NFL Wild Card Weekend: Day 2

Note: This post was originally posted here.

San Diego Chargers – Cincinnati Bengals

Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) suggests that San Diego “should have” scored 29.3 points per game and allowed 27.9 points per game. Cincinnati should have scored 23.6 points per game and allowed 20.2 points per game. This highlights a difference between the two teams, with San Diego playing higher scoring games than Cincinnati. Thus, we would expect a score of Bengals 25.75, Chargers 24.25. To correct for home field, we add half of the difference between home and road performance for home team and subtract it for the road team. San Diego scores 0.3 points more per game on the road and allows 4.3 points per game more, so we take away (4.3-0.3)/2, or 2 points from the Chargers total. Cincinnati scores 15 more points per game at home and allows 4.6 points less per game, so we add (15+4.3)/2, or 9.65 points to the Bengals. Rounded, this puts the totals at 35 for the Bengals and 22 for the Chargers.

A factor that has been key in the playoffs so far is turnovers, and Cincinnati has the edge in that area. The Bengals have a +0.9 turnover differential per game at home this season, and +0.7 in the last three games. The Chargers have a -0.6 turnover differential on the road this season, and a -0.3 differential the last three games. Yet, the Bengals have recovered 58 percent of fumbles this season compared to 34 percent for San Diego, indicating that luck could explain the difference in turnovers. However, in the Bengals’ favor is that both teams that won on Saturday rushed on much lower percentage of plays than their respective opponents, meaning that passing team may be better in the playoffs. The Bengals rushed on 43 percent of plays compared to the Chargers’ 45 percent, and the Chargers have averaged nearly 80 passing yards less than the Bengals in the past three games. San Diego converts 88 percent of field goals on the road, identical to the rate Cincinnati converts at home, and both team have converted all field goals in the last three games. However, the Chargers were a better passing offense throughout the entire season.

Prediction:  A season’s worth of data suggests that the Bengals are the better team, and they are in the top-5 both offensively and defensively at home. However, San Diego has recovered from some bad luck to improve its play at the end of the season and pull out some wins over elite opponents. This game will be close, but the Bengals will prevail. Bengals 24, Chargers 20.

San Francisco 49ers – Green Bay Packers

Based on the DVOA, the 49ers should have scored 25.9 points per game while allowing 16.8 points per game. The Packers should have scored 25.7 points while allowing 29.1 points per game. We would expect the 49ers to score 27.5 points, while the Packers score 21.25 points. To correct for home field advantage, we factor in each team’s home-away performance. The 49ers scored 2.8 more points per game on the road and allowed 1.6 points less per game, so we add a total of (2.8+1.6)/2, or 2.2 points to their total. The Packers scored 1.4 more points per game on the road, and allowed 8.3 less points. So we add (8.3+1.4)/2, or 4.85 points. Our location adjusted, rounded score is 30 for the 49ers and 26 for the Packers.

A key factor could be turnovers, with the 49ers having a positive turnover margin per game for the season overall, on the road, and for the past three games. Green Bay is negative on the year and even at home. San Francisco has thrown no interceptions in the last three games, while Green Bay has thrown interceptions on 3.42 percent of pass attempts. Both teams have had good luck with fumbles: Green Bay has recovered 62 percent at home (56 percent overall for the year) and San Francisco 58 percent on the road (53 percent overall for the year). Green Bay has the advantage in regards to penalties, while field goal kicking is nearly identical for both teams.

There is a real difference in styles, with the 49ers rushing on nearly 10 percent of their snaps than Green Bay (53 percent vs 43 percent), and the 49ers lead the league in that category. San Francisco is 30th in passing yards, while Green Bay is 6th.

Prediction: The San Francisco has been the better team through the larger sample size of the entire season, Green Bay has a great home field and is dangerous through the air with Aaron Rodgers’ return. It’ll come down to the wire, but the 49ers will prevail in the final minutes. 49ers 27, Packers 24.

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About Divya Parmar

I'm a college graduate and young professional, embarking on the journey of life and learning along the way. Interests include data science, sports statistics, and political economy.
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