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No gifts for Cowboys, Lions

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Dak Prescott was under pressure all day from the likes of K.J. Wright.
© USA Today Sports Images

Ho-ho-home for the playoffs are the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions after upset losses Sunday. They deserved coal in their stockings the way they played! Numbers, notes, and the playoff picture as we invite you to spend a few minutes of your Christmas Day in VSiN City.

NFL: Merry Christmas! NFL Playoff picture clearer with one week to go
Much of the Sunday pro football card impacted the complicated playoff chase. We’ll outline the races as we run through the results in Nevada rotation order…

Cincinnati (plus 3) 26, Detroit 17 
Yards-per-Play: Detroit 4.7, Cincinnati 4.7
Third Down Pct: Detroit 40%, Cincinnati 50%
Turnovers: Detroit 1, Cincinnati 1
Rushing Yards: Detroit 87, Cincinnati 142
Passing Stats: Detroit 19-35-1-189, Cincinnati 27-41-1-222
TD Drive Lengths: Detroit 52-75, Cincinnati 74-40

Detroit sure didn’t perform like a playoff caliber team here, or like a road favorite. You can see that Cincinnati owned the point of attack. That 142-87 edge on the ground allowed for more third down conversions. And those led to a 28-15 advantage in first downs and a 4-1 edge in made field goals. Also in the mix, the Lions missed a field goal, and had a fourth down failure. Good to see Cincinnati show up after two efforts so horrible that the betting markets priced them like they had become the Browns. Bengals are 6-9 on the season, and were mispriced as home dogs in cold weather against a dome visitor. Detroit falls to 8-7, and out of the NFC Wildcard race. Even if the Lions win next week vs. Green Bay, while Atlanta and Seattle lose for a three-way tie at 9-7…the tiebreakers keep Detroit home.

LA Chargers (-6) 14, NY Jets 7
Yards-per-Play: LA Chargers 5.4, NY Jets 4.8
Third Down Pct: LA Chargers 33%, NY Jets 21%
Turnovers: LA Chargers 0, NY Jets 3
Rushing Yards: LA Chargers 89, NY Jets 197
Passing Stats: LA Chargers 22-40-0-290, NY Jets 15-28-1-98
TD Drive Lengths: LA Chargers 71-75, NY Jets 63

Workmanlike job from the road favorite on the fringe of the AFC Wildcard race. Unsurprisingly sluggish performance from the host’s inexperienced quarterback. If you just focus on “Philip Rivers vs. Bryce Petty,” you see a 290-98 win in passing yardage with one fewer pick. Would have been a bigger win if the Chargers hadn’t let the Jets rush for almost 200 yards. Total yardage is more impressive for LAC at 379-295. The Jets fall to 5-10. LAC is now 8-7, tied with Tennessee and Buffalo for the final Wildcard spot. To play in January, the Chargers must hope Tennessee loses to Jacksonville (who will have nothing to play for unless Pittsburgh loses in Houston Christmas afternoon), then beat the Raiders.

LA Rams (-5.5) 27, Tennessee 23
Yards-per-Play: LA Rams 6.1, Tennessee 5.5
Third Down Pct: LA Rams 43%, Tennessee 25%
Turnovers: LA Rams 1, Tennessee 1
Rushing Yards: LA Rams 116, Tennessee 97
Passing Stats: LA Rams 22-39-0-286, Tennessee 22-39-1-269
TD Drive Lengths: LA Rams 53-78-65-68, Tennessee 44

If you were only scoreboard watching, you need to know that this “see-saw thriller” was partially created by a fumble return TD for Tennessee. You can see that the Rams scored four offensive touchdowns, compared to just one for the Titans. And, all four Rams TD drives were longer than Tennessee’s relative cheapie. Tricky part of modern NFL handicapping is recognizing which teams can hit paydirt, and which move in the middle of the field but don’t get all that much out of their yardage. The Rams’ winning total yardage 402-366 sounds pretty close. The Rams’ winning “offensive TD’s” 4-1 sounds like a hockey or soccer blowout. LAR wins the NFC West, sitting at 11-4. They’re unable to earn a bye unless Philadelphia loses at home to Oakland Monday night, then again as a home favorite against Dallas. Tennessee is 8-7, in a three-way deadlock for the second AFC Wildcard spot behind Baltimore. Tennessee’s better conference record gives them a leg up over the other two. A win over Jacksonville, and the Titans are in. A win over Jacksonville and a Baltimore loss to Cincinnati would give the Titans the #5 seed.

