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.
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Each week, multiple teams are seeing big swings in their playoff chances. Last week the Bengals and Saints saw a big increase in their playoff probability while teams like the Steelers and Texans saw a similar sized drop. There is once again a lot on the line this week:
There is no matchup with more on the line than Bengals-Bills on Sunday Night Football. For the Bengals, a win would put them at a 66.6% chance of making the playoffs, but a loss would put them at 44.4%. For the Bills, a win would put them at an 80.5% chance of making the playoffs, but a loss would send them down to 60.6%.
As usual, the NFC South has a lot of playoff leverage as the division changes order just about every week. This week it’s the Falcons who move to a 62.5% chance of the playoffs and a 39.9% chance of hosting a home playoff game with a win.
The Jets and Vikings also have a decent amount of playoff leverage as both teams have to show they can win with backup quarterbacks.
Games to Watch
As we look ahead to Week 9, 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.
With 4 teams on bye (3 of them with winning records) and almost half of the Week 1 quarterbacks not starting this week, we are lucky that there is a premier game in each slate. That starts early on Sunday Morning where we get two notable offenses that take on each other in Germany with the highest point total of the day. There won’t be many more games that impact the race for the #1 seed in the AFC as much as this game.
In the early slate, both Seahawks-Ravens and Buccaneers-Texans are games to keep an eye on. After that, we get two more potential game of the year candidates with Cowboys-Eagles and Bills-Bengals in what should not only be great football games but matchups that will have massive ramifications.
It should be noted that Cardinals-Browns has the lowest watchability score of all time, if that is of interest to anyone.
Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs (Germany)
This game should be all about offense and we start with the Dolphins who are 1st in EPA/play, 1st in EPA/pass, and 1st in EPA/rush. Tua Tagovailoa ranks 4th in EPA/play among 36 qualifying quarterbacks, Raheem Mostert ranks 3rd in RYOE/carry among 44 qualifying running backs, and Tyreek Hill has a massive lead in yards per route run among 136 receivers.
The Dolphins play the most 21 personnel in the league and have passed very efficiently from it. The Chiefs have only seen 21 personnel on a limited number of snaps but have done well against it. The Chiefs have a great pass defense so far this season but have struggled mightily against the run. The matchup to watch on this side of the ball will be Chris Jones vs. the Dolphins interior offensive line and if Miami leans on outside runs with Raheem Mostert and quick passes to avoid the pass rush.
The Chiefs offense ranks 5th in EPA/play and 7th in success rate but hasn’t felt like the Chiefs offense we’re accustomed to yet. This is in large part to being 13th in explosive play rate as defenses are doing whatever they can to take away the deep ball. The Dolphins are no different as Vic Fangio’s defense has only allowed a 7.7% explosive play rate this season despite ranking 21st in EPA/play. The Chiefs use 12 personnel more than league average and are the 2nd best team in the NFL out of it. The Dolphins are the 31st best defense at defending 12 personnel. However, most of that has come without Jalen Ramsey so it’ll be interesting to see how Ramsey plays into dealing with Travis Kelce.
Seattle Seahawks @ Baltimore Ravens
In another exciting game, we see two teams that have top 10 offenses and top 10 defenses face off. The Seahawks have been very good on a down to down basis ranking 4th in success rate while being able to rush and pass effectively. Geno Smith has had his fair share of turnovers recently, but the Seahawks still rank 9th in EPA/pass, which is a good sign. The Seahawks primarily use 11 personnel but use 12 personnel at an above average rate and have been the 3rd best team out of it this season. The Ravens defense has stopped the run out of 12 personnel well but has allowed a positive pass EPA out of 12, so we could see the Seahawks feature Noah Fant a lot in the passing game. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald is one of the best defensive play callers in the league so he should have a solution, likely featuring Roquan Smith, for the Seahawks two tight end sets making that the matchup to watch in this game.
The Ravens offense has been rolling the past few weeks and sits at 8th in EPA/play and 5th in success rate on the season. Lamar Jackson is playing at an MVP level ranking 11th in EPA/play and poses a unique challenge for the Seahawks defense that has played well this season. The Seahawks defense has been good against under center plays but has struggled when the opposing offense goes into shotgun or pistol. The Ravens run almost all of their plays out of shotgun, pistol, or empty, which will make it tough on the Seahawks defensive line. The matchup to watch on this side of the ball will be who Devon Witherspoon covers and how the Ravens use their other receiving options. It could be a big Mark Andrews game because of how strong the Seahawks corners are.
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
When it comes to the NFC East, there is no bigger game than this one. Despite not seeing Dak Prescott vs. Jalen Hurts last year, both of them are ready to go and rank top 10 in EPA/play going into this game. The key to this game will be how often each quarterback is able to get to their #1 receiving option. CeeDee Lamb ranks 7th in yards per route run among 136 qualifying receivers and the gap between him and the rest of the Cowboys receivers is stark. A.J. Brown is having an Offensive Player of the Year type season and ranks 3rd in yards per route run. He has a decent sized gap between himself and Philadelphia’s other receiving options but not to the extent that Lamb has.
The Cowboys defense has played really well for most games this season ranking 3rd in EPA/play allowed and has shored up their run defense from last year, which will be particularly important in this game. The Eagles defense has dealt with a lot of their own injuries but are still good at not allowing explosive plays. The Eagles will rely on their outside corners to try to shut down Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks while we can expect Sean Desai to have a creative answer for Lamb.
Buffalo Bills @ Cincinnati Bengals
In a divisional round rematch from last season, we are getting what should be a great Sunday Night game in Bills-Bengals. Despite not always being consistent, the Bills offense ranks 2nd in EPA/play and 1st in success rate. However, they only have the 17th best explosive play rate as defenses have focused on taking away shot plays. They get to face a Bengals defense that has allowed the most explosive plays in the league, so this could be a game where Stefon Diggs takes over and has multiple 20+ yard receptions. If Diggs doesn’t have a big game, Gabe Davis and Dalton Kincaid will have to make some plays.
For the Bengals offense, a lot of their season long statistics are skewed due to Joe Burrow playing the majority of the season injured. However, what we do know is the Bengals are in shotgun 81.5% of the time – the 2nd highest rate in the league – and will likely do the same thing in this game. The Bills defense has struggled due to a cluster of injuries but are the 12th best defense against shotgun this season. Ja’Marr Chase ranks 16th in yards per route run and we could expect that to increase after this game against a Bills secondary that has had its ups and downs.