THE ARCHIVES (2011-Part 1)
Super Bowl: Final 2011 Season Thoughts
Super Bowl XLVI was a microcosm of New England's 2011 regular season.
Bill Belichick's team got off to a bumpier than expected start. In the Super
Bowl, an intentional grounding penalty on quarterback Tom Brady that gave New
York a safety and a 12-men on the field penalty that negated a drive-stopping
turnover put the Patriots down 9-0 and on the ropes early. But, just as the
Patriots responded after a mistake-plagued 5-3 start to the regular season with
an impressive must-win win over the New York Jets, coach Bill Belichick's team
Suddenly, New England could do no wrong. Brady completed 16 passes in a row,
including touchdown tosses to Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez. Midway
through the third quarter, the Patriots were in control, 17-9. It was much like
the second half of the regular season in which New England won 8 straight games
while averaging better than plus-2 turnovers per game.
Then, as suddenly as their perfection had emerged, it vanished again. Brady
struggled for the rest of the game and the Giants rallied to win, 21-17. New
York won the turnover battle on 1-0 on the strength of linebacker Chase
Blackburn's fourth quarter interception. It was the third straight game the
Patriots lost the turnover battle and left New England minus-4 turnovers in
their three playoff games.
The Giants, on the other hand, were plus-2, plus-3, plus-2, and plus-1
turnovers in their four playoff games. It's almost impossible for a good team
to lose any NFL game when plus-2 turnovers and coach Tom Coughlin's team is a
good, not great, team.
What New York proved is that a balanced team can still win a championship. The
Giants did not throw the ball the best or run the ball the best or defend the
best. But they did everything well. And Eli Manning and friends one turnover in
the playoffs was by far the best mark in that statistical category.
It is tempting to think that Green Bay, which finished the season 15-1 before
falling to New York in the divisional round, lost this Super Bowl championship
as much as the Giants won it. Behind Aaron Rogers, the Packers offense was
infinitely productive during the regular season. But Miami and Dan Marino in
1984 and Indianapolis and Peyton Manning in 2004 also were infinitely
productive and failed to win the Super Bowl. (San Francisco and Joe Montana was
infinitely productive in 1989 and crushed Denver in the Super Bowl, 55-10.)
After New York won, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted that the
"hot team," but perhaps not the best team, wins the championship.
That's one way to look at it.
But nobody could deny that at the end of 2011, the most complete team was the
New York Giants.
SUPER BOWL PREVIEW
New England (-3) vs. New York Giants
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; NY Giants 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); NY Giants T7th (+7)
Its another Super Bowl where theteamsarethisclosestatistically.
As this table shows, New England and New York are virtually equal in every
statistical category. The Patriots protect the passer a little better than the
Giants; New York pressures the passer a little better than New England. Both
teams throw the ball well and neither defends the pass very well. It should be
New England NFL Rank
NY Giants NFL Rank
Play Design (HA) Differential
Player Productivity (HY) Differential
With no obvious
statistical edge, the QuantCoach looked back at the regular season meeting in
Week 9, which the Giants won 24-20. New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and
running back Ahmad Bradshaw did not play in that game. The Giants also won the
turnover battle, 4-2, as Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady threw two
interceptions and lost a fumble. On the other side of ball, New England's
hobbled tight end, Rob Gronkowski, had a big game (8-101-TD). He might not be
at full speed on Sunday.
So those picking New York have some good reasons to think the Giants will
But QC is not one of them.
In the Week 9 game, Brady played well in the first half, but could not overcome
starting drives at his own 10, 6, 17, 20, 11, and 9 yard lines. Usually
reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal. Brady's
turnovers cost the Patriots 3 points and gave the Giants 10-points. Still, with
less than 2 minutes to play, New England led 20-17 and might have survived if
backup defensive back Sergio Brown had not run over Victor Cruz and drawn a
penalty that gave New York a first down at the Patriots' 1-yard line.
The game was a good demonstration of a New England quality that heretofore has
been completely overlooked.
Nobody in the NFL is better than Bill Belichick's Patriots when the game is not
going as designed.
When a game is going as designed and expected, every team in the NFL looks
good. Indeed, the better designed team wins in the NFL 75 percent of the time.
But what is a team's record in "black swan" games when the team that wins
is not designed as well as the loser. The records of the Super Bowl teams over
the past two years in such games are:
New England: 10-1 (.909)
New York: 3-5 (.400)
In other words, the Patriots have been involved in more games than the Giants
where the "better team" loses and New England tends to win such games
by a more than 2-1 margin compared to New York. Of course, turnovers can still
ruin the Patriots (just like any other team), as they did in New England's only
"black swan" loss in the last two years, the loss to the Giants in
But, if Brady avoids turnovers, the QuantCoach likes New England to win (and
maybe even cover if the point spread drops below 3 points before kickoff)
whether the Patriots out play New York or not.
