The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 12, 2010

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF ROUND PREVIEW

We’re down to just eight teams left in the road to Miami and Super Bowl 44.  As luck would have it, one team from each of the eight divisions remains.

Due to a weather problem preventing us from gaining access to the computer simulator until late Friday last week, we refunded the purchases of everybody who purchased our playoff package.  For those who still had time to play our picks, we went 3-1 against the spread, losing only the Packers-Cardinals Game.  We were also 3-1 in totals, missing only on the Ravens-Patriots.

Because we had to refund the payment of all those who played, we are going to go ahead and give everybody the rest of the playoffs free here.

Satruday, January 16

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints

Time: 4:30 PM EST     Network: Fox

Forecast–Dome Stadium, No Weather

PiRate: Saints by 7.3

Mean: Saints by 7.1

Bias: Saints by 6.8

100 Sims: New Orleans 79  Arizona 21

Avg. Sim Score: New Orleans 32.9  Arizona 23.3

Outlier Score A: New Orleans 45  Arizona 17

Outlier Score B: Arizona 37  New Orleans 27

Vegas: New Orleans by 7   Totals: 56 1/2

Analysis

The Saints lost their final three games after beginning the season 13-0.  In 1969, the Los Angeles Rams won their first 11 games and clinched the NFC Coastal Division title, and then proceeded to lose their final three games.  Quarterback Roman Gabriel looked like the league MVP in the 11-0 stretch.  The Rams faced a tough first round foe in the 12-2 Minnesota Vikings, possibly the greatest defensive team in a 20-year period.  The Purple People Eaters got the best of the Fearsome Foursome that day, as the Vikings’ defense outshone the Rams’ that day.

40 years later, it’s all about the offense in this game.  Drew Brees against Kurt Warner in a shootout.  Can a team that has not won in five weeks beat a team that is fresh and playing unbelievable football on the attack side?  The Saints’ defense did not shine in several games, and Warner will find holes all day long.

The problem for the Cardinals is they could not stop Aaron Rodgers when they had to.  Sure, the sack and fumble recovery was the winning play, but the Cards cannot be counted on to get to Brees five or six times to stop drives. 

We believe this will be an ugly game with a lot of offense and more than average mistakes (penalties, fumbles, dropped passes, etc.).  We’re contrarians here, so we think the key play in this game is UNDER 56 1/2.  At seven points, we’ll take Arizona +7, but we aren’t in love with this line.  We think New Orleans will win by about four or five.

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts

Time: 8:15 PM EST     Network: CBS

Forecast–Dome Stadium, No Weather

PiRate: Ravens by 1.5

Mean: Colts by 1.8

Bias: Colts by 1.0

100 Sims: Baltimore 56  Indianapolis 44

Avg. Sim Score: Baltimore 22.6  Indianapolis 20.4

Outlier Score A: Baltimore 34  Indianapolis 17

Outlier Score B: Indianapolis 31  Baltimore 10

Vegas: Indianapolis 6 1/2   Totals: 44

Analysis

Here’s a game where the computer simulator believes it has found a big play.  The simulator uses a combination of least squares and absolute value regression, and it appears that the Colts not only have no homefield advantage, they play better on the road than at home.  The Ravens tend to perform just as competently on the road than at home.  Throw in the fact that Indianapolis rested its starters for two weeks, and the possibility of rust comes into play.  Could this be a big upset in the making?

The Ravens have twice knocked off the AFC team with the best record in this same situation (both times the Titans).  They will try to force Peyton Manning to throw short and then try to contain the receiver and limit yards after catch.  They should shut down the Colt running game.  The Ravens’ offense will try to hold onto the ball and keep Manning off the field, but don’t be surprised to see Joe Flacco throw long on play-action when the Colts least expect it (like 3rd and 1 at midfield).

We’re going to side with the computers.  We’re taking the Ravens to beat the spread at +6 1/2, and we think they have a 50-50 shot at winning outright.  As for the totals, we like the OVER here, but not by much.  We wouldn’t be surprised to see the total come within three of what Vegas says (44).

Sunday, January 17

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings

Time: 1:00 PM EST     Network: Fox

Forecast–Dome Stadium, No Weather

PiRate: Cowboys by 0.2

Mean: Vikings by 1.3

Bias: Vikings by 1.1

100 Sims: Minnesota 61  Dallas 39

Avg. Sim Score: Minnesota 24.4  Dallas 20.1

Outlier Score A: Minnesota 37  Dallas 17

Outlier Score B: Dallas 35  Minnesota 16

Vegas: Minnesota by 3   Totals: 45 1/2

Analysis

Everybody is jumping on the Cowboys’ bandwagon, already proclaiming them to be certain Super Bowl Champions.  Their defense is being compared to the best of the Tom Landry years, when Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, Mel Renfro, and company put a big hurt on opponents.

One of those great Cowboy teams back then, a Super Bowl participant at that, faced a Viking team not as good as this current edition, and Minnesota beat them at the old Metropolitan Stadium 54-13!

