Friday, January 5, 2018

THE 2018 NFL PLAYOFFS---Dome Sweet Dome

Quick, now.  What’s the last dome team to win a Superbowl?

That’s correct.  It was the New Orleans Saints on February 7, 2010 in a game you may have forgotten because it coincided with celebrations of Dimitri Mendeleev’s birthday around the globe.  On that day, the Saints triumphed at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida and defeated the Indy Colts (another dome team) by a score of 27 - 10.

Most years, two or three dome teams make it to the NFL playoffs, and all of us wise guys nod sagely and say something like, “Well, let’s see what happens when they have to leave their little temperature-controlled hut and play a road game on the planet Neptune (that one’s still a planet, right?), in January.”  I know I’ve thought that in the past when Indy or Minnesota or Atlanta managed to limp into the playoffs.

This year, however, Superbowl Whatever-Whatever will be played under a dome at U.S. Bank Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the home field of the Vikings, and one likely scenario is that the Vikes will simply need to win three home games (the Divisional Playoff, the Conference Championship and the Superbowl), to secure the trophy.


As you should know by now, the predictions here are based on the theory that the ability to “make a big play” or “throw the ball down the field” is what wins championships and the best statistical measure of this ability is what I call Adjusted Yards Per Pass (“AYP”), which is the readily-available stat yards/pass adjusted downward for interceptions.  Teams with a high AYP number win Superbowls.  Teams with low AYPs do not, no matter how good their running back is or how dominant they are in time of possession or how many of their starters are married to exotic foreign supermodels.

I also calculate defensive AYP because it provides some measure of a team’s ability to stop the other guy from completing long passes.  And finally, I look at points/game differential, and I do this not because it has a great track record of predicting Superbowl victories but because a) it’s so easy to calculate that I don’t see why I shouldn’t, and b) my plodding intellect assumes that if New England outscores its opponents by 10.1 points per game and Buffalo is outscored by 3.6 points per game, then New England is more likely to win a championship.  But I have no evidence to back that up.

And one more thing is being added---I counted the number of times each team has crushed or been crushed, which is defined as winning or losing a game by ten or more points.  I’ve discussed this in the past, and it’s something Bill James originally posited regarding baseball---that the measure of a good team is not its record in close games but rather its record in blowouts.  Truly good teams pummel the weak ones far more often than they get pummeled themselves.  Here, for example, is the record of the last ten Superbowl winners in regular-season games decided by ten or more points:

2017   New England    10-1
2016    Denver    3-1
2015    New England   8-2
2014    Seattle   8-0
2013    Baltimore   4-2
2012    NYG   4-3
2011    Green Bay   5-0
2010    New Orleans   9-1
2009    Pittsburgh    6-1
2008    NYG    5-5

Note that the only two teams with more than two crush losses are the NYG teams in 2008 and 2012 which, under Eli’s magic touch, somehow managed to get the trophy despite being viewed, by rational observers, as the twelfth-best of the twelve teams competing that year.  In other words, they pretty much sucked all season, and then got smokin’ hot.


THE PRETENDERS---Tennessee, Buffalo, Carolina, Atlanta

There are different reasons for discarding these guys, but the red flags are unmistakable. Carolina (4.5), Tennessee (4.7) and Buffalo (4.9) have the three lowest AYP in the tournament.  Tennessee and Buffalo were outscored by their opponents in the regular season.  None of them has a winning record against the other playoff teams (Atlanta played seven playoff teams this year, and lost five of those games).  Buffalo has a 2-5 record in crush games (i.e., they were beaten five times by ten or more points).  Carolina was 3-4 in crush games, Tennessee was 3-3, and Atlanta was 4-2.

Atlanta is the best of the bunch, but their AYP of 6.4 is only fourth best of the six teams in the NFC.  Their defensive AYP of 5.5 is fifth of six.

All are dogs on Wildcard Weekend, and all of them will probably lose.

COULD GET LUCKY---Philly, KC, Jacksonville

These teams all have something wonderful going for them, but also have potentially fatal flaws.

Jacksonville is a hot team among certain wise guys because they have the best pass defense in the NFL, they are second in points allowed (Minnesota is first), they outscored their opponents by 9.3 points/game, and they seem to be getting stronger as the season progresses.

