NFL premium

Monday Night Football Preview: Fighting for Consistency

Neither the New York Giants nor the Miami Dolphins have been easy to pin this year.

Two struggling defenses. Two wildly inconsistent offenses. One team that is still in the thick of the playoff hunt despite holding a 5-7 record. If you can figure this game out, you are far wiser than I.

That has been the tale of the season for the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants. Right when you think you know what they're going to do, they'll promptly proceed to do the opposite. So, in a game that's expected to be close and potentially high-scoring, this can't possibly end up being the case, right?

As frivolous as this may be, let's try to dissect this game to see what is the most likely scenario for Monday night's game prior to kickoff. To do so, we'll be looking at numberFire's game projections page. This includes a full list of projections for both teams, breakdowns of how the algorithms compare to Vegas' lines, and similar games from history that can provide a glimpse of what we can expect in this one. This is available for every game throughout the NFL season to all premium subscribers.

We'll also be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.

If you're new to the site, here's how NEP works. Prior to each play, there is an expected number of points that a team will score on their current drive. A positive play (such as a three-yard rush on 3rd and 2) will increase that. A negative play (such as a three-yard rush on 3rd and 4) will decrease that. NEP is the sum of all of these fluctuations in expected points over the course of a season.

There are a whole boatload of questions surrounding this game going in. Let's try to go through a few of them using the tools above to see if we can gain some minor semblance of clarity.

Can We Trust Eli Manning?

Labeling the Giants' offense as inconsistent is largely a reflection of the man barking out the orders on that offense in Eli Manning. Once things look like they're ticking along, he decides to throw a head-scratch-worthy interception and rebuke that notion. That can make trust a difficult concept.

With that said, Manning's inconsistencies may be more perception than reality. He entered Week 14 ranked eighth in Passing NEP per drop back of the 40 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. He's also sixth in Total NEP, which is an aggregate stat that includes the expected points he has added with his legs. All things considered, the Giants really could be getting much less at the quarterback position.

This isn't all just attrition that has put Manning in respectable company. He stands ahead of Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers in both of the aforementioned statistics, even though all three quarterbacks have been fully healthy the whole season. Manning may have a slight edge in that he has that Odell Beckham guy catching his passes, but it truly hasn't been a bad year for Manning.

Even more encouraging for the Giants is that Manning should be in line to continue his decent season on Monday. The Dolphins rank 30th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, a mark that has not seen any improvement since the changes to the coaching staff.

Our projections are digging Manning in this one, likely thanks to the Dolphins' defensive struggles. He's projected to throw for 296 yards on 39 attempts (7.59 yards per attempt) with 1.95 touchdowns and 0.66 interceptions. If he can hit those marks, it will likely only improve Manning's peripheral stats in what has already been a respectable campaign.

Can the Dolphins Stop Odell Beckham?

If the Dolphins rank 30th against the pass, it's conceivable they may be able to stop Manning. Stranger things have happened. But stopping Beckham? That's a tall task, my friend.

Beckham entered Week 14 ranked fourth in Reception NEP per target at 0.88 among the wide receivers with at least 70 targets. He's sitting at 133 targets, while none of the three players ahead of him had more than 81.

Obviously, Beckham has been the most efficient of the high-volume wide receivers this year. That's not a huge shock. What is at least mildly surprising is just how wide his margin is over the rest of the field.

The table below shows the NEP metrics of each of the eight wide receivers who had been targeted at least 120 times entering Week 14. Target NEP is similar to Reception NEP, expect it subtracts the expected points lost on interceptions and incompletions.

Player Rec. NEP Targets Target NEP Rec. NEP per Target
Odell Beckham 117.57 133 62.44 0.88
Allen Robinson 99.07 124 45.28 0.80
Antonio Brown 108.01 137 57.59 0.79
DeAndre Hopkins 115.87 152 60.52 0.76
Brandon Marshall 90.00 130 29.02 0.69
Larry Fitzgerald 83.85 123 58.03 0.68
Julio Jones 103.04 158 57.25 0.65
Demaryius Thomas 81.22 130 20.18 0.62

There is not a single wide receiver in the NFL who has provided a better combination of volume and efficiency than Beckham this year. Good luck trying to stop him, Dolphins.

Slowing top wide receivers isn't exactly something at which Miami has excelled this year. Five different wide receivers had topped 125 yards against them, four have found the end zone multiple times, and they've given up 16 total touchdowns to wide receivers overall. They've been torched time after time, and the projections aren't favorable for that trend stopping on Monday.

