Football Outsiders
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Divisional Round Open Game Discussion

Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Here's our thread for open discussion during this weekend's divisional round games. Saturday we get Minnesota at San Francisco and then Tennessee at Baltimore. Sunday brings us Houston at Kansas City followed by Seattle at Green Bay.


300 comments, Last at 24 Mar 2020, 4:45am

1 My picks. Vinekings @ 94ers,…

My picks.

Vinekings @ 94ers, going with the rested home team, but it could be an even matchup: 35%-65%

Titas @ Raves: I would love some sort of 6-3 upset, but this is easy. 15%-85%

Texas @ Chefs: most lopsided game of the week. Hope for Watson magic. 5%-95%

Seagulls @ Prackes: upset alert! 60%-40%

2 Data dog's picks

Vikings 22 49ers 24
Titians 13 Raves 31

Texass 23 Chiega 36
Seahawks 29 Pakclets 21

3 The Vikings get just 6 days…

The Vikings get just 6 days between games. The Texans get 8. I know the schedule is entirely dependent on projected TV ratings, but I wish the NFL would attempt to make fairer choices.

4 49ers score but Cousins…

49ers score but Cousins answers!

Attacked Witherspoon, #23, who may be one of the weak links on 49ers D

6 Figured the MIN OL would be…

Figured the MIN OL would be no match for the SF DL. Seems to be true so far - that TD was lucky, basically a 1st quarter version of the Miracle against New Orleans a couple of years ago - but the MIN DL vs SF OL seems to be pretty lopsided, too. In particular, that SF RT looks like a big problem. If he doesn't get it together quickly, they're going to have to keep an extra TE or back in to block, making it harder to attack the iffy MIN CBs. I mean they've got Kittle so their passing game will probably be fine, but that's the matchup that stands out to me in the early going.

Looks like they're running to the outside (away from him) too. That might slow the rush, unless they just fumble it away when they do... (I thought he was clearly down in real time, looks like the review agreed).

13 If you're referring to…

If you're referring to Garoppolo... obviously not, since they traded him away as soon as his contract was about to expire. Garoppolo is at least way better than Matt Cassel, who got a franchise tag.

15 Yeah, I mean, "was." He sure…

Yeah, I mean, "was." He sure seems to throw a lot of dumb picks and miss open guys, which isn't what I'd expect from a guy who practiced with Brady, and was coached by Belichick, for 4+ years.

16 Fair

That’s fair.  Actually I would not be as critical.  As FO pointed out in this year’s almanac, Jimmy did not have much experience going into the year.  Yes he had been in NE for a few years, but mostly sitting.  I think he is on track and that he’s not hopeless to improve big time.  He’s probably not going to reach the level of,say, Matt Ryan, but he could be a Matt Stafford and is not going to be Mitchell Trubisky.  Yes he is someone a team can build on, not someone who needs to be replaced.  I’ll take that.  Of course I am biased as a Bay Area fan, not biased towards Jimmy per se I think but rather elated by his performance compared to his predecessors, once Colin K (mysteriously to me) became disspirited after the NFC championship defeat.

74 Homerism is a powerful force…

Homerism is a powerful force.  By any objective criteria (advanced stats, conventional stats, team success, individual accolades), Ryan has been significantly better than Stafford.  So unless your "levels" are incredibly broad, then they are indeed on different levels.  I'd say Ryan is on the Ken Anderson/Philip Rivers "get screwed out of the HOF because you have no RINGZZZZZZ!!!!!" level, while Stafford is on the Dave Krieg/Matt Hasselbeck "very good player who will unfortunately be forgotten by most fans soon after retiring" level.

288 "Objective" was probably the…

"Objective" was probably the wrong word.  What I really meant was quantifiable criteria (as opposed to things like the "eye test").

As for the quality of the supporting cast impacting a QB's play, that's absolutely true.  But people forget that Ryan was a star before they drafted Julio.  He won OROY when his best receiver was Roddy White.  And speaking of White, before Ryan came along, White was widely considered to be a bust.  Then, in his first four years with Ryan, White made 4 Pro Bowls and even a first-team All-Pro.  And of course, Stafford had several years with Megatron, who was just as good as, if not better than, Julio is.

