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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San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers: 2013 NFC Wild Card Pick

San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

Aaron Rodgers is back for the Packers and that obviously makes a big difference. He started out a little shaky against Chicago, understandable because he missed almost 2 months with injury, throwing 2 early picks, but bounced back to finish 25 of 39 for 318 yards with 2 touchdowns. With another week of practice with the first team and a full game under his belt, Rodgers will only be sharper this week.

With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Eddie Lacy, and a now healthy Randall Cobb making plays on offense with actually a very decent offensive line, the Packers are near impossible to stop offensively. Because of Lacy’s emergence, this might be the best offensive supporting cast Rodgers has ever had. On the season, in the 8 games Rodgers has started and finished, the Packers moved the chains at a 77.78% rate. Even when Rodgers was out of the lineup, the Packers had a decent offense because of all the supporting talent, moving the chains at an above average 72.33% rate, but with Rodgers back the offense is simply on another level. Only Denver and San Diego move the chains at a higher rate than that aforementioned 77.78% rate on the season.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense has always played well against the 49ers since Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers in 2011, even though the 49ers have consistently had one of the NFL’s top defenses. In 3 games, he’s completed 77 of 122 (63.1%), 893 yards (7.36 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. The 49ers once again have a very strong defense, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.24% rate, but once again they should only be able to slow down Rodgers and the Packers, not stop them.

However, the 49ers have won the last 3 matchups because they’ve been able to move the ball at will on the Packers’ defense. Defense is once again an issue for the Packers, as they are allowing opponents to move the chains at a 74.60% rate and are without top player Clay Matthews. However, the 49ers’ offense has been inconsistent this year, moving the chains at a below average 70.35% rate. A few weeks ago, everyone expected them to move the ball all over an even worse Falcons’ defense at home in San Francisco and they disappointed. They could have a good game here, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

The 49ers have a rate of moving the chains differential of 3.11%, which is very solid, 9th in the NFL, but the Packers are right in that same area if you take that aforementioned 77.78% rate for their offense, with a differential of 3.17%. That suggests these two teams are roughly even, which I think is very reasonable. They played a close game week 1 that could have gone either way, depending on a call or two by the referees, and that was in San Francisco. The 49ers are 12-4 and the Packers are 6-2 with Rodgers. I think if you played 100 games between these two teams as they are currently constructed on a neutral field, we’d see a fairly even split with one team winning 50-55 of them.

In spite of that, the Packers are getting a field goal at home, which suggests that the 49ers are 6 points better, which doesn’t make sense to me, so getting that field goal with the Packers seems awfully attractive. The Packers have also been incredible at home over the past few years, as long as Aaron Rodgers has been under center. Rodgers is 21-8 ATS at home since 2010 and 26-3 straight up, with an absurd +412 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 14.21 points per game. This also happens to be the first time Rodgers has been a home underdog since week 10 of 2009, an upset win over the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, Aaron Rodgers is 2-1 ATS and straight up as a home underdog in his career as a starter.

Yet still, the public is all over the 49ers, as the biggest public lean of the week is on San Francisco. The public always loses money in the long run, so I like to go against them whenever it makes sense, which it definitely does this week. I understand why the public is all over the 49ers, given that they’ve beaten the Packers in 3 straight matchups and only need to win by a field goal or more. The public seems to think they have the Packers’ number.

I don’t buy that though, because there’s nothing to really support the common narrative that some teams just have another team’s number. Since 1989, teams are 303-326 ATS against teams that they have beaten and covered against in 3+ straight matchups. If you shrink the sample size down to teams that are meeting for the 4th time in 2 seasons, that record is 81-90 ATS.

If you shrink it even further to non-divisional foes, there’s only one instance in the last 25 years of a team even having a chance to win and cover against a non-divisional opponent for the 4th time in 2 years. The Eagles and the Buccaneers met in Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship after the Eagles had beaten the Buccaneers by scores of 17-13, 31-9, and 20-10 over the past 2 seasons. The Buccaneers came in as 3.5 point underdogs against an Eagles team that “had their number”, but ended up winning 27-10 and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they eventually won.

