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Costly push for Seahawks

Jeff Fogle
VSiN City newsletter

All that for a push! Seattle wins in Arizona, but loses Richard Sherman to an Achilles' tendon injury. Plus, notes on Thursday’s NBA…Friday’s start of college hoops…and a big stat preview for Saturday’s TCU/Oklahoma tussle.

NFL: Key injuries make it a painful win for Seattle in Thursday night football
Divisional rivalry games are always physical. Seattle took the worst of it in a 22-16 win over Arizona that saw multiple players go down with injuries. The worst news, Richard Sherman was apparently lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon (according to replay lip readers on multiple networks). Seattle bettors also endured the late-game drama of watching their defense allow a last second TD that blew the cover. A blocked extra point put the final margin right on the most common game-day line of six points. Dog lovers who took Arizona plus 6.5 cashed their tickets. 

Seattle (-6) 22 Arizona 16 
Yards-per-Play: Seattle 4.8, Arizona 4.0
Total Yards: Seattle 287, Arizona 290
Third Down Pct: Seattle 23%, Arizona 40%
Rushing Yards: Seattle 75, Arizona 34
Passing Stats: Seattle 22-32-0-212, Arizona 24-47-0-256
Turnovers: Seattle 0, Arizona 1
Touchdown Drive Lengths: Seattle 51-80, Arizona 75-61

You probably saw footage Russell Wilson’s highlight play where he scrambled around in circles then launched a pass that resulted in a 54-yard gain down to the two-yard line. Without that, Seattle finishes with 15 points on really lousy offensive stats. And, without that, Arizona isn’t given the big cushion that allowed them to rack up garbage time yards when trailing 22-10. 

Basically, Seattle didn’t look like a playoff team, but is still hanging around. Arizona may not be down at San Francisco or Cleveland level….but they deserve to be low in the Power Ratings. 

As we mentioned in yesterday’s preview, Seattle has a brutal schedule ahead. They’ll be trying to win games with an offense that can’t do much on command vs. decent defenses…and with a defense that will no longer be led emotionally by Richard Sherman. 

Because Seattle/Arizona really wasn’t worth writing several hundred words about, we thought it would be fun to check in on some yards-per-play differentials for playoff contenders. You regulars know that we start each game preview with a stat line that covers offensive and defensive yards-per-play with Jeff Sagarin’s strength of schedule in parenthesis. Here’s what that looked like entering the week for the contenders in each conference. I’ve ranked them by YPP differential. So, the team with the best differential is on top…the team with the worst is on the bottom. 

NFC
Atlanta: 6.2 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. the #11 schedule)
Minnesota: 5.5 on offense, 4.6 on defense (vs. the #18 schedule)
LA Rams: 6.1 on offense, 5.2 on defense (vs. the #28 schedule)
New Orleans: 6.1 on offense, 5.3 on defense (vs. the #10 schedule)
Dallas: 5.7 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. the #25 schedule)
Philadelphia: 5.7 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. the #27 schedule)
Seattle: 5.6 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. the #32 schedule)
Washington: 5.5 on offense, 5.4 on defense (vs. the #1 schedule)
Carolina: 4.8 on offense, 4.9 on defense (vs. the #8 schedule)
Detroit: 5.1 on offense, 5.6 on defense (vs. the #5 schedule)

We know Atlanta’s kind of a pretender with that differential because the Falcons underachieved those splits all season. The Rams and Eagles are getting a lot of media run, without an acknowledgment of how soft their schedules have been by league standards. Philadelphia’s shockingly in the middle of that list despite being in great shape to earn the #1 seed. Based only on this stat composite, New Orleans is a nice sleeper. The big picture is still a mess, so don't fall too much in love with the won-lost standings. 

AFC
Jacksonville: 5.6 on offense, 4.6 on defense (vs. the #19 schedule)
Pittsburgh: 5.6 on offense, 4.8 on defense (vs. the #15 schedule)
Tennessee: 5.3 on offense, 5.0 on defense (vs. the #31 schedule)
Kansas City: 6.2 on offense, 6.0 on defense (vs. the #2 schedule)
New England: 6.0 on offense, 6.6 on defense (vs. the #14 schedule)
Buffalo: 4.7 on offense, 5.3 on defense (vs. the #29 schedule)
Miami: 4.4 on offense, 5.4 on defense (vs. the #16 schedule)

Yup, the Jaguars have the best differential because of their great defense. And, it hasn’t been a cupcake schedule. We all know New England won’t look as bad in the playoffs as they look in this stat line. Some horrible defense in the early part of their season killed the Pats' stats. A mess, but with fewer teams over here in the AFC. Those picking the Jags as a sleeper aren’t out of line. But, if it’s a Final Four of NE, KC, Pittsburgh, and Jax…that’s when Blake Bortles is really going to stick out like a sore thumb in the QB comparisons. 

