Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Game Preview: DEN-CIN

Maybe the Bengals are a paper tiger, but are they really that bad in prime time games? Is Peyton Manning struggling in Denver's new offense? We detail the Monday night clash.

11 Jan 2008

2008 NFC Divisional Round Preview

by Aaron Schatz, with some data mining help from Doug Farrar

One game features a kicker in hot pants. The other game features a girlfriend in hot pants. Ladies and gentlemen... the NFC final four.

For those who may be visiting this site for the first time to read this preview, we explain our stats at the bottom of the page, or click this link. Each preview also includes a link to the open discussion thread for that game.

Remember that any stats from game charting are incomplete and fairly subjective. Also, the trendlines in the week-to-week charts may be influenced by the wacky "sitting our starters" Week 17 games.

Seattle at Green Bay


Seahawks on Offense
  SEA OFF GB DEF
DVOA 5.6% (14) -1.3% (15)
WEI DVOA 8.6% (10) 2.6% (20)
PASS 17.2% (9) 6.0% (18)
RUSH -9.9% (22) -9.7% (6)
RED ZONE 13.2% (9) -16.4% (7)
Packers on Offense
  GB OFF SEA DEF
DVOA 17.3% (5) -5.4% (11)
WEI DVOA 17.7% (4) -7.7% (5)
PASS 26.1% (5) -0.2% (14)
RUSH 3.3% (9) -12.1% (5)
RED ZONE 18.5% (7) 3.9% (18)
Special Teams
  SEA GB
DVOA 0.7% (11) 2.4% (8)
SEA kickoff -1.5 (17) -1.6 (20)
GB kickoff 6.8 (6) 7.1 (4)
SEA punts -11.6 (28) 12.6 (2)
GB punts 8.8 (5) -4.9 (22)
FG/XP 1.7 (14) 1.1 (16)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Seahawks-Packers Game Discussion Thread.

Seattle and Green Bay are two teams which know each other very well and share a number of similarities. Both teams run Bill Walsh-influenced offenses which depend upon the quarterbacks to find the open receiver when a defensive is blitzing, and depend upon the receivers to gain yards after the catch. (Green Bay led the league with 5.8 average yards after catch, while Seattle had a less impressive but still above-average 4.8.) Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren won a Super Bowl in Green Bay, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck began his career as Brett Favre's backup.

There are also some similarities in the running game. Both teams had a terrible time running the ball over the first half of the year. Green Bay improved its running game by handing the starting job to undrafted Ryan Grant, while Seattle finally realized that former MVP Shaun Alexander is a shell of his former self and gave more carries to backup Maurice Morris.


Player Carries DPAR DVOA Yd/Car Suc Rate TD
Ryan Grant 188 25.0 16.8% 5.09 47% 8
Jackson/Wynn/Morency 154 9.3 -1.5% 3.75 40% 5
Maurice Morris 140 14.7 10.7% 4.49 51% 4
Shaun Alexander 207 -2.8 -16.3% 3.46 38% 4

How much did Ryan Grant's ascent to the starting role help the Packers running game? Green Bay ranked 15th in rushing DVOA over the first half of the season, and fourth in the second half. Unfortunately for Grant, Seattle's run defense made the exact same jump: 15th in the first eight games, fourth in the last eight. (The Seahawks running game on offense improved as well, from 31st to 12th.)

Seattle's run defense ended the year fourth in Adjusted Line Yards and fifth when it came to stuffing runners at the line of scrimmage. Leroy Hill led all NFC linebackers with a Stop Rate of 85 percent on running plays and made his average run tackle 2.9 yards from the line of scrimmage. Lofa Tatupu had a slightly lower Stop Rate (73 percent), but made his average run tackle 2.2 yards from the line of scrimmage, the lowest figure for any starting middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

However, Seattle did give up some serious yardage if running backs could get past the front seven, and Ryan Grant has a habit of making big plays. Compared to Seattle, only two defenses gave up a higher percentage of their rushing yardage beyond 10 yards. And compared to Green Bay, only two offenses gained a higher percentage of their rushing yardage beyond 10 yards.

Both defenses were also stronger against the run than against the pass in 2007, but unlike the Seattle run defense, the Green Bay run defense got worse in the second half of the season, not better. Green Bay's run defense was fifth in DVOA through Week 9, but 19th in Weeks 10-17. However, even with the improvement in Seattle's running game and the decline from Green Bay's run defense, third-and-short isn't necessarily a given for the Seahawks. Seattle's offensive DVOA ranks 27th third-and-short situations (one to three yards to go). Green Bay's defense ranks third in the same situation.

