Pigskin Diaries Presented by DraftKings: Wildcard Weekend and Playoff Variance
“So much determination, though.”
Like a fictitious Greg Jennings storming down the sideline to score a touchdown with a broken leg, avoiding a last-second tackle from Darren Sharper, one of the “most hardest hittin’ safeties in the league,” I’m ready to put the team on my back.
The regular season was a clown show. With four 10-loss weeks, we finished 31 games under .500. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person to struggle against the spread this regular season — Football Outsiders, after five consecutive above .500 seasons, went 119-130-7 (47.9 percent).
Misery loves company, and I am partially relieved that “the numbers” struggled as much as we did. Perhaps we were faced with the ugly side of variance during the regular season, and the post season will welcome us with open arms, covers, and profits.
When it comes to the playoffs you shouldn’t expect the unexpected, but expect the unexpected. The outcome will likely be unlikely.
On the surface, the playoffs look like a formality, as both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos are clearly the best teams in their respective conferences. Seattle, No. 1 in DVOA (40.1 percent), has a 15-percent edge over No. 3 Carolina (24.9 percent), and Denver, No. 3 (32.8 percent), has a 14-percent edge over No. 5 New England (19 percent).
However, according to Football Outsiders, there is only a 17.7 percent chance that the Broncos (42 percent to win the AFC) and Seahawks (42.1 percent to win the NFC) will meet in the Meadowlands for Super Bowl XLVIII. The next three most likely scenarios are NE-SEA (13.5 percent), DEN-CAR (11.6 percent), and NE-CAR (8.5 percent).
The least likely scenario is a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV between Indianapolis and New Orleans (.1 percent).
It’s funny how quick we can forget how random the NFL playoffs can be. Two of the last three Super Bowls were won by Wildcard teams (’13 Baltimore Ravens and ’11 Green Bay Packers). The 2012 New York Giants snuck into the playoffs with a Week 17 win over Dallas (standard), winning the NFC East at 9-7.
In fact, since 2005, only one 13-win team (’10 New Orleans Saints) has won the Super Bowl.
The playoffs are random, yet Peyton Manning’s career narrative is likely on the line. If the Broncos don’t reach the Super Bowl this season will be viewed as a “failure,” despite the 13-3 record, 606 points, and overall superiority. Professional sports are poisoned with results-oriented thinking.
None of the future bets excite me other than NFC (-1.5) over the AFC in the Super Bowl – Seattle will be a field goal favorite over any team, even Denver, and if the Broncos don’t make the Super Bowl then the NFC could be favored by even more – and I do have a taste of the Philadelphia Eagles at 30-1 to win the Super Bowl. That bet was made weeks ago though, and their odds have since halved.
The regular season is over, but DraftKings.com is still running daily fantasy football games this weekend. High rollers will have their eyes set on the $5,300 buy-in $50K Thunderdome and the $1,060 buy-in $40K Super High Roller, while there are other, more affordable games like the $2 buy-in $18,000 Play-Action and $11 buy-in $50K Hail Mary. Be sure to check below for our value plays of the week.
As always, my picks include the number and all advanced statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders.
Kansas City (+2.5) @ Indianapolis
Among playoff teams, only the Packers (21st, -6.2 percent) rank lower than the Colts (13th, 3.4 percent) in total DVOA. The Chiefs come in at No. 7 (17.4 percent), and according to the metric, they’re the third best team in the AFC.
While the Chiefs may struggle against complete teams like the Broncos, who swept them during the regular season, they match up perfectly against the Colts. Indy’s defensive line ranks 28th against the run (4.3 adjusted line yards per carry), which will allow Kansas City to lean on feature back Jamaal Charles. In the Week 16 meeting between these two teams, Charles had two carries for 37 yards and a touchdown on the first drive of the game.
He only carried the ball 11 more times in the next 56 minutes of gameplay, finishing with a total of 106 yards.
Andy Reid was infamous for abandoning the run from time to time with Philadelphia, but he committed to Charles in 2013. The all-purpose back averaged just over 17 carries per game – on par with his standout 2012 campaign – and was the recipient of dozens of screen passes, racking up 70 receptions on 104 targets.
I don’t believe that the Chiefs lost on purpose in Week 16 because they were still competing for the division and a possible one seed, but after falling behind 20-7 at the start of the third quarter, Reid may have opted to serve Indy with some vanilla play calling. Charles only had seven touches in the last 28 minutes of play.
The only player that worries me in this game is, of course, Andrew Luck. However, the absence of Reggie Wayne and Indy’s conservative play-calling has held Indy back this season – they finished at No. 22 in pass offense DVOA (-.1 percent DVOA).
New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-2.5)
I think that the public money will come in on New Orleans, so keep your eye on the line, but the Eagles are very appealing at less than a field goal.
Football Outsiders has experimented with a metric called “Weighted DVOA,” where more recent weeks are weighted heavier than with the standard DVOA. The Eagles, eighth in total DVOA (15.1 percent), rank third behind Seattle (first, 43.7 percent) and Denver (second, 27.3 percent) in Weighted DVOA (25.5 percent).
The Saints rank fourth in total DVOA (19.3 percent) and seventh in Weighted DVOA (19.8 percent).
