The Best and Worst Players From Wild Card Weekend: Tony Romo Silences Critics
Wild Card Weekend in the NFL is in our collective rear-view mirror, and only eight teams remain in contention for the Super Bowl. Getting down to eight contenders meant four teams had to lose this past weekend, and that meant some individual performances by players were responsible for their team's fall from grace, or for their step closer to immortality.
So who do the numbers say had the biggest impact over this past weekend of football? Which players are most to blame for their teams struggles? Let's take a look at numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) data to find out.
You shouldn't need a metric like Net Expected Points to know that Tony Romo is one of the league's best quarterbacks, yet silly narratives crop up every time the Cowboys fail to win a game, regardless of Romo's actual contributions. He was able to dispel some of those notions this weekend with a playoff victory, and he did so with a fantastic performance.
Romo finished with a Passing NEP over 15, meaning his actions as a passer led to over two touchdowns' worth of expected points more than what was expected. This is even more impressive when you consider that it came against the Lions, who finished 12th this season in our Defensive Passing NEP metric, adjusted for strength of opponent.
The narratives tend to swing in the other direction for Luck, as many see his great plays and selectively ignore the poor throws and decisions. But there's no debate that he's a very good NFL quarterback, and has a bright future ahead of him, especially if he can continue to make throws like he did on a deep strike to Donte Moncrief against the Bengals. His ability to climb the pocket and shake off pass rushers to deliver a perfect throw over the top of the defender and his receiver is truly unique, as not many other NFL signal-callers could have pulled off that pass.
Luck finished just a couple of points shy of Romo according to our NEP data, chipping in with a couple of good runs to boost his Total NEP (which considers both passing and rushing for quarterbacks) to 13.5 for the day.
It should come as no surprise that the worst quarterback in the playoffs had the worst game, as Lindley was the "anti-Romo," posting a negative NEP of -16.82 as a passer. His brutal interception near the goal line following a big play to get the ball close to scoring position epitomized his awful day under center.
The Bengals invested in Andy Dalton as if he was closer to the players in the "best" discussion above, but his -11.28 Passing NEP this weekend was truly horrible. Sure, he didn't really have anyone to throw to, but his ball placement and decision making were still poor.
The Cowboys elite offensive line paved the way for Murray once again, who showed power and agility in the open field to turn a couple of decent gains into bigger chunk plays against the Lions. Detroit came into the game with the top rushing defense in the league by a wide margin, according to our data, but when Dallas decided to recommit to the run in the second half, their talented front five created openings for Murray, who earned nearly a +3.00 in NEP on 19 carries.
Even with a fumble to his name, Herron finished with a positive Rushing NEP on 12 attempts, and on an afternoon when very few backs had any success, he wins a spot in the top two by default. He was also a fantasy football hero thanks to his 10 receptions, but those plays resulted in a net negative in terms of NEP. Check downs are usually not the most productive form of offense, but they were great for DFS players this weekend.
Forsett's Ravens got the victory, but his fumble after a big fourth-down pickup and some failures to get positive yardage in short yard-to-go situations sunk his NEP to the lowest level of any back this weekend. There really weren't a ton of great running back performances on Saturday and Sunday, but Forsett's will be one to forget as the Ravens move on in the playoffs.
Joique Bell carried the ball only 12 times, and posted a Rushing NEP around -3.00 on those carries. The Dallas defense didn't come into their game against Detroit as the better run-stopping unit, but they performed better on the afternoon, keeping the Lions in the air despite their early lead.
Up until now, none of the players on the best or worst lists have been huge surprises. Justin Forsett's disappointing game is contrary to his play this season, but he's been a career journeyman, and him stumbling a bit in a big game isn't a surprise. What is a surprise is Terrance Williams earning the top spot among wideouts this weekend, something no one would have expected in a matchup with the Lions. The Cowboys' wideout caught three of his eight targets, but two went for touchdowns, including one very long score, leading to a Reception NEP over 15.00.
Antonio Brown's inclusion on this list is hardly a shocker, as the Steelers' top receiver has been a consistent threat all season long. Even in a losing effort, Brown's chain-moving catches earned him an NEP north of 14.00 on his receptions despite failing to find the end zone. That's the sort of impressive production we've come to expect from him this season.
It's a bit unfair to blame Larry Fitzgerald for what happened with the Arizona offense this weekend, but according to our numbers, passes thrown his way lost more than a touchdown's worth of Net Expected Points against the Panthers. A lot of this has to do with Lindley's poor performance, but we also have to consider that Fitzgerald is approaching the end of a great career, and just isn't the sort of elite player who can bail out a bad quarterback like he once was.
Brandon Tate, on the other hand, might not be all that great of a wide receiver. The Bengals needed someone to step up at receiver with a plethora of injuries on offense, and it's telling that they turned to running back Rex Burkhead and got more success from him than they did from Tate. Brandon finished the game with zero catches on five targets and had a negative target NEP around -3.00. The Bengals need to address their depth at WR this offseason, as they clearly can't survive without A.J. Green in the lineup.
Greg Olsen was the best tight end playing this weekend, but he wasn't nearly as big of a factor in the Carolina passing game as the other two veteran tight ends listed above were for their teams. Witten had an Antonio Brown-like impact on the Dallas offense, moving the chains in key situations including a great route to get open for a key first down late in the game. He finished with a reception NEP north of 11, one of the best of any player at a skill position on the weekend.
Daniels led the Ravens in Reception NEP, as they spread the ball around to several targets against the Steelers defense. He caught four passes for 70 yards, but those catches came in key moments, earning him nearly 7.00 Net Expected Points for his efforts.
Worst Tight End: Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Tight ends are usually "worst" by simply being invisible, but a special nod goes to Jack Doyle, who caught three passes for nine yards, and in doing so, dropped his team's odds of scoring by nearly a point. Like I mentioned earlier with Herron, check downs aren't always the best option for an offense, and Doyle thrives on these short throws.