Divisional Round Statistical Onslaught: Why and Why Not

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 09, 2014



by Russell S Baxter
Cold Hard Football Facts' Fact-Faction Leader (@BaxFootballGuru)

It’s been referred to as the best weekend in the NFL annually.

Of course, we’re talking about the Divisional Playoffs.

But how will the league top last week’s excitement. It was a slate that fabled orchestra leader Lawrence Welk could appreciate.

One blowout to go along with a one and a two and a three…

Yes, the Chargers beat the Bengals by 17 points last weeks, while the rest is the scoring margin of the other three playoff games last weekend.

Now there are eight teams alive and just seven games to go.

This week, we will explain why each team will move on or go home after their matchup this weekend. And for your added convenience, we’ve updated each club’s win-loss record follow last week’s action.

Will three of the four road teams prevail this week as was the case in the Wild Card Round?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, Jan. 11

New Orleans Saints (12-5)

Why: The Saints’ underneath passing game presents problems for every opponents and it’s interesting to note that tight end Jimmy Graham’s scored the team’s lone touchdown in this year’s earlier loss at Seattle. But what is even more intriguing is the fact that the New Orleans’ ground game rolled up 185 yards last week against the Eagles and now takes aim at a Seahawks’ defense that has been vulnerable to the run on occasion…

Why Not: Despite a win over the Eagles last Saturday night in Philadelphia in the wild card playoffs, Sean Payton’s club has yet to score at least 30 points in any of their nine road games this season. And it may take that many points to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. And while quarterback Drew Brees got away with throwing two interceptions in the last week’s win, he may not be as lucky against these Birds…

Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

Why: For the second straight season, no team allowed fewer points in the league than the Seahawks (231). And here’s a little perspective. In their last 32 regular-season games, Pete Carroll’s club has allowed a total of 476 points. This past season, the Minnesota Vikings gave up a league high 480 points in 16 contests. And even if you’re lucky enough to move the ball against the No. 1 ranked defensive unit in the NFL, Seattle topped all teams in the league this seasons with 39 takeaways…

Why Not: The visiting Saints have to hope that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to have some issues with securing the football and staying out of harm’s way. The second-year signal caller was sacked 44 times this season, including four times in each of his last three games, and did commit at least one turnover in 10 of his 16 outings. And while he was better with ball security after a shaky start, he could be vulnerable to a New Orleans pass rush that produced 49 sacks during the regular season…

Indianapolis Colts (12-5)

Why: Including last week’s rousing playoff win, Chuck Pagano’s team has won four straight games. While quarterback Andrew Luck remains the catalyst, running back Donald has had the hot hand(s) and feet as of late when it comes to the end zone. In his last three outings, he’s totaled 165 yards rushing and three scores and also caught nine passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns…

Why Not: The Indianapolis defense remains a liability, especially against the run. And if the New England Patriots ground game is effective against the league’s 26th-ranked rushing defense, there will be few times outside linebacker Robert Mathis will get the chance to get to quarterback Tom Brady. Mathis has forced eight fumbles this season and added one sacks and a forced fumble in last week’s win over the Chiefs…

New England Patriots (12-4)

Why: It’s playoff football and no one has done it better the last decade or so than the Patriots, who have won 17-of-24 postseason games since 2001 and made five Super Bowl appearances. Yes, Bill Belichick’s team is just 7-7 in its last 14 playoff contests. But these days, the Pats look more like the team that knows how to win the close games rather than just manhandling the opposition. All told, 11 of New England’s 16 games this season have been decided by seven points or less and the Pats won seven of those contests…

Why Not: This was looking like a fairly solid defensive unit until injuries to defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo went down during the season. Now add linebacker Brandon Spikes to the list of Patriots that won’t be available this week or the rest of the season. Only two teams in the NFL allowed more rushing yards than the Patriots in 2013. And while the Colts don’t wow you with their ground attack, the concern for Belichick and company is an Indianapolis game plan that would feature a lot of running back Donald Brown and company…

Sunday, Jan. 12

San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

Why: Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have finished eighth, third and fourth in the league in rushing the last three seasons, respectively. The game plan is portable and the Niners are not a team with a tendency for making mistakes. In each of the last three seasons, Harbaugh’s club has committed fewer than 20 turnovers. And in six playoff games since 2011, San Francisco has coughed up the ball just eight times…

Why Not: Somewhat similar to the beginning of the season when the team allowed 27-plus points in each of their first three contests, the Niners have allowed 20-plus points in their last three outings despite close wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. It will also be interesting to see if San Francisco’s offensive line can protect quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was sacked 39 times in 455 pass plays this season…

Carolina Panthers (12-4)

Why: Resiliency. The Panthers overcame a 1-3 start to win 11 of their last 12 games and a division title, their lone loss since Week 5 being a 31-13 setback to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. Only the Seahawks allowed fewer total yard and points this season and no team could equal the Panthers’ 60 sacks in 2013. And even when quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t at his best, he managed to rescue the team in the fourth quarter on more than one occasion…

Why Not: Experience. Save for veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, a member of the Super Bowl XXXVIII team one decade, most of the team’s young stars such as Newton, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy have not had the luxury of being in the NFL playoffs. And even one mistake could prove costly against a San Francisco squad that is in the postseason for the third straight year…

San Diego Chargers (10-7)

Why: Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have made the San Diego offense much more balanced as the season has worn on. In 2013, the Bolts ranked 13th in the league in rushing and only three teams in the league totaled more passing yards per outing. Running back Ryan Mathews has had a solid season with a career-high 1,255 yards rushing and the Denver defense has certainly shown its share of cracks all season…

Why Not: If the Broncos’ pass rush can get to Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers, sacked just 12 times in the team’s last seven overall outings (6-1), it will be interesting to see if the 10-year veteran puts the ball on the ground. This season, Rivers has lost just two fumbles and committed only 13 turnovers in 17 games (including playoffs). Who could forget last season’s home loss to the Broncos when the fiery signal-caller coughed up the ball six times in one evening?

Denver Broncos (13-3)

Why: Last season, the Broncos eased their way to an AFC West title by winning 13 games. We say eased because in 2012, the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs all combined for 13 wins. This season, the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs all qualified for the playoffs and the Bolts are this week’s opponent. There will be no taking San Diego for granted and that’s the best thing that could happen to Peyton Manning and company, who were handed their lone home loss of the season four weeks ago by the Chargers…

Why Not: You have heard that statistic that prior to 2013, seven teams had scored at least 540 points in a season and none of them had managed a Super Bowl win. That’s because the defense on those kinds of teams rarely matches the productivity of the offense. And it’s certainly worth noting that Denver gave up 399 points this season, 110 more than a year ago (289). But in 2011, the New York Giants won a Super Bowl after giving up exactly 400 points in the regular season…


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