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Ravens, Vikings do what they have to do

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

December 24, 2017 12:01 AM

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Joe Flacco was better at making the most out of his possessions than Jacoby Brissett.
© USA Today Sports Images

A bonus Sunday report features big-game recaps from Saturday NFL, the college bowls, and that marquee college basketball doubleheader you might have forgotten to watch amidst the football frenzy. It all begins right now in VSiN City.

Saturday NFL: Ravens edge Colts on dreary day in Baltimore  
Weather conditions weren’t favorable for a blowout. And the Baltimore Ravens aren’t a blowout team anyway unless the opponent is turning the ball over to set up cheap points. They entered the weekend ranked #27 in offensive yards-per-game, and #31 in yards-per-play, but #1 in turnover differential. Indianapolis played clean, setting up a grinder ultimately won by the much more experienced quarterback.

Baltimore (-13.5) 23, Indianapolis 16
Yards-per-Play: Indianapolis 5.0, Baltimore 4.5
Third Down Pct: Indianapolis 38%, Baltimore 43%
Turnovers: Indianapolis 0, Baltimore 0
Rushing Yards: Indianapolis 93, Baltimore 103
Passing Stats: Indianapolis 16-33-0-203, Baltimore 29-38-0-220
TD Drive Lengths: Indianapolis 75, Baltimore 71-76

The Colts gained more per-play. But Joe Flacco was better at making the most out of his possessions than Jacoby Brissett. Baltimore won total yardage 343-296, and turned that into one extra long touchdown drive (field goals cancelled out at three apiece). Ravens fans had to sweat the ending because a late blocked punt set the Colts up on a short field. Tough for a sub-par quarterback to score a TD on command even in the red zone against an excellent defense. 

Baltimore moves to 9-6, and will earn a Wildcard as long as they beat Cincinnati as a big favorite next week. Indianapolis falls to 3-12, continuing to be well-positioned for a top three draft pick (Cleveland is 0-14, the NY Giants 2-12). 

AFC Wildcard picture (two spots available)
Baltimore 9-6 (7-4 in the AFC)
Tennessee 8-6 (7-4 in the AFC)
Buffalo 8-6 (6-4 in the AFC)
LA Chargers 7-7 (4-6 in the AFC)

Both Tennessee and Buffalo are underdogs Sunday, needing badly to score upsets against the LA Rams and New England respectively. The Chargers can hang around with a win as a road favorite against the NY Jets. 

Baltimore definitely has an elite defense. Tough to string together playoff wins when you have to turn every (road) game into a coin flip that goes your way because you don’t have enough playmakers. The top Wildcard will very likely visit Kansas City in the first postseason weekend.  

Saturday NFL: Vikings pound Packers on frigid night in Green Bay 
Frigid conditions hampered both offenses, with game-time temperatures in single digits. You may have heard some in the mainstream media suggesting recently that cold weather doesn’t reduce scoring in the NFL. What’s “cold?” Is “32 and calm” treated the same as “wind chill below zero?” Is it possible that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethsliberger knowing how to move the ball in cold weather has warped the data because those three Hall-of-Famers appear a disproportionate number of cold weather games?

What if a young QB who played college ball at Houston is facing one who played at UCLA while dodging penguins on frozen tundra? You get THIS…

Minnesota (-9) 16, Green Bay 0
Yards-per-Play: Minnesota 3.9, Green Bay 3.7
Third Down Pct: Minnesota 27%, Green Bay 27%
Turnovers: Minnesota 0, Green Bay 2
Rushing Yards: Minnesota 112, Green Bay 113
Passing Stats: Minnesota 14-25-0-124, Green Bay 17-40-2-126
TD Drive Lengths: Minnesota 68, Green Bay no TDs

Clone categories except for Green Bay’s two turnovers, and Minnesota’s one touchdown drive. Not shown above. Green Bay was also 0 for 4 on fourth down tries, which are virtual turnovers because the ball changes hands. Neither offense could do much. Minnesota managed to turn field position into field goal attempts rather than failed fourth down tries. Part of the impact of “need” in horrible conditions. Packers quarterback Brett Hundley still doesn’t seem well-suited for cold weather football. Just 126 passing yards on 40 tosses. 

Green Bay falls to 7-8. Minnesota moves to 12-3 in the race for top seed and a bye week.