Chicago (-6) 20, Cleveland 3
Yards-per-Play: Cleveland 4.4, Chicago 4.4
Third Down Pct: Cleveland 31%, Chicago 44%
Turnovers: Cleveland 3, Chicago 0 
Rushing Yards: Cleveland 75, Chicago 97
Passing Stats: Cleveland 18-36-2-178, Chicago 14-23-0-161
TD Drive Lengths: Cleveland no TDs, Chicago 57-60-66

No success for the “this is finally the week you can bet the Browns” contingent. Cleveland falls to 3-12 against the spread this season, after going 3-12-1 ATS last year.  Deshone Kizer is still turnover prone (feels like he’s learned nothing about that through the season…or play-callers are being stubborn about asking him to do more than he’s capable of). You can see above that TO’s were the glaring difference that created the blowout. Relatively even stats otherwise (total yardage was only 258-253 for the Bears). Much like Saturday night’s Minnesota/Green Bay game in that you had inexperienced quarterbacks struggling to deal with winter conditions. Cleveland clinches the #1 pick in the draft as the Browns fall to 0-15. Chicago moves to 5-10, and can at least be optimistic about Mitchell Trubisky as a “safe and steady” quarterback as he climbs the learning curve. We saw in Detroit that he’s also turnover prone if forced to push his limits. 

Carolina (-10) 22, Tampa Bay 19
Yards-per-Play: Tampa Bay 6.9, Carolina 4.3
Third Down Pct: Tampa Bay 55%, Carolina 31%
Turnovers: Tampa Bay 3, Carolina 1
Rushing Yards: Tampa Bay 66, Carolina 115
Passing Stats: Tampa Bay 21-27-0-326, Carolina 16-26-1-140
TD Drive Lengths: Tampa Bay 49, Carolina 59

Don’t skip over that boxscore! Tampa Bay owned most of the stats (also winning yardage 392-258). But those turnovers, and settling for field goals at the end of four drives prevented them from maximizing that advantage. Kind of a stolen win for the Panthers, who should have been more potent than this in such an important game against a lame duck team. Remember that Tampa Bay has a horrible defense! Tampa Bay falls to 4-11. Carolina squeaks through to 11-4, tied with New Orleans at the top of the AFC South; but on the wrong end of the tiebreaker because it lost both regular season meetings to the Saints. Carolina could conceivably rise up to the #2 seed if Minnesota loses at home to Chicago…and New Orleans loses at Tampa Bay…while the Panthers beat Atlanta. The most likely scenario is a road game Wildcard weekend. 

New Orleans (-5.5) 23, Atlanta 13
Yards-per-Play: Atlanta 5.4, New Orleans 5.2
Third Down Pct: Atlanta 15%, New Orleans 23%
Turnovers: Atlanta 2, New Orleans 1
Rushing Yards: Atlanta 67, New Orleans 86
Passing Stats: Atlanta 22-36-1-264, New Orleans 21-28-1-229
TD Drive Lengths: Atlanta 75, New Orleans 64-54

Tricky one to describe. The volume stats shine too favorably on Atlanta because the Falcons picked up a bunch of garbage time numbers after falling behind 23-6. But New Orleans wasn’t playing as well as 23-6 makes it sound either. Atlanta had two failures in the red zone. One fumble, one stopped fourth down try. The Saints were superior when it mattered, but still don’t look like you can trust them to produce on command on the road…which they’ll have to do next month now that they’ve clinched a playoff spot. Atlanta will also make the playoffs if they win at home against Carolina next week. 

