals QB Carson Palmer isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. But he is a legit NFL journeyman quarterback with a solid 86.2 career passer rating. He even threw 22 TDs against 14 INTs last year with a bad Oakland team. That’s one more TD than Bradford last year and 11 more than Arizona’s entire cast of quarterbacks.

At the other end of the ledger, we believe Arizona’s defense has a chance to improve over the unit that last year was No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 2 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating.

That secondary unit lost longtime stalwart and Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson. But it now boasts two of the most exciting talents in football: third-year corner, return specialist and potential offensive threat Patrick Peterson, plus playmaking rookie Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger might have been the best defender in college football in 2011, and already impressed in preseason play.

This could be a dangerous defense.

The Cardinals had won eight straight in St. Louis before getting beat up last year. We’re not sure they have the chops to return to the win column with so much uncertainty still on the offense. But they should have the defense to keep this one more than close.

Pick: St. Louis 17, Arizona 16

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Cardinals Pre-Game Analysis Rams
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
17.91 18

Quality Stats Power Rankings

18.23 19
40% 12

Quality Standings

40% 11
15.23 16

Scoreability

14.13 11
15.03 16

Bendability

15.03 15
5.88 20

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.82 22
5.62 7

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.96 25
65.90 28

Real Quarterback Rating

77.48 17
69.12 6

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

80.67 18
- 3.21 19

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 3.20 18
74.78 26

Offensive Passer Rating

87.82 12
80.71 11

Defensive Passer Rating

92.98 25
- 5.93 21

Passer Rating Differential

- 5.16 20
25.33 30

Offensive Hog Index

20.00 23
12.67 10

Defensive Hog Index

12.00 8
1.13 14

The Relativity Index

- 1.17 19
3462 31

Total Team Yards

4313 11
3905 14

Total Team Yards Allowed

4171 20
-443 26

Total Team Yards Differential

142 11
85.74 20

Offensive Rusher Rating

69.12 32
66.63 4

Defensive Rusher Rating

97.16 23
19.11 6

Rusher Rating Differential

- 28.04 31
21 31

Total Turnovers

14 14

 

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Green Bay at San Francisco (-4.5)

Ravens-Broncos get marquee billing in Week 1. Falcons-Saints is so sexy is it belongs in a Real Girls of Panama City video. And Giants-Cowboys bring yet another Glamour Division showdown to primetime.

But Packers-49ers might be the most statistically arousing game of Week 1: two high-profile franchises with a rich history of big-game battles, each a defending division champ, each with legit Super Bowl dreams, and who met twice last year, including this past January in the division playoffs.

The 49ers carried that most recent battle 45-31, behind a thrilling 444-yard performance from Colin Kaepernick (263 passing yards and, more memorably, 181 rushing yards).

These two teams also met in Week 1 last year. San Francisco won that game as well, 30-22, this one at Green Bay, behind a highly effective performance from Alex Smith (20 of 26, 211, 2 TD, 0 INT, 125.6 passer rating, 106.4 Real QB Rating).

Green Bay was a sterling 12-4 in between the bookend losses to the 49ers.

The victor here in Week 1 enters the season with a true Quality Win under its belt out of the gate and an inside track on the playoffs. That San Francisco win in Week 1 last year was the difference between the No. 2 seed for the 49ers and a bye and the No. 3 seed and a wildcard game for the Packers.

These powerhouses combined to rank in the Top 10 in 32 of 42 Quality Stats highlighted below. The sole weaknesses in San Francisco last year were in scoring efficiency (No. 15 in Scoreability) and on the offensive line (No. 20 on the Offensive Hog Index).

The Packers certainly had more holes in their statistical line up, and we can see below why the 49ers were simply a better team, as evidenced by their 2-0 head-to-head record against the Pack last year.

Green Bay was mediocre to weak on both sides of the trenches (No. 15 on the Defensive Hog Index; No. 21 on the Offensive Hog Index), and poor all around in the running game:

  • No. 17 in Offensive Rusher Rating
  • No. 25 in Defensive Rusher Rating
  • No. 23 in Rusher Rating Differential

The Packers addressed those issues in the draft, heavily attacking linemen and running backs, with second-round pick and former Alabama standout RB Eddie Lacy most notably.

The 49ers largely ignored its weak offensive line in the off-season, instead devoting its drat attention to doubling down on defenders, free safety Eric Reid most notably. He’ll take the spot left open by Dashon Goldson, who now plays in Tampa.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long found that it pays to draft to address weaknesses, as the Packers did, and not to solidify existing strengths, as the 49ers did. So it will be interesting to see how those strategies unfold on the field here in 2013.

