Football Outsiders
Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis

2007 AFC Championship Preview

By Michael David Smith

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. Normally this is where the full disclosure of possible pro-New England bias would go, but you'll notice that we handed off this preview to someone who has absolutely no emotional stake in either team.

 

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

In November the Colts met the Patriots in a close, hard-fought battle between two of the league's top teams. The hype surrounding the game focused on quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and the difference that night in New England was that Manning had a much better game than Brady did as Indianapolis won 27-20. But the quarterback is only one player, and as the teams prepare to meet again in the AFC Championship Sunday, the other 45 players on each team deserve most of the attention.



Patriots on Offense
  NE OFF IND DEF
DVOA 12.2% (7) 11.3% (27)
WEI DVOA 6.2% (11) 0.3% (12)
PASS 20.6% (6) 5.3% (18)
RUSH 3.8% (8) 15.6% (31)
RED ZONE 37.4% (2) 18.6% (29)


Colts on Offense
  IND OFF NE DEF
DVOA 33.8% (1) -8.4% (8)
WEI DVOA 32.8% (1) -11.9% (5)
PASS 56.7% (1) -9.9% (7)
RUSH 7.5% (6) -6.5% (10)
RED ZONE 25.1% (7) -35.3% (3)


Special Teams
  NE IND
DVOA 2.6% (8) -3.1% (26)
NE kickoff 5.3 (11) 0.1 (15)
IND kickoff 16.6 (1) -15.7 (30)
NE punts -5.9 (25) 2.5 (8)
IND punts 4.9 (4) -9.7 (29)
FG/XP -5.5 (28) 4.8 (8)

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

Everyone who watched football this season knew the Colts' run defense would be their downfall come playoff time. But through two playoff games, not only has the defense not hurt the Colts, it has come through and led them to victory against both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. In two playoff games, the Colts have allowed just 127 yards on 37 runs.

A big reason is that safety Bob Sanders is finally healthy after playing just four games in the regular season. (The victory over the Patriots was one of the four. He led the Colts with eight tackles and intercepted Brady.) Defensive end Dwight Freeney, usually a threat against the pass but a liability against the run, has also played a part in the Colts' playoff improvement by taking his pass rushing to the inside more often, which means teams have a harder time running in his direction. And the Colts are lining up their defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage to help in run support.

That last tactic is something both Kansas City and Baltimore failed to capitalize on. Now it's New England's turn. Look for Brady to pass to Reche Caldwell early and often. In their first meeting Caldwell, who led the Patriots in catches and yards this season, caught just one pass, but in general number one receivers have burned the Colts' secondary. Caldwell figures to have a big day Sunday -- especially if Sanders and the rest of the secondary are focusing on the running game. Caldwell and the Patriots' other receivers shouldn't expect to break many big plays, though. One of the few things the Colts' defense did well this year was stop long passes: The Colts gave up only 27 passes of 20 or more yards, the lowest total in the league.

Whether Brady has time to pass will depend in large part on the battle between Freeney and Patriots left tackle Matt Light, which could be the most important individual match-up of the game. But that match-up won't just be important on passing plays. The Patriots average 5.1 yards per carry running around the left end, the fourth-best average in the league, but they average 2.3 yards per carry running around the right end, dead last in the league. Those runs around the left end will look inviting if Freeney continues his recent habit of rushing to the inside.

New England's rushing attack will come from veteran Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney Both are effective runners, and the Colts' success the last two weeks aside, it's hard to envision Indianapolis shutting both of them down. Even counting the playoffs, the Colts have allowed 5.2 yards per carry this season, the worst in the league. To put that in perspective, 5.2 yards per carry was Jim Brown's career average, which means the Colts have made the average runner they faced look like the greatest runner in the history of the game.

The Colts' weak defense is why Indianapolis had to win so many close games. Both teams won 12 games in the regular season, but only four of the Colts' wins were by double-digit margins, while the Patriots had eight such wins. Counting the playoffs, the Patriots have outscored their opponents this season by a cumulative 446-264, while the Colts' total score is 465-374.

With the exception of tackle Booger McFarland, who was brought in during the season to try to shore up the run defense, the Colts' line is undersized, and New England's offensive line should dominate in short-yardage situations. When they run on third or fourth down with a yard or two to go, the Patriots pick up the first down 82% of the time, the best average in the league. That helps explain why New England chooses to go for it so often on fourth down: The Patriots were an incredible 16-of-20 when going for it on fourth down this season. Expect that trend to continue Sunday, as the Colts allowed their opponents to pick up 11 first downs on 14 tries when going for it on fourth down. If the Patriots face a fourth-and-1, they'll most likely go for it almost anywhere on the field -- and a fourth down stop or conversion could be decisive.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel is one of the best in the business, and he could be the next defensive back to give Manning fits in the playoffs. But Manning might just avoid Samuel entirely. Manning is at his best when he looks to exploit weaknesses in the secondary, and the Patriots' secondary has some holes. Although New England can shut down the other team's top receiver, the Patriots' defensive scheme devotes so much attention to first receivers that the opponent's second receiver usually plays well against New England. Manning usually distributes the ball evenly between his two favorite targets, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but on Sunday he'll focus primarily on whichever receiver is on the other side of the field, away from Samuel.

Safety Rodney Harrison has missed New England's two playoff games with a sprained knee, and it's unclear whether he'll play Sunday. Harrison is tough and physical and knows how to knock opposing receivers around while (usually) avoiding penalties for pass interference and illegal contact. That makes him exactly the kind of defensive back the Colts hate to face. His presence would make a big difference for New England -- and his absence would be a major confidence boost for Manning.

The Colts split their carries between two running backs, and throughout the regular season, rookie Joseph Addai was a significantly better runner than veteran Dominic Rhodes. But Rhodes has played well in the playoffs, especially on the Colts' final drive against Baltimore, when Indianapolis took more than seven minutes off the clock by giving Rhodes the ball 11 times. Addai is the faster runner of the two, but Rhodes has more power. Expect the Colts to split the workload between the two of them equally.

When teams run against the Patriots, they usually go right up the gut -- 68% of runs against New England went up the middle this season, which is the highest rate in the league. The Colts run well up the middle, but if they try it against the Patriots, center Jeff Saturday will have a tough assignment against nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

Left tackle Tarik Glenn is the Colts' best lineman. The Colts average an NFL-best 5.6 yards per carry running behind the left tackle and 4.6 yards per carry running around the left end, but they average just 4.4 yards per carry running behind the right tackle and 3.6 yards per carry running around the right end. Glenn will have a big challenge going against New England's Richard Seymour. Seymour was the only Patriot selected to the Pro Bowl and is one of the league's best defensive linemen, although he struggled on Sunday against San Diego left tackle Marcus McNeill.

SPECIAL TEAMS

If Manning and Co. can get into field goal range, they'll feel comfortable with their kicker. By signing Adam Vinatieri away from the Patriots, the Colts added field goal accuracy and playoff experience to their roster. Vinatieri is 7-for-7 in the Colts' two playoff games.

Field goals, however, are the only area where the Colts have the special teams advantage. Stephen Gostkowski, the rookie the Patriots drafted to replace Vinatieri, has more leg strength than Vinatieri on kickoffs, the Patriots' coverage units are better than the Colts', and New England has significantly better return men than Indianapolis.

OUTLOOK

The NFL hype machine would say otherwise, but this game may turn out to be less about which quarterback plays better, Manning or Brady, than about which safety is healthier, Sanders or Harrison. Sanders looks like he's back to full speed, while Harrison is doubtful. Combine that with the home-field advantage the Colts earned by winning at New England in November, and Indianapolis is the favorite to win what promises to be a great game between two great teams.

ALSO OF INTEREST


STATS EXPLAINED

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

244 comments, Last at 08 Mar 2007, 3:33am

1 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

It will be interesting to see which Matt Light shows up for this game -- the Human Sieve who showed up for most of the season, or the at least somewhat competent lineman who fought Mr. Steroids to a draw in the Chargers game. Since that was probably Light's best game in more than one season, I regretfully have to conclude the Sieve will return.

