2019-20 NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round

The great thing about the playoffs is you make really confident picks, then the exact opposite happens. But still, this is worth reading, because this week, I’ll (obviously) be correct.

So, I might not have done very well last week, picking one winner out of four (although I did say there was every chance the Texans would win, and the was more than a whiff of an upset about the Patriots-Titans game), but obviously that was just a blip, and I’m going to pick all four winners this week.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers

The Vikings managed to run the ball well last week (it helped having Dalvin Cook back), and Kirk Cousins delivered well on the long throws. The Saints really under-performed, struggling to run the ball, and unfortunately when coming back to the passing game, they’re a bit like the Patriots – they rely a lot on one man (Michael Thomas, in this case). One man can’t carry a team.

I don’t see the 49ers having the same issue. They can run the ball well, they have a better defense and in the passing game, they have some great weapons – George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel.

They have lost twice at home (to the Seahawks by 3 in week 10, and to the Falcons by 7 in week 15), but they’ve also blown away the opposition in four games at home, including beating the Green Bay Packers, 37-8 in week 12. Off a bye week, I don’t see this team getting beaten. My Power Rankings put the 49ers at #2 and the Vikings at #7. However, the Vikings are ranked #13 on the road, and I think they will struggle.

The predictor picks: the 49ers (by 2.5 points).
Vikings confidence level: 67%.
49ers confidence level: 67%.
My pick: San Francisco 49ers.

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens

The Titans did well last week, running straight through the Patriots defense for parts of the game. But they still struggled to score points, albeit against the stingiest defense my power rankings have ever seen. If only the Patriots could play on the other side of the ball this year, things would be very different…

The Titans may well pile up the rushing yards again today, but stopping the Ravens will be a huge task, one I don’t think they can quite manage.

The Titans are 3-3 against playoff opponents, whereas the Ravens are a league-leading 5-1. Their only loss was on the road to the Kansas City Chiefs. They’ve hosted three playoff teams in the regular season, winning them all – the 49ers by 3, the Patriots by 17 and the Texans by 34. There are eight regular season games played between playoff teams where the score differential was 10 points or more. The Ravens won three of those, as they also beat the Seahawks by 14 in Seattle.

The Titans appeared in two, winning in Houston by 21 in week 17 (see last week’s caveats there), and losing by 10 at home to New Orleans – who lost last week.

The Titans are #9 in my Power Rankings. The Ravens are #1. If the Ravens don’t win, it’ll be the most questionable thing to happen in the NFL since they didn’t check David Tyree’s helmet for cyanoacrylates.

The predictor picks: the Ravens (by 1.5 points).
Titans confidence level: No data.
Ravens confidence level: 100%.
My pick: Baltimore Ravens.

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs

This is predicted to be the closest game of the week, although I expect that to be the game at Lambeau, if I’m honest.

I think the Chiefs are the strongest team in the league. The struggled a bit in the middle of the season when Patrick Mahomes was injured, but they have a very good defense and an unbelievable offense. They run the ball well (with two solid backs in Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy) and they can throw to Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill or Sammy Watkins.

On the other side, DeSean Watson is indecisive under pressure, which is bad news when you’re up against a team with 45 sacks and 16 interceptions in the regular season.

The Chiefs are ranked #5 in my Power Rankings. The Texans are #14. This is a mismatch. The Texans are ranked #19 in point allowed. Good luck stopping that offense…

Yes, for completeness, the Texans did visit Arrowhead in week 6, and they did win by 7. But they don’t have Will Fuller this time, and the Chiefs are +61 in point differential in their last 3 games at home. I’m not buying this as a road win.

The predictor picks: the Chiefs (by 0.5 points).
Texans confidence level: 50%.
Chiefs confidence level: 50%.
My pick: Kansas City Chiefs.

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers

This is possibly the most intriguing game of the week. The Seahawks and Packers have both shown glimpses of being really good teams this year, and have also both looked average, or even quite poor, at times. So what will we get this weekend?

The Packers are 7-1 at home this season. They’re 1-1 against playoff teams at Lambeau Field, beating the Vikings and losing to the Eagles. But, they haven’t played a top-ten ranked road team this season.

The Seahawks are 7-2 on the road this season. They’ve beaten the Eagles twice, both times by eight points, and they’ve also beaten the 49ers. They are ranked #6 on the road. Seven of their nine games have been decided by one possession.

