Postseason contenders and pretenders

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 03, 2008



Our annual look at postseason contenders and pretenders this year reminds us of the the Happy Meals of our youth: a little bit of meat packaged with a nifty surprise.
 
Oh, sure, beefy New England is No. 1 and boasts the highest average across the board in our Quality Stats.
 
But not by much.
 
What will surprise you is the narrow gap between the Patriots and the next two best stastistical teams in the NFL.
 
Hamburger roll please ... rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat ... yum!
 
Nope. It's not Dallas and Indy who find themselves in the No. 2 and 3 spots.
 
It's Green Bay and San Diego. That's right, the Packers and ... Norv Turner's Chargers!?
 
Indeed, the gap that separates New England from Green Bay and San Diego in our Quality Stats is so infinitesimal we confused it with Rex Grossman's shot at making the Hall of Fame.
 
So, who's a contender and who's a pretender? We break up the 12 playoff contenders into these two group: 
  • teams that have a shot to win it all, and
  • teams guaranteed to shoot their eye out
Then we use a highly scientific formula to measure the chances that each team has of actually winning the whole chalupa.
 
And let's just say that, this year, our pretty little list of Super Bowl contenders is so short we can see what kind of underwear she's wearing
 
2007 PLAYOFF TEAMS QUALITY STATS RANKINGS
 
AVG
New England
1
7
1
6
1
2
1
11
10
4.44
Green Bay
4
3
7
4
5
4
3
6
5
4.56
San Diego
10
5
2
1
4
1
16
1
2
4.67
Jacksonville
1
12
8
8
6
5
8
7
9
7.11
Dallas
6
7
4
17
3
8
2
5
22
8.22
Indianapolis
5
16
3
5
2
9
4
3
31
8.67
Seattle
23
4
12
2
9
12
13
2
16
10.33
Tampa Bay
14
12
18
9
10
3
12
8
21
11.89
Pittsburgh
14
21
5
12
7
7
14
9
20
12.11
Tennessee
18
15
20
14
14
15
20
4
8
14.22
Washington
16
9
19
13
10
18
15
10
19
14.33
NY Giants
6
1
13
24
13
23
23
17
28
16.44
 
CONTENDERS
NEW ENGLAND (16-0)
7-0 vs. Quality Opponents; 38.3 to 19.0 (+19.3 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 4.44
 
The Patriots are good but not great on defense, as evidenced by their showing outside the top 5 in all three defensive Quality Stats. But they're 1-1-1 in the three offensive Quality Stats, No. 1 in Relativity by a longshot, and they dominated Quality Opponents like no one in history ever has. If you're looking for a weakness, they're No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating and 10th in Special Teams. They're weaknesses only in comparison to New England's strengths, but also areas that upset-minded opponents can make plays, much the way the Giants did in the season finale when Eli Manning had a career day and the Giants returned one kick for a score ... and still lost.
 
Odds of winning it all: 70 percent. Two home games, probably against teams they've already beaten, and a Super Bowl game in which they'd be favored by 10+ points regardless of opponent. That adds up to an overwhelming shot at perfection.
 
GREEN BAY (13-3)
3-1 vs. Quality Opponents; 27.5 to 22.0 (+5.5 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 4.56
 
We've been on the Green Bay bandwagon since September, and it's easy to see why when you look at them here through the prism of our Quality Stats. No team in football this year, not even mighty New England, is more solid across the board than the Packers, who rank between No. 3 and No. 7 in every single one of our Quality Stats. That's a team with no weaknesses and plenty of strengths and that spells trouble for the rest of the NFC field in the postseason. And if you're looking for a team, other than Indy, which can take mighty New England to the mat, here it is. The Packers clearly don't have the jaw-dropping numbers of the Patriots. But they do have the solidity up and down the lineup needed to produce the perfect game required to knock off New England. Green Bay's biggest weakness is also its most storied asset: QB Brett Favre has a knack for throwing the ball away in big games, much like he did in the biggest NFC game in years, Green Bay's Thursday night loss to Dallas back in November.
 
Odds of winning it all: 10 percent. The Packers are better than the Cowboys ... if Brett Favre plays like the Hall of Fame Favre and not Old Yeller Favre. They will have to play them in Dallas again if they meet in the NFC title game. That's a big hurdle. But they are clearly the team most likely to upset New England, especially considering a likely crowd edge in a Super Bowl (Green Bay fans travel much better than New England fans, as anyone at Super Bowl XXXI can attest) and stand as the best-balanced team in the NFL.
 
