Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Weekend Preview! This year at SumerSports.com, we are excited to bring you an analytical look at the NFL on Mondays and Fridays. In the Weekend Preview, we will have a recap of Thursday Night Football, Playoff Leverage analysis, what games you should be watching this weekend, and more.
Thursday Night Football Recap
After months of waiting, we got to see live NFL football on Thursday night, and it did not disappoint. The Lions closed as 4-point favorites with the news of Chris Jones holding out and Travis Kelce out due to injury. Despite getting pressured 27 times (as charted by Pro Football Focus), Patrick Mahomes was able to avoid taking a single sack on the night as he scrambled 6 times for 45 yards. The absence of Kelce hurt the Chiefs as they had 5 dropped passes, including one that was returned by Brian Branch for a touchdown. This big drop led to the Chiefs having a 0.10 EPA per pass (53rd percentile).
On the other side, the Lions were able to average a -0.03 EPA per rush (63 percentile) as their run game was able to take advantage of a Chiefs defensive line without Chris Jones. The Lions also forced 9 missed tackles on run plays compared to the Chiefs 1. While the Lions had a 0.07 EPA per pass (49th percentile), Josh Reynolds was crucial for their passing game with 4 receptions for 80 yards while Amon-Ra St. Brown had 6 catches, 71 yards, and a touchdown. The Lions were able to hit on six 15+ yard passing plays giving their offense an explosive element through parts of the night despite only attempting two passes over 20 yards.
While some penalties and a red zone fumble hurt the Lions initially, their 0.03 EPA per play (51st percentile) was ultimately better than the Chiefs’ -0.01 EPA per play (43rd percentile). The Lions showed tonight that they can have off games on offense and still pull out wins even in a hostile road environment against the Super Bowl champions. The Chiefs looked like a team that is still dangerous but missing their 2nd and 3rd most valuable players hurt them. Both teams should be looking forward to exciting seasons.
Each week, we will break down what every team has at stake from a playoffs perspective. While it is still early in the season, there are some big games in terms of playoff leverage given that many of these games can be used as an early measuring stick. With the logo showing what their current probability is, we can see how a team’s chances change with a win compared to a loss.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have the most on the line in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts as a win puts them at 63.3% to make the playoffs and gives them a big boost in the AFC South race. A loss shifts those odds to 43.2%. Panthers-Falcons is also a massive game for playoff implications where the winner vaults above 50% to make the playoffs and the loser will fall below 40% to make the playoffs. Additionally, the Jets beating the Bills in Week 1 would give them a more than 50% chance in a really tough AFC East.
Games to Watch
A full NFL Sunday slate can be a lot to juggle, especially after not being conditioned to handle it in Week 1. At SumerSports, we have created a Watchability Score that gives a rating on a scale of 0 to 10 for how watchable we can expect a game to be. The score factors in the spread, the total projected points for the game, the combined Elo ratings for both teams, as well as quarterback strength. Each time slot has the top game of that window highlighted, with the rest of the games listed in order:
The best game of the early slate is between the Bengals and Browns on CBS where Joe Burrow and the Bengals are 2.5 point favorites in Cleveland. On FOX, 49ers-Steelers has the most potential to be intriguing with both Brock Purdy and Kenny Pickett entering their second seasons. In the afternoon slate, Dolphins-Chargers is the game of the day coming to us on CBS with the highest total of any game this weekend. The game of the week is Bills-Jets on Monday Night Football with Aaron Rodgers making his New York Jets debut and two top 10 teams (in terms of Elo) facing off in another divisional matchup.
Miami Dolphins @ Los Angeles Chargers
Dolphins-Chargers is projected to be the best game on the first NFL Sunday of the year and for good reason. Not only do we get to see another clash between Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, but we also get to see two of the best defensive minds in the league with an offseason of preparing for this game in Vic Fangio and Brandon Staley.
Fangio makes his return to being a defensive coordinator and although the Dolphins defense won’t have Jalen Ramsey for the majority of the season, he still gets a stacked defense to work with. The defense is faced with a tough task as the Chargers offense enters this year with Rashawn Slater back from injury and 1st round pick Quentin Johnston alongside Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is hoping to improve on a disappointing 16th in offensive EPA/play last season.
On the other side of the ball, the matchup to watch for in this game is the Chargers defensive backs against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The Dolphins star receivers were 1st and 4th in yards per route run this season but were jammed continuously in this same matchup last year. The Dolphins offense was able to rank 8th in EPA/drop back despite some injuries and are looking to revamp the run game to take them into the top 5 this season. As mentioned earlier, a matchup like this this early in the season could be big for determining how the competitive AFC will shake out.
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
In the first Sunday night game of the year, we see another divisional matchup with Cowboys-Giants in a game that has divisional implications. Both teams finished in the top 10 in EPA/play last season and added pass catchers to help build on that. The Giants enter this game with Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley under contract and Darren Waller as the new #1 receiving option. The Cowboys defense was very good last season but struggled at times with interior rushes making the matchup to watch in this game how they defend the run game with 1st round pick Mazi Smith.
We also will see what this new version of the Cowboys offense will look like with Mike McCarthy calling plays, Tony Pollard getting the majority of the carries, and the addition of Brandin Cooks and a tight end by committee approach to the pass catchers. Aggressiveness will be the theme in that matchup as Dak Prescott was the 2nd most aggressive quarterback on late downs last season with a 11.4 ADoT. Giants Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, one of the NFL’s most aggressive defensive coordinators when it comes to blitzing, has the task of slowing down Dak and the Cowboys. The NFC East has the highest chance of being the most competitive division in the conference, so this matchup will be key in early season standings.
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Aaron Rodgers’s first start as a Jet on Monday Night Football against one of the best teams in the AFC has the potential to be one of the most memorable moments of the season, and we are spoiled with it in Week 1. The Jets ranked 27th in EPA/dropback last season but get a quarterback that is only a year removed from playing at an MVP level. The matchup to watch is the Jets’ pass protection vs. the Bills’ pass rush as New York’s offensive line has been one of the bigger questions marks of the offseason and could get tested early. The Rodgers to Wilson connection is also something to keep an eye on. Nathaniel Hackett may look to deploy Wilson the way Davante Adams was used in Green Bay.
On the other side, the Bills come off a season where they ranked 2nd in offensive EPA/play but are looking to get more personnel diverse with the selection of Dalton Kincaid in the 1st round and signing of Damien Harris to pair with James Cook. This will also be a big test for them going against one of the deepest defensive lines in the league and a defense that ranked 6th in EPA/play last season. All things considered, it is only Week 1, but this could be one of the best games of the year based on the hype surrounding both of these teams and what a win could mean in the AFC East divisional race.
Sumer’s Week in Review
We had a great week at Sumer getting ready for the season and putting content and tools out there for all users to use:
- Monday: SumerSports Show with Eric Eager and Thomas Dimitroff: Eric and Thomas talk about Brian Burns and Chris Jones’ holdout, the Colorado Buffaloes big win and Cooper Kupp’s injury
- Tuesday: Stats & Scheme with Tej Seth and Shawn Syed: Tej and Shawn discuss offensive personnel diversity, motion in the passing game and gap scheme runs and how that relates to the games this weekend.
- Wednesday: SumerSports Show with Eric Eager and Thomas Dimitroff: Eric and Thomas talk about how the Chiefs and Lions have built their rosters and why both of their GM’s should great credit.