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Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting Less Random?

In September 2012, Neil Paine wrote a great article at this website titled: Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? In it, Neil found that randomness had increased significantly in the NFL playoffs, with “recently” defined as the period from 2005 to 2011.

In fact, while 2005 was a pretty random postseason, 2006 was one of the more predictable playoff years.  But the five-year period from 2007 to 2011 was a really random set of years. Consider that:

  • In 2007, the Giants won three games as touchdown underdogs, including the Super Bowl as a 12.5-point underdog.  The Chargers also won a playoff game against the Colts as an 11-point dog.
  • In 2008, five of the eleven playoff games were won by underdogs! That list was highlighted by the Cardinals winning in Carolina as a 10-point underdog in the divisional round.
  • The following year, five of the eleven playoff games were upsets, including the Jets winning as 9-point underdogs in San Diego.
  • In 2010, for the third straight year, there were five playoff upsets, including two huge ones: the Jets as 9.5 point dogs in Foxboro, and the Seahawks as 10-point home dogs against the Saints.
  • Noticing a trend? Well, in 2011, five of the playoff games were again won by the underdog. The two big upsets here were the Tim Tebow-led Broncos against the Steelers, and the Giants winning in Lambeau Field against the 15-1 Packers.

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Probably was picked off

Probably was picked off

I still can’t quite comprehend what happened. Leading 19-7 with less than three minutes remaining, Green Bay somehow lost the NFC Championship Game. It was the most remarkable comeback in conference championship game history since at least 2006, when Peyton Manning and the Colts came back from the dead against the Patriots.

But this game had the added element of Russell Wilson looking like he had no idea what he was doing out there. With four minutes remaining, Wilson had one of the ugliest stat lines in playoff history: he was 8/22 for 75 yards with no touchdowns, four interceptions, and four sacks for 24 yards. He was averaging -4.96 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. It was worse than Ryan Lindley against Carolina, a performance that would rival Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl against the Ravens for worst playoff passing performance ever.

Wilson’s stat line was straight out of a 1976 boxscore featuring a rookie quarterback against the Steelers. Yet, somehow, minutes later, the game would be in overtime. Wilson ended regulation with a still miserable stat line of 11/26 for 129 yards, with 0 touchdowns (to be fair, he did run one in), 4 interceptions, and 4 sacks for -24 yards. That translates to an ANY/A average (which gives a 45-yard penalty for interceptions, and a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns, while penalizing for sacks) of -2.50.

If the Seahawks returned the overtime kickoff for a touchdown, the game would have easily gone down as the worst performance by a playoff-winning quarterback in history. But in overtime, Wilson did his best work: first, he found Doug Baldwin for ten yards. Then, after taking a one-yard sack, he hit Baldwin on 3rd-and-7 for 35 yards. The next play, Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown, and Seattle was headed back to the Super Bowl.

Wilson finished 14/29 for 209 yards, with 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, and five sacks for -25 yards. That translates to an anemic ANY/A average of +0.71. How does that compare historically? I thought it would be worthwhile to compare the ANY/A average of every winning quarterback in a playoff game to the league average ANY/A that season. So, in 2014, the NFL averaged 6.13 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt per pass. This means Wilson finished 5.42 ANY/A below average. And given that Wilson had 34 dropbacks, it means that Wilson produced -184 Adjusted Net Yards over average. As it turns out, that’s only the … third worst ever by a winning quarterback. [click to continue…]

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The Seahawks have met high expectations this year, thanks to #3

The Seahawks have met high expectations this year, thanks to #3

Nobody is surprised to see the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks hosting games on championship Sunday. The Patriots are in the AFC title game for the 9th time in 14 years — NINE times! That is insane. Only six other teams — the Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, Raiders, Broncos, and Rams — have been to nine conference championship games since 1970, a feat New England has matched since 2001.

Perhaps even more incredibly: on Sunday, Foxboro will be the site of the AFC title game for the 7th time in 14 years. Since 1970, just two other cities — Pittsburgh and San Francisco — can match that claim. For some perspective, New York has hosted just two conference title games — the Giants in ’86 and ’00.

Oh, and if you’re counting at home, this will also be the fourth straight year with the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Ho hum.

As for Seattle? The Seahawks are the defending champions, and were arguably the top team in football by the end of the 2012 season, too. Seeing Seattle in the NFC Championship Game is no surprise to any football fan.

The Packers and Colts are only slightly more surprising participants. At the start of the season, Green Bay was tied with New Orleans for having the third best odds (behind Seattle and San Francisco) for winning the Super Bowl; the Colts were a distant third behind the Denver/New England tier in the AFC, but still, no other AFC team was as clear a Super Bowl contender after the Broncos and Patriots as Indianapolis. The table below shows the odds (from Bovada) each team was given to winning the Super Bowl at various points in the off-season; the final two columns display what percentage those odds convert to, both before and after adjusting for the vigorish: [click to continue…]

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Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Every week during the season, I compile Game Scripts data, which measures the average points margin during every second of every game. Since most people don’t have a chance to watch every game, it’s helpful to have this information.

During the playoffs, most of us are watching each game, so we know what’s going on. But after two weeks, I thought it was still worthwhile to check in on the numbers. There have been two big comebacks during the playoffs: the Cowboys against the Lions during the wildcard round, and the Patriots against the Ravens last weekend.

The Dallas comeback against Detroit would rank as the 4th biggest comeback of 2014, or the 4th worst Game Script produced by a winning team. Those with longer memories may recall that in 2011, the Lions beat the Cowboys despite having a Game Script of -9.4, and last year, the two teams scored 41 combined fourth quarter points. In other words, don’t turn off the game early when the Lions and Cowboys are playing.

The Patriots also pulled off a big comeback. New England trailed 14-0 and for most of the first half, and entered the locker room down seven. The Patriots are no strangers to these sorts of comebacks, though: since 2001, New England has the third best winning percentage when trailing at halftime by between 7 and 14 points.