The problem with Jacksonville is that they are all defense.  When they held opponents to ten points or less, they went 8-0.  When they gave up more than ten points, they were 2-6.  In order to advance to the Superbowl, they will probably have to beat both Pittsburgh and New England (and both those contests will be road games for the Jags).  How likely is it they will hold each of those stalwarts to single digits?

As we all remember, KC started the season by dominating the Patriots in New England, rolled through the first six weeks of the season, and then fell off a cliff in November.  The Chiefs are the only team that lost to BOTH the Giants and the Jets. They recovered their mojo sufficiently to win their last four games, beating the Raiders, Chargers, Miami and Denver (none of which will be playing on February 4th.)  So they kind-of suck, right?

Well, maybe.  When you add it all up, they are 10-6 and are tied with NE for the best AYP in the AFC.  They get a pretty easy home game in the wildcard round, and they’ve already beaten the Patriots.  Also, is Andy Reid NEVER going to get a little lucky and win a Superbowl?  OK, I’m making the call here---KC could get lucky.

Then there’s my Iggles, the team with the best record in the NFL but which will be an underdog at home when they play their first game in the second week of the playoffs.

The theory that Philadelphia can still get to the Superbowl, and win it, is based on everything you can think of that’s good for the Eagles and doesn’t have anything to do with Carson Wentz.  Home field advantage is part of it, for example.  To get to the Superbowl, Philly will probably have to win home games against New Orleans and Minnesota, two decent dome teams that may not like playing in South Philly in January.  It is plausible that Philly can win both those games.  Another thing that doesn’t have anything to do with Carson Wentz is the Eagle defense, which has been very good and which is at least as responsible as the offense for Philly’s success.

Finally, the thing that really has nothing to do with Carson Wentz is Nick Foles, who actually has a decent record as an NFL starter (and backup) quarterback.  Philly being what it is, the overwhelming majority of Eagles fans believe Nick will give us a deer-in-the-headlights-in-the-playoffs kind of performance.  I suspect he will be better than that, but I too fear he will fall short of the performance necessary to get to the dance.  On the other hand, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to Jeff Hostetler.

Kidding aside, the real problem with the Eagles is that even with Wentz, the team’s offense was not good enough to get to a Superbowl.  The AYP, most of which is attributable to Wentz’s play, is only the fifth best of the six NFC playoff teams.  The Eagles played a weak schedule, won a lot of games with their defense, and had more than their share of highlight-reel plays from their quarterback.  That does not normally win you a ring.

But still…

THE CONTENDERS---New England, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams
We will discuss these teams in more detail next week (they will all still be in the hunt). 


Tennessee at KC (-8).  The featured item on Tennessee’s resume is that they beat the Jaguars twice.  However, they have the worst AYP (4.7) in the AFC group, while KC is tied for first at 6.8.  KC will win the game, but to some extent they are limping into the playoffs, and it’s hard to get a sense of how good they are.  I don’t bet this line.

Atlanta at LA Rams (-5 1/2).  The Rams win the AYP battle 6.7 to 6.4, and they also have a superior defense.  With the Rams in the ascendant and the Falcons trying desperately to hang on to last year’s (sort-of) glory, I envision a game in doubt until the second half, but the Rams pulling away.  I lay the points.

Buffalo at Jacksonville (-8 ½).   Initially, you look at this line and think “Well, Buffalo’s not that bad.”  But they are.  Jacksonville beats them in AYP 5.6 to 4.9.  Defensive AYP also favors the Jags 3.3 to 4.9.  Finally, J’ville outscored their foes by 9.3 points per game while the Bills were outscored by 3.6.  My over/under for Buffalo points in this game is 6.  I think Jacksonville covers.

Carolina at New Orleans (-7).   New Orleans beat Carolina twice this year, and dominated them, so it’s tempting to take the contrarian bent that they can’t do it three times.  I reject that view.  The Saints have the best AYP (7.1) in either conference and the Panthers have the worst (4.5).  The New Orleans defense is also superior.  Carolina is probably the worst of the twelve teams in the playoffs this year and New Orleans has a legitimate shot to win it all.  I lay the seven points.


No comments:

Post a Comment