Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pigskin Prognostications

OK, one of the best times of the year is here—NFL playoff time. Before we spend the entire weekend on the couch watching the games, let's try to predict what we'll be watching.

New Orleans Saints at the Seattle Seahawks
Yes, Seattle really is hosting a playoff game. And that's just amazing considering they had the 31st worst rush defense, and gave up the 8th most points in the NFL. The Seahawks were just 2 and 5 against opponents with winning records. And yes, the Saints lost 2 of their top rushers this week, but honestly you could dig up Knute Rockne, hand him the ball and he'd get 5 yards per carry against the Hawks.

Going for the Seahawks is the fact that when the teams last met, back on November 21st, Matt Hasslebeck threw for 366 yards against the normally excellent Saints passing defense. And with starting safety Malcolm Jenkins, responsible for 2 of the Saints NFL-low 9 INTs, the Saints' pass defense is susceptible to the big play. Which is good for the Seahawks, who were 31st in rushing offense—they are going to need the big play to get points on the board.

In the week's most uninteresting game, expect a close game until the 4th quarter, when the Saints will remember they are playing the 7-9 Seahawks and run up the score a bit.
Saints: 36-13

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts
Oil. Water. Immovable Object. Irresistible Force. Colts. Jets
The Colts had the number 1 pass offense in the league, this despite the Colts offensive roster looking like the local emergency room. The Jets gave up successful passing plays at a 50.7% clip, best in the league. Despite having one of the worst running games in the NFL, the Colts had more first downs than anyone else in the league. The Jets gave up 4.8 yards per offensive play, 3rd best in the league.

Boiling this game down, it comes to, can the Jets defensive front stop the run and make Manning feel uncomfortable. if they can't do either, they've got problems. If Ryan sends extra guys to blitz, Manning will counter them, as he often does when team send more guys to blitz. Simple, more guys coming, someone is open, and Manning usually finds them.

What might be more impressive is the Colts rush defense. While they were 25th in the league giving up 127 ypg, in the last 3 games of the year, the game up, respectively, 67, 80 and 51 yards in those 3 games. It will be interesting to see how they handle the Jets 4th-rated rush offense, who are averaging 148.4 yards per game.

Guessing the have to go back to Manning. One of the all-time greats, Manning has 46 game-winning drives in his career. Simply put, if the game is close in the 4th quarter—which it will be—Manning will find a way to win.
Colts: 26-24

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
Possibly the main stat that jumps out while researching the Ravens-Chiefs game is this: The Ravens have played 7 games going against + .500 teams, going 4-3; the Chiefs have only played 3 games against teams over .500, and lost 2 of them (the one they won was against the 9-7 Chargers early in the season—the Chargers later repaid them 31-0.

The Ravens calling card is still defense. 3rd ranked in the league, they will make life hard whenever the Chiefs try to pass. Lucky for the Chiefs they have the number 1 ranked rushing attack in the league. What further will turn the Chiefs into a one-dimensional run-only offensive is that the Chief's top wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe couldn't practice this week. Not a good sign when one of your best offensive weapons is down when you're about to face the Ravens.

The Ravens are not a top offense, but against the Chiefs, they won't need to be. Kansas City is a completely average defense that the Ravens can keep on the field a long time by beating up on the Chief offense and getting them off the field.

The Chiefs feasted this season by playing both the NFC West and the AFC West. While having improved, the should be nowhere near the playoffs. Easy draw for Baltimore:
Ravens: 27-13

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles
No doubt aided by Michael Vick's exploits, the Eagle's rushing attacked average a remarkable 5.4 ypa. But even without Vick, LeSean McCoy averaged 5.2 ypa and Jerome Harrison averaged 6.0 per attempt. Remarkable. What this might force Green Bay to do—should the Eagles pound away successfully early in the game—is to call some of their backfield guys close to the line. The packers have the best passing defense in the league—2nd best 24 INTs over the season—but
Should the Eagles successfully run—and Vick can scramble for a few first downs—they may be switched to stop the run.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense is a little banged up, which the Packers can try to exploit. The Packers have the 3rd best passing yards per attempt—and their 57 passes of 20 yards are 2nd in the league. Passing is their bread and butter and the Eagle's 14th ranked pass defense—banged up as previously stated—has its work cut out for themselves.

In their last meeting, game 1 of this season, the Packers held DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to 8 catches and 78 yards in a 27-20 win. But the interesting series, was the last one Philadelphia ha when trying to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. See below for what happened.

1st and 10 at PHI 24(Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles left end pushed ob at PHI 33 for 9 yards (C.Matthews).
2nd and 1 at PHI 33(Shotgun) M.Vick up the middle to PHI 49 for 16 yards (S.Shields).
1st and 10 at PHI 49(No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick sacked at PHI 49 for 0 yards (C.Jenkins).
2nd and 10 at PHI 49(Shotgun) M.Vick sacked at PHI 46 for -3 yards (C.Matthews).
3rd and 13 at PHI 46(Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to J.Avant to GB 42 for 12 yards (B.Chillar).
4th and 1 at GB 42(Shotgun) M.Vick up the middle to GB 42 for no gain (C.Matthews).
DRIVE TOTALS: GB 27, PHI 20, 6 plays, 34 yards, 2:19 elapsed

5 runs and/or sacks, and 1 pass.

In the previous 2 series, which ended in a TD and a FG, Vick ran the ball once and was sacked once. So, in other words, the hypothesis might be—make Vick run. I know, that sounds stupid. But in the last 5 games where Michael Vick has started and where the pass coverage has been very, very good and less concerned with his running, Vick has had 6 INTs, 7 fumbles and 13 sacks. In short, the defenses are using complicated pass defense schemes and disguised blitzes and forcing Vick to give up the pass and run.

Strange concept, but what works, works. I think Green Bay confuses and holds Vick in check, somewhat, and pull out this game
Packers: 34-24

Enjoy the games.

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