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19 Jan 2007

2007 NFC Championship Preview

by Aaron Schatz

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link.

 

During the game, please join the discussion in the NFC Championship Game Discussion Thread.

The first half of the 2006 season belonged to the Chicago Bears. The offense was powerful, the defense flawless. Even when the offense had an off night, as it did during the Monday night near-upset by Arizona, the Bears could not be beat. It looked like 2006 was their year.

That the Arizona game was not an off night, however; it was a preview of what was to come. As quarterback Rex Grossman went from inconsistent to just plain awful, the Chicago offense imploded. In December, even the defense began to lapse. The Bears won their first seven games by a combined score of 221-69. In their final nine games, they outscored opponents just 206-186, and last week they needed overtime to beat a subpar Seattle team that backed into the playoffs by virtue of playing in the NFL's weakest division.

The season no longer belongs to the Chicago Bears. Instead, it now seems to belong to the New Orleans Saints. Not just a sentimental favorite, the Saints may have engineered the greatest one-season turnaround in NFL history. For the six weeks, they've clearly been the better team. Now they must brave the freezing temperatures of Soldier Field and attempt to write the next chapter in their amazing story.



Saints on Offense
  NO OFF CHI DEF
DVOA 13.7% (5) -20.3% (2)
WEI DVOA 18.0% (5) -12.5% (4)
PASS 22.9% (4) -24.5% (2)
RUSH 2.7% (10) -14.7% (5)
RED ZONE 4.3% (14) -1.0% (12)


Bears on Offense
  CHI OFF NO DEF
DVOA -3.9% (18) 3.6% (19)
WEI DVOA -11.2% (26) 1.2% (13)
PASS -10.5% (23) 6.0% (22)
RUSH 2.8% (9) 0.9% (20)
RED ZONE 1.1% (16) -15.2% (6)


Special Teams
  NO CHI
DVOA 0.7% (14) 7.6% (1)
NO kickoff 0.4 (17) 3.4 (9)
CHI kickoff -3.3 (19) 18.9 (1)
NO punts 6.3 (9) 11.7 (2)
CHI punts -1.9 (19) 2.0 (16)
FG/XP 2.7 (10) 8.8 (3)

WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL

Rex Grossman's up-and-down season may be the biggest cause for concern in Chicago, but the defense's recent decline comes in a close second.

Two injuries weakened the Chicago defense. The Bears had already lost strong safety Mike Brown at midseason, but his replacement, Todd Johnson, injured his ankle in Week 12. The following week, defensive tackle Tommie Harris tore a hamstring and was lost for the year.

Harris is a huge loss; Chicago's Cover-2 defensive scheme depends on the front four to generate pass pressure so that seven men can drop into zone coverage. Without Harris to provide pressure, and stuck with a third-string safety, the Chicago pass defense went from spectacular to average. The Bears allowed 4.6 net yards per pass with 21 interceptions in the first 12 games (-42.3% DVOA vs. pass), but 6.0 net yards per pass with only three interceptions in the final four (12.2% DVOA vs. pass).

Johnson returned healthy against the Seahawks, and things did get better. The Bears allowed Matt Hasselbeck 5.0 net yards per pass, more in line with their early-season numbers. But Seattle wasn't exactly one of the best offenses in the league this year. New Orleans is a different story.

Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings rank the Saints as the best passing game in the NFC this season. Quarterback Drew Brees led the league with 4,418 passing yards, throwing 26 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions and 18 sacks.

Brees took few sacks for a variety of reasons. His offensive line was improved, the Saints' running backs are good blockers, and Brees is smart enough to throw the ball away when in danger. Combine that with the absence of Harris, and Brees should have plenty of time to find his favorite target downfield. Even when their defense was the best in the league, the Bears gave up an above-average DVOA to number one receivers.

Although veteran Joe Horn may finally be returning from the groin injury that has kept him out for six weeks (he's listed as questionable), that favorite target will probably be Marques Colston, the seventh-round rookie from Hofstra who emerged as one of the league's best possession receivers. Colston led the league with 29 conversions on third or fourth down, and Brees will find him for plenty of midrange gains between the safeties playing deep and the cornerbacks and linebackers playing short.

