The NFL playoffs are upon us once more, and this year, it looks as open as it has been for a long time. No team stands head and shoulders above the rest, unlike in recent years. In fact, with Nick Foles starting for the Eagles in the playoffs, you could (almost!) see any team winning the Super Bowl in February, and definitely and of the teams in the AFC, on their day.
On the AFC side, the Chiefs can score 50 to win if they need to – but, crucially, not 55, which can be a problem for on defense; the Patriots, meanwhile, have good defense, but an inconsistent offense, although they are the only playoff team to have a perfect record against other playoff teams this season.
The Texans and Ravens have excellent defenses but the Texans allow far too many sacks and the Ravens have an inexperienced quarterback who is a better runner than passer.
The Chargers are very good, but struggle against quality opponents, and the Colts have Andrew Luck, who is playing as well as I’ve ever seen, but they have to win on the road the whole way, which is tough.
On the NFC side, the Rams have struggled in recent weeks, as have the Saints in places, and neither team is strong on defense.
The third seed, the Bears, may in fact be the best team in the NFC right now (and lead my industry-leading Power Rankings), as although they are ranked #8 on points scored, they are the #1 defense (points), and top-four ranked both at home and on the road.
The Cowboys have played better as the season has gone on, but were shut out against the Colts in week 15.
The Seahawks are workmanlike if anything, and have joint-worst record against fellow playoff teams (33%, along with the Chiefs), but did beat the Chiefs by putting up 38 points in week 16.
Finally, the Eagles beat the Rams on the road in week 15, and the Texans at home in week 16. Plus, they have Nick Foles, who makes Tebow Time almost explainable.
So, all in all, it should be interesting. Here’s my (brief) thoughts on this week’s games…
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
As both teams are in the AFC South, they’ve already played twice. On both occasions, the road team won by three points: the Texans (37-34) in week 4, and the Colts (24-21) in week 14.
The Colts are much better now than in week 4. And whilst the Colts have an average defense, the Texans allowed 62 sacks in the regular season. The You just can’t do that in the playoffs. Colts led the league, allowing only 18. The Texans’ big advantage is their regular season turnover differential (+13). I fancy the Colts to look after the football today, and in doing so, to win.
Both teams are 2-3 against playoff opponents, 1-1 against each other, both losing at home. The Colts lost all three of their games in the first five weeks; the Texans won both their games in the first five.
The predictor picks: the Texans (1.5 points).
Texans confidence level: 50%.
Colts confidence level: 33%*.
My pick: Indianapolis.
*Yes, that means the predictor predicts [for the Colts] that it will more like prove itself wrong, than right!
Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are 3-3 in games against other playoff teams, and the Seahawks are 2-4. However, if it helps, the Seahawks are 0-2 on the road, and the Cowboys are 2-0 at home. Which makes this look quite easy…
Seattle have beaten the Cowboys this season, comfortably in week 3 (24-13), but the reality is Seattle is not Arlington. Whilst Russell Wilson is great on the move, this Seahawks team have ground it out by doing just enough, and I just don’t think they have enough to beat a team that’s 7-1 at home, when they are only 4-4 on the road themselves.
The Seahawks are joint-ranked #6 for points (offense), and the Cowboys are ranked #6 for points (defense).
The predictor picks: the Cowboys (4.5 points).
Cowboys confidence level: 100%.
Seahawks confidence level: No data. But they’ve played some dreadful teams on the road and still lost, so I’ll go with “confident”.
My pick: Dallas.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were, until week 17, the #1 scoring defense. They were overtaken by the Chicago Bears, but they still hold the #2 spot. The Chargers are ranked #8.
The Ravens are ranked #13 on scoring offense, which won’t surprise, but it may surprise you to learn the Chargers are only ranked #10.
The Ravens are 6-2 at home, but the Chargers are 7-1 on the road. Indeed, the Chargers score more points on the road, and allow fewer, than at home. They are ranked #3 on the road, behind only the Saints and Rams, whereas the Ravens are ranked #9 at home.
The Ravens have only played three games against playoff opposition this season, going 1-2. But the win was against the Chargers… in Los Angeles. They lost both home games.
The Chargers’ one road loss was against the Los Angeles Rams. So it seems like it should be a Chargers win…
The predictor picks: the Chargers (2.5 points).
Ravens confidence level: 100%.
Chargers confidence level: 100%.
My pick: I gut really want to pick the Ravens, but my brain says my predictor is successful for a reason. So, I’m going against my instinct and picking
San Diego Los Angeles.
Philapelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears
The Eagles are without their starting quarterback, although their backup has a better record this season, and won them the Super Bowl last season.
Chicago are my #1 team in my Power Rankings (albeit slightly affected by the Rams and Saints resting players in week 17).
The Bears are 2-1 against playoff teams, all at home. They lost to the Patriots, but held the Rams to 6 points.
The Eagles are 3-3 against playoff teams (1-2 on the road), including a win against the Rams in Los Angeles. But they also got beaten 29-23 in Dallas, and only scored 7 points in New Orleans (not a great defense). But… Nick Foles, etc.
The Eagles are the lowest ranked playoff team in my Power Rankings, and are not top-ten in any metric. The lowest ranking for the Bears is #8 (points scored), and everything else is top five.
My predictor picks: the Bears (7.5 points).
Bears confidence level: 75%.
Eagles confidence level: 50%.
My pick: Chicago.