The Seahawks are ranked #13 in my Power Rankings, with the Packers at #6. The issue for both teams is points scored (Green Bay #14, Seattle #9). But making things worse for the Seahawks, they’re ranked #20 on points allowed. The are better on the road (+3 PD, median), but the Packers’ defense is better at home.

Also, it’s expected to snow.

You can come up with reason why both teams can lose this one. Some will say Russell Wilson can make the difference, but are you really saying Aaron Rodgers couldn’t do the same? And is Marshawn Lynch really going to play well enough to be a difference maker? He wasn’t last week.

I knowe the Seahawks are good on the road, I know they had a tougher schedule, I know their offense probably has more upside in a tough game, but it’s hard to go against Green Bay at home, with a week off. I just trust the Packers to do enough to get it done. I might live to regret it, and it’s for me, the tightest game of the week, but I’m going for four home wins out of four.

The predictor picks: the Packers (by 4.5 points).
Seahawks confidence level: 0%*.
Packers confidence level: 0%*.
My pick: Green Bay Packers.

*I think this game has well and truly broken my predictor.

Summary

Four games, four home wins. The first three, I don’t see any other outcome, short of injury issues in game. The last one? Who knows!

Join me next week, when my picks for the Super Bowl have already lost, and I need to rewrite the script from scratch.

2019-20 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round

New Year, new NFL season of NFL playoffs. Time for me tell you how it’s all going to pan out.

Last year, I said the playoffs were as open as they has been for a long time, with no team standing head and shoulders above the rest – and it probably was! As it turned out, the experience of the New England Patriots, and their knack of getting it done against tough opponents throughout the season, was enough to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead to get to the Super Bowl, and enough to beat the Los Angeles Rams once they got there.

This year, I don’t think the Super Bowl is quite as open. I expect the Super Bowl to be contested by one of the top two seeds in each conference, with everyone else, whilst good, there to make up the numbers.

One thing that strikes me this season is the lack of any team in the playoffs that really doesn’t deserve to be there. The Eagles, with the weakest record, have suffered with a lot of injuries, but are a worthy opponent for anyone. The Titans, sneaking in at the #6 seed in the AFC, have been very impressive since Ryan Tannehill became the starting QB. The Seahawks, at the #5 seed in the NFC, very nearly won their division (the toughest by far this year, too), and the Vikings at #6 had 10 wins with a net point differential in three figures. There’s no-one coasting in these playoffs, and unlikely to be anyone blown away.

That said, here’s a brief preview of each of the Wild Card fixtures:

Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans

One way to see how good a team really is, is to examine how it fared against fellow playoff teams in the regular season. Last season’s Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, came into the playoffs with a 100% record against fellow playoff teams.

Neither team here is quite that impressive. The Houston Texans have played six games, winning three. They’re 2-2 on the road and 1-1 at home. That said, their home loss was in week 17 against the Tennessee Titans, a game that meant very little. The win? They beat the New England Patriots 28-22 in week 13.

The Buffalo Bills have played five games, losing four. The good news? One of those wins was on the road, in week 5 against the Titans. Otherwise, they’ve lost twice to the Patriots (home and road, as divisional rivals), and at home to both the Ravens and Eagles.

According to my Power Rankings, the Bills are ranked #11 and the Texans #13, so they are closely matched. Both are better on the road. The Texans score more points, but the Bills have the #2 scoring defense in the league, trailing only the Patriots. The Bills had a slightly easier schedule (the NFC East ranks #8 by a long way, the NFC South ranks #2) in a *slightly* easier division (yes, the Patriots are good, but the AFC South had three viable teams for most of the season).

Most of my Power Rankings figures put the Bills a tad ahead of the Texans, which his annoying given the previous data about games against fellow playoff teams. If the Bills had a better offense, they’d be an easy pick here.

A 1-4 record against fellow playoff opponents is poor, but it’s hard to pick against the Bills here. The Texans have lost their last two games at home. Yes, one was week 17, but they also lost in week 14, to the Denver Broncos. And they lost it badly, 28-14, only a week after beating the Patriots. They only just beat the Colts and Raiders (both by 3), and the Bills are a tougher opponent than either of those.

