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

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts: 2013 AFC Wild Card Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

This is the game I’m staying away from, simply because of how inconsistent Indianapolis has 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.

Overall on the season, they’ve averaged out as an 11-5 team that’s lucky to be 11-5, with a 5-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a pretty easy schedule. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they’re only 14th, which is the lowest among playoff teams who had their current starting quarterback start all 16 games. They move the chains at a 72.21% rate and allow opponents to move the chains at a 71.52% rate, which is good for a differential of 0.70%. Football Outsiders echoes this, as they rank 13th in DVOA and rank 11th in what’s known as “estimated wins” with 9.5. After San Diego, they’re probably the worst playoff team when you look at their season on the whole, but they never play like that 9 or 10 win team. They’re either great or terrible.

They also rank 29th in terms of variance on Football Outsides, which means they were the 4th most inconsistent team. There are actually playoff teams with very high variances, including Philadelphia who ranks 32nd, but there are always good explanation for why certain teams have high variances. Philadelphia changed quarterbacks mid-season. Green Bay (28th) lost Aaron Rodgers for a large chunk of the season. New Orleans (25th) has a huge home/road disparity. The same is true of Cincinnati (21st). Indianapolis’ seems to be unexplainable. For that reason, I actually kind of hope they lose, regardless of what I end up picking, because it would make my life easier.

Making matters even worse, Kansas City is 23rd in variance. There’s is somewhat explainable. They’ve just struggled with good teams this season. They’ve had arguably the easiest schedule in the NFL this season and won all 10 games against teams that finished under .500, but they’re just 1-5 against .500 or better teams. Sure one of those losses came in a meaningless game against the Chargers week 17, but also their only win came against Philadelphia, before Nick Foles took over as starting quarterback. That bodes well for Indianapolis’ chances this week, provided they don’t go cold, as they’ve obviously been prone to doing.

Kansas City, however, has had the better season overall. While Indianapolis ranks 14th in rate of moving the chains and 13th in DVOA, Kansas City ranks 7th in both. They move the chains at a 72.08% rate, as opposed to 67.81% for their opponents, a differential of 4.27%. Using rate of moving the chains, this game should be a pick ‘em, as opposed to Indianapolis being favored by 2.5. The Chiefs also are getting Justin Houston back this week, which will be very big for their defense. In the first 10 games of the season, they allowed 13.8 points per game. In their last 5 (excluding the meaningless week 17 games), which includes a game Houston started, but left earlier with injury, they’ve allowed 26.0 points per game.

That’s not all Houston’s absence, as they’ve had a tougher schedule, but they also held Denver (27) to their 2nd lowest point total of the season in Denver when Houston was healthy. Without him, they surrendered 35 to them at home. They also surrendered 31 to Oakland, without him, a total they didn’t surrender to anyone with him. He was playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before he got hurt, so having him back in the lineup, provided he’s 100%, is going to be huge.

In spite of that, Indianapolis is actually the side I’m going with, if I had to, gun to my head (or for a pick ‘em/against the spread pool) for 3 reasons. I already mentioned Kansas City’s issues against good teams this season. The 2nd reason is that Kansas City is a public underdog. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and that works as a good tiebreaker. I especially love fading public underdogs because, whenever the public thinks there will be an upset, it usually doesn’t happen. The 3rd reason is just that Indianapolis happens to be hot right now. Sure we’ve seen them go cold off of a hot streak before and vice versa, but it’s worth mentioning. As long as this line is under a field goal, Indianapolis is the pick. I might take Kansas City with the field goal though. It’s that close.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against spread: Indianapolis -2

Confidence: None

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New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: 2013 NFC Wild Card Pick

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

At first glance, this line, which favors Philadelphia by 2.5 points, seems off. The Saints had a fantastic regular season on the whole, moving the chains at a 76.98% rate, as opposed to 68.85% for their opponents, a differential of 8.13% that ranks 2nd in the NFL. Philadelphia, meanwhile, comes in at 12th, moving the chains at a 74.91% rate, but allowing opponents to move the chains at a 73.10% rate, a differential of 1.80%. That suggests that New Orleans should be the ones favored and by 3.5 points.

However, we need to delve a little deeper, as that 74.91% number takes into account games in which Michael Vick and/or Matt Barkley saw significant snaps. If you only take into account the 9 games which Nick Foles started and finished (in which they went 8-1, as opposed to 2-5 in their other 7 games), they move the chains at an absurd 78.69% rate, which would be 2nd best in the NFL behind Denver if they were season long numbers. Even with a defense that will allow you to move the chains with some ease, that’s still a differential of 5.58%, which would be 6th in the NFL over a full season. New Orleans still ranks higher, but at least now we have a line that should be a pick ‘em, based blindly on rate of moving the chains.

