NFL

High-scoring Vikings and Saints head to London, Dallas' dominant defense meets Commanders

By Sports Desk September 30, 2022

Week 4 of the NFL season promises plenty of excitement following a blistering start to the 2022 season.

The season has so far been defined by close finishes. Through three weeks, there have been 18 games decided by three points or fewer this season, the most such games through the first three weeks of a season in NFL history. 

A packed crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will hope to see another tight game as the NFL returns to London with the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings facing off.

The Washington Commanders travel to face the Dallas Cowboys in a fierce rivalry and the Philadelphia Eagles will look to extend their winning streak against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With plenty more on the agenda, Stats Perform has used its data to preview this week's games.

Minnesota Vikings (1-2) @ New Orleans Saints (1-2)

A high-scoring affair should be on the cards in London, as the Vikings and Saints have put up 700 points (53.8 per game) over their last 13 regular season matchups dating back to 1995 – more than any other game with at least a dozen meetings.

The Vikings are in very capable hands with Kirk Cousins, who has a career passer rating of 126.7 against the Saints in the regular season, the highest by any QB against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era (minimum 125 attempts).

However, they face a Saints defense that has held opponents to fewer than 250 passing yards and one touchdown pass for nine straight games, a franchise record, while the only team in the last 10 years to enjoy a longer streak was the New England Patriots in 2019.

Chris Olave boasts 268 receiving yards in his first three career games but is yet to score a touchdown, a record which stands as the most since Charlie Wade's 315 yards without a TD in his first three games for the Chicago Bears in 1974.

Washington Commanders (1-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

The Cowboys host the Commanders having won both matchups last season, including a 56-14 triumph in Week 14 that stands as the highest margin of victory for either team in the all-time series.

With six sacks in the Week 2 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals and five sacks last weekend against the New York Giants, the Cowboys have recorded five or more sacks in consecutive games for the first time since a four-game streak in November/December 2008.

That will be of particular concern to Carson Wentz, who was sacked a career-high nine times in the Commanders' home loss to the Eagles last week – the most of any QB for the franchise since John Beck was sacked 10 times by the Buffalo Bills in 2011.

Fourth-quarter offense has been a highlight for Washington, though, totalling 455 scrimmage yards (342 passing, 113 rushing) and standing third in the NFL for the most fourth-quarter yards in 2022 behind the Saints (541) and the Indianapolis Colts (456).

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)

The only 3-0 side to play on Sunday, the Eagles have held the Jaguars to under 20 points in the last four matchups between the two sides stretching back to 2006, tied for the second-longest active such run for Philadelphia behind the six-game streak against the Jets.

In the past two weeks, the Eagles have kept their opponents to under 10 points (8 vs Washington, 7 vs Minnesota) and are the only NFL team this season to achieve the feat in consecutive games, while Philadelphia last went three in a row in that regard in 1980.

The Jaguars are 2-1 at the start of the season for the first time since 2018 and have scored 84 points, the third-most by the team in the opening three games of the season in franchise history (98 in 1997 and 89 in 2017).

Both teams rank in the top five in the NFL for total first downs this season, with the Eagles (73) third and the Jaguars (70) fifth.

Elsewhere…

The Los Angeles Chargers travel to face the Houston Texans having being held to just 26 yards on the ground against the Jaguars last week and have 177 rushing yards in the NFL this season, the fewest in three games in team history.

A total of 572 rushing yards this season places the Cleveland Browns as the NFL's best on the ground this season and they visit the Atlanta Falcons having amassed their highest total through their first three games of a campaign since 1963.

The Seattle Seahawks tackle the Lions boasting seven wins in the last eight matchups against Detroit dating back to 2003, the third-best record by an NFC team against a conference opponent over the past 20 seasons.

The Titans have won each of the last three games against the Colts, including a 34-31 win in overtime last season. A victory this weekend would make this Tennessee's outright longest winning streak against Indianapolis (also three straight wins between 1988 and 1992).

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    The New York Jets will undergo a fierce test of their playoff credentials on Sunday as they face the Vikings in Minnesota, where they will be hoping Mike White can deliver another inspiring performance at the quarterback position.

    At 7-4, the Jets occupy the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs, but a victory over the Vikings would move them just a game behind the Buffalo Bills (9-3) in the race for the AFC East title. The 9-2 Vikings can clinch the NFC North crown if they win and the Detroit Lions lose at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Having replaced 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson as the starter following Wilson's dismal performance in the Week 11 loss to the New England Patriots, White led an outstanding offensive performance from the Jets in their 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 12.

    White threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Chicago, his second career game with 300+ passing yards and at least three TD passes (in five career appearances).