The Bills, meanwhile, are 6-2 on the road, and whilst they haven’t beaten anyone better than the Titans (when Mariota was still the starter, too), they’ve won five of those games by 7 points or more.

It’s a really tough pick. My predictor really struggles with the Texans, because they’re just not a consistent team.

The predictor picks: the Bills (by 2.5 points).
Bills confidence level: 80%.
Texans confidence level: 0% (Yes, the predictor has, in effect, predicted against itself 😑)
My pick: Buffalo Bills.

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Last year, as mentioned earlier, the Patriots had a perfect record against playoff opponents. This year, it’s only half as good. They’ve played six, won three. 1-1 at home, 2-2 on the road. At home, they’ve beaten the Bills and lost to the Ravens.

The Titans have played five, won two. That said, they’ve played one on the road, and won it. But it was the week 17 game that didn’t mean much to the Texans. Still, momentum. Something the Patriots don’t have after losing at home to the Miami Dolphins.

The Titans are, quite possibly, the most inconsistent team in football, but that’s in part because of their change at QB, which has improved the team as the season has progressed. They are, arguably, a slightly better team than their rating puts them (#10 in my Power Rankings, compared to #3 for the Patriots).

The Titans are another team that plays better on the road, but going to Ne England is a tough prospect, especially against the #1 scoring defense in the league.

On first look, and recent performances, I’d probably favour the Titans. Especially as Derrick Henry might run straight through the Patriots’ defense. But on a slightly deeper inspection, there’s good reason to keep trusting in a home win for the Patriots.

First, on the Patriots’ side. They don’t often lose two straight games. Their week 16 win against Buffalo was also very impressive, so the Dolphins game was probably an outlier. But furthermore, the Patriots had no takeaways in their last two games. Cause for concern? Maybe. Or perhaps they’re overdue a couple. And when the Patriots win the turnover battle, they almost always win, except against the very best (and, Titans fans, you’re not quite in that bracket).

The Titans have not played a close road game all season. The closest was in week 9, where they lost by 10 to the Carolina Panthers. They’ve also lost to the Jaguars and Broncos. Their road wins? They came against the Texans (week 17, not wholly competitive), Falcons, Browns, Colts and Raiders.

So whilst this Titans team has a good road record, it’s not as good as it should be for the opponents they’ve faced. That said, the Patriots’ point differential in their first four home games was +81, compared to +1 in their last four.

I think I will again trust the more consistent data set (the Patriots at home), despite this having more than a whiff of an upset written on it.

My predictor picks: the Patriots (by 0.5 points).
Titans confidence level: 0% (again 😑).
Patriots confidence level: 100%.
My pick: New England Patriots.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints

Of the four games this weekend, this is, on paper, the easiest to predict. The Saints are a strong home team, and have won six of their eight home games this season. An inexplicable loss to Atlanta in week 10 aside, the Saints have been consistent at home. They did lose in week 14 to the San Francisco 49ers (48-46), but they also beat the Texans, Cowboys and Colts. However, four of their games were decided by 3 points or fewer, so don’t expect this to be a blowout game (although it might be… I’ll come back to that).

The biggest issue for the Saints is their defense. They’ve kept opponents to 10 points or fewer three times this year, but in the other five games, they’ve allowed 24 points or more.

The Vikings, on the other hand, are 4-4 on the road. None of those wins come against playoff teams. They lost the Kansas City by 3, to Green Bay by 5, and to Seattle by 7. But they have kept the games close, so it still doesn’t look unmanageable for the Vikings.

According to my Power Rankings, the Saints are ranked #4, and the Vikings are ranked #7. The Saints score about 3 points per game more, but allow about 2.5 points per game more too. The Vikings score better on the road (28 PPG vs 25.5 PPG), whereas the Saints give up more at home (25 PPG vs 21.5 PPG).

But there is one area that makes it look like the Saints should have this covered. The Saints have played seven games against a top ten rushing offense this season:

TeamRankGame TypeResult
San Francisco 49ers#2HomeLost by 2
Tennessee Titans#3RoadWon by 10
Seattle Seahawks#4RoadWon by 6
Dallas Cowboys#5HomeWon by 2
Indianapolis Colts#7HomeWon by 27
Houston Texans#9HomeWon by 2
Arizona Cardinals#10HomeWon by 22

As you can see, aside from a loss to the 49ers, which I’ll put down to being beaten (in a close contest) by a better team, the Saints, with the #4 rushing defense in the league, have had the better of opponents whose game relies mainly on the run.

