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Author Topic: Finny's 2010 playoff guide  (Read 3493 times)
Finnegans Wake
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« on: Jan 03, 2011 at 15:25 »

The season is over for 20 NFL teams, and here’s a snapshot of the Wild Card weekend games, and projections all the way to the Super Bowl.  But first, a few regular season awards.

The Hot Tub Award.  In the Seinfeld episode where marathon runner Jean-Paul Jean-Paul has already missed an Olympics race, Jerry sets out to ensure that he does not oversleep the NY City Marathon, only to have Kramer’s industrial strength hot tub short out the power in the building, resulting in Jean-Paul again missing his race.  The 2010 Hot Tub Award winner is the San Diego Chargers, who overslept the season.  A 13-28 loss to Oakland on December 5 almost scuttled the season, but losing 20-34 to the Bengals on December 26 did them in.  Nice job, you nutless bastards.

The Jason Priestley Figure Skating Award.  Another TV reference, this time to Priestley’s ill-fated Olympic skater on Saturday Night Live, who splatters out on the ice an absurd and embarrassing number of times.  This award goes to the St. Louis Rams, who were leading division rival Seattle by a game heading into last night.  It bears repeating that Seattle is fucking awful: there’s no way in hell they deserve a spot in the playoffs, not merely by their losing record, but rather because of the manner they lost: all 9 losses were by more than 14 points.  So in the game last night the Rams, who had beaten the Seahawks 20-3 back on October 3, didn’t look like they could shit in a toilet without getting at least half a dook on the floor.  Receivers dropped balls, Bradford had a bad game, officials were obviously drunk, Coach Spags forgot his challenge hankie.  It was just brutal.  They hit the ice again, and again, and again…

The Tyrone Biggums Award.  Biggums is the crackhead character from the former Dave Chappelle Show (“Is crack baaaaaaad…?”).  The Giants were a team that were up and down, but certainly were in the driver’s seat, tied with the Eagles for the division lead with three weeks to go and a menacing 31-10 lead with 12 and change left in the fourth quarter.  Then, apparently, the entire team went into full crackhead mode, in perhaps the most inexplicable meltdown since Chernobyl, and followed that up with a crack crack crackity Jones 17-45 loss at the Green Bay Packers.  It’s not just that they lost to two eventual playoff teams, but the amazing crackhead style they did it with that wins the Giants this honor.

The Keep Choppin’ Wood Award.  In 2003, Jack Del Rio placed a stump and an ax in the locker room to remind players to keep choppin’ wood.  Punter Chris Hanson wound up on the IR after chopping a foot with the ax.  The point here is not the Law of Unintended Consequences, but rather an assertion I have made all season long: Jack Del Rio is dumb as a stump.  Del Rio can’t eat beans and fart at the same time, much less figure out how to win a Super Bowl.  He’s the ultimate in mediocrity, after briefly leading the staggering Colts down the stretch in the division race, only to blow it (predictably) in the final games.  This was predicted as the most likely outcome for weeks, due to Del Rio’s stumpish ineptitude.  Del Rio now has a 65-63 record, which is about what one would expect of a fucking stump.  

Before I move on to the Wild Card teams, here is a quick look at the top seeded teams that earned byes.  I’m going to touch on a few stats that could be meaningful in examining the playoff teams, and as I have previously I’ll use the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings rather than pure yardage metrics.  First of all is Point Differential (PD), the difference between points scored and points allowed.  It’s actually a pretty good shorthand for ranking teams, although it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Next up is Turnover Differential (TD).   Turnovers are flaky, and there’s no guarantee that teams with solid TD will continue to trend that way, but it does point to an aggressive defense combined with an offense that’s not playing loosey goosey with the ball.  

Brian Billick recently talked about the “toxic differential” on the NFL network, which combined the TD stat with the big-play (20+ yards) differential, and which is supposed to be an indicator of playoff success.  I don’t have any way to sort out those big plays, but it may be instructive to look at which teams have the best combination of PD and TD as a sort of shorthand.

Next, we all know that teams winning the Super Bowl without an elite QB are the exception that makes the rule (see 2000 Ravens), so I’m listing the QB passer ratings (QB).

DVOA, or Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, analyzes play-by-play success of each unit on the team, adjusted for strength of schedule.  They’ve weighted earlier season games less than more recent ones.  The same über-geeks that came up with this crazy metric have also simulated billions and billions of playoff scenarios.  Or at least thousands of them.  Anyway, I’ve listed total DVOA, Offensive and Defensive DVOA (ODVOA and DDVOA), Special Teams DVOA (STDVOA), and projected Super Bowl odds (SB).  I’m using the last DVOA rankings available as of Monday, 1/3, which is fine because week 17 is essentially worthless anyway.

In parenthesis behind each stat is the overall NFL rank.Where these various data points fall outside the top 12 (since we have 12 playoff teams), they appear in red highlight as being warning flags.  Teams in the top 6 in any category (top half of the 12 playoff teams) appear in green highlight as elite in those categories.  
« Last Edit: Jan 05, 2011 at 14:28 by Finnegans Wake » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: Jan 03, 2011 at 15:37 »

The top seeds.

New England Patriots (14-2). PD: +205 (1).  TD: +28 (1).  QB:  111.0 (1).  DVOA:  48.3 (1).  ODVOA:  46.0 (1).  DDVOA:  6.2 (20).  STDVOA: 2.7 (10).  SB: 29.2% (1).

Appear to be even stronger offensively than the 2007 version.  Going to be tough to slow.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).  PD: +143 (3).  TD: +17 (2).  QB: 97.0 (5).  DVOA: 34.2 (2).  ODVOA: 15.6 (7).  DDVOA: -17.0 (1).   STDVOA: 0.9 (15).   SB: 25.8% (2).

Steelers could be getting healthy and adding new wrinkles at the right time.

Atlanta Falcons (13-3).  PD: +126 (4).  TD: +14 (3).   QB: 91.0 (11).  DVOA: 14.3 (9).  ODVOA: 12.0 (10).  DDVOA: 0.3 (12).  STDVOA: 4.5 (7).  SB: 13.7% (3).

Super-consistent, but not lighting the world on fire.

Chicago Bears (11-5).  PD: +48 (10).  TD: +4 (11).  QB: 86.3 (16).  DVOA: 10.8 (10).  ODVOA: -11.4 (28).   DDVOA: -6.8 (6).  STDVOA: 7.3 (1).  SB: 9.4% (4).

Stifling defense, so-so offense.  May not even be the best team in their division.

And on to the Wild Card games…

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks.  Line: Saints by 10.5.  Total: 45.5.
Saturday, 4:30 ET


New Orleans Saints (11-5).  PD: +77 (7).  TD: -6 (23).   QB: 90.9 (9).  DVOA: 19.7 (7).  ODVOA: 12.9 ( 8 ).  DDVOA: -2.5 (10).  STDVOA: -1.1 (20).   SB: 2.9% ( 8 ).

Seattle Seahawks (7-9).  PD: -97 (28).  TD: -9 (28).  QB: 73.2 (28).  DVOA: -38.3 (32).  ODVOA: -15.9 (30).  DDVOA: 17.6 (29).  STDVOA: 5.8 (2).   SB: 0.1% (12).


I’ve been saying all along that the Saints have not been playing as well as they did last year.  I’ve also said that the Seahawks are complete turds.  Vegas has the Saints by double digits on the road, and frankly, that line will probably move up as the week goes on.  There’s nothing in the stats or by the eyeball test that says the Seahawks can win this thing.  I know, every year some scrangly dog pulls an upset in the Wild Card, but this ain’t it, especially if Charlie “Manson” Whitehurst (65.5 QB rating) gets the call.

Saints 34-10.

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts.  Line: Colts by 3. Total: 44.5.
Saturday, 8:00 ET

New York Jets (11-5).  PD: +63 ( 8 ).  TD: +9 (5).   QB: 75.3 (27).   DVOA: 4.4 (13).  ODVOA: 5.5 (17).   DDVOA: -2.6 (9).  STDVOA: 5.1 (4).   SB: 2.5% (9).

Indianapolis Colts (10-6).  PD: +47 (11). TD: -4 (19).   QB: 91.9 (10).  DVOA: -0.3 (19).   ODVOA: 16.1 (6).   DDVOA: 7.7 (24).  STDVOA: -5.6 (31).   SB: 1.3% (10).


Two maddeningly inconsistent teams.  Over weeks 12-16, the Jets were 2-3 and the Colts 3-2.  The Colts have battled a lot of injuries while the Jets seem to have problems with the QB and mental preparation.  If the Jets can turn on their defense and control the clock with the running game, they win.  If they try to let Sanchez win the game, I think they lose.  This is not a game I’d want to bet on, but I suspect the Colts are over-rated in most people’s minds based on the Manning Mystique and previous season performance.  This looks like the AFC upset, but it’s a tepid call.  

Jets 20-17.

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs.  Line: Ravens by 2.5. Total: 41.
Sunday, 1:00 ET

Baltimore Ravens (12-4).  PD: +87 (6).   TD: +7 (9).  QB: 93.6 (7).  DVOA: 30.9 (3).   ODVOA: 11.2 (12).  DDVOA: -7.5 (4).  STDVOA: 5.7 (3).  SB: 6.9% (5).

Kansas City Chiefs (10-6).  PD: +40 (12).  TD: +9 (5).   QB: 93.0 ( 8 ).  DVOA: -5.3 (21).  ODVOA: 11.0 (13).  DDVOA: 5.1 (17).  STDVOA: -1.9 (26).   SB: 0.4% (11).


The Chiefs rely on a strong running game from Jamaal Charles, which the Ravens can neutralize, and they are a one-dimensional pass attack (Cassell to Bowe), which the Ravens can also neutralize.  The Chiefs looked really, really bad in week 17 loss to Raiders, and OC Charlie Weis is leaving for a college OC job, which strikes me as odd.  He also is back in some cart like that Wendellfears dude, which I don’t know what that might mean.  Maybe he ate a lineman and popped that bypass surgery the hell open.  Chiefs have no playoff experience, Ravens have tons.
 
Ravens 27-10

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles.  Line: Eagles by 2.5. Total: 46.5.
Sunday, 4:30 ET

Green Bay Packers (10-6).  PD: +148 (2).  TD: +10 (4).  QB: 101.2 (3).  DVOA: 23.9 (5).  ODVOA: 18.5 (5).  DDVOA: -10.0 (2).  STDVOA: -2.7 (29).  SB: 3.4% (7).

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6).  PD: +62 (9).  TD: +9 (5).  QB: 100.2 (4).  DVOA: 24.5 (4).  ODVOA: 25.7 (2).   DDVOA: 2.8 (15).  STDVOA: 1.3 (14).  SB: 4.5% (6).


All the talk in this game is going to be about fireworks: Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin… But give me those scary defenses in the postseason any day.  The Packers D is really playing well, and their point differential and turnover differential bear that out.  Hell, they stayed toe-to-toe with the Patriots with Matt Flynn under center.  The Eagles are too boom or bust, and teams have gotten to Vick lately.  One AFC and one NFC upset in this round seems about right, and late Vick heroics won’t catch the Packers napping.
 
