How Much Trouble Is Kansas City In?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): In Week 5, we saw two teams get their first wins of the NFL season, a coach receive his pink slip and an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Samford — yes, Samford — make his NFL debut, nearly leading his team to a comeback win.

We also saw last season’s MVP limping around the field on Sunday night. Guys, how worried should we be about Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): This was the second game in a row where a team took the deep ball away from Mahomes. Of course, Tyreek Hill could be back next week, so that could turn the tables in the Chiefs’ favor again, regardless. Mahomes’s ankle injury didn’t seem too serious, but it could affect his ability to evade the rush for a few weeks, as it did after the injury last night.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah. He’s had some ankle issues already earlier this season, but he’s expected to be fine from all the reports I’ve seen. What his performance really did was underscore just how strange it is for Mahomes to not be amazing.

Believe it or not, this was only the second start of his career in which he was below-average in our Elo QB metric.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I think the same is true of QBR — but I suppose our metric and QBR are closely related.

neil: Right. Mahomes’s previous below-average start was his first career start, at the end of 2017. So that means Mahomes had a streak of 22 consecutive above-average starts end yesterday.

Salfino: Mahomes had been on an epic run of efficiency on 20-plus air-yard passes, and in the past two weeks, he was just 4 for 15 with a passer rating of 80.7. Not good.

sara.ziegler: So should we have expected that his amazing run was going to come to an end at some point, and this was just the time it happened? Or is there something else going on here?

Salfino: I think the Lions and Matt Patricia went to school on it, and the Colts followed up even with an injury-riddled secondary. Now the ball is in the Chiefs’ court. Sort of the NFL circle of life.

neil: If anybody can adapt, it’s Andy Reid. And it still helps to have a QB who can do this:

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it’s interesting to see how reliant the team really is on its all-world QB. It’s just so clear how much he means to the Chiefs, and I would think their top priority is to keep him healthy.

Salfino: Someone posted a diagram on that play showing that pass-rushers have to coordinate rather than going for the cheese in the same direction. The deeper rusher, we were told, should have gone outside to keep Mahomes contained. Sort of like how the Raptors worked in Jurassic Park. 🙂

neil: And here I thought all the Raptor talk this week would be confined to basketball

sara.ziegler: LOL

So what do the Chiefs need to do to take care of Mahomes? The offensive line looked … not good.

Salfino: Deeper passes require more protection. Maybe they need to get into a quicker rhythm and forget about emphasizing the deep throws so often. His protection for his career to date has been top-notch.

joshua.hermsmeyer: There are schemes you can employ to buy more time and prevent him from having to hang in the pocket, but they’re probably not sustainable. It’s also tough because what makes him so special is what he does when a play breaks down — and that’s also a dangerous time to be a QB.

Salfino: But they’re still winning the battle of the passing game so decisively for the season to date that I really believe that, despite the loss, the Chiefs are right on schedule. The pass defense is decent. The run defense … not so good. But high-scoring teams naturally evolve this way, if they’re smart. It’s the old Colts/Peyton Manning model.

sara.ziegler: So if the Chiefs are going to be fine, how about the Cowboys? They looked incredibly flat on Sunday against the Packers.

neil: The Cowboys are now 3-0 against teams with pregame Elo ratings under 1500 (i.e., average) and 0-2 against teams with pregame ratings over 1500.

Salfino: If you believe the Cowboys have the kind of high-powered passing offense their per-play stats suggest, they’re golden. I’m not sure I believe that, though. I’m not quite ready to go all-in on Dak Prescott as a true franchise-level QB. He’s good, though.

Neil’s point about their win quality is spot-on.

neil: Though, to push back against my own snarky observation about opponent-quality splits, Dallas did beat six above-1500 Elo teams during that period last season when they won eight times in nine games down the stretch.

So it’s not necessarily a persistent split. But it has stood out so far this season.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Dak has been fantastic. I thought they mounted a respectable second-half comeback. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m not worried when my team’s QB is playing like one of the top 5 at his position.

sara.ziegler: So the game did nothing to change anyone’s priors on the Cowboys?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It was a loss, so not great! But I’m not selling on the Cowboys yet.

Salfino: Definitely not selling. They are a legit Super Bowl contender.

sara.ziegler: You guys are refusing to overreact, and it’s annoying.

neil: Maybe the past two games have settled them back into the tier below the top contenders again.

Salfino: You can overreact to Captain Kirk, Sara. The Vikings are an offensive juggernaut.

sara.ziegler: I will not.

And they are not.

neil: Speaking of teams and QBs that play well only against below-average opponents…

sara.ziegler: Damn.

Tough but fair.

neil: That IS a trend dating back to last season.

Salfino: The Giants defense is … inviting.

sara.ziegler: I am on record saying that the Vikings were 100 percent going to win that game. It was a classic game of absolutely no stakes, so Kirk Cousins played well. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

neil: Can’t he just convince himself that all games have no stakes?? We said it ourselves last week: We all die in the end. Loosen up a little, Kirk.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: I was just happy to see the Squeaky Wheel narrative pay off for Adam Thielen. Two touchdowns was a great game for him.

sara.ziegler: OK, so what about the other notable NFC North teams this week? Aaron Rodgers did nothing, but the Packers looked … great?

Salfino: The Packers pretty much ignored their wide receivers in the game. It somehow worked.

We may have to accept that the Lions are the best team in the North. Did I just type that?

sara.ziegler: The same Lions that tied Arizona? Those Lions?

neil: Let’s not go crazy here.

Salfino: Actually, the Vikings grade better in my key stat — net yards per pass play — but I don’t want Sara to have unrealistic expectations. I will say the Lions are playing better than the Bears.

sara.ziegler: My expectations are always as low as possible.

neil: BTW, all four NFC North teams still have winning records.

sara.ziegler: But what about those Bears? Is Chase Daniel not the answer???

Salfino: No less not the answer than Mitchell Trubisky.

I’ve tied myself up in double negatives.