Like life in Jurrasic Park or
Peter Griffin's washing machine, Belichick finds a
QC's Pick: New England (SU and ATS)
Championship Round Thoughts
Baltimore's 23-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game was an
almost perfect carbon copy of the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Patriots in Week 6
of the 2010 season. In both games, Baltimore enjoyed a plus-2 turnover edge.
Quarterback Joe Flacco averaged 8.34 (2010) and 8.35 (AFC Title) yards per pass
attempt while Tom Brady averaged 6.5 and 6.3, respectively. In 2010, Baltimore
was about 6% better designed and 4.19 more productive while in the AFC
Championship the Ravens were 5.6% better designed and 4.75 more productive. In
2010, the Patriots won on kicker Steven Gostkowski's field goal in overtime. In
the AFC Title, the Patriots won when Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff's missed
field goal prevented overtime. Amazing.
San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams lost 2 fumbles in the 49ers 20-17
loss to New York in the NFC Championship Game. But just as significantly, it
was only the third time all year that the opposition did not subsidize San
Francisco with at least 2 turnovers. During the regular season, Detroit did not
give Jim Harbaugh's team any turnovers, but the 49ers still won 24-19. Brother
John's Baltimore team did turn the ball over in the Ravens 16-6 win in the Har
Bowl. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was sacked, hit, and pressured frequently,
but he stubbornly refused to make the big mistake. That is why New York is in
the Super Bowl.
Dennis Allen for Hue Jackson
What is the Raiders' new general manager Reggie McKenzie thinking?
Michael Lombardi and Jason LaCanfora have reported on twitter that McKenzie has
hired Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to replace Hue Jackson as the
head coach of the Raiders.
Can this be justified? Let's look at the numbers.
Both Oakland and the Broncos were 8-8 last year. So if a coach "is what
his record says he is," as Bill Parcells once said, this does not look
like an upgrade. It looks even worse if you examine the coaching
In 2011, Denver ranked 27th in play design differential. All of the head
coaches and their assistants who ranked between 26th and 32nd except the
Broncos' Fox and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier were fired after the season. Under
Jackson, the Raiders tied with Philadelphia for 8th in play design
differential. All of the teams that ranked between 1st and 10th, except for
Oakland and the Eagles, made the playoffs. No team ranked lower than 16th
(Cincinnati) made the playoffs other than Denver.
Like McKenzie, a former linebacker, Allen is a defensively oriented coach. But
the Broncos defense ranked just 20th in D-QCYPA (7.386), two places behind the
Raiders' defense (7.209). Concededly, Denver's pass pressure ranked 7th in the
NFL, a big improvement from the year before Allen got there when it ranked
30th. But most of that improvement probably was attributable to the addition of
rookie Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil returning from an injury. Miller and
Dumervil will not be joining Allen in Oakland.
Jackson was an offensively oriented coach. Using his play designs, the Raiders
ranked 7th in QCYPA (7.942), a figure that was better than playoff qualifiers
Houston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta and San Francisco. Oakland achieved that
ranking despite losing starting quaterback Jason Campbell to a broken collar
bone in Week 6, transitioning through Kyle Boller, and getting Carson Palmer
off the beach.
Once Jackson got Palmer acclimated after the bye week, he torched Allen's
defense for 332 yards and 3 TDs (9.886 QCYPA) in a Week 9 meeting with Denver.
The Broncos prevailed, 38-24, not because Allen's defense stopped the Raiders,
but because Palmer threw 3 interceptions (a blemish that is not likely to
disappear under Allen), Tim Tebow sprung the triple option on the Raiders'
defense, and Eddie Royal returned a punt for a touchdown.
Finally, you have to wonder if McKenzie watched the Broncos 45-10 divisional
round loss to New England. In that game, Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady tossed
6 touchdown passes--five in the first half--and did whatever he wanted to
Allen's defense. Duing the regular season, Green Bay's Aaron Rogers and
Detroit's Matthew Stafford also easily solved the Broncos' defense in lopsided
Maybe Allen will prove to be an excellent coach and McKenzie's hire will be
But at this point in time, the coaching statistics suggest that McKenzie wanted
a head coach who owes him allegiance for his job more than he wanted
performance on the field.
Good luck Raiders' fans.