    The last Jets quarterback with multiple career such games prior to White for the team was Ken O'Brien with seven (last occurrence was in 1991).

    White produced that display against a Chicago defense that has seen much of its top talent traded away and ranks 29th in the NFL by yards per play allowed (5.92).

    But the Vikings have been far from impressive on defense this season and are the second-worst on that side of the ball by yards per play given up (6.05), appearing to suggest this matchup is another excellent opportunity for White to build his case for being the long-term starter.

    And New York's defense is well-equipped to slow down the Minnesota attack. The Jets' win over Chicago marked the team's fourth time this season holding an opponent to 10 or fewer points, tied for the most such games in the NFL (with Dallas and San Francisco).

    The last time the Jets had at least that many games in a season was 2010 (five), their last campaign in which they made the playoffs.

    Minnesota's offense is powered largely by the continually superb exploits of wide receiver Justin Jefferson. 

    Jefferson and Adam Thielen each caught touchdown passes in the Vikings' Thanksgiving Day win over the New England Patriots. It was the ninth time each player has had a receiving TD in the same game, the most of any NFL team-mates since Jefferson debuted at the beginning of the 2020 season.

    The Jets have the talent in the secondary to potentially limit the Vikings' receivers, and the matchup between Jefferson and New York's rookie cornerback Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner is an extremely intriguing one. Gardner has allowed receivers to get open on just 19.45 per cent of his matchups across man and zone coverage, the best rate of all cornerbacks, according to Stats Perform data.

    Yet if the game remains close, the edge appears to be with the Vikings.

    The Vikings are 8-0 in games decided by eight or fewer points this season after the 33-26 win over the Patriots on Thanksgiving. The only team in NFL history to finish a season 8-0 or better in such contests was the 2009 Indianapolis Colts (8-0).

    If Minnesota improve that tally to 9-0, rookie head coach Kevin O'Connell would join Jim Caldwell and Jim Harbaugh as the only head coaches this century to earn 10 wins in 12 or fewer games to start their career as an NFL head coach.

  • England finish strongly after centuries for Babar, Imam and Shafique England finish strongly after centuries for Babar, Imam and Shafique

    Babar Azam scored the seventh century of the match but England's persistence paid off as they took four wickets in the final session on day three of the first Test against Pakistan.

    Imam-ul-Haq (121) and Abdullah Shafique (114) completed their hundreds in the morning session at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium before their opening stand came to an end with 225 on the board.

    Captain Babar (136) got in on the act with a typically stylish innings, but Pakistan closed on 487-7 in reply to the tourists' 657 all out – trailing by 160 runs.

    Debutant Will Jacks took 3-123 and Jack Leach claimed 2-158 on a flat wicket, England earning late rewards for toiling in the heat after Pakistan avoided the follow-on.

    Spinning all-rounder Jacks got the breakthrough after Pakistan resumed on 181 without loss, Shafique edging a wide delivery through to wicketkeeper Ollie Pope.

    Imam holed out trying to launch Leach over the rope and Pakistan were 283-3 at lunch after the left-arm tweaker trapped Azhar Ali (27) leg before.

    Babar and Saud Shakeel prevented any further damage from being done in a wicketless afternoon session, the skipper serenely scoring another century he brought up by dispatching Ben Stokes through the covers for four.

    Ollie Robinson struck in the first over after tea, though, debutant Shakeel nicking the seamer behind for 37, and Babar ended a fifth-wicket stand of 60 with Mohammad Rizwan by slapping Jacks to Leach at point.

    Rizwan (29) became James Anderson's first victim and Naseem Shah struck a well-flighted Jacks delivery to Leach in the deep as England ended the day strongly.

    Openers make history in run-fest

    All four opening batters made centuries in the same match for only the second time in a Test – and this was the first time that each of the four reached three figures in the first innings.

    It was also the first occasion in which there have been two double-century opening stands in a Test.

    Imam made his third hundred in as many Test knocks in Rawalpindi, having scored one in both innings against Australia in March. Shafique has three Test centuries in only 14 innings.

    Babar delivers another masterclass

    Skipper Babar made his eighth Test hundred and a first against England with yet another masterclass.

    The elegant right-hander showed a combination of sweet timing and aggression in a stylish knock that we have become so accustomed to seeing.

    Babar has scored three Test hundreds and four half-centuries this year in 10 Test innings, hitting one six and 19 fours in his latest exhibition of batting of the highest order.

  • NFL Talking Point: What will decide the biggest games of a compelling Week 13 slate? NFL Talking Point: What will decide the biggest games of a compelling Week 13 slate?

    This is the kind of week you dream of as an NFL fan.

    Week 13 is set to serve up a plethora of compelling matchups that will have big implications on how the playoff picture takes shape.