Packers 34-24
« Last Edit: Jan 10, 2011 at 08:38 by Finnegans Wake » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 03, 2011 at 15:44 »

Admittedly, I think the Jets-Colts and Packers-Eagles could go either way, but I think the Colts have too many flags, and I think the Packers are a team that could get hot and go all the way to the Super Bowl.  They are more balanced than the Eagles and more potent than the Falcons.

In the Divisional Playoffs, this outcome would find the following matchups:

Sat., Jan. 15, 4:30 PM ET CBS

#5 Baltimore Ravens @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers.
  I’m getting sick of playing these Ravens in the post-season, and if my heart explodes somebody’s getting sued.  Just sort of a hunch, the Steelers are trending up while the Ravens are trending down.  You think this will be another 3-point win for one of these teams, but I sense the Steelers come out strong.

Steelers 28-17.


Sat., Jan. 15, 8:00 PM ET FOX

#6 GB Packers @ #1 Atlanta Falcons.
  Packers lost in Atlanta 17-20 on November 28, allowing Michael Turner to rush for 110 yards.  I doubt that happens again, so look for another close game that comes down to which QB can get it done late in the game.  This time, I think the result is reversed.

Packers 23-20.


Sun., Jan. 16, 1:00 PM ET FOX

#5 NO Saints @ #2 Chicago Bears.
  I’ve been down on the Bears all year, because their offense isn’t very good, and Cutler can be rattled.  But the defense has shown they can take over games, and I don’t see New Orleans going into cold Soldier Field and overcoming a somewhat lackluster overall season.  A low-scoring defensive game that knocks the former champs out.

Bears 17-14.


Sun., Jan. 16, 4:30 PM ET CBS

#6 NYJ @ #1 NE Patriots.
  The Patriots won 45-3 on December 6, avenging their 14-28 loss from September 19.  The Patriots still match up well against the Jets, but expect an outcome somewhere between those two extremes.

Patriots 33-20.


I’ll stretch this out to the Conference Championships.  I like the Steelers and Patriots in the AFC, and I think the Bears, Packers, and Falcons all have a solid crack in the NFC.  But I’ll reserve judgment on the Super Bowl for now.

Sun., Jan. 23, 3:00 PM ET FOX

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears.
  The Packers split with the Bears, 17-20 and 10-3, and this is another one of those tough, ugly, and mean division rivalry playoff games.  I like how the Packers can get after Cutler, but they need to give Rodgers something of a running game.  In the end, I just think the Chicago offense is too weak.

Packers 20-16


Sun., Jan. 23, 6:30 PM ET CBS

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots.
  Patriots have matched up well against the Steelers, but what special surprises will LeBeau cook up to rattle Brady’s cage?  Could be a real shootout.

Patriots 38-35.
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 05, 2011 at 14:08 »

Incredible write up, man.

Fuckin' site is back to being blocked at work so I haven't had a chance to post much.  I'm actually posting this from my phone...major PIA.

Anyway, haven't looked that closely yet at playoff matchups.  I will say though that at first glance, the only pick I agree with ATM is the Packers (+2.5).  I like the Colts (-3), Chiefs (+3) and Seahawks (+10.5).

Maybe as the weekend draws near, I'll change my outlook.  In the meantime, here's to two AFC OT slobber knockers.
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« Reply #4 on: Jan 05, 2011 at 14:53 »

Interesting to me that even though the Patriots have some kind of otherworldy DVOA and look like unstoppable beasts, Football Outsiders gives them <4% better chance of winning the SB, 29.2% to 25.8%. 

IMO, the Colts are really getting over-fucking hyped.  Yeah yeah yeah, Peyton and the boys are whatever it is, 7-0?, against Rex as HC and DC.  But that was when the Colts had a full complement of healthy offensive players.  They played like lukewarm puke against a Titans team with precious little motivation.  FFS, Kerry Collins threw for 300+ against them.  I understand Dirty Sanchez has a hurty arm, but I think the Jets win on D and the running game.

Not sure why everyone loves the Chiefs.  They've played in a ridiculously bad division, getting that top rushing yardage honor going up against cupcakes, which the Ravens D most certainly ain't.  They're going to bugger that running game, and scramble Matt Cassell's brains.  I'm not as impressed with the Ravens as with Ravens teams of years past -- their offense is underachieving, especially given the addition of Boldin -- but their playoff experience will be the key here.  Plus I sense not all is well in Todd Haleyworld; Charlie Weis is the proverbial canary in the coal mine there.  If he's got an internal revolt among coordinators and coaches, how long before the shit hits it? 

As for the Seahawks line, yeah, Colston is hurt, Ivory is on IR, it's an outdoor game, 12th man noise, blabbity blabbity blah blah blah.  Go peddle crazy somefuckingwhere else.  It's interesting to me that Peyton and Brees came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively for most pass attempts in a season this year, and that both passers were plagued by more INTs, a less potent offense, etc.  Problem is, the Seahawk D that made the Rams look silly isn't playing the Rams: the Saints are at least competent.  And the Seahawks O ain't going up against the Rams D: the Saints D is actually pretty good.  Charlie Whitehurst?  Fuck my ass.  Even Matty Hasselbeck is playing kinda shitty (check the QB rating).  Seahawks can't run it: Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are their leading rushers, with 573 and 523 yards.  That's fucking pathetic.  Mendenhall us underused and he beats their combined total, and then some.  Their leading receivers are heartwarming reclamation project Mike Williams, with 753 receiving yards, and then nobody else over 400.  That ain't gettin' it done, sorry.  Saints will shut down Williams, and just keep wearing them down with what they do.  Everyone talks about how close the Seabitches kept that NO game back in November.  Really?  15 point loss is close?  K then.  Also, they had Chris Ivory, but the reason was that Reggie Bush was out injured.  Guess who's back.  Guess which team has a gazillion other receivers besides Colston, all of whom Brees likes to target.  Guess who's gonna smack they bish with the heavy rings.  First half, when the crowd will make a difference, 10.5 is gonna look waaaay too big.  Second half, the Saints will be looking in the rearview at the Seahawks and everyone will shake their heads and murmur, "Good Lawd, how did these buffoons even get into the playoffs?"  Oh, and it will be revealed that Pete Carroll is a transvestite in the postgame news conference.
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« Reply #5 on: Jan 05, 2011 at 15:07 »

Oh, and it will be revealed that Pete Carroll is a transvestite in the postgame news conference.

Now that's quality infotainment!
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« Reply #6 on: Jan 05, 2011 at 15:35 »

Oh, and it will be revealed that Pete Carroll is a transvestite in the postgame news conference.

Now that's quality infotainment!

We should have guessed it a long time ago.  Carroll's Wiki page shows he was from Transexual, Transylvania.
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« Reply #7 on: Jan 05, 2011 at 21:10 »

Interestingly, the Seahawks have the 3rd worst DVOA of any playoff team, all time.  The other two?  '04 Rams and '98 Cards.  FWIW, both won their wildcard matchup.*

*According to Aaron Schatz on the BS Report.

Now, not saying that the Hags are going to pull this one off.  IMO, something of that magnitude would take a perfect storm of epic, biblical proportions, BUT a cover is another story.  This one just looks too easy for me.  Everybody is going to roll chalk here.  That's why I'm second guessing it.

A dome team that's been handling the rock like it's been marinating in boric acid, traveling way the fuck up to British Columbia, on a short week, to play in the outdoors against a team they should absolutely trounce.  Oh, and as I type this, I think they just added somebody else to the IR list.

Just feels like a tarp game, but I wouldn't put any money on it.

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« Reply #8 on: Jan 06, 2011 at 09:59 »

In the interest of context, that '04 Rams squad beat a 9-7 Seahawks team it had twice beaten already in the regular season.  It's a familiar enough squad, being the team our Steelers then beat in XL the very next season.  A lovely team, really.  But the 8-8 Rams were still running off the glory of being the Greatassed Show in Turf, Bulger guiding Faulk, Holt and Bruce and the rest of the cast familiar from the successes of years just preceding.  In short: the Seahawks were OK, they finished 2005 13-3 and were sort of that year's version of this year's Falcons (consistent but not dominant, good home team).  But the Rams still had the guns to pull an upset, even with shoddy DVOA from the regular season.

I just don't see much of anything from this team on offense -- who are the playmakers?  And their defense has some vets of note (Lawyer Milloy [now 50 years old], Tatupu, Trufant), some young guys (Earl Thomas having a nice rookie season, Aaron Curry), but they've also given up 30+ points in 8 games, 6 of which came over the second half of the season.

As for the context of the other low-DVOA team, that would be the Jake "The Snack" Plummer-led Cards, with luminaries including Frank Sanders and Rob Moore as leading receivers, Adrian Murrell the top HB, and some decent defenders including Aeneas Williams, Simeon Rice, and the late Pat Tillman.  They managed to go 9-7 and beat a 10-6 Cowboys team with the fading glory that was Aikman, Emmitt, Irvin, Deion, and so on.  The next year would be Aikman's last, and they would sink to 8-8.  BTW, Jason Garrett was Aikman's backup back then, FWTFIW.

Just sayin', those low-DVOA teams beat teams that were beatable.  I think the differential between the 2010 Seahawks and Saints is greater.
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« Reply #9 on: Jan 10, 2011 at 08:43 »

Interesting bit on Turnover Differential.  Of the 3 teams that had a negative TD (New Orleans, Seattle, Indy), two played one another (Saints at Seahawks), so it was inevitable one would have lost.  The other (Indy) did lose.  Bodes not well for the Seahawks, among many other iso stats.

What stands out for me is Billick's toxic differential, combining TD and 20+ yard play differential: Saints D sucked it big time on those big plays.  Hasselbeck kept testing deep, Saints could not or would not adjust.

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« Reply #10 on: Jan 12, 2011 at 14:42 »

Packers/Falcons and Ravens/Steelers look like GOTW picks but for different reasons.  I'm really leaning in your direction in that the Steelers will win a bit more easily than the regular season meetings would suggest, but it'll still be a hard-hitting and brutal game. 

The Packers game is a pick 'em for me unless their defense completely confounds Matty and stops Turner in which case it could be fugly, but I don't anticipate that.  Matter of fact, GB could be in trouble if ATL gets Turner going.  Yup, I'm all flippy-floppy on that game.
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« Reply #11 on: Jan 12, 2011 at 14:42 »

Wild Card Round Recap

Saints at Seahawks

Finny predicted: Saints 34-10.
Actual: Seahawks 41-36.
Comment: Crazy-assed game.  Logic in betting the Seahawks, taking the points; only the Lord of Misrule would have thought the Seahawks would win outright.  Epic fail by the Saints defense, as the chirren say.

Jets at Colts

Finny predicted: Jets 20-17.
Actual: Jets 17-16.
Comment: Close to the way I thought this would play out.  Caldwell's time management was a gift to Folk, and Sanchez was even worse than I expected.  

