2013 NFL Playoff Analysis

By | January 3, 2013

A common misconception, in all major sports, is that the best team wins the championship.  That’s what the playoffs are supposed to give us right?  It is the reason many have pushed for a playoff system in college football.  After all we want to see the best team win.  But you have a better chance of seeing a weaker team win it all in a playoff system than you would without.  Was there any doubt New England was the best team in 2007?  They lost one game all season but it was in the Super Bowl.  It took the catch of all catches to do it but they lost.  Sports fans say they want the best team to win on the field but what they really want is the excitement a playoff system brings.

Over the last decade, just two of the 13 teams that had the best regular season record, or tied for the best record, went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2002 Buccaneers and the 2003 Patriots.

With that said we know the best team does not always win.  So betting on a huge favorite in a playoff system is often foolish.  There is not enough value if you just take the top team each year.  What you need to figure out is what favorites can you eliminate and which long shots are live.

Every year, before the playoffs, I run every team through 3 filters to determine a potential winner for the Super Bowl.  It is a very basic strategy but a good way to weed out the teams that are highly unlikely to win it all.

Here are my filters

1. Team must have a total yardage differential >36 (just 6 teams won the Super Bowl with less)

2. Teams must be + in turnover differential (just 6 teams won the Super Bowl with a – differential)

3. SRS from Pro Footbal Reference >5.9 (just 8 teams had a lower ranking including the 2006 Colts at 5.9)

Here is a chart of the past Super Bowl Winners

Year Team YPG Differential Turnover Differential SRS
1966 Green Bay                                         48 18 13.5
1967 Green Bay                                         70 3 9.4
1968 NY Jets                                       120 15 7.9
1969 Kansas City                                       103 8 11.9
1970 Baltimore                                         21 -2 0.4
1971 Dallas                                       112 16 9.9
1972 Miami                                       124 18 11
1973 Miami                                         59 1 13.4
1974 Pittsburgh                                         93 7 6.8
1975 Pittsburgh                                         88 5 14.2
1976 Oakland                                         58 -4 8.5
1977 Dallas                                       114 7 7.8
1978 Pittsburgh                                         52 7 8.2
1979 Pittsburgh                                       124 -10 11.9
1980 Oakland                                            0 5 4.2
1981 San Francisco                                         45 23 6.2
1982 Washington                                         47 8 7.4
1983 Los Angeles                                         59 -13 6.8
1984 San Francisco                                         74 16 12.7
1985 Chicago                                       106 23 15.9
1986 NY Giants                                         39 11 9
1987 Washington                                         36 -3 3.9
1988 San Francisco                                         83 12 4.8
1989 San Francisco                                       103 12 10.7
1990 NY Giants                                         37 20 7.7
1991 Washington                                         91 18 16.6
1992 Dallas                                       105 7 9.9
1993 Dallas                                         53 6 9.6
1994 San Francisco                                         76 11 11.6
1995 Dallas                                         49 2 9.7
1996 Green Bay                                         86 15 15.3
1997 Denver                                         75 10 10.7
1998 Denver                                         72 10 8.9
1999 St Louis                                       107 5 11.9
2000 Baltimore                                         65 23 8
2001 New England                                       (29) 7 4.3
2002 Tampa Bay                                         60 17 8.8
2003 New England                                         23 17 6.9
2004 New England                                         47 9 12.8
2005 Pittsburgh                                         38 7 7.8
2006 Indianapolis                                         47 7 5.9
2007 NY Giants                                         26 -9 3.3
2008 Pittsburgh                                         75 4 9.8
2009 New Orleans                                         46 11 10.8
2010 Green Bay                                         49 10 10.9
2011 NY Giants                                            9 7 1.6

This seasons playoff teams

Year Team Differential Per Game Turnover Differential SRS
2012 Denver                                       107 -1 10.1
2012 New England                                         55 25 12.8
2012 San Francisco                                         67 9 10.2
2012 Houston                                         49 12 3.5
2012 Seattle                                         44 13 12.2
2012 Green Bay                                         23 7 7.3
2012 Washington                                            6 20 3.4
2012 Cincinnati                                         13 4 2.1
2012 Atlanta                                            4 13 6.4
2012 Baltimore                                            2 9 2.9
2012 Minnesota                                       (13) -1 3.4
2012 Indianapolis                                       (12) -12 -4.7

1. Denver Broncos  (13-3) 2-1

The Broncos finished the season in my rankings where they spent most of it, number 1.  It is hard to argue that they are not the best team in the league.  They are the number 1 seed in the AFC, tied for the best record in the league.  They did however struggle against the better teams in the league.  Their record against the playoff teams is 2-3.  All three losses came early in the season as Manning was getting used to his new team.  The Broncos miss qualifying as a Super Bowl winner by 1 turnover.  That is the excuse I need to throw out the chalk and look elsewhere.