The Saints' other receivers may not have as much success. Billy Miller led the Saints in receiving yardage against Philadelphia, but the Bears were the league's best defense against tight ends. Speedy Devery Henderson won't find it easy to get behind a secondary that gave up only 37 passes of 20 or more yards, the lowest total in the NFC.

The Bears are an above-average defense against the run as well, and when the pass defense declined, the run defense did not. Unlike last week, running back Deuce McAllister won't have an easy time gaining yardage consistently. However, the Bears were one of the league's five worst teams when it came to giving up double-digit runs, so we could see some Reggie Bush magic. The Bears ranked third in defending passes to running backs, so that magic is more likely to come on a pitch or draw, not a swing pass. The Bears generally line up their defensive tackles wide in nickel situations, leaving them particularly vulnerable to a big draw play on third down.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

On the surface, Grossman's numbers against Seattle last week look good: 21-for-38, 282 yards. But the raw yardage numbers hide his inability to move the chains on third down. He converted only three of 14 pass attempts on third down, with two sacks and two turnovers.

Grossman had a problem converting third downs throughout the second half of the year. He may have better luck than usual against the Saints, who were an average defense against the pass on first and second down, but ranked 25th in DVOA on third down.

The bad news for Grossman is that his biggest weakness, making stupid mistakes under pressure, happens to correspond with the strength of the New Orleans defense: the pass rush, led by defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith.

In fact, over the course of the season, the Saints had a better pass rush than the Bears did. Chicago sacked the quarterback 40 times, New Orleans only 38 -- but the Bears faced over 100 more pass attempts than the Saints did. On a percentage basis, the Saints get to the quarterback more often.

At least, if Grossman forces a throw rather than taking a sack, a turnover is unlikely; the Saints had only 11 interceptions all year. (If they win, this will be the lowest total for a conference champion since the NFL went to a 16-game season.)

And just as the Saints' biggest strength matches Grossman's weakness, so too does their greatest weakness match Grossman's strength: throwing deep, particularly to the speedy Bernard Berrian. The Saints' pass defense got an extremely imbalanced performance from the secondary during the second half of the year. Starter Mike McKenzie and nickel back Jason Craft played very well, but Fred Thomas was consistently burned by speedy receivers like Chad Johnson, Terry Glenn, and Antonio Bryant. Last week, Thomas gave up a 75-yard touchdown to Philadelphia's Donte' Stallworth. Every time the Saints let Berrian get behind Thomas without deep safety help, they are inviting the Bears to score seven points.

The Bears will run the ball plenty, both to help Grossman and to keep Brees and the New Orleans offense off the field. Over the last few weeks, the Bears have gotten consistent ground gains from both veteran Thomas Jones and last year's fourth overall pick, Cedric Benson.

Chicago runs best up the middle, leading the league in adjusted line yards middle/guard, but against the Saints they should try to run behind left tackle John Tait. The Saints' best linebacker, Scott Fujita, plays on the strong side (normally the right), which is a big reason why the Saints were weaker against runs to the offensive left. New Orleans has a problem giving up long runs -- like Brian Westbrook's 62-yard touchdown a week ago -- but Chicago's offense is weak in that area as well, so it isn't likely to be an issue.

As bad as the Saints were against the pass on third down, they were even worse against the run -- but the issue there is third-and-long, not third-and-short. The Saints were the only team in the league to allow a first down on more than half of all runs on third/fourth down with four or more yards to go. But they were also one of only three teams in the league to stop a first down on more than half of all short-yardage situations (third/fourth down or goal line with 1-2 yards to go).

The Saints defense is also at its best in the most important area on the field: the red zone. After all, it's hard to burn the defensive backs deep when there's less than 20 yards behind them.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams is one area where the Bears clearly are superior to the Saints. With rookie return man Devin Hester and kicker Robbie Gould leading the way, Chicago put up the second-highest special teams rating in the ten years for which Football Outsiders has play-by-play breakdown. Hester set an NFL record with six return touchdowns, ranking second in punt return average and fifth in kickoff return average. Gould was excellent on both field goals and kickoffs.

The Saints, however, are not as bad on special teams as their numbers for the season might suggest. Rookie punter Steve Weatherford did a good job when veteran Mitch Berger was lost for the year, but unlike Berger, Weatherford does not also kick off. That left kickoffs to 43-year-old veteran John Carney, who still has accuracy but no power. In Week 12, the Saints finally bit the bullet and cleared an extra roster space for a kickoff specialist, Billy Cundiff, and his average kickoff is more than three yards longer than Carney's.

