2012 Wild Card Betting Preview: Ravens/Colts by the Stats

If the numbers hold true, Joe Flacco could have a field day.

Will this decide once and for all who the "true" Baltimore franchise is? Well yes, in that 80 percent of the stadium will be in purple, and people will be lauding Ray Lewis as the best player in franchise history (a history, mind you, that may or may not include Johnny Unitas).

But that's water under the bridge; what really matters here is the stats. And based on our rankings, this might just be one of the closest games of the weekend. The Colts hold the more prolific offense, but their secondary couldn't stop Snoop Lion's youth football team.

We have the stats that make the (nerd) girls go crazy, and we're back to give you another taste. 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 Sunday afternoon.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking1421
Offensive Ranking1613
Defensive Ranking1330
Total Offensive NEP Gained49.9084.09
Passing Offensive NEP Gained49.0259.20
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-14.81-13.64
Total Defensive NEP Allowed17.87134.62
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed54.81131.13
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-21.908.11

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.

About That Secondary...

I may do a lot of trashing of that Colts secondary here, but I wouldn't do something if it wasn't warranted. Trust me, it's warranted.

Those 131.13 NEP given up to opposing passing games is the single-worst mark in the NFL this season. Even worse still, it's the worst mark of the past two seasons. And for real kicks, it's the eleventh-worst mark for any single team since Net Expected Points became a stat back in the 2000 season. And what we found when we looked at those open-wound secondaries - other than that the Lions and Vikings have had some really bad secondaries recently - is that there's absolutely no precedent for having a secondary this poor and still having a winning record.

YearTeamOpp. Pass NEPRecordPlayoffs?

In fact, past the Colts, you would need to go to the No. 32 team on the list to find the next team that even had a winning record and a poor secondary. That would be the 2011 Patriots, who gave up 115.38 points over expectation to opposing passing games, but also had this guy named Tom Brady who made their secondary kind of irrelevant.

Do you think Andrew Luck is Tom Brady and can make his secondary irrelevant? Well, let's put it this way. Tom Brady's 235.29 NEP gained in 2011 is the fifth-best single season mark since the 2000 season. Andrew Luck's 98.93 NEP gained this season ranked 12th among 2012 QBs alone.

Feeding on the Weak

"Hey, Mr. Know It All, that's all well and good. But what's to say that Joe Flacco and Co. can actually feed on that secondary?"

Well, Mr. Italics, I'm glad you hypothetically asked. The Ravens have faced four teams in the bottom ten of numberFire's opponent-adjusted power rankings this season. In two of those games, against the Cowboys and Raiders, they score more than two touchdowns over expectation. In the other two games, against the Eagles and Chiefs, they scored at least six points under expectation. That doesn't give a very solid sample to draw from.

So instead, we turn to the team that our analytics says these Ravens most closely resemble: the 2006 New York Giants. That Giants squad, led by Eli Manning, went 8-8, still somehow made the playoffs, but lost in the first round to the division champion Eagles 23-20. An overall 8-9 record doesn't predict good things for the Ravens. But the '06 Giants' performance against the 10 worst defenses in the league, however, does.

2006 Def. RankTeamFinal RecordScore vs. NYGNYG Points vs. Exp.
No. 23DAL9-736-22 NYG+4.29
No. 23DAL9-723-20 DAL+9.96
No. 24HOU6-1014-10 NYG+5.51
No. 25SEA9-742-30 SEA-3.50
No. 26WAS5-1119-3 NYG+9.47
No. 26WAS5-1134-28 NYG+18.33
No. 28TEN8-824-21 TEN-0.47

The '06 Giants might not have won every game, but their offense got the job done more often than not. Only two of their seven games against the bottom defenses of the league resulted in fewer points than expectation given the game circumstances. And neither of those was a blowout loss either; even the game with the most points under expectation (Seattle) resulted in the Giants scoring 30.

This leads me to believe that if something's an outlier with the Ravens, it's their poor performances against the Eagles and Chiefs defenses rather than their great performances against the Cowboys and Raiders defenses. It might be the Delaware in me, but I put my trust in Joe Flacco to get the job done.

The Final Predictions

Just like with Saturday's games, you'll get the stats behind our decision-making here. But for the actual predictions themselves, you'll need to become a bit more intimately acquainted with numberFire, if you know what I mean.

Of course I mean our premium product, duh. 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.