Here are the full numbers from the first two rounds of the playoffs:

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
INDCINBoxscore2610167.8452564.3%382164.4%
CARARIBoxscore2716115.8333945.8%321568.1%
SEACARBoxscore3117145.8242747.1%382956.7%
BAL@PITBoxscore3017134.6302554.5%531973.6%
IND@DENBoxscore2413113.8432860.6%482070.6%
GNBDALBoxscore26215-0.4362955.4%232845.1%
NWEBALBoxscore35314-4.8531380.3%452861.6%
DALDETBoxscore24204-8.1372163.8%452267.2%

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Tom Brady has been known to wear Suggs

Tom Brady has been known to wear Suggs

Disclaimer: Quarterbacks don’t have records, teams do. A quarterback’s “record” is simply shorthand for saying “the record of a quarterback’s teams in all playoff games started by that quarterback.” Please forgive me for using that shorthand for the remainder of this post.

Eight years ago, Doug Drinen wrote a fun post in advance of the 2006 AFC Championship Game. At the time, Peyton Manning had gone 0-2 in playoff games against Tom Brady, so Doug looked at quarterbacks who had gone winless against another particular quarterback in the postseason.

Manning wound up beating Brady in that game, and evened his record against Brady in the 2013 playoffs. No pair of quarterbacks have ever met as starters five times in the playoffs, so Brady/Manning are tied for the most playoff meetings. Joining them on Saturday will be Brady and Joe Flacco. This weekend’s game will be the fourth time since 2009 that the Ravens have traveled to Foxboro in the postseason, and Brady and Flacco have been under center for each game. [click to continue…]

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The Steve Smith Postseason Post

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, who is also part of the Smitty Fan Club. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


 

One of the greatest playoff receivers ever

Smith considers letting the chip roll off his shoulder.

IS STEVE SMITH THE GREATEST POSTSEASON WR IN HISTORY?

Prior to this last weekend’s slate of games, I remarked to several friends what a treat it was that we got to watch Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith all playing on the same weekend. In addition to being three of the best receivers of the last decade, all three could lay claim to the best per-game postseason numbers in history, depending on where you set the cut-offs.

Calvin Johnson had only appeared in one postseason game prior to this season, but he made it count with 12/211/2 receiving in a losing effort. Calvin was actually the fourth player in history to top 10 receptions, 200 yards, and 2 touchdowns in a single playoff game,1 but each of the three previous have played additional games to bring their per-game numbers down. Among players who appeared in at least one playoff game, Calvin’s 211-yard “average” was the best by a mile.

If you moved the cutoff to 6 games, Larry Fitzgerald’s postseason averages took over the spotlight. Following the 2008 NFL season, Fitzgerald had arguably the greatest postseason run by a wide receiver, hauling in 6/101/1, 8/166/1, 9/152/3, and 7/127/2 in his four games, including what would have been the Super Bowl-winning touchdown and a likely MVP performance if not for some heroics from Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Fitzgerald followed that up with a strong showing in the 2009 playoffs, catching 12/159/2 over two games. All told, Fitzgerald had 53/705/9 receiving in just six postseason appearances, for a per-game average of 8.8/118/1.5. [click to continue…]

  1. Oddly, all four receivers to reach those marks were active this past weekend; in addition to Calvin Johnson, they were Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, and T.Y. Hilton. []
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Packers, Cowboys, and Undefeated Home/Road teams

The Packers went 8-0 at home this year. Green Bay scored 318 points in home games in 2014, the 3rd most by a team in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers threw 25 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in those games, and his 133.2 passer rating at home is the highest in a single season in NFL history.

A couple of minor notes for the anti-Green Bay crowd: the 2011 Packers scored 321 points en route to an 8-0 home record, while Rodgers’ 128.5 home passer rating is now the second highest ever. And the Packers lost their first playoff game, at home, to the NFC East champion that season.

This year, the NFC East champion Cowboys scored 275 points in road games, the 4th most ever. Dallas also went 8-0 on on the road, making this weekend’s matchup just the 3rd time in NFL history that an undefeated road team traveled to the site of an undefeated home team for a playoff game. [click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, an early look at the division round of the playoffs:

In 1990 the N.F.L. switched to its current playoff format, featuring six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

For the first 15 years, this structure appeared to provide an enormous edge for the top two seeds: Teams coming off byes won 81.7 percent of all games in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2004.

Then, over the next six seasons, the rested teams were 12-12 and it seemed as though being “hot” negated any advantage teams gained from a week off. In the last three postseasons the pendulum has swung back, with three bye teams winning each year. Last year, all four favorites were victorious in the division round of the playoffs, with the road 49ers winning at Carolina as 1-point favorites.

This year projects to mark a return to the old days. For the first time since 2007 all four home teams in the division round are favored by at least 4 points, and any more than one upset would qualify as shocking. So while the home teams are heavily favored this weekend, here is one tidbit to keep in mind for each game.

You can read the full article here.

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Ryan  Lindley imploded against the Panthers in the Wildcard Round

Ryan Lindley imploded against the Panthers in the Wildcard Round

Ryan Lindley had a very, very bad day against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. He completed 16 of 28 passes for just 82 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times and lost 31 yards. Assigning 20 yards per passing touchdown and -45 per interception, and including the sack data, this means Lindley produced -19 adjusted net yards. Given his 32 dropbacks, that translates to a -0.59 ANY/A average.

Which, of course, is really bad. The fact that it came in the most pass-friendly era in history makes it look even worse, although that’s slightly tempered by the fact that the Panthers have an above-average defense. We can combine the era- and SOS-adjustments in one step by noting that Carolina allowed 5.84 ANY/A to opposing passers this year. As a result, this means Lindley fell 6.45 ANY/A short of what we would expect, given the Panthers defense and this era. Over the course of 32 dropbacks, that means Lindley produced 206 Adjusted Net Yards below expectation.

Using that methodology for every playoff game since 1950, Lindley’s mark is the 9th worst in playoff history. The worst? That belongs to Kerry Collins in Super Bowl XXXV. Here’s how to read the table below. Collins averaged -2.19 ANY/A against the Ravens over the course of 43 dropbacks; the Baltimore defense, of course, was very good against the pass, allowing just 3.88 ANY/A. Still, that means Collins fell 6.07 ANY/A short of expectation. Over 43 dropbacks, that’s -261 ANY below what we would expect given the Ravens defense, the worst ever.

