AFC North Stats ‘N At, Regular Season Wrap
Particularly as Saturday’s opponent is our old frenemy the Cincinnati Bengals, this post will serve both of the AFC North stats article and the opponent preview. After all, there isn’t a lot we don’t know about Cincinnati at this point.
- Bengals +142
- Steelers +104
- Ravens -44
- Browns -154
The Bengals took care of business vs. the Ravens, unlike the Steelers the previous week. Why this is so is one of those eternal questions, such as “What is the noise of a single hand clapping?” or “Does a tree falling in a forest where no one is around to hear it make a sound?”
Although some actual research has debunked the notion that the Steelers have a losing record to losing teams, (or, more accurately, against teams who end the season with a losing record,) an uncomfortable residue of the notion remains when they lay an egg playing an unimpressive team. The good thing about the playoffs is, it’s a lot harder to “overlook” your opponent.
In the meantime, the Steelers did actually take care of business vs. the Browns. The Austin Davis-led Browns. Johnny Manziel was, according to rumor at least, in Las Vegas celebrating the fact that he is probably unemployable by now. You have to admire how he rises above his circumstances, in a certain twisted sort of way.
Ryan Mallett fared far worse against the Bengals than he did against the Black and Gold.
Here is the season finale for the QBR chart. Unfortunately it has turned out to be essentially meaningless, as instead of comparing the four quarterbacks, one from each team, we have had to compare a revolving cast of characters. Instead of the expected four, 12 different quarterbacks have made appearances on the chart. But the truth is, nobody gets a lot of sympathy when they are missing guys, and that is particularly true in the AFC North this season.
Here are the NFL Passer Ratings for Week 17, for purposes of comparison to the QBR. As the chart has gotten rather cumbersome, I’m going to also put the QBR immediately after the NFL Passer Rating:
- AJ McCarron: 103.9/44.7
- Ben Roethlisberger: 102.7/91.8
- Ryan Mallett: 59.5/35.4
- Austin Davis: 49.2/18.1
As you can see, the metrics ESPN uses shows a much different picture for particularly AJ McCarron than does the NFL rating. As I have observed the comparison during the season it looks as if typically the NFL formula underrates Ben. Just for kicks I decided to try to come up with the equivalent NFL Passer Rating for all four guys, based on the QBR being out of 100 and on the (probably incorrect) assumption that both figures are linear. Here’s what it looks like, at any rate:
A perfect NFL passer rating is 158.3. So by extrapolating the QBR, here is what they would have been this week (first number actual NFL rating, second number NFL rating extrapolated from QBR:)
- AJ McCarron: 103.9/70.8
- Ben Roethlisberger: 102.7/145.3
- Ryan Mallett: 59.5/56.0
- Austin Davis: 49.2/28.7
Don’t ask me why I felt compelled to do that, but it amused me to see that if there is any validity in this, Ryan Mallett is the only one who is even close.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus thought. The first score is the cumulative for their previous game, the second the cumulative for Sunday. Unfortunately they no longer break them out by individual games:
- Ben Roethlisberger: 98.7/97.6
- A.J. McCarron: 72.1/72.6
- Ryan Mallett: 56.0/51.2
- Austin Davis: 72.2/51.3
Since the two quarterbacks who concern us this coming weekend are Ben and McCarron (and Andy Dalton, although this seems vanishingly unlikely) I thought it would be interesting to chart them individually:
As you can see, the chart goes to 100, which is the highest possible grade. I started the chart at 50, but there are a few QBs this season who rated below that. The lowest rated QB was Zach Mettenberger, with a score of 42.8. The highest rated this season ended up as Carson Palmer, who edged Ben out by .1 (he had a 97.7.)
It is very interesting to me that Ben rated so well despite the large number of interceptions this season. As you can see his cumulative score dropped a bit towards the end of the season, but not by much. Since PFF attempts to assign praise or blame for each play, I think we can assume that some number of his interceptions were considered to be the fault of the receiver. It was obvious Ben considered to be the first interception last Sunday to be on Martavis Bryant, presumably because he didn’t run quite the route Ben was expecting. When you are getting the ball out of your hands before the receiver is in place it’s pretty critical that the receiver actually goes to the spot you are throwing to.
I think the scores above illustrate that, at least in Pro Football Focus’s opinion, McCarron has made considerable strides since being thrown into the breach. Andy Dalton was playing quite well before he injured himself on Stephon Tuitt. (And how glad I am the Bengals can’t hang that injury on the Steelers.)
However well he was playing, though, it is scarcely reasonable to expect him to play at that level on Saturday with a not-fully-healed thumb on his throwing hand and not having practiced for a month. It is almost inconceivable to me that the Bengals will put him in under any circumstances other than a major injury to McCarron. Perhaps not even then. It just wouldn’t make sense.
