NFL Week 15: Three Games that have Slugfest Potential

Week 15 of the NFL season brings many games that teams are fighting to stay alive in the playoff race or win a division title. Here are three games that should be great battles. These teams have a combination of the most on the line coupled with the closest parity. That combination of factors can generate some good battles.

AFC

Raiders vs Bengals (Sunday 1:00 ET, CBS, OH-CA-NV area)

In explosiveness differential these two teams sit next to each other with the Raiders tied at 24th and the Bengals at 23rd. In passing offense the teams are tied at sixth with 48 passing plays of 20+ yards. The league average is 43. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is sixth in completion percentage with 69.4%.  He is fifth in passing plays of 20+ yards with 48. Bengal receiver Tyler Boyd has the fourth most receptions of 20+ yards in the league with 20. In rushing offense the Bengals are ninth with 12 rushing plays of 20+ yards. Bengal running back Joe Mixon has 7 of those which is 9th most in the league. The raiders are 26th in the league with only 6 rushing plays of 20+ yards. Explosive play passing defense is not a strong point. Both these teams are tie for 24th with 50 passing plays of 20+ yards allowed. The league average is 43.  The teams are close in explosive rushing defense with the Bengals 22nd with 11 plays of 20+ yards allowed and the Raiders at 23rd with 12 plays allowed.

In turnovers the Bengals are 19th with a minus one differential. The Raiders are 22nd with a minus five differential. Both teams are close in giveaways and takeaways. They are around the league average in giveaways but below average in takeaways.

In field position differential the Raiders are 26th and the Bengals are 16th. Oakland is sixth in average opponent kickoff return with 21.1 yards. Cincinnati is 25th with 23.8 yards. Oakland is one of five teams to have given up a touchdown on a punt return.

In finishing drives differential the Bengals are 29th with a net -0.62 points per drive and the Raiders are 32nd with a net -0.96 points per drive. On offense the Bengals are 15th with an average 2.12 points per drive. The Raiders are 27th with an average 1.74 points per drive.  The Bengals score an average 23.6 points per game and the Raiders an average 18.8 points. On defense these teams are right next to each other with the Raiders at 30th with an average 2.70 points per drive allowed and the Bengals at 31st with an average 2.74 points per drive allowed. In points per game defense these two teams are dead last with the Raiders at 31st with 29.8 points per game allowed and the Bengals at 32nd with 30.5 points per game allowed. Oakland is better in red zone defense coming in at 16th with 58.8% touchdowns allowed. The Bengals are 26th with 68% touchdowns allowed. On offense the Bengals are very good in the red zone , scoring a touchdown on 75% of their trips. That is second best in the league.

In team play efficiency, as measured by Football Outsiders, the Bengals rank 24th in net overall efficiency and the Raiders rank 29th.  They are close in offense efficiency the the Bengals at 16th and the Raiders at 17th. Not far apart in defense efficiency with the Bengals at 28th and the Raiders at 31st.  Special teams sees the biggest discrepancy with the Bengals ranked 12th and the raiders ranked 29th.

This may not be a pretty game but it should be a close hard-fought contest as two closely matched teams square off with the Bengals fighting at the 1:00 games to keep their remote playoff possibility alive. The Bengals started the season at 4-1 but have lost their last five games. In November they hired former Browns coach Hue Jackson as a special assistant to the head coach. Marvin Lewis.

NFC and AFC

Giants vs Titans (Sunday 1:00 ET, CBS, NY-TN area)

From explosiveness differential both these teams are close. The Giants from an offensive positive and the Titans for a defensive positive. The Giants are tie for first in rushing explosiveness with Saquon Barkley having a record setting rookie year. The five teams in first with 15 rushing plays of 20+ yards are the Chiefs (lost Hunt – 7, Hill – 3), Chargers (Gordon – 9,  Ekeler – 3), Browns (Chubb – 8) Giants (Barkley -14) and Bears (Cohen – 6, Howard – 4). One more 20+ yard run by Barkley would put him at the most of any back over the last four seasons. The Titans are tie for fifth in rushing explosiveness defense allowing only 6 plays of 20+ yards. The league average is 9.75. Their pass defense is also pretty good at eighth allowing only 37 plays of 20 yards. The league average is 43 plays. Titan safety Kevin Byard had a First-Team All Pro year his 2017 season. He is ranked as a top ten safety by Pro Football Focus for 2018.  In passing offense Giant Odell Beckham has the eighth most receptions of 20+ yards in the league with 17.  According to Pro Football Focus Titan quarterback Marcus Mariotta has only attempted 25 deep passes this season, but he has completed 11 of them and has had five of them dropped. This gives him an adjusted completion percentage of 64% on deep passes, which is the best rate for any quarterback with 25 or more deep attempts in the past 13 seasons.

On turnover differential the Giants have the upper hand . The Giants are tie for twelfth  in the league with a plus 5 differential. The Titans are twentieth with a minus 4 differential. The Giants are tie for sixth on giveaways with only 14. The Titans are tie for 29th in takeaways with only 11. Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree leads all linebackers in interceptions with five and is fourth among linebackers in passes defensed with eight. Ogletree’s five interceptions is fourth across all positions.

In field position the Colts also have the upper hand. The Giants come in at 15th in field position differential to 9th for the Titans. Offensively the Colts and the Giants are close on starting field position.  However on defense the Giants are twelfth in opponent starting position to the Titans at 22nd.  The Titans have the worst average opponent yards per kickoff return at 29 yards to the Giants third best at 19.5 yards. On punts the Giants are seventh with opponents averaging 6.9 yards to the Titans at 28th averaging 10.1 yards. Tennessee is one of three teams that have given up a kickoff touchdown with a 102 yards run-back. They also are one of there teams to have a kickoff return for a touchdown by Darius Jennings. For offense the Titans have the best kickoff return average averaging 34.4 yards per return.