As for R. Harrison, I'll be surprised to see him play (and even if he did, would he have enough speed on a bum knee to be useful?). We'll get at least one early preview -- the Boston press reports on who does/doesn't take the team flight. So we may know as soon as tonight (tomorrow morning?) if there's even a chance that he can play.

Another think of potential interest is the "flu" that is apparently going around the team (three players are officially listed as questionable with it). Sure, no one is going to miss the game because of it, but how slowed down/less effective will they be?

2 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Darker line at 0% and no Seahawks radioactive snot green! That's why I love you guys.

3 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I am suprised there wasn't more about the biggest missmatch of the game. Indy's Kickoffs vs NE KO return game. What is the trend here? Does Indy's ko coverage improve in the dome? How has Indy's coverage been in the playoffs so far? Granted there hasn't been alot of that but I would think it would make Brady's job alot easier if he is consistently getting the ball at the forty?

4 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Looks like the colts have a DVOA advantage but higher variance, from those charts.

Do DVOA for a single game have to be inverse? For instance, could the Colts go +20% and the Pats +18%?

I'm putting my faith in the beans... The one commercial Peyton has yet to do is Beano. Besides, I hear Brady went to New Orleans and sacrificed the goat.

5 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I see from the graph that the last three times NE played as badly as they did last week, they follow it up with a game over 60%. That's a good sign, right? Right?

6 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#1 - I would think the entire team flies into Indy for the game. It is the championship game afterall. As for Light, it might not be as much of a factor with a healthy Graham.

7 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re #5

Look at who they played on those rebound weeks - Cincinnati (not bad), Green Bay and Houston. Each of those teams was either starting a funk or was in a funk already. Indy is going to be a whole different creature.

8 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re #5

Look at who they played on those rebound weeks - Cincinnati (not bad), Green Bay and Houston. Each of those teams was either starting a funk or was in a funk already. Indy is going to be a whole different creature.

10 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

While I agree with the articles general assessment of the Pats shutting down #1s and Samuel playing well, does this really jive well with the fact that the last game Harrison had almost 150 yards and 2 TDs? I would think that would be a better assessment of the situation than the general approach of both teams. Perhaps for whatever reason Samuel just doesn't match up well on Harrison (I'm guessing maybe Samuel is better on physical receivers than slippery double movers like Harrison). Regardless, after the last game I can't seriously think Manning is going to shy away from going to Marvin unless they heavily, heavily shade the coverage Steve Smith style to prevent a repeat of last time.

11 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

"the Human Sieve who showed up for most of the season, or the at least somewhat competent lineman who fought Mr. Steroids to a draw in the Chargers game"

To a draw? Light absolutely destroyed Merriman.

I'm asking the same question though... are we gonna see the vs-Aron-Shobel-Matt-Light or the vs-Shawne-Merriman-Matt-Light.

I'm hoping to see a healthy dose of Kevin Faulk running out of the single back/shotgun this week.

12 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

"A big reason is that safety Bob Sanders is finally healthy after playing just four games in the regular season."

Hasn't FO spent, like, the last two weeks denying this?

14 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

11: Indeed. The shotgun draw will be NE's best chance of success. Preferably with 3 WRs to keep Morris off the field.

15 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

But you forget the most important thing - the Pats are 3 point underdogs. Therfore, they're being disrespected. Therefore, Rodney Harrison is likely to go postal.

More seriously, though, I think NE's just a better team overall. I think their problems last week are easily correctible, while the Colts defensive emergance seems to be more a combination of Herm and a mediocre Baltimore offense than anything else. I'm rooting for the Colts, but I don't think they're good enough to win.

16 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#1: The whole "flu" thing is actually pretty interesting - I normally would've completely discounted it, but the same thing happened with Philly as well. In the past three weeks, seven Philly players that I can remember came down with a stomach flu and were listed as questionable or missed a practice at some point. And in the last game, Dawkins was playing sick, and he barely showed up much that game at all. (This is not an explanation, just an observation).

It's funny - I wonder how much teams actually try to control the spread of an illness in a locker room? I mean, physically exerting yourself is the worst way to beat an illness, and these guys tend to be in close company for quite a while.

(Of course, not suggesting anything at all - heck, I'd be suggesting it for Philly as well - but there's also the minor point that anabolic steroids likely suppress the immune system, as well.)

17 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#10: Virtually no teams in the league put corners on individual receivers - the vs #1/#2 thing has more to do with coverage patterns than anything else. New England backs its corners off to protect against a deep pass, and so opens things up underneath. It could easily be that Harrison is the one who was running the underneath patterns. I don't know enough about the Colts to answer that, though.

18 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Don't the Saints and the Patroits both have a player with league substance abuse issues?

Why keep citing only Merriman?

19 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#18: Not only that, but it's not like Sauerbrun could even make the claim that he took steroids by accident. I'm still really confused why Sauerbrun didn't get a year suspension for that (the suspension he got was for something else, go figure).

20 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: 4 Do DVOA for a single game have to be inverse? For instance, could the Colts go +20% and the Pats +18%?

VOA is always inverse, but the addition of the D means that DVOA is almost always not inverse.

21 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#16 - The same thing happened to the Patriots in the 2004 AFCCG. That was when Brady had a 103 temperature the night before the game, hooked up to IVs and the like.

#18 - Who was citing Merriman as far as substance abuse?

22 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#17 - I know that Harrison and Wayne always line up on the same side of the offense. Is that also true of Asante Samuel? The average NFL defense? In the case of the former, we may be able to know right now which receiver will put up 7-110-2 and which will have 2-16-0.

/lost my FF championship because Marvin got all the action in week 16

23 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#22, Wayne doesn't always line up on the same side of the field. He normally lines up split left, but will occasionally go intot he slot on either side.

24 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: #16

Looks like this "flu" thing (really stomach flu, not real flu) is gonna be one more nail in the Pats' coffin for this game.

Here's a report on it.

25 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re 18:

Because no one really cares about punters, possibly because blitzing linebackers celebrate more and in general make a bigger ass of themselves.

Also, Merriman is a face of the Chargers, while Saurerbrun (sp?) is just a stopgap signed a couple of weeks ago because the Patriots had to put two other punters on IR (how does a punter get injured, really?)

26 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: 22

I think the average NFL defense lines their corners on the same side almost all the time. I remember that, last year at least, Detroit was the major exception to this, with Dre Bly lining against the #1 receiver most of the time (or at least significantly above other teams).

I don't recall any numbers for the Pats, but given Aaron's blog post citing Samuel as the #1 cited defender against all types of receiver, my guess is that they are not like Detroit.

27 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re 22

I'm not sure of this, but I THINK it depends on which other corner the Pats have on the field. When Hobbs is in, he usually seems to play on the offensive left, and Samuel on the offensive right. When Scott is in, I usually see him on the offensive right, which probably means that Samuel would be on the offensive left. But my memory is that most of Samuel's big plays this year have been on the offensive right.

28 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: #18, #19

Well, what Sauerbrun did was three seasons and two teams ago. Besides, the usual Pats-haters still feel a warm spot in their hearts for Sauerbrun forcing that fumble last year in Denver.

And who would really want to call out the punter, and try and pretend that somehow balances Captain Sack Dance at OLB?

29 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

23: It was my understanding that the Colts expirement with lining Wayne up in the slot was a disaster.
25: Even better, how does a punter get injured in practice? I guess the first step is to be Ken Walter.

30 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

The article doesn't mention the other safety, Sanders. The Patriots backup strong safety is 2nd year player James Sanders, and to my mind, his play will be a deciding factor in the game as well, probably almost as important as Light's and Brady's.

If Harrison plays, it likely won't be every down, and Sanders will see a lot of action. If not, then Sanders will start.

The interesting thing about James Sanders is that he too is known as a physical safety, of Rodney Harrison's mold. He's not as experienced and hence more likely to be fooled by trickery, but at this stage in their respective careers, his physical skills are probably superior to Rodney Harrison's (please, Rodney! I'm not disrespecting you! It's just that you're significantly on the wrong side of 30, and James Sanders is something like 25 or so!).