The biggest difference between these two teams comes in pass defense. The Seahawks play primarily in a Cover-2 zone, which will limit the yards after catch that are so important to the Green Bay offense. In front of that zone is an excellent pass rush (seventh in Adjusted Sack Rate), which was the key to Seattle's wild card victory over Washington. However, it will be harder to harass Brett Favre; Green Bay's offense finished first in the league in Adjusted Sack Rate.

One interesting note regarding the Packers against the Seahawks' Cover-2: Green Bay threw 34 percent of passes to the middle of the field, the highest percentage of any offense. However, Seattle opponents threw only 17 percent of passes to the middle of the field, the lowest percentage against any defense. You aren't going to be crossing and rubbing guys off against each other when you play against Seattle. (Note: That thought sounded dirtier than it really is.)

Unlike the Seahawks, the Packers' defense plays primarily man coverage, with an average pass rush from the front four. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 55 percent of passes against Green Bay, tied for the lowest percentage in the NFL -- but when they did complete passes, receivers averaged 5.7 yards after catch, the highest figure in the NFL.

As I've noted in previous articles, one of the surprising results of the early game charting is that Charles Woodson comes out much better than Al Harris this year. Based on the incomplete data (through Week 14), Woodson has the best Success Rate of any cornerback with at least 40 pass targets, 69 percent. However, he gave up 7.1 yards per pass, which is a little above-average -- note what I just said about the Packers defense and YAC -- and of course he has a turf toe issue that could slow him down and give Seattle an opening to even bigger plays when Woodson's man gets open.

Our former PFP cover boy Harris has a Success Rate of just 44 percent, a shocking drop from his performance in 2005 and 2006, and he gave up 9.6 yards per pass, the fourth-highest average among all cornerbacks with at least 40 pass targets, behind Jason David, Stanley Wilson, and Drayton Florence.

Green Bay has trouble with multi-receiver sets, ranking 31st in DVOA against "other receivers." To give two examples, Drew Carter and Drew Bennett each had his best game of the season against the Packers. Seattle was one of five teams that threw at least one-quarter of their passes to "other receivers," and if D.J. Hackett and Deion Branch are healthy, the Seahawks will be going three-wide and four-wide on a lot of downs. A.J. Hawk has the best game charting pass coverage stats of any linebacker in the league this year, but that doesn't help much against a Seattle team that doesn't throw as much to its tight ends and running backs.

If Seattle upsets Green Bay, penalties will probably play a large role. The Seahawks had fewer penalties than any other team in the league this year. The Packers ranked fourth in penalties, and led the league in defensive penalties by a large margin. The Packers' secondary is especially foul-prone -- they led the league in defensive pass interference and illegal contact penalties with 13 each. The three most penalized defensive players in the league were Charles Woodson, Al Harris, and Miami defensive end Jason Taylor. Atari Bigby plays as if he thinks the object of the game is to collect the most yellow flags. Green Bay handed the other offense 34 free yards each game because of penalties, more than twice the NFL average and nine more yards per game than the next-highest defense, Arizona.

The biggest issue on special teams is that both Seattle and Green Bay ranked in the top five for value on punt returns, while Ryan Plackemeier and Jon Ryan were two of the three worst punters in the NFL this year. (The other was Matt Barr of Arizona.) However, as Seahawks pointed out when I first mentioned this in the ESPN Numbers Crunching article, this isn't necessarily all Plackemeier's fault, because Seattle's punt and field goal numbers both dived during the period when Boone Stutz was the long-snapper.

Overall, I think that the Packers are a slightly better team in every facet of the game except for the pass rush, and they do have the home-field advantage, but a Seattle upset certainly wouldn't be ridiculous. Unless the Seahawks upset the Packers by taking them to overtime, winning the coin toss, taking the ball, and scoring immediately. That would be ridiculous.


We missed it with no Scramble for the Ball this week... so here's Jason Beattie's latest cartoon!

