Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs
There isn't much to say about the 0-7 Dolphins at this point from an improvement perspective — unfortunately, there aren't many bright spots. But the Chiefs are a different matter, especially on defense. Since Week 1, when they started off ranked 30th in the league in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA metric, they've moved up to 16th through their four-game winning streak. This is especially impressive since the Chiefs lost safety Eric Berry, arguably the defense's best player, in early September. Safety Kendrick Lewis has stepped up, as has linebacker Derrick Johnson and the Chiefs' pass rush.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali helped cause Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill to jump for four false starts last Monday (McNeill also picked up a holding penalty, and a call for illegal use of hands), but the Chiefs still rank last in FO's Defensive Adjusted Sack Rate (sacks per pass attempt) metric. That could change against the Dolphins, whose offensive line ranks dead last in Offensive Adjusted Line Yards — they're the only NFL team allowing more than 10 percent sacks per pass attempt.
The news that cornerback Vontae Davis will not play in this game due to non-injury reasons (apparently, he almost got into a fight with teammate Brandon Marshall, though that may not be the reason) won't be further bad news for the Dolphins' reeling defense. Only the Indianapolis Colts are worse against the pass, and the Dolphins are allowing the 28th-worst DVOA against #1 receivers. On the other side of the ball — well, if the Dolphins HAD a #1 receiver, he wouldn't do much against cornerback Brandon Flowers. Because of Flowers' efforts this season, only the New York Jets and Darrelle Revis are better against #1 wideouts. One way the Dolphins can get some traction is to get running back Daniel Thomas in the game — he's been stuffed for zero or negative yardage just three times in his 75 carries.
Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts
Similar to the Dolphins, it's tough to find reasons for encouragement when looking at what the Colts are doing. For the Falcons, the channeled this season was to transcend the reputation they had as a drive efficiency team that couldn't make the big splash play. So far this season, the Falcons have just 12 pass plays of 25 yards or more, which is very much average, and a 3.6% touchdown rate per pass attempt, which puts them down with anemic teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.
Matt Ryan has a 90.5 quarterback rating inside the opposing 20-yard line, which ranks him 19th in the league. The Colts aren't really equipped to take advantage of that, though — they rank 30th in the league in Defensive Passing DVOA. This would be a good time for Ryan to get that red zone offense going.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Should running back Darren Sproles be looked at as a borderline MVP candidate? Not only does he leads the NFL going away in all-purpose yards with 1,331, but he's also got the best conversion rate among all players on all third down rushing plays. The Saints have given him the ball in eight third-down rushing situations, and he's converted seven times. Add in the fact that he leads the NFC in receptions with 51 (one of the reasons that Drew Brees leads the league in yards after catch among quarterbacks with 1,340), and you really have to wonder how much A.J. Smith of the Chargers would like a do-over on lowballing Sproles in the first place. Oh yeah … he's also got more third-down receptions (17) than any other player in the league.
Tampa Bay's passing game is far less efficient — the narrative coming into this season was that Josh Freeman's six-interception total in 2010 was unrepeatable going forward. But that's not really the problem — his 1.3 interception percentage was very low, but Donovan McNabb proved through his career that abnormally low pick rates could happen in multiple seasons.
McNabb has five seasons with an interception percentage lower than 2.0% with at least 300 attempts in the season. Freeman's real problem has been his decision-making, and his receivers haven't helped — Mike Williams has followed up the NFL's first double-digit touchdown season for a rookie receiver since Randy Moss by ranking next to last in Receiving DVOA among qualifying players.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The Jets had better watch out when the Bills give the ball to Fred Jackson on first down — no back in the NFL is better at setting his team up for second-down success. Jackson leads the league with a 6.6 YPC average on first-and-10 (492 yards on 74 carries). New York's surprisingly vulnerable run defense really shows up on second down, though — they rank 22nd in the league in defensive rushing DVOA on that down. Jackson and the Bills should really look to bounce outside to take advantage — the Jets are allowing 5.5 yards per carry to the left end, 27th worst in the NFL.
No team is better in the red zone than the Bills — they've had 25 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line, and they've scored 17 touchdowns there. Only the Tennessee Titans have a higher red zone touchdown percentage, but they have just 12 to Buffalo's 17. The Jets have allowed 10 red zone touchdowns, which ties them for fourth in the AFC in TD allowed percentage with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had a great game against A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday — he picked off one pass on a deep route, and caused another interception on another deep route — but he understands that the Cowboys' receivers provide a sterner test, especially Dez Bryant. Bryant has nine plays of 20 yards or more on his 38 targets, and almost half of his yards per carry — 151 of 367 — comes after the catch.
Jason Witten is Dallas' most-targeted receiver, but Seattle's safety combo of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas has put them among the league's best against tight ends — they rank 6th in the NFL in Defensive DVOA against that position.
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
The best fourth-down converter in the NFL? You may be surprised to learn that it's Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who has rushed three times this season on fourth-and-three or less, and converted all three attempts. He might be the only one doing anything of note to convert on the ground, though — the Browns rank 31st in percentage of first downs per carry; only the Titans are worse. And with Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty out, it's hard to know who's going to perform for the Browns' running game.
No question who's going to do it for the Texans — Arian Foster is ready to go. But even if he wasn't, Ben Tate could explode against the Browns. Only three players — LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, and Matt Forte — have more rushing plays of 10 yards or more than Tate.
San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
This one's very simple. The Redskins will NOT be able to run on the 49ers, who have not allowed a 100-yard rushing performance in 28 games, and haven't given up a rushing touchdown all year. They've allowed just 28 first downs on the ground, and have injured as many backs this season (six) as they've caused fumbles (seven). Ryan Torain and Roy Helu might as well not show up.
What of quarterback John Beck, the Redskins' depleted lineup of playmakers, and an offensive line that helped allow 10 sacks against the Bills last week? Well, not good. Washington ranks 22nd in Offensive Adjusted Sack Rate (8.3% sacks per pass attempt), while the 49ers are sacking enemy quarterbacks 8.1% of the time on pass attempts, sixth-best in the NFL. Barring some sort of miracle, the 49ers will soon be 7-1. Mike Shanahan may want to roll the dice with Rex Grossman, Mickey Bourke's favorite quarterback, and the acknowledged "trainwreck with balls." Shanny won't have a lot to lose.