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Wild-Card Quick Reads

New Orleans Saints Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Was this the best wild-card round of all time?

Since the NFL expanded to four wild-card games in 1990, the opening round of the playoff games have often seen one team blow out another, but not this year. It started on Saturday, when the Houston Texans needed an overtime field goal to defeat the Buffalo Bills 22-19. That night, the Tennessee Titans defeated the New England Patriots 20-13. Sunday brought us another overtime game as the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20. Finally, the Seattle Seahawks survived a feisty Eagles team and escaped Philadelphia with a 17-9 win.

In chronological order, the four games were decided by three, seven, six, and eight points, an average of 6.0 points apiece. That is underselling just how close two of those games were, though, because Bills-Texans and Vikings-Saints both went to overtime -- when the clock hit zeroes, those games were still tied. If ignore what happened in overtime, the average margin at the end of regulation was 3.8 points. This still isn't a perfect measure -- the Titans-Patriots contest was a one-point affair until Logan Ryan scored an almost gratuitous pick-six with 15 seconds to go -- but it accurately reflects that a six-point win in overtime was a closer game than a one-point win in regulation.

Since 1990, the average wild-card game has had an average margin of 11.3 points at the end of regulation -- more often than not, wild-card games have been determined by multiple scores.

NFL Wild-Card Games, 1990-2019
Year Avg. Margin Avg. Margin,
End of Regulation
1990 13.0 13.0
1991 5.5 5.5
1992 13.3 12.5
1993 8.0 7.3
1994 9.5 9.5
1995 17.0 17.0
1996 17.5 17.5
1997 12.5 12.5
1998 9.5 9.5
1999 10.0 10.0
2000 11.3 9.8
2001 15.8 15.8
2002 16.3 16.3
2003 14.8 13.3
2004 12.3 11.5
2005 17.3 17.3
2006 10.0 10.0
2007 11.0 11.0
2008 10.5 9.0
2009 13.8 12.3
2010 8.5 8.5
2011 16.5 15.0
2012 11.3 11.3
2013 5.8 5.8
2014 11.0 11.0
2015 12.5 12.5
2016 19.0 19.0
2017 6.5 6.5
2018 5.8 5.8
2019 6.0 3.8

By final margin, this year's wild-card games were among the closest ever, but not quite at the top of the list. Last year's games were actually closer -- the Colts won comfortably over the Texans 21-14, while the Cowboys, Chargers, and Eagles each won by six points or less. At the end of regulation, however, this year's margin of 3.8 points was the lowest ever by quite a bit, surpassing the 5.5-point average of the 1991 wild-card games. Every game that weekend was decided by seven points or less. Just for fun, let's take a look back at those weekend's games to see how they compare to what we saw this weekend:

  • Los Angeles Raiders 6 at Kansas City Chiefs 10: Well, "close" and "exciting" don't always mean the same things, do they? The Chiefs recovered two L.A. fumbles and intercepted Todd Marinovich four times while limiting him to just 140 yards passing -- impressive, considering his receiving options that day included Tim Brown, Mervyn Fernandez, Willie Gault, and Marcus Allen. Kansas City also had a quiet passing day -- Steve DeBerg finished 9-of-14 for just 89 yards -- but Barry Word carried the ball 33 times for 130 yards.
  • Atlanta Falcons 27 at New Orleans Saints 20: The undisputed apex for the most fun team ever. The Falcons trailed in this game by scores of 10-0, 13-10, and 20-17 before tying the game in the fourth quarter on a Norm Johnson field goal, then going ahead on a 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Michael Haynes; Haynes finished with six catches for 144 yards and two scores. Tim McKyer's interception of Bobby Hebert on the ensuing drive could have iced the game, but being the most fun team ever, they began to lateral the ball around in an attempt to get Deion Sanders a touchdown. It didn't work, but they still got the win.
  • Dallas Cowboys 17 at Chicago Bears 13: The first playoff win for Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys was a bit of a weird one. The Bears controlled most of the game, leading in total yardage by 372 to 288 and in first downs by 26 to 15. But Chicago quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble, while Dallas never turned the ball over. Emmitt Smith ran for 105 yards and a score in his postseason debut.
  • New York Jets 10 at Houston Oilers 17: There were offensive fireworks in this game for one half before the defenses started to dominate; the Oilers led 14-10 at the end of the first half, but Al Del Greco's 53-yard field goal were the only points of the second. Warren Moon threw for 271 yards with a pair of touchdowns to Ernest Givins, but he also had four sacks, three fumbles, and an interception. Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien threw for 221 yards and a touchdown to Al Toon, but he was intercepted three times, twice by Bubba McDowell.