Daniel and Trubisky are a double negative.

neil: 😂

joshua.hermsmeyer: I need more coffee to parse these Salfino Bears takes. Interestingly, if you were hanging your hat on their defense being great against the pass this season, early returns are not that good. Chicago, so far, has allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage in the league.

neil: Daniel basically played like you would expect from somebody with four career starts in 10 NFL seasons.

Salfino: Daniel is beating the system.

But Jon Gruden is still a good coach. That he’s 3-2 — with a team that is not talented and with all the Antonio Brown distractions — is impressive. The Raiders should be a losing team and probably still will be, but it won’t be because of Gruden.

neil: What about JAY Gruden? Lol.

sara.ziegler: First coaching casualty!

neil: Josh, is the Bears’ performance another example of defenses just regressing to the mean incredibly quickly in the NFL?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t know what to make of NFL defenses, tbh. Some claim there was a jet-lag factor with Chicago, or they didn’t sleep well. It’s all a muddle.

Salfino: I’m shocked by how bad the Ravens pass defense has looked, even yesterday against the third-string QB.

sara.ziegler: Devlin Hodges was the best part of that game.

That story is my favorite of the season so far. Guy goes undrafted, signed to the practice squad, makes the team because some other backup is traded away … then, BAM. He’s leading a second-half comeback.

Salfino: The Browns may win the AFC North by default even with a loss tonight.

neil: We do still have Cleveland as favorites (granted, at 49 percent) to win the division.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I feel like you were bagging on Baker Mayfield just a week or two ago, Mike. How quickly the winds change.

neil: And we were pumping up Lamar Jackson!

Salfino: No, I was defending Baker. I was bagging on Baker in August. I am still bagging on Baker Mayfield the spokesperson.

neil: Lol

BTW, speaking of Jackson, he had the second-worst QB Elo game of the week yesterday. After that hot start, his rolling QB rating is basically average again.

However, the worst by a MILE belonged to poor Luke Falk of the Jets. In fact, Poor Sad Luke Falk had the worst QB game of the entire season. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson of the Texans had the best game of the entire season!

The best — and worst — of 2019 QB starts were in Week 5

Best and worst quarterback games of the 2019 NFL season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s QB Elo ratings vs. league average

Best QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Deshaun Watson HOU ATL +464
9/22/2019 Russell Wilson SEA NO +379
9/8/2019 Dak Prescott DAL NYG +340
9/8/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC JAX +270
9/15/2019 Dak Prescott DAL WSH +265
9/8/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL MIA +259
9/15/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC OAK +255
9/22/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC BAL +253
9/15/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL ARI +239
10/3/2019 Russell Wilson SEA LAR +224
Worst QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Luke Falk NYJ PHI -478
9/15/2019 Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA NE -350
9/30/2019 Andy Dalton CIN PIT -326
9/22/2019 Luke Falk NYJ NE -263
9/8/2019 Jameis Winston TB SF -239
9/29/2019 Case Keenum WSH NYG -235
9/16/2019 Trevor Siemian NYJ CLE -202
9/29/2019 Josh Allen BUF NE -200
9/5/2019 Mitchell Trubisky CHI GB -200
9/22/2019 Joe Flacco DEN GB -185

Source: ESPN

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike’s Jets: Out indefinitely.

neil: This was such a sad play:

Salfino: Jets fans like me have not had a season at all yet, and it’s Week 6. Can’t even kill the team for the way they’re playing. Can’t practice Falk if you think Sam Darnold can play because you have to get him ready for his health’s sake. And you can’t know how big his spleen is. But practice is not gonna save Falk, who just has no clock in his head for when to throw the ball. That’s fatal in the NFL. The Jets defense is actually … OK.

neil: When will Jets QBs not be on the receiving end of the universe’s jokes?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s the curse Namath put on the franchise after that embarrassingly inept attempt at hitting on Suzy Kolber on the sidelines.

sara.ziegler: I’ve never before thought about how big a quarterback’s spleen is.

Maybe never want to again.

neil: There’s Big Brain Time, and then there’s Big Spleen Time.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

What We Learned From Week 5 Of The NFL

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): In Week 5, we saw two teams get their first wins of the NFL season, a coach receive his pink slip and an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Samford — yes, Samford — make his NFL debut, nearly leading his team to a comeback win.

We also saw last season’s MVP limping around the field on Sunday night. Guys, how worried should we be about Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): This was the second game in a row where a team took the deep ball away from Mahomes. Of course, Tyreek Hill could be back next week, so that could turn the tables in the Chiefs’ favor again, regardless. Mahomes’s ankle injury didn’t seem too serious, but it could affect his ability to evade the rush for a few weeks, as it did after the injury last night.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Yeah. He’s had some ankle issues already earlier this season, but he’s expected to be fine from all the reports I’ve seen. What his performance really did was underscore just how strange it is for Mahomes to not be amazing.

Believe it or not, this was only the second start of his career in which he was below-average in our Elo QB metric.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I think the same is true of QBR — but I suppose our metric and QBR are closely related.

neil: Right. Mahomes’s previous below-average start was his first career start, at the end of 2017. So that means Mahomes had a streak of 22 consecutive above-average starts end yesterday.

Salfino: Mahomes had been on an epic run of efficiency on 20-plus air-yard passes, and in the past two weeks, he was just 4 for 15 with a passer rating of 80.7. Not good.

sara.ziegler: So should we have expected that his amazing run was going to come to an end at some point, and this was just the time it happened? Or is there something else going on here?

Salfino: I think the Lions and Matt Patricia went to school on it, and the Colts followed up even with an injury-riddled secondary. Now the ball is in the Chiefs’ court. Sort of the NFL circle of life.

neil: If anybody can adapt, it’s Andy Reid. And it still helps to have a QB who can do this:

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it’s interesting to see how reliant the team really is on its all-world QB. It’s just so clear how much he means to the Chiefs, and I would think their top priority is to keep him healthy.

