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THE ARCHIVES (2014-Part 4)

Super Bowl 49 Thoughts: Belichick's Signature Moment

Plato probably was laying the points on Bill Belichick when he said, "A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers."

The numbers in Super Bowl 48 sure did not add up to a 28-26 win for New England over Seattle. When the final whistle sounded, the Seahawks were both infinitely productive and +1 in the turnover battle. That is almost always a winning recipe.

Indeed, during the 2014 regular season, NFL teams that were both infinitely productive (i.e., averaged more than 10 yards per pass attempt) and at least +1 turnover were 46-2 (.958). In both defeats, the loser's kicking game imploded. In Week 2, Cleveland K Billy Cundiff missed 2 field goals in a 21-17 loss to Baltimore. In Week 16, Miami blocked a Minnesota punt for safety with :41 to play to pin a 37-35 loss on the Vikings. In contrast, Seattle suffered no such special teams calamity.

Almost from the start, Seahawks' OC Darrell Bevell caught Belichick by surprise by attacking deep against the Patriots third and fourth cornerbacks, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan, with lanky third and fourth wide receivers Ricardo Lockette and Chris Matthews. Those two combined for 168 of the 247 yards and 1 of the 2 passing TDs that Seattle QB Russell Wilson generated on just 21 pass attempts.

Meanwhile, Seattle's defense bracketed a soft second quarter against New England QB Tom Brady (11-16-129-2 TDs) with stifling first and third quarters (13-19-75-2 Ints). When the Seahawks sacked Brady with 12:10 to play and a 24-14 lead, it appeared Pete Carroll was well on his way to a second straight Super Bowl title. But, suddenly, Brady erupted (13-15-124-2 TDs) and his second scoring pass of the quarter put New England on top and set the stage for what will be rememberd as Belichick's signature moment.

After Wilson quickly moved Seattle to the Patriots 1-yard line with about 1 minute to play, most so-called experts expected Belchick to stop the clock with a timeout in order to conserve time for Brady to respond if the Seahawks scored and took the lead.

But Belchick let the clock run and chose to make his stand on defense.

Backup defensive back Malcolm Butler made that bet pay off big when he jumped in front of Lockette's slant pattern and intercepted Wilson's pass at the goal line. After the game, Butler said he knew the slant was coming because Belichick had prepared him for the precise formation and play that Bevell showed.

As Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus observed, "[n]othing in football gives you an edge like knowing what is coming."

Bevell drew immediate heavy criticism for making "the worst call" in Super Bowl history. But you have to admit that Lockette and Matthews had been having their way with New England's smaller DB's the entire game. And Wilson and Lockette made at most token efforts to disguise what was coming and likely tipped Butler off by looking inside and at one another before the snap.

But thwarting Seattle still required perfect preparation and perfect execution by Belichick and Butler. Just as the master of the running game, Vince Lombardi, is remembered for Bart Starr's touchdown sneak in the "Ice Bowl" and the master of the passing game, Bill Walsh, is rememberd for Joe Montana's touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, the master of defense, Belichick, will be remembered for Butler's interception.

"The bottom line in all of this is that this wasn't some embarrassing debacle, a sad way to end an otherwise thrilling Super Bowl," Monson wrote. "This was a fantastic play that made logical sense to the offense, and was just defeated by better defensive play and stellar preparation from the New England Patriots.

If ever one play was going to define a Super Bowl this is a pretty fitting one to do so."

QC could not have said it better himself.

(Archives Home)


Super Bowl 49 Preview

Seattle (+1) vs. New England

TURNOVER MARGIN RANKINGS: Seattle 4th (+10); New England T2nd (+12)
QCYPA RANKINGS: Seattle 10th; New England 15th
PASS PROTECTION RANKINGS: Seattle 23rd; New England 5th
D-QCYPA RANKINGS: Seattle 3rd; New England 14th
PASS PRESSURE RANKINGS: Seattle 15th; New England T9th

Inscrutable (n) Impossible to understand or interpret. Synonyms engimatic, mysterious, unreadable, inexelicable, unexplainable, incomprehensible, impenetrable, unfathomable, unknowable, Bill Belichick

A little missing air in a few footballs has pumped up the scrutiny of Belichick as he prepares for Super Bowl 49. But QC knows.

Roger Goodell's $1,000 an hour lawyer can break down video of Belichick's equipment guy going to see a man about horse until the NFL is penniless.

He is unlikely to discover anything.

Belichick has been confounding QC since he invented coaching statistics because, well, he does not appear overly impressive. From 2009 through 2013, New England finished 11th (.0273), 4th (.0335), 7th (.0272), 13th (.0012), 16th (.0003), and 15th (.0065) in play design differential, QC's foundational statistic for measuring coaching.

The only statistic in which Belichick's teams have been elite has been turnover differential, averaging +1 turnover per game since 2009. An NFL team with 0-4% design edge and a +1 turnover edge wins 75.60% of its games. Since 2009, Belichick has won 76.05% of his regular season games (73-23).

But QC's 8th Commandment holds that players, not coaches, are responsible for turnovers so Belichick's dominance in this area leaves QC somewhat unsatisfied.

Further, Seattle, Green Bay and San Francisco--i.e., teams that have a great QB and/or high level running designs and productivity--have limited giveaways nearly as well as the Patriots and virtually matched New England in turnover differential (and wins). In the 48 regular season games that Russell Wilson has been the Seahawks QB, Seattle is +43 turnovers and 36-12 (.750). The Patriots are +46 turnovers and 36-12 (.750).