Championship Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
San Francisco (-2.5) vs. New York
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 15th; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 14th; NY Giants
TURNOVER MARGIN: San Francisco 1st (+28); NY Giants T7th (+7)
When the teams met in Week 10, San Francisco held on for a 27-20 win in a game
in which the coaching statistics were even closer than the final score. New
York was less than one percent better designed than the 49ers and less than 1/4
point more productive. If Justin Smith had not knocked down Eli Manning's
fourth down pass from the San Francisco 10-yard line, the game probably would
have ended in a tie and the teams would have gone to sudden death. The 49ers
played almost the entire game that day without runnning back Frank Gore, but
the Giants played the entire game without running back Ahmad Bradshaw. In
addition, New York linebacker Michael Boley missed the second half of the game,
and San Francisco tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker broke loose with
him out of the game. However, when their respective entire bodies of work from
the regular season are considered, it is clear that the Giants are the better
designed and more productive team. The 49ers defense is sound and Justin Smith
has been an unstoppable pass rusher at times, but the secondary was hurt by
Dallas and Arizona in the regular season and New Orleans in the second half
last week. All of these teams had receivers who could make big plays and New
York does too with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. New York
ranked right behind the Saints in the regular season in both play design and
player productivity differential. If Manning has time to throw, he will make
big plays too. Turnovers have been the great equalizer all year for San
Francisco. Turnovers did in New Orleans against the 49ers just as they did in
the Giants in Week 10 when Manning threw two interceptions, one of which led
directly to a Kendall Hunter touchdown run. San Francisco has been magical all
year. But it took every last drop of effort and magic to subdue the Saints. It
is hard to see the 49ers being able to wring that kind of performance and
perserverence from themselves again so soon. But there again, San Francisco
rarely has failed to surprise all year.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New England (-7.5) vs. Baltimore
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; Baltimore 10th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; Baltimore 13th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); Baltimore T11th (+2)
When these teams met last year, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco torched New
England's pass defense for 285 yards passing and two touchdowns on only 35
attempts (8.3 QCYPA) and did not commit a turnover. The Ravens defense battered
Tom Brady (.568 pass pressure), who was not very productive (6.3 QCYPA) and
threw two interceptions. But Baltimore still lost in overtime, 23-20. Candidly,
it is hard to imagine that Flacco can be any more productive or that Brady
could be any less productive. That is the Ravens' problem. New England is less
than one percent better designed than Baltimore as measured by design
differential. But the Patriots are much more productive as measured by player
productivity differential. Tom Brady simply gets more bang for his buck from
the Patriots' offensive designs than Flacco gets from offensive coordinator Cam
Cameron's maligned designs. It also seems unlikely that the Patriots, who
committed two turnovers in their 45-10 win over Denver in the divisional round
after being plus-17 turnovers during the regular season, will give Baltimore
two or more turnovers again. So Flacco will have to earn everything he gets.
Looking at each team's entire regular season body of work, the only area where
the the Ravens are substantially better is pass defense. But Baltimore's
third-ranked pass rush has not gotten much pressure lately and San Diego's
Philip Rivers showed what a proven passer like Brady can do to the Ravens'
secondary if given time to find receivers. The 7.5 point spread is set just
about perfectly so your guess is as good as QC's as to whether New England will
cover. But its a pretty good bet that Belichick, Brady and the rest of the
Patriots will win straight up and return to the Super Bowl for the fifth time
in the last 12 years.
QC's Pick: New England (SU and ATS)
Divisional Round Thoughts
The play call San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman made for quarterback
Alex Smith's sweep for a fourth quarter touchdown in the 49ers 36-32 win over
New Orleans was the call of the year. With Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg
Williams bringing a big blitz from the opposite side, it was the perfect
call. Those who said Smith made a mistake in scoring the touchdown rather than
pulling up at the 1-yard line so that San Francisco could bleed clock are
talking silly talk. Such a decision fits in the category of play design. Nobdy
designs a pull-up play when trailing in the fourth quarter. Besides, the
touchdown required New Orleans to score a touchdown of its own and, if San
Francisco had succeeded on the subsequent two-point PAT, even that only would
have tied the game. Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham
bailed Williams out with a long touchdown pass after Smith's scoring run. But
Williams just could not keep his hand off the stove and Smith burned him again
with the late touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis that won the game.
Yes, New York's defense played very well in the Giants 37-20 whipping of Green
Bay and yes the Packers' four turnovers doomed their effort to repeat as Super
Bowl champions. But what really did in coach Mike McCarthy's team was the near
total absence of a pass rush. In the first half, New York quarterback Eli
Manning had all day and night to throw and shredded Green Bay's pass defense.
Last year, the Packers ranked first in the NFL in QC's pass pressure statistic.
This year, Green Bay ranked 32nd, dead last. QC still can't figure out how the
Packers went from first to worst in pass pressure. Interior rusher Cullen
Jenkins signed with Philadelphia in the off-season and the Eagles ranked second
in pass pressure. Jenkins is a good pass rusher, but he's not that good.
Baltimore's 20-17 win over Houston was marked by nine Ravens' punts. The game
was that boring.
Prior to meeting in Foxboro, New England and Denver ranked, repectively, as
follows in QC's key play design differential, player productivity differential,
and turnover differential statistics: Patriots: 7th, 3rd and 3rd; Broncos:
27th, 25th, and 27th. In light of those numbers, New England's 45-10 wipeout
hardly looks surprising.
