With all due respect to the Broncos and Ravens, this is the one everyone has been waiting for: the Patriots and Texans. The battle for the AFC. The Hoedown in Beantown. The Thrilla in Gillette Villa?
This game features our leading MVP candidate (but an up-and-down running game), our eighth-leading MVP candidate (but Schaub's behind Megatron and Brees to get into the top five), the running back with the most rushing touchdowns on the season (but Foster also has the most carries), and two defenses on polar opposite ends of the spectrum (the Texans are at No. 2 but the Patriots are at No. 22). Yeah, there's some intrigue here.
And it could mean the world for playoff positioning. The Patriots come into this game with a 53.8% chance of getting a bye. If they win, those odds increase to 63.6%. If they fall, their chances fall all the way down to 26.0%. Similarly, the Texans' odds of getting a first-round bye would drop from their current 92.8% to 78.6% if they were to fall tonight.
As always, we're here to help make sense of everything. For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and some key stats we're looking at for this game, read on.
Charging Hard Against the Best D's
According to our numbers, the most similar team (95.34% match) to the 2012 Patriots is the 2004 Chargers, which went 12-4 and won the AFC West. Get past the internal image of The Hoodie tearing his hair out after being compared to Marty Schottenheimer (and really, it's a fun one), and you'll see the two teams truly are that similar. A high-powered passing game (Brady/Brees) with a solid, young-ish running back (Ridley/Tomlinson) saves games while an average defense (No. 22/No. 12) does just enough to keep them in it.
We know how the Patriots have done this season against top ten defenses - they've only played two, and they split against the spread against the Cardinals and Broncos early in the season with varying offensive outputs of 18 points against Arizona and 31 points against Denver. So to break the tie, we take a look at the '04 Chargers' performance against these top teams.
|Week 2||SD/NYJ||28-34||NYJ (-3)|
|Week 5||SD/JAC||34-21||SD (+2)|
|Week 14||SD/TB||31-24||SD (-5)|
LT 2.0 and Co. may not have had an overwhelming record against the spread in these games, only going 2-1-2, but their point outputs are worth a second-look. Even against the top defenses of the day, the Chargers still managed to put up at least 20 points in every game but one and at least 28 points in three of them. Against the No. 6 Broncos defense twice, the Chargers finished with 24 less points than expected; against the other three teams (including the No. 3 Jacksonville defense), they finished with 23 more points than expected.
Underneath Boston Harbor
These are the five games that our analytics say are the most similar to tonight's game historically, each with at least an 88.6% similarity. Let me know if you're one of those keen eyed people and can spot a trend.
Yeah, it's in that last column, isn't it? Something tells me that you were probably good at "I Spy" back in the day. With tonight's current line sitting at 52 points, it's important to note that the most similar games went under that mark. And I mean way under - four of the five matchups here are under by over two touchdowns.
To see more of the games that the stats have deemed our "Strongest Predictors", you'll need to head into our numberFire premium selections. But it's absolutely worth the look, because this Texans/Patriots game is tending strongly a certain way.
Most Valuable Dodge Salesman (MVDS)
So Tom Brady's our MVP, huh? So what exactly does that mean, and how will it effect this game?
Well, what it means is that the Patriots have gained more points by Tom Brady being on the field than they would have with any other player in the league. We're sure of this because of our Net Expected Points statistic, which measures the amount of points above or under expectation a certain player adds to the team on any given play. If Brady's Patriots pass to convert a 3rd-and-2 from the 50 and make it a 1st-and-10 from the opponent's 42, the difference in expected points from those plays is the NEP total.
The total of all Brady's plays for the season have been tallied up, and in total, he's gained the Patriots 176.06 NEP over expectation, or 14.7 more points per game. That's easily first in the league; no other player entered Week 14 averaging even 12 points per game of value for their team. Aaron Rodgers' 11.1 NEP per game is the closest.
For tonight, that means that even if he's facing Houston's No. 3 opponent-adjusted defense, his efficiency should still allow him to achieve a high level of play. We have Brady with 309.27 passing yards - our second-highest projection entering Week 14 behind Matt Ryan - and 2.09 passing TDs as compared to 1.03 INTs. The current prop bets of over 300.5 yards (-125) and over two touchdowns (-150) don't look so farfetched any longer.