Perhaps the most telling statistic about Belichick is this: In the past 3 years, Belichick is 23-1 in games in which New England is the better designed team during the game. The one loss was a fluke 20-18 home defeat at the hands of Arizona when the most accurate kicker in Patriots history, Stephen Gostkowski, sent a 42-yard field goal wide left on the next-to-last play of the game after making 3 longer field goals earlier in the day.

In layman's terms, what 23-1 when better designed means is this: New England will not beat itself. Seattle will have to better designed or the Seahawks will lose.

To do that, Seattle will have to control Tom Brady and his receivers and bottle up RB LaGarrett Blount. New England OC Josh McDaniels will move super-receiver Rob Gronkowski all over the field, but no matter where he goes the Seahawks should have Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman in the area. If Pete Carroll can take away Julian Edelman as effectively as he took away Wes Welker in Super Bowl 48, Brady may struggle to move the ball consistently in the air.

Still, this will not be a Super Bowl 48 re-run. While Denver's P-rex Manning is inclined to not take a sack and to put the ball up for grabs if he is pressured or his receivers are covered, Brady is not so inclined. And Blount is a more threatening ground weapon than anyone the Broncos pointed at Seattle last year, particularly with brawny Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane not in the lineup.

Defensively, Belichick can still design a young QB into oblivion, as Indianapolis' Andrew Luck would surely attest. Seattle's attack has some limitations. The Patriots Darrelle Revis and friends should not have much trouble suffocating Seahawks WRs Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. If Seattle can get just a couple big plays from its wideouts, Carroll will be content. Look for Belichick to pay special attention to TE Luke Willson and to try to take Willson away. You might even see Revis lurking around Willson occasionally because the TE is where Russell Wilson found big plays down the stretch.

It is a good thing Seattle's rookie T Justin Britt, who missed the NFC championship game with knee injury, is slated to play. His backup Alvin Bailey was a turnstyle against the Packers. Britt is an excellent run blocker who can seal the edge and give Chandler Jones a genuine obstacle. Still, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower should keep Marshawn "I'm Just Here So I Don't Get Fined" Lynch from getting too beasty.

The Seahawks' secret weapon is OC Darrell Bevell, the most underrated play designer in this game and probably the entire NFL. Reportedly, Atlanta will hire Bevell's counterpart, DC Dan Quinn, as its head coach after the Super Bowl. But QC thinks Arthur Blank is grabbing the wrong Seattle coordinator.

Bevell's design record is very impressive. As Minnesota's OC in 2009, he resurrected Brett Favre for one last great year before age and injuries finally retired Favre for good. In 2011, he came to Seattle with Tarvaris Jackson and giveways immediately dropped from 31 to 23 and turnover differential improved from -9 to +8.

In 2012, Russell Wilson arrived. When Belichick and New England DC Matt Patricia met him for the first time in Week 6 that year, Wilson was raw and averaging just 6.28 QCYPA. Since that meeting, Wilson has become a zone read nightmare and averaged a P-rexish 8.160 QCYPA. Bevell asks less of his offensive line in pass protection than any OC in the NFL. But even when the rush gets there, Wilson is not rattled as evidenced by his 16-3 record in games in which he has been sacked 3 times or more.

Seattle has finished 2nd (.0625), 1st (.0821), and 3rd (.0414) in play design differential and its +43 turnover differential trails only New England since Wilson, Bevell and Carroll joined forces. The Seahawks offense started the year smoking hot and it looked like Bevell might be the most sought-after HC candidate of 2015. But then Percy Harvin imploded and was traded and interest in Bevell seemed to cool as the offense became less flashy.

Wilson and Bevell are still effective, particularly when Bevell turns Wilson loose on the ground. It will be a major surprise indeed if Bevell keeps a tight reign on Wilson in this game. Wilson is coming off a dismal NFC Championship Game performance in which he threw 4 interceptions, but that is unlikely to happen again given the Seahawks have averaged just 1.06 giveaways per game with Wilson at QB and the windy, wet weather of Seattle will not follow them inside in Arizona.

If Bevell can provide designs to Wilson that provide leverage against Belichick's defensive designs, then Seattle probably will win its second consecutive Super Bowl. But if Belichick can deprive Wilson of his leverage, then Belichick and Brady will return to the top of the NFL mountain for the first time in a decade.

In their last 48 regular season games, the Seahawks have been the better designed team 34 times (.708). Over the same sample, the Patriots have been the better designed team just 24 times (.500). It is an intriguing design matchup and QC's coaching statistics suggest the Seahawks have just enough knowledge in their R&D department to get it done.

If Carroll and Bevell do, then we can all tune in next year to see if Seattle, who began the season as the 7th youngest team in the NFL, can become the first team in history to design three straight Super Bowl champions.

