Thursday, January 12, 2012

End of Season Football ERA Formula Trends

   Every season since we began publishing the Football ERA algorithm, the formula trends in December--in conjunction with the Defensive Report Card formula--has given great insight into who are the true contenders as opposed to pretenders going into the playoffs.  In addition, it has successfully identified who might get hot in the postseason playoff run--which can be particularly tricky to glean from the standard NFL regular season rankings, as this is a week to week type of trend that can only be detected from one game at a time to the next.  So far there has been really no surprises with Denver giving the Steelers all they could handle--injuries or not.
    Even if Pittsburgh had survived the battle at the line of scrimmage that none of the pundits predicted--had they been 100% or not, the Defensive Report Card shows that they were lacking this season in the pass rush department by finishing in the bottom half of the league.  They may not have gotten past either Baltimore nor New England despite how much the media would have played up the matchup that has had some epic playoff battle history in both cases.  This was not the Steel Curtain of old--despite being rated high in the standard NFL rankings which is based on yardage alone.  As a matter of fact, we are witnessing the evolution of defenses to the challenges of the new passing trends that have been proliferating to change the nature of the league in recent times.  The new style of defense strives not to be broken deep for which their counterpart offenses are notorious for doing.  Therefore, they end up sacrificing lots of yardage in striving to force opposing offenses to mount drives and earn their way down the field.
   It was clear to see that the New Orleans defense was the better of the two defenses in doing exactly this against Detroit as their offense--in conjunction--was the more potent for breaking off deeper and bigger plays against the Lions Defense.  Drive after drive, they forced Stafford to take all the underneath throws--which he did successfully--to force Detroit into long scoring drives---Even when they ended up in successful touchdown scoring drives.  Eventually Drew Brees broke down the Lions deep secondary with perfect passes behind dominant pass protection from the Saints offensive line.  This combination will provide quite a challenge to the 49ers whose traditional defense has allowed them to dominate and trend upward in the final weeks of the regular season.  It will be an epic matchup as the Saints will give San Francisco all they can handle.
  Two other traditional defenses, having excellent seasons, were matched up in the Cincinnati - Houston matchup.  Cincinnati's excellent pass rush this season has been highly underrated all year as the Bengals have surprised many --even with a rookie quaterback.   The Texans, however, have shown great balance and excellence in all areas of their defense--pass rush included--all season long.  Moreover, despite having the inferior quaterback, as analysts emphasized over and over again---this defense led Houston to an overwhelming victory in the 2nd half behind T.J. Yates that needed only to protect the football.  And it was Andy Dalton that ended up throwing 3 interceptions against the Texan defense.  Defense still wins games and championships--even if that defense is harder to recognize against prolific passing offenses.  Defense will be a big key for the Texans who travel to Baltimore to face another excellent defense in what should be a great matchup.  The Ravens have also proven to be very balanced in their performance on all statistical categories of the Football ERA and Defensive Report Card formulas, including pass rush statistics.  Don't count Houston out of this contest even though most would give the home field advantage and quaterback edge to the Ravens who also bring a much more experienced playoff record to the matchup.
     Finally, the New York Giants are hot--and have been trending upwards in the Football ERA statistical results all the way through the end of December and into the playoffs.  As well as they are playing, they cannot be counted out despite traveling to the storied Lambeau Field, and the New York-New Orleans Championship scenario is one that is still alive and well in the possible outcomes that still remain to be seen.  Standing firmly in the way of this scenario is one Aaron Rodgers who I know all too well is capable of breaking open games and defenses with outstanding quaterback play behind which Green Bay has been winning all season.  Unlike the Giants, however, they rank almost dead last in sacks this season.  Unless Clay Matthews returns to his 2010 playoff run form, it will be hard to imagine the Packers winning it all again without tremendous play from Aaron Rodgers.  Even the Patriots have decent enough pass rush numbers to warrant envisioning their defense aiding Tom Brady in making another one of his deep playoff runs.
   As usual the turnover battle will be huge in determining who are the final victors in this Divisional Playoff Round this weekend.  No matter how the ball bounces this weekend--which epitomizes the truly unpredictable and whacky of nature of football game outcomes---we already know here at --- that this weekend's matchups are going to be epic and very entertaining.  And it will be more than just Tebow, that will have every football fan glued to their tv sets this weekend!

AP Photo Bill Feig

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