In the build up to the first weekend of the playoffs everyone is putting forward how they think the next month is going to pan out. Like many people I’ve had a go at the SuperBowl challenge which I did on the basis of what did I ‘feel’ was going to happen. But then I thought let’s try and look at it from a more analytical point of view. Therefore, i plucked (pretty much out of the air) a few factors and looked at how they impacted on each playoff team.
It is just a bit of fun…..but interesting nonetheless….
Regular season opponents results (schedule strength)
Regular season record
2019 record in close (one-score) games
2019 record against each other
Strength of offense and defense
Homefield advantage in the playoffs
Seeding advantage (i.e. the bye week)
Recent (last 2 years) playoff appearances
It was noteworthy here that this disadvantaged teams that had played against the weaker divisions – the AFC East and NFC East. This impacted on the Vikings & Packers, the Eagles, and the Bills & Patriots. Teams which benefitted were the Chiefs, Seahawks and Texans who all played against stronger sides, broadly speaking.
Regular season record goes hand in hand with the seeding advantage and home field advantage so this is where teams such as the Ravens, Chiefs, 49ers and Packers gained ground – the road to a Super Bowl is long and hard for the likes of the Bills, Vikings, Seahawks and Titans.
I feel 2019 record in close games is important as a team which has been blowing sides away in the regular season may struggle when faced with a close finish in the playoffs. This category really benefited the Seahawks (10-2), Packers (8-1) and Texans (8-3) whereas the Vikings (2-4) and Titans (3-3) suffered a little.
At this stage having a regular season win against a playoff opponent could also be a help. Now this category was fascinating and a good sign for exciting matchups throughout the playoffs. The Ravens (5-1) were standout winners here but the Bills (1-4) and Vikings (1-4) struggled again. Most of the other sides were around .500 in these games, with the Saints having the least number of games against playoff opponents (3-1 over 4 games).
In terms of offense and defense I used points per game – on offense how many times did they score 24 points or more, on defense how many times did they concede less than 24 points. (24 is a fair estimate for a mean score in an NFL game.) This then ranked the teams – the offensive stars were the Chiefs, Ravens, 49ers and Saints, on defense it was the Patriots, Bills and Ravens on top – with the Titans and Vikings just behind.
So, all this was plugged into my supercomputer, pinch of salt and pepper, and this gave each team a final record and a percent as it would in their 16 game season. And the result was….
I don’t think there is any surprise to see the Ravens, 49ers and Chiefs way out in front. I would have put the Saints level with the Chiefs but I think their lower score is a reflection of falling down the seeds and having to enter at the wildcard stage and then go on the road. Conversely I think the Packers low rating is an illustration that there have been question marks over Green Bay during the regular season (particularly on offense) and that their hopes are boosted by being #3 seed and the comfort of their potentially hostile home environment. If the Saints had been the #3 seed this would have put them on a par with the Seahawks on this scale.
The surprises are the Texans and Seahawks – they were solid throughout the process are particularly impressive in the close games scenario. I don’t think this exercise captures how ‘beat up’ the Seahawks are right now or that the Texans are reliant on a fit WR trio of Hopkins, Fuller and Stills for Deshaun Watson to throw to. But, maybe both could surprise and go further than expected.
The Patriots benefit from their recent playoff excursions and the performances of the defense this season. It suggests they will manage to see off the Titans but would then fall to the Chiefs, which seems entirely justifiable at present. Seeds #5 and #6 in both the AFC and NFC will struggle on these metrics although all have the chance to be ‘beserkers’ on their day.
Using the pct generated we get the Texans, Patriots, Seahawks and Saints advancing to the divisional games. Then it is the Ravens, Chiefs, Saints and 49ers into conference title weekend.
At conference level the Ravens would beat the Chiefs, and the 49ers would beat the Saints. In the Super Bowl the Ravens take the title.
But all that is a very raw, soul-less, look at games where emotion, passion, determination and toughness can win the day. I’ll leave it their and now get ready to settle down and enjoy the first weekend of the playoffs.