Ravens at Chiefs

Finny projected: Ravens 27-10.
Actual: 30-7.
Comment: Pretty much as expected.

Packers at Eagles.

Finny projected:  Packers 34-24.
Actual: 21-16.
Comment: Packers need better killer instinct, as Vick had chance to pull upset until final INT.

So on to the Division Round, and some re-jiggered prognostications.  The WC picks were pretty decent, Saints-Seahawks being a game that tripped darned near everyone up, so how does the second weekend go?

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).  Line: Steelers by 3. Total: 37.

January 3 prediction: Steelers 28-17.

Everyone knows the story here.  Ravens-Steelers pretty much follow a standard script, so it's logical to see the outcome as being decided by around 3 points.  So what's different about this game than other recent slobberknockers?  Even putting aside variables such as games Ben was out due to injury or suspension, these teams have been evenly matched.  I have the Steelers trending up because of some small but significant changes to the offense, namely more quick-hitter passes that involve the rookies Sanders and Brown more.  And I have the Ravens trending down because their OL has been dinged and consequently the BRO has not been as potent as expected.  Also, as noted in the BAL @ KC game thread, the BRD has eroded gradually, whereas the PSD has reverted toward a steadier norm.

Some stats.  Previously noted Billick's Toxic Differential, but didn't have the numbers to really flesh the concept out.  At NFL Fanhouse, there is an interesting examination of the 20+ yard offensive plays, as an old Bill Walsh metric.  Worth a read, BTW.  Billick takes that metric and combines Turnover Differential, and voila!  A new metric.  

Steelers Big Play Differential:  +37.  Steelers TD: +17.  Steelers Toxic Differential: +54.
Ravens Big Play Differential:  -7.  Ravens TD:  +7.  Ravens Toxic Differential: 0.


Bottom line?  Steelers can force more turnovers AND hot more big plays.  That seems to spell doom to the 3-point win scenario.  

Also, if we do allow Football Outsiders DVOA adjustments since week 16, including final game of the season and the WC numbers factored in, we see a few adjustments to the DVOA I had previously highlighted.  Steelers see a bump in offensive DVOA (from 15.6, 7th, to 23.9, or 3rd) and overall DVOA (34.2 to 40.6, both second behind Patriots).  The Steelers defensive DVOA and all Baltimore numbers are not substantially different.  That would seem to bolster the notion that the Steelers offense is trending upward, though I'm still wary of saying the Steelers have the third best offense until the rushing game is more assertive.

Finally, Pro Football Reference includes a blog that looks at the statistical implications of teams meeting in the playoffs after meeting in the regular season.  Their analyst gives the Steelers a 70.2% chance of winning, in what I'll refer to as the Rematch Odds.

I still like the overall contour of my original prediction, but it seems the Steelers will have to go for a FG at some point, rather than get 4 TDs.  3 TDs and 2 FGs seems to fit, then.

Steelers 27-17.

Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3).  Line: Falcons by 2.5. Total: 44.

January 3 prediction:  Packers 23-20.

Really not budging from this.  Packers seem to be pulling it together at the right time, and the Falcons have the smell of one of those teams that assembles a nice, respectable season, only to get upset by a team with a hot hand.  Can the Falcons win?  Sure.  But if you look at the green, black, and red in the numbers above, it would favor the Pack.  The Packers got warmed up not against some chumps like the Chiefs, but a legit NFCC contender in Philly.  

The Toxic Differential gives a slight edge to Atlanta, but I'm considering this to be close enough to be a draw:

Packers Big Play Differential:  +3.  Packers TD: +10.  Packers Toxic Differential: +13.
Falcons Big Play Differential:  +2.  Falcons TD:  +14.  Falcons Toxic Differential: +16.


DVOA trends see the Falcons stable overall, but down in offense (from 12.0, 10th, to 8.5, 13th), offset by much better STs play (4.5, 7th, to 11.1, 1st).  STs gains seem to be a shaky basis for improvement, and the slight dimunition of the offensive metric seems to indicate a downward trend of more importance.  

Meanwhile, the Packers are showing trends that might surprise.  Overall DVOA is up (23.9, 5th, to 27.9, 4th), but not because of Rodgers and the offense.  Sure, that's what the talking heads love to play up, but the ODVOA dropped over this span from 18.5, 5th, to 13.4, or 8th.  Meanwhile, the defense has surged, from -10.0, 2nd, to -14.8, an even better 2nd.  Basically, the Packers are more balanced now.

The Rematch Odds for Green Bay are 57.0%, and combined with a close Toxic Differential and an edge in DVOA, I think the original 23-20 call seems pretty safe.  

Packers 23-20.

Seattle Seahawks (8-9) at Chicago Bears (11-5). Line: Bears by 10. Total: 41.

Obviously no 1/3 pick as I had the Saints winning in WC Weekend.

I keep hearing how greatly improved the Seahawks are, and how they've already beaten the Bears once this season.  Seahawks are getting a lot of love from the media, but not Vegas.  Bears won by more than a TD 4 times this year (@ Carolina, @ Buffalo, and both Minnesota games), so does that abysmal LOC mean 10 is way big a number?  Possibly.  But let's regain some sanity about the Seahawks.

First of all, their numbers are just awful.  Sure, the upset over the Saints was a fun game, but this team is historically bad among playoff teams.  All-time bad.  Numbers catch up with you sooner or later.  Even teams that get hot at the right time like the '08 Cards (middle of the pack statistically speaking) aren't trying to overcome an entire season of atrocious stats.  And the Seahawks closed the season at home against a young Rams team that isn't exactly competition to boast of, and against a Saints team that shat the bed defensively, and then shat it and shat it again.  I mean, holy fuck, how many times can you shit the bed in one night before grabbing some fucking Immodium?

OK, numbers:

Seahawks Big Play Differential:  -26.  Seahawks TD: -9.  Seahawks Toxic Differential: -35.
Bears Big Play Differential:  -5.  Bears TD:  +4.  Bears Toxic Differential: -1.


In short: a deep run looks unlikely for the Bears.  It looks impossible for the Seahawks.

I'm not even going to bother with the exact DVOA movements for the Seahawks.  Yeah, they went up.  From 32nd to 31st overall.  That's like saying your dick is a quarter inch longer on the remeasure.  WTF ever.

The Rematch Odds have the Bears favored by 90.4%.  That's fucking hardcore.

So, the only question to my mind is the margin.  I can see this going both ways, a shootout like the 38-34 win over the Jets, or a blowout like the 40-14 win over the Vikes.  I don't think the Seahawks can stop any team, so the Bears will get theirs.  The Seahawks blitzed Cutler and sacked the crap out of him earlier in the season, and while he's still taking sacks ye olde genius Mike Martz is getting more 3-step drops in the mix, so they should be able to keep drives alive.  In my previous analysis, I was less than thrilled by the Seattle offense, in particular the lack of playmakers.  While Marshawn Lynch and Mike Williams are the subject of slackjawed adoration this week, it's an anomaly, folks.  I really, really, really want to take the underdog Seahawks with the spread that juicy, but they're not playing at home, reality will bite them in the ass, and I suspect that once reality bites it will start taking bigger and bigger chunks, and you'll see this team deflate like the Chiefs in the 2H of that Ravens game.

Bears 38-20.

New York Jets (12-5) at New England Patriots (14-2). Line: Patriots by 8.5. Total: 44.5.

January 3 prediction:  Patriots 33-20.

Mark Sanchez must be on drugs.  One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small?  Whatever he was on against Indy, he saw his receivers as giants.  He is not playing well, and to think he'll turn it around here is wishful at best.  And then Antonio Cromartie had to open his flapper, and we all know what a petty and vindictive bitch Tom Brady is, so right there the whole game outlook changes.

Patriots Big Play Differential:  +1.  Patriots TD: +28.  Patriots Toxic Differential: +29.
Jets Big Play Differential:  +2.  Jets TD:  +9.  Jets Toxic Differential: +11.


Of note:  Patriots' methodical offense and a porous defense keep that Big Play Differential almost even.  But they're getting turnovers like a pack of stoners after the Pillsbury Doughboy.  Interesting that the Patriots have a very good Toxic Differential number, but it's nowhere near as good as the Steelers.  Let's hope Billick is onto something here.

DVOA trends see the Patriots getting better, the fuckers, from 48.3, 1st, up to 55.8%, still 1st, in overall DVOA.  That's a really high number.  There's a slight bump in ODVOA, but the real concern is that their DDVOA went from 6.2, 20th, to -1.0, or 10th.  So if the Steelers and Pats do meet, and the Steelers are better on offense but the Patriots are better on defense...  Crap, something just Brinkered off in my brain.  Seriously.  Burning electrical smell.  Aphasia on re-reading what I just wrote.  Gah.

The Jets are also trending better.  Overall DVOA is up from 4.4, 13th, to 14.4, or 7th.  That's a big jump over 2 weeks.  But the ODVOA dropped from 16.1, 6th, to -0.3, or 19th.  Why?  Sanchez eats worms.  Meanwhile, the Jets D is playing better again, more like it did back in the beginning of the season when they actually beat the Patriots, moving from -2.6, 9th, to -9.5, or 5th.  Is that enough to pull the upset?

The Rematch Odds say no, and have the Patriots' chances at 73.8%.  

Given all the various corrections for Sanchez declining, the Cromartie Factor, the improving defenses of both teams, and various gaseous impressions from my digestive tract, my revised prognostication is:

Patriots 33-20.
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« Reply #12 on: Jan 12, 2011 at 14:56 »

Good stuff.  That line of 10 has visions of Jay Cutler throwing multiple picks dancing in my head though. 
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« Reply #13 on: Jan 12, 2011 at 15:09 »

Good stuff.  That line of 10 has visions of Jay Cutler throwing multiple picks dancing in my head though. 

I know.  It worries me, especially since I thought the Saints would cover.  Dicks.

Cutler's enough of a dick to screw this one up, too. 

I just think the Seahawks are like that scrapper turd that doesn't go down, and doesn't go down, it's just that little lightweight bob that keeps swirling the bowl laughing at you.  Then you get smart and throw a big wad of paper on it to weigh it down and, floooooooosh!, away she goes.  Seahawks are bound to join the sewer gators soon, and mightily.

Were I a betting man, I'd bet the Steelers, the Pats, the over in the Bears-Hags, and the over in the Pats-Jets.
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« Reply #14 on: Jan 13, 2011 at 14:48 »

Getting antsy now.  Seems like there's a strong consensus among the talking heads, and it aligns with my picks.  When you are picking the same as Peter King -- with almost the same spreads, Bears-Hags excepted -- maybe it's time to second guess?

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« Reply #15 on: Jan 13, 2011 at 14:56 »

Getting antsy now.  Seems like there's a strong consensus among the talking heads, and it aligns with my picks.  When you are picking the same as Peter King -- with almost the same spreads, Bears-Hags excepted -- maybe it's time to second guess?




