The Pi-Rate Ratings

September 12, 2017

PiRate Ratings NFL Forecast For Week 2: September 14-18, 2017

This Week’s PiRate Spreads & Totals

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias Total
Cincinnati Houston 3.5 2.9 4.5 31
Jacksonville Tennessee 2.2 1.4 3.1 47
Baltimore Cleveland 11.6 11.5 11.5 40
Carolina Buffalo 7.1 5.1 7.3 50
New Orleans New England -2.6 -4.6 -2.3 55
Indianapolis Arizona -1.5 -1.8 -1.8 53
Kansas City Philadelphia 6.7 8.2 6.1 43
Pittsburgh Minnesota 7.2 7.7 6.4 41
Tampa Bay Chicago 9.3 8.0 9.9 42
LA Chargers Miami 5.4 3.7 6.3 52
Oakland N. Y. Jets 16.0 17.6 15.6 46
LA Rams Washington -4.2 -3.5 -4.7 43
Denver Dallas -1.1 -0.1 -1.0 39
Seattle San Francisco 13.8 14.2 13.6 42
Atlanta Green Bay 4.3 2.5 5.1 62
N. Y. Giants Detroit 3.9 3.0 3.9 35

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

A F C
East PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
New England 104.7 105.6 104.5 104.9 22
Miami 98.6 99.3 98.0 98.6 24
Buffalo 97.5 98.4 97.7 97.9 24
N. Y. Jets 92.0 91.3 92.0 91.8 19
           
North PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Pittsburgh 104.4 104.9 104.0 104.5 23
Baltimore 103.2 103.4 103.5 103.3 18
Cincinnati 97.7 97.8 97.9 97.8 16
Cleveland 94.6 94.9 95.0 94.8 22
           
South PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Tennessee 98.6 99.2 97.9 98.6 25
Jacksonville 97.9 97.6 98.0 97.8 22
Houston 97.2 97.9 96.5 97.2 15
Indianapolis 95.6 95.8 95.2 95.5 27
           
West PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Kansas City 105.0 105.3 105.4 105.2 22
Oakland 104.6 105.4 104.1 104.7 27
Denver 101.8 101.3 102.1 101.7 17
LA Chargers 100.5 99.5 100.8 100.3 28
           
N F C
East PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Dallas 105.9 104.4 106.0 105.5 22
N.Y. Giants 101.3 101.4 101.1 101.3 14
Philadelphia 101.4 100.1 102.3 101.3 21
Washington 99.1 98.7 99.5 99.1 25
           
North PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Green Bay 103.8 104.8 103.3 104.0 28
Detroit 100.4 101.4 100.2 100.7 21
Minnesota 100.2 100.2 100.6 100.3 18
Chicago 94.5 95.0 94.3 94.6 20
           
South PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Atlanta 105.0 104.3 105.5 104.9 34
Carolina 101.6 100.5 101.9 101.3 26
Tampa Bay 100.9 99.9 101.3 100.7 22
New Orleans 99.6 98.4 99.7 99.2 33
           
West PiRate Mean Bias Avg Totals
Seattle 102.4 102.5 101.9 102.3 18
Arizona 100.1 100.5 100.0 100.2 26
LA Rams 91.4 91.7 91.3 91.5 18
San Francisco 91.5 91.3 91.3 91.4 24

The Offense Rests
Okay, it has only been one week of the NFL season, and two teams didn’t even play, so we are looking at just 15 games to date. And, after 15 games, the worry going around the NFL is that there is a giant lack of offense. Let’s look into this potential problem to see where the answer(s) might be.

The Average Points Per Game for Week 1 was 20.2 points, which is down a little from the recent trend of about 22.5 to 23.0 points per game. The Average in total yards was 305, which is off by a little more than the recent historical norm of 325 yards.

Have defenses simply just gotten better, and is this trend real? Or, could there be other factors? The professional athlete continues to evolve into a more fit, stronger, quicker, and smarter specimen. This evolution has changed all sports, as NBA basketball has a handful of superstars, and you must have at least one and preferably two to compete for the title. Major League Baseball is all about how hard one can hit the ball and how difficult one can prevent one from hitting the ball. Small Ball is almost extinct, as it is all about OPS and preventing such.

Could it be that football has changed as well, and that the superior athletes of today can close up all the gaps on the field and make it much more difficult to gain yards?

