I'll get to the intangibles later in the week hopefully (what? huh? what? momentum!) but let's stay grounded in the tangibles for now. For that, ESPN Insider runs a piece by Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders on the Jets-Bengals game this Saturday that sums it up nicely. Don't have Insider? Don't worry, I'll post the whole thing after the jump.
For now, just a quick summary using equations:
- Bengals run a lot but not well + Jets excellent run defense = little success on ground for Bengals
- No team relies more on a single receiver than Bengals + Revis for Jets = little to no success in air for Bengals
- Bengals are best in league at preventing long runs + Jets run a lot = lots of potential 3rd and longs for Jets
- 3rd & longs for Jets + Sanchez = lots of potential turnovers
Make sense? Thus, things that will determine who wins that would be somewhat unexpected would be:
- Chad somehow makes Revis look foolish or other receivers really step up (along with Carson)
- Bengals somehow find tremendous success running
- Mark Sanchez plays well
- Jets have similar success running the ball to last week
The performance of these teams would not predict any of those things. HOWEVER, both the Jets and the Bengals are among the most volatile (least consistent) teams this year (Bengals rank 28th, Jets 26th). So expect something unexpected to determine the game.
Okay, I have nothing else interesting to add analytically and none of this was really my own thinking anyway. Read all of Vince's piece below. Seriously.
Every Tuesday, Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders writes a piece called "Any Given Sunday." In it, he dissects one of the biggest upsets from the previous weekend in the NFL. For Week 17, he looks at the New York Jets' absolutely blowing the Cincinnati Bengals off the field Sunday night -- and what it may mean for the wild-card weekend rematch of the two teams this Saturday. For a better understanding of the FBO metrics used to arrive at these conclusions, please click here.
Simply put, the Jets have a good chance to win on the road this weekend -- provided their rookie quarterback doesn't screw things up.
The Bengals like to run the ball often -- their 505 carries ranked fourth in the league -- but they were not especially good at it. Their rushing attack ranked 13th in the league in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, Outsiders' exclusive metric that analyzes every play of the NFL season and adjusts it for down, distance, score, field position, quality of opponent and other factors). The Jets' defense, meanwhile, ranked eighth in stopping the run.
We can analyze each team further using some of FO's other advanced metrics. Stuff Rate calculates how often runners were stuffed for no gain or negative yardage. SLY (Second-Level Yards) tally rushing yards gained five to 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, while OFY (Open-Field Yards) count rushing yards gained 10 or more yards downfield. The Bengals rank 17th, 12th and 16th in these numbers -- essentially mediocre across the board. The Jets' defense, meanwhile, ranks sixth in Stuff Rate, fourth in SLY per carry, and 10th in OFY. In short, they're good in all aspects of run defense, but especially good at limiting runs to four yards or less. The Bengals may run a lot this weekend, but they won't dominate on the ground -- they'll need to pass effectively if they want to pick up first downs.
Therein lies another problem for Cincinnati, because the Jets are even better against the pass, ranking first in the league in pass-defense DVOA. The star of this unit is cornerback Darrelle Revis, the NFL's reigning king of shutdown corners. The Jets allowed only 28.6 yards per game to opponents' top receivers, including a catch rate of 41 percent and only 2.5 yards after catch per receptions. They led the league in all these categories.
That is especially bad news for the Bengals. Chad Ochocinco was responsible for 36.2 percent of Cincinnati's receiving yards this year. No other receiver was so important to his team. The Bengals' aerial arsenal consisted almost entirely of one big gun, and against the Jets, that gun will likely shoot blanks.
So if they can't run and they can't pass, how can Cincinnati win? By taking away big runs and waiting for the Jets to make a mistake. The Jets' offense gains yards on almost every carry, ranking third in Stuff Rate, but they're just 20th in SLY and 12th in OFY. The Bengals rarely hit opposing runners in the backfield (25th in Stuff Rate) and are about average in holding opponents to short gains (18th in SLY). However, they were the best in the league in OFY allowed -- they simply do not give up long runs. (They did Sunday night against option plays by Brad Smith, but they'll have a week to analyze those on film and improve.) The Jets are going to pick up plenty of first downs on the ground, but with no home run threat, they will eventually face third-and-long, and then Mark Sanchez will have to deliver.
The Jets' rookie passer played like an average rookie this season -- literally -- and that's bad news. Sanchez posted a passing DVOA of minus-22.8 percent this season, 36th in the league. Since 1994, the earliest season in DVOA's database, 46 rookie quarterbacks have taken part in 100 or more pass plays (including sacks). Sanchez's DVOA ranks 23rd among that group, splitting them neatly in half. Sanchez finds himself just below Kerry Collins and Jake Plummer, and just above Mike McMahon and his New York counterpart Eli Manning.
Sanchez particularly struggled with ball security. He committed 29 total turnovers (fumbles plus interceptions) this year, more than anyone except Jay Cutler. That's a high total even for a rookie -- only Collins, the elder Manning, David Carr and Tony Banks gave up the ball more freely in their first seasons. When Sanchez drops back to pass against Cincinnati, he'll be facing steep competition -- no team can boast of a pair of corners as good as the Bengals' Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. The Bengals ranked fourth in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receivers, and against No. 2s. They were also first in the league against tight ends. Sanchez's top three targets -- wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller -- will have serious trouble getting open. The Bengals will take away not just the youngster's security blanket, but also his teddy bear and his night light. In his first playoff game, on the road, with nobody open, it's easy to imagine Sanchez committing multiple turnovers and setting the Bengals up with a short field.
Vince Verhei is an author of Football Outsiders.