Monday Night Football Preview: How Important Are Week 1 Results?
It's the All-Pro Golden Boy against the journey man with the golden beard. The fourth-year head coach with three trips to the playoffs against the rookie head man. The defending conference runners-up against a team coming off of a 4-12 season. Easy matchup, right? I'd hold your horses there, cowboy.
Even though Vegas has pinned the Indianapolis Colts as seven-points favorites over the New York Jets, we've got our own numbers that can tell us what to expect. That's why we turn to the game profile, which is available for every game each week for premium subscribers. It includes a full run-down of the odds for the game, historic games that are the most similar to this one, and projections for passing yards, rushing yards, and on and on.
In conjunction with that, we'll be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) to get a read on the analytics behind each team and player. For each play in a game, there is an expected number of points the team will score on the drive. A positive play (such as a 3-yard run on 3rd-and-2) will increase that. A negative play (such as a 3-yard run on 3rd-and-4) will decrease that. NEP tracks this over the course of an entire season and piles it together into one nifty number. For teams, it is also adjusted based on strength of schedule.
Although this game may appear like a slam dunk, there are several important questions heading into the contest we need to answer. Let's get to those and break this bad boy down.
Can the Colts Bounce Back From a Difficult Week 1?
The first half of football this season passed without a single point out of the Colts' vaunted offense. The second half wasn't much better, seeing the Colts only log 14 points while playing in catch-up mode. Signal or noise for the rest of the season?
Although it was ugly, it may not have been as ugly as it seemed. Andrew Luck finished the season-opener with 3.68 Passing NEP on his 51 drop backs. That's certainly not a great number (it was 16th in the league for that week), but it's better than his 5.0 yards per attempt and 2 interceptions would indicate. At very least, it's excusable against a defensive front like the Bills'.
With this in mind -- that maybe Week 1 wasn't as bad as it looked on paper -- we can look forward to Week 2. The Colts are favored by seven, so clearly Vegas hasn't given up on them yet. Should we?
The second most similar game to this one presents a situation that is eerily close. In 2012, the Green Bay Packers (most similar to the Colts in this scenario) were coming off of a 38-10 loss to the New York Giants in Week 12. Woof. They were entering a game at home against the Minnesota Vikings in which the Packers were 7.5-point favorites. Sound familiar?
In that game, the Packers actually trailed, 14-10, at halftime. They proceeded to blank the Vikings in the second half and claim the win, 23-14. It was far from a dominant performance, but the Packers were able to win while also covering the spread. So don't freak out just yet, Indy fans. History appears to be on your side for a solid rebound.
Is Donte Moncrief's Breakout Imminent?
Perhaps the biggest surprise from Week 1 for the Colts (outside of the final score) was the target distribution. It wasn't a shock that T.Y. Hilton led the team with 14, but the second name on that list may have been: Donte Moncrief.
Not only did Moncrief get the volume in his 11 targets, but he was also efficient. Moncrief added 9.70 Reception NEP, translating to 0.88 Reception NEP per target. That's compared to marks of 6.52 and 0.47 respectively for Hilton and 2.60 and 0.26 for Andre Johnson. Part of this is because Johnson was hot garbage, but Moncrief truly did show up well in the analytics column.
It was in a limited sample size, but Moncrief did similar things last year, as well. He turned his 49 targets into 35.58 Reception NEP, translating to 0.73 Reception NEP per target. This blew Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks out of the water, trailing only Hilton's 0.83 mark for the top among receivers on the team. He's got the efficiency, but now we may get to see if he can turn that into fantasy goodness.
Currently, our projections have Moncrief logging 4 reception for 52 yards and 0.25 touchdowns. A lot of that depends on how the targets are distributed, but that's really not a bad total considering the uncertainty surrounding his situation. If he sees 11 targets again, it'd be safe to assume he'd exceed that total. Obviously, that's not a given, but this is a guy you'll want to track Monday night to see what his value is moving forward.
How Improved is the Jets' Secondary?
It wasn't just the quarterback situation that held the Jets back last season. Their starting corners on opening day were Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen, who entered camp as a safety. Not surprisingly, they finished the season ranked 21st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and it probably would have been worse if not for their studly front seven. Yeesh.
Now, they're locked and loaded with Darrelle Revis. He led the Jets to finishes of first, ninth and third in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play from 2009 to 2011 respectively. In his two years away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 12th in that category with the New England Patriots finishing 6th last year. Where he goes, good metrics follow.
In Week 1, the Jets were able to hold Cleveland Browns quarterbacks to a combined -1.34 Passing NEP. Rumor has it that Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel don't quite add up to being Luck, so this week will be a good test of what kinds of strides the team was able to make in the offseason.
Our projections aren't quite as optimistic about this secondary as they were in Week 1. They see Luck racking up 325 passing yards on 43 attempts (7.49 yards per attempt when you include the decimals in the projection) to go with 2.06 touchdowns and 0.86 interceptions. Those numbers should be around where you'd expect given the volume. If the Jets want to keep this puppy interesting, they may need to keep the actual output below those marks and make the Colts beat them through other means.
Is FitzMagic the Hero the Jets Deserve?
Y'all got your jokes off when Geno Smith was punched about it being a good thing for the Jets. I'm not saying those weren't cruel, but I'm also not saying that they were wrong.
On his 23 drop backs last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick racked up 2.18 Passing NEP. It's not going to blow you out of the water, but it's exactly what we've come to expect out of Fitzpatrick: dependability.
In 2014, Fitzpatrick's final tally with the Houston Texans was 0.08 Passing NEP per play. This ranked 20th in the league out of the 48 quarterbacks who recorded at least 75 drop backs. With the same assets that year, Ryan Mallett had 0.00 Passing NEP per play, and Tom Savage had -0.13. FitzMagic isn't on the verge of being a Pro Bowl player, but he's a guy who can at very least be steady.
As for Monday night, our projections see the same old Fitzpatrick. They have him throwing for 189 yards on 27 attempts (7.06 yards per attempt) with 1.26 touchdowns and 0.76 interceptions. If the Jets get down early -- as is possible with a seven-point spread -- those attempts could go up. However, the baseline expectation is for a very Fitzy night, with nothing to blow your mind, but nothing to blow the Jets' chances at victory.
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