We think not. Let’s look back to the 1960’s, a time when the professional athlete was evolving from a time 10 years earlier when linemen might be 210 pounds and backs 180. In the 1960’s, the trend of 270-pound tackles and 220-pound linebackers led to the fear that the field might become too small. However, the NFL featured all types of scoring. You had teams that scored a lot of points and gave up a goodly amount as well. You had teams that featured defenses that held teams under 10 points per game for an entire season. You had quarterbacks that you knew would lead their teams to the playoffs, while others would not be up to the challenge.

The philosophy of the game was much different. Today, almost every NFL team relies on the short passing game to move the ball, complimented with the power running game. A team is likely to feature 15 to 20 line plunges and 15-20 passes of less than 5 yards through the air. Defenses basically must defend horizontally, and they can get by with 2-deep coverage or man-to-man with a free safety for most of the game. They can bring 7 men into the box on more downs than ever, because today 2nd and 10 is more likely to see the QB throw a short pass of less than 5 yards with the hope that the receiver can run for another 5 after the catch.

Even on 3rd & 10, there is a great chance that the QB will throw a short pass, hoping that the receiver can gain the necessary yards to convert. Defenses can play 2-deep with a nickel or dime package and appear to have all the zones covered in the 10-yard range.

This bunching horizontally has led to an appearance that the running gaps are covered across the field. It is much easier to squeeze in and stuff the inside run, and since there are defenders spread out, the wide runs don’t always work any more, as the art of pulling two guards to lead interference has gone away like the drop kick.

Statistically, quarterbacks today look much better than quarterbacks of 50 years ago, but it is most likely not the case. And, here’s why. Today’s quarterbacks might go 20 of 30 for 185 yards with a TD. A passer from 50 years ago might go 14 of 30 for 185 yards with a TD. The 2017 QB has a higher QB rating (94.5 to 77.8), but how did he perform any better? The 2017 QB most likely threw passes that gained little yardage or even lost yardage. The 1967 QB rarely completed a pass for less than 5 yards. It was unheard of back then, and when it happened, it was almost always from a botched screen pass. In essence, if you look at the 2017 QB, he might have 40% of his completions going for less than 8 yards. The 1967 QB was more likely to have 10% of his completions going for less than 8 yards, and for the most part coming on 3rd and 5, not 3rd and 10.

Let’s look at the breakdown of some of the passing philosophies of today and 50 years ago. First, let us categorize passing plays into screens, short passes thrown no more than 5 yards downfield with some coming behind the line, medium passes in the 6-12 yard range, intermediate passes in the 13-20 yard range, deep passes in the 21-30 yard range, and long passes in the 31+ yard range.
The passer of today might throw 2 screens, 16 short passes, 8 medium passes, 2 intermediate passes, 1 deep pass, and 1 long pass per game. He might complete both screens, 12 of the short passes, 4 of the medium passes, 1 intermediate pass, and 1 of the two deeper throws for 20 completions. This gives him 185 passing yards.

The passer of 50 years ago might have thrown 4 screens (this play was used a lot more then), 3 short passes, 10 medium passes, 5 interemediate passes, 3 deep passes, and 5 long passes for his 30 attempts. He might complete 3 of the 4 screens, 2 of the 3 short passes, 5 of the 10 medium passes, 2 of the 5 intermediate passes, 1 of the 3 deep passes, and 1 of the 5 long passes for 14 completions but also for 185 yards.

So, which is better? We believe the 1967 stats are better, because they are more likely to produce points. It has always been difficult to drive down the field 80 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. It takes long-gaining plays to win in the NFL, and it always has been the case. There have been teams like the 1960’s Green Bay Packers, and the 1970’s Miami Dolphins that could sustain drive after drive, but these teams also had great defenses, and they could afford to grind it out with 40 running plays and 20 passing plays in a game. Still, when you looked at Bart Starr, his passing feats were usually right there at the top. Starr would set up the longer passes by forcing the defense to stop the Packer running game. The Packers spread the field both horizontally and vertically.

Other quarterbacks like Johnny Unitas, Norm Van Brocklin, Sonny Jurgensen, Roman Gabriel, Don Meredith, George Blanda, Daryle Lamonica, Len Dawson, John Hadl, Joe Namath, Norm Snead, and Frank Ryan rarely threw a short pass. Lamonica is the quintessential passer from the 1960’s. Known as the “Mad Bomber,” he led the Oakland Raiders to a 37-4-1 record from 1967 to 1969. Lamonica threw the ball more than 40 yards downfield about 7 or 8 times a game, usually completing 2 or 3, and usually passing for 2 to 3 touchdowns every week. Having Warren Wells and Fred Biletnikoff running deep routes and having hands like glue meant that defenses had to play 3 and 4 deep on many downs. 2 Deep coverage was rare, because the QBs of the 1960’s would burn it.