68 I don't get the Jimmy G hate...

I'm a longtime Patriots fan who now lives in the Bay Area, and I don't get the hate that I hear daily from Niners fans towards Jimmy G on the local talk radio.  Everyone seems to expect him to be the second coming of the 2010s Tom Brady... 

Consider...  In his time with SF, Jimmy has started 24 games over three seasons.  Brady started 30 games over his first two *real* seaons with the Patriots.  (I'm ignoring the bench warming prior seasons for both).  

Consider the comparison when each player was about 25-30 starts into their careers:

Jimmy G: 24 GS ; 0.790 Win% ; 31 Att/Gm ; 67.6 Comp% ; 1.86 TD/INT ; 1.63 TD/gm; 0.875 INT/gm ; 8.4 Y/Att ; 7.13 ANY/Att ; DVOA 14.86%

Brady: 30 GS ; 0.667 Win% ; 33.8 Att/Gm ; 62.8 Comp% ; 1.77 TD/INT ; 1.53 TD/gm ; 0.867 INT/gm ; 6.3 Y/Att ; 5.48 ANY/Att ; DVOA 7.02%

Their careers, so far, aren't comparable... Jimmy has outplayed Brady's early career.  Jimmy G has a higher win percentage, a higher completion percentage, a better TD/INT ratio, and a significantly higher yards/attempt and ANY/attempt.  His DVOA through 26 starts is more than double Tom Brady's DVOA through 30 starts.   He's a bit more of a gunslinger... he throws INTs slightly more often, and the Niners don't lean on him quite as heavily as the Patriots leant on early Brady.  But he's on track to be a top QB.

What you're suffering from here I think is small sample-itis and confirmation bias.  Every QB misses some throws, and every QB has some weaker games.  You could look at almost any Brady matchup against Miami over the last twenty years and conclude that Brady is a lousy QB.  


76 1) The passing environment…

1) The passing environment 20 years ago was massively different. Particularly in terms of INTs, which are literally 30% less likely today, throwing more than Brady did in raw numbers is significantly worse.

2) Brady, pre-2007, wasn't considered to be a particularly great passer - no one could have, or should have, foreseen him breaking yardage and TD records left and right, based on his performance during that time frame - aside from his exceptional "soft skills," particularly decision-making. If you're looking for someone to make a similar breakout, you'd look for similarity in that regard; Garoppolo isn't even on the same planet there (he takes way more sacks, for another thing).

3) Any of Kittle, Samuel, Sanders, or probably any of the SF backs would instantly be the player at that position on those early-'00s Pats teams (maybe tied for the best, if you're a Troy Brown enthusiast). And he especially didn't have anyone remotely on Kittle's level as a receiver until Moss showed up.

4) He's about 3 years older than Brady was during that timeframe, i.e., closer to (realistically, currently at) his physical peak.

Garoppolo is a solid QB, maybe even an above average one. I'll stick with the Kirk Cousins comparison. But he's really not close to being on Brady's level when he was starting out, and that was before Brady was Brady. More to the point, he's a really different kind of player, more likely to try to hero-ball it, but (relatedly) much more mistake-prone.

14 Bay Area perspective

“Hello John, this is Bill Belichick.  We’re probably going to have to move on from Tom Brady and would like Jimmy Garoppolo back.  To be fair, seeing as you were higher in the draft order when you gave us a second rounder back then than we are in the draft order now, I’ll trade you our first round pick to get Jimmy back ...  John, is that laughter I hear in the background?  Are you still there?  Hello??”

(NB, I always find your posts thoughtful and worthwhile, and dig your user name.)

18 Lol, well, yeah, now... like…

Lol, well, yeah, now... like I said above, it just struck me how despite spending so much time together, he makes the sorts of mistakes Brady didn't (used to) make. Come to think of it, he reminds me a bit of Kirk Cousins before he cut his INT% the last couple of years, with a lot of dink-and-dunk punctuated by some gunslingery, with occasionally heroic and occasionally tragic results. It kind of blows my mind that he still doesn't have 2 full seasons worth of starts - maybe with experience some of those rough edges will similarly get polished.


