By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts channeler
The Cold, Hard Football Facts spoke relatively loudly and clearly last week.
Using only our own Quality Stats as a guide, we correctly picked winners in five out of seven games last week and went 4-3 vs. the spread. Not great, but better than our opening week, when 2006 numbers proved to be most inaccurate and we didn't even come close to matching our own pet monkey
Our indicators get stronger as the year goes on, and so will our win-loss record. For the season, we're 6-8 straight up, a woeful 5-9 vs. the spread and 6-8 in over/under.
On to the Week 3 Friday Beer Run, with some big games that didn't jump out at you in August but look awfully important here in September. We also include one game so historically one-sided, we just had to see how it looks all stacked up on paper ... and pad our own stats in the process.
SAN DIEGO at GREEN BAY
The Chargers have already gone up against two of the best secondaries in the league in Chicago (No. 2 in defensive passer rating for 2006) and New England (No. 3), now they get Green Bay (8th in 2006, 4th in 2007).
San Diego has been unable to pass ... and unable to run. The Chargers have the league's worst run offense so far (2.3 YPA). They've scored 14 points in each of their first two games – while the Packers have allowed 13 points in both of their games.
The Packers, meanwhile, have been one of the most efficient teams in football, ranking No. 7 in our Bendability Index and No. 5 in our Scoreability Index. That goes well for the future because it means the Packers are generally playing smart, all-round football. Green Bay's Defensive Hogs have not been so hot so far (tied for 27th), so LaDainian Tomlinson may finally get his motor running.
This game is a true litmus test for both teams. The Packers are as good as they've looked in their first two games, or the Chargers are better than they appeared in their humiliating loss to New England last week.
So, can the Packers score more than 14 points? At home, against San Diego's No. 26 secondary (95.0 opposing passer rating), we're saying the efficient Packers can pull off the upset.
The score: Green Bay 16, San Diego 14
INDIANAPOLIS at HOUSTON
This one shapes up as a no-brainer despite Houston's remarkable numbers in our Quality Stats so far this season.
Although the Texans have looked good in all areas, their No. 1 strength has been Big Plays – they've made 10 so far, and allowed just four, putting them in a tie for first in our Big Play Index
. However, Andre "Big Play" Johnson is out of the mix with an injury, and the Colts don't exactly turn the ball over too much (1 this year). So don't expect Houston's Big Play trend to continue Sunday.
Houston's offensive line (No. 6 Offensive Hog vs. Colts No. 25 Defensive Hog) should be able to put some pressure on Peyton Manning, or at least keep him from shredding the Texans the way he has done in past years. But the Houston secondary is merely mediocre, as evidenced by its 81.1 Defensive Passer Rating (15th).
The absence of Johnson is a killer for the Texans – he represented 37.8 of their passing offense in 2006 and 57.9 percent of it so far in 2007.
And check out this obscurity – the Colts, coming off back-to-back wins while scoring 21+ points and playing as a road favorite the next week, are 10-0 in the last three seasons.
The final score: Indianapolis 26, Houston 13
JACKSONVILLE at DENVER
The Cold, Hard Football Facts still can't quite believe that the Jaguars have looked so terrible in the trenches this season – 26th in the Offensive Hog Index, 24th in Defensive Hog Index – after top-10 finishes in both categories last year.
But based on this year's numbers, the Broncos should be able to absolutely manhandle the Jaggies, whose only good offensive Quality Stat (No. 9 in Passing Yards Per Attempt) is nullified by Denver's No. 1 rank in Defensive Passer Rating.
The Broncos are given only the home-field edge of three points in this one despite their 2-0 record. The spread seems low considering Jacksonville's struggles. Both of these teams are very innefficient on offense right now, as measured by their rank in our Scoreability Index (Denver No. 27; Jax No. 30), and you expect quality teams to break out of that mix. (For the record, offensive ineffeciency seems to a be a problem that routinely plagues the Broncos ... they always crank out a ton of yards, but aren't always effective at turning those yards in to points.)
But the Broncos are 35-8 as a home favorite in September since 1984, and the Cold, Hard Football Facts like them to make it 36-8.
The final score: Denver 23, Jacksonville 17.
DALLAS at CHICAGO
The over/under in this one looks like as easy a bet as there is. Chicago's offense has been terrible, but Dallas' defense couldn't stop a watch in the first two weeks, surrendering 55 points to the offensive jugger-nots of the Giants and Dolphins. Plus, both teams are winning the Big Play battle. Big Plays usually mean that points can come unexpectedly in bunches, both from the offense and the defense.
And don't forget, the Bears were No. 2 in scoring last year, while Dallas was No. 4.
Combine all these factors and we expect that scoring points isn't going to be a huge problem.
The question is, who will be doing it?
Dallas looks better through our Quality Stats so far. But we'll take one last mulligan back to 2006, when the Bears dominated many of our Quality Stats. Add the fact that Chicago is 21-4 as a home favorite over the past two seasons, plus the early part of 2007, and it's a lukewarm endorsement of the Bears.
The final score: Chicago 27, Dallas 23.
SAN FRANCISCO at PITTSBURGH
The San Francisco offense has been downright terrible in the first two weeks (No. 31 in the Offensive Hog Index, No. 32 ini Passing Yards Per Attempt).
But its defense has been mostly up to the task.
Unfortunately for the 2-0 Niners, Pittsburgh has looked great in all phases of the game. Neither team has played particularly good opponents (1-7 combined record). But San Francisco has been sweating out narrow wins over bad teams. Pittsburgh has been beating teams with a crowbar, outscoring its first two opponents by a 6-to-1 margin (60-10).
San Francisco's offensive line has no business even being in the same room with the Steeler defensive front that ranks No. 2 in our Defensive Hog Index. Memories of 2006, when San Francisco was the only team in football to surrender more than 400 points (412 for those of you keeping score at home), will re-emerge this weekend as the Steelers run roughshod over the Niners and quietly keep pace as one of the elite contenders in the almighty AFC.
The final score: Pittsburgh 27, San Francisco 13
BUFFALO at NEW ENGLAND
We include this game not because it's hard to pick a winner from the early-season statistical murk, but because the Patriots are 16½-point favorites this early in a season and we wanted to see what the potential bloodbath looks like on paper.
Unofficially, it's the biggest September spread since the Eagles were favored over Houston by 19½ in 2002 (Houston covered, losing 35-17).
We also believe it's the largest amount the Patriots have ever been favored by in a game, remarkable considering their success. (For a great historical database of NFL spreads, check out atsdatabase.com
The big disparity comes in the trenches, where the Patriots have been the best overall (No. 1 in the Defensive Hog Index, No. 2 in the Offensive Hog Index) and the Bills have been the worst (No. 32 in Defensive Hog Index, No. 28 in Offensive Hog Index).
So the Patriots will most likely dominate the clock – good for their chances of winning, but possibly troubling for their chances of covering: grinding out long drives doesn't always equate with a gaudy number of the scoreboard.
Still, New England has already covered one double-digit spread (at the Jets) and ripped a supposedly elite team to shreds in the form of the Chargers. If the Patriots can keep Buffalo's explosive Lee Evans and the Bills' return game in check they'll cover their third straight game of the season.
The final score: Patriots 31, Bills 13