Breaking Down The NFL Playoffs


If your third downs and turnovers are growing, you are going home. Enjoy your time off!

Until this weekend, every favorite won their game in the NFL playoffs this year.  The first exception was New Orleans on Saturday and then Green Bay on Sunday.  But all of the losers this year have things in common.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got the formula down now on what it takes to win football games at any level, but let’s take a look at the numbers from the playoffs thus far.

I think we can all agree that the most important stat is turnover differential.  This stat doesn’t matter for the season as a whole, but within individual games, it is the most critical.  Here were the turnover differentials for the losers during Wild Card Week:

Cincinnati: -3
Detroit: EVEN
Atlanta: EVEN
Pittsburgh: EVEN

Now let’s take a look at this weekend’s losers:

Houston: -4
Denver: +1
New Orleans: -4
Green Bay: -3

This week it was may more important.  Obviously, it’s not a for sure thing that you will lose if you turn it over.  But as a part of this theory, turnovers are the first key to success.  If you maintain possession and create turnovers, you increase your odds of winning this year by 7-1.

The next part of the equation is two parts.

Part 1: limit 3rd downs over the course of a game.  This means, either collect a first down or score on first or second down.
Park 2: if you have a lot of 3rd downs, convert them.

Let’s look at the losers 3rd down conversions from the past two weeks:

Cincinnati: 6-13 (Houston went 6-12 in this game)
Detroit: 7-10 (N. Orleans went 7-11 in this game)
Atlanta: 4-14 (N. York went 8-15 in this game)
Pittsburgh: 7-16 (Denver went 3-10)

Now let’s take a look at this weekend’s losers:

Houston: 5-15 (Baltimore went 4-16 this game)
Denver: 7-18 (N. England went 3-6 this game)
New Orleans: 5-14 (S. Fransisco went 5-15 this game)
Green Bay: 6-12 (N. York went 8-16 this game)

Limiting 3rd downs and converting more than your opponent increased your chances of winning by 50% this year.  So far, turning the ball over and not converting has easily explained away every loss except Detroit. Part three of this formula is balance in relation to your opponent.  How well does your team balance on all sides of the ball? Let’s delve:

Detroit threw the ball 43 times for 380 yards.  The rushed the ball for 32 yards on only ten attempts.  Conversely, the Saints also threw the ball 43 times for 459 yards, but they also managed to rush the ball a whopping 36 times for 167 yards.  The Saints ran 28 more plays than Detroit, and possessed the ball for almost 15 minutes longer.

Here’s your losers’ balance for these two weeks:

Cincinnati: twice as many passes, half as many rushes, yet Houston was almost 50/50 in yardage balance
Detroit: See above
Atlanta: 100 yards less than New York in each category, yet they ran the same amount of plays.
Pittsburgh: Statistically they should have won, and played a pretty even game with Denver, but they failed to convert on third down and had too many. (Rule 2)

Now let’s take a look at this weekend’s losers:

Houston: Statistically they were better than Baltimore, but see rule 1.
Denver: They were very balanced, but gained half as many yards as New England while leading in T.O.P. and also running about ten more plays.
New Orleans: over 400 yards passing, but under 40 yards rushing.  Meanwhile San Francisco was pretty balanced all game.
Green Bay: Ran a way more balanced game, but see rule 1.

That about sums it up.  Teams that have had success holding onto the ball and converting third downs are 7-1.  The one team that lead in those two stats was extremely out of balance.

If we went back through each team’s stats, we could probably come up with a pretty good summary of how teams have responded to other teams similar to their championship opponents.  But once you hit the playoffs, you have to throw that way.  The Wild Card Week is the start of a new season, and nothing else from the regular season matters any more.  The Giants are a great example of this.  Again this year, they were dead, and then somehow, they manager to Lazarus at the end of the season and then swagger into Atlanta like Charlie Bronson, travel to Green Bay and out class the defending champs, and now head to San Francisco to play the only other team in the NFC to display some sort of mastery of all three principles.

The AFC is a little different.  Baltimore is pretty balanced, but New England usually does the first two parts of this theorem so well it doesn’t matter what their opponents do.  If I had to pick a big winners out of this game, I’d say New England probably takes it.  Baltimore is really good, but they won’t run the number of plays needed to keep pace with New England.  I see them getting into trouble early, and then getting away from their game plan, which immediately leads to more third downs and less balance.

As a side note, I think my favorite prop bet would have been which team will have the best defense in the playoffs.  I would have picked New England in a heartbeat.  They have this knack for turning their worst trait into their best, and as I sit here watching my tape of the New England game for the third time, their D is everywhere making plays.  It almost looks like New England’s D has the Denver playbook.  Denver and Baltimore are really pretty similar on offense.  New England has no trouble in this one shutting down the Raven attack.  They pull ahead late and win this one 28-17.

San Francisco-New York is way tougher. Both teams are at such a high level right now.  There is no doubt that San Fran is more balanced, but defensively it’s a toss-up and this game could come down to big penalty or a special teams gaff.  I don’t think we will be as lucky as this week with how good of a game San Fran-New Orleans was.  But I expect this to still be a showcase.  I think I like New York in this one because Eli Manning is terribly underrated.  He’s so clutch, and there is not a measurement for clutch (I suppose you could count rings).  I won’t be upset or surprised if either team wins.  I will be surprised if there is a blow out.  Give me New York with the final score 14-13.

Personally, that San Fran-New Orleans game was maybe the best game I’ve ever seen in my life. I rank it up there with Brady’s first Super Bowl and Steve DeBerg coming out with a giant cast on his hand to lead the Chiefs over the Oilers.  No matter what he has done or will do the rest of his career, Alex Smith has that moment, and for the 4th quarter of that game, Smith was the best QB in the world.





~ by maxaverage on January 15, 2012.

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