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02 Feb 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview

by Aaron Schatz

Well, here we are again, stuck with a predicament that has become all too common. This is the ninth year that Football Outsiders has covered the NFL, and the fourth time in those nine years that a team has made the Super Bowl after following an inconsistent and overall mediocre regular season with a spectacular postseason run.

Before 2003, only one team in NFL history outscored its regular-season opponents by less than 50 points and still made a Super Bowl: The 1979 Los Angeles Rams. Since 2003, this has happened four times: the 2003 Carolina Panthers, the 2007 New York Giants, the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, and now the 2011 New York Giants, the first team to ever make the Super Bowl after being outscored in the regular season.

(Note that the 2005 Steelers and 2010 Packers, despite being sixth seeds, don't fall into this category. Those teams were very good in the regular season, but fell into a wild card spot because of bad luck in close games and/or Tommy Maddox being Tommy Maddox.)

Each of these years, in our FO Super Bowl preview, we've been stuck with the problem of figuring out just which games we should use in analyzing trends and matchups. Do we use the entire season, even when these teams were struggling? Or do we only use the numbers from the late-season and postseason surges, even though that presents us with a much smaller sample size?

In general, our research at Football Outsiders has shown us that it is better to take a longer-term view when trying to figure out how well a team will play in the future. That's why even our weighted DVOA metric, which is designed to emphasize how teams have been playing in the recent past, still measures the last eight weeks of games at nearly-full strength and the last 12 weeks of games with at least two-thirds strength. However, we can't help but anecdotally notice that this may not be the best way to analyze these surprise Super Bowl teams. Each of these years, we wondered if the team in question would turn back into a pumpkin on Super Bowl Sunday. And in each of these years, it didn't happen. The 2003 Panthers and 2008 Cardinals came within one drive of winning the Super Bowl, and the 2007 Giants of course actually pulled it off.

So with that history in mind, this year we're going to look at the last five games for each team more than we look at the full regular-season stats, with the caveat that those five-game stats represent a small sample size. For the Giants, that five-game stretch represents their current five-game winning streak, starting with their Week 16 victory over the Jets, then the must-win Week 17 game against Dallas, and then their three postseason games. For the Patriots, the last five games begin with the Week 15 win where they came back to stomp the Broncos after Denver ran for a zillion yards in the first quarter, and also includes a win over Buffalo, a too-close-for-comfort win over Miami (New England's lowest single-game DVOA in a win this year), and two playoff wins. We've made sure the game charting is complete for all ten of these games. As we noted last week on the site, the Patriots and Giants have almost exactly the same total DVOA when we compare these five-game periods.

We'll also look specifically at some stats that show how these teams played each other the last time they met, when New York won 24-20 in Foxboro back in Week 9. That game is colored yellow on the week-to-week DVOA graphs so it will stand out. However, that Week 9 game may not be the best indicator of how these teams will play on Sunday. The first Giants-Pats game was a huge aberration for both teams. Somehow, two of the strongest offenses and worst defenses in the league came into that game and went scoreless through the first half. In fact, most of the offense in that game came in the fourth quarter. The Patriots' offense had -24.8% DVOA through the first three quarters, 75.2% DVOA in the fourth quarter. The Giants' offense had -35.2% DVOA through the first three quarters, 60.9% DVOA in the fourth quarter. As a result, the yellow dot on the graphs below comes out as one of the worst offensive games for both teams, and one of the best defensive games.

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. All stats represent regular season only, unless noted. Game charting data is still incomplete, but represents most of the regular season. The Super Bowl preview includes two "week-to-week" charts for each team: one for offense, one for defense. Because defensive DVOA is opposite of offensive DVOA, the defensive charts are flipped upside-down -- the higher dots still represent better games.


Giants on Offense
NYG OFF NE DEF
DVOA 15.6% (7) 17.9% (30)
LAST 5 GAMES 26.2% (5) 12.5% (24)
PASS 36.3% (4) 24.1% (28)
RUSH -1.3% (20) 8.8% (28)
RED ZONE 1.6% (12) -15.9% (8)
Patriots on Offense
NE OFF NYG DEF
DVOA 36.8% (3) 6.9% (20)
LAST 5 GAMES 41.7% (1) -12.7% (2)
PASS 60.7% (2) 14.0% (21)
RUSH 17.1% (4) -2.0% (19)
RED ZONE 33.0% (3) 13.8% (27)
Special Teams
NYG NE
DVOA 0.3% (16) 3.7% (5)
LAST 5 GAMES -2.0% (27) 8.4% (1)
NYG kickoff 4.5 (8) -3.7 (25)
NE kickoff -3.4 (22) 8.7 (3)
NYG punts 10.9 (5) -0.2 (18)
NE punts -8.4 (29) 15.2 (2)
FG/XP -1.5 (19) 1.5 (14)

All readers can click here for in-game discussion on our message boards. If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

The Patriots' defensive ratings are a good example of why we run into trouble looking at improvement over a small number of games. Look at the Patriots' rating for the season and their rating for the last five games, and it doesn't look like there is much improvement. But that's mostly because of all the running success that Denver had in Week 15. If we only look at the last four games for the Patriots, we see a lot of improvement, from 17.0% DVOA in Weeks 1-15 to 5.2% DVOA in Weeks 16-20. It's even better if we look at just three weeks, and even better than that if we look at just two weeks, because the Patriots had only four games this year with defensive DVOA below 0% and two of them were the two playoff games.

Like the Giants' defense, the Patriots' defense has been helped by getting guys back from injury. Safety Patrick Chung, the Pats' best defensive back, missed most of the second half of the season with a foot injury, and linebacker Brandon Spikes had a sprained MCL. Both players were injured in the middle of the first Giants-Patriots game, and both players returned in Week 17.

On paper, the Giants should be a horrible matchup for the Patriots defense. New England's biggest problem is poor play in the secondary. The starting cornerbacks weren't very good this year, and there the depth players are even worse. The Patriots get killed by the deep pass, and the Giants love to throw deep. And yet, as noted above, the Patriots had one of their better defensive games of the season against the Giants until Chung and Spikes got hurt and the defense collapsed in the fourth quarter. It certainly seems like an aberration that is unlikely to be repeated.

The Giants will go three-wide a lot of the time, which will bring out the Patriots' nickel and dime packages, and that means two-way player Julian Edelman. Like everyone else, I question just how successful Edelman can be trying to cover Victor Cruz or Mario Manningham. The Patriots actually shut Eli Manning down when they went to nickel and dime packages in the first game. When the Pats had five or more defensive backs on the field, Manning was 3-of-9 for 24 yards with no first downs. However, Edelman wasn't being used as a defensive back at that point in the season. In addition, this was really just a one-game trend. The rest of the season, Manning wasn't particularly poor against nickel and dime packages, and the Patriots' defense wasn't particularly better in these packages either.

(For those curious, Edelman charting stats won't be useful. We only have nine passes charted with Edelman in coverage; two of them were passes thrown away due to pass pressure, and one was a running back screen with Edelman essentially playing middle linebacker.)

Twenty-six percent of the Giants' passes during the regular season went at least 16 yards through the air, the second-highest figure in the league. That's a huge problem for the Patriots, who were the worst defense against deep passes during the regular season. They allowed 14.6 yards per pass on these deep passes (30th in the NFL), 52 percent catch rate (31st) and 69.3% DVOA (dead last). However, another stat shows you the Patriots' main strategy for preventing deep passes from completely killing them: keep everything in front of you. The Pats allowed only 3.6 average yards after catch on deep passes, fourth-lowest in the NFL. There's a lot of zone coverage, and that will also be a strategy to minimize Edelman's weakness (man coverage) and emphasize his strength (hard-hitting tackles).

In addition, defense against deep passes also happens to be a big part of the Patriots' improvement on defense in recent games. In the last five games, the Pats have allowed just 11.7 yards per pass on deep passes with 35 percent catch rate and 25.1% DVOA.

The Patriots have improved their coverage thanks to an inspired and unexpected personnel switch. Starting with the Week 17 game against Buffalo, Bill Belichick switched journeyman safety Sterling Moore and stuggling second-year cornerback Devin McCourty. For the most part, McCourty is now playing free safety while Moore is playing left cornerback. The basic idea was that McCourty played best when the ball was in front of him, so put him in a position where he would usually be facing the play. Moore had strong ball skills, so put him in a position where he could make plays on the ball, like slapping the almost-winning touchdown out of Lee Evans' hands two weeks ago or picking off two Ryan Fitzpatrick passes in that Week 17 game where he first played corner.

Now, trying to look at splits for defensive backs for only three games is a serious exercise in small sample size theatre, but there's been a massive improvement from both players since the switch. In Weeks 1-16, we have McCourty and Moore listed in coverage on 86 passes (nearly all McCourty), allowing 10.4 yards per pass with a 47 percent Success Rate. In Weeks 17-20, we have the two players listed in coverage on 19 passes (six for McCourty, 13 for Moore), allowing 2.8 yards per pass with a 79 percent Success Rate.

At the same time, Kyle Arrington over on the right (offensive left) has declined in the second half of the season. Arrington's trend is actually stronger if we look at a longer stretch -- not just the last three games or the last five games, but the entire second half of the season. Through Week 9, Arrington allowed 7.2 yards per pass with a 57 percent Success Rate. Since Week 10, including the playoffs, it has been 10.2 yards per pass with a 40 percent Success Rate.

For most of the season, Patriots opponents were so busy picking on cornerbacks with throws to their wide receivers that they didn't really bother throwing to their tight ends. Only 13 percent of passes against the Pats were to tight ends; every other defense in the league was over 18 percent. However, the Giants did use their tight end, Jake Ballard, and were very successful against the Patriots. The Giants threw to Ballard seven times in that Week 9 game, and he caught four passes for 67 yards including the game winning touchdown. This is where those injuries to Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung played a huge role in New York's Week 9 victory. On Ballard's two biggest receptions -- a 28-yard seam route on third-and-10 and the game-winning touchdown -- he was covered by Tracy White, who plays almost entirely on special teams. White was just awful in coverage this year. We have him charted as the main defender on nine passes, with eight receptions. White has not been playing defense since Spikes returned in Week 17.

Pats' pass rush has actually improved since they lost Andre Carter for the season early in the Week 15 game against Denver. The Pats' ASR has gone from 5.9 percent through Week 14 to 10.5 percent in the last five games. And Eli Manning's sack rate has also gone up, from 4.8 percent ASR in the first 14 games of the year to 7.5 percent during the Giants' five-game winning streak.

The Patriots certainly want to get pressure on Manning, but they do not want to blitz him very much -- and they probably won't. Including the postseason, the Patriots sent just three or four pass rushers on 79 percent of pass plays this year, the seventh highest figure in the NFL. They only big-blitzed with six or more on 5.5 percent of pass plays. And while the Patriots were successful when they did choose to big blitz -- allowing just 5.1 yards per play -- Eli Manning was very strong against big blitzes this season. Including the postseason, Eli Manning had 7.2 yards per pass against three or four pass rushers, 6.8 yards per pass against five pass rushers, and an awesome 10.6 yards per pass against six or more pass rushers. In the first Giants-Pats game, the Pats only big-blitzed twice, and while one play was an incomplete pass, the other was the 10-yard touchdown to Mario Manningham that gave the Giants a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Pats rushed five in that game five times, resulting in three incompletes, an interception, and the 28-yard completion to Ballard.

There's a general impression that the Giants' running game has improved late in the season after struggling for most of the year. Based on DVOA, it really hasn't improved, but it has changed. In Weeks 1-15, the Giants' running backs averaged 3.71 yards per carry but had 48 percent success rate. Since Week 16, the Giants' running backs have averaged 4.24 yards per carry but with a 39 percent success rate. The Pats' run defense has declined if we look at the "last five games" split, but that's only because of the Week 15 Denver game. Otherwise, there's really been no change -- the Patriots are below average against the run but it isn't anywhere near as big an issue as their pass defense.

Tom Coughlin has long been known as a head coach who wants to establish his running game, but he seems to have done the wise thing and gotten away from that in 2011. Including the playoffs, the Giants ran only 43.6 percent of first downs, which ranks 29th in the NFL. The Giants were one of just three teams in the NFL who ran the ball more often on second down (44.4 percent of the time) than on first down. But the Patriots were reasonable against the run on second down, ranking 17th in DVOA. The other strength of the Pats' run defense is actually one of the big weaknesses of the Giants' running game: short yardage. The Pats ranked 11th during the regular season, allowing 58 percent conversion in short-yardage runs. The Giants converted just 53 percent, 27th in the league.

Basically, unless they are running out the clock with a lead, every time the Giants hand the ball off in this game instead of picking on the New England secondary is a win for the Patriots. It's also hard to see Bradshaw or Jacobs playing a major role in the passing game. Both backs were slightly above average as receivers, but the Patriots were very good against running backs in the passing game this season, ranking fourth in DVOA.

The Patriots' defense may have been horrible overall but it was much better in two very important situations. First of all, the Patriots improved in late and close situations, ranking 15th in the second half of close games (within a touchdown). The Giants offense actually ranks worse in "late and close" situations (13th) than it does overall (seventh). Eli Manning was awesome in the fourth quarter of close games this year (50.4% DVOA when the score was within a touchdown) but he wasn't very good in the third quarter of close games (-8.9% DVOA when the score was within a touchdown). A lot of those big Giants fourth-quarter comebacks were made possible because the Giants offense stalled and fell behind in the third quarter.

The other situation where the Patriots defense has strong numbers was the red zone, where they truly embodied the concept of a "bend but don't break" defense. As the table above shows, the Patriots turned into a top-ten defense inside the 20-yard line. You may remember that earlier this season, I wrote a piece for ESPN Insider suggesting that the concept of "red zone efficiency" was a myth -- that there's no consistency when a team either plays much better or much worse in the red zone than it plays overall. We'll do more research on this in the offseason, but if this proves to be a rule, the Patriots may prove to be the exception.

You may remember a stat we introduced back in Pro Football Prospectus 2007 called "points prevented per drive." This stat took yards allowed per drive and used that to estimate points allowed per drive. Then we looked at the difference between that number and actual points allowed per drive. The difference showed the extent to which the defense in question was a "bend but don't break defense."

The study from 2007 showed that in general, there's no year-to-year consistency where certain defenses prove to be "bend but don't break," with a couple of exceptions. One of these exceptions was the New England Patriots, and this has continued since we wrote that article five years ago. This year, the Patriots put up the best PP/Drive number in our database (drive stats currently go back to 1997). In part, this is because the Patriots allowed 37.5 yards per drive, the worst Yards/Drive figure in the database. This should project to 2.52 points per drive. In reality, the Patriots allowed 1.90 points per drive, 21st in the league.

You may be wondering if this "bend but don't break" tendency by the Patriots is real. Well, the Patriots have been above average in PP/Drive for nine straight seasons, and in every single one of Bill Belichick's seasons except for 2002. In 2010, the Patriots had the fourth-highest PP/Drive figure. The Pats own four of the top six years in PP/Drive, and six of the top 20.

Of course, if Eli Manning can hit a couple of 40-yard bombs to Cruz or Hakeem Nicks, it won't matter how stalwart the Patriots become in the red zone.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

The Patriots didn't have a single game this year with an offensive DVOA below zero. But they came really close twice: in the Week 3 loss to Buffalo where Tom Brady threw four picks, and in the Week 9 game against the Giants. From the Giants' perspective, their win over New England was their best defensive performance of the year until they beat Green Bay in the Divisional round.

Why wasn't Brady as good as usual during the first three quarters of the Week 9 game? For the same reason he struggled against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII: pass pressure. It's a common perception that the Giants will not need to blitz to get a pass rush on Brady, thanks to their talented front four. During the regular season, the Giants actually blitzed just as much as any other team, but they've dialed down that tendency during the five-game winning streak.

