The Top Historical Team Comparisons for Each of the Remaining NFL Playoff Teams
You can learn a lot from history. It can teach you valuable lessons, such as how to build a just government and why you shouldn't use duct tape while robbing a hotel. It's great.
With the assistance of numberFire, history can also tell you what to expect when it comes to the NFL playoffs.
For example, each team's profile (such as this one for the Seattle Seahawks) includes a list of similar historical teams. This is based on the Net Expected Points (NEP) data collected for each team, and comparing that to the data of other teams since 2000. While it's obviously not perfect, it can give us an idea of what we should expect when the two similar teams are in like situations. It's the bee's knees.
NEP is a numberFire-specific efficiency stat that measures the expected points a team has accounted for throughout a season relative to a league-average one. So, a team with a Passing NEP of zero would be average (technically a little below, since passing is more efficient than rushing), while a team with a Passing NEP of -100 (I'm looking at you, Jacksonville) would be 100 points worse than an average team in that specific category.
Let's take a look at the top historical comp for each of the playoff teams and see what they did. Maybe this can help us learn a little about these teams and give us a better picture of what may happen this weekend.
Top Comp: 2002 San Diego Chargers
The defending Super Bowl champs are matched up with a franchise that has never won a Super Bowl in a year in which they went 8-8. Sweet.
The reason that destiny smiled upon these two teams is that they both had stupidly sick rushing offenses and defenses that could make your mouth water.
Those 2002 Chargers were led by a young pup at running back named LaDainian Tomlinson, who was just breaking into the league. Sure, he had rushed for 1,236 yards as a rookie, but his 1,683 yards this year helped carry San Diego to eight wins. This was because his quarterback, some schmuck named Drew Brees, just wasn't getting the job done.
Brees finished the year with a Passing NEP of -6.09, which ranked 23rd among quarterbacks that dropped back at least 250 times that year. Russell Wilson finished 15th in the category, so he didn't exactly light up the world, either. With his arms, at least. His legs are another story.
The Chargers started 6-1 that year before totally tanking in classic Chargers style. In those first seven games, they allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards six times. They won all six games.
Then in the final nine games, the opposing team topped that barrier six times. Mystery solved, right? All the Seahawks have to do is stop the run!
Not so fast, good homies. It just so happens that the Panthers, Seattle's opponent this weekend, have rushed for 100 yards in 12 straight games. They are also averaging 193.83 per game since their Week 12 bye. This is going to be a fun matchup.
Top Comp: 2004 Houston Texans
It's not often that you see a team in the divisional round of the playoffs compared to a 7-9 team. It's far less often that the 7-9 team had as many wins as the playoff team. Welcome to the NFC South.
The thing that made the Texans tick in 2004 was their defense. They had an Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play (which is adjusted for strength of schedule) of -0.01. This, coupled with an Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play of -0.03, helped the Texans overcome a below average offense and hover around .500.
Similar to the Seahawks, the Panthers have only allowed 100 yards rushing once since Week 9. They even held Seattle, who had the second highest Adjusted Rushing NEP per play of any team since 2000, to 119 yards on 26 attempts. They good.
The problem here is the offense. The 2004 Texans were held below 20 points in six of their final nine games. In that Week 7 matchup with the Seahawks, the Panthers were held to nine points. They'll have to hope this comp is less than accurate if they want to get to the second round.
Green Bay Packers
Top Comp: 2005 Indianapolis Colts
These two teams are the Tia and Tamera Mowry of the NFL. I refuse to accept that Sister, Sister was not one of the greatest shows ever.
The 2005 Colts surpassed 40 points in three separate games. The Pack did it four times. This helped the Colts to a first-round bye and a 14-2 record. Green Bay was off last week after finishing 12-4.
Just one problem. The Colts got knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs that year. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-18, in the game where the Colts were one Ben Roethlisberger finger-roll from a miraculous comeback. With a partially torn calf, good luck getting Rodgers to pull that off.
If the Packers and Cowboys end up combining for just 600 yards like the Steelers and Colts did in 2005, I'll name my first child Tia Tamera Joe Mauer Sannes. This was already the odds-on favorite, but that would make it official. You should still expect this to be a bonafide shootout, even if history is working against it.
Top Comp: 2008 Atlanta Falcons
If we look at these two teams based strictly on Adjusted Defensive NEP, the similarities are pretty obvious.
The Falcons had an Adjusted Passing and Rushing NEP per play of 0.23 and 0.03, respectively. This was joined by Adjusted Defensive Passing and Rushing NEP per play totals of 0.03 and 0.12.