The Saints will also probably use Reggie Bush on punt returns, which they only did part-time during the season. Bush had 12 returns for at least eight yards, Michael Lewis just five. Of course, Lewis never had a return that went backwards, while Bush lost yardage seven different times.

OUTLOOK

The main question revolving around the Chicago Bears is no longer, "Which Rex Grossman will show up?" It is now "Which Chicago defense will show up?" Even if Grossman is able to protect the ball against the unimposing Saints defense, the Bears can not win this game unless they can summon a top defensive performance to stop Brees, Colston, Bush, and McAllister.

The Saints have never gone to the Super Bowl. No dome team has ever won a conference championship game outdoors. No 3-13 team has ever made the Super Bowl the following season. There's a good chance that by Sunday night, none of these statements will still be true.

ALSO OF INTEREST


STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) Red zone DVOA is also listed.

WEI DVOA is WEIGHTED DVOA, which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). This is the same formula used in this week's FOXSports.com power rankings, and it includes the playoffs. All numbers except for WEIGHTED DVOA are regular season only.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense.

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice." Note that even though the chart appears in the section for when each team has the ball, it represents total performance, not just offense.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Jan 2007

76 comments, Last at 22 Jan 2007, 10:52am by Felton Suthon

Comments

1
by Toberino (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:09pm

First! If Brees is any good, Chicago will be forced to keep up and that's when the stuff-ups happen.

2
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:13pm

Niiice x-axis Aaron. Also I can't find the AFC preview that was here a couple hours ago...

3
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:13pm

nevermind, its back

4
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:19pm

I think the Saints are asking Thomas to still cover the speedy guys despite his issues. Why? Because McKenzie has never been known for his speed, and by all accounts he has slowed down the past two years.

MM is strong, smart, and hand fights with the best. And a bad track with negate the speed issue. But I can't help but think that Thomas is taking the brunt of the abuse for something BOTH cornerbacks lack--footspeed.

5
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:24pm

Nervous Bears fan with nothing left to say. Let's just tee it up and play the game.

6
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:30pm

Charles Jake: Dude, I feel ya.

7
by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:33pm

As a Bears fan I'm strangely not worried about this game, I was a lot more concerned about the Eagles for some reason.

I am also not worried about Rex, he might not have put up huge numbers but what he did do was take care of the football, and not try to force throws into coverage. He put is in position to win by stepping up and making a clutch 3rd & 10 throw for 30 yards in Overtime.

I'm hearing the forecast is calling for temperatures in the 20's Sunday, with scattered. The Bears are a much more physical team than the Saints, if they can force them into a game of smashmouth football they will be overmatched.

8
by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:35pm

*Meant to say scattered snow showers in my post.

btw even the thought of Bernard Berrian matching up with Fred Thomas on the outside in man coverage, is making me drool. Freddy T. has horrible recovery speed, and bites on double moves easily. I have no clue how he's still a starting corner in this league.

9
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:39pm

Wow, look at that Bears DVOA trendline.

10
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:41pm

The key to the game is probably Smith/Grant vs Tait/Miller. For my mind Miller has faded down the stretch, he is definitely a guy I would like to see some competition for in camp next year. So I do worry about how the tackles will cope with the Saints' ends. On the other hand the Saints' linebackers shouldn't pose similar problems to those presented by the Seahawks - ie no lightning fast delayed blitzes and the backs and TEs should have a better day catching the ball than last Sunday. The Saints will probably want to keep safeties deep to help out their corners most of the time so they will have to be judicious about picking their spots to blitz, or drop coverage on the fourth/fifth target. If the Bears can establish a running game early and keep the NO defense on the field I would be interested to see how Hollis Thomas holds up. He seemed to get tired quickly and was on the sideline using his inhaler after the Eagles first series (maybe that whole asthma letter to the league wasn't just a ruse). If Thomas gets worn out early then the rest of the Saints run defense may be in for a long day.

11
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:44pm

Mizzou:

The Saints have gone toe to toe with Philly (twice), Carolina (twice), Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. They split those games but in none of them did the Saints seem "overmatched".

