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Handicapping 101: High Winds
Tulane Stadium set the stage for Superbowl 4 on January 11, 1970, as the 12-2 Minnesota Vikings looked to “cap” their season by defeating the Chiefs. But strong winds and a game-time blizzard watch will contribute to the outcome. Perhaps an omen of things to come, the pre-game balloon race ended in disaster, as high winds forced the Vikings balloon to collide with the stadium. During the game, the Vikings crashed and burned as well, with Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud fighting the wind and making three FGs while Lane Dawson, the Chiefs’ QB known for his pin-point passes, (and his gambling), won. Factor in completing 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a TD. Vikings QB Joe Kapp wasn’t used to the wind, and couldn’t adjust to the weather, throwing three INTs and never getting his team into the game.
It seems like a simple statement, but in truth, the best weapon a team can have in a windy situation is a QB that can throw in the wind. Sometimes the answer is so simple that we overthink it. As with playing in cold weather, playing effectively in wind takes some practice. It should not surprise us to learn that teams that play in more wind tend to perform better on windy days. This is such a simple and self-evident truth, that I can’t believe I included it in this write-up, as if to tell you something you didn’t already know, but the truth is, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.
We must determine which stadiums, which teams and which quarterbacks are used to playing in the wind and what kind of success they have had. To illustrate this, we isolated the “windiest” games in the NFL — when winds were blowing at least 13 miles per hour — which were 40 games. (Note that we are using the 1998 season as our guinea pig).
The windiest stadium in the NFL is Pro Player Stadium where the Miami Dolphins play. In fact, in 1998, seven of only eight regular season games at Pro Player Stadium recorded wind gusts over 13 mph during game time. In those seven games, Miami was 7-0, with an ATS mark of 6-1. In fact, their only ATS loss during the whirlwind game was a six-point win over Buffalo as a -7 favorite. In fact, all season long, Dan Marino completed 128 of 221 passes through the air for 1,482 yards, 13 TDs and just 7 INTs. To put that into perspective, Dan Marino had a higher completion percentage in the wind than Chris Chandler had in an entire season, and Chandler played in the dome that year.
In fact, Dan Marino has better numbers in the wind than playing in the wind, a higher completion percentage with fewer INTs and more TDs. For all the accolades Dan Marino has received, perhaps his greatest strength has been overlooked. Dan Marino is the best QB in the game throwing in the wind, and nowhere is that a greater asset than at Pro Player Stadium. The table below shows the windiest stadiums in the NFL, ranked by the number of games played there during the regular season in winds of 13 mph or higher, including the home team, the home team winning outright and the ATS record in that wind. Sports (research compiled by Brian Gabriel using the 1998 NFL season)
Venue Home Team No.
Record the ATS
Pro Player Stadium Miami Dolphins 7 7-0 6-1
Soldier Field Chicago Bears 5 2-3 4-1
Arrowhead Kansas City Chiefs 4 3-1 3-1
Ralph Wilson Stadium Buffalo Bills 4 3-1 3-1
Jack Kent Coke Washington Redskins 3 2-1 2-1
Foxborough NE Patriots 3 2-1 2-1
3 Rivers Stadium Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2-0 2-0
3 Comm Park SF 49ers 2 2-0 1-1
Veterans Stadium Philadelphia Eagles 2 1-1 2-0
Giants Stadium NY Giants 2 1-1 1-1
Synergy Field Cincinnati Bengals 2 0-2 0-2
Mile High Stadium Denver Broncos 1 1-0 1-0
Texas Stadium Dallas Cowboys 1 1-0 1-0
Sun Devil Stadium Arizona Cardinals 1 1-0 1-0
Alameda Coliseum Oakland Raiders 1 0-1 0-1
Total 40 29-11 28-12
As you can see, there is a fantastic numerical advantage for home teams who have the advantage of playing in a windy location. Regardless of whether the home team is positioned as an underdog or favorite, they simply win and cover more often. The more a club plays in those conditions, the better the club generally performs in those conditions. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and perhaps the best wind team in all of football is not on the list above at all, as Vinny Testaverde and the New York Jets, who went a perfect 3-0 SU and 3-0 ATS. Wind Games in 1998, and all three games came the way of better wind teams, as the Jets beat Buffalo, New England and Kansas City with wind speed. Another notable road was the Buffalo Bills who went 2-0 ATS on the road in the wind, in addition to a 3-1 record at home in the wind. Tampa Bay was another team that excelled in blowout games in 1998, going 2-1 on the road in both SU and ATS.
In the case of the Jets, it’s important to note that they share the same home field as the Giants, which is the venue on the list above. So, while they didn’t endure windy home games in 1998, it’s reasonable to assume they got their fair share of wind during practice throughout the year and faced the Jets training facilities at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.
