Instead of giving out beers to 12 players and coaches like I normally have in the past, I'm assigning beers to each team in the playoffs, along with my playoff preview.
I'll be looking at each team in several ways. Record in games where the final margin is greater than 1 score, as these games imply an actual win or loss with most of the effects of luck evened out. Close games are just coin flips, no matter how good the teams actually are. Win by more than one score, and no one single play could change the outcome. These are good wins and bad losses.
Then I'll give quality wins and losses. This is the record of teams against opponents winning records, figuring that teams that don't perform well against good teams in the regular season won't do as well in the playoffs.
Next, I'll list the Pythagorean wins, which estimates the number of wins a team with average luck would earn based on points scored and points allowed.
Then I'll list their DVOA, broken out by offense, defense, and special teams. I'll also refer to their Weighted DVOA, which gives greater weight to a team's recent performance. If you're not familiar with DVOA, you can find it at Football Outsiders. The key thing to remember in terms of the numbers is that it reflects points scored so you want offensive and special teams DVOA to be positive and defensive DVOA to be negative.
I'll through some other things in as needed, but this should give us a general baseline.
I'm looking at this in playoff game order, so we'll start with the game that will likely prove to be the most boring, Oakland at Houston.
Oakland Raiders (12-4)
3-2 Good Wins / Bad Losses
4-4 Quality Wins / Losses
8.8 Pythagorean wins (12th)
Total DVOA 8.3 (11th in NFL), Weighted DVOA 5.3 (13th)
Offensive DVOA 12.2 (7th), Defensive DVOA 4.9 (23rd), Special Teams DVOA 1.1 (11th)
It's Connor Cook time, and you can see the dropoff from Derek Carr reflected in the Weighted DVOA. Unfortunately, this is a team that relies on its offense, because despite Khalil Mack the Raiders were worse on defense than the Cowboys, according to DVOA. Worse yet, there's nothing to hang your hat on in terms of record in close games or against winning teams. The two losses to the Chiefs really hurt here, especially the first one when the Chiefs just dominated, winning 26-10.
I'm giving them a Lost Coast (Eureka, CA) 8 Ball Oatmeal Stout. If Cook, number 8, doesn't ball, this is a lost season on the coast.
Houston Texans (9-7)
1-3 GW / BL
3-5 Quality Wins
6.5 Pyth. Wins (26th)
Total DVOA -29.4 (29th), Weighted DVOA -17.7 (27th)
Off DVOA -21.4 (30th), Def DVOA -6.9 (7th), ST -7.0 (32nd)
The good news for Raider fans is that they're playing the Texans. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a bad team. They got reasonably lucky in close games (9-4), and if they'd had normal luck, they'd have ended up as a 6 or 7 win team. Maybe worse. Football Outsiders gives them 4.7 estimated wins.
Their QB situation may even be worse than Oakland's. They've got some useful pieces, especially on defense, but they're awful on offense and worse on special teams. I said that Oakland had little to hang their hat on in terms of good wins and success against quality opponents. The Texans are worse.
I'm giving them a Burlington Beer (Burlington, VT) You Can't Get There From Here American Wild Ale because frankly, you can't get anywhere from there.
OAK v. HOU Summary
Even without Derek Carr, I think the Raiders are a better team. I think they advance to the divisional round, but this will be a low-scoring ugly game. My guess is that the Raiders make a play on special teams that gives them an easy touchdown and that's the margin. But if there was ever a game that needed beer to watch, this is it.
Detroit Lions (9-7)
1-2 GW / BL
1-6 Quality Wins
7.7 Pyth. Wins (22nd)
Total DVOA -19.3 (27th), Weighted DVOA -19.3 (29th)
Off DVOA -1.0 (15th), Def DVOA 20.4 (32nd), ST 3.7 (6th)
The good news? This team is not as bad as the Texans. The bad news? It's not by much. Their offense, despite the huge counting statistics put up by Matthew Stafford is dead average. The defense was one of, if not the worst, in the NFL. Their special teams were good, and that's nice.
How did they get to the playoffs? By going 8-5 in close games. Their only quality win was a 20-17 last-second pass to Anquan Boldin against the Washington Redskins.
The Lions have earned, so to speak, a Smuttynose Brewing (Hampton, NH) Pumpkin Ale because they're about to turn into a pumpkin. And it's never a bad thing when I get to type "Smuttynose."
