Monday Night Football Preview: A Shootout in the Making?
Of the games on the Week 3 slate of the NFL season, not a single one had a higher over/under than tonight's contest between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Y'all wanted points in primetime? Giddyup.
At the same time, though, there are different ways at getting to high point totals. The two highest scoring games so far this week have included the Indianapolis Colts against the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots against the Jacksonville Jaguars. One of those games had a final margin of two points, while the other was a big-league romping in which one team tripled up the other's score. Clearly, one option is more exciting than the other. Which does the looking glass see for tonight?
We can get a full glimpse into this game by using numberFire's game profile, which is available for all games to premium subscribers. It shows the projected final score, passing and rushing statistics, and similar games throughout history. It may even show your credit score if you ask nicely.
We'll also be referring to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. This is our efficiency stat which tracks a team and player's value relative to expectations. On every play, a team has an expected number of points it will score on its current drive. A positive play (such as a three-yard run on 3rd-and-2) will increase that; a negative play (such as a three-yard run on 3rd-and-4) will decrease it. NEP tracks how players and teams fare in this arena throughout the course of a season, with the team side being adjusted based on strength of schedule.
Now that all of that's out of the way, let's get down to it. Let's take a peek inside to see what's in store tonight in this game with high-flying potential.
Can the Chiefs Contain Aaron Rodgers?
With Eddie Lacy not at 100 percent, you'd expect an additional load to fall on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. Thankfully for those in the green and gold, he is a'ight at what he does. Feel free to fan yourself after that scalding hot take.
Last year, Rodgers finished with 214.26 Total NEP (which takes everything -- passing, rushing, and receiving -- into account). Dating back to 2000, as far back as numberFire's NEP data goes, that was the seventh highest total on record. The next best mark that year came from Peyton Manning at 155.65, which is 58.61 NEP lower than Rodgers' total. Rodgers was the best quarterback in the league, and it wasn't even a contest.
Through the first two weeks of this season, Rodgers certainly hasn't lit the world on fire. That's not a knock on his performance; he simply hasn't been asked to. He entered Week 3 ranked sixth in Total NEP among quarterbacks (I had to clarify "among quarterbacks" because Antonio Brown is the illest and ranks third overall). His aggregate Passing NEP ranks seventh. Why is this?
It's certainly not because Rodgers is slipping. His Passing NEP per play is the fourth highest among quarterbacks with at least 10 drop backs, but he has only dropped back 58 times. That keeps his totals down, even though he has still been stupidly consistent. Now, we get to see whether he can maintain that consistency against the Chiefs.
Kansas City had a good defense against the pass last season, finishing ninth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. They have backed that up through the first two weeks, ranking sixth in that category, though that has been against a shell of Manning for one half and the Brian Hoyer/ Ryan Mallett death train to sadness in the other game. It seems fair, though, to say that this team at least can get the job done on defense.
Our algorithms do see a good game from Rodgers but not necessarily a gang-busting one. He's projected at 283 yards on 39 attempts (7.32 yards per attempts when you include the decimals in the projections) with 2.16 touchdowns and 0.70 interceptions. If I were the Chiefs' defense, I'd be more than happy to accept that line out of a quarterback this dominant.
How Should We Value Green Bay Pass-Catchers?
If you've used a Packers receiver not named James Jones through the first two weeks, you're probably a wee bit frustrated. Despite lofty expectations, neither Randall Cobb nor Davante Adams has topped 15.6 points (based on a 0.5 point-per-reception scoring format). Is it time to jump ship?
The answer is an obvious and resounding 'no.' Both Cobb and Adams have received at least 24 percent of the team's targets (Cobb at 29.63 percent and Adams at 24.07 percent). Basically, they've just (like Rodgers) been lacking in volume while also getting sniped at the goal line by Jones. This one-man band of fantasy production likely isn't sustainable, allowing for some room for growth out of Cobb and Adams.