That still suggests New Orleans is the right side, but we have to take into account the Saints’ road issues. While the Saints are either 7-0-1 or 7-1 at home (depending on what line you had for the 49ers game), they are 1-7 ATS on the road and 3-5 straight up, including losses to St. Louis and the Jets and a blowout loss in Seattle. This is nothing new for them, as Drew Brees’ QB rating is usually about 10-15 points lower on the road than at home. He also doesn’t have a road playoff win in his career and the Saints don’t have one in franchise history. Since 2008, excluding the 2012 season when Sean Payton didn’t coach, the Saints are 31-10 ATS at home and 17-25 ATS on the road.

I am actually 15-1 ATS picking Saints games this year and it would be 15-0-1 if I had gotten -3 in the 49ers game and not -3.5, in an eventual New Orleans win by 3. I’ve done this by blindly picking them at home and almost blindly picking against them on the road, only picking them in Chicago as 1 point favorites because I correctly believed the Bears to be overrated at that point. I don’t have a ton of confidence because the Saints are a very good team and because this is Nick Foles’ first playoff game and Rob Ryan will have something good planned for him, but as long as this line is under 3, I’m sticking with what got me here and fading the Saints on the road. It’s also worth noting that playoff teams who have a better record than their opponent, but are underdogs are 6-15 ATS since 2001. They’re usually underdogs for a reason.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 New Orleans Saints 23

Pick against spread: Philadelphia -2.5

Confidence: Low

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San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2013 AFC Wild Card Pick

San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

The Chargers kind of tripped backwards into the playoffs. That sounds weird to say about a team that had to win 4 straight games, including one in Denver, just to get to this point, but they could have easily lost to Kansas City’s backups week 17. The Chiefs were up 24-14 late. A penalty that would have given Kansas City’s a 36 yard field goal attempt to win it wasn’t called. And in overtime the Chargers very nearly fumbled a fake punt deep in their own territory.

That being said, they aren’t undeserving of being in the playoffs. Every year, there seems to be at least one playoff team that clearly doesn’t belong, but there are no teams in this year’s bunch where you can definitely make an argument that they aren’t a top-12 team. San Diego is probably the worst of this year’s bunch, but they definitely can be dangerous. We’ve already seen them win 5 games against other playoff teams, something no other playoff team can say. Sure, one of the wins was against Kansas City’s backups and another was against the Michael Vick led Eagles, but they still legitimately beat Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City (the first time around).

They have an amazing offense that can play keep away from anyone in the NFL (as they did to perfection against Indianapolis and Denver) and that can also win a shootout (as they did in the first Kansas City matchup. They move the chains at a 78.26% rate, which is 2nd best in the NFL behind only Denver. They have a terrible defense, probably the worst in the playoffs, which allows opponents to move the chains at a 75.36% rate. That allows their opponents to play keep away and win shootouts, part of why they’ve also lost to Washington, Houston, and Oakland. However, their 2.90% rate of moving the chains differential is 10th in the NFL, well in that top-12.

Unfortunately, they have a very tough matchup here. Cincinnati is quietly one of the most complete, if not the most complete team in the post-season. Andy Dalton has flopped in his first 2 playoff games, but he was also 1-11 against eventual playoff teams in his first 2 years in the NFL. This year, he’s 4-0, in part because he’s playing better, but also in part because of how well his supporting cast is playing on both sides of the ball. They move the chains at a 73.49% rate, as opposed to 65.68% for their opponents, which is the lowest rate against in the NFL. That’s a differential of 7.81%, which ranks 3rd in the NFL. That suggests this line should be around 8, instead of 7.

That’s not a ton of line value, but that’s before we even get into Cincinnati’s home dominance. They are the only team in the NFL that has not only won, but covered in all 8 of their home games this season. Not only that, their margin of victory in those 8 games is 17.62 points per game. That includes wins over New England, Indianapolis, and the Aaron Rodgers led Packers. Only one of their home games was within a touchdown (Green Bay).

They’re not nearly the same team on the road, where they are 3-5 with no wins by more than a touchdown, which will hold them back. They could maybe win in New England, but their chances of going into Denver and winning given their track record on the road is pretty low. However, they have a very good chance to get a blowout victory here. The one road win the Bengals have by a touchdown this season was in San Diego, where they won 17-10 a few weeks ago. If they can win by a touchdown in San Diego, I like their chances of winning at home against the Chargers by more than a touchdown a lot, especially since the Chargers will be a West Coast team playing in the Eastern Time Zone at 1 PM ET.

Cincinnati Bengals 31 San Diego Chargers 17

Pick against spread: Cincinnati -7

Confidence: Medium

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