Sometimes a rolling stone calls the kettle black and you find two birds in a glass house.  Be that as it may and take what you will I'd be hard pressed to know either way.

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« Reply #16 on: Jan 13, 2011 at 15:03 »

Getting antsy now.  Seems like there's a strong consensus among the talking heads, and it aligns with my picks.  When you are picking the same as Peter King -- with almost the same spreads, Bears-Hags excepted -- maybe it's time to second guess?




Sometimes a rolling stone calls the kettle black and you find two birds in a glass house.  Be that as it may and take what you will I'd be hard pressed to know either way.


Well, if you're gonna talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk.  It's a game of inches, and there is no "I" in team.  So don't read me the riot act or I may blow a gasket.
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« Reply #17 on: Jan 13, 2011 at 21:25 »

Getting antsy now.  Seems like there's a strong consensus among the talking heads, and it aligns with my picks.  When you are picking the same as Peter King -- with almost the same spreads, Bears-Hags excepted -- maybe it's time to second guess?




Sometimes a rolling stone calls the kettle black and you find two birds in a glass house.  Be that as it may and take what you will I'd be hard pressed to know either way.


Well, if you're gonna talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk.  It's a game of inches, and there is no "I" in team.  So don't read me the riot act or I may blow a gasket.


Everybody just take a chill pill and say a hale mary.  There's no need to make a mount into a molehill. 
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« Reply #18 on: Jan 14, 2011 at 11:51 »

I still like the overall contour of my original prediction, but it seems the Steelers will have to go for a FG at some point, rather than get 4 TDs.  3 TDs and 2 FGs seems to fit, then.

Steelers 27-17.

Thas' a sweet perdickshun, Jackson.

*begins to sweat uncontrollably*

Clearly, I should take out a second mortgage and bet it all on the Ravens (+3.5).
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« Reply #19 on: Jan 14, 2011 at 12:06 »

Thas' a sweet perdickshun, Jackson.

*begins to sweat uncontrollably*

Clearly, I should take out a second mortgage and bet it all on the Ravens (+3.5).

You should never hatch your chickens before they're counted!
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« Reply #20 on: Jan 14, 2011 at 13:18 »

Thas' a sweet perdickshun, Jackson.

*begins to sweat uncontrollably*

Clearly, I should take out a second mortgage and bet it all on the Ravens (+3.5).

You should never hatch your chickens before they're counted!


Oh, I see you want to pull out all the dead horses in the closet.  But, um, it's whatever.
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« Reply #21 on: Jan 14, 2011 at 13:33 »

Yeah, yeah, if a tree fell in the woods you couldn't see it for the forest.
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« Reply #22 on: Jan 15, 2011 at 09:01 »

And that my friends, ain't nothing that needs to be said.....
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« Reply #23 on: Jan 15, 2011 at 09:31 »

And that my friends, ain't nothing that needs to be said.....

So... where the hell ya been???
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« Reply #24 on: Jan 15, 2011 at 10:16 »

It's gonna come dow to Int's and which QB throw the most costly ones.  Just my gut feeling.  Well that and we must contain Ray Rice on those little dump off screens that go for 15-20 yards.  Seems like that he gets 3 a game.  Prediction Steelers 24 Ravens 20, Woodley seals the deal with a sack/fumble late in the contest. 
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« Reply #25 on: Jan 15, 2011 at 11:30 »

And that my friends, ain't nothing that needs to be said.....

So... where the hell ya been???

Work schedule change usually gets me home around 7PM (CST)....Most of you oldtimers are in bed by then.....Still stop by now and then for my Black & Gold fix.....
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« Reply #26 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 14:08 »

A few prefatory notes not already stuffed into other threads.  Before the Jets came out and punched the Patriots' teeth down their throats, few in the media could conceive of any team that could beat them.  The closest any of the talking heads might get to that was that the Packers played them close with Matt Flynn as backup.  But playoff hype takes all the usual fluffery (Brady- and Peyton-fellation, proclamations of Belichick's unimpeachable genius, the undying ferocity of the Ravens D, the soon-to-be-elite status of Flacco, ad nauseam) and compresses all that kerfuffle into dense, unending barrages of mostly rote and reptitious shit packages flung from talking assholes.  The naked lunch wriggling at the end of the fork is the reality, discussed here at MGS, that the Patriots... can... be... beaten.  By God and Flying Spaghetti Monsters, it can be done. 

I mean, hells, they did lose to the Jets earlier in the season, and anyone familiar with division rivalries should have at least entertained the possibility that the Jets could win again, apparent matchup favorabilities aside.  For flying fuck's sake, they lost to the Browns.  They barely eked wins against the Ravens, Colts, Chargers, the aforementioned Packers, and even the lowly Bills.  Of those, only the Chargers was a road game.  So while all the media were dazzled by the bright and shiny offensive stats Brady and the Smurfs were amassing, and building the fable of the Patriots' invincibility, the reality is that defenses win championships. 

Didn't we go through all this once before? 

18-0?  Sound familiar?  How about 18-1?

As wondrous as the Patriots offense has been of late -- and there is much to admire in it -- the Patriots started the Brady era as a bunch of hardscrabble vet castoffs and untested upstart pups, somehow cobbled together into a team that won three Super Bowls by exactly 3 points each.  They were scrappy on defense, and did just enough on offense to get by.  The current configuration of the Patriots is almost the exact opposite:  a precision offense with just enough defense to get by.  That's not a Lombardi-winning formula, neither theoretically nor, apparently, in reality.

So when I turn on the radio for the drive to work the Monday after the Patriots lose, I am confronted by talking assholes yet again, only now they've cleared about 50 pounds of impacted fecal matter out of their bloated bowel-brains.  "The Patriots need to upgrade their offense...  they need to draft better players for their offensive line..."  I shit you not.  All year long, the Patriots offensive line gave Tom Brady so much time in the pocket that he'd start plays clean shaven and end them with 5 o'clock stubble.  The line?  Are you fucking kidding me?  The offense?  The offense warn't the problem, chum.  Yes, the Jets had their number that day.  The offense isn't the problem.  How can these talking assholes completely reverse track on everything they've been blathering about all year long?!

Which brings me to the Steelers game.  The Patriots were befuddled, confused, and surprised.  Tom Brady went through his progressions, lost track, started over, patted the ball, burped it, and then did dumb things or was reminded that the other team is allowed to sack you.  Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez, who is neither Derek Anderson-bad nor Brady-Manning-Ben-good, threw 3 TDs and posted a season-high 127.3 passer rating.  (Last year's win over the Bengals in the playoffs yielded Sanchez's career high 139.4 passer rating.) 

A very average QB named Mark Sanchez looked like Tom Brady and Tom Brady looked like a very average QB.

That's on the Patriots' defense, people.  On a balanced team, when the offense sputters, the defense has to hold its own.  A good defense, in fact, creates turnovers to give the offense more chances, and sometimes scores points all on its own.  Isn't that a cool idea?

Back to Sanchez.  Let's face it, the Steelers have never been the sexy sell for the media.  In the regular season, it's all Manning-Brady, Brady-Manning.  In the post-season, it's more of the same.  The Saints?  The Saints didn't shake that mold:  hot offense, and the whole sublimation of a ruined city's collective dreams.  But the Steelers?  Good gravy, people: those low scoring games, ugly, bloody, and... low scoring.  That sporadic offense.  Between the AFC teams, both of which feature solid defense and running games, which are you going to feature, the guy who threw 3 TDs in bringing down the unassailable Patriots?  Or the guy who is on the redemption tour after putting the idea of DTF to the test?

So the media will ignore the fact that our final four includes four teams with very good defenses, and will instead concentrate on the coronation of Aaron Rodgers, and how he is now Joe Montana based on one -- one! -- outstanding game, ignoring the fact that Rodgers had some mundane and even bad games this season and has never before even won a playoff game.  Sanchez as up-and-comer is the AFC lead.  Minor attention, all spotlighting QBs of course, since there are no other players on the team, goes to Cutler (Will he be erratic or not?  Stay tuned!) and Roethlisberger (Doesn't he finally deserve to be mentioned with the greats of this era?  Maybe... and now for more slobbering over Aaron Rodgers!)

Don't get me wrong.  Rodgers is a very good QB, but he has a long way to go to prove anything.  Sanchez is an average QB with further to go.  The story line is how improved he is in the playoffs.  And who can argue with statistics?  A 75.3 passer rating in the 2010 regular season... and a 91.6 rating in the playoffs!  Of course, don't look too closely at those playoff numbers, or you may notice that they are an amalgam of a 62.4 rating in the Colts game, and that 127.3 rating against the Pats.  Actually, DO look at that, close your eyes, and THINK about it for a second.

That's Mark Sanchez in a nutshell.

By any objective measure, an 80.0 passer rating is the cutoff for a passing grade.  And these days, with more emphasis on passing (and not interfering with passing, and all the silly new rules protecting everyone from hurt feelings and such), a 90.0 passer rating is really the demarcation between the men and the boys.  Sanchez posted a 75.3 regular season rating.  A mere boy.  Ben?  Try 97.0.  That there's a man, son.  But, oh, what about that horrible game against the Ravens, they were getting clobbered and -- 101.8. 

Sanchez had 5 games over 100 and 7 games under 70, playoffs included.  Ben had 6 games over 100 and only 1 under 70.  Not that passer rating is the be-all, as it doesn't measure fumbles, or rushing yards, or leadership, or broken noses.  But it does speak to consistency, and Sanchez ain't got it.

What Dick LeBeau does is he removes variables.

He looks at a team and says, OK, I can stop their rushing attack.  That's what this team is geared to do.  Now what?  And one by one he takes away top threats.  He minimizes the deep ball.  He makes the game one of attrition, where opposing QBs are forced to look for yardage in small parcels, forced to shrug off the big play and the big players and find the third and fourth receiving options.  And when that happens, mistakes happen.  (Usually:  we've dissected why the Patriots formula is LeBeau Kryptonite.)  When Billy Jo Schmenkman is your leading receiver, chances are you lost the game. 

Dick LeBeau is going to force Brian Schottenheimber to put the ball into Sanchez's hands, and look for Dustin Keller and Jericho Cotchery.  (A poster on another message board wrote, after the Colts game, that we should send Sanchez to Iran to overthrow it.)  If Sanchez misses his mark, the Steelers will force punts, will create turnovers, and will ultimately dampen the Jets' hopes of scoring.

And that brings me to this week's predictions...
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« Reply #27 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 15:23 »

Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Chicago Bears (12-5).  Line: Packers by 3.5. Total: 43.5.

All the way back on January third, I predicted the Wild Card games, the Divisional Round games, and the Conference Championship games, with overall success, not to brag.  Right on 6 of 8 games, even with 4 of those results contingent upon the first week results, and 3 of 4 of the AFCC and NFCC teams in the mix.  Had the Patriots beating the Steelers 38-35 in a shootout, and the Packers beating the Bears 20-16 in a close game. 