Salfino: Someone posted a diagram on that play showing that pass-rushers have to coordinate rather than going for the cheese in the same direction. The deeper rusher, we were told, should have gone outside to keep Mahomes contained. Sort of like how the Raptors worked in Jurassic Park. 🙂

neil: And here I thought all the Raptor talk this week would be confined to basketball

sara.ziegler: LOL

So what do the Chiefs need to do to take care of Mahomes? The offensive line looked … not good.

Salfino: Deeper passes require more protection. Maybe they need to get into a quicker rhythm and forget about emphasizing the deep throws so often. His protection for his career to date has been top-notch.

joshua.hermsmeyer: There are schemes you can employ to buy more time and prevent him from having to hang in the pocket, but they’re probably not sustainable. It’s also tough because what makes him so special is what he does when a play breaks down — and that’s also a dangerous time to be a QB.

Salfino: But they’re still winning the battle of the passing game so decisively for the season to date that I really believe that, despite the loss, the Chiefs are right on schedule. The pass defense is decent. The run defense … not so good. But high-scoring teams naturally evolve this way, if they’re smart. It’s the old Colts/Peyton Manning model.

sara.ziegler: So if the Chiefs are going to be fine, how about the Cowboys? They looked incredibly flat on Sunday against the Packers.

neil: The Cowboys are now 3-0 against teams with pregame Elo ratings under 1500 (i.e., average) and 0-2 against teams with pregame ratings over 1500.

Salfino: If you believe the Cowboys have the kind of high-powered passing offense their per-play stats suggest, they’re golden. I’m not sure I believe that, though. I’m not quite ready to go all-in on Dak Prescott as a true franchise-level QB. He’s good, though.

Neil’s point about their win quality is spot-on.

neil: Though, to push back against my own snarky observation about opponent-quality splits, Dallas did beat six above-1500 Elo teams during that period last season when they won eight times in nine games down the stretch.

So it’s not necessarily a persistent split. But it has stood out so far this season.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Dak has been fantastic. I thought they mounted a respectable second-half comeback. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’m not worried when my team’s QB is playing like one of the top 5 at his position.

sara.ziegler: So the game did nothing to change anyone’s priors on the Cowboys?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It was a loss, so not great! But I’m not selling on the Cowboys yet.

Salfino: Definitely not selling. They are a legit Super Bowl contender.

sara.ziegler: You guys are refusing to overreact, and it’s annoying.

neil: Maybe the past two games have settled them back into the tier below the top contenders again.

Salfino: You can overreact to Captain Kirk, Sara. The Vikings are an offensive juggernaut.

sara.ziegler: I will not.

And they are not.

neil: Speaking of teams and QBs that play well only against below-average opponents…

sara.ziegler: Damn.

Tough but fair.

neil: That IS a trend dating back to last season.

Salfino: The Giants defense is … inviting.

sara.ziegler: I am on record saying that the Vikings were 100 percent going to win that game. It was a classic game of absolutely no stakes, so Kirk Cousins played well. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

neil: Can’t he just convince himself that all games have no stakes?? We said it ourselves last week: We all die in the end. Loosen up a little, Kirk.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: I was just happy to see the Squeaky Wheel narrative pay off for Adam Thielen. Two touchdowns was a great game for him.

sara.ziegler: OK, so what about the other notable NFC North teams this week? Aaron Rodgers did nothing, but the Packers looked … great?

Salfino: The Packers pretty much ignored their wide receivers in the game. It somehow worked.

We may have to accept that the Lions are the best team in the North. Did I just type that?

sara.ziegler: The same Lions that tied Arizona? Those Lions?

neil: Let’s not go crazy here.

Salfino: Actually, the Vikings grade better in my key stat — net yards per pass play — but I don’t want Sara to have unrealistic expectations. I will say the Lions are playing better than the Bears.

sara.ziegler: My expectations are always as low as possible.

neil: BTW, all four NFC North teams still have winning records.

sara.ziegler: But what about those Bears? Is Chase Daniel not the answer???

Salfino: No less not the answer than Mitchell Trubisky.

I’ve tied myself up in double negatives.

Daniel and Trubisky are a double negative.

neil: 😂

joshua.hermsmeyer: I need more coffee to parse these Salfino Bears takes. Interestingly, if you were hanging your hat on their defense being great against the pass this season, early returns are not that good. Chicago, so far, has allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage in the league.

neil: Daniel basically played like you would expect from somebody with four career starts in 10 NFL seasons.

Salfino: Daniel is beating the system.

But Jon Gruden is still a good coach. That he’s 3-2 — with a team that is not talented and with all the Antonio Brown distractions — is impressive. The Raiders should be a losing team and probably still will be, but it won’t be because of Gruden.

neil: What about JAY Gruden? Lol.

sara.ziegler: First coaching casualty!

neil: Josh, is the Bears’ performance another example of defenses just regressing to the mean incredibly quickly in the NFL?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t know what to make of NFL defenses, tbh. Some claim there was a jet-lag factor with Chicago, or they didn’t sleep well. It’s all a muddle.

Salfino: I’m shocked by how bad the Ravens pass defense has looked, even yesterday against the third-string QB.

sara.ziegler: Devlin Hodges was the best part of that game.

That story is my favorite of the season so far. Guy goes undrafted, signed to the practice squad, makes the team because some other backup is traded away … then, BAM. He’s leading a second-half comeback.

Salfino: The Browns may win the AFC North by default even with a loss tonight.

neil: We do still have Cleveland as favorites (granted, at 49 percent) to win the division.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I feel like you were bagging on Baker Mayfield just a week or two ago, Mike. How quickly the winds change.

neil: And we were pumping up Lamar Jackson!

Salfino: No, I was defending Baker. I was bagging on Baker in August. I am still bagging on Baker Mayfield the spokesperson.

neil: Lol

BTW, speaking of Jackson, he had the second-worst QB Elo game of the week yesterday. After that hot start, his rolling QB rating is basically average again.

However, the worst by a MILE belonged to poor Luke Falk of the Jets. In fact, Poor Sad Luke Falk had the worst QB game of the entire season. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson of the Texans had the best game of the entire season!