Divisional Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
San Francisco (+3.5) vs. New Orleans
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 15th; New Orleans 4th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 14th; New Orleans
TURNOVER MARGIN: San Francisco 1st (+28); New Orleans T19th (-3)
San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has had two weeks to get ready
for Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the rest of the Saints scorching-hot
offense. The 49ers defense will be ready. But, to put it bluntly, San Francisco
cannot win this game without turnovers. Quarterback Alex Smith and running back
Frank Gore will have some success against the New Orleans defenseprobably
more than most people expectbut they wont be able to keep up with
Brees if New Orleans is mistake free. Fangios defense is the best in the
red zone in the NFL. If his defenders can turn Brees over a time or two and
force the Saints to settle for field goals a couple of other times, Smith and
Gore will squeeze out just enough offense to get the 49ers into the NFC
QC's Pick: San Francisco (SU and ATS)
Green Bay Packers (-7.5) vs. New York
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 3rd; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 1st; NY Giants 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Green Bay 2nd (+24); NY Giants T7th (+7)
Of all the teams in the playoffs, New York matches up the best against Green
Bay. Indeed, in their regular season meeting, the Giants were better designed
and more productive, but settling for field goals and few turnovers allowed the
Packers to escape New York with a 38-35 win. Quarterback Eli Manning can match
Aaron Rogers throw-for-throw and drive-for-drive. And he probably wont
face as much resistance as Rogers will face from Justin Tuck and the other New
York pass rushers. Green Bays offense finished the year infinitely
productive and it should have wide receiver Greg Jennings and tackle Chad
Clifton back on the field. The Packers will score. Rogers is also a little less
likely than Manning to generate turnovers, although Eli generally has been very
good in that area. Its possible that a rested and healed Green Bay will
overwhelm New York with its efficiency and the Giants will turn the ball over
as they press to keep pace. But its just as likely that Manning will
match Rogers productivity and New Yorks defense will make the
difference and Tom Coughlin will notch another huge upset on his belt.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New England (-13.5) vs. Denver
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; Denver 27th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; Denver 25th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); Denver T27th (-12)
Tim Tebow and the Broncos offense had its way with New Englands
defense in the first quarter of their regular season meeting. Then, in the
second quarter, Denver subsidized the Patriots with three turnovers and New
England rallied and then pulled away. Obviously, Tebow and the Broncos cannot
do that again. In addition, it is unlikely that Denver could keep up in
shootout. Bill Belichicks defense will play much more passively than the
Steelers did last week in an effort to contain, rather than attack,
Tebow. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, et al. will get their yards and points
when they have the ball and are unlikely to help the Broncos cause with
turnovers. So for Denver to win, Tebow will have to be patient as well as
mistake free and the Broncos will have to dominate the game on the ground. That
is a difficult recipe to follow in the NFL. Tebow may do it well enough to
cover the 13.5 point spread, but he is unlikely to do it well enough to pull
off another outright miracle win. Hes only human.
QC's Pick: New England SU; Denver ATS
Baltimore (-7.5) vs. Houston
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Baltimore 10th; Houston 2nd
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Baltimore 13th; Houston 6th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Baltimore T11th (+2); Houston T7th (+7)
This is another rematch from the regular season. In the first meeting,
Baltimore prevailed 29-15 over a Houston team guided by first-string
quarterback Matt Schaub. The Texans, of course, will be without Schaub this
time and will have to go with rookie T.J. Yates under center. Even more
disconcerting for Houston is that the Ravens were minus-2 turnovers in the
first game and the Texans still lost by two touchdowns. Baltimore quarterback
Joe Flacco enjoyed one of his most productive games and hurt Houston with big
passes to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. On the other side of the ball, the
Ravens defense controlled Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Quite simply, this was not
a good matchup for the Texans with Schaub and its an even worse matchup without
QC's Pick: Baltimore (SU and ATS)
Wild-Card Round Thoughts
Dick LeBeau is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His brain is part of the brain
in QC's "Jar of Football
Knowledge." But his defensive game plan for Tim Tebow in
Pittsburgh's stunning 26-20 overtime loss to Denver was shockingly reckless.
