It really is the best – yes, the best – disease to infiltrate your mind. “Arousal-Induced Brain Fog” is back. What is that? It’s when you get so excited about something — in this case, duh, the NFL season — that you forget about typical events.
This phenomenon occurs at the start of every NFL season. Here’s the formula: too much anticipation plus a long absence from football equals an EIBF fan.
EIBF will infiltrate NFL TV rooms and stadiums starting Thursday with Bills-Rams and will continue through most of September. So, I have compiled everything you need to remember at the start of the 2022 season to fight against the EIBF sensation.
There’s always a wild upset or weird outcome in week 1
[Samuel L. Jackson voice] “Hold your butt.” It will happen. Get ready. Do you want proof ? I got you.
In 2021, the Saints beat the Packers, 38-3, you know the same Green Bay club that would win 13 of its next 16 games and land as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. In COVID 2020, the eventual 1-15 Jaguars beat the playoff-bound Colts in a bizarre Week 1 contest that featured a single incompletion from Gardner Minshew and an average of 2.4 yards per carry for Jonathan Taylor. Very normal, right?
There were no landscape-shattering upsets in 2019, but the Lions and Cardinals tied 27-27 in Kyler Murray’s NFL debut. Arizona scored six runs in three quarters before busting for 18 in the fourth, and Detroit linebacker Christian Jones dropped what likely would have been a game-breaking interception in overtime. On the same day, the eventual 11-5 Seahawks needed a fourth quarter touchdown, Russell Wilson against Tyler Lockett to beat the eventual 2-14 Bengals, 21-20. Odd.
At the start of the previous season, the Buccaneers, who eventually went 5-11, toppled the 13-3 NFC North champion Saints, 48-40. Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged 14.9 yards per attempt (!) and had a QB rating of 156.3. The Saints would finish eighth in the Football Outsiders defensive DVOA, the overall effectiveness measure.
In 2017, the Broncos 5-11 beat the Chargers 9-7. In 2016, a 49ers team that ultimately went 2-14, looked like the most complete team in football in a 28-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Rams 4-12 almost as bad. Blaine Gabbert was the starting quarterback for San Francisco that afternoon. Jeremy Kerley led the 49ers in reception. Heck, even in 2015, San Francisco beat the Vikings, 20-3, in Week 1. The 49ers finished 5-11. The Vikings won the NFC North at 11-5.
So if a score isn’t exactly right for you in your football-loving bones in Week 1, it probably isn’t. A game always ventures through a doorway to The Upside Down.
At least one team will go from last place in their division a season ago to first place this year
Hey Ravens, Lions, Jets, Broncos, Jaguars, Giants, Seahawks and Panthers – I have great news! At least one of you will win your respective division this season. For real! Do not lie. History says so. Fundamentally. In 17 of the past 19 seasons, this seemingly impossible phenomenon has occurred.
Also, remember that going from worst to first isn’t always the most obvious choice. How about last year, when the previously 4-11-1 Bengals scorched the dirt on just about everyone in the stretch to win the AFC North, snuck past the Raiders at first round of the playoffs, toppled the No. 1 Titans in Nashville, then sent shockwaves through the sports world by erasing two 14-point deficits to beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship.
The worst will come first. Buckle up!
Your team should spend more
Yes, this has been the fundamental plea of the NFL analytic movement for some time now. It was included in last year’s article. But as annoyed as you may be with it, it’s true. Your team needs more assists this season. And it can start by doing it more frequently on the first try. Strictly from a yardage perspective for qualified backs, only five teams — the Colts, Seahawks, Eagles, Browns and Buccaneers — had a positive EPA on all rushed plays.
Now, if new-age analytics are your thing, you probably know the expected added points (EPA). If not, to sum it up, it awards games points against the expectation of that given situation based on all-time history. And “history of all time” is quite a large sample, isn’t it?
In 2021, 10 teams finished with a negative EPA (a net loss to offense) on assists, which lately is actually a high number. Conversely, however, 27 teams had a negative EPA on running games. Huge difference.
And don’t even get me started on the first runs. I propose that they be erased from all NFL offensive game plans.
This from a season ago illustrates each team’s EPA rushing football and kicking football on that historically overlooked but vital first down.
Notice the difference in the baselines between the running and passing games. It’s amazing. Only the Colts — with Jonathan Taylor and possibly the most pulverized downhill offensive line in the league — have had a positive EPA on rushing first plays. Read that again. Meanwhile, only five teams had a negative EPA on passing. That’s it!
I put down my file.
Watch out for the point differential!
Blowouts in the NFL, they matter. Here’s why. Six of the last seven and seven of the last nine Super Bowl winners have finished in the top 5 in point differential during the regular season. We had a great rolling streak of top Super Bowl teams with a 5-point differential until last year’s Rams won the Lombardi Trophy and received those epic Super Bowl rings.
But, hey, Los Angeles wasn’t some obscure outlier. This team was sixth in points differential. And randomly cutting into the top 5 because it’s a round number is kind of silly, isn’t it? What about the average point differential for Super Bowl winners? Over the past six seasons, they’ve averaged a points-per-game differential of 8.58 points, which equates to nearly +146 points-per-game differential during the regular season, which is between the number of points differentials of the Chiefs and Buccaneers from one season ago.
I mention this because often teams win a series of close matches, which of course leads to a quality record and the idea that said team is actually good. In reality, in almost all occasions, this team is not really as good as its record. As the season progresses, it’s almost best to check a team’s point differential before their record. No disrespect, Bill Parcells. But the clubs are not what their record says they are.
Take the 2021 Bills for example. They went a solid but unspectacular 11-6 during the regular season but led the NFL in point differential at +194. Now, of course, one bad rebound here or one bad communication there in the playoffs and you’re out, and that’s precisely what happened to Buffalo. But we all watched. This Bills team was Super Bowl caliber. The point differential was a stronger indicator of the quality of this team than its record.
The Saints will have a chance to make NFL history by beating all five bird teams this season
Boo. At no time in the long history of the NFL has a team beaten every Bird team – the Eagles, Ravens, Cardinals, Falcons and Seahawks in the same season. Of course, the programming cosmos must align for a club to even have the ability to accomplish such a feat. These cosmos have lined up to give the Saints the chance to do just that this season.
Your team needs to use action play more, regardless of their ground game situation
The analyst community has analyzed it – the success of the execution game has no correlation with the effectiveness of the action game. It doesn’t matter how you run it – return function only, running back committee. Negligible difference.
Last year, 28 of the top 30 qualified quarterbacks in yards of play per attempt (YPA) had a higher YPA when using the game than when not using it. Of course, a drastic difference in sample size must be considered here. But, hello, offensive coordinators. It’s time to tap into the play-action section of the call sheet more frequently.
If we saw more of the game-action, would it be rendered essentially useless because it’s expected? Nobody really knows. But you should hope that your team’s offensive coordinator tries to find the optimal utilization rate this season.
There will be a bunch of new teams in the playoffs
In 2021, half of the entire playoffs were made up of new teams, clubs that hadn’t qualified for the playoffs the previous year. In 2020, there were six new playoff teams. This is close to the normal average for recent history. Thus, the “chalk” is about half of the playoff field each season. Adjust your season forecast accordingly.
Now, after reading this article, you have completely beaten arousal-induced brain fog. You are ready to go. Enjoy every second of the 2022 season.