Myth Busters: The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles
Every year around the time the Sloan Sports Conference takes place in Boston,
somebody makes a bold pronouncement that leaves the 'Ol QuantCoach scratching
his head and asking, "Could that be accurate?"
A great example is this statement from Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, who,
after looking at all NFL teams since 1950 and doing some calculations and
"[T]he 1991 Eagles are the best defense for now and it's
not even close. The 1969 edition of the Purple People Eaters, who came in
second, are closer to 35th than they are to first."
That's some strong sauce.
It's also utterly bogus.
The measure of NFL defense is not complicated. The purpose of defense is to a)
take downs from the other team and b) take the ball from the other team. That's
it. That's all a defense has to do to be successful. Because downs are
resources, an opponent cannot manufacture production without downs. It's even
harder for an opponent to manufacture production if it does not have the ball.
QC's defensive play design statistic is one measure of how effectively a
defense takes an opponent's downs. Below are NFL defenses (and one AFL defense)
that have been among the best in history at taking downs from their opponents.
Here is how the 1991 Eagles compare:
D Play Design
||Purple People Eaters
||LeBeau Fire Zone
||George Allen Zone
||No Name D
||Legion of Boom
||Da Bears 46
The 1991 Eagles defense
was championship caliber, to be sure, but QC easily found a dozen defenses in
less than an hour who took downs from their opponents better than the 1991
Eagels. Moreover, the best defense on QC's list, the 1969 Vikinigs who came in
second on Football Outsiders, is about 1.25 percent better than the runner-up,
Tom Landry's 1977 version of the Doomsday Defense. The idea that the best
defense in NFL history could be almost 10% better than the next best defense is
ridiculous. The NFL is a nearly perfectly competitive environment. It is simply
impossible for the best defense to be 10 percent better than the second best
defense if those defenses are measured against a common standard, here a
How did the 1991 Eagles do at taking the ball away from their opponents? Again,
they did very well, but, again, not the best in NFL history. Here is a table of
the same teams above and the number of takeways per game each obtained:
||George Allen Zone
||Da Bears 46
||No Name D
||Purple People Eaters
||Legion of Boom
||LeBeau Fire Zone
were far more prevalent in the pre-Bill Walsh era before the NFL instituted
major rule changes in 1979. But the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens still took
the ball a little better than the 1991 Eagles did among post-Walsh era
Finally, if you look behind the numbers, the 1991 Eagles defense looks a little
more suspect. More than 42 percent of the passes thrown agains the Eagles in
1991 were thrown by quarterbaks who were undistinguished at best: Don
Majkowski, Tom Tupa, Bubby Brister, Steve Walsh, Donald Hollas, Stan Gelbaugh,
Steve Beuerlein, and Jeff Rutledge.
When the 1991 Eagles faced Mark Rypien, who led Washington to a Super Bowl win
that year, they struggled. Cleveland's Bernie Kosar also was very effective
against Philadelphia but the Browns defense blew a 23-0 lead in a 32-30 loss.
Tampa Bay's Chris Chandler threw 2 fourth quarter touchdown passes to rally the
Bucs to a 14-13 win after relieving a struggling Vinny Testaverde.
Finally, the best quarterback the 1991 Eagles faced, San Francisco's Steve
Young, threw just 15 passes on a day all he had to do was be content to let the
mistake-prone Philadelphia offense (5 turnovers) beat itself.
The 1991 Eagles were a very, very good, championship-caliber defense.
But Mr. Schatz's statement that they are the best defense in NFL history and
"it's not even close" is pure hyperbole.
2012 Year End Awards
GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR: Philadelphia 33
Washington27. When Vince Lombardi became left West Point with his
"college system" known as "option blocking," the veterans
on the New York Giants skoffed at the notion that such trickery could work in
the professional game. But leverage does not make any distinction between an
amateur and a professional. Chip Kelly wasted little time in proving this
property still holds true in the 21st century. After the Eagles fell behind
7-0, Mike Vick put Kelly's spread into hyper-drive and Shady McCoy shredded the
COACH OF THE YEAR: Pete Carroll (Seattle).
This is a no-brainer. Carroll's Seahawks finished the regular season with the
best play design differential in the NFL since QC invented coaching statistics.
Seattle was ranked No. 1 in QC's signature statistic every week from Week 5
until the end of the season. Can they do it again? The only teams younger than
Seattle to win the Super Bowl were the 1974 Steelers, who repeated in 1975, the
1981 49ers, who crashed to 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, the 1971
Dolphins, who rebounded from a Super Bowl loss to go undefeated in 1972 and win
Super Bowls that year and again in 1973, and the 1985 Bears, who finished 1986
14-2 before falling to Washington in the playoffs.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: P-rex (Denver). While
his play in the Super Bowl was embarrassing--sorry P-rex, you gave new meaning
to the name terrible lizard--the debacle actually proved beyond doubt that no
playmaker is more important to his team. In the regular season, when he buried
opponents with 55 TD passes, the Broncos were for most of the year clearly the
second best team in the league. Without him, they would have a lottery pick.
Well, if the NFL had a lottery ... or any other kind of sports betting other
than fantasy football, which, according to the Commissioner, is not betting at
all. Don't pay any attention to those Draft Kings spots on NFL Network. Those
are just families getting together for wholesome, inspirational bonding with
the "We Make Football" people.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kenny Vaccaro (New
Orleans).. In 2012, the Saints ranked 32nd in the NFL in D-QCYPA,
yielding an abysmal 8.2 yards per attempt. Enter rookie safety Vaccaro. He
covered slot receivers and tight ends and played linebacker and blitzed and
generally made new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan look a lot more like his
brother Rex than the guy who designed the Dallas Cowboys defense last year.
Together with free agent cornerback Keenan Lewis, the Saints improved to 9th in
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justin Tucker
(Baltimore). Yes, Denver kicker Matt Prater set a NFL record with a
64-yard field goal, but Tucker beat Detroit with a 61-yard field goal, one of
his six field goals on the night. Despite giving strong-armed QB Joe Flacco a
monster new contract, the Ravens finished 30th in the NFL in QCYPA after a
plague of injuries hit the receiving corps. The running game also went missing
in action. Tucker made 38 of 41 field goals, including 6 of 7 from 50 yards or
more. Without Tucker, Baltimore would have been 5-11 instead of battling for a
playoff spot in Week 17.
