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Divisional Round Picks

January 10th, 2019

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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