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Sunday's Best

Week 16 Marquee Matchups

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: December 25, 2020, 5:44 pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Looking at the final score of the Cowboys / 49ers game last week, it was as fluky a game as you could get.

The 49ers were -4 in turnover margin.

The Cowboys scored 5 TDs and 2 FGs:

- 1 TD was an onsides kick return TD
- 2 TDs came on drives starting at the 49ers 22 and 24 yard lines
- 1 FG came on a drive starting at the 49ers 28 yard line
- 1 TD came off an interception, with a drive starting at the 49ers 46 yard line

Of their 5 TDs, that field position explained 4 TDs (and 1 of their 2 FGs).

The Cowboys had 9 drives that started in their own territory.

Those 9 drives featured 6 punts, 1 FG, 1 missed FG and 1 TD.

Meanwhile, the 49ers started all 14 of their drives in their own territory and punted just 4 times in 14 drives.

The 49ers gained 461 yards to 291 for Dallas.  The 49ers had a higher yards per play and success rate.  They averaged more YPA when passing and more YPC when rushing.

The 49ers had 28 first downs compared to just 15 for the Cowboys.

Despite all the turnovers and great field position for the Cowboys as a result, the 49ers somehow had MORE red zone trips than the Cowboys.

You have Cee Dee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper for the Cowboys receiving corps, yet leading them in targets and catches was RB Tony Pollard.

WR Noah Brown had more targets than both Gallup and Cooper, despite catching only one of 6 passes.

I still don’t really like or care for this Cowboys Offense at all.  

And this was one of the most faulty-finals a game could see this season.

Now this Cowboys Defense must take on a much healthier Eagles Offense than they faced earlier in the season.

A huge key will be getting protection for Jalen Hurts.  Hurts is averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt while kept clean versus 3.9 Y/A under pressure. That -4.6 Y/A gap is the largest among all passers with 100 or more dropbacks.

The Eagles prefer to pass from 12 personnel and haven’t been able to do it as much earlier in the season with injuries to their TEs.  But now that they are healthy, we may see them more against the Cowboys.

The splits for the Cowboys pass defense have been severe.  They have been outstanding vs 11 personnel passes but terrible vs passes from heavy personnel.  Especially 12 and 21 personnel.

Since their week 10 bye, on early downs:

11 personnel:    5.5 YPA, 53% success, -0.08 EPA, 40 att
12 personnel:    8.6 YPA, 79% success, +0.34 EPA, 15 att
21 personnel:    13.9 YPA, 67% success, +0.52 EPA, 15 att

If the Eagles are able to provide protection for Hurts, there may also be opportunities to throw the ball down the field on early downs.  

On early downs in the first three quarters over the last four weeks, look at what the Cowboys Defense is allowing:

Passes short of the sticks:    5.7 YPA, 59% success, -0.03 EPA
Passes beyond the sticks:    14.6 YPA, 67% success, +0.71 EPA

Compare to the NFL average:

Passes short of the sticks:    5.7 YPA, 58% success, +0.02 EPA
Passes beyond the sticks:    10.5 YPA, 52% success, +0.29 EPA

Dallas has given up much more explosiveness and efficiency when offenses pass beyond the sticks on these situations, so the Eagles may want to consider several more aggressive passes in these situations rather than a more conservative short passing game on early downs.

This line did a complete flip of favorites following last week’s games.  The lookahead line saw the Cowboys as the favorite of between 1 and 2 points.  But the Eagles have been bet to a 2 to 2.5 point favorite in some spots.  This is an exciting elimination game for the NFC East division and I would lean to the Eagles to pull out the win.



Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

Buffalo just played 2 straight games on short weeks.  Leading into this was a Monday night football win against the 49ers in Arizona.

Then, they played the following Sunday against the Steelers on a short week.

The immediate next week, they played on Saturday against the Broncos on a short week.

Finally, after two straight weeks of short rest, the Bills get two extra days of rest compared to those last two weeks, having played last Saturday and now Monday in New England.

The Patriots will be without Stephon Gilmore, which is a huge loss against a team that deploys 3+ WRs as often as the Bills.  The previous three games they were without Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots allowed 8.6 YPA as opposed to 7.1 YPA with Gilmore.

In the first meeting against the Patriots, the weather was terrible (windy and rainy) and Buffalo went with an extremely ground-heavy approach.

With the weather looking much better in this game, I expect a more balanced approach from the Bills.  One that returns to their first down passing they turned to for most of the season.

The Patriots have been particularly vulnerable to passes from 3+ WR sets on first downs in the game’s first 3 quarters.

To 10 or 11 personnel on first down:

Since week 8:    71% success, 7.8 YPA, +0.23 EPA
Full season:    68% success, 7.4 YPA, +0.08 EPA

But when the get inside the red zone, near scoring territory, look for the Bills to return to a ground game primarily because it’s a huge weakness of the Patriots.

Look at the Patriots Defense against 3+ WR sets trying to defend:

Runs from 3+ WRs inside the 10:    76% success, +0.57 EPA, 7 TDs on 17 att
Passes from 3+ WRs inside the 10:    46% success, -0.26 EPA, 4 TDs on 13 att

Compare the Bills own offense since week 8 when inside the opponent’s 10 yard line:

Runs from 3+ WRs (includes QBs):    71% success, +0.48 EPA, 5 TDs on 14 att
Runs from 3+ WRs (only RBs):        71% success, +0.74 EPA, 2 TDs on 7 att

Passes from 3+ WRs:            31% success, -0.25 EPA, 2 TDs on 13 att

Considering how strong the Patriots are defending passes from 3+ WR sets and how that has been a weakness of the Bills, Buffalo may look to attack the Patriots weakness by calling a couple more run plays from spread inside the 10 yard line against the Patriots.  This would bode well for a rushing TD prop for one of the Bills RBs.  And there always is the chance Josh Allen runs one in too.  Josh Allen is the first quarterback in league history to rush for seven or more touchdowns in three consecutive seasons, he has at least eight in all three.

For the other side, we truly don’t know what the Patriots approach is going to be considering they are knocked out of the playoffs already.

We don’t know if RB Damien Harris will be available.
We don’t know if WR Julian Edelman will be available.
We don’t know if Cam Newton will get benched for Jarrett Stidham.

All of these factors make this a difficult game to handicap, but you can guarantee the Bills will be used in a lot of teasers, getting them down to -1 to win the game, making an outright upset by the Patriots a hugely profitable end to the Week 16 action.

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.