The best — and worst — of 2019 QB starts were in Week 5

Best and worst quarterback games of the 2019 NFL season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s QB Elo ratings vs. league average

Best QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Deshaun Watson HOU ATL +464
9/22/2019 Russell Wilson SEA NO +379
9/8/2019 Dak Prescott DAL NYG +340
9/8/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC JAX +270
9/15/2019 Dak Prescott DAL WSH +265
9/8/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL MIA +259
9/15/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC OAK +255
9/22/2019 Patrick Mahomes KC BAL +253
9/15/2019 Lamar Jackson BAL ARI +239
10/3/2019 Russell Wilson SEA LAR +224
Worst QB Games of 2019 season
Date Quarterback Team Opp QB Elo vs. Average
10/6/2019 Luke Falk NYJ PHI -478
9/15/2019 Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA NE -350
9/30/2019 Andy Dalton CIN PIT -326
9/22/2019 Luke Falk NYJ NE -263
9/8/2019 Jameis Winston TB SF -239
9/29/2019 Case Keenum WSH NYG -235
9/16/2019 Trevor Siemian NYJ CLE -202
9/29/2019 Josh Allen BUF NE -200
9/5/2019 Mitchell Trubisky CHI GB -200
9/22/2019 Joe Flacco DEN GB -185

Source: ESPN

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike’s Jets: Out indefinitely.

neil: This was such a sad play:

Salfino: Jets fans like me have not had a season at all yet, and it’s Week 6. Can’t even kill the team for the way they’re playing. Can’t practice Falk if you think Sam Darnold can play because you have to get him ready for his health’s sake. And you can’t know how big his spleen is. But practice is not gonna save Falk, who just has no clock in his head for when to throw the ball. That’s fatal in the NFL. The Jets defense is actually … OK.

neil: When will Jets QBs not be on the receiving end of the universe’s jokes?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s the curse Namath put on the franchise after that embarrassingly inept attempt at hitting on Suzy Kolber on the sidelines.

sara.ziegler: I’ve never before thought about how big a quarterback’s spleen is.

Maybe never want to again.

neil: There’s Big Brain Time, and then there’s Big Spleen Time.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

With No Runaway Favorites, The NFL Playoffs Should Be Wild

With the NFL’s playoff bracket finally set, it’s time to survey the field and handicap the race for the Super Bowl. What’s interesting about this season is that there are plenty of very good teams but few that could be classified as truly dominant. Nine teams have an Elo rating4 of at least 1600, but none of them has cracked 1700 on the eve of the playoffs. In only one other season since 1990 — when the NFL expanded its postseason to the current format — have this many teams been squeezed into the 1600-to-1700 range on the Elo scale, and even that season (2015) had one team above 1700:

Because of this logjam of good-not-great teams, nobody heads into the playoffs with better odds than the New Orleans Saints’ 21 percent chance to win it all, according to Elo. That’s the third-lowest pre-playoff championship probability for a Super Bowl favorite since 1990, trailing only the 2015 Carolina Panthers and 2009 San Diego Chargers at 20 percent apiece. It’s also much lower than the 30 percent average for the typical pre-playoff favorite before this year.

Overall, this year’s favorites are less likely to win the Super Bowl than usual — meaning the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs have a lower probability than the typical top two going into the playoffs — while most of the lesser teams have a better chance than you’d expect to see in an average year.

This year’s playoffs are more wide-open than usual

Probability of winning the Super Bowl by rank (among playoff field) for the 2018 season and the average of the 1990-2017 seasons, according to FiveThirtyEight Elo ratings

rank 2018 Team 1990-17 Avg.
1 Saints 21%
30%
2 Chiefs 20
21
3 Patriots 14
14
4 Rams 13
10
5 Bears 7
7
6 Ravens 6
5
7 Chargers 4
4
8 Eagles 4
3
9 Seahawks 4
2
10 Cowboys 3
2
11 Texans 3
1
12 Colts 3
1

All numbers are as of the final regular-season game of a given year. 2018 probabilities may not add up exactly to 100 percent because of rounding.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Given all of this, the wild-card round could take on more significance than usual, since it’s not a stretch to imagine one of the teams playing this weekend taking home the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done.

If Elo had to pick a favorite from that category, it would be the Chicago Bears, who are currently tied for third in the league in Elo and will host the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (tied for No. 7) on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET. Chicago finished the regular season having allowed the league’s fewest points, so this is a classic Monsters-of-the-Midway Bears team in that sense. But quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is also playing much better than the typical Chicago QB from playoffs past — he’s no Jim Miller or Rex Grossman, for instance. According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating,5 Trubisky was the NFL’s third most effective quarterback on a per-play basis this season. While he had some lows (such as a dreadful 29.5 QBR in an opening-week loss to the Packers) to go with the highs (like a 98.9 QBR vs. Tampa Bay in Week 4, one of the highest single-game marks on record), Trubisky’s strides as a second-year passer helped Chicago’s offense — which ranked a respectable 13th in expected points added — be more in line with its dominating defense.

In fact, according to our experimental quarterback-adjusted Elo ratings, Trubisky enters Sunday’s game with the best QB adjustment of any Bears postseason signal-caller since the 1986 Super Bowl, when Jim McMahon was worth approximately 36 more points of Elo than an average quarterback (and promptly shredded the New England Patriots defense for 256 yards and a 104.2 passer rating in a 46-10 rout). Trubisky himself is worth an estimated 18 points of Elo, which is why Chicago stands out if we map out the QB adjustment and base (QB-neutral) Elo rating for each of this year’s wild-card-round combatants:

The remainder of the wild-card field lines up roughly in inverse order between quarterback quality and that of the rest of the team. Some teams — such as Andrew Luck’s Colts and Deshaun Watson’s Texans — have gotten to where they are largely because of their standout quarterback play. Others, like the Ravens, are doing a lot better recently than we’d expect from their QBs’ performance alone. Baltimore has won six times in the seven games since Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starter in Week 11, though Jackson himself ranked third-worst among qualified quarterbacks in QBR this season, and that includes his stellar rushing statistics.6 (Beyond his own stats, Jackson’s effect on the team’s overall running game shows up under the team’s QB-neutral Elo rating.)

