Each week The 33rd Team analyzes Sunday’s games by looking at more than just wins and losses. We look at specific statistics and game trends that impacted the outcomes of each game. Today, let’s look at the winners:
Cincinnati Bengals 41 – Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Bengals Key Stat: -0.713 EPA/Play Allowed in the First Half
While the Bengals offense may have (most of) the highlights, the defense put on one of the most dominant performances of the season. During the first half, when the game was close, Cincinnati held the Steelers to -0.713 EPA/play. For those unfamiliar with the statistic, it’s only the third-best rating put up in the first half of any game all season. The Bengals gridlocked the Pittsburgh offense through the air, with the 6th-best first-half pass defense of all 179 games so far. Mike Hilton got the flash play with a 24-yard pick-six to end the half, but Eli Apple got a pick (and longer return) as well and DT BJ Hill brought down Ben Roethlisberger. It’s a new day in the AFC North.
New York Giants 13 – Philadelphia Eagles 7
Giants Key Stat: 4 Takeaways
We talked about turnovers frequently last week but they’ll continue to be the story as long as teams continue to put on these dominant one-sided displays. This is only the seventh game this year to see a team steal the ball four or more times without any giveaways, and those teams are unsurprisingly 7-0. With this large turnover margin, the rest of the game is almost irrelevant. Just to illustrate this another way, here’s a list of every QB since 2000 to lose a game with this kind of defensive advantage: Drew Lock, Tony Romo, Cleo Lemon, Rex Grossman, Patrick Ramsey, Steve McNair, and Shaun King. There are some poor games from solid QBs here, but it’s not a murderer’s row. Credit to NYG defenders Darnay Holmes, Tae Crowder, Xavier McKinney, and Julian Love for getting the turnovers that won this one.
Atlanta Falcons 21 – Jacksonville Jaguars 14
Falcons Key Stat: 1/3 Allowed in the Red Zone
In a game that was thankfully only shown to an extremely limited regional audience, the Falcons ground out a win thanks to a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Although Atlanta forced only three punts, Jacksonville walked away from two 14-play drives with six total points. Add that to three more drives of 7+ plays with 0 combined points and you’ve got a winning formula for a struggling team that has some weapons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 – Indianapolis Colts 31
Buccaneers Key Stat: 2.1 Yards Before Contact per Rush in the Second Half
Tom Brady has made a habit of coming back from big deficits like the 10-point hole that the Buccaneers found themselves in at halftime, but Brady only had 103 passing yards and no touchdowns in the second half of this one. Taking two sacks, he couldn’t wrestle control of this game by himself. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay offensive line took over from there and paved the road for multiple “free” yards per attempt for the duo of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. While the second-half iteration of Fournette added 5.3 yards per attempt after contact, Jones only managed 3.0, showing just how important the offensive line was to this effort. Tampa has already proved that they have multiple position groups that can play at an elite level: QBs, WRs, TEs, DL, and LBs. If the OL and/or RBs can join them, February might be inevitable.
New England Patriots 36 – Tennessee Titans 13
Patriots Key Stat: 85 Passing Yards Allowed (3.7 per Dropback)
Take in this list. The 1942 Bears, who went 11-0 under George Halas, Hunk Anderson, and Luke Johnson before losing to Sammy Baugh and Washington in the championship. The 1961 AFL Champion Houston Oilers, who fired Lou Rymkus after a 1-3-1 start and ran the table the next nine games under Wally Lemm. The 1954 Cleveland Browns coached by the legendary Paul Brown who rode Sammy Baugh to their sixth championship in the past nine years. The 2021 New England Patriots, with a rookie starting QB and coming off a 7-9 season. What do these teams have in common? They are the top four teams in all-time point differential from weeks 7-12. It may seem arbitrary, but the Patriots are absolutely blowing the doors off teams right now. The Titans were merely the latest victim, with the AFC’s top record insufficient to account for a severely depleted skill corps. A harder slate is ahead for New England, but for right now they are historic.