The “Drew Brees Struggles Outside” narrative is real. Excluding the 2012 season, where New Orleans was without their head coach because of Czar Roger Goodell, the Saints are 5-15 straight up and 8-11-1 ATS as road underdogs with Brees under center. In 2013 alone, they are 0-3 both straight up and ATS – granted, these three games were against New England, Seattle, and Carolina.
Philadelphia’s 23rd ranked defense DVOA (5 percent) is worrisome, as is their 25th ranked pass defense DVOA (16.6 percent), but the Eagles can beat the Saints in a shootout. Philly ranks second in offense DVOA (22.9 percent), but most importantly they are No. 1 in rush offense DVOA (23.7 percent). Running the ball is New Orleans’ Achilles heel – they rank 20th in rush defense DVOA (-1.5 percent).
And it’s not just about the numbers. I can’t get the Saints Week 9 loss to my beloved New York Jets out of my head. Gang Green dominated on the ground – New Orleans failed to wrap up, failed to fill gaps, and Chris Ivory ended the day with 18 carries for 139 yards (7.7 yards per clip).
If there’s anyone who’s going to stretch the field horizontally and force the Saints to play one vs. one against speedy skill position players, it’s Chip Kelly.
DraftKings Value Plays
We’re going to make another full roster this week rather than list a series of value plays. Roster construction is just as important as finding undervalued players, and saving money at certain positions can allow you to splurge on stars at others.
|QB||Andy Dalton||San Diego||$8,000|
|RB||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||San Diego||$4,200|
|WR||Michael Crabtree||Green Bay||$5,200|
|FLEX||Riley Cooper||New Orleans||$4,600|
|K||Mason Crosby||San Francisco||$3,000|
I really like this team because I think we have two of the best players at their position. Charles is a coinflip with Shady for the best running back (and both players have great matchups), and Jimmy Graham is without a doubt the best fantasy tight end available. The only way you can splurge at these two positions and avoid playing Alex Smith at quarterback is to find some value plays, and I think BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Riley Cooper are very solid plays at their respective prices.
While most fantasy players are quickly falling in love with Giovani Bernard, Green-Ellis has averaged nearly 13 carries the last five weeks. In Cincy’s first meeting with Indy, the Law Firm scored two touchdowns.
San Diego (+7) @ Cincinnati
If the Chargers crushed the Chiefs backups last week instead of squeaking by thanks to a Ryan Succop missed field goal in overtime, would this line still be seven? I’m not sure it would be lower than six or six-and-a-half, but I doubt we’d be getting the full touchdown.
The Bengals are heavy favorites to win outright. Cincy is a perfect 8-0 at home, 6-2 ATS, and 4-0 ATS when favored by 6.5 points or more. The Chargers have been touchdown dogs twice this season, and won outright on the road both times, beating the Eagles in Week 2 and the Broncos in Week 15.
San Diego isn’t your typical wild card team that slips into the playoffs and gets humbled on the road by a superior team, because they can move the rock. The Super Chargers rank third in offense DVOA (22.5 percent), and second in pass offense DVOA (51.3 percent). While San Diego trails the Broncos by more than nine percent in pass offense DVOA, they are 15 percent better than No. 3 New England and 37 percent (!!!) better than No. 12 Cincinnati.
The problem is San Diego’s defense (32nd in DVOA, 17.5 percent) is horrendous. In Week 17, they made Chase Daniel and Knile Davis look like John Elway and Terrell Davis.
These two teams previously met in Week 12, and the Chargers held the Bengals to 17 points in Qualcomm Stadium. Unfortunately for the Bolts, they only scored 10 points.
I don’t feel comfortable laying a touchdown against a top three offense, especially when Andy Dalton is capable of making crucial mistakes. Only four players (Geno Smith, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, and Eli Manning) threw more interceptions than Dalton (20) this season.
Philip Rivers threw 11.
San Francisco (-2.5) @ Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers threw two uncharacteristic interceptions and Randall Cobb was only targeted twice on Sunday, but the pair connected on a crucial 48-yard touchdown to launch the Packers into the playoffs at 8-7-1.
The San Francisco 49ers have owned the Packers in their past two meetings. In the Divisional Playoffs the Niners won 45-31, with Colin Kaepernick scampering for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and Week 1 this season San Fran won 34-28, with Kap throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
This game opened up at 2.5, but has moved to a field goal in some places, including Covers. At properties where the Packers are getting three points, bettors have to lay -120, rather than the traditional -110.
What does the line change mean?
Well, in the last decade, teams favored by exactly 2.5 points on the road in the playoffs are 0-3 ATS. Teams favored by exactly 3 points on the road in the playoffs are 4-0 ATS. Correlation isn’t causation, however, and a half-point adjustment doesn’t automatically mean the favorite will cover, but I think the line change is indicative of the bookmakers’ strategy.
Vegas wants the public to bet on the Packers at home. They are hanging the full three points to make them look more attractive, because they know that Rodgers’ last-second heroics in Week 17 will echo until kickoff on Sunday.
The Niners have won six consecutive games, including a home tilt against Seattle, and are a nightmare for Green Bay on both sides of the ball. Don’t fall victim to the hype. Fade the public.
Last Week: 5-11
Regular Season: 109-140-7
Lines courtesy of Covers.com, and are accurate as of 12:00 p.m. on Thursday