Eager's Football Friday - Week 8

by Eric Eager|October 27, 2023

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Happy Football Friday.  

Week 7 was a wild one, with 1-5 teams like Chicago, Denver, New England, and the New York Giants all not only covering the spread but winning outright. On Monday Night, a 2-4 Vikings team upset a top NFC contender in the San Francisco 49ers. The Steelers kept waving Mike Tomlin’s magic wand in a victory over the Rams in Los Angeles, while the Chiefs beat the Chargers by more than one score for the first time since their first Patrick Mahomes Super Bowl season in 2019. 

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 8 offers some good rivalry games in Minnesota versus Green Bay, New England versus Miami, the Jets versus the Giants, the Eagles versus the Commanders, and the Chiefs versus the Broncos. The 49ers are currently field goal favorites at home against the 3-3 Bengals in a game whose outcome could really change things atop the NFL, while Houston versus Carolina sees the first two picks of the 2023 draft square off.  

Let’s dig in. 

Review of TB @ BUF 

After two losses in the last three games, including an 0-3 mark against the spread, the Bills won Thursday night by a score of 24-18, leveraging three total touchdowns from Josh Allen and three sacks from their defense. The Bucs, who fall to 3-4 after starting the season 3-1, hung tough despite being dominated by the Bills, as they were outgained 427 to 302 total, and 6.3 to 4.9 in terms of yards per play.  

The Bills biggest weakness through the first seven games seemed to abate, as Khalil Shakir (92 yards), Gabe Davis (87 yards), and Dalton Kincaid (65 yards) all complimented Stefon Diggs (70 yards) through the air, while James Cook (67 yards) was good enough on the ground.  

The Bucs have the hardest schedule remaining in a bad NFC South, while the Bills have a top-three schedule difficulty the rest of the way. The leverage for this game was thus higher than many interconference games. As such, the Bills stay alive in trying to win four-straight AFC East titles for the first time since 1988-1991. 

Trend I’m Monitoring

I’m officially on Caleb Williams watch.  

The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, who is currently a big favorite (per DraftKings, as well as the rest of the market) to be the number one overall pick, has struggled in recent weeks, as his Trojans have dropped two straight games and barley edged out Arizona three weeks ago at home. 

After averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt in each of the Trojans’ first five games, Williams has generated just 8.8, 5.4, and 7.3 yards per pass attempt, while throwing for just two touchdowns and three interceptions. His time to throw is also well over three seconds. He’s turned 43 pressures into 15 sacks, which is a number that would be a top-five number in college football if prorated over an entire season. 

These are all legitimate red flags that have caused some in the media to come out in favor of UNC’s Drake Maye as the best quarterback in the draft. This got me thinking about how much these evaluations change during the fall, which was the topic of our Wednesday SumerSports Show: 

 

While there certainly are changes to evaluation (remember “Tank for Tua”) they are generally a lot slower than the statistics would suggest, and especially slower than the talking heads make it seem. Thus, while I do think there are some concerning things happening with Williams right now, it’s simply something to monitor, and may be considered silly come April. 

What I’m Buying 

I’m buying Josh Allen for NFL MVP.  

I know. I know. I bought Buffalo in my first column of the year, and after a bad opening night against the Jets, things were looking up with four wins in five games. That was before a trip to London, and subsequently New England, where two close losses had them at 4-3, before they got off their slump against Tampa Bay last night. The Bills have been incredible in games decided by more than one score for some time now, having last lost such a game in the regular season back in 2021 to the Colts at home.  

Like many teams, fluctuations in one-score games have been their issue, where they are 2-3 so far this year. This has left them with a 6.1% chance to win the Super Bowl (before last night’s game), which is fourth in the NFL but less than half that of each of the Chiefs, Eagles, and 49ers. They are currently underdogs (41.3%) to win their own division, despite currently holding the tiebreaker over the Dolphins. 

