September 9, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Baker Mayfield is a heavy favorite ... to engage in some media feuds this week (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
The first NFL Sunday of 2019 is complete. It featured blowouts, upsets, and plenty of near-upsets of bigger favorites that would have wreaked havoc in NFL survivor pools.
Here’s a review of the key developments coming out of the past weekend, plus a look-ahead to NFL Week 2, which tends to be the biggest “overreaction week” on the NFL schedule.
To begin with, we’ll share some thoughts on how to interpret the utter beat down that Tennessee leveled on the hype-laden Browns.
The Cleveland Browns got embarrassed in their season opener after an offseason of hype and big moves. Tennessee rolled into Cleveland and won 43-13 in a game that turned into a rout.
Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter as the game got away from the Browns. The “hot take” sports media cycle will likely put Mayfield and the Browns in their crosshairs, and the outcry is going to be loud and over the top. Colin Cowherd is going to be doing a little bit of dancing.
The Cleveland Browns could experience a public backlash as a result. This might offer some opportunities in the weeks ahead if you can avoid getting caught up in the now-negative hype. Let’s walk through some reasons not to completely overreact to a shocking 30-point loss.
This game was close for much of the contest. Cleveland scored to make it 15-13 near the end of the third quarter. Then, Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota hit Derrick Henry for a short pass that turned into a long touchdown, and Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. The Browns also turned it over on downs two other times late trying to get back into the game. The Titans scored three more touchdowns after Henry’s big play thanks to those short fields.
The Browns committed 18 penalties for 182 yards. Signs of some lack of discipline? Sure, but also an extreme game. Based on a search of Pro Football Reference’s game finder, the Browns tied for the sixth-most penalties, and the second-most penalty yards, in any game since 2000.
Left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected in the first half for kicking Kenny Vaccaro in the head. (One of those key penalties.) Robinson’s replacement, Kendall Lamm, also suffered a knee injury, so the Browns had to make multiple adjustments to the offensive line in the second half.
Cleveland actually outgained Tennessee 346 to 339 yards in net total yards. When a team does that and gets blown out, it’s usually some of other “hidden” factors like penalties, turnovers, and/or special teams play that have influenced the result in a significant way.
How rare is it for a team to win the yardage battle but lose the overall game so badly? This was the largest opening game margin of defeat by a team with more total yards, matching Washington’s 44-14 loss to Dallas in 1985.
The Browns were the first team since 2014 to be losing by less than 10 points at the end of the third quarter, but eventually lose the game by at least four touchdowns.
Look-Ahead to Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
The Browns play in primetime against the Jets on Monday night of Week 2. The Jets were the opposite of the Browns, in that they had a +4 turnover margin (until a fumble on the desperation final play lateral was recovered by Buffalo), had the lead almost the entire game, but managed to lose at home.
The Jets’ passing offense was not effective in the opener (3.44 net yards per pass attempt), and New York was out-gained by 139 yards.
This game is a fairly important early season matchup, as the Browns’ schedule is gets tough over the next few weeks (vs. LA Rams in Week 3, at Baltimore in Week 4). The Jets, meanwhile, go to the Patriots in Week 3, so they could be staring down an 0-3 start if they do not beat Cleveland.
Last year’s matchup between the Jets and Browns, you might recall, was Baker Mayfield’s debut performance. The Jets’ defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams, who served as the interim coach for Cleveland last season. So there will be plenty of storylines.
What The Opening Lines Say
Note that the betting markets don’t see some sort of huge change in their assessment of Cleveland coming out of Week 1:
While the betting markets so far don’t show any kind of strong adjustment to the Browns’ outlook, it will be interesting to see if there is a public perception shift in NFL pick’em pools this week. Cleveland was a hugely popular choice in Week 1 (93% of public entries went with the Browns, despite them only being a 5.5-point favorite) and they were the most notable and notorious disappointment of the week.
QB Nick Foles leaving with a broken clavicle was the biggest injury news of Week 1. The Jaguars turned to rookie Gardner Minshew, a 6th-round draft pick out of Washington State. The team also traded for Joshua Dobbs from Pittsburgh to serve as the new backup, with Foles out for a lengthy period time.
Notably, the coaching staff didn’t really try to hide or protect Minshew when he entered the game against Kansas City. He even threw the ball three straight times in the final 30 seconds of the first half with the Jaguars starting deep in their own territory, a situation in which many coaches would have just knelt the ball to get to the half with a backup quarterback in the game.
Minshew played from behind the entire game, and finished 22 of 25 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. While he is not an established name, he did show some ability to play.
Prior to Week 1, our preseason NFL predictive ratings for 2019 would have favored Houston by between 4 and 4.5 with the game in Houston. (Houston was rated 1.4 points higher on a neutral field). In the offshore betting markets, the game opened with the Texans favored by 8.5 points (see current Texans-Jaguars odds).
