The Lard

A comprehensive daily examination of NFL happenings and analysis

The Daily Lard 12-25-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The AFC West is set up for a wild finish next Sunday afternoon, as the Broncos host the Chiefs and the Raiders face the Chargers in Oakland. Denver's only path to the playoffs is via the division title, but they have three ways of claiming it: 1) beat KC; 2) tie KC, plus Oakland ties or loses to SD; 3) lose to KC, plus Oakland loses to SD. As for the AFC's final wild card spot, Oakland can nab it with a victory and some help, but Denver has no shot at it due to victories yesterday by Cincinnati (23-16 over the Cards) and Tennessee (23-17 over Jacksonville).

How did we get to this point? Well, the Broncos came up pretty small yesterday, especially the offense and special teams, which combined to allow 21 points to the defense's 19 in a 40-14 loss to Buffalo. The 21 came via a punt return TD by Leodis McKelvin and two fourth quarter pick-sixes by Tim Tebow, although one of those could be changed to a fumble. As for the defense, they struggled to keep the Bills outside the 20 but stiffened up once allowing them in (Buffalo was 1-6 in the red zone).

The Broncos lost the turnover battle (0-4) for the third straight week and have given the ball up nine times over that stretch (seven of them by Tebow). They also lost Chris Harris to a pinched nerve, Quinton Carter to a severe bruise on his lower back, and Brian Dawkins to a reaggravation of his neck injury which is feared could end his playing career.

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The Daily Lard 12-24-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Pretty exciting day today, as Denver has a chance to clinch the AFC West today with a victory over the Bills combined with a loss or tie by the Raiders in Kansas City. It would mark the team's first division title since the 2005 season. The Broncos can also clinch at least a wild card with a win in Buffalo combined with losses by the Jets (Giants), Bengals (Cardinals) and Titans (Jaguars), all of whom are playing at home today and kicking off early.

The Raiders will be without several key players who did not practice all week - RB Darren McFadden, S Michael Huff, WR Jacoby Ford and DT John Henderson.

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The Daily Lard 12-23-11

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Last night's game had a rather interesting ending with plenty of implications, as Colts QB Dan Orlovsky led a 12-play, 78-yard drive to defeat the Texans 19-16. For Houston, the loss is a severe blow to their chances at nabbing a playoff bye and one of the top seeds; instead they're likely to end up with the #3 seed. Should the Broncos take the AFC West and the #4 seed, they would host the #5 seed in the first round, which will be either PIttsburgh or Baltimore, and unless Houston is knocked out by the #6 seed, Denver would have to go to Foxborough if they can pull off a first-round upset.

On the other end of things, the victory for the Colts is their second straight, and it means their stranglehold on the first-overall pick and chance to draft Andrew Luck is gone - Indy is now tied in the win column with the Rams and Vikings, and the Colts face their division rival Jaguars to close out their season. Due to strength of schedule, it appears the Colts would still get the #1 pick if they finish tied for the worst record with the Rams and/or Vikings. So the Colts/Jags matchup could be the determinant of whether Jacksonville has to face Andrew Luck twice annually for potentially the next 10 or 15 years. I'm not sure the Jags really want to win that game...

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The Daily Lard 12-22-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Interesting post yesterday from Brian Burke on the silly reliance upon gross rushing yards to measure a running back's effectiveness. Funny thing is, he's not just talking about fans here - Burke is studying salaries and how players are valued by the NFL. Running backs apparently get paid for their rushing yards rather than their total contributions to their teams, which is how guys like DeAngelo Williams get $21M in guarantees to comprise just one half of a RB tandem. Burke's best line is his clincher:

"Football people" want to tell you that they ignore stats and just look at the game. They want us to believe they have a near mystical sense of how to recognize good play. The fact is they do rely on stats, just the wrong ones.

Remember this next time you hear/read someone say how much they hate stats and then later cite some as proof of a player's worth. "I hate stats" usually translates to "I hate advanced (or rate) stats that I haven't taken the time to understand, and instead I prefer the traditional ones I've heard about my whole life."

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The Daily Lard 12-21-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Don Banks is loving the storylines of the AFC West right now, and who can blame him? There sure is a lot of wackiness going on here, and there could be no more interesting regular season finale than Tim Tebow versus Kyle Orton for the division title. And as Banks highlights, the Chargers are the only team in the division whose W-L record underachieves their point differential.

In fact, if the teams' records matched what would be expected from their point differentials (Pythagorean Wins or PW), San Diego would be the lone 8-6 team, Denver and Oakland would each be two games back at 6-8, and Kansas City would be 3-11 rather than the 6-8 mark they currently sport (You can see PW on each team profile over at PFR as "Expected W-L"). Sure, it's the actual games that really count and ultimately a team is judged by its record. But as we've seen over a zillion times, your team isn't really that good until it posts some decisive (on the scoreboard) victories.

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The Daily Lard 12-20-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The official playoff scenarios haven't been released by the league yet (that's supposed to happen today), but it appears a Denver win at Buffalo combined with an Oakland loss or tie at KC would clinch the AFC West for the Broncos. And according to Stuart Zaas, the Broncos can also clinch a wild card spot on Saturday by beating the Bills, plus losses or ties by the Titans, Jets and Bengals.

