Wednesday, January 28, 2015

NFL Super Bowl Picks

Patriots @


  • So a lot of questions for this game. What happened to the Seahawks in the first 57 or so minutes of the NFC Championship Game? A fluke, or something the Patriots can take advantage of? If the Patriots can make the Seahawks look even half that bad in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks are going to find out what it's like to be on the short end of a lop-sided result in this Super Bowl.

  • How good is the Seahawks defense, really? My feeling is the Seahawks defense isn't quite as good as their reputation. Since they lost to the Cowboys in week 6, the Seahawks played five games against opponents starting their second or third quarterback. Eight of those games were played against teams that finished in the bottom half of the league when ranked by points scored. The Seahawks did allow the fewest points of any team this year, but it's not like they faced a Murderer's Row of offenses, either. I think the Seahawks defense is overrated, and definitely not as good as they were last year.

  • Can the Patriots score on the Seahawks defense? An inability to score on a good defense was the problem for the Patriots in 2007 and 2011. But they have a lot of impressive wins this seasons, including blow out victories over the Bengals, Broncos, Colts (twice), Lions, and Chargers. I don't think the Patriots need to score a lot of points to win this game, as the Seahawks are just 1-4 when their opponent scores 24+ points.

  • The last two times the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl, they lost because they couldn't score on the Giants' defense. If they lose again Sunday, I think the reason will have to be because of the Seahawks' defense.

  • Like last year, I think this game will be decided when the Seahawks' defense is facing their opponent's offense. But this time around, I think the Seahawks' offense is weak enough that if their offense does have a slow start, the Patriots won't have to worry about falling into a deep hole by halftime like the Broncos did last year.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

NFL Wrapup: APR's Biggest Upsets

Dishonorable Mention: games that just missed the top 10

  • Week 13: the Cardinals go to Atlanta, perhaps expecting an easy win over the 4-7 Falcons, only to discover that the Falcons are still pretty good on offense, and had enough of a defense to keep the Drew Stanton-led Cardinals in check.

  • Week 1: the Patriots go to Miami, and get shut out in the second half, thanks to a Dolphins' defense that (at times) looked pretty good.

  • Week 2: thanks in part to a terrible field goal kicker, the Lions' sputtering offense can only put 7 points on the board, and their defense, which was mostly pretty good, allowed the Panthers three long scoring drives.

  • Week 13: the Giants go to Jacksonville, and let a 21-3 halftime lead slip away. This looks like more of an upset thanks to the Giants finishing the season 3-1, and the Jaguars having (yet another) a really bad season.

  • Week 8: the Packers travel to New Orleans, but their defense can't stop the run, and their offense can't keep up with the Saints after Aaron Rodgers tweaks his hamstring. Probably the best game for the Saints all season.

APR's Top 10 Upsets of the 2014 Season

  1. Week 10: Steelers 13, Jets 20 (ρ=1.1766)
    The Steelers had a pretty bad defense this year, they were 2-5 (including the Wildcard playoff loss) when they didn't score at least 27 points. That meant when their offense had a bad game (as it did in this game, with 4 turnovers, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs) even a pretty bad team could steal a win.
  1. Week 17: Jets 37, Dolphins 24 (ρ=1.1785)
    Both of these teams were out of the playoffs and thus playing out the final game of the season. I suppose the difference was, the Jets had been out of the playoff race much longer, and so were much more in the mood to inflict some pain on their divisional rival.