11 That might be the game right…

That might be the game right there. I really can't see the Minnesota offense making up 3 scores against this defense in less than a quarter.

17 The mainstream story of this…

The mainstream story of this game will no doubt be about the 49ers pounding the ball against the Vikings. But the hidden story to me was the Niners' first TD, which was mainly passes over the middle for first downs, forcing the Vikings to change their backfield coverage. K Shanahan wins the coaching battle on just one drive.

19 That's a good point. It felt…

That's a good point. It felt like the Vikings as a team were on their heels basically all game (even when they were tied). Although I thought the defense actually played pretty well, all things considered (got stuck with short or short-ish fields frequently). The offense going full turtle in the 4th was also a huge coaching failure - it was very much not playing to win but playing to lose by less (and wasn't terribly successful at that).

20 The Cowher thing during…

The Cowher thing during pregame was nice but it would have been great if they brought Gronk out to announce the kickoff temperature was 69

22 A tipped pick followed by a…

A tipped pick followed by a big return. Titans are probably going to need a lot of plays like that to go their way to win this game.

24 That TD is what this game…

That TD is what this game needed from the perspective of a neutral hoping for a close game. But now the Ravens are back to advancing down the field with ease.

31 Yes. Baltimore is down by…

Yes. Baltimore is down by multiple scores mostly because a few big plays have gone against them. But even if you ignore those plays they aren't outplaying the Titans. I think I might still take them to win the game, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they lost from this position.

30 I certainly expect Baltimore…

I certainly expect Baltimore to pick it up, but if Tennessee is able to get a quality drive here and run most of the rest of the clock for the half, the Ravens could be in real trouble. If you were to write a script for how the Titans would pull off an upset (or, for that matter, keep it close), this is exactly it.

32 Jackson playing like it's his first playoff game

5/12 1INT 25.7 rating 2.9 ypc.

Came out all hyped and played poorly. Started to calm down the second quarter once he realized he's just playing football.
The 4th Qtr will be when we see how he responds. If it's still close and there's a lot of stress, first time QB's tend to get too excited again and start playing poorly as they did in the first half. Which is why they've only won like 10 of 34 games or so.

35 Tennessee is going to regret…

Tennessee is going to regret all this soft-ass zone when it has chances to get off the field on long third downs.

37 Goofy stat I stole from…

Goofy stat I stole from Twitter: The Titans have scored 25 straight TDs without a single FG mixed in. No FGs made in 23 quarters.

38 At the moment Baltimore has…

At the moment Baltimore has more than double the yards gained than Tennessee... And a lower average gain per play. Not often you see that.

39 This game is something. That…

This game is something. That fourth down play followed by the Titans' two huge third down conversions were absolutely devastating for the Ravens. Baltimore still has a big advantage in yardage... While down 21-6. Strange game.

41 The Spread

Those 91/2 points are starting to look mighty big.

42 This is crazy. Absolutely…

This is crazy. Absolutely every big play has gone the Titans play (except that 3rd-and-16), but they've also just played very well. I'm not sure you'd see another game like if these teams played 100 times, but that's not going to matter.

44 Going into that fourth and…

Going into that fourth and one play I would've said the Ravens had actually mostly outplayed the Titans, and were likely to rally and win. Since then it has, uh... not gone the way I anticipated.

47 Just turned the Titans…

Just turned the Titans/Ravens game on. What is the Titans D doing to slow the Ravens juggernaut?

65 I unfortunately wasn't able…

I unfortunately wasn't able to see much of the game, but the box score says Jackson had 59 pass attempts (59!), which must have something to do with it. He's a competent passer but that's obviously not his strength. I think one big problem running teams have is that if they go down big early, it's hard to come back, since their bread and butter just takes too much time. It sounds like if a few plays early had gone the other way, the score could easily have been reversed, since the Titans obviously have the same weakness. But on this day, that's the way they went.

50 Not quite over. What I'm now…

Not quite over. What I'm now wondering is if Vrabel will have the opportunity to repeat his clock-burning intentional penalties from last week. That strategy would actually make a lot more sense in this game than it did in that one.

