NFL Game Analyst News and Notes – Week 17/Playoff Team Edition

by Cody Carpentier · Analytics & Advanced Metrics

The RotoUnderworld Game Analyst Team consists of over 75 individuals that chart and re-watch every snap from every game in the NFL between game end, and Monday afternoon. The guys you have generally not heard from before stop in to drop some tidbits from their weekly game charting process in hopes to give us a sneak peek into the depth of the games each Sunday. As the Head Game Analyst, I charted for two years and this idea was always in the back of my mind. People always share the broken-down, clean, processed reviews of games in the NFL. That’s not what this is. I asked everyone to give me some notes or takeaways from their game this past week, and below are the raw responses I received. This week will be strictly based on teams headed for the playoffs and how our charters perceive them entering the NFL Playoffs.

1. Tennessee Titans

Mike Vrabel…COY? The Titans wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed and a first-round bye. They did this despite a bevy of injuries all season (A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Taylor Lewan) including losing their best player, Derrick Henry, in Week 8. The best part about the Titans is that they really haven’t changed their identity after losing Henry. You’d think that his injury would mean a boon for the passing game, but that has not been the case.

Now injuries may have also played a part in that. But Vrabel still wants to run the ball, mix in some play-action, a deep shot or two, play good defense, and not turn the ball over. Over their last five games, they’ve averaged 172 yards rushing, while only attempting 26 passes with Tannehill becoming the quintessential game manager. They went 3-2 in those games with their only losses coming to the Steelers and Patriots due to a -4 turnover margin. However, both those contests were a lot closer than the final score would indicate.

Vrabel knows who the Titans are, and he doesn’t deviate from it. They’re going to run the ball, play good defense, and try to win the turnover battle. He’s a Dove guy, comfortable in his own skin and this team seems to take on that persona. Outside of Matt LaFleur in Green Bay I can’t think of another coach who deserves it more given the circumstances. We all saw what happened when Rodgers had to miss time this year against the Chiefs. However, the Titans haven’t seemed to miss a beat.

I think people are underestimating them heading into the playoffs given what I’ve seen on my Twitter timeline after Week 17,. But let me ask fans of the Bills, Patriots, and Bengals this. Do you wish to go to Nashville to play the Titans in the second round with a potentially fresh Derrick Henry? – Ryan Moloney

2. Kansas City Chiefs

When Patrick Mahomes plays within the structure of the offense, the Chiefs are still the scariest team in the NFL. They were running the ball for six, eight, 10 yards a pop at times. Darrel Williams averaged over six yards per carry. Their offensive line is good even with the injuries. They should lean more on the run, but since they have Mahomes, they have this tendency to shy away from it. I understand why they don’t run. But when a team has a lead especially, they should look to eliminate possessions by running the football more. Also, Ja’Marr Chase is really good. – Seth Diewold

3. Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen was not sharp in this game at all, as the box score shows. He made some great throws and showed great chemistry with Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis. However, as is the case with him sometimes, his decision-making left a lot to be desired.

After his third interception of the day, the Bills played a much more run-heavy, conservative approach. Two of his interceptions came off of deflected passes. The Falcons were unable to generate any sort of pressure for the duration of the game, so all the INTs are really on Allen and his decision-making. His dynamism as a runner helped to compensate for these mistakes, as well as the Bills stout defense.

Devin Singletary, now operating as the lead back, frequently found running room available against a weak Atlanta front. The Bills were able to power run against them at will and usually found success when runs bounced to the outside. Singletary’s success was more of a function of the Atlanta defense than any special ability he showed, but the Bills were able to run the ball when it counted and did not have to rely on Allen to do everything for the offense. I think this single-back set is what’s best for the Bills. Singletary is the best and most dynamic back on the roster.

Buffalo most frequently operated in four wide-receiver sets out of the pistol, with Davis lining up most often on the outside. Diggs was moved around the formation and, as usual, Isaiah McKenzie operated as the motion man. Dawson Knox played almost every snap either split-wide or in-line. No other TE of consequence was used. In fact, Buffalo would often eschew using a back-up TE and instead used an extra tackle as an in-line TE, most often when power-running. Beasley looked sluggish, catching only two of six targets. You can tell he won’t be a big part of this offense next year as his career slowly fades.