The running games had more room in the 1960’s, and with a two-back alignment, the running game was more consistent. Defenses had to play looser against the deep pass and had to worry about which of the two backs would carry the ball. Defenses could not cover all the running gaps, because at least 3 defensive backs had to play off the line of scrimmage far enough back to cover the deep passing routes, and the linebackers had to worry about the intermediate zones of which there was more width than today, as today’s underneath zones usually have 5 defenders, whereas 50 years ago, there were just 4.

There are a few teams that showed us a vertical game this past weekend. Oakland, Minnesota, and Atlanta, showed a vertical passing offense this week, and the three teams combined for 78 points (26.0 ppg). All three won their games.

So, we believe the issue of less offense has more to do with game-planning than with evolution of athletes. Athletes have been evolving continually for years with consistency. Philosophies have changed through the years. As soon as one team succeeds in playing a certain way, 80% of the league tries to copy it. Maybe, when a vertical passing team wins a Super Bowl, within a couple years, the vertical passing game will be the norm once again, like it was in the 1960’s when the NFL and AFL were more exciting than the NFL today. It could also be a factor in the decline of television viewership and the less frequent sellouts in the stadiums.

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December 3, 2013

PiRate Ratings: NFL–December 5-9, 2013

Greatest Moments

The finish to the Iron Bowl drew headlines all over the nation, as well as Canada.  Even the network nightly news’ ran the story on Monday.

 

The NFL is jokingly referred to as the “no fun league,” but this is not true.  There are numerous exciting single plays as well as a set of plays for every team in the league.  Here are our selections for the AFC; the NFC comes next week.  Yours may be different, but we are basing most of these on being around when they happened.

 

AFC East

Buffalo: The big hit in the 1964 AFL Championship Game is a close second, but the great comeback in the 1993 NFL Playoffs has to trump it.  The Bills trailed Houston 35-3 into the third quarter, before emergency fill-in QB Frank Reich led the most amazing comeback in NFL history.  The Bills forced OT at 38-38 and then won on a Steve Christie field goal.

 

There were two big plays in this game.  Christie personally recovered his onside kick in the third quarter, which seemed to ignite the spark for the amazing comeback.  In the overtime period, Nate Odomes intercepted a Warren Moon pass to give the Bills excellent field position.

 

Miami: We had to choose between a half dozen excellent options, but we went with the one that preserved the undefeated season of 1972.

 

In the conference championship game on New Year’s Eve, the surprising Pittsburgh Steelers, in their first playoff in years, appeared to have destiny on their side.  They had just knocked off the Raiders in the most incredible play in the NFL in decades (see Steelers’ best moment), and they seemed to have the 15-0 Dolphins on the ropes.

 

Trailing 7-0 and showing nothing on offense against the Steelers’ emerging dominant defense, punter Larry Seiple faked a punt and ran almost 40 yards for a first down.  The Dolphins went on to score a TD to tie the game at 7-7, and the Steel Curtain defense was not the same the rest of the game as Miami went on to win 21-17.

 

New England: The entire 2001 playoffs could qualify for the Patriots.  However, one play stands out above all others.  Adam Vinatieri booted a 45-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime against the Oakland Raiders.  Normally, a 45-yard field goal would not qualify here, but this kick was special—it took place in a driving snowstorm (close to a blizzard) with icy field conditions.

 

New York Jets: Super Bowl III was the greatest game for the Jets, but it was a 60-minute effort.  The 1968 AFL Championship Game produced the biggest play in Jets’ history.  The Jets trailed Oakland 23-20 after a Joe Namath pass attempt to star receiver Don Maynard did not connect.  Star cornerback George Atkinson has read the play and jumped in to pick off the pass and return it to the Jets’ five yard line.

 

Namath did not let the pick deter him.  Immediately on the next possession, he went back to Maynard.  Maynard gave a little fake to the inside and then sprinted deep on a fly pattern.  Namath dropped back and quickly released a long bomb that fell into Maynard’s hands as Maynard and Atkinson fell into the slop at Shea Stadium.  It left the Jets just a few yards from paydirt, and they scored on the next play to go ahead 27-23.  The Jets’ defense and the swirling wind and mud stalled the great Daryle Lamonica, and the Jets were on their way to Super Bowl III.

