Friday, January 14, 2011

NFL Playoff previews: AFC Divisional game 2

Sunday, January 16 - AFC Divisional Game 2
New York Jets (11-5) at New England Patriots (14-2)

By the numbers:
NY Jets @ New England
TeamWLPFPADifPyth
NY Jets 11536730463.610
New England 142518313205.767

OK, let's get this right out in the open to start with - this game scares the hell out of me. Not because I think the Patriots can't win, but because I can't see how they can lose. I've seen set-ups like this before, and there's virtually no upside to this game, emotionally, for a Patriots fan, while the potential downside is devastating. As wonderful and exhilarating as it is to win as a big underdog, losing as a big favorite is a bigger downer. So the possibilities that I see, as a Patriots fan, are devastation or relief.

Looking at the numbers here, we can see that Patriots had a much better regular season than the Jets did. It's pretty good to outscore your opposition by 63 points - it's historic to outscore them by 205. (There have been two teams with a 200+ point differential since the 2001 Rams - the 2007 Patriots [again, this game scares the hell out of me] and the 2010 Patriots.) There's a big gap in pythagorean percentage, obviously, and while the Jets allowed fewer points, there's only a marginal difference which is dwarfed by the points scored difference.

But there's more, that's even more compelling. Football teams change over the course of the year, and seldom more than this Patriots team did. When the Jets handed the Patriots one of their two losses this year, Logan Mankins was holding out and Tom Brady was forcing the ball to Randy Moss, while Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch hadn't been added or integrated yet. Gronkowski and Hernandez and McCourty had all played one NFL game. They changed the team after week four with the Moss and Branch trades, and took about a month to adjust, climaxing with a loss in Cleveland in week nine that left them at 6-2. Since then...

Last 8 games
TeamWLPFPADifPyth
NY Jets 53185174110.536
New England 802991251740.888

Of course, one could argue that those numbers are skewed, a little bit, because New England hammered New York in week 13, 45-3. So, just for kicks, let's pull that one out.

Last 8 games without 45-3 game
TeamWLPFPADifPyth
NY Jets 52182129530.693
New England 702541221320.850

The Patriots haven't simply been a better team than the Jets over the past two months, they've been a vastly superior team. For all of the talk of the Patriots' defensive weakness and the Jets' defensive strength, the Jets allowed only 9 fewer points for the season, and 49 MORE over the last half of the season. Even without the 45-3 drubbing, the Jets allowed more points per game over the second half of the season than the Patriots did.

The fact is, there's not a single thing that you can point to as a legitimate reason to believe that the Jets win this game. It inevitably comes down to "any given Sunday" and "the Patriots barely beat Green Bay [a better team than the Jets]" and "they've got a puncher's chance." All of which is true. And none of which is a good reason to expect the Jets to win.

But the last time I saw a playoff game be this much of a mismatch, the Seahawks beat the Saints. The last time before that, the Giants beat the Patriots. This game scares me, because despite the fact that there's no reason for it to happen, it could happen, and the potential for pain from the Jets talking, the NY media and the national media gloating about Belichick/Brady failing, is enormous.

Reason to pick the Jets:
I can't find one.

Reason to pick the Patriots:
They are a much better team, with a better coach, a better QB, a better defense, and playing at home.

New York wins if
They can hold the ball for 35+ minutes while scoring 28+ points.

New England wins if:
They play a decent game.

My pick:
New England

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