Thursday, January 19, 2012


And then there were four.

Of the teams remaining, New England and New York have the two best offenses. Baltimore and San Francisco have the two best defenses. In other words, expect to see the Patriots and the Giants in the Superbowl.

Baltimore + 7 ½ @ New England

This is the “easy” one, of course. Nobody really thinks the Ravens can win this, especially in New England. The question is whether it is wise to lay the 7 ½.

I think it is. While this game may not be the rout that Denver – New England turned out to be, the Patriots still boast the best yards/pass numbers in the AFC, by a large margin, so you have to expect they will score 30+ in this one. The issue then becomes: can Joe Flacco keep his team close if the contest is a shootout.

Joe Flacco? Take the Patriots. Lay the points.

New York + 2 ½ @ San Francisco

This is much closer. On balance, the yards/pass numbers favor New York, but only slightly. And of course, the game is in San Francisco.

Neither one of them had anything to be ashamed of last week---that much is clear. Both these teams are smokin', and feeling pretty darn good about themselves. The Giants may not be a juggernaut (like the Pats), but they beat the bejesus out of the mighty Packers. Similarly, if there were some doubts about the 49ers being “just a good defense,” the last five minutes of the New Orleans game probably opened some eyes. It looks like a good game.

I think New York merits a small edge, but if you want to claim it's a toss-up, I wouldn't argue. However, if you're giving me 2 ½ points, I take the Giants.


Thursday, January 12, 2012


Denver +13 ½ @ New England

Can Tebow do it again? Well, no, of course not. But then I was the guy who told you Denver doesn't belong in the playoffs.

It's difficult to be cold and hard and logical about this game after you've spent the past few days dropping to one knee and Tebowing at the slightest provocation. A nicely cooked omelet? Down I go. Thank you, Lord! A smile from a colleague who I thought didn't like me much? Cool and the gang, Lord! A parking place next to the entrance at the mall? Hallelujah! I will be rooting hard for Tim Tebow on Sunday, as will most of America.

But honestly, guys, Pittsburgh made a classic error last Sunday. It is true they did not engage in a land war in Asia (which is the classic error---thanks, Rob Reiner), but the mistake they made was just as bad. They brought their secondary up to the line to stuff the run and they blitzed safeties all afternoon. Why? The previous Sunday, Kansas City had given up three points to the Broncos by playing them pretty much straight up. But Pittsburgh was smarter, weren't they? They decided to challenge Tebow. Let's make him beat us with his arm! And guess what---he did.

New England will not make that mistake. They are better than Denver, they know they are better, and they know they can win without trickery or an over-nuanced game plan. New England beat Denver 41 – 23 less than a month ago, and that was in Denver. They will beat them again, and they will cover.

New Orleans -3 ½ @ San Fran

This is a strange line. Why would the Saints be favored on the road against a legitimate #2 seed who had last week off?

I'm guessing it's the Drew Brees factor, and it is true the New Orleans yards/pass numbers are superior to San Fran's. The numbers are close, however, and the 49ers are 7 – 1 at home this year, while the Saints are a rather ordinary 5 – 3 on the road. In fact, the Saints on the road are a different team from the Saints at home. Away from the Big Easy, their point differential is a mere 22 points.

I expect San Francisco wins this game. I'm certainly taking the points.

New York +7 ½ @ Green Bay

The one thing you can say about the Giants is that they are peaking at the right time. Green Bay at the tundra, however, was 8 – 0, and they outscored their opponents by an average of 17 points per game. You are allowed to believe, if you wish, that the Giants have finally figured it all out and will shock everyone the way they did in 2008, but you cannot look at the numbers for these teams and conclude that this game will be close. Green Bay wins comfortably and covers.

Houston +7 ½ @ Baltimore

Houston is on the road, where you don't want to be in the playoffs Baltimore, on the other hand, is 8 – 0 at home this year and certainly has the edge over the Texans in playoff experience.

