Four Week 12 Storylines: Manning vs. Brady

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off for the 14th time in their careers on Sunday night.

Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?

Pre-game shows leading up to the Broncos vs. Patriots Sunday Night Football tilt will ignore the fact that football is the ultimate team game. On Sunday night, it’s all about Brady and Manning.

That’s fine, and it should be fine for any football fan. Each time these passers touch the gridiron against each other, it’s no longer “just a game.” It becomes something bigger; something you’re going to share with your kids or grandkids when they’re old enough to compare football heroes of their generation to the ones of the early 2000s.

We’ve seen these conference rivals go at it 13 times since 2001. And despite the often overblown storylines from the media, somehow, someway, Manning and Brady continue to please viewers with thrilling contests.

It’s very clear that this week, the top storyline goes to Manning vs. Brady. As it should. But what about the rest of the league?

Will Brady be a high-end fantasy football QB1 this week?

Though we’re all amped about this matchup, we do have to recognize that Tom Brady has had his fair share of struggles this year.

Brady’s Passing Net Expected Points total on the season sits at 30.96, good for 13th-best in the NFL. With each drop back, he’s adding .08 points to the Patriots output, which is along the lines of what Ben Roethlisberger is doing for the Steelers.

His expected points score is certainly trending up though. Before his big performance against the Steelers, Brady had a PNEP of -4.56, hurting the Patriots bottom line with each pass. He then played 22.48 points above expectation in that game, helping his season total get to 17.92 entering their Week 10 bye.

Because he’s up to the 30 mark now, that means Brady, again, played much better than an average passer against the Panthers in their dramatic Monday night contest.

That’s great news, obviously, for Brady’s fantasy owners. The fact that he’s playing at a higher level with healthier personnel should only mean good things against a Denver secondary that ranks 22nd in the league against the pass according to our metrics. And, something that football fans may not realize, the Broncos rush defense is actually very good – the best in the league, our metrics say.

The Patriots are not only going to have to keep pace with Manning, but running the ball on Denver isn’t an easy task. Brady should benefit, and has a great shot at being a top-six fantasy quarterback this weekend. Our algorithms think he finishes as the third-best one.

Can the Giants keep the streak alive?

Do you remember the last time the Giants lost a football game? It was against the Bears on Thursday night – the game where Brandon Jacobs decided to be a running back again, rushing for over 100 yards and two scores (more on the Bears defense later.)

The G-Men have been winning with better defensive play and a balanced attack. Clearly game flow can contribute to high pass-to-run ratios, but check this out: After their Week 6 loss, the Giants pass-to-run ratio was second highest in the league at 2.20. They had run 249 passing plays to 113 running plays at that time.

Entering Week 12, the Giants have the ninth-highest pass-to-run ratio, and have run 394 passing plays to 237 rushing plays. By doing simple subtraction, their four-game winning streak has seen 145 passing plays vs. 124 rushing ones. That’s a ratio of 1.17, one that would place them as one of the run-heaviest teams in the league.

Now, as I said, a change in pass-to-run numbers could be a simple result of better or worse defensive play. Game flow, in other words, can dictate the way offenses are run. After Week 6 – the Giants’ sixth loss – New York had the sixth-worst Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points in the league. Through Week 11, the G-Men’s defensive unit has jumped all the way up to the number six spot in the country.

Amazing to see how a defense can impact an offense, isn’t it?

Defense is what’s getting it done for New York, and the return of Andre Brown will certainly help them make a push, starting with the Cowboys.

The Giants are currently ranked as our 24th-best team in terms of nERD, while the Cowboys are ranked 16th. But if you want to know who are algorithms think will win the game, you’ll have to become a premium member.

Will the Chiefs bounce back?

I think America saw that the Chiefs are a legitimate team in this league despite losing to the Broncos on Sunday Night Football last week. They still have the best Adjusted DNEP score in the league, separating themselves drastically from the Panthers last week due to the fact that they held the Broncos - the best offense in the NFL - to a reasonable game offensively.

The 9-1 team will see the Chargers in Week 12, who, according to our metrics, have the fourth-best offense in the NFL. This, however, is a little skewed by early season results – the Chargers have struggled over their last three games, not only losing each one, but they've increasd their Adjusted Net Expected Points by just 16 points.

What does this mean? Well, the Chargers were playing 8.9 points above expectation per game from Weeks 1 through 7. Then, after their Week 8 bye, San Diego’s dropped that game average by 3.58 points, playing at about 60 percent of the rate – production-wise – that they had been offensively.

The Chargers are capable, but given the way they’re moving the football, the Chiefs and their strong defense should be able to come through.

Will Zac Stacy lead the NFL in Week 12 rushing yards?

Remember when I mentioned that Brandon Jacobs rushed for over 100 yards against the Bears? Yeah, well, that's Zac Stacy's opponent in Week 12.

Since that Week 6 game against Jacobs, take a look at how the Bears have done against opposing running backs:

WeekTeamRB Rush AttemptsRB YardsRB Touchdowns
6New York Giants261232
7Washington Redskins311363
9Green Bay Packers281902
10Detroit Lions241460
11Baltimore Ravens361501

Though Washington and Green Bay have top-five rushing units on a per rush basis according to our metrics, the Lions, Ravens and Giants each have bottom-10 ones. And yet, despite this, they were each able to run wild on the depleted Bears.

Zac Stacy's been very solid this year, ranking 10th out of the 34 100-plus attempt runners in Rushing Net Expected Points per Rush. Factor that with Chicago's horrible run-stopping abilities, and there's a legitimate shot that the rookie could lead the league in rushing for the week.