 

AFC North

Baltimore: In the Ravens’ short history, there are a few exceptional plays, but this one is rather obvious.  Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kick return to start the second half of the most recent Super Bowl is clearly the best play in Ravens’ history.  The 2000 champs had several excellent defensive stops, but none of them caused a power failure.

 

Cincinnati: We are going with our own trick play here.  The Bengals have a lot of exciting plays and games in their history, including the 1981 AFC Championship Game in weather similar to the Ice Bowl of 1967.  However, we are going with a game that our leader watched by the fireplace in 1969.

 

Many of you reading this may have never heard of Greg Cook.  A local boy, he played college ball at the University of Cincinnati.  In a day when most QBs were 6-0 to 6-2 in height, Cook was 6-04.  He had a rifle arm and could throw the ball accurately 60 yards downfield.  He had a quick, on the mark release, and he could set up in the pocket faster than most of his peers.  Basically, he had all the tools.

 

And, he had Paul Brown as his head coach and Bill Walsh as his teacher.  How good was the rookie?  Walsh calls him the best QB he ever coached, and that includes Joe Montana and Steve Young.  Walsh once described Cook as combining the accuracy, poise, and instincts of Montana with the speed, power, and cockiness of Terry Bradshaw.

 

Cook was perhaps one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he never got a chance to show it.  A rookie in 1969, he began his career with impressive victories to send the second year Bengals out to a 2-0 start.  The week two game was no fluke, as the Bengals blew a very talented San Diego Chargers team off the field, as Cook threw for more than 300 yards.  The Bengals would win game three over the Super Bowl Champion-to-be Chiefs, but it would cause them dearly.  Cook had just directed the Bengals on a scoring drive on the previous possession, when he seemed to have Cinti on the move again.  He rolled to his right to attempt a flood pattern pass when he was sacked from his blindside.  He landed on his throwing shoulder and tore his rotator cuff.

 

1969 was five years before Tommy John became the first athlete to undergo the new surgery for torn rotator cuffs, and it was 18-months before John could throw a baseball again.  Cook did not undergo surgery.  In 1969, the protocol was to shoot cortisone into the shoulder.  Cook missed time, but he made a comeback five weeks later against the undefeated Raiders.  The Bengals had lost all four games in his absence, and the Bengals were now in fourth place in the five-team AFL West Division.

 

Cook felt obligated to return, even though his shoulder could take little additional damage.  On this day in question, the Bengals-Raiders’ game was the early AFL game on NBC.  For one half, Cook was able to play near his peak, and the 3-4 Bengals looked to be poised to blow the 7-0 Raiders off the field, leading 17-0 at the half.  Cook’s arm tired quickly in the second half, but by then the Bengals were in control of the game.  They cruised to a 31-3 lead before Oakland scored two TDs in the final two drives to make it 31-17.  It was the last great game Cook ever played, as his arm fell apart and slowly weakened after every pass the rest of the season.  Cook finished out the season with no additional wins.

 

After the season, he underwent multiple operations and tried to return to the game, but his arm was shot.  He served as Ken Anderson’s backup at the start of the 1973 season and saw brief action in the first game, but he never played again. 

 

That game against Oakland in 1969 serves as our most exciting moment in Bengals’ history.

 

Cleveland: Little can be said about the second incarnation of Browns’ history.  The first version produced all the highlights.  For the best moment, it is hard to go against the final game of the 1964 season.  The Browns were 9-3-1, needing to beat the New York Giants in the 14th game to play the overwhelming top team in the league, Baltimore.  A loss would send the St. Louis Cardinals to the championship, as the football Cards had just defeated Philadelphia to finish the season 9-3-2.

 

This Browns team had a dominating offense, but the defense was suspect.  Any attack with the greatest running back in the history of the game and one of the greatest receivers in the history of the game had to be good, even if the rest of the offense was just average.  Cleveland had Jim Brown at fullback, and Brown needed little blocking help to gain five yards up the middle and just one block to turn a short off-tackle play into a 20-30 yard run.

 

Paul Warfield had few peers in the game.  The receiver would later become a star with the Miami Dolphins, but he was already a stud.  Having Gary Collins at the other wide-out spot forced defenses to stop the vertical pass first before concentrating on the running game.

