3 Week 7 Storylines to Watch: Is Atlanta a Legitimate Super Bowl Contender?
Much like every other week preceding it, Week 6 was a crazy one.
We knew that the Detroit Lions' pass defense was horrendous, but they made Case Keenum look like a superhero while Jay Ajayi shredded the stingy Pittsburgh Steelers' run defense for over 200 yards rushing.
The weekly element of unpredictability, while maddening, is what makes the NFL so intriguing. If the first six weeks have been any indication, we’re likely to see more of the same moving forward.
On to Week 7.
How Legit Are the Atlanta Falcons?
Last week, the Atlanta Falcons came within a questionable pass interference non-call away from beating the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and Seattle Seahawks in consecutive weeks. With a 4-2 record and control on the NFC South division, should we consider Atlanta a legitimate Super Bowl contender?
The Falcons have vastly outperformed our preseason expectations for them so far, largely because of their insanely efficient offense. Atlanta ranks first in overall offensive efficiency and passing efficiency and third in rushing efficiency when adjusted for strength of schedule according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
A key contributor to that efficiency has been Matt Ryan. Through six weeks, Ryan is on pace to smash his previous career-high in Passing NEP and has already eclipsed his 2009 and 2013 efficiency totals. The combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has also been tremendous, with Freeman currently ranking sixth in Rushing NEP and Coleman ranking first in Reception NEP among all running backs.
With their main in-division competitor, Carolina, looking like a team in a tailspin, Atlanta has every right to feel good about where there are. A Super Bowl run for the Falcons, the eighth-best team in the league according to our nERD metric with an 84.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, certainly isn’t impossible. But with just a 5.7 percent chance of winning it all, the Falcons still have an uphill battle ahead.
Brock Osweiler Struggling
Despite a 4-2 record, Brock Osweiler has been a rousing disappointment by nearly every individual measure through his first six games for the Houston Texans. Second in the league in interceptions (8) and 27th in completion percentage (59.0%), Osweiler is not meeting expectations for a guy earning $12 million this season.
Thanks to a relatively soft schedule -- including wins over the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, and Tennessee Titans -- and an extremely strong defense -- seventh-best according to our metrics -- Osweiler’s deficiencies have been somewhat masked.
Osweiler has only added 0.34 expected points to his team’s total this season (0.00 Passing NEP per drop back), better than just four other quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs -- Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Blaine Gabbert.
The good news for the Texans, Osweiler, and his fantasy owners (if they still exist) is that the team’s schedule following their Week 9 bye is absolute cake. Five of the Texans’ final eight opponents currently rank in the bottom-half of the league in terms of pass defense when adjusted for strength of schedule according to our metrics.
From a real football standpoint, Osweiler’s shortcomings don’t really matter when his team is currently leading their division. From a fantasy perspective, however, with weapons like Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller in tow, Osweiler has been wildly uninspiring.
Buy or Sell: Jay Ajayi
Thanks to a monster Week 6 performance against Pittsburgh, Jay Ajayi is now the third-most efficient running back in the league according to our Rushing NEP metrics. Prior to last week’s game, Ajayi ranked 92nd by the same measure.
Big performances -- and especially long runs -- heavily influence efficiency, so this shouldn’t be the extent of our evaluation of Ajayi moving forward, but there are other factors working in his favor.
Ajayi is a physical specimen similar to Todd Gurley in terms of workout metrics. Miami also sports the seventh-best run blocking offensive line according to Football Outsiders, giving Ajayi a solid foundation for success is he continues to see increased touches week-to-week.
However, the path to increased touches may not be as assured as we think.
Oft-injured Arian Foster played 11 snaps last week and is reportedly close to full health heading into Week 7. Ajayi also faces competition for snaps and touches from Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams who have combined for 42 touches this season compared to Ajayi’s 63.
A tough remaining schedule -- including two more matchups against both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets -- and the possibility that Drake and Williams see an increased role are legitimate concerns. If Ajayi plays well again this week, it could be a good time to sell high to another hopeful fantasy owner.