For the Cowboys, that Adjusted Passing NEP per play inflates slightly to 0.23 while the rushing stays the same. On the defensive side, you just flip the rushing and passing marks and you have what the Cowboys did in 2014. Seems like an apt comparison.
Dallas has already surpassed the standard set forth by Atlanta by going into Detroit and beating the Lions last weekend. The Falcons in 2008 lost to Arizona on the road in the first round, propelling the Cardinals on a run to the Super Bowl.
The big difference here is the quarterbacks. Even though Matt Ryan had one of the best rookie seasons of all time that year, he struggled in the playoffs, averaging 4.98 yards per pass attempt and throwing a pair of picks. With how Tony Romo has played this year, it's more than fair to expect something just a wee bit beyond that from Dallas's gunslinger this weekend.
New England Patriots
Top Comp: 2009 Baltimore Ravens
Oh, how interesting. The Patriots' top comp happens to be the franchise they are facing this weekend in a year in which said franchise defeated the Patriots in the playoffs. numberFire's computers want to have fun, too.
This was the sophomore seasons for a couple of dudes named Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Both had improved significantly since their rookie campaigns, but Flacco still struggled mightily in the playoffs. He had a 53.3 completion percentage to go with three picks and no touchdowns. Great success.
So, what would be the key to victory for the 2009 Ravens? The Patriots should know, so let's look!
In their 33-14 victory over New England in the first round, the Ravens had one strategy: run that rock until you can't run anymore. It also included one of the more spectacular quarterbacking performances in the playoffs from Flacco: he completed 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards and a pick. Quarterback wins are such an important stat.
The Patriots defense did finish fourth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play this year, so it will be interesting to see with what kind of line Flacco finishes this weekend. I would pay decent money to see Brady win a game with a line like Flacco's from 2009. The odds of that happening, however, are roughly on par with Flacco's passer rating in that game.
Top Comp: 2004 New York Giants
The Giants finished the 2004 season with a 6-10 record and finished second in the NFC East. This seems like a good sign!
Don't confuse this for numberFire's algorithms hating on the Ravens; they are ranked fifth in our power rankings. They just have several similarities to the Giants, especially on defense.
Things that the 2004 Giants could do well: stop the run. Things the 2004 Giants could not do well: stop the pass. This is the same formula that the Ravens had used defensively to get to this point.
Both teams also ended the year with positive rushing efficiency metrics. The big difference is that Flacco is just a wee bit better than rookie Eli Manning. Flacco finished the year 11th in Total NEP (which includes a player's rushing efficiency), the highest finish he has ever recorded in the category. We'll see if that continues to carry over into this week.
Top Comp: 2009 Baltimore Ravens
This is numberFire trying to predict the end of the universe if the Patriots and Broncos face each other next week. It'll be a battle royale of two mutant Joe Flaccos, trying to see which one is the truest version of the 2009 Ravens. Only one Flacco can win. Everybody else loses.
Just for the record, the Patriots did have a higher similarity score with these Ravens than the Broncos did (96.95 percent to 95.45 percent). So, we can instead look at the number-two comp for these Broncos: that would be the 2009 Patriots, whom the 2009 Ravens bested in the playoffs. The algorithms have given us the middle finger. This is the end, ladies and gents.
I looked at the third comp for the Broncos, and that is the 2004 Patriots. That was the third Super Bowl year for the Pats. Whom did they beat in the first round of the playoffs that year? Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts. Because of course they did.
It probably does say something about these Broncos, though, that their top three comps all had successful seasons. A Super Bowl and two other decent playoff teams says that this team is still near the top despite Manning's slight decline. In fact, they rank third in the aforementioned Power Rankings behind Seattle and Green Bay. But if they end up dueling with the Patriots in the conference championship and a black hole emerges over Foxborough, don't say I didn't warn you.
Top Comp: 2003 New York Giants
This is almost too beautiful for words. The 11-5 Colts' top comp is the 4-12 Giants of 2003. And it's not like this is some sort of reach: the two are a 96.96 percent match.
After Week 13, Luck had a Passing NEP of 140.90, meaning he was 140.90 points better than an average quarterback at throwing the rock. This was the third best total in the league. Sunshine and daisies abound!
Then the neckbeard blotted out that glowing ball in the sky, and all turned dark in Indianapolis. Luck had a Passing NEP of -30.57 over the final four weeks of the season. So, if the algorithm is more heavily weighing the final few weeks of the season, Kerry Collins and Andrew Luck are basically the same person.
Luck certainly rebounded against Cincinnati, but he can't go back to the Luck we saw in the latter part of the season against Denver. That won't cut it against an offense that good. While they may not be the 2003 Giants, they're not the 2006 Colts, either.