McCarron’s worst game was, not surprisingly, his first full game. (The first game shown doesn’t count, as it was one in which he was given six snaps, presumably as mop-up duty. The second was off the bench against the Steelers.) Once the opponent has some film to look at they can actually prepare for said quarterback.
The large jump between Week 15 (first game as a starter) and Week 16 is not explained by the opponent. Week 15 was in San Francisco, Week 16 in Denver. However, I think the fact that the 49ers defense sacked him four times probably didn’t help. Strangely, Denver only managed to sack him twice. Even the Ravens managed three sacks. But perhaps he’s used to it now.
Here are the Football Outsiders rankings:
- Cincinnati: № 1, last week № 3
- Pittsburgh: № 3, last week № 1
- Baltimore: № 20, last week № 21
- Cleveland: № 27, last week № 25
The PIT offense needs to step it up. As does the PIT defense…
- Cincinnati: № 1, last week № 6
- Pittsburgh: № 8, last week № 5
- Baltimore: № 14, last week № 11
- Cleveland: № 29
- Ravens: № 2
- Steelers: № 8, last week № 10
- Bengals: № 15, last week № 12
- Browns: № 26, last week № 25
Football Outsiders Individual rankings for the best player from each team:
- Antonio Brown: 516 (№ 1)
- A.J. Green: 413 (№ 3)
- Kamar Aiken: 100 (№ 46)
- Travis Benjamin: 37 (№ 65)
Wheaton and Bryant rank № 27 and № 55 respectively. It’s worth adding the secondary Bengals receivers at this point. Marvin Jones is № 23. Mohamed Sanu would be around № 72 if he had enough targets. For that matter, Darrius Heyward-Bey would be № 69 if he had enough targets.
As far as Pro Football Focus goes, they rank Benjamin and Aiken rather differently—Antonio Brown is № 1 (by a really long way), A.J. Green is № 4, Kamar Aiken is № 18, and Travis Benjamin is № 68. Brian Hartline is, strangely, still ahead of Benjamin, at № 57. Was Hartline even targeted on Sunday? Benjamin definitely seemed to be the go-to guy.
Wheaton and Bryant are №s 45 and 72 respectively. Wheaton took a step up, Bryant a big step down. Which wouldn’t be too surprising if PFF put the first INT on him. Jones and Sanu are №s 40 and 101 respectively.
- Tyler Eifert: 247 (№ 2)
- Gary Barnidge: 218 (№ 3)
- Heath Miller: 48 (№ 21)
- Maxx Williams: -23 (№ 39)
PFF has them as Eifert (3), Nick Boyle [BAL] (13), Barnidge (14), Miller (22).
- DeAngelo Williams: 184 (№ 3)
- Gio Bernard: 129 (№ 10)
- Buck Allen: 29 (№ 31)
- Isaiah Crowell: 36 (No. 27)
PFF has them as Williams (7), Bernard (20), Duke Johnson (25), and Buck Allen (59). Le’Veon Bell is still their top running back of 2015. They don’t appear to think much of Fitzgerald Toussaint (although he isn’t actually ranked.) Let us hope DeWill heals really fast for an old guy…
The chart at left gives the Football Outsiders scoring for the defense. In their system, the lower the number the better the defense.
The rankings are:
- Cincinnati: № 10, last week № 8
- Pittsburgh: № 11, last week № 14
- Baltimore: № 20, last week № 21
- Cleveland: № 29, last week № 31
- Pittsburgh: № 7, last week № 10
- Cincinnati: № 12, last week № 8
- Cleveland: № 26, last week № 21
- Baltimore: № 19, last week № 24
- Cincinnati: № 14, last week № 15
- Pittsburgh: № 15, last week № 17
- Baltimore: № 20
- Cleveland: № 30, last week № 31
Return yards gained/allowed:
- Ravens: 1307/403
- Browns: 1366/1275
- Bengals: 1050/1244
- Steelers: 932/1365
Here are the Football Outsiders Special Teams rankings:
- Baltimore № 1
- Cincinnati: № 9, last week № 10
- Cleveland: № 15, last week № 16
- Pittsburgh: № 18, last week № 14
Takeaway to Turnover ratio, in order of awesomeness or lack thereof.
- Cincinnati Bengals: +11 (№ 3 in NFL)
- Pittsburgh Steelers: +2 (tied for № 15)
- Cleveland Browns: -9 (№ 28)
- Baltimore Ravens: -14 (tied for № 30)
There is no way to tell the story of this season in the AFC North without acknowledging how injuries have affected the teams. The odd thing is that they didn’t actually alter the trajectories very much.