And guys like McKenzie, Hollis Thomas, Colston, and McAllister are as strong as they come relative to their peers.

I perceive this as a fabulous matchup that comes to one on one matchups. If one guy slips, a tweaked muscle, a touch of the flu, or his girlfriend wouldn't "make nice" the night before the game could make the difference in who wins or loses.

12
by Doug (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:02pm

I'm really looking forward to a New Orleans win here. They'll go to the Super Bowl and get pounded by Indy, at which point they will experience the "Super Bowl Loser's Curse" and...

REGRESSION TO THE MEAN BABY! OH YAH!

13
by hector (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:05pm

I agree with the pick and rationale. Also, I enjoyed the AS segment on ESPN News this week, I gotta start taping The Hot List so I don't miss those.

Now just hoping for some reasonable weather; a messy track IMHO helps the lesser team and in this case it's Chicago (given how the defense has gone into the toilet).

14
by BB (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:19pm

"Now just hoping for some reasonable weather; a messy track IMHO helps the lesser team and in this case it’s Chicago (given how the defense has gone into the toilet)."

Forecast as of now is temps in the mid to upper 20's, windy, and 1-3 inches of snow. It might not even matter -- the surface at Soldier Field is one of the worst in the league on a good day, let alone as frozen ground with snow falling.

15
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:20pm

12:

Wow, I can totally see it happening that way. I always prefer it when the statistics are conveniently overlooked for crappy anecdotes and "curses." That way, it's much easier to determine who to avoid in fantasy/gambling season...

Still counting my money on that -5 for the Eagles BTW.

16
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:27pm

The article doesn't seem to take into account that the bears had locked up homefield advantage very early and then began to rest starters and use game time to install new defenses. If you look at most of these 'trend lines' (whch are a little dubious anyway without being weighted for the quality of opponent) for playoff teams that qualify early, they tail of as starters are rested etc. The final couple of bears games should not be included in any decent analysis because the bears had nothing to play for. The last two games for the bears were effectively pre-season gmes.

17
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:35pm

15: The Saints clearly have a defintive edge in "magical abilities".

18
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:37pm

16:

That doesn't really explain the DVOA for the Seattle game. The team is experiencing a pronounced decline in the postseason. I am experiencing troubling flashbacks to the 2003 Eagles with the Bears.

19
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:40pm

Quick, without looking, which of these teams had more games with a negative DVOA?

As you might expect from a team that had such an emotional season, the Saints have never been able to follow up a big win with a decent game. After that huge Monday night win against the Falcons, they lost to the Panthers. After that huge win against the Cowboys on Sunday night, they lost to the awful Redskins at home. After pounding the Giants, they lost to the Panthers at home. After beating the Eagles for their first playoff win since forever....

20
by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:40pm

Re 16/18:
The points are DVOA which is adjusted for defense. The Seattle datapoint includes a pretty decent opponent adjustment where the Bears are a top five team and Seattle is a bottom ten team. Obviously the Bears haven't been that dominant for weeks and it looked to me like the Seahawks were starting to come around.

21
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:01pm

mactbone, you've missed my point. I don't think that the bears' meaningless games at the end of the year should count. I have no problem with including the Seattle game

22
by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:02pm

Re 19: I noticed that as well, going over the stats I can't imagine how in the world the Washington Redskins who were the worst ranked Defense in the NFC, held them to 10 points in the Superdome?

23
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:05pm

While the Bears likely benefit from poor field conditions, if it gets too windy, the best part of Grossman's game, the deep pass, is inhibited. I don't know what the hell to think about this game anymore.

24
by Teximu (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:16pm

22:

The Saints offense did nothing all day. It was bad throw, dropped pass, dropped pass, run stuffed for a loss...

19: The first two win-losses, yeah, but the last regular-season game against the Panthers the Saints weren't really trying.

25
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:17pm

21
"mactbone, you’ve missed my point. I don’t think that the bears’ meaningless games at the end of the year should count. I have no problem with including the Seattle game"

The problem is, those teams that rest starters and tail off, tend to lose early in the playoffs. It hurts, not helps.

26
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:22pm

4: Freddy falls for double moves too easily. That's his biggest failing. The thing is that 3-4 years ago, he was pro-bowl calibre. Now, he's just older.