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
5-1 GW / BL
3-2 Quality Wins
9.8 Pyth. Wins (6th)
Total DVOA 8.7 (9th), Weighted DVOA 4.7 (14th)
Off DVOA -2.7 (17th), Def DVOA -10.9 (5th), ST 0.5 (13th)
Curous whether Earl Thomas made a difference? Look at the Weighted DVOA here. Without Thomas, this has been an average team.
Curious how well Russell Wilson is playing? Look at the Offense DVOA. Also note that they're only 18th in points scored. He's been good, especially since he's not been helped by any of the running backs, but he's not been great.
Curious if the 12th Man matters? This team went 7-1 at home and 3-4-1 on the road. Their one notable road win was the game against the Patriots. On the road, they're average at best, but at home they can beat anyone.
This one's easy. They get a Hilliard's (Seattle, WA) 12th Can American Pale Ale.
DET v. SEA Summary
The Seahawks are at home, where they're good. They're playing the Lions who are bad here, bad there, bad in a boat, bad in a moat, bad with a goat, bad coast to coast. The Lions only hope is that the absence of Thomas gives Stafford some extra throwing lanes and they can keep this close, where luck can play a role.
I don't see it happen.
Miami Dolphins (10-6)
2-4 GW / BL
2-3 Quality Wins
7.5 Pyth. Wins (24th)
Total DVOA 0.3 (17th), Weighted DVOA 4.2 (16th)
Off DVOA 0.9 (14th), Def DVOA 1.5 (19th), ST 1.0 (12th)
In the dictionary, you'll find Miami under the definition of mediocre. Their 10-6 record is largely driven by 8-2 record in close games. All of their rankings are middle of the pack, except Pythagorean Wins which is towards the bottom.
Jay Ajayi is their only real exception to the rule, in my mind. Yes, I know Ndamukong Suh is great, but I don't see their defense as a strength, whereas the Ajayi's ability to run and control the clock, especially in a cold game with perhaps some snow, could give the Dolphins a fighting chance.
As I write this, Ryan Tannehill's status is up in the air. I don't think it matters, though, because Matt Moore is a useful backup and Tannehill is not a great starter. For evidence, note their Weighted DVOA is solid and slightly better than their Total DVOA, meaning they've played better of late than earlier in the season.
They get a 515 Brewing (Clive, IA) Mediocre American Pale Ale, which is surprisingly not mediocre at all. Not one of my all-time favorites, but one I'll buy again, if there's no IPA handy. Which probably describes the Dolphins to a T.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
6-3 GW / BL
3-3 Quality Wins
9.9 Pyth. Wins (5th)
Total DVOA 15.8 (5th), Weighted DVOA 20.0 (3rd)
Off DVOA 11.1 (8th), Def DVOA -4.7 (11th), ST 0.0 (16th)
The Steelers are such an interesting team, and they've played well of late. They've not lost since Zeke walked the dog. They haven't played a bunch of great teams in that stretch, but they did beat the Giants during that time. Their offense is very good, their defense is solid, and they play reasonable special teams.
This is also a good team at home, at least against any but the elite teams. They're 6-2 at home, losing to New England and Dallas.
Their beer is a surprisingly difficult decision. I could go for the low-hanging fruit and simply choose Iron City from Pittsburgh Brewing, which has featured the Steelers on many of their cans. I could choose Iron City Light, because this isn't the best Steelers team ever.
But I think I'll go with something else from the same brewery. They get a Pittsburgh Brewing (Pittsburgh, PA) Olde Frothingslosh American Pale Lager because the only way I see them winning the Super Bowl is if they do some major frothingsloshing on the way. Of course, they've done it before, and you only have to look at James Harrison's interception against the Cardinals for an example.
MIA v. PIT Summary
While I think Pittsburgh is a little light to win the Super Bowl, I don't think Miami can stop them enough in Pittsburgh. Ajayi may get his yards, but so will LeVeon Bell. I'm also simply going with Ben Roethlisberger over either Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill.
New York Giants (11-5)
3-2 GW / BL
4-3 Quality Wins
8.8 Pyth. Wins (11th)
Total DVOA 8.7 (10th), Weighted DVOA 13.1 (6th)
Off DVOA -6.4 (22nd), Def DVOA -15.0 (2nd), ST 0.2 (15th)
How bad has Eli Manning been? Well, he's got one of the greatest receivers in NFL history Odell Beckham, Jr, some other good receivers and their offense is still pretty bad. Yes, I know they've no running backs to speak of and their offensive line is weak, but still.