Everyone else is somewhere in between, including the resurgent Eagles with backup Nick Foles, whose QB adjustment is back roughly where it was after Philly beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but took many twists and turns to get there; the Chargers with 37-year-old Philip Rivers, whose own adjustment has fallen by 38 Elo points since Week 13 with a string of mediocre outings down the stretch; the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys, whose team QB adjustment has hovered around average all season; and Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, whose own run-heavy attack masked another season of highly efficient passing.

How Elo sees the wild-card round playing out

Win probabilities for Week 18 games according to two methods — standard Elo and a version that contains an adjustment for starting quarterbacks

Standard Elo QB-Adjusted Elo
Team Rating Win Prob. Base Rtg Starting QB QB Adj. Win Prob.
CHI 1640 61% 1644 Mitchell Trubisky +18 66%
PHI 1624 39 1606 Nick Foles +2 34
BAL 1627 60 1650 Lamar Jackson -42 61
LAC 1624 40 1580 Philip Rivers +12 39
DAL 1572 54 1569 Dak Prescott 0 55
SEA 1605 46 1572 Russell Wilson +26 45
HOU 1551 56 1537 Deshaun Watson +28 58
IND 1578 44 1533 Andrew Luck +38 42

Home teams are in bold.

Elo quarterback adjustments are relative to average, based on a rolling average of defense-adjusted QB stats (including rushing).

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Of those, Elo gives the best chance of advancing to the Bears, followed by the Ravens. And upset-wise, the best odds belong to the Seahawks against the Cowboys, regardless of whether we adjust for recent QB performance. Whichever teams win, they’ll have to contend with road games in the divisional round — but given the overall state of the league, they’ll still have a better chance than usual to knock somebody off and forge their own path to the Super Bowl.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the readers

To keep tabs on each team’s classic Elo as the weekend plays out, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how likely every team is to advance through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. And even though the regular season is over, you can still pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game and keep climbing up our giant leaderboard.

According to data from the game last week, here are the matchups in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks for Week 17:

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 17

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 17 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. Result READERS’ NET PTS
TEN 62% IND 55% IND 33, TEN 17 +15.1
NO 87 NO 77 CAR 33, NO 14 +13.3
MIN 56 MIN 50 CHI 24, MIN 10 +3.5
LAC 64 LAC 70 LAC 23, DEN 9 +1.8
PHI 65 PHI 71 PHI 24, WSH 0 +1.6
HOU 71 HOU 74 HOU 20, JAX 3 -0.1
ATL 54 ATL 56 ATL 34, TB 32 -0.4
PIT 83 PIT 83 PIT 16, CIN 13 -1.7
SEA 88 SEA 86 SEA 27, ARI 24 -2.0
KC 88 KC 86 KC 35, OAK 3 -2.3
LAR 85 LAR 83 LAR 48, SF 32 -2.6
NE 89 NE 86 NE 38, NYJ 3 -2.6
GB 65 GB 67 DET 31, GB 0 -4.4
BUF 59 BUF 55 BUF 42, MIA 17 -5.5
DAL 62 DAL 56 DAL 36, NYG 35 -8.2
BAL 81 BAL 68 BAL 26, CLE 24 -10.5

Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Even though the readers knew about various Week 17 roster shenanigans (such as resting starters) and Elo didn’t, the algorithm did what it’s been doing most of the season, beating the field by an average of 5 points per reader. (Elo beat the average reader 16 times in 17 weeks during the regular season.) Readers picked up points for trusting Luck and Indy against the Blaine Gabbert-led Titans in Sunday night’s do-or-die regular-season finale, and they also got credit for fading the Saints, who were resting starters against the Panthers in a meaningless contest. But at times that knowledge came back to haunt them, such as when they dropped the odds of the Ezekiel Elliott-less Cowboys against the Giants, only to see Dallas storm back and win. (And it was odd to see Elo underestimate the Browns, which it’s been doing all season, only to have that work out at season’s end.)

Either way, congrats to Jake Horowitz, who led all identified users in Week 17 with 294.2 points, and to good ol’ Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who hung on to his No. 1 ranking for the season with 1,168.1 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and the game isn’t over yet! You should keep making picks and trying your luck against Elo throughout the playoffs.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Can The Eagles Beat The Bears? Can Houston Stop Andrew Luck?

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): The NFL’s 2018 regular season is finally in the books. Before the playoffs get rolling, let’s look back on an interesting Week 17 and preview next weekend’s wild-card round. We’ll end with giving our Super Bowl predictions again, just to keep us honest.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, contributor): I will have to revise my Saints-Steelers Super Bowl pick.

sara.ziegler: LOL

The AFC had all the drama yesterday, so let’s start with the Ravens/Steelers/Colts/Titans business.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): I was very much hoping for that Colts-Titans tie. But alas.

sara.ziegler: If the NFL were scripted, we would have ended the regular season on a tie.

neil: Particularly this of all regular seasons.

Salfino: What’s interesting to me about the Ravens is that teams are not punishing Lamar Jackson for running.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I’m unclear on why teams don’t force Jackson to beat them with his arm as well. It’s worked in the past against other highly mobile QBs, and there seems to be no great reason why it won’t work again.

neil: That’s part of what makes the Ravens so interesting, that their second-half playoff push basically coincided with the QB change and this rush-heavy identity that seems so different in a league that set new records for passing in 2018.

Salfino: Yes, the Ravens and the Chiefs are the offenses you really can’t prepare for in a week, IMO. I have no idea how a team can prepare for Jackson in one week. But LAC at least just faced him. Is that advantage Chargers? To me this is the most interesting game of the wild-card round.

sara.ziegler: The Ravens nearly let Sunday’s game slip away, though.

Salfino: The problem is that it’s so hard to stay disciplined and not chase him. Defenses are taught to be aggressive.

Jackson allows the offense to play 11 on 11, and all of defense is predicated on the defense playing 11 on 10.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Also strange is that we can make legit comps between Jackson and Josh Allen. Bill Belichick kept Allen in the pocket during Week 16 knowing the main danger he poses is from his legs. And New England won.