    It should also be noted that while the Dolphins' defense at times looked good in 2014, the Dolphins were also 2-7 when they didn't score at least 27 points, which (at best) doesn't say much for that defense's consistency.
  1. Week 16: Bills 24, Raiders 26 (ρ=1.1796)
    The Bills needed this game to stay alive for the playoffs. But their defense and running game stayed home, and as I remarked in the week 16 pick results, Kyle Orton wasn't the kind of quarterback that could carry a team in a situation like that, even against the likes of the Raiders.
  1. Week 7: Seahawks 26, Rams 28 (ρ=1.2046)
    Another case where the Seahawks offense spent a big chunk of a game doing a whole lot of not much. They managed to get going late in the game, but the Rams managed one more late touchdown and (unlike the Packers) got a key late assist from their special teams to close out the win.
  1. Week 16: Eagles 24, Washington 27 (ρ=1.2052)
    The Eagles didn't have a good defense this year, as their record of 1-6 when their offense didn't score at least 30 points attests. Washington only scored more than 27 points in two other games (and one of them was in their other game against the Eagles).
  1. Week 12: Chiefs 20, Raiders 24 (ρ=1.2072)
    Looking back on their season, I wonder if the Chiefs suffered an injury to some key offensive player(s) sometime around this game. A big part of the Chiefs problem this season was they mostly lost when they didn't score at least 21 points. For their last 6 games, starting with this one, the Chiefs only made it to 21 points in one game, finishing the season 2-4.
  1. Week 11: Broncos 7, Rams 22 (ρ=1.2230)
    Peyton Manning's injury supposedly happened during the Broncos' week 16 game against the Chargers. But looking back I wonder if there wasn't an earlier injury. In the first 9 games of the season, Manning averaged 3.2 touchdowns a game. From this game to the end of the regular season, Manning averaged 1.4 touchdowns a game, less than half his earlier average. Certainly the Rams' defense deserves a lot of credit for their performance in this game, but I really wonder if Manning was hurt a lot earlier than has been reported.
  1. Week 4: Buccaneers 27, Steelers 24 (ρ=1.2306)
    As mentioned above, the Steelers had a pretty bad defense (here allowing the Buccaneers their second highest point total of the season). The Steelers' offense didn't have as bad a game as against the Jets in week 10, but they were only able to score once in the second half, which opened the door for the Bucs to chip away at the lead, and ultimately take the lead with just a few seconds left on the game clock.
  1. Week 8: Washington 20, Cowboys 17 (OT) (ρ=1.2349)
    Part of this was Tony Romo getting hurt in the 3rd quarter. But even to that point, the Cowboys offense struggled, scoring 7 points on a Washington defense that gave up more points than all but 3 other teams in the league. Brandon Weeden (somewhat miraculously) managed to put 10 points on the board to force overtime, but it just wasn't enough.
  1. Week 1: Titans 26, Chiefs 10 (ρ=1.3249)
    The Titans had what was easily their best game of the year, with Jake Locker throwing a couple touchdowns and no interceptions, and the Titans posting 162 rushing yards. What makes this the biggest upset of the year was the fact that the Titans were easily one of the worst teams in the league in their remaining 15 games, with their only other win coming against the also-very-bad Jaguars.

As a measure of how big an upset the Titans @ Chiefs game was, it would qualify for a spot in APR's top 25 regular season upsets, coming in between #5 (2004 Patriots @ Dolphins) and #6 (2011 Packers @ Chiefs).

As usual, I reserve the right to remove any game I feel was affected by teams resting their starters. Thanks to most teams having something to play for in week 17, no games were disqualified from this list.

Biggest Upsets According to the Line

Winning teams in bold.

Week 9Rams 13, 49ers 1049ers -10
Week 8Washington 20, Cowboys 17 (OT)Cowboys -9½
Week 6Cowboys 30, Seahawks 23Seahawks -8½
Week 2Bears 28, 49ers 2049ers -7
Week 2Saints 24, Browns 26Saints -7
Week 4Buccaneers 27, Steelers 24Steelers -7
Week 5Bills 17, Lions 14Lions -7

Monday, January 19, 2015

NFL Championship Pick Results

Winning team in bold.