56 Huge Hollywood Brown fan

He’s a speedster who also does the dirty work catching short passes and going over the middle.

60 Lamar closing in on 500…

Lamar closing in on 500 yards of offense. And the game is a blowout. If you had been told those two facts before the game had started, what would you have expected? Certainly not this...

62 Full credit TEN for a well…

Full credit TEN for a well played game.

Have to say that I'm disappointed to see BAL dropping out so quickly. Jackson's so fun to watch. Will at least be interesting to see if TEN can do it a 3rd week in a row next Sunday.

Could we be looking at an all AFC South conference championship on one side and an all NFC West conference championship on the other?

64 Well, so much for using…

Well, so much for using twitter this week. The stupidity there is already unbearable.

Schatz had a good tweet about how probability works: things with only a 20% likelihood of happening do indeed sometimes happen (about 20% of the time).

66 Three Takeaways Here

1) Hope DVOA concludes this was a close game. Laughable. 2) "You can't blame Harbaugh for resting Jackson". Sure you can, Talk to Mike McCarthy about 2011 and a 15-1 Packer team that did exact same thing-- and then played about as bad as the Ravens did in losing to Giants. Three weeks off ain't worth it. 3) But i still hate the 3rd and long defensive Timeout with the other team deep in its own territory with just under 2 minutes left in first half. It got the ravens that Fg and almost a TD. a) when you've just sacked the QB, the timeout helps him take a breather, and figure out a play. Which jackson and the Ravens did. b) if you let them run a play either they throw an INC and the clock stops, they don't make the first down, in which case you can then call time out and get the ball close to midfield with more than a minute left, or if they do get the first down they're now down to under 115 and while a FG is still very possible, a TD is not.

83 close game

DVOA may think it was a close game, but it really wasn't.  Baltimore had a couple long drives that DVOA loves, which they got zero points from after failing on 4th down.  On a per-play basis, the Ravens' running outperformed the Titans (I guess that would surprise a lot of people) and their passing seriously outperformed the Titans.  

The game felt over when the Titans went up 21-6 and it was certainly over when they went up 28-6.  The Ravens have a great offense, but its run-based and they cannot catch up from far behind.  

Turnovers are what killed the Ravens: 2 INTs plus a fumble, plus two losses on downs.  Also, they only converted one scoring chance to a TD while they Titans converted all 4.

Classic kind of game that DVOA will miss the fine details. 

FWIW, the Patriots also out-gained the Titans. The Titans also won that game because of turnovers and their red zone defense.  Feels like something that could not persist over the long run, but there are only two more games, so...?

87 I don't agree. Shift a…

In reply to by RickD

I don't agree. Shift a couple of things a couple of millimeters and the Ravens have a chance to tie if they made both 2-pt convs. I think the Ravens outplayed the Titans, just the Titans won every high-leverage play and had a bit of luck on top of it.

89 Yeah, I mean the Titans…

Yeah, I mean the Titans absolutely earned the victory yesterday, but it's rare for almost every single high leverage play in a game to go for one team. The Ravens didn't play particularly well, but even given that, everything had to line up exactly as it did to produce a Titans blowout.

I actually don't think DVOA is necessarily going to love the Ravens yesterday, and I don't know why people seem to get the impression that DVOA doesn't punish turnovers, especially interceptions.

90 " Baltimore had a couple…

In reply to by RickD

" Baltimore had a couple long drives that DVOA loves, which they got zero points from after failing on 4th down."

The whole reason why DVOA likes long drives is because they are indicative of a team's quality and their future success. That makes plain intuitive sense when considering the Ravens' long drives yesterday. They were 8-8 on fourth and one plays before last night. It's obviously a fluke that they went 0-2. I don't think Baltimore outplayed Tennessee yesterday, but the teams were obviously much closer in performance than the score indicated. Tenneesee had virtually every high leverage play go their way, including a few plays that are mostly luck, such as an interception off of a tip and recovering the game's one fumble.

I don't think DVOA will give the Ravens a higher rating since turnovers do count for a lot in the formula. Also, turnovers are the opposite of fine details. Fine details are things that tend to be overlooked or forgotten. The turnovers are the big story from that game.

