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NFL Week 12 takeaways: Notes on closing lines, Mike White, Todd Bowles, and more

Mike White

The Big Sweat

The NFL closing line is performing much better than in recent years. How can we measure the “strength” of the closing line? By a metric called mean absolute error (MAE). It computes the average absolute difference between the closing line and the actual score difference. When a home favorite closes -3, and loses outright by 10, the difference would be 13.

From 2010 to 2021, a sample size of 12 seasons, the MAE for NFL closing spreads was 10.24. That means the final result of NFL games differs by 10.24 from the closing spread, on average. That might sound like a lot but remember it’s a game where the typical scores are seven and three points. Example: in a game where the favorite closes -5, the score is tied late in the fourth quarter. A touchdown plus a successful PAT for either side could swing the absolute deviation between the final score and the spread from 2 to 12.

However, this year, the closing spread is performing much better. The mean absolute deviation 12 weeks into the season is 8.58. The delta is getting narrower this season; more games are coming down to the wire for the betting outcome.

Let’s take the past Sunday under investigation. How many games – in terms of the spread – were over early in the second half, and bettors didn’t need to sweat anything? The Panthers and Jets come to mind. Every other game came down to the wire.

Bucs @ Browns (+3): Overtime, everything was on the table.

Texans @ Dolphins (-14): Miami sealed the cover with an interception on Houston’s last drive.

Falcons @ Commanders (-3.5): The Commies caught a tipped interception at the goal line with 1.04 left in the game.

Rams @ Chiefs (-15): Harrison Butker scores a field goal with 1.44 left in the game to cover the spread.

Packers @ Eagles (-6.5): Eagles -6.5 bettors win by half a point, Packers +7 bettors get the push with 1.08 left in the game.

As for totals, the current season is right where the 12-season long average is. From 2010 to 2021, the MAE for totals was 10.57, compared to 10.54 in 2022.

Mike White SZN

Zach Wilson won’t start another game for Gang Green this season unless Mike White gets injured. The New York Jets rank number one in EPA per dropback in Week 12. Mike White and company averaged 0.485 EPA/DB, 10.27 yards per play, and a success rate of 60 percent. Subjectively, Mike White didn’t look like a world-beater. But he executed the offense as dictated by design and made a handful of splash plays that were enough to drop 31 points on the lousy Bears' defense.

In all fairness, Mike White got the start against arguably the worst football defense. Chicago was without secondary starters Jaquon Brisker and Kyler Gordon, and lost Eddie Jackson early in the second half. Over his past six games, Zach Wilson faced the Packers, Broncos, Patriots twice, and the Bills – five top-eight passing defenses ranked by DVOA going into last week. But Zach Wilson was horrible, didn’t show the slightest sign of development, and was an ample reason why the Jets dropped both matchups against Bill Belichick.

Mike White came in and executed the offense. He threw to open receivers without second-guessing or playing hero ball. He gave guys like Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore – the forgotten man – chances to do damage after the catch. That’s exactly what the Jets needed. They have a great defense, a banged-up offensive line, and a good group of receivers. They needed someone who gets the ball out quickly within the confines of Mike LaFleur’s offense. 

Not every offensive performance will look like the one against the Bears' defense. But that’s fine. With Mike White, the Jets have raised their floor.

Todd Bowles

How much was Tampa Bays' win over Seattle in Germany worth? The Bucs scored 21 points on the back of an efficient passing attack, and everyone thought their offense was back. Yesterday, we saw the Raiders dropping 34 points on the Seahawks defense in regulation. They faced a below-average Browns defense with zero capability to shut down opposing rushing attacks this season. On his second run of the day, Rashaad White collected 35 yards, equal to 2.3 EPA. Outside of that, the Bucs running backs had 44 yards on 17 attempts (2.6 YPC) and averaged -0.21 EPA/rush, against the Brownies. The passing attack averaged -0.03 EPA/DB, with a success rate of 38.7%. It was the 24th-ranked performance of the week. The Browns didn’t score a single point for 46 minutes and 50 seconds from the end of the first quarter until the end of the fourth quarter – and the Bucs still couldn’t get this one home.

However, what bothers me is the clock management of Todd Bowles. The Bucs were up 17-10 early in the fourth quarter and faced a fourth-and-2 at the Cleveland 37-yard line. The Brownies have one of the league's worst rush defenses, and your offense includes Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones. The automatic decision should be to go for it. But Bowles immediately decided he did not want to go for it. The Bucs offense lined up and tried to draw the Browns defense offside. They failed and conceded a delay of game penalty. On fourth-and-7 from the CLE 42, the Bucs eventually punted into the end zone for a touchback. Their punt netted 17 yards of field position from the original spot. Insane. They deserved to lose after that.

After the Brownies tied the game late with a one-handed circus catch by David Njoku on fourth-and-7, the Bucs had 32 seconds and all three timeouts left to march into field goal range. Tom Brady completed a one-yard pass to Rashaad White which kept the clock ticking – Todd Bowles did NOT take a timeout. On the next play, Brady hit Julio Jones deep for 26 yards at the CLE 48-yard line. Bowles took his first timeout with eight seconds left. Eight seconds. If he had taken the timeout immediately, the Bucs might have had a shot at the potential game-winning field goal in regulation.

Quo Vadis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers? They have a below-average offense and a head coach that doesn’t know when to take timeouts and prefers a 17-yard field position flip over going for it on fourth down. Their defense is good, but they are already down their best pass rusher (Shaq Barrett), while two secondary starters got hurt at Cleveland. This is not the 2020 Super Bowl-caliber team. It’s a middle-of-the-pack team.

Deshaun Watson is back

The Browns will get Deshaun Watson back from his suspension this week, but it might not matter when it comes to playoff football in January. The win against the Bucs certainly helped, but Cleveland is three games behind a wild card spot. According to FiveThirtyEight, their playoff chances are seven percent right now. According to ESPN FPI, it’s 4.8%. They’ll probably need to go at least 5-1 to have a chance. Their out-of-division schedule is against the Texans, Saints, and Commies.