Overall, despite Allen’s mistakes, this Bills offense was still able to generate points. They will only go as far as Allen can take them. The defense is definitely capable of bailing the offense out, but that’s not something that should be consistently relied upon in the playoffs. – Brett Hewling

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Josh Allen was shaky in this one throwing three interceptions, although one and a half are on him. There was a bad overthrow to Cole Beasley that A.J Terrell picked off, and the other two were off of tipped passes. However, one of the tipped passes was a poor decision where if the ball wasn’t tipped, Allen was still throwing it into quadruple coverage in the endzone. His accuracy was off too on most passes, forcing his receivers to make leaping grabs. Now, this could be chalked up to the cold weather and light snow in Buffalo Sunday, but if the Bills are going to host home games in the playoffs they should get used to the frigid western New York temperatures.

After the third interception and given the weather conditions, the Bills abandoned the passing game. They primarily ran a run-based offense from the halfway point of the third quarter until the end of the game. This is where Devin Singletary finally had his 2021 breakout game. He logged most of his carries and two second-half touchdowns against a bad Atlanta Falcons defense. This gave him a final line of 23 rushes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He also out-snapped Zack Moss 61-16. He could be a sneaky DFS play in the playoffs if the Bills continue to use him as a bell cow and develop a more balanced offense and host a playoff game in frigid weather. – Marc Nuzzo

4. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals WR trio is extremely talented and will be a lot to handle for anyone in the playoffs. The Chiefs defensive game plan was to send corner/safety blitzes on Joe Burrow on most third and med/long scenarios. Early in the game, this seemed to work, but the Bengals adjusted and gave Samaje Perine more snaps to help with pass pro. He would still run check-down routes but he was helping with chip blocking a lot more than Joe Mixon

The Bengals also seemed to stay in their ‘base’ 3 WR formation. This is typically Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase on the outside with Tyler Boyd in the slot. They would then move the TE around based on if they wanted him helping with a chip block in protection or wanted him to get out in a route quickly.

Burrow definitely has a gunslinger type of mentality when he gets pressured. Especially when the Chiefs blitzed, if he was able to buy some time or quickly recognize the one-on-one man matchup he would just chuck it up to his WR. More often than not this worked out. Especially when he threw to Chase and Higgins as they both have very good hands and are great at high pointing the ball.

All of the wideouts are good at getting YAC as well, especially Chase. The Bengals run game could potentially be an issue in the playoffs. They seem to use the run as a change of pace and to keep the defense honest. This typically results in a solid gain as most defenses have to play in Nickel or Dime to account for the three-WR sets. However, in the obvious run situations at the end of the game, they were unable to get one yard to score a TD. They were fortunately bailed out by penalties and able to close the game out. But in future situations, if they are not so fortunate, the inability for their O-line to generate a push-up front could prove to be their downfall when trying to ice a game. – Steve Mitchell

5. New England Patriots

Kristian Wilkerson burst onto the scene in a major way, leading the team in snaps (60), routes run (32), and tying the team leads in targets (8). He stepped in and had one of the best performances of any Patriots receiver all season. He’s a guy to watch closely as the season finishes.

Jakobi Meyers continues to see massive opportunity in this passing game and is a major buy-in dynasty now and throughout the offseason.

Rhamondre Stevenson again exploded in Damien Harris‘s absence, making it even more difficult to keep him bottled up when Harris is healthy.

This was a clear get right game for Mac Jones. The Pats kept throwing the ball even up 30 in the fourth quarter. They wanted Mac to get as much experience as possible while the outcome couldn’t be affected. He looked much better against a softer defense, but it was a necessary experience for him.

Jonnu Smith again ran less than 10 routes and continues to be used as a gadget player/run blocker and has proven to be a wasted signing.

This team is elite and is going to make noise in the 2021 playoffs. – Matt Babich

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1. Green Bay Packers

The Packers are really clicking on offense. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are on a different planet right now with how effortlessly they’re picking apart defenses.

Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have leveled up and taken turns being the beneficiary of the attention Adams commands.

