Hog Report: Breaking down the playoffs

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 06, 2012



By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Head Butcher of Hog Meat

Some of you may be on statistical overload after the regular season, but if the regular season is the appetizer and the postseason is the main course, we'll go all Lindsay Lohan on our toilets to make sure there's room for dinner.

History tells us we don't have much of a choice. The Hog Indexes have proven vital not just in determining who has a good shot at postseason success, but also of what might happen in the championship game.

Let's take a look at the final Hog Indexes on both sides of the ball, and how the teams headed to the playoffs fared in both.

Playoff teams in Offensive Hog Index

The NFL has been dominated by offenses this year, and it shows in the Offensive Hog Index. Teams in the top 10 of the OHI went 100-60 in 2011, with just one team with a record below .500 among them in the Carolina Panthers.

And some of the NFL's best O-Hogs are also the favorites to go to the Super Bowl this year.

Playoff Offensive Hogs YPA NPP% 3rd%
New Orleans (1) 4.94 (4) 5.54 (1) 56.73 (1)
Baltimore (2) 4.35 (12) 7.80 (8) 42.36 (7)
Houston (4) 4.48 (8) 8.40 (13) 41.52 (8)
Atlanta (6) 4.05 (21) 6.29 (3) 44.25 (6)
New England (7) 4.03 (23) 6.83 (4) 45.88 (5)
Pittsburgh (10) 4.38 (11) 9.81 (20) 45.92 (4)
Green Bay (11) 3.95 (25) 8.28 (10) 48.15 (3)
Detroit (12) 4.28 (13) 7.41 (7) 35.85 (20)
Cincinnati (18) 3.91 (27) 6.96 (5) 36.53 (18)
N.Y. Giants (19) 3.47 (32) 7.13 (6) 37.38 (14)
Denver (23) 4.85 (6) 12.05 (29) 31.16 (30)
San Francisco (26) 4.10 (19) 9.88 (21) 29.41 (31)

There are six playoff teams in the top 10 in the OHI: the Saints (1), Ravens (2), Texans (4), Falcons (6), Patriots (7) and Steelers (10). The Packers finished just outside the top 10, at 11th.

Furthermore, eight of the top 10 teams in offensive NPP are in the playoffs -- New Orleans, New England, Cincinnati, Atlanta, NY Giants, Detroit, Baltimore, Green Bay. It's not all that surprising when you consider that offenses have totally dominated this season, with a league average of 7.2 YPA, the highest since 1965. 

The surprising thing maybe how few elite run defenses are in the postseason. Just three teams that finished in the top 10 in rushing YPA earned a trip to the postseason. This is just further indication that the running game is falling to the wayside, as offenses grow more and more adept at throwing the ball consistently and effectively.

Interestingly enough, Baltimore's second-ranked O-Hogs aren't elite in any one category, but are as well-rounded as our Potentate of Pigskin, and they play well in all three indices in the OHI.

Playoff teams in Defensive Hog Index

The regular season success story of the DHI is marginal compared to the OHI, as teams that finished in the top 10 of the DHI finished 88-72. 

But if you don't know the postseason relevance of the Defensive Hog Index, get familiar: since 2007, teams that are better in the DHI are 31-13 in the playoffs. The No. 1 team in the DHI has won the Super Bowl twice (2007 Giants and 2008 Steelers), and the Steelers rode their top-ranked D-Hogs to another conference title in 2010.

Negative Pass Plays have been the difference on many occasions, too. The 2007 Giants ranked No. 1 overall and No. 2 in forcing NPPs. The 2008 Steelers ranked No. 1 overall and No. 1 forcing NPPs. The 2009 Saints, while not dominant in the DHI overall (ranked 15th), forced a lot of NPPs, and ranked sixth with 10.2%. The 2010 Packers weren't dominant, either, and ranked 10th overall in the DHI, but were 2010's No. 1 defense at forcing NPPs.
 
