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The Cold, Hard Football Facts are not in the prediction business. And we're certainly not gambling experts. But as a remarkable 4-0 record proved during a wildcard weekend defined by a series of historic upsets, the quality wins quotient is something you need to consider when sizing up a pair of playoff teams.
We have long upheld the quality wins quotient* as the most accurate indicator of the relative strength of two teams. In fact, we find it more accurate than overall record. The quality wins quotient is as simple as can be: the best teams are those that perform the best against quality teams.
We took a little heat from readers when we started measuring the quality wins of various teams early this season and it didn't always play out the way it should have. Quite simply, we jumped the gun and didn't have enough evidence back in Week Six about which teams were quality teams and which teams were not. We learned our lesson. But we insisted the quality wins quotient would grow more accurate as the season progressed. Indeed it did, culminating in a wildcard weekend of unmatched accuracy.
OK, we may not rule the football world. That's a little strong. But we're quite certain that there's not a single gambling expert in America who created a system that called for three underdogs to win outright on the road. The quality wins quotient did.
Here's how each team stacked up on the quality wins meter entering the wildcard weekend and the results of each game. In a weekend that featured a slate of historic firsts, including three upsets by road underdogs and the first ever playoff victories by 8-8 teams, the quality wins quotient nailed all four games.
St. Louis (8-8) at Seattle (9-7)
The Seahawks were 4-point favorites but they went just 1-3 against quality opponents and had been outscored by 15.0 points per game. The Rams entered the game with a 4-4 record against quality opponents, a -6.3 scoring differential in those games and twice as many quality wins as any other NFC team. Result: Rams upset Seahawks, 27-20, and become first 8-8 team to win a postseason game.
Minnesota (8-8) at Green Bay (10-6)
The Packers were 6½-point favorites playing a home game at historic Lambeau Field where they had lost just one postseason game in their history. The Packers also closed out the regular season winning nine of their last 11 games. But they were 0-3 against quality opponents this season and were outscored in those contests by a whopping 15.7 points per game. The Vikings were 1-5 against quality opponents but were outscored by a mere 2.2 points per game. Result: Vikings upset Packers, 31-17, and become the second 8-8 team to win a playoff game.
N.Y. Jets (10-6) at San Diego (12-4)
The Jets were 7-point road underdogs heading into San Diego. But they were 3-5 against quality opponents (no team in football played more than eight quality opponents this season) and were outscored by a mere 1.3 points per game. The Chargers had faced just six quality opponents this season and won only two of those games. They were outscored by 0.7 points per game facing quality opponents. Result: Jets upset Chargers in overtime, 20-17.
Denver (10-6) at Indianapolis (12-4)
The Colts were 10-point favorites at home. They entered the game with a 4-3 record against quality opponents and a +1.3 scoring differential. The Broncos were just 2-3 against quality opponents with a +2.4 scoring differential. Result: Colts hold serve at home, 49-24.
* The Cold, Hard Football Facts define "quality wins" as any victory against a team with a winning record. The terms "quality teams" or "quality opponents" simply refers to teams with winning records.
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