January 21, Foxboro, Massachusetts – Statistics, rather than intangibles, tend to predict the outcome of NFL Playoff Games, outside of Super Bowls, where emotions often rule both the players and coaches. That principle is comparable to predictions of professional golf as well, even though it’s not a team sport.
In examining the likely strongest players in PGA Tour events, two statistics over the past ten or so tournaments yield the strong prediction of performance of an individual player in an upcoming tournament, greens in regulation (GIR) and scrambling. Scrambling is the percentage of pars or better made when the player has missed the green in regulation. Over many years, those two statistics best predict how players will play prospectively and they tend to meld intangible factors into them.
Similarly, in NFL Playoff Games, people usually love or hate one team, so emotions may overwhelm serious prognostication. There are, however four statistics that reasonably and reliably predict the outcome of NFL Playoff contests: net offensive yards, net average offensive yards per play, net touchdowns, and third down conversion percentages. Here’s what they mean.
Net offensive yards means the total offensive yards during the regular season minus the total offensive yards of opposing teams. Prior to six years ago when the NFL began careful internal analyses of team schedules in an attempt to equalize them before each season, that statistic was not as helpful. It most certainly is in 2017. Take for example the New England Patriots. Their net offensive yards were 6180 (Patriots) minus 5223 (opponents), yielding 957. That’s a strong statistic and reveals important information about both the offense and the defense. It’s the type of gross statistic that takes into account other statistics, such as time of possession, which may also contribute heavily to the score.
The first game on Sunday, January 22, 1:05 p.m., CST, is the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) hosting the Green Bay Packers (10-6) at the Georgia Dome. The statistics are:
ATLANTA GREEN BAY
Net Offensive Yards (Season) 714 77
Net Avg. Offensive Yards/Play 1.1 -0.2
Net Touchdowns (Season) 15 6
3rd Down Conversion (%) 42.1 46.7
Those statistics reflect Atlanta’s strong defense, especially at safety and linebacker positions. They also reflect the strength of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ quarterback, particularly under pressure. Sadly, the statistics don’t lie.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons will win by 6 points.
The second game on Sunday, January 22, 4:40 p.m., CST, is the New England Patriots (14-2) hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The statistics are:
NEW ENGLAND PITTSBURGH
Net Offensive Yards (Season) 957 480
Net Avg. Offensive Yards/Play 0.62 -0.32
Net Touchdowns (Season) 24 9
3rd Down Conversion (%) 45.8 41.1
This game won’t be close. Those statistics include the first four games when the Patriots did not have Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Pittsburgh’s defense has faced serious challenges this year. The team of Belichick and Brady won’t lose this one.
Prediction: New England Patriots will win by 14 points.