QC's Guess: Seattle Seahawks SU and ATS

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2014 Year End Awards

GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR: Arizona 14 Detroit 6. Bruce Arians is not QC's COY, but Arians was "Coach of the Day" so frequently that the Cardinals won 3.5 more games than the 7.5 games the linemakers in Las Vegas set in the pre-season as the Red-Birds season total over-under. Arians and his staff won the design battle 8 times, which is the league average, but he did so with a roster that was depleted by injury and suspension. His game plan design against Detroit was quintessential Arians. In the prior week against the Rams, Arizona lost QB Carson Palmer to a knee injury and the Lions were bringing the NFL's top-rated D to the desert. During the week, QC received the following text from a well-respected NFL handicapper: "What do you make of ARI with no Palmer? Stanton completed <50% of his passes on year. DET D line is going to cause problems against ARI…. Team that struggles to run the ball. Forces Stanton to throw…. DET overcame far better D in Mia. ARI win [against St. Louis] looks better with 2 late Def TDs…. Reality is they struggled to be productive for most of game against STL. DET going to cause headaches." QC responded: "Arizona protects the passer pretty well & Stanton is mobile. Low complete % means nothing. Arians throws downfield so will be low. Cards have great playmakers outside & Arians will keep 7 in to block & his athletes at WR can still win." Sure enough, Stanton was not sacked and hit WR Michael Floyd with TD passes (42, 12) on the Cardinals' first two possessions in a 14-6 win. Further, late in the game, Detroit punt returner Jeremy Ross appeared to make a heads up play when he picked up a casually downed punt at this own 1-yard line and ran it all the way to the Arizona 45-yard lines. But an alert Arians challenged the play and the replay official ruled the Cardinals' Justin Bethel had possessed the ball just long enough to end the play and the ball was brought back to the Lions 1-yard line. The great Bill Walsh considered "being alert" a skill and nobody displayed that skill better than Arians did against Detroit.

2009: New Orleans 38 New England 17
2010: Cleveland 30 New Orleans 17
2011: Denver 38 Oakland 24
2012: Atlanta 30 Seattle 28 (NFC Divisional Playoff)
2013: Philadelphia 33 Washington 27

COACH OF THE YEAR: Jason Garrett (Dallas). Garrett entered 2014 sharing the hottest seat in the NFL with Oakland's Dennis Allen and New York's Rex Ryan. While the Raiders and the Jets collapsed, the Cowboys thrived. Dallas finished fourth in the NFL in play design differential and won the design battle in 11 of 16 games. How did they do it? Garrett and OC Scott Linehan did what QC thought they would never do: They ran the football. Behind All-Pros Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, RB DeMarco Murray became the most effective ground threat in the league, which made QB Tony Romo's job a lot easier. On defense, DC Rod Marinelli plugged Rolando McClain into the middle of his Tampa-2 principles and the Cowboys' D played competently after a rough start. At the pre-season "Super Contest Weekend" in Las Vegas, the so-called "sharps" expected the worst and advised "power fading" Dallas. By the end of the year, the Cowboys had won 4.5 more games than the 7.5 games the Vegas linemakers set in the pre-season as the Cowboys season total over-under.

2009: Norv Turner (San Diego)
2010: Bill Belichick (New England)
2011: Wade Phillips (Houston Defensive Coordinator)
2012: Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco)
2013: Pete Carroll (Seattle)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: J.J. Watt (Houston). No defensive player has ever had a defensive year like Watt. He sacked opposing quarterbacks 20.5 times, blocked 10 passes, recovered 5 fumbles, forced 4 fumbles, caught 2 TD passes, returned an interception and a fumble for a TD, registered a safety, and blocked and extra point. With a shaky QB situation, Houston relied upon the running game and playing conservatively on offense. The Texans had to get their big plays from someone and they got them from Watt.

2009: Dallas Clark (Indianapolis)
2010: Tom Brady (New England)
2011: Aaron Rogers (Green Bay)
2012: P-rex Manning (Denver)
2013: P-rex Manning (Denver)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota). Giants' electrifying WR Odell Beckham, Jr. led the league in sizzle, but Bridgewater bettered his team better than any other rookie. New York's QCYPA increased from 7.302 to 7.601 after Beckham joined the lineup in Week 5. But that increase paled in comparison to the increase from 5.252 QCYPA to 6.990 that Minnesota enjoyed in games Bridgewater started.

2009: Brian Cushing (Houston)
2010: RobAaron Gronkowski-Hernandez (New England)
2011: Patrick Peterson (Arizona)
2012: Robert Griffin, III (Washington)
2013: Kenny Vaccarro (New Orleans)

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee (Indianapolis) . Nothing allows an NFL head coach to sleep easier at night than being solid in the kicking game and Indianapolis was as solid as a team can be in 2014. Because field goal and PAT design essentially has been perfected, theoretically an NFL kicker should make every kick. Vinatieri almost pulled it off, missing just 1 field goal in the last game of the year. McAfee ranked third in net punting and touchback percentage and was 3 for 3 on onside kickoffs, including one he recovered himself. Philadelphia's entire special teams unit receives an honorable mention for dyanmic play throughout the year that likely provided the Eagles a couple of extra wins.

2009: Josh Cribbs (Cleveland)
2010: Devin Hester (Chicago)
2011: David Akers (San Francisco)
2012: Matt Bryant (Atlanta)
2013: Justin Tucker (Baltimore)

JERRY JONES PATIENT OWNER OF THE YEAR AWARD. Jerry Jones (Dallas). After an 8-8 year in 2013 in which the Cowboys ranked 22nd in the NFL in play design differential, it would not have been surprising if Jones had cut Jason Garrett loose. Before the 2014 season started, some in the blogosphere ranked Garrett 30th among the NFL's 32 head coaches. But Jones stuck with Garrett and was rewarded with 12 wins, a division championship, and a dramatic come-from-behind victory. And if Dez Bryant could have squeezed that fourth down pass in Green Bay a little tighter, who knows what else Dallas might have achieved in 2014.

