Yardbarker’s Sam Robinson and Michael Nania go deep inside NFL games each week, focusing on key numbers and roster issues.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Passing yards per attempt adjusted for sack yardage.
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Houston (9-5) at Tampa Bay (7-7), 1 p.m. ET
Inside Texans numbers: Deshaun Watson is excellent in the red zone, picking up a first down or touchdown on 44.4 percent of attempts, second to only Lamar Jackson (47.4). Watson’s precision has the Texans ranked fifth in red-zone touchdown rate (66 percent).
Inside Texans roster: Smart not to use its second IR return designation, Houston has kept the door open for a J.J. Watt re-emergence in the playoffs. Placed on IR after Week 8, Watt could return in Week 17 or for the Texans’ first-round postseason game. The future Hall of Famer led the NFL in pressures and QB hits before he went down with a torn pectoral muscle. Whitney Mercilus’ 5.5 sacks still lead the Texans’ 26th-ranked pass rush, and none of those have come since Watt’s injury.
Inside Bucs numbers: Jameis Winston became the first player to throw for over 450 yards in back-to-back games with his 458-yard outburst in Detroit in Week 15. Winston, who leads the NFL with 326.6 passing yards per game, is on pace to finish with 5,226 yards, which would be the fourth-best total in league history.
Inside Bucs roster: Bruce Arians indication that LB Shaq Barrett will not make it back to free agency sets up an interesting two months before the March 10 franchise tag deadline. The Bucs will need their franchise tag ready for Barrett or Winston. Barrett (Bucs-record-tying 16.5 sacks) has certainly outplayed Winston, but both have raised their games in contract years after either inconsistent (Winston) or supporting-caster (Barrett) pasts. A Winston extension and Barrett tag would be the cost-efficient route; the QB tag would cost approximately $27 million compared to the linebacker tender’s $15.9M
Buffalo (10-4) at New England (11-3), 4:30 p.m. ET
Inside Bills numbers: The defense is rolling, allowing an average of 13.3 points over its past seven games. Sean McDermott’s group has allowed the second-fewest points per drive (1.26), trailing only their Saturday opponents, the Patriots (0.89).
Inside Bills roster: Previous Buffalo GM Doug Whaley’s 2017 trade-down changed the Bills’ defense, with the Chiefs’ two first-round picks becoming Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White and Tremaine Edmunds. The cornerback and linebacker are the Bills’ cornerstone defenders and will have the biggest non-Josh Allen say in whether the Bills can end the Patriots’ AFC East reign. While it would have behooved the Bills to simply draft Patrick Mahomes rather than make that deal, the team still had Tyrod Taylor as its starter in ’17. And White and Edmunds are primary reasons for Buffalo’s first 10-win season since 1999.
Inside Patriots numbers: The Patriots forced five turnovers in Cincinnati in Week 15, ascending them to second in takeaway rate (19 percent). When New England has forced three turnovers or more, it is 6-0; when it has forced two or fewer, it is 5-3 (including 1-2 on the road).
Inside Patriots roster: Mohamed Sanu has totaled eight receptions for 44 yards and no TDs in his past four outings, and the second-round pick the Pats gave the Falcons is starting to look like one of their many Round 2 misfires on college wideouts. Sanu amassed more than 44 yards in three 2019 games with the Falcons. The 30-year-old trade acquisition may be playing for a 2020 roster spot in these final Pats games. Sanu has a $6.5 million non-guaranteed salary next year.
L.A. Rams (8-6) at San Francisco (11-3), 4:30 p.m. ET
Inside Rams numbers: Sean McVay’s offense has fallen off a cliff, ranking 18th in points per drive (1.90) after ranking third (2.66) in 2018. QB Jared Goff’s regression is profound, as he ranks 22nd in passer rating (84.8) after placing eighth a season ago (101.1).
Inside Rams roster: Los Angeles’ financial situation does not paint a picture the team will be better in 2020. The franchise has starters Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, Cory Littleton, Andrew Whitworth, Austin Blythe and Greg Zuerlein as free agents-to-be. There are no cap-casualty candidates to vastly increase the franchise’s projected $25 million in cap space; the ’20 offseason could resemble 2019’s role-player exodus. The massive financial commitments (mostly to standouts whose stocks dropped this season), coupled with the imminent Jalen Ramsey re-up, make this a scary-looking cap sheet.
Inside 49ers numbers: The defense allowed 23.9 points a game over its past seven games versus 11.9 over its first seven. The 49ers have allowed the sixth-most yards per rush attempt (4.8) since Week 9.
Inside 49ers roster: Playing through injury yet still operating like the NFL’s most complete tight end, George Kittle is in line for the kind of contract Rob Gronkowski should have received. The league’s stagnant tight end market is about to change, and entering the final year of a fifth-round contract, Kittle will be in line to transform this position’s earning potential. Jimmy Graham’s $10 million-per-year pact tops the tight end hierarchy. As San Francisco’s top weapon, the 26-year-old Kittle could push the ceiling to upper-middle-class receiver money at maybe $13-$14M annually.