Prior to Thursday Night, Allen was a +1500 to potentially win his first MVP award according to our friends at DraftKings. His odds were longer than Brock Purdy’s odds at +1400, even though coming into the week, Allen’s Bills were leading the league in EPA per play when he handled the ball, as well as total EPA at 83.2 (it’s about 35 points per win in the NFL). Allen’s 15 passing touchdowns were tied for second in football, while his four rushing touchdowns were third among signal callers. He was taking a sack on just 6.5% of dropbacks, which is a top-half-of-the-league mark, while averaging 8.8 yards average depth of target, which is tied with Jalen Hurts as first among quarterbacks whose offenses have generated more than 25 EPA.  

For Allen to win the award they will need team success, and the road to such success is paved with difficulty: the Bills have the third-hardest schedule in the league moving forward. However, such a schedule presents the opportunity for the Bills’ signal caller to outperform his competition for the award, which is why – at any price better than 10/1 – I think you should buy Josh Allen to win the MVP. 

What I’ve bought in previous weeks: The Bills, Zay Flowers, the Cardinals drafting two QBs in the first round, sack avoidance as the most important metric in quarterback evaluation, C.J. Stroud, the Chiefs’ defense, and there being a ton of deadline deals. 

What I’m Selling 

I’m selling the notion that Desmond Ridder is on the path to being a quality NFL starting quarterback. 

Last week, I poured cold water on the hopes and dreams of Washington Commander fans by saying that I thought Sam Howell was a backup quarterback in this league. He proceeded, against a one-win Giants team, to take six more sacks, throw an interception (along with another play that should have been a pick six), and put up just seven points in a 14-7 loss. 

Ridder, who has guided the Falcons to a 4-3 record and first place in an NFC South that a) is projected to have the fewest wins in the NFL and b) is playing and will play the league’s easiest schedule, has come to life some in recent weeks.  

He’s thrown for over 250 yards in each of the last three games and has run for a touchdown in two of the three games. His play led to a piece by Reception Perception’s Derrik Klassen with the conclusion that, while Ridder is not a good quarterback yet, he’s coming along. 

Desmond Ridder Week 7 Charting Review | Reception Perception 

I’m not sure I buy this.  

For one, as OverTheCap’s Jason Fitzgerald tweeted earlier this week, in the cluster of teams that don’t pay their quarterback very much, there are really two classes: teams that use the extra resources to supplement the player and generate great offense (e.g., the Dolphins and the 49ers) and teams that are rebuilding (e.g., the Buccaneers and Packers).  

The fact of the matter is that Ridder is playing with a great offensive line (he has Sumer CEO and former Falcons’ GM Thomas Dimitroff to thank in part for that) and three top-10 picks at skill positions in Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson. That, coupled with an offensive play caller that was able to help Ryan Tannehill lead the league in yards per pass attempt, should lead to an offense that is better than eighth worst in the NFL in EPA per play overall and 11th-worst in passing EPA per play.

The turnovers – he threw three interceptions against the Commanders at home two weeks ago and fumbled three times against the Bucs – are simply too much for his limited skillset to overcome against good teams, especially considering he’s completing just under 54 percent of his passes in the intermediate and most valuable part of the field. Per FTN data, Ridder has thrown an interceptable pass on 5.2% of throws the last two seasons, while only being intercepted on 1.7% of his throws. There’s a good chance that this trend will only get worse. 

Can Ridder continue to improve and, like Jalen Hurts, surprise us to the point where in a year or so he’s leading a great roster to the Super Bowl?  

Anything is possible.  

But his lack of college production prior to year five (especially against Power Five teams) and Arthur Smith’s reluctance to use his best supporting players have me believing they wish they at least kicked the tires on Lamar Jackson, who for my money is the second-best QB in the league going right now. 

What I’ve sold in previous weeks: Positionless football, Brandon Staley, Kyle Pitts, the tush push being that big of a deal, the New York Giants, Kenny Pickett’s “it” factor, and the AFC South with have an above-average team this year. 

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