JERRY JONES PATIENT OWNER OF THE YEAR AWARD. Jerry
Richardson (Carolina). For a second year in a row, the public was
calling for the head of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera when Carolina lost to
Buffalo in Week 4 to fall to 1-3. For a second year in a row Richardson takes
this award for standing by Rivera. With an injury-ravaged secondary and Eli
Manning coming to down in Week 5, Carolina's pass rush rose up, righted the
ship, and led Rivera's team to 10 wins in its next 11 games and the NFC South
title. The Panthers finished the year No. 1 in QC's pass pressure statistic.
And it's likely that Carolina's best football is still ahead of it under
Rivera, who Richardson re-signed to a multiyear contract.
Super Bowl 48 Thoughts: The Super Square
A deal can be one and so can a meal. Hollywood had its share. Just about every
teen-ager thinks his dad is one. Seinfeld character Elaine Benes could not
spare one. A famous sponge wears one as trousers. And New York's Times is one.
But, on Super Bowl Sunday, Nevada sat squarely in the center of the square
The public bet a record $119.4 million on the Super Bowl. Sixty-eight percent
of those bets were on the 2.5 point favorite, Peyton (P-rex) Manning's Denver
Nevada sports books kept over 16.4 percent of that money--almost $20
million--after the Seattle Seahawks crushed Denver, 43-8, to capture Super Bowl
Many were stunned by the result and the carnage was a couple of touchdowns and
a safety more than the 'Ol QuantCoach expected, but in reality this was not
that hard to see coming.
QC pointed out a week before the game, Super Bowl teams who had both
a better regular season play design differential and turnover differential than
their Super Bowl opponents were 14-2 in the Super Bowl since 1981. The Seahawks
matched this description.
A micro-analysis also confirmed that this was not a good matchup for the pass
happy P-rex. Most of the teams that battled Seattle to the end during the
regular season--the Panthers, 49ers, and even the below average Rams--did it by
getting down in the mud with the Seahawks and exchanging punches in close
quarters. They ran the ball and, when they did pass, took sacks rather than
recklessly chucking the ball into the night against the raptor pack that is
Seattle's secondary and linebacking corps.
But P-rex doesn't take sacks. In each of the past four years that P-rex has
been active, he missed 2011 with an injured neck; his team has finished first
in QC's pass protection statistic.
Pop Quiz: Can you name three linemen from those four years who protected P-rex?
Err, uh, Jeff Saturday, somebody Clady, uh, hmm. QC would like to use a
P-rex teams consistently top the NFL in pass protection not because they field
great pass protectors, but because P-rex is going to get rid of that ball. It's
going to happen. And if you knew that, even though turnovers are not
predictable, one could intelligently speculate that P-rex was quite likely to
subsidize the Seahawks with at least a couple of interceptions.
And that is squarely what happened.
Moreover, Nevada sports directors actually opened the game with Seattle giving
a couple points to the Broncos, but immediately moved the line to Seahawks +2.5
when the public came out squarely in support of Denver. And then they left it
there even though the money kept rolling in on the Broncos.
Why didn't the line move to Seattle +3 or even larger?
It turns out not all money is green.
In Nevada, during the Super Bowl fortnight, money came in two colors:
"Orange Crushed," Denver's primary color, and "Action
Green," Seattle's neon accent color.
Nevada sports book directors were happy to take all the Orange Crushed money
that was offered to them. But they wanted no part of that Action Green money.
If those directors had moved the line through or even to the key number of
three, they surely would have attracted a lot more Action Green money.
Attracting Action Green money would have opened the sports books up to a chance
of getting "middled" on the key number three, but it also would have
balanced their books and denied them the best opportunity in nearly a decade to
So most sports directors left the number at Seattle +2.5, the number that would
attract the maximum amount of Orange Crushed money because if Denver won by
just a field goal Broncos backers would have cashed all those tickets.
And that is squarely what did not happen.
Super Bowl 48 Preview
Seattle +2.5 vs. Denver
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 1st; Denver 3rd
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 3rd; Denver 1st
TURNOVER MARGIN RANKINGS: Seattle 1st (+20); Denver T14th (0)
QCYPA RANKINGS: Seattle 4th; Denver 1st
PASS PROTECTION RANKINGS: Seattle 28th; Denver 1st
D-QCYPA RANKINGS: Seattle 1st; Denver 15th
PASS PRESSURE RANKINGS: Seattle 5th; Denver 11th
Not since John Hammond "spared no expense" building Jurassic Park
has QC seen anyone throw money at a dinosaur like the public is throwing money
at Denver's 37-year-old Peyton (P-rex) Manning and Super Bowl 48.
The serious point spread scientists in Las Vegas set a pretty fair opening line
on the game that had P-rex and his Broncos (13-3) teammates receiving two
points from their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks (13-3). But, as Hammond
himself correctly realized, the public finds a P-rex to be an irresistible
attraction. Before 24 hours had passed, the Broncos were giving Seattle 2.5
points, a 4.5 point swing, and as of Monday morning before the game five times
more money had been bet on Denver than on Seattle.
QC doubts that P-rex will succeed against Seattle's pass defense as much as
Doctor Ian Malcolm--the annoying professor of chaos
theory who relished pointing out Hammond's blind spots--doubted Jurassic Park
would succeed as a prehistoric Disney Land.
What the public is overlooking in Super Bowl 48 is that the Seahawks were not
only 3 percent better designed than Denver during the regular season, but also
that Seattle posted a plus-20 turnover differential while P-rex and the Broncos
just broke even.
What is the Super Bowl record of a team that during the regular season was both
better designed and had a better turnover differential than its Super Bowl
Since 1981--the year former San Francisco 49ers' head coach Bill Walsh won his
first Super Bowl and ushered in the modern era of professional football that
emphasizes controlled passing--what is the Super Bowl record of a team that
during the regular season was both better designed and had a better turnover
differential than its Super Bowl opponent?
