Sunday’s slate included two crucial games that will likely determine division winners. Dallas beat Washington 27-20, increasing their lead in the NFC East to three games. This win essentially guarantees that Dallas will host a playoff game as a division winner. In the AFC North, the Browns defeated the Ravens 24-22 and cut the Ravens’ division lead to one game. With Cincinnati losing to the 49ers, the Browns’ odds of winning the AFC North dramatically increased this week. This fact is only compounded by the uncertainty surrounding Lamar Jackson’s ankle sprain.
Entering Week 14, the narrative was that both Dallas and Cleveland needed to get back to their basics of running the ball early to control the game. The thought process behind this is that Nick Chubb and Ezekiel Elliott need to get 25 carries for their team to win.
Yet, this is completely misguided. It’s not only a false narrative given each team’s history; it’s also a bad strategy for any team if they’re trying to win the game.
Fortunately for Dallas and Cleveland, they ignored the media narrative. In fact, they employed the opposite approach, passing early to get the lead.
Let’s take a look at the pass/run splits that led to the Cowboys and Browns obtaining insurmountable leads:
Dallas passed 73 percent of the time on their first two drives, which led to an 11-0 lead that they would never give up. Cleveland’s pass rate of nearly 68 percent throughout their first four drives gave them all 17 of their offensive points.
Yes, both teams were aided by defensive scores. Micah Parsons’ strip sack of Taylor Heinicke was recovered by Dorance Armstrong and returned for a TD. This extended Dallas’ lead to 18-0. Myles Garrett’s scoop-and-score gave the Browns a 24-3 lead.
Even so, this does not muddle the fact that Dallas and Cleveland first passed the ball to secure the lead. The defensive scores helped, but they only extended a lead that was obtained by passing the football. The idea that each team needed to run the ball to win was empirically denied by the outcome of the games Sunday. By not listening to the narratives, Dallas will ultimately win the NFC East, and Cleveland has a strong chance of winning AFC North, which seemed unlikely prior to this week.