For the third time this season, the two sides will face off. Both teams have had wildly divergent paths in getting into the playoffs. For Houston, it was a perfect start to the season in which they dominated weaker opponents with a healthy roster and a passing game familiar with the scheme. In the middle to late season, Houston dropped games to the top three teams in the north and nearly lost to the same weaker opponents they dominated earlier. Over the latter stretch, the defense wasn’t as dominant due to a few nagging injuries holding it back. On offense, the passing game fell off a cliff when Kirklin, Houston’s primary receiver, was lost due to injury. In a desperate attempt to get the offense back on track, Houston experimented with a change at QB, only to see inconsistent play from the backup, McDonald. This Houston squad has become a team that wins with defense and turnovers while hoping the offense doesn’t lose the game. This new identity doesn’t inspire confidence when it comes to beating good opponents. Arlington, on the other hand, has looked like the worst team in the league during stretches this season. The offense was completely stagnant and devoid of any explosiveness. In a Hail Mary attempt to revive the team and make the playoffs, the Renegades added veteran signal-caller Luis Perez to solve the struggling offense. Thus far, it has worked. Perez has been able to boost offensive production. Combine this increase in efficiency on offense with a good defense that shows up each week, and you have a dangerous team moving forward.
Now that the narrative is set, let’s look at the numbers in this matchup. Brandon Silvers has averaged just four yards per attempt in his past two games, after averaging 7.15 yards in the first four games. This abysmal transformation has led the Roughnecks’ offense to rely more heavily on the run than intended. Despite possessing an offensive line selected for its pass protection, they have been called upon to open holes for lead back Max Borghi while the offense finds its passing game again. This new plan could be a problem against Arlington, as they counter with the top run defense in the league.
When Arlington has the ball, they will rely heavily on their top-flight run game. While this might be enough to beat other teams in the South Division, it most likely won’t be enough to beat Houston. For Arlington, the emergence of Luis Perez has come at the perfect time. The offense that was only averaging 5.8 yards per attempt now averages 7.1 yards per attempt. To put that in perspective, 7.1 yards per attempt is the same number that Seattle has averaged all season. I would be remiss not to point out that Perez has accomplished this feat against an already-clinched DC team, Houston playing with backups for stretches of the game, and Orlando, which may have the worst defense in the league. This Saturday will be a different animal for Perez. Arlington will be up against the top coverage unit and top pass rush unit in the Roughnecks’ defense. The Roughnecks should have back their top pass rusher, Tim Ward, who hasn’t played serious snaps since Week 5 vs Seattle. As for scheme, Houston will deploy an aggressive style that disguises the rush well and depends on solid man coverage in the back end. Perez isn’t very mobile and will have to rely on the quick game and quickly identifying weaknesses in the defense. The question for Arlington that should decide things is whether the receiving threats can win against man coverage.
The odds for the game currently stand at Houston favored by 6.5 points at home with an over/under of 41.5 points. Given how I see this game playing out, there is both value on the under and on the underdog. If Houston plays up to its standard on defense and down to its new level on offense, it’s difficult to imagine much separation in the scoring margin. As for the total, the only concern is Houston’s knack for creating defensive touchdowns. However, given the conservative nature of Arlington, it’s probably less likely in this game.
This game could be the de facto championship game. We know exactly what we are getting with these two opponents. Seattle has been the top-rated team wire-to-wire in my rankings. DC is the team that has climbed the rankings each week and now sits as the #2 ranked team in the playoffs (I had STL above them). DC has won the first two games in the series, so why should we expect anything different to happen? Well, because Seattle probably should have won the first two games but lost by a combined 5 points in the contests. DC hasn’t looked like its efficient self as of late, but we can probably attribute most of that to the coaching staff being purposefully vanilla. On the Seattle side, they have been unstoppable since beginning 0-2 to start the season. Despite Dinucci’s best efforts to turn wins into losses, his mostly quality play has led to big leads that not even his knack for inopportune turnovers could overcome. In this game, Seattle will need to be better than that to win. Dinucci will have to avoid red-zone turnovers as every point will be critical in this one.
DC has the most efficient passing game in the league. 8.3 Yards per attempt. Let that sink in. We often think of Seattle as the top passing team, but given the boom and bust nature of their offense, they aren’t. Oh, it’s the part where I called DC a passing offense that you disagree with? Well, they are. DC has the best PFF run-blocking grade which they leaned on early to establish a successful offense. As their opponents began to put defenders in the box, they have been able to counter with a well-schemed passing game that takes advantage of their superior skill on the outside. Aside from the occasional explosive run plays, it’s their skill talent on the outside that is responsible for this efficient passing offense. So, DC can run it, throw it, and oh, I forgot they have a mobile QB that can scamper for 10 yards when no one is open. Needless to say, I think DC will score points in this matchup against a solid Sea Dragon Defense. I’m just not sure they will score enough points to win the game. Seattle likewise can and will score points. The weakest unit in this game is the DC Defense. I know Greg Williams is there and… blah. Despite a former NFL coordinator heading the defense, it hasn’t been an above-average unit. In my model, DC ranks 6th of 8 teams. According to Pro Football Focus, they rank 6th of 8 teams. Note that my model uses no data from PFF, and yet we arrive at the same conclusion. PFF ranks the unit 7th against the Run and 6th in Coverage, and 6th in Pass Rush.
Moving on to Seattle, they check all of the boxes that a complete team must check. They rank in the top half of the league in every category that matters on offense and defense. There is one category that stat trackers don’t measure: judgment. If you play Madden, they call it “awareness” (or used to, I haven’t played in years). Not to bang on the guy, but if Dinucci had a Madden score, his awareness should be 15 out of 100. That has to be on the mind of the Seattle coaching staff. You want to let Dinucci go out and make plays, but you lose this game if he does the thing we have seen him do in every single game this season – and yes, every game, 10/10.
I see this game playing out like the most recent contest between these two rivals: lots of points. Seattle will probably stop the DC offense a couple of more times than vice versa, but can they maximize those changes or will they squander them? The current spread favors DC by 3/3.5, depending on where you look. The total is set at 48.5 points, where it opened, but it has bounced around based on the weather news coming in. The forecast calls for 10 mph winds and a 90% chance of rain, with a precipitation rate of 0.05 inches per hour. The weather could impact the total points scored in this game, and while I lean towards taking the Under 48.5, the bigger edge is on the spread. Therefore, I recommend taking Seattle plus the points.
Score Prediction: Seattle 24-23
Pick Seattle +3
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