73 Lamar Jackson apparently set…

Lamar Jackson apparently set a record for most plays by a single player in a game tonight. Including sacks he dropped back on passing plays 63 times while rushing 20 times for an insane total of 83 touches.

75 No longer outsiders

"It's worth noting that Henry has done this against the Patriots and the Ravens, who ranked sixth and 19th, respectively, in Football Outsiders' rush defense DVOA this season."

Wow, even CBS Sports mentions FO's metric. Congratulations, guys.

80 Yesterday's Titans-Ravens…

Yesterday's Titans-Ravens game reminds me of the 1991 regular season game between the Lions and the Cowboys, where the Cowboys had a massive advantage in yardage, but due to high leverage plays got blown out. In the short term followup, Detroit also beat Dallas in the 1991 playoffs. In the medium term followup, Dallas won a bunch of Super Bowls and Detroit fell apart. If history repeats itself, people will forget about yesterday's game.

84 "forget"?

Well, it will live on as one of the great playoff upsets.  Top seeds have lost their divisional round games before, but usually not to a #6 seed.

91 I remember that playoff win…

I remember that playoff win by Detroit really well; Dallas selling out to stop Sanders and getting torched by Erik Kramer; Sanders scoring a last long touchdown by bouncing off people.  Detroit didn't really fall apart until the end of the decade, they just weren't as good as that one season.  Too bad they were stuck playing the 1991 Redskins next.


Edit: According to DVOA, they ranked only 17th that season, so it was a high point for wins and playoff achievement, but not their best season according to advanced statistics.

93 Man, I hope the Chiefs win…

Man, I hope the Chiefs win this game. I don't want to live in a world where the 19th-ranked team in DVOA gets to host the AFC Championship Game. That would also leave use with the 49ers as the only genuinely excellent team left in the field, and potentially set them up for almost the easiest slate of playoff opponents en route to a Super Bowl title you could possibly imagine.

97 Please...

What has happened to the romance? We are all slaves to DVOA-- listen, if Reid, Mahomes and Co. blow it, well too damn bad. Games are played on the field. I'd love TENN-HOU  I'd love GB or SEA vs one of them in the Super Bowl too.... DVOA and reputation don't mean squat once the whistle blows.

100 First of all, you don't need…

In reply to by oaktoon

First of all, you don't need DVOA to know the Texans are a mediocre team. Just go watch the game where they went down 38-3 to the Broncos at home. That was also a game that was "played on the field." In fact, you'll find that ALL of the games DVOA takes into account were played on fields!

Your theory that DVOA and reputation don't mean anything is an interesting one. I think you would have throw out any and all prediction and analysis at the same time if that's true. That would presumably mean that previous performance has no predictive power at all. Every game should be a coin flip and a team that's 10-0 shouldn't be favorites over an 0-10 team. I'm not sure that's an accurate description of reality.

96 For the Record

I said in this space before a game was played this weekend: everyone is picking all the favorites to win except GB. Watch them struggle and the Packers win big.

Well one of them didnt struggle and maybe the Packers wont win big-- but the Texans and Titans are taking DVOA and all the so-called expert and saying stuff it. Games are played on the field.

98 You realize DVOA isn't some…

In reply to by oaktoon

You realize DVOA isn't some kind of crystal ball, right? Your entire criticism of DVOA is wrong from the start. You seem to think some big point against DVOA is being proven by the fact they don't predict every game with 100% accuracy. That's very silly. Analytics expect sports to be pretty random over small samples, such as a single game.

104 I Understand it Perfectly

Enough to know it has limitations and also to observe that for too many people analysis begins and ends with metrics like this. I enjoy reality intervening and producing a different outcome. 

122 DVOA doesn't say anything…

DVOA doesn't say anything about game outcomes. It at best establishes a probability distribution. If I told you that it's most likely that a 7 comes up when rolling a pair of fair six-sided dice, and then I roll a 9, did my analysis have limitations?  Did reality intervene to produce a different outcome? Those questions are practically incoherent in the context of probability theory.

106 I Understand it Perfectly

Enough to know it has limitations and also to observe that for too many people analysis begins and ends with metrics like this. I enjoy reality intervening and producing a different outcome. 

