By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts statistical impaler
Halloween is just over a week away.
But fright night came early to football fans this year, as the specter of a season of nightmarish statistical storylines reared its blood-soaked fangs in Week 7 of the 2012 NFL season.
Call the campaign Vlad the Statistical Impaler, as tried and true formulas for NFL success have been skewered on a sharpened wooden pole of bizarre numerical oddities.
Even the wise guys in Vegas are not immune, overrun to the point of embarrassment by a firestorm of statistically anomalous outcomes in 2012.
Here are 12 statistical storylines from Week 7 that should frighten football fans who covet tried and true measures of consistent NFL excellence.
1. The NFL’s Rabid Underdogs
Consider the rabid condition of those cute little underdogs, who historically beat the spread about 52 percent of the time.
Both those lovable doggies look more like Cujo here in 2012, especially in the NFC, where they are on a record 35-7-2 (.833) tear against the spread.
The wise guys in Vegas are actually largely overrated if you judge them by the ability to nail the margin of victory. In fact they rarely if ever do it, even if you give them the benefit of the doubt with those half-point spreads.
In fact, they’ve nailed the margin only three times all year. Hell, we nailed the final margin of victory twice this week alone, with our real and spectacular picks.
But nailing the margin is NOT their business.
No, the wise guys earn their keep by the fact that underdogs consistently cover the spread about 52 percent of the time year after year, over the course of decades.
It's an awe-inspiring display of book-making acumen.
But clearly, even the wise guys in Vegas, so consistently excellent through the years, are unable to contain the rabid underdogs of the 2012 season
Underdogs overall are 62-39-3 ATS in 2012.
But those NFC underdogs, as mentioned, are really the ones doing the damage: an incredible 35-7-2 (.833) against the spread this year, far and away an unprecedented streak of beating the line.
We tapped Spreadapedia, our amazing point-spread database at CHFF Insider, for the underdog record ATS of each conference in the Live Ball Era (since 1978).
The current record for best performance by underdogs was set by the AFC in 1980, when 'dogs went 54-32-4 ATS (.628).
It looks like NFC underdogs here in 2012 will easily be the most successful 'dogs in history – which tells us that even the wise guys in Vegas are way off their statistical game this year.
You can see the list of underdog records since 1978 later today at CHFF Insider.
2. Tennessee Titans: The Stay-Puft Marshallow Man that haunts the NFL
The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man haunted the streets of Gotham back in the 1980s, saved only by a heroic team of Ghostbusters.
The Tennessee Titans are the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of the 2012 season: they are soft and mushy as sh*t – but still something to fear.
The Titans are dead last in the NFL in both scoring defense (238) and scoring differential (-89).
In fact, they are on pace to give up more points than any team in NFL history (544).
The current record is held by the 1981 Colts, who gave up 533 points.
Those Colts had the decency to go 2-14.
But not these 2012 Titans.
Despite this soft statistical underbelly, the Titans just beat the Bills, 35-34, with aging back-up Matt Hasselbeck leading the offense.
Tennessee is now 3-4 and, even with perhaps the worst defense in history, the Titans still firmly entrenched in the AFC wildcard chase.
Here’s the scariest thought: the New England Patriots are +144 points better than the Titans in scoring differential (+54 vs. -89) – and just 1 game better in standings.
3. New England Patriots: the once-mythic power that nobody fears
The New England Patriots this year are the anti-Titans, or the washed out old Roman Empire on its wobbly last legs.
The Patriots are supposed to be scary. Except, you know, nobody is afraid of them anymore.
The team that boasts Stevan Ridley in the backfield is much like Boo Radley of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame: everybody’s afraid of him until they get up close and find that he’s a big-old softie.
Hell, the Patriots defense is so sweet it will help carry you right into the end zone.
The Jets had heard all the stories about the Big Bad Patriots, but still went toe to toe in a 29-26 overtime loss on Sunday despite a handicapped, JV offense led by one of the NFL’s most inept quarterbacks.
But New York QB Mark Sanchez typically enjoys his best days against the statistical welcoming committee called the Patriots secondary, and this week was no exception.
He became the second straight second-rate QB to shred the inviting Patriots pass defense, throwing for 328 yards, the fourth most in his career.
He led the Jets to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, to turn a 23-13 deficit into a 26-23 advantage with less than two minutes to play.
The Patriots are still No. 1 in the NFL in scoring offense (31.0 PPG) and still have a very good shot of scoring 500 points for a record-setting fourth time in franchise history.
Only 10 teams have scored 500 points in a season even once. And at +54 in scoring differential, the Patriots are second in the AFC behind the mighty Texans.