2. New England Patriots (12-4) 5-2

The Patriots are right where they usually are at this time of the season, in the playoffs with a bye week.  The AFC East was weak so the schedule for the Pats was a bit easier than most other teams.  In games against playoff teams they were 3-3 but two of those losses were against NFC Teams.  Many have been down on the Patriots because of perceptions.  The Pats suffer from the same thing the Yankees do.  We expect them to win every year even though that is unrealistic.  Add in two disappointing losses in their last two Super Bowl appearances and it becomes en vogue to bet against the Pats.  They qualify easily on all 3 Super Bowl criteria.  While I hate taking chalk if you must this is the team to take.

3. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) 4-1

This team should have been in the Super Bowl last season if not for a freak turnover on special teams in the Championship game.  Since then they have continued to win and made a major change at QB.  Their defense is number 1 ranked while the offense is 9th.  This team can run it ranked 5th in rushing.  They do not allow you to run it on them ranked 2nd in stopping the run.  They played the 6th toughest schedule this season.  Against playoff teams they went 3-2.  The 49ers qualify on all 3 Super Bowl qualifiers.  With that they must be considered as a bet to win the Super Bowl.

4. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) 6-1
The top seed in the NFC gets little respect but probably for good reason.  This team has been in this spot before and the results were not good.  Matt Ryan has never won a playoff game.  He has to win 3 to win it all.  The Falcons seem to be the Notre Dame of the NFL this season.  They played lesser teams real close all year but were able to win most of those games.  Bettors feel it is a matter of time before their luck runs out.  Against playoff teams Atlanta was 2-0 but they caught Denver and Washington early in the season.  Atlanta only out gains its opponents by 4 ypg.  That is well below the 36 ypg I am looking for.  I am going to stay clear of Atlanta and look for them to get upset at home.

5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) 9-1

My 3rd ranked team overall and top NFC team, the Seahawks might be the hottest team in the league.  They won 7 of their last 8 and a few of those were in dominating fashion including a drubbing of the 49ers two weeks ago.  They are dominant at home winning all 8 games and covering 7 of them.  On the road they were 3-5 SU.  That does not bode well for a team that will be on the road the entire playoffs.  Against playoff teams Seattle is 4-1.  Seattle runs it well, ranked 3rd overall.  The defense is their strong suit as they rank 2nd in the league.  They meet the 3 criteria and at 9-1 are worth a shot if you are looking for a long shot.

6. Green Bay Packers (11-5) 9-1

My 5th ranked team overall, the Packers get a huge benefit of the doubt when it comes to bettors and analysts.  I heard an analyst say SF was much more inconsistent than Green Bay and so he likes Green Bay in the playoffs.  I am not sure what metric is used to determine consistency but considering SF had a slightly better record I would say they are pretty close in consistency.  Now I suppose you can look at the second half of the season and say GB has had a better record but I think this more comes from the perception of the Packers as opposed to the realities.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and they have won before.  We have seen it so therefore it is not crazy to think it can happen again.  The Pack are 2-4 against playoff teams.  You get a price here at 9-1 but I am not a buyer.  The lack of a consistent running game and not being able to stop the run will cost them.  The NFC has 4 of the top 5 rushing teams in the NFL, all are in the playoffs.

7. Houston Texans (12-4) 20-1

Houston ranks 7th in my power rankings.  This was my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl but right now I am not feeling great about it.  Houston has played the 2nd easiest schedule in the league.  Against playoff teams they went 3-4.  You may ask how playing 7 games against playoff teams constitutes an easy schedule.  Well Indianapolis is not rated very highly in my rankings and they get 2 games each with Jacksonville and Tennessee.  Houston ranks 8 in defense and 11 in offense.  At 20-1 you are certainly getting a price but the SRS of 3.5 is keeping me away.  When you look at the long shots who have won this thing they do not seem to fit the profile.  This was a highly touted team stumbling into the playoffs as opposed to a sleeper team who gets hot at the right time.  I will pass here.

