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13 Jan 2006

AFC Second Round Preview

by Aaron Schatz, with additional analysis by Michael David Smith

Last year's AFC playoffs were so much fun, we've invited all the kids back for an encore performance. The Jets couldn't make it, but we really think you'll like these guys we got to replace them. They're called the "Denver Broncos."

For those who may be visiting this site for the first time to read this preview, some explanations for our statistics. 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 VOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

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, which means that it includes last week's playoff games but does not include portions of meaningless Week 17 games for New England, Denver, and Indianapolis.

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. While all the games are on the charts, the trendlines do not include Week 17 for New England or Denver, and do not include Week 16 or Week 17 for Indianapolis.

In past years, these preview articles have also served as the in-game discussion threads for playoff games. This year, we've created separate discussion threads for Saturday and Sunday on our open discussion threads page. 

New England at Denver

No long preview here. Picking the Patriots to lose a playoff game at this point is silly, not to mention disrespectful. The numbers say that New England has a 126% chance of winning this game. Frankly, Denver fans might want to consider doing something else Saturday night. Needlepoint, perhaps.











(hums quietly)









(still humming)









(taps foot)




Are they gone? Did we get rid of the people who don't want to read anything negative about the Patriots? OK, good, now we can get around to discussing these two teams like normal adults. 

This is where I usually put in the disclaimer about the fact that I'm a Patriots fan and at Football Outsiders we want to put our biases out in the open. The last two years, I was accused of being a Patriots homer because our numbers said the Patriots were the best team in football. This year, Patriots fans hate me. I'm here to do objective analysis and not let me personal rooting interests decide what I write, but it puts me in the very strange position where rooting for my team -- and they are still my team, nothing will change that -- also means that I'm rooting for another week of nonstop e-mails from Patriots yahoos, only some of which will get intercepted by the intern.

What the Patriots are attempting to do this year would be historic, and I'm not talking about becoming the first team to ever win three straight Super Bowls, as I detail in an excerpt from an article I wrote for Wednesday's New York Sun.


If the Patriots win this year's Super Bowl, they will not only be the first team to ever win three in a row. They will also be the worst regular-season team to ever win the Super Bowl, period. Only one team has ever won the Super Bowl with the same 10-6 record as this year's Patriots: the 1988 San Francisco 49ers.

Patriots fans might object that New England wasn't really trying to win its final game and should have finished 11-5. Still, only two teams have won the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record, the 1980 Oakland Raiders and the Patriots themselves in 2001.

Most readers know of the Pythaogrean projection, which estimates how many games a team will win based simply on points scored and allowed (explained here). In a 16-game season, only one team has won the Super Bowl despite less than 10 projected wins: the 1980 Oakland Raiders, with 9.5 projected wins. This year's Patriots had just 9.1 projected wins. (The leaders were Indianapolis with 12.7 and Seattle with 12.3.)

To win their third straight Super Bowl, New England would face the most difficult playoff path in NFL history. Last year's Patriots defeated three teams with a combined 40 wins to set a record for the strongest opposition in a three-game Super Bowl run. The Baltimore Ravens, however, faced four teams with a combined 48 wins when they won the Super Bowl as a wild card in 2000.

If the Patriots were to win their third straight Super Bowl, they would have to go through Jacksonville (12-4), Denver (13-3), probably Indianapolis (14-2), and either Seattle (13-3) or another NFC team (11-5). That opposition represents 50 or 52 wins depending on the NFC champion.

New England quarterback Tom Brady is often compared to Joe Montana, and the Patriots will try to follow the path of Montana's 1988 49ers, the only team to win the Super Bowl after a 10-6 season.

Though the 49ers were not defending champions, they had a five-year playoff streak and were coming off a 13-2 season. The 49ers struggled their way to a 6-5 record before reeling off four straight wins to claim yet another NFC West championship. (Like the Patriots, the 1988 49ers lost their final game after clinching a playoff spot.) The 49ers got past Minnesota and then won the NFC Championship by beating the league's top team, Chicago, thus avenging an earlier Monday night loss. A 20-16 comeback win over Cincinnati in the Super Bowl completed the unlikely title run.

But while the 49ers may have accomplished a feat that the Patriots are trying to duplicate, they were not the only team to try. The 1984 Washington Redskins were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. At midseason, after getting creamed by the archrival New York Giants, they were just 5-4. But they finished with six wins in seven games to enter the playoffs as one of the league's hottest teams -- only to lose their first playoff game to Chicago.

The 1974 Dolphins had won the previous two Super Bowls but started the season just 3-2. They won eight of nine to finish the season, but lost in the playoffs to the team with the most wins that year, Oakland. The 1998 Packers and 1979 Cowboys also followed back-to-back Super Bowls with playoff seasons but found that championship experience could not make up for weaknesses that opened up that season, and each failed in the postseason.

Obviously, not all of these teams are alike, and Patriots fans will object, saying that the Patriots now are not the same as the team that was 4-4 at midseason. And that's where our usual preview begins... 

New England at Denver, Actual Preview

Patriots on Offense
DVOA 15.2% (7) -11.3% (6)
WEI DVOA 14.2% (7) -8.6% (10)
PASS 35.4% (2) -16.3% (4)
RUSH -8.9% (19) -3.3% (17)
RED ZONE 42.0% (4) -6.9% (13)

Broncos on Offense
DVOA 25.4% (4) 12.9% (27)
WEI DVOA 28.5% (2) 1.5% (21)
PASS 28.9% (5) 32.3% (29)
RUSH 22.6% (1) -8.7% (13)
RED ZONE 8.4% (11) 27.1% (29)

Special Teams
DVOA 2.9% (8) -0.1% (21)
NE kickoff 6.2 (8) -3.7 (20)
DEN kickoff 4.9 (14) 2.2 (19)
NE punts -8.6 (17) -4.1 (13)
DEN punts 7.1 (20) 9.4 (16)
FG/XP 1.7 (20) -4.6 (26)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Saturday Second Round Discussion Thread.

How do we identify a great football team? Do we look at the past few weeks, or the entire season, or should we go back to last season too? Perhaps we should toss out numbers and judge based on playoff experience, home field advantage, or unquantifiable qualities like "swagger." No game this year poses this question like the rematch of Denver and New England.

The Broncos are 13-2 since an opening day upset by Miami. The two losses came on the road by a combined five points. The wins included a 28-20 victory over the defending champions, but the game wasn't really that close: Denver was winning 28-3 in the third quarter before New England came back against a prevent defense.

But the Patriots now are very different from the Patriots then. In that loss, the Patriots played without All-Pro defensive tackle Richard Seymour, inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, third receiver/nickel back Troy Brown, and their top two running backs, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. Patriots cornerback Duane Starks was repeatedly beaten by Denver wide receivers that day, and rookie safety James Sanders was making his first career start. Both have now been replaced by players who, while not as good as the players from the 2004 Patriots, are at least league average. The Patriots are red hot now, with five wins in their last six games, including last week's 28-3 demolition of 12-4 Jacksonville.

What few people realize is that the Broncos today aren't the Broncos of that game either. Early in the season, Denver was eeking out close wins despite terrible play in some very important situations. Through six weeks, the Denver offense ranked 28th in third-down conversion rate, and the Broncos were one of the league's worst red zone teams on both offense and defense.

Since playing New England, the Denver offense is seventh in third-down conversion rate. Red zone DVOA on offense has gone from 23rd in the NFL to ninth, and red zone DVOA on defense has gone from 28th to sixth.


The NFL says that Denver has the fourth-worst pass defense in the league. Football Outsiders says that Denver has the fourth-best pass defense in the league. What's going on here?

The Broncos' defense is a prime example of why the official NFL team rankings by total yardage are ridiculous. The NFL says the Broncos are 29th in pass defense, allowing 228 yards per game. Of course, the Broncos also face 38.3 passes per game, two more than any other team and six more than the NFL average. All three of their division rivals rank in the top 12 in passing yards. Only four defenses had more interceptions and only two caused more fumbles on passing plays.

This wacky NFL ranking is one reason why people don't realize just how good Denver was this season. In reality, Denver's pass defense provides a good match for the Patriots, who have the best air attack outside of Indianapolis. Denver's run defense is mediocre, and so is New England's running game. Actually, the Denver defense is much like the Jacksonville defense that the Patriots faced last week, except healthy. The one big difference is that Denver's pass rush never gets to the quarterback, and the Broncos were last in the league in adjusted sack rate, which measures sacks per pass play adjusted for situation and opponent.

