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Predicting this weekend’s games

Posted by Chase Stuart on October 4, 2006

I'm guessing none of the readers of this blog predicted the '75 Packers would beat the '75 Cowboys in week five of that season. Green Bay was 0-4, while the host Cowboys were 4-0. Green Bay wound up winning 19-17, and that's the only time since the NFL merger that a road 0-4 team defeated a 4-0 team. But will we see a repeat this weekend?

Since 1970, there have been 964 games played during week five of the season. I thought it might be fun to go through the history books and see if they can help us learn anything about the future.

Buffalo (2-2) at Chicago (4-0) Home team: 2-2 all time, 0.500

Surprisingly enough, the road teams have fared alright during these matchups. For those curious, the 1987 Saints won at Soldier Field and the '88 Rams lost to the visiting Cardinals.

Cleveland (1-3) at Carolina (2-2) Home team: 17-9 all time, 0.654

As you might expect, one-win teams don't fare very well on the road. That percentage is probably what you would have guessed.

Detroit (0-4) at Minnesota (2-2) Home team: 7-6 all time, 0.538

This is the mirror image of the Bears-Bills game: here we have a winless team on the road (instead of an undefeated team at home) against a .500 team. Once again, we see a pretty surprising result. For those who believe in the "due for a win/loss" theory -- and I'm not one of them -- you now have some empirical evidence if you're riding the Lions' or Browns' bandwagon this week.

Miami (1-3) at New England (3-1) Home team: 13-3-2 all time, 0.778

Subjective opinion after watching these teams so far would say Miami has no chance to win. Objective opinion says pretty much the same thing. On the other hand, the '86 Raiders won at Arrowhead, and the '96 Cowboys won in Philadelphia. Maybe the '06 Dolphins can continue the ten-year trend.

St. Louis (3-1) at Green Bay (1-3) Home team: 14-12 all time, 0.538

You might be surprised to see the Rams at 3-1, because they've played pretty poorly. The last three weeks the Rams have faced teams that are 0-10 when not playing each other (49ers, Cardinals and Lions), and have outscored them by just two points. Combine that with history showing that the team with two less wins has won more often, and this seems like a good upset pick. Since 1976, the home team in this "series" is 14-6, and the last matchup was a Patriots win against the visiting Chargers in 2001.

Tampa Bay (0-3) at New Orleans (3-1) First ever matchup

Yes, history will be made in New Orleans this weekend...again. This is the first matchup since the merger pitting an 0-3 team against a 3-1 team. In case you were wondering, 0-4 teams were 1-7 against 3-1 teams, with the '76 Chiefs obtaining the lone win at Washington. As noted above in the Dolphins-Patriots game, 1-3 teams haven't fared much better against 3-1 home teams than the winless teams have.

Tennessee (0-4) at Indianapolis (4-0) Home team: 2-1 all time, 0.667

This matchup has only happened three other times since the merger. The most recent one, in 2000, saw the Rams beat the Chargers 57-31. Two years earlier, the Broncos roughed up the Eagles 41-16. And in 1975, the Bart Starr-coached Packers upset the Cowboys, 19-17. I'll let you decide which game the Titans/Colts clash is most likely to resemble.

Washington (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (1-2) Home team: 1-1 all time, 0.500

Is this really that rare a matchup? I would have guessed that two pretty mediocre teams would have faced each other a number of times, but I forgot that the NFL teams didn't have bye weeks until 1990. Interestingly enough, the 2-2 Jets beat the 1-2 Bengals by 17 in 1997, while two years earlier the 2-2 Broncos lost to the 1-2 Seahawks by 17.

Kansas City (1-2) at Arizona (1-3) Home team: 2-1 all time, 0.333

This marquee matchup features quarterbacks with 12 career passing TDs among them, so I'd be wary of any predictions in this game. Most recently, the 2002 Titans lost at home against Steve Spurrier and the Redskins.

N.Y. Jets (2-2) at Jacksonville (2-2) Home team: 15-12 all time, 0.556

That 0.556 figure is only a bit below the average home winning percentage in the NFL, so that ratio makes sense when you have a two .500 teams facing each other. Good news for Jets fans: the road team has won five of the last eight times, along with the last two matchups (2005 Seahawks @ Rams, 2002 Giants @ Cowboys).

Oakland (0-3) at San Francisco (1-3) Home team: 10-0 all time, 1.000

This year marks the 11th matchup to decide the Battle of the Bay. The Raiders hold a slight edge, having won six of the first ten games. I took a little bit of liberty, as nine of those ten matchups featured an 0-4 team against a 1-3 team, but I figure the 2006 Raiders are probably worse than most 0-4 teams anyway. In the one matchup of an 0-3 @ 1-3, the 2001 Lions lost to the Vikings. That Lions team might have actually been worse than the Raiders: Detroit had scored 20 points and allowed 87 after three games, while Oakland has scored 27 and allowed "only" 79.

Dallas (2-1) at Philadelphia (3-1) Home team: 0-2 all time, 0.000

The Eagles were on the flip-side of this equation in one of the biggest losses ever by a Super Bowl Champion. The 1994 49ers were 3-1, but got blasted 40-8 by the visiting Eagles, and were out-gained by 248 yards. A year later, the Browns under Bill Belichick lost 22-19, in a game featuring 7 FGs. Cleveland wound end the season 5-11 after starting 3-1, and Bill Belichick achieved some modicum of success later in his career coaching the Patriots. This was also the last season in Cleveland before The Move, and the Browns seemed to tank the season after the mid-season announcement that the team was leaving for Baltimore. The only home game they would win after week four was the home finale at the Old Dawg Pound.

So history points to an upset in this one. I'm guessing that won't trump The Story Of the Year, as TO returns to Philly.

Pittsburgh (1-2) at San Diego (2-1) Home team: 2-0 all time, 1.000

Both the Chargers and Steelers have had their byes already, and remember we're only looking at teams with these records that met in week five. That's why we've only seen it twice before, and both home teams won by a touchdown.

Baltimore (4-0) at Denver (2-1) Home team: 0-1 all time, 0.000

The 2004 Lions went into Atlanta and won, which is surprising because I couldn't believe the Lions had been 3-1 in recent memory. The 2-1 Patriots also beat the 3-0 Saints in 1998, in the only other time a 2-1 team went on the road against an unbeaten team. I think the Broncos have been playing under their heads and the Ravens have been playing over their heads, and Denver has one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. So don't be surprised to see Denver win this one.