2012 Divisional Playoffs Betting Preview: Falcons/Seahawks by the Stats

Michael Turner is the King of Inefficiency. But the stats say that the lack of a running game doesn't matter much historically.

Note: Unedited lyrics, which also means unedited T.I., Big Boi, and Ludacris, so your choice.

True story: Big Boi was on ESPN's First Take yesterday. I know, I didn't watch it out of sheer terror that Skip Bayless would infect my brain, too. But according to sources, the other half of Outkast promoted his hometown Falcons perfectly - he even got the official Falcons Twitter account to promote his appearance.

And you know what? It's the very first mention of the Falcons I've heard on national media all week.

While the Seahawks storylines are numerous and plentiful, the Falcons (the one seed!) are quietly going about their business and preparing for Sunday. No Richard Sherman mic'd up or Russell Wilson storylines or Pete Carroll being Pete Carroll here. It's hard to get a read on the team from the ATL.

But that's exactly why we have the stats - we know what's likely to happen before anyone else does.

With an eye towards our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure, which measures a player's contributions to a team's expected points above or below the league-average play and is explained fully in a past MVP Watch article, we look at the major numbers behind the first game on Sunday. With the help of numberFire's premium product, here's what we're expecting on the field. Read on, my friend.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking74
Offensive Ranking83
Defensive Ranking97
Total Offensive NEP Gained108.01155.27
Passing Offensive NEP Gained150.29140.78
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-57.6718.27
Total Defensive NEP Allowed3.93-9.83
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed24.62-1.96
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-7.54-24.45

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.

Turn(er) Around, Dirty Bird Eyes

I said this somewhere around 728 times during the regular season, but it's worth reminding everyone for the playoffs - Michael Turner has no business getting carries. Ever.

Turner averaged -0.21 NEP per rush for the Falcons this season, the second lowest mark for someone with at least 150 carries behind Darren McFadden's atrocious -0.27 NEP per rush mark. Let's put this into perspective: every five times Turner tries to rush the ball, the Falcons would be expected to score over a point less than if they had simply run the league-average play. That's staggering inefficiency for you.

In total, Turner lost the Falcons 45.33 points under expectation this season, a sizeable portion of their 57.67 points under expectation running the ball this season. That horrific -0.15 NEP per rush as a team helped the 30th most efficient rushing attack in the league.

But does it matter? Since the beginning of the millennium, 36 NFL offenses have averaged worse than Atlanta's -0.15 NEP per rush before this season. Exactly six of those teams ended the year at .500 or above. And as you can see, the lack of a rushing attempts... didn't seem to matter much at all.

YearTeamTeam NEP/RushRecordPlayoffs
2000NYG-0.1712-4Super Bowl Loss
2001MIA-0.1611-5Wild Card Loss
2005CAR-0.1611-5NFC Champ Loss
2009SD-0.1713-3Divisional Loss

The four teams that made the playoffs went a combined 4-4, with two wins a piece from the two teams led by Kerry Collins and Jake Delhomme (for those of you saying you don't trust Matt Ryan to lead a team to victory without a running game). Similar to what I wrote yesterday about how the 49ers rush defense barely matters at all, the opposite is true for the Falcons.

When analyzing the game for your own nefarious purposes, you would be wise to focus on Matt Ryan and his second-in-the-NFL 197.06 NEP above expectation gained for the Falcons. The lack of a running game doesn't mean much in today's NFL.

Going By With A Pass

So it's all about the pass, huh? Well that should bode well for the Seahawks, which as I analyzed last week are only the ninth team in six years to both gain 100 NEP over expectation through passing as well as hold opponents to points under expectation in the passing game.

Nine teams finished the 2012 season with at least 100 points over expectation passing the ball, including both teams in this game. In addition, seven teams gave up 20 NEP over expectation or less (including points under expectation) to opposing passing games this season. The Broncos, Texans, Seahawks, and 49ers are the four teams that overlap the two categories. And of those four teams, the Falcons played exactly one: beating the Broncos 27-21 in Week 2.

Expanding that out a bit further, ten teams finished in the top half of the league in both passing efficiency and stopping the pass: Atlanta, Carolina, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, New York Giants, Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis. Against these teams, Atlanta only played four games, going 3-1 against the spread and beating the Broncos, Giants, and Panthers while losing the Panthers rematch.

Sure, that looks good, but four games does not a trend make. To expand this out even further, I decided to look at the historical teams that our analytics consider the "Most Statistically Similar" to the 2012 Falcons. And strangely enough, both of the top two most similar teams come from 2001: the Packers (95.69 percent similarity) and the Buccaneers (93.33 percent similarity).

In that whale of a 2001 NFL season (the Greatest Show on Turf, may I remind you), eight teams completed the top-half passing double: Chicago, Green Bay, Miami, New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. Notice both of the Falcons-similar teams in there; a strong passing offense and halfway decent secondary is universal.

The 2001 Packers faced these teams four times in the regular season, although two times were against the Tampa-similar team so I will exclude those two games (for the record, Tampa won both games against the spread). In both of Green Bay's matchups against Chicago, they won the game by at least 10 points, demolishing the spread both times. So let's increase the record of "Falcons and Friends" to 5-1 for now.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, handed St. Louis one of their two regular season losses against a +10 spread, while they lost two of their other three spreads by only two points, against Chicago and Pittsburgh.

In total, the Falcons and Friends went 6-4 against the spread against the solid passing and pass defense teams. That's not an overwhelming total, but it also means that you can have confidence that they won't be overwhelmed by the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.

The Final Predictions

I'm good for the reasoning behind the decision making. But if you want to know whether betting on the Falcons is actually risky business In the A, you'll need to go to a different part of the site, 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! For the Divisional Playoffs, we have one five-star and three three-star selections this week. It's easy money, courtesy of your friends at numberFire.