Different format for this week's column: It's hard to keep up on all 32 teams. It's hard to keep up just with every story surrounding the Hawks! And since some teams, like the Niners, poor things, don't even have an SBN blog, you might not feel very informed about the league at large.
So here's one remark for each wild-card matchup, leaning toward the obscure or the under-researched. For example, because you are a fan of footbally things, you might have already heard that Philip Rivers is throwing the hell right out of the ball this year. Directly out. Exorcism-style. Or you might already know that the Eagles lost their first four home games this year, so their home field is hardly a fortress.
But each of those shallow morsels of information could always use some more context, some more deepening -- some meatening, if you will.
Appetizer: Chiefs at Colts, Saturday, 1:35 p.m.
It's cool to rag on the Colts. They made the playoffs in 2012 with a negative points differential. They coasted to their division title this year, clinching on Halloween*. They faced the 35th-easiest schedule this year**. They lost 91-3 at home to the St. Louis Clemens-Austins***.
( * actually on December 8, but they were four games ahead with four left to play)
(** actually 30th by opponent W-L, 23rd by Footballoutsiders, despite facing the AFCW and NFCW)
(*** actually 38-8)
For Luck's sake, they get to play the Jaguars twice every year, and the Jags aren't even the last-place team in that division.
Well, I call blah-blah-blah on all that. SUTTplot 1: The 2013 Indianapolistas are actually BETTER than their predecessors. For two reasons:
A) This year's team is capable of beating good opponents. The Colts went 5-5 outside their division, with seven meetings against current playoff teams -- and they went 5-2 in those games. They beat Seattle, Denver, SF in SF and KC in KC. Excluding Miami, all of the Colts' nondivision foes were in the top 14 in DVOA.
B) Statistically, they have fewer warts this time around.
Last year, Indianapolis somehow made the playoffs despite being ranked 25th in DVOA. This year? 11th.
Last year, Indianapolis' Pythagorean wins came out to 7.2. This year? 9.4.
If the best version of that team shows up for the next three weeks, absolutely the Colts can win the AFC.
Main course: Saints at Eagles, Saturday, 5:10 p.m.
Home Warriors, Road Cookin'. As mentioned earlier, the Eagles started the year 0-4 at home. That seems weird and fluky. But did you know (you probably didn't) that Philly actually "enjoys" the worst HFA in the league? Since 2002?
Look at this funky abbreviated table that I kleptoed from Grantland, because tables are cool. The number in the right column is the gap between home point differential and road point differential.
|Team||Home-Road PD gap|
|25 other teams||...|
As if that weren't damning enough, here's another one just like it, but with the home-road winning percentage gap in the right column instead. Still since 2002:
|Team||Home-road win% gap|
|25 other teams||...|
You might reasonably expect my argument to be that the Saints' fortunes are improved by playing the Eagles, given that Philly has "enjoyed" one of the worst HFA's in the league for the past 12 seasons. Lesson: don't trust your reasonable expectations. SUTTplot 2: While NO remains bad on the road, the Eagles are now really good everywhere, including at home. History is being rewritten.
The proof is in the second table:
|Team||1st-half DVOA||1st-half W-L||2nd-half DVOA||2nd-half W-L|
(As always, DVOA stats are courtesy of Football Outsiders.)
Yep, that's a chart showing that the second-half Eagles are 3-1 on the road, 4-0 at home, and basically as good as the first-half Seahawks. Which is pretty good.
Side dish: Chargers at Bengals, Sunday, 10:05 a.m.
That's not entirely fair: Philip Rivers' season is a little more exciting than mashed potatoes.
He's probably the second-most valuable player in the NFL this season, not just because of his statistical highlights. Here those are anyway:
4,478 yards, 32 TD, 11 INT
More game-winning drives (4) than fumbles (3)
105.5 passer rating and 69.5 comp%, both career highs
SUTTplot 3: 2013 Philip Rivers is the only thing rescuing San Diego from a 2-14 season and he should be the runner-up in the MVP race.
DVOA and our eyeballs tell us that the Packers (+14.4%), the Cowboys (+13.8%), the Falcons (+13.5%), that those are all horrible defenses. The Chargers take it to another level at +17.7%, worst in the league. As a defense, you want a negative score. Those four teams aren't close to good. They're not even close to bad.
Meanwhile, you're aware that the Seahawks defense is one of the ten best since 1989, again according to
the Holy Grail DVOA. Well, the Chargers just missed out on making the list of ten worst defenses of the last quarter-century.
They are so much worse than bad that only stellar QB play could make them competitive, and only MVP-level production could lift the Chargers to a winning record.
Good thing for them, then, that Rivers is at the peak of his powers. His 2012 was forgettable, for whatever reason. Still, the Chargers quarterback led the league in Y/A in one year, passing yards in another, and passer rating in yet another. After nine years, these guys are on his "most similar" list: Favre, Montana, Staubach, Brees, Cunningham.
This limited collector's edition of Philip is superior to the others. He's worth several wins by himself. How many? Let's ask the Green Bay Packers.
Packers without Rodgers: 2-5-1, or 5-11 over a full season
Packers with Rodgers: 6-2, or 12-4 over a full season
Green Bay is San Diego's NFC doppelganger: seven losses, unwatchable defense, solid running game, great QB play, earned playoff berth in waning moments of Week 17. Aaron Rodgers is worth seven wins above replacement. Ergo, so is Rivers. QED or something.
For fun, Rivers' rank in certain important categories. He's not just top-fivey, Jimmy. He's top-threey.
|QB rating||Y/A||ANY/A||DYAR||DVOA||Comp%||Yds||TD - INT*||QBR (sorry)|
|Rivers' NFL rank||2||3||3||2||2||1||5||3||2|
(Table excludes Josh McCown and Nick Foles because, gosh, it's my table. Also, "TD minus INT" is a junk stat I just invented, which is why I placed it ahead of QBR.)
So, please, MVP voters, recognize some greatness and put Philip Rivers second on your ballot, where he rightfully belongs.
At last, the cheese and whine: 49ers at Packers, Sunday, 1:40 p.m.
Eddie Lacy is an NFL running back. Marshawn Lynch is also an NFL running back! The similarities end ther--uh no.
|Eddie Lacy||Marshawn Lynch|
|Measurables||5-11, 230||5-11, 215 I suppose|
|Yards per carry||4.15||4.18|
|Beacon Plumbing Ads||N/A||Freakin' A|
It's kind of uncanny actually. But it gets better. Lacy sat out a game this year. Let me -- please let me -- update the table by extrapolating his numbers to 16 games, then rounding up or down.
|Eddie Lacy||Marshawn Lynch|
|Seismic events caused||Unknown||Unknown|
Yeah. Niners, if you like facing Lynch, you'll love Lacy.
That's all the games you glutton
Dessert has to wait until next week. But here's a mint, maybe one of those impossibly tiny ones that activates your glands before you even pop it in your mouth: The Seahawks play in the fourth largest media market left in the playoffs.
Fine. Have the whole box.
28. San Diego
31. Kansas City
51. New Orleans
69. Green Bay
Next week, back to osprey-centrism. But for now, good bye. Very good bye.