The Titans win in finishing drives. They are 14th in net points per drive at +0.07 points to the Giants who are 20th with -0.21. On offense the Giants are 18th with +2.02 points per drive and the Titans are 23rd with +1.85 points per drive. On defense the Titans are 5th allowing only 1.78 points per drive. The Giants are 24th allowing 2.23 points per drive. The Titans are 4th in allowing only 19.5 points per game to the Giants at 23rd allowing 25.5 points per game. On offense the Giants are 17th getting 23.6 points per game to the Titans at 27th getting 19.3 points per game.

Overall Team efficiency as measured by Football Outsiders looks at every play and determines a success success value. Based on their calculations the Giants are 14th in overall efficiency, 14th in offensive efficiency, 20th in defensive efficiency and 3rd in special teams efficiency.  The Titans are 21st in overall efficiency, 23rd in offensive efficiency, 17th in defensive efficiency and 15th in special teams efficiency.

Based on these measures and a formula weighting each factor the two teams are pretty close. The Giants come in slightly ahead with a rank of 18th and the Titans at 22nd. It should be a real battle as the two teams battle to keep their playoff hopes alive. With six seeds getting in the playoffs the Titans currently sit at the ninth seed in the AFC and the Giants at the 12th seed in the NFC.

Colts vs Cowboys (Sunday 1:00 ET, Fox, Large portion Southern US)

In net explosiveness these teams rank 11th (Cowboys) and 12th (Colts). The Colts are a far more explosive team in passing ranking 17th with 41 passing plays of 20+ yards. Colt receiver T.Y. Hilton is ninth in the league for receptions of 20+ yards with 16. The Cowboys rank 29th with 33 passing plays of 20+ yards. The league average is 43 plays. In rushing explosiveness the Cowboys rank 12th with 11 plays of 20+ yards. Ezekiel Elliot has 10 of those and is tie for second in the league in rushing plays of 20+ yards.  The Colts are 22nd in rushing plays of 20+ yards with 7. Defense on pass explosiveness these teams are close and near the top. The Cowboys rank 5th allowing 33 plays of 20+ yards and the Colts rank 7th allowing 35 plays. The league average is 43 plays. Dallas linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is second among linebackers in solo tackles and eigth in passes defended. According to Pro Football Focus Cowboy Byron Jones has allowed a 50% catch rate, and on seven of his 23 catches allowed, he’s made a tackle for a stop. That 65.2% success rate is the best rate for all cornerbacks this year. Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leads all linebackers in solo tackles, assisted tackles and total tackles. Leonard also has seven sacks and four forced fumbles on the season. In explosive run defense the Cowboys rank fifth with six rushing plays of 20+ yards allowed. The Colts rank 12th with nine plays allowed.

In turnover differential the teams rank 17th (Colts) and 18thy (Cowboys)with plus one and zero differentials respectively. The Colts are eighth in the league with 21 takeaways. The Cowboys are 18th in the league with 15 takeaways. The league average is 18. In giveaways the Colts rank 24th in the league with 20 giveaways and the Cowboys rank 9th with 15 giveaways. The league average is 18. Quarterback Andrew Luck is tied for second in the league for most interceptions with 13. He trails only rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

In field position the Colts rank 9th (net LOS 1.45 yards) and Dallas ranks 31st (net LOS -3.14 yards). On offense the Colts on average start at the 29.4 yard line while the Cowboys start at the 27 yard line. On average the Colt’s opponents start at the 27.9 yard line while the Cowboy’s opponents start at the 30.2 yard line. The Colts are second in the league in covering punts with an average opponent return of just 4.8 yards.

In finishing drives differential the Colts are at ninth averaging 0.4 net points per drive and the Cowboys at twelfth averaging 0.27 net points per drive.  On offense the Colts rank eighth averaging 2.37 points per drive and the Cowboys rank 16th averaging 2.07 points per drive. On defense the Cowboys rank sixth giving up 1.79 points per drive and the Colts rank twelfth giving up 1.97 points per drive. Dallas is second in the league in defense for points per game giving up only 18.9 points per game. Indianapolis  is 15th giving up 23.1 points per game. On offense Indianapolis is 8th scoring 26.8 points per game. Dallas is 23rd scoring 21.2 points per game.

In overall net efficiency the Colts rank 11th, in offensive efficiency 13th, in defensive efficiency 11th and for special teams 13th. For Dallas they rank overall at 17th, offense at 25th, defense at 7th and special teams at 20th.

Summing up all factors weighted by importance the Colts come in at sixth with a sum of 21.75. The Cowboys come in 12th with a sum 0f 19.1. Teams run from the Chiefs summing to 30.1 to the Jets summing to 5.9. The Colts come into this game as the 7th seed in the AFC just one team out of the playoffs. The Cowboys are the fourth seed in the NFC currently leading the NFC East. If the Cowboys beat the Colts the Cowboys would win the NFC East division title and a playoff spot. The Colts are two games behind the Texans in the NFC South with three games left. So the Colts can still win the division. If not they are tie with the sixth seed Ravens for the last wildcard spot. However the Ravens currently win the tiebreaker.

The television audience should get to see some good December football at the early games on Sunday. At macmillandictionary.com the definitions given for slugfest are

  1. an occasion or competition in which you have to compete or fight very hard in order to win.
  2. in baseball and boxing, a hard contest between opponents who are evenly matched.
  3. a long and hard contest between two equal opponents in which an easy victory is impossible.

These games have slugfest potential.  Enjoy the week 15 games!

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