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Through 10 games Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 1,117 receiving yards. Prorated over 16 games, that's a pace for 1,787 yards, which would be good for second all time. In fact, if he has a surge down the stretch, he could break Jerry Rice's all-time record of 1,848. Last year, when Johnson established himself as far and away the most dominant receiver in the game, he put up the seventh highest single-season total with 1,681 yards. But even though he's ahead of that pace, he's largely been seen as a disappointent, thanks to his meager touchdown output (3).
But Johnson's scored in his last two games, and Matthew Stafford overshot him on two other throws in the Packers game where he got behind the defense and easily would have scored with an on-target pass. In short, while Adrian Peterson is clearly having a peak inner-circle Hall of Fame year for a running back (with only 11 more rushing yards than Johnson has receving), so is Johnson! The only difference is four more touchdowns scored for Peterson, and of course, expectations which could not have been higher for Johnson or more modest for the ACL-tear recovering Peterson heading into the year.
Quarterbacks regress to the mean
Last year, the league-wide yards per passing attempt (YPA) were at an all-time high (at least for the last few decades) of 7.2. This year, that hasn't changed much – it's 7.1. But if you look at the top QBs in that stat, they're nowhere near last year's efficiency. Aaron Rodgers had an all-time season at 9.2, and this year he's at 7.4. Tom Brady was at 8.6, now he's at 7.6. Drew Brees was at 8.3 (on a whopping 657 attempts) and now he's at 7.6. Eli Manning was at 8.4, and now he's at 7.3. In fact, Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Manning – as well as Carson Palmer (8.4) – all had more YPA last year than this year's league leader, Peyton Manning (8.0). So with all these high-volume YPA stars regressing severely, how is it possible the league-wide YPA is just barely off last year's mark?
For starters, Peyton Manning replacing Tim Tebow/Kyle Orton in Denver took the Broncos from 6.3 YPA (28th) to 8.0 (1st). Second, the Cardinals are this year's worst YPA offender at 6.0, while last year there were three teams below six (Jaguars – 5.4, Browns – 5.8 and Rams – 5.9). Third, a couple players took the next step in their development – Andy Dalton's gone from 6.6 YPA to 7.6 and Sam Bradford's gone from 6.1 to 6.9. Finally, the rookies helped a good deal as RGIII took the Redskins from 6.9 to 7.9, and Andrew Luck took the Colts from 6.0 to 7.2. Even Russell Wilson has been a difference-maker taking the Seahawks from 6.8 to 7.4.
The result of this – which has played out both in the standings and in fantasy – is a good deal more parity league-wide. There's no offensive juggernaut like last year's Patriots, Saints or Packers, and there are fewer offensive doormats. In fact, top-to-bottom, the league goes from 8.0 YPA (Broncos, Panthers, Redskins, Niners*) to 6.0 YPA (Cardinals), a span of 2.0 yards per pass. Last year it spanned from the Packers (9.3) to the Jaguars (5.4), nearly double.
How good is RGIII?
Before Sunday's game, the Eagles pass defense had allowed 6.56 YPA against, a number which would rank eighth in the league through 10 weeks. But Griffin – without his top tight end, Fred Davis, with a rusty top receiver Pierre Garcon (3 catches, 5 yards), who had zero impact in the game, and without his top pass-catching back (Roy Helu) – completed 14 of 15 passes, had a YPA of 13.3, a perfect QB rating of 158.3, threw four touchdowns and no picks and ran for 82 yards on 12 carries. Forget about his future value, how many quarterbacks are better than Griffin right now? He's fourth in YPA (only a 0.1 yards out of first), he's fifth in QB rating, and he's thrown only three picks, albeit on 100 fewer attempts than the traditional QBs. He also has 613 rushing yards (pace for 981) despite missing half the Atlanta game with a concussion and six rushing scores (pace 10). The only knock is the nine fumbles, though he's been lucky enough to lose only two. Forget about long-term comparisons to Andrew Luck, the question is whether you'd rather have Eli Manning, Matt Ryan or Tony Romo over Griffin on your NFL team this year..
Things to take away from Week 11
• Arian Foster scored a TD in every game this season except a home one against the Jaguars in which the Texans scored 43 points.
• Justin Blackmon and Andre Johnson had 509 yards receiving between them. Johnson's 273 was the ninth-most all time, while Blackmon's 236 was 30th. Matt Schaub's 527 passing yards tied Warren Moon for the second-most all time.
• Chad Henne passed for 354 yards and four touchdowns in Houston. Oddly, it wasn't his career high – that came last year against the Patriots in Week 1 when he went for 416.
• Reggie Wayne had just 72 yards on 18 targets Sunday. But he's had double-digit targets in eight out of 10 games, and it's impossible not to produce when that's the case. By contrast, Rob Gronkowski had only seven targets but caught them all for 137 yards and two scores – before breaking his arm.
