3 Week 15 Storylines to Watch: Tom Brady Tangles With Denver
Week 14 brought us the end of the Dallas Cowboys' 11-game win streak, the continuation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' playoff push, and a 42-14 drubbing of the Los Angeles Rams at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, which finally lost Jeff Fisher his job.
With just three weeks left in the regular season, it's do-or-die time for plenty of teams dreaming of a playoff run.
On to Week 15 and three storylines to watch.
Top QB vs. Top Pass Defense
Any time we have the chance to see one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history square off against one of the most dominant pass defenses in recent memory, we shouldn't take it for granted. When the New England Patriots face the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon, we’ll get that opportunity.
At this point, we know how great Tom Brady is. But in case you need more proof, Brady leads the league in efficiency on a per-play basis according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric among all passers with 200 or more drop backs. If Brady keeps up with his current pace (0.36 Passing NEP/P), it would rank as the second-most efficient season of his entire career.
Their matchup against the Broncos will be the toughest Brady faces all season. Denver claims the best pass defense in the NFL according to our metrics (-0.17), and it’s not even close, as Minnesota is a distant second at -0.03. If the season ended today, the Broncos would claim the 12th-most efficient pass defense since 2000, according to our numbers.
Although the Patriots’ passing game has continued to function over the past two games without Rob Gronkowski, it’s always worth pointing out that Brady is now without the most efficient target of his entire career:
Currently clinging to the sixth seed in the AFC playoff race, in theory, this game means more to Denver. And while New England would be wise to attack the Broncos’ 29th ranked rush defense, don’t be surprised if Brady tests the vaunted Denver secondary on Sunday.
Matt Moore, Enter Stage Right
Ryan Tannehill's upgraded injury – a once-feared torn ACL diagnosed as a sprained ACL and MCL – was an early-week kernel of hope for the Miami Dolphins. At 8-5, Miami is currently out of the playoffs with just a 24.5 percent chance of getting in according to our metrics, but all hope is not yet lost.
While Tannehill recovers, it will largely be up to Matt Moore to help lead them into the postseason.
Over his nine-year career, Moore has completed 58.9 percent of throws with a slightly above-average touchdown-to-interception ratio (33 to 28 overall). He last started a game back in 2011 and has attempted just 35 passes since then.
From an average efficiency standpoint over the course of their respective careers, Moore has actually been the more efficient passer of the two on a per-play basis:
Generally when a new quarterback is forced into action, the running game is emphasized. After a four-game stretch of averaging 180 yards rushing in Weeks 6 through 10, the Dolphins have mustered just 84 yards rushing per game since. It won’t get any easier for Jay Ajayi and company against the Jets, the ninth-best run defense according to our metrics.
If there were ever a week for a new -- and likely rusty -- starting quarterback to come in, it would be against the Jets’ 29th-ranked pass defense, a positive sign for Moore.
Opportunity For Farrow
Farrow is an undrafted rookie, SPARQ-score hero from the University of Houston. In limited action this season, he’s averaged a measly 3.5 yards per carry on 36 rushes, but has chipped in with 7 catches, 6 of which came last week against the Carolina Panthers.
Working in Farrow’s favor is the Chargers’ willingness to stick with their main running back. Since Danny Woodhead's Week 2 injury (up until last week), Gordon played 86 percent of the team’s snaps. While his pedigree and production trump Farrow's -- and the ghost of Ronnie Hillman still haunts this situation -- it’s entirely possible the Chargers ride Farrow in a similar fashion.
The matchup against Oakland is terrific -- they rank 28th in rush defense according to our metrics and have allowed 100 or more yards rushing 9 times this season.
Farrow’s pass-protection has been called into question this week, highlighted by his allowing of a strip-sack against the Carolina Panthers. His inexperience in this area could potentially torpedo this whole situation, but the Chargers appear willing to at least give Farrow a shot.
With San Diego out of the playoff hunt, this is more of a fantasy-slanted storyline, but for Farrow, it’s a chance to sure up the RB2 role for the foreseeable future, assuming he plays well.