Salfino: Yes, the Patriots are just taught to be super disciplined so they can counter that probably better than most teams.

sara.ziegler: Did the Browns figure that out a little bit too against Jackson? The Ravens rushed for 8.5 yards per carry in the first half and just 4.5 in the second.

Salfino: Maybe as the game wore on, but by then the damage was done. The Browns were just getting gashed. The Ravens were running on 3rd-and-long and converting. It was like a college game — old-school college before the passing explosion.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Credit as well to the play-calling, I think. It’s a very creative scheme the Ravens are rolling out.

Salfino: Is the Ravens defense overrated? Where are the blue chip players? They are just coached so well. Wink Martindale should get interviews.

neil: And Jackson’s own speed is really something to behold. On that first TD Jackson scored, it looked like he was shot out of a cannon.

Salfino: Jackson also looked like he was playing at video game speed even on the shorter second TD run. He just darted into the end zone like everyone was standing still.

I think the Ravens offense is underrated and their defense is overrated.

sara.ziegler: In the other afternoon AFC game of note, the Steelers came out incredibly flat before rallying for the win, which wasn’t quite enough.

neil: Pittsburgh’s season will go down as one of the all-time collapses, I think?

Salfino: The Steelers have to be the most disappointing team in recent memory. They were top 10 in all the key defensive stats except interception percentage — which is fluky, but man that killed them. They have Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 5,000 yards, two All-Pro WRs, and the running game was fine. Yet they just blew one game after the other.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Antonio Brown has been inefficient this year, but he was missed.

Salfino: The Steelers were sixth in yards per play and sixth in yards allowed per play and didn’t make the playoffs. This is almost impossible. I thought it was impossible.

neil: After Week 11, we gave them a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs.

sara.ziegler: I was surprised all season that they were as high in Elo as they were.

Salfino: Being third in sack rate and 28th in interception rate defies conventional wisdom that pressure creates turnovers. Maybe PIT was super unlucky, too.

sara.ziegler: They reeled off six wins in a row, but they never looked dominant.

neil: Some of that was probably residual, Sara, from last year, when they had Le’Veon Bell, etc. But the narrative all first half was how they didn’t need Bell.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, and James Conner filled in well for them!

Salfino: Is MIN more disappointing than PIT? This is going to be a brutal offseason for Kirk Cousins. No player in memory is going to be under more pressure than he will be next year.

neil: This is a fraught question for Sara ….

sara.ziegler: I can’t even talk about it.

neil: Yep.

sara.ziegler: Well, Mike, we all know how well Cousins does with pressure.

neil: 😬

Salfino: I really thought Cousins was a franchise QB. He did pretty well with just garbage offensive talent in 2017 in WAS, and this year he just never really could get it going. He played so tight.

neil: Sunday was sort of symbolic of the whole 2018 Vikings.

They controlled their destiny at home (granted against the Bears).

Cousins goes 4-for-11 for 2.1 yards per attempt and two sacks on third and fourth down.

Terrible overall performance.

Salfino: It seemed like Cousins averaged about a yard per attempt. If I were the coach of the Vikings, I’d tell him to take chances and not care about INTs. They’re overrated.

neil: The Minnesota defense was uncharacteristically bad on third down, too. Allowed 57 percent conversions after giving up only 28 percent all season before Sunday.

sara.ziegler:

This will be the defining image of the season for me.

Salfino: Cousins showing Thielen how to run routes was both hilarious and sad.

joshua.hermsmeyer: One silver lining for the Vikings is that the situational football we typically use to judge Cousins as a disappointment is among the least predictive of future performance in all of football: throws under pressure, third-down conversions. Kirk deserves his share of the blame, but the entire offense looked out of sync yesterday and for a lot of the second half of the season.

sara.ziegler: Cousins has his redemption narrative all set for next season, LOL.

Salfino: The Eagles benefit from the Vikings’ struggles. I can’t believe that the Bears are only 6-point favorites.

neil: Particularly with Nick Foles not necessarily 100 percent.

sara.ziegler: The Eagles don’t even need Foles, Neil!

neil: Carson Wentz? Nick Foles? Nate Sudfeld? No problem.

sara.ziegler: Well … Wentz? Some problems.

Everyone else? Fine.

neil: Philly was always a backup QB’s dream city during the McNabb era. Some of that has carried over, I guess.

Salfino: Foles has got to be the most volatile QB in NFL history. We should quantify that. He’s below average for his career and is treated like a franchise QB based on about 16 games, if we include all of 2013.

neil: Yeah, the gap between his best 16 and worst 16 starts has to be one of the biggest ever.

Salfino: I can’t even imagine the Bears losing to the Eagles. They are just going to chew Philly up. The Eagles’ best playmaker is still 100-year-old Darren Sproles, who is amazing, but come on.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I can’t think of Foles without wincing that he lost $1 million because of four snaps.

This is just brutal.

sara.ziegler: Ooof.

Salfino: Foles is going to get $100 million in about three months, so I will not feel sorry for him.

joshua.hermsmeyer: hah

sara.ziegler: LOL

The one other meaningful game yesterday — aside from the games that cost coaches their jobs — was Colts-Titans. Anyone surprised that the Colts dominated that one?

neil: I mean, Blaine Gabbert was starting for Tennessee, Sara

sara.ziegler: Fair

Salfino: Titans-Colts is QB wins to me. Luck vs. Gabbert. Come on. Murder. She. Wrote.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Oh gawd not QB Winz

Salfino: YES!!!

Give me the better QB, and I’ll take my chances.

joshua.hermsmeyer: smh

Marlon Mack outrushed Derrick Henry, so why not RB winz?

Salfino: No RB winz because winning yards per carry gets you nothing in win probability.

Josh, you and I agree broadly but just quibble about how much credit quarterbacks get in the passing game.

joshua.hermsmeyer: This is true.

neil: Either way, it’s been great to see Andrew Luck bounce back from the injury and lost season to play well and lead a playoff push.

sara.ziegler: I’m still amazed by the Colts’ turnaround.

