The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 9, 2009

PiRate Preview Of The NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round–January 10-11, 2009

PiRate Ratings For NFL Playoffs

2nd Round: January 10-11, 2009


We’re down to the Elite Eight of the NFL after the Colts, Dolphins, Vikings, and Falcons began their off-season last weekend.  I must say I was shocked at the Chargers beating Indianapolis.  I wasn’t shocked that San Diego was that good, but I thought the Colts were playing better football than they did when they won the Super Bowl a few years back.


As I mentioned in last week’s NFL preview, I pick games in the playoffs by trying to determine which teams have distinct advantages.  Let’s start by trying to figure out these distinct advantages by finding what consistently works in the NFL post-season.  In the old days, it was all about running the ball and stopping the run.  Today, it’s mostly about passing the ball and stopping the pass.  The days of winning by running it down the throats of the defense have come and gone.  When a team gets to the playoffs, they have good enough defenses to avoid getting burned for 200 rushing yards.


Let me clarify what I mean by passing and pass defense.  This is not merely an exercise to find which teams pass for the most yards.  The key here is to find the team that has a passing attack that cannot be stopped.  It might be a team that throws the ball 25 times a game, and it might be a team that throws the ball 40 times a game.  I dare say that if team A passes the ball 25 times and completes 15 passes for 240 yards, while their opponent passes the ball 40 times and completes 24 passes for 240 yards, then team A has enjoyed a much better day.  Team A will win most of the time in this instance.


Look at it this way.  If a team can complete 33% of its passes by completing one pass and then throwing two incomplete passes, and they always pick up 12 yards per completion, then they are unstoppable.  If they start at their own 28 yard line, they will score a touchdown in 16 plays.


Here’s another adjustment I use in figuring passing strength.  When you see a quarterback throw the ball to a back in the backfield, and the back picks up three yards, do not count that as passing yards.  The swing pass to the back who then sweeps around the perimeter and picks up or loses yardage is the 21st Century version of the old Lombardi Sweep.  It is a pass in name only.  The difference is merely in the manner the quarterback delivers the ball to the back.


The running game isn’t to be totally dismissed.  It’s just that I am looking for something a little different than rushing average and rushing yardage.  I’m looking for teams that can count on their running attack to get the job done on 3rd and short and when they are within three yards of pay dirt.


Let’s say team A averages 3.7 yards per rush, while team B averages 4.4 yards per rush.  Team B isn’t necessarily a more potent running team.  Let’s say that in 10 rushing attempts, team B rushed for 8, 6, 7, 9, 4, 5, 5, 2, 1, and -3.  If you give the ball to team B at their 20 yard line, and they ran the ball 10 consecutive times, resulting in the above order, team B would have picked up three first downs and faced 4th and 10 at other team’s 36 yard line. 


Now, let’s say team A with their 3.7 yard average ran the ball 10 consecutive times and picked up 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3, 4, and 4.  Starting at their 20 yard line, team A would have picked up three first downs and had the ball 2nd & 6 at the opponents’ 43 yard line.  Team A’s running attack would be considered almost impossible to stop, whereas Team B’s running attack would have been stopped.


It’s the teams that can pick up the bulk of their yards passing the ball down the field and counting on their running games to pick up the critical yards in short yardage situations that score in the playoffs.  Defensively, it’s the teams that can curtail the opponent’s passing games and stop the opponent’s running games in critical situations that stop teams in the playoffs.


Special teams, penalties, turnovers, and the like play a part in deciding playoff games.  I consider interceptions as part of the pass defense equation I described above.  I consider forced fumbles as part of both pass and run defense.  Special teams rarely decide playoff games, and penalties may determine a playoff outcome only once every 25 years.


The PiRate Pro Ratings (Rating)


The NFL version of the PiRate Ratings is not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL version is strictly a statistical formula than could be reproduced by anybody who knew the equations I use to devise the formula.  No subjective data is used.


The formula combines scoring margin, strength of schedule, and early in the season, last year’s scoring margin and strength of schedule.  As the season progresses, last year’s data decreases to where it has little effect by mid-October. 



The Mean Ratings (Mean)


Just like the PiRate Ratings, the NFL Mean Ratings are not the same as the collegiate version.  The NFL Mean Ratings consist of a dozen different calculations.  Three calculations consist of different ways to look at point differential and strength of schedule.  Five calculations look at yards gained and allowed rushing and passing and special teams play with the strength of the opponents’ rushing and passing.  Point values are assigned based on each set of data.  The remaining four ratings are my old four pro ratings from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The 12 ratings are given equal weight, and then I take the average (mean) to get the rating.