Favre knows this is more than likely his last chance to get another ring.  He has the tools to make it to Miami.  Remember all those years where John Elway couldn’t take Denver all the way?  In the playoffs, it’s almost impossible to take a team on your shoulders and knock off three great teams.  Once Elway had a great running game backing him up, the Broncos won two titles in a row.  Favre has one of the three best running attacks in the NFL, and the Viking defense is highly underrated for a division champion.  We see the purple and white advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

Minnesota is a 3-point pick.  It’s hard to win by less than three, especially when you know there cannot be a tie.  We’ll take the Vikings as a short favorite.  If the line moves to 3 1/2, things might change, and if the line moves down to 2 1/2, we will love this spread.  As for the totals, at 45 1/2 points, this is right on the mark we agree with.  We don’t like playing the totals in this game, but if we have to pick, we’ll take the OVER.  Dallas’s defense has possibly caused this number to be a point or two too low.

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers

Time: 4:40 PM EST     Network: CBS

Forecast–Low 60’s with a 30% chance of rain showers

PiRate: Chargers by 8.4

Mean: Chargers by 3.4

Bias: Chargers by 7.5

100 Sims: San Diego 51  New York 49

Avg. Sim Score: New York 21.5  San Diego 21.4

Outlier Score A: New York 23  San Diego 10

Outlier Score B: San Diego 17  New York 0

Vegas: San Diego by 7.5   Totals: 42

Analysis

This one surprised all five of us.  We admit that we repeated the 100 game simulation several more times to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.  Every time, it came out basically a push, but the Jets continued to hold a small edge in average sim score. 

It’s hard to determine how the computer justified these results.  The Chargers appear to have a major advantage when you compare their passing game to the Jets’ pass defense versus the Jets’ passing game to the Chargers’ pass defense.

The Jets definitely have the advantage when comparing their running game to the Chargers’ run defense as opposed to the Chargers’ running game against the Jets’ run defense.

Here is a caveat:  weather is not a variable in the simulations.  If it indeed rains Sunday afternoon, the passing game could either be helped or hurt by the surface.  If it’s just wet enough to cause slippery conditions, then the receivers get a big advantage over the defenders (they know when they will change speeds or directions and the defense has to guess).  If it rains hard and affects visibility and makes it impossible to keep the ball dry, then the passing game will suffer.

The big part of this game is the spread.  It isn’t often that a playoff team with a playoff win already under its belt finds itself a 7.5 point dog.  The Chargers didn’t fold up at the end of the year like the Colts and Saints.  They kept playing to win and ended the season on an 11-game winning streak.  On paper, they look to us to have the entire package.  We think they are the favorite to go all the way, but we aren’t about to pick them to win by more than a touchdown.  Our selection is to take the Jets at +7 1/2 and to play the OVER at 42.

Playing A 13-point Teaser

For those of you who are not familiar with teasers, here is a brief explanation.   A teaser allows you to move the pointspread or totals of a game in either direction by the number of points in your teaser (A 13-point teaser would allow you to move the pointspread or total by 13 points in either direction).  Now, before you say you want to play one of these teasers, you can’t pick one team and move the spread by 13 points.  No, in a 13-point teaser, you must pick four games and win all four after you’ve moved the points by 13 in your favor.

We like 13-point teasers in the playoffs, but only when we use it to make a favorite into an underdog or an underdog into a huge underdog.  This week, we find some good possibilities.  The problem with teasers, and thus it’s why they get their name, is that it looked really easy when you move a line by 13 points.  However, one in four games typically deviates from the pointspread by 13 or more points.  So, it isn’t easy.  We picked 52 13-point teasers during the 2009 NFL regular season.  We won 32 of them and lost 20.  Of those 20 losses, we were correct on three of the four games in each teaser 16 times.  In four of those cases, we lost when one game hit the exact pointspread (unlike straight sides wagers, you lose if one team pushes).

Here are the teasers possibilities for you this week with our grade on their playability.  If you’re lucky, you can pick four choices from among this group and find yourself a winner.  Caution:  Teasers become addictive quickly.

New Orleans +6 vs. Arizona  Grade: B+

Arizona +20 vs. New Orleans  Grade: A-

New Orleans & Arizona OVER 43 1/2  Grade: A-

New Orleans & Arizona UNDER 69 1/2  Grade: B

Baltimore +19 1/2 vs. Indianapolis  Grade: A

Indianapolis +6 1/2 vs. Baltimore  Grade: C+

Baltimore & Indianapolis OVER 31  Grade: A-

Baltimore & Indianapolis UNDER 57  Grade: B+

Minnesota +10 vs. Dallas  Grade: A-

Dallas +16 vs. Minnesota  Grade: A-

Minnesota & Dallas OVER 32 1/2  Grade: A

Minnesota & Dallas UNDER 58 1/2  Grade: A

San Diego +5 1/2 vs. New York  Grade: C

New York +20 1/2 vs. San Diego  Grade: A+

San Diego & New York OVER 29  Grade: A

San Diego & New York UNDER 55 Grade: B-

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