San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2013 NFC Championship Pick

San Francisco 49ers (14-4) at Seattle Seahawks (14-3)

I almost never go against the Seahawks at home and with good reason. Since 2007, the Seahawks are 39-19 ATS at home, including 23-11 ATS as home favorites. They have been especially good over the past two years, as they’ve broken out as an elite team, going 12-5 ATS since the start of the 2012 season. They are outscoring opponents by an average of 16.41 points per game at home since the start of last season and have a 16-1 record over that time span.

I went against the Seahawks at home last week because I thought the line was just too big and because teams tend to cover in the playoffs in same season, same site, non-divisional revenge games. Going against them at home didn’t end badly last week. I had my pick push because I got the Saints +8 and they lost by exactly 8, but if I had gotten it at +9.5, where it was right before the game, it would have been a win for me.

This week, the line isn’t nearly big enough. This line, at 3.5, essentially suggests that these two teams are even and that the Seahawks don’t have a significant home field advantage. You can argue the first one, but you can’t deny their home field advantage. The only way this line makes sense given the Seahawks’ home dominance is if the 49ers are 2-3 points better than the Seahawks on a neutral field.

Not only do I think that’s wrong, I think the Seahawks are the better team on a neutral field. The Seahawks move the chains at a 71.88% rate, as opposed to 66.87% for their opponents, a differential of 5.01%. The 49ers, meanwhile, move the chains at a 71.26% rate, as opposed to 68.02% for their opponents, a differential of 3.25%. That suggests that the Seahawks should be about 5 point favorites even before we factor in their crazy home field advantage. Home field advantage taken into account, the Seahawks should really be favored by 7.5 or 8 points, not 3.5. We’re getting significant line value with them.

The 49ers do have one trend working for them. Teams with 12+ wins are 39-11 ATS in the playoffs against teams with better record than them. However, there are definitely plenty of other things working against them. It’s also worth noting that no team since the 1992-1993 Bills have made the Super Bowl the year after losing the Super Bowl and they did it in an AFC that was much weaker than today’s NFC.

Finally, in spite of last week’s win in Carolina, the 49ers have had a lot of issues with top level teams this year. They’ve gone 2-4 in games against teams that finished with 11 or more wins. The other 3 remaining playoff teams are a combined 9-6 (Seattle 4-2, New England 3-2, Denver 2-2). It’s been worse than that as Colin Kaepernick has really struggled in those 6 games.

The Carolina game was his best performance in that type of game this season, but he still just completed 53.3% of his passes. His highest completion percentage in those 6 games is still just 54.8%. In those 6 games total, he is 84 of 165 (50.9%) for 866 yards (5.24 YPA), 4 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while rushing for 194 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. In his other 12 games, he’s 190 of 309 (61.5%) for 2745 yards (8.88 YPA), 19 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while rushing for 443 yards and 4 touchdowns on 67 carries. He’s already been destroyed twice in his young career in Seattle by scores of 42-13 and 29-3. This one might be a little closer, but I love getting Seattle at just -3.5.

Seattle Seahawks 20 San Francisco 49ers 10

Pick against spread: Seattle -3.5

Confidence: High

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New England Patriots at Denver Broncos: 2013 AFC Championship Pick

New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (14-3)

One of the keys to successful handicapping of NFL games is to figure out which situations certain teams tend to do well in. This is easier when the team has had the same quarterback and/or head coach for a long time. Well we’re in year 13 of Tom Brady and this is exactly the type of situation in which the Patriots have dominated in the Tom Brady era. In his career, Tom Brady is 28-11 straight up against opponents with a better record than his, including 6-1 in the post-season.

Just think about that. Teams usually win 38.5% against teams with a better record than the other one. Tom Brady has won 71.8% of such games. Against the spread, he’s even better, going 29-9-1 ATS, including 18-5 ATS as underdogs. Brady and Belichick always bring their best for the best opponents and they’ll do the same this week. He’s already won straight up against Denver and New Orleans this year in this situation. This game will be tougher to win because it’s on the road, but we have 6 points to play with so they won’t need to win to cover.

The Patriots also dominate as an underdog in general with Tom Brady, going 30-15 ATS. That record gets even better when you add in games when the Patriots are favored by fewer than 3 points. Tom Brady is 42-17 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points in his career. Basically, in situations when Tom Brady just needs to win to cover, he’s almost automatic, which makes sense considering his absurd 166-50 career straight up record. And again, the Patriots won’t need to win to cover as they are 6 point underdogs. This is just the 10th time the Patriots have underdogs of 6 or more points with Tom Brady under center and the 2nd since 2003. They are 7-2 ATS in those previous 9 games.