The Vikings rank #6 rushing and #23 passing.

Against playoff opponents, the Vikings are 1-4 (20%), and the Saints are 3-1 (75%).

My predictor picks: the Saints (by 0.5 points).
Vikings confidence level: 100%.
Saints confidence level: 83%.
My pick: New Orleans Saints.

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles

This is the only game of Wild Card week that’s a repeat of the regular season. These teams met in week 12 in Philadelphia, where the Seahawks won 17-9.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the Eagles went 9-7 in the regular season, and the Seahawks went 11-5, my Power Rankings rank the Seahawks #14, and the Eagles #9. Well, it’s mainly the home form. The Seahawks have struggled at home, posting a 4-4 record and allowing a lot of points (they lost two home games by two scores). Thankfully for them, their road record is much better (7-1).

Indeed, they’ve won both their road games against playoff opposition, as not only did they beat the Eagles in week 12, but they also beat the 49ers 27-24 in week 10. Their only road loss was to the Rams in week 14, by 28-12.

The Eagles are 5-3 at home, but haven’t beaten any playoff opponents. Their three losses were to the Lions (week 3), the Patriots (week 11) and the Seahawks (week 12, if you didn’t pick that up before now).

The Eagles are 2-3 overall against playoff opposition. The Seahawks are fractionally better at 3-3.

My predictor picks: the Eagles (by 2.5 points).
Seahawks confidence level: 67%.
Eagles confidence level: 100%.
My pick: Seattle Seahawks.

Closing Thoughts

Of the teams playing this week, I only see the New Orleans Saints as outsiders for the Super Bowl. However, in order to get there, they need to win this week and then win at Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round, which is a tough ask given it’s always likely to be cold there in January, and the Saints are an indoor team. I don’t see any of the other teams troubling the Super Bowl.

If the Patriots win this week, they’ll travel to Arrowhead, where I fancy the Chiefs to take care of them (in what would be a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship, albeit a week earlier). I don’t see any of the four AFC teams playing this week causing sleepless nights for the Baltimore Ravens (the Chiefs would cause them concern, though).

On the NFC side, the Vikings are too reliant on the run, the Eagles are too banged up and the Seahawks just don’t quite score enough points. If the Saints can win this week and at Lambeau, a trip to San Francisco might be a very interesting game. But overall, the top seeds deserve their byes – they are, for me, the best teams in the league this year.

And if I had to pick the one game that’s most in-the-air this week, it would be the Bills-Texans game. I may have picked the Bills, but for me, it’s on a knife-edge.

See you next week when I’ve got them all wrong, and the Texans have just blown out the Bills 59-0!

2018-19 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round

With the NFL playoffs upon us, it’s time to see if I can guess the games correctly… of course I can! Right?!

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.

2016-17 NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round

We’re only two wins away from the Super Bowl, so who will be left standing after the Divisional Round this weekend?

In the Wild Card games in last season’s playoffs, all the home teams were knocked out. However, this season it was reversed, with all the road teams knocked out. So, what can be expected this week in the divisional round?

Last week, three of my picks (the Texans, Steelers and Seahawks) were correct, and one (the Giants) was incorrect. However, my predictor went one better, scoring all four correctly:

GamePredictionResult
Giants - PackersPackers by 8.5Packers by 25
Lions - SeahawksSeahawks by 9Seahawks by 20
Raiders - TexansTexans by 2.5Texans by 13
Dolphins - SteelersSteelers by 12.5Steelers by 18

As you can see, all four games were settled by margins larger than predicted – although the predicted margins were on the whole larger than most other people would have predicted.

The only exception to that would be the Raiders – Texans game, where most people would have expected the Texans to win by more than 2.5 points, but that was mainly down to the injury to Derek Carr, which my model doesn’t take into account.

All in all, my prediction model worked very nicely. So, how will it stack up this week? Let’s see.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Let’s get this game out of the way first. Let’s be honest – this is the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Despite being in the playoffs, and even getting through to the Divisional Round, the Texans are the twenty-third ranked team in my rankings.

They are a team that does two things well: they win at home, and they don’t allow many points – at home.