The Ravens have been hit the worst, but they were playing quite poorly before a cascading set of injuries, beginning with Steve Smith Sr. and culminating with their starting RB, QB, and various defensive players, decimated their roster.
A site called Man Games Lost ranks not just the number of games lost to injury for each team but how seriously they could be expected to affect the team. By about mid-October the Steelers had lost by far the most games to starters, etc. At the end of the season the Steelers have dropped quite a bit, but this still doesn’t tell the story, as the site notes:
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were 3rd and 12th, respectively, in games missed to injury. However, they both have an argument (based on 1-2 IIT-wav rankings) that they were the teams most impacted by injuries this season. On the other hand, the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles were least impacted by injury based on their IIT-wav rankings.
The top prize, just in number of man-games lost, was the Patriots. Cleveland was № 5 on the list. So we can see that while it’s nice to stay healthy, it doesn’t guarantee you anything. And since the injury rate in the NFL is famously 100%, there’s something to be said for learning early and first-hand that “The Standard is the Standard” is the expectation.
From Elliot Harrison of NFL.com:
Ravens: № 26 (+2) Give the Ravens love, as they gave the Bengals a ballgame for most of the afternoon Sunday. At the end of the day, there is much to look forward to for the organization: Ozzie Newsome will be back, John Harbaugh will be back, Joe Flacco will be healthy. Ditto Justin Forsett. And the icing on the cake? Future Hall of Famer Steve Smith Sr. will be foolin’ DBs for a 16th season in 2016 after all.
Bengals: № 8 (+1) Confidence-building win for the AJ McCarron-led Bengals, which likely will be the version we see hosting the Steelers in this week’s wild-card game. Of course, McCarron’s first non-mop-up action this season came against that very opponent, with mixed results. And it was that very matchup in the 2005 wild-card round that saw the career arc of then- Bengals QB Carson Palmer change forever, courtesy of a torn ACL, while Pittsburgh went on to win its first Super Bowl since the 1970s. We should know more regarding Andy Dalton’s availability later this week, but it’s looking more and more like it’ll be AJ to A.J. again. As my colleague @_EricDavis_ said on NFL Network, “This is the chance for the Cincinnati Bengals to not be little brother.” Yep.
Browns: № 31 (-4) Blow it up, 7.0. Mike Pettine was reportedly on his way out before the game. GM Ray Farmer got the text, er, talk before the game. As for Austin Davis and the Cleveland Browns? Another lost season at 3-13. And no top overall pick. Speaking of first-rounders, that’s really the story in Cleveland of late: Look at the 1s this organization has missed on. Drumroll, please … Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert, Turd Norton … Who am I missing?
Steelers: № 7 Many wanted the Steelers out of the top 10 following the Week 16 hiccup in Baltimore. And this team didn’t look particularly impressive against Austin Davis and the Browns on Sunday. But now pundits are saying this is the team no one wants to play in the AFC tournament. The offense truly is scary. What is scarier, however, is that the NFL is in an age when no one besides a quarterback can get MVP love. Please give one good reason Antonio Brown isn’t an MVP candidate, because 136 catches for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns sounds pretty viable to me
ESPN: Comments from ESPN Stats and Information:
Ravens: № 26 (-2) The Ravens lost nine games by eight or fewer points, their first-round pick from 2015 didn’t play a snap (WR Breshad Perriman) and they have the sixth pick in 2016. Baltimore is still in good shape.
Bengals: No. 6 The Bengals won 12 games for the first time since 1988, when they lost the Super Bowl. Will this be the year coach Marvin Lewis (0-6) gets his first playoff win?
Browns: № 32 (-2) The Browns have used an NFL-high 24 starting quarterbacks since returning to the NFL in 1999. Will pick No. 2 in 2016 finally land Cleveland its franchise quarterback?
Steelers: № 7 (+2) Ben Roethlisberger averaged 328.2 passing yards per game, third-best in a single season in NFL history. He may be leaned on even more in the playoffs with Le’Veon Bell out and DeAngelo Williams hobbled.
Uncredited commentary from USA Today Sports:
Ravens: № 28 Only inaugural 1996 Ravens won fewer games than this team. But credit them (and John Harbaugh) for fighting to bitter end.
Bengals: № 9 (-3) If AJ McCarron leads them to first playoff win in a quarter century … they might have a really big problem on their hands.
Browns: № 32 (-2) They’ll finally be in position to draft quarterback of their choice … in a year where there may not be a franchise.
Steelers: № 8 (+2) Can you imagine Antonio Brown’s stats (136 catches, 1,834 yards) if Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t missed four games?