One final note: in the table below, you can click on the “Year” cell for each player to go to the boxscore for that game. [click to continue…]

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Luck's Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

Luck’s Colts won big early in the year, but are small favorites today

In week 7, the Bengals lost 27-0 to Indianapolis. What does that mean? I looked at all playoff rematches where:

  • The teams only played once during the regular season (as, I think, division rivals represent a different equation)
  • The rematch occurred in the same location as the original game
  • The home team won the regular season meeting

This happened once last year, where the Saints also lost by 27 points on the road to the Seahawks during the regular season, and then revisited Seattle in the playoffs. Obviously Seattle won that rematch, too, which is not unusual. There have been 11 situations where the home team won by at least 27 during the regular season, and the home teams went 9-2 in the rematch. (And, it’s worth noting, that one of the wins came with Joe Montana starting the playoff game for the Chiefs, after Dave Krieg started the regular season loss.) The table below shows all playoff rematches between teams that met the above criteria.

Here’s how to read the second entry. In 1991, the Lions traveled back to Washington for the Conference Championship Game. Detroit was a 14-point underdog, and point spread data is included for all games since 1978. In the game, Detroit lost, 41-10. In the regular season, the teams met in Washington (remember, all games in this table were rematches at the same site) in week 1, and Detroit lost 45-0 (remember, all games in this table occurred from the perspective of the road team, and the road team lost in the first game). That -45 points differential was the 2nd most ever; the table is sorted by points differential in the regular season. [click to continue…]

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These guys are back in the playoffs

These guys are back in the playoffs

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind.

Given that there are just four games this week, predicting the game flow (and subsequent Game Script) of each matchup is a vital part of determining which fantasy players will do the best. My thoughts:

Arizona at Carolina

The Panthers have been hot the last four weeks, although part of that was due to playing poor teams. Fortunately for Carolina, another poor team is on the horizon in Arizona. The Panthers defense should be able to contain Ryan Lindley, making them a strong play. The forecast is for rain in Charlotte, making the matchup even tastier.

Another notable development: Arizona’s run defense has fallen from 5th in yards per carry allowed over the first 11 weeks, to 32nd over the last six. The Cardinals defense allowed 278 rushing yards in four games to Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, which makes Cam Newton a potential threat for a big game today. The downside to Newton: Patrick Peterson shutting down Kelvin Benjamin and the Panthers getting up early could limit Newton’s passing stats. A 16/25, 160 yard day with 50-60 rushing is one possible outcome, and probably more likely than Newton throwing for 300+ yards. If you want play Newton, you’re likely banking on a rushing touchdown. [click to continue…]

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The NFC South is upside down

The NFC South is upside down.

The Atlanta Falcons began the season with a 2-6 record.  In the second half of the year, the team was 4-7 and then 5-9.  The Carolina Panthers began the year with a 3-8-1 record. One of these two teams will make the playoffs.

I’m not even sure what else there is to say.  The phrase “left for dead” is probably too kind.  Carolina fell to 3-8-1 in embarrassing fashion; the team’s 8th loss came in a game where the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns, and the Panthers body language read “checked the #*$! out.”

From October 6th to December 6th, the Carolina Panthers did not win a game.  Through week 13, the Panthers ranked 28th in points differential.  The Panthers may turn out to be the most unlikely playoff team in NFL history. [click to continue…]

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Brady likes the second half of the season

Brady likes the second half of the season

When we think about the most dominant teams of all time, the New England Patriots of the last few years don’t leap immediately to mind. Yet, their performance late in the year has been mind-bogglingly good. From 2010-13, New England went 29-3 in the final eight games of each season, a record that no other team since 1960 can match over any four-year period. Including their three games this year, the Patriots are on a 32-3 run in regular-season games in the second half of the season. From 2010-2013, the Patriots also have the biggest four-year point differential in second-half games in the history of football.

Part of that huge point differential comes from the higher point totals that teams have than they did in the past, and from New England’s offensive-centric philosophy. As a result, when we look at Pythagenpat records, the Patriots are not as dominant.1 Here are the hundred best late-season teams over any four-year period, according to Pythagenpat record. The Patriots from 2010-13 rank only 38th on the list, behind four other recent Patriots’ runs, some of those overlapping with 2010-13. The Patriots have been great and it is an unlikely outcome that they’d have no Super Bowls in the decade so far, but they also have not been quite as strong in terms of their true strength as their second-half records would suggest. As a high-scoring team, we would have expected them to lose more of their regular season games than they have. [click to continue…]

  1. I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. []
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By now, you know about guest blogger Andrew Healy, an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University and author of today’s post. There’s now a tag at the site where you can find all of his great work. He’s back with a cap to his excellent series about playoff performance, and today’s post will not disappoint:



The Purple People Eaters never won a Super Bowl

The Purple People Eaters never won a Super Bowl.

We know the teams that have experienced consistent heartbreak at the altar. But is it the Vikings, Eagles, or Bills that are the most unlikely to have never won a Super Bowl? On the flip side, we know the teams that stacked championships on top of championships. But is it the Packers, Steelers, or 49ers that have made the most of their chances?

For the latter question, it turns out that it’s option D, none of the above.  One mystery team has won four championships despite having had a pretty decent chance of never winning a single Lombardi.  The most unlikely team never to win a Super Bowl turns out to be a team that lost “only” two Super Bowls, but that has led the NFL in DVOA four times since 1979.

To figure this stuff out, I’ve utilized DVOA ratings and estimated DVOA ratings to rerun the NFL playoffs. In the simulations, the slate is wiped clean, which means there’s no reason The Fumble or The Helmet Catch or The Immaculate Reception have to happen this time around.

In last week’s post, I went decade by decade to look at the best teams, and also those that most let opportunity slip through their fingers. Today, I bring it all together. I compare what might have been with what actually was for the NFL from 1950 to 2013. I’ll also hand out awards for the teams that were the most unlikely winners and the most unlikely losers of all time. [click to continue…]

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One Play Away

Football Perspective accepts guest posts, and Andrew Healy submitted the following post. And it’s outstanding. Andrew Healy is an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is a big fan of the New England Patriots and Joe Benigno.