On paper, however, the game is something of a mismatch. Houston is significantly better than the Ravens on both offense and defense. I am taking the points, and I think it is likely Houston will win outright.


Monday, January 2, 2012


I come into this year's playoffs as I always do, knowing nothing about football but knowing something about games.

First, teams that can score are teams that win championships. The corollary to this law is that defense is always overrated. Though a good defense will often get you into the playoffs (in any sport), the ultimate winners are almost always those teams that, when they really really really need to, can put the biscuit in the basket. Against anybody. This is why storied players have names like Joe Namath, Reggie Jackson, Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Magic Johnson, Mickey Mantle, Jerry Rice and Gordie Howe. Granted there are a few Mean Joe Greens and Bob Gibsons on the list as well, but they are far outnumbered by the parties of the first part.

Once the teams are chosen for the NFL tournament, I rate them all on a yards/pass metric featuring an adjustment for interceptions. History has shown that this number (which reflects the ability to throw the ball down the field) is correlated with Superbowl victories. The same method is also used to generate a defensive yards/pass, which is not as important as the offensive number, but it matters. Finally, I look at the point differential for each team. This year, for example, New Orleans outscored its opponents by 208 points while Denver was itself outscored by 81. Unless football results are entirely random, this difference is significant.

I rank the teams as follows:


Green Bay (surprised?)

New Orleans

New York Giants

San Francisco




New England






The differences among these teams are sometimes large, so much so that I can class some as “contenders” (Green Bay, New Orleans, NY Giants, New England, Houston and Pittsburgh) and others are “pretenders” (Detroit, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Denver).

San Francisco and Baltimore deserve their own category. They are not that good. Their passing offenses are among the weakest in the field and a team's passing offense is the primary determinant of whether that team will win the Superbowl.

However, both the 49ers and the Ravens have byes in the first round, followed by games at home (where they are 7 – 1 and 8 – 0, respectively) in the second. If they survive, they will have only the Conference Championship (which may also be a home game) between them and the Superbowl. It's hard to discard them from consideration, in other words, though neither seems good enough to win it all. Let me leave it at this: if either one makes it to the Superbowl, they will lose by double digits.

The conferences present different possibilities. In the NFC, for example, I would be as shocked as anyone if the Packers did not make it to the dance. New Orleans is a very nice team, and Drew Brees is great fun to watch. The Giants are not in that class, but they are better than they look. Green Bay, however, has the best yards/pass numbers in the field by a healthy margin, and a decent defense as well. Expect Green Bay to be playing on February 5.

The AFC is more of a crapshoot. New England is at the top of the list, and they boast the best offensive yards/pass number in the conference. The Patriots, however, depend on outscoring people; they only held an opponent to single digits once this year, and a typical victory was something like 35 – 24. Their lowest point production of the year was 17 against Pittsburgh and 20 against the Giants, and they lost both those games. It is possible to beat New England if you somehow manage to throttle their offense, and both Houston and Pittsburgh are sort-of, maybe, possibly capable of doing that. Of course, they will have to do it in the Great White North, in January.

I am hoping for (and expect) a Green Bay – New England Superbowl. Green Bay will be favored, and they will probably win it again.

The Wild Card Games

Cincy at Houston (-3). Houston will romp. Lay the points, and lay them now since they will probably increase as the week progresses.

Pittsburgh at Denver (+8). When is the last time you saw a home dog getting 8 points in the playoffs? Nobody loves Tebow more than I do (except his mom), and I will be rooting for the boy, but this game is a joke. Denver is the worst team to make the playoffs in quite a while. Lay the points. Bet the house.

Detroit at New Orleans (-10 ½). The Saints are undefeated at home, and the smallest margin of victory was a touchdown (versus Houston). The Saints certainly win this game, and they probably cover, but Detroit can light it up also, and 10 ½ is too many points. I pass.

Atlanta at NY Giants (-3). It's hard to love either of these guys. The Giants, on paper, are a bit better, and they're at home, and they are only laying three, so I guess if I were forced to bet this game, I would take New York. I'd rather pass.