New York Giants at Dallas


Giants on Offense
  NYG OFF DAL DEF
DVOA -2.5% (19) -5.8% (10)
WEI DVOA -5.6% (22) -4.4% (11)
PASS -10.4% (24) -6.0% (9)
RUSH 5.6% (7) -5.5% (14)
RED ZONE 3.0% (16) -7.0% (12)
Cowboys on Offense
  DAL OFF NYG DEF
DVOA 19.0% (4) -2.9% (14)
WEI DVOA 10.9% (6) -3.6% (16)
PASS 29.9% (4) 1.5% (15)
RUSH 5.3% (8) -8.4% (10)
RED ZONE 14.3% (8) 23.5% (27)
Special Teams
  NYG DAL
DVOA -1.0% (20) -0.9% (18)
NYG kickoff -6.0 (26) -0.6 (17)
TB kickoff 3.5 (10) -3.6 (23)
NYG punts 3.7 (8) -0.9 (17)
TB punts -4.1 (22) -2.6 (19)
FG/XP -2.9 (24) 2.6 (12)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Giants-Cowboys Game Discussion Thread.

First of all, I'm going to apologize right now to all the Cowboys and Giants fans. Someone else writes the Giants previews for the New York Sun, so my thoughts on this game aren't quite as organized, and in all my poring through spreadsheets, I didn't find as many compelling numbers about this game compared to the others.

If you have read my Slate dialogue with K.C. Joyner, or listened to the podcast I did with Bill Simmons, you know my basic feeling on this game. Two games for the Giants and four games for the Cowboys shouldn't really be enough to establish that the Giants are better than they were during most of the season and the Cowboys are worse. However, that's complicated by the injuries to the important players. The Giants are playing better despite these injuries, but the Cowboys are not. If Romo's thumb injury still has him throwing off target, and Terrell Owens can't play because of his ankle, the Cowboys are in serious trouble here.

It's also worth noting that the Cowboys' struggles have come on both sides of the ball. In the first 12 games of the year, Dallas had 31.4% DVOA on offense and -9.7% DVOA on defense. In the final four games, Dallas had -18.1% DVOA on offense and 5.7% DVOA on defense.

(There is some evidence that a great team falling apart at the end of the regular season has no more difficulty in the playoffs than a great team that is playing well at the end of the regular season, but we'll get to that in the AFC preview...)

The Giants ranked 31st in DVOA against tight ends, worse than any team except Denver. In the first week of the season, Jason Witten just brutalized them, catching every intended pass for 116 yards and a touchdown. In Week 10, however, the Cowboys needed to use Witten as a blocker more because of the improved Giants pass rush, and he had just two catches for 10 yards. Without Terrell Owens, Tony Romo needs Witten out there in pass patterns, but matched up against Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck, he also needs Witten in to help with protection. He can't have both.

(I should note that pass protection wasn't the only reason why the Cowboys didn't throw a lot to Witten in the second game; they also had a few plays where they used him on patterns underneath to open things up for the wide receivers, like when rookie Michael Johnson blew coverage on a 50-yard touchdown to Terrell Owens.)

If the Cowboys go up on the Giants early, they'll be a tough opponent to come back on. The Cowboys offense ranks third in DVOA when leading by 1-8 points, first when leading by nine or more, and second in late and close situations (second half or overtime, score within one touchdown).

The Dallas offense was best when running around right end, which is the weakness of the Giants' run defense. The Cowboys were worst when running around left end, which is the strength of the Giants' run defense. As for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, when you look at Adjusted Line Yards numbers, you will also notice that it is easier to run to the right against Dallas than to run to the left.

The more yardage needed on third down, the worse the Giants offense has been compared to the league average. The Giants rank 11th on third-and-short, 21st on third-and-medium, and 31st on third-and-long. (Obviously, they've looked a little better than that over the last two weeks.)

The Giants' record on third-and-long brings up an interesting dynamic that should lead to extended drives by both teams. The Dallas offense is better than the Giants defense at every "to go" distance on third down. The Giants offense is better than the Dallas defense at every "to go" distance on third down except for third-and-long.

Both the Cowboys and Giants have excellent pass rushes and good pass protection. The Cowboys rank fourth in Adjusted Sack Rate on defense and seventh on offense. The Giants rank first in Adjusted Sack Rate on defense and 11th on offense.

If Manning is taking what the Cowboys are giving him, like he did with the Patriots and Bucs, that probably means a lot of throwing at Jacques "The Human Target" Reeves. Reeves was targeted on 21 percent of charted passes against Dallas, the highest percentage of any cornerback in the league.

Again, sorry there isn't more here. So much of this game depends on injuries. If everyone was healthy, and we were only looking at season-long stats as a whole, this would clearly be the biggest mismatch of the second round. The injury issues and late-season collapse of the Cowboys makes things a lot more confusing.