The trouble is, they’re playing on the road, where they allow, all things being equal, ten points a game more, score six points a game less, and lost three quarters of their games.

They play the meanest defense in the league, and an offense that can score on the ground or through the air almost at will.

A sidenote: I know people say the Texans have the league’s best defense. They don’t. The Patriots do. The Patriots allow fewer points per game than any other team (by two points a game). Give out awards for yards a game if you like, but last time I checked, you win based on points scored. That matters a whole lot more.

So, who’s going to win? The Patriots. By how much? Anywhere between 10 and 40 points. I could cloud you with more figures, but I won’t bother – apart from this:

My predictor is 35-3 in games this one-sided this season. One of those was the Cardinals beating the Seahawks in week 16. Another was the Bills beating the Patriots 16-0 in week 4, when the Patriots didn’t have a fit quarterback. The final one? The Texans – Chargers game in week 12. Unfortunately for Houston, they were meant to win it, and they lost – San Diego’s only road win of the season.

Pick: Patriots.
Predictor says: Patriots, 83% confidence, by 22.5 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

This is an interesting matchup. If the Steelers were at home, they would be clear favourites, but a trip to Arrowhead makes this much harder to pick.

Undeniably, a team with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are not a team you can write off. Nevertheless, the Chiefs’ defense is tough, they have a quarterback who doesn’t tend to turn the ball over, and they also can run the ball. Add on to that a bye week to rest, and Andy Reid’s 16-2 record after a bye week, and something has to give. So who’s it gonig to be?

People will tell you the Steelers are poor on the road. Well, they’re not the best team, but they are 5-3 on the road, and the Chiefs are only marginally better at home (6-2), so there’s not a lot to choose there.

Intriguingly, their average points per game are almost identical (23.47 to 23.81), as are their points allowed (18.76 to 18.81). However, the Chiefs are marginally better scoring on the road than at home. The Steelers are the third-rated team on the road, behind only the Patriots and Cowboys. So, are the Steelers edging towards victory?

The Chiefs are 2-2 in their last four home games, which have been the toughest of their home games. The Steelers are 4-0 in their last 4 road games, and haven’t allowed more than 20 points in any of those games. They’ve also scored at least 24 points in all those games. That’s a significant turnaround compared to their first four road games, where they scored fewer than 16 points in 3 games, and allowed more than 20 on 3 occasions.

The Chiefs are 1-0 in home games against playoff teams this season, whilst the Steelers are 0-1 in road games against playoff teams.

I’ve flip-flopped on this all week, and I’m not confident. But I’m going to back the Steelers’ recent road form.

Pick: Steelers.
Predictor says: Too close to call. Based on previous similar matchups, it suggests Steelers.

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

I refuse to get carried away with how good this Green Bay Packers team is. Yes, they are good, but they’re not really good. Last week, they were flattered by a New York Giants team which had plenty of opportunities to take a big first half lead, but didn’t take them. The Giants paid for that in the second half, but the game could have looked very different had they taken those chances. I suspect the Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t have wasted those chances…

The Packers still have two main weaknesses. First, their defense is not great, especially right of the hash mark. I expect the Cowboys to exploit this. Second, they struggle to run the ball. There’s only so long you can rely on Aaron Rodgers. You need more than him to win a Super Bowl. The Cowboys’ defense aren’t great, but they aren’t bad either, and allow 6 points fewer per game than the Packers. It’s definitely advantage Cowboys.

The Packers give up too many points on the road. They allowed 47 against the Titans, 42 against the Redskins and 33 against the Falcons. Yes, they’ve also scored 30 points three times, but who against? The Falcons (terrible defense), the Bears (just terrible) and Lions (average).

The Cowboys have allowed 20 points at home 5 times, but never more than 26. They have only once scored fewer than 20 points at home, have surpassed 30 three times, and on one of those occasions, they scored 42 (against the Lions).

The Packers are 1-1 in road games against playoff teams this season. They beat the Lions and lost to the Falcons. The Cowboys are 1-1 in home games against playoff teams – they beat the Lions and lost to the Giants.

But, looking at the season, the Cowboys always do the business when they should – except against Eli Manning. Tom Brady knows all about that. The Giants just defy convention.

Pick: Cowboys.
Predictor: Cowboys, with 83% confidence, by 7 points.