12: 'Dems fightin' words. ;) However, would you still enjoy that after TWO WEEKS of "will Peyton win the big game?" and "Peyton and Reggie Wayne grew up as Saints fans--did you know that Archie Manning is Peyton's dad?" hype?

And of course, there will be the storybook stories about my guys in Black and Gold.

BTW, I have a huge rugby match tomorrow against our cross town rivals, and I'm having trouble focusing on either that or the Saints. One day at a time...

23: I'll tell you what I think about this game. If the Saints win, two things will happen. You will not understand my posts during the Colts/Pats game, and I'm not showing up at work on Feb. 5.

27
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:26pm

21: The Saints starters played fewer snaps against Carolina than the Bears' starters did against GB.

Anyway, I think that a guy who no one is talking about will play a HUGE role in this game:

The Karnage

28
by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:30pm

This game is a classic tossup. Anybody who thinks they can predict the outcome of this game based on one player (Grossman), emotion (Saints), or weather (snow, high 20s, but not sub-10) is crazy. Vegas calls it a tossup (home team by 3).

This has the potential to be one of the greatest playoff games of all time, whoever wins. Ability, variance, weather, stories, emotions and all. I just want it to start already.

29
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:42pm

25

The only starters the Bears rested were those with injuries. This included both cornerbacks, Brown's backup at safety and much reduced playing time for Ogunleye. Additionally Johnson was sat down following his extra-curricular activities. All these guys are now back.

The Bears used the game against Detroit (especially the second half) to teach new zone schemes to the defense in case they needed them in the playoffs. Almost the whole of the second half was spent in the same zone defense. Any offense would start to move the ball against such a vanilla scheme and this was a team coached by Mike Martz.

I would agree that the Bears' defense is not playing at its early season level, but its greatly publicised decline was mainly due to missing personnel. Vasher, Tillman, Ricky Manning, Todd Johnson, Tank Johnson and Ogunleye all missed time. All this is on top of losing two of their best players for the season. Against the Pats for example they lacked the players to go to nickel when the Pats went to a spread attack. There isn't a team in the league whose performance wouldn't suffer under similar circumstances.

30
by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:45pm

Before you guys fall in love with the saints passing attack...

How often to Dome teams win championship games outdoors, on grass, in the cold?

31
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:55pm

The Falcons won a playoff game in Green Bay a couple of years ago.

Anyway, I contend it the "Dome team championship theory" is more a case of coincidence than causality.

Let's look at which teams have had the worst records since the 1970s. Without researching it, I'd wager that the Saints, Lions, and Falcons (more recent dome team, true) would be among the top (or bottom?) five. Indianapolis, pre-Manning, would likely be up there. So, the teams were not the best teams, and it had nothing to do with the sort of stadium in which they played.

This "Dome team championship theory" reminds me of the run-and-shoot argument. Just as the run-and-shoot was NOT the reason that the Oilers lost to Buffalo, neither was the fact that the Oilers were a dome team.

32
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:59pm

The Falcons won a playoff game in Green Bay a couple of years ago.

That was just because it was under 34 degrees, in Green Bay... but they were playing an African American quarterback wearing the number 7. Green Bay was clearly doomed. I'm pretty sure Brett Favre hasn't won a game under 34 degrees at home while playing an African American quarterback wearing the number 7.

The problem is, those teams that rest starters and tail off, tend to lose early in the playoffs. It hurts, not helps.

That's not true. There's very little evidence for that. Certainly not enough to make a statement like that.

Besides, New Orleans rested its starters, and tailed off as well. Doesn't it mean that they're going to lose, too? Can both teams lose?

33
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:00pm

#26 - don't forget - Drew Brees played at Purdue...

34
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:03pm

I don't have BandSports at home, so I won't see the NFC game. That's good for the Bears. I can't remember watching a Bears' victory...

35
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:07pm

Paulo #34

I downloaded TVU player from this website when I was in Malaysia and it allowed me to watch the national championship game. It may be worth giving it a go.

http://www.myp2p.eu/NFL.htm

But no jinxing the Bears!!!

36
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:12pm

Re #35: Thanks!

