NFL Week 7: Giant Overreaction

Welcome back! Last week’s free play on the Niners was sweat-free for the vast majority of the game as they proved to the world that their defense is as advertised. The week finished 3-3 for +0.14u, moving the season to 22-17 (56.4%) for +6.79u (11.2% ROI). Before we move on to this week’s matchup, I wanted to highlight the college basketball announcement I made yesterday. The donation run we made last year that raised $25,000+ will be returning ($20+ donation to Doctor’s Without Borders gets you the last month of plays), while those interested in a full season package can donate $20+ to get a $100 discount code to bring the price from $299 to $199. That discount code can also be used on NFL, which would bring it from $329 to $229 for the rest of the season.

Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1) vs. New York Giants (2-4)

After six weeks, a lot of attention has been drawn towards the improvement the Cardinals’ offense has shown this year. They currently rank 17th in points scored after a year in which they finished dead last. Kingsbury truthers, however, have conveniently picked this week to highlight the improvement given that the Cardinals just finished playing the Bengals (31st in defensive DVOA) and the Falcons (29th in defensive DVOA). Prior to those two games, the Cardinals ranked 25th in points scored.

Granted, the Giants are not a defensive powerhouse (they rank 23rd in defensive DVOA). However, sometimes the deeper nuances of marginal improvement from team to team is what makes the largest differences at the professional level. This is especially true when the team’s performance is steadily improving in that regard, as the Giants have over the course of the season. In particular, let’s look at how their pass defense has improved over the first six weeks (Note: For DVOA, positive numbers represent allowing more scoring):

Granted, the Giants’ pass defense is still poor (28th in pass defense DVOA) but the gap between the Giants and the 30th ranked Bengals is the same size as the gap between the Giants and the 19th ranked Eagles, and the gap between the Giants and the 31st ranked Falcons is the same size as the gap between the Giants and the 7th ranked Broncos.

A large reason for that gap (despite the relative closeness in rankings) is the Giants’ ability to pressure the quarterback, as they rank 11th in adjusted sack rate. That doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals whose offensive line ranks 28th in adjusted sack rate allowed, especially given the defensive lines they’ve faced. Aside from the Panthers (3rd), the Cardinals have faced the Lions (25th), Ravens (26th), Seahawks (29th), Bengals (30th), and Falcons (32nd). Those five bottom-dwelling teams averaged 2.6 sacks per game against the Cardinals, whereas the Panthers sacked Kyler Murray 8 times in their affair.

Let’s take a look at the other side of this coin: the Giants’ offense vs. the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals pass defense has been very poor this year, ranking 29th and performing just a smidge better than the Bengals. They do get Patrick Peterson back this week from suspension, but the track record for first games back (even for elite talents) isn’t promising, so the improvement that he’ll bring and that everyone seems to be penciling in may be exaggerated for this week. Even if Peterson does play lights out, the talent the Giants get back this week (Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram) is far more impactful. In fact, this week easily marks the most offensive talent the Giants have had on the field so far this season, given that the Giants will have Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram together for the first time.

Engram’s return is particularly noteworthy given the Cardinals’ inability to guard tight ends, especially those on the talent level of Engram. Through the first six weeks, opposing tight ends have put up the following performances:

  • W1 T.J. Hockenson: 6 receptions, 131 yards, 1 TD
  • W2 Mark Andrews: 8 receptions, 112 yards, 1 TD
  • W3 Greg Olsen: 6 receptions, 75 yards, 2 TDs
  • W4 Will Dissly: 7 receptions, 57 yards, 2 TDs
  • W6 Austin Hooper: 8 catches, 117 yards, 1 TDs

Outside of the Bengals’ weak performance in Week 5, opposing tight ends have torched the Cardinals for an average of 7 catches, 98.4 yards, and 1.4 touchdowns.

All in all, my model sees this as a game between a firmly below average team going against a firmly just-above-bottom-of-the-barrel team. Then you add in the fact that the Giants are on extended rest coming off of a Thursday Night game and the Cardinals are a west coast team traveling to the east coast for an early game, and the model sees more than enough value to make NYG -3 -100 a play for 1.35 units.