 

Cleveland was only briefly threatened that final day of the 1964 regular season.  The Giants scored a touchdown early to take a lead held for just a few minutes.  Cleveland retaliated with three quick touchdowns to put the game away before halftime.  They added three more TDs in the third quarter and turned the game into a rout.  Quarterback Frank Ryan tossed 5 TD passes on the day as well as long bombs to both Warfield and Collins before sitting out the final quarter.  Cleveland won the game 51-20.  The Giants scored two TDs late, the final coming on the last play of the game.

 

Pittsburgh: There can be just one choice here, and most every serious fan has heard of “The Immaculate Reception.”  In the Steelers’ first playoff game since the 1962 Playoff Bowl (since reclassified as an exhibition game, making it the first since 1947), Pittsburgh looked to be a one and done participant as the Oakland Raiders had the game secured with seconds remaining.  Pittsburgh faced 4th and 10 at their own 40 yard line with time for maybe three more plays, less if the ball did not get out of bounds.  Of course, the Steelers needed 10 yards to maintain possession.

 

Terry Bradshaw took a big drop and then rolled right before taking a step back to the left to avoid the pass rush.  He eyed halfback John “Frenchy” Fuqua over the middle more than 10 yards past the first down marker.  The pass sailed toward Fuqua with Raider defensive back Jack Tatum appearing to have the advantage on the ball.  At the last second, Fuqua made a stab at the ball, but it bounced off Tatum’s shoulder pads and caromed several yards back toward the line of scrimmage.  The Raiders’ pass defense for a brief moment less than one second in length began to celebrate, just as they watched fullback Franco Harris scoop the ball inches before it hit the ground.

 

At this point, Harris’s path to the end zone was anything but clear.  It took a fantastic block from tight end John McMakin on linebacker Phil Villipiano and a strong stiff arm by Harris on safety Jimmy Warren.  The play used up 17 seconds, but it took several minutes for the officials to finally agree that it was a touchdown.  Rumors to this day detail that the head referee went into the PiRates’ baseball dugout to call upstairs to the pressbox to get the head of officiating to look at the instant replay to see if the reception was legal.  In those days, if an offensive player touched the ball first, no other offensive player could make the catch unless it hit a defensive player first. 

 

AFC South

Houston: There is a flat-footed tie here in the youngest team in the NFL.  The Texans first made the playoffs in 2011.  In their first playoff game against Cincinnati, two plays stand out.  Quarterback T.J. Yates threw deep down the left sideline to Andre Johnson, who had escaped double coverage, for the touchdown.  Maybe more momentous, in that same game, J. J. Watt intercepted an Andy Dalton pass and ran it to the house for the touchdown that put Houston ahead.

 

Indianapolis: It was hard picking between two great moments, both when the Colts were in Baltimore.  The “Kick heard ‘round the world” (Jim O’Brien’s game winning FG at the end of Super Bowl V), narrowly missed out to the play that made the NFL what it is today.  In the 1958 NFL Championship Game, the great Johnny Unitas led the Colts on a last-minute drive into field goal range to tie the New York Giants as time ran out, forcing the first overtime in NFL history.  The Giants won the toss and received, but the Colts’ defense held them to three plays and a punt.

 

Enter Unitas one more time.  Unitas was sacked on first down for a huge loss, and two plays later, with Baltimore facing 3rd and 15, he connected with Raymond Berry for a crucial first down, and the Giants seemed in shock.  Unitas directed the offense down the field, where Alan Ameche drove into the end zone from a yard out to end the “Greatest NFL Game of All Time,” at least up until then.

 

Jacksonville: How could a second year team make it to the AFC Championship Game?  With Tom Coughlin at coach and Dick Jauron at defensive coordinator, any team might have a chance to sneak into a playoff hunt, but to then win two playoff games, it is unheard of!

 

The 1996 Jags won six of their final seven regular season games to earn a wildcard spot at 9-7.  Then, the upstart team knocked off a good Buffalo team in the first round of the playoffs to advance to a game against overwhelming favorite Denver.  This was a Broncos team that went 13-3 with one of the losses coming on the final weekend when most of the key players, including John Elway, were rested since Denver had already clinched home field advantage as the top team.

 

The Broncos quickly showed the Jags that they were going to show them no mercy, reaching the end zone twice in the first quarter.  However, the PAT on the first TD was missed, and a two-point conversion attempt following TD number two was unsuccessful, leaving the Jags down 12-0 instead of 14-0.

 

The Jags came to life in the second quarter and went to the half with a 13-12 lead that should have been a 14-13 deficit.  Jacksonville took control in the third quarter and pulled away thanks to the passing of Mark Brunell.  Denver scored twice in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough.

