Crunching the Numbers: Week 17

Jim Rogash

In this season's last edition of Crunching the Numbers, I take a look back at the year, analyze the playoff picture, and make predictions for Wild Card Weekend.

Happy New Year! I'm sure that everyone reading this is glad that 2012 is over. We're all looking forward to seeing a new era in Eagles football, and I would like to wish Andy well in the next chapter in his life (even if it is in Arizona). As for me, I'll be crossing my fingers for Mike McCoy, although there are several coaches I would be happy with. But before this becomes yet another post about coaching (Jason has that department locked down and read Brandon Lee's thoughts on the subject if you haven't already), I'll get on with the rankings.

Rank Team Score Change
1 New England 42.063 0
2 Seattle 27.814 0
3 Chicago 27.688 0
4 San Francisco 21.714 +2
5 Atlanta 21.166 0
6 New York Giants 17.753 +4
7 Houston 17.598 -3
8 Denver 15.465 0
9 Washington 13.735 +2
10 Green Bay 12.166 -3
11 Baltimore 10.382 -2
12 Cincinnati 7.720 0
13 Minnesota -1.789 0
14 San Diego -4.181 2
15 Carolina -4.259 -1
16 Tampa Bay -5.032 +1
17 St. Louis -7.534 +1
18 Cleveland -8.020 -3
19 Pittsburgh -8.895 +3
20 New Orleans -10.311 0
21 Miami -12.694 -2
22 Arizona -16.375 -1
23 Indianapolis -24.038 +2
24 Dallas -24.781 -2
25 Tennessee -26.439 +4
26 Oakland -28.492 +2
27 Jacksonville -29.307 -3
28 Buffalo -29.685 +2
29 New York Jets -29.705 -2
30 Detroit -31.028 -4
31 Philadelphia -48.496 0
32 Kansas City -49.608 0

A look at the playoff picture. Since the regular season is over, I'll show two different scenarios: my hypothetical scenario of the playoffs that I've been doing for most of the season and then a comparative view with the actual playoff picture that I showed in my 2004 season review. The hypothetical picture look likes this:

AFC
1. New England, 42.063 (1)
2. Houston, 17.598 (7)
3. Denver, 15.465 (8)
4. Baltimore, 10.382 (11)
5. Cincinnati, 7.720 (12)

6. San Diego, -4.181 (14)

NFC
1. Seattle, 27.814 (2)
2. Chicago, 27.688 (3)
3. Atlanta, 21.166 (5)*
4. New York Giants, 17.753 (6)
5. San Francisco, 21.714 (4)
6. Washington, 13.735 (9)

The actual playoff seeding is this:

AFC
1. Denver (8)
2. New England (1)
3. Houston (7)
4. Baltimore (11)
5. Indianapolis (23)
6. Cincinnati (12)

NFC
1. Atlanta (5)*
2. San Francisco (4)
3. Green Bay (10)
4. Washington (9)
5. Seattle (2)
6. Minnesota (13)

I have a total of three discrepancies by including Chicago, New York, and San Diego in the playoffs and excluding Green Bay, Minnesota, and Indianapolis. I was only able to successfully match up one specific seed (Baltimore), but as we've seen in the past playoff seeding does not necessarily impact the tournament. Atlanta has an asterisk because they were the only team to rest starters last week.

Where did I go wrong (and right)? Given all of this information, what have I accomplished so far with this algorithm, if anything at all? My system clearly favors the type of football that New England and Chicago play. The Patriots have been at the top since midseason and the Bears have been in the top ten since I started doing this. Of course, the big difference is that New England is currently enjoying a first round bye while Chicago is enjoying a round of golf. The algorithm does not account for tiebreakers, so it could be that the Bears lost important conference games while the Patriots beat the teams they needed to in order to secure the second seed. It could also be that the algorithm has issues which I will have to address after the playoffs.

Of course, there were stories that I had "settled" weeks ago - if you go by the numbers. Baltimore was predicted to win the division since I started this in Week 4 and the Cowboys didn't really have a shot to win the NFC East, even though they were competing in the division title game in Week 17. Tampa Bay was the dark horse who almost earned the high rank I had them in for most of the season but promptly fell apart in December. Meanwhile, the once-upon-a-time division leading Eagles never climbed out of the twenties and, as you all know, plummeted to the basement of the league. Even with all of this, the playoffs will be the true test of my algorithm's merit. Which brings us to...