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon played some snaps in the backfield and have complemented each other so well with Jones breaking big plays and Dillon churning out extra yardage late against tired defenses.

Tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara have brought an additional boost in the run game as well with their blocking prowess.

The scary part is that reinforcements are on the way. The Packers offense ranks No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ offense DVOA metric despite Rodgers currently working with a makeshift offensive line that includes two third-stringers (left tackle Yosh Nijmann, left guard Jon Runyan) and two backups (center Lucas Patrick, right tackle Dennis Kelly). The only opening-day starter currently healthy is fourth-round rookie right guard Royce Newman. Offensive line starters David Bakhtiari, second-round rookie center Josh Myers, and Billy Turner, as well as Randall Cobb, all have a chance (and more importantly, an extra week) to return.

The Packers have been held below 24 points just twice this season. Jordan Love started one of those games. Now that the defense (which will get reinforcements back too in Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander) has finally caught up to the offense, this year’s iteration of the Packers looks like one of the best of the Aaron Rodgers era. It’s hard not to like their chances in the playoffs, especially having home-field advantage in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field in their back pocket. – Shervon Fakhimi

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs game on Sunday could certainly be considered Broadway-worthy. It had it all: Struggling in the first half against a sub .500 team on the road, another comeback by the greatest QB of all time, and a puzzling outburst by a star receiver ending up in abandonment of his team.

Tom Brady had another Brady-like performance at QB on Sunday, throwing 34 times on 50 attempts for 410 yards with three TDs and an interception at the end of the second quarter. The running game wasn’t much help with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Ronald Jones, and Le’Veon Bell collectively combining for 62 yards.

Antonio Brown‘s actions were the highlight of his performance. He didn’t contribute much on the field with only three catches for 26 yards. Rob Gronkowski had another receiving day that we have become accustomed to with seven catches for 115 yards. Formally a practice squad receiver, Cyril Grayson continued to break out with six catches for 81 yards and a TD. Mike Evans and Cameron Brate also each contributed with a TD.

The Bucs will continue on without AB, but they have clinched the NFC South and are in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Bucs play the Panthers in Week 18, which should be an easy win, and look to gear up for another deep playoff run hoping to become back-to-back champs. – James Brantley

TB really has no way to win in the intermediate areas of the field without AB. Bell might be Tom’s best short-yardage option. – Ajay Raheja

4. Los Angeles Rams

The sign of a good team is when they can play a bad game and still find a way to win. The Rams made plenty of mistakes in this one. But they hung on to get the win through some clutch plays in crunch time.

Matthew Stafford was somewhat inconsistent once again. He threw two picks and fumbled once, but completed 74-percent of his passes and added a pair of touchdowns. It’s hard for me to get a read on Stafford these past two games. He sometimes DGAF chucks up bombs reminiscent of the great Jay Cutler. Other times he’s deadeye accurate in tight windows. If I were to guess, I’d say his play is the product of the team’s strength. He’s not afraid to take chances downfield; even if they’re far from ideal because he knows his defense will most likely bail him out on the other end. However, this still begs the question if he should be playing like that. Especially with the run game still churning out yards like nobody’s business.

The Rams O-Line seems to get a massive push on every run play, making Sony Michel (who played 99-percent of the snaps) have an easy job. Michel rushed 19 times for 74 yards (3.9 YPC) and a touchdown. Nothing absolutely spectacular. But most of those runs were free four yards due to the strength of the Rams’ O-Line. I’d be curious to see how the line actually ranks in yards blocked vs Michel’s yards after contact.

Cooper Kupp is now No. 5 all-time in receiving yards in a season. He plays every position and it’s dumb as hell (in a good way). Even when he doesn’t get the ball, he’s either throwing a successful block or is a strong diversion. He’s basically the entire team and has still yet to be contained. It’ll be interesting to see if a team can adjust and mitigate his impact come playoff time. Although since he plays every position, I’m not sure how that’s possible.

Odell Beckham had some clutch plays this game. He had a nice fourth-down grab in the red zone and also scored the final touchdown to give the Rams the lead late in the fourth quarter. He will remain the second option behind Kupp, but the fact that they went to him in the clutch and he came up big shows that he’s still a big part of the offense.