Giants Pass Rush, 2011
Pass Rushers Weeks 1-15
Yd/Pass
Weeks 1-15
Frequency
Weeks 16-20
Yd/Pass
Weeks 16-20
Frequency
3-4 rushers 7.2 69% 5.1 80%
5 rushers 6.9 21% 4.0 16%
6+ rushers 3.2 9% 3.6 4%


In general, Brady kills big blitzes. Including the postseason, he's averaged 7.8 yards per pass against three or four pass rushers, 7.4 yards per pass against five pass rushers, and a ridiculous 11.6 yards per pass against six pass rushers or more. But he certainly didn't do well against the big blitz in the Week 9 Giants-Patriots game. By our count, the Giants big-blitzed five times in that game, and it resulted in four incomplete passes and a strip-sack by Michael Boley.

The Giants had to bring blitzes during the regular season because their pass rush was heavily affected by injuries, and thus not as strong as advertised. The Giants were tied for third with 48 sacks but finished only tenth in Adjusted Sack Rate, because they faced a lot of pass attempts. As we've mentioned in a couple of different articles this postseason, the ups and downs of the Giants' pass rush surprisingly matches when Osi Umenyiora was in and out of the lineup, not when Justin Tuck was in and out of the lineup. But with both of them finally playing together, the Giants' pass rush has improved during the winning streak. The Giants had 6.8 percent ASR through Week 15, and 7.8 percent ASR in the last five games. Tom Brady is also facing more pressure lately, as the Pats' offensive ASR has gone from 4.7 percent through Week 14 to 5.9 percent in the last five games. However, it will be tough for the Giants to get to Tom Brady on an early down to create a third-and-long situation. It's more likely that they take down Brady on third down to prevent a conversion. This is when the Giants bring out the four-DE "NASCAR" package that is so hard to block. The Pats' offense has 4.1 percent ASR on first/second down but 7.8 percent on third/fourth down. The Giants' defense has 6.6 percent ASR on first/second down and 8.3 percent ASR on third/fourth down. (Those numbers all include the postseason.)

We know the Giants' pass rush has improved during the five-game winning streak, but what about their coverage? That's improved too, and it is interesting to see where. No. 1 cornerback Corey Webster has decent charting numbers this season, and they haven't really changed in recent weeks. For the year, including the postseason, we have him at 6.9 yards allowed per pass and a 54 percent Success Rate. Antrel Rolle has had his troubles, but that hasn't changed during the winning streak either. For the year, including the postseason, we have him at 8.7 yards allowed per pass and a 51 percent Success Rate.

Nope, based on our game charting, the biggest difference in the secondary has been Aaron Ross. Ross was terrible for most of the year. Our charting numbers for Weeks 1-15 list him with 10.0 yards allowed per pass and a 42 percent Success Rate. Those are two of the worst figures in the NFL this season. Since Week 16, we've charted him as the main defender on 17 passes, allowing 4.7 yards with a 53 percent Success Rate. That includes a couple of deep passes where Ross was directly responsible for the pass defensed. I have no idea if this improvement is real or just small sample size.

The other big difference in recent games is the number of passes that were marked either "uncovered" or "hole in zone" by our charters. This could suggest that the Giants are having success playing more zone coverage, which matches the general storyline I've read of "Perry Fewell went back to basics." In Weeks 1-15, the Giants had 3.9 passes per game that were marked hole in zone or uncovered, and these plays gained 10.9 yards per pass. Since Week 16, it is 8.8 passes per game gaining 7.3 yards per pass.

If we want to look at the Giants' coverage from a different angle, using the "defense vs. receivers" numbers instead of game charting coverage stats, it is clear the Giants have big problems with "other receivers," where the Giants rank 30th in DVOA. However, this may not be a big problem against the Patriots. The Pats threw only eight percent of passes to players in this category, which ranked 31st in the league. Often, the players who fall into the category of "other receivers" are slot receivers, which would seem to suggest that the Giants will have particular trouble with Wes Welker. You don't need DVOA stats to figure that the Giants have trouble covering Welker. In Week 9, Welker caught nine of 10 passes for 136 yards. However, despite Welker's big day, the Giants' problem with "other receivers" doesn't seem to be an issue with slot guys. The players who had big days against the Giants are players who are more downfield threats: Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson, Devery Henderson, Doug Baldwin.

Of course, the most important receiver for the Patriots isn't Wes Welker anymore. It's tight end Rob Gronkowski. We don't know how well Gronkowski will be able to play due to his high ankle sprain, but there's very little question that he's going to play, and Aaron Hernandez will be out there with him. The Giants were pretty good against passes to tight ends this year, ranking 12th in DVOA. They were an average defense when opponents used two tight ends in the formation, which is a little better than they ranked overall during the regular season.

Gronkowski was a huge part of the Patriots' game plan in the Week 9 game, with a season-high 15 pass targets. He caught eight of those passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. As Vince Verhei pointed out in a column for ESPN Insider this week, the Giants used different defenders against Gronkowski depending on the depth of his pattern. Outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka had him on the short routes, middle linebacker Boley covered him on the midrange passes, and safety Deon Grant picked him up when he went deep, with Ross and strong safety Kenny Phillips making cameo appearances here and there. Grant was the most effective defender against Gronkowski, covering him on five throws which all ended up incomplete. Grant is known as more of a hard hitter than he is a coverage safety, but if he can repeat that performance again, it will go a long way towards delivering the game for New York.

Although the screen pass is often a good strategy against a team with a strong pass rush, the Giants allowed just 5.2 yards per pass on running back screens, eighth in the NFL. They allowed 6.0 yards per pass on wide receiver or tight end screens, which ranked 18th. The Patriots run the wide receiver screen a lot more often than they run the running back screen. We only have them charted with 11 running back screens, although they gained an average of 11.4 yards. They gained 7.0 yards per pass on wide receiver/tight end screens, which ranked fifth in the NFL.

Most readers know that Football Outsiders generally advocates that teams should pass much more than they run, but this game might be an exception for the Patriots. The Giants may have the reputation as a "running team," but it is the Patriots who actually have the efficient running game. It is efficient and consistent at breaking out 4-to-6 yard runs, but not much more than that; the Patriots ranked 30th in Open Field Yards per carry (yards gained more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage).

Despite all the improvement in the Giants' pass defense over the last five weeks, there's been no improvement in their run defense. It has basically been average all season; the Giants have allowed slightly fewer yards per carry since Week 16, but against a weak schedule of opposing backs. The Giants are weakest against runs around left end and runs up the middle (26th in ALY in both). And the Giants are particularly susceptible to runs out of spread shotgun sets, which is how the Patriots are often running the ball. Including the playoffs, the Giants allowed 6.59 yards per carry on shotgun runs, 27th in the NFL. This is the one place where the run defense has improved in the last few weeks, though; the Giants have allowed just 5.22 yards per carry on shotgun runs since Week 16.

Running the ball won't just gain effective, consistent yardage. It will also set up the Patriots' great play-action passing game. Only 17 percent of Patriots' passes during the regular season were deep passes over 15 yards through the air, which ranked 29th in the NFL. But when the Patriots go deep they usually do it with a play fake first, and they confuse their opponents. The Patriots this season gained 10.9 yards per pass with play action, compared to 7.4 yards per pass otherwise. This was the highest figure of yards per pass with play action in the league, and the third-highest gap between play action and non-play action passes. During the regular season, the Giants had trouble with play action, allowing 7.9 yards per pass with play action compared to 6.0 yards per pass otherwise. During the five-game win streak, the Giants have still given up more yardage to play-action plays, but with a gap that matches the league average (5.9 yards with play-action, 4.7 yards otherwise).

SPECIAL TEAMS

If we look at just the stats from the last five weeks, the Patriots have been far better than the Giants on special teams. But that's a bit silly. The sample size problem created by looking at just five games on offense or defense is pittance compared to the sample size problem created by looking at just five games of special teams. Really, the Patriots have just a small field position advantage from special teams. Specifically, both teams get a field position advantage whenever they kick off or punt, but the Patriots' advantage is a little bit bigger. The Patriots are outstanding in both net kickoff and net punt value, and the Giants are pretty good. Neither team has a record of strong returns this year. Neither team has a kickoff return longer than 40 yards, and a 72-yard punt return touchdown by Edelman back in Week 11 is the only punt return by either team longer than 25 yards.

OUTLOOK

This is a strange game to pick. The math clearly favors the Patriots. Our various "pick this game" methods generally look at things longer-term, using weighted DVOA, and the Patriots come out significantly better than the Giants if you look at any period longer than just the last five weeks. That's why, for example, the Patriots are favored in the playoff odds report. Las Vegas bookmakers, likely using methods similar to ours, installed the Patriots as three-point favorites. It's moved to -2.5 at some sports books, but no further. And yet, the Giants are ridiculously overconfident, the majority of the betting public (around 65 percent) has put money on the Giants, and nearly every prognosticator out there is picking the Giants to win this game.

It's a close call, but I'm afraid I lean that way as well.

Obviously, football games can turn on a lot of different variables. There are 90 players on the field, the ball might take a strange bounce on any given play, a player will come within inches of making a great catch or not. Still, I think there are two driving issues that will do the most to determine who wins this game:

1) How healthy is Rob Gronkowksi, and

2) How real are the Giants' and Patriots' recent defensive improvements?

With Gronkowski not practicing all week, it is hard to believe the answer to the first is 100 percent. He's going to play, no doubt about it, but we don't know at what level of effectiveness. As far as the second question, the Giants' recent defensive improvement is easier to believe in than New England's. Both teams have gotten healthier on defense, but the Giants have improved more, their improvement has a larger sample size, and their raw defensive talent is just plain better. "The Giants have a ferocious pass rush" just seems like a more logical statement than "it turns out Sterling Moore is a really good cornerback and nobody ever noticed." If Gronkowski is a little hobbled, and Brady is a little bit pressured, the Giants' offense should have enough weapons to attack the Patriots' porous secondary and come away with a close victory. Math may favor the Patriots, but matchups and circumstance favor Big Blue.


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.

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. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush, pass, and red zone, 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.) 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 rolling average of the last five games. There are separate charts for offense and defense for each team. The yellow dot in Week 9 represents the regular-season game between the Patriots and Giants.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Feb 2012

218 comments, Last at 23 Apr 2013, 10:56pm by Brian Ruddy

Comments

1
by Athelas :: Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:05pm

As a Patriots fan,unfortunately I feel the same way--a bit more confident than 2001, but not by much.

67
by Bernie (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:35pm

New England will win this game, purely because I want the Giants to win. So far this playoffs, every team I have rooted for has lost. I guess I'm the Schleprock of football viewers.

131
by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:31pm

I like the gameplan of running the ball a lot for NE. If the Pats are balanced in this game, I actually think the Pats enjoy a significant LOS advantage in this game. Of course, the Pats are going to need to prevent their patchwork secondary from being exploited, but I think the numbers are right here. NYG have a very poor rushing attack, their o-line has some obvious and significant weaknesses, and their d-line (and defense more generally) is best geared to stop vertical passing attacks.

If Ridley is out of the doghouse, I think he could have a nice game. Assuming he doesn't fumble.

164
by Willy (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 10:25am

Exactly. They also ran well against the Ravens last week, which is much better than the Giants in preventing the run. Keep Brady on the field and give less time for the secondary to be exploited, and I think the Pats may pull out a win.

98
by Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:59pm

Yes, I agree. I definitely feel slightly more confident playing a team that was significantly worse than us in the regular season as opposed to a team that was enormously better.

Give me a break.

121
by Floyd (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:32pm

Us?

You suiting up on Sunday?

128
by JIPanick :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:05pm

I will have my jersey on and be in my assigned position in front of the TV, ready to perform my assigned function of yelling "You yellow bellied coward!" at the coach every time a punter comes onto the field.

Does that count?

162
by alexdl :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:37am

Yes.

Do you need an agent?
I know a couple of teams that are looking for guys like you.

165
by (not verified) (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 10:32am

+1

2
by Will Allen :: Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:11pm

Largely agree, especially if Gronk is hobbled enough to allow the Giants to take away Hernandez without sacrificing much. The Pats haven't faced a terrific qb in a long time, and the last game is a bad time to get reacquainted with the species.

HOWEVER, the Giants are merely serviceable, at best, on the o-line, and a team like that is always in danger of a brutal clubbing, and a defensive front with a Wilfork playing at a very high level has a decent chance of administering such a clubbing.

The game is a toss-up, it seems to me, and a damned interesting one. Force me to pick, and I guess I say New York, but without any confidence to speak of.

7
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:59am

The last 'terrific' QB the Pats faced was Eli.

Sanchez, Palko, Vince Young, Orlovsky, Grossman, Tebow, Matt Moore, Fitzpatrick, Tebow, Flacco. This is a step up. It isn't facing Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, but I would say Manning and those receivers are significantly better than any of those previous ten offenses.

The o-line doesn't bother me as much because Eli Manning is good at getting the ball out quick. He's not as good as Peyton in that area, but he's had a bad o-line all year. The 49ers killed him, but the 49ers pass rush, in my eyes, is better than NE's no matter how much the Pats pass rush has improved over the year.

I have no idea where to lean in this game. When Championship Sunday ended two weeks ago, I was fairly certain that the Giants would win. Ever since my confidence in that has been eroding. This is Tom Brady and the Pats. Their defense is very good in the red zone. Eli will still throw a couple up for grabs. I still think the Giants will win, but not by too much (that said, I can see a Giants blowout as more likely than a Pats blowout - if the Giants pass rush plays its best, and the offense does what it does and the Pats defense is 'what we thought it was' the Giants can win comfortably).

As for Gronk. I have a bad memory about this. If we forget about the ridiculous hype that the "is Maurkice Pouncey going to play" storyline got last year, the last big injury going into a Super Bowl was Freeney two years ago. I believe Freeney that time also had an ankle sprain. He played, but was less than 100%. He made plays in the 1st half (sacked Brees with one-hand), but by the 2nd half was just done. I could see a similar thing for Gronk, where he plays, but just is nowhere near the same. I think Hernandez was a little gimpy in the November game, and although Gronk had a good day, the Giants played the Pats quite well defensively.

9
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:11am

The Giants really didn't play that well defensively in the November game. Brady just had an abominable first half partly due to an elbow injury and partly because he was seeing ghosts. Once he settled down in the second half, NY had no answer.

Hernandez was also far more than simply "a little gimpy". He wasn't up to to speed for another month or so.

All that said, I agree that a NY blowout is more likely than a NE blowout, and that NE hasn't faced a passing unit of this caliber for some time.

13
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:23am

I don't think the Giants played tremendous defense, but they played definitely well enough to win. Brady was seeing ghosts for a reason. The Giants didn't hit him, but definitely he felt the defense coming in. I also thought they covered well. Brady did throw two interceptions that I both thought were bad throws.

17
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:29am

Yeah, there was a reason he was seeing ghosts, but it really didn't have much to do with pressure applied during that game. JPP was right that they were in Tommy's head.

The pics were terrible throws. The one to Gronk, Brady got cute and didn't even bother to read the coverage after looking off the safety. Gronk was there, but only if the throw was lofted more.

On the other one, Brady saw Deion flash behind the LBs and just tossed it up without even checking if anyone was sitting in the zone.

In both cases, the coverage was good, but the QB was mostly responsible for the turnover.

28
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:38am

I think it was the pick to Deion where from the angle, it did originally look like Deion was wide open, but Brady waited for some reason for him to continue his crossing route across the field, at which point the players in the zones converged and picked it off. That was just a bad Brady throw in a pretty off Brady game.

99
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:02pm

The pics were terrible throws. The one to Gronk, Brady got cute and didn't even bother to read the coverage after looking off the safety. Gronk was there, but only if the throw was lofted more.

If that's the case, he was doing the same things in the Baltimore game. Brady occasionally gets the yips.

120
by dryheat :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:28pm

He does.

That being said, the picks two weeks ago weren't the yips. #1 was laziness and #2 was bullheadedness. If he gets the same protection vs. the Giants that he did vs. the Ravens, he's going to put up some big, big numbers.

