Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL Divisional Weekend = Tape it

The biggest fallacy of the punditocracy is that this weekend's NFL matchups are DON'T MISS games. Since the league went to the 12-team playoffs, thereby ensuring that both road teams in the divisional round would have one week's rest not two, the incidence of blowout games (14+ point margin) in the divisional round has been large and the home team is usually the winner; similarly, the frequency of road winners has been VERY LOW.

In 1990, home teams = 4/4; blowouts = 2/4
1991, homers = 4/4; blowouts = 3/4
1992, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 3/4, with Buffalo as a roadie whupping Pittsburgh
1993, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 1/4
1994, homers = 4/4; blowouts = 3/4
1995, homers = 2/4; blowouts = 2/4
1996, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 2/4
1997, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 2/4
1998, homers = 4/4; blowouts = 2/4
1999, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 1/4* (Rams 49-37 over Vikings not counted as blowout)
2000, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 3/4, with Baltimore winning by 14 at Tennessee
2001, homers = 3/4; blowouts = 3/4, with Philly winning 33-19 at Chicago
2002, homers = 4/4; blowouts = 3/4
2003, homers = 2/4; blowouts = 0/4
2004, homers = 4/4; blowouts = 2/4 (Philly 27-14 over Vikings not counted as blowout)

The tally? In the 15 years since the advent of the six-team-per-conference playoff system in the NFL, 11 road teams have won in the divisional round and of the 49 home team wins, 29 have been by 2+ touchdowns. No wonder PaMonk always says the conference finals and wild card games are more interesting. 2003 is the outlier: no game decided by more than 7 points, both NFC games went to OT (but the conference title games stank). In other words: tape the games so you don't lose time yawning through a blowout.

Why this phenomenon? (1) Usually the top two teams are far better than the rest of the conference; (2) marginal playoff teams pull upsets in the wild card round then get creamed the next week; (3) the "rust" issue is rubbish -- teams get rested and healthy with the off week, not sluggish or out-of-sync.

Here's what to expect this weekend:

Washington at Seattle = could be relatively close and the 9+ points you'd have to lay to bet on the S'hawks is a high price. But Washington stank at Tampa, even though the 'Skins won, and the Shawks are good at home. Seattle's margin of victory is more than 11 points per game and the Shawks outscored opponents by 181 points this year. This is a classic looks-tight-on-paper game that turns into a blowout.

New England at Denver = I don't trust the Broncos because: (1) they honked against the Giants; (2) should have honked against the Cowboys. New England is the better pick considering what Brady has constantly done in the playoffs and Plummer has not, plus the Pats are nowhere near as banged up as they were when the Broncs beat them earlier this year. Note, however, that Denver is 8-0 in the thin air.

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis = this is the most overrated game of the weekend. The Steelers had tremendous help in beating the Bengals -- the fluke injury to Palmer that ended his game and season. Indianapolis has the home field -- the same one where the Colts' speed helped them blowout a Pittsburgh team with much to play for just over a month ago. The spread is 9+ and I'd be surprised if the Colts did not cover.

Carolina at Chicago = Too bad for the Bears that the weather in Chicago will not suck. But Carolina has been overrated for what it accomplished against a soulless Falcons team and a braindead Giants team. Those two wins by 67-11 on the road are less indicative of Carolina's ability than the Panthers' 24-20 loss at home to Dallas in week 15 is of Carolina's inconsistency. The Bears have been too good on defense all year to think that their rested and ready mashers will honk. Define blowout down for this one -- a 17-6 win by the Bears is a whipping.

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