2012 Wild Card Betting Preview: Packers/Vikings by the Stats

The key to this game might not be Rodgers or Peterson at all, but instead, whether DuJuan Harris gets his carries.

The Rematch. The rumble on the Tundra. The Norse God meets the Bionic Leg. Cheeseheads against Viking Helmets.

I could go on and on listing the reasons to watch this game, but let's be honest: you're going to watch it. I don't need to convince you of that. And that's not why you're here anyway.

You want an edge, and thankfully, numberFire is here to provide once again. The Packers are heavy favorites, but can they still be considered a smart play with an eight-point spread? And which will hurt more: Christian Ponder or the Packers' cavalcade of extremely mediocre RBs?

We look at all of these numbers and more in our Wild Card matchup preview. Once again, 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 night.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking513
Offensive Ranking211
Defensive Ranking1622
Total Offensive NEP Gained177.8589.99
Passing Offensive NEP Gained184.3159.90
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-39.3513.97
Total Defensive NEP Allowed27.2459.67
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed34.05114.51
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-25.55-56.56

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.

Ponder vs. Packers, The Case

After a defensive battle in the first playoff game that only Rob Ryan could love, this Packers/Vikings match looks poised to break out as a offensive matchup for the ages. Both teams are ranked at least ten places higher in our opponent-adjusted offensive rankings than our defensive rankings, which can only mean high-scoring fun times.

But both teams have a weakness, and that weakness plays right into the opposing team's defensive strength. For the Packers, it's their rush offense, which ranks only 19th in total efficiency this season and whose -0.09 NEP per rush is in the bottom half of the league. For Vikings, it's the fact that Christian "LOL" Ponder is their QB, and Minnesota's 59.90 NEP gained passing is a dead-average 16th in the league.

Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson can't do everything, right? Well, based off of this entire season, maybe they can. But it doesn't stop us from looking at the weak points of both offenses and trying to measure how efficient they'll be.

The Vikings Passing Game

Christian Ponder came out and threw for three TDs against Green Bay in Week 17, which surprised absolutely everybody... especially those who spent the season watching the Packers secondary. Green Bay's 0.06 NEP per pass allowed to opposing quarterbacks ranks 10th in the league; they only allowed an average of about two points total per game more than expectation because of opposing QBs.

That means that the 18.16 NEP that Ponder gained in Week 17 wasn't just unexpected, the chances were about as good as Magic Mike winning Best Picture. Even after that performance, Ponder ended the season averaging 0.08 NEP per pass (it was 0.05 NEP per pass entering the final game). That makes him 20th among NFL QBs that threw at least 200 passes this season, right behind the trio of effective corpse Carson Palmer, rookie Andrew Luck, and Matthew "Throw it and see what happens!" Stafford.

Those numbers also mean that the chances of last week happening again are slim. Our projections see Ponder only having 207.58 passing yards, 1.37 pass TDs, and 1.00 INTs this week.

The Packers Running Game

Well that depends: who's getting the ball? Because DuJuan Harris and Alex Green are completely different backs in terms of efficiency this season.

Harris hasn't gotten that many carries, but when he's had his chances, he's been the most effective back the Packers have had since... wait, have they ever had an effective back? Dorsey Levens? Well, the second-coming may just be here, as Harris has only averaged -0.03 NEP per rush on his attempts. Only six starting backs (Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw, Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, Stevan Ridley) finished with a better NEP per rush average...

Which would be all well and good if, you know, he was actually the starting back. Instead, Alex Green appears to be back from injury and is currently listed at No. 1 on the depth chart. And that's not a good thing for Packers fans: only one player with as many carries as Alex Green's 134, Darren McFadden, ended the season with a worse NEP per rush mark.

Seeing as how the Vikings gave up 56.56 points under expectation to opposing running games, the sixth-best mark in the NFL, Green would be an absolutely poor bet to help the Packers offense in any sort of way. But watch the depth chart and reports out of Green Bay, my betting friends. If DuJuan Harris is expected to get even half of the Packers carries, then the resulting two-pronged attack with Rodgers and Harris could mean a big payoff for the Packers.

Attacking the Spread

The Packers are the biggest favorites of the weekend right now, currently holding a (-9) mark against the Vikings. That's not too surprising; they won seven up their 11 victories by nine points or higher this year. That line has even risen from where we originally had it placed when we ran our analytics, at (-8) earlier this week.

It may be tempting to say, "Oh, the Packers will win, but it'll be close. Division rivals!" And I will say, "What does division rivals have to do with math?" And then I will show you the top seven "Green Bay victories" from the past dozen years that come from our analytics' Strongest Predictors. That is, these are the seven games where the matchups most closely resembles this weekend's Packers/Vikings game, and the team that represents the Packers won. As a note, in the below chart, the first team listed is the one that represents the Packers in this historical matchup.

MatchupDateScoreSpread VictorOver/UnderPercent Match

Of those top seven projected Packers victories, six of them came by more than the spread. That's not a coincidence: the Packers have a strong offense. When they put up points, they but them up in bunches...

... except that's not what happened here. All of these games, including the one where the Packers-related team won but did not cover, were under the projected totals line that currently sits at 46. The Packers-related teams still put up a decent amount of points (although over 30 only once) but instead won with smothering defense. Of the top six projected Packers covers, not a single one came when Green Bay allowed more than 17 points. Thus, it might not be the Packers offense that holds the key to a Packers cover at all; it's whether the defense can hold the opposing team while the offense does its thing like normal.

The Final Predictions

Nope, I'm still not going to make it that easy. Just like the Packers front seven trying to stop Adrian Peterson, we're going to make you work for it a bit.

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.