On the other hand, that defense is tremendous. We don't need no fancy stats in Dallas to know that, given how well they played us. Is Landon Collins the Defensive Player of the Year? I'd lean to Aaron Donald, actually, but Collins is in the discussion.
Of late, they've played pretty well, too, with 3 quality wins in their last 4 games, joined by the loss to Philly in Philly, which we all know is the sort of thing that happens in this division.
I think this team goes as far as Damon "Snacks" Harrison is dominant at the nose, so I'm giving them a Blind Pig Brewery (Champaign, IL) Wookie Snacks Black Rye India Pale Ale. I'll also say if they win the Super Bowl, it's because Eli stops being a blind pig and throws to people in the Giants' uniform.
Green Bay Packers (10-6)
4-3 GW / BL
5-4 Quality Wins
9.1 Pyth. Wins (8th)
Total DVOA 12.1 (7th), Weighted DVOA 12.9 (7th)
Off DVOA 16.4 (4th), Def DVOA 2.4 (20th), ST -1.8 (20th)
I know the narrative is that the Packers are on a roll. And in a sense, that's true. They've won 6 in a row. They even have 2 quality wins in that span.
However, while I'm buying this is a good team, I'm not buying that this is a hot team. Those two quality wins were at home against the Seahawks, who if you recall are mediocre on the road, and against Detroit, who is just plain worse than their record.
I saw someone talking about how hot Aaron Rodgers is, too, what with 15 TDs in the last 6 games. If he kept that pace over a 16 game season, he'd have 40 TDs. Oh, wait, that's exactly what he did.
Note also the Weighted DVOA matches the Total DVOA, both 7th in the league and very close in their raw number.
Green Bay wins or loses on the strength of Aaron Rodgers. Really, they have no insurance policy. So I'm giving them a discounted Goose Island (Chicago, IL) Double Check Dubbel.
NYG v. GB Summary
Of all the Wild Card games, this is the only one that holds much suspense for me. On October 9th, the Giants went into Lambeau and lost 23-16. But their Weighted DVOA suggests that they're playing better now. Still, the difference isn't much. As a Cowboys fan, I want to play and beat the Giants, and if the Seahawks win, the Cowboys play the winner here. So, I'm going to pick the Giants.
But close NFL games come down to luck, really, and this will be a close game.
Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
8-0 GW / BL
4-3 Quality Wins
10.9 Pyth. Wins (3rd)
Total DVOA 19.6 (3rd), Weighted DVOA 19.8 (4th)
Off DVOA 25.3 (1st), Def DVOA 8.1 (27th), ST 2.4 (8th)
Let's just get this over with. Matt Ryan is the MVP. He's been stellar, and the Falcons have the best offense in the NFL by a sizable margin.
It's not the most unbalanced team in the NFL. That distinction goes to the Broncos, whose offense is 28th in DVOA and 1st in defense. But the difference ain't much. That's a bad defense, and its best player is battling an injury. I'm going to assume that Vic Beasley plays in the Divisional Round, which is important because he's the best player on an awful defense. Losing him won't make it better.
Picking the beer for the best Falcons team right now is easy. They get a Water Street Brewing (Port Townsend, WA) Millennium Falcon Amber Ale. They may make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, but their shields won't hold if there's a Star Destroyer that traps them.
SEA v. ATL Outlook
For the games after Wild Card weekend I'll be assuming I'm right in the previous round's games and will pick based upon that anticipated result, though I'll add a few notes based upon some other outcomes.
In any case, I anticipate Seattle coming to Atlanta as the first game of the Divisional Round. This is an intriguing game. The game will be in Atlanta, meaning Seattle won't have the 12th Man. With the 12th Man, in October, the Seahawks pulled out a 26-24 win. Also, the Seahawks miss Earl Thomas, and this is especially true against a passing attack like that of the Falcons.
Those factors make me lean to Atlanta, but I will also note that Russell Wilson is healthy now and wasn't then. Also, while Thomas is out now, the Seahawks other safety, Kam Chancellor was out in the October game and will play this time.
But Atlanta is just a better team. The difference in Weighted DVOA is tremendous. I could see the Seahawks scoring easily, especially with Wilson's ability to scramble and I think Jimmy Graham will dominate here, but can they score 35? I don't know, and that's what I think the Falcons will put up even against a very good defense.
Things get a little stickier if Beasley does not play.
