San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2013 AFC Divisional Round Pick

San Diego Chargers (10-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3)

This is one I’m completely torn on. On one hand, the Chargers are in the better spot. The Broncos could be overconfident because they’re at home coming off of a bye. Teams are 14-22 ATS since 2003 as home favorites after a 1st round bye in the post-season, including 8-14 ATS off of a week 17 win. With a week off, the Broncos may have one eye on the AFC Championship Game and a potential rematch with the Patriots.

Patriots/Broncos and Seahawks/49ers seem to be the consensus AFC/NFC Championship Games right now as you can see from the NFL Superbowl Lines. We all know how seldom the consensus is right in the post-season. It might not be a bad idea to bet against all 4 of those teams. I’m thinking at least 3 of their opponents cover. The Chargers, meanwhile, are in a good spot as teams are 10-3 ATS as underdogs off of a road playoff win since 2005. Not only that, but they are 8-5 straight up despite being underdogs all 13 times. We’ve seen so many teams go on runs from the Wild Card round after winning on the road before. That could make the Chargers dangerous.

The Chargers have also been infrequently blown out this year, with just 1 loss by more than 8 points and no losses by more than 10 (that 10 point loss was somehow to the Raiders). That’s relevant with the line at 9 points. However, on the other hand, they lost by 8 at home to the Broncos, so why couldn’t they lose by double digits in Denver? Sure, they won in Denver a few weeks ago, but in spite of that, it’s definitely arguable that the Broncos are the best team in the NFL so if anyone is going to blow out the Chargers, it’s them.

The Broncos rank 1st in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at an 81.09% rate, as opposed to 71.86% for their opponents, a differential of 9.23%. The Chargers, meanwhile, rank 10th, moving the chains at a 77.88% rate, as opposed to 75.24% for their opponents, a differential of 2.64%. That suggests that this line should be around 9.5. That doesn’t give us much line value with the Broncos, but it’s worth noting.

The Broncos are definitely capable of blowing out the Chargers, in spite of the Chargers’ lack of blowout losses this season. The Broncos have also been deadly at home over the past 2 years, going 12-4 ATS as favorites. In 7 of their 8 home games this year, they’ve won by double digits, with the exception obviously being the loss to San Diego. In 2012, they won by double digits in 5 of 8 home games in the regular season.

Speaking of that loss to San Diego, I think some people are putting too much stock into that game and San Diego’s win in Cincinnati. San Diego obviously played well last week, but part of that was because they forced 4 turnovers. Considering how inconsistent turnovers are, that the Chargers had just 17 takeaways all year, and that they are facing the Broncos this week, that’s not something they’re going to be able to count on this week. Their defense is pretty bad when they aren’t forcing takeaways.

As for the win in Denver, I think that was a fluke that would happen about 10% of the time. The Chargers are certainly capable of putting together a perfect game, playing keep away with their offense and having just enough defense, but the Broncos are much more likely to do the same thing. I was hoping this line would be smaller or that the public would be on San Diego more though, so I could take the Broncos. This line is basically the same as it was the last time these two teams played and I don’t think we’re getting enough line value with the Broncos. As long as the line is higher than a touchdown, I’m taking the Chargers, but it’s a pretty much toss-up.

Denver Broncos 31 San Diego Chargers 24

Pick against spread: San Diego +9

Confidence: None

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Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots: 2013 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)

The Patriots won 12 games and locked up a first round bye again. They now have a streak of 13 consecutive winning seasons. No one else has an active streak longer than 4. Over the past 13 seasons, they have 12 seasons of 10+ wins, 11 division titles, 10 seasons of 11+ wins, 8 seasons of 12+ wins, and are trying to add to their 7 AFC Championship appearances, 5 Super Bowl appearances, and 3 Super Bowl victories. Over that time period, they are 158-50 in the regular season, equivalent to an average season of 12-4, and they are 17-7 in the post-season and looking for more.

Even though they had what’s now considered an average record by this franchise’s standards of 12-4, this was not an average season for them. That 12-4 record is on the strength of a 7-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their +108 point differential was their lowest in a season Tom Brady was healthy since 2005. This team wasn’t as good as their record in the regular season. Just 5 of their 12 wins have come by more than a touchdown, which is very relevant considering they are favored by a touchdown here in the post-season.