123
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:44pm

Why do you assume he won't be lazy or bullheaded again?

First, I doubt he gets that protection again. The Ravens rush got worse as the season wore on, while the Giants rush has gotten better.

Brady can be bullheaded. He does make bad throws. Even in his good games (the pick against Denver). He's not perfect, and just because he had a bad game doesn't mean he is going to have a good to great game next. In my opinion, Brady's bad games usually come in bunches (like the middle of this year with the DAL/PIT/NYG stretch or last year with the BAL/SD/MIN/CLE stretch). This is not going to be an easy game.

130
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:26pm

The "bad games in bunches" is a very recent phenomenon. Until the last year or so, Brady had a well documented stretch of putting together impressive rebound performances. I also think it needs to be noted that he was playing with a significant elbow issue during the 2011 games you mentioned, severe enough to have Ben Roethlisburger running for the nearest microphone.

The reason why he might not have the same issues as the AFCCG is that Baltimore is dramatically better than NY in the back seven. They actually did a decent job of sticking with receivers even when the rush didn't get there, and it is hard to see NY doing as well. I agree that there were signs that Baltimore would struggle to get to Brady, whereas NY has been playing their best ball of late. That said, it has been a while since NY has faced a good offensive line.

138
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:57pm

Atlanta did rank #7 in ASR for an o-line, and DAL ranked 13th, so they haven't played any great o-lines, but they haven't feasted on horrible ones either (Jets 17th, San Fran 23rd and GB 25th were the other three games).

The Pats are 8th. I don't expect a repeat of Super Bowl XLII, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants d-line gets to Brady quite a bit.

141
by rich316 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:19pm

Speaking of SB 42, watching the highlights it really struck me how much faster Tuck looked only 4 years ago. His explosiveness looked downright JPP-esque, whereas now he relies much more on his excellent technique to get in the backfield. Every athlete loses a half-step from his early 20s to his late 20s, but I think overrating of the NYG pass rush stems from the fact that people think he is the guy he was back then, when the eye test says that he's not. On the other hand, 30 year old Osi looks as fast as ever despite similar injury history. If the Giants let Osi go this offseason, they will miss him a lot.

148
by John Doe :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 9:32pm

Tuck has been battling injury all season long. His performance has been great up until this year and I expect that he will be back to his old self, possibly after a surgery or two.

26
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:16am

Drew Brees plays behind the best offensive line in the league, with at least nine games in a domed stadium. Rodgers was great, obviously, but he came out of the chutes with a receiving corps that was primed to produce. Manning plays behind a mediocre line, in a stadium not conducive to passing, and with a receiving corps that took a good chunk of the season to gel. No, I'm not saying I would take Manning over Rodgers (I might take him over Brees if I'm playing in the Meadowlands behind a significantly lesser o-line), but I really think we overestimate the degree to which the production metrics mirror individual performance. Manning, as you note, is a step up from what the Pats have seen since they last played the Giants, and I'd argue a huge step up from the likes of Tebow, Palko, Orlovsky, Young, Grossman, or Moore. Just Manning's ability to get the Giants into the right play, against a secondary with significant vulnerabilities, makes a big difference.

I think Brady is going to have some good drives, and if Gronk is effective the Pats will run efficiently, taking some starch out of the rush. The more I think about the Giants, the less I like their offensive line, and an offensive line having a bad day is good formula for defeat. The Pats defensive front isn't wonderful, but I could see them thumping the Giants o-linemen. I'll still lean Giants, but I think I see a clear path for me to be wrong.

29
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:42am

I agree completely. I think the difference between Eli and Brees/Rodgers is much closer than conventional stats or advanced stats say.

This is, at least for 2011, the best QB the Pats have faced all year (of course, they've already faced him). The Pats weren't great against two of the other three top-10 QBs they faced (Rivers, Roethlisberger) - the other was Romo, who they played well, but is probably a borderline top-10 for most people. Rivers and SD pretty much went up and down the field with only the usual Norv-Chargers stuff getting in the way (failed 4th and goal from the 1, Wilfork picks off a pass, Mathews fumbles on a normal run play with the Chargers down 7).

49
by Mark S. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:06am

Brees played a whopping 11 games in a dome this year...the eight home games, and away games at ATL, MIN, and STL. And I agree...with the exception of maybe HOU, he has the league's best o-line.

Not that he isn't awesome, but those are real advantages.

51
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:12am

Brees is also more dependent on good o-line play, due to his height. He's great, no doubt about it, but of the guys constantly talked about as being among the best, he's the one guy who would be most likely to see his production suffer a steep decline if his protection was not good.

52
by Independent George :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:28am

I have to disagree. Brees is short, but he also (1) reads the defense and makes decisions really, really quickly, (2) moves extremely well, and (3) throws accurately on the move. His production would decline as any QB would, but I think he'd adjust.

I think Flacco and Sanchez are the two QBs most dependent on good OL play. Flacco in particular doesn't seem to have very good pocket awareness, and takes a very long time to go through his reads. I think Baltimore's OL is a lot better than they're widely given credit for.

62
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:49am

Well, I don't think anyone speaks of Sanchez and Flacco as being among the best. If the heat is on, I'd rather have the height of a Brady, Rodgers, or Manning(s).

55
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:34am

I agree with Will. I watched Brees very closely this postseason and his dependency on good protection up the middle is dramatic. This is because he tended to walk up into his throws more than simply stepping up. Because of this, to be precise he needed three full yards open in front of him, whereas guys like Manning and Brady only need a yard and a half to stride into.

I don't watch Drew all the time, so these two games might not have been representative of his standard style of play, but it was notable against Detroit and SF.

178
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:31pm

Manning plays behind a mediocre line, in a stadium not conducive to passing, and with a receiving corps that took a good chunk of the season to gel.

He also has poor accuracy and consistency relative to the other QBs being discussed.

Why has everybody forgotten this?

198
by Independent George :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:48pm

I'll give you inconsistent, but Eli's accuracy has been outstanding this season - and his deep accuracy in particular.

212
by Will Allen :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 5:40pm

No, he has not been inaccurate this season.

161
by icarus (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:19am

I think it's interesting that no one's looked at the defensive DVOA splits for the games against good QBs (to me: Romo, Roethlisburger, Rivers, Flacco, Manning). The graph suggests they played 5 of their top 7 defensive games against those QBs. Weirdly the worst games seem to have come against the unstoppable machines of Miami, Indy, Buffalo and the Jets. Obvs that's taking into account the run games too and it's DVAO, not VOA, but still - some evidence for the idea of 'playing up to the level of your opponent' ?

167
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 11:13am

Great point. +1

179
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:33pm

I would throw out the stats from the Indy game. The Pats had a 31-3 lead going into the fourth quarter and got lazy.

The other games you mention are divisional games. It happens.

199
by Alternator :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 11:19pm

I think a simpler point is this: who the Patriots played didn't really have that much impact on the passing production they allowed. Against a weak team and negative adjustments, they looked atrocious. Against a good team and positive adjustments, they looked average to mediocre.

There's good reason to think Eli is going to have an average "QB playing the Patriots" day, not something substantially better.

3
by Jonadan :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:33am

I have a hard time seeing the Pats rush getting to Eli. All of my guesstimations are based on that fact. Therefore, I think if the Giants hammer Brady like we're all kind of expecting, they win. If the Pats' o-line holds up, we're in for a shoot-out, and I think the Patriots come out on top. I have absolutely no idea how to pick this one, but I'm leaning New England.

(Full disclosure: I'm a Lions fan. I have no idea if this says anything about inherent biases or not.)

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

6
by Independent George :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:57am

I have a hard time seeing it mostly because Eli can move around the pocket and get rid of the ball, and not because the Giants OL is likely to stop Wilfork, Love, or Anderson unless they trip over David Diehl's supine body. For all the 2007 comparisons, I think we're overlooking the very real possibility that the Pats DL might dominate the LOS cover up a weak secondary the way the Giants did four years ago.

I'm obviously rooting for the Giants, and think they match up well with the Pats, but I can't bring myself to call them favored in any way. I have a sinking feeling in my gut that (1) the Giants, who re-defined the term 'mental lapse' throughout the regular season, are overconfident instead of hungry, and (2) Belichick and Brady have images of David Tyree & Justin Tuck seared into their brains over the last four years, and are filled with sheer hatred an malice.

That's not scientific, I know, but just a deep, deep sense of unease in my gut.

21
by rich316 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:41am

I share your concern about the LOS matchup. I think the game is a coin flip, given Gronkowski having some effectiveness. However, I don't think there's any danger of the Giants being in the wrong mindset/being overconfident/having a mental lapse. Their mystifyingly bad games always come against the Redskins and Seahawks of the world, not in big games against good teams. As for the revenge angle, it's the Superbowl. Everybody's motivated. If anything, it could actually be an advantage to the Giants if Brady comes out tight and forcing things, because that's when he plays badly.

32
by t.d. :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:32am

The past two years the Giants played the eventual world champs and stunk up the joint in crucial-for-them games, although the Saints game was only crucial in retrospect, because it revealed how awful their CCsecondary was

137
by rich316 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:51pm

The 2009 Saints were just that much better than the 2009 Giants, even though the Giants had a good record going into that game. The Giants came into that game after feasting on the AFC West, and just weren't that good. I also wouldn't call that game particularly crucial, as it came in week 6 and the Giants were on top of their division at the time. The 2010 Packers loss was obviously much bigger, being basically a week 16 playoff game. Coming after the Miracle at the Meadowlands II, though, I don't think it applies to the current Giants. They were mentally shattered after that game in a way that is extremely rare.

11
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:19am

For all of the talk of NY's dominant pass rush, NE has comparable playoff sacks/pressures despite playing one less game, 9/18 vs. 8/15. It isn't as if NE's are skewed by game circumstances, either, since NY has had similar big lead advantages.

This isn't the quicksand pass rush the Patriots have employed the past three years or so, these guys are actually pretty good. If NY was bringing the 2007 OL into this game, I'd write it off as having no chance, but there are some attractive matchups on thst side of the ball, certainly as many as NY's DL has against NE's blockers.

15
by Independent George :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:27am

I agree that the Pats DL has been playing well, Wilfork in particular, but if there's a skew in the numbers, it's that those two games were against QBs renowned for their lack of pocket awareness. I'm not sure where your numbers are coming from, though; Pro Football Focus had the Alex Smith being pressured 24 times, and Rodgers 16 times in their respective games, which roughly jibes with my memories of those games.

19
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:32am

I took them off ESPN, though you are write that I mislabled them. It should be sacks/hits, not pressures.

As for the caliber of QB, you might be right, but SF's pass blocking was lousy most of the year, and GB's OL wasn't full strength. Some competing factors, though I'm not sure how to weigh each.

18
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:29am

It is hard to say that the Giants had similar big lead advantages. They were up 10 or 7 points for most of the second half of the Packers game (until the Kuhn fumble and then TD by Manningham). They didn't have more than a one-score lead in the 49ers game. I think the Pats pass rush is real though, but I think they've had some fortunate situations the last two weeks (Tebow is awful at getting rid of the ball).

20
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:35am

They also had a double digit lead on Atlanta for most of the second half as well, right?

25
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:02am

Didn't realize his numbers were for all three games for some reason. Yeah, it was 8 for most of the 3rd, but the long TD to Nicks ended it really.

27
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:19am

You don't have to get to Manning to greatly lower his production. Getting rid of it fast doesn't necessarily translate into first downs.

4
by supersloth :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:39am

Personally, as an advocate of advanced statistical analysis and its strength over individual assessment, I'm rather disappointed in Aaron's final paragraph.

Schatz decides to arbitrarily assign + value to certain things over others (like the improvement of the Giants pass rush vs. that of the New England D) and comes off as just not trusting the numbers.

Of course statistical models are never made to pick any one individual game. But we know over the course of thousands of games, they will almost always perform better than any one human assigning arbitrary values to whatever part of the game they feel will be important.

Baseball statisticians have proven (in large part thanks to larger sample sizes than football) that there are no true "Mr. Octobers". That any player, given enough time, is no better during the playoffs than they are during the regular season. We know by looking at frequency distributions of 5 game streaks across the season for all teams that there's no such thing as "true" hot or cold streaks, and that the best way to evaluate this game (like any. other. game.) is using weighted stats that the Weighted DVOA model provides.

But Aaron just doesn't trust the numbers this time. There must be something wrong with the model if there are 4 odd results in the past 9 Superbowls.

Sometimes when you flip a coin 10 times it comes up heads 8. That doesn't mean we should re-evaluate the accuracy of our coin flipping predictive model. No matter what "matchups" or "circumstance" we choose to perceive.

8
by Intropy :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:10am

You would rightfully have a much higher confidence in your statistical model for coin flipping than for NFL game outcomes before running any experiments at all. Ten samples isn't a lot to go on, but when that's all you have that's what you have to use.

33
by t.d. :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:47am

Yeah, 16 games make it incredibly difficult to make any predictions with much confidence, and it seems like every year there are teams that put up gaudy records against crap schedules. Just read that list of quarterbacks the Pats have beaten in their ten game winning streak again and ask yourself if that could skew the data.

50
by Eddo :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:11am

Right. In the coin flip scenario, you know the odds are 50/50, so a run of ten flips with skewed results can be dismissed.

No one really knows how well the DVOA model works; we think we know, and like it, and it seems to one of the best systems out there, but the level of certainty when saying "Team X is 10% better than Team Y" is quite low.

Therefore, the better analogy would be you're rolling a die that has some unknown number of sides, and it might be weighted. After 100 rolls, you have:
- 5 ones;
- 15 twos;
- 20 threes;
- 2 fours;
- 8 fives;
- 25 sixes;
- 5 sevens;
- 10 eights;
- 3 nines;
- 7 tens.

You can infer that sixes and threes are weighted, but can you say with confidence that they're more weighted than twos, or even eights?

40
by BJR :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:44am

Good post. I guess it's because it's the big game, with two weeks beforehand to think of nothing else and generate an opinion, but I'm very surprised at the willingness to sling the data out of the window and declare Giants favourites. It's close for sure, as the Vegas line would imply. But there are only subjective arguments for making Giants favourites; DVOA suggests the Patriots have been the better, more consistent team across the season, not to mention last season when the squads were very similar.

82
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:46pm

The data, with regard to the Patriots best unit, their offense, was generated with a healthy tight end who may be the best in the game, in an offense that made tight end play more central to success than is typical. It is at best a 50-50 chance that the tight end will supply performance on Sunday which comes close to what he supplied when the data was generated. Thus, it is entirely reasonable to doubt the utility of the data when projecting Sunday's game.

If you found out that Goodell had suspended league rules, and Steve Tisch and John Mara were in the depths of an ether binge, and traded Eli Manning for Alex Smith this afternoon, you'd immediately throw out all the data generated during the season in analyzing the Giants. Yes, my hypothetical gonzo personnel management scenario is rather more extreme, but the point is the same; when the conditions that generated the data change substantially, the data becomes substantially less useful.

125
by BJR :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:55pm

Oh sure, Gronk's injury is a factor. But if it is enough to over-ride the season's data and drive Aaron's declaration that the Giants are favourites, then that should be the theme of the article. But it is only really touched upon.

48
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:30am

Is a Mr October like a Miss July? I'm not a baseball fan but that idea doesn't make me want to watch it more.

54
by DGL :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:30am

Clearly it's because Aaron is a Giants homer fanboi.

60
by Tballgame (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:46am

If there was a 'like' button in this thread, I probably would have stopped there.

Hell, at least latch onto the last five weeks and call it a pick'em. Don't give me your gut. Or get cold feet.

Also, if NYG have been going to the NASCAR line on 3rd down and getting elevated third down pressure, can NE beat that by going no huddle and limiting the substitution success of the defense? What happened in that Week 9 game when the Pats went no-huddle? Or did they do that in Week 9? As Belichek has had two weeks to figure out a way to attack this strength of the Giants, the no-huddle seems like one of the more obvious tools in the toolbox, but I haven't seen any statistics on what that does to a defense at the back end of longer drives.