The Broncos are the best defense against tight ends and second-best against slot receivers, but middle of the road against starting wideouts. So expect more of Deion Branch and David Givens, and less of Ben Watson and Troy Brown. And while Denver's defense has improved in the red zone, New England has one of the best red zone offenses in football.


Denver built that victory over New England on big plays: a 72-yard pass to Rod Smith, a 55-yard pass to Ashley Lelie, and a 68-yard run by Tatum Bell. But both pass plays came against cornerback Duane Starks, who was burned so often early in the season that the Patriots finally had to stick him on injured reserve, unable to pay the fire insurance. Starks is recovering, but if he comes back next year, he'll have to wear a mask like Dr. Doom.

Meanwhile, as I've noted numerous times, the Patriots defense has led the league for three straight years when it comes to allowing the fewest rushing yards on long runs more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. That run by Bell happens to be the only carry over 20 yards allowed by New England all year. Bell also carried the ball on the second-highest run against New England, the only one of 20 yards. The Patriots played LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Warrick Dunn, Cadillac Williams -- and none of these guys could break one for 20 yards.

Of course, after those two runs, Bell showed why he may never be an every-down back: He tires out too quickly. After gaining 109 yards on his first seven carries, he gained only five yards on his final six carries (and had a fumble). The Patriots should be more worried about the consistent pounding of Mike Anderson than they should be about the potential for Bell to make a big play. But they've allowed just 3.2 yards per carry to running backs since Seymour returned in Week 10, so they match up well with Denver's league-best running game.

More likely, Denver will gain yardage with a succession of medium-length passes. New England's secondary has improved without Starks, but it is still the team weakness. In particular, the Patriots keep getting burned by second and third receivers, while keeping number one receivers in check. They gave up big games to guys like Samie Parker and Donte Stallworth. Last week, Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford, and even Reggie "The Canty Dance" Williams gained more yardage than Jimmy Smith. For Denver, that means Ashley Lelie, who has had a strong second half. Third receiver Charlie Adams can be found way, way down here on our secondary table of wide receivers near guys like Tyrone Calico, Taylor Jacobs, and Bobby Wade.

Patriots fans expect Denver quarterback Jake Plummer to make a mistake like the Plummer of the past, but Plummer has only thrown four interceptions in his last 14 games, while the Patriots were near the bottom of the league with just 10 picks -- half of which came from quarterbacks named "Losman" or "Bollinger." And as good as the New England offense is in the red zone, the New England defense is just as bad.


With longer kickoffs at home, punter/kickoff specialist Todd Sauerbrun doesn't need to worry so much about New England's strong kick returns (ranked eighth in the league). Broncos field-goal kicker Jason Elam actually had a subpar year, once numbers are adjusted for the altitude in Denver. The thin air is also supposed to allow longer field goals, but Elam missed his three longest kicks at home, a 52-yarder and two 53-yarders. Adam Vinatieri also missed a 53-yarder here in the first matchup, but he's still the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history.


And now, I would like to share a secret with the class. As most of you know, the formula used for weighted DVOA is based on an attempt to be as accurate as possible for every single NFL team over the last few years. Obviously, some teams can't be painted with the same broad brush, and this is what New England fans (with the exception of the one living at my house) claim about the current Patriots.

DVOA Since Week 12
(Meaningless Games Excluded)

NE 12.1% -18.6% 0.7% 31.4%
DEN 19.0% -6.1% 0.0% 25.1%

So, out of curiosity, I decided to figure out the DVOA rating for New England and Denver, but only since the Patriots got all their players back. That would go back to Week 12, the loss to Kansas City. Patriots fans may object that the current streak of strong play began the next week, but that's not fair to Denver, which lost to the Chiefs on the road in Week 13 just like New England did in Week 12. So we go Week 12-16, plus the first half of Week 17 for Denver, and the wild card game for New England.

Surprise! Even if we include both Kansas City losses -- and Denver's loss was closer than New England's loss -- New England actually comes out ahead since Week 12.

So the Patriots have a much better chance to win this game than the full-season numbers might indicate, but the Broncos are a much better team than people are giving them credit for. On a neutral field, with equal rest, the Patriots would probably be a slight favorite. But they play the regular season for a reason, and the home field and extra week of preparation give the Broncos a slight advantage in a game that could easily go the other way.

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

Steelers on Offense
DVOA 10.4% (8) -10.5 %(8)
WEI DVOA 12.5% (8) -9.9% (9)
PASS 23.8% (8) -15.1% (6)
RUSH 1.1% (11) -5.2% (16)
RED ZONE 48.7% (3) -22.5% (7)

Colts on Offense
DVOA 30.5% (1) -15.4% (3)
WEI DVOA 33.7% (1) -16.8% (4)
PASS 51.9% (1) -13.1% (8)
RUSH 8.3% (8) -18.2% (2)
RED ZONE 32.3% (6) -41.2% (2)

Special Teams
DVOA 0.3% (19) -4.4% (30)
PIT kickoff 0.8 (20) -10.6 (31)
IND kickoff -0.4 (16) -12.5 (29)
PIT punts 2.1 (24) -10.8 (22)
IND punts -4.0 (12) 3.3 (23)
FG/XP 3.3 (16) 6.2 (8)

During the game, please join the discussion in the Sunday Second Round Discussion Thread.

As Indianapolis went undefeated week after week, two teams were considered the most likely candidates to hand them a loss: Pittsburgh and San Diego. The Colts whipped the Steelers 26-7, but the Chargers got the upset. For the Steelers to copy that result, they must learn from San Diego's strategy. That's why this preview is different -- we all know how good the Colts are, so I'm going to concentrate on the blueprint for beating them.


In the first meeting of these teams, seven of Pittsburgh's first nine plays went for either no gain or a loss, resulting in three straight three-and-outs. The Steelers' linemen are powerful, but they're sometimes a bit slow to get out of their stances, and there's no team in the league that can exploit that better than the Colts with their lightning-quick front four.

The Colts have always had trouble stopping the run, and Pittsburgh's offense is the most run-oriented in the NFL. Knowing Pittsburgh would run, the Colts brought safety Bob Sanders up to the line on every play, and running backs Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis kept running into a wall of Colts defenders while the lonely Pittsburgh receivers ran around in single coverage.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger overthrew Hines Ward on a 15-yard pattern on Pittsburgh's second play -- and the Steelers did not throw another pass longer than 12 yards until the final minute of the first half.

Contrast this to the Chargers' strategy when they upset the Colts. In the first quarter alone, San Diego threw four passes of 15 yards or more, three of which were caught.* Only two of their first 13 plays were runs. When Sanders played up, they threw long, and when he moved back into coverage later in the game, they ran the ball.

To win this game, the Steelers need to reverse their usual run-first mindset. We know they can do it: Roethlisberger averaged 10.4 net yards per pass in the first quarter this season, two yards higher than any other quarterback.

*(A landmark moment: This is officially the first item in a game preview to come from the Football Outsiders game charting project. Huzzah! More next week, I hope.)


Peyton Manning's brain is the engine that runs the Indianapolis offensive machine. He excels at recognizing blitzes and adjusting the play at the line to take advantage of defensive weaknesses. But he seems to have more trouble with 3-4 defenses, including the Chargers and the pre-2005 Patriots.

Constant pressure from the outside, provided by rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman, was a major part of San Diego's upset. The Chargers sacked Manning four times, and more importantly prevented him from setting his feet and forced him to step up in a pocket that had collapsed. This was an impressive achievement, because the Colts rank number one in both our offensive line metrics, adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate.

You might think the Steelers fit the same mold as the Chargers. Back in that first meeting, for example, DeShea Townsend came on a corner blitz and sacked Manning, and the reason Manning wasn't able to do what he so often does -- throw directly to the spot that the blitzing player had vacated -- was that the Steelers do a great job of covering for the spot the blitzing player vacates. But that play was an aberration; for most of the day, Pittsburgh's pressure didn't affect Manning at all.

The danger for Indianapolis is that Pittsburgh can pressure Manning more and worry about running back Edgerrin James less. For the second straight year, James slowed down in December.

Last season, James averaged 4.8 yards per carry through 11 games, but 3.8 yards in December and January. This season, James averaged 4.5 yards per carry through 11 games, but 3.2 yards in December. The Colts hope that with two weeks of rest, James will be the same consistent back who was successful on a league-leading 62 percent of his runs. And if James is back to full strength, he can have a lot of success in the passing game. In Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, one linebacker usually drops back into deep coverage. That exposes the one weakness in the Steelers' defense, their inability to stop passes to running backs (ranked 30th in DVOA).