Houston has not played yet, so that adjustment is based on what happened with the Jaguars in Week 1. It’s a fairly sizable bump for a quarterback situation where it’s not one the league’s elite QBs being replaced.
For what it’s worth, over the last eight years, non-first-round QBs making their first career start are 16-34 straight up, 26-24 against the spread. So there’s no real trend as far as the betting market overvaluing or undervaluing the impact of an unknown starter forced into action.
Computer Picks & More Analysis
How high will the New England line get at Miami? New England indeed looked like Super Bowl favorites on Sunday against Pittsburgh. They throttled the Steelers, holding them to three points while the Patriots put up over 450 yards of offense.
Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins looked like a directional school taking its beating in exchange for a guaranteed payout, giving up and incredible 644 yards of offense to Baltimore. That’s the second-most yards allowed in a regulation NFL game since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Add in the fact that New England is adding Antonio Brown to the offense next week, and the Patriots are one of the largest road favorites we’ve seen in a while . From our BetIQ Custom Trends Tool, the largest road point spread (going back to 1985) was San Francisco at Atlanta in 1987 (-23.5). That game was during the lockout, played with mostly replacement players. Joe Montana, Roger Craig, and some other notable 49ers players had crossed the picket line to return that week. In non-lockout games, the largest road spread was the 2007 Patriots at Baltimore, favored by 19.
The Patriots opened as a 14.5-point favorite and almost immediately shot up to a 17-point favorite on Monday (see the current New England-Baltimore line). If that line remains at 17 or more until closing, it would be the third highest point spread for a road favorite in at least the last 35 years. If you are in survivor pools and need to make a pick, whether you burn New England early is going to be a key question in Week 2.
Computer Picks & More Analysis
Pittsburgh got crushed by New England, and Ben Roethlisberger did not look good in his first game post-Antonio Brown circus. Roethlisberger was effective when he targeted Juju Smith Schuster (nearly 10 yards per attempt). But when throwing to all other wide receivers, Roethlisberger was 14 of 29 for 112 yards and an interception. That works out to a measly 3.86 yards per attempt when targeting other receivers besides Smith-Schuster.
That’s not a good sign for how the offense will fill Brown’s volatile shoes.
Seattle did not dominate Cincinnati, and in fact got significantly out-gained at home from a yardage perspective. If anything, the Seahawks were fortunate to prevail. So both of these teams underwhelmed on offense in Week 1, and this matchup will likely come down to which offensive unit can get things back on track.
How much of Pittsburgh offensive struggles were due to going against their nemesis in New England, and how much should be of real concern? That’s what we will start to find out more about this week. The Steelers were are an early 4.5-point favorite (see Patriots-Steelers odds). That’s roughly in line with where our preseason ratings would have had this game, with Pittsburgh as 1.2 points better on a neutral field.
Both teams declined in our predictive NFL power ratings after Week 1, but Pittsburgh dropped off more after the 30-point loss to New England. Seattle is now 15th (+0.6 points above average) and Pittsburgh 17th (+0.5 points above average).
Computer Picks & More Analysis
Baltimore absolutely crushed Miami, and they sent a message as Lamar Jackson dominated with his arm and rarely used his legs. The Ravens’ offense looked very good and they should be considered the AFC North favorite now, especially with how the Steelers and Browns played in Week 1.
(Our NFL season projections now have Baltimore at 66% to win the AFC North, and Pittsburgh and Cleveland are now below 20% each. Before the season, we had Pittsburgh as the slight favorite, with a 40% chance of winning the division, with the Ravens close behind.)
Is that an overreaction? The extreme results are dictating it. Baltimore won by 49. Even against the worst team in the league, that is impressive and adjusts their outlook upward.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh lost by 30 and scored 3 points. Even against the best team in the league, that’s a very poor outcome. Combine that with Cleveland losing by 30, and Baltimore’s outlook changed dramatically in just one week. Even though our power ratings still reduce the impact of extreme blowouts to some degree (after all, some teams just give up at some point), margins of victory are predictive and do matter.
Arizona, meanwhile, managed a tie in a game where they did virtually nothing on offense until the final quarter. The Cardinals had only 100 total yards on 11 possessions through three quarters of play on Sunday. They finished with 420 total yards of offense once overtime was concluded. A good team would have put them away on Sunday, but alas, the Detroit Lions were the opponent.
The Cardinals also gave up 520 yards of offense, 450 of it coming in regulation. They survived without Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford at cornerback for one week, but gave up a lot of yards. Baltimore looked explosive on offense in Week 1 and Arizona may not be able to offer much resistance. Handicapping this game likely comes down to whether you think that fourth quarter offensive surge for QB Kyler Murray and company represented a breakthrough, or just a temporary blip for what will be an inconsistent offense.
Baltimore will likely join New England as one of the two most popular NFL survivor pool picks this week. The Ravens have less future value than the Patriots, and could be a very trendy choice. Baltimore is also a large favorite, but not as large as the Patriots to start the week (see current Baltimore-Arizona odds here).
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