Weekend Preview - Week 3

by Tej Seth|September 22, 2023

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Welcome to another edition of the Friday Morning Weekend Preview!

This year at SumerSports.com, we are excited to bring you an analytical look at the NFL twice a week on Mondays and on Fridays. In this preview of another football weekend, we will be laying out which games you should consider watching, what a win or a loss could mean for your team’s playoff chances, and more!

Be sure to check out the SumerSports podcast feed, follow us on Twitter @SumerSports and sign up for the newsletter for more content like this.

Thursday Night Football Recap

The 49ers showed yet again that they can be a buzzsaw on both sides of the ball. Despite missing their most productive receiver this season in Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco did not miss a beat as their offense had a 85th percentile outcome in terms of EPA/play. Kyle Shanahan had schemed up touches to Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, and even Elijah Mitchell as all of them were efficient with the ball. The 49ers dominated on late downs as they converted with high yards after catch opportunities and some timely penalties.

New York couldn’t generate much of a pass game due to the 49ers pass rush and pass coverage. New York had a 13th percentile EPA/pass and especially struggled on late downs. The 49ers defense has now caused their first three opponents to have a negative EPA/play as they continue to dominate. The Giants start 1-2 playing two Super Bowl contenders in their first three games while the 49ers roll to 3-0 maintain their status as a top team in the league.

Playoff Leverage

Last week’s results saw some major swings in playoff chances, especially with divisional games. The Miami Dolphins saw a massive jump increasing their playoff probability by 13% in a win over the Patriots. The Ravens saw a similar jump increasing their chance of making the postseason by 12%. On the other side, the Bengals and Rams had divisional losses drop their odds of making the playoffs by 13% each. Going into this week, we can see what is on the line for each team in Week 3.

After starting 2-0, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen their playoff chances rise and have a lot at stake in their Monday Night clash against the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only would a win put them at a greater than 50% chance to make the playoffs, but it would also prove they can hang with some of the best teams in the NFC. The Falcons-Lions matchup is also consequential as the Falcons can get to a 72% chance to make the postseason with a win but drop down to just above a coin flip with a loss. The Lions are in a similar boat at 1-1 and need a win to keep their playoff chances at a 50/50 chance.

In the AFC, the Steelers-Raiders primetime matchup can impact both teams. After slow starts, a win by either would put them at just above a 40% chance to make the playoffs while a loss would drop them below 25%. Browns-Titans has a similar sentiment as either of the 1-1 teams getting a win would be massive for their playoff chances.

Games to Watch

As we look ahead to Week 2, we can use a combination of team strength (using Elo), spread, projected points, and quarterback play to see which games we could be watching during the full slate.

It is rare that two 0-2 teams are in the most watchable game, but Vikings-Chargers gets the highest watch score of the week because of high end quarterback play and what is projected to be a high-scoring close game. 

The early slate also features some other intriguing games: Saints-Packers will be a great game for both teams as they try to find where they fit in the NFC playoff picture. Falcons-Lions is another barometer game in the NFC and should be a play calling showdown between Arthur Smith and Ben Johnson. Bills-Commanders is a game that could change the perception of both teams depending on the result and should feature some quality offensive play.

On Monday Night, we again get two games with staggered starts. Rams-Bengals looks to be the more competitive of the two games as uncertainty looms over Joe Burrow’s playing situation. Eagles-Buccaneers also should be a good game between two 2-0 teams.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Minnesota Vikings

Chargers-Vikings is one of the most intriguing 0-2 vs. 0-2 matchups in recent NFL history. The Chargers offense has been very good to start the season as they have the 4th best EPA/play and 3rd best success rate in the league. Where they’ve been especially good is on the ground with a league best a 0.11 EPA/rush. That makes this a particularly interesting matchup as the Vikings defense has ranked bottom 10 in EPA/rush and has seen the 2nd highest run rate against in the league (once adjusting for situation).