2009: Jerry Jones (Dallas)
2010: Arthur Blank (Atlanta)
2011: Bob McNair (Houston)
2012: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)
2013: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)

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Championship Round Thoughts

There is not much to say about New England's 45-7 wipeout of Indianapolis in the AFC Championship, but there is no shortage of things to say about Seattle's come from behind, 28-22 win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship. The difficulty is distilling all of it into a single catch-phrase.

Most of what QC has seen and heard about the Seahawks' rally has been criticism of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy's conservative approach, particularly his willingness to settle for field goals early in the game when Green Bay was inside Seattle's 5-yard line twice.

But nearly all of the criticism is backward and unwarranted. McCarthy had the Packers prepared to play and, if anything, their defeat was attributable more to over-agressiveness by individual players rather than under-agressiveness by McCarthy.

With star QB Aaron Rogers playing on an injured calf, McCarthy had to design excellent pass protection and a competent ground game to give the Packers, who were 8.5 point underdogs by kickoff, a chance. He did so. On the other side of the ball, DC Dom Capers had to controll Russell Wilson. He did so, as Wilson had one of the worst playoff games by a winning quarterback in NFL history.

"I didn't think a lot of points would win this game. Today, that was my thinking coming in," McCarthy said. "I felt great about our defense all week just the way they'd been building here in the last eight, nine weeks. So that's why we had to take the field goals."

Prediction Machine calculated that if Green Bay had scored touchdowns instead of field goals early in the game, the Packers chance of winning would have improved from 54% to 75%. OK. But McCarthy's game plan and designs gave the Packers a much better than 75% chance to win.

At the end of regulation, Green Bay was both the better designed team and held a +3 edge in the turnover column. In the 1,536 regular season games that have been played since QC began tracking coaching statistics in 2009, here is how many times a team with a play design edge and a +3 turnover edge at the end of regulation has lost:


In Week 14 of 2009, Carolina enjoyed a +3 turnover edge and a design edge at New England and still managed to lose to Patriots.

Anything is possible. But a game plan that results in victory 99.9% of the time is a very good plan indeed.

As most of us are thinking backward anyway, let's break down the key plays in the second half moving back in time:

The 2-Point Conversion: 4QTR (1:25 To Play): After taking a 20-19 lead, Seattle sent two receivers to Wilson's right and kept TE Luke Willson in on the backside to provide extra pass protection. The play design was similar, but not identical, to the legendary sprint right option play--"The Catch"--that Joe Montana and Dwight Clark executed to beat Dallas, 28-27, in the 1981 NFC Championship. On that play, San Francisco TE Charle Young stayed into block to make sure backside pressure did not get to Montana. As on that play, the Packers pass rushers closed in on Wilson and the Green Bay secondary had the receivers blanketed. In desperation, Willson leaked out to the left and Wilson heaved a Phil Mickelson flop-shot toward him. Willson played the pitch better than Packers S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the Seahawks had a 3-point lead, rather than a 1-point lead, which would prove critical when Mason Crosby nailed his fifth field goal with 0:14 to to play. The firm of Wilson & Willson gets credit for improvising on what was essentially a broken play. But Capers could not have designed the defense any better.

The Onside Kick: 4QTR (2:13 To Play): With a 19-14 lead, McCarthy and his special teams coach Shawn Slocum were completely prepared and designed a perfect recovery. When K Steve Hauschka's kick popped up, reserve TE Brandon Bostick would step up and block the charging Seahawks and sure-handed WR Jordy Nelson would cradle the ball. But Bostick was too aggressive, tried to catch the ball, and lost it. Bostick did not let the game come to him--a classic player mistake that is made hundreds of times during an NFL season--and tried to do too much. There is nothing a play designer can do if the players do not follow the design. Prediction Machine calculated that if Green Bay recovered the onside kick its probability of winning would have been 99%.

The Morgan Burnett Interception: 4QTR (5:13 To Play): Burnett has been criticized for giving himself up rather than returning the pick for additional yardage. With a 19-7 lead, Prediction Machine calculated the Packers win probabiltity after Burnett's interception was 99%. QC'll tell you who is not criticizing Burnett: Marty Schottenheimer. Before a 2006 playoff game with New England, Schottenheimer instructed DB Drayton Florence to simply go to the ground if he intercepted the ball late in the game with the Chargers in the lead. But it was the uninstructed Marlon McCree, not Florence, who intercepted Tom Brady's pass with more than 6 minutes to play and 8-point lead and tried to run only to fumble the ball back to New England in what would become a 24-21 loss. Afterward, McCree was second-guessed for not simply falling down or knocking the ball down (it was fourth down) and the usually conservative Schottenheimer was criticized for passing up a 47-yard field and going for it on 4th and 11 in the first quarter. And then, fresh off a 14-2 season, Marty was fired.

