Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

Denver Broncos (15-3) vs Seattle Seahawks (15-3) at MetLife Stadium

The big matchup in this game is Denver’s offense vs. Seattle’s defense. Because the media loves hyperbole, the Broncos’ offense is being billed as one of the top offenses of all time, while the Seahawks’ defense is being billed as one of the top defenses of all time. Only one half of that hyperbolic statement is accurate. The Broncos are one of the greatest offenses of all time. It can be tough to compare across eras, but they’ve scored the most points in a single season in NFL history. The Seahawks ranked #1 in points allowed this season, allowing 14.4 points per game, but I don’t think they’re in all-time great territory. There’s some team that allows that few points pretty much every season.

The Seahawks might not even be the best defense in the NFL. Points per game allowed isn’t the end all of defensive statistics. I feel the statistic rate of moving the chains allowed is the best way to determine how good a defense (or an offense) has played because the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). It also does a good job of lessening the value of inconsistent things like turnovers and return touchdowns.

The Seahawks finished the regular season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential allowed at 66.29%, very good, but hardly all-time great status like the Broncos’ offense. After two playoff games, the Seahawks are now at 66.73% in terms of rate of moving the chains allowed, which makes sense because teams’ schedules obviously get tougher in the playoffs.

The Broncos, meanwhile, finished the regular season, first, by far, moving the chains at an 81.09% rate. However, after two playoff games, that number is even higher, as they are now moving the chains at an 81.62% rate. They’ve punted just once in two playoff games. Granted, they haven’t played tough defenses in either game, but that’s still incredibly impressive. The Seahawks can slow them, but they won’t be able to stop them. I think Richard Sherman has a good chance to shut down one side of the field (contrary to popular belief he doesn’t shadow #1 receivers and will not shadow Demaryius Thomas in this game), but Peyton Manning has plenty of other weapons and he knows how to use them. The Broncos will probably be in the 20-27 point range so the Seahawks will have to keep up.

Can the Seahawks keep up? Well, the Broncos defense is not nearly as good as their offense. The Broncos finished the regular season 20th in rate of moving the chains against, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 71.86% rate and now they are at 72.24%. The Seahawks, meanwhile, finished the regular season 13th in rate of moving the chains, moving the chains at a 72.35% rate, and now they are at 71.64%. They’re not a great offense, but they’ll be able to move the chains on this defense, especially with Percy Harvin back for the Seahawks and Von Miller and now Chris Harris out for the season for the Broncos.

In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Broncos are at 9.38%, including playoffs, while the Seahawks are at 4.91%. That suggests this line should be around 4.5 in favor of Denver instead of 2. Why are the Broncos significantly better than the Seahawks in this category in spite of their identical records? Well the Seahawks have been much more reliant on winning the turnover battle as they are +23 on the season, including playoffs, while the Broncos are -2. Winning the turnover battle tends to be a tough thing to do on a consistent basis, so the fact that the Broncos have been able to win without winning the turnover battle, while the Seahawks have had more issues doing so works in Denver’s favor. Seattle is going to find it much harder to pick off Peyton Manning than any other quarterback in the league anyway.

That being said, I’m not crazy about Denver for two reasons. One is that aforementioned injury situation with Harvin, Miller, and Harris. Two, rate of moving the chains differential doesn’t take into account strength of schedule and the Seahawks have had the much tougher schedule this season. The Seahawks finished the regular season with a 17th ranked strength of schedule, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Broncos finished with a 31st ranked strength of schedule. The Broncos also played two easier playoff games than the Seahawks, coming out of the easier AFC. I hate not having a confident pick for the Super Bowl, because obviously it’s the biggest game of the year, but I’m only a little bit confident in the Broncos.

Denver Broncos 24 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against spread: Denver -2

Confidence: Low

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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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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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