DALLAS (13-3)
4-2 vs. Quality Opponents; 29.0 to 30.0 (-1.0 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 8.22
 
The Cowboys are middle of the pack in Bendability and Special Teams, and they should probably rank higher on the Offensive Hog Index and Defensive Passer Rating charts considering their three Pro Bowl linemen and three Pro Bowl secondarymen. The fact that they rank high in hype in these areas but not in production is a tribute to the franchise's status as America's Team: like Notre Dame in college ball, the Cowboys are often rated higher than they deserve. But the Cowboys are a pretty well-balanced bunch, with strengths on both sides of the ball, although they were outscored vs. Quality Opponents.
 
Odds of winning it all: 8 percent. Dallas beat Green Bay at home once, can they do it again with a less-than-healthy Terrell Owens? The Cowboys will be favored against the Packers if they meet again, and have a good shot at beating them again. But Dallas fans should not consider two wins in the same season over a very solid Green Bay team to be a lock. And in a Super Bowl matchup with the Patriots, how does a 21-point loss at home translate to a neutral field? Not well at all.
 
INDIANAPOLIS (13-3)
4-3 vs. Quality Opponents; 23.3 to 18.4 (+4.9 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 8.67
 
Indy's sixth-place average ranking in our Quality Stats among playoff teams is a bit shocking. But their average is brought down by their No. 31 spot in Special Teams, never a strong suit here in the Dungy Years. But the Colts are in the top 10 in seven of the nine Quality Stats and in the top 5 in six. And the simple truth about the 2007 Colts is that this may be the greatest team in franchise history. At least, they should go down as the greatest Colts team if they win the Super Bowl (the champion 1958 and 1959 Colts each went 9-3; the mighty 1968 Colts blew it in the Super Bowl; the champion 1970 Colts were strong, but not spectacular; and the champion 2006 Colts weren't as impressive in the regular season as this year's team). In any other year, the Colts would be lauded for their all-around greatness.
 
Indy does have a weakness: its average defensive front seven (16th in Defensive Hog Index). Of course, that weakness didn't hamper them during last year's playoff run, when the D was spectacular. The secondary, meanwhile, is sparkling (3rd in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 1 in passing yards per attempt). But they will have to be lights to knock off New England and the greatest offense in modern NFL history. They nearly pulled it off back in November, but the secondary let down for about five minutes in the fourth quarter and it cost them the game.
 
Odds of winning it all: 7 percent. Assuming everything goes to form, the Colts would be about a 60 percent shot to beat San Diego at home, a 20 percent shot to beat New England in Foxboro, and a 60 percent chance to beat the NFC winner. That's no easy slate.
 
PRETENDERS
SAN DIEGO (11-5)
2-3 vs. Quality Opponents; 20.2 to 26.2 (-6.0 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 4.67
 
We jumped all over San Diego for hiring Norv Turner early last year. We piled on when the Chargers stumbled out of the gate in 2007. So it's time to tip our oil-stained John Deere cap to the Chargers for the way they turned around their season over the second half of the year. They've raced up the rankings in almost every single one of our Quality Stats and now find themselves in the No. 1 position in three of them. Only New England can claim top spots in more different Quality Stats (four). Basically, New England and San Diego command the top spot in every single one of our Quality Stats except for Defensive Hog Index and Special Teams Index.
 
But the good times end there for Norv & Co. The Chargers remain a paper tiger until proven otherwise. They have great Quality numbers ... except against Quality teams. They've built their stats by bullying the weak and there's no chaff left to kick around the barnyard of the NFL postseason. Among the 12 playoff contenders, only the NFC No. 5 seed Giants have been outscored by a greater margin against Quality Opponents than San Diego's -6.0 PPG. And San Diego's weakest position is the most important: the Chargers rank just 16th in Passing Yards Per Attempt and there's no reason to believe that Philip Rivers is ready to lead San Diego into both Indy and New England and emerge with victories in both games.
 
Odds of winning it all: 3 percent. Can they win in Indianapolis and New England? Sure. Just like we "can" get a series of supermodels to sleep with us.
 
JACKSONVILLE (11-5)
4-3 vs. Quality Opponents; 21.0 to 20.7 (+0.3 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 8.22
 
Yes, the Jaguars are a good football team, ranking high across the board in the Quality Stats and playing decent football against Quality Teams. But three road wins, plus a win in the Super Bowl? The 2005 Steelers did it, so it can be done ... although the 2005 Steelers didn't have to play the 2007 Patriots (or anyone the caliber of Green Bay, Dallas or Indy) to win their surprise title. Also, while Jacksonville is solid in all of our Quality Stats, they're only outstanding in one, the Offensive Hog Index, where they rank No. 1.
 
Odds of winning it all: 1 percent. They'd be a contender in a normal year. But this year? Nah.
 