The Fake Field Goal: 3QTR (19:44 To Play): Leading 16-0, LB Brad Jones sold out to block what appeared to be a field goal attempt by Hauschka and DB Davon House lost contain as Seattle punter Jon Ryan sprinted toward the first down marker. Once Ryan had the corner, he had all the leverage and Packers LB A.J. Hawk was hung out in the no man's land between Ryan and T Gary Gilliam who released into the end zone. When Hawk chose to defend the run, Ryan lofted a soft pass to Gilliam for a touchdown. Later, Robert Klemko reported that Seattle had noticed Jones' propensity to rush pell-mell and designed the play specifically to take advantage of Jones' over-aggressiveness. Jones, House and Green Bay's special teams coaches were unprepared for the situation and the Seahawks' preparation. And they all paid dearly for the oversight and their over-aggressiveness.

In defeat, McCarthy was gracious.

"I'll just say this, I thought it was an amazing game to be part of," McCarthy said.

The NFL has seen amazing before. The "Immaculate Reception" was amazing. The "Holly Roller" was amazing. But to win those games the miracle workers only needed a single miracle play.

In the 2014 NFC Championship, it took a trifecta of amazing to negate McCarthy's game plan.

What's the catchphrase for "even more improbable than amazing?"

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Championship Round Playoff Preview


Seattle (-7.5) vs. Green Bay

TURNOVER MARGIN: Seattle 4th (+10); Green Bay 1st (+14)

On paper, this looks like a tough match-up for Green Bay. The defending Super Bowl-champion Seahawks are riding a 7-game winning streak in which they have yielded just 56 total points. Further, the Packers' offense has struggled on the road against physical defenses in losses at Detroit and Buffalo in addition to Seattle in the season opener. Finally, QB Aaron Rogers again will play with a damaged calf muscle. Still, Green Bay is 1.08% better designed than the Seahawks and a team that is 0-4% better designed than its opponent wins 46.5% of all road games during the regular season. Moreover, such a team loses by less than 7.5 points on the road a whopping 71.8% of the time. In Week 1, the game got away from Mike McCarthy's team when holding in the end zone on substitute tackle Derek Sherrod gave Seattle a safety and a short field that led to a touchdown. Sherrod is no longer with the team and Rogers' O-line has been playing well. The best medicine for Rogers' injured calf is good pass protection and he should get it. The Packers threw the ball 41.4% of the time on 1st & 10, the second most in the NFL, and, thanks to Eddie Lacy, also ranked 4th in the league in rushing yards on 1st & 10 (1104 yards). So Green Bay looks capable of being balanced early in the drive, winning first down, and staying ahead of the chains. When Seattle has the ball, Russell Wilson rarely subsidizes opponents with turnovers and it's unlikely that he will start now. Marshawn Lynch and Wilson will hurt the Packers on the ground, but they are unlikely to run away and hide. And Packers DC Dom Capers' pass defense matches up well against any receiver that Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell will target. Seattle has not faced a single team that finished the season with a positive play design differential during their 7-game winning streak. If Green Bay avoids turnovers and is solid in the kicking game, it should be very close. And, the Packers are likely to spring the upset and advance to the Super Bowl if Eddie Lacy can give the Seahawks a little taste of their own "beast mode" medicine on the ground. If Rogers' calf blows out? Forget about it.

QC's Guess: Green Bay Packers SU and ATS


New England (-7) vs. Indianapolis

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 15th; Indianapolis 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England T2nd (+12); Indianapolis T22nd (-5)

It is funny how history repeats itself. In his first 3 meetings with Bill Belichick as Indianapolis' QB, Peyton Manning and the Colts were -7 turnovers. In Andrew Luck's first 3 meetings with Belichick (all double-digit losses), Indy is -7 turnovers. Luck has had a particularly tough time in Foxoboro, tossing 7 interceptions in 2 games. So it would seem unlikely that Indianapolis has much chance against New England. However, the Colts finished the season 1.66% better designed than the Patriots. In 17 previous playoff games since 2008 where a better designed team has been an underdog, the better designed team is 10-7 SU (8-7 on the road) and 13-4 ATS. In 15 of those 17 games, the better designed underdog has won or lost by less than 7 points. Granted, in one of the two games where the better designed underdog got blown out, New England whipped Houston in Foxboro, 41-28. It takes some effort to draft a narrative in which the Patriots do not look like winners. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell are playing at a very high level. Indy DC Greg Manusky likes to blitz, but the strength of New England's receiving corps (Gronk) is a nightmare matchup for the weakness of the Colts' pass coverage (S LeRon Landry). Manusky might fair better if he designs up some gimmick defenses, say, putting freakishly athletic corner Vontae Davis man-to-man on Gronk, playing zone everywhere else, and putting the big blitzes in the equipment trunk. The Colts don't have any big-name pass rushers (Jonathan Newsome, Erick Walden, Bjoern Werner), but they did rank 11th in QC's pass pressure statistic and New England's O-line leaked pretty badly late in the year against the New York Jets and Buffalo. Manusky has to make sure LB D'Qwell Jackson does not get matched up too often on RB Shane Vareen. When Indianapolis has the ball, the Colts will have to succeed on first down. Luck was the 5th most frequent passer on 1st & 10 in the NFL (38%) and Indy ranked 20th in rushing yards on 1st & 10, so look for Luck to start most drives firing away. New England shut down T.Y. Hilton in the regular season meeting, but even if that happens again Reggie Wayne, Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks are dangerous downfield threats. TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and check-down RB Boom Herron will be tough matchups for the Patriots linebackers and the Colts should be able to provide Luck solid pass protection. If Luck turns the ball over again as he has in prior meetings with Belichick, HC Chuck Pagano will have to be content with the incremental step his team has already taken in winning two playoff games and advancing to the conference championship a year after winning one playoff game and advancing to the divisional playoffs a year afer making the playoffs. But if Luck can solve Belichick's designs, the Colts' progress curve may accelerate and make a two-level jump to the Super Bowl. It is purely a contrarian hunch. But QC has a feeling Luck will figure it out this time.