That’s just one case study and even those other numbers alone aren’t enough to take the 49ers, but it certainly doesn’t provide any evidence that teams can “have another team’s number” and that would seem to be the primary reason why the public is on San Francisco. Even in matchups where teams are completely coin flip evenly matched up, there’s a 1 and 8 chance that one team will beat the other 3 straight times. This seems like a trap line and the public is falling for it. I’m taking the field goal with a dominant home team in an even matchup.

Green Bay Packers 31 San Francisco 49ers 27 Upset Pick +130

Pick against spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: High

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2013 Week 17 NFL Pick Results

Week 17

Straight Up: 12-4

Against the Spread: 7-9

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence: 2-0

Medium Confidence: 1-2

Low Confidence: 1-2

No Confidence: 2-5

Upset Picks: 0-3

2013

Straight Up: 173-82-1 (.678)

Against the Spread: 146-103-7 (.586)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1

High Confidence: 24-8

Medium Confidence: 32-25

Low Confidence: 39-26-2

No Confidence: 41-38-4

Upset Picks: 27-28

Pre-season Prop Bets: 8-3

Rate of Moving the Chains – Wild Card 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.

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 373 41 56 21 1 37 78.26%
3 New Orleans 359 49 61 19 10 32 76.98%
4 Chicago 344 45 68 23 5 29 75.68%
5 Green Bay 351 42 64 25 4 37 75.14%
6 Carolina 319 38 70 19 3 27 75.00%
7 Philadelphia 355 51 82 19 7 28 74.91%
8 New England 378 44 77 20 8 41 74.30%
9 Dallas 325 45 77 20 2 30 74.15%
10 Detroit 350 44 72 34 9 24 73.92%
11 Atlanta 330 37 68 28 8 27 73.69%
12 Cincinnati 330 47 75 30 9 22 73.49%
13 Seattle 307 41 74 19 5 35 72.35%
14 Indianapolis 318 38 76 14 7 40 72.21%
15 Kansas City 323 41 88 18 7 28 72.08%
16 Pittsburgh 312 37 75 24 6 32 71.81%
17 Tennessee 311 38 78 25 6 29 71.66%
18 Arizona 329 36 78 31 4 36 71.01%
19 Minnesota 309 41 75 32 9 30 70.56%
20 San Francisco 286 39 79 18 4 36 70.35%
21 Washington 329 34 84 34 14 26 69.67%
22 St. Louis 282 32 78 29 12 28 68.11%
23 Cleveland 301 30 85 29 17 26 67.83%
24 Oakland 275 33 84 31 5 30 67.25%
25 Houston 307 26 88 31 11 35 66.87%
26 Miami 278 32 85 26 9 34 66.81%
27 Tampa Bay 269 28 87 21 14 29 66.29%
28 Buffalo 301 31 96 27 10 36 66.27%
29 NY Jets 280 25 88 29 7 36 65.59%
30 Baltimore 295 26 90 29 10 41 65.38%
31 NY Giants 280 29 91 44 6 26 64.92%
32 Jacksonville 271 23 95 27 17 25 64.19%

 

Defense

Team First Downs Touchdowns Punts Turnovers Failed 4th downs Field goal attempts
1 Cincinnati 282 28 89 31 11 31 65.68%
2 Baltimore 284 32 98 24 6 35 65.97%
3 Seattle 282 20 81 39 7 27 66.23%
4 San Francisco 284 30 85 30 13 25 67.24%
5 Carolina 278 21 72 30 8 34 67.49%
6 Buffalo 308 38 94 30 6 36 67.58%
7 Kansas City 303 34 87 36 9 28 67.81%
8 Arizona 309 34 88 30 10 32 68.19%
9 Detroit 290 34 84 22 3 40 68.50%
10 New Orleans 274 31 83 19 8 28 68.85%
11 Houston 282 40 91 11 5 35 69.40%
12 NY Jets 293 35 80 15 11 37 69.64%
13 NY Giants 327 33 86 29 11 30 69.77%
14 Miami 327 31 77 24 7 40 70.75%
15 Pittsburgh 303 39 79 20 11 31 70.81%
16 New England 338 36 80 29 17 27 70.97%
17 Indianapolis 319 35 75 27 9 30 71.52%
18 Cleveland 328 42 88 21 5 32 71.71%
19 Tennessee 329 36 76 25 4 39 71.71%
20 Denver 339 44 87 26 11 26 71.86%
21 Tampa Bay 324 40 66 31 6 32 72.95%
22 Philadelphia 368 37 74 31 12 32 73.10%
23 St. Louis 337 39 74 29 7 26 73.44%
24 Washington 329 52 74 26 5 25 74.56%
25 Green Bay 330 46 69 22 7 30 74.60%
26 Oakland 330 48 74 22 4 28 74.70%
27 Atlanta 326 45 62 21 4 35 75.25%
28 San Diego 327 37 65 17 7 30 75.36%
29 Jacksonville 353 49 75 21 3 29 75.85%
30 Minnesota 368 51 77 20 7 29 75.91%
31 Chicago 353 47 58 28 4 30 76.92%
32 Dallas 388 50 61 27 9 29 77.66%