The public sees P-rex's record-breaking production, his 55 touchdown passes
during the regular season. The public sees P-rex rampaging over San Diego's
29th ranked pass defense and New England's 13th ranked pass defense in the
playoffs with such ferocity that Denver's punter only took the field one time
to voluntarily transfer possession to the opponent.
The public even sees the Broncos' 9.67 player productivity differential was 4.2
points better than Seattle's 5.47 during the regular season and is the second
best regular season player productivity differential since the 'Ol QuantCoach
invented coaching statistics. Green Bay's Aaron Rogers produced infinite
productivity during the Packers 15-1 regular season in 2011. Production is
always easy to see.
Moreover, the public is captivated by P-rex because he is a throwback to a
long-lost prehistoric era in the NFL when quarterbacks with nicknames like
Johnny U and Y.A. and the "Dutchman" controlled their teams more than
the head coach did.
"A quarterback does not come into his own, until he can tell the coach to
go to hell," the great Baltimore Colts' quarterback, Johnny Unitas, once
"I wanted to coach the team and Gillman wouldn't let me," the
Dutchman, Norm Van Brocklin, said of his days with the Los Angeles Rams and Sid
Gillman, Walsh's coaching template for obsessively controlling the game from
the sideline with play design.
"Heck," said TV analyst John Madden, "those guys were field
generals. They had control of what was going on out there."
But even in the NFL's prehistoric, pre-Walsh era, those dinosaurs ran into
trouble when they encountered the meteoric rise of pass defense innovators.
Fifty years ago, the 1963 NFL Championship Game presented a scenario nearly
identical to Super Bowl 48. The New York Giants came into the game with a
37-year-old quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, who had passed for a then-NFL-record 36
touchdowns during the regular season.
"I'd buy him a toupee and let him play at Syracuse if I thought I could
slip him in," legendary Orangeman coach Ben Schwartzwalder said after
seeing the balding Tittle throw the football.
New York's and Tittle's opponent, the underdog Chicago Bears, featured a
transcendent zone pass defense designed by the
venerable George Halas' new defensive master designer, George Allen. On a
frigid day at Wrigley Field, Tittle suffered a knee injury on a sack and the
Bears' defense intercepted Tittle five times. Two interceptions set up Chicago
touchdowns and the final interception preserved the
Bears' 14-10 victory.
Pro Football Reference's Chase Stuart pointed out a
few weeks ago, Seattle's pass defense is similarly transcendent. As Stuart
noted, the Seahawks became just the fourth team to lead the NFL in
interceptions while yielding the fewest passing yards joining those 1963 Bears,
the 1982 Super Bowl runner-up Miami Dolphins (the "Killer B's"), and
the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And, if Washington's Joe Theismann had not turned into a marvelous pass
defender and knocked a batted pass out of the hands of Miami
defensive end Kim Bokamper in the Redskins 27-17 Super Bowl 17 win over the
Killer B's, all of those teams would have been champions. Pass defense is
rarely so easy to see.
How did these teams do it? For starters, they all had a master defensive play
designer. Chicago had the aforementioned Allen. Miami's defense was coordinated
by Bill Arnsbarger, a legendary defensive designer. Tampa Bay featured Monte
Kiffin's "4-3 Under" and "Tampa 2" designs, which are now
staple NFL defensive designs. The designs of these masters often remained
somewhat inscrutable even after the results of their genius had been revealed.
"But the mystery remains: Has Arnsparger finally come up with the perfect
coverage scheme to combat the football of the '80s?"
Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman asked
after the Dolphins intercepted New York Jets quarterback Richard Todd five
times in a 14-0 win in the 1982 AFC Championship Game.
"The great pass-defense performances of the past usually started with a
ferocious rush up front--Doomsday Defense, Purple People Eaters, Steel Curtain,
the Fearsome Foursome--names that had the opposition quarterback backpedaling
before he got off the plane," Dr. Z observed. "But when the rush
failed Sunday there was pure coverage, connecting lines on the blackboard, X's
that met O's at exactly the right spot, intricate, cerebral stuff with catchy
buzzwords like 'inside-out,' 'double-double,' 'press' and 'force.'"
Kiffin mentored Seattle head coach Pete Carroll during coaching stints at
Arkansas and North Carolina State. In the NFL, Carroll designed and coordinated
top-notch pass defenses for the Vikings, 49ers, and Jets before returning to
the college ranks and winning a sanction-tarnished national championship as
USC's head coach in 2005.
Many people, including reportedly Walsh, believe that a coach has less control
on defense than on offense and therefore great pass defense is more a function
of great playmaking than great play design.
Carroll certainly has some great defensive playmakers. Linebackers K.J. Wright,
Bobby Wagner, and Malcolm Smith, and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas
are as good in pass coverage as any players in the NFL at their positions.
Moreover, cornerback Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions
despite rarely being challenged, and slot-cornerback Walter Thurmond provide
Carroll with pass defense ingredients that other teams simply cannot match. If
Sherman and Thurmond throw a blanket over Denver receivers Demaryius Thomas and
Wes Welker, the Broncos receiving corps will have a very difficult time getting
open and the probability that P-rex will subsidize Seattle with multiple
interceptions will increase.
Interceptions, like all other aspects of pass defense, are mysterious and are
created by players who excel at not being seen on the football field.
For example, during his distinguished NFL career, former Baltimore Colts'
linebacker Don Shinnick intercepted more passes than any other linebacker in
NFL history. Before the 1964 season opener, the Baltimore News-Post
asked Shinnick to divulge his secret recipe for intercepting passes.
Shinnick wrote that he tried to make himself undetectable.
"I try to make myself scarce when the opposing quarterback is setting up
for the snap," Shinnick revealed. "If he doesn't know where I am
going to be, I've got an important advantage."
Rest assured every time P-rex yells "Omaha!" in Super Bowl 48 he will
know the whereabouts of the volcanic Sherman, who preserved Seattle's 23-17 win
over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game with one of the greatest pass
defense plays you will ever see.
But will P-rex also know where Thurmond is? And Wright? And Chancellor? And
Smith? And Thomas? And cornerback Byron Maxwell?