 

Tennessee: There were some fantastic moments when the team was in Houston, such as winning the AFL Championships the first two years in the league existence.  The 1961 Oilers were one of the most exciting teams in pro football history with George Blanda throwing long and longer to Bill Groman and Charley Hennigan.

 

However, there can be but one game and one play that qualifies here—“The Music City Miracle” of 1999.  The Titans looked to be cooked with 16 seconds remaining in an opening round playoff game against Buffalo.  Trailing 16-15 following a Steve Christie field goal, Titans’ Coach Jeff Fisher called for his special trick kick return play.  Expecting a squib kick, he expected star tight end Frank Wycheck to field the ball, take a step or two to one side and then throw a long lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson.

 

Things did not go according to plans.  The Bills did not squib kick; they pooch-kicked the ball high into the air into Loreno Neal’s hands at the Titans’ 24.  Wycheck could not get over in time to make the catch.  Neal took three choppy steps to his right until he could hand the ball over to Wycheck and lead interference for him.  Wycheck took the ball and ran to his right for about a second and a half, turning to throw the ball across the field from the Titans’ 25 yard line.  Wycheck’s front foot toed the 25-yard line when he released the ball with the ball forward of the 25. Dyson’s back foot was clearly behind the 25-yard line when he caught the lateral on line with that back foot, making it a legal lateral.  There were no Bills’ defenders in Dyson’s way, as he sprinted 75 yards to the end zone.

 

AFC West

Denver: The Broncos have had numerous memorable moments, but two stand out above all others.  Both involve John Elway.  “The Drive” in the 1986 season (1987 playoffs) that defeated Cleveland is a close second to our choice.  In the Super Bowl in 1998 (1997 season), the Broncos and Packers were tied at 17-17 well into the third quarter, when Elway pulled off one of the most heroic runs in Super Bowl history.  Dropping back to pass on 3rd & 6 from the Packer 12, he could not find an open receiver as the pass rush closed in.  From the 21 yard line, he knew he would have to run free for about 16 yards, hoping to get to the five yard line.  He ran to his right and saw that he was not going to make it if he slid in a dive.  He needed to get to just shy of the five yard line and was going to take punishment between the six and seven yard line. 

 

Elway refused to slide.  Instead, he tucked the ball in and dove into the air.  Three Packers got a lick, with one of them propelling Elway like a helicopter blade.  When Elway hit the turf, the Broncos had a first and goal. 

 

Kansas City: Here was maybe the hardest team to choose from.  The Chiefs won the Super Bowl as well as two other AFL Championships, one of which came in a long overtime win.  However, we are going to a regular season game in a year where the Chiefs lost a playoff for the AFL West division title.

 

In 1968, Kansas City had the best defense in the league, possibly the best in AFL history.  The offense was not as spectacular as the 1966 Super Bowl I team, but it was adequate thanks to a couple of big play receivers and one of the most accurate passers of the 1960’s.

 

In the final four years of the AFL’s existence, Kansas City and Oakland were like Alabama and Auburn.  Games frequently became wrestling and boxing matches between plays.  NBC Television always reserved this game for its second spot in the doubleheader, and the ratings bonanza led to an excellent Sunday night warm-up for Bonanza, their top show.

 

In the October match against the Raiders at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, the Chiefs had no healthy wide receivers.  Coach Hank Stram, a great offensive innovator, decided the only way to play this game was to do the opposite of innovate; he went retro.  In secret, the Chiefs practiced from a two tight end full-house T-formation like the Chicago Bears made famous in 1940. 

 

In the first half of the game, the Raiders had no answer for the Chiefs’ ancient offense.  Guard Ed Budde looked like a man among boys in the opening 30 minutes, as he opened holes for backs to run free.  The three Chiefs’ backs, Mike Garrett, Robert Holmes, and Wendell Hayes, ran wild as the Chiefs topped 200 yards on the ground before halftime and led 17-0, before cruising to a 24-10 win.  Dawson attempted just three passes, an NFL modern day record, and he completed two.  All three were play-action passes off fake sweeps, one to Garrett out of the backfield.

 

Oakland: The 1967 Raiders were hands down the best AFL team of all time.  The Raiders dominated the opposition on their way to a 13-1 record.  This team dominated on both sides of the ball.  On offense, “The Mad Bomber,” Daryle Lamonica, was the most exciting quarterback of the time.  He could fire a 40-yard pass on the mark like it was a hitch pattern.  He frequently gave up easy 10-yard passes to throw 25 or more yards down the field.  The Raiders moved the ball with vertical passing setting up power running.  Defensively, the Raiders’ pass rush was scary, especially with Big Ben Davidson leading the way.