Washington (-3) 27, Denver 11
Yards-per-Play: Denver 4.6, Washington 5.8
Third Down Pct: Denver 29%, Washington 38%
Turnovers: Denver 3, Washington 2
Rushing Yards: Denver 159, Washington 87
Passing Stats: Denver 22-38-1-171, Washington 19-37-1-299
TD Drive Lengths: Denver 75, Washington 38-77-35

So much for the Broncos “finding themselves” in the wins over the NY Jets and Indianapolis. Denver went back to being another version of Cleveland here. A garbage-time 75-yard drive cut a 27-3 deficit to something slightly less embarrassing. This was Brock Osweiler at quarterback rather than Trevor Siemian if you didn’t pay much attention to the lame duck matchup. Broncos’ QB outlook still looks pretty bleak. They had extra rest here, and were facing a team with nothing to play for. Denver falls to 5-10, but has looked more like a 4-12 type team most of the season. Washington is now 7-8.

Kansas City (-3) 29, Miami 13
Yards-per-Play: Miami 6.4, Kansas City 5.5
Third Down Pct: Miami 0%, Kansas City 50%
Turnovers: Miami 2, Kansas City 0
Rushing Yards: Miami 59, Kansas City 103
Passing Stats: Miami 19-38-0-286, Kansas City 25-39-0-301
TD Drive Lengths: Miami 65, Kansas City 75-68

Miami had a one-play TD drive on a 65-yard pass that busted open. That warped yards-per-play and passing yards for Dolphins. The rest of the boxscore is more indicative of Kansas City’s dominance. The Chiefs were 8 of 16 on third downs on their way to more than 400 total yards. Miami didn’t convert a single third down, and spent most of the day sputtering outside the one big play. Kansas City is 9-6 and proud winners of the AFC West. Miami is 6-9. But, like Denver, they were more like a 4-12 team (or worse) most of the season. They’ll have months to figure out what to do about their quarterback situation. Jay Cutler will have months to watch broadcasting tape of Tony Romo so he can make a big splash as a color announcer next season. 

New England (-11) 37, Buffalo 16
Yards-per-Play: Buffalo 4.8, New England 6.0
Third Down Pct: Buffalo 47%, New England 45%
Turnovers: Buffalo 0, New England 1
Rushing Yards: Buffalo 84, New England 193
Passing Stats: Buffalo 21-38-0-242, New England 21-28-1-218
TD Drive Lengths: Buffalo no TDs, New England 75-65-60-54

Buffalo fans were rightly outraged about a TD that was taken way by the replay official. But, that would have changed “offensive touchdowns” to 4-1 for the Patriots rather than 4-0. It’s still Tom Brady vs. Tyrod Taylor. Actually, Brady threw a TD pass to the Bills! Worth noting the huge rushing advantage for the Pats…and the solid performance by the defense. Come next month…remember that the Pats are more than just “Brady to Gronk,” even if that combo is what nudges them up to Super Bowl favorite over the field. New England moves to 12-3, but will still have to win at home against the NY Jets next week to earn top seed unless Pittsburgh loses Monday in Houston. Buffalo falls to 8-7, in that messy tie with Tennessee and the LA Chargers a game behind Baltimore in the Wildcard logjam. 

San Francisco (plus 4) 44, Jacksonville 33 
Yards-per-Play: Jacksonville 6.0, San Francisco 5.6
Third Down Pct: Jacksonville 38%, San Francisco 67%
Turnovers: Jacksonville 3, San Francisco 1
Rushing Yards: Jacksonville 92, San Francisco 131
Passing Stats: Jacksonville 32-50-3-380, San Francisco 21-30-1-238
TD Drive Lengths: Jacksonville 75-80-85-46, San Francisco 79-26-86-18

Great stuff from Jimmy Garappolo, because those numbers were coming against a fantastic defense. Bortles had more volume, but had his usual trouble with turnovers in a challenging game. The Niners scored a defensive TD on a pick six off Bortles, and you can see two very cheap drives in their stat line. More evidence that the Jags can’t really be trusted on the road this postseason. A great defense always gives you a chance to win. Bortles makes it tougher to string together wins. San Francisco still looks promising as a potential playoff contender next season. Niners are 4-0 straight up with Garappolo at the helm, 5-10 for the season. Jacksonville falls to 10-5, and will host a game Wildcard weekend unless a Pittsburgh loss in Houston Christmas Day opens the door for the #2 seed (Jags own the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh because of a head-to-head win). 

