Tomorrow we get two games featuring probably the three consensus best teams in the league this season, and the Colts. If we were back in September, you’d probably have the Broncos instead, but Indy handled that directly. You might have the 49ers or Saints, but they were fairly obviously out of the ‘top team’ race during the season. If you go back to 538’s Elo ratings at the beginning of the year, that’s basically what you have; the exception is the Packers, who were artificially low at 17th due to Rodgers’ injuries last year (they still made the playoffs). The current ratings have the Colts at #4, so according to Elo we indeed are seeing the four best teams, but that’s because they won last week. Before the game they were 7th, and had Baltimore won I think the Ravens might be ahead. But at any rate, we have a good group of teams to watch.
Sticking briefly with 538 and others’ writing, I wanted to mention this article on ranking/grouping quarterbacks by the distribution of their QBR. It’s a neat idea because not only does it give you a sense of the QB’s overall quality, given by the densest part of the distribution (the top group has a lot of high-QBR games while the bottom group has a lot of low-QBR games), but also how variable they are, given by the spread or flatness of the distribution. Jay Cutler or Joe Flacco will definitely win you some games, but they are just as likely to lose it or be meh. If we use those ratings as a guide, then Green Bay and New England have an edge with the consistent greatness of Rodgers and Brady. Of course, Rodgers is a little banged up, so maybe he won’t be able to get to his usual heights. The counterpoint is that he put up QBRs of 83.1 and 97.5 against the Cowboys and Lions, which are right at the top end of his distribution. (I’m going to sprinkle the usual tables through the article; hey, here’s one!)
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Andrew Luck is in the next tier. He has the same general shape as Peyton/Brady/Rodgers, but it doesn’t peak quite as high; there’s more weight to the low end. That could be simply because he’s younger and so hasn’t had the time to put in enough great games to wipe out his early struggles (QBR is relatively new, so the top tier doesn’t have any years where those guys were still learning the game). Luck’s QBR this year is pretty much the same as last year, although his overall ranking was higher last year. Wilson is in a different tier the authors label as ‘on the cusp’, because they have an even higher peak but also more lower games. Wilson’s personal distribution doesn’t actually match that description, but I guess that’s where their clustering algorithm put him most often. Wilson has caught up a bit to Luck on QBR this year compared to last, but is still behind. Both are down from 2012, when Wilson did have an advantage.
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Because I won’t let the Lions go, I noticed that Matt Stafford is in the ‘bell curve’ group, which you might think of as the ‘completely average’ group. They rarely have disastrous games, but they also rarely have great games. In the same group are guys like Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer, Carson Palmer, and Ryan Tannehill. I used their app to get a look at the actual distribution, because they just have the group average at the top. I compared Stafford to Wilson, Dalton, Tannehill, and the definition of a game manager (in the appropriately named group) Alex Smith. Smith has the highest peak at the low end; game managers aren’t average, but instead have more bad games than good. Wilson does indeed have the most great games (QBR of about 80+). But otherwise Stafford has the best profile of the group; he clearly has the ‘bumpiest’ distribution, although the bump falls around a QBR of 70. If you use their ‘closest comparison’ tool, Stafford generates Donovan McNabb, RGIII, and Eli Manning. In that grouping, Stafford again has a relatively low amount of elite games (although about the same as Griffin) but a higher rate of good games.
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Getting back to the playoff games, as you might have guessed (or just seen in the table above), the models are going with the two underdogs to cover. Basically every number is in the 4-5 range. The actual lines are closer to a touchdown, so the prediction is that the Pats and Seahawks will meet in the Super Bowl after winning by less than a touchdown. Bill Simmons is going the same way. That would be quite a match-up and similar to last year’s game in that the Pats will be described as the great offense going against Seattle’s great defense. But I could envision the games going another way (maybe the Packers more than the Colts), so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While Seattle has the worst QB in the bunch, they also have probably the best defense. The Pats are no slouches on that front though, and I have the Packers and Colts behind and about the same. I think regardless we should end up with a good game in two weeks.
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