 

In the 1967 opener, Oakland held Denver below 0 total yards in the game!  It has not happened since.  Poor Broncos quarterback Steve Tensi frequently met Raider pass rushers in the pocket before he could finish his drop.  He completed just three passes all day, but one of those was to Raider defensive back Warren Powers, who returned it for the final score of the day as Oakland won 51-0.

 

That Raider team won the AFL Championship with ease, knocking Houston off 40-7 in a game that was never in doubt, but for the one game that epitomizes this team, we will select the game against San Diego in the middle of the season.  It was the second game of a nationally televised double header.  San Diego actually held the lead in the AFL West with a 5-0-1 record, while Oakland was 5-1, having lost to Joe Namath and the Jets. 

 

If the Chargers won this game, they would hold a commanding lead.  Quarterback John Hadl had quickly become the elite QB in the NFL with Lance Alworth providing the best target in football.  Diminutive back Dicky Post was a threat to take a simple handoff and turn it into a long gain, thanks to the league’s best tackle, Ron Mix, clearing out defenses.

 

The game was much anticipated all week among the AFL’s renegade fans.  Youngsters, like yours truly, waited all week for this great finish to the weekend. 

 

The scoring started early when the Chargers were backed up inside their one yard line.  A handoff to Post never got out of the end zone, and Oakland led 2-0.  It was a lead they would never relinquish.  Enter the Mad Bomber.  Lamonica faked a handoff to Hewritt Dixon and then dropped back and spotted Clem Daniels deep down the sideline.  He placed the ball into Daniels’ hands, and it was quickly 9-0 Oakland.

 

Following a San Diego field goal early in the second quarter, the Raiders went back on the attack and

Sustained a long drive using many power runs.  Lamonica dropped back to pass from the San Diego three and found a hole wide enough to drive a tractor through.  He quickly ran in for the score to make it 16-3.

 

San Diego was not ready to throw in the towel.  Hadl finally connected with Bambi, and Alworth hauled in a long pass in stride.  Nobody could stop Alworth from behind, and it became a 70+ yard touchdown strike to make it 16-10, where it stood at halftime.

 

The second half was all silver and black.  Lamonica tore the Chargers’ secondary apart leading Oakland on five touchdown drives, highlighted by his bomb to Fred Biletnikoff to put the game out of reach, and Oakland won 51-10.  The Chargers collapsed, and Kansas City never posted a challenge.  Oakland won the West by four games over the Chiefs and four and a half over San Diego.  They met their match in the Super Bowl against the greatest dynasty ever, but Oakland was not 19-points weaker than Green Bay that year.  The Packers played their best game of the season for Vince Lombardi’s finale in Titletown.

 

San Diego:  The AFL first appeared to have become the equal of the NFL during the 1963 season.  Many experts of the time believed the 1963 Chargers were better than the NFL Champion Chicago Bears that year.  They were probably right, because this Chargers’ team was dominating.

 

Quarterback Tobin Rote was a fullback disguised as a quarterback.  He had a strong arm, but his strong legs frequently caused troubles for pass rushes.  Halfback Paul Lowe and fullback Keith Lincoln were the best tandem runners until Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka came along in the following decade.  Both had breakaway speed, great hands to catch passes, and no fear to block blitzing linebackers.

 

When Rote dropped back to pass, he only had the greatest pair of hands in NFL history on the other end of his aerials.  Lance Alworth had no peer at his position.  “Bambi” was agile, quick, intelligent, and when the ball came anywhere near him, he caught it.  Defenses were forced to double team Alworth, which opened up the running game.  Throw in tight end Dave Kocourek, who was a monster over the middle for any safety, and the brilliant play-calling of Coach Sid Gillman, and opposing teams’ coaches spent many a sleepless nights trying to figure out how to slow this team down.

 

The Chargers faced the Boston Patriots for the AFL Championship, a team they had swept during the regular season, but winning by four and one point.  Boston had to defeat Buffalo in a playoff for the East Division title, while San Diego benefitted from having an extra week to recover and prepare.

 

The game figured to be a tight, lower scoring than average contest, much like the two regular season games.  Boston’s defense was more than adequate, but the Patriots were not up to the task that January afternoon.