QC's Guess: Indianapolis Colts SU and ATS

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Divisional Round Thoughts

Green Bay's 26-21 win over Dallas was everything QC expected. Packers QB Aaron Rogers averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt and threw 3 TD passes. Cowboys QB Tony Romo averaged 10 yards per pass attempt and threw 2 TD passes. Everyone will remember (and debate) whether Dez Bryant caught Romo's fourth-down pass late in the fourth quarter. But the game really turned late in the second quarter when a false start penalty on Dallas led to a missed 50-yard field goal by Dan Bailey and a subsequent successful 40-yard field goal by Green Bay's Mason Crosby. Even with Bryant's catch nullified, Dallas was still a little bit better designed than the Packers. The 6-point swing in the kicking game is where Green Bay really won the game.


How could Indianapolis defeat Denver 24-13 while losing the turnover battle 2-to-1? It was not as the result of brilliance from Andrew Luck, who averaged a workmanlike 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Rather, it was the result of stellar defense. P-rex Manning's productivity (1.83) was below the "JaMarcus Cable" and the Broncos repeatedly ran 3 plays and punted the ball away. It will be interesting to see if HC Chuck Pagano and DC Greg Manusky can come up with a design that approaches such effectiveness against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.


In Seattle's 31-17 win over Carolina, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson played turnover-free while counterpart Cam Newton had a hand in 3 turnovers. Since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012, Wilson has played 6 playoff games and has never lost the turnover battle. He broke even at Atlanta his rookie year, the only playoff game he has ever lost. The quarterbacks taken at the top of the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, Jr. have never won the turnover battle in 6 playoff games. (Luck has broken even twice).


Baltimore HC John Harbaugh blew a gasket in the Ravens 35-31 loss to New England when an unconventional Patriots formation caused the Baltimore D to leave TE Michael Hoomanawanui uncovered. On the play, New England had only 4 traditional lineman, 6 traditional skill players, and QB Tom Brady on the field. "We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were," Harbaugh said. "What [the Patriots] were doing was they announce the ineligible player and then Tom [Brady] would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception." That Bill Belichick is clever. Look for the NFL's Competition Committee to take up the legality of this maneuver in the off-season. In the meantime, the Indianapolis staff better be alert for a "Bumerooski" in the AFC Championship Game.

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Divisional Round Playoff Preview


Seattle (-11) v. Carolina

TURNOVER MARGIN: Seattle 4th (+10); Carolina 13th (+3)

Carolina plays the kind of game a team has to play to hang with Seattle. The Panthers don't try to get rich. They just try to make a living. Ron Rivera's approach has almost worked three times, all close losses in Carolina. Don't expect Rivera to change the approach on the road. Carolina will lean on the running of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart and try to control field position. If the Seahawks have to start far from the Panthers goal line, Rivera's defense can keep them in the game. The Seahawks Russell Wilson threw only 20 TD passes during the regular season. Only Minnesota and Washington threw fewer in the NFC. (San Francisco and St. Louis also threw just 20 TD passes). But there are reasons to think Seattle will be able to shake the Panthers this time. First, Newton and his receivers looked pretty shaky last week against Arizona. Carolina gave away only 4 turnovers in 7 of its road games, but in the eighth--at Philadelphia--it gave away 5 turnovers in a blowout loss. Carolina's special teams also have been wobbly at times. Finally, in the last 3 games with Seattle, the Panthers offense has been able to muster just 1 touchdown. The Seahawks D is playing at a championship level. If Newton and the offense implodes, this will be a blowout. But even if they don't, Seattle should grind out a 20-6 win.

QC's Guess: Seattle Seahawks SU & ATS

Green Bay (-6) v. Dallas

TURNOVER MARGIN: Green Bay 1st (+14); Dallas T9th (+6)

QC cannot remember the last time he has been so excited for an NFL playoff game. These are by far the two best offenses in the tournment. Both QBs, Aaron Rogers and Tony Romo, are playing at an elite level. It should be fun. In Dallas, the concern is on defense. Detroit's Matt Stafford owned the Cowboys for a quarter and a half in the wild-card round. Now they have to go face Rogers. But the Cowboys defense got better late in the year when rookie DE DeMarcus Lawrence returned from injury. Look for Lawrence and Anthony Spencer to get just enough pressure to make Rogers uncomfortable. Rogers will get his numbers, but if the Cowboys can keep him from ringing the cash register more than twice, they should be in good shape. The Packers will have problems when Romo has the ball. DC Dom Capers does not have an answer for the power running of DeMarco Murray behind the Cowboys strong offensive line. If Murray holds onto the ball, Romo should hurt Green Bay with play action passes. The Packers will have to be at least +1 turnover to cover and probably will have to win the turnover battle to win outright. It could easily happen. But Romo, who has endured an seemingly endless string of bad luck, seems to have all the charms on his side this year.