So while it is logical to assume that teams accustomed to playing in wind perform well in wind, it must also be true that teams not accustomed to playing in wind struggle poorly in that environment. Our research suggests that’s exactly right. You see, teams that make their home in domed stadiums have gone just 1-8 when playing in winds of 13 mph or higher. In fact, in those nine games, the ATS mark was 0-8-1 against dome teams that were on the road in an open-air stadium and played at 13 mph or faster. It was a game;
Week 4 – Minnesota 31 @ Chicago 28 – Wind 14 mph
Week 10 – Indianapolis 14 @ Miami 27 – Wind 14 mph
Week 12 – Indianapolis 11 @ Buffalo 34 – Wind 17 mph
Week 5 – Detroit 27 @ Chicago 30 – Wind 17 mph
Week 13 – New Orleans 10 @ Miami 30 – Wind 13 mph
Week 4 – Seattle 10 @ Pittsburgh 13 – Wind 14 mph
Week 5 – Seattle 6 @ Kansas City 17 – Wind 14 mph
Week 12 – Seattle 22 @ Dallas 30 – Wind 15 mph
Week 7 – St. Louis 0 @ Miami 14 – Wind 15 mph
So, you see, not having the luxury of playing in windy venues hurts a team as much as it benefits teams accustomed to playing in windy stadiums.
Every Wind-blessed team’s lead QB is as important or even more important than the location, and the top Wind teams and the men who lead them can help us understand more about this Lane Dawson. The pin-point type accuracy that it takes to be a successful QB in a windy environment. Below is a chart of the 10 quarterbacks who took the most snaps in the wind in 1998 and how they fared;
Team QB GP SU ATS att comp yds TD’S INT %
Miami Marino 8 7-1 6-1 221 128 1482 13 7 58%
NY Jets Testaverde 3 3-0 3-0 89 56 738 6 1 63%
Chicago Kramer 3 2-1 3-0 106 69 880 4 3 65%
Buffalo Flutie 5 4-1 4-1 161 84 1175 8 7 52%
Casey Gannon 4 4-0 3-1 84 54 674 4 1 64%
G. Bay Farvre 2 2-0 1-1 55 37 420 3 2 67%
Phil Peet 2 1-1 2-0 64 36 381 2 2 56%
T.Bay Dilfer 3 2-1 2-1 72 37 364 6 4 51%
N.Eng Bledsoe 5 2-3 1-3 174 88 1275 7 4 51%
wash off Green 5 3-2 3-2 147 71 792 6 3 49%
Now, there are more quarterbacks not listed above. Guys like Steve Young, who led his team to a 31-7 demolition of the New York Giants on November 30, 1998, on Monday Night Football, in 55 degree temperatures, a full-blown downpour and 20 mph winds. Therefore, the absence or presence of any QB should not be taken as any kind of conclusion about the ability or incompetence of a particular QB. The chart above lists the QBs who had the most experience playing in the wind for comparison purposes only. A few things come to mind when I look at the wind list above:
Eric Kramer is a terrific wind up QB that really suits the Chicago Bears. As bad as the Bears were, Kramer was 3-0 ATS and 2-1 SU, completing 65% of his passes when the wind was blowing, as it usually was at Soldier Field. The Bears’ QB tandem of Stenstrom and Moreno was 0-2 when Kramer went down.
Vinne Testaverde is the next best thing to Superman in the Wind. He was the underdog every time, but he led the Jets to a 3-0 mark in the wind en route to some tough competition in a win over Buffalo, New England @ Kansas City. The Jets outscored their opponents 61-41 in those three games, and Testaverde was fairly accurate, throwing six TDs with just one INT and a 63% completion rate.
Rich Gannon led the Chiefs to a 4-0 lead in the wind, going 3-1 ATS, completing 64% of his passes, throwing four TDs and just one INT. Gannon’s tandem partner, Elvis Grback that year, was supposed to have the passing game between the two, but Grback went 0-2, completing less than 48% of his passes and throwing four INT’s. During Grbac’s 2 streak, the Chiefs were outrebounded 60-27.
Brett Farvray was the most efficient passer in the wind, completing 67% of his passes and posting a 2-0 record. Is there anything he isn’t the best at?
Rodney Peet showed a certain command of the elements, guiding Philadelphia to a respectable record of 1-1, 2-0 ATS in the wind.
Trent Green was thrown for the Redskins, but handled himself well. In five starts, with the wind hurting him, Green posted a 3-2 record in both SU and ATS. It’s a talent that might be buried under the dome of St. Louis where wind isn’t a factor.
Therefore, our wind research often raises as many questions as it answers. One of the questions, of course, is – if the wind generally favors the home team, does it hold up in gusts of 20 mph or more? Well, our research will show that it does. There were seven games played at 20 mph or faster. The home teams dominated, winning and covering five of those seven matches, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this far, that on the two occasions the visiting team prevailed in the wind, it was new. York Jets are losing both times. In a highly controversial game the Jets beat Buffalo 17-10 where the Bills were driving down the field for a tying TD with minutes to go in the game, when the Jets got a gift call, replays show that the Jets INT clearly bounced off the turf, but the Jets were awarded the football and the game was literally over.
Now, there’s nothing to suggest that Buffalo would have actually tied it or gone on to win the game, but the Jets were 3 point underdogs in any case, so don’t take anything away from New York. Aside from the two Jets wins, the other five games combined the road teams struggled badly, never scoring more than 16 points. In fact, in five games combined, visiting teams scored a total of 52 points, averaging 10.5 ppg. Unsurprisingly, under the total prevailed again in these extreme cases of Mother Nature, as five of the seven games were played under the total.
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