Happy Football Friday.
After a few weeks of writing this article either out of town or under the weather, I’m bringing my A game to Week 7.
Week 6 saw Philadelphia and San Francisco go down for the first time all year, both to backup quarterbacks. Cleveland’s defense is on a record pace, carrying an offense that doesn’t know when it will get its high-priced quarterback back. The Bills squeaked out a victory at home against a banged-up Giants team, while the Lions – who New York bested in the NFC playoff race in 2022 by half of a game – won their fourth-straight game by multiple scores. The Ravens, seemingly immune to consecutive multiple-score wins, face off against Detroit this week after beating a depleted Tennessee team in London.
Using the data from the new and improved SumerSports.com, we will go over some of the thoughts and predictions I made a week ago and provide some for this coming week.
Week 7’s slate includes a Sunday Night Football game worthy of the timeslot, where the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles wear their Kelly Green uniforms against the high-flying Miami Dolphins. The Eagles present a pass rush that Miami hasn’t seen yet, apart from their matchup against the Bills, where they lost by four touchdowns.
Jalen Hurts, who totaled three interceptions on Sunday against a Sauceless Jets secondary, has yet to play up to his near-MVP form of 2022. The Chiefs can seemingly clinch the AFC West with a win against the Chargers during the late afternoon, while both the 49ers and the Vikings need to win on Monday night, but for slightly different reasons.
Let’s dig in.
A Review of JAX @ NO
The Jacksonville Jaguars went into New Orleans Thursday night as short underdogs trying to propel themselves into a commanding position both in the AFC South and the AFC playoff race in general. They never trailed in a 31-24 win, one that saw them emerge victorious after briefly blowing a 15-point second-half lead.
Trevor Lawrence, who was questionable all week with a knee injury, completed 20 of 29 passes for 204 yards and a 44-yard game-winning touchdown to Christian Kirk. He added a team high 60 yards on the ground, which supplemented Travis Etienne’s two initial scores in the run game.
The Saints, favorites in the NFC South coming into the season (see below), fall to 3-4 and a game behind Tampa Bay. Derek Carr put up over 300 yards passing in the game, but it took him 55 pass attempts to do so. Those 55 included 14 to Alvin Kamara (for 91 yards) and 15 to Chris Olave (for just 57 yards). Despite a poor performance, he still had New Orleans deep in Jags territory with a chance to tie or take the lead late, but a dropped touchdown pass on third down and a broken-up fade on fourth down ended any chances for a Saints victory.
A Trend I’m Monitoring
I am monitoring Sam Howell’s record-setting pace for sacks taken.
Media is an interesting animal. Some weeks I get two or three requests to do TV, podcasts, etc. And then other weeks, like this one, I get multiple within the same city.
This week’s invites came from Washington DC, where I made an appearance on my friend Kevin Sheehan’s show and gave an opinion that Sam Howell was a high-end backup in the NFL, in large part due to his league-leading and record-setting pace of taking sacks.
— The Team 980 (@team980) October 17, 2023
As we discussed a couple of weeks ago on here, pressure and sacks are some of the stickiest stats when it comes to quarterback play, to the point where if I were only able to use one stat, that might be the stat that I’d use to filter first.
I then joined Grant & Danny on 106.7 The Fan to reiterate my point that, while Howell had many things going for him, draft capital bias and the inability to avoid pressure and sacks were ultimately going to limit his ceiling. The fanbase, as one could probably expect, disagrees with me, believing Howell to be a starter in this league long-term:
Based on what you have seen so far, do you agree with @ericeager_ who believes Sam Howell is a career back-up or do you believe he will be a long term starter?
— The Junkies (@JunksRadio) October 18, 2023
Kevin also had his response on a later show:
Kevin responds to @ericeager_ comments that Sam Howell is a “very good backup quarterback”. Does Kevin agree? Plus, Howell’s press conference and more.
Find it on all podcast platforms or:https://t.co/jvL8tgu42X
— The Kevin Sheehan Show (@SheehanPodcast) October 18, 2023
Howell very well could set the sack record and turn out to be an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. While David Carr didn’t amount to much, the man whose record he broke in 2002, Randall Cunningham, did. However, given the amount of hidden value that is lost when a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, and how stable this feature is in quarterback play, I’m going to bet against that.
