Archive for January, 2019

Conference Championship Picks

January 17th, 2019 Comments off

This postseason is officially kicking my ass.

I fixed nothing in the divisional round. Just turned my poor performance around, going 2-2 straight up, 1-3 against the spread to even out my two-week disgrace at 3-5 (.375) all around.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and come out of this weekend dead even. Or, you know, maybe I’ll continue edging toward the Mendoza line.

Here’s what not to expect.

Oh, wait a second. I’ve charted some lovely stats for you to ignore first.

Now then. Down to business.

LA Rams (+3.5) at New Orleans
You may have noticed in your careful examination of the above that the Saints get better on both sides of the ball while the Rams get worse on both sides of the ball when the competition gets toughest. The same goes for the teams’ quarterbacks.

Here are how the big three predictive stats shape up if you look at all 17 games played by each team: Scoring differential, Rams +0.1 (which is to say, none); passer rating differential, Saints +4.0; takeaway-giveaway differential, Rams +2. That’s not much to go on, which is hardly surprising given that these two football teams have been outstanding all season long. It points to a narrow victory by one team or the other, in which case you kind of have to lean toward the home team, though you certainly wouldn’t expect the kind of double-digit margin of victory we saw the last time these teams faced off in New Orleans.

Isolate games against teams that qualified for the postseason, though, and the predictives look like this: Scoring differential, Saints +5.8; passer rating differential, Saints +23.4; takeaway giveaway differential, Saints +5. That’s a matchup in which the visitor has at best an outside chance to keep it close.

I could get into more stats, but they’re all right there for you above. I could explore the trends, but they point in the exact same direction as the stats.

The Rams are a fine football team. They’ll probably be a better football team still come September. But right now, I just don’t think they can keep up with the Saints for more than three quarters. Barring something unusual and unforeseeable, I think New Orleans comes out ahead by at least seven and probably more like 10

New England (+3) at Kansas City
Let’s do the same thing with the predictive stats here that we did with the NFC Championship game.

Looking at all 17 games for both teams: Scoring differential, Chiefs +1.2; passer rating differential, Chiefs +3.3; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. Those numbers favor Kansas City, though they don’t exactly point to a lock.

Looking at performance vs. postseason qualifiers: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +11.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +4. In Foxborough, those numbers would indicate a Patriots victory, though not a certain or a comfortable one. In Kansas City, they tell me the visitors have at least a pretty solid chance.

There’s nothing so definitive in either set of numbers to allow me to feel comfortable picking either way. So, shockingly, this ends up looking much the same following statistical examination as it did without it. Which brings us to — get ready for this gem of an insight — the team that executes better on the field is going to win the game.

I think if this turns into a shootout (like the meeting in Foxborough way back in week six did), you have to give the edge to the home team. Not because of some anticipated disparity in quarterback play — there’s unlikely to be any — but simply because those kinds of games always favor the home team.

If, on the other hand, the Patriots are able to get their running game going early the way they did last weekend, control the tempo of the game, control time of possession and keep the Chiefs offense off the field, then the New England defense has a solid shot of exhibiting just how good it became over the last half of the regular season.

I’ve got a feeling that’s what’s going to happen, which means I’ve got a good feeling that the Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year. New England by four.

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Divisional Round Picks

January 10th, 2019 Comments off

Well, the wild card round kicked my ass. Again.

I went 1-3 straight up, 2-2 against the spread last week. I’m placing the blame on my kicker.

I’m sure I’ll find a way to make even more of a mess of things this week.

We’ll get to the next round of ill-fated picks in a moment. First, let’s have a look at a couple of charts I pulled together that look at how the remaining teams’ quarterbacks and defenses fared this season when taking on the toughest competition.

Both charts compare performance vs. the entire field (the team’s full schedule or all of the QBs starts) with performance during the regular season and the wild card round against the other teams that qualified for the tournament. Some revealing data here, I think, regarding who steps up, who steps back, and who holds steady, when the going gets toughest. There’s always context to consider, of course. Like which opponents a team caught when — or how often. But I’m always in favor of a deeper dive into the numbers when I can manage it. (Oh, in neither case do the highlight colors mean anything. I’ve highlighted key columns, but the color differences are just about breaking things up visually.)

Absorbed all of that? Good. Now, like me, you have a much fuller appreciation of how little you know about what’s likely to take place on the field this weekend. Which is nice.

Here’s what not to expect.