For the Broncos to beat the odds that favor a better designed team with a
superior turnover differential and win, he will have to know where all the
Seahawks' pass defenders are on every play. And he could do it. Lesser
designed, more turnover-prone teams have won twice since 1981.
In Super Bowl 42, P-rex's younger brother and the Giants stunned the unbeaten
In Super Bowl 33, a 38-year-old quarterback faced the same challenge that P-rex
faces, a better designed team with a plus-20 regular season turnover
differential. In a
34-19 victory, that dinosaur lit up Atlanta--a pass
defense far more decipherable than Seattle's current pass defense--with 336
passing yards and was named Super Bowl MVP.
That dinosaur is now P-rex's boss, former Broncos' quarterback and current
Denver team president John Elway.
It could happen again.
Everything could again go right for Denver and P-rex could have a big game and,
again as Chase Stuart pointed out, join Van Brocklin, who guided the Rams to
the 1951 NFL title and the Eagles to the 1960 NFL title, as the only
quarterbacks ever to lead two different teams to an NFL championship.
But the QuantCoach's advice is to heed the wisdom of that Jurassic sharp
handicapper, Doctor Ian Malcolm, and don't bet on it.
QC's Guess: Seattle Seahawks SU and ATS
NFL Coaching Stats 5 Years Later: What I've
A little more than five years ago, I invented statistics that quantify NFL
Since that time, I have been contacted by many, many pleasant people who have
been curious about NFL coaching statistics and, as a result, I have made
several new friends. So, with still more than a week to kill before Super Bowl
48 and another off-season of hibernation and a little laboratory work imminent,
I thought some of you might enjoy a retrospective on how I came to invent these
statistics and what I have learned tracking them over the past five years.
If you are not one of those people, you can stop reading now.
If you are one of those pleasant people, it was nothing more than a
conversation with a friend that was fundamentally no different than hundreds of
similar conversations we have had that sparked the invention of NFL coaching
statistics. My friend had been an active SABRologist in baseball for many years
and had consulted for one major league team. We were discussing the difference
between football and baseball and I opined the difference between the sports
was baseball was a sport that had essentially only one play: The pitch. But
that football inherently contemplated an infinite number of complex and nuanced
plays. Therefore, I theorized, in baseball all success must be attributable to
the players while success in football must be attributable to both the players
and the plays, the design of which mostly was the responsibility of the
My friend said he agreed in principle but also offered that there was no way I
could ever figure out how to objectively separate the contribution of the
players from the coaches [i.e., separate playmaking's contribution to success
from play designing's contribution].
After researching some economics and focusing on the equations in Paul Romer's
paper entitled "Endogenous Technological Change," I wrote a paper
that I believed solved the "simultaneity problem" in NFL football
that my friend correctly identified in our conversation.
In July of 2008, the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports
published the paper,
"Quantifying NFL Coaching: A Proof of New Growth
The original reviews were as hysterical as they were brutal.
One professor of economics called the title
"fatuous" and the math "goofy." I had to look up the word
"fatuous" in the dictionary. (I discovered
it means "silly" or "foolish.") I was already quite
familiar with the meaning of goofy. But the good professor kindly did concede
that the paper made "some interesting points."
The reviews on Phil Birnbaum's "Sabermetric Research"
blog were downright mean-spirited, nasty, condescending, rude, and
intellectually consisted of nothing but a stream of ad hominem attacks.
Sombody named Brian Burke wrote in a comment that
"I think this is evidence of the 'complexification' of stupid ideas"
and "[i]f you make simple (and often mistaken) ideas complicated and
technical enough, people might be intimidated into taking your word for
Sombeody named Keith Law suggested the paper might
be a "hoax," specifically
"Sokal's hoax." This time I had to go to
the encyclopedia to find out what these smart people were talking about. (I
discovered this Sokal fellow apparently had too much time on his hands,
"intentionally salted [an article] with nonsense," and submitted it
for publication to find out if the journal would publish the article if it
"sounded good" and "flattered the editors' ideological
Naturally, as a human being, such comments hurt my feelings a little bit.
Nobody likes to be mocked. But a couple of decades practicing law does provide
one with a rather thick skin and the ability to find a certain amount of
amusement in even the most stinging rebuke.
Besides, the only data I really had to back up the theories in the paper was in
the Super Bowls that had been played before the publication. Starting in 2009,
purely for my own personal enjoyment, I began tracking the coaching statistics
on a weekly basis during each NFL season. In my opinion, the results have been
1. During the past 5 NFL seasons, better designed NFL teams won between 74.2%
and 78.9% of the 256 NFL games played each season.
2. During the past 5 NFL seasons, when better designed NFL teams have lost,
they have lost the turnover battle between 59.6% and 68.5% of the time.
3. During the past 5 NFL seasons, when better designed NFL teams lost, but did
not lose the turnover battle, they suffered a damaging special team breakdown,
most often a missed field goal, between 13% and 16.9% of the time.
4. During the past 5 NFL seasons, only 63 teams in 1,280 games (about 4.9%)
lost when they were better designed, at least even in the turnover battle, and
solid in the kicking game.
5. In other words, during the past 5 NFL seasons, better designed teams that
avoided turnovers at least as well as their opponents and were solid in the
kicking game won more than 95% of the 1,280 NFL regular season games that have
been played during that period.
Based on this data, I feel pretty secure in declaring success.
After all, what is the most quoated cliché you hear from every NFL coach
when asked what it will take for his team to win? Invariably, the coach states
that if his team avoids turnovers and is solid in the kicking game, he thinks
they have a good chance. And, frequently, they do.
The most memorable improbable games usually involved a team that did not win
the turnover battle and still managed to beat a better designed team.
Here is my list of the 10 most improbable wins of the last 5 years:
1. Eagles 38 Giants 31 (2010): Philadelphia lost the turnover battle 3-2
and New York was better designed but DeSean Jackson's walk-off punt return for
a touchdown capped a furious comeback.