Just a little something new I whipped up for the KCSN discord, and figured I’d share here too.
When a QB drops back, there are 5 possible outcomes:
Complete pass, Incomplete, Scramble, Sack, and INT.
Here is the EPA/play for each of those across the NFL for this season: pic.twitter.com/wc64rrJA9R
— Joseph Hefner (@josephjefe) October 18, 2023
Something I’m Buying
I’m buying that there will be a ton of trade deadline deals in the NFL.
On one hand, there is somewhat of a lack of high-end Super Bowl contenders right now, with both undefeated teams remaining last week – the 49ers and the Eagles – going down to backup quarterbacks. The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, and their biggest rivals in the Bengals and Bills, have looked less than sharp at times over the first month and a half of the season.
On the other hand, there are many teams that weren’t exactly playing for the future at the start of the season – Minnesota, New England, Chicago, and Carolina come to mind – that are firmly out of it just six weeks into the season. This means that there are veteran players who just a couple of months ago thought they were playing for contenders that will now have to change teams if they want such an experience.
In Carolina, a player like Brian Burns, who people have been poking at in trade discussions for years now, could add some young punch to a contender looking for a pass rush (but is willing to deal with his below-average edge setting), while the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter is an older, but less expensive, option. Hunter leads the league in sacks with eight, and tackles for loss with 11.
In Tennessee, DeAndre Hopkins (whose current contract is in the picture below) is moveable, but after an offseason where he was available to teams like the Chiefs and Bills, and then signed a $25-million deal with the Titans, it will be interesting to see if desperation is enough to change these teams’ minds. Kevin Byard, long one of the most valuable safeties in the NFL, could also be available.
Jerry Jeudy of Denver is a player that has underachieved in the minds of many, but as we saw with Amari Cooper in Dallas and then Cleveland, a change of scenery could do wonders for him. New England’s roster doesn’t have much in the way of high-end talent right now, but Josh Uche is an intriguing player who has been productive rushing the passer.
And then there’s the purple elephant in the room, especially with the latest injury to Ryan Tannehill. Kirk Cousins is in the final year of his deal with Minnesota, and he would only cost a prorated $10 million to the team that acquired him. Given that the lack of Justin Jefferson could expose some of his weaknesses in Minnesota, it might finally make sense for him to make a move to a team like the Jets, who are hanging around even though Zach Wilson has been the least efficient player at the position in the league. If Cousins is looking to cash in one more time during an already lucrative career, opting to stay with a team that is not contending when there are opportunities to win elsewhere might give suitors pause next offseason.
Something I’m Selling
I’m selling the idea that any team in the NFC South will end the year as an above-average team.
Going into the year, our preview of the division said that, “The NFC South is projected to have the fourth fewest wins of any division in football even though the division plays one of the easier schedules in the entire league.”
Through six weeks, the division is now projected to have just 29.9 wins. This is more than three wins worse than the NFC North, who is projected to have the second-fewest wins of any division in football, despite the fact that they have faced the easiest set of schedules of any division in football.
The Saints, the favorite coming in, have been incredibly underwhelming, losing to first-time starting quarterbacks Jordan Love and C.J. Stroud, while being beaten handily at home by Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons, while able to come back and beat Jordan Love and the Packers, lost a winnable game to Washington last week with a chance to go to 4-2.
The Bucs, like the Falcons, were not competitive against the Lions a week ago, while the winless Panthers have been a source for wins for both Atlanta and New Orleans.
No one in the division is averaging more than 0.0 EPA per offensive play, and while the Saints are in the top 10 defensively in that stat, a decent amount of it is aided by the fact that they got to play the Panthers and the Patriots so far.
While the markets still believe, albeit tepidly, the Saints are the favorite at +165 at Ceasars. The Falcons and Bucs are around +200. Whoever ends up winning this three-sided coin flip will not go into January as an above-average NFL team, which will queue some of the same questions about whether division winners should in fact be guaranteed a home game in the playoffs.