Indianapolis (+5.5) at Kansas City
There is going to come a point in this postseason when the Chiefs are going to be undone by their abysmal defense. And I think this may well be that point. It’s hard to miss in the above that while neither quarterback in this game can be accused of playing his best against the stoutest competition (though neither exactly falls to pieces), the defenses go in completely opposite directions in the tough games. The Colts step up. The Chiefs, who aren’t a good defensive team under any circumstances, completely fall apart. The simple solution to that for Kansas City would be to get the running game firing early. But I’m not sure the Chiefs have a running game at this point. On the other hand, I know for a fact that the Colts do. And I kind of expect Indianapolis, rather than making this the shootout everyone’s expecting, to try to take advantage of Kansas City’s terrible run D, control time of possession, and keep Patrick Mahomes from getting the opportunity to take over the game. (You know, the way certain teams used to do the same against a famous Colts QB.) I can’t say I feel terribly confident about this pick, but I think the balanced Colts go into Kansas City and pull off the upset. Indianapolis by four.

Dallas (+7) at LA Rams
A good bit what I wrote about the Saturday afternoon game also applies to the prime time match. But here I actually feel better about predicting an upset. The Cowboys surely will endeavor to get Ezekiel Elliott involved early in order to take advantage of the Rams’ weak run defense. But I also think Dallas has a better chance of shutting down the Los Angeles passing attack than the Colts have of limiting the Chiefs through the air. I see a day of upsets continuing as the Cowboys pull off a three-point win.

LA Chargers (+4) at New England
Here’s what you get when you look at the big three predictive stats (factoring in all 17 of the Chargers’ games to date): Scoring differential, Patriots +0.5; passer rating differential, Chargers +1.2; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +7. That’s most of a tossup with a slight advantage for the home team. (It would be more of an advantage if the visitors had a tendency to cough the ball up. They don’t. The Chargers’ +3 takeaway-giveaway line mostly reflects that they’re middle of the pack in both turnovers generated and turnovers committed.) Things start looking a little more favorable for the Patriots when you consider that the Chargers will be traveling for the third straight week, and traveling coast-to-coast for the second, and when you factor in the predicted frigid temperatures in Foxborough. The Chargers are not a team that typically plays well in the cold. But look at what happens with Philip Rivers and Tom Brady respectively in games against playoff opposition. Then do the same with the defenses. Those numbers paint a very positive picture for New England. I suspect the Chargers will find a way to keep this interesting (or maybe the Patriots will find a way to let the Chargers hang around). And I won’t be shocked by any means if Los Angeles comes away with a win. But what I expect is to see the Patriots put it away with a late score and ultimately come out ahead by seven.

Philadelphia (+8) at New Orleans
The Saints are probably the best team in the tournament. They’re certainly the best team in the NFC. The Eagles are — what are we calling them? Scrappy? Survivors? Eh, call them what you will. And once you’ve got their attention, wish them a good offseason. Saints by 14.

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Wild Card Picks

January 4th, 2019 Comments off

Well, I ended the regular season on a shockingly high note. And that’s got to point to a rough go of it with my wild card picks.

I somehow managed to get out of a typically odd week 17 with records of 12-4 picking straight up, and 10-6 against the spread.

That means I finish the regular season at 163-91-2 (.641) straight up, 124-122-10 (.504) with the points.

Not bad.

So bad comes next. Here’s what not to expect as the playoffs get underway.

Indianapolis (+1.5) at Houston
Each of the regular season matches between these division rivals this year went to the visitors. And while I think the Texans should be able to reverse that trend, I don’t think they’ll pull it off. Houston succeeds by stopping the run and rendering opposing offenses one dimensional. That puts the Colts at a rather odd sort of advantage here as Indy comes in with an offense that’s one dimensional to begin with. I expect an exciting game that goes down to the wire. And I expect to see Adam Vinatieri yet again put the winning points on the board in the closing seconds of a big game. Colts by two.

Seattle (+2) at Dallas
I don’t think I’d have much trouble picking this game if it were being played in Seattle. And not because the Seahawks beat the Cowboys handily there back in week three. That’s way too long ago to actually matter. It’s because the Seahawks are still the better team, with a balanced offense that should be able to adjust to the Cowboys D as the game wears on. Thing is, I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to carry the Seahawks in Dallas. I’m still taking Seattle, mainly because I just don’t see anything that would let me feel great about picking Dallas. But I’m expecting a nail-biter (or I would be if I actually cared about which team wins; I guess I’m really just expecting a close game). Seahawks by a field goal.

LA Chargers (+2.5) at Baltimore
Things didn’t go well for the Chargers when these teams met in Los Angeles just two weeks ago. I’m not sure a whole lot has changed since then. Baltimore by seven.

Philadelphia (+6) at Chicago
The Bears in this postseason are going only as far as the NFL’s best defense will carry them. Chicago has a quarterback who wilts when he faces tough competition.

That’s guaranteed to catch up with the team sooner or later, whether it’s here, next week in Los Angeles or two weeks from now in New Orleans. It won’t be in the Super Bowl, because the Bears aren’t getting past the Saints. I won’t be at all surprised if the Eagles pull off an upset here. But in the end, I think the Chicago D will be just a bit more than Philadelphia can handle. Bears win a low-scoring game by a point.

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