They were at 4 percent to make the playoffs on Oct. 15.

Salfino: Luck should be in the MVP conversation. I understand it’s Patrick Mahomes. But Luck has done a lot with a lot less than Mahomes. Luck does seemingly have great coaching now though. Frank Reich, who the Colts backed into, was the hire of the offseason. I think better than Matt Nagy even.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Luck truly played himself back into game shape. Early on, his throws were routinely Derek Carr short, and by the end of the season he was mostly back to the old Luck.

sara.ziegler: So let’s turn to this weekend’s games.

Colts-Texans and Seahawks-Cowboys on Saturday, Chargers-Ravens and Eagles-Bears on Sunday.

Which underdog has the best chance?

neil: Three of the 4 underdogs are +2.5 per Vegas.

Salfino: Colts-Texans is the game of the week to me in terms of having no idea who will win. The Texans are a strange team with great strengths (QB, pass rush) and crippling weaknesses (offensive line, pass coverage).

On paper, the Colts are a terrible matchup for the Texans because Luck led the league in lowest sack rate as he completely transformed his game to protect his health. So smart.

neil: Indy also also beat Houston in Houston less than a month ago.

Salfino: I am going to fade the Seahawks: 25th in yards allowed per play and 31st in sack rate allowed. That’s so bad. I can’t believe they even made the playoffs.

neil: Ironically, our Elo gives Seattle the best chance of any wild card weekend team. 😉

Elo has a tendency to react strongly to recent hot streaks, for better or worse.

Seattle has won six of its past seven, including a win over Kansas City.

Salfino: If you have Russell Wilson, anything is possible. I will stipulate.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Seattle for my part. Turnovers are wildly unpredictable, and that drove their defensive Defense-adjusted Value Over Average for much of the season, but they are built to win close games like this one where both teams appear to want to “establish the run.”

Salfino: The football story of the week when it comes to the chess aspect of the game and coaching is whether the Chargers having experienced the Ravens offense can now shut it down. But they don’t really do much on defense except play that Seattle, straight-up style. So do they even have a bag of tricks?

sara.ziegler: Seems strange to me that the Ravens are favorites over the Chargers.

Baltimore is hot right now, but L.A. has been solid all season.

Salfino: Well, Baltimore has had the best home-field advantage in football when you factor in road vs. home record. So LAC are up against it.

neil: Never underestimate the extra value of home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs, too.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, that all makes sense.

I still like the Chargers. I’m being obstinate, LOL.

neil: Well, this is a little bit of a counter to the QB Winz debate from above. L.A. clearly has the better QB.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I like Philip Rivers and the Chargers as well. Particularly if the Chargers keep Jackson in the pocket.

Salfino: No Super Bowl team has won a road game since the 2012 season. But I’ll say that the most likely road winners this week in order are the Colts (they win), Chargers (I can see it but don’t think they adjust defensively), Seattle (Wilson gives them a chance) and Eagles (no chance unless Mitch Trubisky craps the bed).

sara.ziegler: 🔥

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Baltimore defense prevents completions, that’s their best skill. But Rivers has completed passes at 1.8 percent over expected this season.

Salfino: New England really gets tested if the Colts win. (They would have to play the winner of Baltimore-LAC.) If the Texans win, Houston is just made for an easy Patriots victory in the divisional round.

Little worried about how Rivers has looked of late. But probably just random variance. There’s not much data on QBs this old late in the season and into the postseason other than Brady.

sara.ziegler: I’m worried about how Rivers looks, too — at least in this Mina Kimes drawing:

joshua.hermsmeyer: loool

neil: That’s still accurate.

I loved that segment on NFL Countdown Sunday, where they talked about Rivers’ trash talk. Which somehow never includes swearing.

sara.ziegler: I’ve always really liked him. A perfect fantasy football QB.

Salfino: Philip Rivers is great. A Hall-of-Famer IMO. But unbelievably he has as many career playoff wins as Mark Sanchez. He needs more pelts on the wall.

sara.ziegler: Very fair.

Is anyone taking the Eagles over the Bears?

neil: I recuse myself.

LOL

sara.ziegler: Wait, we can’t make predictions about our favorite teams?

I’ve literally been picking the Vikings to lose all season.

neil: I gotta hand it to you, those were accurate predictions.

sara.ziegler: LOL

neil: As opposed to this one:

sara.ziegler: 🤣

Salfino: I think the Bears just crush the Eagles. This spread is all Foles-narrative-driven, and I don’t believe in fairy tales.

sara.ziegler: Wow, Mike.

LOL

neil: Anybody picking the Eagles probably does have visions of this being yet another Bears team that got into the playoffs on defense with a weak QB performance

And promptly lost. But that’s not really this team. Trubisky has been progressing.

(The defense is still amazing, of course)

joshua.hermsmeyer: You can dink and dunk on Chicago.

Salfino: Remember, Foles was LUCKY to beat the Falcons last year. He had a ball go off a Falcon’s knee, or they probably lose that game. Then he turned into Cinderella, and I have no idea how or why.

sara.ziegler: He did get to face the Vikings last year — that undoubtedly helped.

joshua.hermsmeyer: If Foles can be efficient and healthy, and the Eagles are patient, I can totally imagine a game where Biscuit implodes and the Eagles move on. I think the spread has some of that in it.

Salfino: I do not believe in the Eagles defense at all. But I also don’t like how Nagy hasn’t given Tarik Cohen consistently more touches than Jordan Howard. And the Bears are all banged up now at WR.

I agree with Josh on Trubisky, but the Bears and Nagy can’t put him in a position to lose that game. The Eagles have no playmakers. Dare them to score.

sara.ziegler: Yeah, it could be closer than it seems. Of course, if Foles can’t play, then the Eagles will REALLY need a fairy tale.

All right, let’s wrap this up with our Super Bowl predictions, so we can continue to look ridiculous when our picks all lose.