 

Differential

Team
1 Denver 9.23%
2 New Orleans 8.13%
3 Cincinnati 7.81%
4 Carolina 7.51%
5 Seattle 6.12%
6 Detroit 5.42%
7 Kansas City 4.27%
8 New England 3.33%
9 San Francisco 3.11%
10 San Diego 2.90%
11 Arizona 2.82%
12 Philadelphia 1.80%
13 Pittsburgh 1.00%
14 Indianapolis 0.70%
15 Green Bay 0.54%
16 Tennessee -0.05%
17 Baltimore -0.59%
18 Chicago -1.24%
19 Buffalo -1.31%
20 Atlanta -1.56%
21 Houston -2.53%
22 Dallas -3.51%
23 Cleveland -3.88%
24 Miami -3.94%
25 NY Jets -4.05%
26 NY Giants -4.85%
27 Washington -4.89%
28 St. Louis -5.32%
29 Minnesota -5.34%
30 Tampa Bay -6.65%
31 Oakland -7.45%
32 Jacksonville -11.66%

 

Projected Wild Card Lines

CIN/SD 7.91
GB/SF 0.43
NO/PHI 3.33
KC/IND 0.58

 

Two playoff teams, Green Bay and Philadelphia, haven’t had their current starting quarterback for all 16 games, for different reasons. For handicapping purposes, I’ve calculated their offensive rate of moving the chains in games in which Aaron Rodgers and Nick Foles respectively started and finished the game. The results are, unsurprisingly, a significant difference. In fact, those rate of moving the chains would be 4th (Green Bay) and 2nd (Philadelphia) over the course of a full season. I could have done the same thing for Kansas City, subtracting out their week 17 results, but they actually played so well even with their backups that it didn’t change much. Before week 17, they are at 4.37% in terms of rate of moving the chains differential. Now they are at 4.27%.

Green Bay 186 24 26 11 2 21 77.78%
Philadelphia 203 37 44 6 4 11 78.69%

 

If we subtract their rate of moving the chains allowed from those, Green Bay would be at 3.17%, which would be good for 10th in the NFL, and Philadelphia would be at 5.58%, good for 6th in the NFL. If we have these adjusted differentials, all 12 playoff teams would be in the top-15 with positive differential, which is great because it means there aren’t any truly undeserving playoff teams (Chicago, Dallas, and Miami all had a chance to be). Below are the 2013 playoff teams in order of rate of moving the chains differential, with Green Bay’s, Philadelphia’s, and Kansas City’s adjusted differentials.

Team
1 Denver 9.23%
2 New Orleans 8.13%
3 Cincinnati 7.81%
4 Carolina 7.51%
5 Seattle 6.12%
6 Philadelphia 5.58%
7 Kansas City 4.37%
8 New England 3.33%
9 Green Bay 3.17%
10 San Francisco 3.11%
11 San Diego 2.90%
12 Indianapolis 0.70%

 

The other 3 non-playoff teams in the top-15 are Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, who all have a good chance to make the playoffs in 2014. Below are the projected wild card round line adjusted for these new adjusted rate of moving the chains differentials. I’ve also adjusted it for Kansas City’s pre-week 17 differential, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

CIN/SD 7.91
GB/SF 3.07
PHI/NO 0.45
KC/IND 0.67

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