By Owen Tedford
We’ve reached the end of another NFL season and that means that it’s time for the playoffs. The 12 teams have been decided with the Patriots, Chiefs, Steelers, Texans, Raiders, and Dolphins representing the AFC and the Cowboys, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers, Giants, and Lions representing the NFC. Every team has had their share of ups and downs but they’ve all made it to the final stage where records mean nothing and all that matters is what they do going forward, as this is what will make them remembered.
We’re back again this week to pick the Divisional games, with Jonathan Lack joining us this week, along with Jay Hashop, Danny Lei, and Chad Horner who gave their picks last week.
For the record, last week’s records were as follows:
- Hashop: 4-0
- Lei: 3-1
- Velloso: 3-1
- Horner: 2-2
Jay Hashop: Denver; Knowshon Moreno gashed the Ravens defense to the tune of 115 yards at a rate of 5.5 yards per carry when these two teams met in Week 15, and the Mile High Machine is still clicking on all cylinders. Meanwhile, the Flaccocoaster’s passer rating has alternated between being above 114 and below 77 over his last six games. You can probably guess which one’s due this Saturday.
Danny Lei: Denver; The Denver defense will be too much for Joe Flacco to handle, and Peyton Manning will continue his dominant play. In their only matchups against top-5 defenses this year, the Ravens lost by 30 and 17 points.
Jonathan Lack: Denver; These two teams met in Week 15 and the Broncos blew out the Ravens in Baltimore. While Baltimore has gotten some defensive starters back since then, I would hesitate to read too much into the Ravens’ win over the Colts. They put up some points against a poor defense, but moving the ball will be far more difficult against a Broncos defense rated top-5 in defensive efficiency. With a short week to travel to altitude against Peyton Manning and Co., I’m taking the home team on an 11-game win streak.
Chad Horner: Denver; To me, this game isn’t very difficult to pick. Baltimore beat the Colts rather easily last week, but Indianapolis was the worst team in the playoffs. I think Denver is going to win the Super Bowl, and I don’t see the Ravens, who the Broncos handled rather easily a few weeks ago – in Baltimore no less, stopping them.
The NFL playoffs kick off tomorrow afternoon, starting with Bengals-Texans at 4:30. We asked four of our writers to give their thoughts on who will be victorious in each of this weekend’s matchups. Interestingly enough, no writers had the same picks.
Danny Lei: Houston; Matt Schaub has failed to throw a touchdown pass in five games this year. All four of Houston’s losses have come in these games, and that fifth game was a beatdown of the Jaguars. The Texans go as he goes, but I expect Schaub will come out strong in his long-awaited playoff debut.
Jay Hashop: Houston; One of the best indicators of Houston’s recent collapse on defense is their inability to get off the field. In their three losses in the past four weeks, the Texans have allowed third down conversion rates of at least 50 percent in each one, while the Colts converted only one third down in Houston’s most recent win. Cincinnati’s poor 34% clip on third down for the season doesn’t bode well for the Bengals.
Bruno Velloso: Cincinnati; The Texans’ slide really began in Week 11, where they needed OT to beat Jacksonville and Detroit, followed by a sloppy win over the Titans before losing three of their last four games. In those three losses, Schaub posted a passer rating of 72.1 or below. The Bengals, meanwhile, are hot, having won seven of their past eight. In those eight games, they have allowed a passer rating above 70 only twice, and not one above 80.
Chad Horner: Cincinnati; The Texans haven’t played a truly impressive game since they dismantled Baltimore over two months ago. They backed into the playoffs, becoming the first team ever to be 11-1 and end up playing a game on Wild Card Weekend. These teams are moving in opposite directions, and unless they get a huge game out of Arian Foster, I think the Texans are finished.
By Chad Horner
The Colts were handled easily by the Texans on Sunday, losing 29-17 in their first of two games this season against the AFC South champs. They were outgained by almost 150 yards and spent most of the day down by two scores. The Texans had 9 tackles for loss, including 5 sacks of QB Andrew Luck. Matt Schaub completed over three fourths of his passes on over 8 yards per attempt, and Arian Foster tore through the typically porous Colts defense for 161 yards. Despite the best efforts of Luck and running back Vick Ballard, this game was never close.
For anyone who has watched the Colts closely this season, the result of this game should have come as no surprise. Although they possess a 9-5 record, they have been outscored by a total of 49 points. So, they win close and lose big? Exactly. The Colts have only defeated one team this season by more than a touchdown, and that was the Jaguars – probably the only team worthy of challenging the Chiefs for worst in the league. Their five losses came against the Texans, Patriots, Bears, Jets, and, funnily enough, the Jaguars. Call the loss to the Jaguars a fluke; they lost the other four games by an average of 21 points. The majority of the Colts’ games have been close – 9 of them within 7 points – and of these games, they’ve won 8. If a game could go either way, it’s almost always gone the Colts’ way this season.
This luck, for a very unfortunate lack of a better word, has caused many to overrate the performance of quarterback Andrew Luck thus far this season. Aside from the fact that the Colts have, inarguably, won a lot of games with Luck at QB, there isn’t much to back up the argument that he has had a great, or even above average, performance this season.
Let’s take a look at passer rating first. Of the 35 qualified QBs in the NFL, Luck ranks 31st, ahead of only Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassell, and John Skelton. 2 of those guys have lost their jobs, and Sanchez probably wishes he has, so he could watch the fans boo Tebow instead of him.
For those that argue passer rating is too simple of a statistic, we can instead look at Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which is essentially a measure of value per play, adjusted for situation and opponent. Luck ranks 21st in this metric. Higher than before, but still below QBs such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer.
“But the fourth quarter!” naysayers will shout. “He plays well when it counts!” Well, no he doesn’t. Luck’s statline in the 4th quarter: 51.7% completion percentage, 6.78 YPA, 5 TD, 6 INT, 67.7 passer rating.
He just isn’t that good.
Now, none of this is to suggest that Luck will never turn into the player that many expect him to be, or that he should be playing any better than he is now. He’s a rookie in the NFL; they can’t all be Robert Griffin (see Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill). His line is average at best, he has a rookie starting at running back, and aside from Reggie Wayne, Luck’s best receiving options are Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton. Still, he is being given too much credit, far too soon.
The Colts have played four teams this season who rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA ratings: the Bears, Jets, Packers, and Texans. They’re 1-3 against those teams, and Luck’s passer rating over those games is a measly 68.2. To look at his rating for today’s game – 95.6 – and think Luck played well would be foolish. Sure, he did a very good job of hitting T.Y. Hilton for a 61 yard touchdown pass after Quintin Demps decided to let Hilton run right past him, but aside from that he completed less than half of his passes for less than 5 yards per attempt. Luck, and the Colts, can’t consistently compete with the top teams in the NFL right now, especially those with elite defenses.
Perhaps this will have changed within a few years; in fact, I’ll be shocked if it hasn’t. However, right now the Colts are nothing more than a below-average team who has managed to Luck themselves into a 9-5 record, and potentially a playoff berth. I say potentially because the Colts still need to go into Arrowhead next week and defeat the Chiefs in order to lock up a spot. For a true playoff-caliber team, this game would be all but a guaranteed victory. Yet we know it isn’t for the Colts – they’ve already proven they can lose to the other worst team in the league.