113 Again, surprising results…

Again, surprising results being relatively likely over single-game sample sizes is something PREDICTED by analytics. One of the fundamental messages of analytics is that it takes a lot of games for quality to win out. Over single games things are much random. That you don't know that shows you don't know anything about analytics.

285 Oh My

well you re wrong but I wont bother. Been an Oakland A's fan for 30+ years-- i think I know something about analytics. (1-14 in 15 games since 2000 where they could have won a playoff series. Stick that in your randomization bucket, will ya?)

Analytics are fun.. informative...and are better than the alternative. But they are far from gospel-- OK? And it ain't just random.... Whichever Raven it was who admitted that the team's identity is now that of chokers is dead right

99 Good news

These two touchdowns are just what we need to have a close game. Houston has just about enough now to neutralize the Chief's inherent advantages and home field, according to the pre-game betting line.

Should be a level playing field and plenty competitive from here on out.

101 But now it's threatening to…

In reply to by _Brian

But now it's threatening to get so far out of hand the game could easily never get interesting. That was a terrible fumble by Hill.

111 1994 NFC Championship game.

In the 1994 NFC Championship game, Aikman started the first drive with a pick six. Then the Niners recovered a fumble deep in Dallas territory for a quick touchdown. And Dallas then fumbled the subsequent kickoff and Steve Young pushed down for another touchdown. 


21-0 at 7:30 in the 1st.


That game never became interesting.

119 Dallas had the ball in San…

Dallas had the ball in San Francisco territory trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter.  That game remained interesting right up until the moment the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs.

105 Well yesterday the Ravens…

Well yesterday the Ravens had some excuses, getting the wrong end of seemingly every high leverage play. But this is just full scale crapping of the bed by the Chiefs.

292 I actually think these two…

I actually think these two games demonstrate the big difference between the Ravens and the Chiefs.  They're both great teams, but the Chiefs' superior passing game gives them a much larger margin of error, whereas the Ravens' game plan of playing good defense, running the ball, running the option, etc. means they have to start fast.  If they fall behind early, they just don't have the ability to start slinging the ball around and score four TDs in one quarter like the Chiefs do.  I'm a big fan of DVOA, but I do think that its emphasis on efficiency causes it to overlook that element of explosiveness.

110 Right where they want them

I've seen a Houston football team stake out a big lead in a playoff game...

It did not end well for them.

115 Correct

Since I started following football as a kid in '76, the press always favored and KC to do well, or win SB.  KC most always under-delivered.  My gut has always been they never will.  As a longtime Raider fan I'm fine with that.  There's just something about them.  

114 If this socre hold up and…

If this socre hold up and the 49ers get upset next week it would be possible for the Titans to face two teams in the Super Bowl and AFC Championship Game that are WORSE than who they played in the WC and Divisional round. Very, very bizarre.

117 DVOA

Baltimore #1 in the NFL (41.5%)
Tennessee #9 (8.6%)

Kansas City #2 (30.2%)
Houston #19 (-5.8%)

So the top two DVOA teams with a bye both came out completely flat.

The games almost mirroring one another.

124 Three plays later.....

Three plays later.....

Edit: without the benefit of hindsight I think I agree with you. More telling will be O'Brien's play calling the rest of the way....


And wow, a fake-punt gone wrong!

130 BOB should’ve gone for it…

BOB should’ve gone for it. 28 is wayyyyy bigger than 24, and 24 doesn’t “feel” different than 21 to the other team. And being unwilling to go for it on 4th and 1 on the other team’s 10 but being willing to go for it on 4th and 4 on your own 35 is just messed up logic.

126 I guess a positive for KC…

I guess a positive for KC right now is that 14 of Houston's points are on high variability special teams plays, i.e. not the kind of special teams plays that you can count on as a game plan. The Chiefs can still out-play them in the main units game if they get their act together. It's a big hole to climb out of though.

128 That's not pass interference…

That's not pass interference. "Well, you have to turn your head around, or else the receiver has a right to try to go through you when you're between him and the ball" is obvious nonsense.

134 Big plays

Are starting to even out, it seems.