The Browns were one play away from the Super Bowl

How much did this player lower Cleveland's Super Bowl odds?

The Catch. The Immaculate Reception. The Fumble. We remember all these plays, but which mattered the most? More specifically, what plays in NFL history had the biggest impact on who won the Super Bowl?

The answer to this question is kind of surprising. For example, two of those famous plays are in the top 20, but the other wasn’t even the most important play in its own game. Going all the way back to Lombardi’s Packers, the memorable and important plays overlap imperfectly.

Here, I try to identify the twenty plays that shifted the probability of the eventual Super Bowl winner the most. According to this idea, a simple win probability graph at Pro-Football-Reference.com identifies a not-surprising choice as the most influential play in NFL History: Wide Right. What is surprising is that they give Buffalo a 99% chance of winning after Jim Kelly spiked the ball to set up Scott Norwood’s kick. Obviously, that’s way off.1

A better estimate would say him missing the kick lowered the Bills chances of winning from about 45% to about 0%. Norwood was about 60% for his career from 40-49 yards out, and 2 for 10 from over 50. Moreover, he was 1 for 5 on grass from 40-49 before that kick. But the conditions in Tampa that night were close to ideal for kicking. It’s hard to put an exact number on things, but around 45% on that 47-yard kick seems about right.

So that 45 percentage point swing in a team’s chances of being the champ is what I’m going to call our SBD, or Super Bowl Delta, value. I’m going to identify the twenty plays with the biggest SBD values, the ones that swung the needle the most.

Here are the ground rules for making the cut. [click to continue…]

  1. I think it happens because their model basically gives you credit for your expected points on the drive, which is enough to win since Buffalo was down by a point. []
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On Friday, I explained the idea behind Playoff Leverage. That post is required reading before diving in today, but the summary is that the Super Bowl counts for more than the conference championship games, which count for more than the division round games, which count for more than the wild card games. The value that is assigned to each game — the Super Bowl is currently worth 3.14 times as much as the average playoff game — is then used to adjust the stats of the players in those games.

For quarterbacks, the main stat used to measure passing performance is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. In case you forgot, ANY/A is defined as

[math]Pass Yards + 20*PassTDs – 45*INTs – SackYards)/(Attempts + Sacks)[/math]

Today, we’re going to look at every quarterback since 1966. Players like Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas who played before 1966 will count, but their stats from 1965 and earlier will not be included. This obviously is a serious disservice to Starr in particular, but for now, I’m going to only focus on the Super Bowl era. [click to continue…]

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Even for Football Perspective, this is a very math-heavy post. I’ve explained all the dirty work and fine details behind this system, but if you want to skip to the results section, I’ll understand. Heck, it might even make more sense to start there and then work your way back to the top.

Background

In 2012, Neil Paine wrote a fascinating article on championship leverage in the NBA, building on Tom Tango’s work on the same topic in Major League Baseball. Championship Leverage was borne out of the desire to quantify the relative importance of any particular playoff game. Truth be told, this philosophy has more practical application in sports where each playoff round consists of a series of games. But Neil applied this system to the NFL playoffs and crunched all the data for every playoff game since 1965. Then he was kind enough to send it my way, and I thought this data would make for a good post.

The best way to explain Championship Leverage is through an example. For purposes of this exercise, we assume that every game is a 50/50 proposition. At the start of the playoffs, the four teams playing on Wild Card weekend all have a 1-in-16 chance of winning the Super Bowl (assuming a 50% chance of winning each of four games). This means after the regular season ended, the Colts had a 6.25% chance of winning the Super Bowl. After beating Kansas City, Indianapolis’ win probability doubled to 12.5%. Win or lose, the Colts’ Super Bowl probability was going to move by 6.25%, a number known as the Expected Delta.

New England, by virtue of a first round bye, began the playoffs with a 12.5% chance of winning the Lombardi. With a win over Indianapolis, the Patriots’ probability of winning the Super Bowl jumped 12.5% to 25%; had New England lost, the odds would have moved from 12.5% to zero. Therefore, the Expected Delta in a Division round game is 12.5%. [click to continue…]

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No, Peyton, you're the man

No, Peyton, you're the man.

In 1984, Dan Marino set an NFL record with 48 touchdown passes, but his Dolphins lost in the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning broke Marino’s record, but he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the playoffs. In 2007, Tom Brady broke Manning’s touchdowns record, but he lost in the Super Bowl, too.

When the greatest quarterback seasons of all time are discussed, these three years dominate the discussion. And with good reason. But if you include the playoffs — and frankly, there’s no reason not to include the playoffs — which quarterback produced the greatest season of all time? I’m going to stipulate that the greatest quarterback season ever has to end in a Lombardi Trophy, because otherwise, I think we’ll end up back in the world of Marino ’84/Brady ’07/Manning ’04. Of course, now another Manning season has entered the mix: and with a Super Bowl win, Manning’s 2013 should and would be remembered as the greatest quarterback season of all time.

So, the question becomes, which season would he knock off the top rung? I think there are six seasons that stand out from the rest, based on regular and postseason performance.

Honorable Mention [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl Metrics

The table below shows each Super Bowl champion since 1970 and its rank in various categories. At the top, I’ve included an average of the ranks of the teams over the last 10 years and since 1970, and each team is hyperlinked to its Pro-Football-Reference team page. The categories in this first table are record, points for, points allowed, Pythagenpat record, offensive yards, defensive yards, yards differential, offensive pass yards, offensive rushing yards, defensive passing yards (i.e., passing yards allowed), and defensive rushing yards. [click to continue…]

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It’s Carroll-Harbaugh X! Okay, the Whats Your Deal Bowl may not have quite the hype of Brady/Manning XV, but don’t tell that to folks on the West Coast. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are longtime rivals who have managed to alienate 31 other fanbases in the NFL. For the record, Harbaugh holds a 6-3 record over Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in the NFL. Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, the site of the NFC Championship Game.

Let’s begin our preview by analyzing each team’s passing offense:

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre

Sadly, this post is not sponsored by beats by Dre.

