Thursday Night Football Best Bets Strategies - Week 14

Manning vs. Palmer doesn't exactly have the same luster it once did. Zach Warren analyzes why.

I'd have to think that if a time traveler from 2005 saw this Thursday Night Football matchup, he would be both extremely excited and somewhat confused. Carson Palmer vs. Peyton Manning? Awesome! Wait, the Raiders and Broncos? What? Let me feel better about this with that new young star Chris Brown and see what he did after "Run It"; nothing could ever go wrong with him...

2005 was a more innocent time, but now, that innocence is lost. No, I'm not talking about Chris Brown (well, not completely talking about Chris Brown); this Palmer vs. Manning battle isn't exactly the slugfest it would have seemed back in 2005. Peyton's Broncos come into this game with a 9-3 record, and the only thing they're fighting for now is playoff seeding. The Raiders... well, a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs at least feels a bit better for Black Hole Denizens when they realize the Chargers and Chiefs only have a 0.3% chance between them as well.

But for a game as supposedly one-sided as this one, sometimes you need a little extra incentive to care. That's where we can help. For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and some key stats we're looking at for this game, read on.

But He's Still the Best Pro USC QB

What exactly has happened to Carson Palmer? Sure, he's led the Raiders to a 3-9 record and has 13 interceptions, but he also ranks seventh in the NFL in passing yardage (right ahead of Peyton), ninth in passing TDs, and maintains a respectable throwing percentage above 60%. Has he truly been that bad this season, and what's to say he can't throw for massive amount of yards tonight?

But the answers aren't mutually exclusive - yes, he has been that bad this season, and yes, he very well still could throw for a massive amount of yards. For a true measure of Palmer's efficiency, we look at his Net Expected Points (NEP) earned, which measures the amount of expected points Palmer has gained or lost the Raiders above what an average NFL team would give in the same situation. Historically, Palmer has been excellent in his efficiency; he has only had two seasons below +0.10 NEP per pass, and none of those seasons have come since 2008. In his first year with the Raiders, he averaged +0.15 NEP per pass.

Well, it must be time to party like it's George W.'s birthday, because that number is back at +0.07 NEP per pass this season. In total this season, Palmer has gained the Raiders 38.25 NEP above expectation, or only a little over three points per game. For reference, Manning has gained the Broncos roughly three times that mark; Colin Caepernick has gained the Niners 37.82 NEP in about a quarter of the pass attempts.

But based on the Oakland offensive scheme, you're still likely to see a ton of passing yards from Carson Palmer. It's all due to that pesky pass/run ratio. So far this year, the Raiders have passed on 65.5% of their offensive plays, easily the highest proportion in the league. That's almost two-thirds of their plays this season being passes; even the Colts in Manning's prime usually barely topped 60%. And that ratio's not likely to change this week - 76.1% of their offensive plays Week 13 against Cleveland were passes. So to clear this up: efficiency no, but massive quantities, yes. It's been the name of the game for Palmer.

Fighting Fire with Fire

But if the Raiders do indeed go with their pass-happy style, it could play right into the strengths of the Denver defense. Heading into Week 14, Denver registers as our No. 4 opponent-adjusted defense, behind the Monsters of the Midway, the Electric Watt-led Texans of Houston, and the, umm, Cardinals. Because of the strength of NFL offenses this season as compared to the historical data from which we draw our league-average plays, the Broncos are one of only seven teams to have allowed less points than expectation this season. That's impressive enough on its own.

Look at the numbers in the secondary, however, and that Denver D shines even brighter. Because passing is typically much more efficient than running, passing plays usually result in a higher average NEP per play value. For defenses, that makes the passing NEP against numbers inflated. In fact, only two NFL teams have allowed less passing NEP than expectation this year: the Bears and the Texans. But there is another team very close, only having allowed 1.36 NEP over expectation total this season: those Denver Broncos.

Given the number of passing plays against them this year, the Broncos have allowed 0.00 NEP per pass to opposing quarterbacks this season. To see exactly how against the norm that is, realize that only five QBs with at least 200 pass attempts have averaged less than 0.00 NEP per pass on the season: Ryan Tannehill, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselbeck, and Blaine Gabbert. Among the QBs right above that line are Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, and Brandon Weeden. So that's what the Raiders are dealing with - an opposing secondary that makes the average opposing quarterback throw like a combination of Mark Sanchez and Michael Vick. Have fun, Mr. Palmer.

Pass Happy Equals Point Happy?

The totals line on this game currently sits at 48.5 points according to Bovada, unmoved from where it started the week. With Palmer throwing so much that his arm's ready to fall off and Peyton our fifth-leading MVP candidate, surely this game will pass that high-scoring affair, right?

But if the past comparable games are any indication, maybe not. In our premium product, we list the 25 games with the strongest comparability to this particular matchup, with the games we draw from going all the way back to the year 2000. The games could be comparable for any number of reasons: similar team playcalling, similar team placements in the power rankings, even similar player efficiency of the key guys themselves. And when the top five comparable games are analyzed, a trend emerges.

DateMatchupTotal PointsO/U

Out of these five games (all of which matched tonight's game at 89.8% or higher), four of them went under their given totals lines. Three of them did not get within ten points of the given totals line. Of course, that might be different if Donovan McNabb realized that you can tie in that 11/16/08 Bengals/Eagles game, but I'll take what slightly-idiotic hand I'm given. Whether this trend continues tonight remains to be seen, but instantly assuming the Battle for 2005 Supremacy will reveal high-scoring results may be misguided.