James Sanders was really bad early, to the point where he was benched in the Denver game. But he's improved all year. If he has his game up to a good level, then I like the Patriots' chances a lot more.

31 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

The referee for the game will be Bill Carrollo. Of course, since this is the playoffs, he won't have his regular crew, so stats about his crew's performance in the regular season won't apply.

32 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#24: Wow. That really looks like they don't take a heckuva lot of steps to combat it (carrying a bottle of alcohol around? yeah, I don't think that's gonna do much). That really surprises me.

I mean, I know Brady played "OMG amazing!" but QB you could probably play sick and not be heavily affected. Not nearly as much running around as other positions.

33 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#29: Oh, c'mon. A punter got injured in a locker room. I think it's safe to say punters aren't the brightest of the bunch. :)

34 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: 21 Who was citing Merriman as far as substance abuse?

See #1 and the at least somewhat competent lineman who fought Mr. Steroids to a draw in the Chargers game.

But I agree with 25.

35 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

A couple of things.

1) RE: 10 While I agree with the articles general assessment of the Pats shutting down #1s and Samuel playing well, does this really jive well with the fact that the last game Harrison had almost 150 yards and 2 TDs? I would think that would be a better assessment of the situation than the general approach of both teams. Perhaps for whatever reason Samuel just doesn’t match up well on Harrison (I’m guessing maybe Samuel is better on physical receivers than slippery double movers like Harrison).

Samuel wasn't matched up against Harrison last game. He was against Wayne. For the first half of the season, Samuel was lined up on the right side of the defense. However, about half way through (after the Colts game), Samuel was moved to the left side (which he claims is his better side and, quite frankly, the stats for this season back that up). So, other than the few times Indy moves Harrison to the left side of their formation, it was mostly Ellis Hobbs on Harrison last time.

Now... as for the article, I still don't get all this praise being thrown on Bob Sanders. Sanders played 4 regular season games this year. Here were the running numbers against the Colts during those games:

Week 1 (NYG): 186 yards on 28 carries for a 6.64ypc average.
Week 2 (HOU): 108 yards on 23 carries for a 4.69ypc average.
Week 9 (NE): 148 yards on 33 carries for a 4.48ypc average.
Week 13 (TEN): 219 yards on 35 carries for a 6.25ypc average.

So, in the 4 games Sanders played during the regular season, the Colts gave up a total of 661 yards on 119 caries for a whopping 5.5ypc average.

If you include the two playoff games the numbers drop to 788 yards on 156 carries for a 5.05ypc average.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy this idea that the Colts fixed their run defense and it's because of Bob Sanders. It appears to have more to do with their opponents than anything else (i.e., both were highly one dimensional).

36 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Look at who they played on those rebound weeks - Cincinnati (not bad), Green Bay and Houston. Each of those teams was either starting a funk or was in a funk already. Indy is going to be a whole different creature.

Green Bay got better at the end of the season (13th in WDVOA) and Houston actually beat Indy.

37 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

It's actually remarkable to me how similar the two teams are, in capability if not in style or player type.

* Both teams employ a RB by committee approach, with a stronger powerful back and a younger rookie with more speed (and yes, I know a lot of teams do this, but this is the first year for both the Colts and the Pats that they have done so). Addai has played slightly better than Maroney, and has been more consistent over the year, but Dillon is probably slightly better than Rhodes, but the teams have similar running capabilities.

* Both teams like to spread the ball around to different recievers. The Colts' WR's are probably better than the Pats, but the Pats TE's and RB's are probably slightly superior as recievers than their Colts counterparts, although it's close. By FO rule, the QB's are exactly even and I won't argue one way or the other. ;-) Still, similar capabilities in that both teams have pretty good passinig games that spread the ball around and are hard to shut down. The Colts have a slightly more reliable deep ball, but the Patriots have a better screen.

* Both teams have play on defense first and foremost to limit the big play. I know the structure of the two defenses is completely different (the Pats run a 3-4 based on power and savvy, while the Colts run a 4-3 based on speed), but the result is similar. Or at least has been of late, now that the Colts have learned to tackle. The Colts have a slightly better pass rush right now, I think, but the Pats are tougher in the red zone (when speed gets a little more neutralized and power is more important).

* Special teams for the Pats is better, but you can't win with special teams alone. If anything, the Pats edge in special teams will at best offset some of the Colts other slight advantages.

I'm really looking forward to this game. I haven't the slightest clue who is more likely to win. I can't think of a more even matchup that would have been possible.

38 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

MJK:

However, I think both teams differ in one crucial area. Predictability.

Can you tell me what the Patriots are going to do on offense (or defense) this week? If you do, are you really certain that's what they're going to do? Probably not.

The Colts, however, do what they do and they do it well. They don't have a ton of different sets or looks. They run what they normally run and they run it extremely well.

I think that's one reason why the Patriots have had a good time against them. They tend to excel against teams who do what they do and do it really well as opposed to teams (like the Jets, for instance... or even Miami) who constantly throw different looks at you, making game preparation a lot more tedious.

39 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#34 - Thanks I missed it. Still don't understand the comment though. Why would the poster have brought up Sauerbrun or the Saints in that particular post? Odd.

#30 - I also think James Sanders has been playing exceptionally well against the run lately and in pass pressure. Not sure so much in coverage however. Really nice to see the improvement from the begining of the year. I am also glad others are finally starting to notice. However, the flip side is that despite a nice start, Hawkins' play has decreased as the season has continued.

40 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#34 - Thanks I missed it. Still don't understand the comment though. Why would the poster have brought up Sauerbrun or the Saints in that particular post? Odd.

#30 - I also think James Sanders has been playing exceptionally well against the run lately and in pass pressure. Not sure so much in coverage however. Really nice to see the improvement from the begining of the year. I am also glad others are finally starting to notice. However, the flip side is that despite a nice start, Hawkins' play has decreased as the season has continued.

41 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#37 - Agree with alot of this except with the pass rush. New England's has been far better for the most part. Just looking at the last game, the d-line of the pats was getting plenty of pressure on manning. The problem was that Manning was actually handling the pressure very well. The question is which Manning will come up this time around, the Manning from week 10 or the manning from the last two weeks.

42 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I just hope that the Patriots are respectful in their dancing on midfield after they win. :).

43 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Hawkins' play early looked good because, even though he's not as athletic or as good in coverage as Eugene Wilson was (who he replaced), his tackling was much better and he was generally smart enough to be in the right place at the right time. So he gave up a lot of receptions, but didn't get burned by a missed tackle and surrender the big play, which Wilson was doing a lot.

Unfortunately, even though he's smart, he's just not that fast or agile (anymore? or was he always like this?) I guess there's a reason the Pats were able to sign him off the street last year. Now that teams have some film on him, I think they have figured out how to scheme to get him matched up on a fast reciever, who he just doesn't have the physical skills to cover. Look at the TD he gave up in the Jets game to Cotchery? when he was in what he thought was good position to make the tackle, but just got outrun and couldn't catch him.

44 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#36 that is some of the worst cherry-picking I ever saw in my life. Green Bay got a 6 point bounce in DVOA and a whopping 12 point bounce in WDVOA from that season ending, non-counting turd laying the Bears dropped on the field against them. What that WDVOA has to do with a week-11 tilt against the (your?) Pats is beyond me.

45 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re 41:

I agree, at that time. Manning was running around like a scared chicken, but still was pulling long completions out of unlikely anatomical sources. But even then, he was mostly being chased by linebackers, which meant that the Patriots were blitzing a lot and putting pressure on their secondary to cover.