8. Washington Redskins (10-6) 20-1

If you are looking for hype here it is.  I was a big RGIII fan coming into the season and he has not done anything to disappoint.  He is one of 3 rookie QB’s starting this weekend.  But the Redskins are a slightly better than mediocre team.  13th rank overall, 23rd defense and 4th offense.  Their offense prowess is coming from the run game in which they are tops in the league.  Washington runs it for 51.57 more ypg than their opponents give up.  The problem is they give up 38 ypg more than opponents average in the air.  Against playoff teams they are 2-2.  They are underdogs at home in their first game.  It will be tough to see them winning it all.

9. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 25-1

I could never put money on a team that has been this bad down the stretch to win the Super Bowl.  Baltimore has lost 4 of 5 and if not for a 4th and 29 conversion, which I still think was short, it would be 5 of 6.  You will hear about motivation to win one for Ray but how much more motivation do you need?  Are the playoffs not enough to get you up for a game?  Baltimore can be run on and Ray Lewis won’t be much help there.  He is not the same player he once was.  They are just 2-4 against playoff teams.  The Ravens probably should have won the Super Bowl last season.  This year they are taking a step back.  The Ravens miss in 2 of 3 categories so I will not be considering them to win it all.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) 50-1

The Bengals are a team not talked about much but would you rather have the Bengals at 50-1 or the Ravens at 25-1.  I think I would take the Bengals at that price over the Ravens.  Cincinnati ranks 10th in my rankings overall, 9th in defense and 14th in offense.  They have won 7 of their last 8 games but yet have little buzz around them.  Against playoff teams they are 3-2.  The Bengals miss in 2 of 3 Super Bowl criteria but this price is too high.  I will not be playing it but they are the best of the bottom 4 teams.

11. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) 75-1

The Vikings are a bit of a surprise to be in the playoffs.  Not many people would have had them ahead of the Giants, Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, or Saints before the season.  But here they are.  They have done it with the 2nd best rushing attack in the NFL, just behind Washington in my rush rankings.  But the passing game is as bad as the running game is good.  They rank next to last in passing behind the Jets.  Overall that puts Minnesota at 15th in offense and 16th in defense.  The Vikings are 3-4 against playoff teams.  They rank 26th in pass defense.  They may have to play two of the better passing teams back to back in Green Bay and Atlanta to get to the Super Bowl.  They do not qualify in any of the 3 categories for a Super Bowl winner.  The Vikings will not win this year.

12.  Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 80-1

What a turn around from last season.  The Colts go from the worst record to the 5th seed in the playoffs.  The Colts have been helped by a weak division and weak out of division schedule.  When you look at the numbers its amazing they are 11-5.  They have been out gained and are -13 in turnovers.  They faired well against playoff teams going 3-2.  They are 27th on my list in defense.  The only thing they do well is pass the ball.  They rank 8th in passing.  I think they have done it with a bit of smoke and mirrors this year.  I will not be looking to the Colts to win the whole thing.

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2 thoughts on “2013 NFL Playoff Analysis

  1. Damien

    The 2007 Patriots were NOT the best team that year. The Giants were. The regular season is only a qualifying phase for the playoffs. That's it. It doesn't matter what you did in the regular season. The league hits the restart button when the playoffs begin. Everything before that is now out the window.

  2. Statsational

    Well to your argument I agree the Giants were the best team of the 2007 playoffs, a 4 game stretch. Which would not make them the best team of the entire year, just the best team for a month. The most important month no doubt. The beauty of sports is anyone can win on any given day. It would be very boring if that were not the case. Playoffs become exciting because we have a preconceived notion as to who the best team or teams are and when they get “upset” it makes for great drama. When people argue they want a playoff system in NCAAF so they can have the “best” team win the championship, that is not true. If it were true then upsets would never happen. What they really want is the excitement of a playoff system. Was George Mason the 4th best team in the country in 2006? They got hot and won 4 games in a row at the right time.

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