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. These numbers are all regular season only unless noted, with the exception of 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) and includes the first round of the playoffs.

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." The trendline is there to help understand the chart, and shouldn't be seen as a prediction that the team will follow the trendline exactly in the next game.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 11 Jan 2008

56 comments, Last at 14 Jan 2008, 5:41pm by Jacob Stevens

Comments

1
by Kachunk (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 2:57pm

you "pore" through spreadsheets. Unless, you know, you've got a pitcher of water there with you. But that doesn't sound like a good idea. (sorry to be a smartass. I couldn't resist).

2
by John Morgan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:00pm

Excellent preview.

3
by Stephen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:21pm

Can something be said for the fact that after the Cowboys knew they had a two game lead over the Packers for home-field advantage they put it on cruise control over the last four weeks?

4
by Jesus (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:26pm

1st?

5
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:27pm

As a Packer fan, I will be interested to see if McCarthy's efforts with Favre also generate results in the playoffs. One of Mike Sherman's biggest failures as a coach is simply refusing to think his quarterback needed to be coached come playoff time. The Packers lost playoff games earlier this decade thanks to injuries, poor playcalling and the other team simply being better. But it is also true that the veteran qb made some ridiculously bad decisions resulting in horrible consequences.

The Packers can win in any number of scenarios but NOT if the qb is handing the opposition multiple opportunities.

I am also curious to find out if the Packer pass rush is rejuvenated after the additional rest. Ryan Pickett hasn't played in about a month. Aaron Kampmann got the Detroit game off. Cullen Jenkins looks to finally be healthy. KGB's first step, the one thing that elevates him as a pass-rusher, disappeared due to injury and never showed itself the last month. Will the defensive front come out with a spring in its step?

Finally, I wonder why nothing really has been made of the fact that the Seahawks haven't faced a team starting its first string qb since November. Not looking for a flame war from 'Hawks fans. Just an honest explanation as to why anyone shouldn't wonder if some of that defensive success is due to facing "slimmed down" gameplans and guys with minimal reps under their belt.

6
by ammek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:41pm

The Packer defense is the key to this game. As you point out, the run defense has faded ever since it stifled Purple Jesus in the Minnesota blow-out. The secondary contains three very ropey starters, a handful of green back-ups, and one old cornerback having a fine season but who is questionable. The pass rush has gone south, when it hasn't been taking on the Raiders' o-line.

There's lots not to like here.

I'm looking forward already to reading the Green Bay chapter in next year's PFP, since FO was one of the few media outlets to forecast the Packer renaissance. Yet PFP expected the defense would be the motor, and also predicted a special teams catastrophe. Quite the opposite has been true, and I suspect that's largely down to the fact that there's no template for a 38-year old quarterback to rebound from a couple miserable years in such startling fashion.

7
by ammek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:46pm

Badger (and others), have you detected any change in Favre's play since the shoulder injury/concussion sustained in Dallas? In recent years, after he's been knocked out of a game, there have been streaks of inaccuracy which some Packer fans have attributed to the effects of having been hurt.

From my perspective, I haven't been able to tell, since I watched only the Rams and Lions games.

8
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:48pm

Jesus must have lost his touch.

9
by zip (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:52pm

#4 must not be a fast reader.

10
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:53pm

ammek:

The odd thing about the Packers defense is that it has good players. Kampmann. Pickett. Woodson. Barnett. Hawk has been much better than his press.

But Bigby and Collins are SOOOO bad in coverage and the loss of depth on the D-line has been such a drag the team D just crashed the last 5 weeks. Johnny Jolly is really missed as a run-stuffing tackle.

And the Corey Williams thing just infuriates me. You can tell, I mean you can TELL, the guy is just doing a rope-a-dope out there these days. He's going to be a free agent, he knows he has done just enough to impress folks, and he wants to avoid getting hurt. It's Gabe Wilkins the Sequel.

Favre was average the last two years. His teammates stunk. It's really not that hard to grasp. The guy has lost some in his legs, his grip isn't what it used to be and he tires down the stretch. But he still has all the physical skills and a wealth of experience.

He needed coaching and some playmakers. McCarthy handled the first part and Ted Thompson handled the second.