Indianapolis sucks at everything having to do with special teams except kicking field goals. Pittsburgh is pretty much average in every area of special teams, but when you look at Pittsburgh's kickoff returns ranked "-0.4 (16)," note that Quincy Morgan's kickoff returns were worth an estimated 4.1 points of field position, Ricardo Colclough's kickoff returns were worth an estimated -3.7 points of field position, and other players were worth -0.8 points. Morgan will be missed.


A blueprint to beat the Colts does not necessarily mean a win over the Colts. The Colts have dominated the league all year, they're rested, and they have the crowd behind them. The Steelers will stay closer than they did in November, but they need to play mistake-free football to keep the Colts from moving on.

Oh, and one more thing:

DVOA Since Week 12
(Meaningless Games Excluded)
IND 26.7% -16.4% -2.4% 40.8%
PIT 17.4% -15.7% 3.4% 36.6%
NE 12.1% -18.6% 0.7% 31.4%
DEN 19.0% -6.1% 0.0% 25.1%

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 13 Jan 2006

127 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2006, 1:58am by thad


by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:34pm

Whoo-hoo, first in!

Last night, I apologized to my wife for not being Tom Brady (genuflect). Then I had to explain the whole damn thing. It's less funny when you have to explain it. Somebody shoulda warned me. She humored me, but I get the feeling that tonight, I sleep in the yard in the rain.

...Probably because I'm not TB (genuflect).

by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:43pm

"To win this game, the Steelers need to reverse their usual run-first mindset."

The data will show that the Steelers' mind set is actually a balanced attack on offense. In the first half this year the run pass ratio is 51:49. In the second half the ratio is 65:35. I expect the game to unfold exactly as your perscrition suggests. I also expect the winner to the first team to exceed 35 points.

by Adam (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:47pm

For a game that (atleast statistically) looks to be very evenly matched i'm a little surprised that nearly everyone is not only picking the Colts to win, but to win rather easily.

I realize they already clobbered the Steelers once this year but I can say with great confidence that was at the Steelers absolute lowest point of the season (right smack dab in the middle of a nearly season destroying 3 game losing streak

Also, the Steelers won't be subjected to the David Vs. Goliath matchup that was Trai Essex Vs. Dwight Freeney. Thats worth something. Sort of.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:49pm

Hey, Hunter Smith is a darn good punter, excellent FG holder, but only a so-so QB.

And it looks like "Sea of" Cortez kicks about 5 yards deeper than Vandy.Rayner. I wonder if, keeping all other things steady, would that extra five yards in field position bump the Colts up a few notches in special teams ranking... (or would it give opponents five yards to get up to top speed sooner?)....

I've been waiting for their poor ST to burn the Colts all year and so far, nothing. Now with Pitt's kick returner out... looks like it's a Colclough punt return that'll do it, or we have to wait for Bethel Johnson (the man who single-handedly beat them last time NE played in Indy) next week.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:51pm

Good point, JMM. The key in my mind isn't overall balance, it's getting away from predictability on first down. Cowher and Whiz must use play action liberally on first down, IMO. You must force Sanders - the best player on the field in the previous PIT-IND game - to get off the line and respect the pass.

Was it here or somewhere else that I read that Ben has the league's best YPA on first down by a margin of two yards?? Take the cuffs off Big Ben!

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:56pm

That was really, truly funny Aaron. Thanks for the laugh.

Also, well-written and well-researched article as always. Every time I had a question I found that you were answering it just a bit later. Great research on the 10-6 chances, and how truly difficult it would be for the Pats to repeat.

by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 7:56pm

ahh, finally! nice preview. for the steelers to flip the script from the first meeting they need to handle the crowd noise and get off the line of scrimmage. the colts d-line knew when the ball was snapped before jeff hartings did.

a fast start for the steelers makes this game competitive. a 80 yd TD on the colts first play wouldn't...

by spenceKarl (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:02pm

Great previews. And thanks for the weeks 12-18 thing. Very interesting. Makes me feel slightly better about tomorrow night.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:05pm

Apologies for a spelling correction, in which I am by no means taking great glee. "Denver was eeking out close wins despite terrible play in some very important situations." You "eke" out a close win, you "eek" out a comically scary situation like a mouse on the kitchen floor, or...uh, a team winning despite terrible plays. OK, I get it, it was a pun! (Monty Python geek now says, "No, not a pun...a palindrome.")

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:18pm

Oh, and I wholeheartedly agree with the final graf on the Pats/Broncos. A lot of folks are picking "momentum" and the Pats. The Pats are surely much improved since last time, but with an extra week of rest and 5,000 vertical feet separating Foxboro and Denver, that would be one tough win. Might happen, but it doesn't look as sure as a lot folks seem to think.

by someone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:22pm

That's an extremely good article. Do you actually make a scoreline prediction anywhere for the two games?

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:23pm

The early Roethlisberger misses in the November game may have something to do with it being his first game back from surgery. While his thumb is still affecting him (see Cedric Wilson having to turn back for slightly underthrown long balls last week), he's adjusted pretty well since then. Of course, beating the Colts is still going to be awfully difficult.

And Aaron, it's eking, not eeking.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:27pm

By the time my post appeared, it was time to genuflect. Sorry.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:28pm

Aaron and Michael, I demand you stop beaming your thought control waves through my monitor! I don't have any tinfoil in the kitchen!

by Paul (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:31pm

Must we be subjected to this endless blather about the AFC? Who could possibly care? Let's get back to discussing something important, like the over/under in the Battle of the Carnivores?

by underthebus (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:35pm

"he’ll have to wear a mask like Dr. Doom." such a geeky statement, but awesome. It was nice to see DVOA based on when the starters returned.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:37pm

You probably saw that here AND elsewhere. Makes sense, if everybody assumes run (more than for most other teams) that Ben would have an advantage throwing on 1st down. And of course on 3rd and 8, most people assume pass, making it a little tougher.... so it's logical enough. His QB rating is pretty high on 1st downs as well.

I'm not sure I buy the Edgerrin James slowing down issue that Aaron has pointed out a few times (which makes me blinded by bias, probably), mainly because of context: Last year, he had a couple monster games late (the Chi game in week 11 was the best of any RB in all 2004 but in weeks 12 and 13 he also averaged over 4.6 per carry), so you'd think he'd have started slowing down by then, no?

And he is a runner who inexplicably seems to get stronger as the game progresses (maybe as the D tires facing the no-huddle?), so if he only gets 8-12 reps a game, he's not even in his zone yet. He played about 1/2 game vs SD for 13 carries, had 13 carries vs Seattle, and was in street clothes for Ariz, so throw those games out. Jax in week 14 was a brutal game 93 yards on 30 carries, but not so different than his week 9 effort of 34/104 vs the Pats.

He had a string of 5 and 6 YPC games in a string in mid-season for whatever reason, but I don't think he's diminished. Plus Ryan Diem is now back--hard to separate an RB from his line, and Diem missed 3/4 of the SD game and the two since then.

If you look at Manning's numbers, they went up as Edge's went down, so in context, it miight be the D's shifts and play-calling that are affecting this. I guess we'll see on Sunday against a good run D. 8 Steelers in the box will tilt the game away from Edge, but Indy will still run as much as they can to keep balance, even if he's only getting 3 YPC. It sets up the money plays, like 80 the yarder to Harrison.

Do I look like a rationalizing weasley apologist or what? What I need to do it watch the game with Jaws like some lucky people got dto do....

by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:38pm

Bears are a much superior carnivore to panthers, but who can defeat the ultimate carnivores - Redskins?

The only reason I would want Washington and New England to win is the headlines that could be written.
"Redskins get Revenge on Patriots"
"Patriots Massacre Redskins, Again!"

Too bad they didn't actually play earlier.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:40pm

Washington really needes to change their name, it's [redacted] ridiculous that a team is allowed to use a racial epithet for their nickname.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:41pm

Mactbone, that is waaaaay funny and so un-PC you will never see those headlines.

This game should be reserved for Thanksgiving, no? Every friggin' year!