The Niners beat the Steelers 20-3 last night in a game delayed twice by a power outage, and Ben Roethlisberger turned it over four times (three picks, one fumble). Big Ben played with a brace on his high ankle sprain (on his left/plant leg) but was apparently not hobbled. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers play Roethlisberger the next two weeks, although presumably they will since they still have a shot at both the AFC North title, the #1 or #2 seed and a first-round bye. The loss for Pittsburgh keeps Baltimore ahead of them in the standings (by virtue of sweeping the Steelers earlier in the season) and increases the likelihood that the Broncos would end up hosting the Steelers in the Wild Card round, should Denver win the AFC West.

So, if Big Ben plays the next two games but Baltimore hangs on for the division title, the Broncos would likely be facing a more faithful but less mobile Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Hmm. Before we get carried away, let's get to the links.

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The Daily Lard 12-19-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Unfortunately, the magic came early and did not linger, as the Patriots thumped the mistake-prone Broncos 41-23 after Denver had jumped out to a 13-7 lead. On their first two possessions, the Broncos racked up 162 yards on 13 plays (11 runs, two passes) and it looked like Denver actually had a chance to blow the doors off New England early. But on their third possession, John Fox curiously chose (again) to kick a FG on fourth-and-one from the New England eight-yard line despite the dominance of the Broncos' running game. One could never deem the explosive Pats to be against the ropes, but another TD there would have been quite a blow.

Denver's momentum was gone, the Pats went 80 yards to get within two points, and then the Broncos put the ball on the ground three times (Lance Ball, Tim Tebow, Quan Cosby) in a span of 8.5 minutes, leading directly to 13 New England points. Starting with that third Patriots possession, New England outscored Denver by a score of 34-7 the rest of the way.

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The Daily Lard 12-17-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! PFF has a new feature called The Scramble, featuring the writing of four different analysts about a given topic. The first installment covers late-round rookies who've excelled, and Chris Benson chose to profile Denver nickel corner Chris Harris, who of course wasn't even invited to the Combine, even less drafted or talked about by draft pundits.

As Benson sees it, Harris has been the most valuable rookie corner in the league, and in his limited play (331 snaps) Harris ranks second only to Antoine Winfield in terms of run stopping rate. Benson doesn't see Harris becoming a shutdown corner due to the physical limitations which kept him so far under the radar in the first place, but he thinks his smarts, physicality and work ethic could help him peak as a #2 corner or career nickel corner. Either result would be great if Harris were drafted perhaps anywhere outside the top 20 picks or so. But from a guy not drafted or invited to Indy? Beyond remarkable.

Of course, Harris isn't alone - several key Broncos went undrafted, including Wesley Woodyard, Britton Colquitt, Matt Prater and Lonie Paxton.

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The Daily Lard 12-16-11

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! As Dave Krieger points out, John Fox is now the first NFL coach to win three OT games in a single season for two different teams, as his 2003 Panthers played in five extra-session games including one in the playoffs, and winning four of them. Interestingly, Fox's teams have only been to overtime three times in his other eight seasons, and when combined, those '03 Panthers and these '11 Broncos are 7-1 in overtime.

Another crazy set of numbers? Those two squads are a combined 19-10 despite a mediocre minus-12 in point differential. Naturally, a point differential like that would suggest a record more along the lines of 14-15 or 15-14. Luck? Great coaching? Crappy offenses? Conservative coaching? Obviously, it's a combination of all of those. Perhaps at some point we'll take a look at OT coaching records and how they compare to regulation records. OT records will of course provide tiny samples, but it'd be interesting to see if they mirror a coach's overall record as he coaches more OT games.

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The Daily Lard 12-15-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! In his latest mailbag, Woody Paige dumps plenty of blame on Denver's receivers when it comes to not catching Tim Tebow's passes, and he gets pretty creative with it. On one hand the bad throws are supposedly a direct order from John Fox to throw balls in the dirt, and some more fault lies with John Elway for not having helped Tebow much during training camp. So, let's get this straight - Tebow's been playing QB his whole life (despite the narrative being falsely put out there that nobody wanted him to play QB). He came into the league with question marks about his throwing and his accuracy, and he supposedly spent countless hours (remember, nobody works harder) fixing/working on his throwing before being drafted, and then again last offseason (in between selling books and underwear). He has shown those very accuracy problems each and every week, but John Elway has the magic solution and it's just a matter of him not having shared his proprietary secret with Tim?

But back to the receivers, gotta hit them some more - Eric Decker couldn't see Sunday, Demaryius Thomas runs before he catches, and all of them "are just using their hands, not their arms" (huh?), and Woody's double-secret inside source tells him Decker and Thomas are still "learning touch and control" and his other sources say the young receivers simply aren't very good. Oh, and Brandon Lloyd is selfish and was an anonymous source, but who knows what that has to do with this. Tebow wasn't working with the guy in camp anyway, right Woodrow?

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