But of late the Pats pass rush has looked like it's had problems--both Pennington and Rivers had plenty of time in the last couple of games, and Manning doesn't need all that much time to be good. It seems to be that teams have figured out how to neutralize Seymour (maybe with a double team) and then roll the pocket away from Warren. Then if they can just stop Colvin or Banta-Cain (whichever rushes) with the RB or TE, then they buy the QB enough time to throw. The Patriots actually have seemed to get a better pass rush when they switch to a 4-3...maybe because they replace Wilfork with Green and Wright (both of whom are faster and hence are probably better pass rushers, although not as good in run support), and because they pull either Bruschi or Vrabel, both of whom are slowing down quite a bit as pass rushers.

On the other hand, the Colts pass rush looks to my eye like it's improved a bit recently (although I've only watched it a little bit), and Matt Light's decline and Nick Kaczur/Ryan O'Callaghan's struggles have me a little worried.

47 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re: #38

Im not sure if you have watched many colts games the last 2 years but that isnt the case at all. The colts will do exactly opposite of what the defense gives them, ie the significant decrease in long passing plays and yardage by Manning. They have turned into a short passing and grind it out on the ground team more than anything due to what is the most open. Compare this years (and last year for that matter) to years past when i admit they were more predictable and you have very little similarities

48 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Grain of salt alert on the Colts trendline.

While they did flat out-play Baltimore, consider the other three games that give the trendline its upward trend.

They lost to Houston, playing average.

Miami's coach was in the process of accepting another job.

KC's coach is an idiot.

Not saying the Colts haven't been improving of late, because they have been. Just probably not quite as much as that trendline might imply.

49 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#46: Gets even better when you consider that the low points (DAL, TEN, JAC, HOU) were all away games.

Indy's worst home game was the first Tennessee game. In Week 5. That's the only home game where they posted a negative DVOA all year.

50 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Combine that with the home-field advantage the Colts earned by winning at New England in November, and Indianapolis is the favorite to win what promises to be a great game between two great teams.
----
Isn't home field advantage essentially meaningless in Conference Championship games? And Brady is 10-0 indoors? I wouldn't put any weight on the Colts being the home team.

51 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#45 - I respectuflly disagree about the Patriots pass rush declining recently. At the end of the Jets game, Warren, Wilfork and Seymour were routinely destroying that line. And Indy's line reminds me much more of that line then the Charger's. I also disagree about the pats getting pressure in week 10 soley by blitzing. Just because Vrabel and Colvin were getting pressure doesn't mean they were blitzing.

54 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

50: That's great for Brady, but someone did a look at that stat and a lot of those wins were versus bad teams in Domes (Vikings, for example). I don't think anyone would seriously argue that a change of venue to a grass outdoor stadium wouldn't hugely favor the Pats.

This game being at home is the only reason I like the Colts in this game. Their entire team is built around speed and precision - even Adam V is way better in a dome. The crowd noise helps their speed pass rushers a lot, too. I suspect the degree to which HFA matters varies from team to team, but it's got to be huge for the Colts.

55 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#50: There's only been a small number of conference championship games ever (yes, ~80 is a small number). Statistics kills you - a game here, a game there, changes the whole thing. HFA is typically what, about 5% in winning percentage? That's three to four games.

And Brady is 10-0 indoors?

I think the bigger question (from the Anthony Brancato system, and Bill Barnwell's research) is that Manning isn't outdoors.

56 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Do any Colts fans feel like there is alot of pressure being put on the team for this game? It seems like everyone is expecting them to win and saying it is their time. The team seems to be pulling all the stops to trying to win this one(preventing tickets sales to NE Fans, massaging the refs, etc). Any chance they come out too wound up? Too tight?

I actually think it was a good idea for Dungy to give them three days off and let them clear there heads a bit. I wonder though if everything is coming on a bit too much for them to handle. This hasn't been the most mentally tough team in the past afterall.

Any Indy fans worried about this?

57 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

The Pats had 44 sacks this year, the Colts what...26? Suggesting that's a Colts edge is not defensible.

The Pats aren't going to be nearly as one-dimensional as the Ravens and Chiefs were. Whether Indy can get pressure on the pass without getting gashed by the run is probably the games biggest question, not a presumptive Colts strength, IMO.

IF the Colts get good pressure, then they are in great shape. But the numbers suggest that's less than a 50/50 bet.

58 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#54: After all, Brett Favre is undefeated at home under 34 degrees when not facing an African American quarterback wearing the number 7.

59 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#54 - Adam V is great in domes except for the dome in Houston. For some odd reason he misses most of his kicks there.

60 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

59: Houston is a dome, but they play on grass.
51: As for the Pats pass rush, the question in my mind is can the Colts QB beat them with his legs. That's what happened in the first game. The Pats got pressure, but he scrambled away and made time to find the open receiver. If that happens again, the Pats secondary is in for a long game.

61 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#59-Didn't he have a bad back the season they played there twice? Seems like a coincidence.

62 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re: 60
Colts will win because of Manning's rushing? That's a new one. Any play where the Colts want Manning to rush as opposed to throw, and opposed to Rhodes or Addai rushing, is fine with me and any other Pats fan. Yeah, I remember Manning had a few runs in the first game. Don't expect that to be the sign of a trend or anything like that.

But I would like to see Manning try to run away from Roosevelt Colvin once or twice. That would be amusing.

63 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

The NFL hype machine would say otherwise, but this game may turn out to be less about which quarterback plays better, Manning or Brady, than about which safety is healthier, Sanders or Harrison. Sanders looks like he’s back to full speed, while Harrison is doubtful. Combine that with the home-field advantage the Colts earned by winning at New England in November, and Indianapolis is the favorite to win what promises to be a great game between two great teams.

Not that this is a big deal but I'm just curious, is MDS "picking" the Colts here or not? (And no, I'm not betting the game or looking to benefit from anyone's opinion. Just curious. Oddly, despite NE ties, I'd like to see Manning get his coronation so we can toss out all the unfair baggage that dogs him.)

64 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

A Colts fan pointed out a couple of weeks ago that the biggest improvement in Manning of late is that he suddenly found a little mobility. Before, he was a little Bledsoe-ish (just not as bad)--if you could make him move his feet, either his accuracy or his decision making went bad and Ty Law picked him off. Now, he's much better at throwing on the run (at least from what I've seen this season, especially in Week 10 against the Pats). The danger of Manning's feet is not that he'll run for a first down, but rather that he's buy enough time by running around for Reggie Wayne to outrun Artrell Hawkins and get open.

And Rick, be careful what you wish for. Do you remember the play where Rodney Harrison got hurt against the Colts? As I recall, I believe on that play Manning was running away from Rosie. Colvin had him, I thought, dead to rights for a sack on 3rd and long, but Colvin pulled up a little to avoid getting a roughing the passer penalty, Manning scrambled away, Marvin Harrison got open, and Manning converted, and the Pats lost their best safety when he got his hand stuck in Marvin Harrison's facemask.

65 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

64: Was that the play where the Colts converted a 3rd and 15, or am I thinking of a different play where Manning beat the Patriots with his legs?

66 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Well, his hand wouldn't have been stuck in the facemask if he hadn't grabbed the facemask in the first place.

67 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: 64 MJK

As I recall, I believe on that play Manning was running away from Rosie

He was running away from Seymour, who was still fighting an injury, not Colvin.

68 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

"But of late the Pats pass rush has looked like it’s had problems–both Pennington and Rivers had plenty of time in the last couple of games, and Manning doesn’t need all that much time to be good."

Yeah, Manning doesnt need all that time.... but, Manning's line is nowhere near as good as the Jets or Chargers lines... so he wont HAVE that time.

Generally, the way the Pats beat the Colts is by putting the safties AND linebackers back in coverage, and still getting pressure from the three lineman. That line is better than its ever been, so I dont see them not being able to get pressure with those 3.

The problem the last game, was exactly as they said, Manning beat them with his legs. He got out of the pocket when it broke down, and made completions.

I agree on that Rosey play, he held up, and it looked like it was because he was afraid of getting a call. I doubt that will happen again. I'm sure they'd rather give up a 15 yard penalty than a 15 yard completion in that position.