2. Broncos 18 Dolphins 15 (2011): In Tim Tebow's first start, the
Dolphins were better designed, even in the turnover battle, and dominated until
less than 6 minutes remained in the game. But Miami's failed 2-point PAT
attempt left the door open. After the Broncos scored and recovered an onside
kick, Tebow threw a touchdown pass and ran for a 2-point PAT with 0:17 to play
to force overtime. Denver kicker Matt Prater then boomed a 52-yard field goal
to win it.
3. Jaguars 24 Browns 20 (2010): The Browns were better designed,
plus-5 in turnovers, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and still
managed to lose at home. You should be embarrassed Cleveland.
4. Raiders 20 Broncos 19 (2009): Oakland's JaMarcus Russell came off the
bench in the fourth quarter and, after a 32-yard pass interference penalty on
DB Andre Goodman, threw a touchdown pass to Chaz Shillens with 0:35 to play to
lift the Raiders over better-designed Denver, who also won the turnover battle
2-0 but was gashed for 241 yards on the ground. Soon after, Russell was out of
5. Panthers 28 Buccaneers 21 (2009): Tampa Bay was better designed, won
the turnover battle by 1, including a fumble return for a touchdown, returned a
kick for a touchdown
and still lost. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme
passed for just 65 yards, but the Panthers ran for 256 yards, including 152
from DeAngelo Williams and 110 from Jonathan Stewart. It's very rare that an
NFL teams simply runs over a better designed NFL team, but it happened this
time. Other occasions it happened: 2010: Texans over Colts Week 1 and Bears
over Panthers Week 6.
6. Colts 35 Patriots 34 (2009): Better designed New England was even in
turnovers, but the Patriots failed when Bill Belichick decided to go for it on
fourth down late in the fourth quarter in his own territory. He should have
punted. Better designed and plus-1 turnover New England's 20-18 loss at home in
2012 to an Arizona team that would finish 4-12 just missed the list. Patriots'
kicker Steven Gostkowski missed what would have been a game-winning 42-yard
field goal in the final seconds. This was one of only two times since 2003 that
Bill Belichick's team won the turnover battle and still lost the game.
7. Dolphins 30 Jets 25 (2009): The Jets were far better designed and
even in turnovers, but Miami's Ted Ginn returned two kicks for touchdowns and
defensive end Jason Taylor returned a fumble for a touchdown.
8. Jets 18 Buccaneers 17 (2013): Tampa Bay was better designed, even in
turnovers and solid in the kicking game. But the Jets received 5 first downs
via penalty, including a 15-yard personal foul on Bucs linebacker Lavonte David
the play before New York kicker Nick Folk booted a 48-yard game-winning field
goal with 0:02 to play.
9. Falcons 30 Panthers 28 (2012). Carolina was better designed and even
in turnovers when Cam Newton ran for what would have been a game-clinching
first down late in the fourth quarter. But Cam fumbled and even though the
Panthers recovered, the recovery ended up short of a first down. Still,
Carolina looked in good shape when the ensuing punt left Atlanta on its own
1-yard line and just 1:09 to play. But Matt Ryan quickly moved the Falcons down
the field and kicker Matt Bryant's 40-yard field goal with 0:05 to play
delivered the win.
10. Texans 20 Bengals 19 (2011): With little more than 2 minutes to
play, Houston was not designed as well as Cincinnati, minus-2 in turnovers, and
80 yards from the winning score with rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback making
his first road start. But Yates guided the Texans down the field and threw a
touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Walter with 0:02 to play to pull out the
My "Quantifying NFL Coaching" paper reached two conclusions, one of
which has proven true and one of which has proven false. The first conclusion
was that "research and play design contributes more to an NFL team's
efficiency than play-making contributes."
I have little doubt that this is true. NFL players must execute plays
correctly, but the key ingredient to sustaining success in the NFL is a coach's
ability to break down "film" (it's really digital video) of an
opponent and design a plan that will both minimize the potential for
execution mistakes and generate productivity--a paradoxical job
assignment if there ever was one. Nobody does this better than New England's
Bill Belichick and, as a result, no team wins more consistently than the
Patriots even though they have rarely ranked in the top 10 in play design
differential during the past 5 years.
The second conclusion was "an NFL growth rate is equal to the productivity
of a coaching staff's research and represents a directional vector. If an NFL
team's growth rate is greater than 100%, it is likely the team is getting
better continuously. Such an improving NFL team will generate increasing
returns and enjoy an absolute competitive edge over competitors whose research
productivity is less than or equal to 100%."
This clearly is false. Players, not coaches, are the producers in the NFL just
as assembly line workers, not automobile design engineers, produce cars at
General Motors or Ford. With regard to coaching productivity, the critics were
probably right. The conclusion, which was really nothing more than speculation
at the time of publication, probably is nonsense. But that is because the idea
of coaches, who never set foot on the field, producing anything on the field
itself is probably nonsense. It's just not how the game of NFL football is
Thus, NFL football is a paradox. Nothing is more important to the players'
production than the coaches's design input, but the idea of coaches producing
anything on the field is probably nonsense.
If you are sharp enough to understand this paradox--heck, if you are sharp
enough to understand that a paradox is something that is made up of two
opposite things and seems impossible, but is actually true or possible--then
you probably understand NFL football at a pretty high level.
If not, well, baseball season will be here soon enough.
Championship Round Thoughts
Denver looked like the third best designed team in the NFL and New England
looked like the 16th best designed team throughout the Broncos 26-16 win in the
AFC Championship Game. Still, it was suprising to see P-rex Manning toy with
Bill Belichick's defense. The Gray Hooded Lord never came remotely close to
finding a way to slow Denver down, much less stop the Broncos. Coach John Fox
took the easy points on field goals when the points were available and the
outcome was never seriously in doubt after P-rex staked the Broncos to a 10-0
lead with a short TD pass to wide open TE Jacob Tamme.
Throughout the regular season, Seattle benefitted from above-average fumble
luck. For much of the NFC Championship Game that luck went against the
Seahawks. The 49ers recovered the first 3 fumbles of the game and led 17-10.
But Pete Carroll's team showed why it is the best designed team in the NFL
since QC invented coaching statistics. Russell Wilson zinged a fourth down
fourth TD pass to Jermaine Kerse and Richard Sherman deflected a last-ditch
pass away from WR Michael Crabtree and to LB Malcom Smith to seal a 23-17 win.