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Although there are three cracking games this week, this is for me the most intriguing, because it’s a battle of relative strengths and weaknesses. It’s hard to know what will win out.

On one hand, the Falcons have an explosive offense, up against a team that whilst not as good as it has been, is hard to beat in the air. On the other, you have a Seahawks team which has struggled to score consistently, up against a Falcons defense which has more holes than emmental.

I suspect the end product may end up disappointing, as I’m coming to the conclusion the Falcons will likely be more able to score against a tough Seahawks defense, than the Seahawks will be able to take advantage of the Falcons’ ropey defense. I do hope I’m wrong though.

The Falcons have allowed 29 points or more 6 times at home this season, and have scored 30 points or more 6 times too. Their lowest scoring home game featured 54 points, a 41-13 win against San Fransisco. They have lost at home to Tampa Bay, San Diego and Kansas City, but all needed at least 25 points to win. Can Seattle score that many?

It’s hard to know. They can, but they don’t consistently. They scored 31 against New England on the road, but they also scored a combined 24 in Los Angeles, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. Those four games combined would be enough to get a tie against Atlanta in their lowest-scoring game.

This is the Seahawks’ problem: against balanced teams, they’re a good matchup. They don’t create massive mismatches. Unfortunately, that’s their downfall this week. The rest of their game probably can’t make up for the mismatch of Julio Jones. I think any thoughts to the contrary are probably wishful thinking on my part.

Pick: Falcons.
Predictor: Falcons, with 62.5% confidence, by 9 points.

2016-17 NFL Playoffs – AFC Wild Card

With the postseason about to start, you’ve been dying for a low-down on the AFC race. Wait no longer.

There’s one thing I love about January: the NFL playoffs. There’s also one thing that disappoints me about January: the NFL season is nearly over. So, if it’s nearly over, let’s enjoy it while it’s still here.

Looking at my detailed statistics, fine-tuned for the 2016-17 season and more accurate than ever due to my top-secret new formula, I’ll take you through the AFC Wild Card games…

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans

Last season, the Houston Texans won their division and hosted an AFC West team in the playoffs. They lost. If the Oakland Raiders had won in week 17, this would be a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, and I suspect they would lose again.

As it is, the Raiders’ star quarterback is out for the season, their backup is also injured, and they travel to Houston for an intriguing match up.

On paper, this Raiders team (12-4) is better than last season’s Chiefs (11-50, whilst the Texans are again merely an average team winning a poor division. So what are they good at?

The Texans are very good at home, going 7-1 in the regular season. They even beat the Kansas City Chiefs 19-12 in week 2. They have allowed fewer than 15 points at home in half of their home games, although their opposition haven’t been particularly strong.

Still, you can only beat the teams in front of you, and four of their seven wins were by seven points or more – not bad considering they haven’t scored 30 points in a single game at home all season.

Their other strength, as you may have picked up, is their defense. Overall, their defense ranks 10th in the league for points allowed, but at home, only the Chiefs, Patriots and Seahawks have meaner defenses.

In short, they may be an average team, but that’s averaged out between a good home team and a poor road team. Only the Seahawks have a larger disparity between home and road performance. Good thing they’re at home then!

So, what of the Raiders?

Let’s be honest, if Derek Carr wasn’t injured, Oakland would be hot favourites. But, he is injured. So is their backup. They will likely need to start their third-string quarterback, rookie Connor Cook.

Good news for Oakland: the Texans average around 20.5 points at home, and the Raiders average around 22.5 on the road. However, the Raiders’ road defense is as bad as the Cleveland Browns on the road, and as I’ve mentioned, the Texans are in the top 10. Everything points to a home win.

My projections give it to the Texans by 2.5 points, before you account for the Raiders’ quarterback issues, despite being ranked #26 in points difference in the whole NFL – ahead of only the Jaguars, Jets, Bears, Rams, 49ers and Browns.

The teams met in week 14 in Oakland, where the Raiders won 27-20.

My pick: Texans.
Predictor says: Texans, 100% confidence, by 2.5 points.

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers

At the start of the season, people talked of the Steelers as potential Super Bowl champions. After the first couple of weeks, it all went a bit wrong.

After winning four of their first five games, they lost four on the bounce, including to the Cowboys, Patriots and Dolphins, before winning out in their last seven games.