Packers @ Seahawks (SRS, APR, Line)
It seemed like almost everyhing that went wrong for the Packers this season was on display in this game. They settled for field goals after driving into the red zone. They had ugly break downs on special teams. And (for the Seahawks' last three drives) the defense didn't look like they could stop anything.
Just a really frustrating experience, to be gifted a game where the Seahawks, for 57 minutes of game time, played like they didn't have any business with the top seed in the NFC. And the frustrating thing is, everything the Seahawks needed to go their way happened. If the Packers got a touchdown on either one of their early drives, they win. If the Packers recover the onside kick, they win. If the Packers tip away the two point conversion, they win. If the Packers get a touchdown on their last drive, they win.
But the Seahawks got all those breaks to go their way, and to their credit, they managed to put together three very good drives, all ending with touchdowns, right when they desperately needed needed them, and it won them the game.
Colts @ Patriots (APR, SRS, Line)
This game, on the other hand, went pretty much as expected. Much like in their regular season meeting, the Patriots offense didn't have much trouble scoring repeatedly on the Colts defense.
Somehow Andrew Luck and the Colts managed to keep it to a relatively close 10 point differential at halftime, but an ineffective passing game, and too few attempts at running the ball meant that the Patriots had a pretty easy time scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter, which put the game well out of reach of the Colts.


Well, at least a clean sweep for picks this week.

APR 2-0 7-370%
SRS 2-0 8-280%
Line 2-0 8-280%

Sunday, January 18, 2015

NFL Championship Power Rankings

W-LThis Week
1 (-)Seahawks1.1173
(LW × 1.0115)
14-4Won by 6
vs Packers
2 (-)Patriots1.0799
(LW × 1.0134)
14-4Won by 38
vs Colts
3 (-)Packers1.0223
(LW × 1.0121)
13-5Lost by 6
@ Seahawks
4 (↑1)Cowboys0.9860
(LW × 0.9987)
5 (↑1)Bills0.9847
(LW × 1.0035)
6 (↓2)Colts0.9682
(LW × 0.9782)
13-6Lost by 38
@ Patriots
7 (-)Broncos0.9681
(LW × 0.9989)
8 (-)Ravens0.9641
(LW × 0.9988)
9 (-)Steelers0.9600
(LW × 0.9971)
10 (-)Chiefs0.9571
(LW × 1.0020)
11 (-)Eagles0.9384
(LW × 1.0005)
12 (-)Lions0.9156
(LW × 1.0039)
13 (-)Texans0.9049
(LW × 0.9933)
14 (-)Bengals0.8996
(LW × 0.9947)
15 (-)Cardinals0.8988
(LW × 1.0035)
16 (-)Dolphins0.8854
(LW × 1.0026)
17 (-)Rams0.8759
(LW × 1.0020)
18 (-)Panthers0.8721
(LW × 1.0022)
19 (-)Chargers0.8707
(LW × 1.0021)
20 (-)Vikings0.8596
(LW × 1.0031)
21 (-)Jets0.8483
(LW × 1.0026)
22 (-)Falcons0.8458
(LW × 1.0015)
23 (-)49ers0.8436
(LW × 1.0027)
24 (-)Giants0.8353
(LW × 0.9980)
25 (-)Saints0.8177
(LW × 1.0006)
26 (-)Browns0.8121
(LW × 0.9961)
27 (-)Raiders0.8093
(LW × 1.0017)
28 (-)Bears0.7756
(LW × 1.0033)
29 (-)Jaguars0.7605
(LW × 0.9941)
30 (-)Buccaneers0.7485
(LW × 1.0012)
31 (-)Washington0.7405
(LW × 0.9977)
32 (-)Titans0.6826
(LW × 0.9946)


  • As I indicated in the game picks I wasn't expecting the Packers to win this. But perhaps except for a full-on blow out, I'm not sure they could've lost in a more disappointing manner.

  • The top 3 remain pretty much the same, the Colts drop out of the top 5 after getting blown out in their game. At least moderately surprisingly, there's no shuffling around in the lower ranks. Usually there's at least a couple teams close enough to switch ranks based on secondary effects.

  • Tom Brady will (presumably) start a record sixth Super Bowl (breaking the tie he was in with John Elway, who has five).

  • The Seahawks become the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to qualify for the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons.

  • A number of teams have back-to-pack wins in the Super Bowl, there are also three that have lost on their return trip: the Cowboys in 1978, the Raiders in 1983, and the Packers in 1997. I'll have more to say in the Super Bowl game picks post, but I think the Seahawks have a chance be the fourth team in that win-loss group.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

NFL Championship Game Picks

Packers @
Colts @


  • Like last week, everybody likes the home teams.