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have had the 16th best offense in the league in terms of success rate and have had some costly turnovers that have dropped them down efficiency rankings. They face a Chargers defense that has been the worst defense in the league so far this season (partly due to facing two difficult matchups in their first two games) so the potential for a shootout in this game is present. There has been no team this year with a bigger difference in their efficiency when passing vs. rushing than Minnesota, and the Vikings have the 2nd highest pass rate over expected in the league. We can expect the Vikings to pass a lot and pass pretty efficiently as this Chargers defense is still figuring out its identity.

Chicago Bears @ Kansas City Chiefs

It’s unusual that we’ll preview the game with the biggest spread of the week, but the Patrick Mahomes Bump makes this the game of that time slot. The Chiefs have started slow on offense ranking 19th in offensive EPA/play and have both a negative EPA/pass and EPA/rush. The Bears have allowed the league’s highest EPA/pass as many key parts of their pass defense are still fitting into their roles. Because of that, there is a high chance we see the Chiefs pass offense that we’re used to as the Mahomes-Kelce connection rounds into form with the receivers still getting up to speed.

The Bears have had the 26th best offense in the league so far this season and are bottom 10 in both the pass and run game. Last season, the Bears leaned into their strength for the majority of the second half of the season having a -13.5% pass rate over expected (lowest in the league) but have been at -1.4% this season (middle of the pack). With Chris Jones back for the Chiefs and already disruptive in his first game of the season against the Jaguars last week, something to watch for will be if the Bears use Justin Fields on outside the tackle runs and move the pocket for him.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Las Vegas Raiders

Steelers-Raiders provides another interesting matchup on Sunday Night Football as we are still getting a sense of the identity of these teams. The Steelers have had the lowest EPA/play on offense so far this season with struggles in the pass game against two good defenses. The Raiders have allowed the 2nd most EPA/play on defense this season, so this matchup could be a bounce back for one of the two units. George Pickens could be in for a big day as he ranks 15th in receiving yards and 6th in yards after catch (after an explosive catch against the Browns). 

Something to watch in this game will be the Steelers usage of running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. While Harris usually gets the majority of the touches, Warren had a 35% rush share and a 21% target share in Week 2 against the Browns and was efficient, so we could see more of him in this game.

The Raiders offense has been middle of the pack in offensive EPA/play so far this season. They currently have the 3rd best EPA/pass but the 31st ranked EPA/rush with the 2nd biggest gap between passing and rushing efficiency in the league. The Steelers defense dominated in primetime in Week 2 having two defensive scores making this the matchup to watch in this game. T.J. Watt currently has 4 sacks in two games and has continued his usual dominance. However, the Raiders passing game revolves around Davate Adams and Jakobi Meyers has been efficient as Las Vegas looks to go after the Steelers corners. Both sides of the ball will be interesting to watch in this matchup.

Los Angeles Rams @ Cincinnati Bengals

We again get two Monday Night football games this week and Rams-Bengals is a very interesting matchup for many reasons. Not only is it a rematch of Super Bowl 56, but both teams have changed drastically since that game. For the Rams, their defense has gone from ranked top 10 in defensive EPA/play in 2021 to bottom 10 this year. The Bengals have gone from having one of the best offenses in the league the past two seasons to one of the worst this season so far. The Bengals have had trouble in all aspects of offense this season ranking 27th in EPA/play, 29th in pass success rate, and 27th in rush success. The good news for them is the Rams defense has allowed the 27th ranked success rate so this could be a bounce back game for the Bengals based on how healthy Joe Burrow is.

Despite not having Cooper Kupp and looking to shop Cam Akers, the Rams have had the 5th ranked offense in the NFL led by Matthew Stafford throwing to Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell with Kyren Williams shouldering most of the rushes. Stafford currently ranks 3rd in total EPA generated from quarterbacks as the Rams pass game has been both efficient and explosive. One of the biggest surprises of the season so far has been both Nacua and Atwell ranking top 10 in receiving yards with Nacua currently being sandwiched between Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill. If Joe Burrow is able to play, we could be in for a primetime game shootout.

Sumer’s Week in Review

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