There were only two ways for the Broncos to win this game. The first was for
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to provide Denver a bushel of
turnovers. The other was for the game to be decided by five or six big plays,
and not by 30 or 40 smaller plays where Pittsburgh's clear superiority would
make the difference. By crowding the line of scrimmage, LeBeau dared Tebow to
make big plays. And he did. Tebow posted an incredible 16 QCYPA against a
defense that during the regular season allowed the average passer a mere 5.474
QCYPA, easily the lowest in the NFL. Indeed, the only quarterback this year to
post a better QCYPA was Houston's Matt Schaub (17 QCYPA) and that came against
the awful Tampa Bay pass defense. (As an aside, the best QCYPA posted since QC
began keeping track was Drew Brees' 18.130 in a 38-17 win over New England in
2009.) It is well-established that defending option football is about
disciplined assignment defense against the run and preventing big plays against
the pass. LeBeau is still one of the best ever, but against Denver he looked
like a beginner. The price for LeBeau's fatal design miscalculation is that the
defending AFC-champion Steelers will watch the rest of the playoffs like the
In a battle of rookie quarterbacks starting their first playoff games, you had
to figure one would crack. That's what happened in Houston's 31-10 spanking of
Cincinnati. The Texans' T.J. Yates got away with a few questionable decisions
early in the game. The Bengals' Andy Dalton was not so lucky. Particularly
devastating was defensive end J.J. Watt's interception and subsequent touchdown
return that gave Houston a 17-10 halftime lead. Dalton finished with three
interceptions while Yates settled down and played mistake-free. That is why the
Texans are going to Baltimore and Cincinnati is going home.
In the aftermath of New York's 24-2 pounding of Atlanta, many were wondering
whether this year's version of Giants is as good as the 2007 version that made
an unexpected run to a Super Bowl title. They are not. They are much better
than the 2007 team. The 2007 Giants were minus-9 in turnovers during the
regular season and about 1.7 percent worse designed than their opponents before
going on a plus-5 turnover run in the playoffs and outdesigning three of their
four opponents, including unbeaten New England in the Super Bowl. This New York
team was plus-7 turnovers and more than 3.3 percent better designed than their
opponents during the regular season. Their domination of the Falcons was not a
Despite running out of gas in a 45-28 loss to New Orleans, coach Jim Schwartz's
Detroit Lions look like they will be a genuine contender in 2012 if their key
players stay healthy. When Schwartz took over after Detroit finished 0-16 in
2008, the Lions were the third worst designed and least productive team in the
league. This year, Schwartz's third in Detroit, the Lions were the sixth best
designed and seventh most productive team in the league. Wide receiver Titus
Young and defensive tackle Nick Fairley are young players who could make big
leaps with a year of experience and running back Mikel LeShoure, who missed all
of 2011 with an injury, might provide the physical runner the team lacked.
Schwartz is right on schedule.
Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New Orleans (-10.5) vs. Detroit
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 4th; Detroit 6th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 2nd; Detroit 7th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New Orleans T18th (-3); Detroit 4th (+11)
Detroit gave the high-powered Saints a turnover in a Week 13 loss and committed
11 penalties and still only lost in the Super Dome by 14 points. New Orleans
has been dominant at home, but Lions quarterback Matt Stafford kept up the last
time and QC expects him to do it again. Detroit enjoys a big edge in turnover
differential and it will probably take at least plus-2 or even plus-3 turnovers
for the Lions to actually prevail. Drew Brees has been so generous on the road
in stunning losses to St. Louis and Tampa Bay, two of the worst teams in the
NFL. But QC does not expect such generosity from Brees in a home playoff game.
QC doesn't have the onions to predict an outright Detroit victory, but he
probably would be less surprised than most if it happens.
QC's Pick: New Orleans SU; Detroit ATS
New York Giants (-3) vs. Atlanta
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: NY Giants 5th; Atlanta 13th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: NY Giants 4th; Atlanta 12th
TURNOVER MARGIN: NY Giants T7th (+7); Atlanta T5th (+8)
New York is the most underrated and dangerous darkhorse in the tournament. The
Giants rank in the top 5 in the NFL in both play design and player productivity
differential and in the top 10 in turnover differential. Quarterback Eli
Manning is as efficient in the fourth quarter as some of the greatest ever such
as Elway or Montana. Wide receiver Victor Cruz has emerged as one of the
league's top playmakers. Atlanta actually is better from a play design and
player productivity perspective than it was last year when it finished 13-3.
Rookie wide receiver Julio Jones came on in the second half of the year and he
will have to contribute a big play or two if the Falcons hope to win this game.
The Falcons are growing in the right direction, but the QuantCoach does not
expect them to measure up to the Giants on the pantry door just yet.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Houston (-4) vs. Cincinnati
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Houston 2nd; Cincinnati 16th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Houston 6th; Cincinnati 17th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Houston T7th (+7); Cincinnati 17th (0)
On paper, this game looks like a statistical mismatch, but Houston is not the
same team on offense without quarterback Matt Schaub. The Texans are still the
same team on defense and that should be too much for the Bengals who are the
essence of a middle of the pack team. Cincinnati is in the playoffs because
almost all of the bounces went their way early in the season in wins over
Cleveland, Seattle, and Jacksonville. When the two teams met in Cincinnati in
Week 14, the Texans prevailed even at minus-2 turnovers. That does not bode
well for the Bengals. Further, Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate
look primed for a big game after Baltimore's Ray Rice gashed the Cincinnati
defense for two long touchdown runs in Week 17. QC likes Houston to win its
first playoff game in team history, although the margin may be just a field
QC's Pick: Houston Texans (SU and ATS)
Denver (+8.5) vs. Pittsburgh
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 27th; Pittsburgh 1st
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 25th; Pittsburgh 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Denver 27th (-12); Pittsburgh T28th (-13)
Denver somehow managed to win the AFC West despite ranking last in the division
in play design and turnover differential and just ahead of Kansas City in
player productivity differential. Thanks to its defense, Pittsburgh led the NFL
in play design differential, but the Steelers had a major problem in with
turnover differential. Still, this is a statistical mismatch everywhere else.