Picking between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson feels like an exercise in hair-splitting. Over the last two seasons, these two have nearly identical passing numbers, ranking 4th and 5th in ANY/A. Kaepernick was slightly better last year, Wilson slightly better this year, and then Kaepernick has been better in the playoffs. By ANY/A standards, this is a complete wash.

What about the weapons? That’s one area where it at least appears like the 49ers have the edge. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are legitimate stars who combine to give Kaepernick three versatile weapons on every play. A healthy Percy Harvin changes things for Seattle, but with Harvin declared out for the game, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller represent a clear downgrade from the 49ers bunch.

But remember, when we look at the passing statistics of Kaepernick and Wilson, those numbers already incorporate the quality of each quarterback’s targets. After all, a quarterback’s ANY/A or NY/A averages are not mere reflections of the passer, but of the passing offense as a whole. On the other hand, Kaepernick hasn’t had those three players together for most of his career. In fact, the trio has only been available in 7 of Kaepernick’s 28 career starts. In 10 starts, only Crabtree and Davis were on the team, and in another 10, Kaepernick had just Boldin and Davis.1 The table below shows Kaepernick’s numbers as a starter depending on the availability of his three weapons: [click to continue…]

  1. There was also one start, against Indianapolis, where both Crabtree and Davis were out. []
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By all accounts, this was an underwhelming quartet of games played on The Best Weekend in Football. Last year, the division round gave us an incredible Russell Wilson comeback where the Seahawks scored three fourth quarter touchdowns before falling short against the Falcons and the Peyton ManningJoe FlaccoRahim Moore classic. Seattle won this year but in boring fashion, and Broncos fans undoubtedly prefer this year’s rendition of Neutral-Zone-Infraction to last year’s heartbreak. In 2011, the 9-7 Giants pulled off the rarest of upsets: outclassing the 15-1 Packers and winning a game as huge underdogs while managing to look like the better team in the process. The day before, Alex Smith lead the 49ers in a home upset over the Saints in one of the more exciting playoff games of our generation. In 2009 and 2010, the brash Jets won road games as heavy underdogs in convincing fashion against the Chargers and Patriots. This was the halcyon era of the Mark SanchezRex Ryan Jets, also known as years 3 and 2 Before The Buttfumble. In 2008, the Ravens (over the Titans), Eagles (Giants), and Cardinals (Panthers) all won as road underdogs. The year before, the Giants shocked the Cowboys before that was our Tony Romo-adjusted expectation, and the Chargers won as 11-point underdogs in Indianapolis preventing a Tom BradyPeyton Manning upset (no such road bump this year).

In some ways, the results this weekend were a good thing. Perhaps we will remember this as the year the division round of the playoffs felt like eating a salad – a bit unsatisfying at the time, but better for us in the long term. No one would complain about seeing more Andrew Luck — actually, maybe some of us would — but getting an AFC Championship Game of Manning and Brady just feels right. We have become so accustomed to seeing fluky teams like the Chargers make runs that we’ve forgotten that it can be very good when the results match our intuition. Back in April I said that the Patriots and Broncos were on a collision course for the AFC Championship Game, although my reasoning wasn’t exactly spot on (“the key to their success is keeping Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Amendola healthy, although the Patriots will be fine as long as two of them are on the field.”)

But it’s not as if I had some special insight: as noted by Will Brinson, the 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, and Broncos were the four teams with the best preseason odds. No one would complain about seeing more from the Saints and Panthers, but I don’t think many would argue with the idea that the 49ers and Seahawks are the two most talented teams in the league. A few years from now, there won’t be much we remember from the division round. But I have a feeling it set up two conference championship games that will be very memorable. [click to continue…]

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Division Preview: San Diego at Denver

I’m not going to do it again. This time last year, I thought I wrote a very good preview of the Denver/Baltimore game. I looked at both teams, decided that Denver was much, much better, and ended with this:

I think it’s best not to over think this one.

Prediction: Denver 31, Baltimore 13

A year later, and we’re in the same boat. The Broncos just had another marvelous run, again capturing the #1 seed in the AFC on the back of a spectacular season by Peyton Manning. The opponent looks overmatched, at least on paper: the 2012 Ravens had an Simple Rating System score of +2.9, while the 2013 Chargers are at +2.7. The 2012 Broncos had an SRS grade of +10.1, a number that has risen to +11.4 this year. About the only good thing we could say about the 2012 Ravens (relative to Denver) was that they were getting healthier. About the only good thing we can say about the 2013 (relative to Denver) is that they’re getting hotter. And, I suppose, they’re healthier, too, at least compared to a Broncos team that is missing Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Rahim Moore, and Dan Koppen. So no, I’m not just going to assume Denver will win and move on.

I suppose some of you out there are thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. The Chargers beat the Broncos in Denver in the regular season. Doesn’t that mean something?” Well, tell that to the 1934 Bears, who went 13-0 and beat the Giants in the Polo Grounds in the regular season only to lose 30-13 at that same spot in the playoffs! Okay, presumably Denver/San Diego won’t flip on the shoe selection of the competitors, but the larger point remains: road teams that played a rematch in the playoffs against a team they beat at that same venue in the regular season are just 18-32.

Here’s how to read the table below. In 2010, the Seahawks went on the road to play the Bears after beating them in the regular season, 23-20. Seattle met in Chicago in the Division Round of the playoffs, and the Seahawks were 10-point underdogs. Seattle lost, 35-24.
[click to continue…]

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Division Preview: San Francisco at Carolina

At least 400 total yards were gained in every game this season. When Nick Foles threw 7 touchdowns against the Raiders, Oakland actually out-gained Philadelphia, and the two teams combined for a season-high 1,102 yards that day. On the other end of the spectrum was San Francisco/Carolina I, when the two teams combined for just 401 yards. That first game was essentially the NFL’s version of LSU/Alabama, and I don’t think the rematch will be very different.

When these two teams take the field on Sunday, the opponent will feel familiar for a couple of reasons. One, of course, is because of the week ten match-up. But these teams are also mirror images of each other. Consider:

Kuechly and Kaepernick are just two of the many stars in this game

Kuechly and Kaepernick are just two of the many stars in this game.