The Rams have officially clinched a playoff spot. With a win next week over the 49ers they’ll take the NFC West over the Cardinals. Expect more of the same out of the offense. Unless Cam Akers finally emerges from his cryogenic chamber. Then the Rams might be headed for the moon. – James Peterman

5. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have been on a three-game losing streak. They can’t seem to win a game to save their lives. It looks really bad now, but we can not overreact to the present. Outside of the Lions and Panthers losses, the rest of the Cardinals losses came down to the fourth quarter. And these losses averaged a point differential of 5.33 points. These three losses could’ve been easily been overcome if not for self-inflicted mistakes. 

The Packers Loss: If Rondale Moore did not fumble to punt to give the Packers starting field position in the red zone and if A.J. Green turned around, the outcome would have been different. Also, DeAndre Hopkins only played a handful of drives due to a hamstring injury. This game could have easily been a win for the Cardinals. 

The Rams Loss: Less likely a win, but they needed to defend the pass better. Also, they could’ve had a fourth-quarter comeback if it wasn’t for multiple penalties and a fumbled snap on the last drive after recovering an onside kick.  

The Colts Loss: If Matt Prater made all his field goals and a decent snap from the backup “Pro Bowl Alternative” Max Garcia, the Cardinals would’ve won by two. Also, the Cardinals were hit hard by injury and COVID. They were without Rodney Hudson, DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, Jordan Phillips, Robert Alford, Marco Wilson, and Andy Lee. 

The point I am trying to make is that the Cardinals are able to beat any team in the league. But their downfall is self-inflicted mistakes. There is a lot of optimism when it comes to personnel that will be returning at the start or later in the playoffs. This includes the return of Robert Alford and potential returns of J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins. Other points of optimism are the run defense is improving because they were able to limit Jonathan Taylor to 108 yards, most of which came on two big runs, and the emergence of Chase Edmonds, James Conner, and Zach Ertz being heavily used in the passing game.

The Cardinals have clinched the playoffs and will most likely be a wildcard team. They are currently 7-1 on the road this year. So I believe it might be better for them to be on the road throughout the playoffs. Hopefully, the Cardinals can get healthy again and make a deep run into the playoffs – Miles Brooke

6. San Francisco 49ers

Despite being down their starting QB, the 49ers were able to pick up the win this week and continue to control their playoff destiny. After struggling in the first half, Trey Lance had a very strong second half. He connected with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk a majority of the time, as they tied for No. 1 in targets among 49ers pass catchers with six. And upon his return this week, Elijah Mitchell put forth another solid performance with 23 touches, 130 total yards, and one TD. – Jaylan Glenn

7. Philadelphia Eagles

Jalen Hurts led the team to a comeback win after being down at halftime to the WFT. This was less impressive given WFT got run out of Dallas two weeks ago. But a win is a win. Hurts didn’t lose the ball once and put the Eagles in scoring positions with his arm and his legs. He completed 63-percent of his pass attempts for 214 yards (good for a QBR of 90), running (some design, some scrambles) seven times for 44 yards. No TDs sadly, leaving fantasy managers hanging in their likely championship game. He’s an every-week QB1 who has yet to truly show off his ceiling. 

Dallas Goedert (7 targets, 6 catches for 71 yards) and Devonta Smith (6 targets, 3 catches for 54 yards) led the way as Hurts’ top targets. Although Boston Scott (4 targets, 4 catches for 39 yards) was useful as well. Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, and Jalen Reagor are afterthoughts in this offense.  

Boston Scott (14 attempts for 46 yards) split work with Jordan Howard (11 attempts for 26 yards). Hurts is the real RB1 in Philly and Kenny Gainwell is basically a non-factor. As long as Miles Sanders is out (and even when he’s back), expect a 3-4 headed rushing attack from this Eagles team. 

Heading into the NFL playoffs, Hurts has the tools (if not the weapons) to be dangerous. And the Eagles are strong where it matters in the playoffs: running and defense. They have the stuff to make a run. And if they add a true alpha WR next year to go with Smith and Goedert, watch out. – Jack Sterling

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