81
by Lyford :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:34pm

"Don't give me your gut. Or get cold feet."

I don't understand this reaction. (And it isn't just you - several people have had it.) Why don't you want Aaron's gut feel? He gave you all the numbers, he gave you everything that his statistics say about the game and then, in addition, he gave you his gut feeling. If you don't want that, pretend the article stops before that point. It isn't like he gave you his gut feeling instead of the statistical analysis.

Or is it "cold feet" because his expectation isn't exactly what the numbers say? So he should get to the bottom of the analysis and write, "the numbers say x, so I say x"? What's the point of that?

115
by Tballgame (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:57pm

The analysis did not lead to the conclusion. The site is supposed to provide logical analysis, which demands the analysis drives the conclusion. The conclusion gave three reasons to pick the Giants: 1) Popular opinion/Giant confidence; 2) Gronk's health; and 3)reality of defensive improvements. The importance of popular opinion was not mentioned in the analysis. Gronk's health consumed a few sentences in the analysis. The defenses were analyzed, although it wasn't clear in the article how important the NE defensive improvement was to this game, which the analysis seemed to suggest stemmed from the health of Spikes and Chung (which I'm assuming Aaron isn't doubting) and the switch of Moore and McCourty (and I'm assuming Aaron does not think Moore is a better CB than McCourty because Aaron is doubting some part of the improvement).

The whole underpinning of the site is that we can get a deeper understanding of the game by looking deeper into the numbers than those talking heads that announce games. This is from the 'About' page: "With these stats, we will attempt to bring objective analysis to football that matches the revolution in baseball writing and analysis over the past 20 years. We have new methods for analyzing skill players, offensive and defensive lines, special teams, and total team efficiency... We'll also have in-depth articles explaining these statistics as well as articles to answer specific questions and challenge conventional wisdom about the game."

I'm saying Aaron got cold feet because he provided all sorts of analysis, and then gave you the talking head outlook: "The Giants are confident, Gronk may not be 100%, and the Giants defense is firing on all cylinders." I can get that from any of ESPN's retired coaches. If that is his conclusion, fine, I can appreciate it, but devote more of the analysis to why these are the keys to the game and why they shape the prediction. Don't drive us one way and shank us in the Outlook. If the in-season result was not a good predictor of Super Bowl success over the past nine years, give me the analysis that shows using the last five games each team played is a better prediction tool. And if the analysis of the last five games doesn't support a prediction of a Giants victory, show me the analysis that does.

I love Football Outsiders. I think Aaron does a great job. But I expect this site to challenge conventional wisdom, not cower before it. It doesn't have to be, "the numbers say x, so I say x." It should be, "my analysis says x." Give an analysis that supports the conclusion. And if he feels his announced allegiance was going to call his prediction into question, maybe let one of the other skilled authors write this article to provide the site's "objective analysis" and he could have written an article about gut v. numbers (if numbers cannot support a prediction of a Giants victory).

My gut tells me Aaron couldn't articulate a number based analysis to support the prediction of a Giants win and, rather than stick with his analysis which would have led to picking his team in the face of conventional wisdom, he got cold feet.

152
by MC2 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:06pm

I personally don't give a damn who anybody picks, but I think the reason that people get upset is because Aaron appears to be hedging his bets, which seems gutless.

By saying, "Well, my numbers like the Patriots, but my gut likes the Giants", it's a classic "Heads I win, tails you lose" type of prediction, which really rubs some people the wrong way. Really, though, who cares? It's just a damn prediction.

180
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:38pm

Aaron would have been better off avoiding the temptation to make a prediction. He's obviously consciously compensating for his biases.

And I was a bit baffled to see him declare so assertively that Gronk is more important than Welker. Gronk gets more TD passes, but Welker was well ahead on yardage and number of receptions.

208
by CoachDave :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 12:52pm

"He's obviously consciously compensating for his biases."

I couldn't agree 100% more.

And yes, I think less of myself now that I agree with RickD.

5
by Bob VR (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:56am

Everytime I read these articles I get information that is great. I make my prediction. Then I read your prediction and it goes the other way. You seem to favor New England in your article and then you decide to take the Giants. Stick with your research. Brady will not lose to Eli in a Super Bowl again. I like the angle of New England outrushing the Giants and then beating them deep on play action. Hopefully I can get a prop bet on rushing yards NE vs Gia. Thanks for all the work that you do!

10
by Anonymous Person (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:12am

So, is anyone else secretly hoping Ochocinco has been used as a decoy for this entire season? I think I could sleep happily that night if the miraculous happens and we have an Ochocinco MVP. Would Twitter explode?

12
by Independent George :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:20am

I can see it now. Ocho, as he was for the entire season, is shut down with 2 catches for 9 yards heading into the forth. Down 26-24, with a minute left, the Pats D forces a punt except... Gostowski injures his ankle in a bizarre towel accident. Ocho is pressed into service as the emergency kicker, and splits the uprights from 43 yards out as time expires.

22
by rich316 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:44am

I got the most enjoyment out of this just trying to imagine what a "bizarre towel accident" might look like.

38
by DiscountDoubleCheck (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:48am

I would think Ochocinco will be inactive for the game. They will need other players - Vollmer, possibly Ridley, possibly Faulk - active more than Ocho. They don't trust him ... for a reason.

And I would think Belichick would like to beat the shit out of him for the "TD celebration" comment Ocho made this week.

181
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:41pm

Ochocinco is buried on the depth chart and doesn't play at all on the special teams (as opposed to, say, Matthew Slater). He's definitely a candidate to be left off the game day roster. Vollmer will definitely play. I have no idea about Ridley or Faulk but certainly at least one of the two will be active (behind BJGE and Woodhead).

14
by nat :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:24am

After all that, there's just one thing needed to make the story complete.

Aaron. We gotta know. What's your favorite coffee shop?

16
by JIPanick :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:28am

I disagree. The Giants have won five in a row? Great. The Pats have won ten in a row. No one goes into the Super Bowl on a cold streak - and, frankly, I'll take the very good team on a hot streak over the average team on a hot streak every day, and twice on Super Bowl Sunday.

I fully expect this to resemble a classic late 80s/early 90s Super Bowl, with the Pats in the role of the Cowboys or 49ers.

24
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:55am

Problem.is seaspn totally screwy becsause of lockout
. Defenses very behind. So a team wirh good one thay had injuries (Giants good example) goinf to take time to gel. Just so happepns team gelled late regular season and pkayoffs. Defense might have better full seaoskn 2012 but not get back to SB (Saimts, Panthers, Beats, Eags, 49ers better chances) becaause so hard to repeat and get back. But ddfense should be beter full season wise 2012. M. Austin goig to be goood on line. T. Thomas coming back and some others.

Going to have to toss this season out as fluke season. Vert strange season. Lockout really made it weird
2012- return to normalcy

Hopefully no 9-7 tsam win Super Bowl after maybe Giants on sunday night.

79 Rams 9-7, lose SB but had lot of injiries reg season. Retirement of T. mack big loss too. NFC not have a great tema tht year either.

2008 Cardinals 9-7 but weird. Gave up in some games (Pates, Vikes and some others). Could have been 11-5 or 12-4 if went pedal to medal everu weeek but didn't care. Then went all out in playoffs.

Of three 9-7 Super Bowl teams '11 Giants worst onebut again season weird one so maybe throw out record and preconceived notions of what a SB team should look like and just drink a Sierra Nevada six.pack ( orr whayever you drink)) and say the helll with it and only focus on playoffs. Giants dewinged Flacs, beat Pack even witj Bill Leavy and co. helping Packers anf then come.out victorious in rough game vs SF (yes aided Ken williams' [good GM chiSox] son K. Williams botching punt returns twice. On other hand havd Pates who beat denver (big whoop) and get winn over Balt thanks to L. Evans and B
Cundiff goat actions at end of game.

Gianfs much.more impressive playoff run and look stout on defensd now and have firepower on offensd. NYG going to be very hard to beat. T. Coughlin very good coacb. If win Sunday night, guy punch ticket to Canton

65
by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:09pm

If they put Coughlin's bust in Canton, do they paint it red so it actually looks like him?

97
by mawbrew :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:57pm

Okay, it took me a moment but I figured out that Beats must be Bears in Raiderjoespeak. Please tell me that the correct spelling of Panthers is actually Raiderjoespeak for Packers.

23
by GoPatriots (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:44am

really...how could this get any better?? to restate the obvious: two good teams with some real history between them in a pick 'em game. I'm considering betting on the Giants so I can't lose everything. My brain is already jello, however...too late for any hope there. Patriots 23-20.

30
by kevin M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:01am

During the Pats' 10 game winning streak, the biggest weakness of their team (pass defense) received it's strongest test from... 14th ranked (DYAR) QB Joe Flacco. He throws to the 23rd and 24th ranked WRs (Boldin and Smith) and the 18th ranked TE (Pitta). Needless to say, the Giants have signifantly higher ranked players in all 3 of those categories. Even the Giants' pass protection is significantly better than Baltimore's. That's where matchup football takes precendence over season long numbers.

During the Giants' 5 game winning streak, they've faced 3 top 7 DYAR QBs. They've held Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers to a combined 60 Total DYAR yards.

183
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:51pm

You're playing with the numbers a little bit, in the following sense. It's true that the Pats played the Eagles when Vince Young was QB, and Young wasn't particularly good, but the Eagles' receiving corps is certainly a lot better than that of the Ravens.
The Jets have Santonio Holmes, Plax Burress and Dustin Keller. The Bills have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson (or at least they had him until he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag and Chan Gailey benched him - the turning point of the game.)

They also beat the Chargers, FWIW.

The general pattern in their wins is that the Pats score a lot of points, their defense forces a few 3-and-outs and then has a second half where they allow long drives and the opponent ends up looking relatively good. Except at the end of the day, the Pats are still ahead.

I really think BB's coaching defies the kind of analysis that extrapolates game-long performance from play-by-play analysis. The Colts game is the most obvious example. You could, on the one hand, say "omigod, they allowed 3 TDs in the fourth quarter!" Or you could say "they shut out the Colts for 3 quarters and only let them move the ball when the game was no longer in doubt."

34
by t.d. :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:10am

It's funny that in a season that will be remembered for historically great quarterback play, the Pats, with a historically bad pass defense, have a good chance of winning the title without ever facing an elite pass offense (I think Eli and the receivers are elite, but the offensive line is bad enough that you can't really label their passing attack elite). Really shows how much deeper and tougher the NFC is right now

45
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:14am

Yeah. With everyone healthy (let's not forget that two of the best teams in the AFC and one of the best in the NFC were derailed by injury), I think I'd say the four best teams in the AFC were fractionally better than the four best in the NFC - I'd take Ravens-Texans-Steelers-Patriots over Packers-Saints-49ers-Bears. And each conference then also has one inexplicable team that got it together far too late to make the most of its undoubted talent - San Diego and Philadelphia. But the next tier of non-insane NFC teams - Giants, Lions, Falcons - is much better than Cincy, Tennessee and . . . the Jets? Oakland? Denver? I don't even know.

104
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:13pm

If you're going round-robin with that group, you'd be better off with Atlanta or Detroit as the #4 instead of Chicago. Detroit had the same record and same head-to-head as the Cutler Bears through 10 games, after which the comparison goes to hell because Cutler and Forte did their best Stafford impersonation.

159
by Mr Shush :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:05am

I think healthy Bears vs. Lions is close - could go either way, and either way I like the AFC top 4 better, but I'd take healthy Chicago over Atlanta any day.

182
by MC2 :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:48pm

Really? In spite of how they looked against the Giants, the Falcons offense is light years ahead of the Bears. Not only is the OL significantly better, but the Bears don't have a single WR/TE who would even see the field for the Falcons.

Plus, Ryan is at least as good as Cutler, and while Forte is significantly better than Turner, that gap is nowhere near enough to make up for the other disparities.

192
by tuluse :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 7:09pm

the Bears don't have a single WR/TE who would even see the field for the Falcons.

I disagree, Earl Bennett or Johnny Knox would be the 3rd best receiver on the Falcons. Knox might even push for playing time over Jones.

Ryan is at least as good as Cutler

I'm not sure about this. I could see Cutler tearing it up with a better line in front of him, and Ryan's lack of a deep ball is starting to concern me.

193
by JIPanick :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 7:36pm

"Ryan is at least as good as Cutler"

I disagree entirely. We know that Cutler is a terrible offense, but we did get to see him in a good offense back in '08 with Denver. That season was easily more impressive than Ryan's best.

201
by MC2 :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 11:58pm

I guess it depends on what you value in a QB. Cutler, even at his best, is far too inconsistent and "gunslingerish" for my taste.

216
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 02/08/2012 - 12:58pm

I'm firmly in the Cutler > Ryan camp, but I don't deny the Falcons have a better offense than the Bears overall. However, I think the Bears have significantly better defense and special teams, and as such are the better side overall. I also think the Falcons are more consistent, and hence more certain to beat weaker teams but with less chance of knocking off stronger ones. I'd far rather see the Falcons than the Bears as a playoff opponent.

200
by MC2 :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 11:55pm

I probably should have said "would barely see the field", given how rarely the Falcons use 3WR sets. In any case, my main point was that the Falcons have 3 guys who would be the #1 option for the Bears.

47
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:29am

I think this season should be remembered for historically high numbers of coverage breakdowns as a result of the shortened offseason rather than the qb play.

94
by dryheat :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:55pm

So I guess the A to Z of elite passing offenses then would be Green Bay, New England, and New Orleans?

I'm okay with that, but in that case it's not really unusual that New England got through a season without playing either themselves or two non-conference foes. Was there any team in the league that played all three?

95
by Travis :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:56pm

The Giants did.

105
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:14pm

Does the pre-season count? =)

149
by John Doe :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 9:37pm

They played all three teams in the regular season, counting preseason and playoffs they played Green Bay (playoffs) and New England (preseason) twice. They also played the 49ers in the regular season and again in the playoffs. Tough schedule this year.

157
by t.d. :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 2:35am

I would've also considered Detroit and Houston (pre-Schaub injury) as elite

163
by dryheat :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 10:02am

I understand that Houston, at least has a better O-line than Giants (at least in the run game), but honestly, you would consider Stafford-Johnson-Burleson-Adams-Pettigrew-Schreffler and Schaub-Johnson-Jones-Walter-Daniels-Casey elite pass offenses, but not Manning-Nicks-Cruz-Manningham-Ballard-Beckum?

Manning is a better passer than both QBs, and the Giants have 2 receivers that are scary, which is double the other two. Manningham would be comfortably #2 on Detroit or Houston.

217
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 02/08/2012 - 1:31pm

Houston's offensive line may not be better than the Giants in the pass game by quite such a vast amount as it is in the run game, but it's still quite a lot better. Eli's just better at getting rid of the ball quickly than Schaub (or anyone else except his brother).

You've got to consider running backs for this to be a fair comparison. Houston's second and third receiving options are Daniels and Foster, not Walter and Jones, and Foster is a really, really dangerous receiver. The Giants have an outstanding quarterback and WR1-2-3, but not much else. The Texans have a good quarterback, a really good offensive line, an elite WR1 and a broad and diverse range of good options behind that. And a better offensive scheme, I would venture to say.

The Lions have a good quarterback, a WR1 whose very existence should probably be considered a form of cheating, and that's maybe enough by itself.

184
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:57pm

The Pats played the Chargers, Eagles, Giants, and Steelers. The only way you can say they didn't face an elite passing offense is if you say only the Packers and Saints (and the Pats, obviously) have elite passing offenses.

FO has the Giants #4 in passing offense, SD #6 and PIT #7.

190
by dmstorm22 :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 6:55pm

They did play the Eagles with Vince Young and not Vick. Also, they didn't do a real good job against those three other teams (1-2 overall).