69 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Just thought I'd throw a little more fuel on the NE side of the fire. In the first game, the Colts had a +3 turnovers vs the Pats. In addition, they lost their starting SS, in the first quarter. As much as it's easy to say that the Pats can just plug someone in when someone gets hurt, having any starting player go down during a game *must* have some sort of detrimental effect. Sure, teams may be able to improve the player over another week of practice, but coming in cold to a game is just... well, it can't be discounted as part of why Indy had *such* good success in their first meeting this season. Oh, and the Colts also had a 70 yard kickoff return.
Now, I'm sure in every game, crazy things happen. I *did* see the Chargers-Pats game. However, with the last Colts-Pats game being decided by only 7 points in the face of all of those Colts-heavy swings, the Patriots should have a chance if things are "even" in the heavy-swing department.

70 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

57: I'd look at sack rate, first. Nobody threw against the Colts (would you?) so they had fewer opportunities than any other team in the league (which could also be why they allowed fewer long pass plays....).

Next, look at the unofficial stat of QB pressures. Now NE may have a ton too, but most Colt watchers are not nearly so down on Freeney's game against the pass as his sacks total would indicate. He's been quite good this year, IMO. He has lived in the opponents' backfields and gotten good pressure--just look at the non-sack of Brady he had in Week 10--pulled back to avoid the roughing penalty and Brady gets away for a completion.

For all that, the pass rusher I am pinning my hopes on is Mathis. They have both been pretty hot in the playoffs and you can't double team both of them. And both, being smallish guys, don't go in to envelope the QB, but go for the strip first. Get the arm and ball, then take the QB down. Was that Neil Smith's or Derrick Thomas's MO as well? Nothing worse for an offense that saying "Oh crap a sack... OH CRAP! A FUMBLE!"

71 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

RE: bsr #3,

I agree completely. MDS does mention it, but he sort of glosses over it. It deserves to be front and center. Considering one of the precepts in the FO FAQ is "The most underrated aspect of an NFL team's performance is the field position gained or lost on kickoffs and punts", I expected more emphasis on this monumental mismatch.

If the Pats win, none of the talking heads will comment on the extra 100 yards of field position the Pats got via better returns (unless it includes a return TD). This will be consistent with the FAQ's "underrated" comment, of course.

RE: bsr #56,

I disagree with your premise that the Colts are "pulling out the stops". I could just as easily claim that the Pats were "pulling out the stops" when they didn't cover the field during rain in the week leading up to the 2004 AFC divisional game. Teams do act differently in the playoffs, but the actions of the Colts organization don't seem particularly unusual to me.

But as far as being "wound tight" - I can't say that it concerns me. Being "wound tight" can cut both ways. It's an easy excuse or explanation for a loss or win (respectively), but there's really no causative link. The Colts have played 11 recent playoff games, some good, some bad. They'll be ready to play. The only scenario where being "wound tight" could be a rational explanation for the result would be if they give up a big play very early.

73 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#42: What dance could they do on the helmet at midfield? I mean, they could just stand around looking shell-shocked with the Peyton face, but that wouldn't be nearly as exciting...

75 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re: 73 They could do the weird finger-brushing thing the Colts do after plays.

What -is- up with that one anyway?

76 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Not that it matters in the slightest (except in the "we get no respect" threads) but by my latest count the exspurts are picking the Colts by a margin of 13 for the Colts and 8 for the Pats.

77 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I really don't see how the Patriots can win this game. All the odds heads to Colts. They are playng better, coming on a crescendo and they are confortable installed at RCA Dome... Hmmm... Pick New England.

78 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

It won't come down to Manning vs. Brady.

It will come down to the single biggest factor that decides games involving the New England Patriots: holding.

No team in football holds like New England. Go watch a tape of their OL and see if anybody even comes close.

Same on defense, except substitute defensive backs for guards and tackles.

(Hey, I'm just sayin'...)

The question is, how tight of a game do the refs call? We'll know pretty early.

After this year's torching in Foxboro by the Colts WRs, the Pats DBs will be coached to clutch and grab like never before.

That you can count on.

79 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#59: In Houston, they always open the roof when Vinatieri is kicking...

80 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

RE: 70,

Adjusted sack rate is still in NE's favor, at 7.1% (#9) to 5.2% (#25).

That's not enough bad news for you? Try this: As the article says, NE's offensive power running rank is #1 (82%). Indy's defensive power running rank? You guessed it, #32 (81%). Yep, the Colts are as bad as the Pats are good. Given that the league average is 64%, a decent estimate for Pats power success in this game would be around 91%. That is, don't expect them to fail. The mystery in this context is why Belichick didn't call more runs in week 9.

I know the Colts have won this matchup twice in a row, and I know that Manning should be able to exploit weaknesses in the Pats' secondary. I know the Colts, on paper, should be able to prevail in a high-scoring affair. But these are the same arguments I made before the 2004 AFC divisional game. The Pats are not as good as they were then, and this one is in Indy, but the Colts are a flawed team, and there's no reason to be particularly confident that they can hide those flaws for a third straight week. I'm optimistic, but not especially so.

81 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

72: The Sports Girl's comments about the donut shop are the funniest thing I've read in a non-DJ Gallo page 2 column in years.
Sports Guy, however, fails to realize that he's the main reason the Patriots are hated so feverently by non-New England football-fans.

83 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Grain of salt alert on the Colts trendline.

Not to mention that the Pats plummetting trendline is the result of knocking Jacksonville, Tenn, Jets, and Chargers out of the playoffs over the last four weeks.

Based on DVOA trendlines, I don't even know why they are playing the game. The Pats should just forfeit. They obviously have no prayer. This game is shaping up as one of the biggest blowouts in playoff history.

84 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#31: I thought after the Giants-49ers game a few years ago where they Giants came back, then got screwed on the no-call PI penalty on the botched snap that they changed from All-Star crews to regular season crews, as that was part of the reason that call was messed up? I'm sure I will be corrected here if I am wrong, though.

85 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#78,

I understand people's infatuation with NE's secondary and their defensive holding (although it wasn't anywhere near as bad as most think), but if you think for a second that NE's OL holds more than Indy's does....

I have a bridge in NY to sell you.

86 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#83: Because clearly everyone has always said that the team with the higher DVOA wins.

87 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

hwc,

Not to mention that the Pats plummetting trendline is the result of knocking Jacksonville, Tenn, Jets, and Chargers out of the playoffs over the last four weeks.

Actually, the biggest reason for NE's dropping trend line is one game. Check out what the chart looked like (click name) and they were on just as much of an upswing as Indy looks.

So, NE played a below average game that was good enough to knock off the #1 seed, and because of that, the prior 4 weeks of upward trending are negated entirely.

(I realize that people don't *believe* this, I am just pointing out the faultiness of using the trend line to determine anything meaningful.)

88 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

It's not like the trend line means anything. It's just to guide the eye. Put a big gigantic error bar around it in your mind. Then again, I'm used to looking at things with big, hidden uncertainties.

89 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

If I'm going to make a list of reasons why I hate the Pats, Simmons is down on the list. Red Sox, on the other hand...

90 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

So, NE played a below average game that was good enough to knock off the #1 seed, and because of that, the prior 4 weeks of upward trending are negated entirely.

I'm still trying to wrap my arms around the concept that going on the road and beating the top seed in the NFL by holding them 10 points below their season average points total and putting 24 points on the board qualifies as a "below-average" game.

IMO, playing the Chargers at home was probably the toughest assignment any team in the tournament could draw. I'm not sure how anyone could have gone in there and earned big style points. But, what do I know?

92 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: #3

The Colts have put Mathis and Morris back in on the coverage teams for the playoffs (they both were stars in the past when not starting on defense). Through the first 2 games those two have been in on a lot of the tackles and the coverage team is looking at least average (which would be a huge improvement), if not better than.

93 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#78: Not that it matters in the big picture, but for a funny holding scene, if you have the NE-SD game taped go look at the last run LT did in the first quarter, which netted him 14 yards or so. From the front replay, you will see Bruschi taking 3 steps towards LT, while a SD player (I forgot who) is literally hanging straight behind him, pulling him by the hips. Even at normal speed, Bruschi seems to be moving in slow motion. (Bruschi ends up missing LT by what seems at least 3 feet by that angle, so it may not have mattered anyway, but still, it's hilarious.)