37
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:21pm

Regarding the Packer/Falcon game Green Bay had multiple starters out with injury on both sides of the ball. While the national media had the Packers winning the game the beat writers from the Journal-Sentinel were picking the Falcons almost across the board for the simple reason that GB wasn't healthy.

For a better example the Vikings beat GB and it was the Vikings, not GB, that was a beat up football team. But then Minny has a lot of experience playing in GB late in the season.

To my limited reckoning the only time the COLD becomes a factor is when the team ALLOWS it to become a factor. Over a decade ago I saw an Oakland team come into GB late in the season and get shut out for the simple reason that they didn't try. The majority of the players just wanted to stay be the heaters.

It's rain/precipitation that is a legit factor. Like horses, some players are "mudders" and some are not.

38
by Darrel Michaud (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:28pm

#19: Apparently you missed weeks 12-14, and including the Panthers game in there is a joke. Brees and Bush played one drive and they looked like they were tearing up the Panthers without even trying.

39
by Peter (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:31pm

There are a good number of cases of dome teams winning out doors in the play-offs, but none winning in the title game. Three of the seven title games featured the 1 vs 2 seeds in the conference. In all three cases, the home team won easily. I just cannot get over the % of people backing the saints.

40
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:41pm

Re: Resting starters

Aaron has pointed out that games where the starters are resting are just as predictive as games where the team is "trying to win." It's counter-intuitive, but apparently true.

41
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:44pm

#40: I don't think he went quite that far - there's not really enough sample size.

42
by LoveforU (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 6:08pm

Here's hoping for bad weather in Chicago. Got money on da Bears.

43
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 6:46pm

Disclaimer: Irrational, non-analytical statements forthcoming

The more I think about this game the calmer I get, for nonsensical reasons. Usually I fear the Bears embarrassing themselves on national TV, but they already accomplished that so thoroughly against the Cardinals and the horrible season finale with Old Man Farve's creaking skeleton that I feel like they can't possibly reach a new depth on Sunday. Also, Chicago operates on a 20 year SB cycle. It's time for us to awake and swat the competition away with a mighty paw and then sink back into mediocre hibernation for a couple of decades. Rex Grossman will string together 2 great games and then fulfill his ultimate destiny as mediocre NFL QB who vacillates on the edge of starting and backupdom. BTW, I saw a video of Samurai Mike doing a horrific reprise of the Shuffle, and if he and Ditka, who finally came around, are pulling for the Bears then I have to feel good about it.

BTW, Sophandros, I think Payton can only use the Karney Gambit once a year.

44
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 7:04pm

As far as extreme cold (which won't be the case Sunday) affecting games, it really is a matter of how much the war climate player allowing it to affect him, and that is pretty unpredictable. In the famous Ice Bowl, you really have to make a stretch to assert that the Cowboys lost because they allowed themselves to be more affected than the Packers. It was just a damned close game in which the Packers needed to rally in order to avoid defeat. In contrast, the Wind Chill Bowl between Cincy and the Chargers had a different scenario. Chris Collinsworth says he knew the game was won when Munoz (ironically a SoCal native) and the boys came out in short sleeves, and the Chargers didn't want to do anything but get back in the locker room.

Bud Grant never allowed heaters or gloves because, having observed outside manual laborers on hunting and fishing trips near the Arctic Circle, he noticed that guys who simply accepted that it was damned cold, and didn't worry about getting warm, did their job better. Against some warm weather players the same phenomena could be observed, but not with all.

45
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 7:14pm

#44

I agree with the point of the Bud Grant thing. When I used to work on building sites and it was freezing cold in the mornings (at or below zeroC) if you worried about how cold you were you just stood about getting colder. If you just got on with working the activity makes you warm. There isn't an outdoor heater in the world with an effective range of more than a few feet. If you want to get warm get playing.

46
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 7:23pm

41

Pat, Aaron has said repeatedly that DVOA correlates much better if you don't remove those games.

47
by calbuzz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 9:37pm

I have a question. Is it an advantage for Seattle to play in the NFC West when they went 3-3 vs. the division?

Maybe it is, but it seemed more of an advantage last year when they went 6-0.

48
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:20am

#46: Where? The only place I ever remember him saying is that it didn't change things significantly, and made it slightly worse. The sample size is pretty tiny.

49
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:25am

Is it an advantage for Seattle to play in the NFC West when they went 3-3 vs. the division?

