NFL Week 17

NFL Week 17: Good, bad & ugly

Photo via Kansas City Chiefs/Facebook

The last week in the regular season is in the books and it was a good one. We had tons of games with playoff implications. Some were for playoff spots, while others were strictly for seeding purposes. Here are my observations:

The Good

-The Ravens set an NFL record with 3,296 yards rushing this season. The record was originally set by the 1978 Patriots who had 3,165. By averaging 206 yards per game on the ground, the Ravens bullied teams all season. It helps when you have two 1,000-yard rushers. It's extra specail when one of them is your quarterback who was number six in the league with 1,206 yards and didn't play in the final game.

-Panthers' running back Christian McCaffrey became the third running back in history to total 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Roger Craig was first in 1985, followed by Marshall Faulk in 1999. He also posted the fifth most yards from scrimmage in a season with 2,366. He should end up second behind Lamar Jackson in league MVP voting despite his team's 5-11 record.

-Chiefs rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman scored the longest touchdown in the league this season with a 104-yard kickoff return in the 3rd quarter. The return put the Chiefs ahead for good as they secured the AFC's #2 seed with their win coupled with a Patriot's loss. This Chiefs team is hitting their stride at the right time. The big play element is back in their offense. Their defense is also picking it up after being considered a major weakness all season.

The Bad

-Buc's quarterback is the inaugural member of the 30/30 club. He finished the season with 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He also threw for the eighth most passing yards in a season with 5,109. He's the new Brett Favre, the epitome of the term gunslinger.

-Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have well over an 80% winning percentage at home. If you look at home games vs the Dolphins, I imagine that number is just as good if not higher. With a win and a chance at a bye in the playoffs, the Patriots pissed themselves at home and lost to the Dolphins 27-24. The Dolphins gutted their team and only had four wins coming into this game. Very uncharacteristic loss by the Patriots that may prove costly.

-The Cowboys started the year 3-0 and some thought they were a real threat. Fast-forward to the end of the season, and they ended the year 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Head coach Jason Garrett is most likely on his way out because he doesn't have a contract past this season and owner/general manager Jerry Jones has hinted that a change is coming. The salt in the wound here: they still haven't resigned Amari Cooper or Dak Prescott.

The Ugly

-The Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens after one year on the job. Kitchens was the offensive coordinator last year when Baker Mayfield had a productive season. He was given the head job after interim coach Gregg Williams wasn't retained. With the offseason Super Bowl title secured, the Browns expected the real one to soon follow. Overmatched to begin with, Kitchens failed miserably and was let go.

-Cardinals' rookie quarterback Kyler Murray injured his right hamstring in last week's win over the Seahawks. When it came to playing the last game of the season against the Rams, Murray said he had to be convinced to play because he was more concerned about injuring it more, but played because he's a competitor?!? Are you freakin serious?!? No competitor has to be convinced to play! A real competitor isn't worried about furthering an injury. They have that competitive spirit and want to rip their opponent's hearts out no matter what the circumstances are! Saying you had to be convinced, but you're a competitor is the biggest hypocrisy I've heard all week!

-The Seahawks played a tough game, but lost to the 49ers 26-21. The loss denied them the NFC West crown and dropped them to the #5 seed. Late in the game, they converted a 4th&10 inside the 2-yard line, but got a delay of game penalty after spiking the ball. Two plays later, the refs failed to call an obvious pass interference. They ended up inches short on a 4th&Goal when Jacob Hollister couldn't get the ball to break the plane of the goal line. That's the definition of what the saying means that football is a game of inches. Shame on the refs for not calling the PI or the booth/New York not ordering a review!

The playoff picture is set. So is the draft order, outside of some tiebreakers or coin flips here and there. Props to the NFL for scheduling divisional games in week 17. Over the last few years since they started this trend, it has made the regular season finale for each team count. We, as football fans, were treated to some great football in the last week of regular season football. Tons of games with meaning left to be played which limited the amount of players sitting and kept things interesting. The flex schedule even allowed for games/teams directly effecting each other to be played at the same time to keep the integrity of the way the games were played intact. While I'm sad that we only have a few weeks of football left now, I'm happy that it should prove to be the most exciting few weeks of football this season given that we have several true Super Bowl contenders in each conference.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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