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Jan 04

NFL 2013 Pick’em: Wild Card Weekend Predictions, Part 1

Now the funnest part of the season begins. Although it’s quite sad that we can no longer enjoy 16-game weeks any more this season, we begin of the most climactic month on the NFL calendar. According to the TABRankings, this playoff field looks quite fitting of the best 12 teams in the league. Only one team still alive finished outside the top 12, and that team just returned one of the few elite quarterbacks to the starting lineup. Thus, I expect every potential matchup to be a hard-fought battle that gives any team a chance to win. None of these picks will be easy, and that leaves an open door to this competition.

Before we get to Saturday’s games, we need to determine the point value for each playoff game. We were just fine in the regular season with the point system, but now every game counts for more than the “Games of the Week.” Of course, we don’t want to take away value from the success of those in the regular season correctly picking the tougher games.

In the regular season, we had 256 games account for 433 points. This included 48 Games of the Week, 81 non-GOTW divisional games and 127 one-point games that accounted for “the rest.” The average expert did much better than split the results in half (128-128 record with 216.5 points), as the mean expert of the 25 competitors finished with a 162.7-93.3 record with 275.88 points. In fact, every expert did better than 50 percent for the year. This year, the mean expert had a 63.55 winning percentage with a 63.71 points percentage. Compare to my totals: a 70.12 winning percentage with a 70.67 points percentage.

This 6.96 points percentage differential accounts for 30.12 points. For the playoffs, we want this to be a reason differential, not the total differential. For the regular season, the 25 experts (including me) built a 14.57-point standard deviation. Therefore, the best way to attack this is to shoot for another such standard deviation, only slightly lower. For this purpose, let’s potentially look at somewhere around 12 points for the playoff SD. I toyed with potential points totals, and came up with the following point totals:

  • Wild Card Weekend (6 points): These games count for more than the average Game of the Week. Starting off with games that account for twice the value of the average Game of the Week seems fair.
  • Divisional Round (6 points): This will account for the first playoff game for four teams. It seems fair to keep it the same as the Week Card Weekend games. Let’s wait to boost the value.
  • Conference Championships (9 points): These games should obviously account for more points, with the Super Bowl on the line. If we pushed this value up to 12 points, that would make the Super Bowl count for too much.
  • Super Bowl XLVIII (12 points): Therefore, this game will count for 12 points. This seems quite fair. This game alone counts for our half desired standard deviation, which is quite poetic from a singular championship game.

Now that we have the business handled, let’s go to the Saturday picks for Wild Card Weekend. Note that these picks will focus on four big things: team balance, strong coaching, the TABRankings and playoff team precedence.

(7) Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at (6) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Kansas City ChiefsIndianapolis ColtsWe already saw this match-up in Week 16, and the Colts quite honestly surprised most of the experts (if not all) with their ease of victory in a 23-7 outcome at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, this game will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts defeated the two top seeds in the regular season. They took down the #1 Seahawks with a fourth-quarter comeback and then controlled much of the game against the #2 Broncos. On the flip side, the Chiefs went an NFL-best 6-2 on the road (tied with the Seahawks, Broncos, #4 49ers and #11 Eagles). Thus, the venue isn’t as big as it normally would be.

What will matter, though, are the four factors I mentioned earlier. Both teams are balanced, but Andrew Luck can handle a game that turns into a battle of offenses. Alex Smith owns a 3-28-1 record as a starter when his teams allow 24+ points, which quite an awful mark compared to his peers. Meanwhile, Luck owns a 6-9 record in such games, including the aforementioned wins against the Seahawks and Broncos. We’ll definitely know who will have the advantage if this game opens up offensively.

Meanwhile, both the coaching and the TABRankings come out as a wash, as both teams are sufficient in each area. Thus, we need to look at the playoff team precedence. Several factors play an impact in this “playoff team precedence,” something which I’ll have a very detailed study on in the months after Super Bowl XLVIII. Just note the Chiefs keep up short in several areas, and it suggests that the Chiefs aren’t ready for the Super Bowl this year. Meanwhile, the Colts have some, but fewer shortcomings.

In just his second season, Luck owns an 0-1 playoff record coming into this season. It seems like a long shot that he makes a run all the way to the Super Bowl, especially with the Colts’ in-season inconsistencies leading to two blowout losses. However, their 4-2 record against playoff teams (with wins against the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs) heavily beats out the 1-5 record against playoff teams for the Chiefs (with a win against the Eagles. Also, the Chiefs went 2-5 in their final seven games, including a three-game losing streak at one point. Finally, they went 2-4 in the AFC West, and no Super Bowl team ever finished with a losing divisional record.

The 2013 Colts are the more reliable team, and Andrew Luck is already the more reliable quarterback. I expect this game to be scored in the mid-to-upper 20’s for each game, which gives the home team the edge. Pick: Indianapolis Colts over Kansas City Chiefs

(5) New Orleans Saints (11-5) at (11) Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
New Orleans SaintsPhiladelphia EaglesAs mentioned during the TABRankings article this week, the Saints are one of five true contenders to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Most of the experts are scared away from the Saints, focusing on their 0-5 playoff record on the road. Perhaps they should be scared off, because of their last two playoff losses involved losing to a 7-9 team and being out-gunned by Alex Smith (with his aforementioned pathetic record when his teams allow 24+ points). However, I think the flack against New Orleans might be overblown. The Saints blew fourth-quarter leads and lost in the final minute against the #3 Panthers and #9 Patriots. Add in an understandable blowout loss in Seattle, and the Saints lose three road games against teams that earned a first-round bye.

What most experts also expect is a shootout, given that fact that Drew Brees faces an offense that was as efficient and as dominant as Denver in the second half of the season. However, this game will play in a cold environment with a playoff atmosphere. This teams won’t go back-and-forth, and there will won’t be 40+ points from each team. There will be some balance that needs to be established.

If you want balance, you can now actually pick the Saints. Those road playoff losses happened in Seattle and San Francisco because the Saints haven’t had true balance under Sean Peyton until this season. Yes, the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, but that was the season in which New Orleans got very takeaway-friendly and won home-field advantage. (Better yet, they beat a true dome team in the NFC Championship Game and a figurative dome team in the Super Bowl. They didn’t see any disadvantage from the conditions.)

Now, the Saints have a defense that held up quite well, despite the fourth-quarter blown leads quite typical of Rob Ryan defenses in recent years. Criticism aside, New Orleans ranked in the top 10 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt and Defensive Real Quarterback Rating, according to Cold, Hard Football Facts. If they can run the ball well against the Eagles, than they will definitely hold the advantage in term of balance. Note that CHFF ranked the Eagles 21st in their Defensive Hog Index.

Remember, this is also a Saints team that owns a 2-3 record against playoff teams, while the Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams. New Orleans defeated Carolina and San Francisco once apiece, while Philadelphia defeated the #20 Packers when they were amid a free fall without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Also, we don’t know what Chip Kelly will do in the postseason. As a result, the Saints hold an advantage in each of the four key factors for a playoff victory. The postseason road losing streak will finally come to an end for the Saints. The “who dat” nation will finally rest easy on the road. Pick: New Orleans Saints over Philadelphia Eagles

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