Welcome to Week 2 of the Backdoor Cover, a weekly dive into analytics, statistical oddities and gambling outcomes from around the NFL.
Antonio Brown caught nine passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, plus anther grab for a two-point conversion Sunday. His 328 yards lead the league through Sunday of Week 2, and only Julio Jones is within 100 yards of him.
Brown hopped over 22 players on the all-time receiving yards list in one afternoon, with his 5,587 yards good for 200th in NFL history. Among those 22 players are four Hall of Famers. OK, fine—Tom Fears and the late Frank Gifford played in the pre-Super Bowl days, and Marcus Allen was a running back. But the fourth man in Canton should be of more interest: Lynn Swann, who finished his career with 336 catches for 5,462 yards across nine seasons in black and gold. And the 27-year-old Brown has already passed him on the Steelers’ and all-time receiving list.
Brown has a lot of work to do to catch Hines Ward, but at his career yards-per-game pace, he could match Ward after 156 games.
Obviously the game has changed, and it can be unfair to compare numbers put up by modern receivers against their counterparts from a few decades back. But Brown looks like a safe bet to keep climbing the list.
The top seven guys all-time in receiving yards per game (minimum 32 games) are all recent players:
Most of these guys were go-to receivers from their rookie season. Brown’s average is dragged down by his rookie season, when he tallied just 167 yards in nine games. Since then, he’s averaged just a hair more than 86 yards per game.
In other words, it’s no longer newsworthy when Brown leapfrogs anyone on the all-time list. At least not until he reaches Hall of Fame Steeler John Stallworth.
Feats of Strength
Adrian Peterson returned to the field last week, with a lackluster 10 rushes for 31 yards in the Vikings’ touchdown-less performance against the 49ers. But the Peterson we remember was back in Week 2, as he rushed 29 times for 134 yards in the Vikings’ 29–16 win over the Lions. It was his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 13 in 2013, a streak that includes four games below the mark, two games missed to injury and—of course—15 games suspended for domestic violence.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Larry Fitzgerald hosted his own private Turn-Back-The-Clock Night, catching eight passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday was his first ever regular season three-touchdown game (though he did that in the Cardinals’ January 2008 NFC Title Game win over the Eagles). The third touchdown was a cherry on top of a nice day, but even Fitzgerald’s second trip to the end zone broke a dry spell, as it was his first multi-touchdown game since… Week 13 in 2013, the same week we last saw Peterson crack triple digits.
Peterson’s 43 100-yard rushing games rank 14th in the Super Bowl Era, behind a list of mostly Hall of Famers or likely-Hall of Famers who all have more time in the league than he does. Fitzgerald’s 15 games with multiple receiving touchdowns are tied for 15th in the Super Bowl Era, also behind a list of names that won’t surprise anybody. So maybe these shouldn’t qualify as feats of strength. But the two of them spent the last year letting obscure names play catch-up, and it’s interesting to see all the players to accomplish each feat more recently:
There were 31 players to rush for 100 yards more recently than AP. The list includes two different guys named Alfred, two different guys named C.J. and three quarterbacks. Not to mention one-time fantasy waiver wire immortals Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and Jordan Todman.
And 73 players had two-receiving-touchdown games more recently than Larry Fitzgerald. Sure, the list has names like Odell Beckham, Randall Cobb and Rob Gronkowski on it. But here are some other gems you could probably win bar bets with: LaVon Brazil, Gavin Escobar, Allen Hurns, Joe McKnight and Da’Rick Rodgers. So welcome back to fantasy football glory, Fitz. It’s been strange without you.
Trivia question: Can you name the two players who, before this week, had both a 100-yard rushing game more recently than Adrian Peterson and a two-touchdown receiving game more recently than Larry Fitzgerald? (Note: Doesn’t have to be in the same game.)
Last week in this space I broke down the six two-point conversion attempts through Sunday of Week 1 and grouped them into three potential categories. This week I’ll go in the opposite direction and look at two situations where teams opted for extra points.
The longer extra points put new twists on old problems. Among the most dramatic is the decision either to kick an extra point to force overtime or go for a two-point conversion and a potential win in regulation. Two teams have faced this situation in the final minute this year:
Both teams went on to win, but a good outcome doesn’t necessarily mean it was the best process. The Rams were aided by Steven Hauschka’s poor kickoff to start overtime, and the Broncos escaped thanks to Jamaal Charles’ fumble shortly after that game-tying extra point.
If the odds of making an extra point have been lowered to 95%, as many expected before the season, then the law of averages says we can expect somebody to choke one of these game-tying extra points within the first 20 times teams reach this situation. (Two down, 18 to go!)
Since the day is inevitably coming, here are four types of teams most likely to consider going for two.
Underdogs: The math gets a little hairier when there’s time left on the clock, because you have to account for factors like onside kick attempts if you miss and playing defense if you make it.
So imagine the game-tying extra point coming with no time left on the clock. You simply decide which gives you a better chance of winning the game—making one two-point conversion or winning overtime. If you’re on the road, or you’re a significant underdog, you might have a better chance making one crucial play.
Teams with bad kickers: This feels self-explanatory, but coaches with the least faith in their kickers making a 33-yard extra point should also keep in mind they might face the alternative of an even longer field goal in overtime.
