2012 Divisional Playoffs Betting Preview: Broncos/Ravens by the Stats

Last week, Joe Flacco tore up the Colts secondary. But we're not facing Indianapolis anymore, Toto...

In the popular media, the MVP race is down to two main competitors: Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson. For most who haven't been living in a cave (because let's face it, most caves don't have electricity), the reasoning is obvious. Adrian Peterson almost became Eric Dickerson's worst nightmare. Peyton Manning became the anti-Tebow en route to the AFC's top seed. Done.

Actually, sorry all. Not done.

I've written before why running backs can't even get close to being MVP, simply because they don't add enough value. And as for Peyton Manning? Well, for that, we look at our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure. NEP measures a player's contributions to a team's expected points above or below the league-average play, which I explained fully in a past MVP Watch article.

When looking at Peyton's expected points added, he gained the Broncos 192.23 NEP, which was only about, oh 250 points more than Tim Tebow gained the Broncos in 2011 (yes, he lost them expected points). And that should positively, absolutely... not gain him MVP. Not while Matt Ryan and Tom Brady gained more for their respective teams, that is.

But that's just one of the story lines we're following with a heavy-stats filled bent for this Saturday afternoon. Want to see some of the numbers inside the game, with the help of numberFire's premium product? Read on, my friend.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking214
Offensive Ranking516
Defensive Ranking213
Total Offensive NEP Gained144.1849.90
Passing Offensive NEP Gained176.4049.02
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-51.33-14.81
Total Defensive NEP Allowed-93.8317.87
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed-35.2254.81
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-55.68-21.90

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.

Wait, There are Teams with Actual Defenses?

Take a look at the Ravens/Colts preview from last week, and you'll see why it's not much of a surprise that Joe Flacco ended up with 282 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions. The Colts secondary was BCS Championship Notre Dame-level bad, allowing 131.13 points above expectation to opposing offenses, the 12th highest mark since the turn of the millennium.

And that's also why you can take absolutely zero stock in Baltimore's Wild Card victory when looking at this Saturday's Broncos game.

Because the efficiency of passing in today's NFL, exactly four teams allowed points under expectation to opposing passing games this season: the Bears, Cardinals, Broncos, and Seahawks. In fact, the Broncos allowed an average of over two points less than expectation each game against the pass, 35.22 points less than expectation in total.

In the past five seasons, only eleven teams before this season finished with a better secondary than this year's Broncos squad. Of those eleven, seven made the playoffs. And of those seven, five got exactly where the Broncos want to be going.

YearTeamOpp. Pass NEPRecordPlayoffs
2009NYJ-113.229-7AFC Champ Loss
2008PIT-95.1012-4SB Champs
2008BAL-86.0711-5AFC Champ Loss
2008PHI-65.859-6-1NFC Champ Loss
2010PIT-49.5712-4SB Loss
2008TEN-41.1513-3Div. Champ Loss
2011DET-39.9210-6Wild Card Loss

In total, the teams with top-notch secondaries went 11-6 in their playoff games. Three of the five teams to make their conference championship game, the '08 Ravens, '08 Eagles, and '09 Jets, started out as a five seed or below. And of the two teams that didn't make it to the championship game, one (the '08 Titans) lost out to another team on this list (the '08 Ravens). The Lions, meanwhile, lost to a Saints passing attack that gained the fifth-most NEP in history during the regular season, or roughly 175 expected points more than the 2012 Ravens have gained.

Best of luck to you, Joe Flacco. The days of facing the Colts defense are long gone.

The Spread Option

Feeling a bit down in the dumps after reading the above, Ravens fans? Don't be. At least, our Premium product isn't as down on them as the above might make it seem.

As part of our analysis into each game, we like to incorporate what we call our "Strongest Predictors". The idea is simple. How closely do two teams in a past game resemble the two teams in this contest? Are the efficiencies of the offenses and defenses similar? How about the separation between the two teams? Our stats guys crunch the numbers and spit out a "similarity score", that is, a percentage that says just how close an historical contest (dating back to 2000) is to this matchup.

According to the top ten games that we consider the strongest predictors, Baltimore might not have as long of a shot of winning as you may believe; four of the top ten strongest predictors have the Baltimore-similar team emerging victorious. But with a current nine-point spread, know what the Ravens are much more likely to do? Cover.

Note: In the below table, the Denver-similar team is listed first.

DateMatchupScorePredicted WinnerPredicted CoverSimilarity Score

The Ravens may not have the odds to beat the Broncos, but according to our strongest predictors, at least covering is a solid bet. And it’s not just those games: of the top 20 strongest predictors, the Ravens cover in 14 of them, or 70 percent of the top matchups. And all of those games have at least 85.4 percent similarity to this particular game.

This doesn't necessarily mean to run out and grab the Ravens right away. But you can always learn a little something from history, especially when the numbers are overwhelming in your favor. I might not call this overwhelming, but I’m feeling pretty properly whelmed right now.

The Final Predictions

I'm good for the reasoning behind the decision making. But if you want the actual predictions themselves, you'll need to go elsewhere, my friend. 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! And for this game in particular, we have one five-star, can't-miss selection. It's easy money, courtesy of your friends at numberFire.