QC's Guess: Dallas Cowboys SU & ATS


New England (-7) v. Baltimore

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 15th; Baltimore 14th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England T2nd (+12); Baltimore T14th (+2)

Some people are slow learners. In 2009, Baltimore came to Foxboro as 4-point underdogs and left with a 33-14 win. In 2011, the Ravens arrived as 7-point underdogs and may have left with a win if kicker Billy Cundiff had not missed a last second field goal. In 2012, Baltimore returned for a third time as 7.5-point underdogs and left with a 28-13 win. Now the Ravens are again 7-point underdogs. Sigh. As the play design differential statistics show, these teams are dead even. The perception is that Baltimore's secondary is a liabilty, but safety Will Hill is the kind of player that can keep tight end Rob Gronkowski from enjoying a monster day. The Ravens corners are not great, but you don't need great corners to slow down New England because the Patriots have workmanlike, not dynamic, wide receivers. With Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw bringing pressure, Baltimore's defense should be fine. John Harbaugh's bigger concern should be how his offensive line can slow down New England's pass rush led by resourceful Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, who returned from a hip injury to play the last 3 games of the regular season. Harbaugh has to be hoping LT Eugene Monroe can play after missing the last 2 games with an ankle injury. Undrafted rookie James Hurst has filled in for Monroe and he could be a major liabilty. New England is plus-95 turnovers in its last 96 regular season games since 2009. But the Patriots are -7 turnovers in their last 3 playoff games with Baltimore. That probably won't happen again. Unless Flacco loses his accuracy, as he occasionally does, look for a hard-hitting, low-scoring game that is decided by a field goal.

QC's Guess: Baltimore Ravens SU & ATS

Denver (-7) vs. Indianapolis

TURNOVER MARGIN: Denver T11th (+5); Indianapolis T22nd (-5)

This has the potential to turn into a classic shootout. The Broncos led the NFL in D-QCYPA at just over 6.1 yards per attempt. But don't look for Andrew Luck to be content to check the ball down to Boom Herron as he did in Indy's wild-card win over Cincinnati. Instead, Luck probably will come out guns blazing and look to pick up big chunks of yardage behind Denver's depleted LB corps. Notwithstanding its impressive pass defense number, the Broncos yielded 29 TD passes and the Colts led the NFL with 42 TD passes. T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dante Moncrief, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen should find room to work and Indy should put up points. But it is hard to beat P-rex Manning without a running game. The Indy defense got a bye last week facing Andy Dalton and the depleted Bengals receiving corps. It is unlikely that the Colts' D will be able to hold up against both P-rex and the running of C.J. Anderson over 4 quarters. Eventually, the Broncos will wear down the Indy pass rushers and the P-rex will fend off extinction and rule over Indianapolis for at least one more year.

QC's Guess: Denver Broncos SU; Indianapolis Colts ATS

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Wild-Card Round Thoughts

All the buzz in Dallas was about the penalty flag for pass interference on the Cowboys that was picked up after referee Pete Morelli announced the infraction and spotted the ball at the point of the foul. Not since field judge Terry Porter waited until after the fireworks exploded in the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to finger Miami Hurricanes DB Glenn Sharpe for PI had such a crucial call been made so, ahem, deliberately. Still, notwithstanding Detroit’s ferocious pass rush, Dallas was better designed and significantly more productive than the Lions. While Detroit QB Matt Stafford’s 7.548 QCYPA was excellent, Tony Romo’s 8.452 was better. When the Cowboys fell behind 14-0, the game fell squarely on Romo’s back and he executed and delivered the victory. He was clutch. Romo has been severely criticized for failing in similar situations throughout his career. It is too bad the PI controversy buried his break-through success.


Arizona’s Bruce Arians ran out of magic tricks in Charlotte. If you ever needed a lesson in how important it is to have competent quarterback play in the NFL, the Cardinals 27-16 loss to Carolina showed you. The Panthers’ Cam Newton and his teammates turned the ball over and presented Arizona with opportunity after opportunity, but Arizona QB Ryan Lindley could not cash in often enough to keep the Cardinals’ season alive. According to Football Perspective, Lindley’s passing performance was the ninth worst in playoff history and the worst in history by a QB that threw 2 or fewer interceptions. Kerry Collins performance in Super Bowl 35 (2.205 QCYPA and 5 picks) is the worst on that list. At least Lindley (2.179 QCYPA and 2 picks) was better than Denver’s Craig Morton in Super Bowl 12 (1.4 QCYPA and 4 picks).


QC liked how Cincinnati OC Hue Jackson helped QB Andy Dalton in the first half of the Bengals 26-10 loss to Indianapolis. Without 2013 starting WRs A.J. Green and Marvin Jones and TEs Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, Jackson used RB Rex Burkhead as a hybrid WR/H-back to spark a first quarter touchdown drive. Burkhead looked better after the catch than the chronically underachieving Gresham. But the Andrew Luck turnovers that a team as short-handed as Cincinnati needed never came. With little help from the Colts, Dalton’s playoff record fell to 0-4.


Baltimore QB Joe Flacco looked as bad as a QB can possibly look just three weeks ago in Houston, but he had his 2012 playoff form back in a 30-17 win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh was without star RB Le’Veon Bell, but he doesn’t play defense and it is doubtful that the Steelers would have won even if Bell had played given Flacco’s high livel of productivity (9.173 QCYPA). The Ravens defense was stingy in the red zone and, other than one busted coverage on a fourth quarter pass to Antonio Brown, looked like it could make life difficult for whichever elite QB it sees in the AFC tournament.

