NFL Divisional Round Preview: RADIO.COM Sports Analytics

jordan-cohn
January 09, 2020 - 8:26 am
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If the divisional round is even half as exciting as Wild Card weekend was, we’re in for a treat. The beginning of the postseason brought us chaos in Houston, heartbreak in Philadelphia, (more) controversy in New Orleans, and history in New England. And though it’s nearly impossible to complain about such a momentous weekend, there was one group that likely suffered as a result of the twisting and turning events of the slate: bettors.

Utilizing advanced data from our quantitative sports consultant, Arian Modarres, we’ll preview this slate of games and work to help you make your money back alongside the RADIO.COM Sports Original “You Better You Bet.”

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

Saturday, January 11 | 4:35 pm ET

RADIO.COM Sports Spread: SF -5

RADIO.COM Sports Total: 42.5

Our data suggests that this game will be slightly closer than indicated by the current Vegas line (-7) and though the total opened at 46, the line has moved to 44.5 and may end up even closer to our number of 42.5 with the way it has been trending.

Both teams have similar offensive strategies, opting to run at a much higher rate than most teams in the league. Kevin Stefanski’s unique approach leans heavily on Dalvin Cook. The third-year back was able to churn out 94 hard-earned yards on the ground, finding the end zone twice and propelling his Vikings to an unlikely victory over the Saints. It was Kyle Rudolph, though, who sealed the deal in overtime with a nice, albeit questionable, catch in the back corner of the end zone. Rudolph’s connection with Cousins has led to the highest success rate above expected of any receiving option in Minnesota, and his experience could continue to prove useful if the Vikings want to advance deeper into the playoffs.

The Niners are rested after last weekend and now seem to be the clear favorite to win the NFC after the Saints were bounced early. This team is defined by defense, sitting in the 70th percentile in preventing early down conversions and in the 85th in preventing third down conversions. They’re even better when evaluating the points and yardage outcomes of opponents, ranking in the 90th percentile or higher in adjusted yards per play and points allowed above expected (given field position, score, and other factors).

Key Stat: San Francisco’s Lockdown Defense

San Francisco

Key

PointsAboveEx: Points opponent scored above expected given field position, weather, etc.

RedZonesAboveEx: Opponents’ drives that ended in red zone

AdjustedYardsPerPlay: Opponents’ adjusted yards per play, by field position, score, down and distance, time remaining, etc.)

PassSuccess: Opponents’ pass plays that gained four yards on first down, half the remaining yards to go on second, or all needed to convert on third

RunSuccess: Same as pass success, but with run plays

This isn’t too hard to interpret. This is where data can help show the hidden meaning of the statistics that we’re generally used to seeing. San Francisco allowed 310 points this year, whereas the Vikings allowed 303. However, these analytics take into account opponent, the state of the game, the weather, and numerous other factors we’ve mentioned. An important area where the 49ers have a definite advantage is the amount of red zone trips they limit opponents to, as shown in the second bar from the left. The 49ers excel at getting to the red zone while on offense, too, and the Minnesota defense is just in the middle of the pack in that figure. However, one piece of this chart stands out, and the Vikings will be sure to lean on the rush attack as usual and attempt to exploit the one relatively vulnerable aspect of Robert Saleh’s defense.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens

Saturday, January 11 | 8:15 pm ET

RADIO.COM Sports Spread: BAL -12

RADIO.COM Sports Total: 46

Vegas opened this spread at -10, and it’s trending away from our prediction at its current state of -9.5. However, our total is almost in complete concordance with the Vegas total, as though it began at 48.5, it is now just .5 over our projected total.

Derrick Henry ran all over the Patriots with a 182-yard, one score day. His last two games have both seen Henry go for over 30 carries, 180 yards, and a score in each. Clearly, the Titans should and will lean on Henry, the first of five Heisman winners active in this game, as they sat above the 85th percentile in rush tendency. But while Tennessee’s running game is potent (70th percentile in run success), it pales in comparison to its divisional playoff opponent. Their tendency to run the football is nearly unmatched, and the unique gameplan crafted by Greg Roman produces unbelievable results. The Ravens place better than the 95th percentile in points above expected, red zone appearances above expected, and successful run plays. Mark Ingram’s availability is a key component to the system, but the Ravens will likely be able to carry the load without Lamar Jackson’s usual backfield counterpart.

Adding Marcus Peters has paid big dividends for Baltimore, and opponents have very little success passing the ball against the defense with slightly better opponents running the ball. Likely due to the big leads that the Ravens have been able to get out to, they face passing plays much more frequently than they do rushing plays. The Titans have undergone a much more balanced offensive approach from opponents, and are much more vulnerable to an air attack. The Patriots, however, struggled to do much at all against the Titans over Wild Card Weekend.