If one or two of those earlier fumbles had bounced Seattle's way, Pete
Carroll's team would not have needed Sherman's heroics in the final
Championship Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Seattle -3 vs. San Francisco
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 1st; San Francisco 6th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 3rd; San Francisco 7th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Seattle 1st (+20); San Francisco T4th (+12)
Seattle enjoys a solid 5.5% design edge, primarily because it ranked 1st in the
NFL in D-QCYPA (5.557) and 4th in the NFL in QCPYA (8.348). San Francisco ranks
6th (6.369) and 8th (7.647) in those categories, but the Seahawks edge is
significant. Look for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick to have a tough day. In the
last 2 meetings between the teams, Kaepernick has thrown 4 interceptions and
lost a fumble. The 49ers also have had a field blocked and returned for a TD
and provided a safety. Kaepernick played solid, turnover-free football at
Carolina against the Panthers nasty defense. But Seattle's secondary is much
better than Carolina's back end. The Seahawks also will have LB K.J. Wright
back on the field. If Kaepernick can let the game come to him, Jim Harbaugh's
team will have a chance to pull out a close win. If he can't play with in
himself and he's struggled to do so in Seattle, this will get sidways on San
Francisco in a hurry as it has in the recent past. 49ers DC Vic Fangio has his
defense playing at a high level. It will help that the Seahawks will be without
injury-prone big-play WR Percy Harvin. But Seattle is as healthy has it has
been on the O-line since the start of the season. The Seahawks pass protection
at times this season has been non-existence. With starting tackles Russell
Okung and Breno Giacomini in the lineup, QB Russell Wilson will have time to
throw. Seattle has benefitted all year from good fumble luck. Such luck can
turn around on a team at any moment. But as long as that does not happen, the
Seahawks should prevail and give head coach Pete Carroll the chance to join
Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win both a national
championship and a Super Bowl. The line opened a Seahawks -3, but that has been
gone for some time now. Still, there is good value on Seattle -3.5 as the real
difference between the teams is 5.5 points and anything -7 and under has some
QC's Guess: Seattle Seahawks SU &
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Denver (-4.5) vs. New England
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 3rd; New England 16th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 1st; New England 17th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Denver T14th (0); New England 8th (+9)
On paper, Denver enjoys a signficant 5.23% play design advantage. But this is
Bill Belichick. No coach in the NFL is better at winning without the
design advantage. Sure, Belichick would rather have the better designed team.
But New England and Tom Brady so rarely beats itself that even when the
Patriots are just a break-even design team, they finish 12-4 instead of 8-8 or
worse. New England prevailed in overtime in the regular season, 34-31. But that
was such an odd game. A bushel of early Patriots turnover subsidies put Denver
in front 24-0. So P-rex Manning kept handing the ball to Knowshon Moreno, who
ran for over 200 yards while P-rex had his quietest game of the season. Then,
abruptly, the ball started boucing New England's way and the Patriots rallied
to win. Injuries also make this a tough game to handicap. Broncos LB Von Miller
terrorized Brady in the first meeting, but a knee injury will keep him out of
this encounter. The same injury will deprive the Patriots of star TE Rob
Gronkowski. On the other hand, P-rex will have TE Julius Thomas who did not
play in the regular season meeting and Thomas is a matchup nightmare. The
Patriots D gave quite a few big plays to Indy's Andrew Luck in the divisional
round, but erased all of that damage and then some by intercepting Luck 4
times. Belichick has done that to P-rex before in the playoffs, but more often
than not P-rex has solved Belichick's designs and prevailed. It's QC's hunch
that the latter will be the case in the AFC championship and Denver will
advance to the Super Bowl. The line opened at Denver -6.5 and then plunged to
-4.5 and has settled at present -5.5. The Broncos statistical advantage is
about 7.5 point and they are at home so while the best of number is likely gone
no matter how you play this, the value still lies with Denver's P-rex.
QC's Guess: Denver Broncos SU and ATS
Divisional Round Thoughts
How's this for symmetry? In the Wild-Card round better designed teams were 4-0,
teams that won the turnover battle were 1-3, and QC's ATS picks were 1-2-1. In
the divisional round, better designed teams were 0-4, teams that won the
turnover battle were 3-1, and QC's ATS picks were 1-2-1. They call it gambling
for a reason.
QC's year-old 50-1 Super Bowl bet on Carolina went down hard to San Francisco,
23-10. But QC doesn't think this Panthers team has peaked yet. Everything went
the 49ers way. San Francisco enjoyed a 5-2 edge in penalties by first
down--rare for a visiting team--including a highly suspect tackling too hard
penalty on Carolina safety Mike Mitchell that gave the 49ers a field goal. Some
obvious San Francisco fouls also were not called, including an Anquan Boldin
head butt that went undetected. The 49ers also won the turnover battle 2-0 and
came up with two goal line stands that made the halftime score 10-6 in favor of
Carolina instead of 21-6. Cam Newton and the Carolina offense was by far better
designed and infinitely productive, but all the high leverage plays went to the
visitors. That's not an excuse. That's NFL football. It happens. And Jim
Harbaugh's team gets mad props for making those goal line stands and accepting
those turnove subsidies... and first downs via penalty. But the 'Ol QuantCoach
thinks Ron Rivera's team is not done growing yet and its best football is still
in front of it.
The other NFC divisional game went excactly the way it should for the home
team. Seattle took a 23-15 win over New Orleans on the strength of Marshawn
Lynch's running and fundamentally sound football. New Orleans subsidized the
Seahawks with a huge Mark Ingram fumble, missed 2 field goals, and shanked a
punt that led to an early Seattle field goal.
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck picked a bad time to turn into the guy who can't
resist throwin venus on spider 2 Y banana instead of the guy who never goes
broke taking a profit. On the Colts first series, Luck was picked by the
Patriots Alfonzo Dennard which set up a quick New England touchdown. Still,
Luck rallied Indianapolis and had the ball trailing 29-22 as the fourth quarter
started. But two more Luck interceptions and the total collapse of the Indy run
defense allowed the Patriots to pull away and win 43-22.