Favre is looking more and more like the Nolan Ryan of Football. A guy who instead of losing his stuff at the usual 5% a year starting at age 32-33 is at a much flatter curve. So then it comes down to injury prevention. Ryan couldn't keep his hamstrings healthy. The arm was always there. My guess is that with Favre's superior health record to Ryan it will take a catastrophic injury or a Super Bowl win to get Favre off the playing field in the next three years.

11
by Flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:54pm

I actually think Jennings may have a big game. Cover 2 or not, if Seattle brings the blitz and Jennings catches the secondary even slightly flat-footed on a slant, the dude is gone.

12
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:55pm

#4 must not be a fast reader.

It's tough when your first language is Aramaic. Especially that whole left-to-right thing.

13
by Flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:56pm

Also, what do Ryan's numbers look like if you remove the Chicago debacle? I'm guessing it's a significant jump. He's no great shakes, but I don't think he's that bad either.

14
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 3:58pm

8: The first shall be fourth, and the fourth shall be first.

15
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:01pm

Flounder:

What concerns me is that you know Koren Robinson wants to have a big game. Guys always want to "show" teams that they believe "gave up on them" deserved or no.

And Favre has been forcing the ball to Robinson the last month at the expense of James Jones and Ruvell Martin.

So one of the subplots is seeing if Favre keeps tossing Robinson the ball on 3rd and whatever. 'Cause the other guys are better.

I have images of McCarthy barking at Favre after the third failed drive when he forces a 3rd and 6 pass to Robinson who drops it..............

16
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:10pm

I find it interesting that Seattle appears to be so good at defending passes over the middle, a classic Cover-2 weakness. As a Bears fan, I watched T.O. destroy the Bears' Cover-2 on crossing routes (admittedly after Briggs & Vasher were hurt), and even craptastical passing offsenses such as Minnesota were able to drop guys in the middle-of-the-field hole in the Bears' zone. Is there a scheme difference, or is it that Seattle has better linebackers? (Note: speaking that last thought aloud can get you arrested in Chicago.)

17
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:10pm

Re: 12

I hate you. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to laugh just as you're about to take a sip of coffee causing the near boiling liquid to be blown into your own face? I hate you.

18
by John Morgan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:11pm

Badger, I think it's because we can't draw any hard conclusions about the quality of the quarterbacks Seattle played during that stretch. Backup or not, we really don't know if Troy Smith, Matt Moore, Todd Collins et al, are really worse quarterbacks than Rex Grossman, Tarvaris Jackson, Brian Griese, Vinny Testaverde, etc. To say a quarterback is bad because they are a backup is a hast generalization. What I'm saying is that it's such an abstract argument that you're grasping at straws for evidence for or against. In fact, mentioning that lot of retreads and scrubs, a considerably stronger argument can be made that the Packers defense has benefited from playing backups or established starters that we have good evidence are not good quarterbacks, but who didn't receive enough snaps to be truly exposed. And, I admit, even that is a very weak argument.

19
by citizen jason (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:17pm

18: I'm also not sure how much of any defensive uptick was due to bad QB play v. pass rush. Collins, for example, faced a ton of pressure in the playoff game--not sure having Campbell would have made that big of a difference against that?

16: The Seahawks have better linebackers. (It feels strange to say that.) I'll stay out of Chicago, for the time being ...

20
by admin :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:23pm

I forgot that we were putting the cartoon in here this week, so make sure to check that out above...

21
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:29pm

John:

I'm just spitballing here but I'm guessing that Marc Bulger is better than Ferrotte and Donova McNabb is better than AJ Feeley just for starters.

And while I have little hope for someone like Tavaris Jackson ever being successful with Brad Childress as his coach what is undeniably true is that Jackson is the best quarterback on the Vikings roster.

Which says something. Something none too flattering about the Vikings ability to judge quarterback talent I'm thinking.

But hey, who am I to judge?

22
by ammek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:30pm

I agree, Badger, that there is quality on the Packers' d - and especially that Hawk is doing a lot of stuff that he doesn't get credit for, especially in coverage. But the safety position has been an issue ever since Leroy Butler retired, and I'm starting to wonder if it isn't a problem with the scheme.

btw, regarding the PFP projection, some unfortunate comments from this site are doing the rounds in Packerland. (see link)

23
by Jason (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:33pm

Pretty interesting with GB that in their last 8 games, 4 of them were basically 60%-80% dvoa with another at right around 40% and another of the 8 around 20%. Despite all this their trend bar trends down do to that woeful 1 game in CHicago

24
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:39pm

ammek:

Well, I have been touting AJ for some time so one could claim I am biased or prescient.