In an ominous sign for this year's wild-card winners, all four of those 1991 teams were eliminated in the divisional round. A win is a win, but if you're not good enough to blow out a wild-card team, you're usually not good enough to win a road game against a divisional champion that had an extra week to rest.

The worst wild-card round came just three years ago, when the average margin of victory was 19 points:

  • Oakland Raiders 14 at Houston Texans 27: Nothing says "playoff excitement" like a Connor Cook-Brock Osweiler shootout. The Raiders trailed 20-7 at halftime and never got any closer than that. Osweiler threw for one touchdown (to DeAndre Hopkins, of course) and ran for another, while Cook completed only 18 of 45 passes, giving up three sacks and three interceptions.
  • Detroit Lions 6 at Seattle Seahawks 26: This actually was a close game for most of the day, as the Seahawks led 10-6 at the end of the third quarter before scoring 16 unanswered in the fourth. The Seahawks held the Lions to 231 yards of total offense and only 13 first downs; Detroit's only scores came on a pair of Matt Prater field goals from 50-plus yards out. For Seattle, Thomas Rawls ran for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Doug Baldwin caught 11 of 12 targets for 104 yards and a score.
  • Miami Dolphins 12 at Pittsburgh Steelers 30: It's hard to believe now, but yes, Adam Gase's Dolphins were a playoff team in his first year. But they didn't do well. Antonio Brown had 50- and 62-yard touchdown receptions in the first nine minutes of the game to put the Steelers up 14-0. Le'Veon Bell ran for 167 yards and two scores himself. The Dolphins trailed 30-6 in the fourth quarter when Matt Moore (who was sacked five times on the day) threw a meaningless touchdown pass to Damien Williams.
  • New York Giants 13 at Green Bay Packers 38: Eli Manning's 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King cut the Green Bay lead to 14-13 early in the third quarter, but then the Packers added 24 unanswered points to put New York away. Aaron Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns, with big days from Randall Cobb (5-116-3) and Davante Adams (8-125-1).

Though the Texans and Seahawks were eliminated the following week, the Packers and Steelers both won in the divisional round to advance to their conference championship games. Whatever was in the NFL's water in 2016, it seems to have washed away -- the three wild-card rounds since have all featured much closer games.