The San Francisco offensive line will be a unit to watch: if it struggles, as we suspect it might, it could hijack San Francisco’s very legit Super Bowl dreams.

The 49ers are still the stronger horse in this race until on-field evidence tells us otherwise. They torched the Packers for 956 yards of offense last season, outgaining Green Bay by nearly 300 total yards in two games.

Both teams will move the ball in this one. But Green Bay will sustain too many body blows in the ground game, and we don’t have assurances – certainly not yet – that the Packers have made enough improvements in the trenches to keep pace. But this test will certainly tell us a lot.

Pick: San Francisco 27, Green Bay 24

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Packers Pre-Game Analysis 49ers
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
13.50 10

Quality Stats Power Rankings

10.77 6
25% 17

Quality Standings

40% 13
15.43 17

Scoreability

12.75 3
14.98 18

Bendability

18.39 4
7.39 4

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.47 10
6.71 22

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

5.57 6
92.52 4

Real Quarterback Rating

78.31 16
88.42 25

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

69.78 8
4.10 12

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

8.54 9
99.97 5

Offensive Passer Rating

83.31 17
99.51 28

Defensive Passer Rating

73.06 3
0.46 17

Passer Rating Differential

10.25 7
8.00 2

Offensive Hog Index

16.67 19
16.00 19

Defensive Hog Index

12.33 9
4.38 8

The Relativity Index

8.92 5
4401 8

Total Team Yards

3561 27
4276 25

Total Team Yards Allowed

3703 8
125 12

Total Team Yards Differential

-142 21
96.76 8

Offensive Rusher Rating

109.36 3
92.35 18

Defensive Rusher Rating

87.03 14
4.41 13

Rusher Rating Differential

22.34 5
12 6

Total Turnovers

14 14

 

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)
The glitzy Week 1 primetime showdown continues in grand fashion with arguably the NFL’s most popular rivalry renewing Sunday night.

But cast aside any of those gritty old-school images of hard-hitting defenses battling it out for Sunday Glamour Division supremacy. The Giants and Cowboys were both offensive-led clubs in 2012.

The issue in Dallas is simple, and it’s not the one the media and frustrated fans harp on. Look at your Quality Stat profile, Cowboys fans. Tony Romo is not your problem. The problem, as it’s been for years, is a big-name but badly underachieving defense.

Dallas’s top statistical achievement last year was a No. 9 ranking in Offensive Passer Rating. Its worst performances were all on the defensive side of the ball: No. 27 in Defensive Real QB Rating, No. 29 Defensive Passer Rating and No. 30 on the Defensive Hog Index.

Does that look like a team whose troubles begin at quarterback? Of course not.

That defense has helped gum up a series of clutch performances by Romo and the offense, who led the NFL last season in comeback victories. 

So what did Jerry Jones do in the off-season: he drafted three straight offensive players before finally taking a defender in the middle of the third round (safety J.J. Wilcox). That was a poor strategy based upon statistical need.

He's putting his faith in long-time star defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who replaces Rob Ryan and has installed a 4-3 defense, the classic formation created by future Cowboys coach Tom Landry in the 1950s and that inspired the Doomsday Defense to its 1970s glory days.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde Giants had plenty of their own problems defending their title in 2012.

On the bright side, they were highly efficient (No. 4 in Scoreability; No. 6 in Bendability; No. 5 on the Intelligence Index) and extremely effective in the ground game on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by solid rankings up and down the Rusher Rating list (No. 4 in Differential).

But Eli Manning was merely mediocre: No. 12 in Real QB Rating, No. 14 in Offensive Passer Rating. And the defense was a sieve against the pass: No. 29 in Defensive Real Passing YPA.

Even the once mighty New York defensive front ranked a humble No. 22 on the Defensive Hog Index. Tom Coughlin can’t bear the thought of watching his formerly proud hogs get slaughtered. So the Giants went out and drafted three straight defensive linemen with their first three picks in the 2013 draft.  

Of course, the Giants produced one of their best defensive performances of the year in their Week 8 win in Dallas, forcing four Romo picks and registering four sacks. They also held the Cowboys to just 19 rushing yards on 17 carries in that game.

Even then, it was a tough victory the Giants: New York won, 29-24, after losing the season opener at home, 24-17.

We don’t know how this season will evolve quite yet, of course. We do know this: in 2012, the Giants were a smarter, more efficient team, they ranked more highly on both our Quality Stats Power Rankings and the Relativity Index; they are better coached and we believe drafted better based on need last year.