The fact that they weren’t as good as their record is shown bt the fact that they are 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 74.30% rate, while their opponents move the chains at a 70.97% rate, a differential of 3.33%. The Colts, meanwhile, rank 14th, moving the chains at a 73.17% rate, as opposed to 72.44% for their opponents, a differential of 0.77%. That suggests this line should be at around 5.5, which goes back to the Patriots’ inability to win games by more than a touchdown. The Patriots have also historically struggled as 7+ point favorites in the post-season, going 4-8 ATS in that situation during the Brady/Belichick era.

Finally, the Patriots are in a bad spot because they could be overconfident because they’re at home coming off of a bye. Teams are 14-22 ATS since 2003 as home favorites after a 1st round bye in the post-season, including 8-14 ATS off of a week 17 win. There’s a chance they may have one eye on the AFC Championship and Denver next week. Patriots/Broncos and Seahawks/49ers seem to be the consensus AFC/NFC Championship Games right now. We all know how seldom the consensus is right in the post-season. It might not be a bad idea to bet against all 4 of those teams. I’m thinking at least 3 of their opponents cover.

Despite all of this, there are two big reasons why I’m not confident in the Colts. One is just how unpredictable the Colts have been this season. They’ve been alternating multiple game stretches where they’ve looked like a 13-3 team and a 6-10 team, with nothing really in between. Last season, they were nowhere near as good as their 11-5 record, as that was powered by 7 wins by 7 points or fewer against teams that finished 7-9 or worse. They started out looking like that team, barely beating Oakland and losing to Miami in back-to-back home games. However, then they went on a roll over a 6 game stretch that included wins over good teams (Denver, Seattle, San Francisco) and blowout wins (34 point win in Jacksonville) that their 2012 season just didn’t have.

However, then after the bye they came out and looked like their 2012 team or even worse, with 3 point wins over Tennessee and Houston and then an 8 point win over Tennessee, but also a 29 point loss against Arizona, a 14 point loss against Cincinnati, and a 30 point loss against St. Louis. They had a -59 point differential over a 6 game stretch in which they got blown out by every decent team they faced and barely beat mediocre football teams. It reeked of 2012. However, since then, they’ve blown out the Texans by 22, went into Kansas City and won convincingly by 16 against a good football team, and then blew out Jacksonville by 20, in a game that was never really close.

Last week, they beat Kansas City, which was impressive, but they were also down by 28 early. In a way, last week’s game was a microcosm of their season. They were terrible for a stretch and then phenomenal for another stretch. During the season, they also ranked 29th in terms of variance on Football Outsiders, which means they were the 4th most inconsistent team. No other team left in the post-season ranks lower than 19th. I almost actually hope they get eliminated so I don’t have to deal with picking their games anymore, regardless of what I end up picking.

The other reason why I’m not confident in the Colts is the fact that they scored 40+ points last week. Teams who score 40+ points in a post-season game are 3-13 ATS the following week. Teams tend to be overconfident after that type of performance. That might not apply to them as much as it normally would to a team because they did allow 44 points last week, so they might not have a ton to be overconfident about, but then again, how much do you trust this defense against New England, especially when they’re missing starting cornerback Greg Toler? I’m picking the Colts, but I’m not confident at all.

New England Patriots 30 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against spread: Indianapolis +7

Confidence: None

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New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks: 2013 NFC Divisional Round Pick

New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

Everyone knows about the Seahawks’ home dominance and the Saints’ road struggles. Since 2007, the Seahawks are 39-18 ATS at home, including 23-10 ATS as home favorites, and 12-4 ATS as home favorites of 7 or more. They have been especially good over the past two years, as they’ve broken out as an elite team, going 12-4 ATS since the start of the 2012 season. They are outscoring opponents by an average of 16.94 points per game at home since the start of last season and have a 15-1 record over that time span.

Meanwhile, since 2008, the Saints are 31-10 ATS at home and 18-25 ATS on the road, excluding the 2012 season when Sean Payton didn’t coach. Sure, they won last week, but they could have easily lost in Philadelphia and Drew Brees’ play against a weak Philadelphia defense shouldn’t instill much confidence in his ability to win big games away from home. On the season, they are still just 2-7 ATS on the road and 4-5 straight up, with the wins coming by a combined 16 points and the losses coming by a combined 51 points, including a 27 point loss in Seattle earlier this season.