Maybe alternating with the Cowboys and Redskins, "Cowboys Ride the Broncos..." and my team has the pansiest name: "Lions/Bengals/Bears Feast on Colts."

by jeff (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 8:58pm

Aaron you are a genius. This is exactly what we all wanted to see and is a great addition to the whole DVOA effort.

by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:09pm

Bobman, I have to disagree with your Colts-fan self-image problems. I would venture that any one of the following team nicknames is "pansier" than yours:.

1. Ravens (it's from a dipsomaniac's rhyming poetry, for pete's sake!)

2. Buccaneers (particularly back in the Swashbuckler helmet days).

3. Dolphins

4. Texans ("All they got down there is steers and queers, and I don't see no horns on you, boy!")

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:21pm

Great preview Aaron. Cool research on the 10-6 thing. Thanks for the games 12-18 graph. I really was wondering what the Pats defensive DVOA did during the latter part of the season. I suspected the Pats defense had improved, but I couldn't convince myself one way or the other, because of the weak opponents.

[stumbles over the all the genuflecting people to get to the front of the room]

Hey Bronco fans, here's to a close, hard fought game tomorrow night. I think Denver's the better team overall, but the Pats aren't looking too shabby. Therefore, my bold prediction is: I haven't a clue about the final outcome.

But, I figure if the Broncos roll early, the Pats can't come back. If the Pats keep it close (7 or less after 3 quarters) they may grab it at the end. Good luck!

[stumbles back over all the people, humming to himself: "...bow your head with great respect and... genuflect,genuflect,genuflect"]

by thad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:28pm

OK, non football related question.
Why is today, friday the 13th, considered unlucky?

by hector (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:30pm

The Denver-New England preview was so well constructed, I was actually sad when it ended. A lot of common myths and BS skillfully debunked there.

Speaking of BS, ESPN's Bill Simmons for the moment ranks Willie McGinest above Tom Brady on his all-time Patriot list. Look, I like Willie, as all Patriot fans do, but that's just lunacy. McGinest is a two-time Pro Bowler, a big time player, and essentially a football version of Dwight Evans - nice career, no HOF coming. Brady is the guy who almost single-handedly changed everything in New England, the most lucky break in a franchise history. If not for Lloyd Carr's platoon in 1999, or Bledsoe's injury in 2001, none of this happens.

I could ramble on more on this but I'll spare everyone for the moment. Okay, one post-script: January 19 should be a holiday in New England. "Tuck Day." That's the day everything offically turned around.

by hector (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:32pm

Also - I realize the tuck was called correctly in Jan. 19, 2002. But nonetheless it was the ultimate "We never win games like this" game for New England - except they won the game. And without getting into a Magic Beans sort of post, everything has been different since then.

by Digit (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:35pm


Better hope not... I think the Redskins are the only team that's gone undefeated against Tom Brady. *genuflects*

by spenceKarl (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:37pm

RE: 23 (thad)

The non football related answer to your non football related question is that there were 13 people at the Last Supper and Jesus was crucified on Good Friday...That's what I heard anyhow.

by Shelley (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:39pm

Lots of people talk about Denver's altitude advantage. There's an interesting article in today's Boston Globe (linked to my name) refuting that concept. Actually, instead of breathing deeply, they should be more concerned about keeping hydrated (which I've heard the Patriots are very conscientious about, anyway).

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:46pm

they should be more concerned about keeping hydrated

Yes, this is important at altitude. Ignoring this advice can result in a truly killer hangover, as I discovered during one winter as a ski bum in Colorado.

by hector (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:49pm

Knowing what I know now, I should have gone to college in Colorado (instead of Providence). If you're 18-22 and can't have fun there, something's wrong with you. I'm almost amazed anyone goes to class, really.

Great link on the altitude story, Shelley. Thanks for passing that along. I'll try to mix in the water as I watch the game.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 9:55pm

On behalf of Patriots fans everywhere--and that includes the yahoos (afterall their frothing always seems to include the rest of us)--I'd like to humbly accept the Outsiders take on the Pats-Broncos game. And no offense to all your hard work, guys, but that 84% winning percentage for home teams after a bye is the most daunting stat of all. The Pats should be the dogs in this one. Bitches really. But if somehow, through the grace of God, they can overcome that, can anyone honestly say that anything can possibly stand in their way of the 3-Peat Holy Grail?
All equanimity (and common sense) aside, I'm throwing my magic beans over my shoulder and calling next wekend like this: Steelers at Foxboro.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:00pm

RE 29
The people to worry, then, would be the Broncos when Lawrence Taylor came to town, sending booze and hookers to their rooms, etc. I'm sure both dehydrate you, especially at altitude.

If only he were a Bronco back then.... medical science would have been set back 50 years.

As John Madden might say (with a tip of the hat to Bill Simmons): "It's hard to play football, and even harder with a hangover."

by Paul (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:12pm

Re#26... Yes, clearly Steve Spurrier is an underappreciated genius for the way he outcoached Belicheck...and I always thought the Redskins( originally from Boston) were named after the participants in the Boston Tea Party, making them Patriots, and politically correct...

by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:19pm


completely unlikely. but i'll drink to that.

by thad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:23pm

I think when Denver won in 97 they faced 49 wins
Jaguars 11
Chiefs 13
Steelers 12
Green Bay 13
nope, Steelers had 11.
Still 48 wins.

by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:32pm

Aaron, Elam doesn't kick off for Denver. Saurbrun does.

re 22: I haven't heard that song in years. Funny stuff.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 10:47pm

#31: Yes, VERY unlikely, but welcome. I'd really like our chances in Foxboro this year.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:35pm

re: 15

Actually, most bears are ecologically omnivores, even though they belong to the the order carnivora. Notable exception = polar bears. They are strictly carnivores. Just sayin'

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:42pm

The Globe reports that Patrick Pass and Gene Mruczkowski (sorry, Scrabble players) did not make the trip and will be out.

by listopencil (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:47pm

Nice article-thanks.

by jeff t (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:47pm

Contrary to popular opinion, the Steelers played OK on defense vs. Indy the first time around. After the 80 yard TD on the first play, Indy's scoring drives consisted of a 37 yard TD drive after the on-side kick attempt, and FG drives of 45, 6, 19 and 26 yards. Of course, the Colts probably called off the dogs in the 2nd half but the Steelers D hung in pretty well most of the night. Surprisingly, Edge James had success running the ball on Pit. He was able to break a ton of tackles when it looked like he would be stopped for a loss. I don't think that will happen this time.
Anyone know what Pit's defensive DVOA was for that game? Vs Pass and vs run?

by Paul (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:49pm

Re 39 OK, let's call it Battle of the Teams that come from a City that starts with "C" and we also have a polis vs. a burgh, are there geographers who can weigh in on that?

by admin :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:54pm

Re: 37. Duh. I always make a silly little mistake like that. Will fix.

by hector (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:54pm

Does it really matter that the Patriots are a 10-6 team as opposed to an 11-5 team? I think we can all see that they didn't take the last game seriously, and furthermore, they might have understood all along how smart it was to get Jacksonville in Round 1, not Pittsburgh.

40, I'm a tournament Scrabble player. I wish I were kidding. Read "Word Freak" by Stefan Fatsis if you can.

by J (not verified) :: Fri, 01/13/2006 - 11:57pm

Steeler D vs. Indy O

I watched Tunch Ilkin on FSN SPortsbeat. He showed game tape of the SD game. He said SD very seldom got out of its base, 34 defense. It would bring 4,5, or six guys, and got the best pressure when bringing the OLB. The Reason - the Colts O guards, when playing against a 3 man line, need to read the LBs. If ILB pass rush, they stay there and pick them up. However, if OLB pass rush, they pull to the outside. Their OG are responsible for OLB blitzes, if no MLB blitz.

The Chargers had success playing their base 34. They kept it simple.

The Steelers D is similar to the Chargers, but, IMO, have better LBs.

It seems smart to me.

Troy would be back deep, helping on passing plays.

As far as the Steelers offense, I hope to see the BUS. If he could get one more game of 20-25 carries, I think the Steelers could run regardless as to what the Colts D does...load the box. The reason: the BUS is bigger than or atleast the same size as most of Indies D-line. Run bus run, but certainly mix in the deep play action pass.

But, hey, I am no coach. The Steelers will probably play the dime the whole game, and only run 10 times.

by DeepThreat (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:12am

jeff t 39:
Polar bears are omnivores in the summer. There just aren't many herbs growing in the ice caps in January.