If the Broncos win straight up, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NFL
playoff history. However, if Tim Tebow eliminates the turnovers that have
plagued him the last three weeks, Denver can hang in a low-scoring defensive
game because with Ben Roethlisberger hobbling and Rashard Mendenhall out,
Pittsburgh does not have the firepower to bury the Broncos without some
turnover help. The Steelers failed to cover 8.5 points against Indianapolis,
Kansas City and Cleveland so QC expects a Pittsburgh victory, but no
QC's Pick: Pittsburgh SU; Denver ATS
2011 Season: Week 17 Thoughts
Those who are suggesting that the incredible performance of Green Bay backup
quarterback Matt Flynn in th e Packers win over the Lions in the season finale
somehow suggests starting quarterback Aaron Rogers is not the NFL's MVP are
heretics who do not observe QC's 1st Commandment. The relationship between play
design and playmaking is direct. Flynn did a great job of following coach Mike
McCarthy's directions for one game. Rogers did it for 15 games. The Packers
finished the year infinitely productive. An MVP selection is inherently
subjective, so if you like Drew Brees setting an individual record better than
Rogers producing infinitely, so be it. Just don't tell QC Flynn's performance
diminishes Rogers' incredible season. That's nonsense.
In six of the NFL's eight divisions, the best designed team in the division had
the best record in the division. (Pittburgh, the best designed team in the AFC
North, had the same record as Baltimore but lost the division on the
head-to-head tie-breaker.) In the AFC West, Oakland was the best designed team,
but the Raiders also were the most penalized team in the NFL. In the NFC West,
Arizona actually was infintesimally better designed (.0002) than San Francisco,
but the 49ers (plus-28 turnovers) enjoyed a massive edge in turnover
differential over the Cardinals (minus-13 turnovers).
With a strong close, Philadelphia (8-8) finished the season as the best
designed team in the NFC not to make the playoffs. Turnovers (minus-14) were
the undoing of coach Andy Reid's team. But the Eagles still might have squeezed
into the tournment if they had not let their game in Week 2 against the Falcons
get away. If Philadelphia had won, both Atlanta and the Eagles would have
finished 9-7 and Philadelphia would have advanced on the head-to-head
If the NFL used QC's play design differential statistic as its first tie
breaker, the NFL playoffs would look like this. The AFC would be the same
except Oakland, not Denver, would be the AFC West champion. Pittsburgh would be
the AFC North champion and Baltimore would be the first wild-card. Tennessee,
rather than Cincinnati, would be the second wild-card. The NFC would be exactly
2011 Season: Week 16 Thoughts
QC loves underrated players and was happy to see
ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook recognize San Diego guard Kris
Dielman as one of the NFL's most underrated in his Tuesday Morning
Quarterback column. "Among the best linemen of the past decade,"
Easterbrook wrote, "Dielman not only was undrafted, he had never taken a
snap at offensive line in high school or college before trying the position in
the pros." Well, this is not exactly true. The QuantCoach saw Dielman play
high school football at Troy High School in Troy, Ohio. Dielman's official
position was tight end, but in coach Steve Nolan's offense, that was an
offensive line position. On the night QC was there, Dielman paved the way for
running back Ryan Brewer to rush for nearly 300 yards in a win over arch-rival
Piqua High School. You might remember Brewer. He was the tough running back
that Lou Holtz lured to South Carolina when Ohio State passed on him.
Brewer's three touchdown performance in a 24-7 win over the
Buckeyes in the 2001 Outback Bowl cost Ohio State coach John Cooper
his job. Coincidentally, New England tackle Matt Light also was a high school
tight end in the same league as Dielman at Greenville High School.
In their 29-14 win over the Jets, Eli Manning and the Giants showed just how
meaningless completion percentage can be. Manning completed just one-third of
his pass attempts (9-27). But he still posted an excellent 8.408 QCYPA.
Concededly, Mannings efficiency was built largely on one huge play, a
99-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Further, it will not be often that NFL
passer exceeds 8 QCYPA while completing only one-third of his passes. But
neither of those facts undermine the fact that an offense does not receive any
first downs or points for completions alone and that, therefore, completion
percentage is to a certain extent a cosmetic statistic.