We envision an outcome similar to last year’s Week 1 opener, with the visiting team carrying the day in a tight NFC East clash.

Pick: N.Y. Giants 24, Dallas 23

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Giants Pre-Game Analysis Cowboys
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
23.36 31

Quality Stats Power Rankings

17.32 15
0% 31

Quality Standings

0% 25
17.41 27

Scoreability

11.96 2
12.21 29

Bendability

17.05 10
6.12 16

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.40 13
5.63 8

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.97 26
60.28 31

Real Quarterback Rating

90.22 8
78.80 15

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

88.59 26
- 18.52 29

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

1.63 16
67.19 31

Offensive Passer Rating

98.27 7
80.46 10

Defensive Passer Rating

92.86 23
- 13.28 26

Passer Rating Differential

5.41 11
25.00 28

Offensive Hog Index

19.00 21
21.67 24

Defensive Hog Index

26.33 29
- 6.21 27

The Relativity Index

3.93 10
3627 25

Total Team Yards

4558 6
4029 16

Total Team Yards Allowed

5157 32
-402 25

Total Team Yards Differential

-599 28
70.57 30

Offensive Rusher Rating

88.47 15
80.77 10

Defensive Rusher Rating

98.12 24
- 10.20 23

Rusher Rating Differential

- 9.65 22
28 32

Total Turnovers

11 4

 

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

Philadelphia at Washington (-3.5)

The Eagles enter the season as one of the great unknowns, under the leadership of former college wunderkind head coach Chip Kelly.

The Eagles, as we noted this off-season, were the dumbest team in football in 2012. We’re so intrigued by how that team will evolve here in 2013 that we’re covering the re-education of the Eagles each week, with the help of our Philly-based reporter Michael Quinn.

We do anticipate that Philadelphia will play much more smartly in the situational football factors that so often win and lose NFL games (and, more importantly, games ATS). They can't help but improve after Andy Reid checked out last season.

However, so much in football comes down to one player, the quarterback, in this case Michael Vick. Will he be more effective in Kelly’s rapid-fire offense, or will we see the faster pace simply accelerate all his costly interceptions and fumbles?

The Redskins, of course, find themselves in a much more comfortable position. They’re not only blessed by an exciting young quarterback, but a true statistical marvel: Robert Griffin III displayed all the explosive running skills that made Vick so much fun to watch in his prime. But he paired it with brilliantly efficient passing skills, the kind that always eluded Vick.

Thanks to Griffin's brilliant rookie campaign, the Redskins finished the season:

  • No. 3 in Offensive Passer Rating
  • No. 2 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt
  • No. 1 in Real Quarterback Rating

In other words, the best quarterback in football last year was not Brees, Rodgers, Brady or Manning. It was a rookie out of Baylor. We've never seen a rookie play the position of quarterback so effectively.

Both teams faced plenty of issues on pass defense and on the defensive front in 2012. The Redskins reached the playoffs despite a No. 18 ranking in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 26 on the Defensive Hog Index. Even Philly’s Nick Foles torched the Redskins for 345 yards in Washington’s 27-20 Week 16 win to complete the season sweep. The ‘Skins invested heavily in defenders in the draft and free agency to address those problems.

Week 1 games often come down to educated statistical instinct, as so much can change year to year. But here’s what we know:

We know RGIII was the best, most efficient quarterback in football last year. We know Vick has not been a particularly effective quarterback since 2010, and has been prone to critical turnovers: 33 of them of in the last two seasons (23 games).

Vick, meanwhile, is expected to master Kelly’s famed up-tempo timing system amid plenty of questions about his capabilities to be an elite NFL quarterback. Advantage at the only position in football that moves the market goes to the Redskins.

Pick: Washington 28, Philadelphia 23

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Eagles Pre-Game Analysis Redskins
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
14.68 14

Quality Stats Power Rankings

19.32 23
33% 16

Quality Standings

25% 21
16.40 21

Scoreability

16.06 19
17.09 9

Bendability

12.18 30
7.34 5

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

6.41 12
6.54 19

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.32 30
91.36 6

Real Quarterback Rating

76.66 18
81.07 19

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

87.98 24
10.29 7

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

- 11.32 24
99.36 6

Offensive Passer Rating

81.06 22
83.63 13

Defensive Passer Rating

98.77 27
15.73 4

Passer Rating Differential

- 17.72 28
11.00 8

Offensive Hog Index

4.67 1
22.33 26

Defensive Hog Index

18.33 22
0.52 15

The Relativity Index

- 5.51 25
4967 2

Total Team Yards

4522 7
5083 31

Total Team Yards Allowed

4504 27
-116 19

Total Team Yards Differential

18 14
88.24 17

Offensive Rusher Rating

110.82 2
88.10 15

Defensive Rusher Rating

108.83 31
0.14 17

Rusher Rating Differential

1.98 15
15 16

Total Turnovers

16 18

 

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Chargers

Houston (-4) at San Diego

A glitzy kickoff to the NFL season ends with a fizzle. Let's face it: the Chargers AND the Texans both proved a disappointment last season.