If, somehow, the Seahawks lose, the Falcons will play the winner of Green Bay and New York. New York is a bad matchup for the Falcons, but they Falcons are better than all three. Green Bay in Atlanta, though, would be a great game to watch. I doubt they'd score as much as Penn State and USC in this year's Rose Bowl. But could they both be in the 40s? You betcha.
New England Patriots (14-2)
10-1 GW / BL
5-1 Quality Wins
12.8 Pyth. Wins (1st)
Total DVOA 25.3 (1st), Weighted DVOA 34.0 (1st)
Off DVOA 21.1 (2nd), Def DVOA -1.5 (16th), ST 2.7 (7th)
The New England Patriots played the easiest schedule in the NFL this year. DVOA takes that into account, which is why they have see-sawed at the top of the DVOA chart with the Cowboys all season.
Nevertheless, they dominated that schedule. 10 Good Wins? Oh, wow. There's nothing about that 14-2 record that screams luck, especially since their one bad loss happened with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
Fantastic on offense, even with Tom Brady only playing 12 games. Average on defense. Good on special teams. They're also playing well right now, having won their last 7, including 5 Good Wins and 2 Quality Wins.
Like it or not, there are reasons why the Patriots have the best odds to both get to the Super Bowl and then win it.
They earn a Boston Brewing (Boston, MA) Samuel Adams Cold Snap Witbier because I'm hoping they run into a bit of a slump. I don't think it's likely, but a guy can dream, right?
OAK v. NE Outlook
Assuming Pittsburgh wins in the Wild Card round, they Patriots will play the Oakland Raiders. Without Derek Carr. In New England. Do I really have to talk about this game?
Now, of course, if Miami beats Pittsburgh we have a different game. But not a different result. New England beat Miami 31-24 without Tom Brady already. Then they beat them again in Miami with Brady by 3 touchdowns.
Outside of Brady getting knocked out, there's no scenario I can come up with that gives any of New England's three possible opponents a chance. And even without Brady, that's all they would have. A chance.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
5-1 GW / BL
5-4 Quality Wins
10.1 Pyth. Wins (4th)
Total DVOA 13.9 (6th), Weighted DVOA 18.7 (5th)
Off DVOA 3.8 (13th), Def DVOA -2.5 (14th), ST 7.6 (2nd)
Welcome to the most balanced team in the NFL, ladies and gentlemen. This is a team driven by big plays, especially Tyreek Hill. They have 8 defensive and special teams touchdowns, leading the NFL. On offense, Hill can score from the Sea of Tranquility and Travis Kelce was the best tight end in the NFL this year.
However, if they don't hit on any big plays, this team will sputter. Including those big plays in the total, the Chiefs are an average offense. Taking them out? Not so much.
Alex Smith doesn't like to be referred to as a bus driver. But he's perennially at the bottom of the charts in terms of air yards, or the distance his passes travel in the air. His overall yardage benefits greatly from his receivers, especially Kelce, doing something with the ball after the catch.
But this is also a team that rushes the passer well and generated more turnovers than anyone else this year. The bad news is that turnovers are a fluky stat, especially fumbles. Again, like the offense, this is an average defense if you include all those turnovers, but mediocre if they can't force any.
They earn a Dionysus Brewing (Bakersfield, CA) Boom or Bust American Imperial Stout. Enough big plays and they can beat anyone. But if they don't happen, then they can lose to any of the playoff teams.
PIT v. KC Outlook
What a delicious game to hope for. Equally matched teams with explosive players in a great stadium environment. Pittsburgh slightly better but KC will have the home field advantage. A potential instant classic.
I envision this game as one where each team sends haymakers at the other, with LeVeon Bell breaking off a big run followed by Hill for 75 then Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown 4 times a row snapping up 80 yards in 90 seconds then a Steeler turnover giving KC a short field and Kelce wide open. And then..., well you get the picture.
I guess I see the Chiefs advancing here because of the home field, but it's as close a game to call as we have so far.
For not close games, envision Houston or Oakland getting here. Frankly, in the AFC, the difference between the 1-3 seeds and the 4-6 seeds is too much for me to see anything strange happening.
Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
6-1 GW / BL
6-2 Quality Wins
11.0 Pyth. Wins (2nd)
Total DVOA 21.0 (2nd), Weighted DVOA 24.2 (2nd)
Off DVOA 20.4 (3rd), Def DVOA 0.8 (17th), ST 1.4 (10th)
It's interesting comparing the Cowboys to the Patriots. The Patriots are a notch better in everything. However, just a notch, and not an insurmountable one.