The trouble is, only one of those final seven games was against playoff opposition (the Giants), although in week 3 they did hammer the Chiefs 43-14 at home. So, overall they are 2-3 against playoff opposition.

The good thing for the Steelers? Their two losses at home were to the AFC and NFC #1 seeds, so they only lose to really good teams. And the Dolphins aren’t really good.

The Dolphins are 1-3 against playoff opposition. The Patriots beat them comfortably in Foxboro back when Tom Brady was suspended in the interests of trying to stop the Patriots winning. They were squeaked out by the Seahawks in week 1 when the Seahawks looked very lost. And in week 17, they were annihilated by the Patriots.

Don’t get too excited by the 9 wins in 10 games between weeks 6 and 16 either. Yes, they beat the Steelers, but that was at home, and their other wins were against the Bills (twice), Jets (twice), Chargers, Rams, 49ers and Cardinals. The Steelers aside (who are 3-5 on the road), none of those teams even went .500 this season. This is a team flying high on a weak schedule, who get beat against quality opposition.

The Dolphins are 4-4 on the road, and are middling at best in terms of points scored and points allowed. They average 19 points on the road (the Steelers average 28.5). They don’t give up any more points on the road, but it won’t be enough to save them.

Points difference gives this to the Steelers by 12.5.

The teams met in week 6 in Miami (another reverse fixture!), where the Dolphins won 30-15.

My pick: Steelers.
Predictor says: Steelers, 100% confidence, by 12.5 points.

Bye Week: New England Patriots

The Patriots are the best team in football, even without Gronkowski, and without Jamie Collins. Forget the hype around the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks – they’re all good, but the Patriots are the team to knock off the top of the perch.

The Patriots may not win the Super Bowl – plenty of favourites don’t – but they are by far the team to beat. The Dallas Cowboys look very good, but their rookie quarterback will need to step up a gear in the playoffs to hold off two of the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks and Giants to just get to the Super Bowl (don’t worry about the Lions, they’re toast).

So why are the Patriots so good? Well, we know all about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but the standout reason the Patriots are so good this year is that they give up fewer than 16 points a game – that’s two points a game fewer than the next best team (the Giants). They win their games by an average of 12 points – nearly 4 points more than the next best team (the Falcons).

People questioned trading Jamie Collins to the Browns. Things might change in the playoffs, but they haven’t looked like they’ve missed him much so far.

Then there’s Martellus Bennett. The Patriots have a second tight end who can win any matchup – with one upside on Rob Gronkowski. He’s not a walking hospital case.

Finally, there’s the run game. The Patriots aren’t known for the run – or at least, they weren’t. But with Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White and James Develin in the backfield, this Patriots team can run the ball down any team’s throat.

And that’s why they’re the team to beat.

Bye Week: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs secured a bye on the back of Oakland’s bad fortune. They’ll be glad they did, as a trip to Houston would have been tricky, having lost there in week 2.

If any team in the AFC can beat the Patriots to the Super Bowl, this is probably the team to do it. They won 6 out of 8 on the road on the back of one of the toughest schedules in the league. Of their road games, four were against playoff teams, and two more were against last year’s Super Bowl teams, and they were 4-2 in those games.

So, if they get to to the AFC Championship and it’s in Foxboro, they have certainly shown they’re good enough to compete. The question is, can they get there?

Their home form hasn’t been as good as it should be. They’ve only played one home game against playoff opposition – against the Raiders, which they won. They lost twice, to Tampa Bay and Tennessee, both games by two points. Six of their games were decided by one possession.

Their most likely opposition in the Divisional Round is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that would be juicy match-up. They’ll be glad to get this week off to prepare.

2015-16 NFL Playoffs – AFC Wild Card

This weekend is the opening weekend of the playoffs. Which teams will make it through to the divisional round and play against the top seeds in their conference? This preview looks at the AFC contenders.

With the regular season over, it’s now win-or-go-home for the twelve teams remaining. Eight of those teams play this weekend in the wild card weekend. I’ll look at the AFC teams first, since they play on Saturday, with the help of some statistics I’ve compiled over the course of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans

The Houston Texans won their division with a 9-7 record this season – the weakest record of the AFC division winners. By contrast, the Chiefs took the fifth seed with an 11-5 record and for a while in week 17 looked like they might win their division, as Denver struggled to beat the Chargers with the division (and #1 seed) on the line. Moreover, having started 1-5, they won their last ten games – the longest winning streak in the league by a long way. So, given their hot streak, and Houston’s weak division record, are the Chiefs destined to win?