San Diego underwhelmed yet again, finishing 7-9 and ushering in (finally) the end of the Norv Turner Era. Enter new head coach Mike McCoy, best known as John Fox’s offensive sidekick in Carolina and Denver.

Houston clearly under-achieved, too. They began the year with plenty of preseason hype, five straight wins then an 11-1 record and all the statistical hallmarks of a Super Bowl contender.

Then they ran into a Foxboro buzzsaw and stumbled through an anti-climactic 2-4 record down the stretch, bookended by a pair of ugly losses in New England, by a combined score of 83-42.

Few teams went from champ to chump so quickly.

The Texans still finished the year in the top 10 in 16 of 21 Quality Stats below, and No. 5 overall in our Quality Stats Power Rankings.

Even with the year-end collapse, they were far superior to the Chargers, who finished No. 18 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings and trailing the Texans in 19 of those same 21 indicators below.

Houston’s main problems were the same two that hold back every team: Matt Schaub is a good quarterback. He’s not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

They attempted to solve that problem the way foolish teams always do, but drafting a Shiny Hood Ornament wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) in the first round.

Long-time CHFF readers know it was a wasted draft pick. He’s going to have little to no impact on Schaub’s ability to play quarterback, just like last year’s WR draft class had little to no impact on their teams and their quarterbacks, and just like almost every WR draft class that's come before. You can always not count on highly drafted WRs to make an impact.

In addition, the Texans did not possess the team-wide efficiency typical of the next-level teams: No. 14 in Scoreability, No. 15 in Bendability and No. 14 in the Intelligence Index.

Put another way: Gary Kubiak has a lot of talent. He needs to get more out of it.

For what it’s worth, the Texans have never beat the Chargers, with an 0-4 record (0-2 in San Diego). But the last meeting was in 2010, before Houston’s dramatic defensive overhaul under DC Wade Phillips.

And that defense creates what should be the big mismatch that turns the game in Houston's favor. The Chargers ranked No. 28 on the Offensive Hog Index in 2012, though they did address the issue in the off-season, including signing OT Max Starks from Pittsburgh.

The Texans, however, were No. 3 on the Defensive Hog Index and may be even better in 2013, if players like J.J. Watt continue to improve and Brian Cushing can stay healthy all year.

At the end of the day, Texans were a far superior team in 2012. They should be, again. The Chargers and QB Philip Rivers, meanwhile, are trying to climb out of their hole of futility armed only with a new coach, a new system and Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.

That doesn’t sound like a winning formula.

Pick: Houston 26, San Diego 21

Note: stats below are year-end 2012

Texans Pre-Game Analysis Chargers
Value Rank Quality Stat Value Rank
18.86 22

Quality Stats Power Rankings

17.68 17
0% 27

Quality Standings

50% 8
19.92 31

Scoreability

16.79 25
10.16 32

Bendability

17.56 6
5.93 19

Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.64 2
5.68 11

Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt

7.51 31
74.89 19

Real Quarterback Rating

99.75 3
84.05 23

Defensive Real Quarterback Rating

97.30 32
- 9.16 21

Real Quarterback Rating Differential

2.45 15
84.10 16

Offensive Passer Rating

105.88 3
90.89 22

Defensive Passer Rating

104.33 32
- 6.79 22

Passer Rating Differential

1.54 16
15.00 13

Offensive Hog Index

10.00 6
14.67 16

Defensive Hog Index

27.33 30
- 5.63 26

The Relativity Index

- 1.16 18
4325 10

Total Team Yards

4024 15
3709 9

Total Team Yards Allowed

4773 30
616 4

Total Team Yards Differential

-749 31
72.60 26

Offensive Rusher Rating

78.16 24
88.61 16

Defensive Rusher Rating

98.93 25
- 16.01 26

Rusher Rating Differential

- 20.77 27
17 23

Total Turnovers

12 6





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