If there was a worse wild-card weekend than 2016, it may have been in 1995, the only wild-card weekend when every game was decided by 15 points or more.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
1.
Russell Wilson SEA
18/30
325
1
0
1
133
114
19
PHI
Third-down passing: 8-of-12 for 177 yards with seven first downs and one sack. Four of those conversions came on third-and-10 or longer. Wilson also ran for a first down on third-and-15. Wilson's average pass traveled 11.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, most of any quarterback this week. And his average completion gained 7.4 yards after the catch, also best in the league.
2.
Kirk Cousins MIN
19/31
242
1
0
2
121
130
-9
NO
It was a slow start for Cousins. Though he completed five of six passes in the first quarter, those five completions gained a total of 36 yards and none gained first downs, while Cousins was also sacked once. But he had a big day on third downs, going 9-of-12 for 109 yards with eight conversions (including a touchdown) and two sacks.
3.
Deshaun Watson HOU
20/25
247
1
0
7
77
100
-23
BUF
Watson gains 27 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. Take away everyone's sacks and Watson was the most effective passer of the week. He threw for only five first downs in the first three quarters, but had eight in the fourth quarter and overtime, when he went 10-of-11 for 164 yards with one touchdown and two sacks. His rushing DYAR is so low because he only ran for two first downs, he was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1, and he lost 4 yards on a goal-line fumble that went down as a running play.
4.
Drew Brees NO
26/33
208
1
1
3
17
14
3
MIN
Brees gains 25 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He had a miserable day on third downs, going 5-of-8 for all of 17 yards with two first downs, one interception, and one sack. He had four dropbacks in the red zone: a 4-yard completion on second-and-8; a sack on the ensuing third-and-4; a 20-yard touchdown to Taysom Hill; and a sack and a lost fumble on first-and-10 with the Saints down by three in the fourth quarter. His average pass traveled only 6.1 yards downfield, shortest of any qualified passer this week. And yet, his average completion only produced 3.3 yards after the catch, fewest of any qualified passer this week.
5.
Josh McCown PHI
18/24
174
0
0
6
6
18
-12
SEA
McCown came into the game with Philadelphia trailing 3-0 at the start of the second quarter. He was one of the week's best quarterbacks outside of scoring range, but the worst inside of it. He failed to pick up a single first down inside the Seattle 40, going 5-of-7 for 13 yards, with four sacks and a fumbled snap.
6.
Ryan Tannehill TEN
8/15
72
1
1
1
2
-5
7
NE
Tannehill gains a league-high 46 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He was besieged by ball security issues late in this game -- his last six dropbacks included two fumbles (both recovered by Tennessee) and an interception. He completed all five of his throws to his left for a total of 51 yards and four first downs; he failed to pick up a single first down on throws to his right, where he went 2-of-7 for 9 yards with an interception.
7.
Josh Allen BUF
25/45
264
0
0
3
0
-34
11
HOU
Allen's totals include 22 DYAR receiving for his one catch for 16 yards. Allen loses 30 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He only threw for three first downs on Houston's half of the field, going 7-of-18 for 50 yards with two sacks and an intentional grounding penalty. He threw a dozen deep balls against the Texans but only completed two, for a total of 48 yards. He had good plays on first and third downs, but failed to convert any of his second-down dropbacks, going 4-of-11 for 23 yards.
8.
Tom Brady NE
20/37
209
0
1
0
-33
-33
0
TEN
Brady only threw for three first downs in the second half, going 6-of-15 for 60 yards with a pick-six. He had a poor day throwing to his right, going 3-of-10 for 22 yards with that pick-six.

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Derrick Henry TEN
34
182
1
1/1
22
0
66
57
9
NE
Henry ran for 11 first downs against New England, with five runs of 10 yards or more, the longest a 29-yarder. Meanwhile, he was stuffed only three times.
2.
James White NE
1
14
0
5/5
62
0
31
9
22
TEN
White's biggest catches were 20- and 29-yard gains on first-and-10. Neither of his third-down catches produced first downs, but since they came on third-and-10 and third-and-15, they don't hurt his DYAR very much. His one carry was a 14-yard gain on third-and-2.
3.
Duke Johnson HOU
3
38
0
3/3
30
0
30
20
10
BUF
Johnson's three runs: 19-yard gain on second-and-5; 9-yard gain on first-and-10; 10-yard gain on first-and-10. His best catch was an 18-yard gain on third-and-18.
4.
Devin Singletary BUF
13
58
0
6/7
76
0
27
2
25
HOU
Singletary loses 14 yards due to opponent adjustments. He only ran for two first downs against Houston, the longest an 18-yarder, but he was stuffed just once. Four of his catches produced first downs, including two third-down conversions and a 38-yard gain on first-and-10.
5.
Dalvin Cook MIN
28
94
2
3/5
36
0
26
12
14
NO
Cook gains 16 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. Though he was stuffed six times, he ran for seven first downs, the longest a 22-yarder. Only one of his receptions produced a first down: a 19-yard gain on second-and-8.