NBA: Rockets win, but can’t cover vs. Cavs
We have time to squeeze in some Thursday night basketball this week. The Houston Rockets had stretches where they were scoring at will, Thursday night in their marquee matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on TNT. But, 30 missed treys and 22 turnovers prevented them from covering the market expectation.

Houston (-5.5) 117, Cleveland 113
Two-Point Pct: Cleveland 61%, Houston 65%
Three-Pointers: Cleveland 12/27, Houston 16/46
Free Throws: Cleveland 11/14, Houston 29/36
Rebounds: Cleveland 26, Houston 45
Turnovers: Cleveland 19, Houston 22

Cleveland was likely helped by not having Derrick Rose available to play. His poor defense has been abused all season. Dwyane Wade has been another defensive anvil. He played 20 minutes here, compiling a plus/minus of -21 in a game his team only lost by four. Turned out to be an entertaining shootout rather than one of the many recent Cleveland duds. The last few minutes in particular were nip and tuck. Houston won with put backs from offensive rebounds. You see that huge rebounding edge above. 

With the cover, Cleveland is still just 3-8-1 this season against the point spread. Thursday’s game snuck over the total of 228.5, even with a relatively dead 37-point fourth quarter (61-71-61-37 by quarters! Cavs games are 8-4 to the Over this season. So, betting anti-Cavs and Over is a combined 16-7-1 with Thursday’s split.

Houston falls to an even 6-6 ATS. They’ve played four Overs in a row.

Straight up, Houston is still strong at 9-3 even with the early loss of Chris Paul. Cleveland is 6-6, amidst a multi-month-long coast into the Eastern playoffs.  

College Basketball: VSiN’s Greg Peterson predicts order of finish in major conferences
To help set the stage for the 2017-18 college basketball season that begins Friday, frequent VSiN college basketball contributor Greg Peterson has put together his predicted order of finish in the major conferences. We’ll gradually include Power Ratings with these once everyone’s played a few board games. 

Note that we have a battle of AP Top 25 teams on the Friday schedule, when #11 West Virginia takes on #24 Texas A&M at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. Las Vegas time) from the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. And, mark your calendars NOW for this unbelievable Tuesday doubleheader on ESPN from the United Center in Chicago...

#1 Duke vs. #2 Michigan State (7 p.m. ET)
#4 Kansas vs. #5 Kentucky (9:30 p.m. ET)

Here are Greg’s projected order of finish for the major conferences, which are presented in alphabetical order…

American Athletic: Wichita State, Cincinnati, Central Florida, SMU, UConn, Houston, Temple, Memphis, Tulsa, South Florida, Tulane, East Carolina.

ACC: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Clemson, Wake Forest, NC State, Boston College, Pittsburgh.

Big East: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Providence, Creighton, Marquette, Butler, St. John's, Georgetown, DePaul.

Big Ten: Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers.

Big XII: Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Iowa State.

Pac-12: Arizona, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Utah, California, Washington, Colorado, Washington State.

SEC: Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU.

College Football: Stat preview of #6 TCU (8-1) at #5 Oklahoma (8-1)
We close out the day and the week with the last of our three college football blockbuster stat previews. We talked about #1 Georgia at #10 Auburn Wednesday, then #3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami Thursday. Today, it’s a game that will almost certainly launch the winner to the Big 12 Championship matchup, while itself being a possible preview of that same title tilt! Both teams have tie-breaker wins over Oklahoma State, though tie-breaker losses to Iowa State (and those two play each other Saturday as well). 

Yards-per-Play
TCU: 6.1 on offense, 4.4 on defense (vs #38 schedule)
Oklahoma: 8.6 on offense, 5.9 on defense (vs #19 schedule)

Wow…we’re 75% of the way through the season…and Oklahoma (-6.5) hasn’t regressed back to a smaller offensive number yet. That is who they are, which is even more amazing coming against a top 20 schedule (according to Jeff Sagarin). TCU has an impressive plus 1.7 differential themselves against a reasonably competitive slate. But, OU’s plus 2.7 with road games at Ohio State and Oklahoma State is something special. 

