Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What to expect in the 2nd half of 2007

The commentary in this article is based largely on the stats found here and the expected wins method found here.

After spending over an hour writing it, I realized these picks aren't particularly brave and pretty much follow current win totals. But the picks are based on the stats, and I'm sure half of them are going to turn out wrong as these things are wont to do. In short, though, my surprise playoff picks at this point are Philly, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Detroit.

AFC East
Clearly, New England is winning this division. They won't go undefeated, though at this point, the system favors them in every remaining game, but this is a 15-1 team easily. With the deep threat of Randy Moss, they'll be in every game. And Wes Welker is White Jesus.

Buffalo is probably the 2nd best team in the division, not being strong in anything but not being bottom of the barrel in anything either. That and excellent special teams (according to Football Outsiders) will be good enough to get them near .500. Of the Dolphins and the Jets, the Dolphins are the better team, mostly on the strength of their run offense (#2 by yards per carry). Even with Ronnie Brown out for the year, Jesse Chatman seems to be filling in OK, which is still better than what the Jets have. The Dolphins have also had bad luck in the first half of the season, losing 4 games by a field goal (and one by a 57-yard field goal at that). Like baseball, this sort of thing won't last, and don't be surprised if the Dolphins end up winning 3 or 4 games and finishing 3rd in the division.

AFC North
Pittsburgh is going to run away with the division obviously. Baltimore's excellent run defense won't be enough to overcome their mediocre pass defense and bad offense. Cincinnati's offense isn't strong enough to overcome their poor defense either. In August, I said that two of the eight teams with playoff droughts of at least 4 years would make the playoffs. The two I picked were Miami and Detroit based on the idea that their pass offense would be good enough that some luck would get them in at 9-7/8-8. Strong pass offenses have the best probability of getting a team into the playoffs. Detroit looks like a good shot to make it, while Trent Green flopped. Who would have guessed that Derek Anderson would turn out this way, though? Cleveland is ranked 4th in yards per pass. At a 17% VOLA, they look like a strong bet to get in the playoffs. With a weak defense, however, they're likely a one-and-done #6 seed.

AFC South
Indianapolis is clearly #1. But the rest of this division is a bit of a mess. Houston has the strongest pass offense of the rest, ranking 6th in unadjusted yards per pass. But how long will Schaub be out? And the injuries to Andre Johnson already cost them a couple games. Jacksonville has a stronger offense than the Titans, but their QB is injured, too. Tennessee has the strongest pass defense of the rest, and they have the best record of the three teams. As good pass defenses are also very likely to get teams into the playoffs, I'd pick them to be the #5 seed.

AFC West
This division is a mess. None of the teams have excelled in any aspect of the game. The expected wins standings project it coming down to Kansas City and San Diego, both looking like 8-8/9-7 teams. Considering that Larry Johnson has been a nonentity this season, I'm surprised about KC. But San Diego has the most talent, and they rank the highest in the power rankings, so I see them as being the #4 seed.

Expected AFC playoff seedings

  1. New England
  2. Indianapolis
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. San Diego
  5. Tennessee
  6. Cleveland

Sleeper picks: Jacksonville, Kansas City

NFC East
Dallas is #1, no doubt. By expected wins, second place will come down between the Eagles and the Giants, both ending up around 9-7. The Eagles are a stronger team than their record would indicate, ranking #5 and #4 in rush offense and defense (by yards per carry). The Giants, however, rank 3rd in rush offense and 6th in pass defense (by yards per pass play). McNabb's health will dictate how this falls out, and as the season has progressed, I've heard he's felt healthier. Washington, despite ranking higher than the Eagles in the power rankings (10 vs 11), is expected to regress based on their expected win total so far.

NFC North
Minnesota is the best team in the division according to the power rankings (#6), based solely on their excellent rush offense and rush defense. A good running game just isn't as likely to get you in the playoffs as a good passing game, and the Vikings are in deep trouble there. Green Bay is the best balanced team in the division (#9 in power rankings), having the #7 rush defense, #5 pass offense, and #11 pass defense. Green Bay is the most likely team to win the division. Sticking to my preseason prediction described in the AFC North section, I'd pick Detroit to get the second wild card spot, and their expected win total so far projects out to 10 wins (compared to 7 for Minnesota). Detroit is decidedly mediocre (#16 in power rankings, middle of the pack in unadjusted rush off, rush def, pass off and pass def), and they're likely to regress in 2008. Right now, however, Detroit's experienced some good luck with an easy schedule. Things will be tougher from here on out, but they're likely to back into the playoffs at 9-7 or so.

NFC South
Tampa Bay is winning this division with the #7 pass offense and #9 pass defense (#5 in the power rankings). They're nearly a lock to make the playoffs. New Orleans is coming back strong, but their stats aren't that good except run defense. 0-4 teams just don't make the playoffs, though. They might end up an 8-8 team, however.

NFC West
Seattle's ranked #12 in the power rankings and the expected win total projects out to 10 wins. Arizona might be a surprise pick to win the division, however. Both teams have similar rankings in pass offense, pass defense, and defensive sack rate. But Arizona has near 10% VOLA in pass defense (compared to 4% for Seattle). Given that the Cardinals' expected win total projects out to only 5 wins, however, I don't see the Cardinals winning the division.

Expected NFC playoff seedings

  1. Dallas
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. Green Bay
  4. Seattle
  5. Detroit
  6. Philadelphia

Sleeper picks: Arizona, Giants

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