Five Week 14 Storylines: NFC South Showdown

Can Cam Newton get it done in the Superdome?

Back in July, posted an article titled, The Best Bad NFL Teams of 2012.

Essentially, the piece looked at two teams that scored well in terms of Net Expected Points, but lost close matchups or didn’t consistently have it all together week to week. Because of that, they finished with poor (bad) records.

But in the end, their NEP was strong. Despite their win-loss record, they were very competent squads, and if not for a short NFL season, would have probably regressed to a reasonable record.

Those teams? The Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

Five months later, these squads are battling for first place in the NFC South, and are two of the best teams in the entire league.

The numbers don’t lie, people.

Can Saints’ offense beat the Panthers' defense?

Despite a performance against Seattle that dropped his Passing Net Expected Points total down nearly 13 points, Drew Brees still sits as the second-best quarterback in the NFL this year according to that metric.

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, however, two of his final three fake football games will come against the 9-3 Carolina Panthers and their second-ranked defense. The first of those two games is on Sunday.

The Panthers Adjusted DNEP is currently listed at -55.29, better than every team outside of Seattle. This basically tells us that the Panthers should have allowed over 55 more points this year, but haven’t because, well, they’re really good.

They’re sound in every aspect of the game defensively, ranking fifth against the pass and sixth against the run. You could argue they’re the most balanced team on that side of the ball in the league, as Seattle sees a bigger discrepancy between their pass and rush defensive ranks (1st vs. 9th).

By no surprise, the Saints are a better passing team than a running one. Like Brees, they rank second in Adjusted Passing NEP, while their running game sits in the 17 spot.

So what does this all mean? Well, I’d expect the Saints to try to make this a high-scoring affair, forcing 12th-most efficient passing offense in the NFL to beat them. Carolina ranks second in the NFL in sacks, so a quick-passing offense could be in store as Brees is under pressure. If you own a Saints running back, they’re going to be much more valuable in PPR leagues than standard ones this week.

Will the Saints end up getting the win? Take a look at our game predictions to find out.

Will Russell Wilson continue his efficient play?

Earlier in the week, I wrote about why Russell Wilson doesn’t deserve the NFL MVP award – at least at this point in the season. It had more to do with Wilson’s competition than Wilson himself, as players like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have outperformed him on an individual level this year.

Wilson’s Passing NEP of 78.44 is fifth-best in the league. Last season, the Seahawks’ passer finished the season with an 84.01 Passing NEP, eight-best in the NFL. He’s become the only rookie quarterback from last season to play at a more efficient rate in his sophomore season.

He’s been great, but will be put to the test this week in San Francisco. The 49ers defense currently ranks sixth in the league according to numberFire analytics, but that’s a ranking that’s been trending upwards since Week 4. At that time, the 49ers defense was listed as the eighth-worst in the NFL.

From a fantasy perspective, Wilson comes in as our number 10 quarterback option this week. Starting him is fine, but beware that his ceiling may not be as high as it typically has been this year.

Can the Titans corners stop the Broncos wideouts?

Since the end of Week 2, the Tennessee Titans have allowed zero touchdown passes to opposing wide receivers. None. Zero. Zilch.

In fact, the Titans have given up 10 or more receptions to opposing wide receivers just once this year, allowing them to have the best fantasy points against total against the position this season.

Their raw numbers look great, and I don’t want to take away anything that the secondary – led by cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty – has done this season. They’ve been fantastic. But they haven’t been tested. Not really at all.

The Titans faced the Chargers in Week 3, who didn’t have a standout wide receiver to really test the Tennessee corners. Remember, Keenan Allen wasn’t getting the snaps he is now, and it forced Philip Rivers to throw for just 41 yards to his wide receivers.

In Weeks 4 and 5 the Titans saw the Jets (blah) and the Chiefs (ugh) receivers. Anything special? Certainly not.

Week 6 was their only game where they allowed double-digit receptions to wide receivers, and it was against the Seahawks. Not a whole lot of strength there, either.

They then faced the 49ers, Rams and Jags. Anquan Boldin’s had a very underrated season, but aside from him – nope, nothing substantial in the passing game.

Really, guys, the only big test they’ve had since Week 2 (Andre Johnson; caught eight passes for 76 yards) has been T.Y. Hilton. While Hilton’s 5’9’’, 183-pound frame has a lot of potential, he’s not (yet) a physical, stud receiver in this game.

Because of their opposition, our numbers say that the Titans pass defense ranks just 17th in the league against the pass. I know, I know – you don’t think it makes sense, but this is their big test. If they can shut down Peyton and his wide receivers, that ranking will surely shoot up towards the top.

If you own a Broncos receiver, certainly be aware that the Titans corners are great, but still start them as you normally would.

Will Nick Foles throw an interception?

We’re all waiting for Foles to regress. But he keeps going, and he probably will continue this week against Detroit.

The Lions have the ninth-worst pass defense when you adjust it for strength of schedule, and it’s been steadily dropping throughout the season.

After Week 5, Detroit actually boasted the 12th-best pass defense. But thanks to a 292-yard, two-touchdown performance by Brandon Weeden, a 372-yard, three-score one to Andy Dalton and a 367-yard, four-touchdown game to Ben Roethlisberger, Detroit’s become a team to target in fantasy football.

Of course Foles could finally throw a pick, but Detroit’s not a team that’s taken advantage of mistakes – not recently, at least. They’ve intercepted opposing quarterbacks just twice since Week 7, and that includes games against Andy Dalton, Mike Glennon and Matt Flynn.

Foles is a full-blown QB1 this week in fantasy, and should be considered in your daily leagues, too.

Will the Chiefs defense return to their early-season form?

Entering their Week 10 bye, the Chiefs defense ranked first in our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points metric, coming in with a -63.84 score. At the time, the second-ranked defense, Carolina, was playing just a little over 36 points above expectation (-36.54). Essentially, no team was even coming close to the Chiefs defensive play.

Through Week 13, KC’s Adjusted DNEP sits at -46.35, 17.49 points worse than it was after Week 9’s conclusion. In other words, over their last three contests (two against Denver, one against San Diego), Kansas City has allowed 5.83 more points than they should have per game. And remember, that’s adjusted for strength of schedule, so don’t think it’s simply due to their offensively strong opposition.

This week, Kansas City will face the Redskins, a team with troubles of their own. Washington now ranks 21st offensively according to our metrics, gradually declining as the second half of the season has moved forward. It could be the kind of matchup the Chiefs need to get back on track.