  • Since some early struggles and a 3-3 start, the Seahawks have finished on a very impressive 9-1 streak. That streak seems a bit less impressive when you notice that 7 of those games were facing offenses in the bottom half of the league (ranked 19th or lower) in points scored. They also played 4 of those games facing teams starting their second or third string quarterbacks (or fourth string, depending on where you want to put Ryan Lindley).

    I feel like the Seahawks are vulnerable to a high scoring team. Their record bears this out, they are 1-4 when their opponent scores 24+ points. On paper, the Packers look look like a team that can take advantage of this weakness.

    The biggest problem with this plan is Aaron Rodgers is hurt, and will almost certainly still be limited for Sunday. Beyond that, the Packers offense has also shown signs of struggling against good defenses, particularly on the road. Two of those games (@ Seahawks and @ Lions) were early in the season, but the third (@ Bills) was just a few weeks ago.

    Another problem for the Packers is their run defense. They've done a lot better since the bye week, but Sunday will be facing the best QB-RB rushing duo in the league. The Cowboys ran for 145 yards last week, and it seems almost certain the Seahawks will be able to surpass that. Maybe the Packers have a chance if they can score early and often, and keep it a game where the Seahawks will feel like they need to pass a lot to stay in it. But I think this is gonna be closer to the season opener, where the Packers kept it close for a while, but the Seahawks pull away in the second half.

  • Last week, Andrew Luck and the Colts took a big first step in shaking off their "can't win on the road against good teams" reputation, holding the Broncos to a near-season low of just 13 points, and scoring 24 on a defense that had held opponents to 21 or lower in 10 games. If the Colts can go into Foxborough and beat the Patriots, it will represent an extrordinary sweep of two of the highest regarded quarterbacks in the league, going back 15 years, and go along way to justifying Luck's place at that same level.

    That said, I think this is going to be the end of the line for this year's Colts. They are 0-5 when allowing more than 28 points this season, and the Patriots have reached that mark 9 times this season (including last week's victory over the Ravens). The Patriots are also 11-0 when they score at least 23 points (again counting last week). Unless Tom Brady is hurt too, I don't think the Colts' defense has what it takes to slow down the Patriots enough to keep them in this game.

Monday, January 12, 2015

NFL Divisional Pick Results

Winning team in bold.

Ravens @ Patriots (SRS, APR, Line)
The Ravens' offense certainly did their part in this game, putting up 31 points on the Patriots. But the Ravens' defense allowed the Patriots five sustained drives (the shortest was 67 yards), all ending with touchdowns.
Joe Flacco may actually be maturing into a better quarterback than he was in the first years of his career, but when it takes 36 points to win a game, even the best quarterbacks can be in a toss-up situation.
Panthers @ Seahawks (APR, SRS, Line)
The Seahawks won this pretty easily, as they were widely expected to. Maybe the most surprising thing about this game is that the Panthers kept it within a single score into the 4th quarter, and if Cam Newton had played a better game, the Panthers might have had a chance for an upset.
Cowboys @ Packers (APR, SRS, Line)
After their initial touchdown drive, the Packers really seemed to struggle in this game, producing drives that ended in a lost fumble, two punts, and two field goals. I really thought this game was all but over when the Cowboys went up 21-13 late in the 3rd quarter.