However, the problem is that everyone knows about the Seahawks home dominance and the Saints’ road struggles. That’s clearly affecting this line as the Seahawks as 8 point favorites. That suggests the Seahawks are 5 points better than the Saints on a neutral field under normal home field advantage. That’s simply not true. I know the Seahawks don’t have a normal home field advantage and the Saints aren’t the same team away from New Orleans, but that’s already been priced into the line and then some. We’re not getting any line value with the Seahawks.

In fact, I have numbers that suggest that the Saints are a better team than the Seahawks on a neutral field. The Saints rank 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 76.90% rate, as opposed to 69.15% for their opponents, a differential of 7.75%. The Seahawks, meanwhile, move the chains at a 72.35% rate, as opposed to 66.23% for their opponents, a differential of 6.12% that ranks 5th in the NFL.

Why has Seattle been more successful than the Saints this year in spite of that? Well, turnovers and return touchdowns have benefitted them in a way that they haven’t benefitted the Saints. While the Saints are +2 in turnovers, the Seahawks are +20. Also, the Seahawks are +3 in return touchdowns and the Saints are -2, a 35 point swing. That kind of thing tends to be very tough to rely on in any given week.

Rate of moving the chains suggests that the Seahawks should be favored by only a point and a half. Of course, that would be absurd because that doesn’t take into account that the Seahawks are a significantly better home team than road team and the Saints are a significantly worse road team than home team. You could definitely argue this line should be around 6 or 6.5 because of that, but 8 seems a little steep. At the very least, we’re not getting any line value with the Seahawks and we might be getting some with the Saints.

The Saints are also in the better spot. I mentioned they got blown out in Seattle earlier this year. That actually works to their benefit this week. It might seem counterintuitive, but it means sense once you think about it, as the Seahawks could be overconfident as a result of that win. Teams are 26-13 ATS since 2002 in same site non-divisional revenge games in the post-season, meaning that teams cover at a high rate in the post-season against a non-divisional team that they lost to in the regular season in the same location. It’s even true of blowout losses are teams are 12-6 ATS in same site non-divisional revenge games against teams they lost to by 10 or more the previous time. In fact, teams are 17-8 ATS in the post-season in that situation regardless of location.

The Seahawks could also be overconfident because they’re at home coming off of a bye. Teams are 14-22 ATS since 2003 as home favorites after a 1st round bye in the post-season, including 8-14 ATS off of a week 17 win. With a week off and a team they already beat coming to town, the Seahawks may have one eye on the NFC Championship Game and a potential rubber match with the 49ers. Patriots/Broncos and Seahawks/49ers seem to be the consensus AFC/NFC Championship Games right now. We all know how seldom the consensus is right in the post-season. It might not be a bad idea to bet against all 4 of those teams. I’m thinking at least 3 of their opponents cover.

The Saints, meanwhile, are in a good spot as teams are 10-3 ATS off of a road playoff win since 2005. Not only that, but they are 8-5 straight up despite being underdogs all 13 times. We’ve seen so many teams go on runs from the Wild Card round after winning on the road before. That could make the Saints dangerous. I hate going against the Seahawks at home, especially given the Saints’ road struggles and especially when the Saints seem to be somewhat of a public underdog, but there’s too much value with the Saints here and too much going in their favor. I’m not that confident though.

Seattle Seahawks 24 New Orleans Saints 20

Pick against spread: New Orleans +8

Confidence: Low

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San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers: 2013 NFC Divisional Round Pick

San Francisco 49ers (13-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

The Panthers won in San Francisco earlier this season, helping propel them to a 12-4 record, the #2 seed, and home field advantage in the NFC divisional round. In spite of all that, they are 1 point home underdogs here. Ordinarily, I’d think this would be a trap line designed to get people to bet on Carolina, so the odds makers could make a big profit when San Francisco wins, but the public is actually all over San Francisco and in spite of that the amount that the 49ers are favored by is shrinking. After opening as 2 point favorites, the 49ers are now favored by either a point or not at all (pick em), depending on where you look. That suggests this could be a trap line designed to get people to bet on San Francisco. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and it definitely does here.

As long as the Panthers are underdogs or favorites of less than 3, I really like them this week. Ordinarily, teams have been struggled off of byes in recent years, but it’s a different dynamic with the Panthers because they aren’t big home favorites. They won’t be overconfident. In fact, there’s only one instance in the last 25 years (as far back as I have data) of a team being home underdogs in the divisional road. 49ers fans probably remember it well as it was 2 years ago when they host the Saints and won in thrilling fashion. That game alone isn’t reason enough to take the Panthers here, but it’s pretty absurd that they are home underdogs here.

