The playoffs started off with a bang…well not really, as even from a betting perspective it was an extremely boring week. The fun of betting is that it should allow you to stay invested in games even when teams are outmatched, but this week's blowouts had little suspense as all the home favorites covered the spread easily.
Our metrics went 2-2 on the week though we clearly didn’t like the Miami Dolphins and decided to stay away from the game in Pittsburgh. Meaning the metrics really went 2-and-1 when put into context. Our actual pick, the New York Giants +5 in Lambeau Field, didn’t pan out with the Giants getting outclassed by Aaron Rodgers after playing tough early. The other pick we were leaning heavily towards, particularly after some numerical adjustments was the Houston Texans that did prove us right. But if we’re keeping score and being fair our true pick lost and we’ve gone back to .500 on the year (31-31-3).
Before diving into the divisional round, which should provide much more intrigue and entertainment it’s time to digest the week that was with some adjusted figures for two of the hottest teams in the NFL as well.
These Texans ain’t Clown(ey)ing
This was the backup quarterback bowl, though we much preferred having Brock Osweiler in the game as that was easier to predict for our metrics than a two-game starter. While the Oakland Raiders were a big unknown with Connor Cook and we certainly talked about how without Derek Carr the wheels were likely to fall off the bus for Oakland. And they did.
The Raiders just seemed demoralized and it was Houston who found big plays from its defense and their outside pass rushing talent. For one night and one night, only scouts and draftniks who had Jadeveon Clowney ranked ahead of Khalil Mack felt justified as the Texans end was simply unstoppable. Wrecking any hopes the Raiders might have had.
Once Osweiler hit DeAndre Hopkins on a rare deep completion at the end of the half - deep throws from Brock are like double rainbows, you rarely see them but when you do they’re memorable - you knew this game was over. Having estimated conservatively for the Raiders offense to be average without Carr we had the Texans over the spread in this one.
The Raiders offense was much worse than league average as they got outplayed by the NFL’s 31st attack per YPP. The 13 point win doesn’t do justice to how lopsided this game was throughout for the first favorite to cover on the week.
This one stung as the first half was set up perfectly for a New York Giants upset. The Giants got into the Green Bay Packers red zone but failed to capitalize far too often while their defense put the pressure on Aaron Rodgers making us feel pretty good about our projections. Even after the Packers found a touchdown on a Rodgers to Davante Adams connection taking them up 7-6 with 2:20 left in the half we felt good about our +5 spread.
That all ended soon after that on 4th and 2 with no time left as Rodger unleashed a 42-yard bomb on a Hail Mary that found Randell Cobb in the back of the end zone. After playing some phenomenal defense in the first two quarters the Giants blew it on what should have been a routine play. From then on things never got back on track as this quickly became a lost cause.
Sure the Giants did open the half with a nice 41-yard pass to Tavarres King to get within 1 point of Green Bay midway through the third quarter. But by that point, New York had missed too many opportunities as they had several chances to exploit the Packers defensive shortcomings but just couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, Rodgers was superb and put the team on his back from then on.
A minor consolation is that these teams were tied in their YPP production both gaining 5.8 in the game, but the quarterback play and capitalizing on big plays offensively was completely lopsided in the Packers favor.
Interestingly enough the Packers have now won 7 in a row with this latest Wild Card win and their YPP numbers in that stretch have been impressive. Their differential jumps all the way to 9th best in the league and their offensive numbers would be good for third best in the NFL. However, defensively they still haven’t performed superbly as their 5.7 YPP allowed would be in the bottom half of the league ranks and is only marginally better than their 5.9 season average.
Green Bay's YPP production in their 7 game winning streak including the playoffs
Pittsburgh's the hottest team in the NFL
Our numbers didn’t like the Pittsburgh Steelers in this one and the Miami Dolphins were incredibly hard to predict. But the eye test clearly suggested the Steelers who came in on a seven-game winning streak with lots of momentum at home. Because of this, we made this game the one true stay away of the week and Pittsburgh won easily.
It took all of five plays before Antonio Brown got loose to open this game up for things to be clearly in the Steelers favor. Matt Moore after starting off well in his first three starts did a decent job but was far from up to the task of matching Pitt’s hot attack. With touchdowns on their first three possessions the home team took control and never relinquished it in the most lopsided of all the games this week.
Defensively the Steelers made a point of stopping Miami’s ground game and Jay Ajayi who’d torched them the last time these two teams faced each other. The 10 point spread was obliterated quickly.
More so than even Green Bay, the Steelers have been truly on fire something that’s abundantly clear when we look at their YPP numbers over the last 8 game stretch in which they’ve gone undefeated. Pitt is producing a 6.2 YPP on offense that’s good for third best in the league and would rank them ahead of the Packers in their 7 game win streak. But the really telling stat is the 4.9 YPP they’ve allowed which would be good for third-best in the NFL behind only the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals. That gives them a positive differential of 1.3, better than any team in the NFL. Watch out for this Steelers team, they’re not just doing it with their big name playmakers on offense but this defense is playing some high level football.
Pittsburgh's YPP production in their 8 game winning streak including the playoffs
Seattle doesn’t miss Earl Thomas
EW and YPP were unanimous in this one having the Seattle Seahawks over the 8 point spread by a measly half point. When looking at these two teams YPP ranks, the Hawks had the clear advantage being second in the NFL while the Detroit Lions are 25th per the metric.
Add the fact that Seattle played at home and Detroit hadn’t been playing their best and this all seemed to favor the home team.
If we had any reservations - aside from the small margins our metrics favored the Seahawks over the spread - it was because of Earl Thomas’ absence and the Lions having nothing to lose. But none of that mattered in the end as Matthew Stafford wasn’t himself and Seattle found a few spectacular plays from its wideouts to pull away in the end.
Moving forward the Seahawks are an interesting team because they rank so high in our metrics but have some fairly evident holes with secondary injuries and problems on the offensive line. Next week's matchup against the Atlanta Falcons will pair them against the only team that ranks higher in YPP then they do and should be far more entertaining than this week in which the favorites covered the spreads easily in every single game.