Wildcard weekend real and spectacular picks

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 06, 2011



The 2010 season for our real and spectacular picks failed to end with a bang. Though it is funny how the word "bang" is always at the tip of our tongue each time we stop to admire the lovely bosom of our inspiring muse, the lovely Ms. Teri Hatcher.
 
But we digress ...
 
Of course, our season didn't end with a whimper, either, the kind of whimper with which we usually awake only to find our salacious dalliance with the fair Ms. Hatcher nothing more than a cruel dream. 
 
Instead, it just kind of ended: 12-4 straight up in Week 17 and 8-8 against the spread.
 
We produced a lot of those .500 weeks over the second half of the 2010 season, an odd cluster of four in the final six weeks. We had produced just two .500 weeks in the previous 28 dating back to the start of 2009. But we expect winners, so we're not thrilled by mediocrity.
 
With that said, we played a hell of a defense this year: nine straight weeks without a single losing slate ATS, dating all the way back to Halloween. That's more than half the season, for those of you keeping score at home.
 
And we've suffered a miniscule seven losing weeks ATS in two entire seasons picking NFL games ATS.  Remember, we do NOT pick and choose our spots like that loud-mouth chump on TV. 
 
We put our ass on the line with every pick, every week. And yet the wise guys rarely outsmart us: In the 34 weeks since the start of the 2009 season we posted: 21 winning weeks ATS; six weeks at .500; and seven losing weeks ATS. In an exercise that usually humbles even the most high-profile "pundits," we walk proudly into the postseason  with an impressive long-haul performance.
 
Here's our week-by-week results in 2010:
 
Week 1: 8-7 straight; 7-6 ATS
Week 2: 10-6 straight, 7-8 ATS
Week 3: 11-5 straight, 12-4 ATS
Week 4: 8-6 straight, 5-9 ATS
Week 5: 9-5 straight, 7-7 ATS
Week 6: 8-6 straight; 4-10 ATS
Week 7: 8-6 straight, 10-4 ATS
Week 8: 7-6 straight, 6-7 ATS     
Week 9: 10-3 straight; 8-5 ATS   
Week 10: 6-8 straight; 11-3 ATS
Week 11: 13-3 straight, 10-6 ATS              
Week 12: 11-5 straight; 8-8 ATS                
Week 13: 13-3 straight; 10-6 ATS              
Week 14: 11-5 straight, 8-8 ATS
Week 15: 9-7 straight; 8-8 ATS   
Week 16: 10-6 straight; 10-6 ATS
Week 17: 12-4 straight; 8-8 ATS              
Year to date: 164-91 straight (.643), 139-113 ATS (.552)
 
Here's our final performance in 2009: 173-82 straight (.678); 144-111 ATS (.565)
Here's our final performance in 2010: 164-91 straight (.643); 139-113 ATS (.552)
And here's our final two-year total: 337-173 straight (.661); 283-224 ATS (.558)
 
New Orleans (-10.5) at Seattle
(See how both teams stack up across the board in all our Quality Stats right here.)
 
The NFL's worst nightmare played out Sunday night when the Seahawks shut down the Rams to win the showdown for the NFC West title and became the first-ever 7-9 team to qualify for the playoffs.
 
Even worse, Seattle actually hosts the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, who went 11-5 but finished second to Atlanta in the NFC South.
 
The wise guys in Vegas obviously don't believe the Seahawks belong in the postseason either. New Orleans has been installed as a huge favorite even though they will be playing this game at Qwest Field, one of the loudest home venues in the league.
 
New Orleans owns the No. 4-ranked Offensive Hogs and also boasts the best third-down offense in the league (48.85%), while Seattle's weak Defensive Hogs (No. 26) ranked just 24th in third-down defense in 2010.
 
Those are two of many bad match-ups for the Seahawks.
 
On the flip side, the Saints' No. 13 Defensive Hogs were fairly mediocre this season, but they did excel in getting off the field on third down (No. 5, 34.48%), while Seattle ranked just 22nd in third-down offense (35.51%).
 
In the all-important passing wars, New Orleans is the clear winner, even though Drew Brees's performance declined noticeably this year compared to his last year.
 
The New Orleans offense ranked a solid No. 10 in Passing Yards Per Attempt, while Matt Hasselbeck (and others like Charlie Whitehurst) had Seattle ranked just 27th.
 
The New Orleans pass defense also fell off significantly this year (No. 15 in Defensive Passer Rating) from the third-ranked unit that helped drive them to a Super Bowl title in 2009.
 