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Derrick Henry TEN
34
182
1
1/1
22
0
66
57
9
NE
2.
Duke Johnson HOU
3
38
0
3/3
30
0
30
20
10
BUF
3.
Dalvin Cook MIN
28
94
2
3/5
36
0
26
12
14
NO
4.
James White NE
1
14
0
5/5
62
0
31
9
22
TEN
5.
Latavius Murray NO
5
21
0
1/2
4
0
8
8
0
MIN
Murray's 8-yard run in the fourth quarter was his longest gain and only first down on the day, but all of his carries gained at least 1 yard.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Travis Homer SEA
11
12
0
1/1
5
0
-35
-37
2
PHI
Homer gains 13 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. He had a 12-yard run in the first quarter that was his only first down. His other 11 carries gained a total of zero yards, none gained more than 2, six were stuffed for no gain or a loss, and he also had a fumble. His one catch was a 5-yard gain on second-and-19.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Travis Homer SEA
11
12
0
1/1
5
0
-35
-37
2
PHI

 

Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
DK Metcalf SEA
7
9
160
22.9
1
61
PHI
Metcalf only produced four first downs on the day, but all four gained at least 24 yards. Three of them were third-down conversions, and the other was a 53-yard touchdown on second-and-11.
2.
Adam Thielen MIN
7
9
129
18.4
0
41
NO
Thielen's totals include -1 rushing DYAR for his one carry for 3 yards. He makes our top tables this week despite fumbling away his first reception. But each of his other six catches produced first downs, the longest a 43-yarder in overtime.
3.
Jared Cook NO
5
5
54
10.8
0
27
MIN
Four of Cook's catches produced first downs. Weirdly, three of them went for exactly 14 yards.
4.
Julian Edelman NE
3
5
30
10.0
0
22
TEN
Edelman's totals include 26 DYAR rushing for his two carries for 12 yards and a touchdown. He didn't do much through the air, but two of his catches did go for third-down conversions.
5.
Michael Thomas NO
7
8
70
10.0
0
22
MIN
Only four of Thomas' catches produced first downs. None gained more than 20 yards, and he had no third-down conversions.

 

Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Phillip Dorsett NE
1
4
6
6.0
0
-28
TEN
Dorsett's only catch was a 6-yard gain on first-and-10. He was the target on incomplete passes on third-and-3 and third-and-4.

 

Whatever
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Taysom Hill NO
4
50
0
2/2
25
1
79
28
21
MIN
We're tired of trying to figure out what to do with Hill, so he gets his own section. Whatever positional bucket you want to drop him in, however, he was one of the most effective players of the divisional round -- his DYAR totals include 30 passing DYAR for his one pass attempt, a 50-yard completion to Deonte Harris. Hill's seven combined pass attempts, rushes, and targets resulted in six first downs (including a pair of third-down conversions) and one 5-yard catch on first-and-10.

Comments

39 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2020, 12:49am

1 Taysom Hill

Great section, but his opponent is listed as PHI instead of MIN.

12 Hill

In reply to by DavidL

It seems weird to write this, but the Saints might have won if Hill got more touches--at whatever position.

By DYAR, 4th best QB, 4th best RB, 5th best receiver (all Edelman's DYAR is from his rushing)--6 first downs in 7 plays. 

16 Doing more, of what the…

In reply to by Joseph

Doing more, of what the opponent obviously didn't spend much time preparing for,  is not a crazy idea.

8 That Allen's rushing and…

That Allen's rushing and receiving exactly offset his passing seems fitting.

How did DVOA handle Allen's brain-glitch lateral out of bounds in Q4?  Seems like it should be treated as a fumble.

10 Brady's pick-6

How much was Brady dinged for the pick-6? Given the time on the clock, that was not really much worse than an interception.

15 A crap-ton -- -56 DYAR --…

In reply to by RickD

A crap-ton -- -56 DYAR -- but that's just for throwing an interception on first down at your end of the field. The return itself is almost irrelevant -- we assume an average return based on where the ball was snapped and where it was caught. 

Yes, DVOA/DYAR can overreact to some late plays that don't have very much impact on who won or lost the game.

11 some smug geek ont the…

some smug geek ont the inteernt with a calculator said D. henry's performance was less impactful than R. Tannehill's performancr

17 To be fair, FO and those of…

To be fair, FO and those of us who use their stats are also geeks on the internet with calculators. I made the mistake of simply pointing out that Henry's season-long effective yards weren't #1 (on a post celebrating his "rushing title" based purely on actual yards) and you would have thought I'd said he was a horrible RB. "But did those other RBs make the playoffs??!? They're on the couch! Do you even watch football?! He's obviously a beast!" Well, yes, he is. Some people have no appreciation for context. I wonder what they would have said about it if TEN hadn't made the playoffs?