31
by Harry (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:17am

Nice analysis. And light years ahead anything a Mike Lombardi could produce. Why did Aaron get bumped from the BS Report this time around? Is Simmons still scarred from the 2008 podcast where Schatz declared the Giants had almost no chance?

35
by DiscountDoubleCheck (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:21am

The reason that "bad" teams or teams which "get hot at the end of the year"* is the realignment to four divisions per conference. The fourth division champion is usually a "bad" team which would not have made the playoffs under the old three division format. It's the old "for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong" effect. The four division format made it possible for a team to have a stretch of bad play during the season and still make the playoffs.

Possibly one effect is that teams don't try as hard during the season because they know they could still make the playoffs even if they did not get double digit wins when in a bad division. You spend your effort where it pays off ... did it ever help the Chargers to win 14 games in a bad division? Not really.

The other thing with teams "getting hot at the end of the year" is nothing new. The SB almost always was won by teams "hot at the right time". Teams which started the season winning almost never could maintain that momentum into the later part of the season. The Chiefs once started hot, collapsed, the Colts did it at least two times.

There are several "changes" the nfl made in the past seasons which may look nice, but are bad when you take a closer look. In my take, the realignment, instant replay as a whole and the changed OT format for the playoffs (if you don't manage to beat the other team during sixty minutes of regulation, you don't deserve anything else than sudden death) are plain bad/stupid.

58
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:43am

Teams which started the season winning almost never could maintain that momentum into the later part of the season. The Chiefs once started hot, collapsed, the Colts did it at least two times.

Do you have any statistical evidence to back this up?

63
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:51am

For contrary examples, the Rams and Saints both faded down the stretch in their Superbowl winning years, and the 2008 Cardinals are probably the last word in backing into the playoffs (sure, they didn't win the Superbowl, but it's hard to argue they weren't hot in January).

36
by DiscountDoubleCheck (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:29am

Does anybody think it is a possibility that Bill Belichick - being Bill Belichick - intentionally had his team fall into a hole at the beginning of the Miami/Buffalo games W16/W17 in order to instill some mental toughness? Force the team to come back? Have them fight in order to win these games?

The past two Patriots' teams in 2009 and 2010 lacked mental toughness in the playoffs. The 2009 loss to the Ravens was awful, because the team folded after getting behind in the 1st quarter. They quit.

This year, Belichick apparently paid well more attention to locker room atmosphere.

The past seasons, the Patriots suddenly lost to "bad" teams (Cleveland in 2010) while on a stretch against stronger teams (in 2010 the schedule was brutal, and the Patriots beat any good team on their schedule and lost to the only bad team during that span).

Anybody think that Belichick does that intentionally? I seriously do believe that.

46
by PatsFan :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:18am

Esp. with the #1 seed at stake, I can't imagine for a second he'd do something like that.

103
by AnonymousBoob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:10pm

Pray tell what he could possibly do to force such a deficit? Decide to play with only 8 players the first half?

185
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:58pm

Not a chance.

37
by t.d. :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:41am

Just occurred to me where Peyton should go if he wants another shot at a ring: Kansas City. Good defense and skill position talent, just need to upgrade qb

39
by Andrew Potter :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:00am

I suggested this in another thread. Apparently it's not viable due to the cost of other players (one of whom is Matt Cassel).

41
by apbadogs :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 9:30am

I hope it's a great game that forces me to stay up and watch until the end (4:45AM to walk the dog comes awfully early!) but I just can't shake the feeling that the Giants are going to put it on the Patriots. I just don't see how they will cover Manningham/Cruz/Nicks and I think Bradshaw and Jacobs will combine for a good day. It's all a gut feeling but I'm picking the Giants by at least 2 touchdowns.

64
by Gribblecillin (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:07pm

This. No matter how many different ways I roll it around in my head, I just can't see the Pats not getting shredded in this game. Their defensive 'rise' looks like a product of playing one terrible and one mediocre offense while the Giants keep proving that they're right in Brady's head. People don't seem to want to admit it, maybe because of the huge discrepancy in the regular season records/stats or how close the week 9 game was, but the Giants just look like overall a much better team right now.

66
by BJR :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:13pm

"The Giants keep proving that they're right in Brady's head". That seems like a bit of a stretch given they have only played once since the '08 Super Bowl.

"The Giants just look like overall a much better team right now". Maybe to your eyes. DVOA doesn't think so.

186
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 6:01pm

I think more people need to watch the first Giants-Pats game. The Giants were held scoreless for a very long time.

It's not like you have to imagine what would happen if they hypothetically played. They actually did play!

196
by Rabbit :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:13pm

Yes, they did.

Without Bradshaw and Nicks, the Giants had a hard time scoring, and without Spikes and Chung in the 4th quarter, the Pats lost.... in the 4th quarter. Bradshaw and Spikes are the two more important guys there, I'd say. Spikes for being a talented, instinctive LBer, and Bradshaw for being another option in the flat when Belichick takes the deep ball away from Eli.

196
by Rabbit :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:13pm

Yes, they did.

Without Bradshaw and Nicks, the Giants had a hard time scoring, and without Spikes and Chung in the 4th quarter, the Pats lost.... in the 4th quarter. Bradshaw and Spikes are the two more important guys there, I'd say. Spikes for being a talented, instinctive LBer, and Bradshaw for being another option in the flat when Belichick takes the deep ball away from Eli.

42
by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 9:43am

Aaron really should recuse himself from writing articles that are Pats-centric. His anti-bias compensation is worse than any bias would have been. Just pass the torch to someone without a dog in the fight and put both possibilities to rest.

You read the entire article and before you get to the conclusion section you're thinking that there's no logical reason based on data that the Giants should be favored, that the majority opinion being for the Giants is mostly just hype and results bias from previous match ups, and then he goes and throws right in with they hype? Very disappointing.

56
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:36am

Aaron does have a tendency to overstate NE's issues, perhaps in an effort to avoid the appearance of bias, but the meat of the article is well worth the final paragraph. And Aaron might be right.

69
by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:36pm

This is Football Outsiders, home of DVOA. After spending the bulk of the article bending over backwards to try to find sample sizes small enough to show that the Giants are the "hot" team, and mostly only succeeding in making the teams look even, he then disregards even that dubious evidence in his conclusion? Sure smells like someone reaching for a way to show their impartiality, with the exact opposite affect.

150
by John Doe :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 9:48pm

DVOA is not the sole factor used to evaluate the game. I think the Patriots are a better overall team, as in they will consistently win more games than the Giants. However, I think the Giants match up particularly well against the Patriots and would probably win more games than they would lose if the teams played 16 times this year.

The Giants can get pressure on Brady while rushing 3-4 players, take a look at the week 9 game charting data for confirmation on this. The data has them rushing 4 or less on 40 of 52 pass plays. Most teams can't do that. The Giants match up poorly against NO (who thrashed them this year) because they have a lot of WR talent and the Giants secondary is injury riddled and awful. The Giants are much better equipped for 2 TEs and one decent WR. JPP will chip Gronk or Hernandez every play, Kenny Phillips (S) and Jacquian Williams (fast LB) will be covering them most plays and will probably have help from the misfit secondary members a decent amount of the time. Corey Webster, the Giants only good CB that is healthy, will be locked up on Branch.

158
by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 8:09am

I looked at the charting data. They may have only rushed 3-4 most of the game, but they didn't get much pressure. I think there may have been 6 total pressures and at least a couple of them were on blitzes.

Watching that game seemed to give a lot of people, including myself, the general impression that the Giants didn't get a lot of pressure and that there were a lot of open receivers downfield. Brady had a pretty bad day, for him, feeling the pressure, or lack thereof, and hitting the open guys. Maybe that'll happen again, or maybe they really will get a lot of pressure this time, but I don't think week 9 is a particularly good example of the Giants getting pressure with 3-4 rushers.

43
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:01am

Typically I would be rooting for the honor of the NFC in a Super Bowl.

But the folks in the NY office have been so incredibly smug the past month I cannot bring myself to root for the Giants.

It's irrational. I freely admit it.

But I cannot be associated with these people in any way, shape or form.

These people GAVE UP ON THIS TEAM. THREW THEM TO THE WOLVES.

And now they strut around and speak as if the trophy is in their offices already.

Blech

53
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:30am

Hey, I typically root for the NFC to some degree, and there ain't a damned thing that is rational about that either. That's kind of the point; it's fun to be irrational about stuff that has no importance.

I guess what I would enjoy the most about the Giants winning is to see a guy, who is constantly talked about as if his job in his jeopardy, as he grinds out a high winning percentage in a sample size approaching 300 games, win another championship. That would be fun.

What I would enjoy about a Pats win is to see the team with the better offensive line win. It is kind of a paradox that as the game becomes more qb-centered and pass attack favored, it seems as if it is easier to get to the last game with mediocre o-line play, than it has been in the past. That is just my subjective impression, and may be wrong, but that's how it feels to me.

The cap and free agency are an obvious net positive for the game, but for fans who really like the contest among the big people, we may miss out on having champions that are well above average on both lines of scrimmage. With so much of the cap space devoted to the qb, we may not see, nearly as often, champions who have great talent and technique on the offensive and defensive fronts.

44
by nat :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:07am

Aaron:
You should run the 3-quarters/4th quarter DVOA (and VOA) splits on these two teams. It would be interesting to see whether the numbers that favor the Patriots are an artifact of the fourth quarter situations the two teams get into and the fourth quarter results they get.

This was a theme earlier in the season, and perhaps one reason you are (subconsciously?) failing to trust your own DVOA results.

57
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:42am

Let me just come in to answer a couple of these questions.

re: Comment 4, 40, etc. I understand that people feel that I was rejecting advanced statistics here. I've always said that you don't judge a game simply by looking at whether one team is higher than the other team when you rank every team 1-32. You look at specific matchups. Obviously, I was stuck either way. If I picked the Patriots, there would have been accusations of Pats bias. If I pick the Giants, I'm accused of overcompensating for Pats bias, and ignoring stats. If I didn't make a pick, I'd be accused of being too wishy-washy.

There is a statistical point to favoring the Giants' defensive improvement over the Patriots' defensive improvement: it is larger in DVOA, and has come over a larger number of games. That part is not just about gut feeling.

And the biggest question about this game is one that prevents us from simply doing a basic analysis of total statistics. I'll give you a hint: It is above the foot, below the shin, and it is fiesta.

re: Comment 31. We just ran into a series of bad schedule conflicts, that's why I wasn't on the B.S. Report. Bill's schedule didn't allow him time to interview me in the first week. In the second week, his only free time to interview me came when I was taping Numbers Never Lie, and then when I was driving home Tuesday so that I didn't have to go the entire week without seeing my wife and daughter.

re: Comment 14. My favorite coffee shop is Cafe Diesel in Davis Square, Somerville, for the Vietnamese coffee. But now that I live in the suburbs you can usually find me at the Starbucks by Whole Foods on Route 9.

re: Comment 44. Nat, I think you may be overthinking this issue of the fourth quarter. There's no indication that the difference between Q4 DVOA and rest of game DVOA is any more an indicator of a team's "real" quality than the difference between Q2 DVOA and rest of game DVOA.

Nonetheless, since you asked and I'm in a good mood, here are numbers. These include the postseason. First number is Q1-3. Second number is Q4+OT.

Pats Offense 41.6% 29.4%
Giants Offense 12.0% 27.7%

Pats Defense 11.9% 20.5%
Giants Defense 1.9% 7.0%

73
by nat :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:48pm

You're the second person to give a rave review for Cafe Diesel to me this week. I'll have to make an excuse to go there some time.

The fourth quarter thing was the observation that - for whatever reason - fourth quarter DVOA was much less predictive of future performance than any other quarter. Q1-3 DVOA was more predictive of the next season's full game DVOA than full game DVOA itself, which should not happen unless fourth quarter DVOA is different somehow.

Now that wasn't fully investigated over many seasons. You should look closely at it this off-season. But there are plenty of reasons to distrust fourth quarter DVOA, such as clock management, selection bias in the baselines, playing scrubs in blow-outs, etc.

There are also theories as to why the fourth quarter really is a different skill: refs call the game differently, clutch play exists, players get tired, etc.

Thanks for getting those numbers.

Fourth quarter DVOA: moxie or selection bias? Only time (and solid, unbiased stats analysis) will tell.

136
by amarquis :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:25pm

Diesel is excellent, seconding that.

I'd like to see more research into the Q1-3 and Q4 DVOA splits too. DVOA, if I recall, measures success per play based on the outcomes that help win games: moving the chains to keep the drive alive and such. If you're in the end of the fourth quarter up two scores, though, giving up a 10 yard inside pass isn't really a failure anymore.

Maybe in an ideal system "success" isn't based on what generally wins games, but on something dynamic like "what result moves your expected points towards the amount that'll win from the current gamestate."

154
by nat :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 12:02am

"Obviously, I was stuck either way. If I picked the Patriots, there would have been accusations of Pats bias. If I pick the Giants, I'm accused of overcompensating for Pats bias, and ignoring stats. If I didn't make a pick, I'd be accused of being too wishy-washy."

That's a funny way of looking at it. You were only stuck if you abandoned your principles. It you followed your own method, you wouldn't have been stuck at all. You would have started with New England's clear statistical advantage, and followed with an unbiased look at factors the stats don't cover, such as recent injuries and specific match ups. Cherry-picking the weeks would never entered your mind. Double cherry-picking by treating special teams in yet another way would have been unimaginable.

If you wanted to try an unconventional analysis, you would have applied it evenly to both teams. No "let's pretend the Giants improvements are the only real ones". Maybe a "what if each team's win streak represents a true change in the team?" or a "what if getting players back from injury does make them each a new team?" In the end, you would have had a pick to be proud of.

Of course people would disagree with you. That's no excuse for caving to pressure. You're "Outsiders" for a reason. Have you become "Insiders" now?

59
by bird jam :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:45am

Aaron: From the preview paragraph on the front page of the site, you do not "pour through" stats. You "pore through" them. It is usually "pore over".

#nitpick

61
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 11:48am

Apologies. Fixed.

68
by MJK :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:35pm

"For those curious, Edelman charting stats won't be useful. We only have nine passes charted with Edelman in coverage; two of them were passes thrown away due to pass pressure, and one was a running back screen with Edelman essentially playing middle linebacker"

Actually, doesn't this tell us something? Edelman has been playing nickelback for over half the season, and the Patriots use a lot of nickel. The fact that Edelman has only been targeted nine times in the five games charted (and it sounds like three of them don't count) implies that all the talk of QB's *targeting* Edelman as the weak link is wrong. If QB's aren't going after Edelman in coverage, that implies that he is playing as well (or at least giving a pre-throw appearance of playing as well) as Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington. Granted, that's kind of damning with faint praise, but it does imply that the secret to Giants success wont' suddenly be to get Edelman on the field and target him.

71
by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:42pm

Shhhhh!!!!

Any conclusion that leads to the impression that the Patriots have a chance in this game must be assiduously avoided.

75
by JasonK :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:04pm

I'd guess that opposing QBs tend to target where they see single-coverage, rather than where they see one particular defender. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots defensive coaching calls for the nickel CB to get more help from the linebackers and safeties.

114
by tuluse :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:53pm

It might tell us only 2 games have been charted where Edelman played defense.

134
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:24pm

Just want to jump in and say that we have the full season charted for both NYG and NE.

70
by MJK :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:39pm

Incidentally, on Moore and McCourty... According to Mike Reiss's data, when the Patriots are in their base, 4 DB package, McCourty does play cornerback (opposite Arrington) and Moore doesn't come on the field. When they go to nickel or dime packages, Moore slides over to CB and McCourty to safety.

Don't know what this means or why, but it is curious...

72
by Paul M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:44pm

I think there is a real simple eye test here. 5 games of watching the Giants-- with a healthy DL, unlike earlier in the year-- convinces me that their fundamental advantage will be in place on Sunday: they can rush the QB and pressure Brady, without sacrificing much in terms of coverage. And Brady has been a fairly ordinary postseason QB since 2004, largely for that reason-- he doesn't play well under pressure and lacks the mobility to avoid it.