Everyone wants to see Aaron Rodgers throw for 3 TDs, as he did in each of the previous playoff games -- no, wait! make it 4! -- and rack up 400+ yards passing, another TD rushing, and afterwards feed the Soldier Field by dividing 5 kielbasi sandwiches and a cheese hat and passing it amongst the multitude.  Just remember that this is a division rivalry game, which almost always means close and hard-fought no matter which division you're talking about, and that in the previous two meetings this season, the Packers lost 20-17 and won 10-3. 

Point being, this could be the antithesis of what all the media assholes want.  They want another 48-21 drubbing, because if you actually have to look at things like, oh, fuck, I don't know... matchups, injuries, coaching, strategies, tendencies, statistics, and bothersome stuff like that... well let's just say it's much easier to pick a winner who wins a nice shiny perfect game than to have to use your brain if everyone's winning slobberknockers by 3 points.  We need our new idol, and we need it now!

Nothing against Rodgers, of course.  He was my fantasy QB, although his untimely concussion coincided with my demise in that noble league.  Rodgers, unlike Sanchez, has fantastic passer rating numbers (93.8, 103.2, and 101.2 over the past 3 seasons), and more importantly, he's consistent.  He's had some duds, as every QB has.  But this isn't just about Aaron Rodgers. 

Rodgers, against the Bears this season, threw for 34-45-316-1-1 and lost, and threw for 19-28-229-1-1 and won.  See what I mean? 

The Packers and Bears defenses have really paced these matchups.  If you average those regular season meetings, you'd get a 13.5-10 Packers advantage.  I can't see the defenses keeping things bottled quite as tight as that 10-3 matchup, so I like the contour of my 20-16 prediction.  The Bears will have a psych edge, being ignored despite being the home team and the 2 seed, but the Packers won't be taking this lightly.  The Packers D shredded the Bears OL and notched 6 sacks in the December game (if you're looking ahead to a Steelers Super Bowl matchup, this would be cause for concern). 

It will be difficult for Cutler to get on track, especially since his receiving corps is the weakest of the four remaining teams.  Cutler went 21-39-168-0-2 in the December game, and it's hard to see him doing much better.  In the win, Cutler was 16-27-221-1-1.  The Bears will need Matt Forte to drive the offense -- he had 91 yards in December but only 29 in the September matchup.  If not for a Devin Hester PR TD, the Bears would have lost that September game as well.

The erratic Bears WRs like Knox simply disappear too much, but I think TE Greg Olsen, who's more a glorified WR than traditional TE, has the potential to be the go-to guy.  He had 113 yards against the Seahawks.  Of course, like the rest of the Bears wideouts, he was inconsistent the rest of the year (averaging about 25 YPG over the course of the season), and the Packers defense is a step up from the Seahawks.  But if Cutler is going to get into any kind of synch with a guy, he'd be my bet.

The Packers offense is clearly superior, with James Starks sparking the running game (did Mike McCarthy intentionally hide this guy after his game against the Niners, as a playoff surprise?), and a nice group of wideouts.  Greg Jennings is the leading receiver, but Donald Driver is still playing the role of the Packers' version of Hines Ward.  James Jones and Jordy Nelson provide solid WR3 and WR4 options.  Steelers castoff John Kuhn does the lumbering white guy running back thing, sort of the Isaac Redman component.  Their TEs, Quarless and Crabtree, sound like they should sell pricey soap in suburban malls, and frankly they're non-factors, and poor replacements for Jermichael Finley.

The face of the Packers defense is undoubtedly Clay Matthews, but since this is a 3-4 defense with Dom Capers at the helm, it all starts at the nose, and BJ Raji is starting to show he can play at a high level.  That boy is big and unruly.  Matthews has 13.5 sacks, but just like the Steelers, none of that would happen without solid line play.  Raji has 6.5 sacks, which is a crazy number for a 3-4 NT.  In the secondary, Charles Woodson has passed the baton to Tramon Williams (IIRC, will be a free agent; the Pack have to keep this guy), who leads the team with 6 picks in the regular season and an astounding 3 picks (1 for TD) in the post.  (Clay Matthews has also kept his train a-rollin' with 3 more playoff sacks.) 

Most analysts depict the Packers D as "good" or "solid," but don't place it among the best in the league.  Not in the same league as the Steelers or Ravens, or even Bears.  But even in pure yardage stats, the Pack was fifth best, and they notched 47 sacks this season (one behind league leading Pittsburgh).  Football Outsiders ranks their defense 2nd overall, and I tend to agree.

As mentioned in the media rant above, defense gives your offense opportunities.  Even when the Packers offense sputters, their defense keeps giving them the ball back.

Which is not to slight the Bears.  Face of the Bears, Urlacher, for the past few years a solid group plagued by injuries, but overall still a top unit.  They were middle of the pack with 34 sacks, but FO ranks them 4th as a unit (behind the Steelers, Packers, and Ravens).  The Bears allowed 17.9 points per game (deja vu: behind the Steelers, Packers, and Ravens). 

Their line was helped immensely by the presence of Julius Peppers, and Urlacher and Briggs remain the bedrock tandem.  They also have some greedy defensive backs:  Ike's Louisiana-Lafayette teammate Charles Tillman has 5 regular season picks, as does corner Chris Harris, and the diminutive nickel back DJ Moore has 4. 

It's a very close matchup between two solid teams, especially on the defensive side.  The Vegas over/under seems curiously high, given the history here, so I'd go under, despite the nascent godhood of Rodgers.  But Rodgers is superior to Cutler, and he has superior weapons: sooner or later, the Packers will get theirs.  They do have to worry about Devin Hester, probably the best KR weapon on any team in the NFL.  As mentioned, he turned the tide once this season. 

But Packers 20-16 sounded good then and sounds good now: that's four scores (2 TD, 2 FG) for the Pack, and four scores (1 TD, 3 FG) for the Bears, making it an even matchup with an offensive edge to the Pack.

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« Reply #28 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 15:43 »

New York Jets (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4).  Line: Steelers by 3.5. Total: 38.5.

Jets had 13 offensive points last game to the Steelers 17, scored the only KR TD the Steelers allowed all season, and generally won the battle of field position throughout. I think it's difficult to expect 7-9 non-offensive points this time around, but the Jets could still win the field position war. Stats from the first matchup favored the Steelers, but there's not a lot to take away from them here. Steelers played flat, at the time a game up on the Ravens in the AFCN race and pretty much assured a playoff berth; the Jets were coming off the Patriots drubbing and the letdown game versus the Fins, and very much needed to ensure that they stayed ahead of then 8-5 Jax and SD, and even 7-6 Miami, so the psych advantage was there. Steelers targeted TE/waste of space Matt Spaeth 9 times (WTF?), with predictable results, in Miller's concussion absence. Polamalu will play through the nagging injury this week, but sat out the previous match to nurse the Achilles.

When the Steelers have the ball. Rex was able to rush 3 and 4 and play cover against Indy and NE: while the Pats' rushing stats are virtually identical to the Steelers, much of that is a function of the wildly productive passing game and what that opens up. If the passing game is ineffective, as it was last Sunday, the rushing attack has no teeth. And the Colts' rushing game has left much to be desired. Mendenhall notched 99 against this defense, and will be relied on to get positive chunks on 1st and 2nd down. Rex will mix cover and blitz, and wasn't afraid to throw Coleman in last time for some effective corner blitzes. From his time as Ravens DC he knows that if you can overwhelm that Steelers OL you can kill drives and cause turnovers. The problem for the Steelers is that the OL can break down even on a 4 man rush if the Jets cover, and they're turnstiles against the blitz. They'll crush the B gap, where Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu are often beaten by speed and overloads. (They're the old guard power blocking, compared to the nimble rook Pouncey.) The C gap at LT features Jon Scott, Bills reject and yet another guy forced into play by injury, who is unable to seal the edge. Ellis won't need dinner, because Scott's gonna be lunch.

That said, even with a porous OL, Ben shakes off defenders the way Charlie Sheen tosses aside hookers. It's the same old story for Steelers fans, and we know Ben's going to get sacked, 3, 5, 7 times, who cares? The Steelers just can't turn the ball over as they did early and disastrously against the Ravens. If Mendenhall's rushing compiles decent numbers (say, 65+), it bodes well but cannot mask the fact that it's inconsistent. The OL allows too many stops at or behind the LOS, and Mendy often gets chunks late or through improvisation, which is to say the drives can stall if the pass attack isn't working. With Miller and Ward, Ben has his go-to guys, and much has been made of who will cover Wallace. Likely Revis and Cro will rotate against him. If Bruce Arians is smart, which is an iffy proposition, he'll tailor which throws go to Wallace by who's in coverage: as speedy as Cro is, Wallace held his own against him, and deep ball is the call; if Revis, slant and go, don't give him anything downfield. Most interesting to me is the role of the seemingly interchangeable rookies, Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown. They've seen an increasing role as the season has progressed, and they can present matchup problems. Just the fact that Sanders or Brown can adequately spell Ward or Wallace means the DB has to adjust for new tendencies, has to adjust for fresher legs, has to consider which set of routes the new guy might assume, since they can take flanker, SE or slot.

One last note. With OC Arians, it's the best of times and the worst of times. He can pull some great playcalling when you least expect it, but will also revert to tried and true dumbassery. I expect to see a slow-developing bubble screen to Ward or Randle El that nets nothing, and a repeat of same flipped to the other side of the field a couple of plays later. I expect a slow-developing reverse to Wallace that the NYJD sniffs out for a loss of 8-10. I expect futile and predictable down and distance playcalls, mostly centered on running the ball up the gut every first down, through much of the second and third quarters. Going to the rooks with 2:13 and 2:07 left in the 4Q versus the Ravens, tied 24-24, on 2-and-19 and 3-and-19, was very gutsy however and shows that faith in Sanders and Brown that I touched on. So we'll see how creative Arians is the rest of the postseason.

When the Jets have the ball. Jets will have tough sledding running the ball, although they did a pretty decent job last time. Still, the old guys of the front 7 don't usually cede much past the opening drive. It's likely that Schottenheimer will attack through the air, based on WR-DB matchups, but that then puts the onus on Sanchez. Much has been discussed that I won't reprise except to say that while his play in the post has improved, his inconsistency plays right into the Dick LeBeau style of defense: make the opposing QB play the perfect game, and pin their ears back on 3rd and longs.

LT and Greene racked up 49 and 40 yards last time out, and they will need to do that again to give Sanchez breathing room. I also think Rex and Schotty will pick their matchups wisely. You have Edwards, Holmes, Keller, and Cotchery as the primary targets, and the Steelers tend to give WR3 and WR4 targets wide berth and statistically big games. Last time, Edwards was BMOC, 100 yards even, with Holmes and Keller notching 40 and 19. They'll be matched with: Ike Taylor, big and fast but susceptible to short/quick routes; Bryant McFadden, adequate but has been burned on the big play, and is dealing with an abdominal injury; Willie Gay, who reeked as a starter but is pretty heads-up as a nickel back (and who played well in BMac's place in the Ravens game); THEE living legend, Polamalu, who is due for a big game-changer, and who will play through nagging injury (he's been much more used in cover lately than near the LOS); Clark, who is sub-par when Troy is out but who is elevated more than anyone else when he's on the field; and Anthony Madison, the ST CB who was pressed into duty last week due to injury and who is a clear coverage liability.