The Bias Ratings (Biased)


The Bias Ratings consist of five of the components of The Mean Ratings.  The five ratings are not given equal weight.  The five ratings are weighted at 37.5%, 25%, 12.5%, 12.5%, and 12.5%.  I have back tested these ratings and found that this weighting gives the rating its best predictive percentage.


All three ratings are normalized so that 100 is average.  If I don’t mess up with the math, each of the three ratings should average 100.  The teams’ ratings show how many points above or below average they are in comparison with the rest of the league.  A rating of 107 means that team is a touchdown better than average, while a rating of 93 means that team is a touchdown weaker than average. 


I do not attempt to rate teams from different years.  A 107-rated team in 2008 is not the same as a 107-rated team from 1972.  We all know that due to the evolution of strength and quickness, today’s Detroit Lions would blow the 1972 Miami Dolphins off the field.



Weather forecasts and odds are those as of Friday, January 9, 2009, 12 Noon EST


In December, I listed multiple odds from multiple Vegas and offshore books.  For the playoffs, I have decided to list the odds from the Sports Pit at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. 


Average Simulation Scores for each game are now rounded to nearest whole number.



Game Previews




Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans

Time:           4:30 PM EST

TV:               CBS

Forecast:     Cloudy, moderate winds, temperatures falling through the 40’s


PiRate:                Tennessee by 1              

Mean:                  Tennessee by 2

Bias:                    Tennessee by 4


Vegas:               Tennessee by 3

Ov/Un:               34½

Money Line: -155      +135


100 Sims:           Baltimore 61  Tennessee 39

Avg Sim Score:  Baltimore 22  Tennessee 16

Outlier 1a Sim:  Baltimore 27  Tennessee 7

Outlier 1b Sim:  Tennessee 13  Baltimore 0

Tennessee last finished with the best record in the NFL in 2000.  That year, they relied on a strong running game, and excellent all-around defense, and great special teams play to win 13 games.  The Titans had home field advantage, but they were upset in the divisional playoffs even though the statistics showed they dominated the game.  The opponent took advantage of four key plays; that opponent did mostly nothing all day on offense.  That opponent was Baltimore!


The Ravens come into this game much the same way they entered that January, 2001 game.  Things are a little different though.  This defense is still quite strong, but the 2000 defense was overpowering.  The 2000 offense was one-dimensional, but the 2008 offense can win games in a shootout if need be.


It is my opinion that the Ravens are now the best remaining team in the AFC.  I think lightning is going to strike twice in the Music City, and it won’t be a Music City Miracle.


Baltimore’s defense is going to pressure Kerry Collins into making mistakes.  The Raven pass rush will get to him, and he must make a conscious effort to avoid injury.  If Collins goes down, the Titans might as well run the single wing formation because Vince Young would be lucky to complete one downfield pass per quarter against this defense.


Chris Johnson may get one double-digit yard rush in this game, but don’t count on the Titans running the ball successfully in this game. 


Joe Flacco should be the difference maker Saturday.  He played well against Miami, and he now has playoff experience.  Watching him play against the Dolphins brought back memories of Daryle Lamonica with the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders.  Flacco has a strong arm combined with quick legs.  If he stays healthy, he should become one of the game’s top quarterbacks.


This game should be close, because these teams will play conservatively throughout the first half.  The first time around, Tennessee won at Baltimore 13-10.  I think the scoring will be just a tad higher this time around.  Look for the Ravens to advance to the AFC Championship Game with a 17-10 win.


Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

Time:           8:00 PM EST

TV:               Fox

Forecast:     Rain showers likely, moderate winds, temperatures holding steady around 50


PiRate:                Carolina by 9

Mean:                 Carolina by 9

Bias:                   Carolina by 7


Vegas:                Carolina by 9½          

Ov/Un:               48½

Money Line:       -450      +325


100 Sims:           Carolina 77  Arizona 23

Avg Sim Score:  Carolina 30  Arizona 22

Outlier 1a Sim:  Carolina 37  Arizona 10

Outlier 1b Sim:  Arizona 34  Carolina 27 (2 sims)

The Cardinals are two cities removed from their last NFL Championship.  They last won it all in 1947 when as the Chicago Cardinals, they defeated Philadelphia in a game played at Comiskey Park.


In the Wildcard Weekend Playoff round, Kurt Warner showed that he can still pick apart quality defenses.  The Cardinals still needed help in the form of a Falcon flop on offense.