Arizona (-3) 23 NY Giants 0 
Yards-per-Play: NY Giants 4.4, Arizona 4.5
Third Down Pct: NY Giants 7%, Arizona 36%
Turnovers: NY Giants 3, Arizona 2
Rushing Yards: NY Giants 43, Arizona 74
Passing Stats: NY Giants 27-45-2-250, Arizona 21-35-2-215
TD Drive Lengths: NY Giants no TDs, Arizona 79-75

New York’s offense went back into hibernation. After topping 500 yards vs. Philadelphia last week, it could only reach 293 here. An awful 1 of 14 on third downs prevented sustained drives from happening. Arizona’s Drew Stanton wants to start in the NFL somewhere next season. He still throws too many picks. Arizona moves to 7-8. The Giants are 2-13, maintaining their “lead” on the 3-12 Colts for the second draft pick behind Cleveland.

Seattle (plus 4) 21 Dallas 12 
Yards-per-Play: Seattle 2.5, Dallas 4.2
Third Down Pct: Seattle 36%, Dallas 46%
Turnovers: Seattle 0, Dallas 3
Rushing Yards: Seattle 76, Dallas 128
Passing Stats: Dallas Seattle 14-21-0-60, Dallas 21-34-2-155
TD Drive Lengths: Seattle 43-79, Dallas no TDs

Amazing. Seattle totaled just 136 yards on 2.5 yards-per-play, but won the game anyway. Think about how bad its stats looked before that 79-yard TD drive! A pick six off Dak Prescott helped. FOX kept billing this as a “playoff” game all day because the loser couldn’t make the brackets. Felt more like an exhibition showing why neither team will be there. Seattle is still alive, but has to win at home against Arizona next week amidst frayed chemistry, while also hoping Atlanta loses at home to Carolina. Seattle is 9-6 (but has played more like a 7-9 team most of the season. Dallas falls to 8-7. You get the sense the Cowboys players aren’t really in the mood any more to go to war for their owner. 

Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State joins the list of outright underdog winners
Fun to watch if you were staying up late with the kids monitoring Santa glide across Norad. Fresno State became the eighth underdog to win outright in the first 14 bowl games. Was a one-score game until Fresno had a pick six with just under four minutes left. Houston scored a garbage time TD in the final minute to get back within a TD.

Fresno State (plus 3) 33, Houston 27
Yards-per-Play: Fresno State 5.5, Houston 4.7
Total Yardage: Fresno State 475, Houston 341
Third Down Pct: Fresno State 39%, Houston 47%
Turnovers: Fresno State 2, Houston 2
Rushing Yards: Fresno State 133, Houston 72
Passing Stats: Fresno State 33-49-1-342, Houston 23-43-1-269
TD Drive Lengths: Fresno State 68-75, Houston 63-76

Fresno State had a much more impressive stat differential before a garbage time TD for Houston made the yardage respectable. Both teams had non-offensive touchdowns…Fresno on that late pick six…Houston on an earlier blocked field goal return. Fresno State finishes 10-4 (just one year after a one-win campaign). Houston falls to 7-5. Team side winners in the stockings of Brent Musburger, Steve Makinen, and Matt Youmans in our “Bowl Guide.”

Hope you have a wonderful holiday with the most important people in your life. We’ll be back Tuesday with game recaps from Steelers/Texans and Raiders/Eagles, our weekly update of estimated “market” Power Ratings in the NFL, plus a new “market watch” for an appetizing bowl slate. 

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