Holmes and Edwards both match well against McFadden, IMO, but it's going to be the very short game going against Ike. Hard to say who covers Keller, who's more WR than TE, but whatever. He could get Gay, or Timmons, or Pola. Edwards can be a big play guy, but he showed a lot of drops as a Brownie, and I'd be worried about a drop in a clutch situation if the D gets in his head (read: if Clark lays a nice hit on him). If Sanchez can exploit BMac's flaws, and get quick hitters to whoever Gay is covering (Gay is better downfield, when he can see the field better and make a play if the ball is in front of him), he could have a decent day. It's worth noting that his improved play has not yet had him post a 200+ yard game this postseason, and his passer rating was 62.4 at the Colts, and 127.3 at the Pats. He had 170 yards and an 81.1 rating last game against the Steelers. I can see him putting up 200+, and having a decent PR, but if the Steelers can force a shootout I think Sanchez will be exposed.

Traditionally, it would be guys like Keller and Cotchery who should have the best statistical receiving days, and LeBeau will want to shut down the threats one by one: LT and Greene, Edwards, Holmes... make the WR3 and WR4 win it for you. Without Aaron Smith (he is out for Sunday), Ziggy Hood will need to keep showing improvement, and the front 7 will need to keep the pressure on. Steelers don't blitz as often as people seem to think, but they do on critical third downs, and that's where Harrison and Woodley will need to win their matchups. Expect Sanchez to move the ball well between the 20s, at least early on, but LeBeau will be trying to get into his head by confusing coverages, guys standing up, moving around, dropping, rushing, and once in the RZ the defense prides itself on being tighter than a nun's snatch.

Point of reference: the Steelers 13-10 win over the Ravens on December 5. Flacco threw for 266 yards and 1 TD. 1Q, 3-15 from the 3, Flacco beat Ryan Clark for a 61-yard throw to Boldin. 2Q, 3-6 from the 6, Flacco beats BMac for 67 to Stallworth. The takeaway? Flacco had all of 138 yards passing aside from those two plays, only one of which was a drive yielding points. He did very little in the second half. (Both were similar situationally and caught the Steelers trying to stop the short gain in the shadow of the BR own EZ, rather than expecting the deep ball.) I expect a similar dynamic with Sanchez: basically a very unimpressive stat line padded with a couple of big plays.

Prediction:
Should be a good, hard-fought game, much like a classic Steelers-Ravens scrum. Hard to pin a psych edge, the Jets ("our time is now") or Steelers (another day punching the clock). Jets should have some field position advantage. Ben will hit the big plays a few times, especially in the clutch. Something tells me 20-17 Steelers is the wise prognostication, but if the PSD makes some big plays I can see a deflated second half for the Jets and the Steelers pulling away. 10-10 at the half, 27-13 Steelers is your final.

On the Vegas line, again, the under seems wise, but I like the Steelers to shake the Jets in the second half.  If we could hang 31 on the Ravens, I think 27 is a good call against the Jets.  The Jets scored 13 offensive points last time out, so there's consistency for you.

Football Outsiders ranks the Steelers D best in the league, and 1st against the rush and 2nd against the pass.  Jets aren't pushovers either, 5th overall, 7th against the pass, 2nd against the rush.  Their offensive ranking metrics a surprising 3rd overall, 3rd passing and 14th rushing, but the Jets only 20th, 19th passing and 5th rushing.  So my sentiments about Sanchez, and the idea that LeBeau will put the game in his hands, seem reasonable. 
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« Reply #29 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 16:13 »

Quote
The naked lunch wriggling at the end of the fork is the reality, discussed here at MGS, that the Patriots... can... be... beaten.


You cannot beat the mark sanchez inside.  Or you could say the Jets slunked their way to victory.

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« Reply #30 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 18:01 »

I am terribly superstitious, and considering the accuracy of your Steelers-Jets prediction in the regular season, I began thanking God when I saw this prediction.
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« Reply #31 on: Jan 20, 2011 at 21:49 »

Great stuff, per usual.  More than earned your $37 daily stipend.

For the Pack @ Bears, I basically agree, but for some unknown reason, I see GB winning and not covering cuz of the dreaded hook.  It just looks so tempting the way GB has been playing to stick with the hot hand, but as you say, divisional games are usually nailbiters and I think Vegas is just teasing the public with that number.  23-20, 20-17...Cheeseheads.

For the Jets @ our beloved Black and Gold, I obviously agree (see my intricate and highly complex mathmatical formula that I included in the AFCC Gameday thread that would make an Asian graduating Suma Cum Laude from MIT scratch his head).  Seriously though, I think the clock strikes midnight on the Jets" Cinderella postseason on Sunday.  Rexy's gonna find out that you can only hide the QB for so long before it 'asplodes all over her fee...ah, face...yeah, yeah, her face...that's it.
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« Reply #32 on: Jan 22, 2011 at 07:04 »

Nice writeup as always. For some reason I like the Bears in a close one in the first game, 16-13 or something like that. Maybe it's because they have been largely ignored by the media or maybe it's because the thought of a Bears-Steelers Superbowl would ruin Goodell's life.
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« Reply #33 on: Feb 03, 2011 at 15:07 »

Finny's 2010 playoff guide, Super Bowl XLV edition

I’ve spent the better part of two weeks worrying my guts out over this game.  Not that I’m allowing the media hype to dig a spork into my abdomen with their love of the hot team (Packers), the newest object of QB adulation (Rodgers), and their general level of inane chatter (near-deafening).  No, I’ve been spewing up blood and bile all on my worrisome own.  It’s how I roll.  

For these big games, I even practice negative visualization to lessen the impact of unwanted outcomes.  For the AFCC, I pictured Santonio Holmes reeling in the dramatically ironic game-winner, recapitulating his snare from XLIII.  I saw him celebrating as the Lamar Hunt trophy was handed over to the meaty paws of Rex Ryan, and Ryan’s jubilant presser, with Greasy Sanchez all smiles as well.  So for the Super Bowl, it’s Aaron Rodgers as MVP, naturally, all the green and yellow confetti coming down and fans with those ridiculous polystyrene curd heads jumping up and down as the Steeler faithful file out of Jerruhworld in silence.

But enough of all that shit.  Steelers are going to win, and even though we all know it’s going to be close, closer than it should be, and the late part of the game is going to be another nail-biter, I’ve gone over enough statistics, trends, matchups, and intangibles to say with confidence that the Steelers will lay claim to their seventh Vince Lombardi trophy.

I think.

I’m pretty sure.

OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way.  It pretty much looks like the awesome comeback story of Aaron Smith isn’t going to materialize the way it did for Rod Woodson in the 1995 season.  And despite Pouncey being upgraded to probable, it still doesn’t seem likely that Maurkice Pouncey’s super duper healing powers will be able to overcome medical reality.  We’ve cobbled together an offensive line of backups and castoffs, and we’re pretty much hoping Ben can do his Ben magic to overcome that fact.

But the Packers did an amazing thing as well, overcoming a ridiculous 16 players going to IR, including some significant starters (LB Nick Barnett, RB Ryan Grant, TE Jermichael Finley, OT Mark Tauscher).  Mike McCarthy deserves significant COY consideration for that fact alone, despite his butchering of the backup plan in the loss to the Lions when Rodgers went out with a concussion.  

Both the Packers’ and the Steelers’ offensive lines have had injury issues and problems with protection, despite the Packers investing more in recent drafts to upgrade.  Both lines also seem to have improved of late, perhaps indicating that even a patchwork line benefits from consistency.

So what about the injuries?

For the Steelers, Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalu, and Maurkice Pouncey appear to be the biggest concerns.  Smith’s absence was more keenly felt in years past, but Ziggy Hood has stepped up and played like a man.  Check.  Polamalu has battled an Achilles injury, and hasn’t made the eye-popping impact of late that he did earlier in the season.  But the Wild Card bye and the extra week of rest for the Super Bowl can’t hurt, and Troy was no liability in the two playoff wins.  Check.

Pouncey.

As noted, Pouncey has somehow come back from the dreaded high ankle sprain (a.k.a., Kendrell’s Bane) AND a broken bone in his foot.  But consider me leery of him starting.  He may suit up as much-needed depth.
Pouncey was arguably our best offensive lineman, although I would note that Flozell Adams did a very nice job at RT, better than I’d anticipated when we signed him.  Clearly Mo has a very bright future here, but can Doug Legursky fill his shoes without fumbling a snap?  Legursky, 6’1” and 315# (although he looks shorter than that) has acquitted himself well in spot duty at both guard positions and the occasional FB call.  He’s very strong (set records at Marshall in weightlifting) and is surprisingly quick on his feet.  But he’s not as rangy as Pouncey, and he doesn’t have the long arms that Mo possesses.

The concern is that big NT B.J. Raji will feast on him, but my surmise is that if Legursky locks on, he may be able to hold his ground.  Getting to second level blocks the way Pouncey did seems less likely.  His success may ultimately be predicated on Sean Kugler’s blocking schemes versus the 3-4: if he gets good cooperation and that mind-meld understanding from Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu, the center of the line may do well enough.  Having two weeks to work on these issues helps, but it could still be a concern.
In short, Legursky needs to bring his lunch pail and not fuck up the exchanges.  And if Pouncey does pull off a miracle, we have to hope he has the strength to set against B.J. Raji and the small family of wild boars he recently ate.

Incidentally, Craig Wolfley agrees .

For the Packers, a quick look at the stats for Desmond Bishop replacing Nick Barnett show no discernable dropoff.  I can’t say that Barnett is better on style points, but the numbers seem to show that the defense has done fine in replacing him.

Ryan Grant chipped in 1253 rushing yards last season, and while that was certainly felt during the regular season, when a largely ineffective Brandon Jackson was a disappointing fill-in, the post-season has seen the emergence of unheralded rookie James Starks.  I won’t bother with a comparison of the two, because while Starks has also been a rough equivalent of Grant in the playoffs, it won’t matter a pig’s tit against the Steelers.  In last year’s shootout, Grant and Mendenhall had 37 and 38 yards rushing, respectively.  I could see Starks doing marginally better, but if the Packers fall behind or if Starks gets no early traction, he’ll be tossed aside like a pair of wet socks.

Here’s the key injury for the Packers:  Jermichael Finley.  Finley was building a strong rappor with Rodgers before getting torn up, and of course tight ends have a way of exploiting the soft zones in the LeBeau defensive schemes.  In the 2009 shootout game, Jennings led the Packers with 118 receiving yards, but it was Finley who led in receptions, with 9 for 74 and a touchdown.  Rodgers has no similar safety valve amongst the replacements.  Andrew Quarless has 4 catches for 41 yards in the postseason, and Tom Crabtree has 1 for 7.  This is very, very good news for the Steelers.