94 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Re: #75

Although it looks like the sign for tipped ball, it's actually from a hip-hop video - Let It Rain i think. It's supposed to be pushing money of your hand and letting it rain to the ground, because they just earned their money making a good play. That said, it's pretty silly ;o)

95 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

hwc #90,

I have no problem with NE not scoring all that well. I don't think that they played a great game and I do think that in some ways they did get lucky.

But that doesn't change the fact that they beat a very good team on the road. And their reward for doing so was to drop from prohibitive favorite (since Balt is now gone) based on the numbers of the week prior to sitting behind the team they just beat and the team they are about to face by a wide margin.

97 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I hope this flu story becomes really big, because right now the Patriots are in a no-win situation. If they win, well, they've done it before. If they lose, then we hear how the Belichick magic is gone, etc.

But if the team has the flu, everything is reversed. If they lose, well, they had the flu, didn't they? And if they beat the Colts while puking their brains out, then they have heroically surmounted the odds.

98 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Whats interesting about that Nov. matchup is that NE turned the ball 5 times with a vastly inferior offense to the one they posses now and still had a legitmate chance to tie the game on their final drive. They without Graham that week who will help Light out alot against the INDY pass rush. I know that the INDY defense has vastlt improved in the last two games, but I think that that is a little of an aberration reflecting the lack of quarterbacking skill in the Ravens and Chiefs games allowing the defense to completely focus on the run. I believe the NE offense because it has improved gradually since the Jets game is more likely to be the offense that shows up on Sunday rahter than the Colts defense.
On the other side of the ball, there are more questions. The Nov. game with basically the same personnel as this game will feature, minus Seau in the middle and the suprise departure of Rodney Harrison in the 1st quarter, was eaten up by MAnning. I think the Colts eill be able to do that again.
But no one seems to be talking about special teams except field goals. Look fro Mauroney/Hobbs and maybe Jackson to have a huge game returning kicks and punts. Jackson showed some explosivenes there in the last couple of games. I think with that field position and Brady/ Belichek advatange the Pats will win comfortably in a high scoring game. 34-24.

99 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I have no problem with NE not scoring all that well.

That's the sort of statement that is confusing me. The Pats scored 24 points on the road against the #1 seed in the NFL. What would constitute "scoring well"?

I guess I'm just old-fashioned or something, but I would consider putting 6 or 12 or 15 points on the board "not scoring well".

The Pats are averaging 30+ points per game scoring in the tournament.

100 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

hwc #99,

When I typed it, I knew that it was unclear. I just hoped that you would know what I mean.

By "score" I don't mean points, I mean DVOA score. NE put up 24 points, but the FG drive to make it 14-13 was ugly and the TD drive to tie it up wasn't exactly how they drew it up either. So, as I said, I can understand why it could be said that NE did not play all that well offensively.

However, considering the field position all game and the lack of long drives to give them a rest, the D played exceptionally well.

In addtion to that, I know it is not quantifiable, but there really is something to being "mentally tough". All anyone really needs as evidence of this is the SD/NE game. NE just never gives up. They keep coming and you can't give them anything.

IF anything, what I take away from the SD/NE game is not that NE isn't as good as originally thought, it is that they can win when they do not play their best. And every time they have played a poor game this season they followed it up with a dominant performance.

101 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Everyone go read the link in post 91. Especially FO staff who can make it an extra point. It's brilliant.

102 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

RE: 90,

If you really have no ability to understand how a team can play below average and still win, then you are hanging out at the wrong site. The Patriots recovered every fumble in the game, including the INT fumble that kept their season alive. They got a crucial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. They benefited from an opposing team muff of a return. They made a 50+ yard FG while the opponent missed one. None of the three picks they threw produced a long return.

All of the above are known to FO as "non-predictive events", or, if you prefer, lucky breaks. All of them were crucial. And this doesn't include other crucial events, notably SD blowing a timeout and going pass-happy in their second-to-last posession - both crucial strategic errors that the Pats could not control.

Your team won. Be happy.

103 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Heh... Stephan Fatsis just cited FO's 4th down stats above (with attribution) in his spot on All Things Considered.

105 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I am not going to defend Trent "W-what's My Name Again?" Green and Old Man McNair, but they got a lot of abuse here and other media outlets the past few weeks. Hey, they're both recent, former pro-bowlers (like Brady) and McNair was spoken of in generally glowing terms here at FO in the not too distant past. (His first 6 weeks were reviled as same old Baltimore O, but after BB2 took over playcalling, Steve was way good, or so people said.) Then he has a shitty game and it'a all his fault. No credit to the D. hmmmm. And Trent Green, saddled with a poor game plan couldn't audible out of a run into a brick wall... The nly reasons given are Herm Edwards, who does not call the offensive plays, and Trent's lameness. Because clearly it couldn't have been the D. They are not the second coming of the 1985 Bears, but they had two excellent games. Will they make it 3 (or 4)? I don't know, but I guess we'll find out. Personally, I suspect a couple well-executed misdirection/trick plays by NE--a screen pass, or a bomb out of a jumbo formation on the first play of the game, if successful, will somewhat cripple Indy's D and it will become a bit of a shootout after that. If NE plays it straight, I can't imagine why they would, Indy should hold up adequately.

McNair has a history of better ball protection than Brady in a generally more conservative scheme. And he was picked twice.

Also, regarding the lame trendlines, why does NE get credit for ending the playoff dreams of 4 teams (whch hurt its trendline) when Indy'd last 2 or 3 (was Miami still "alive" in Week 17?) were the same thing. The last win was over the top DVOA/est wins/Pyth wins team and presumptive FO favorite. If you remove each team's worst game in the last 6 weeks or so... take out Hou and Indy's line looks like it'll shoot through the roof. Take out Mia in Week 14 for NE and they spike up a lot more steeply for the great game against Jax in Week 15, then come down more steeply for the next three.

So much air is being spent in this thread about the difficulties of going into SD and beating the #1 seed. All of it true. But, we're taking up FO real estate, so let's tip the hat to the stats that prop the site up: Balt was the better team, and Indy beat them more convincingly, on the road, than NE beat SD. Ergo, it was a pretty big deal. Probably a bigger deal than NE over SD. Both QBs played like shit last week against good Ds. Indy's D played better against a lesser O, so not too much indication there. Indy's coverage teams have improved hugely as Turbohappy points out thanks to the reinsertion of a couple D starters. Not sustainable for a season, but for a playoff run, should work.

And guys, every OL holds. I scream at the TV every time Indy's fast guys are on the field, only to say in the next series, "Oh, I guess we got away with one there. Now it's all even." If the rules were called 100% to the letter of the law, the best QB would either be a former college sprinter or built like J-Load, because protection as we know it would be nigh impossible.

It should be a good game.

And #91. That is a great link. NFL journalism mad-libs!

106 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

". The Patriots recovered every fumble in the game, including the INT fumble that kept their season alive. "

Can peopel stop repeating this, as its 100% false.

The patriots recovered 4 out of 7 fumbles. There were 3 muffed kicks/punts, of which the patriots recovered 1. There was the Maroney fumble, which went out of bounds without ever touching the ground. There was the Brady fumble, that the Patriots recovered, the Rivers fumble that the Patriots recovered (and didnt matter) and the Mcree fumble.

So they recovered 4 out of 7, and one didnt matter who recovered it.

107 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

: MDS -- thanks for a good write up.

I write this as one who has in the past called this site on what I occassionally saw as NE homerism. However, I want to say that I have found a clear trend by the staff of FO, including your fearless leader, Aaron, to consciously avoid it. And, while there has been a predominance of NE (both for and against) posting by the readers of this site, and that is not to be unexpected for several reasons, I think the staff has shown themselves to be journalists first and fans second, no matter which team the writer supported (especially recently). I think one evidence of that is that I can't even recall to which team you have allegience, and would have to look it up. That is true of almost all the staff writers. In fact, it is only Aaron's allegience than I can recall off-hand, and that isn't because he writes like a homer, just that I know it (and I recall some of the history of this site, i.e. the "quality wins" debate that got things started). So, as I was saying, thanks for the professionalism.