Well, according to my rankings, the Chiefs are the better team (1.873 to 1.517). However, when looking at the home/road rankings, it’s much closer. The Chiefs still edge it, barely (1.701 to 1.684). That’s a margin of 0.017. Twenty-three games have featured teams this close so far this season. Home teams are 9-14 in those games. This includes two road wins for Houston (Jacksonville in week 6 and the Colts in week 13). Kansas also lost a home game to Denver in week 2.

Oh, and the Chiefs and Texans also played once – in week 1. The Chiefs won by 7. On the road – a repeat of this game! So, in tight games featuring these teams, road teams are 4-0. Good luck, Houston… That game in week 1 was the only time this season the Chiefs have been slim favourites in a road game, or that Houston have hosted a road team who are.

Verdict: It all points to a Chiefs win, doesn’t it? So I’ll pick the Texans.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

The Steelers and Bengals have looked great and awful in equal measure at times this year, and it’s been the same cause for both: their quarterback. Big Ben has been phenomenal on the whole when fit, and the Bengals looked unstoppable before Andy Dalton attempted a tackle and broke his thumb.

Otherwise, teams both have struggled, which has also affected their ratings. The Bengals have a higher rating (2.063 to 1.719), but accounting for home/road rankings, it’s 2.063 to 1.375. So, Bengals to win?

Yeah, just one problem with that. Andy Dalton won’t be playing. Throw all the stats you like at me, I don’t think the Bengals can beat a Steelers team (even at home) that has Big Ben and Antonio Brown, when all the Bengals have is a backup at QB. One and done they will be – for a fifth straight year. Ouch.

Don’t believe me? Well, despite their stellar home rating, the Bengals have lost at home twice this season, both times to AFC playoff opponents – Houston in week 10, and, in week 14, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They did beat two other playoff contenders – the Chiefs in week 4, by 15, and the Seahawks in week 5, by 3, but both those teams were really struggling at that point.

This is the Steelers’ to lose.

Bye week: Denver Broncos

According to my rankings, the Denver Broncos are second to the Bengals in the AFC (2.063 to 2.042). However, with Andy Dalton out, they should be the de facto #1 team – if it weren’t for their Peyton vs Brock battle at QB. It’s hard to know which option is better, but they’ve gone with Peyton Manning for now. Time will tell. They have homefield advantage, but according to the rankings, they are equally good at home as on the road.

They have lost at home – to the Raiders, and more notably, the Chiefs, and the Chiefs will visit Mile High if they win against the Texans and the Steelers lose to the Bengals.

Most interestingly, Denver’s home games are close. Aside from the loss to the Chiefs (by 16) and the victory over Green Bay (by 19), their other 6 games have been won by a total of 25 points. Just over 4 points a game isn’t much for a #1 seed.

They’re beatable.

Bye week: New England Patriots

The Patriots started well, and should have secured the #1 seed. However, injuries hampered them in the last few weeks and that’s made their job potentially a little harder. The key for the Patriots is to get their starters healthy. If that happens, they are the most likely winners of the AFC. If it doesn’t (especially Julian Edelman), they have no hope.

The Patriots average over 30 points a game at home. They lost only once – to the Philadelphia Eagles, in a game affected by a combination of key injuries and abysmal special teams. Even then, they only lost by 7. They have beaten two other playoff opponents on home turf – the Redskins by 17, and the Steelers by 7 in the very first game of the season. They also beat the Jets by 7.

However, they haven’t played a tough game at home in the second half of the season, so they have a lot to prove. But would you bet against them? I wouldn’t. But the key is getting starters back from injury.

AFC Rankings

For reference, the following table shows the rankings for each of the AFC teams in the playoffs, with their playoff seeding, home and road rankings.

TeamSeedHomeRoad
Denver Broncos12.042.04
New England Patriots22.111.51
Cincinnati Bengals32.062.06
Houston Texans41.681.35
Kansas City Chiefs52.041.70
Pittsburgh Steelers62.061.38