As for Denver-New England:
After watching the NFL all year, this game is going to be decided by the New England passing game. If its effective, they'll probably win. If it isn't, they'll probably lose. Everything else seems secondary to me - pun intended.

by asg (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 1:24am

#24: I read somewhere that Friday the 13th is unlucky because it was the day the Knights Templar were betrayed and purged by the French.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 1:34am


What's traditionally beaten the Colts in the past is the 3-4 which can play the stretch that the Colts are all about more effectively, while not doing crazy blitzes.

Peyton Manning is a terrific QB. But he recognizes his defense is the weakness of the team. You can see him when he plays - If a 3 and out happens to the Colts offense, its almost always going to be a TD difference in his eyes as the defense won't do the same. When he's having problems, he gets frustrated and then the stupid plays start coming into play.

This Colts D is much better than the previous ones - they're at least league average. But old habits die hard. If the steelers can stop the Colts first few possessions, get a lead, and force the Colts to play catch up, I think they'll win the game.

by Vash (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 2:41am

46: No way Bettis can reel of 20-25 carries. He tires too easily at his current weight and age, and he's just not supposed to be carrying that kind of load.

If he were to get 20+ carries, he'd probably be out for the AFC Championship.

by J (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:04am


you are probably right...but I can hope. He did have 17 carries for 101 yards vs. Chicago - not the 20 -25 carries, but I would take it.

I agree, Manning can get frustrated, and that is key. He never gets pressure, but he is not on his game when he does....see NE of past two years and SD this year.

NT Hampton has been playing some of his best football over the past 3-5 weeks. He finally seems to have full leg strength back. He should be able to play in Indies back field, which is another reason why the Steelers should stick with their base 34 D...Hampton is on the field.

Cannot agree more with the importance of the beginning of the game....if either team can get a big early lead (14pts+), they will win.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:30am

I don't know about the Pittsburgh early lead theory. Indy just does not panic, especially this year.

Against the Rams they were down 17-0 inside ten minutes. As I had to change my trousers a few times, they just kept at it and scored, I think, the next 45 points. (I know Bulger got hurt, but he doesn't play D far as I know...)

Against Jax in Week 2, they were down heading into the 4th qtr, but stayed with the all-Edge-all-the-time plan and won.

Finally, look at the SD game play-by-play. They were down 16-0 in the 3rd Qtr and came back to lead 17-16 in the 4th. Essentially "game won" or potentially so. SD got a freak 54-yard reception to set up a FG to take a 2-point lead with about 4 minutes left. Plenty of time to work magic. If not for another freak play, an 83 yard run by a backup RB.... I am not apologizing, but Colt miscues gave that game away (special teams fumbles and that huge run, etc), not panicking on offense (though they DID abandon Edge that game--he was in the whole game, contrary to what I have said on another thread here, but he ran only 13 times). The SD game combined two of Indy's biggest D miscues all year, two special teams flubs, with a very well-performing SD team and an injured OL mainstay. A bad confluence of events. I am not saying it cannot happen again, but if they are down by 10 or 14, I don't think anybody will be panicking. The crowd might calm down, which would suck....

I DO agree that Manning is not at his best vs a 3-4, but they played that D alignment 8 times this year (methinks) and have a 14-2 record, so it's not like a magic bullet against the Colts.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:55am

Bobman! Good to see that I am not the only pathetic loser thinking about this game at 1:30 on a Friday night!

Can't speak for anybody else, but my personal Pittsburgh early lead theory is this: If the Steelers get an early lead, they have a CHANCE to win; if the Colts get an early lead, this baby is OVER.

Given the propensity of the Steeler D to start sluggishly, this is for me a depressing outlook. Lebeau MUST have the D ready for a peak effort on the first possession, which I would argue hasn't happened all season.

by tim (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 4:50am

do most quarterbacks have difficulty against 3-4 defences? anecdotally i've seen Donovan McNabb have his worst games against a base 34.

by DoctorLogic (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 8:04am

I am the first to give the Patriots credit for having a great team, playing very well right now.
But I'm sorry, "We're going to start in week 12 when the patriots got most/some/all/enough of their players back to rank these two teams by their DVOA" is a pretty poor comparison. Why not take all of the teams in the NFL, find out the weeks their best players were injured, and exclude those weeks from season-long DVOA? It makes sense, those good players make a difference every week.

As a diehard Denver fan I tell you that the biggest factor in the game tomorrow will be the "Jake factor". Most of the other factors are pretty constant. New England looks like a dangerous team to play right now.

And before it becomes "well on the road, high altitude, played the week before, etc..." as an explanation for New England losing (which they may or may not), consider the "Weak Division" multiplier to DVOA.
You're telling me playing K.C., San Diego and Oakland is comparable to the Dolphins, Bills and Jets?? Not in 2005/2006, my friend. You can argue about cross-division games, but of course players, coaches, etc. put more importance on these games as they decide the standings of the division.

But before you tell me about "dynasties", etc., please win a Super Bowl by 6 points? .... ? anybody? ok.... 5? Maybe 5? ..... Ok... How about 4? Anybody? 4 points? ...... Nobody? 2 safeties? ..... Come on, 4 points wins it.... Ok .... 3 it is..

by gabe (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 9:32am

Doctor Logic : You are an idiot. Whatever team you are rooting for, they haven't won the SB....they haven't even sniffed it latelly.you are probably a colts fan in which case I won't even bother with you.

Ona diff subject, I don't visit this site often. When I do, I find that while the articles are decent, there is an army of brown nosers who can't wait to sniff Aaron's undies.

While, again, this article is ok, you go to great lengths to show that you being a Pats fan won't get in your way of unbiased reporting. such as your power rankings on another website. You placed the Pats behind a team they just beat...in the play offs....

by gabe (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 9:35am

and one more thing. You have made this dvoa the bible of football analysis. However I am not buying it. While it shows you how good a team is, there is absolutelly no way that you can base predicting the outcome of any game on dvoa. Where in your dvoa do you incorporate what happnened to the bengals??? I am talking about Carson Palmer! Nowhere.... Outcome would have been diff(maybe), if the qb would not have been injured.

by Nick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 9:43am

All I have to say is both teams better be ready for one hellva battle. Im die hard Broncos, but this game has me worried. We can talk stats and all that jazz but come on its Denver, in Denver. If it were in New England then we need to write a whole new book, the buckin bronc's are undefeated at home this year. Everyone feels that Brady is 9-0 in the playoffs and that the Pats will win, well every thing has to come to an end. Just my personal opinion, I don't think the Pats have what i takes to get to the finish line, if they beat the Broncos or not. I think that its a big hurdle for the Broncos, but if they beat the Pats they will be in the Super Bowl with Seattle. Its going to be one exciting AFC weekend.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:02am

Gabe makes a great point. While all the other media outlets trusted their gut and accurately predicted Palmer going down on his first pass, your numbers-based approach blindly acted as though his knee would stay in one piece.
Let's just go ahead and shut this site down now, because if you can't foresee a few simple collateral ligament tears then you're just not going to make it in this industry.

by jbvike (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:04am

Geez Gabe it's ok man! Chill out. It's much too early in the morning to be so agitated. :)

Wether or not anyone believes in the statistical analysis of this site or any other is a matter of subjection. I love the edge DVOA gives me between matchups. Most other sites don't like Branch this week due his recent subpar play. Brady looks like he's going to be able to read a novel due to the lack of a Bronco pass rush so I'm going to roll with Branch.

I hope my fellow fantasy fooballers never find this website.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:12am

Globe today on Bruschi:

He has not been on the injury report this week, although he was limping prior to practice Tuesday.

Bruschi traveled with the team here yesterday afternoon, but a team source said Bruschi did not go full speed at practice this week, which at best means he is a game-time decision. Bruschi dressed and warmed up before last week's wild-card game against Jacksonville and appeared to be close to giving it a go, but he did not play.

by Smoking Man (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:18am

Gabe 57, I shouldn't do this, but since I am not on the FO payroll and Aaron was still crazy enough to reveal his proprietary formulae I will pass this much on - you are wrong about the Palmer injury. DVOA includes figures for modeling the likelihood (within a few percentage points) of a QB being rolled on by a linemanand and injuring his leg. Since it includes this, along with figures for virtually any injury that may occur, it can, as Aaron has said all along, be used as a complete predictor of who will win any given contest without needing to consider any other factors.

