Going by the spread we managed to have a chalk weekend, setting up some good storylines for the conference championships. Chalk is never quite as likely as it sounds; if you assume that the better team has an 85% chance of winning (and in the playoffs they rarely do, since they’re going against good teams instead of the worst in the league) and there are four games, the chances of every favorite winning is only around 50/50. Even withe the favorites all moving on, only the Colts were completely out of their game. Let’s take a look.
The Seahawks seemed to have a hold on their game throughout but suddenly found themselves up only a score with the Saints holding the ball at the end of the game. It could have been worse; if you knew beforehand that the Saints would have over 400 yards of offense to Seattle’s 280 and that they would be able to get 7 yards a pop on 43 passes, you might have given the game to New Orleans. But when you go against the best defense in the league, you need to maximize your possessions. I also said in my prediction post that if the Saints turn it over in this game, it was unlikely to happen at their own 23. Unfortunately for New Orleans, they failed on the first point and managed to do the second again. They missed two field goals and Ingram fumbled on the Saints’ 24, and that was enough to do them in even while they held Wilson to 100 yards passing. The Saints did get beat up on the ground, but they didn’t do too badly on that front themselves before they were forced to pass more often. It was a tale of two halves, with the Seahawks owning the first and the Saints the second, but that first half was enough to give Seattle the nod.
The Pats and Colts game was not as entertaining as the other match-ups this weekend. It was only 21-12 at the half and the Colts soon added a field goal to get it within a score, but the Pats scored three of the next four TDs to put it away. The Patriots have been ranked somewhat low by the models this year because Brady hasn’t been as efficient with the ball as he has in years past, and that was somewhat true again on Saturday. Brady was fine, getting over 7 yards per attempt on low volume, but the run game took it to the Colts. When you can run 46 times for over 5 yards a pop, you’re in good shape. Throw in four turnovers for Indianapolis, and that was that. Aside from the interceptions, the Colts didn’t do too badly, and to be fair two of those picks weren’t Luck’s fault and one was at the end when the game was basically decided, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Now we’ll have another Manning-Brady playoff game even without the Colts being involved. Brady must be sick of that guy/that team.
The 49ers-Panthers game was also a game of two halves, but the 49ers had the better score in each thanks to some sudden timidity by the Panthers and (in my opinion) some questionable officiating. The Panthers did the right thing early in the game by going for it on 4th and goal, which ended up turning into a touchdown even after they failed because they stuffed the 49ers coming out and got the ball back in field goal range. The next time down, though, they kicked the field goal and then they never scored again. Turnovers were also an issue again, as the Panthers performed much better than the 49ers (3.9 to 3.7 yards per rush and 9.3 to 6.3 yards per pass attempt for a 6 to 4.8 yards per play advantage) but had the only two turnovers in the game. The 49ers were able to ride their extra 11 plays to about an even number of yards overall and the penalty advantage (33 more yards than the Panthers and 3 more first downs by penalty) helped give them the win. The penalties were particularly egregious in the first half, where it looked like the officials tried to keep order in the game while the Panthers were on defense, which is hard when two defensive teams are playing each other, and Carolina was called for things that the 49ers got away with either earlier or later in the game (I think both got called for things the Seahawks get away with fairly often). At any rate, the 49ers moved on and now we’ll get Seahawks-49ers round three for the year.
The weekend wrapped up with Chargers-Broncos round three, which went roughly the same way the earlier two games went. The question was basically, would the Chargers manage to get one or two stops to keep the Broncos closer to 20 than to 30? And this time they did not. San Diego had to abandon the run due to injuries and the score, but after a very crummy first half the offensive line gave Rivers some time to throw and he made the most of it. The Broncos also helped keep the Chargers in the game by having the only turnovers in the contest. In terms of comparing the three games these teams played, I think the real difference this time was honestly those encroachment/neutral zone infraction penalties. I’m sure there’s been another game with four by one team, but I can’t remember having seen it (I’m sure it was the Lions). The Chargers were kind of an overlooked team, and they had the bad fortune of running into one of the best offenses the league has seen. Even then they won one out of three, which isn’t bad at all for a team that made the playoffs in overtime in the last week of the season.
The preview for next weekend will show up in a few days as usual, so let’s do the model results real quick. All three models were 1-2-1 (I had Seattle at -8 for a push) in all games, and each thought every game was worth picking, so all the models are 4-3-1 overall with Luigi and Yoshi 2 at 3-3-1 and Yoshi 1 3-2-1 on ‘confident’ picks. Bill Simmons had the Seahawks at -7.5, which means the Saints pick came in as a loser instead of a push. Bill was 2-2 and the models were 1-3, which puts the playoff records at Bill 3-3-2, models 3-3-2.