I also have to bring up the Brady/Manning history as we go into Brady/Manning XV. Tom Brady has won 10 of the previous 14 matchups. That alone isn’t enough to prove that Tom Brady is the better quarterback (and can we stop the debate and just enjoy, they’re both 1st ballot Hall of Famers and you can’t prove definitively either one is better), but it’s worth noting. Having Bill Belichick on his side definitely helps. Belichick himself is 11-6 ATS and SU against Peyton Manning since taking over as the Patriots head coach in 2000, including 8-2 ATS as underdogs.

It’s also worth noting that Belichick has only once lost to Manning by more than 8 points, including 3 games without Brady. The Patriots in general have just 1 loss by more than 8 points since week 10 of the 2010 season, over 3 years ago. Considering this line is at 6, that’s pretty relevant. I obviously wish we were getting even more points, but I expect this to be a close game either way so getting 6 points is very valuable. Another weird trend that benefits the Patriots: teams with 12+ wins are 39-11 ATS in the playoffs against teams with better record than them.

There are some reasons to doubt the Patriots. In general, teams tend to struggle off of games in which they score 40+ points in the playoffs, going 3-14 ATS in that situation since 2002. The Patriots could be caught overconfident after running over Indianapolis last week. The Broncos have also won 7 of 9 games at home by double digits this year and are 12-5 ATS as home favorites over the past 2 seasons. Sure, the Chargers played within 7 points last week, but they didn’t really deserve to. Playing the Broncos close in Denver might be too big of a task, even for the Patriots.

Denver, of course, is also a very dominant football team. In fact, there’s still plenty of reason to believe they are the best in the NFL.  They move the chains at an 81.43% rate, as opposed to 71.84% for their opponents, a differential of 9.59% that not only ranks the best in the NFL out of the remaining 4 playoff teams, but also is better than any team that has been eliminated as well. I still think the Patriots are up to the challenge though and they have plenty supporting them, given their history in these types of situations. I’m very confident in the Patriots and grab them at +6 before you can’t. A heavy early public lean on New England is going to push the line down fast and already has started to in some places.

New England Patriots 31 Denver Broncos 30 Upset Pick +195

Pick against spread: New England +6

Confidence: High

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2013 Divisional Round Pick Results

Wild Card

Straight Up: 3-1

Against the Spread: 1-2-1

Pick of the Week: 0-0

High Confidence: 0-1

Medium Confidence: 0-0

Low Confidence: 0-0-1

No Confidence: 1-1

Upset Picks: 0-1

2013

Straight Up: 177-86-1 (.673)

Against the Spread: 147-108-9 (.576)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1

High Confidence: 24-9-1

Medium Confidence: 32-26

Low Confidence: 39-27-3

No Confidence: 42-40-4

Upset Picks: 27-30

Pre-season Prop Bets: 8-3

Rate of Moving the Chains – Conference Championship

What is this? This is rate of moving the chains, which is my primary statistic for handicapping games. It holds the assumption that the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). In order to figure out how often teams meet that goal, I take first downs plus touchdowns and divide it by first downs plus touchdowns plus failures to move the chains (successes divided by attempts). Failures to move the chains include punts, turnovers, failed 4th downs, and field goal attempts (being forced to kick a field goal is a failure).

I have this sorted by percent for (to evaluate offenses), percent against (to evaluate defenses), and differentials (to evaluate teams). Below that, I use this to calculate spreads for this week’s games (by taking the differences between the differentials of the two teams and adding 3 points either way for homefield). It’s not a perfect formula, but it does a good job of lessening the value of inconsistent things like turnovers and return touchdowns. These are the remaining playoff teams and how they stack up.

Offense

Team First downs Touchdowns Punts Turnovers Failed 4th downs Field goal attempts
1 Denver 461 74 65 28 1 28 81.43%
2 New England 401 50 83 20 9 41 74.67%
3 Seattle 320 43 80 19 5 38 71.88%
4 San Francisco 329 43 84 19 5 42 71.26%

 

Defense

Team First Downs Touchdowns Punts Turnovers Failed 4th downs Field goal attempts
1 Seattle 307 22 85 40 9 29 66.87%
2 San Francisco 320 33 92 32 14 28 68.02%
3 New England 354 38 85 33 17 29 70.50%
4 Denver 352 46 91 26 11 28 71.84%

 

Differential

Team
1 Denver 9.59%
2 Seattle 5.01%
3 New England 4.17%
4 San Francisco 3.25%

 

Projected Lines

DEN/NE 8.42
SEA/SF 4.76

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