108 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#68: Manning's line not better than the Jets line that's starting two rookies and two former Cardinals? Manning's line, rated 5th in adjusted line yards and tied for 1st in adjusted sack rate is "nowhere near as good" as the Jets line that is ranked 25 and 17 in those categories? Only if by "nowhere near as good" you mean "much, much better" - and it's obvious you didn't, because you compared them to the Chargers, which have a very good line (1st ALY, 9th ASR). That Pats Kool-Aid must be loaded with hallucinogens.

109 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

If you really have no ability to understand how a team can play below average and still win, then you are hanging out at the wrong site.

I may be on the wrong site.

The Chargers were clearly the number one seed in the NFL. A very balance, talented team -- by any measure (win/loss record, DVOA, etc.)

So, how do you go into their stadium in the tournament and expect to play "average"? Of course, it's a struggle to beat the best team in the league. Why would anyone expect an opponent to go in there and not give up yards to Tomlinson? Why would any opponent not expect the Chargers front seven to create problems? That's what tournament football is all about. There aren't many cakewalks.

The Chargers played a very good game. Their defense gameplanned to take away everything the Pats want to so on offense. You could see it throughout the first half and Brady talked about it after the game -- that the Pats went through their entire bag of tricks before they finally concluded in the middle of the second quarter that they would have to go all pass/all the time (a style of offense that does not play to the Pats' strengths). The Pats went all pass/all the time (by definition an inconsistent offensive style) and put together three clutch scoring drives and 24 points on the board.

Honestly, I'm wondering what kind of game everything thinks this was going to be? Personally, I thought that the Pats only shot at a win was to hang around and hang around and snag a win late in the fourth quarter. They weren't going to dominate the Chargers. The Chargers were a solid 14-2 going into the game.

110 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

108
If by clearly #1, you mean inferior to Bal (by DVOA) over the whole season, and behind Bal and NE in weighted DVOA (through the end of the regular season), then SD was clearly the #1 team by any measure.

111 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

RE: 105,

People state this as fact because it is true. Look it up. There was only one recorded "muff", not three like you say, and the Pats recovered it. And it should be obvious that fumbling out of bounds counts as a recovery by your team. That makes 5 of 5, not 4 of 7.

RE: 108,

I agree with everything you say, except describing the second-to-last scoring drive as "clutch". OK, maybe it was clutch, but it was also quite lucky.

The bottom line (other than the real bottom line, which is that the Pats won) is that they caught a number of lucky breaks, and were it not for those lucky breaks, they would have lost. They played a decent game overall against one of the very best teams in the league, and made big plays when it counted. But give them average luck and they lose by fourteen in stead of winning by three.

113 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

109: Of course, San Deigo, by missing thier best defensive player for four games, was under-rated by DVOA standards. The fact that he was out for a steroids violation doesn't change the fact that the Chargers are a much better defense when he plays then when he doesn't.

114 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I agree with everything you say, except describing the second-to-last scoring drive as “clutch�. OK, maybe it was clutch, but it was also quite lucky.

DVOA may not show it, but I don't recall any clutch come-from-behind scoring drive in a tournament game between two good teams that didn't include elements of good fortune.

I think people are so wrapped up in stat analysis that they sometimes overlook the realities of tournament football.

115 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

B #112,

I was a little skeptical before the game, but SD fans were adament that the D would improve due to the return of (the DL whose name escapes me right now) who missed all but the first two games. They also said that during the stretch without Merriman, SD lost another DL and a couple LBs and that was why they couldn't stop anyone.

After seeing them play, I have to take their word on it. That D was one of the best that I have seen all year.

116 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Rich Conley - Agree w/you that there should be a bunch of running out of a 3WR formation this week. I'm hoping that Maroney gets his share of those carries although maybe his blitz pickup isn't good enough to stay on the field in that grouping. Also wouldn't mind seeing Heath Evans get a couple of touches to test the Colts tackling.

117 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Im telling you guys the people here in Indianapolis are way overconfident for this game. Makes me very nervous.......

120 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

lol he is the greatest kicker of all time you are such a funking queer. If adma gets a chance to win it within 65 yards he NAILS it. And we can all agree on that

122 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

120: He's a great kicker, but he doesn't have a great leg. 55 is probably his absolute limit, and that's pushing it.

124 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I understand the concept that fumble recovery is random, but I am not sure that in every case that is so. The brady fumble that Light reocvvered--luck. But, in particular, the Pats recovery of the fumbled punt seems an example of heads up play rather than luck. Parker, after muffing the punt, tried to pick it up rather than fall on it. (Luck or bad decision-making?) Spann, the Pats player first to arrive, did what he was supposed to do--he wiped out Parker rather than going for the ball. That allowed the Patriots following him to recover, and, yes, on a punt the punting team has a better chanc eo frecovering the fumble once the return man is out of the way. If I understand the FO stats correctly, the Pats don't get any credit for this recovery when in fact it the fumble was recovered more so because of effective playing rather than luck.

125 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

RE: 124,

Certainly, some fumbles are more likely to be recovered by one team or another. DVOA takes this into account, insofar as it penalizes a team more for a fumble that is more likely to be lost, and gives a team a greater bonus for forcing a fumble that is more likely to be recovered. In the case of the Parker play, the Chargers get a hefty penalty for an unforced fumble, and the play doesn't register for the Pats.

As for the (correct) breakdown of which players/teams used proper technique on the fumble recovery - I agree with this analysis. That said, all 32 teams in the NFL teach their players these same things when it comes to recovering fumbles. Just because the Pats executed and the Chargers failed to execute on this particular set of fumble recoveries, doesn't mean we should expect the same thing to happen next time. If they played again, these recoveries could well end up reversed. Statistically speaking, what happened on Sunday is not a good predictor of future events. That's what we mean by luck.

126 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Statistically speaking, what happened on Sunday is not a good predictor of future events.

Statistically speaking, recording one of the worst "statistical ratings" for a game to a 14-4 team that beats the top seed in the NFL on the road is probably not a really good predictor of future events, either.

127 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Sorry, 126, what were you saying? I couldn't hear you over the deafening sound of your homerism.

128 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

"If Manning and Co. can get into field goal range, they’ll feel comfortable with their kicker. By signing Adam Vinatieri away from the Patriots, the Colts added field goal accuracy and playoff experience to their roster. Vinatieri is 7-for-7 in the Colts’ two playoff games."

Kickers are a myth.

129 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Mike Vanderjagt's suckage is not a myth. The Colts were wise to get rid of him, and if they can win a Superbowl with the Patriots' beloved kicker, it's worth the 300k in cap space or whatever that separates Vinatieri and Paul Edinger or whoever.

131 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Statistically speaking, recording one of the worst “statistical ratings� for a game to a 14-4 team that beats the top seed in the NFL on the road is probably not a really good predictor of future events, either.

I dunno. I can prove that a 3-point win isn't a great predictor of future games. Can you prove your statement?

132 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#128: Kickers provide one of the highest returns-on-investment of any position in the league. Actually, I think it's the highest.

In the playoffs, however, that might not be true - although that could be an artifact of the playoffs, or just a mimic of the "regular season cut": i.e. the average playoff team has a good kickoff kicker, and having a great kickoff kicker isn't that much better than having a good one.

133 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

pat why do you have to be so arrogant.. believe or not you dont know everything

136 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Although the NFL will probably mix up Bill Carollo's referee crew, if we look at Bill's regular season statistics, visiting teams did really well, winning 53% of the games even though the home teams were stronger. Bill also called more penalties on the visiting team in only 33% of the games, least of all the 17 crews. On the other hand, underdogs by DVOA (the Colts have lower DVOA) did great in Bill's games, too.