QC did not see a play of Denver's 24-17 win over San Diego, but apparently
P-rex Manning and the Broncos subidized the Chargers Phil Rivers with a pair of
turnovers and Rivers declined the tasty pastry. At least that's what it looked
like when QC checked the score on his phone while tubing at
Avalanche Park at Mad River Mountain, where on one
tube ride QC delivered Gatorade from a hill top woker to a hill bottom worker
like one of those mountain snow boarders who deliver Coors Light to Jason
Aldean. At least Rivers turned in a vintage garbage time performance
and San Diego coach Mike McCoy ordered a 30-yard field goal with less than 4
minutes play to provide QC with his only outright ATS win of the division round
in dramatic fashion.
Divisional Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Seattle -8 vs. New Orleans
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 1st; New Orleans 4th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Seattle 3rd; New Orleans 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Seattle 1st (+20); New Orleans T14th (0)
These teams are a lot more closely matched than they looked in the regular
season when the Seahawks rolled the Saints, 34-7. In that game, an early fumble
return for a TD by Seattle DE Michael Bennett got the Seahawks on top early and
everything broke Seattle's way. That's not likely to happen again. Further,
teams that have gotten a strong pass rush on the Seahawks' Russell
Wilson--particularly St. Louis and Arizona--have been able to stop Seattle
virtually in its tracks. The Saints can rush the passer. But Drew Brees still
has problems with turnovers on the road. His defense bailed him out last week
in Philadelphia, but that is less likely to happen in Seattle where he will be
facing by far the best pass defense in the NFL. If Brees can play within
himself early and keep New Orleans in striking distance, New Orleans could pull
the upset. But that's unlikely. There is a tiny amount of value on the Saints,
but not enough to convince QC to disrgard the Seahawks home field
QC's Guess: Seattle Seahawks SU &
Carolina +2 vs. San Francisco
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Carolina 10th; San Francisco 6th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Carolina 10th; San Francisco
TURNOVER MARGIN: Carolina 6th (+11); San Francisco T4th (+12)
An over/under of 19 points--the total scored in the Panthers 10-9 win over the
49ers in their regular season meeting--sounds about right. Both teams rush the
passer hard. Both team struggle to protect the passer, but take care of the
football. In other words, the recipe in this game calls for just a pinch of
points. The early line at Carolina +2 was perfectly fair, which is usually all
you ask for if you like a home team like the Panthers. The 49ers come in on a
good roll, but in the last 24 hours the line has moved to pick, which creates a
little San Francisco value. In the end, this one will come down to which dual
threat QB, Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, avoids turnovers and produces just
enough offense to eke out a victory. That team also probably will cover.
QC's Guess: Carolina Panthers SU & ATS
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New England -7.5 vs. Indianapolis
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 16th; Indianapolis 20th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 17th; Indianapolis
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 8th (+9); Indianaplis 3rd (+13)
These teams are a lot more evenly matched than the point spread. Everybody
remembers the horrific game Andrew Luck had in New England as a rookie last
year when 2 of his 3 interceptions were returned for touchdowns. The Patriots
Julian Edelman also returned a punt for a TD has Bill Belichick hung 59 points
on the first year QB. But this is not the same Luck or the same Indy offense.
This Luck generally buys a lot less risk than he did last year. Oh, this is
still the guy who wants to ignore the fullback in the flat and throw
venus on spider 2 Y banana. But more often Luck is the guy who won't
go broke taking a profit as demonstrated by the Colts NFL low 14 regular season
turnovers. New England is not the same team either. Without tight ends Rob
Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady and the Patriots finished just 16th
in QCYPA (6.901). Kansas City hurt Indy last week with deep passes over the
top, but Brady now makes his living on passes under 10 yards. And his pass
protection, 11th in the NFL, has been spottier than in the past. New England
has gotten after opposing QBs this year, ranking 7th in pass pressure, but the
pass defense is just slightly above-average 13th (6.917 D-QCYPA) and the Colts
Donald Brown might be able to run against a Vince Wilfork-less D-line.
All-in-all, this looks like a field goal game that will be won by the team that
can win the turnover battle +1. Most people assume that will be New England.
But QC has a hunch Luck will show Belichick just how much NFL knowledge he has
picked up since the last meeting and Indianapolis will advance to the AFC
QC's Guess: Indianapolis Colts SU &
Denver (-10) vs. San Diego
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 3rd; San Diego 9th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 1st; San Diego 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Denver T14th (0); San Diego T20th (-4)
San Diego handed Denver its only home loss of the season on a Thursday night a
few weeks ago, 27-20, and it wasn't a fluke. The Chargers ran for 188 yards,
held the Broncos to a miniscule 18 yards on the ground, and controlled the ball
for almost 40 minutes. Phil Rivers threw only 20 passes, just a few more than
the 16 he threw in San Diego's road playoff upset of Cincinnati last week.
Bogarting the ball again would be a good idea because P-rex Manning and the
Broncos are the most productive team in the NFL. Denver was without slot
machine Wes Welker in the last matchup, but Welker is expected to play this
time and the Chargers defense ranked 29th in D-QCYPA. So, Rivers likely will
have to throw the ball more an keep pace with P-rex, but he can do it against a
Broncos defense which ranked just 15th in D-QCYPA. QC likes the over in this
one and thinks in the end P-rex will be P-rex and the Chargers defense will
resemble a lawyer in port-o-let. But there is too much line value on San Diego
and the Broncos defense is too suspect to think Denver also will cover the
QC's Guess: Denver SU; San Diego ATS
Wild-Card Round Thoughts
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck showed he is already amongst the finest risk
traders in the NFL as the Colts stormed back from a 31-10 halftime deficit to
beat Kansas City, 45-44. In that situation, many QBs would spend the secnd half
checking down on safe passes and taking what the defense gave. Not Luck. He
bought risk with both fists. As a result, Indianapolis either scored a
touchdown or threw an interception on every one of its second half possessions.