Most Green Bay fans probably felt good after the Packers dispatched the Bears,
35-21, to clinch home field throughout the NFC playoffs. But the victory may
have concealed a fatal Green Bay flaw: No pass rush. Last year, the Packers led
the NFL in pass rush, taking approximately .6 yards from their opponents every
time they attempted to pass. This year Green Bay is taking barely .3 yards per
pass attempt. On Christmas Night, despite Chicagos porous offensive line,
the Packers hardly got a breath of pressure on off-the-street quarterback Josh
McKown. Every team in the NFC playoffs will have a quarterback who can hurt
Green Bay if given time to do so and it appears they will have time. If Green
Bays defense does not receive its usual allotment of turnovers or, heaven
forbid, quarterback Aaron Rogers distributes a few turnovers, the Pack
wont make it to Indy.
They're at it again. In 2010, the Patriots reached the midway point of the
season with a 6-2 record. New England went unbeaten the rest of the way largely
because it committed only a single turnover in its concluding eight games.
After starting this year 5-3, Tom Brady and company have won seven games in row
largely because they have committed only two turnovers during that stretch.
That is simply amazing.
Denvers Tim Tebow looked awful in the Broncos 40-14 loss to the Bills.
Tebow threw four interceptions and Buffalo returned two of the picks for
touchdowns. It was Denvers and Tebows second turnover-plagued game
in a row. The Broncos turned it over three times the week before in a loss to
the Patriots. No quarterbacknot Peyton Manning, not Tom Brady, not Drew
Brees, not Aaron Rogers, and not Tebowcan win at minus-3 or minus-4
turnovers. If Denver sticks with Tebow, it may just have to acceot the fact
that its wins will be ugly--and its losses will be hideous. Until the last
fortnight, Tebows greatest strength had been his ability to avoid
turnovers and win close games. Lets say that Tebow can consistently avoid
turnovers and produce enough wins for the Broncos to finish between 8-8 and
11-5 on a yearly basis and stay in the playoff chase until the last few games
of the season, but the wins are close and the losses are not. Will
Denvers management be able to stomach such a style of
success? It remains to be seen.
2011 Season: Week 15 Thoughts
After absorbing a 45-19 loss in Philadelphia, the New York Jets' player
productivity differential is exactly 0. In other words, after 14 games, the
Jets have been exactly as productive as their opponents. New York's turnover
differential also is 0. The Jets are perfectly mediocre.
It seemed like Oakland lost the game to Detroit on the last drive of the game
when Lions quarterback Matt Stafford hit wide receiver Calvin Johnson for a
touchdown and a 28-27 lead with seconds to play. But Raiders coach Hue Jackson
really lost the game much earlier when he went for a first down on the Raiders'
first drive of the game at the Detroit 24-yard line on 4th-and-1. The Lions
held. If Oakland had those 3 points in their pocket, Stafford's heroics would
have been for naught. Patience is always undervalued.
A few weeks ago, the preseason prediction of Sports Illustrated's Peter King
that San Diego and Atlanta would meet in the Super Bowl looked pretty silly.
But now both the Chargers and the Falcons are rolling. San Diego destroyed
Baltimore, 34-14, and Atlanta rolled over Jacksonville, 41-14. The Chargers
will need a lot of help to qualify (Buffalo must beat Denver), but if you were
looking for a couple of darkhorses, King's prediction is not looking so
Look for San Francisco and New Orleans to play hard to the end to secure the
second seed in the NFC playoffs. Not only will the second seed be on the other
side of the bracket from the Packers, that team will get home field advantage
in what is almost sure to be a 49ers vs. Saints divisional round game. The
teams could not be more opposite. New Orleans has been as efficient on offense
as any team in the past few weeks, including the Packers, and San Francisco
plays the best defense in the NFL and gets by on offense. Whoever has the home
field in this game will be the favorite to advance.
2011 Season: Week 14 Thoughts
Millman, the QuantCoach is calling you out!
Chad Millman is the Editor in Chief of ESPN the Magazine and hosts the
"Behind the Bets" pod cast on ESPN. On his
December 12, 2011 podcast, Millman discussed a betting theory known as the
"80/20 Rule" with one of the rule's greatest advocates, Dan Farbrizio
of sportsinsights.com. (Full disclosure: The QuantCoach
has a 1 1/4 hour drive to work and a 1 1/4 hour drive home from work every day.
His is a big fan of the "Behind the Bets" pod cast.)
"When you have a home dog in which 80 percent of the bets are on the road
fave, it's a winning formula," Mr. Millman wrote on his blog. "I
tested his theory this weekend and included the two 80-20 games -- the Niners
getting 82 percent of bets as 3.5-point faves at Zona and the Pats getting 84
percent of bets as 7.5-point faves at Washington -- in my SuperContest five. I
won both games."