The computers foresee another predictably dominant game out of Beckham with 6 receptions for 99 yards and 0.70 touchdowns. It's not unfathomable that the Dolphins could stop him, but when you combine all of the positive traits that Beckham brings to the table, the odds of that occurring seem understandably low.

What Has Caused Ryan Tannehill's Struggles?

When the Dolphins drafted DeVante Parker, I took the opportunity to write about how much Ryan Tannehill had improved over his three seasons in the league. It seemed as though things were trending up, potentially hinting at a breakout in 2015.

Nope. Good call, idiot.

Instead of busting on the scene, Tannehill is a lowly 31st in Passing NEP per drop back of the 40 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. That's a spot behind Johnny Manziel, two behind Sam Bradford, and just one ahead of Brandon Weeden. Sub-Gucci, me thinks.

So what happened? It's not as if the skill-position players around him got worse. They traded away Mike Wallace, but he was inefficient in Miami, and they brought in Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and Jordan Cameron. You wouldn't assume all of this would lead to a step back, and yet here we are.

Tannehill's struggles haven't been universal. There have been two players -- Parker and Rishard Matthews -- who have actually posted impressive NEP metrics on the season. The rest of the offense, though, has been an utter abomination.

The table below shows how this split is divvied up. When you look at just Parker and Matthews, things don't look too bad. The rest, though, is simply not going to get the job done.

Players Targets Rec. NEP Rec. NEP per Target Target NEP
Matthews and Parker 84 80.52 0.96 50.40
Rest of Team 351 166.11 0.47 25.04

The distance between what those two have done and the others is bordering on mind-boggling. They have 19.31 percent of the team's targets, but they have 66.81 percent of the Target NEP. That's not a combo that will be conducive to success.

It would seem an easy fix just to funnel targets to these two hombres. Unfortunately, it was only Matthews' injury that led to Parker's recent emergence, and it doesn't look like Matthews will be back for Monday night. That just leaves Parker -- whose success is still admittedly contingent on a small sample size -- and the rest of the merry band of misfits. That could mean more struggles for Tannehill.

This is largely how the projections see it, as well. They have Tannehill slated for 256 yards on 41 attempts (6.24 yards per attempt) with 1.42 touchdowns and 1.00 interceptions. This isn't to say that Tannehill's struggles this season are irreversible, but something will need to change if he wants to continue on his past upward trajectory.

Who Gets the Win?

With the Giants favored by two on the road, this game appears prime to be a tight one. Who can we expect to take home the victory?

Let's try to get a firmer grasp on this by looking at the most similar games on the projections page. The top match -- at a 90.92 percent match -- came back on Christmas Eve in 2000 when the Kansas City Chiefs (representing the Giants) visited the Atlanta Falcons (representing the Dolphins).

The Chiefs entered the game as 4.5-point favorites with Elvis Grbac leading the way. But it was the Falcons' defense that truly came to play.

On the night, the Chiefs had 10 total drives; only three of them lasted more than five plays, and they didn't get any points on two of the others (missed field goal and a turnover on downs). This was opposite a Falcons team that had three drives that lasted at least 11 plays. As a result, they were able to put points on the board and coasted to a 29-13 lead.

Grbac was having a similar season to the one that Manning is having this year. He finished seventh in Total NEP, but he clearly wasn't in the top tier of the league. As a result, once Atlanta built a lead and put him in negative game script, he wasn't efficient enough to overcome it. If the score had stayed closer, Grbac may have been more effective than finishing 18 of 32 for 230 yards.

The difficult aspect of this is that it's conceivable that the Giants could find themselves in a similar situation to the Chiefs that night. Because they have no semblance of a rushing game, they'll be completely dependent on the pass to move the sticks.

Although Manning has been effective, his one negative metric is his 47.14 Passing Success Rate, only the 18th best total in the league. They're not immune to a three-and-out, which could spell doom to their aspirations of keeping things tied atop the NFC East.

On the Dolphins' side, they should be looking to use Lamar Miller whenever possible. He's seventh in Rushing NEP per carry of the 39 running backs with at least 100 carries. If he can be effective on the ground and keep that clock grinding, that means fewer opportunities for Manning and Beckham to connect. This masks the deficiencies in the Dolphins' secondary, a necessary step toward victory against a receiver like this.

To read all premium content, upgrade to a Premium account with numberFire

If you're not a Premium subscriber, it takes just a few seconds to sign up. You'll get access to all of our insider information, game projections, handicapping advice, DFS tools, advanced statistics, and more.

Log In Go Premium