Salfino: I’m going Saints-Chiefs, but that’s predicated on the Colts beating the Texans and giving the Patriots a nightmare matchup in the divisional round. It’s so public to fade the Chiefs that I’m fading the public. Offense!

Mahomes wins MVP and Brees wins Super Bowl MVP. Seems fair.

neil: I’ve been saying New Orleans over K.C. for these past few chats, and that’s still possible, so I’m sticking with it. (Despite the defensive concerns!)

sara.ziegler: I took the Bears last time, and now having watched them flatten my own team, I probably need to keep them. Bears-Chiefs, Chiefs take it down.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Chiefs-Rams rematch, Chiefs win. Because that would be the best ending to the best offensive season in the NFL probably ever.

neil: What’s the score on that one, Josh? Is it the first Super Bowl whose score will be mistaken for an Arena Bowl?

joshua.hermsmeyer: 36-35 with the game decided on a 2-point conversion.

neil: Ooh, going low. I like it.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

The Bears Don’t Need Blitzes To Destroy Your Quarterback

When Vic Fangio was named defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears in 2015, he took the helm of a ship that was essentially already at the bottom of the ocean. Not only were the Bears mired in a four-season playoff drought, but Chicago was also coming off consecutive seasons in which it fielded arguably the worst defense in franchise history.

“We obviously aren’t a good team,” defensive end Jared Allen succinctly put it in 2014 after the Bears allowed consecutive opponents to pile up 50-plus points, a feat that had no precedent in modern professional football.

Now, Chicago is under the direction of head coach Matt Nagy, atop the NFC North and in the midst of a three-game winning streak for the first time since the beginning of the 2013 season. But seemingly all anyone can talk about is Fangio’s defense.

In its most recent victory, Chicago dismantled Tampa Bay’s then-league-best offense in a 48-10 bloodletting. Chicago’s front seven had Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, who made his season debut, running toward the nearest airport.

Fitzpatrick and Winston haven’t been Chicago’s only victims, though.

When it comes to getting at the quarterback, the Bears are off to the third-best start in franchise history. Even though the team had a bye in Week 5, its 18 sacks rank second in the league, one shy of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 19. One-fourth of Chicago’s 16 best single-game sack performances since 2015 came in the first four weeks of this season. At 4.5 sacks per contest so far, Chicago is on pace to tie the NFL single-season sack record of 72, a record the Bears set in 1984.

Chicago’s 11.6 percent sack rate1 is 1.5 percentage points ahead of the next-best team. If the Bears can maintain that pace, they would set the the fifth-best mark since 1980, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Chicago’s defense is collapsing the pocket better than perhaps any team.

But here’s the remarkable thing about the Bears: They are racking up the sacks despite hardly blitzing.

The Bears rank last in the league in blitzing, defined as sending five or more pass rushers at a quarterback who’s dropping back to throw, with 5.0 per contest, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information Group. If Chicago maintained its blitz average for the rest of the season, it would be the sixth-lowest rate since 2006, the first year for which data is available.

This is in no small part a function of the Bears’ new $141 million linebacker. Khalil Mack, who became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history after the Bears traded for him last month, is tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks (five) and tied for first in forced fumbles (four). In terms of pressure applied, Mack is ahead of the pace he set in 2016 when he was named defensive player of the year. In Week 3 of this season, during the Bears’ 16-14 win over Arizona, the Cardinals went as far as tasking three men with containing Mack. Late in the second quarter, after Mack beat every last one of those Cardinals, his teammate Akiem Hicks swooped in for the sack.

Mack is not only a transcendent talent capable of getting to the quarterback on seemingly every snap; his play has also raised the performance of his teammates. Mack, Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Aaron Lynch and Roy Robertson-Harris have accounted for at least 1.5 sacks apiece this season. “Those boys inside can raise so much hell, it’s outrageous,” said hell-raiser Richard Dent, a Hall of Fame defensive end and a member of the vaunted 1985-86 Bears defense, in an interview with The Athletic.

Blitzing requires a defensive player to eschew coverage in favor of pressure. Like so many other aspects of football, the blitz is a risk-reward proposition. Get to the quarterback quickly enough, and the play is over — and you may have even created a takeaway. Get to the quarterback a step late, and he will likely find a target in the hole you’ve left.

Leaguewide, blitzing is trending down, largely because the game has gotten faster and offensive efficiency continues to skyrocket. It seems that defensive coordinators are content to send fewer pass rushers at the quarterback and instead rely on their secondary in coverage. In four consecutive seasons, the number of blitzes faced by quarterbacks has dropped, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information. Opposing quarterbacks saw a 17 percent decrease from 2013 to 2017 in total five-man blitzes.

Long a proponent of blitz-scarce schemes, Fangio oversees an optimal situation in Chicago, where the Bears largely abstain from blitzing — yet they still manage to get to the quarterback.

“I think the ideal thing is you’d like to pressure when you want to and not feel like you have to,” Fangio told The Athletic. “If you can get to that point, then you feel pretty good.”

Fangio was well ahead of the trend of blitz-less defenses. He has held an NFL defensive coordinator role each season since 2011, when he took that job with the San Francisco 49ers, and over that stretch, his defenses have always been among the league’s most blitz-reluctant outfits.

Other teams have used this formula before. Most notably, Jacksonville last season was able to get to the AFC championship game and field one of the best defenses in football while ranking second in sacks and last in blitzes. Chicago’s defense is 7.6 points better than average this season, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s Defensive Simple Rating System. That’s the franchise’s best mark since the 1985 and 1986 campaigns, when the Bears went a combined 29-3 and won a Super Bowl.

Blitz-less defenses aren’t always dominant; the 2006 Indianapolis Colts blitzed the least of any team for which data is available and were the fourth-worst defense in the AFC. But Chicago’s defense is dominating, leading the league in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average,2 while ranking no lower than third in pass and rush defense.

This weekend, Chicago travels to Miami to take on a Dolphins outfit missing several offensive linemen, setting the stage for more defensive highlights from the Bears. A franchise long synonymous with hard-nosed defense and strong play from the linebacker corps has re-established its identity under Fangio.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.