NFC Divisional Leaders
Philadelphia 12-2 (10-1 in the NFC)
Minnesota 12-3 (9-2 in the NFC)
LA Rams 10-4 (7-4 in the NFC)
New Orleans 10-4 (7-3 in the NFC)

There are some head-to-heads in there. Minnesota defeated both LAR and New Orleans. The Rams defeated the Saints, who will influence seeding if both win out. Philadelphia beat the Rams (though they’re unlikely to tie).

Philadelphia hosts Oakland on Christmas night in a likely win. The Rams are road favorites at Tennessee Sunday. New Orleans is a home favorite over Atlanta Sunday. 

Birmingham Bowl: South Florida rallies to win thriller 38-34
Finally, a great bowl finish! Now, we didn’t say it was a well-played thriller. A lot of slop from both teams. And many of the biggest offensive plays featured glaring defensive breakdowns. Skeptics of both head coaches (Kliff Kingsbury and Charlie Strong) had plenty to criticize. But there was an exciting fourth quarter that came on the heels of five straight bowl blowouts in preceding days. 

South Florida (-2.5) 38, Texas Tech 34
Yards-per-Play: Texas Tech 5.8, South Florida 6.8
Total Yardage: Texas Tech 549, South Florida 561
Third Down Pct: Texas Tech 53%, South Florida 47%
Turnovers: Texas Tech 2, South Florida 2
Rushing Yards: Texas Tech 133, South Florida 250
Passing Stats: Texas Tech 32-59-2-416, South Florida 17-34-0-311
TD Drive Lengths: Texas Tech 81-28-40-85, South Florida 25-91-43-65-75

That’s 27 incomplete passes for Texas Tech, with two interceptions. South Florida only managed 50% completions against a soft defense. And the favored survivors were also just 1 of 4 on fourth downs, which means three additional “virtual turnovers.” 

South Florida finishes 10-2 on the season (with one game cancelled by weather). Heading into 2017, South Florida was seen as a group that could run the table against a soft schedule thanks to a Heisman candidate quarterback in Quinton Flowers. This boxscore at least gives you a sense of what being a “power” from the American Athletic Conference means. About even with Texas Tech on a neutral field. Flowers makes big plays…but hasn’t yet shown consistency suggesting he’s ready for a higher level. Texas Tech finishes 6-7…and may regret re-investing in Kingsbury. 

College Bowls: Army and Appalachian State earn “A” grades in upset victories
Underdogs won both of Saturday’s other bowls straight up. Let’s take them in the order they were played.

Army (plus 6.5) 42, San Diego State 35
Yards-per-Play: SDSU 9.0, Army 4.9
Total Yardage: SDSU 280, Army 446
Third Down Pct: SDSU 50%, Army 72%
Turnovers: SDSU 2, Army 1
Rushing Yards: SDSU 255, Army 440
Passing Stats: SDSU 6-10-1-25, Army 1-4-1-6
TD Drive Lengths: SDSU 73-70-72-44, Army 70-79-53-79-72

One of the most amazing boxscores you’ll ever see. Not that many people scour these in the post-agate era. But we had one team gain NINE yards-per-play while getting outgained and losing! If you missed the game, we’re going to take a crack at describing it.

  • San Diego State only ran 31 plays the whole day, and only had the ball for 14 minutes out of 60 on the game clock. 
  • Army runs a variation of the triple option that they call “the speed option” but is more accurately called “the beef option.” If you haven’t watched Army play in a few years…word of weightlifting and bulk-building finally reached the program. What used to be an undersized team trying to win with finesse is now an option team that’s actually built like Wisconsin up front and led by a quarterback who’s built like a running back. When Army had the ball, it was like watching Wisconsin push the ball downfield against somebody like Long Beach State or Cal Poly. (And, THIS is why San Diego State couldn’t stay at -7 in the betting markets. Sharps actually watch the games, and knew Army matched up well physically with SDSU).
  • Army simply POUNDED the ball all day, moving the chains and running clock. Here were its five touchdown drives. 
    • 70 yards on 8 plays in 4:09
    • 74 yards on 12 plays in 7:02
    • 53 yards on 13 plays in 5:55
    • 79 yards on 10 plays in 4:47
    • 72 yards on 15 plays in 5:29

There was also this: 47 yards on 20 plays in 11:19, ending on a failed fake field goal soon after a holding penalty.

  • San Diego State made big plays when it had the ball. Rashaad Penny gained 221 yards on only 14 carries. This was a high scoring shootout because SDSU had TD drives of 3, 5, 4, and 7 plays (along with a kickoff return TD). But any break of serve with a failed third down try loomed very large in a game with so few possessions. 

