Friday, January 11, 2008

National Friday League, divisional round

I don't usually do actual predictions (because I'm an idiot), but I'll break form and give it a whirl.

The top two seeds in each conference this season appear vastly superior to their competition. However, historically the top four seeded teams don't usually all advance to the conference championship games. Since 1990 (when 12 teams started making the playoffs), it happened in 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2004--five times in 17 seasons. Without being precise, it's fair to say it happens once every few years. While it (surprisingly?) doesn't usually happen, it does happen, so it shouldn't be surprising if it does. Given that it has been a few years since it last happened, and given that the top two teams in each conference really do look a lot better than their opponents, it's reasonable to predict that all four home teams will win this weekend.

I'll look at each matchup just a bit beyond the wins and losses, but certainly not into the realm of mathematical analysis. We'll take a quick look at each team to see where they ranked in points scored and points allowed to see who really has the best chance of scoring an upset. I've got no precedent that this is even a reasonable way to look at games.

Seahawks (9th in scoring, 6th in points allowed) v. Packers (4th in scoring, 6th in points allowed)
The Packers and Seahawks allowed the exact same number of points in the regular season, but the Packers scored precisely 2.63 points per game more than the Seahawks. Hmm. Without accounting for strength of schedule, the Packers are 2.63 points per game better than the Seahawks. Throw in what is typically regarded as a three-point home field advantage, and the Packers and Seahawks could play each other to within one score. Such a game could go either way. If the Seahawk defense plays as well this week as it did last week (completely shutting down the running game, putting pressure on the quarterback) Seattle is capable of an upset. I think the key is the pass rush: Brett Favre can throw playoff interceptions in bunches, but the key is to hit him, to make him feel uncomfortable, to make him feel like he has to make plays. If he's allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket, he can dissect any defense. Which I assume Mike Holmgren and the Seattle coaching staff knows.

Hey, is that a limb? Well, it's just sort of hanging there on a tree: as long as I'm climbing this tree, I might as well check out how sturdy that limb is.

Seahawks 24, Packers 14

Jaguars (6th in scoring, 10th in points allowed) v. Patriots (1st in scoring, 4th in points allowed)
The Jaguars are top ten in scoring offense and defense, but just. The Patriots are the #1 scoring team in the league and a sturdy 4th in points allowed. The Jaguars looked weak in pass defense last week against Pittsburgh (three interceptions in the first half, but they gave up a lot of yards in the second half allowing Pittsburgh back into the game).

I can conceive of a Jaguar victory, but Jacksonville would have to play a perfect game. How often do perfect games occur?

By the way, in Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Nastasya Filippovna writes that "Perfection cannot be loved, perfection can only be looked at as perfection." That's how I feel about the undefeated Patriots (of course, she then notes that she does love the person she just described as perfect, so maybe she really is mad and her opinions need not be taken into account when discussing a 21st century football team).

Patriots 31, Jaguars 16

Chargers (5th in scoring, 5th in points allowed) v. Colts (3rd in scoring, 1st in points allowed)
The Chargers are a sturdy 5th in both scoring offense and scoring defense. But to go on the road and play the team with the top scoring defense, that's particularly good against the pass? It will take a really unpredictable and consistent pass rush against Peyton Manning for the Chargers to beat the Colts, and I just don't think they have it.

This can be a close game that the Chargers can pull off. The Colts are incredible offensively and defensively, but the Chargers obviously have talent on both sides of the ball to rank 5th in points scored and allowed. They could make it a game.

But I don't think they will. The rankings suggest a possible upset, but I have trouble picking against either Peyton Manning or a #1 defense.

Colts 27, Chargers 10

Giants (14th in scoring, 17th in points allowed) v. Cowboys (2nd in scoring, 13th in points allowed)
Are the Giants really supposed to be here? Mediocre according to scoring offense and scoring defense? Every other team playing this weekend is in the top-6 in at least one category, and six of them are in the top-10 in both categories. The Giants appear vastly inferior to the rest of the current playoff field.

But here's the thing: while the Cowboys are the #2 scoring offense, they're also a pretty mediocre 13th in points allowed. That means if the Giants play well offensively, they are capable of moving the ball and scoring points. Furthermore, Terrell Owens was a key playmaker for that #2 scoring offense, and he's dealing with an injury (it's questionable whether he'll play or how effective he'll be if he does play). Now, the last time Terrell Owens had injury questions going into a playoff game, he had 9 receptions for 122 yards in the Super Bowl, so I'm certainly not counting on his ineffectiveness.

The rankings tell me the Giants are mediocre and should get run off the field by the Cowboys (who scored 45 and 31 points in their two regular season victories over the Giants). But then I think of Terrell Owens ineffective due to injury, and Romo needing to keep his poise with underneath routes, and then I remember Tony Romo sitting on the field in Seattle after bumbling the snap on a potentially game-winning field goal...

And I can see New York pulling the upset.

The Giants need to do two things to win. First, get a pass rush on Tony Romo to make him make mistakes (which he does, throwing 19 interceptions this season). The Giants can do this because they have two very good defensive ends, Michael Strahan and a guy whose name I've never bothered learning to spell (OK, his name is Osi Umenyiora). Second, the Giants must establish a running game to keep pressure (both in the form of a pass rush and in the demand that he complete a lot of long passes on 3rd down) off Eli Manning (which the Giants can do, ranking 4th in rushing yards and 4th in rushing yards per attempt this season).

And I think they'll do it.

Giants 24, Cowboys 21

Now I'm finally on record for my horrible ability at predicting games. You can all come back on Monday to laugh at me. Ha, you'll all say.

1 comment:

  1. Finally, someone picking the Seahawks! Josh Brown will supposedly be wearing heated pants. How can they lose?