The jaguars hit the bills. So is excitement a trend?


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If the NFL season ends today, there would be no playoffs or the Super Bowl because too few teams are postseason worthy. Or maybe it just feels like that because so many of the league’s top contenders have been hit by recent surprises.

The Buffalo Bills lost to the unlucky Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys lost to the mediocre Denver Broncos. The humble Giants defeated the aspiring Las Vegas Raiders.

The Los Angeles Rams lost to the Tennessee Titans, who had to run back without Derrick Henry, the bulldozer focus of their offensive. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to injury-ridden New Orleans Saints before their Week 8 departure; The Saints celebrated Sunday by losing to the Atlanta Falcons. And while the Green Bay Packers weren’t technically a surprise, they lost to the scuffle of the Kansas City Chiefs, in large part due to Aaron Rodgers’ absence on Covid.

Excitement is practically baked into the “Any Given Sunday” ethos of the league-wide parity of the NFL. But the results of the past two weeks have wreaked havoc for anyone trying to obstruct the playoff field. Since the Giants defeated the Saints who defeated the Buccaneers and the Jets defeated the Titans who defeated the Rams, it can be argued (not at all convincingly) that the Giants should face the Jets in the Super Bowl.

If the excitement is really on the rise, here are a few likely causes:

Examine a flurry carefully and you will often find a large discrepancy in the penalty yard. For example, the Bills committed 12 penalties for 118 yards in their loss to the Jaguars, which hampered each other on both offense and defense. The Buccaneers incurred eleven penalties for their defeat in week 8 and the Saints only two.

Three categories of penalties in particular can favor the underdog this season:

Roughing the passerby: Officials now rate passerby roughing 0.56 times per team per game, the highest rate in history. Since this foul often turns a sack or turnover into a positive result for the offense, it can act like a lottery ticket to the weaker team, provided the quarterback survived a push that would be more of a push than a heavy blow.

Defensive Pass Interference: This foul occurs 1.18 times per team per game in 2021, again the highest rate in history, according to This year’s surge appears to be due to desperate quarterbacks hurling down off-target passes, hoping the defenders crash into their receivers as they chase them. A penalty that favors inaccurate quarterbacks, of course, favors outsiders.

Ridicule: Any infraction that punishes players for being a little too proud of their accomplishments is likely to work against the better team.

Teams are trying more than ever to turn down conversions: 1.42 times per team and game in 2021, compared to just 0.57 times per team and game five years ago. While analysis dictates that it is usually the right tactic to try, a failed conversion can cause a dramatic turnaround in favor of the underdog.

The Cowboys failed last week on two fourth and brief first quarter conversions, one of them within field goal reach. Had they stabbed and kicked a field goal in those situations, Dallas might still have lost, but not so dramatically (they were now 30-0 down) that it attracted national attention.

“Distractions” is a bit of football jargon that can cover a variety of situations, from a wide receiver trying to toss more passes on its path to a franchise quarterback explaining on YouTube that the contrails behind planes are male baldness cause.

Overconfidence can be dangerous for a team of young athletes booted from recent successes. The cowboys in particular have a reputation for declaring themselves Super Bowl champions in early November.

Distractions and overconfidence can also be retrospective rationalizations for failure. “Overconfidence” may have caused these Bills penalties or failed cowboys conversions, but it can also be just a narrative tool to explain a few prosaic mistakes.

As for the distractions, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 41-17, after announcing their plans to forego the eccentric wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the 1987 AFC championship game.

The 38-13 drubbing of the Titans by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 looked like a breathtaking surprise at the time. It’s now clear that the Cardinals were budding Super Bowl contenders.

The Bengals were 5-2 when they fell against the Jets in Week 8. Last week’s loss to the Browns shows they weren’t as strong as their record suggests.

A number of overwhelmed opponents can prepare a team for a surprise. The Rams, for example, celebrated the Giants, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans before facing the Titans. Again, overconfidence could be blamed, but it’s more likely the Rams weren’t as good as their record suggests in Week 9.

The home advantage is almost gone from the NFL road teams, 58-49 against the spread in 2021 (54.2 percent), while the street underdogs are even better 36-26 (56.2 percent) against the spread. Similar splits were attributed to empty stadiums last year, but of course that doesn’t matter anymore.

The analytics community is baffled by the disappearance of a perk as old as professional sport itself. Some experts speculated that a similar trend in the NBA was sparked by online dating apps like Tinder: athletes on the go can now instead of either -Or scenarios of the past, enjoy both a romantic escapade and a good night’s sleep.

NFL players are typically older than NBA players and can take far less strenuous road trips. The Tinder theory was only put forward here in the name of scientific rigor.

It turns out that only six teams favored this season with 7 or more points in a game have lost completely. Fourteen favorites lost in such circumstances in 16 games in 2020 and 2019. While the trends in penalty shootouts and conversions can be seen in fourth place, the surprises may not increase at all; Perhaps we are simply responding to a flurry of dramatic events in Week 9.

At the rate of almost one big surprise per week, the NFL’s Any Given Sunday mission statement still holds true. Some Sundays just give more than others.

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