New England is also now all alone atop the AFC East – at least for one week. But they still have not bested a Quality Opponent since way back in Week 15 2010, when they outlasted back-up QB Matt Flynn and the Packers, 31-27.
And with a 99.2 Defensive Passer Rating, the once-scary Patriots are still on pace to field the worst pass defense in franchise history. It's not a formula to compete in the end.
4. The Headless Horseman Rides Again
The New Orleans Saints are the Headless Horseman of the 2012 NFL season. The galloping Hessian of American literary lore was decapitated by a Revolutionary War cannonball.
The galloping offensive machine of modern NFL lore was decapitated by trigger-happy Gridiron Godfather Roger Goodell, who suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the entire season.
The results have been disastrous for New Orleans. The Coachless Horsemen were 1-4 heading into Week 7, before salvaging a 35-28 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Even with the touchdown margin, it was an edge-of-the seat gallop through the valley of near-death for the Saints.
In fact, New Orleans twice fought off execution.
The Bucs enjoyed a first and goal at the New Orleans 1 midway through the third quarter, but failed to punch the ball in. Credit the Saints for the great goal-line stand.
But it seemed more a case of three lame, unimaginative and poorly executed dive plays by LeGarrette Blount that netted 0 yards and did in the Tampa drive.
The drive ended when Josh Freeman was sacked for a loss of 4 on fourth and 1 at the 1.
Then in the final moments of the game, Freeman and the Buccaneers drove from their own 21 to the New Orleans 9 and appeared to knot the game (pending the extra point) with a Mike Williams TD catch in the back of the end zone as time expired.
But officials ruled, correctly, that Williams had stepped out of the back of the end zone. Football Headless Horsemen gallop on, with their second straight win after an 0-4 start.
5. Robert Griffin III Taunts The Statistical Gods and Odds
Rookie quarterbacks aren’t supposed to put up hugely efficient numbers in the NFL. But the Redskins entered Week 7 No. 1 in the NFL in Real QB Rating, thanks to Griffin’s ability to slice through defenses with his highly accurate arm and highly mobile legs.
Rookie RGIII and the Redskins are still No. 1in Real QB Rating today – right ahead of all the elite QBs you’d expect to find on the list:
- No. 2 – Peyton Manning and the Broncos (97.3)
- No. 3 – Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (97.2)
- No. 4 – Tom Brady and the Patriots (93.2)
- No. 5 – Matt Ryan and the Falcons (92.3)
- No. 6 – Drew Brees and the Saints (91.9)
- No. 7 – Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (91.2)
- No. 8 – Eli Manning and the Giants (89.4)
That’s like a who’s who of contemporary quarterbacks, including every single active Super Bowl winner. In fact, those guys have won 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls and all nine Super Bowls since 2003.
They’ve also won seven of the last 10 NFL MVP awards, including five straight.
Yet rookie RG III is better than all of them this year in Real QB Rating. Even if we look only at passing, the Redskins are still pretty damn good: No. 3 league-wide in Offensive Passer Rating.
But here’s the scary part for Redskins fans: teams that dominate Real QB Rating are supposed to dominate on the scoreboard and in the standings.
Teams better in Real QB Rating went 223-33 (.871) in 2011, the year we introduced the indicator, and are 87-16 (.845) today, according to our Correlation to Victory tables at CHFF Insider.
The Redskins, however, are a mere 3-4, defying the statistical odds, in the wake of their 27-23 loss at the N.Y. Giants on Sunday.
Griffin was near-brilliant, sparking what appeared to be a game-winning drive with several great plays and capping it with a 30-yard TD toss to Santana Moss with just 98 seconds to play.
But then Eli Manning needed just two plays to connect with Victor Cruz for a 77-yard TD that won the game for the Giants.
The problem in Washington is that defense: the Redskins have surrendered 200 points through seven games (30th). That’s 28.6 PPG, for those of you keeping score at home.
That puts this team on pace to give up 457 points, which would be the most in franchise history.
The Redskins have also surrendered 2,383 yards through the air, most in the NFL, and on pace to allow 5,447 yards. No team has ever allowed 5,000 yards through the air in one season, though the Packers and Patriots each came close last year.
Right now, the Redskins are wasting the talent of the most statistically proficient quarterback in football.
6. The NFL’s Statistical Berserker
The Vikings in their heyday were known as the most intimidating team in Europe – we’re talking the Leif Erickson Vikings, not the Bud Grant Vikings.
The Vikings would invade coastal European towns with a first-wave of shock troops called berserkers.