Soon they won't even play the games anymore, they will just model them and this is what FO has been planning all along. They have even hired a highly regarded lobbying firm to work on changing NFL policy to eliminate actual game playing. Fortunately, posts like yours further FO's interest by generating more hits to their discussion pages and bringing in milliions of dollars in ad revenue with which to pay the lobbyists. By not putting your rant into template format, you even saved them more money in royalties that they will not have to pay out to the template's copyright holder. Three cheers for Gabe the irrational (Pats?) fan, furthering FO's efforts to eliminate football as we know it!

Regarding #56: Pot: "kettle is black". Wouldn't it take an idiot to claim that DVOA will show you how good a team is but it will not help predict which team is more likely to win a game? Isn't knowing how good each team is a pretty big piece in attempting to predict which team will win?

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:46am

So our chances are 1 in a million? ....... So you are saying we have a chance!

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 11:47am

Is it just me, or did a reasonably rational and friendly discussion go off the tracks around post 55? Dr. Logic raised some good points, but then let the Pats fans get under his skin and started ranting--sorry doc, if they win a whole bunch of games, or a whole bunch of SB's, I don't care about the margin of victory. If the Broncos win by 1, you'll be very happy; if the Steelers win by 1, I'll be very happy; etc. etc. Then gabe got really annoyed and started elegantly alluding to sniffing of undergarments. Come on, guys, try to make your points without making your mother ashamed.

by squintsp (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:00pm

Gabe just made me come around to the idea (was it Aaron's friend's idea?) that Pats fans are just like Yankees fans. Have you ever listened to NY talk radio? I love the people who call in wondering why the Yankees don't trade for Albert Pujols. Pure genius.

by NEDYNASTY (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:09pm

In Bill We Trust.
The Patriots won their division, that's all that was required. Dillon and Seymour were used far more sparingly then they could have been. The mantra being, why play them if you don't need to?
Had the division crown been in doubt, these guys would have played far more often.
The first 6 games the Pats played were against quality and very physical opponents most on the road. The team endured a multitude of injuries early and often.
Thus, the starters were used far more sparingly as the season progressed and the division title became the realistic goal. Why risk further injuries when with such a injury plaqued .500 start assured no advantage in winning all the games?
This game won't be close. Brady will open it up early and often, the table will be turned and by the time the second half starts, the Broncos will be so far behind that running the ball will be unthinkable. Their strength, the run, will be taken away, they will have to rely on Jake's arm. Enter McGinest, Colvin, Vrabel and cornor blitz.

Pats 38
Broncos 17

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:24pm

Oh, come on. DEN is favored and rightly so. Now, that doesn't mean NE can't win (and in fact I think they will, by 1 to 3 pts), but predicting that NE will blow out DEN is pretty silly.

The only way NE blows out DEN is if Plummer has a meltdown and keeps giving NE a short field (and/or INT returns for TDs). It's not going to be because NE goes up and down the field on DEN and stops DEN from doing the same.

by NEDYNASTY (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:42pm

Patsfan, by 9:00 PM Branch and Givens will have over 70 yards each. The Broncos secondary will be exposed early and often. In fact, I wouldn't doubt if Brady goes long on every series.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:43pm

I think Denver's pass defence numbers shouldn't count for the time that Darrent Williams missed, or for the amount of time that Champ Bailey and Mike Anderson played hurt. I mean, come on. Everyone gets hurt. That being said, seeing the Pats week 12-16 DVOA is very informative.

From #66 "The first 6 games the Pats played were against quality and very physical opponents most on the road."

Denver is a quality, physical (ask Drew Brees) opponent that New England will have to face on the road.

Also, "Their strength, the run, will be taken away, they will have to rely on Jake’s arm." So you mean that New England will have to rely on Hobbs, Samuel, Wilson, and whoever else they have. Enter Smith, Lelie, Putzier and the FB Swing.

Denver 38
New England 17

RE: Gabe

I loved that Gabe said Dr. L's team had never won a super bowl, and was most likely the Colts, when the Doc clearly said Denver was his team. Threy chears fore ellitercey!

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:46pm

Bjorn -- you're being just as idiotic as "NEDYNASTY".

by NEDYNASTY (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:52pm

Either way, I'm glad there's a big game on tonight.
May the best team win! Can't wait to have the Steelers in Foxboro next week!

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 12:57pm

Either way, I’m glad there’s a big game on tonight.

Got that right. I hate 8pm games, though. Today is jussst goooinnnnngg toooo draaaaaaaag soooooo slowwwwwwwly.

by RIck S (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 1:34pm

An above poster made a good point in saying that why don't you take out the games where Champ Bailey missed and opponents padded their stats?

Given everything I have read, you would think that Brusci and Seymour can turn water into 'whine'. I am so sick of hearing all of the Pats fan apologists making excuses. Padding your stats against the weak AFC East in the 2nd half of the season does not make them great. Brady is amazing, and that concerns me, but Denver is a much better team.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 1:46pm

First, let me note that I am completely neutral on Pats/Broncos, in terms of rooting interest. Second, let me note that comparing Champ Bailey to Richard Seymour, in terms of those two players' impact on a game, when both are in top form, is not useful analysis. This is not a rip on Bailey, but merely recognition that a dominant defensive lineman who can play inside or outside can affect games more than a dominant cornerback, even if it were conceded that these two players were equally superior to the average replacement player at those positions.

Anyways, we'll see soon enough which team prevails.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 2:20pm

Seriously, they should run the Saturday games at 12:30 and 4:00 EST as well. Bloody waiting for another four hours until the first game starts sucks. Also, it would be kinda nice if both the Colts and Pats lost, then everyone would have to talk about the other teams. Oh wait, the media would talk for the entire week about Manning losing another big one, never mind, Broncs and Colts it is.

by fromanchu (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 2:33pm

re: nedynasty
this game will start early and often. the teams are pretty even but denver will have home field early and often. it should come down to the wire, but denver is a tough place to play and i think they win this one early and often.

by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 2:36pm

re 74,
why would you say that? Any evidence?
I am not saying you are wrong but I really have no idea which position is more important.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:00pm

RE: #70
That was my intent.

RE: #74
When I brought up Champ Bailey, my intent was not to produce a side by side comparison of Seymour and Bailey, or DE and CB, but rather to point out that every team has to go through injuries throughout the year. I agree that one CB doesn't have as much game-breaking potential as one DL. However, I do have a problem, though it is a slight one, with one of your statements.

You say "a dominant defensive lineman who can play inside or outside can affect games more than a dominant cornerback, even if it were conceded that these two players were equally superior to the average replacement player at those positions." I think that the average replacement player is irrelevant. The only important factor is the replacement player available to a team. To use your example, if Richard Seymour's replacement in case of injury is Trevor Pryce, and Champ Bailey's replacement in case of injury is Duane Starks, it is pretty clear that Champ's presence will be more game altering than Seymour's.

On another note, it is difficult to assess a DL's dominance seperately from a CB's dominance, as they often go hand in hand. If the DL has one extra second to get to the QB because the coverage downfield is excellent, the DL looks good. If the CB isn't required to cover for that one extra second because the DL gets to the QB, it is the CB that looks good.

On another other note, I am a bigtime Broncos fan, but I took the NE-DEN game out of my teaser for the weekend, because I just don't know what's going to happen. It should be good to watch though!

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:03pm

Thad, I haven't done a regresssion analysis of injuries by position, but when one considers that a dominant defensive lineman, especially one who plays inside and outside, can control both the running and passing game, while a dominant cornerback can have far less influence in the running game, it seems pretty clear that the dominant cornerback has less impact. This is just a guess on my part, and certainly personnel decisions in the NFL can be wrong-headed, but I'd wager that 90% of NFL teams, if given the choice between having Seymour or Bailey on their squad, would choose Seymour.

If someone wishes to argue that this is due to Seymour being more above average at his position, than Bailey is at his, well, I think that is true as well, but that just lends more credence to the notion that Seymour's time lost to injury should be weighted more than Bailey's.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:14pm

Of course, you are right, Bjorn. It is the teams' specific replacement player which is critical. I think that is where personnel analysis can still make huge strides; in getting a feel for the players in the number two spot on the depth charts, at the start of a season, so when a starter goes down, it doesn't take three or four weeks to have any idea what the impact on team performance will be. Of course, given that the coaches and personnel directors struggle mightily with that very task, it isn't going to be easy for even the most committed fan to get a handle on that question. Thus, one may have to do with analyzing the gap between the injured player and the average replacement.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:23pm

"I think that is where personnel analysis can still make huge strides; in getting a feel for the players in the number two spot on the depth charts, at the start of a season, so when a starter goes down, it doesn’t take three or four weeks to have any idea what the impact on team performance will be."

