Divisional Playoffs Often Predictable
by Robert Ferringo - 01/08/2007
If last weekend's Wild Card Round taught us anything it should've been that a) Tony Romo is a baby, b) Right now President Bush has the look of a Manning, on the road in the playoffs, after unleashing another awful interception in his own side of the field, and c) when all of the bobblehead media and general betting public are saying and expecting the same results then you should know that the exact opposite is about to happen.
For example: Larry Johnson is going to run for 749 yards against the Colts and the Chiefs will win a 64-58 shootout with Peyton Manning. How many times did you hear that last week, 40? 50? What actually happened? The Colts cleaned house, the total stayed 'under', and LJ managed 32 yards.
Thanks for playing.
To win money in the playoffs you simply need to find out what everyone else thinks is going to happen and bet on the exact opposite. Expect the unexpected. Then when they're dumbfounded and confused you just walk quietly and confidently out the front door with the cash. Done and done.
So, now that I've got you anticipating the unforeseen in the NFL this weekend I'm going to test your readiness by throwing you a curve: ignore everything I just said. Last week was wacky but now it's the Divisional Round. And while I wouldn't be so ignorant and trigger-happy to say the conference semifinals will be "predictable" I will say that over the past 14 years this has been one of the more stable weekends of the postseason.
Consider: Since 1993 the home team wins straight-up 76.8 percent of the time (43-13). The average margin of victory over that span is 15 points. Also, discarding the statistical anomaly in 2004 when all four of the road teams covered, over the past eight years the hosts are an outstanding 66.7 percent against the spread (18-9) in this stage.
The Cream Rises. That's how it goes. Only the strong survive while the weak are forced into servitude in some god-forsaken Peruvian garment factory. But I don't expect you to take my word for it. You're a rational fellow, a man that would trust Science or a seemingly well-intentioned stranger, so I'll convince you with The Numbers.
I've uncovered a betting system for the conference semifinals that's a Proven Winner. (By "uncovered" I mean stumbled across it on the Internet in a drunken haze at 4:30 a.m. and then verified its application.) It's straightforward and has been quite effective for over a decade. The foundation is a simple measure of a team's offensive and defensive capabilities: yards per play.
Teams with an edge in offensive yards per play heading into a playoff game are 78-52-6 (60 percent) against the spread since 1993. That includes a 3-1 ATS mark posted last weekend by more efficient offensive teams. Squads with an advantage in defensive yards per play are 72-54-5 (57.1 percent) ATS since 1993, including 2-2 last weekend.
Also, since 1993 teams entering a postseason game with an edge in both offensive and defensive yards per play are an outstanding 28-10-2 ATS. That's an incredible 73.6 percent success rate. There were three teams playing in the Wild Card Round that met this criterion - Dallas and New England covered while Philadelphia couldn't cash.
Here's a breakdown of the conference semifinals. I even saved you the trouble of looking up each team's yards per play averages. It's what I'm here for:
Philadelphia (+5) at New Orleans (1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13)
What are the odds that Philadelphia goes to New Orleans and beats not just the Saints but also their overly emotional fans in a city that has been through hell and back? Most common answer: not good. Correct answer: better than you think.
This is a rematch from Week 6; a meeting the Saints won 27-24 as home underdogs. Drew Brees used a 16-play, 72-yard drive over the last 8:26 of the game to set up the game-winning field goal.
But the Eagles are more vengeful than Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (may she rest in peace). Since 1996, Philadelphia is 15-6 ATS when revenging a loss by seven points or less. Also, you'll notice Philly holds the edge in both offensive and defensive yards per play, meaning the odds are in their favor.
Emotion will be a factor in The Bayou on Saturday. As will the loss of Lito Sheppard. Philly's Pro Bowl corner dislocated his elbow against the Giants. Since New Orleans is the No. 1 passing offense in the NFL this is not a game that to wander into without your top cornerback.
Offensive Yards Per Play Edge: Philadelphia (6.2 to 5.8)
Defensive Yards Per Play Edge: Philadelphia (5.0 to 5.3)
Indianapolis (+4) at Baltimore (4:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13)
Manning versus Lewis. An unstoppable offense versus an immovable defense. Art versus violence. This game offers a perfect contrast in styles, making it apropos that this is the only contest on the board with teams that split in offensive and defensive yards per play.
Over the past five seasons these clubs have squared off on four occasions, each playing twice at home. Manning and the Colts are 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS in those outings. Only the 2001 meeting went over the posted total (a 39-27 Ravens win sailed the 43-point total) while the three most recent games witnessed an average of just 34.3 points.
Defense wins championships. And I'm not buying the Colts D after one strong showing, at home, against a shell-shocked quarterback. Whether it is the Patriots in 2003 and 2004 or the Steelers in 2005, Indianapolis has been ousted from the playoffs by more physical and violent teams. I won't be surprised to see that trend continue.
Offensive Yards Per Play Edge: Indianapolis (6.0 to 5.0)
Defensive Yards Per Play Edge: Baltimore (4.5 to 5.5)
Seattle (+9) at Chicago (1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 14)
Bears fans (see: me) are hoping the third time's a charm.
This marks the third instance in the past six seasons that Chicago has earned a first-round bye and a home playoff game. The last two times ended in upsets at the hands of Philadelphia (2001) and Carolina (2005) by an average of 11 points.
So can the Bears get it done this time? They hammered the Shaun Alexander-less Seahawks 37-6 at Soldiers Field in Week 4. But they also beat Carolina during the regular season last year before getting rocked by them in the playoffs.
Essentially, Chicago's hope rests on the right arm Rex Grossman, the Bears' Rex Factor. The Sex Cannon was amazing at times (seven games with a passer rating over 100) and just uncontrollably bad at others (five games with a passer rating below 40). Chicago was 1-4 ATS in the five games where Rex went off the reservation.
Bears backers do have reason for optimism. NFC favorites of seven or more points were 14-9 ATS (60.8 percent) this season in intraconference games. Also, favorites of a touchdown or more in the Divisional Round are 29-7 SU and 22-14 ATS (61.1 percent) over the past 14 seasons. If you narrow that to favorites between 7.0-9.5, the odds increase to 13-1 SU and 11-4 ATS (73.3 percent).
Offensive Yards Per Play Edge: Chicago (5.0 to 4.8)
Defensive Yards Per Play Edge: Chicago (4.6 to 5.4)
New England (+4.5) at San Diego (4:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 14)
On one hand, we have Marty Schottenheimer. Marty is 5-12 during the postseason in his career, losing eight games by five points or less and going one-and-done on eight occasions. On the other hand, we have Bill Belichick and his astounding 11-1 career mark in the postseason. Five of those wins were by three points or less, including all three Super Bowl victories.
On one hand, we have Philip Rivers. Phil guided the Chargers to a league-best 14-2 record, ten straight wins, and an 8-0 home mark. However, this is his first year as a starter and inaugural playoff start. First-timers are 0-8 SU and 1-7 ATS during the last three postseasons. On the other hand, we have Tom Brady. Tom has made a name for himself as an incredible playoff quarterback and online porn advocate. He has engineered dozens of clutch playoff drives and is 2-1 on the road as a postseason starter.
Can it really be that simple?
The Patriots are only 1-3 ATS in the conference semifinals since 2001. Their most recent failure was last year when they lost 27-13 on the road against Denver, an AFC West rival of the Chargers. Oh, and there's also this:
Offensive Yards Per Play Edge: San Diego (5.7 to 5.1)
Defensive Yards Per Play Edge: San Diego (4.9 to 5.0)
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at Robert@docsports.com. You can also check out his page here.