If you didn’t watch, be aware that San Diego State led 35-28 in the final moments. Army’s final offensive TD was followed by a successful two-point conversion that made it 36-35. SDSU tried a desperation lateral sequence that was intercepted and returned for the game’s final points. 

Army finishes 10-3 with wins over Navy and a bowl opponent. But Army must now find a new quarterback to secure the future of this coaching regime. San Diego State also finishes 10-3. 

Appalachian State (plus 6.5) 34 Toledo 0 
Yards-per-Play: Appalachian State 6.5, Toledo 2.9
Total Yardage: Appalachian State 458, Toledo 146
Third Down Pct: Appalachian State 23%, Toledo 17%
Turnovers: Appalachian State 0, Toledo 4
Rushing Yards: Appalachian State 327, Toledo 22
Passing Stats: Appalachian State 8-17-0-131, Toledo 16-29-3-124
TD Drive Lengths: Appalachian State 36-64-61-53, Toledo no TDs

Back to an ugly blowout with a favorite showing up unprepared and getting squashed. The Sun Belt co-champions this year were Troy and Appalachian State. They won their bowls by a combined 84-30 at a net pick-em (over North Texas and Toledo). The teams that played in the MAC Championship were Toledo and Akron. They lost their bowl games by a combined 84-3. (Akron lost big to FAU.) 

Not a great ad for MAC football! Central Michigan also lost big to Wyoming. Though, Ohio did have a good showing against UAB. Northern Illinois will try to save face vs. Duke the day after Christmas. 

Appalachian State finishes the season at 9-4. Toledo ends at 11-3.

A quick reminder that you can still purchase the “VSiN Bowl Guide” for just $19.99. We’re a little over a third of the way through the schedule. All the blockbuster matchups are still ahead!

Saturday College Basketball: Storied programs North Carolina and UCLA earn big TV wins
Two “made for TV” matchups worth reviewing from the Saturday card. Both were from the “CBS Classic” played in New Orleans.

#5 North Carolina (-7.5) 86, Ohio State 72 
Two-Point Pct: Ohio State 49%, North Carolina 41%
Three Pointers: Ohio State 5/16, North Carolina 13/25
Free Throws: Ohio State 15/19, North Carolina 21/25
Rebounds: Ohio State 26, North Carolina 39
Turnovers: Ohio State 14, North Carolina 18
Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: Ohio State 45-39-39, North Carolina 8-8-11

Nice bounce back for North Carolina off the horrendous result against Wofford we talked about the other day. Tar Heels win the “bread” part of that sandwich, with TV wins over Tennessee and Ohio State. Big differences here were in the areas of three pointers and rebounds. Carolina is so aggressive that they can afford to punt the turnover category because they get so many great looks from that aggressiveness. 

Another bad result for the Big 10. Ohio State is now 1-5 ATS its last six outside the conference, but did get league wins (and covers) over Wisconsin and Michigan. For now, Michigan State still seems well clear of what’s been an overrated field. At least this wasn’t as bad as Northwestern falling behind Oklahoma 68-38 in the first half, or Penn State losing to Rider.  

UCLA 83, #7 Kentucky (-6.5) 75 
Two-Point Pct: UCLA 55%, Kentucky 49%
Three Pointers: UCLA 12/30, Kentucky 6/21
Free Throws: UCLA 13/15, Kentucky 11/16
Rebounds: UCLA 37, Kentucky 36
Turnovers: UCLA 14, Kentucky 14 
Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: UCLA 56-53-79, Kentucky 18-15-34

First, look at those computer ratings. There was unanimous consent entering the day that UCLA wasn’t even dance caliber. With all the auto-bids, only about the top 45 teams are locks to get into the brackets. Kentucky was much more lowly regarded than normal too…though ESPN’s BPI may have been overly sour on both. 

Either great offensive execution from the Bruins, or lousy defense from Kentucky. Definitely a season where somebody new could win the SEC…but Texas A&M and Florida are raising questions about their own readiness. UCLA is only 4-8 ATS this season after the cover…but one of the failures would have gotten there in regulation (OT loss at Michigan last week). Kentucky is up and down. That early season close loss to Kansas doesn’t look as good now as it did at the time.

A quick heads up that we WILL be with you on Christmas Day to run all the numbers from Sunday football. Our broadcast programming will be running past highlights from throughout our debut year as our hosts spend the day with their families. But VSiN City will be fresh in your mailbox Christmas morning so you can enjoy it at your leisure on the holiday. 

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Merry Christmas! Thanks in advance if you leave us a cookie by your computer Monday morning. 

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