National Rushing Rankings
TCU: #48 per carry, #40 per game; #1 per-carry defense, #1 per-game defense
Oklahoma: #14 per carry, #27 per game, #46 per-carry defense, #48 per-game defense

TCU’s rush defense is the best in the country on a per-play and per-game basis. Though, that may not matter against a team like Oklahoma who’s so potent through the air. Worth remembering against other opponents that Oklahoma IS good on the ground. They have a lot of threats. They’re hoping to use those threats in the coming Final Four. The softest spot in the above sequence is Oklahoma’s rush defense. That could be an issue if TCU is positioned to protect a lead (like it did at Oklahoma State earlier this season). Let’s say it this way. That’s a stat profile that gives TCU “a chance” to spring an upset because it gives the Frogs the opportunity be multi-dimensional while they hope to limit OU to a higher risk aerial attack. 

Passing Stats
TCU: 8.1 yards-per-attempt, 18TD’s, 5 INT
Oklahoma: 12.1 yards-per-attempt, 30 TD’s, 5 INT

Not that limiting OU to an aerial attack is any great bargain! Those are stupendous numbers. If the Sooners hadn’t taken Iowa State too lightly, they might already be a virtual lock for the Final Four. TCU is certainly dangerous in the air, too. 

Impact Defense 
TCU: 27% third down pct-allowed, 13 takeaways, 28 sacks
Oklahoma: 41% third down pct-allowed, 11 takeaways, 20 sacks

Some very good news in there for TCU. They are much better at getting stops on third downs. And, they’re much better at getting sacks even though they play fewer shootouts than Oklahoma does. Frankly, the Sooners have a defense that’s way too passive most of the time. That’s only 11 takeaways in NINE games against opponents that are often in high-risk catch-up mode. Twenty sacks is nothing special either considering how often OU’s opponents are throwing. 

Important to remember, as you visualize the game, that a yards-per-play advantage doesn’t mean much if it’s just both teams trading touchdowns. If Oklahoma scores a TD at eight yards a clip, while TCU scores a TD at six yards a clip, it’s still 7-7 on the scoreboard. That confuses some quant handicapping models that worship YPP without fully accounting for the complications of this sport. 

Actually, a great example of that comes from TCU’s “upset” of Oklahoma State earlier this season. We were going to run that boxscore for context anyway. 

TCU (plus) 44 Oklahoma State 31 
Yards-per-Play: TCU 5.5, Oklahoma State 6.8
Total Yards: TCU 466, Oklahoma State 499
Third Down Pct: TCU 58%, Oklahoma State 50%
Rushing Yards: TCU 238, Oklahoma State 101
Passing Stats: TCU 22-33-1-228, Oklahoma State 22-42-3-398
Turnovers: TCU 1, Oklahoma State 4
Touchdown Drive Lengths: TCU 75-62-42-75-75-48, Oklahoma State 90-78-79-47

TCU lost yards-per-play 6.8 to 5.5, but still had three 75-yard TD drives and another more than 60 yards. They marched consistently thanks to a 58% conversion rate on third downs against an opponent that couldn’t stop their run (TCU won time of possession 39 minute to 21 minutes, by the way). Oklahoma State almost reached 500 total yards on almost 400 passing yards. But, moving through the air comes with higher risk. Three interceptions and four turnovers for the hosts kept them from even staying within single digits on the scoreboard. 

Oklahoma is better than Oklahoma State, so we’re not suggesting past is prologue. But, that’s the blueprint TCU hopes to follow. Oklahoma knows it has to avoid sacks and giveaways on Saturday. Oklahoma will make a run at 40-50 points if it can avoid sacks and giveaways. (The market is currently expecting a 34-27 type win for the host Sooners.)

Intangibles? Can’t say there’s anything obvious. Yes, OU is coming off the road upset at Bedlam. But, it’s not like OU is going to look past TCU and start thinking about the Final Four. Neither team is in the top four yet! 

This series has a very competitive recent history. We’ve seen the blueprint for how this can be another hard-fought thriller. OU does have a chance to run away and hide if they play perfect offensively and force TCU out of its comfort zone. But, OU’s defense is far from a sure thing to sit on a lead, as we saw against Iowa State…and even last week when Okie State kept scoring in that 62-52 shootout. 

Any of these three blockbusters could blow up in any direction. That’s the nature of football. If you’re trying to find the best harmonic convergence of factors pointing to one team at a fair price…it’s arguably Notre Dame -3 vs. Miami with a great running attack facing a decent but vulnerable rush defense…boosted by the possible intangible advantage of catching the Hurricanes off the war with Virginia Tech that made them a virtual lock for the ACC Championship game. 

Enjoy all the great football!

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