And the eye test also doesn't convince me that the Pats pass coverage problems have been fixed, and they are now playing the best combination of QB and WRs they have faced since the last times these teams played, only I think Eli and Co. are playing at a higher level now than they were then.

Add to all that a potentially game changing injury to the Pats 2nd most important offensive player, and I don't think this game will be close in the end. Maybe for a half or so, but I expect the Giants to win by a TD or more. 31-23. And remember: the NFL operates in cycles-- an AFC domination from 1968-80; a NFC domination from 1981-96; an AFC domination from 1997-2006. This will be 4 out of 5 for the NFC where nearly all the great young QBs reside-- get ready for another long run.

74
by PatsFan :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 12:59pm

When you made this "eye test", were you using the same eye that was telling you the 2011 Packers were the greatest team ever and that it was beyond silly for certain teams to have even a 30% chance of beating them? Just curious.

79
by Paul M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:20pm

Yep-- corrective lenses are now in play.

83
by MJK :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:47pm

"And Brady has been a fairly ordinary postseason QB since 2004"

I was about to refute this, until I went and looked at the details. You're right! Except when playing Jacksonville and the Jets, Brady has been fairly unimpressive in the postseason since 2005...generally throwing for 1-2 TD's per game, but also generally having as many INT's, and also generally coming in at under 300 yards.

Of course, these numbers look very pedestrian compared to regular season performance. What I don't know is if this is "normal" for all quarterbacks (because of the better caliber of defenses faced in the playoffs). It's worth noting that in the same time period, Eli Manning has had equally pedestrian play:

2005: Played awful in a wildcard loss
2006: Pedestrian play (2 TD, 1 INT, 161 yards) in a wildcard loss
2007: Three average games and then the SB where, final drive an helmet catch aside, Eli was pretty average
2008: Terrible play in a divisional loss
2009: Missed playoffs
2010: Missed playoffs

This year, Brady had one good playoff game and one bad one. Eli had two good games and one bad one (both bad games came against elite defenses).

So while you're right that Brady has been a fairly ordinary postseason QB, the same can be said of Eli. In fact, I think you can argue pretty convincingly that Brady has been a BETTER post season QB than Eli since 2005, the SB loss notwithstanding (remember, right before the Helmet Catch, Brady had led a last minute TD drive to take the lead that would have been a storied "game winning drive" had Tyree dropped the ball, or Samuel not dropped the ball).

85
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:59pm

Joe Montana was mediocre to horrible in the '85, '86, and '87 playoffs, and then was great in the '88 and '89 playoffs. I'm pretty sure that 5 minutes of research could provide similar examples.

Looking for trends in a tiny number of games, occurring in different seasons, is likely of very limited value.

89
by Paul M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:49pm

Agreed about sample size-- and agreed about Eli. The latter's advantage this time, of course, is the defense he is playing against.

Brady's "averageness" (mediocrity is too loaded of a word) does encompass 11 games since 2004, I believe, so it's not such a tiny amount. And Peyton Manning is even worse for his entire career over a larger sample of games.

Brees, Rodgers and particularly Warner defy these trends, however, with some pretty impressive postseason numbers. We'll see how the first two hold up over time. Without looking deeply into it, I would suspect the means for QB rating or any other formula-- a la baseball postseason offensive results-- would be lower than the regular season numbers due to the quality of defenses.

96
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:57pm

11 games is a pretty tiny amount. 11 games over multiple seasons, thus with greatly varied player interdependence, is really worthless.

101
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:07pm

Not that mitigating circumstances don't exist elsewhere, but you are ignoring significant influences to Brady's performance.

In 2005, NE was missing pretty much their entire OL. Against Denver, only one starter remained and they were playing two seperate guards at tackle, while missing two of the starting guards.

In 2006, Brady had a worse set of WRs than Alex Smith had this year and still led his team to average 28 offensive ppg. They also had lousy RBs and TEs as well that year.

In 2007, Brady was phenominal against Jax, setting a divisional round record for comp%. Eli gets a lot of credit for handling SF's pressure, but Brady was actually much, much better in the SB than Eli under similar, if not worse pressure.

In 2009 the team was a disaster. No QB in the history of the NFL could have won with that predictible offense combined with no receiving weaponry (Moss was hurt, Welker injured, meaning Edelman was the true #1 option)

2010 was the only genuinely bad playoff game Brady has had where you can point to him as being a primiary reason for them losing. The 2007 SD game is another subpar performance, though Brady did seriously hurt his ankle in the first quarter.

106
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:14pm

The sample size is just too small, and the data is too corrupted by changing variables, to allow us to have confidence that what we are seeing is a trend regarding Brady's play, as opposed to some other factor.

108
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:21pm

Agreed. Just like Brady wasn't solely responsible for staring 10-0 in the playoffs, he isn't solely responsible for going 0-3 prior to this postseason.

That said, I do think he played poorly this past week. NE has strong skill position players, they protected him well and he still missed several open guys and put too many balls up for grabs.

112
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:46pm

In 2007, Brady was phenominal against Jax, setting a divisional round record for comp%. Eli gets a lot of credit for handling SF's pressure, but Brady was actually much, much better in the SB than Eli under similar, if not worse pressure.

And had much, much better receivers.

Manning's two biggest completions were to David Tyree, who would never catch another ball in his career.

117
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:08pm

I was refering to 2011 Manning and his performance against SF, compared to 2007 Brady. 2007 Brady was much better under comparable pressure, never once putting a ball up for grabs like Eli did twice.

122
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:37pm

He put the ball up for grabs a lot against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. There were two times I remember where while being hit Brady just lobbed balls up. Both were incomplete, but they were ducks nowhere close to the intended receivers. One at the goal line of a blitz was particularly egregious (and probably should have been intentional grounding). There was also a ball he threw into clear double coverage in the drive in teh 4th quarter before his final TD drive.

127
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:02pm

I would refer to those as quasi-intentional grounding. "Up for grabs" is a pass that is more likely to be picked than completed, perhaps even dropped.

102
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:08pm

To add on, it always has to be remembered that we never, ever, get data on qb performance that is akin to what we get on baseball hitters, due to how teammate interdependence affects our qb data. We will never be able to have the confidence, that the data we collect in football on individual players, is giving us an accurate portrayal of how that player performed, as we do with baseball hitters.

111
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:44pm

Manning is almost identical in the playoffs to the regular season, and arguably better than Brady in the postseason. Warner really is insane in the postseason.

188
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 6:15pm

What ever happened to the 6 TD performance against the Broncos???

(head in hands)

If Eli Manning had had a 6 TD performance during this year's playoff run, you can rest assured the media would not have shut up talking about it. It's mind-boggling.

100
by young curmudgeon :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:03pm

the NFC where nearly all the great young quarterbacks reside--what qualifies as "great" and what qualifies as "young"? Rivers, Roethlisberger, Schaub, Dalton vrs. E.Manning, Romo, Ryan, Stafford. (Not arguing for the "greatness" of any of these, but just wondering about your comment)--NFC group probably somewhat better as a group, but nowhere close to "nearly all." Or did I cherry pick the wrong data?

113
by Paul M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:48pm

Well, here's my thought process.

There are two certifiably great QBs in the AFC. One is 35 and didn't play this year and may never tie the laces again, and the other is pushing 35. Still great-- in the Super Bowl-- but no longer young.

There are two certifiably great QBs in the NFC. One is still "young", defined as under 30. The other is 33. Both should be around for a while.

So I admit the use of the word "great" was too liberal. Of the others, if we can use the word very good and potentially great and cut the age off at 30, I'd argue that:

Ryan/Newton/Stafford/Cutler exceeds Flacco/Sanchez/Dalton/Cassel-- by a lot. And Bradford and Alex Smith vs. Gabbert and Tebow?? I don't think that's close either. (Rivers is 30. Eli is 31. Big Ben turns 30 in a month. Schaub is 30. Romo is 31. So is Vick-- pretty impressive group of players all born within about 18 months of each other, btw)

So the fundamental point-- let me state it more clearly-- is that the NFC has by far the better collection of QBs. The torch is being passed at the top of the QB food chain-- Rodgers/Brees will be much more productive collectively going forward than Manning/Brady. At the sort of "apex of prime" years-- 30-31-- we have three quality QBs in each conference. Schaub probably the weakest of the 6; Manning or Roethlisberger the most accomplished-- but all in fairly similar talent range. But below that-- the up and comers-- the arrow tilts decisively to the NFC, including one certifiably great player-- Rodgers-- and two others, Newton and Stafford, that don't look all that far away from greatness.. Now maybe Luck and Griffin will change that if they both end up in the AFC. Or maybe Luck goes to the AFC, but Griffin and Barkley next year or someone else this year go to the NFC and continues the imbalance.

All I'm saying is that the NFC has the edge-- for the forseeable future-- at the league's dominant position-- which could explain another period of dominance as has been the pattern.

118
by young curmudgeon :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:09pm

PaulM, I'm glad I pushed back a little, because your explanation is both more accurate and more interesting than your original statement. I don't think that previous periods of NFC or AFC dominance in winning Super Bowls can necessarily be attributed to the preponderance of better QB's in the "dominating" conference (Simms, Hostetler, Rypien all came during a run of NFC dominance if I remember correctly off the top of my head), but as the NFL becomes more and more a passers' league, that certainly may be the case in the future. Thanks for elaborating on your thought...

119
by Paul M (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:21pm

And the QB/future thing is the key. It hasn't been necessarily the chief reason in the past: of the AFC's last dominant period, Elway won twice at the end of his career; Brady won three times really before he hit his prime; the Ravens won because of defense, not Dilfer; Pittsburgh with Ben in a nearly similar role; only Manning's 2006 victory was "greatness" smack dab in its prime.

One can argue that while Montana was the dominant QB of the 1980s, and followed by another HOF QB in Young, alongside another HOF QB in Aikman, followed by another legend in Favre and that Simms may well deserve to be in the HOF as he won one title and contributed to a 2nd-- so there's 11 of the NFC's 15 of 16 titles accounted for (the wacky Redskin QB tri-combo plus Jim McMahon are the other four), despite all that the AFC from 1983 on had two of the 10 greatest (and probably 7 or 8 greatest) QBs in history who never won a title for 14 consecutive years.

And there's always the example of results-based assessments: Bradshaw and Staubach must be better than Fouts and Tarkenton, right?? Just like Elway's better than Marino??

However, the league is tilting to the passing game. And the NFC has the better chuckers for now.

171
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 2:57pm

Even the AFC tended to have good QBs in their Super Bowl losers.

Marino, Elway, and Kelly lost a lot of those SBs.

173
by Will Allen :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 3:33pm

What distinguiushed the Super Bowl champs prior to the mid 90s, when the salary cap really began to bite, be it an era of NFC dominance or AFC dominance, was the depth of talent on the offensive and defensive fronts. There hasn't been a Super Bowl champ in 15 years that was, among the big people on both sides of the ball, well above average. Pre salary cap, Super Bowl champs regularly clubbed opponents like baby seals, no matter if the seals were on offense or defense. That doesn't happen anymore, and is not likely to again. The rules really encourage a very large percentage of cap space be devoted to the qb, and that makes it tough to be very talented on both the defensive and offensive fronts.

206
by PaddyPat :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 11:39am

I think limiting this statement to qbs is a bit off base. You have to look at qbs on teams that have some sort of organization and semblance of coaching. For example, Stafford and Schwartz have a much more reasonable shot to be great going forward than do Rivers and Turner, even should Rivers significantly outplay Turner. It seems to me that the NFC has better coaching overall right now than the AFC as well.

Belichick--Brady
Tomlin--Roethlisberger
Kubiak--Schaub
Turner--Rivers
Harbaugh--Flacco
Ryan-Sanchez?

vs.

Payton--Brees
McCarthy-Rodgers
Coughlin--Manning
Schwartz--Stafford
Garrett--Romo
Smith--Cutler
Smith--Ryan
Reid--Vick

And there are other NFC coaches who could rebound quickly if they get reasonable qb play in the future--Whisenhunt certainly has his moments as a coach; Shanahan has been strong in the past; Harbaugh seemed brilliant in his first year in SF; Fisher is solid; and even someone like Pete Carroll could go on a roll. In the AFC by contrast, who do we trust? Marvin Lewis has never really matured into a great head coach. John Fox's teams consistently under-perform over the years (and then occasionally go on inexplicable postseason runs). Maybe Romeo Crennel will blossom? I don't see it, and I think this is a much bigger piece of the puzzle.

76
by JasonK :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:09pm

Regarding the Week 9 game between these two teams, the one thing I was surprised to not see mentioned is that both Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw were out for that game. Probably has a lot to do with why the Giants went to Ballard so much (and why they didn't have much offense in the first half).

77
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:17pm

For all the energy being used to (over)analyze this game, and I'm as guilty as anyone, it really may be no more complicated than the Giants being a lot more healthy than they were at mid-season, and the Pats less so.

Now watch the Pats win by recovering three of the game's four fumbles.

80
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:28pm

The Patriots are more healthy than they were at midseason, even if you expect Gronk to miss the game altogether.

84
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:52pm

Really? If you take 90 catches, 1300-plus yards, and 17 touchdowns off the field, along with good blocking, the Pats are better with the guys who have recovered?

I don't think Belichik would make the trade.

86
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:16pm

That is a very simplistic way of viewing things. The last time the Patriots and Giants played the following players were hurt:

Mayo - just coming back from a knee injury
Spikes - got hurt during the game
Chung - hurt his knee during the game and played with a hand injury
Brady - played with an elbow injury that was a significant factor in him starting slow against Dallas/Pitt/NYG/NYJ
Vollmer - really struggled with a back injury and missed most of the season.
Fletcher - NE's nickle LB who missed almost the entire season
Hernandez - he was still returning from a knee injury, and was playing at around 75%.

On top of that, the secondary was a complete mess, they were still trying to get past Bodden's release, and they were also still trying to work Barrett and Adams in.

About the only thing, healthwise, that was improved at that point (aside from Gronk, of course) was RDE with Andre Carter. That said, the entire DL is playing much better at this point, since Haynesworth was dumped and Deaderick took his place.

90
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:50pm

Yeah, I wasn't counting the guys hurt during the game. As to the other guys who played, it really is hard for us as outsiders to assess what percentage of effectiveness that they were at. I was more just reacting to the statement that you could remove Gronk's production completely, and still be better off.

91
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:53pm

The 75% figure and Brady's elbow affecting his slow starts was actually based on reports at the time, not my own evaluation. Of course, that doesn't make the reports accurate, but it is what it is. ;-)

124
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:52pm

Hell, now I'm hearing Gronk is close to full speed, which of course could just be Belichik disinformation campaign, or it could be true, which would mean everything I analyzed is now changed. I wish the game started in about a half hour.

126
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:58pm

Of course, there was that strange report from Rosenhaus saying that if this was the regular season Gronk wouldn't have played.

129
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:10pm

It's like it's 1982, and everyone is trying to guess who the Politburo will choose to succeed Leonid Breshnev. I expect that there have been dead letter drops occurring every day at the Soldier's and Sailor's Monument in Indy.

153
by Athelas :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:55pm

Ah, those were the days.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy...

160
by Mr Shush :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:15am

Is the real reason Aaron picking the Giants that he knows Belichick's secret crazy daughter has been traced to a remote Swiss clinic?

189
by RickD :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 6:18pm

Belichick isn't Karla.

Hush already. :)

87
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:22pm

Is Gronkowski really worth more than Aaron Hernandez, Patrick ChuJng, Danny Woodhead, Sebastian Vollmer, Deion Branch and Brandon Spikes combined?

93
by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:54pm

That depends on the quality of Gronk's replacement, and the quality of the replacement of the other guys, and how much the Pats have to change their scheme based on those replacements.

