The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 16, 2009

PiRate Ratings For The NFL Conference Championship Games–January 18, 2009

PiRate Ratings For NFL Playoffs

Conference Championship Games: January 18, 2009


We’re down to the Final Four of the NFL, and I got it right for once.  Last week, I picked the Ravens, Steelers, Cardinals, and Eagles to win, and they won for the reasons I postulated here.


As I mentioned in the last two weeks’ NFL previews, 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 16, 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




Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

Time:           3:00 PM EST

TV:               Fox

Forecast:     Sunny, light winds, temperatures in the upper 70’s (But roof likely to be closed for maximum noise)


PiRate:                Philadelphia by 7

Mean:                  Philadelphia by 3

Bias:                    Tossup


Vegas:               Philadelphia by 3½      

Ov/Un:               47

Money Line:       Phil -190     Ari +165


100 Sims:           Arizona 50  Philadelphia 50

Avg Sim Score:  Arizona 27  Philadelphia 27

Outlier 1a Sim:  Arizona 38  Philadelphia 19

Outlier 1b Sim:  Philadelphia 41  Arizona 17

The last time two teams met in the game before the Super Bowl and neither team won double digit games in the regular season was 1967, when the 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers defeated the 9-5-0 Dallas Cowboys in the infamous Ice Bowl game at Lambeau Field.  The weather will be much more comfortable some 41 years later.


These teams met on Thanksgiving night, and the Eagles annihilated the Cardinals by four touchdowns.  Look for the home team to be ready to exact revenge. 


In the five games where Philadelphia scored 17 points or less, Donovan McNabb was held in check by the opposing pass defense.  He averaged less than 5.5 yards per attempt in those games, and he was forced to throw several dump passes that got his team nowhere.


Can the Cardinal defense force McNabb into one of those poor passing games?  The first time around, McNabb had one of his best passing games ever.  He tossed four touchdown passes and completed nearly 70% of his attempts.  Many passes converted key third downs that day.  The Cardinals looked much better defensively last week when they stopped Jake Delhomme in Charlotte. 


Kurt Warner’s two playoff games have shown he is close to as good as he was in the “Greatest Show on Turf” days in St. Louis.  When he plays in good weather or in domed stadiums, he can be nearly unstoppable.  The Eagles’ defense is strong enough to slow him down, but I don’t believe they can totally stop him, and I believe there’s a 50-50 chance Warner will top 300 yards Sunday, especially if Anquan Boldin is anywhere close to 100% healthy.


The Eagles are banged up in the offensive line, and Brian Westbrook is going to play injured in this game.  I have to believe that the Eagles will have to win by playing great defense and hoping McNabb can equal or top Warner through the air.


I’m going with the underdog at home.  The Cardinals have been given very little respect, as they just barely finished above .500 in the weakest division in the NFL.  I think when the gun sounds Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals will be headed to their first Super Bowl.  I’ll call it a 28-20 win.



Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Time:           6:30 PM EST

TV:               CBS

Forecast:     Light snow, low winds, temperatures falling from the mid to low 20’s


PiRate:                Pittsburgh by 2

Mean:                  Pittsburgh by 2

Bias:                    Pittsburgh by 2


Vegas:               Pittsburgh by 6       

Ov/Un:               33½

Money Line: Pit -250        Bal +200


100 Sims:           Baltimore 52  Pittsburgh 48

Avg Sim Score:  Baltimore 19  Pittsburgh 18

Outlier 1a Sim:  Baltimore 27  Pittsburgh 3

Outlier 1b Sim:  Pittsburgh 13  Baltimore 0

This isn’t the first time that division rivals have met for a third time to determine the conference champion.  Pittsburgh has been involved twice in the past with games just like this.  They defeated the Houston Oilers in both 1978 and 1979.


I see this game being very similar to the 1969 season.  In 1969, the Oakland Raiders narrowly beat the Kansas City Chiefs twice during the regular season (and one extra time in the preseason) in games that could have just as easily gone the other way.  Oakland won the AFL West with a 12-1-1 record in the final season of the old league, but in that final season, the AFL decided to add the division runners-up as wildcard teams.  Kansas City finished 11-3-0 and dismissed the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Jets 13-6 in the first playoff round.  These two teams were without a doubt the best two teams in the AFL, both offensively and defensively. 


In the AFL Championship game, the underdog Chiefs went to Oakland and won 17-7 as their aging but great defense shut down the top offense in the circuit.  Kansas City advanced and “matriculated” the ball down the field in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota.


I see the same thing happening here Sunday.  Baltimore could have just as easily won both games against Pittsburgh this year.  These teams could play 100 games and split them 50-50; the 100 simulations I ran displayed a whopping 83 games decided by a touchdown or less.  I believe this game will be memorable as a punishing defensive struggle that may play itself out just like the 1969 AFL Championship.  If the Ravens give Joe Flacco enough protection, he will come up with a game-changing play.  I will call for the Ravens to win in the neighborhood of 16-13.  Then, they will be headed back to Tampa where they won the Super Bowl eight years ago.  For what it’s worth, only Matt Stover and Ray Lewis remain as holdovers from that team.


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