Here’s a good reason to take the Panthers: they’re significantly better than the 49ers and at home. Their win in San Francisco was legitimate. They’re the better team here. The Panthers are 4th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 75.00% rate, as opposed to 67.49% for their opponents, a differential of 7.51%. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 9th, moving the chains at a 70.79% rate, as opposed to 67.61% for their opponents, a differential of 3.18%. That suggests that the Panthers should be favored by about 7.5 points. That’s even before you take into account that the 49ers are a West Coast team playing at 1 PM ET on the East Coast against an East Coast team.

The 49ers have had a really tough time against top level teams this year. In 5 games against teams that finished 11-5 or better, the 49ers went 1-4, as opposed to 12-0 in other games (including playoffs). It’s even worse than that sounds. They’ve been outscored by a combined 50 points in those 4 losses, while their one win came by 2 points. Colin Kaepernick has been miserable in those 5 games, as he hasn’t posted higher than a 54.8% completion percentage in any of those 5 games.

Combined, he was 69 of 137 (50.4%) for 670 yards (4.89 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while rushing for 179 yards on 32 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. As I mentioned, the 49ers are 12-0 in those games, winning by an average of 15.17 points per game. He struggled against Carolina the first time around, completing 11 of 22 for 91 yards and an interception, while rushing for 16 yards on 4 carries and that was at home. I have no confidence in him this week on the road at 1 PM ET.

The 49ers are on a 7 game winning streak right now, but the combined record of those 7 teams is 49-63 and only that 2 point win over Seattle came against a team with 11 or more wins. Besides, teams on long winning streaks tend to struggle in the playoffs. Since 2002, teams are 7-16 ATS in the post-season while on a winning streak of 7+, including 3-15 ATS as favorites. Teams tend to be overconfident and overvalued in that situation. The latter is definitely true and the former could very well be. I’m very confident in Carolina.

Carolina Panthers 20 San Francisco 49ers 13 Upset Pick +100

Pick against spread: Carolina +1

Confidence: High

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Rate of Moving the Chains – Divisional Round

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 435 71 65 26 1 26 81.09%
2 San Diego 389 44 62 21 1 39 77.88%
3 New Orleans 385 51 64 21 10 36 76.90%
4 Carolina 319 38 70 19 3 27 75.00%
5 New England 378 44 77 20 8 41 74.30%
6 Indianapolis 346 44 77 18 7 41 73.17%
7 Seattle 307 41 74 19 5 35 72.35%
8 San Francisco 308 41 82 19 4 39 70.79%

 

Defense

Team First Downs Touchdowns Punts Turnovers Failed 4th downs Field goal attempts
1 Seattle 282 20 81 39 7 27 66.23%
2 Carolina 278 21 72 30 8 34 67.49%
3 San Francisco 302 32 90 30 13 27 67.61%
4 New Orleans 291 34 88 19 8 30 69.15%
5 New England 338 36 80 29 17 27 70.97%
6 Denver 339 44 87 26 11 26 71.86%
7 Indianapolis 349 40 77 28 10 33 72.44%
8 San Diego 354 38 68 21 9 31 75.24%

 

Differential

Team
1 Denver 9.23%
2 New Orleans 7.75%
3 Carolina 7.51%
4 Seattle 6.12%
5 New England 3.33%
6 San Francisco 3.18%
7 San Diego 2.64%
8 Indianapolis 0.73%

 

Projected Lines

SEA/NO 1.37
NE/ND 5.60
DEN/SD 9.59
CAR/SF 7.33

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2013 NFL Wild Card Pick Results

Wild Card

Straight Up: 1-3

Against the Spread: 0-3-1

Pick of the Week: 0-0

High Confidence: 0-0-1

Medium Confidence: 0-1

Low Confidence: 0-1

No Confidence: 0-1

Upset Picks: 0-1

2013

Straight Up: 174-85-1 (.672)

Against the Spread: 146-106-8 (.579)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1

High Confidence: 24-8-1

Medium Confidence: 32-26

Low Confidence: 39-27-2

No Confidence: 41-39-4

Upset Picks: 27-29

Pre-season Prop Bets: 8-3