The dude has the thankless task of covering whomever comes out of the backfield since Poppinga is absolutely hopeless. It's pretty clear that Sanders has divvied up the responsibility to play to strenths as opposed to asking guys to do what they are simply NOT equipped to handle. And in Hawk's case I think he could be an even BETTER run defender/pass rusher but because Poppinga is such a joke GB has assigned AJ the task of pass coverage.

When tight ends have had big games the scheme has someone like Bigby involved. Which is akin to hanging a sign on the TE stating "Throw it to me!!!"

25
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:40pm

re: 17 -

If it's any consolation, I think Jesus hates me too.

26
by Carlos (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:47pm

As much as I can't stand Easterbrook, I think he is spot on with this:

Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, home teams in the divisional round are 53-15, a .779 winning figure. Usually, the reason the home teams are at home is that they are better than the wild-card teams. Equally important, in the divisional round, the home teams have spent a bye week relaxing in hot tubs while their opponents were out in the cold being pounded. Home teams dominate the NFL divisional round, so checkmark them in your office pool. You don't even need to know which team is playing!

Perhaps that's not the most exciting analysis, but in terms of telling, as Jaws says on the PFP07 Cover (IIRC) "not just who will win but why," that's the most probative analysis you can do.

Reiterating my picks from Monday (w/ Monday's spreads):

Picks vs. Spread (big spreads this week!!)
NE (-12)
SEA (+8.5) (tho’ GB to win)
NYG (+7.5) (tho’ DAL to win)
IND (-8.5)

27
by Flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:57pm

Re: 22 Wow, I had forgotten Vince's comment (I assume because I agreed with it). That's very amusing.

28
by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 4:58pm

"home teams in the divisional round are 53-15, a .779 winning figure. "

So, given the ~.750 winning percentage, which of the four is losing? As much as I'd love to see Seattle advance, being a 'hawks fan, I think the Giants have the best shot.

Best case scenario as a Seahawks fan is both the underdogs win, and the Giants get to return to their false start hall of shame.

Would likely make a pretty boring Super Bowl, though.

29
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 5:31pm

re: 22 & 27 -

That's hardly a criticism of FO. The "PFP ... system that projects season records" (sic) nails the Packers season perfectly, and 3 out of 16 contributing writers think the system is wrong. Sounds pretty good to me.

30
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 5:32pm

And of course I meant "4 out of 16."

31
by Flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 5:39pm

Re: 29 Oh, I absolutely agree with you. It's still amusing though. My amusement isn't meant to be critical.

32
by raiderjoe (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 6:32pm

furst?

33
by ammek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 6:43pm

I don't entirely agree about Poppinga, Badger; although he's a liability in pass coverage I haven't seen him out of position or taking horrible angles on runs and short passes as much this season. And his tackling has become impeccable.

Packers fans seem to want Hawk to get into the backfield more, rather than drop into coverage. But "the other Bob Sanders" doesn't like to rush more than four or five (where do the Packers rank in the blitzing stats?), and currently appears to prefer blitzing Bigby on the basis that he does less harm picking up a penalty for rushing the passer than giving up a huge completion and/or pass interference penalty.

34
by Steve Sandvik (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 6:46pm

(Seahawks fan)
In particular, Lofa Tatupu is a ridiculously good pass defender at MLB. I haven't watched Chicago that closely, but I don't think that's either Urlacher's greatest strength, or his primary focus, which would make a big difference. The linebacking cores are, at the very least, different in a number of ways. It doesn't surprise me at all that Seattle would be better at defending the pass over the middle with Tatupu back there. How many linebackers have 3 interception games, for crying out loud?

35
by Xian (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:02pm

Re: #13

I asked the same question in the ESPN Number Crunching comments, it'd be really interesting to see the answer.

36
by calbuzz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:16pm

Didn't Urlacher break up a pass 30 yards downfield in the SB?

37
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:19pm

27: I have not forgotten my comment; I've thought about it every time the Packers won, and I'm kind of surprised it took that long to resurface. Well, I was wrong, what can you do? I did acknowledge my wrong-ness in Audibles in Week 6 or so.

38
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:12pm

Vince:

No worries bro'. As my granddad loved to say, most of the schmoes can't anticipate a fart. You had the gumption to take a stand and it was wrong. No big deal.

Don't let the haters get you down.

39
by flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:17pm

Re: 37 Commit hara-kiri?