But after that, the Packers' offense finally got on a roll, posting a couple of long touchdown drives, and a final drive to finish off the final 4:06 of game clock.
The Cowboys seemed to pursue a ball control strategy similar to what the Bills did in their win over the Packers in week 15. The problem with this strategy is it requires a defense that can shut the Packers offense down for an entire game, and (as the Cowboys found out) blows up if you can't.
It should also be noted that the Dez Bryant catch reversal controversy obscured a rather unfortunate play call by the Cowboys. That play came on 4th and 2. The Cowboys elected to throw what has to be a pretty low percentage deep ball 30 yards down field. But why do that when they could've handed off to DeMarco Murray? Murray had been shredding the Packers' defense all game, and would've almost certainly resulted in a conversion and a fresh set of downs.
Colts @ Broncos (APR, SRS, Line)
Just an ugly day for the Broncos' passing offense. One of the lowest completion rates (57%) and yards per attempt (4.58) since Manning went to Denver.
The Broncos' defense didn't have a good day either, giving up several long drives, and largely letting the Colts offense control the tempo of the game. The Broncos just didn't look anything like the team that won the AFC's second seed.
Added: It's now being reported that Peyton Manning was playing with a torn quad, which would explain a lot about how this game played out.


APR 3-1 5-362.5%
SRS 3-1 6-275%
Line 3-1 6-275%

Sunday, January 11, 2015

NFL Divisional Power Rankings

W-LThis Week
1 (-)Seahawks1.1046
(LW × 1.0268)
13-4Won by 14
vs Panthers
2 (-)Patriots1.0656
(LW × 0.9942)
13-4Won by 4
vs Ravens
3 (↑1)Packers1.0101
(LW × 1.0167)
13-4Won by 5
vs Cowboys
4 (↑5)Colts0.9898
(LW × 1.0476)
13-5Won by 11
@ Broncos
5 (↑1)Cowboys0.9873
(LW × 1.0295)
13-5Lost by 5
@ Packers
6 (↓1)Bills0.9813
(LW × 0.9981)
7 (↓4)Broncos0.9692
(LW × 0.9685)
12-5Lost by 11
vs Colts
8 (↑2)Ravens0.9652
(LW × 1.0242)
11-7Lost by 4
@ Patriots
9 (↓1)Steelers0.9628
(LW × 1.0133)
10 (↓3)Chiefs0.9552
(LW × 0.9994)
11 (-)Eagles0.9379
(LW × 1.0200)
12 (-)Lions0.9121
(LW × 1.0098)
13 (↑1)Texans0.9111
(LW × 1.0204)
14 (↓1)Bengals0.9043
(LW × 1.0126)
15 (-)Cardinals0.8956
(LW × 1.0129)
16 (-)Dolphins0.8831
(LW × 1.0000)
17 (↑1)Rams0.8741
(LW × 1.0059)
18 (↑2)Panthers0.8702
(LW × 1.0252)
8-9-1Lost by 14
@ Seahawks
19 (↓2)Chargers0.8689
(LW × 0.9962)
20 (↓1)Vikings0.8569
(LW × 1.0090)
21 (-)Jets0.8462
(LW × 1.0006)
22 (↑1)Falcons0.8446
(LW × 1.0149)
23 (↓1)49ers0.8413
(LW × 1.0090)
24 (-)Giants0.8369
(LW × 1.0188)
25 (↑1)Saints0.8172
(LW × 1.0143)
26 (↑1)Browns0.8153
(LW × 1.0162)
27 (↓2)Raiders0.8079
(LW × 0.9961)
28 (-)Bears0.7731
(LW × 1.0104)
29 (-)Jaguars0.7650
(LW × 1.0197)
30 (-)Buccaneers0.7476
(LW × 1.0134)
31 (-)Washington0.7422
(LW × 1.0183)
32 (-)Titans0.6863
(LW × 1.0186)


  • Congratulations to the Seahawks, who become the first defending Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game the following season since the Patriots did it in 2005.

  • If the Broncos had also won, it would've been the first time since 2004 that all four home teams had won in the Divisional round, and the first time since 1997 that both Super Bowl teams won a playoff game the following season. As it is, these will have to wait for another season.

  • So a couple of things about that overturned catch at the end of the Cowboys-Packers game:

    1. I'm not a big fan of the going-to-the-ground rule, but

    2. By the going-to-the-ground rule, that was not a catch. If you watch the replay, Bryant bobbles the ball when he hits the ground (before rolling over into the endzone). It's a near-textbook example of a non-catch according to this rule.

  • Nice to see the final four teams in the top four of the rankings. I think I'd probably rank them in that order, too.