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When it comes Patriots/Colts, it’s easy to want to focus on Tom Brady vs. Andrew Luck. Or to marvel at the sheer number of star players these teams have lost in the last 12 months. If you played college in the state of Florida, you’re probably not going to be playing in this game: T.Y. Hilton is the last star standing with Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, and Reggie Wayne gone. The Patriots also have placed Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson on injured reserve, while Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard are both questionable. Also, of course, Brady is probable with a shoulder.

The Colts just put defensive starters Gregory Toler and Fili Moala on injured reserve, adding to a list that already included Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas, Montori Hughes, and Pat AngererLaRon Landry and Darrius Heyward-Bey are both questionable, and the latter’s injury caused the team to sign ex-Patriot Deion Branch.

All the injuries and changing parts make this a pretty tough game to analyze. So I’m not going to, at least not from the usual perspective. Instead, I want to take a 30,000 foot view of the game. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were the most consistent team in the league this season, while the Colts were the fourth least consistent team. Rivers McCown was kind enough to send me the single-game DVOA grades for both teams this season, and I’ve placed those numbers in the graph below with the Colts in light blue and the Patriots in red. The graph displays each team’s single-game DVOA score for each game this season, depicted from worst (left) to best (right). For Indianapolis, the graph spans the full chart, from the worst game (against St. Louis) to the best (against Denver). As you can see, the portion of the graph occupied by New England is much narrower, stretching from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. [click to continue…]

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Division Preview: New Orleans at Seattle

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride

Brees and Wilson scheming to get on an amusement park ride.

On the surface, this does not appear to be a very even matchup. In home games in 2013, Seattle outscored opponents by 15.4 points per game, an average that includes the loss to Arizona. In road games during the regular season, the Saints were outscored by 4.6 points per game. Both of those averages, of course, include Seattle’s 27-point demolition of the Saints in Seattle just six weeks ago. The 20-point difference between Seattle’s average home margin and the New Orleans’ average road margin — which, for brevity’s sake, I’m going to call the “projected MOV” — is very high, even by historical standards.  In fact, only 20 playoff games since 1950 featured a game with a larger projected MOV.

The table below shows the 50 playoff games with the largest projected MOV since 1950, measured from the perspective of the home team. For games since 1978, I’ve also shown the pre-game points spread. The largest projected MOV came in 1998, when the Vikings hosted the Cardinals in the playoffs. That year, Minnesota outscored teams by 23.6 points per game at home, while Arizona was outscored by 9.1 PPG on the road. Those numbers combine for a projected MOV for Minnesota of nearly 33 points! The game took place during the division round of the playoffs and the Vikings were 16.5-point favorites. You can click on the boxscore link to see the PFR boxscore for the game, which Minnesota won, 41-21.

YearHomeRoadHm PD/GRd PD/GProj MOVRdSpreadBoxscorePFPAW/L
1998MINARI23.63-9.1332.75D-16.5Boxscore4121W
1991WASDET22.88-7.530.38C-14Boxscore4110W
1973MIACIN21.86-6.7128.57DBoxscore3416W
1991WASATL22.88-426.88D-11.5Boxscore247W
1999STLTAM24.63-226.63C-14Boxscore116W
1969MINCLE24.29-1.8626.14CBoxscore277W
1978DALATL14.75-11.2526D-15Boxscore2720W
1987SFOMIN20.29-4.1324.41D-11Boxscore2436L
1979PITHOU20.38-424.38C-9.5Boxscore2713W
1950RAMCHI23.5-0.1723.67DBoxscore2414W
2008CARARI15.38-7.8823.25D-10Boxscore1333L
1999STLMIN24.631.3823.25D-7Boxscore4937W
1977RAMMIN18.86-422.86DBoxscore714L
1997DENJAX22-0.3822.38W-6.5Boxscore4217W
2011NORDET23.25122.25W-10.5Boxscore4528W
2007NWEJAX21.5120.5D-13.5Boxscore3120W
1996PITIND15-5.3820.38W-8Boxscore4214W
1996CARDAL16.5-3.7520.25D3.5Boxscore2617W
1996DENJAX14.38-5.8820.25D-12.5Boxscore2730L
1979PITMIA20.380.2520.13D-9.5Boxscore3414W
2004ATLSTL6.88-12.8819.75D-6.5Boxscore4717W
2011GNBNYG18.75-0.8819.63D-8Boxscore2037L
2007NWESDG21.51.8819.63C-14Boxscore2112W
1989SFOMIN14.88-4.3819.25D-7.5Boxscore4113W
1985CHIRAM19.50.2519.25C-10.5Boxscore240W
1969MINRAM24.295.1419.14DBoxscore2320W
1969DALCLE17.29-1.8619.14DBoxscore1438L
2009NWEBAL18.38-0.6319W-4Boxscore1433L
1973MIAOAK21.862.8619CBoxscore2710W
1998NYJJAX16.38-2.518.88D-9Boxscore3424W
2012DENBAL16.13-2.6318.75D-9Boxscore3538L
2005SEAWAS16.75-1.8818.63D-8.5Boxscore2010W
1985MIACLE13-5.6318.63D-10.5Boxscore2421W
1979SDGHOU14.63-418.63D-8Boxscore1417L
1977DALMIN14.57-418.57CBoxscore236W
1998MINATL23.635.2518.38C-11Boxscore2730L
1998DENMIA14.63-3.2517.88D-13.5Boxscore383W
2011SFONYG16.75-0.8817.63C-2Boxscore1720L
1999JAXMIA13.63-3.8817.5D-8Boxscore627W
1954CLEDET21.674.1717.5CBoxscore5610W
1991HOUNYJ15.63-1.7517.38W-9Boxscore1710W
2001PITBAL14.5-2.7517.25D-5.5Boxscore2710W
1963SDGBOS12.86-4.2917.14CBoxscore5110W
2012BALIND9.38-7.6317W-7Boxscore249W
1997SFOMIN15.38-1.6317D-11.5Boxscore3822W
1998DALARI7.75-9.1316.88W-7Boxscore720L
1969OAKHOU13.71-3.1416.86DBoxscore567W
1967OAKHOU21.714.8616.86CBoxscore407W
1996GNBCAR18.882.1316.75C-12Boxscore3013W
1988CINSEA15.38-1.3816.75D-6.5Boxscore2113W

[click to continue…]

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Steve Buzzard has agreed to write another guest post for us. And I think it’s a very good one. Steve is a lifelong Colts fan and long time fantasy football aficionado. He spends most of his free time applying advanced statistical techniques to football to better understand the game he loves and improve his prediction models.