Absolutely. I thought that the Patsies had solved this problem, but then we were all introduced to Duane "Olé" Starks.

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:31pm

79 -

I don't know about that. Given that NFL teams burn a heck of a lot more early first-round picks on corners, and burn huge amounts of money to sign "shutdown" guys, even guys who have never proven that ability, I think you might want to rethink just what NFL teams would and would not do.

It is really, really hard to break down a corner's ability from the rest of the D's, and, likewise, it is really, really hard to break down a single DL's ability from the rest of their team.

The numbers would seem to indicate that Seymour had a huge impact on the Pat's rush D after his return. Y/run and DVOA both back this up. However, nobody here has any idea (really) how much of the difference could have come from altered schemes on the part of the Pats, or perhaps the unmitigated suckitude of the Pats final opponents of the year.

Plus, given that Seymour seems to spend a chunk of EVERY year injured these days, and Bailey does not, I wonder which one most NFL teams would prefer?

Given the struggles of the Pats secondary the last couple of years, I think of a bunch of Pats fans who would trade them 1-for-1 tomorrow.

Anyway, given the HF, altitude and bye week, I would lay the points and go with Denver.

In other action, it has been reported that there is going to be ANOTHER AFC playoff game the same weekend. While I can't understand how the league office would DARE dis-Respect (tm) Brady (genuflect) and the Pats by scheduling other action on their weekend, in that other game, the mighty (though hideously dressed) Steelers are going to Indianapolis to play the Colts and complain about piped-in crowd noise. 9+ is a lot of points to lay in a game, but I think you almost have to take the league's best team this year against Pittsburgh. If Indy jumps to a lead, it is over. Big Ben is a very good QB, but he has displayed an unfortunate habit of wilting when other teams can start ignoring the rush and pell-melling towards the QB. And no team pell-mells quite like the Ponys.

I'm going to go apologize to my wife for not being Tom Brady. I don't think it's going to go over very well, as she's French, we live in Paris (where games are basically unavailable) and the only NFL player she ever recognized was dread-enabled Ricky Williams (I've corrupted the poor girl, in love as she is with a 'fins fan)


by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:39pm

You can double-team a D lineman to mitigate his effectiveness. You don't really have that sort of power against a corner, so the opposing team has less ability to adjust for a good CB than DL. Plus, a lot of good defensive line plays are aided greatly by a good secondary, especially the CB on the #1 WR, keeping close coverage to make the QB either check down or hold on to the ball too long. I believe they're equally important positions.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:42pm

big adventure, I do think that NFL teams are overypaying for cornerbacks right now, but let's change the two players, in order to clarify matters, taking out future injury projections.

Can you think of any cornerback in the history of the NFL, if a team could be assured of having his best ten years, who would be taken over Reggie White's ten best years? By any coach? I'll keep it since 1978, in terms of comparisons, since prior to the rules changes it is even more lop-sided, but I can't think very many Hall of Fame defensive lineman who would be swapped out for a Hall of Fame cornerback. The lineman are simply in position to influence more plays, because the corners are playing off the line of scrimmage, or are too far removed from the rest of the action.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:42pm

Heard a well known analyst say that he likes Denver because Shanahan really wants to get the "Can't win a playoff game without Elway" monkey off his back. I guess that just about clinches things. How can NE possibly counter that intangible?

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:49pm

Fnor, I never said corner play was unimportant, but tell me, on average, can a cornerback affect a inside running play as much as a defensive lineman can affect a 10 yard pass pattern, to say nothing of a long pass pattern? Also, when an offense has to use two players on one defensive lineman, it affects remaining options as much as when an offense decides to not throw in a cornerback's direction.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 3:58pm

Brilliant handicapping analysis by DJ Gallo. I especially liked the linebacker analysis for NE/Denver.

NE: Has a stroke victim for linebacker.
Denver: does not have a stroke victim for a linebacker.
Advantage: Denver


by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 4:06pm

Bonjour, Sean
Glad to hear you're lliving there in France, so I don't have to jump all over your croissants on this genuflecting to Brady thing, which in this country has gotten old very fast and is now about as anachronistic as referring to the 3-time champion Patriots as Patsies (old dreams do die hard). Anyway, you should know that we just passed another one of those emergency laws here which we do often now in our perpetual state of crisis. It says that if you're one of the wisenheimers who continues to advance "the genuflect to Brady" meme and if Brady actually pulls off the 3-Peat, you have to get in front of your TV on 2/5/06 and genuflect as soon as Brady raises the Lombardi. It's the law. So be glad your living in France.

And...speaking as a Pats fan (sacre bleu!), no, I would not take Bailey for Seymour one for one. At his best, Bailey is closing off one side of the field. At his best Seymour is stopping the running game and disrupting the passing game while allowing the likes of Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson to win multiple Super Bowl rings.

by B (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 4:11pm

85: That's easy. Bellicheck will start Cassel at QB and Flutie will take over all kicking duties, so he can get the "can't win without Brady/Vinatieri" monkey off his back.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 4:21pm

I think we need to write a trolls manifesto here. With all the trolls that come in, theres a way to approaching it that doesn't degenerate threads into incessant bickering.

Namely, if one person posts and says the ratings are stupid and something is unfair, it doesn't take 20 people to correct them and fling their own counter-insults at the person.

by DoctorLogicAKADenverMatt (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 5:13pm

Great article Aaron. After discovering FO late in '04 I have made sure to read your analysis before every playoff weekend. I think FO is the best football site on the net, bar none, not even close. Anyhoo.....
--- I would have to agree that a dominant D-lineman is more important than a shutdown corner. While a team may have to go away from one reciever to avoid a dominant corner, a dominant d lineman completely changes your game plan. It makes you change where you run the ball (which I consider more important than the pass) and how you pass-protect. It affects every single play. I agree with #84, I can't think of any corner/safety I would trade Reggie White for at any time.
--- I had no idea only one 10-6 team and two 11-5 teams had won the Super Bowl. I would have thought it was many more than that. Great trivia question
--- It would be interesting to analyze which teams replace players the best, have the best backups, are the least affected by major injuries, etc. Without crunching the numbers I would say the 2005 NE patriots would be the best in the league, or among the best. Especially this year.
--- Tonight's DEN-NE game should be a great game. I think a 3 point line is fair. It's basically a coin flip, but accounting for home field advantage. I think that's about right. NE is much better against the run now than in week 6. I think both teams have momentum, and both pose major matchup problems for the other. Of course I hope Denver wins but I wouldn't be surprised with a New England victory.
--- Pittsburgh has a shot if they can run on the Colts (probable) and shut down/slow down Peyton Manning (not likely). Especially being in the dome, I think a 10 point line is fair. This game could quickly turn into a blowout.
------- Re. #55 - I promise folks, no more angry, drunken 4am posts!

by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 5:19pm

re 90
I think everyone should be forced to pick all 4 games.
If they get out of hand you can say something like
"hey Thad, you are a moron!!!!!!!
Why don't you tell us again how the Pats are going to win cause Denver had only 28 sacks!!!!!!!!!
That was oh so insightful we want more!!!!!!!!!!"
So here are my picks
Seattle, I just believe they are better.
Denver, I am almost certain that no team in the past 15 years has advanced to the CC game with only 28 sacks but I just don't see Denver losing.
Steelers The Colts give up 4.4 yards per carry, few teams win playoff games that have trouble with the run.
Panthers, the Bears scored 260 points, I do not think they should be allowed to purchase tickets for next weeks games.
Feel free to pile on when I am wrong.
An even more fun thing to do, and lets imagine Aaron has a ton of free time...
Would be for him to collect and save these comments and then use them at the top of the preview articles, kind of like a hall of shame.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 5:27pm

For the record, I'm picking Seattle, Denver, Indy and Carolina. I hate picking Carolina, but I have doubts about the Bears and Grossman.

by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 6:05pm

Thad, I would have loved your reasoning on Indy both last year and the year before, but both years they stomped Denver, despite having a worse defence than they do now. I don't see Pitt winning.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 6:18pm

OK, I'll bite ...I'm picking Seattle to win by 14-20, Den to win by 3-10, Ind to win by 7-14, and Car. to win by 3-6

by B (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 6:24pm

Indy's pass defense is ranked 16th by DVOA. I think that's good enough for them to win, so I'm picking Indy, Denver, Seattle and Carolina as the upset.

by Fat Tony (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 6:29pm

Seattle, New England, Indy and Carolina.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 6:36pm

I'd love to join in picking across the board, but BB only allows us to focus on Denver.

by FatBoy (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 7:06pm


by Born a Bronco Fan/Die a Bronco Fan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 7:17pm


Great article--great analyzation and well said. I hope the games go they way they are predicted to go, especially the DEN/NE game--barn-burner. As usual, unless someone is new to the site, thenumbers all makes sense. I will say I am tired of hearing about no respect for NE on all the other web sites. I think Denver gets less respect overall.