I kid because I love :)

40
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 8:57pm

Re #37
In FOIRC, we've been on "FO Writers Fail Predictions" for a month or more, including that Russell (note: CFB writer) probably did the best job on NFL picks. And I thought the Packers would win the division, too. Then again, I'm a Titans fan and was sure they'd go 6-10, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Mmm, salt.

Re #39
Thank you for spelling "hara-kiri" correctly.

41
by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/11/2008 - 10:51pm

re: 34 & 36 -

Yeah, and Urlacher actually had more INTs this year than Tatupu (5 to 4). And Briggs is a fantastic cover linebacker (Dr. Z named him the best at coverage in the league this year).

I think it may be that Urlacher was hurting much worse early in the season and found some miracle cure (hmmm...) around game 14. He looked awesome from the 2nd Minnesota game onward (he got 3 of his 5 INTs in that span), and (not coincidentally) that's when the Bears' defensive DVOA started shooting up the ranks.

42
by croxall (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 7:36am

While there’s certainly no denying that the Green Bay defense has kind of hit a wall the past month or so, I’m inclined to think that injuries have played an important part of that

As Badger correctly points out, Ryan Pickett, the Packers most valuable defender against the run, has hardly played in the past month. Kampman was all beat up and really needed the week off against Detroit. KGB has been carrying a minor injury that has harmed his explosiveness. Cullen Jenkins has had minor injuries all year. Woodson has missed a fair bit of playing time. These are all key guys, none of whom had major injuries but all of whom may have benefited from a good chunk of rest.

For me, the biggest thing I’m looking for in this game is how this time off has helped get the Packers defence healthy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the downward trend towards the end of the regular season reversed somewhat. I think the performance drop-off is, potentially, mitigated somewhat by the relative health of the team then and now. It’s one of those things that is very difficult to predict or measure, but I believe it could be significant.

Also I suspect Corey Williams to play harder today than he has been. In the national spotlight and weeks away from free agency, I doubt he’ll be coasting today. As a Packers fan, Favre’s performance physically, in a very cold environment, and mentally, in a playoff game (especially if the Packers fall behind) is a greater concern to me than the defense.

43
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 8:34am

Info courtesy of the Journal-Sentinel:

Williams hasn't had a tackle for loss since Week 5, a knockdown since Week 9, a hurry since Week 10 or a sack since Week 11. The game is about production, which Williams really hasn't provided in a long time.

Before hurting his ankle in Dallas, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had 9½ sacks, 9½ knockdowns and 11 hurries. In 105 snaps since returning, he has zero sacks, one-half knockdown and four hurries. "KGB" was a force for almost three months, a non-factor since.

44
by Chris (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:19am

Although the cowboys and Giants do have alright pass rushes, the fact that their quarterbacks get rid of the ball "make" them look good. Romo and Eli need to get credit for their "good pass protection" too.

45
by Chris (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:29am

Who was the footballoutsiders guy that said the Giants had no chance to beat Tampa right after they lost to the Pats?

I can't wait for the games to start.

46
by croxall (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:36am

Wow Badger, those stats really tell a story in both cases.

I still maintain that the time off may well have done the defense a lot of good. Like I said though, it’s hard to measure and hard to predict. If either Kampman or KGB is back to midseason form, it makes a big difference to the pass rush. If Pickett is back to full health, it makes a massive difference in terms of stopping the run. I mean, surely having a bye at this time of year is big part of the reason for the historical dominance of the home sides in the Divisional matchups?

One other thing that has been touched on only briefly is that I also think Johnny Jolly is severely missed. I think Harrell has been OK in places, and I like the pick still as I did at the time for the long term. But clearly he’s not nearly at Jolly’s level this year.

By the way, have you seen the pile of crap that passes for analysis on the Press-Gazette site? I think I’m gonna stop bothering with that place altogether. Is PI worth the cash on JSOnline Badger?

47
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 10:45am

croxall:

To your last question, yes. But only because of Bob McGinn. The rest of the writers are pretty bland. McGinn is outstanding.

48
by flounder (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 11:47am

Re 44: I'd recommend PI too. Besides McGinn (who is fantastic) I also find the 5 questions with LeRoy Butler feature quite informative. He tends to defend/give a pass to the Packer secondary too much (Bigby in particular) but he's clearly extremely knowledgeable with some really good insights.