Yes, the wild-eyed berserkers of Norsemen lore were the same folks who gave us the term “berserk.”
Hell, they even inspired the underground metal classic “Berserker,” made semi-famous in “Clerks.”
The Minnesota Vikings carried on the tradition of statistical shock troops Sunday, pillaging a village of victory in unorthodox style.
The Vikings netted just 43 passing yards against the Cardinals Sunday – and won 21-14.
Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder produced one of the scariest statlines by a winning quarterback in modern NFL history: 8 of 17 (47.1%), 58 yards, 3.4 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT, 35.5 rating.
Ponder’s rating was the lowest in a winning performance this year and the lowest since his opponent Sunday – Arizona’s John Skelton – helped the Cardinals beat the Rams 23-20 last November despite a 30.0 rating.
Ponder's gross 58 passing yards were the fewest by a winning quarterback since Chad Henne (55 yards) and the Dolphins beat the Jets 10-6 in December 2010.
He joins the list of six quarterbacks this century who won a game when below 50 percent completions, 4.0 YPA, 60 yards passing and a 36 rating.
7. The Ravens Defense: Nevermore
Edgar Allen Poe’s NFL namesakes once put the fear of the gridiron Gods in the hearts of opposing offenses.
Nevermore, to quoth the literary raven.
At least not this season, after the Ravens defense was overrun and its offensive wings were clipped by the powerful Houston Texans, in a 43-13 rout, the most frightening beating of Week 7.
It’s hard to believe this was a 5-1 team that was outclassed in Houston. The win was highlighted – or lowlighted from Baltimore’s perspective – by the Texans’ 29 unanswered points before halftime.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco looked more like Kyle Boller than the legit franchise quarterback Ravens fans hope that he is. He produced one of the weakest efforts of his career Sunday: 21 of 43, 48.8%, 147 yards, 3.4 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT and a 45.4 rating.
The Ravens took an early 3-0 lead but the rout was on the second that Houston LB Connor Barwin sacked Flacco in the end zone for a safety.
Offensively, the Texans ran for 181 yards against Baltimore’s once-feared defense.
The Ravens have now surrendered more than 180 yards rushing 11 times in their entire history – including three times in their last three games:
- 214 by Kansas City in Week 5
- 227 by Dallas in Week 6
- 181 by Baltimore in Week 7
Even the most loyal Ravens fan will admit that this is a frightening statistical skid.
Meanwhile, we suggested Houston’s big loss last week to Green Bay was little more than a statistical blip on the season. It seems to be the case today.
Houston, at 6-1, appears to have an easy run to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Baltimore was the only other team in the conference with a winning record heading into Week 7. And they proved unable to compete in Houston.
The Texans are also back atop the CHFF Quality Stats Power Rankings, leaping past the Bears who play Monday night.
In fact, the only game that looks like a challenge for the Texans right now is their visit to Chicago on Nov. 11. They do travel to New England for a Monday Night Football showdown on Dec. 10.
But the defenseless Patriots we saw barely handle the Jets should prove no match for the top-to-bottom strength of the Houston Texans.
Five more frightening Week7 statistical storylines
8. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez passed for 82 yards last week and beat the Colts, 35-9. He passed for 328 yards this week and lost to the Patriots, 29-26.
9. Drew Brees completed 20 of 25 passes for 313 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT and a 141.7 rating in the first half.
The second half? Not so much: 7 of 12 for 64 yards and zero scores. Despite the prolific first half, Brees was outgunned for the day by the Josh Freeman (420 yards, 10.0 YPA, 3 TD, 115.2 rating).
10. Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in a 95-yard reception against the Saints Sunday. The Bucs failed to score a single point on that drive. We believe it may be the longest play in history on a drive that failed to net a single point, but we’re trying to determine that right now.
Jackson appeared slow-footed toward the end of the run and was chased down from behind by Malcolm Jenkins.
11. The Cowboys eked out a 19-14 win on the road against a bad Carolina team.
But it was still a classic display of inefficient football by the Cowboys. Dallas remains:
Yes, the Cowboys are still America's (Dumbest) Team.
12. Finally, the most frightening team in football may be the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars. Week 7 could not have gone any worse.
They traveled cross-country to face the equally dismal Oakland Raiders. They blew a 20-6 third-quarter lead, lost 26-23 in overtime – and then lost quarterback Blaine Gabbert and star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to injury.
That must have been one fun six-hour plane ride back to Florida. Good luck taking over Europe, folks.
Hey, at least Jacksonville can drowned its collective sorrows Saturday at the World’s Biggest Cocktail Party.