• Say what you want about the Jets, but they do play sound pass defense. (Sam Bradford had just 170 yards on 44 attempts). That Bilal Powell had 11 carries and scored both of the team's touchdowns is yet another reason to leave Shonn Greene on your bench.
• The Cowboys-Browns game featured a team with no offensive line against one with no secondary. It was maddening to see Cleveland lose in overtime after they probably should have sealed it in regulation – a questionable personal foul call for a hit on a Kevin Ogletree was likely the difference.
• Dez Bryant is awfully hard to tackle. Even though the refs blew the whistle after a gang of Browns stopped his progress, he rarely went to the ground.
• That the Panthers (my best bet) didn't cover was horrifying to me, given they were up 11 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, at home and getting a point. It's hard to lose a game when your quarterback (Cam Newton) has 8.7 YPA and zero turnovers while the opposing QB has 5.4 YPA and two picks (one taken to the house). And Doug Martin fumbled at the goal line resulting in a touchback.
• I don't think Vanilla Ice will be on the short list for MVP after throwing five picks at home against the Cardinals.
• Somehow Calvin Johnson wasn't targeted on the game's penultimate drive that largely sealed Detroit's fate. I was also aghast when the Lions getting 3.5 and up six with 4:25 left – also coughed up the cover.
• Nick Foles got destroyed by one of the weakest pass defenses in the league. As I said last week, Michael Vick was not remotely the main problem.
• The Saints certainly look like a contender should they make the playoffs, but it would be great to see how they fare against even a decent defense. Actually, we saw a glimpse of it in Denver when they lost 34-14. They'll get another chance this week against the 49ers.
• With the IND-NE and NO-OAK games in garbage time, I was watching SD-DEN – until down 11 with nine minutes to go, SD took a delay of game penalty while trying to decide whether to go for it on 4th and 9. That made it 4th and 14. So I took a 30-minute walk with my daughter while it was still light outside. You have to draw the line somewhere.
• As it turns out, the Retargers covered the eight-point line, but I don't regret missing it and I'm fairly sure that had I stayed it would have turned out differently.
• The Steelers made a point of taking Torrey Smith out of the game, and the Ravens offense didn't have a lot else to offer. Maybe the Steelers defense is just that good, or the Raiders defense on which the Ravens hung 55 last week is that much of a joke.
• I hate when the Red Zone Channel goes to split screen – it just means I can't really see what's happening in either game at the distance I sit from my two 42-inch TVs (my eyesight is still fine). I also hate that games are blacked out on the Sunday Ticket, and you have to go to the local CBS or Fox channel which is not only not in the 700s (which is a hassle) but also five seconds or so delayed. So when the other TV, which has the Red Zone Channel, switches to that same game, I have to go off my main game with the other remote. The worst is when the main game is on split screen, because then my choice is between not seeing the details of what's happening, or seeing them five seconds behind while hearing what's happening from the other TV. I know – first world problems.
Things to look for in Week 12
• The Texans secondary tries to pick up the pieces in Detroit against Calvin Johnson.
• The Niners head to New Orleans in a stark contrast of styles.
• The Falcons take on the Bucs in Tampa.
• The Giants host Green Bay off the bye in a re-match of last year's playoff game.
Beating the Book
Line: Bills +3 at Colts
The Bills played well on Thursday against Miami (especially on defense) and will have had 10 days to get ready for this game. The Colts don't play much defense themselves and aren't likely to pull away from Buffalo. Take the points here as this is a 50/50 game.
Prediction: Bills 23 – 19
Last week we lost with the Panthers to put us at 4-7 on the season in this forum and 73-84-3 overall. Last year we went 10-7 in this forum and 124-125 overall. Over the last five years we've gone 50-34 in this space. You can read the full Week 12 column here.
Surviving Week 12
There should have been quite a bit of carnage last week, but Houston. Dallas and Atlanta all squeaked by, so virtually everyone survived. Let's take a look at this week's slate:
|Team||Opponent||%Taken||Vegas ML**||Vegas Odds|
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines
This is an odd list because it has two hugely popular teams and not a whole lot else. If you had New England available – which almost no one does – you could justify taking them over Cincinnati given the modest disparity in loss percentage (27 to 21) and the wide disparity in popularity (35 to 4). It's pretty close when you run the numbers. But Denver is probably the best pick despite being the most popular, assuming you agree with Vegas giving the Broncos just a 16 percent chance to lose. So my picks for now are 1. Denver, 2. New England and 3. Cincinnati. I assume everyone has the Bengals available, though if you've used all three teams, good luck. You're basically stuck picking a 60 percent favorite, none of which I trust.
Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes out Wednesday night.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_Liss