But the Saints pass defense is far superior to Seattle's (No. 25 in DPR).
 
Finally, in Passer Rating Differential, the gap betweewn the two teams is enormous: New Orleans clocks in at No. 10, Seattle No. 29. Rememember, as we proved this week, PRD is an indicator that historically has an incredibly high correlation to postseason success.
 
These two teams also met in the regular season at the Superdome. It was not close, with the Saints claiming a 34-19 win.
 
The Saints should win easily again this time. But Seattle is clearly a different team at home (5-3 vs. 2-6 on the road) and should be able to maintain some semblance of dignity.
 
New Orleans 30, Seattle 20
 
N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-2.5)
(See how both teams stack up across the board in all our Quality Stats right here.)
 
A rematch in Indianapolis of last year's AFC title game provides an intriguing matchup. 
 
The Colts are on a four-game win streak and basically have been playing postseason-type games since early December, when they were 6-6 and needed to win out to defend their AFC South crown.
 
The Jets finished 11-5, an improvement over their 9-7 mark of last year. But their 2010 season still "feels" disappointing, given the high expectations created by their 2009 postseason run, an active offseason full of "big name" acquisitions and the endless bluster of their big-mouth head coach, Rex Ryan. We talked about this "feel" that surrounds the Jets this week on CHFF TV.
 
Let's just put it this way: that Ryan dude sure knows how to put his wife's foot in his mouth.
 
The Jets have on big advantage as their sixth-ranked Offensive Hogs (4.45 YPA) go against Indy's No. 28 Defensive Hogs (4.57 rush YPA allowed). But Indy's rush defense has tightened things up significantly over the last three weeks. They allowed Jacksonville, Oakland and Tennessee – three good rushing teams – just 198 yards on 66 carries (3.0 YPA).
 
We're not sure why the Colts rush defense improved so much over the final three weeks of the season. A similar thing happened during the team's 2006 Super Bowl quest. They fielded one of the worst run defenses in history that year, but stiffened noticeably in the playoffs.
 
One theory to explain this year's improvement: Indy defeated three teams with fairly weak passing games, and so the defense could focus on stopping the run (a good thing, considering the Colts rank No. 27 in Defensive Passer Rating, too).
 
That defensive approach is not likely to change Saturday. Sophomore QB Mark Sanchez (75.3 rating) and his New York passing attack fail to strike fear in opponents (No. 22 in Passing Yards Per Attempt).  
 
Indy's superiority at quarterback and in the passing game in general should be the deciding factor in this one.
 
The Jets, for example, boast the NFL's No. 4-ranked Defensive Hogs. But they're not particularly good at getting after the passer (12th in Negative Pass Plays). Indy's Offensive Hogs, meanwhile, were the best in football at preventing Negative Pass Plays.
 
So expect Peyton Manning to have plenty of time in the pocket. Manning had a down season by his standards (33 TD, 17 INT, 91.9 passer rating. But the Indy passing attack is still far superior to New York's. And most of Manning's troubles came in that now infamous three-game stretch when he threw 11 picks. The future Hall of Famer has recovered nicely from that little spell.
 
The Jets climbed back to No. 6 in Defensive Passer Rating with a rout of the Bills last week. But New York's 2010 pass defense was not as good as their shutdown, No. 1-ranked unit of 2009; and Manning put up 30 points against that much better pass defense in last year's playoff meeting.
 
The stats tell us that the teams are even in the all-important Passer Rating Differential category (NY is No. 14, Indy is No. 13). But our heads tell us that Manning trumps Sanchez by a wide margin.
 
Indianapolis 28, NY Jets 17
 
Baltimore (-3.5) at Kansas City
(See how both teams stack up across the board in all our Quality Stats right here.)
 
Has any team ever looked worse going into the post-season than the Chiefs did last week against the Raiders? Kansas City had a shot to lock up the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a win at home against their bitter division rivals in Week 17.
 
Instead, they unleashed a stink bomb in a 31-10 loss. Compounding their problems was the announcement this week that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will leave at the end of the season to take the same job at the University of Florida, a move which raised eyebrows and fueled rumors of turmoil inside the team's coaching structure.
 
With those distractions hovering over them, the Chiefs will play host to the 12-4 Ravens, who barely missed out on winning the AFC North and grabbing a first-round bye.
 
The Ravens are clearly the more efficient team: they finished No. 3 in Bendability and No. 9 in Scoreability, compared with No. 12 and No. 15 rankings, respectively, for KC.
 