Yeah. It's not about how well they did in the division. It's about the competition they faced to win the division title.

Seattle wasn't lucky to be in the NFC West last year. They likely would've won the division regardless of which one they played in.

(Plus, you're assuming they wouldn't've done worse than 3-3 in another division.)

50
by refchat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:56am

The expected referee, Terry McAulay, was great for home favorites in the regular season. Home teams with better DVOA went 7-0 in his games. But the NFL will probably mix up the other officials in his crew for the game, so I'm not sure how much the season-long trends will hold up.

51
by admin :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 1:06am

Super coincidence, Doug Farrar just wrote a blog post on the refs for this game here: http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/footballoutsiders/

I want to point out that the weather factor is an advantage for Chicago. If this matchup looked even otherwise, it would make the Bears a clear favorite. However, it is not so large an advantage as to automatically outweigh any possible advantages for New Orleans.

Honestly, look at the Bears trend line. That line right there is why so many people are picking the Saints. You don't have to look at a DVOA graph to know where the trend is going and how many weeks it has been going there.

52
by david44 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 1:15am

#43: Unless Grossman is the 2nd coming of
Jeff Garcia, as far as moving in/out of the pocket and throwing on the run, I seriously doubt he goes on a "2 Game" good streak. If you watched any of the Saints/Eagles game, the one constant thoughout was Garcia getting out of danger almost everytime he went back to pass. If Grossman can do that, yes, he may have a good game. If not,...well its a long time to Groundhog day for Chicago.

53
by Seth Burn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 1:58am

I don't mean to mock FO as you guys are clearly increasing the overall knowledge of football in the world but isn't the scientific test of any hypothesis its predictive value? If so does your analysis actually predict a Saints victory? Or is it just a gut feeling since the defense has "looked" bad in over the last 7 weeks or so?

Seth Burn

54
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 2:54am

If so does your analysis actually predict a Saints victory?

DVOA doesn't predict individual victories. Nothing can do that. The game itself can't do that. (What is this fascination with predicting game outcomes?)

Or is it just a gut feeling since the defense has “looked� bad in over the last 7 weeks or so?

Chicago's weighted defense has been below their regular season defense for a while, and continuing to drop farther. That's not exactly a "look" bad.

55
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:15pm

#52: No, that's the problem. Grossman usually goes into an Aaron Brooks-style 18-step drop when facing pressure, which effectively kills the play.

56
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 2:33pm

I'll go back to my original take, which was giving the Saints a very, very, slim edge, but saying the Bears could quite easily win if Turner lets Grossman be the mad bomber, and Ogunleye leads the Bears d-line, and just whips the Saints' o-line. I don't think that is going to happen, so I favor the Saints. Give me five minutes, and I'll revise my views again.

57
by Ricky Bobby (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 2:51pm

Will Allen you're a flip flopper. From the EPC Chicago's Defensive Line, post 48: "I think the Bears have at least a 50% chance of winning". Make a call and stick with it. I generally like your analysis, but now I'm beginning to think you just want to hear yourself talk.

58
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 3:52pm

Hey, Ricky? Lighten up. It's a football game, and like I said, I can't get a handle on it.

59
by Seth Burn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 5:00pm

53: I understand what you are saying, but I can predict that the Bears have a 47% chance of winning the game. I can't predict how the ball will bounce but I can give weight to the various permutations. What I am asking is if it is the system that likes the Saints or if it is the people reviewing the DVOA numbers that like the Saints. It seems to be the latter. As for the DVOA drop I really would like to see pure numbers that don't take into account that the Bears are "supposed" to shut down the Seahawks.

Seth

60
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 5:04pm

#59: The Bears weren't "supposed to" do anything - Seattle's offense hasn't been good, and Seattle's defense hasn't been good through the year. To say "well, they were clearly better than their full-season average" is just a subjective upward bias.

61
by brasilbear (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 5:43pm

I think that this game will be won or lost in Ron Turner's coaching box. My family will tell you that I spend most of my afternoons screaming "RUN THE WALL" at the TV/computer/radio when the Bears play. I know that winning allows you to run not that running teams win more, but this season Turner's obsession with Grossman airing it out has driven me to drink/muttering/twitching. How many 3-2,3-3 have had Grossman dropping back only to throw the ball away or worse?