Even though Cobb's build (5'10", 191 pounds) should hold him back from having a red-zone presence, it's not something he has struggled with in the past. He was targeted inside the 20 on 25 occasions last year, turning that into 16 receptions and 10 touchdowns.
Adams was targeted 66 times last year, and 11 of those came in the red zone, turning into 6 receptions and 2 touchdowns. The efficiency wasn't there for Adams last year, but the volume was, at least, in his limited role. The point here isn't to prove that these guys are top-notch red-zone targets, but rather to show that they will get opportunities to score. Not all will end up in the hands of Jones, though Rodgers' preference of Jones near the goal-line is always a factor to consider.
Our projections see good things in store for those of you who were patient with Cobb. They have him hauling in 6 receptions for 89 yards and 0.53 touchdowns on the night. Adams is, understandably, lower at 4 receptions for 49 yards and 0.25 touchdowns, while Jones is down for 4 receptions for 42 yards and 0.55 touchdowns. Apparently even the projections know a vulture when they see one. Either way, it's certainly not time to hop off of the Packers' receivers when you consider what a potent offense this is when it needs to be.
Will the Chiefs' Offense Keep Up?
We've established that the Packers can put some points on the board. That means the Chiefs are going to have to crank out a couple scores themselves if they want to take home a victory, which I'll go ahead and assume they would like to do.
The first two weeks haven't necessarily been kind to the Chiefs offensively. They entered Week 3 ranked 25th in Adjusted NEP per play after finishing 13th least year. That's definitely not ideal, but it's not quite time to panic yet.
In those games, the Chiefs have been matched up with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. Those two teams ranked 1st and 12th respectively in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year. Honestly, 25th isn't terrible when you consider that's what they've had to face. But that merely means that the Chiefs aren't a dumpster fire. It doesn't mean they're a lock to go toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses in football.
Although the Chiefs will be getting a bit of a break in terms of opposition, the fall-off isn't much. The Packers finished 15th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year with ranks of 15th against the pass and 22nd against the run. They sit 18th this year in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, so there doesn't appear to be a huge amount of difference between the two squads. It's going to be a tough task, as illustrated by the Packers being favored by 6.5 points.
What Does Jeremy Maclin Add to the Chiefs' Offense?
Y'all got your jokes off in the offseason when Jeremy Maclin signed with the Chiefs, saying that the hell cannon attached to Alex Smith's shoulder would prevent Maclin from utilizing his vertical abilities. Is Maclin the guy to finally break Smith's crippling fear of accidentally throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver?
If nothing else, Maclin is at least an upgrade over what Smith was dealing with in 2014. Maclin finished 17th in Reception NEP per target that year at 0.78 among the 58 wide receivers who were targeted at least 80 times. The only Chiefs receiver to even approach that qualification was Dwayne Bowe, who finished 27th in that category. The next best receiver on the roster was Albert Wilson, who turned his 28 targets into 0.65 Reception NEP per target. All other receivers were at 0.40 or lower. Can you blame Smith for not throwing to these dudes now?
Targets have not been an issue for Maclin thus far in Kansas City. He leads the team with 16 through the first two games, accounting for 29.63 percent of the team's total. Jamaal Charles is second with his 13 while Travis Kelce is third with 11. Then De'Anthony Thomas is the only other guy on the team with more than three. That's it. You know where the ball is going, and it'll go to Maclin enough for fantasy purposes.
While the volume has been there for Maclin, the efficiency is still a work in progress. He entered Week 3 ranked 65th in Reception NEP at 7.66. Additionally, his Target NEP (which will deduct when a pass falls incomplete or is intercepted) sits at -1.41, meaning the team's expected points have gone down when Maclin has been targeted. That's generally the opposite of what you're going for.
Once again, part of this is due to the strength of the opponent. You all saw again last night that the Broncos have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and the Texans are no slouch, either. Maclin's efficiency should rise, and if it can, he could form a nice little triumvirate with Kelce and Charles for the near future.
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