137 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

105:

Bobman, I'm curious. I went through the 'offensive linesman holding' rule recently and there it says offensive linesmen are -allowed- to hold as long as they keep their hands 'inside of the body'.

How many of these holding plays did you notice fit this sort of thing? Because I'm interpreting 'inside of the body' as like, the whole front chest area. (And I'm wondering how an NFL official interprets -that').

138 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Coincidence: Doug Farrar just wrote about the refs for this game here: http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/footballoutsiders/

Bill Carollo calls offensive holding less than any other ref in the league, by a huge margin.

Stefan Fatsis is a cool dude, we're working on some stuff for his next book, which is on the Denver Broncos.

139 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

#137: Doesn't it actually say "frame", rather than "inside the body"? An opponent's frame is the part of an opponent's body that's below the neck and presented to the blocker - i.e., your entire front side, below the neck.

It's pretty easy for an official to figure that out, if you think about it - basically if you see a guy turned away from someone, and the offensive lineman's hands are impeding his motion, it's holding.

It's part of the reason why I wonder why more teams don't stunt frequently - taking an angle through a gap rather than just going straight through it makes you much more likely to get held in such a way that an official will see it.

140 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Pats Fans - To all you out there, raise your hands if you think the result of this game is a gimme.

As one pats fan, i am not too happy to see the colts in the championship game. i would have preferred the one dimension that defines the ravens.

at some point in time, manning is gonna win one in the big game. Why? he has all the offensive tools to do it and needs ONE good break (like the one Brady was gifted by the SD defense!). He has not received one in any of his playoff games and in contrast has a lot of breaks going against him (Big Ben tackling an otherwise sureshot fumble return for TD)

In the previous seasons, Manning & the colts mgmt believed that a victory is possible only through the work of manning's shoulders whereas the current postseason run has already proved it wrong and hence manning can be confident that anything within the 30 yd line of the oppositon is points in the bank and that his defense can deliver in big time. Whether they do it or not, is not important - Manning believing in a win from contributions from running gmae, kicker and defense is important

Manning's confidence in non-manning contribution to a win and long overdue break in playoff game are what makes me believe that just maybe it is the colts time, this time around.

Disclaimer: Pats fan here

141 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

MDS - One more observation. I saw about 50 mins of the November match (Colts v/s Pats) and i didnt think it was a close match. The score was not a good reflection of how dominant Indy was that day and unless i missed something of the last ten mins (damn! that meeting) - it never felt like a close game

that said, rooting for the pats!

142 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Okay, an apology. I didn't mean for people to take my comment in 128 seriously. "Kickers are a myth" is something I read on a forum here that I enjoy saying because 1)I'm not sure what it means, 2)it sounds grammatically incorrect, and 3)it's amusing in it condescension towards Vinateri, Vanderjagt, Grammatica, Norwood, etc. I thought the thread could use some levity.

143 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

This is from boston.com and it really helps with that tight knot in the stomach I feel because of that last Colt victory in Foxborough:
(p.s. Reiss is easily the most reliable and objective reporter I'm aware of in the Boston media when reporting on the Pats. This, as he states up front, is directly from the Pats P.R. department but I would still like to take this opportunity to recommend his work to fans of other teams looking for
accurate behind enemy lines type information) {begin cut and paste}
Mike_Reiss This stat comes from the Patriots' media relations department: Since 2001, the Patriots are 19-6 (.760) when playing a team for the second time in a season and are 7-1 when facing an opponent against whom they had suffered a loss earlier in the same season. The Patriots have outscored their opponents 571-386 in their 21 rematches since 2001.

145 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Stefan Fatsis is definitely a cool guy, and his book on Scrabble ("Word Freak") comes highly recommended. Degrees of Separation: Fatsis befriended and wrote about Eric Chaikin in WF . . . the same Chaikin who was a Brown student (and frat guy?) with some of the FOs. I don't know that Kevin Bacon ties into any of this yet.

The Chaikin film on Scrabble, "Word Wars", is also outstanding.

146 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

It's very strange - some of the Boston media (Dan Shaughnessy, various pundits on the Chris Collins show) are treating this game like a formality - 100% confident of a Pats victory. On the other hand, Bill Simmons went so far as to pretend he was picking the Colts to win (and cover), which is so completely out of character that I can't even think of an analogy for it. Kind of a reversal from what one would normally expect: guarded optimism from the mainstream media vs. rah-rah "Manning sucks, Brady is God" stuff from Simmons. I can't figure out why anyone would overlook this year's Colts - clearly a more balanced team than the '03/'04 versions, but I also can't understand why Simmons is suddenly afraid of them, given his previously unshakeable faith in "the Peyton Manning face" as a prognostication tool.

147 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Thanks for the levity, NF. It's just that when folks get wound tight, it's too easy to miss humor or sarcasm in print. Probably even in person. Now on the thread that must not be named, it seems to be 95% levity compared to years past when I swear it was 95% serious (and really really confounding). People in most any thread dealing with indy and NE this week (and next week, too, in the aftermath, regardless of what happens) are wound kinda tight. Understandable.

Pat and Nathan said it more succinctly in 134/135. Even a harmless joke can be interpreted as a troll emerging from a cave with club in hand.

RE: 137 and 139, if you think about bodies and physics (former wrestler here), grabbing and holding inside the frams gives you little mechanical advantage. If you need to hold a block for an extra quarter second, it might do the trick. (Can you legally take a fistful of jersey?) But getting a limb, hooking your hand and wrist up underneath an arm pit (while also "legally" grabbing inside the frame) really gives you an advantage--and really, all we're talking about in these battles is the need to slow a rusher down or hold a gap open a couple seconds, not a ten minute tussle.

Most obvious when an edge rusher gets a break on the outside and the only thing a blocker can reach is an arm--if they were face to face, he'd have chest and arm--but once the rusher has gone by him, the only way to slow the man down is risk getting caught grabbing his arm, even if for a second. (or moving your feet damn fast and repositioning your body, but edge rushers sprinting up field are too fast for that). I am most impressed by the OLs who have a guy clearly running by them and stick out an arm (akin to the "broke his freakin' neck" guy in the original "Longest Yard") and manage to detain the rusher with almost no mechanical advantage--try it: go up to a sapling and, facing it, stick your arm straight out. Your feet positioning and body behind the arm give you great thrust. Then try pushing that same thing while standing next to it with your arm held out to your side. you should have almost no thrust. The guys who can do this and hols off a defender with just an arm across his chest are monstrously strong and can position their body just right to gleam slight advantage where there should be none.

Very tough for a ref to see everything. Whenever I find myself watching one matchup of linemen for 10 plays or so, I end up thinking I saw a few holds that were non-calls. I guess the best any fan or player can hope for is that their calls are consistent.

BTW, that page 2 humor piece linked to at #91 (I think) by Patrick Hruby is even funnier when you read every footnote--this guy did not just create a mad-lib, he put in tons of time researching and cataloging this stuff--all the insane and inane quotes, all the hyperbole is real and from actual articles. Very XP worthy, IMO.

148 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

re 91: I agree with those suggesting that this should be an extra points article. Mostly it is the funniest thing I've read in a while but it is also a hilarious look at sports writing in general, especially the sort of cliches F.O. tries to be the antithesis of.

149 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

I think that Vinatieri's supposedly supernatural clutchness is indeed a myth (and I'm a Pats fan). The tying 45-yarder in the snow bowl was indeed pretty remarkable.....but beyond that, people tend to forget the simple fact that most kickers make most field goals. Let's not forget that one of the cornerstones of his reputation is the winning 41-yarder in Super Bowl XXXVIII - a game in which he had previously missed twice from inside 40 yards. He made most of his postseaon field goals, but I have no doubt that Gostkowski will make most of his postseason goals as well - and provide better kickoffs as well.

150 Re: 2007 AFC Championship Preview

Probably the biggest reason I can find for optimism that the Pats will win is that John Clayton is picking the Colts. (He is, isn't he? I can't force myself to actually read his articles any more, as I find it so profoundly depressing that anyone who writes like a 2nd-year ESL student can make a living from doing so.)