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DVOA Matchup: Wild-Card Edition

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Ah, the postseason. The focus narrows, the intensity increases, and we don't have to watch the Lions anymore. For this week's Smarter Stats, I thought I'd use Football Outsiders' two primary stats - DVOA and DYAR - to provide some insight as to which matchups might break the games in the Wild Card round. You can find a detailed explanation of our stats here; if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me here.

Saturday, January 3

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

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We have two miracle turnaround teams in this preview, and the Falcons are the first. A 4-12 disaster in 2007, they're now a hot property who were a couple of plays away from the NFC two-seed. The Cardinals have been expected to win the NFC West more than once over the last few season, but this is the first time they've pulled it off. You'll hear a lot about Arizona's dynamic passing attack this week - and rightfully so - but according to DVOA, Atlanta had the fourth-best aerial game in the NFL this year, while the Cards ranked seventh. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Kurt Warner controlled the better passing game, but there's been a downturn with his team over the last few weeks. That's the trend worth watching.

From Week 10 through the end of Week 16 (which we use as the pre-resting-your-starters line), Arizona's passing offense ranked 15th in DVOA; Atlanta's was second. Arizona's rushing attack has been the team's Achilles heel - they finished the season ranked 28th in rushing DVOA, and 31st in the second half of the season. The Falcons have experienced a slight downturn from the first half of the season to the second - eighth to 20th - and Arizona's run defense has been better in the second half. That might be more of a standoff than people expect. Neither team has impressive total defense - the Cards ended the season ranked 21st overall, while the Falcons ranked 23rd. Atlanta's is the lowest defensive ranking for any of the playoff teams.

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers

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It's been well-documented that the Chargers have had the Colts' number of late, and Peyton Manning doesn't do as well against 3-4 defenses. However, there's the San Diego defense with Shawne Merriman, and the one without. The Chargers finished 2008 ranked 22nd in total defensive DVOA - right between Arizona and Atlanta. As the Colts brought themselves back to the postseason picture after a rough start, Peyton Manning's been the NFL's best quarterback in the second half of the season. The Colts rank first in Passing DVOA from Week 10 through Week 16. Without Merriman's pass rush, the Chargers have never been able to establish a consistent pass rush. This has left their secondary exposed.

For the Chargers on offense, it's all about Philip Rivers. LaDanian Tomlinson maybe able to go for this game, but a groin injury is reason for concern. Backup Darren Sproles can make things happen. San Diego's secret weapon is receiver Vincent Jackson. Not only is Jackson the best receiver nobody's talking about (he finished the year ranked fifth in DYAR among pass-catchers), but he's also an outstanding blocker.

Sunday, January 4

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins

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Here's the first matchup of the weekend with great defense. Only the Steelers fare better in our DVOA rankings than the Ravens, but the Ravens are best against the run. It's a vicious, swarming unit that shut Miami's vaunted Wildcat formation down in a Week 7 battle. In the second half of the season (through Week 16), Baltimore actually had the NFL's best pass defense DVOA. That's bad news for the Dolphins, who have been trending up through the air and down on the ground.

Miami is the second of our miracle teams this weekend. Their one-year turnaround may be the greatest in NFL history, but they got a bad seed in this game. Everything the Dolphins do well, the Ravens counter. Miami has two great tight ends in David Martin and Anthony Fasano, and uses their tight ends as well as any team? Baltimore ranks first in Defensive DVOA against tight ends. Miami has the sixth-best ability to prevent their own backs from having zero or negative gains? The Ravens counter with the best Defensive Adjusted Line Yards ranking in the NFL. It looks to be that kind of day for the Dolphins.

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings

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If nothing else, the potential for clock mismanagement in this game is tremendous. Between Andy Reid and Brad Childress, two-minute warnings could be positively comedic. We know about McNabb and Westbrook and Philly's cadre of middling receivers, but the real story here is a defense that finished the 2008 season third in DVOA against the pass and against the run. That's bad news for Tarvaris Jackson, and the Vikings may struggle to get Adrian Peterson going consistently - he may break a long run or two, but Peterson ranks 23rd in Success Rate, an FO stat which measures consistency per play.

Both defensive lines are dominant; the Vikings rank fourth in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards, and the Eagles rank sixth. However, both teams should be able to make gains with their running backs by throwing outlet passes - Minnesota ranks 22nd in DVOA against pass-catching running backs, and Philadelphia ranks 18th.

By Doug Farrar  |  December 30, 2008; 10:28 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , Statistics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: No Holds Barred? | Next: DVOA Matchup: Divisional Playoff Edition

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