Teams with great two-point conversion options: Do you employ Rob Gronkowski, Demaryius Thomas or some other monster you think can win a jump ball more than 50% of the time? Then a game-winning two-point conversion attempt might be for you.
Coaches with the most job security: Many NFL coaches (and other rational people, for that matter) make decisions simply to cover their own behinds. Do what everyone else usually does and don’t stand out. Better to let the fans (and the front office) blame the kicker who missed the extra point than the coach who risked going for two.
Two coaches have had chances so far, but both have passed them up. Looking at this list, I could make a case for either of them giving it a shot.
But two weeks into the season, two questions remain: Which team will go for the game-winning two-point conversion first? And which team will regret not going for it first?
Odds are that both questions will be answered this season.
Great Moments in Vegas
Few games on Sunday matched the drama of the Ravens-Raiders showdown in Oakland, either on the field or in the sportsbooks. The Raiders closed as six-point underdogs in most books, including the Westgate SuperBook, which looked like a good bet when they took a 30–20 lead after three quarters.
But the Ravens came back and tied the game, appearing poised to score the game-winning and spread-covering touchdown late in the fourth. On third down in the red zone, Steve Smith Sr. hauled in a pass near the corner of the end one, but couldn’t quite keep his feet in bounds. The Ravens were forced to kick a field goal to take a three point lead.
When Oakland got the ball back with 2:10 left, anyone who’d bet on the Raiders +6 (or +5.5 in the SuperContest, see below) was better off with the Raiders falling short and just ending the game instead of kicking a field goal to force overtime. But Derek Carr’s touchdown pass to Seth Roberts with 26 seconds left not only saved Raiders +5.5 and +6 bettors, it also made winners out of anyone who took the Raiders moneyline. The Raiders moneyline closed at +230 at the Westgate, so anyone who bet $100 on Oakland to win straight up walked away with $230 in profit. So if you see anyone walking around Vegas in a Seth Roberts jersey, you’ll know where they got the money.
The SuperContest is the self-proclaimed biggest pro football handicapping contest in the world, run by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Contestants bet against the spread, picking any five games they want each week. The entrance fee is $1,500, so with more than 1,700 entrees this year the prize pool totals more than $2.5 million.
The lines are finalized on Wednesdays, so keep in mind that some of these might have changed before kickoff Sunday and might differ from what you’ve seen elsewhere.
Popular Pick: One week after being the least picked team in the league, Pittsburgh was the most common pick. Out of 1,725 entries, 608 (35.2%) picked the Steelers not only to even their record at 1-1 but to cover -5.5 against San Francisco.
The Steelers built up a 29–3 lead by halftime and never looked back.
Stay Away: Only 56 entries (3.2%) liked the Raiders to cover +5.5 in their home game against Baltimore. But as we saw above, the Raiders stunned the Ravens outright and pulled off one of the day’s most dramatic covers.
Spoiler Alert: As it so happens, the Raiders were also the biggest spoilers in the pool. The Ravens were the third most popular pick, behind only the Steelers and Bengals, and 476 entries (27.6%) took a hit thanks to that game.
I’m not actually a SuperContest entrant, I just pick along on Twitter. After a 42-42-1 showing last season, I went 3–2 in Week 1.
Here were my Week 2 picks:
Week 2 SuperContest picks (3-2 season):— Mitch Goldich (@mitchgoldich) September 19, 2015
NE -1 @ BUF
ARI -1.5 @ CHI
TEN -1 @ CLE
DAL +5.5 @ PHI
SEA +3.5 @ GB
The strategy was… questionable.
Five road teams. I don't know what I'm doing. Don't bet on my picks.— Mitch Goldich (@mitchgoldich) September 19, 2015
But it worked out about as well as I could have hoped, with three of my teams picking up wins against the spread in the afternoon (with the Titans falling short against the Browns) and the Seahawks keeping the backdoor cover dreams alive until the final drive before losing by 10.
It would have been nice to go 4–1, but I’ve learned never to complain about a 3–2 week. And after two in a row, maybe I’ll even show a little more confidence next week.
Fun Final Scores
Care to guess what made the Steelers’ 43–18 win over the 49ers unique? You don’t have to go much further than the final score. If you’re scratching your head trying to remember the last time you saw that score, save yourself the energy. According to Pro Football Reference’s Box Score Index, it’s the first 43–18 game ever, in a database that says it includes all games played by the AFPA, AAFC, AFL and NFL, including games played by league teams against non-league teams in the 1920's.
Landing on one of the missing scores is tougher than you might think. The Bucs’ 26–19 win over the Saints feels similarly weird, but has two box score doppelgängers, and the Cardinals’ 48–23 win over the Bears has three.
It may take another 50 years, but someday when another game ends 43–18, somebody will discover this old box score and think, “Wow, DeAngelo Williams scored three touchdown in a game in 2015.”
No, who are we kidding? They’ll probably still gawk at Antonio Brown.
Trivia answer: Can you name the two players who, before this week, had both a 100-yard rushing game more recently than Adrian Peterson and a two-touchdown receiving game more recently than Larry Fitzgerald?
The easier answer is Jamaal Charles. The other name on both lists is Marcel Reese. Congratulations to all our winners. Honor system, of course.