This offense is very good to great. The 4th ranked offense by DVOA is the Packers, but there's a gap between them and the Cowboys. Can anyone actually stop Ezekiel Elliot? It's a challenge, because this offense can beat you in many ways. Dak Prescott has been stellar, with a miniscule 13 passes that could possibly be intercepted in the entire year.
But we all knew that. All along the question has been the defense. Well, it got better throughout the year and ended up as an average defense that relied not on making big plays but limiting big plays by the offense. Towards the end, though, they added big play creation to their skill set.
So many choices here. I think I'll go with our lucky strike, and give the Cowboys a Hay Camp Brewing (Rapid City, SD) Dakota Gold English Bitters because we definitely struck gold with Rayne Dakota Prescott. Also, this is a fairly low alcohol beer. The kind of beer you drink several of during a long drinking session. Sort of like the way the Cowboys play consistent offense.
NYG v. DAL Outlook
I want this matchup badly. Yes, I know that New York beat us twice. I will point out three important factors. First, they were close games and hence could have gone either way. Second, the first matchup was Dak's and Zeke's first game and the second one was affected by the weather, neither of which will be relevant this time.
Third, the Cowboys are a better team. I want this matchup because I don't want any Giants fan to look at our success and claim they'd have beat us if we'd played. Not going to happen a 3rd time.
I'm also confident if we play Green Bay or Detroit. We already beat both by at least 2 TDs. We can do that again, especially in Dallas.
Championship Game Outlooks
Kansas City at New England is the most likely game in the AFC. I like New England here, they're just a better team, but this is the boom and bust Chiefs. Even Bill Belichick can't entirely limit chaos from happening on a football field. He can limit Hill's touches on the punt return, but it only takes once, as we saw this past week with Hill's 95 yard return. He can rely on Brady not to turn the ball over, but the Chiefs have 3 good pass rushers, and as we've seen before, you can force Brady into some mistakes.
New England should win, but I wouldn't be surprised if KC does.
I think if Pittsburgh gets here it's a better overall game, because Pittsburgh is more consistent, but I think the best way to beat the Patriots is with lightning bolts, not sustained efforts. Belichick is just too good at adjusting.
So, I think New England advances.
In the NFC, we're likely to see Atlanta at Dallas. This will be a high-scoring game, but Atlanta is allowing 4.5 yards per carry against, 5th-worst in the NFL. I think Dallas dominates up front and controls the game. Atlanta will score quickly, but Dallas will score methodically.
The key matchup here is Vic Beasley vs. Doug Free. If Beasley's healthy, he's much better than Free. However, I think Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan can scheme against this weakness by chipping with Jason Witten and Zeke. Also, Beasley is undersized and I think the Cowboys run at him a lot. Pound him.
I can see the Falcons getting up early in this game, but the Cowboys have shown the focus to keep running the ball and that will lead them to the Super Bowl.
In an ideal world, though, the Seahawks pull the upset against the Falcons and come into JerryWorld. Bring them on. I'm worried about the Falcons. I'm not worried a bit about the Seahawks in Arlington. Any playoff can beat any other playoff team. It's the NFL and this is a year of no great teams. But the dropoff in overall DVOA after Atlanta is pretty steep.
Super Bowl Outlook
There's a reason the Vegas oddsmakers are so confident that New England will most likely play Dallas. These are the two teams that have consistently been the best all year long, and there's a drop in DVOA to the others, though Atlanta's close to Dallas.
Much as I hate to say it, I don't think the Cowboys match up well against the Patriots. The Patriots have a pretty good run defense, though they're worse against the pass. Plus, with two weeks to plan, I think Belichick can scheme up something to confuse Dak. One of the best coaches ever vs. a rookie QB? Not liking that matchup at all.
Still, the Cowboys are a very good team and, as I said, only 1 notch below the Patriots. Football is a funny game. It'll definitely be a game I think we can win, though I think the Patriots are more likely to.
This is the NFL playoffs though, and we all know that the best team doesn't always win. Still, there are some bad teams this year and I think we can discount a few right away. The NFC is definitely the more even conference, and will be fun to watch.
Whew. Now that is a Rhodri-length post. Time for me to go have another 4 Hands Brewing (St. Louis, MO) Divided Sky Rye India Pale Ale.
Have a good night all, and go Cowboys.