    The NFC favourites the Philadelphia Eagles face a real test of their credentials as they take on the Tennessee Titans.

    Last season's AFC Super Bowl representative, the Cincinnati Bengals, host the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game they stunningly won in Kansas City, and there's a highly anticipated reunion of former colleagues at Levi's Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers welcome the Miami Dolphins.

    Not all of those aforementioned games are seen as the best by SmartRatings.

    SmartRatings is an AI-based platform that provides excitement ratings for sporting events, teams and players. The excitement scale, ranging from 0-100, is powered by complex algorithms that are predicated upon six primary variables: pace, parity, novelty, momentum, context and social buzz.

    The weight of each variable is dynamic and adapts as a season progresses. The excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game) and 85-100 (Great Game).

    Here, Stats Perform picks out three games from the top five with the most significant playoff implications and looks at the battles that could decide them.

    New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

    SmartRating : 60
    Win Probability : Buccaneers 68.6%
    Key Matchup : Marcus Davenport vs. Josh Wells

    The Buccaneers suffered a massive blow when right tackle Tristan Wirfs sustained a high ankle sprain in their loss to the Cleveland Browns last week.

    Wirfs is expected to be out three to four weeks, meaning he will miss a critical stretch for Tampa Bay as the Bucs seek to win an extremely underwhelming NFC South.

    That stretch starts with a rivalry game against the Saints on Monday Night Football, with New Orleans still only a game back in the win column of the Bucs despite their 4-8 record.

    New Orleans' defense has not been the force of years past but the return of Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport saw the Saints perform extremely well on that side of the ball in their 13-0 loss to the 49ers in Week 12.

    When he has been healthy, Davenport has been extremely impressive. He has a pass-rush win rate of 49.03 per cent and a 66.67 per cent win rate on run defense. His aggregate of 48.03 per cent is the fourth-highest among edge rushers. 

    Now he gets to go against Wirfs' backup in the form of Josh Wells. If Wells cannot find a way to slow him down, Tom Brady and the Bucs may struggle to move the ball on offense and give hope to a Saints attack needing life after being shutout by San Francisco.

    Miami Dolphins (8-3) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4) Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

    SmartRating : 62
    Win Probability : 49ers 53.5%
    Key Matchup : Mike McDaniel vs. DeMeco Ryans

    It's arguably the NFL's most distinguished offensive play-calling professor against his star pupil as Kyle Shanahan's 49ers host Mike McDaniel's Miami Dolphins in a mouth-watering contest teeming with narratives.

    McDaniel has spent much of his coaching career at the hip of Shanahan, following him to almost all of his NFL stops, including San Francisco, where he was run-game coordinator and then offensive coordinator last season before departing for Miami.

    Yet McDaniel, who has turned the Dolphins' offense into one of the most explosive in the NFL and the most efficient in the league by yards per play, will not be focusing on outcoaching his former boss, but instead outwitting San Francisco's defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

    Ryans will likely become a head coach in the coming offseason, having so far overseen another dominant season from the 49er defense.

    San Francisco's defense has allowed the fewest plays of 10+ yards (106) in the NFL and is also the top unit by yards per play allowed (4.69) and success rate (34.5%).

    The Miami offense leads the league in big plays of at least 10 yards with 174 and has a receiver in Tyreek Hill who has an open percentage of 68.18 against man coverage, that figure trailing only Stefon Diggs (68.57) as of Week 12, and a combined open percentage across man and zone of 51.67.

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    Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

    SmartRating : 68
    Win Probability : Chiefs 66.4%
    Key Matchup : Ja'Marr Chase vs. Chiefs' pass defense

    The Cincinnati passing game saw its hot streak tempered a little by the Tennessee defense in the Bengals' narrow win over the Titans last week, but a meeting with the Chiefs represents a favourable matchup for Zac Taylor's offense.

    Cincinnati's offense has averaged 293.3 net passing yards per game in the NFL since Week 6, the third-most in the NFL, and has done much of that damage without top wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

    Chase is due to return from a hip injury on Sunday, having recorded three 100-yard games in his first seven appearances of the season.

    He gets the opportunity to add to that against a Kansas City defense that ranks 21st in open percentage allowed to opposing receivers.

    That suggests he should have no difficulty returning to top form right off the bat in this conference title game rematch against a defense that is ninth-worst in the NFL by success rate against the pass.

    Though the Bengals had joy shackling Patrick Mahomes and Co. in the second half of that championship game, it is more likely the duel between he and Joe Burrow quickly becomes a shootout.

    How successful Chase is in taking advantage of a very vulnerable Chiefs secondary may dictate whether the Bengals can keep up and pull off the upset once more.

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