In such a big hole, the interceptions were not as costly as they would have
been in other situations. Luck could have put up impressive numbers and gone
quietly in defeat. Or he could have put up horrific interception numbers and
Indy could have been destroyed. Give him credit for personally risking the
latter and giving the Colts the chance to complete one of the greatest
comebacks in NFL history.
It's hard to believe that San Diego could win a playoff game with Phil Rivers
attempting only 16 passes, but that's what happened in the Chargers 27-10 win
over Cincinnati. Bengals QB Andy Dalton melted down and subsidized Rivers and
San Diego heavily in the second half as San Diego methodically overcame a 10-7
halftime deficit. Clearly, the Chargers change from Norv Turner's high-risk
deep passing game to a more moderately risky passing portfolio under Mike McCoy
has benefitted Rivers greatly.
The Saints seemed to be heading for their 6th loss in their last 7 road games
when QB Drew Brees threw 2 first half interceptions. But New Orleans' defense
steadied the ship until Brees got himself together and got the Saints in front
in the second half. Then, after injuries to DB Keenan Lewis and LB Parys
Haralson, opened the door for the Eagles offense, Brees returned to form and
marched New Orleans to a last-second field goal and a 26-24 win. It's
incredibly rare for a team to survive on the road in the NFL playoffs at -2
turnovers, but Sean Payton's team pulled it off.
You would understand if Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is fed up
with San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. Last year in the playoffs, Kaepernick
exploded for over 180 yards rushing to destroy the Packers. In WK1 of the 2013
season, Kaepernick was realtively quiet on the ground, but threw for over 400
yards. In the 49ers 23-20 win at Lambeau Field, Kaepernick was back to driving
Capers crazy with his scrambles and ran for over 100 yards, including some late
scrambles that both drained the clock and set up Phil Dawson for a walk-off
game-winning field goal. In doing so, Kaepernick ascended to official nemesis
Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Philadelphia -2.5 vs. New Orleans
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philadelphia 5th; New Orleans 4th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Philaelphia 2nd; New Orleans
TURNOVER MARGIN: Philadelphia T4th (+12); New Orleans T12th (0)
The Eagles and Saints are evenly matched except in turnover differential where
Philadelphia enjoys a big edge. Chip Kelly's team also has been more
productive. However, Kelly's designs virtually concede pass rush. Teams that
have put the heat Philadelphia's QB, such as Kansas City early in the year and
Dallas in Week 17, have been able to bring the Eagles to a virtual stop. The
Saints pass rush led by Cameron Jordan has been good all year and it will have
to come up big. Still, New Orleans has lost 5 in a row on the road, including
losses to a pair of teams in the bottom 10 in play design, the Jets and Rams.
In those defeats, Drew Brees and the offense gave away 5 turnovers and the New
Orleans defense did not receive a single subsidy. The Eagles have won 4 in a
row at home, including a win in blizzard over Detroit and a plucky win over
Arizona's ornery D when Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was being generous with the
turnovers. The best bet here is probably the under, but if you have to take a
side look for Philadelphia to defend the home field and win by a field goal or
QC's Guess: Philadelphia Eagles SU &
Green Bay +3 vs. San Francisco
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 15th; San Francisco 6th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 13th; San Francisco
TURNOVER MARGIN: Green Bay 17th (-3); San Francisco T4th (+12)
San Francisco was 6-2 on road but the only team they beat while traveling who
was not in the bottom 10 in the NFL in play design was mediocre Tennessee. The
Packers play design is about the same as the Titans, but, of course, a big
chunk of that figure was accumulated while star QB Aaron Rogers was injured.
When the team's met in the opening week of the season, 49ers QB Colin
Kaepernick had his best passing game of the year despite the fact WR Michael
Crabtree did not play. Kaepernick also played well at Arizona last week and
destoyed Green Bay with his running last year. It is supposed to be bitter cold
at kickoff, but coach Jim Harbaugh has assembled a physically tough team that
should be equipped for the weather. Unless San Francisco subsidizes the Packers
with a few turnovers, the 49ers should emerge with their second playoff and
fourth overall win over Green Bay in the last two years.
QC's Guess: San Francisco 49ers SU &
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Indianapolis -2 vs. Kansas City
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 20th; Kansas City 21st
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 22nd; Kansas City
TURNOVER MARGIN: Indianaplis 3rd (+13); Kansas City 2nd (+18)
Don't be fooled by the Colts blow out of the Chiefs a few weeks ago. In that
game, Kansas City gave Indy 4 turnovers and that is unlikely to happen again.
The play design and player productivity statistics show that these teams are
almost perfectly equal. In other words, both teams are skilled at waiting for
the other team to beat itself. Whoever wins the turnover battle will win this
game. Because the Colts are at home and just a tiny bit better designed than
Kansas City, it is more likely than not that team will be Indy. But if it's not
Kansas City will advance.
QC's Guess: Indianapolis Colts SU &
Cincinnati (-7) vs. San Diego
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Cincinnati 2nd; San Diego 9th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Cincinnati 6th; San Diego 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 1st (+28); NY Jets T5th (+9)
Cincinnati has looked invincible at home since Halloween beating 6 teams by no
less than 14 points each. But, upon closer inspection, no team ranked better
than 17th (Cleveland) in play design differential. San Diego ranks 9th and
actually is more productive than the Bengals. When these teams met in San Diego
on December 1, Phil Rivers and the Chargers moved the ball, but gave away 3
turnovers, including a very strange one where Cincinnati DB Dre Kirkpatrick
pried the ball away from TE Antonio Gates as the players fell to the ground.
That is unlikely to happen again, although Rivers' potential to provide big
subsidies is always a concern. The bigger worry for Chargers fans is the how
the Bengals O-line dominated in the last meeting. If that happens again and
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard combine for 150 yards rushing or
more, Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton probably will not have to throw more than 30
passes and this could get one-sided. It could completely one-sided if Rivers
also turns the ball over. But 7 points is a lot for a team that is not as
productive as its opponent to carry, even one that is better designed and
playing at home like the Bengals. So the hunch here is that Cincinnati
survives, but not without some moments of serious concern. And if Dalton turns
the ball over, this will be the biggest upset of wild-card weekend.
QC's Guess: Cincinnati SU; San Diego