 

San Diego’s running game was unstoppable from the start.  An inside trap play sprung Lincoln loose on a breakaway until he was brought down inside the Boston five yard line.  Rote snuck into the end zone to begin the onslaught.  On the next Chargers’ possession, Rote tossed a quick pitch to the weak side to Lincoln, and the small but speedy back took off with no defender in his way.  He took it to the house to go over 100 yards rushing in two attempts, and the score was 14-0 quickly.

 

Boston mounted its only touchdown drive of the day on the next possession, but the Chargers were not through in the first quarter.  Rote went back to the quick pitch, this time tossing to Lowe on the strong side.  Lowe evaded a couple tackles and was off to the races for the score.  San Diego had 200 yards rushing at the end of the first quarter and led 21-7.

 

Lincoln and Lowe kept breaking free on runs throughout the day, and San Diego turned the game into a laugher winning 51-10.  Lincoln rushed for more than 200 yards on the day, and the Chargers topped 300 as a team.  Rote did not need to rely on his arm, but he did find Alworth on a long pass that Bambi hauled in for a touchdown.

 

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

N F C

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Dallas Cowboys

100.4

101.3

100.0

Philadelphia Eagles

99.2

100.5

99.6

New York Giants

96.9

96.9

96.4

Washington Redskins

94.4

94.2

93.8

       
North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Detroit Lions

102.7

103.1

102.5

Chicago Bears

100.1

99.7

99.4

Minnesota Vikings

95.0

94.5

94.3

Green Bay Packers

94.9

93.7

93.9

       
South

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Carolina Panthers

107.0

107.3

107.6

New Orleans Saints

105.8

106.8

106.5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

96.7

96.5

96.8

Atlanta Falcons

95.2

94.5

94.4

 

 

 

 

West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

San Francisco 49ers

110.2

110.9

110.7

Seattle Seahawks

110.1

110.5

110.5

St. Louis Rams

100.7

101.5

101.2

Arizona Cardinals

100.6

101.8

101.1

       

A F C

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

New England Patriots

106.2

104.5

106.3

Miami Dolphins

100.3

99.9

100.5

Buffalo Bills

97.1

96.1

96.9

New York Jets

90.8

89.2

90.6

       
North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Cincinnati Bengals

106.7

106.9

106.9

Baltimore Ravens

103.0

102.7

103.2

Pittsburgh Steelers

99.4

99.3

99.7

Cleveland Browns

94.5

94.0

94.0

       
South

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Indianapolis Colts

100.8

100.9

101.0

Tennessee Titans

97.8

97.9

97.9

Houston Texans

95.6

94.9

95.7

Jacksonville Jaguars

90.3

90.2

90.1

       
West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Denver Broncos

110.8

111.3

111.3

Kansas City Chiefs

102.1

103.3

102.4

San Diego Chargers

100.9

101.2

100.7

Oakland Raiders

93.8

94.0

94.1

 

 

This Week’s PiRate Spreads

Home Visitor

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Jacksonville Houston

-2.8

-2.2

-3.1

Cincinnati Indianapolis

8.4

8.5

8.4

Tampa Bay Buffalo

2.6

3.4

2.9

Washington Kansas City

-4.7

-6.1

-5.6

Baltimore Minnesota

11.0

11.2

11.9

New England Cleveland

14.7

13.5

15.3

New Orleans Carolina

1.8

2.5

1.9

N Y Jets Oakland

0.5

-1.3

0.0

Philadelphia Detroit

-0.5

0.4

0.1

Pittsburgh Miami

2.1

2.4

2.2

Denver Tennessee

16.0

16.4

16.4

San Diego N Y Giants

7.0

7.3

7.3

San Francisco Seattle

3.1

3.4

3.2

Arizona St. Louis

2.9

3.3

2.9

Green Bay Atlanta

2.7

2.2

2.5

Chicago Dallas

2.7

1.4

2.4

 

This Week’s PiRate Playoff Projections

 

AFC

1. Denver

2. Cincinnati

3. New England

4. Indianapolis

5. Kansas City

6. Baltimore

 

NFC

1. Seattle

2. New Orleans

3. Philadelphia

4. Detroit

5. Carolina

6. San Francisco

 

Wildcard Round

New England over Baltimore

Kansas City over Indianapolis

San Francisco over Philadelphia

Carolina over Detroit

 

Divisional Round

Denver over Kansas City

Cincinnati over New England

Seattle over San Francisco

New Orleans over Carolina

 

Conference Championships

Cincinnati over Denver

Seattle over New Orleans

 

Super Bowl

Seattle over Cincinnati

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