Patriots appear to have best defense
Posted Jan. 19 at 12:14 PM
We’re not doing the full-blown weekly this week. There aren’t enough games, and with everyone using different playoff contests and whatnot, it would be of limited value. But I will take a look at each of the different positions.
I will start with defenses, and I will look at the various categories.
I’m putting them in this order (likelihood of scoring on a kick return): Patriots, 49ers, Ravens, Giants.
Of the four remaining teams, Baltimore is the worst at covering kicks. It allowed 3 TDs on punt/kickoff returns in the regular season, and poor coverage could have cost them the game against Houston. Remember Danieal Manning returning the kickoff 60 yards for the Texans? Those are the kind of plays that can create momentum and swing games. So the Patriots (at least to me), seem like the team most likely to score on a kick return. But none of these teams are great in that area. Ted Ginn scored 2 TDs on kick returns in the opener against Seattle, but he hasn’t had any in the last 16 games. Julian Edelman and Lardarius Webb scored on punt returns in the regular season. But that’s it. The Giants don’t have a return threat (though they also haven’t allowed any of those touchdowns). Circling back to Ginn, we must concede that he’s shown some big-game ability in the past. In his final college game, he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the National Championship game (for Ohio State against Florida). But whatever. We don’t expect there will be a kick return touchdown in either of these games. We’ll put the probabilities at:
11% New England
8% San Francisco
4% New York
There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the four teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four teams finished with the most sacks this week. The Ravens and Giants both had 48 sacks in the regular season, while the 49ers and Patriots weren’t far back (at 42 and 40). Three of the quarterbacks were very good at avoiding sacks. Eli Manning got sacked only 28 times in the regular season, and Joe Flacco (31) and Tom Brady (32) weren’t far behind him. Alex Smith was by far the most prone to taking sacks in the regular season, way up at 44. But when the 49ers hosted New York earlier in the season, the Giants didn’t put much pressure on him. While the Ravens are suppose to have a great pass rush, they couldn’t get on pressure on T.J. Yates last week (a rookie who’s taken a lot of sacks). But on the flip side, Baltimore has had 3 sacks in each of its last four games against Brady (a guy who doesn’t tend to go down often). Then there’s Flacco. He didn’t get sacked often in the regular season, but there was a deer-in-the-headlights look to his play last week, when the Texans sacked him 5 times (even though he was playing with a lead). Those are the trends to play around with. The offense/defense numbers suggest we should rank them Giants-Ravens-Patriots-49ers, but I will go with a slightly different order. On the list below, the number in parentheses suggest how they should be projected using the regular-season numbers. The number to the left is what I’m going with:
3.0 New York (2.9)
2.8 New England (2.3)
2.5 Baltimore (2.5)
2.2 San Francisco (2.2)
Purely off the numbers, the 49ers project to finish first in both fumbles and interceptions. As well as they played against New Orleans last week, we won’t mess with that – that monster hit on Pierre Thomas (forcing the goal-line fumble) was pivotal in that game. San Francisco and New England both intercepted 23 passes in the regular season. New York wasn’t far back (20 INT), while the Ravens were back at 15 sacks. On the other side of the ball, Alex Smith threw only 5 interceptions in the regular season. Tom Brady and Joe Flacco both also were good (12 interceptions each), while Eli Manning threw 16 interceptions. So the combined number for the 49ers is 39 interceptions in 32 regular-season games; that’s 4 ahead of New England, 12 ahead of Baltimore and 14 ahead of the Giants. Manning threw 2 interceptions in the earlier game against San Francisco. Best we can offer on behalf of the Ravens is that they’ve played well against Brady in the past. In his last four games against them, he’s thrown 6 interceptions. They picked him off 3 times when they won at Foxboro in the playoffs two years ago. The numbers are similar with fumbles. San Francisco forced 31 fumbles in the regular season, 4 more than Baltimore and 10 more than either New England or New York. When you narrow the scope to fumbles that were actually recovered, the gap closes to 15 for San Franciso and 11 for each of the other teams. New England and San Francisco each lost only 5 fumbles in regular season. Baltimore has had the biggest problem with losing the ball, with 24 fumbles (6 more than anyone) and 12 lost (4 more than anyone). The offense-defense numbers from the regular season suggest the teams should be ordered 49ers-Patriots-Ravens-Giants. We will flip-flop the Ravens and Giants, thinking that if the 49ers fall behind and have to open up the offense to try to get back into the game, Alex Smith could get flustered and start turning the ball over.
2.0 San Francisco
1.8 New England
1.6 New York
TOUCHDOWNS (defense only)
This category kind of ties in with sacks and turnovers. The more a team turns the ball over, the more opportunities for that ball to be taken the other way for a touchdown. Baltimore scored 4 TDs on defensive plays in the regular season, but 3 of them came in one game against the Jets, way back in Week 4. It hasn’t scored any defensive touchdowns in its last 13 games. The Ravens allowed 2 of these TDs. In the regular season, the Giants scored only one of these touchdowns and allowed 3. The Patriots scored 3 and allowed 2. The 49ers scored only one but didn’t allow any. The raw numbers, therefore, suggest there’s about a 13-16 percent chance of a touchdown for each of the Patriots, Ravens and 49ers. With the Giants, you’re looking at only 1 TD in 32 combined games, so only a 3 percent chance. Lots of wiggle room in this category, so we’re bending our categories to be more in line with the turnover/sack numbers.
14% New England
11% San Francisco
9% New York
Expected fantasy points, using the scoring system of 6 points for touchdowns, 2 points for takeaways and 1 point for each sack. (These rankings are based on the projections listed above):
7.9 New England
7.4 San Francisco
6.9 New York
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