Last month, I wrote about how to project pass/run ratios using offensive Pass Identities and the point spread. However, this methodology only considers one side of the ball. Can we actually improve our projections model using both offensive and defensive Pass Identities? As it turns out the answer is yes.

First, I started off by creating defensive Pass Identities using the same methodology found here. The first thing I noticed was the standard deviation of pass ratios for defenses was only 3.0% compared to 5.1% for offenses. This led me to believe that offenses control how much passing goes on in a game more than defenses. I was glad to see this as it confirmed most of my previous research as well. Given this, it wasn’t appropriate to use a standard deviation of 3.0% for defenses in my projection while using a standard deviation of 5.1% for offenses. Instead, I used the combined standard deviation of all 64 offensive and defensive pass ratios, which turned out to be 4.17%. This doesn’t change the order of passer identities much but obviously does increase the deviation from the mean for the offensive side of the ball and decrease it for the defensive side. [Chase note: Determining the best way to handle the differing spreads between offensive and defensive pass ratios is a good off-season project; in the interest of time, I advised Steve to split the difference and move ahead with the analysis.]

Now that we have a Pass Identity grades for both sides of the ball, we can add a strength of schedule adjustment, too. To make the SOS adjustment, I simply took the average of the defensive Pass Identities played by each offensive unit and the average of the offensive Pass Identities played by each defensive unit. As expected the SOS adjustments had a much larger impact on the defensive Pass Identities than the offensive Pass Identities.
[click to continue…]

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Penalty Rates Are Down In The Playoffs

Did notice the lack of yellow flags this weekend? In the first round of the 2013 playoffs, just 31 penalties were called over four games, a 7.75 per-game average. That’s the lowest per-game average from any week this season, and the 63.25 penalty yards assessed also represent the floor on a per-game basis for any week in 2013.

In 2012, Wild Card weekend was also the least penalized weekend of that season, on both a penalty and penalty yards basis. That is, until the later rounds of the playoffs. As it turns out, these examples are part of a broader trend in the NFL for over a decade.

The graph below shows the average number of penalties called per team game in both the regular season and the postseason going back to 2000. Obviously for 2013, we’re looking at just four games, but for each other postseason, I included all 11 games. [click to continue…]

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Love the Bowl Championship Series or (more likely) hate it, tonight marks the end of college football’s 16-year BCS experiment. Designed to bring some measure of order to the chaotic state college football had been in under the Bowl Alliance/Coalition, the BCS did streamline the process of determining a national champion — though it was obviously not without its share of controversies either.

If various opinion polls conducted over the years are any indication, the public is ready to move on from the BCS to next season’s “plus-one”-style playoff system. But before it bids farewell forever, how does the BCS grade out relative to other playoff systems in terms of selecting the best team as a champion?

Back in 2008, I concluded that it didn’t really do much worse of a job than a plus-one system would have. But that was more of an unscientific survey of the 1992-2007 seasons than a truly rigorous study. Today, I plan to take a page from Doug’s book and use the power of Monte Carlo simulation to determine which playoff system sees the true best team win the national title most often.

(Note: If you just want the results and don’t want to get bogged down in the details, feel free to skip the next section.) [click to continue…]

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The table below shows the results of every game in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2012. Each game is displayed from the perspective of the home team. For example, last year, Denver hosted Baltimore in the second round of the playoffs, and you can click on the Boxscore link to see the full boxscore at Pro-Football-Reference. Denver lost 38-35 as a 9-point favorite, and the Over/Under was 44.5. The “dnc” means that the Broncos did not cover.