SEATTLE (10-6)
1-2 vs. Quality Opponents; 16.7 to 20.0 (-3.3 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 10.33
 
The Seahawks have the best defensive Quality Stats of any team in the postseason, and they have playoff experience, a proven playoff quarterback and a proven playoff coach. But they don't have is a good offense, and they built up their big numbers against one of the easiest schedules in the league (only three Quality Opponents). Seattle hasn't played a Quality Team since losing to Cleveland 33-30 in Week 9, and haven't beaten a Quality Team since their victory over 9-7 Tampa ... back in Week 1.
 
Odds of winning it all: 1 percent. Winning in Green Bay and Dallas, and then against New England or Indy, would be something just short of a miracle.
 
TAMPA BAY (9-7)
2-3 vs. Quality Opponents; 15.0 to 20.0 (-5.0 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 11.89
 
Tampa Bay's numbers are a little misleading. They've coasted for the past two weeks and let their defensive numbers slide from excellent to just great in the process. They're outside the top 10 in all three offensive Quality Stats, and rode their No. 3 rank on the Big Play Index to the postseason. It was a nice little team with a potentially threatening defense, but hardly the offensive horses to compete.
 
Odds of winning it all: <1 percent. The Bucs are out of their league. They're an average team that doesn't make mistakes, not the formula for success against the great teams with great quarterbacks that don't  make mistakes.
 
PITTSBURGH (10-6)
3-2 vs. Quality Opponents; 24.2 to 19.6 (+4.6 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 12.11
 
The Steelers are surprisingly poor in our defensive Quality Stats, sliding down the list with an injury-marred close to the season. They get a puncher's chance because Ben Roethlisberger has been there before and has a penchant for big, game-changing plays. But against this field? No. They looked great early, but them whimpered over the finish line.
 
Odds of winning it all: <1 percent. If the playoffs were held six weeks ago, the Steelers would be scary. But injuries and attrition have worn them down to the point where they're home underdogs.
 
TENNESSEE (10-6)
2-4 vs. Quality Opponents; 14.8 to 17.7 (-2.9 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 14.21
 
A look at any set of numbers -- and the teams ahead of them in the AFC pecking order -- is enough to stifle the enthusiasm of any realistic Titans fan. They do have a good defense (No. 1 scoring defense vs. Quality Opponents), but their offense is subpar and they're banged up. Seriously, folks, you could be playing with an all-star defensive culled from the ranks of the 1976 Steelers and 1985 Bears and an injured Vince Young would have about a zero chance of out-dueling Manning, Brady and Favre or Romo in consecutive weeks.
 
Odds of winning it all: None
 
WASHINGTON (9-7)
2-5 vs. Quality Opponents; 17.6 to 22.3 (-4.7 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 14.33
 
We have a little rule around the Cold, Hard Football Facts cardboard-box world headquarters: if your quarterback is a untested journeyman who's so old he played high school football against our beloved Chief Troll, you have no shot at the Super Bowl. That's right, our beloved Chief Troll got his ass kicked by Todd Collins and the Walpole (Mass.) Rebels back in ... 1986? Jesus, he's old. Our beloved Chief Troll today is like most men his age: a fat useless piece of flesh, while Collins is trying to prove at nearly 40 that he can make it in the NFL postseason. We admire his pluck-itude. But we wouldn't bet the mobile home on him, either.
 
The Redskins don't do anything poorly, but they also don't do anything well. Their highest Quality Stat rank is 9th, their lowest is 20th. It's an admirable balance, and the reason they're playing into January. Still, you have to be good at something to win a Super Bowl, don't you?
 
Odds of winning it all: None. Last time we checked, they lost 52-7 when they played their likely Super Bowl opponent and everyone accused that likely Super Bowl opponnet of running up the score and humiliating Joe Gibbs. Not a confidence-builder, folks.
 
N.Y. GIANTS (10-6)
1-5 vs. Quality Opponents; 22.8 to 31.3 (-8.5 PPG)
Average Quality Stat rank: 16.44
 
The Giants have the best Hogs in the business overall, No. 1 on defense and No. 6 on offense. But they are average or subpar in everything else. Toughness is to be admired, but it takes skill-position talent (and a passing game) to win in the postseason. Plus, it seems the Giants played their Super Bowl at home last Saturday, left it all out on the field ... and lost. And despite their game, noble performance against the Patriots, the truth is that no team in the playoffs performed more poorly against Quality Opponents this year than the Giants.
 
New York had a 1-5 record vs. Quality Teams in the regular season and need a 4-0 record against Quality Teams here in the postseason. You do the math.
 
Odds of winning it all: None

From our partners




Must See Videos
NFL Draft Changing Cities, Moving Out Of New York City | FootballNation.com
2014 NFL Draft: No Dunking In Football
2014 NFL Combine Winners

Team Pages
AFC East NFC
South
North
West

Connect With Us
Sign up for our newsletter to recieve all the latest news and updates...
Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.




The Football Nation Network

© Copyright 2014 Football Nation LLC. Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Some images property of Getty Images or Icon/SMI