110
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:26pm

He never said the Pats are BETTER than at mid-season, only that they are HEALTHIER.

107
by AnonymousBoob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:20pm

I think this fact is why it is so very difficult to analyze the season in it's entirety. The Giants, especially on defense, have been beat up and seem to have played so much better when healthy. How much of that is due to being healthy and how much of it is fluke? There is absolutely no way of knowing; it simply comes down to hunches and belief.

IMO, the Giants are the better football team, especially with Gronkowski beat up. I think the Giants win, presuming a pretty even TO game.

78
by PatsFan :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 1:20pm

My pick (wishy-washy though it may be) is "last team with the ball wins". I expect a close game decided by 3 or 4 points, on a FG or TD on the final drive.

I will admit that if someone came from the future and told me "I won't tell you who won, but I will tell you the winner won by 14 or more" I would say the NYG would be more likely to be the winner.

88
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:23pm

Interesting. I would pick the opposite. The Patriots are the team with the unstoppable offense.

92
by young curmudgeon :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 2:53pm

but according to the commercials, Eli is the one who is "Unstoppable." And commercials never lie, do they?

109
by AnonymousBoob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 3:25pm

Is it unstoppable? Baltimore, Dallas, Pittsburgh and NY Giants have all kept NE under 21 points and all but NYG kept them under 400 yards. The yards per play in each game were under 6, with Bal and Pit keeping them under 5. That is hardly unstoppable.

It is an exceptional offense and right there with NO and GB as the best in the league, but it has been slowed more than once.

116
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:02pm

The Patriots scored 23 against Baltimore, and it was only a Brady misfire (nothing whatsoever to do with the defense) that kept it from 27. The other three all came when Tommy had a significant elbow issue that took a half to get warm.

Not saying the defenses had nothing to do with it, but the numbers themselves don't tell the whole story.

142
by AnonymousBoob (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:23pm

So, it's Brady's elbow that was the problem? What about the fantastic performances against poorer teams that were sprinkled in between the less than stellar outings? Seemed the elbow wasn't much of an issue then.

Look, the Patriots offense is good, but not unstoppable.

144
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:23pm

There were none. Dall/Pitt/NYG/NYG were consecutive.

146
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:24pm

Oops, that should say "Dall/Pitt/NYG/NYJ" were consecutive.

139
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:58pm

I think I spoke poorly. I didn't mean to suggest that the Patriots offense' was some juggernaut that could never falter. What I meant is that the Patriots have an offense which, when it is clicking, just blows through a defense effortlessly.

I don't think the Giants have such an offense. I haven't seen them much, but when I have seen them, there have never been stretches where I've thought "God himself couldn't stop this offense."

For one team to blow out the other, they really are going to have to score on just about every possession. There have been games where the Patriots looked that good (such as vs. the Broncos). I don't think the Giants have had any game where they looked that good.

132
by Easterbook confuses me (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:39pm

Is there any reason at all to think these five game DVOA weighted numbers are meaningful at all? Isn't it just the purest form of cherry picking--particularly since they don't even measure how the teams played in the same time period (the Pats fifth game was when the Giants were getting manhandled by Redskins) and particularly since it includes two games after the Pats clinced a bye and might not have been going all out.

It could certainly be the case that five game DVOA measurements are useful, either for a superbowl or at any point in the season, but our guys were do lazy to do this. They just picked a period that coincided with the Giants' hot streak and ran with that.

Stupid, stupid analysis.

133
by Travis :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 5:58pm

and particularly since it includes two games after the Pats clinced a bye and might not have been going all out.

If the Patriots had lost either of those games, the AFC Championship Game would have been played in Baltimore, so it's highly unlikely that the Patriots weren't going all out to win.

135
by Easterbook confuses me (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 6:25pm

The Pats certaintly weren't sitting out starters Colts style but were they in elimination mode? Spikes and Chung both practiced both weeks but they didn't play week 16 (Chung played a lot and Spikes sparingly in Week 17) Chung only played week 17 and Spikes didn't play. Light sat out in week 16 with what was reportedly a minor issue (and they kept Mankins out in week 16 and week 17 with some kind of knee injury even though he reportedly wanted to go back in. Would those guys if played if they didn't have a bye sewn up or, like the Giants, were in elimination mode? Were the Pats using everything in the playbook or where they leaving a few things in the playbook? Welker and Branch's snaps were down in week 17?

They had something to play for and they played to win sure,but it's far from clear that they're more instructive than, say, Weeks 14 and 15.

143
by Travis :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:47pm

I'll concede the Patriots weren't in elimination mode, but there's no reason to think they didn't compete at the same level during Weeks 16 and 17 as they would any other regular season game. (Note: the Patriots hadn't clinched a bye before Week 16 - the Texans would have won a tiebreaker at 11-5.)

Spikes and Chung both practiced both weeks but they didn't play week 16

Spikes and Chung didn't play Weeks 10-15 either. It isn't uncommon for players coming off longer-term injuries to practice without being activated that week.

Light sat out in week 16 with what was reportedly a minor issue

By all reports I've seen, Light injured his ankle in warmups.

140
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 7:16pm

This is a bit tangential, but let me just chime in to say that, for the Week 17 fantasy article on Insider this season, I looked at how QB points are affected by playoff scenario (adjusting for opponent and a QB's personal average from Wks 1 to 16). It turned out that the QBs most negatively affected were those in the clinched-playoffs-but-vying-for-seeding group. From the article:

As you can see, even after adjusting for relevant factors, the picture remains relatively the same. An average quarterback going against an average opponent in Week 17 loses more than 35 percent of his typical production if he's vying for improved seeding. In contrast, pit an average quarterback on an eliminated team against an average opponent, and he gains 20 percent.

Incidentally, "clinched seed" was about -25% and "vying for playoffs" was about -15%.

I'm not saying this is something to hang our hats on from a team perspective (It's definitely something worthwhile to explore using game and season DVOAs, though!), but just wanted to point out that there is at least some evidence -- albeit from an individual fantasy performance perspective -- that vying for a seed (only) doesn't appear to be all that motivation-preserving if, as in this thread, we're attributing end-of-season performance to motivation.

145
by Travis :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:24pm

Not that it means anything, but the "vying for improved seed" QBs did pretty well in Week 17 of 2011:

Drew Brees: 28/35, 389, 5 TD, 1 int, 238 DYAR (2nd)
Matthew Stafford: 36/59, 520, 5/2, 206 DYAR (4th)
Tom Brady: 23/35, 335, 3/1, 104 DYAR (10th)
Matt Ryan: 6/9, 106, 2/0, 79 DYAR (11th) - pulled up 42-7 in the 2nd quarter
Alex Smith: 20/30, 213, 1/0, 68 DYAR (13th)
Joe Flacco: 15/19, 130, 1/0, 41 DYAR (17th)
Ben Roethlisberger: 23/40, 221, 0/0, 21 DYAR (21th)

The "vying for playoffs" group:
Eli Manning: 24/33, 346, 3/0, 223 DYAR (5th)
Carson Palmer: 28/43, 417, 2/1, 154 DYAR (6th)
Matt Hasselbeck: 22/35, 297, 2/0, 133 DYAR (7th, though against Texans backups)
Andy Dalton: 22/44, 232, 0/0, 109 DYAR (9th)
Tony Romo: 29/37, 289, 2/1, 24 DYAR (20th)
Mark Sanchez: 21/32, 207, 2/3, -72 DYAR (30th)
Tim Tebow: 6/22, 60, 0/1, -93 DYAR (33rd)

Just wondering - did that study look at the difference in performance for vying for the #1 seed, a bye, or a division title, as opposed to merely being one of the #3 or #4 or one of the #5 or #6s? It seems likely that the first group would be more motivated than the second.

151
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 10:03pm

Notice that the "vying for seed" guys that did well are also the best fantasy QBs. The study was based on personal fantasy +/-, after controlling for personal QB averages and Wk 17 opponent pass D DVOA, so need to convert your stuff to that before drawing conclusions.

I didn't differentiate between specific seeds in terms of the "vying for" groups. You know how it goes...start slicing the pie to thin, and results don't mean much. Maybe there's a difference, maybe not. Again, this seems ripe for analysis from a team DVOA perspective, especially since that kind of study would involve 19 years of data instead of the 4 that I used for the Insider piece.

155
by Travis :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 12:26am

Notice that the "vying for seed" guys that did well are also the best fantasy QBs. The study was based on personal fantasy +/-, after controlling for personal QB averages and Wk 17 opponent pass D DVOA, so need to convert your stuff to that before drawing conclusions.

The 2011 "vying for improved seed" group, Week 17 DYAR compared to average previous game:
Brees: 238 vs. 156
Stafford: 206 vs. 85
Brady: 104 vs. 146
Ryan: 79 vs. 87 (played less than a half)
Smith: 68 vs. 43
Flacco: 41 vs. 42
Roethlisberger: 21 vs. 78 (playing on injured ankle)

The "vying for berth" group:
Manning: 223 vs. 77
Palmer: 154 vs. 26
Hasselbeck: 133 vs. 33 (Texans W17 adjustment probably high)
Dalton: 109 vs. 46
Romo: 21 vs. 104 (playing with injured hand)
Sanchez: -72 vs. 19
Tebow: -93 vs. -6

I wouldn't draw any conclusion from this other than to say the -35% decrease didn't hold for 2011.

174
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 3:55pm

The top group improved about 16% from their "average previous game", the bottom group improved 59%, and that's including Tebow's -93 clunker. In other words, the vying for berth group outperformed the vying for improved seed group by 40+%. Maybe the decrease wasn't in effect this year, but the guys trying to make the playoffs at all definitely played better than the seeding group...

176
by Travis :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 4:12pm

All I'm saying is that there's little evidence that teams with a reasonable chance of improving their seed have a decrease in motivation from a normal game, not that they'd necessarily try harder than teams fighting for a berth.

That 35% decrease from expected fantasy stats for quarterbacks from 2007-2010 is likely better explained by some combination of (1) teams pulling starters with large leads; (2) teams that didn't care about the difference between the #3 and #4 seed; and (3) early January weather.

156
by Travis :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 1:01am

Also, in your Insider piece, you counted 20 QBs in the "Vying for Seed" category for 2007-2010. I count only 15 that had a guaranteed playoff berth with an indeterminate seed by the time their games kicked off, but let me know if I missed anyone:

2007:
Steelers: Had a chance at the #3 seed with a win against the Ravens and Charger loss to the Raiders. Started Charlie Batch over an injured Roethlisberger and lost. [Steelers' game DVOA: 2.1%]
Chargers: See above. Rivers played the entire game. [-10.7%]

2008:
Panthers: Faced the Falcons for the #2 seed. The loser would be #5. Delhomme played the entire game. [17.0%]
Falcons: See above. Matt Ryan played the entire game. [-20.5%]

(The Titans and Steelers were locked into #1 and #2 before Week 17.)

2009:
Patriots: The #3 seed with a win against the Texans. Pulled Brady for the final drive of the 2nd quarter, put him back in for the 3rd, then pulled him again on the final drive of the game trailing by 7. [-13.3%]
Bengals: Later that night, would be the #3 seed with a win against the Jets. Pulled Palmer at halftime, trailing 27-0. [-102.6%]
Vikings: The #2 seed with a win against the Giants. Pulled Favre late in the 3rd quarter up 41-0. [61.1%]
Packers: The #5 seed with a win against the Cardinals. Pulled Rodgers after the 3rd quarter up 33-0. [82.4%]
Eagles: The #3 seed with a win against the Cowboys, the #5 or #6 seed with a loss. McNabb played the entire game. [-46.7%]
Cowboys: The #3 seed with a win against the Eagles, the #6 seed with a loss. Romo played the entire game. [49.5%]

(The Cardinals were locked into their seed after the Vikings' win. Leinart started.)

2010:
Steelers: The #2 seed with a win against the Browns. Pulled Roethlisberger midway through the 3rd up 38-3. [89.2%]
Ravens: The #2 seed with a win against the Bengals and a Steelers loss. #5 seed otherwise. Flacco played the entire game. [-15.2%]
Jets: The #5 seed with the unlikely combo of a win over the Bills, a Steelers loss, and a Ravens win. Sanchez played one drive and didn't throw a pass. [121.9%]
Chiefs: The #3 seed with a win over the Raiders. Cassel was awful. [-58.9%]
Falcons: The #1 seed with a win over the Panthers. Pulled Ryan after the 3rd up 31-3. [12.8%]

(The Bears were locked into the #2 seed by kickoff of their game against the Packers.)

I agree that team DVOA would be a much better way of studying this issue than QB fantasy stats, especially since so many of these teams got out to big leads early.

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by JackBeQuick (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2012 - 8:32pm

I'm not a statistician, but I like the analysis. The pick of the Giants doesn't bother me. I just like the data. This is the only article I've seen that pointed out that the Pat's defensive improvement coincided not only with the return of Chung and Spikes, but also due to the switch of McCourty/Moore. Also, it was a nice analysis of the Pats red zone defense. It's true? Amazing. When you think about it, they always somehow manage to keep the game close, even when they appear to getting blown out, e.g. against Pittsburgh, they were totally dominated, yet had a chance to pull it out at the end.

Speaking of Moore, I've been watching him as closely as one can by television, and I'm convinced his ball skills are legitimate. He had two picks and two breakups against the Bills, two breakups against the Broncs and at least two (very public) ones against the Ravens. You don't get that many by accident. My hypothesis is that he has that seemingly simple ability to turn and look for the ball when it's in the air (except, ironically, the famous strip on Evans). It's hard to knock anything down when you're not looking at it. This is an ability the McCourty no longer seems to possess (I'm not sure he had last year or not actually), which is why the move to safety makes so much sense. Maybe they can teach him how to turn to look when the receiver does next?

I agree that It makes a lot of sense for the Pats to pound the ball, and I'm fairly certain they will try to do that. I heard an interview with Heath Evans, and he was lamenting the loss of the 2008 SB to the Giants. He blamed it on a number of factors, and one of them was that the Pats game-planned for two weeks to pound the ball, but Josh O'Brian quickly abandoned that when some early running plays didn't go well. Belliichick will have learned from that.

Another advantage to pounding the ball is it avoids Tommy's recent skittishness and forcing of the ball. It should also help to significantly neutralize the pass rush. Against the Ravens, the Pats were running the ball effectively, and if not for the inexplicable play-call and pass to Slater, they might well have run out the game. I also liked the analysis of the utility of play-action, and I hope that the run softens up the Giants enough to make it an effective tactic on Sunday.

On Ridley - I think he plays, as he looks like to be a better option than Woodhead to run the ball and the Pats need to bring on the ground on Sunday if they're to have a chance.

Another great point was that the Pats DL has actually improved since Carter went out with the injury, and underscores to the effectiveness of returning to the 3-4 and how important the play of Mark Anderson has been. He and Ninkovich have really stepped it up on the pass rush and close the pocket quickly from the outside, and with Wilfork pushing up the middle, I think the Pats well have a very effective pass rush against the Giants. Then again, so did SF :/ Spikes showed he's not just a run-stuffer with his pick off the Ravens, and with Mayo, I think the pats are doing ok in the front 7.

On the downside, the Pat's d-backs are still vulnerable. Every QB exploits them. Aside from Chung and Moore, I don't think any of the other guys have very good ball skills (read they don't turn their heads to look for the ball when the receiver does). And I'm not really sure about Moore's tackling skills and also he's not a very big guy. But at least he looks for the ball, and that counts for a lot. Also, Brady's has seemed a little bit shaky at times this year, e.g. against the Ravens. But he's a champ and I can't remember the last time I've seen him come up short on a key drive when he had any kind of a realistic chance to make a score. The Pats OL is improved and the Giants rush won't dominate the way they did in 2008.

One thing I didn't see mentioned, which I'm sure everyone remembers, was how the Pats had a couple of really horrible PI calls made on them against the Giants. The perpetrators (Brown and White?) have been relegated to SP where they are being helpful. The biggest possibility of a nasty PI is McCourty, because he tends to face-guard and run into receivers instead of looking for the ball, and the refs will call that every time. Having him at safety ameliorates that threat, but it's still omnipresent.