YearHomeRoadBoxscorePFPALineO/UResultATS
2012SFOGNBBoxscore4531-345.5Woncover
2012DENBALBoxscore3538-944.5Lost (OT)dnc
2012ATLSEABoxscore3028-347Wondnc
2012NWEHOUBoxscore4128-9.551Woncover
2011SFONORBoxscore36323.547Woncover
2011NWEDENBoxscore4510-13.550Woncover
2011BALHOUBoxscore2013-837.5Wondnc
2011GNBNYGBoxscore2037-854.5Lostdnc
2010ATLGNBBoxscore2148-1.543.5Lostdnc
2010PITBALBoxscore3124-337Woncover
2010NWENYJBoxscore2128-9.545Lostdnc
2010CHISEABoxscore3524-1043Woncover
2009INDBALBoxscore203-6.544Woncover
2009NORARIBoxscore4514-757Woncover
2009MINDALBoxscore343-2.545Woncover
2009SDGNYJBoxscore1417-942.5Lostdnc
2008TENBALBoxscore1013-333.5Lostdnc
2008CARARIBoxscore1333-1049.5Lostdnc
2008NYGPHIBoxscore1123-439Lostdnc
2008PITSDGBoxscore3524-6.538.5Woncover
2007GNBSEABoxscore4220-7.544Woncover
2007NWEJAXBoxscore3120-13.551.5Wondnc
2007DALNYGBoxscore1721-747.5Lostdnc
2007INDSDGBoxscore2428-1147Lostdnc
2006BALINDBoxscore615-441Lostdnc
2006NORPHIBoxscore2724-4.548.5Wondnc
2006SDGNWEBoxscore2124-546.5Lostdnc
2006CHISEABoxscore2724-8.537.5Won (OT)dnc
2005DENNWEBoxscore2713-344Woncover
2005SEAWASBoxscore2010-8.541Woncover
2005CHICARBoxscore2129-331Lostdnc
2005INDPITBoxscore1821-8.546.5Lostdnc
2004ATLSTLBoxscore4717-6.549Woncover
2004PITNYJBoxscore2017-935.5Won (OT)dnc
2004NWEINDBoxscore203-151Woncover
2004PHIMINBoxscore2714-847Woncover
2003NWETENBoxscore1714-634Wondnc
2003STLCARBoxscore2329-746Lost (OT)dnc
2003KANINDBoxscore3138-353Lostdnc
2003PHIGNBBoxscore2017-443Won (OT)dnc
2002TENPITBoxscore3431-4.544Won (OT)dnc
2002PHIATLBoxscore206-7.538.5Woncover
2002OAKNYJBoxscore3010-5.547Woncover
2002TAMSFOBoxscore316-639.5Woncover
2001NWEOAKBoxscore1613-341.5Won (OT)push
2001CHIPHIBoxscore1933-332.5Lostdnc
2001PITBALBoxscore2710-5.532Woncover
2001STLGNBBoxscore4517-1154.5Woncover
2000MINNORBoxscore3416-849.5Woncover
2000OAKMIABoxscore270-942Woncover
2000NYGPHIBoxscore2010-4.533.5Woncover
2000TENBALBoxscore1024-634Lostdnc
1999TAMWASBoxscore1413-4.538Wondnc
1999JAXMIABoxscore627-837.5Woncover
1999INDTENBoxscore1619-5.546.5Lostdnc
1999STLMINBoxscore4937-752Woncover
1998ATLSFOBoxscore2018-3.553Wondnc
1998DENMIABoxscore383-13.548Woncover
1998NYJJAXBoxscore3424-943Woncover
1998MINARIBoxscore4121-16.552.5Woncover
1997PITNWEBoxscore76-642Wondnc
1997SFOMINBoxscore3822-11.542Woncover
1997KANDENBoxscore1014041Lostdnc
1997GNBTAMBoxscore217-1338Woncover
1996GNBSFOBoxscore3514-541.5Woncover
1996DENJAXBoxscore2730-12.543.5Lostdnc
1996CARDALBoxscore26173.537.5Woncover
1996NWEPITBoxscore283-341.5Woncover
1995PITBUFBoxscore4021-642Woncover
1995SFOGNBBoxscore1727-9.552Lostdnc
1995KANINDBoxscore710-841.5Lostdnc
1995DALPHIBoxscore3011-13.545.5Woncover
1994PITCLEBoxscore299-3.532.5Woncover
1994SFOCHIBoxscore4415-15.546.5Woncover
1994SDGMIABoxscore2221-346Wondnc
1994DALGNBBoxscore359-1043Woncover
1993BUFRAIBoxscore2923-733.5Wondnc
1993SFONYGBoxscore443-841.5Woncover
1993HOUKANBoxscore2028-741.5Lostdnc
1993DALGNBBoxscore2717-13.542Wondnc
1992PITBUFBoxscore324-236Lostdnc
1992SFOWASBoxscore2013-9.539Wondnc
1992MIASDGBoxscore310-237Woncover
1992DALPHIBoxscore3410-6.538Woncover
1991DENHOUBoxscore2624-3.537Wondnc
1991WASATLBoxscore247-11.543Woncover
1991DETDALBoxscore386043Woncover
1991BUFKANBoxscore3714-10.541Woncover
1990BUFMIABoxscore4434-734Woncover
1990SFOWASBoxscore2810-841Woncover
1990RAICINBoxscore2010-643Woncover
1990NYGCHIBoxscore313-733Woncover

Overall, home teams are 67-25 and 49-42-1 against the spread.

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After the projections for most of the week was below-zero weather, the latest reports indicates that by kickoff, the temperature in Green Bay should be in the single digits. The temperature of a game is more open to interpretation than you think: in a lot of the games below, there are different reports depending on which source you use.  That said, I’ve found six playoff games that had a temperature of zero degrees or colder:

  • The Ice Bowl: The classic cold-weather game: the temperature was reportedly −15 degrees with an average wind chill around −36, although PFR has it at -2 degrees and -23, respectively. The Packers won 21-17, after Bart Starr‘s quarterback sneak for the winning score in the final seconds.
  • The Freezer Bowl: In 1981, the Chargers played in Cincinnati in -9 degree weather; add in the 27 miles per hour winds, and it felt more like −37 degrees. PFR has those numbers at -6 degrees, wind 24 mph, wind chill -32. Cincinnati won 27-7, to advance to the Super Bowl.
  • The 2007 NFC Championship Game: This was the Giants/Packers game where half of Coughlin’s face turned Giants red. New York won in overtime, 23-20, before upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The gamebook lists the temperature at -1 degrees, with a wind chill of -23. PFR has it at -7 degrees, with a brutal wind chill of -27.
  • Washington at Chicago, 1987: PFR has this one at -3 degrees with a wind chill of -20. Classic Ditka weather! Here’s the video to the CBS intro with John Madden and Pat Summerall (note that the broadcast states it was 12 degrees, with a wind chill feel of -5.). Washington won, 21-17, and eventually won the Super Bowl.
  • Indianapolis at Kansas City, 1995. Lin Elliott misses three field goals for the Chiefs, and the Colts win 10-7. PFR has it at 0 degrees, – 15 with wind chill.Some other playoff games come closer.
  • When Los Angeles traveled to Buffalo in 1993, it was zero degrees with, according to NFL.com, a wind chill at -32! Jeff Hostetler, who never had a bad playoff game, lost his only playoff game here despite throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown (with no interceptions) on 20 passes. Jim Kelly threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Bill Brooks, and Buffalo won 29-23. PFR lists the temperature at 3 degrees with a wind chill of -14

A pair of playoff games in Lambeau Field in 1996 and Soldier Field in 1963 probably could have been sub-zero games, but noon-time starts kept the temperature on the positive side of the ledger. Ten years ago, the Titans game in New England got the Saturday Night treatment, which allowed the temperature to drop down to 4 degrees with a wind chill -14. And the Browns/Raiders game known simply as Red Right 88 was at 2 degrees with a wind chill of -20.

It looks like today’s game will join the list of freezing playoff games, but may not make the top five.

San Francisco’s Turnover Margin

I think the 49ers are the vastly superior team here, so my pregame analysis will be limited. The Packers are a very average team, and a healthy Aaron Rodgers only makes them above-average. San Francisco led the league in points differential through two quarters and through three quarters, and I can still see this team becoming the next Lombardi Packers. But here’s an interesting stat from Bill Barnwell: [click to continue…]

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