Mr. Millman was referring to taking Arizona and 3.5 points against San
Francisco and Washington and 8 points against New England in the
Hilton Super Contest. Mr. Millman also chose Tennessee at home
getting 3.5 points against New Orleans, a choice that was just outside the
80/20 Rule (74% of the picks were on the Saints). Finally, Mr. Millman took a
pair of road underdogs: Chicago and 3.5 points at Denver and Tim "Could
You Please Just Stay Dead" Tebow and the New York Giants and 3.5 points in
the Jones-Mahal in Dallas.
The QuantCoach also is bumping along in the
SuperContest. QC took only one underdog, Houston and 3 points with a
quarterback (T.J. Yates) making his second NFL start in Cincinnnati. QC then
took four favorites. He took Denver and Tim "Rising from the Dead Is Not
Just for Easter Sunday Anymore" Tebow against the Bears and Atlanta laying
2.5 points to rookie quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina. The QuantCoach's
theory was incredibly simple: QC was speculating that Tebow and Ryan would win
the turnover battle versus a Matt Forte-less Caleb Hanie and Newton. To boot,
both Tebow and Ryan played on teams that were a tiny bit better designed,
albeit Denver was only better if you forgot the Kyle Orton era. Fortunately,
after extensive surveying in the state of Colorado, it is clear that every
single person has!
QC also went directly against hailing the Editor in Chief or the Redskins with
his other two picks. QC chose the 49ers and laid the 3.5 points and chose the
Patriots and laid the 8 points against Washington. Again, QC's thinking was
driven by turnovers. San Francisco (+18) came into the game with a massive edge
in turnover differential over Arizona (-8). New England (+8) enjoyed almost as
big an edge in Washington (-13) ... and the Patriots were facing turnover
machine Rex Grossman.
Here is the QuantCoach's analysis of each game and verdict on which was the
"right" side of the play. Let's go to the tape:
Arizona 21 San Francisco 19
The QuantCoach was feeling pretty fat and happy when the Niners built a 19-7
lead, but Mr. Millman got the the last laugh when the Cardinals rallied to win
behind the infinite productivity of backup quarterback John
Skelton. However, San Francisco finished the game +3 turnovers, just
as QC speculated.
Here is the record of all the other NFL teams in 2011 who have finished a game
+3 in turnovers or greater:
Here is how many times those other 28 NFL teams who finished +3 turnovers or
more and won the game also covered 3.5 points:
Prior to the game, QC's research indicated Arizona had a 51.5% chance to cover
the 3.5 points. So, without the benefit of knowing the turnover differential,
the Cardinals were just slightly the better choice. But that quickly decreases
to a 0% chance of victory as a team piles up turnovers, as Arizona did.
THE RIGHT SIDE: Clearly, San Francisco was
the right side of this play. (Mr. Millman--and others who chose Arizona based
on the 80/20 Rule or any other reason--was as lucky as any punter has been this
year. And QC is not talking about Shane Lechler.)
New England 34 Washington 27
New England prevailed and also won the turnover battle as QC speculated (2-1),
but the Patriots were 1 point shy of covering the 8-point spread. The primary
reason the Patriots let QC down was a ghastly interception that Tom Brady threw
in the fourth quarter in the Washington end zone that could have given the
Patriots a 14-point lead. You undoubtedly saw it. Its' the one that led to
offensive coordinator Bil O'Brien arguing with Brady like a teen-age boy
confronting his girl in a movie theater after he just saw her with another
pimply faced teenager. Yeah, awkward for everyone.
If you had New England too, you also might be tempted to complain about the
officiating. Washington blasted super-tight end Rob Gronkowski right in the
face on what was a classic helmet-to-helmet hit, but the officials did not
throw a flag and the Patriots had to settle for field goal. (To be fair, to
warrant a penalty a receiver has to be in a defenseless position and
"defenseless" is not the word that jumps to mind when the QuantCoach
conjures up a mental image of Gronkowski.)
Also, the officials nullified a Grossman interception that enabled Washington
to pick up a field goal when it flagged Andre Carter for personal foul when he
made contact with the quarterback as Rex unloaded one of his patented,
"off-the-back-foot, what-the-hell-was-he-thinking" heaves.
But to complain would not be sporting and we are all gentlemen here. So QC
won't do it here. (Drunk in a bar by himself, that is a different story.)
Prior to the game, QC's research indicated Washington had a 59% chance to cover
and the well-respectd Prediction Machine said the Redskins chances were
58%. So there were plenty of reasons to think Washington was the right choice
here that had nothing to do with all that money on New England.
THE RIGHT SIDE: Washington was the right
side of this play. (In the NFL, 8 points is a lot for any team to cover against
any other team and a number that ol' QC always considers taking . New England
needed one more--or one less--turnover to do it. Brady's waste was just too
costly to turn a profit on the Patriots.)