21 think All of us commenting…

think All of us commenting here are geeks at soem level inclduing me as do use stats and loook at drive results and a lot of stuff i rarely comment on here. certainly not am caveman, just tyepe like one. 

thing is i could not loook at that game and come away not thinking D. henry highly impactful amnd huge key why tennessee won so the thing I saw on twwitter seeemd really off to me. perhaps i did nto look at teh details and was just seeing the guy slap around the non-stat minded people who had been giving him a hard time aboput it. maybe those people deserved it btu the smugness of the writer turned me off. for the rrcord, It was thread I chose not to leap into and comment on 

 

I find guys like A. Schatz, R. McCown,  D. Bernreuther, V. Verhei , and some tohers, to not be smug and therefore, are m ore enjoyable to read. 

29 Yeah I noticed that on…

Yeah I noticed that on Twitter, so it is a relief that DYAR confirms what my (and I would imagine most viewers) eyeballs told them. I can only imagine whatever metric he was using was not penalizing Tannehill for his fumbles, or something. 

14 Wilson

I'm sure some stat can be produced on this presumption based on feeling, but has there ever been a quarterback as good as Russell Wilson whose offense produces so little points relatively?

18 I believe that stat is…

In reply to by rj1

I believe that stat is Percentage Of Plays Called By Brian Schottenheimer. He's led the league the last few years.

The other name that comes to mind is Steve McNair, whose teams were generally middle-of-the-pack in terms of points scored (with a couple of notable exceptions), similarly due to the coaching staff's obsession with handing off 500 times to a RB who wasn't really all that great.

19 seahawks fans defend schottenheimer

because of his placement in (for instance) Offensive DVOA.  Eventually they will get sick of him, like they got sick of  Darrell Bevell despite his (mostly) good Offensive DVOA.  I really don't know how to assign blame on the offensive conservatism; it's obvious that the system runs from Pete Carroll, and any OC has to please the coach.

 

34 Schottenheimer was hired…

Schottenheimer was hired because he agrees with PC that it's more important to prove points than to score them. Bevell might have been constrained by Pete's conservatism, but this is exactly how BS wants to be running an offense.

(And he's basically never had an even semi-decent DVOA before coaching RW if my memory serves--it's pretty clear that any offensive success the Seahawks enjoy is despite him.)

23 oddity - Vikings QB, RB and…

oddity - Vikings QB, RB and top WR were all much better in DYAR than NO equivalent, but NO had a much better DVOA

25 In all seriousness, that's…

In all seriousness, that's largely due to Taysom Hill. Between passing, rushing, and receiving, he produced about one-third of their first downs and almost 40% of their total yardage. So if you ignore him, the New Orleans offensive show looks much worse. 

26 still a little odd. Hill's…

still a little odd. Hill's 79 DYAR still doesn't close the gap between just Cousins and Brees. So the Vikings Cousins, Cook and Thielen still out DYAR Brees, Hill, Kamara, and Thomas. 

The rest of NO players had 6 rushes for 26 yds, 10 catches on 14 targets for 129 yards.

The rest of the Vikings had 9 rushes for 40 yds, 9 catcehs on 17 targets for 77 yards.

Not sure of first downs, but Rudolph had the only other TD for any of those second tier players on either team. 

Just doesn't seem to make sense that comes up to 44% to 5% DVOA. 

35 I looked at the stats of the…

I looked at the stats of the game more closely and see why as a fan I felt Minn seemed so much better than their DVOA. Once Minnesota took a 20-10 lead, they got crushed to the end of regulation. 

With the 10 pt lead Minnesota ran 16 plays and gained 17 yards, NO ran 27 plays and gained 172 yards. 

Previous to that point Minnesota 51 plays for 270 yards

NO had run 33 plays for 151 yards

Then the Vikings went 75 yards in 9 plays the field in OT.

The Vikings were the better team for 46 of 64 mins. But NO was dominant in the other 18 min stretch.