Wild Card Weekend predictions. In the space that I normally reserve for a preview of the Eagles game, I'll pick the winner of the four playoff games this weekend based off of statistics and some intuition. Instead of giving scenarios for how each team will win and lose, I'll just give how my pick will win. I'll also rate my certainty on each pick, as some of these games are sure to be thrillers that are decided by a key call or turnover.

#6 Cincinnati (12) at #3 Houston (7)
This is a carbon-copy rematch of last year's wild card game in the AFC, with the big exception that Matt Schaub is quarterbacking for the Texans instead of T.J. Yates. What makes this interesting is that while Schaub is the starter he has never played in a playoff game before. That being said, I still think that the Texans win this game because they are playing at home and have a more solid foundation on both offense and defense. The Bengals might be riding into the playoffs on a three game win streak, but they are too limited fundamentally. Statistically, Houston has the advantage in almost every category except for scoring defense (the Bengals have only a 0.7 point advantage), yards per rush allowed, and sacks per game. However, Cincinnati gives up almost three sacks per game, which should be music to J.J. Watt's ears.
Certainty: High

#6 Minnesota (13) at #3 Green Bay (10)
This game is a rematch of last week's game as opposed to last year's. Minnesota more or less secured the opportunity to try and beat the Packers again by kicking the winning field goal as time expired in what was an instant classic. But can they repeat their own achievement? These teams are pretty evenly matched defensively; Minnesota has a better run defense but the Packers have a better pass defense. Offensively, Adrian Peterson is spearheading an incredible rushing attack while Aaron Rodgers is predictably playing at a level that is far beyond anything Christian Ponder has produced this year. Both teams are relatively dead-even at pressuring the quarterback (Green Bay averages 2.9 sacks per game to Minnesota's 2.8) and forcing turnovers. I'm going to say that Green Bay has the edge in this one because they are playing in Lambeau instead of the Metrodome and the Packers take care of the ball. Additionally, Mike McCarthy's playoff experience and determination not to lay an egg like last year should send the Vikings home early.
Certainty: Medium

#5 Indianapolis (23) at #4 Baltimore (10)
Lots of storylines and personal ties go with this game. Between Chuck Pagano's fight with cancer and number one draft pick Andrew Luck leading his team to the playoffs as a rookie, it's easy to forget that Pagano was Baltimore's defensive coordinator last season and that their offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, played against the Ravens twice a year when he was with the Steelers. Statistically, Indianapolis is outmatched everywhere and has actually carried a negative score differential this season (then again, so did the Giants last year). While the Ravens have slumped at times this year, Baltimore gets the win on Sunday. Being familiar with the opposing coaches is a double-edged sword for both teams, but John Harbaugh's experience in the playoffs as a head coach should give him the advantage.
Certainty: Medium

#5 Seattle (2) at #4 Washington (9)
When you have a dynamic quarterback in a game, anything can happen. When you have one on each team, all bets are off. Both these teams are riding impressive win streaks (five for Seattle, seven for Washington) but you have to think that the Seahawks have been more dominating with comically lopsided wins against the Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers. On the other side of the coin, the Redskins have shown the ability to win close games even when their starting quarterback goes down. Offensively, Washington enjoys a slight edge over Seattle, but it is almost negligible. Defensively, Seattle's incredible secondary blows away anything the Redskins have accomplished, but Washington does have a considerably better run defense (4.2 yards per carry allowed to 4.5 yards per carry allowed). The Seahawks have the league's best scoring defense (15.8 points per game) but the Redskins have a slight advantage on turnovers. Both teams have extremely athletic quarterbacks that should allow the coaches adequate preparation; Mike Shanahan obviously has an advantage over Pete Caroll in playoff experience. And while I've been riding experience with my picks, Seattle escapes with a win because their defense will force Robert Griffin III to try and win the game with his feet, which is very hard to do in crunch time. Yes, Washington does have a talented rookie running back in Alfred Morris, but when you are able to shut down the pass like the Seahawks can the opponent becomes much more limited offensively and therefore easier to make in-game adjustments for. Seattle has also shown the ability to play well after traveling across the country.
Certainty: Low

And with that, I'll wrap up this year's edition of Crunching the Numbers. I hope that you have enjoyed reading these as much as I've enjoyed writing them and I look forward to debuting an improved model next season. I might chime in every now and then if some news or idea intrigues me. But until then, enjoy the new year and the NFL Playoffs (even without the Eagles). I'll be doing the same, as well as counting down the days until the draft.

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