Dick LeBeau likes to whittle down variables one by one.  Stop the run.  Take away the TE.  And all of a sudden all job of stopping the Packers offense starts to narrow.

One statistical oddity from the 2009 game

I doubt this will be reprised in the Super Bowl, and no, I’m not talking about Ben getting 503 yards passing.  Greg Jennings may have put up the most receiving yards for the Packers, but his 118 yards was still only second best to Hines Ward’s 126 yards on 7 snags.  Donald Driver had 3 catches for 76 yards.  The old salts were 33 and 35 at the time.  It’s hard to imagine them replicating that this time around.

What are they chanting?


One stat from that game that’s worth paying attention to is the performance of the TEs.  Jermichael Finley had 9 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, but he too was only the second best TE on the field that day.  Miller had 7 snags for a whopping 118 yards.

Miller plays Sunday.  Finley will be watching the game.

By the way, they’re chanting “HEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTTHHHHHHHHH!”

OK, one last note on the 2009 game

The Steelers had five players with 50 or more yards receiving that game, including Rashard Mendenhall (!), with 6 catches for 73 yards.  Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley all had good days, as did Jordy Nelson, who reeled in 4 catches for 71 yards.  (James Jones had only 2 catches for 36 yards.)

The Packers did that damage against defensive backs Ty Carter, playing in place of Troy Polamalu, and Deshea Townshend (retired), William Gay (demoted to nickel), and Joe Burnett (released).  No commentary needed.

Wet farts in a monsoon

Absent some juicy scandal or some slip into smack talk, what’s a reporter to do but whip up a tempest in a teapot?  This year’s non-factors to anything that will occur on the field include:  the Packers’ photo “scandal,” a Twitter crossfire between Aaron Rodgers and Nick Barnett, Peter King’s story on Goodell’s comments about how players don’t like Ben Roethlisberger (wah!) or how he’s not nice or some shit (double-wah!), the ensuing correction of the Peter King story, Roethlisberger being asked to wax philosophic on redemption, and Hines Ward possibly ogling some titties.

There will surely be a few more wet farts in the monsoon, and I’ve adjusted my prognostication accordingly, by adjusting both teams’ scores down one one-hundredth of an assbeard hair.

Been there, done that

One intangible that I think will have an effect early in the game is the experience factor.  These Packers are relatively, well, green in terms of postseason seasoning, and when you get to the Super Bowl, nerves are certain to be a factor.  The Rodgers-led Packers had never gotten out of the Wild Card round, and you’d have to go back to the 2007 season (Giants upset Patriots!) to find personnel who were along for the ride to the NFCC loss with Favre at the helm.

The only players I could find with any Super Bowl experience were Charles Woodson (Raiders lose to Bucs), and ex-Steelers John Kuhn and Anthony Smith, who got their rings by being on the practice squad and on IR, respectively.  And unless I missed it, Mike McCarthy never went to the big dance even as an assistant.
By contrast, this is HC Mike Tomlin’s third go, second as HC of the Steelers, and the majority of the players were here for one or both of the 2005 and 2008 season finales.  That could mean an early advantage for the Steelers.

The Packers have never trailed by more than 7

How often has this nugget been foisted on us by a media corps hungry for relevant data?  They’re as dead-eyed and ravenous as a legion of zombies.  Anyone want to bet that the Steelers get out to an early lead of more than 7?  This could be notable if the Packers are a bit jittery and they have to play catch-up against the Steelers defense.

Rashard Mendenhall will fuck you up

Mendenhall is one of my keys to this game.  If the Steelers can play an offensive stratagem of quick deep strikes to the young wide receivers, balanced with drive-sustaining middle throws to Ward and Miller, the last element of complete domination would be to have Mendenhall notch 100 yards rushing, taking the air out of the Packers’ tires and lessening the chance of a late shootout.

But the media will tell you that the Packers have been much improved in the playoffs against the rush.

And that’s just where they cannot understand context.  During the regular season, the Packers’ rush defense had a decent -1.8% DVOA, good for 16th best.  But in the playoffs, the Packers faced an Eagles team more fond of the pass than the run, and once those Eagles got behind the Pack the rushing game was an afterthought.  Similarly, the Falcons and Bears had to play catch-up in their tilts.

But why should we expect Mendenhall to run wild?  He’s been up and down all year, or rather, he’s had some breakout games when the line held and the OC remembered to feed him.

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and give Bruce Arians a little credit for once.  The Packers had an abysmal defensive rushing YPA this season, 4.7 YPA, or nearly 114.88 YPG allowed.  As much as I respect this Packers defense and Dom Capers’s tune-up as DC, that’s not a particularly good set of stats.  True, they faced Adrian Peterson twice, but that ain’t all of it.  The only team that allowed a worse per-carry yardage average was Buffalo, with 4.8.  That’s really something to give pause.

So I went back and rounded up Mendenhall’s performances (this year only) against the YPA dogs.  

Against the Bills (4.8 YPA, 169.63 YPGA) he ran 36 times for151 yards and 1 score.

Against the Bucs( 4.7 YPA, 131.69 YPGA) he ran 19 times for 143 and 1 score.
 
Against the Falcons ( 4.6 YPA, 105.88 YPGA) he ran 22 times for 120 yards and 1 score (a game in which the defense keyed on him in Roethlisberger’s absence).

Against the Raiders (4.5 YPA, 133.63 YPGA) he ran 23 times for only 59 yards and 1 score.  

In two games against the Bengals (4.3 YPA, 115.19 YPGA), he ran 22 times for 99 yards and 1 score, and 18 times for 66 yards and no TDs.

That’s great work by Mendy, but it’s also a little too coincidental for Bruce Arians not to have noticed this defensive flaw and actually exploit it.

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« Reply #34 on: Feb 03, 2011 at 15:07 »

Steelers connection

This really has nothing to do with anything, but you’re also certainly aware of the fact that Mike McCarthy is originally from the Pittsburgh area.  Wow, that’s a fact we needed to know, thanks!

But the Packers have not only utilized the Steelers’ philosophy of drafting well and developing talent, instead of employing the Danny Snyder Free Agent Failure Model, and there are other Steelers connections as well.  Tom Clements was the QB coach just before Ben arrived, 2001-04.  Dom Capers was Cowher’s first DC, from 1992-94.  Kevin Greene was a productive linebacker for the black and gold from 1993-95, where he coaches up the outside linebackers for the Pack.  And Darren Perry was an excellent Steelers safety from 1992-98, then helped coach DBs there from 2003-06, but now he’s the safeties coach for the Pack. 

Whittling down the variables

OK, I’m not going to devote a ton of speculation as to who our defense matches up with in the passing game, or what the Packers plan on doing, because sometimes the receivers flip sides, sometimes you have a linebacker cover, and in general the DCs like to mix things up. 

But as noted, last year’s game featured three DBs who won’t be in the Steelers defensive mix on Sunday: Ty Carter, Deshea Townshend, and Joe Burnett.  And William Gay is now back at nickel.

While the WR depth of the Packers seems to be problematic for our defense, and another hackneyed trope of the media is the idea that any team can “spread out the Steelers and pass on them,” this idea starts to look less tenable when you consider that the two arguments used to bolster the case are the Steelers 2010 losses to New England (OK, they match up well with us, but this ain’t them) and the loss to the Saints.  Yes, the loss where Heath coughed up the ball with the Steelers down 13-10 and competitive throughout.  That’s all you got, Chief?  That it?  OK, now let’s consider personnel.

Earlier in the season, I posted stats regarding the Steelers’ success versus teams with various numbers of potent receivers.  (Where that post is, I have no idea.)  Teams with 5 and 6 receivers of note did fare better against our defense, but when teams fielded 4 or fewer such receivers the advantage tilted.

And you’ll recall that Andrew Quarless is no Jermichael Finley.

That leaves Greg Jennings as the big threat receiver, the guy Ike Taylor should draw.  And beyond that, there are Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones.  And that’s about it, folks.

Say what you will about Bryant McFadden and William Gay, but if you have them in the same backfield with Troy Polamalu, I can see LeBeau winning this chess match.  Put it another way: you can have Greg Jennings have a big day, or you can have one or two of the other guys having decent days, but not all four.  On four-wide sets, it will be interesting to see if LeBeau sticks with the nickel package and lets speedy LB Lawrence Timmons stay in or have marginal CB Anthony Madison in as the dime package back.  Frankly, I'm hoping for the former.

Flipping the matchups, my surmise is that Woodson would most often cover Ward, matching the wily vets, and that rookie speedster Sam Shields will likely shadow Mike Wallace.  That leaves Tramon Williams, who is very solid, and someone (SS Charlie Peprah?) on the rooks for four wides.  In the three wide sets, this looks to favor the Packers, except that Heath Miller is again matched on a LB.  Also, that crucial deep threat must be covered by a rookie (Shields). A very talented rookie, but a rookie, in the Super Bowl, no less.  He had two clutch picks against the Bears, but I would assert that Ben Roethlisberger is just a touch better than Caleb Hanie.  Not much, you know, just a wee bit.

I expect both quarterbacks to have decent stat sheets, with perhaps a yardage edge to Rodgers. 

One more thing about that passing game

Looking over the Packers playoff drive charts, what strikes me is that almost every TD drive is a long, methodical drive.  Very few explosive hitters, like the patented Ben-to-Wallace heart-stoppers we know and love.
Dick LeBeau’s offensive philosophy is fine with that.  We’ll keep the big plays off the table, and make you beat us with technical perfection.  Perhaps the only team that can do that consistently is the Patriots, who (as noted) have more than 4 viable targets. 

If the Packers can’t strike deep successfully, that makes their offense much more pass-fail.  You never know when the Steelers will hit the long play, but they hit it pretty often.  The Packers seem to be of the philosophy to go on long drives, and when touchdowns aren’t there they punt.  I don’t know if McCarthy has no faith in Mason Crosby, but the Packers are below the league median in FG attempts and completion percentage.
 
That could mean that the Packers find offensive success in fits and starts.

OK, all that DVOA shit

I do tend to rely more on Football Outsiders’ metrics over pure yardage stats, as there’s no compensation in the latter for level of competition, meaningfulness of down and distance, etc.  If you’re curious about how they arrive at these stats, check out their website: it’s far too complicated for me to boil down here.  Over the years, however, Football Outsiders’ best DVOA teams (and especially those teams with the best defensive DVOA) tend to go farther in the postseason.

Remember, offensive DVOA and special teams DVOA is better when positive; since the defense is in statistical opposition to moving the ball forward, negative defensive DVOA rules.
Are the Packers’ offensive stats inflated?

I arbitrarily checked the last 10 games for both the Packers and Steelers, including playoffs, to see what defensive DVOA both faced.  (Week 19 DVOA stats were utilized for this, meaning playoff performance through the Divisional Round games is included.)

The Packers’ opposition ranged from -4.5% (Chicago) to 6.5% (Detroit).  The average defensive DVOA was 2.35, comparable to the Patriots (ranked 12th, 2.1%) or the Vikings (ranked 13th, 2.8%).  Over that span the Packers were 7-3, winning by an average of 25.7 – 14.8 (+10.9 points).