In all four of those Super Bowls, Negative Pass Plays proved the difference in the Super Bowl: the Giants sacked Brady four times; James Harrison's record-setting pick-six and the sack fumble to end the game; Tracy Porter's pick-six to close the door on Peyton Manning and the Colts; Nick Collins' pick-six in the first half against the Steelers.

How do this year's D-Hogs rank?

Playoff Defensive Hogs YPA NPP% 3rd%
Baltimore (1) 3.54 (2) 10.81 (2) 32.13 (2)
San Francisco (2) 3.49 (1) 10.32 (5) 35.19 (10)
Houston (7) 4.06 (11) 10.48 (4) 34.29 (8)
Cincinnati (9) 3.94 (8) 9.42 (16) 35.45 (12)
Denver (11) 4.14 (13) 8.70 (23) 33.49 (6)
Detroit (13) 5.0 (30) 9.75 (10) 32.68 (3)
N.Y. Giants (13) 4.46 (23) 10.68 (3) 38.18 (17)
Pittsburgh (19) 4.0 (9) 8.14 (26) 38.91 (19)
New Orleans (21) 4.95 (29) 6.37 (31) 33.17 (5)
Atlanta (22) 4.19 (16) 8.92 (21) 44.08 (29)
New England (25) 4.62 (24) 9.55 (15) 43.07 (28)
Green Bay (26) 4.68 (26) 9.02 (20) 42.56 (26)

There are four teams in the playoffs that finished 2011 ranked in the top 10 in the DHI: the Ravens (1), 49ers (2), Texans (7), and Bengals (9). Interestingly enough, though, none are considered favorites to win their conference.

The Baltimore ravens have a golden opportunity to cash in on those NPP. They rank second in the Hog Index, and second in NPPs.

It's worth mentioning, too, that five of the top 10 teams in NPP are in the playoffs -- the Ravens (2), Giants (3), Texans (4), 49ers (5) and Lions (10).

Passing judgment

The NFL has been dominated by the best passing attacks in the league this year. In offensive and defensive YPA combined, playoff teams rank in the top 10 seven times. In offensive and defensive NPP, though, playoff teams rank in the top 10 a combined 13 times.

The Patriots and Packers are the best examples of this, as both rank in the top 10 in NPP and the bottom 10 in YPA. Only the Saints ranked in the top 10 in both YPA and NPPs. Offensively, there are eight teams in the top 10 in NPP vs. three teams in the top 10 in YPA.

Defensively, though, it's a different story. There are five teams in the top 10 in NPP, and four teams in the top 10 in YPA. Two of the five teams that ranked in the top 10 in one ranked in the top 10 in both -- the Ravens and the 49ers.

The Saints are the most well-rounded O-Hogs in the playoffs, while the Ravens and 49ers have set the standard for D-Hog dominance.

It may seem like statistical crumbs on your plate, but don't feed them to your dog just yet. Playoff offenses haven't had to rely on a running game to get where they are, but the good defenses can still do both.

Drawing conclusions

What we have learned thus far is that it doesn't necessarily take a top-flight defense to make the playoffs, but it doesn't hurt to have one, either. Likewise, the O-Hogs that dominated all season long were rewarded with a trip to the playoffs.

What we have yet to learn is whether those dominant O-Hogs will be enough to get the job done in January.

If you want a dark horse contender for the Super Bowl, take the Ravens. The offense may not be all that intimidating, but their ability to play effectively at the line of scrimmage, take care of the football and keep drives going has been good enough to supplement their stifling defense. Their ability to create NPPs on defense is second to none in the playoffs, and third to none in the league. Recent history has shown that to be a very helpful characteristic among championship defenses.

That being said, we all know that air attacks have ruled the day since the beginning of the 2011 season. The Saints cemented themselves as the best O-Hogs in the league, ranking No. 1 in two indicators and No. 4 in the other. They get off the field on third down, but otherwise from that, their defense has caused some unease in the Big Easy.

As far as contenders for the crown, this year seems a bit more wide open than year's past.

One thing is for sure: this year will either blow the doors off the "defense wins championship" mantra, or it will bolt them shut once and for all.

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