Good luck to your Patriots-hope they get close!

by Born a Bronco Fan/Die a Bronco Fan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 7:19pm

I will stay off the Bronco game--don't want to jinx them.

Wash, Indy and Carolina

not that any of you care

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 9:11pm

Pats inactives:
LT Nick Kaczur
WR Bam Childress
RB Patrick Pass
OL Gene Mruczkowski
WR Bethel Johnson
DT Dan Klecko
DL Santonio Thomas
Matt Cassel -- 3rd quarterback

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 10:06pm

Re 82 "the mighty (though hideously dressed) Steelers" Sorry, even if you do live in France, your fashion sense is inadequate. The Steeler uniforms are good looking, classic football unis; take a look at what the guys are wearing in the Tour de France before you make a fashion judgement. (Could this be any more off topic?!)

by Israel (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 10:10pm

103/82 - Especially because he lives in France.

by VinnyMurphSully (not verified) :: Sat, 01/14/2006 - 10:35pm

It's Lynch, it's Brady, it's the honkey showboat showdown!

by ernie cohen (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 2:42am

The main thing that PIT defense lacks compared to SD is DE speed. This causes the PIT pass rush to often disappear against good OLs (this happened in all of their losses this year). If PIT can generate a rush without compromising their run defense too much, they have an excellent chance to win the game.

Morgan will be missed, but more as a WR than for his KO returns. He's a good returner, but much of his VOA this year came on one return, and I suspect Taylor will handle the returns instead of Colclough.

Morgan is especially important to the passing game because the IND is pretty vulnerable to a ball-control passing game. This is a more reliable way for PIT to move the ball than trying to run, even if IND doesn't load up the box. (Like it matters what anyone says; we all know PIT will waste their time trying to run no matter IND throws into the box.)

I forget who wrote the article, but some time ago somebody pointed out that while other teams seem to turn it up for the postseason, PIT never seems to do so. That partly explains the general lack of enthusiasm for their chances.

BTW, I'm really annoyed by all this hoopla over PIT's trick plays. They aren't really very useful because, except for Bettis option passes, they all involve a WR in the backfield, so the D only has to pay attention to them about twice a game. I think they are there mainly to keep Randle El happy.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 3:19am

Aaron, it's nice to see that New England had a better DVOA in the final 6 games, but I've learned a lesson from my time at Football Outsiders... if you have to find creative DVOA splits to show an advantage for your team, your team is probably in trouble. I learned this the hard way two years ago when I kept pointing out how Denver was one of the best teams in the league when Plummer was healthy. DVOA backed me up, but Denver still got thumped by Indy... and I can't deny that the better team won.

I think, ultimately, that I *LIKE* the numbers including performances by injury replacements. I truly believe that they make the numbers more accurate, even if that seems counterintuitive. I don't know, just my observation.

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 7:47am

88 - Dan, it's OK here because I'm the only one doing it and nobody understands it. Thus, it's cute, rather than annoying. However, in the interests of international peace (not to mention swagger) I will cease and desist as of this moment. Twelve.

G... Gen... ... ...

I did it. I feel much better now.

You make an interesting comparison. I would argue that it is pure speculation with no basis in fact. Plus, you haven't really chosen just a "hall of famer" for your comparison, you have chosen someone who would get plenty of votes on the "best of all time" team. Regardless, without actually offering an NFL personal man an in-his-prime Ronnie Lott or Deion Sanders for an in-his-prime Reggie White, we are stuck with simple opinions as to what they MIGHT do.

Now, addressing the actual perps to this particular crime, I think that Bailey is grossly overrated and that Seymour probably is not. Thus, Seymour is probably better than a typical replacement player by a larger margin than Bailey. But we are back to skirting the land of opinion, and unless an actual trade materializes, we'll never find out what NFL people really think on the subject.

Given that it took Bailey PLUS a pick to get Portis and his costumes while Bailey was regarded as the best CB in the league, I think that the personel dudes would still (foolishly) take a good RB over either position.


by big_adventure (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 7:48am

84 - Ooops, the meaty comment above is a response for Will Allen. Sorry about the double.


by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 2:08pm

Well, it was a good run while it lasted. Denver made the plays and New England didn't. Denver LB's in particular I thought played well. Here's hoping the Broncos can give the Colts a game.

I'd really love to see the DVOA's from this game, any chance of that, Aaron?

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 2:19pm

On to Plan B: Go Steelers!

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 3:56pm

I hope whats happening to the colts now in the first quarter gives those people who insist that resting players is all that matters serious pause. the steelers are about twice as sharp as the colts.

by Smeghead (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 4:13pm

What I want to know is whether everyone will be genuflecting for posts in the 120's.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 7:10pm

Oops, spoke too soon! Looks like it's Denver-Pittsburgh. Should be a good game, with the way the Steelers are playing, and the Broncos get to keep home field.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 7:42pm

The irony of course is that after a month full of blather about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the man who seemed to inspire the most of it gets totally dissed by his quarterback. The only difference between what Sprewell did to PJ and what Manning did to Dungy today is that Spree had the good sense not to de-ball his coach during a playoff game. Colts fans, you have a very serious problem there.

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 7:56pm

for 115:
they really kinda needed to go for it. maybe the real problem is dungy's ingame management.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 8:49pm

bob, therein lies the difference between winning three Super Bowls in four years and being Peyton Manning. If Brady ever dared to pull a coup like that on BB, I'd expect to see Doug Flutie in the game immediately. If that stunt didn't prove to everyone that in-game management is all on Manning, surely the gunslinging on the very last drive must have shown you how clearly your team is in the control of megalomaniac. (Oh, and this just in...post game interview he's blaming his O-line. I hereby declare the Brady-Manning debate officially over.)

by Vlad (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 9:45pm

So now that Ben Roethlisberger is a playoff winner, a clutch 3rd down conversion-making qb, as well as a bona fide tackling machine.. shouldnt he enter the debate as well?

Let me be the first to say if we (the steelers) make the superbowl, all the Ben as best qb talk will surface. And I wont mind :) Beats listening about Teddy Bruschi and his superhero achievements.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 11:11pm

Any bets on whether Dungy retires now? I suspect he will.

by Vlad (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 11:24pm

Just to be clear, the Vlad in Post #118 is a different Vlad than me.

by Paul (not verified) :: Sun, 01/15/2006 - 11:29pm

From Aaron's review of the Colts-Steelers matchup:

"Indianapolis sucks at everything having to do with special teams except kicking field goals."

Thank goodness Aaron forgot to add "except when the season is on the line" for kicking field goals.

Plus when Manning blames protection for the loss, isn't he also blaming himself, since he often changes the protection schemes himself?

by Dan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/16/2006 - 12:21am

#117 - in the postgame interview Dungy said that he was telling manning to go for it on 4th down through the headset in the helmet and that the punting unit just jumped the gun. Manning was getting the punting unit off the field based on what Dungy was telling him in the helmet, nottaking ownership of the 4th down try.

Everyone believed that (me included) until you watched that interview 5-10 minutes after the game.

by Vlad (not verified) :: Mon, 01/16/2006 - 1:49am

#120 *genuflect* great to see another Vlad in this sea of Johns.

#122, that's some grade A horse manure you are buying right there. Manning is already gonna get it from the media, Dungy doesnt need to add to the megalomaniac image. And if Dungy agrees that he cedes authority to said megalomaniac, his entire team would think less of him.

by bob (not verified) :: Mon, 01/16/2006 - 2:35am

whatever 117. basing the difference between bellichecks and dungy's success on their supposed difference in toleration of qb autonomy. yah I'm sure that was it.

more likely you just dont like peyton, maybe you're a bronco fan.

by Sid (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:49am

LMAO at gabe. DVOA is obviously useless because it didn't predict Carson Palmer's injury. Seriously, why do these people bother visiting this site?

by Sid (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 4:43pm

re 92

nice picks

by thad (not verified) :: Sat, 01/21/2006 - 1:58am

Thank god someone noticed!!