Monday Night Football Preview: Double Your Delight
The first week of the NFL season is already a blessing by itself. Having football on the television as opposed to re-runs of Gossip Girl on a Sunday afternoon is the most blissful of substitutions. Then, the NFL spoils all of us plebeians by scheduling two Monday night games. What have we done to deserve this?
Not only are there two games, but there are also two intriguing games. The first, the Detroit Lions versus the New York Giants, features the receiver with the highest Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and the quarterback with the second-lowest Total NEP in 2013. Both were entertaining for different reasons.
The second game will include a matchup between numberFire's fourth-ranked offense, the San Diego Chargers, and its fifth-ranked defense, the Arizona Cardinals. Don't ask how the Chargers rank defensively.
Let's take a look at some of the storylines to watch heading into this double-dip of delight.
Can Eli Rebound?
Thankfully, Manning will face the team that ranked 24th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play last year. The Lions struggled as a whole to stop the pass, and even allowed Brandon Weeden to put up 292 yards through the air against them. That's not good.
When these two teams met in Week 16 of last season, the Lions had entered full-on Jay Cutler mode. The 23-20 overtime victory for the Giants was the third consecutive Detroit loss, eliminating the Lions from playoff contention. Manning completed 54.8 percent of his passes (23-42) for 256 yards with a touchdown and an interception. That's only 6.10 yards per attempt and 5.50 adjusted yards per attempt (which takes touchdowns and interceptions into account). A decidedly below-average performance.
The numberFire projections for the game predict 197.20 passing yards for the Giants and 1.96 turnovers. That doesn't exactly scream, "Trust me, I'm different!" I'd shy away from Eli if you have the choice in anything that involves money/pride/mental stability.
Will We See the 6-3 Lions or the 1-6 Kitties?
The 2013 Lions were a little strange. After a 21-19 victory on the road against a division rival in the Bears, they were in prime position to head to the postseason. Then, after a stretch that included losses to these Giants, the Buccaneers and the Vikings, they were 7-9. Consistency is for lame-o's.
numberFire's similarity scores seem conflicted as to what the answer to that question will be. The top comp for the 2014 Lions is the 2001 Chargers (93.83 percent similarity). That team finished 5-11 despite a plus-11 point differential. Figure that one out.
The next four comps, the 2010 Jets, 2008 Vikings, 2010 Chiefs and 2000 Giants, all made the playoffs. The Vikings and Chiefs lost in the first round of the playoffs, the Jets lost in the conference championship game, and the Giants lost in the Super Bowl. The mixed bag of similar teams seems appropriate for a team that could finish anywhere from 4-12 to 11-5.
For this game specifically, the opponent should assist the Lions in returning to their early-season form. The rush defense should be stout, with the projections only giving the Giants 95.96 yards on the ground. Matthew Stafford is projected at 272.17 yards through the air, averaging 1.49 touchdowns and 1.52 interceptions. Calvin Johnson is expected to do Megatron-y things to the tune of 6.68 receptions for 101.57 yards and 0.63 touchdowns. Those numbers should be good enough to knock off the Giants.
Which Unit Emerges Victorious: Cardinals Defense or Chargers Offense?
This is one of those sneaky-awesome matchups. The top four comps for the 2014 San Diego Chargers all went to the playoffs, and the number two comp, the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, even got a little trophy for their efforts.
Most of this is because the Chargers' offense is projected to be pretty awesome. As I mentioned earlier, they are rated as the fourth best offense in the league by numberFire's algorithms. Philip Rivers finished third in the league in Total NEP last year behind only Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. It was his fifth top-four finish in the category since 2006, so this was no fluke. When you look at the talent around him from Keenan Allen to Ryan Mathews, you see why this could easily happen again this season.
In this matchup, they're countered by the league's fifth-best defense in the Cardinals. Arizona finished third in the league in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play last year, and eighth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The loss of Darnell Dockett could definitely hurt the rush defense, but they're still a top-notch unit.
The key here will be the Chargers' passing offense. If they can find success through the air, that can help make up for the possible dominant ground defense. Rivers is projected at 255.85 passing yards with 1.88 touchdowns and 0.84 interceptions. In a lot of games, that's more than enough to pick up a victory. But when you have a defense like the Chargers', that may not be the case.
Can the Chargers Stop Carson Palmer?
Now that I've gushed over the Chargers' offense, it's time to show you why they have only a 49.3 percent chance of making the playoffs: their defense. The team enters the season ranked 30th in the league in defense with a 80.62 NEP.
Last year, Carson Palmer was far from great, but he also wasn't terrible. His 21.87 Total NEP ranked 22nd in the league, but he also had to face the Seahawks and the 49ers a total of four times, so that should be expected. He should receive a sizeable boost by facing a secondary that was greatly retooled over the offseason.
numberFire's projections have Palmer slated for a 265.69-yard night to go with 1.63 touchdowns and 0.78 interceptions. That's very similar to Rivers' projections. If the two end up posting similar numbers, this game could really go either way.
The game with the top similarity score to this one from the past 14 years was a 2001 game that featured the Saints and the Falcons. The Falcons were the team with the lesser defense, yet they emerged victorious, 20-13. While the Saints were able to move the ball through the air (Aaron Brooks passed for 249 yards), the ground game didn't work. That could be the case tonight, with Andre Ellington a game-time decision and Jonathan Dwyer as the emergency go-to. So even if the Chargers aren't able to stop Carson Palmer, they might still be able to pull off the victory.
Who Wins the Contests?
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