Also, Gronk is a total beast and I see him at 75-85% on Sunday. That's enough for a few catches and some solid blocks. Due to his sheer size and pass-catching ability, that's enough to have an impact on the game.

Admittedly, I'm biased, but I'm also encouraged the analysis, and I think it shows the keys to the Pats winning.
1) Set up the pass up with lots of running plays
2) Make sure the DB's keep the ball in front of them
3) Take away Cruz by putting help over Edelman and make Eli win with his 2nd and third guys.

If they can pull this off, I'm going to say the Pats steal the SB from the Giants in a squeaker, 31 - 27.

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 11:18am

NE's DBs are taught to play the ball when they are "in phase" (running stride for stride with the receiver) and play the WR's arms when they are "out of phase" (in a trailing position). McCourty demonstrated great ball skills last year simply because he was in phase most of the time, whereas this year he hasn't. The issue isn't failure to look for the ball, it is figuring out why he is trailing more often than not.

Interestingly enough, this teaching which drives fans nuts is precisely why Moore was able to strip the ball so quickly from Evans.

172
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 3:01pm

Moore was able to strip the ball so quickly from Evans precisely because Evans started to celebrate before establishing possession.

175
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 4:11pm

No he didn't.

202
by JackBeQuick (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 2:20am

It's really too simplistic to explain it away by saying he's been "out of phase" on *every* play where he hasn't looked for the ball. That simply is not the case. For example, in the Broncos game, he was perfectly "in phase" on a play and the ball was passed to his guy. He *still* didn't look for the ball. Fortunately the receiver didn't catch it because McCourty was basically inside his shirt, but he was at risk for being called for interference by not looking back. When McCourty has been beat, it's often by biting on play fake, but there are plenty of plays where he's right around the ball, but he's just not looking at it.

This is a common mistakes many D-backs make. Do you recall the Pittsburgh / Denver game, where Tebow threw for a TD over the Pittsburgh defender (last name Gay) who didn't turn to look for the ball, so the Denver receiver scored? Yet, the ball nearly hit Gay on the left shoulder. He wasn't "in phase" because he was behind the guy, but had he turned to look, he could have knocked the ball down, and Pittsburgh advances.

Also, I'm not really happy about not looking back for the ball even when you're "out of phase" as they say. For example, what if the ball is under-thrown? While you're charging at the guy, he's slowing down. You plow into him and get a PI, because you weren't adjusting to the ball. Similarly, if the ball is way overthrown, but you charge into the guy anyway because he's just giving up on it. What happens? PI. Just ask Sergio Brown and Rob Ninkovich.

I know the hand-slapping drill was effective for Moore. But my concern is that some of the other guys seem to think they're "out of phase" most of the time, so never look for the ball. If being out of phase means not running in lockstep, it's unfortunate that players are not encouraged to look for the ball when they aren't in phase, because you don't necessarily have to be in lockstep to knock it down. I think the hand-slapping drill, while effective for a player like Moore who knows when to use it (he said it was the first time this year for him), might not work for others like McCourty, who greatly overuse that technique, to the determent of their play.

203
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 9:17am

Take it up with the Patriots coaches, they are the ones you have the biggest beef with. I understand that McCourty has let some balls squeak by this year, but so has virtually every DB I've watched all season on every team. You also need to explain why Devin's ball skills were so much better last year, did he just completely forget how to turn his head in one offseason?

211
by Intropy :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 3:25pm

Beginner's luck vs. sophomore slump. Fight!

166
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 10:58am

Some responses to comments within the article:

"Why wasn't Brady as good as usual during the first three quarters of the Week 9 game? For the same reason he struggled against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII: pass pressure"

This actually isn't correct. I rewatched the game twice in the last week and NY really didn't pressure Brady any more than an average team would. In fact, they didn't make contact with him in any form over the final 25 minutes of the game.

"But he certainly didn't do well against the big blitz in the Week 9 Giants-Patriots game. By our count, the Giants big-blitzed five times in that game, and it resulted in four incomplete passes and a strip-sack by Michael Boley."

Correlation, not causation. For instance, one of those big blitzes was at the GL on NE's final drive of the first half. Brady saw the rush and read Hernandez would be open, he just missed him. It had nothing whatsoever to do with NY's pressure, which is pretty much how the entire first half went. Brady simply had a bad game and appeared flustered right from the start.

Of course, there could have been some great coverage games going on that are hard to see in the broadcast.

"Tom Brady is also facing more pressure lately, as the Pats' offensive ASR has gone from 4.7 percent through Week 14 to 5.9 percent in the last five games."

This may be correct, but it is misleading. NE has allowed a single sack in the playoffs, and only two in the first Denver game. The sacks allowed are concentrated in the final two games of the regular season, when NE was playing with a reshuffled offensive line. Unless there is some reason why NY's defense resemble's Miami's or Buffalo's, then a more detailed review indicates that the sack numbers have remained the same.

169
by SackSEER :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 1:29pm

I like the Patriots in this one. Everyone is fussing about the Gronkowski injury, but the New England offense was number one in DVOA last year with mostly the same personnel, except without Gronkowski at the height of his powers. Everyone is focusing on the Giants' defensive line, but I think what is being missed is that New England's pass rush is not that much worse than the Giants' (40.0 vs. 48.0 sacks on the regular season), and their offensive line is much better.

Nobody picked the Giants to make noise at the start of the playoffs, but after a few good performances and a lot of fumble luck, they're expected to knock off the number one seed in the AFC?

-----------
Sorry JPP!

170
by Judy (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 2:32pm

Okay, if you're not willing to trust your own system to just make a Super Bowl pick, why should the rest of us pay any attention to it at all?

177
by icarus (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 5:02pm

My god you're right! QUICK! to foxsports.com! Don't look back!

187
by Goathead (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 6:08pm

This is a valid point. Look, I'm a Giants fan, but I think a lot of people are overthinking this one. The Giants seem to have become the trendy pick, and lots of people are jumping on the bandwagon without paying enough attention to how poorly overall this team played through the regular season.

Of the previous 4 teams mentioned who were surprises to get to the SB based on their regular seasons, 1 of them won. Why is this statistically surprising?

I think the odds analysis that says the Giants have about a 40% chance of winning seems accurate.

191
by dmstorm22 :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 7:01pm

Assuming you are meaning the '79 Rams as well as the '03 Panthers and '08 Cards, yes they all lost. They were also all leading at some point in the 4th quarter. The Panthers probably at least get to OT if they never went for 2 (the game plays out with Carolina leading 31-28 instead of tied 29-29 if they don't go for two - or get one of their 2-point attempts). Anyway, they lose by three with the last field goal coming with four seconds left.

The Cards were down 20-7 in the 4th quarter, but also were leading the game with 0:35 left. The Rams were leading 19-17 in the 4th quarter before two Steelers touchdowns.

None of those teams were embarrassed in the game. None even lost convincingly (the Rams did lose by 12, but again, were ahead in the 4th quarter).

204
by Goathead (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 10:51am

Agreed they were close, and I actually saw all of those games (although the Rams one is fuzzy in my memory), just pointing out that one of the 4 underdogs mentioned winning isn't surprising.

The other comment that I'm finding surprising is that the public believes the Giants will win. Based on the Vegas line, and the fact that it hasn't moved, Pats by 2.5 to 3 has divided the money being bet. This means that when people actually are investing more than words in an outcome, they favor the pats.

Stats favor the Pats. The betting public favors the Pats. But I think people who have picked against the Giants a bunch of weeks in a row and keep getting it wrong are finding hard to pick against them.

210
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 2:19pm

Vegas is terrified of a NE FG victory, making winners out of NY +3.5 and NE -2.5. While they haven't moved the line, they have reduced the money line, making it less profitable to bet on NY. 65% of the money is still on the Giants.

194
by Judy (not verified) :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 7:52pm

I don't know, but when he seems so unconvinced that his own stats, and his usual way of interpreting them, are leading him in the right direction, how can the rest of us expect them to lead us in the right direction?

195
by JIPanick :: Sat, 02/04/2012 - 8:17pm

I know from long experience on FO that the stats are right more often than the staff's opinions. (No offense to anyone on the staff, of course)

205
by Independent George :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 11:33am

Well, it's gameday, and I'm feeling incredibly nervous. It's not scientific or rational, but the sinking feeling in my gut tells me that this is the game the Giants forget to show up to. Maybe it's from reading what the NY media is saying, but the impression I get is that the Giants players think they've already won the game. When does that ever work? Those are precisely the kinds of games where Antrel Rolle bites on a play fake and leaves Gronkowski uncovered, or Ahmad Bradshaw loses the football, or Brandon Jacobs gets thrown out of the game on consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Unlike many others, I think the Giants absolutely deserve to be here. While too inconsistent to be a great team, I think they are a damned good team that is much better than their 9-7 record would indicate. I think they pose a great matchup problem vs the Pats. I think these are two evenly matched teams that should play a close game.

I just think that this is the sort of game where my heart gets broken. I didn't believe 2007 was possible, and so they won. I think they should win this game, and so therefore they won't.

Like I said - irrational. But fandom isn't rational.

207
by nat :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 11:46am

Well, good luck. Sort of. I'm hoping your heart gets broken, but not your spirit.

While the Giants squeaked into the playoffs, they've played well enough in the playoffs to belong in the Super Bowl. Neither team was dominant in the conference game, but that's mostly because they were up against great teams. Take heart. Inconsistency is a good thing in an underdog. Obviously the Giants can win this. Just as obviously, they could revert to early season form and lose.

Me, I'm expecting a nail-biter. Enjoy the game for the football, whoever wins.

209
by KK Probs (not verified) :: Sun, 02/05/2012 - 2:13pm

Great job by Football Outsiders again this season! The FO stats (which say 60% in the Pats favor) are good, as always, and the match-up breakdowns here are good, too. But there are a couple of things missing, and I don’t agree with the logic of the final analysis. Specifically, if you don’t want to take the time to read my entire analysis, I think: 1) Deion Branch should be a factor; 2) Gronk should be a significant contributor; 3) the Patriots’ defensive upgrades are just as real as the Giants; and 4) the Patriots had bad, likely unrepeatable kicker and turnover luck in Week 9.

DEION BRANCH SHOULD BE A FACTOR
"The players who had big days against the Giants are players who are more downfield threats: Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson, Devery Henderson, Doug Baldwin."

Laurent Robinson: 343 DYAR, 43.1% DVOA (70 Passes, 68% Catch Percentage)
Doug Baldwin: 180 DYAR, 15.5% DVOA (85 Passes, 60% Catch Percentage)
Deion Branch: 138 DYAR, 6.6% DVOA (90 Passes, 57% Catch Percentage)
Devery Henderson: 112 DYAR, 16.7 % DVOA (50 Passes, 64% Catch Percentage)
Danario Alexander: 5 DYAR, -11.5% DVOA (60 Passes, 43% Catch Percentage)

Deion Branch is exactly the type of player who fits this mold. Talent wise, he's probably in the middle of the players listed. Note that Deion Branch has been a more consistent weapon (did I just say Deion Branch in same sentence? yikes.) than any of the four guys named in the article, with 90 passes thrown his way.

Actually, Branch is the most consistently-deployed weapon, not necessarily the most consistently-effective weapon (there, that feels better). Note that the difference between him and the other lesser-used players in that list is in part due to Branch's lower catch percentage. This indicates that the reason that Branch is slightly lower-rated than Baldwin and Henderson isn't because he doesn't get open, get the ball thrown his way, or even run after the catch; it's because he hangs on to the ball 3%-7% less often than those two players. Over 90 passes, that's dropping something like 3-6 passes more throughout the entire season. So he’s probably ok anyway, but if he can rise to the occasion and clean up his catching ability by, say, catching one extra pass this game that he normally wouldn’t have caught, he’s in a good position to be a big contributor here against the Giants. And, since the article includes plenty of "small sample size theater," let’s throw in for fun that Branch has a combined 21 catches for 276 in his previous two Super Bowl performances.

I'm not sure why the article brings up the Giants' "Other WR" problems and then tries to bring Wes Welker (the obvious #1 WR) into the conversation so much, while it ignores Branch entirely. Interestingly, in Week 9, Brady threw one pass to Branch in the first quarter, and then threw a pick while trying to hit Branch on the first play of the second quarter. Brady may have gotten gun-shy after that, as Branch had just 1 catch on 3 targets after that play.

GRONK SHOULD BE A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTOR
"Still, I think there are two driving issues that will do the most to determine who wins this game:
1) How healthy is Rob Gronkowksi, and..."

The latest reports are that Gronk is not limping and will play. Gronk is a key player and the injury is (probably) serious, but this is the NFL and these guys play pretty effectively with injuries all the time. Ahmad Bradshaw, for example, has been playing with a broken bone in his foot and, leading up to the Super Bowl, he is missing practice about as much as Gronk is. I realize that’s not totally an apples to apples comparison, but the point is that NFL players are physical freaks and adrenaline takes over. Also, based on how he played this season, Gronk can make an impact in this game if he’s at 75% of his normal effectiveness. To heavily discount EVERYTHING else in this analysis just based on Gronk's injury is overreacting to media accounts written by people who didn’t have much else meaningful to write about this week.

THE PATRIOTS’ DEFENSIVE UPGRADES ARE JUST AS REAL AS THE GIANTS’
"Still, I think there are two driving issues that will do the most to determine who wins this game:...
2) How real are the Giants' and Patriots' recent defensive improvements?"

Between Edelman being worked in the mix, Chung and Spikes returning, and the McCourty/Moore switch, I think there is a very good set of reasons to believe that the improvement the Patriots have seen defensively over the last couple of games is real. Just because there isn’t a large sample size collected yet doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical reason for improvement. The article does a good job of analyzing all of this, but for a final conclusion I certainly don’t see that the Giants’ is so much more obviously improved that this should flip the pick from the what the numbers say.

THE PATRIOTS HAD BAD, LIKELY UNREPEATABLE KICKER AND TURNOVER LUCK IN WEEK 9
Two points here, both important:

1) The Patriots had bad kicker luck. At the end of the first half, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal. This is extremely out of character for him, it basically cost the Patriots three points, and it is very unlikely to be repeated in the Super Bowl. Other than that kick, Gostkowski was 13-13 from inside 30 yards and 18-19 from inside 40 yards this season.

2) The Patriots had bad turnover luck. The Patriots lost the turnover battle 4-2. It was 2-1 in INTs, and 2-1 in FRs, both in New York’s favor. Football Outsiders says fumble recoveries are luck and it follows that those should even out, and I’d gladly bet the odds of Brady (41.0% DVOA, 12 INTs in 2011) again throwing more picks than Manning (23.3% DVOA, 16 INTs in 2011) are much less than 50/50.

If the turnovers swing back to even and Gostkowski plays as normal, the Patriots should be double-digit favorites based on those two factors alone, if we're going off of the Week 9 game. Take off a couple of points for going from home field for the Patriots to a neutral site, maybe take off a bit of Gronk's performance, and I think the Patriots are a still a legit favorite by more than 3 points.

215
by KK Probs (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2012 - 3:31pm

Aaron, I tip my cap to you, sir.

(P.S. I meant to write "(did I just say Deion Branch and consistent in same sentence? yikes.)" above)

213
by andrew :: Mon, 02/06/2012 - 1:02pm

From the blurb:

Aaron Schatz pores over all the FO stats to break down Sunday's matchups.

I guess he put a lot of sweat into it.

... update - I see it is changed now.

214
by Intropy :: Mon, 02/06/2012 - 2:09pm

"Pores" means "study meticulously" in addition to "small opening in the skin."

218
by Brian Ruddy (not verified) :: Tue, 04/23/2013 - 10:56pm

"five-game stats represent a small sample size"

Seventeen-game stats represent a small sample size, idiots.