Carolina’s fortunes in this game rest in the hands of Steve Smith.  He is the one player who can change the outcome of this game.  Quarterback Jake Delhomme is competent, but he is not going to win this game on his own merits.


I realize that the three ratings and the computer simulations heavily favor Carolina in this game, but I believe the Cardinals have close to a 50% chance of winning.  If Warner gets enough pass protection, he can move Arizona down the field consistently.    The Panthers’ pass defense is average, and an above-average passer should enjoy a successful day.


I believe Warner will top 250 yards passing in this game, and if he tops 300, then Arizona is in the NFC Championship Game.  I will call this game a true tossup, which means I would consider taking the Cardinals and the points.





Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

Time:           1:00 PM EST

TV:               Fox

Forecast:     Mostly cloudy with a few flurries, moderate winds, temperatures struggling to reach 32


PiRate:                Giants by 2

Mean:                  Giants by 3

Bias:                    Giants by 2


Vegas:               Giants by 4½     

Ov/Un:               40

Money Line:       -220      +180


100 Sims:           Giants 52  Philadelphia 48

Avg Sim Score:  Giants 25  Philadelphia 25

Outlier 1a Sim:  Giants 38  Philadelphia 16

Outlier 1b Sim:  Philadelphia 41  Giants 17

This is my pick for best game of the weekend.  This rivalry is fast becoming something akin to the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball.  Two months ago, the Giants won an exciting and close game in Philadelphia.  Last month, the Eagles returned the favor at the Meadowlands, winning with their backs against the playoffs wall.


Down the stretch, Philadelphia played the best ball in the NFC.  Starting with the 28-point slaughter of the Cardinals, the Eagles outscored the opposition by an average score of 29-12.  Their 26-14 win at Minnesota last week proved they definitely deserve to be here.


The Giants played their best 2007 ball down the stretch and almost beat undefeated New England in the final weekend of the regular season.  They continued to play well in the postseason and knocked off Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay, all on the road to reach the Super Bowl, where Tom Coughlin and Steve Spagnuolo figured out how to stop the Patriots great offense.  This season, the Giants played their best ball early in the year.  Down the stretch, they struggled, and they enter the playoffs not firing on all cylinders.


I think Philadelphia has a better than 50-50 chance of pulling off the upset in this game.  The Eagles are playing much like the 2007 Giants, the 2006 Colts, and the 2005 Steelers were playing at the end of the regular season. 


Once again, the three computer ratings and 100 simulations fall on the other side of the argument from me personally.  I believe the Eagles will cover in this game, and I think they have a 60% chance of pulling off the upset.


San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time:           4:30 PM EST

TV:               CBS

Forecast:     Cloudy with slight chance of snow, light winds, temperatures holding steady in the low 20’s


PiRate:                Pittsburgh by 7

Mean:                  Pittsburgh by 6

Bias:                    Pittsburgh by 5


Vegas:               Pittsburgh by 6½           

Ov/Un:               38

Money Line: -270      +210


100 Sims:           Pittsburgh 60  San Diego 40

Avg Sim Score:  Pittsburgh 22  San Diego 18

Outlier 1a Sim:  Pittsburgh 30  San Diego 7

Outlier 1b Sim:  San Diego 13  Pittsburgh 3

This is the toughest game to analyze.  Let’s start with the few obvious intangibles.  San Diego must travel more than 2,500 miles across three time zones to play in weather conditions for which they cannot prepare for in their home zip code.  The Chargers had to play an overtime game last week, while the Steelers had a bye.  And, possibly most importantly, the top running back in the 21st Century, LaDainian Tomlinson, is injured.  If he plays, he will be virtually useless in this game.


Okay, that said, I should go with the Steelers in a breeze, correct?  The short answer is, “no.”  Tomlinson wasn’t needed last week against the Colts.  Philip Rivers, Darren Sproles, and a nice corps of receivers were enough to win.  The Chargers’ defense is the key to this game.  If they can play as adequately as they played last week, they should hold Pittsburgh’s offense in check.  If that happens, then we are looking at a low-scoring game that could come down to a big play or even another overtime game.


There is one caveat here.  Ben Roethlisberger could prove to be a “Mr. January.”  He has enjoyed some of his better days in the month of January, and if that holds true this year, the Steelers could not only win this game, but they could win it by a large amount.


I tend to believe that we will get the typical Roethlisberger game, and he won’t set the field ablaze with his arm.  Thus, I am looking for this game to be decided on that big play.  I still think the Steelers are the team more likely to come up with the big play, so I am picking the home team to win by five to 14 points.  I expect the final score to be something like 24-14.


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