The Chiefs have the better Offensive Hogs (No. 9 vs. No. 22 for Baltimore) and Jamaal Charles (6.4 YPA, 1,467 yards) gives KC a homerun threat in the running game.
 
Baltimore's Defensive Hogs, meanwhile, aren't what they used to be (No. 17). But they still surrendered only 3.91 YPA on the ground this year. So Charles and the Chiefs may not find many open running lanes.
 
The always-critical QB battle is interesting. Baltimore's Joe Flacco posted a 93.6 rating, while the Ravens were No. 13 in Passing YPA. Kansas City's Matt Cassel posted a 93.0 rating, but the Chiefs were a humble No. 23 in Passing YPA.
 
Flacco is the wildcard here, as we noted this week. He's making his sixth playoff start but has been an extraordinarily poor postseason performer (46.5 passer rating). Cassel might have a tougher go, though. He makes his playoff debut against a unit ranked third in scoring defense.
 
The biggest problem for Kansas City, as we noted a couple times this week, is that they played the easiest schedule in football. Just three games against Quality Teams, 10.0 PPG in those three games, and the lone victory came way back in Week 1 against the underachieving 9-7 Chargers.
 
In the end, the Ravens have too much defense and too much experience for the Chiefs.
 
Baltimore 23, Kansas City 17
 
Green Bay at Philadelphia (-2.5)
(See how both teams stack up across the board in all our Quality Stats right here.)
 
Wildcard weekend wraps up with what would be a marquee matchup in any playoff round, let alone the first.
 
The Packers are a hot team coming into the playoffs, fresh off two strong performances in "must-win" games against playoff-caliber teams, the Giants and Bears. The Eagles sputtered to the finish line with two straight home losses to blow a potential first-round bye. It was a sudden downfall after their thrilling comeback win over the Giants three weeks ago in the Meadowlands put them at 10-4 and in prime position on the NFC's leader board.
 
So if there's anything to be said for having momentum heading into the playoffs, the Packers win that battle. Green Bay also won their Week 1 encounter, 27-20, for what it's worth.
 
Green Bay, as we've noted many times this week, has been a statistical juggernaut all year and ended up with top 10 finishes in five of our seven keynote indicators, including No. 1 rankings in Bendability, Defensive Passer Rating and Passer Rating Differential. The Packers finished just outside the top 10 in Scoreability (No. 11).
 
Nice numbers. But the fact that they dominated statistically and only won 10 games is an obvious concern. It makes Green Bay one of our prime posers here in the 2010 postseason.
 
The Eagles finished strongly in all of our Quality Stats except for Bendability (No. 25), which means their defense gives up too many cheap points ... and a lot of points, period (377). Not good news going into a matchup with a potent Green Bay offense.
 
Philadelphia does two things very, very well: create Big Plays on offense and special teams and run the ball with historic effect. Philly's average on the ground of 5.45 YPA was good enough for fourth-best of the Super Bowl Era and seventh best in all of NFL history.
 
Against a Green Bay run defense that allowed 4.64 YPA (28th), Philly's explosive running game should be able to do some serious gashing.
 
This is also a battle of elite quarterbacks, as both Mike Vick (100.2) and Aaron Rodgers (101.2) bring sensational passer ratings into the game. Vick was the less turnover-prone of the two in 2010, as he tossed just 6 INTs to Rodgers' 11 picks. But Vick's six picks all came in the last five games, after throwing zero in his first seven.
 
Vick also faces a Green Bay defense that was No. 1 in the NFL this season in forcing Negative Pass Plays (NPP, 12.22%), No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (67.2) and No. 2 in scoring defense (15.0 PPG). That's a tough group ... at least on paper.
 
Vick, meanwhile, is "protected" by a group of Offensive Hogs that ranked a poor No. 24 in preventing NPP (10.31%). So the Pack defense should get plenty of pressure in in the Philly backfield.
 
Green Bay comes out on top by a fairly comfortable margin in Passer Rating Differential (No. 1 vs. No. 8 for Philadelphia).
 
The last time these teams met in a post-season game, in 2003, the Eagles famously converted a 4th and 26 to keep a game-tying drive going in the final moments. But then BrettFavre, as usual, threw a horrific interception in overtime to set up Philly's game-winning field goal. It was a truly epic battle, and seven years later as these teams hook-up in the postseason again, we're expecting another classic.
 
Green Bay won the regular season meeting by a touchdown way back in Week 1 and, in fact, this one also "feels" like a close game to us.
 
We'll take the Packers to back-up their statistical dominance with solid on-field play – something that they did not always do during the regular season.
 
Green Bay 27, Philadelphia 24

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