Sunday, January 6, 2013

3 Questions regarding the 2013 NFL Divisional Round

3 Questions regarding the 2013 NFL Divisional Round

With the Wild Card round finished, let's look ahead to the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. Here are 3 questions I have:

1. Will the Ravens, Texans, and Packers get revenge?

3 of the 4 Divisional round games are rematches. The Baltimore-Denver game is a rematch of Week 15 and the Houston-New England game is a rematch of Week 14. The Green Bay-San Francisco game is a rematch of Week 1 and seems like a lifetime ago.

From this chair, I have a hard time seeing Baltimore reverse the outcome of their previous match-up with Denver. The Broncos are the hottest team in the NFL right now with 11 straight wins and one Peyton Manning. The defense is playing incredibly well and Denver is 7-1 at home. As of this writing, Denver is favored by 9.5 points.

I feel the same way about Houston's chances versus New England as I do Baltimore's chances against Denver. Not only does the Week 14 beat down by New England still linger, but Houston did not look impressive in their Wild Card home win against Cincinnati. I like how New England's defense ended the regular season with a 28-0 win at home against Miami. Sure, it was against the Dolphins, but this was New England's first shutout since a 59-0 blowout on October 18, 2009 against Tennessee. Not to mention, New England's defense has been much maligned in the last several years. New England is currently favored by 9 points.

The third and final rematch of the Divisional round is Green Bay at San Francisco. San Francisco went into Lambeau and won 30-22 in Week 1. Both teams had their ups and downs over the course of the season. Offensively we will see a contrast as the 49ers will run the ball and the Packers will throw the ball around the field. Charles Woodson returned for Green Bay in the Wild Card round, but that was against Christian Ponder-less Minnesota. On paper this game looks close and I can only hope it matches some of the classic games we've seen these 2 teams play in the past. If I was forced to pick the winner of this game, I would pick San Francisco. San Francisco is favored by 3 points.

2. Will Matt Ryan and Atlanta finally win a playoff game?

This is one you may hear all week. Matt Ryan is 0-3 in the playoffs as the starting QB for the Atlanta Falcons. On top of the 0-3 playoff record, Atlanta has been taken lightly the entire season. Atlanta fans will not like hearing this critique, but the detractors are correct. That said, Atlanta fans are also correct in their defense of Ryan and Atlanta.

In 3 playoff starts, Matt Ryan hasn't played great. His stats are 70 of 110 (63.6% completions) for 584 yards, 3 TD's, and 4 INT's. In 2008, the Falcons lost 30-24 on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals ended up losing in Super Bowl 43 to the Steelers. In 2010 as the NFC #1 Seed, Atlanta was blown out at home 48-21 to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl 45. In 2011, Atlanta went on the road and lost 24-2 to the New York Giants. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl 46.

It's clear that when Atlanta loses, they lose to teams that end up in the Super Bowl or win the Super Bowl. 2 of the 3 games were on the road, which is a nice segue into my next point. Matt Ryan has a home record of 35-5 in the NFL regular season. If you include the 2010 Playoff loss to the Packers, Ryan's home record is 35-6. It's hard to argue with 35-6 at home especially with the Falcon's record this year.

Given the small sample of Ryan's playoff career, there is not sufficient evidence to say Ryan and Atlanta cannot win in the playoffs. In those 3 games though, Ryan hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Remember, it took Peyton Manning until his 4th post-season game to get his first win.

3. How will the Bye week affect Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver, and New England?

Let's start with the easiest team: New England Patriots. Under Bill Belichick, New England is 5-1 in the Divisional round after a bye. Their only loss was in 2010 to the New York Jets. For the Patriots, having the bye will undoubtedly help.

As for the other 3 teams, it is very difficult to decipher whether or not the bye will help. Mike Smith (Atlanta) and John Fox (Denver) are 0-1 as Head Coaches after a bye in the playoffs. Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) is 1-0. Peyton Manning is 1-3 off a bye week as a starting QB, with all 4 of those starts belonging to his time in Indianapolis.

I don't foresee the bye week hurting any team, but it is always difficult to say so with any level of certainty. Each player and team reacts differently to a bye week. Another factor to consider is the opponent of team that had the bye. Sometimes you just lose to a hot team and the bye week is not a factor (or excuse).

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