2012 Wild Card Betting Preview: Texans/Bengals by the Stats

How Defense is the name of the game, and where the 2000 Philadelphia Eagles fit into this matchup.

Everything is bigger in Texas. Including the freefall from homefield advantage throughout the playoffs to playing on the first weekend.

After Andre Johnson and the Texans fell to the ChuckStrongs in Week 17, they were forced to watch as Denver and New England dominated the competition and snatched the first two AFC seeds. The matchup they fell into shouldn't be the toughest - the Bengals finished as numberFire's No. 15 team on our opponent-adjusted power rankings - but that Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection is not to be messed with.

Anybody can give a general preview. But only numberFire takes you deeper into the stats.

This preview will rely heavily on our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure, which I explained in full in a past MVP Watch article. That number, along with a few others, should be able to tell you exactly what to expect when these two teams hit the field Saturday afternoon.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking615
Offensive Ranking1220
Defensive Ranking56
Total Offensive NEP Gained85.8324.08
Passing Offensive NEP Gained119.3436.71
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-31.80-4.31
Total Defensive NEP Allowed-46.31-14.92
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed10.36-14.92
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-61.42-23.47

Just a quick note about the Net Expected Point figures: since the passing and rushing totals are adjusted for each opponent, and there aren't an equal number of passing and rushing plays in each game, the figures won't add up exactly. And since passing is much more efficient than rushing in today's NFL, you'll often see teams both gaining more NEP on the offensive end and allowing more NEP on the defensive end through passing than rushing.

Defensive Struggle

The first thing that jumps out to me in that Tale of the Tape is the offensive vs. defensive rankings of these two teams. Sure, they may have Arian Foster and Andre Johnson and Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. But what's important that they really have are two top ten defenses, both of whom have allowed fewer points than expectation in an increasingly offensive league.

Of course, Vegas has taken note of this trend: the 43.5 point totals line is the lowest of any of the four games this weekend. But we've taken a look at the games that our stats deem the "strongest predictors", meaning that because of a similar team structure or efficiency of offenses and defenses, these are the games that most closely resemble this matchup. And the top predictors indicate that, well, Vegas might want to start putting that line even lower.

MatchupDateTotal PointsOver/UnderPercent Match

All five of our strongest predictors went under, although none of them went under by too terribly much. Strangely, four of the five games come from the 2000 season, which is the first year for which we count strongest predictor data. I guess relying on that Jay Fiedler vs. Rob Johnson QB matchup did somebody some good (certainly not the people watching).

About Them Eagles

So why, exactly, is the 2000 season such a strong predictor? Specifically, two games involving the Philadelphia Eagles?

According to our analytics, the Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid (back before he was a full-grown walrus) led squad has the highest similarity rating to the 2012 Bengals, a 94.97% match. That's the highest similarity score of any historical team to either team playing in this game.

That Eagles squad went 11-5 during the regular season, finishing in second in the (then five team) NFC East to the Giants and advancing to the Divisional Playoffs. But those numbers change a bit when you're talking about the 2000 Eagles' record against the top ten defensive squads in the NFL, like the Bengals will be facing this Sunday in the Texans.

Including the playoffs, the Eagles faced off against the top ten defensive teams in the NFL eight times. Two of those games were against the division-rival Redskins, and three of those games, including a Divisional Round loss, were against the Giants. In those eight games, the Eagles went 3-5, with wins over the Redskins, Steelers, and Buccaneers.

But that's not the important part. It's more intriguing to me just how poorly the offense has performed in those games. Even when adjusting for opponents, the Eagles only scored more than expectation once in those eight games; 4.24 points more than expectation against Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round. Even in their other two wins, the Eagles combined for almost 12 points less than expectation against the Steelers and Redskins; their defense just allowed few points, and they won both games by only a field goal.

It may not make sense for some to look at a team from 2000 when predicting today's game, but there simply isn't much data to go on for this year's Bengals facing a strong defensive team. They have only faced a team in the top ten of numberFire's opponent-adjusted power rankings three times this season. They lost to the Broncos by eight and split against the Steelers. But in only one of those games (the Broncos) did Cincinnati score within a touchdown of their average-efficiency expected total.

The Final Predictions

Wait, you didn't think I'd give everything away, did you? Come on now, you should know me better than that.

For our official predictions about the totals line, pick against the spread, moneyline, and all sorts of other goodies, you'll need to become a premium numberFire member. Go ahead and check it out today! As a note, we have three separate picks for this Wild Card weekend that we think are three star picks or above; you won't want to miss out.