Key Stat: Where The Ravens Should Run

Baltimore
Tennessee

Key

Direction: Broken up into the seven directions a run can go behind the offensive line

The Titans have had to defend against an inside run right up the middle for about a third of opposing rush attempts. They’ll see a much more varied approach when the Ravens take the field, as the Ravens spread their attack all around the offensive line. The area in which the Titans have been most vulnerable is on the left side of their line, as teams have found less success than expected when running up the gut or going around the right side. Direction doesn’t seem to matter as much for the Ravens, but their inside presence may not be as strong if Ingram doesn’t suit up. Outside runs to the left that utilize Jackson’s speed may be the best way to go.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, January 12 | 3:05 pm ET

RADIO.COM Sports Spread: KC -8.5

RADIO.COM Sports Total: 46

The biggest difference between our numbers and the Vegas consensus is in our total, as Arian’s research has us expecting this game to be five points lower-scoring than what all the books currently have.

Kansas City’s defense has done well against the pass, based on the pass success metric where they limit opposing offenses to only the 20th percentile. They’ve done much worse against the ground game, and also struggle to prevent receivers from making big gains after the catch on short routes. But as of late, the Chiefs’ defense has looked revamped and has completed some impressive efforts, which makes this offensive-minded team all the more scary. Kansas City ranks in the 95th percentile or higher in points above expected, red zone appearances above expected, and average yards per play.

Facing off with the pass-happy Chiefs are the more run-happy Texans, who rely on getting their yards in small chunks as opposed to big gainers. And though the offense is good, the defense will struggle to keep a ferocious Chiefs offense at bay. They have been killed on third downs throughout the season and into the postseason, barely eking out a victory over the Bills despite allowing 11 conversions on 21 third downs.

Key Stat: Yards After Catch

KC
Hou

Key

YAC: Opponents’ ability to gain yards after the catch above expected

PassTendency: Opponents’ tendency to pass the ball (lower number = more run-heavy)

EarlyDSuccess: Opponents’ ability to gain first downs on first or second down

ExThirdDSuccess: Opponents’ expected third down conversion success given yards to go

ThirdDAboveEx: Opponents’ third down conversion rate above expected

YAC, or yards after catch, is clearly a weak point for the Kansas City defense, as they have been burned on shorter routes that end up going for long gains. However, this matchup may benefit the Kansas City defense due to that exact reason. DeAndre Hopkins is the clear target and reception leader for Houston’s offense, but he hardly bases his game and skill set around getting yards after the catch. The same goes for Will Fuller, as both of their YAC above expected figures are negative. If Houston can’t get its passing game going early, the Chiefs certainly won’t hesitate to jump out to a quick lead.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Sunday, January 12 | 6:40 pm ET

RADIO.COM Sports Spread: GB -4

RADIO.COM Sports Total: 43

As was the case with the Houston-Kansas City contest, Arian’s data points to a very similar spread as the Vegas consensus, but indicates that this will be a slightly lower scoring game than expected by most sportsbooks (consensus is 47).

Every Seattle Seahawk not named D.K. Metcalf struggled to post relevant numbers in Philadelphia, but they managed to “upset” the higher seed in the playoff bracket and move on. Our data shows that the Seahawks are not the most reliable team to convert a third down even after getting in decent position to do so, but their ability to convert more than half of their opportunities against Philadelphia helped to boost them to a victory over an ailing Eagles squad. The defense held up against Josh McCown and the rest of the “Wawa Walk-Ons,” or the “Practice Squad Posse,” or whichever name you prefer.

But Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are a scarier mean, green, scoring machine than the Birds. Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones lead an offense that has found incredible success on the ground throughout 2019, and make defenses pay on inside and outside zone runs alike. However, they lean on their trusty QB Aaron Rodgers more than anyone else on the roster with a pass tendency in around the 80th percentile. Much like their offense rips off many damaging runs, the defense is hurt by the run. Luckily, the Seahawks rushing attack has looked significantly weaker without their top three running backs. Should Beast Mode return to form, the story may change.

Key Stat: Aaron Rodgers’s Presence

Aaron Rodgers

Key

BoxCount: Average number of defenders inside the tackle box on pass plays

Drops: Dropped passes (suggested to be receivers’ fault)

IntWorthyThrows: Percentage of passes deemed to be interceptable and due to the QB’s play

PAction: Play action tendency

Screen: Screen play tendency

TTSack: Average time to sack

This chart reveals a lot about the Green Bay offense this season. Rodgers, as usual, is a maestro who evades sacks with a great presence. Though his offensive line helps, the Packers box count numbers are in a fairly high percentile. However, Rodgers also ranks toward the top in time to sack. He’s also a maestro at keeping the ball out of harm’s way, throwing a very low amount of passes that could get picked off based on his bad pass. Given that Davante Adams is the only reliable receiver, Rodgers also relies on the screen game where both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are viable options.

You can follow Arian on Twitter @_TheNumbersGuy and follow along with all of RADIO.COM Sports’ betting advice with “You Better You Bet,” weekdays 6-10 p.m. ET and Sundays 9 am - 1 pm ET.

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