By Erik Frenz
Cold, Hard Football Facts Stat Masher
Tired of circling the same old storyline-based games on the NFL schedule every year? Join the Cold, Hard Football Facts statistical rebellion.
We won't stand for the prejudices beset by others over which games are important to watch, but instead we fight for the rights of the games that really matter. The games that pit statistical juggernauts against one another in a clash where a dominant force meets immovable object.
Only the most efficient offenses and potent defenses are worthy of our list of five games we just can't miss in the first half of the 2011 season. Beyond that? Well, by then we'll have titillating new indicators to study and admire. Here's a look at what the immediate future holds.
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons (Week 2)
This game is the David Bowie of the 2011 NFL calendar. It crosses so many genres of stats that it is almost hard to differentiate what's what. To add to the confusion, while Bowie's ch-ch-ch-changes happened over the course of a digestible four decades, the cross-stat chaos of Eagles-Falcons will happen in a crash-course 60-minute feast the likes of which we see only on the Pigskin High Holidays
Think one team will dominate the other? Get real.
The Eagles ranked No. 7 in Scoreabillity
, making it one of the most efficient offenses in football. But the Falcons and their defense ranked No. 5 in Bendability
. While Atlanta excelled at bending but not breaking, Philadelphia excelled at breaking defenses like a twig.
We go from punk rock to glam rock with this next one: Philly's defense forced Negative Pass Plays on 10.61 percent of dropbacks
in 2010 (fifth), while Atlanta's offense suffered a Negative Pass Play on just 5.33 percent of dropbacks
. Only New England was better.
For the sake of consistency, we'll call this next one goth, because it could get ugly. Atlanta boasted laser-like efficiency last year, No. 2 in Scoreability
, while Philadelphia looked like a shadow man as they broke down in the Bendability Index
, a mere 25th league-wide.
It's still too early to make a prediction, but this could be the battle that causes the game to slip away for Philadelphia.
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (Week 2)
On paper, this game pits a 12-4 playoff team against an 8-8 also-ran. Beneath the surface, though, Tennessee was one of the most efficient scoring offenses in the league last year. They ranked third in Scoreability
, traveling just 95 yards to score the equivalent of a touchdown.
The Ravens, meanwhile, ranked third in Bendability
. They forced opponents to march 18.87 Yards Per Point Scored
, or the equivalent of 132 yards for seven total points.
Dominant force, meet immovable object.
Beyond that, Tennessee was average or below average in most every other Quality Stat, while Baltimore was a top 10 and even top 5 team in all our indicators, including No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating (76.34). If Jake Locker is Tennessee's starter in Week 2, he could end up feeling like a nerdy freshmen, shoved into a locker by the big bully Baltimore.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers (Week 3 at Chicago; Week 16 at Green Bay)
Anyone can appreciate the tradition of this great rivarly. Anyone who's anyone, though, knows that these two games promise to be two of the great statistical clashes of the 2011 season.
Once again, we turn our attention to the meat and potatoes of winning football: Offensive Passer Rating
and Defensive Passer Rating
. Aaron Rodgers could be just the type of Cheesehead to set a perfect bear trap, as he posted the third-highest passer rating in the league last year (101.2).
But Chicago's defense was a tough as a two-dollar steak with the NFL's third-best Defensive Passer rating (74.39). The Bears feasted on anything within paw's reach, including Rodgers himself in the NFC title game: after the opening drive, which gave Green Bay a 7-0 lead, the future Super Bowl MVP completed just 13 of 26 passses for 168 yards, 0 TD and 2 INT. His final passer rating was a humble and un-Rodgers-esque 55.4.
You can't have a great steak without a perfect side dish, though. What goest better with steak than pork? (Yes, we double up our meats.) And Packers-Bears offers one great porcine mismatch that's clearly in Green Bay's favor.
Green Bay's Defensive Hogs ranked first in Negative Pass Plays
(12.22%) last year while Chicago's Offensive Hogs were a tender group, dead last on our Offensive Hog Index
and dead last in Negative Pass Plays
(14.59%). It could be a very long day for Chicago's offensive linemen, and subsequently Jay Cutler, if Green Bay's defensive front seven gets off to a hot start.
Green Bay's DL certainly beat up Chicago's OL last year: the Packers forced 17 Negative Pass Plays (11 sacks, 6 INT) in three games in 2010.
The fact that both matches are essential to the season outlook for both teams makes these matches even more juicy.
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets (Week 7)
We take this break from our regular Quality Stat broadcast to inform you of the off-hand volume stat: This game pits San Diego's No. 1 total offense of 2010 (395.6 YPG) vs. New York's No. 3 total defense (291.5 YPG). That showdown is sure to draw headlines from three- and four-letter networks across the nation.
But the only four letters we care about are "CHFF." With that, we now return you to our regularly-scheduled programming of efficiency stats over volume.
We can start by talking about San Diego's No. 1-ranked D-Hogs against New York's No. 6-ranked O-Hogs, and the more specific battle of the trenches. The Jets ranked No. 8 rushing the ball (4.45 YPA
) while the Chargers were No.5 against the run (3.71 YPA
New York was also No. 6 in Defensive Passer Rating (77.05
) while San Diego's prolific passer Philip Rivers had the second highest passer rating in the NFL (101.8).
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 8)
Whenever these two teams get together, it's a heavyweight battle. Both teams have been contenders for the AFC crown pretty much every year for the past decade and have won seven of the past 10 conference titles.
The tale of the tape helps shed a little light on the magnitude of the match-up.
Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to exceed a 110.0 passer rating twice in his career, posting 111.0 last year, the fifth-best single-season mark in history. He posted a 117.2 rating in 2007, the No. 2 performance of all time. The league's leader in passer rating goes up against a Pittsburgh unit that was No. 2 last year in Defensive Passer Rating (73.78
But there might be an even better statistical clash in the trenches when these two teams meet on the eve of Halloween: Pittsburgh's No. 1 D-Hogs
vs. New England's No. 1 O-Hogs
In their most recent meeting, last year at Pittsburgh, the Patriots pummeled the Steelers, 39-26, and New England's Offensive Hogs ruled the pig pen: New England averaged 4.29 YPA on the ground against the historically stout Pittsburgh run defense (3.01 YPA
), converted 30 percent of third downs (3 of 10) , and did not suffer a single Negative Pass Play in 43 attempts. Not one. A donut. We love donuts!
These teams are not just powerful, they're extraordinarily efficient: Pittsburgh ranked second in the league in Bendability
last year, while New England was No. 1 in Scoreability
This one is a heavyweight match-up that could go either way: New England dominated the AFC, and the Steelers, in the regular season last year, but Pittsburgh eventually earned the conference crown.
Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter @erikfrenz.