I would like to point out that last week's game, Grossman didn't play as bad (in my bear's colored glasses) as DVOA/DPAR said he did. Any of those drops would have had us singing a different tune on Monday. (But I gues you can say that each week for any numbner of qbs)

Go Bears: 28-17 Chicago. Grossman 1 TD with 2 Int, Jones 1 TD, Benson 1 TD and I from defense/ST.

62
by Rich (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 6:56pm

Long time reader, first time poster (bell rings).

Re 19: All teams are susceptible to letdowns after big wins, but I think the Saints are less so than most (that's true this year for the first time in recent memory). I'll give you the Redskins game, but they played well in the loss to Carolina, only losing by 3 to a good team on the road. Besides, the Bears are also coming off an emotional victory (in overtime no less), so I don't think either team gets an emotional advantage.

Your point about letdowns after big wins works the other way too. Let me point out something about the Saints' losses this year to the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals. In each case, the loss was to a good team that was coming off at least two consecutive losses previously, desperate to stay competitive in a tough division. Those are three games that might have been Saints wins (and might have helped their DVOA) had their opponents not been playing with the intensity of desperation.

One factor no one has mentioned yet is that the Saints have had a day and a half more rest than the Bears. That advantage might just about cancel out the Bears' home field advantage. I think this game comes down to luck (fumble recoveries, tipped balls, etc.) and quarterback play.

Let's hope the Saints really are a team of destiny!

63
by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 8:53pm

#62

I'm hoping no such thing. :-)

64
by MizzouBearsfan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 9:15pm

Also I was just wondering why in so many people assesments it is Rex that needs to play a perfect game. Is Drew Brees immune from having bad days?

Let's not dismiss the Ravens, Cincy games where he had 4 turnovers in each, threw a combined 6 interceptions, 3 of which returned to 3 TDs. Yet he gets barely no criticism for those. When Rex gets blasted for every week.

one stat that will let me sleep a little better tonight is that despite the Saints being a great offensive team, they have no beat a Top 10 Defense at all this season. 0-4 against teams that finished in overall top 10 defense. Bal, Pit, Car twice, although 1 game they were playing their backups.

65
by Felton Suthon (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 10:40pm

Aaron - great analysis, especially after a week of non-stop Saints hysteria here. Post-practice press conferences have approached the level of FDR's radio address after Pearl Harbor. Hope for a great game - I still remember the roar of the crowd after Gilliam's kickoff return vs the Rams in 1967 (I was mowing my grandfather's lawn about half a mile away at the time). 40 years later....

66
by Jeff (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 12:19am

To #64- Arguably, at least two of the picks Brees threw to the ravens were off lucky bounces, one of them a swing pass to aaron strecker that went off his hands and straight up into the air.

However, he definitely screwed the pooch against cincy with two red zone INTs. He still put up something like 500 yards or something ludicrous, but it's fair to call that an outright awful day for him.

67
by Gus (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 3:15am

64: Of course Drew Brees can have a bad day. Anyone can. The difference between Brees having a bad day and Grossman having a bad day is that with Brees it does not happen very often, whereas Grossman sucks.

68
by Smartmonies (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 4:16am

Saints win, its all fixed

69
by Jimmy6 (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 11:05am

lol grossman sucks saints team of destiny.

70
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 1:00pm

65: Are you a teacher/coach? Your name sounds familiar to me.

71
by MattinDenver (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 5:36pm

Bigtime holding on that end-around........ right in front of the refs.....

72
by Darrel Michaud (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 5:41pm

71 - no joke. Fred Thomas was being held by his arm.

73
by someone (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 7:48pm

Looks like FO has it wrong again. I still remember: Seahawks to beat the Steelers!

74
by Not saying (not verified) :: Sun, 01/21/2007 - 8:25pm

Re: 73

Name me one sentence in the section titled "Outlook" that turned out to be false.

75
by Warren Rambridge (not verified) :: Mon, 01/22/2007 - 12:47am

Saints win, its all fixed

:: Smartmonies — 1/21/2007 @ 2:16 am

Great prediction, dumbass!

76
by Felton Suthon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/22/2007 - 10:52am

70:

I used to teach at Newman and I've coached track and cross country at Newman and CD.