3 Week 6 Storylines to Watch: Will the Patriots Continue Their Dominance Against the Colts?
Week 6 is here, and it's hard to believe we're a mere three weeks from the midway point in the season. The past few weeks have been a little underwhelming in terms of high-flying shootouts and major rivalry games, but Week 6 figures to scramble that equation in multiple ways.
Week 6 has three games on tap that Vegas projects an over/under of 50 points or higher, meaning the offense should flow in bundles. The game with the highest over/under, currently standing at 55 points? The Patriots versus the Colts.
Why is that significant? Only because the Colts were the team the Patriots faced in the AFC Championship game last season and were the team that brought the deflated football scandal to the NFL's attention, which resulted in suspensions, fines, losses of draft picks, overturned suspensions, courtroom drama, etc.
Tom Brady can say all he wants about looking at this game like any other game, but no one believes he won't be out there with at least a little extra incentive to embarrass the Colts in Indianapolis.
With the Patriots/Colts saga easily serving as our top NFL storyline this weekend, let's dive deeper into it and other Week 6 storylines you need to be following heading into Football Sunday.
Do the Colts Stand a Chance Against the Patriots?
Last January, the Colts and Patriots faced each other in the AFC Championship game in which Tom Brady and the Patriots wiped the floor with the Colts, beating them 45-7.
However, soon after the game, it was revealed that the Colts had brought the inflation level of the Patriots' footballs to the attention of the referees, questioning whether they were up to proper NFL standards.
As you all know, this touched off a legal saga pitting Brady against NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, in a courtroom battle that overturned Brady's four-game suspension, but that still is not technically over given that the NFL has appealed the ruling.
But for what it's worth, the Patriots have been able to proceed as normal with their NFL season. And by normal I mean straight marauding any opponent in their way. Having led his team to a 4-0 start, Brady's started off the season incredibly hot, throwing for 11 touchdowns, and he remains the only quarterback in the league to have not thrown an interception yet this season.
In terms of the analytics, Brady's been the second-most productive quarterback in the league, producing 64.47 points above expectation with his drop backs in terms of numberFire's signature performance-above-expectation metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). And he's done that in four games whereas the leading quarterback, Andy Dalton, has had five games to compile a 70.54 Passing NEP. So, to put it short, Brady's been killing it.
His quarterback counterpart in Week 6, Andrew Luck, has not been killing it. He's missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, and there's still no guarantee he will suit up for this matchup. But before he went down with the injury, Luck had only compiled a 9.76 Passing NEP through three games, and despite missing two games, is tied for second in the league in interceptions with seven. In fact, Matt Hasselbeck's Passing NEP of 20.03 more than doubles Luck's while playing in one fewer game. Needless to say, the Colts want this game not only to avenge their AFC Championship game loss, but they also want this game to help get their star quarterback back on track.
This game is setting up for the Patriots to take down the Colts again, but the Colts' recent history of losses to the Patriots with Andrew Luck at the helm should give them extra incentive to reverse that trend. Either way, this Sunday night matchup figures to be a high-flying shootout, with a ton of added drama layered on top.
Can the Panthers Get Over Their Seahawks Curse?
The Carolina Panthers have made great strides as a football team the last few seasons, becoming the first team in the NFC South to win the division two seasons in a row. But their kryptonite for the last few seasons has been their annual matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, who they've yet to beat in four straight matchups since Cam Newton became the Panthers’ quarterback.
As far as roster construction is concerned, the Seahawks and Panthers boast a lot of similiarities. Both teams' studs primarily reside on the defensive side of the ball. Both teams lack big difference-making weapons in the passing game, with the exception of the addition of Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks' roster in the 2015 offseason. And both teams employ mobile quarterbacks who use their improvisational skills to help extend drives when needed.
But in each of those three areas it's been widely accepted that the Seahawks have a slight advantage making them the better team. That narrative might be changing this season. The Seahawks have gotten off to a 2-3 start, and somehow it seems like the Jimmy Graham trade has made them worse as a team due to the deterioration of their offensive line, having shipped away All-Pro center Max Unger to New Orleans to acquire Graham. The Panthers have gotten off to a hot 4-0 start, but the competition they've faced hasn't been all that great, with their toughest opponent in the Texans currently ranking 24th in our power rankings.
Three of the four losses the Panthers have suffered to the Seahawks in recent years have come at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and this meeting will occur in Seattle, with the 12th man in tow. And the Seahawks, despite their 2-3 record, still rank as the fifth-best team in our power rankings with the Panthers registering as the ninth-best squad. If the Panthers can get over their curse against the Seahawks on the road, they'll instantly enter the conversation when folks start discussing the best teams in the NFL. We'll see on Sunday if they can get over the hump.
Will the Dolphins Right Their Ship with a New Coach in Town?
Prior to the season beginning, many football analysts pegged the Dolphins as the team in the AFC East most likely to threaten the Patriots' decade plus-long chokehold on the division title. But in four short games since the season began, the Dolphins are looking like they might contend for a top-five draft pick. After starting the season 1-3, the Dolphins' brass had had enough of Joe Philbin and fired him, leaving new interim head coach Dan Campbell to pick up the pieces.
Seemingly nothing has gone right for the Dolphins this year. They made a splash in free agency signing Ndamukong Suh, but their pass rush hasn't been nearly as tantalizing as expected. Their secondary is in shambles after predictions that it might be among the best in the league. Currently, their defensive unit ranks 16th in the league against the rush and 28th against the pass, according to our metrics.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dolphins did work in the offseason to surround their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, with a bevy of offensive weapons, adding Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron, and even using their first-round draft pick to draft wide receiver DeVante Parker. What are the results thus far? Not good at all.
Only two quarterbacks in the league with over 100 passing attempts, Nick Foles and Teddy Bridgewater, are less efficient on a per drop back basis than Tannehill. In fact, through four games, Tannehill has a -15.02 Passing NEP, meaning he's essentially taken away 15 points from the Dolphins' expected point total this season.
Inexplicably, the Dolphins have also seemed loath to get running back Lamar Miller involved, whose number of rushing attempts have clocked in at single digits twice already this season. Miller was very efficient as a runner in 2014, logging a 0.06 Rushing NEP per rush, but this season he's sporting a paltry -0.09 Rushing NEP per rush. If the Dolphins expect to turn things around it's imperative that they get this talented runner going to open up lanes in the passing game, and Campbell has expressed this very sentiment as well.
If the Dolphins are going to get their season on track behind the leadership of their new interim head coach, it must begin this weekend against the Tennessee Titans. If both Miller and Tannehill can get going, they might stand a chance at doing just that.