49
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 3:59pm

On the SEA vs. CHI defensive deficiencies or lack thereof, I think the question was more about scheme, and why do the Seahawks appear to be so strong in the middle against the pass when it's a classic cover 2 deficiency. The comparison between the two, otherwise, in terms of who's better, isn't what interests me.

Although I am a Seahawk fan and I think their LB corps is better, but Urlacher is still better than Tatupu because he's physically superior, and Briggs is way more solid than Peterson, but Peterson matches anyone physically and talent-wise, makes more big plays, and is a better pass rusher. But Briggs is better. That Leroy Hill was the best of the 3, all year, I've been saying for a while, and it's remarkable since the other two deserved their Pro Bowl berths, more or less, but he's what makes the difference over the still-underrated Hillenmeier, who just can't match up with any of them.

But that aside, I think the difference comes from multiple things: 1) the difference between Tampa 2 and Cover 2, which isn't great because the similarities are basically in the 2 deep safeties and the simplicity in zone assignments from the LBs, so for our intents and purposes we're dealing with the same thing here, but the difference in CB coverage (mostly because of Jim Mora) and the use of the front 7 in general (mostly because of Jim Marshall) is still enough to make a difference, I think. #2, the sample size, this was just one year, although the issue is Seattle's defense, standing out amongst a history of Cover 2, and then #3, the opposition, which, while it's already figured into DVOA and it's not like the Bears faced the most formidable schedule in the league (right? I'm not checking), and the backup QB string was already discussed, it's still very possible that the opponents just never worked that part of the field much, or well, or had other factors that contributed.

Anyway, let's go underdogs! I don't know how any fan of a playoff team can honestly be expected to believe their team won't win, without remarkably substantial shortcomings in the matchup. Particularly in the divisional round. This will be Seattle's toughest game of the year, without a doubt, with the only rival in that right being the Steelers game, which was a disaster, but funnily enough I feel more confident than I did against Washington. Am I nuts? Seahawks win in a shootout?

The Seahawks have only won on the road in the playoffs once, ever, but the last two times, were NFC North division champs, who they took to overtime both times, and had the ball twice in OT, before losing. The most veteran team in the NFC playoff field, playing on the road -- and their lesser performance there, throughout the year -- is greatly diminished. I must be nuts.

50
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/12/2008 - 6:18pm

Jacob:

Nah. The opposing team has its flaws and it's coach is new to this whole thing.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have a guy on the sidelines who is one of the best.

51
by mush (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 12:35am

Next year I'd like to see you guys actually *pick* the games and not float a loose hedge (this could happen, that could happen). Show some cajones!

52
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 1:33am

mush:

Well, the article did say penalties would play a large role. And to read the game thread NON-penalties did play a role. Green Bay was determined by some to have committed pass interference with impunity.

Me, I am just surprised that anyone HERE is surprised by how the Packer cornerbacks play defense. All the Packer fans at FO have pointed out from Day 1 that Harris and Woodson will take every chance to disrupt a route and dare the refs to keep throwing the flag. This should not be news.

If Mike Holmgren was counting on the officials to win him the ballgame I think he miscalculated.

Ah well, Mikey can get himself back on the Rules Committee and maybe get a Seattle Exemption where a Seattle receiver is allowed to run downfield with nobody permitted to come within 3 yards of his "personal space". The Seattle Boy in the Bubble Rule if you will.

53
by ammek (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 7:08am

"Next year I’d like to see you guys actually *pick* the games and not float a loose hedge (this could happen, that could happen). Show some cajones!"

That's what Mike Tanier does in the rundown.

The great thing about this site is that we have both. Rundown is a hoot. And I appreciate the fact that Aaron and co. let the numbers speak for themselves, highlight statistical and individual matchups of interest, and then don't patronize us with some spurious pseudo-clairvoyance by "calling" the game before it has been played.

54
by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 01/13/2008 - 10:03pm

GIANTS ONE GAME FROM THE BIG DANCE PROVING ALL THE HATERS WRONG. ELI MANNING GROWING UP BEFORE OUR VERY EYES AND BIG BRANDON JACOBS PACKING A PUNCH.

CHRIS = GIANTS JOE TODAY BOYS!

55
by Scott (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 1:22am

Eli Manning so far with a Jeff Hostetler-esque postseason run, minus the being a back-up part.

56
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Mon, 01/14/2008 - 5:41pm

52: Badger, that was seriously funny. Your comments, I mean, clearly not the game. Owwwwwwch. Well, congrats, I am rooting for the Packers from here on out.