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Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview


Carolina (-6.5) v. Arizona

TURNOVER MARGIN: Carolina 13th (+3); Arizona 5th (+8)

Carolina comes in on a 4-game win streak and Arizona limps in losers of 4 of their last 6. Coaching stats suggest this is a pick 'em game. The Panthers resurgence has been driven by the re-emergence of some pass rush and the running of RB Jonathan Stewart and QB Cam Newton. But the Cardinals excel in both pass protection and stopping the run. In addition, the talented Arizona secondary should have little trouble matching up one-on-one with WR Kelvin Benjamin and TE Greg Olsen, so look for DC Todd Bowles to pressure Newton with his blitzes. A 2013 meeting in the desert was a turnover-fest in in which the teams combined for 7 turnovers, including 4 from Carolina. Offensively, Bruce Arians will take shots down the field no matter who plays QB. But in this game he also will try to run the ball with Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams, and he is likely to have success there. The coaching stats suggest a very similar matchup to Arizona at St. Louis (+2 TO, 6-point win) and Arizona at San Francisco (-3 TO; 3-point loss). To cover the spread, Carolina probably will have to be at least +2 turnovers. That's not a good bet. If Arians gets Taylor or Williams going on the ground, the Cardinals probably will win the game straight up. Arizona has not gone quietly for anyone in 2014. Don't expect that to change just because it is now 2015.

QC's Guess: Arizona Cardinals SU & ATS

Dallas -6.5 v. Detroit

TURNOVER MARGIN: Dallas T9th (+6); Detroit T6th (+7)

The last time Detroit made the playoffs in 2011, the Lions visited the hottest offense in the league, New Orleans, and quickly exited. History may be repeating itself. Tony Romo and the Cowboys roll into the 2014 post-season on fire. Even RB DeMarco Murray's broken-hand could not slow the Dallas point machine. If the Cowboys offense has a weakness, it is pass protection. And the Lions were the 7th best pass rushing team in the NFL during regular season. To pull an upset, Ziggy Ansah and company will have get to Romo early and often and create some turnovers. On offense, Detroit QB Matt Stafford reduced his giveaways dramatically from 2013. But consistency and productivity has been lacking. Dallas' defense is pedestrian and relies heavily on limiting touchdown passes and receiving turnover subsidies. The Cowboys received a whopping 13 turnovers (3.25/game) in December. It is dangerous to lay nearly a touchdown on a defense that is so dependent on the opposing offense imploding, especially with Stafford finally letting the game come to him on a regular basis. But, as Crash Davis sagely advised years ago, "Respect the streak." Dallas' offense is streaking. QC respects the streak.

QC's Guess: Dallas Cowboys SU & ATS


Indianapolis -3.5 v. Cincinnati

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 5th; Cincinnati 9th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Indianapolis T22nd (-5); Cincinnati T16th (0)

Indy blanked Cincinnati, 27-0, earlier in the season and the Colts are 17-6-1 at home against the spread since Chuck Pagano arrived in Indianapolis. In addition, Bengals QB Andy Dalton has never won a playoff game and has looked dreadful at times, including in the earlier meeting with the Colts. So you would think that the odds-makers would favor Indy by more than just a field goal and a hook. What gives? Well, the Colts running game has vanished and their defense has become highly suspect. Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill is hot and the Bengals excel in pass coverage and protection and .... forget about it. The Bengals have no pass rush and that is no recipe for stopping Andrew Luck in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts ranked 11th in pass pressure, so they could get after Dalton. Unless Luck starts dispensing turnovers like a Pez, as he did last year in a wild, wild wild-card comeback win over Kansas City, Indianapolis should be too much for the Bengals.

QC's Guess: Indianapolis Colts SU & ATS

Cincinnati (-7) vs. San Diego

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Pittsburgh 12th; Baltimore 14th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Pittsburgh T16th (0); Baltimore T14th (+2)

This is a playoff matchup of bitter rivals who are about as evenly matched as teams can be, but their respective strengths and weaknesses are different. The Steelers and QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown have become one of the most potent passing teams in the NFL and their pass protection has grown from a liability to an asset. The Ravens struggle with pass coverage, but led the NFL in pass pressure. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has had some awful stretches on the road, but Dick LeBeau's defense has given up more than 8 yards per pass attempt per D-QCYPA, which is 29th in the NFL. Prior to this year, Pittsburgh's pass coverage ranked 10th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st in the league in D-QCYPA. The problem is several of the same players who ranked first in D-QCYPA in 2010, the last time Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl, are still playing. While the Pittsburgh defense has been playing better of late, it has been against the likes of Andy Dalton, Alex Smith and a Julio Jones-less Matt Ryan. Flacco is capable of getting hot against anyone, as he did in the fourth quarter last week against the Browns, and RB Justin Forsett is healthy and capable of providing solid ground punch. The same cannot be said of Le'Veon Bell, who hyper-extended his knee last week. A missing or even diminished Bell will not only deprive the Steelers of their only bona fide running threat, it will hurt dearly in the passing game because Bell has become the best and most feared pass-catching RB in the NFL (83-854-3 TDs). Without Bell to distract anyone, the Ravens will turn loose Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs to rush Roethlisberger and devote a vastly disproportionate amount of pass coverage attention to Brown. If LeBeau's defense cannot stop Flacco or turn him over, Pittsburgh's post-season ends here.

QC's Guess: Baltimore SU & ATS

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