The Steelers’ opposition ranged from -17.7% (Baltimore) to 8.2% (Cleveland).  The average defensive DVOA was -4.11%, comparable to the Raiders (ranked 6th, -4.3%) or the Dolphins (ranked 7th, -2.0%).  Over that span the Steelers were 8-2, winning by an average of 23.6 – 15.2 (+8.4). 

The bottom line is this.  The Steelers faced defenses like the Jets and Ravens, both of whom are better than the Bears, and that’s about the best the Packers faced.  They haven’t faced a defense as nasty as the Steelers all year long, and the playoffs haven’t prepared them for shit.  Meanwhile, the Packers defense is in the same league as the Steelers and Ravens, but the Steelers have at least faced comparable foes.

You only get so many shots

As I went over the drive charts from the Packers’ and Steelers’ playoff games, which may or may not be a good predictor of how these teams will fare in the Super Bowl, one thing that impressed itself on me is the idea that a handful of plays decide the game.

You get the ball for maybe 10 or 12 drives, and either you score or you hand it to the other guy and invite him to try.  It’s a rather simple game.  So one stalled drive can have big consequences.  One drive where a dominant RB or TE presence can be the difference between success and failure. 

And I’ll admit that I think there were some aberrations in these drive charts.

For one, the Falcons game completely fell apart in the second half.  Sure, the Packers had a hand in that, but the game looks like an outlier when compared to the Eagles and Bears games.  In those matchups, the Packers were much more consistent in the number of drives they scored touchdowns on and how many times they had to punt.
Similarly, the Steelers seemed to be plagued by many more turnovers than they suffered during the regular season.  The first half of that Ravens game was pure ass-pimple ugly, and it hardly seems to be a good predictor model for the Super Bowl.  Likewise, losing Pouncey and thrusting Legursky into the mix resulted in a bad snap and a resultant safety.  Is that something we can reasonably expect to continue?

Perhaps this is nothing more than cherry-picking, but I did cull out the Falcons game and from the results came up with a percentage of drives in the playoffs that each team got a TD, a FG, or turned the ball over.  And I even kept in the Steelers’ sloppy turnover percentage, despite my rationalizations that they seem unlikely to continue.
What resulted was that the Steelers scored TDs on a higher number of their drives, and the Packers seem almost pathologically afraid to trust their FG kicker.  The Steelers had an excessive turnover percentage, so I allowed that, given the Pack’s top-rated secondary and strong overall defensive DVOA.

How many drives ya got?

While there could be more or fewer drives in XLV, I ran the playoff drive percentages through 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 drives for each team.  It shouldn’t matter who gets the ball first, except to describe the in-game dynamic. 
In a fast game, you’ll see one or both teams dominate the ground game.  Without incompletions to stop the clock, and a solid rushing attack keeping the number of drives lower, the odds favor the Steelers.  In a 9-drive apiece game, I project a 24-14 Steeler win.  That seems unlikely, since the Packers can’t hope to match the ground attack, but even a 10-drive game, where the Pack counters with passing to a successful rushing attack, I project the Steelers win 24-21.  That seems like a very possible scenario.

On the other end of the curve, if both teams are successful getting chunks via the pass attack, moving quickly and keeping possession going back and forth, a 13-drive game goes Steelers 31-21, and a 12-drive game goes Steelers the same score.  While I think the Steelers pass attack will surprise some folks (not those who’ve followed this team and understand the emerging hydra of young talent), I find the idea that Arians will abandon the ground game and short yardage attack entirely somewhat dubious.

In the 2008 Super Bowl (XLIII), the Steelers had 11 drives to the Cards’ 10.  Under that scenario, the Steelers win here 31-21.

The average of all scenarios comes out like this: Pack scores 3 TDs, no FGS, 21 points; Steelers score 3.66 TDs, 1 FG, so it depends on whether you think that 3.66 really rounds up to 4 TDs, or whether this means something else.  Would that be a situation that Tomlin kicks a FG instead?  Is 31-21 really 31-21, or is it 27-21?

The prediction

While I think projecting drive percentages has the look and feel of how this game might unfold, it’s by no means scientific.  I place much more faith in the secondary matchups we have this time that were absent in the 2009 shootout.  (We also have more WR targets this time around, with Miller and one extra rookie to choose from.)  I like the fact that we’ve faced tougher defenses, and that we’ve done well overall against them.  And I really like the YPA predictor that tells me Rashard Mendenhall could have a 100-yard game.

If I’m correct that the war of nerves plays to the Steelers early, and this game conforms to the blueprint whereby the Steelers get up early and then watch their opponent futilely hack away at that lead until time expires.  In that sense, I can see this game unfolding similarly to the AFCC game, barring unconscionable turnovers a la the Divisional Round game.  But while I think that most pundits underestimate the potency of the Steelers offense, its ability to hit the big play quickly, I also think the Steelers won’t clear 20 in the first half.  This Packers defense will do a better job than the Jets defense did.  Face it: the Jets just didn’t show up.  The Packers will, but we’ll draw some blood early.

And the Packers won’t wait an entire half to get going offensively either.  17-7 Steelers at the half sounds about right.  I can even see the Steelers getting up early in the second half by 24-7 and then the fun begins.  Packers hit a TD, Steelers go three and out; repeat.  Suddenly it’s a 24-21 game as the Packers offense begins to figure out how to win matchups the way the Cards did late in Super Bowl XL.

And then – call it a change of gut, but my worried gut has also produced a gut feeling that centers on one Mr. Troy Polamalu.  Human Highlight Reel.  Oddly quiet for a few games.  Due for a back-breaking play.  He notices tendencies during the Packers’ second half drives, bides his time, then goes for the kill.  With a comfortable Steelers lead down the drain, Troy catches Rodgers pressing and takes on to the house, 31-21, game over.

And I’m sticking with the over on this game because I think it will have a certain similarity to the aforementioned 2010 AFCC game with the Jets and Super Bowl XLIII with the Cards.  The Steelers have scored 20+ on defenses as good or better than the Packers in these playoffs.  Both teams relative productivity as a percentage of scoring on playoff drives leads me to believe that the Vegas over is the safe bet as well.
 
Not that I think either defense will play poorly:  both defenses will make stops.  Both will get sacks.  There will be picks.  But both offenses have playmakers that will eventually find paydirt. 

The Steelers will simply prove to be better on both sides of the ball, but not by a lot.
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« Reply #35 on: Feb 03, 2011 at 16:25 »

Quote
Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and give Bruce Arians a little credit for once

FFS - Way to Fuck up the Super Bowl Karma.  This means Arians comes up with some trickery and sits Mendy the 1st half.

Nice Job!!!!!!!
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« Reply #36 on: Feb 03, 2011 at 16:35 »

Great job.


Quote
Tom Clements was the QB coach just before Ben arrived, 2001-04.

Canevin Catholic in the house!
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« Reply #37 on: Feb 03, 2011 at 17:29 »

Quote
Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and give Bruce Arians a little credit for once

FFS - Way to Fuck up the Super Bowl Karma.  This means Arians comes up with some trickery and sits Mendy the 1st half.

Nice Job!!!!!!!

Even a blind squirrel can scratch his nuts.

Arians will have a great half.  And a maddening half.  As usual.
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« Reply #38 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 11:38 »

Great job.

Plus infinity.

All the details and statistics aside, my gut is still telling me this one will be more of a defensive grudge match.

When you get to the Big One, offenses tend to play tight for the first quarter or so; feeling out the defense and not wanting to be the first to make a back breaking mistake.  As they settle in and start to get comfortable, they'll open up a bit before the half.  Halftime adjustments will be made with one team making a semi-late go ahead drive and then being forced to defend a possible game winning/tying drive.

24-20 or 23-20.

And, FWIW, this game has me very, very nervous.  In past years, that would be a good thing using the jinx angle.  However, this year (for the last 2-3 months, anyway) I've been pretty close to dead fucking on with my picks for this team, both ATS and straight up.  The only major gaffe was when I picked Carolina to cover.  Since the middle of November, I'm 7-1.  Called losses against Buffalo (shoulda been, but still covered ATS) and the Jets.

Anyway, if ever there was a time when I hope I'm wrong, this is it.  I'd happy take going back to being a pick jinx (for this one game).  Hell, they've proven my preseason prediction wrong, why stop now?

Bring home #7, #7.

Woot.
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« Reply #39 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 12:03 »

That awesome writeup inspired me to create this major new artwork.  I call it, "Visualize Success."

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« Reply #40 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 12:27 »

That awesome writeup inspired me to create this major new artwork.  I call it, "Visualize Success."
Are those two Packer players face-planted into the turf?  No??  Well, let me visualize it anyway!
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« Reply #41 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 12:40 »

That awesome writeup inspired me to create this major new artwork.  I call it, "Visualize Success."
Are those two Packer players face-planted into the turf?  No??  Well, let me visualize it anyway!

It is!  You can tell b/c their facemasks are on bottom. Smiley
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« Reply #42 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 13:17 »

If you have the time, FO has a long but interesting read that really focuses on the passing game matchups and blitz packages.  They give short shrift to why they think the Pack wins by 3-7, but maybe they were plum wore out.
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« Reply #43 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 14:27 »

That was inspirational.

It inspired me to waste a half an hour with my shaky Microsoft Paint skills to create what I call Silverback Tearing Aaron Rodgers's Head Off (and a small portion of his spinal column) and Running Downfield with It.

Now, how do I get a pic from my HD on here again?
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« Reply #44 on: Feb 04, 2011 at 17:49 »


Now, how do I get a pic from my HD on here again?

Oh, I gotsta see that!  Two ways

1) Add it to the Media LIbrary:  Click the Media button up there, pick a gallery then upload it to that gallery.  When it finishes it'll have the links you can use to insert the pick.  The link I used looked like this:  
Code:
[smg id=823]

2) Add it as an attachment to a reply (not a quick reply but the regular reply).  Click the "Additional Options" link to the left (of the reply) and then you'll see the attachment upload button.

« Last Edit: Feb 04, 2011 at 17:53 by jonzr » Logged

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« Reply #45 on: Feb 05, 2011 at 07:34 »


Now, how do I get a pic from my HD on here again?

Oh, I gotsta see that!  Two ways

1) Add it to the Media LIbrary:  Click the Media button up there, pick a gallery then upload it to that gallery.  When it finishes it'll have the links you can use to insert the pick.  The link I used looked like this:  
Code:
[smg id=823]

2) Add it as an attachment to a reply (not a quick reply but the regular reply).  Click the "Additional Options" link to the left (of the reply) and then you'll see the attachment upload button.


Oh, cool.  Now I have to see if I can fish it off my work HD remotely.  Hmmmm.
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« Reply #46 on: Feb 05, 2011 at 09:12 »

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« Reply #47 on: Feb 05, 2011 at 09:38 »

Hahahahaaaa, that's the stuff!  I like the X's over the eyes, nice touch.
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