2017-18 NFL Playoff Preview

January 4, 2018

by Steve Thomas and Jamual Forrest

It’s been a long season, for a variety of reasons, but the 2018 playoffs have finally arrived.  Since our beloved Washington Redskins failed to earn a spot in the big dance (as per usual), we all need to either pick a new team to root for, or in the alternative, since Dallas also didn’t earn admission either, simply enjoy playoff football without the burden of harboring a particular rooting interest.  To that end, we wanted to provide you with as much information as possible about this year’s big tournament.

For those of you who haven’t read our playoff previews in years past, we first provide the basics of the schedule and an overview of each of the four wildcard games.  Beyond that, in order to give you a somewhat objective picture of each team’s playoff chances (rather than the useless and ubiquitous subjective “power ranking”), we developed a system wherein we list the objective rankings for each of the twelve playoff teams in a number of different important offensive and defensive statistics, as compared to just the playoff teams, meaning that, on both offense and defense, we’ve listed the 1 through 12 rankings for each team for a number of other different categories, all of which are listed at the top of each chart.  For example, the Los Angeles Rams have the number 1 in the offense chart for “points”, meaning that the Rams are the top-scoring offense in this year’s playoffs.  As was the case last year, we’ve tweaked and expanded the various ranked statistics that we used in last year’s preview.  Then, we averaged all of the offensive and defensive statistics to provide one number for each team – the lower the overall number, the better.  We’ve sorted each chart by overall rank order, from lowest ranking (meaning, best) to highest ranking (meaning, worst).  We think this method can show readers which teams are the most complete and capable based on their regular season statistics.  Usually, one or two teams really stick out, and these rankings normally get pretty close to how the games actually turn out.  Hopefully, the results will give you an idea of which teams are most primed and ready to face off for the Super Bowl title.

Isn’t this better than a simple list of power rankings?  I hope so.  Bear with us to the end, though, because it is yet another case of The Hog Sty drowning you in numbers.  So, onward.

First things first – the 2018 NFL Playoff schedule:

Wild Card Weekend                                                                         Divisional Weekend

Saturday, Jan. 6                                                                                Saturday, Jan. 13

4:35 p.m. ET – Tennessee (5) at Kansas City (4) (ESPN)              4:35 p.m. ET – 4/5/6 at Philadelphia (1) (NBC)

8:15 p.m. ET – Atlanta (6) at Los Angeles Rams (3) (NBC)          8:15 p.m. ET – 4/5/6 at New England (1) (CBS)

Sunday, Jan. 7                                                                                   Sunday, Jan. 14

1:05 p.m. ET – Buffalo (6) at Jacksonville (3) (CBS)                    1:05 p.m. ET – 3/4/5 at Pittsburgh (2) (CBS)

4:40 p.m. ET – Carolina (5) at New Orleans (4) (FOX)                4:40 p.m. ET – 3/4/5 at Minnesota (2) (FOX)

Championship Weekend                                                               Super Bowl

Sunday, Jan. 21                                                                                 Sunday, Feb. 4

3:05 p.m. ET – AFC Championship (CBS)                                        6:30 p.m. ET – US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (NBC)

6:40 p.m. ET – NFC Championship (FOX)

 

Jamual’s Wild Card Matchup Preview

Falcons at Rams

The matchup I will be paying attention to is Jared Goff against a much improved and experienced Atlanta Falcon defense. Head Coach Dan Quinn has molded the Falcons defense to take the shape of the Seattle defenses he once led as a defensive coordinator. Last year the Falcons defense ranked 25th in yards and 27th in points respectively; this year they are ranked top ten in both. Speed and physicality on all fronts have made this defense a legitimate threat, and Jared Goff will be thoroughly tested in his first career playoff game. The Rams will have opportunities to run the ball against the Falcons, and if successful the pressure will be taken off of the young quarterback.

Panthers at Saints

The matchup in this game I will be paying attention to is Luke Kuechly vs. Drew Brees. Following a down year with the loss of Josh Norman a season ago, the Panthers defense has returned to average in 2017. However, in the two matchups against New Orleans, the defense struggled to contain the weapons of the Saints, and Kuechly seemingly had no answers for Drew Brees. As the captain of the defense, Kuechly has done a great job getting his unit in the right position to defend offenses, but his unit has given up 381 yards per game against the Saints. If Carolina expects to get a win on the road against New Orleans, the defense will have to make some plays and put Cam Newton and company in favorable positions.

Bills at Jaguars

The matchup I am interested in this game in is how Tyrod Taylor performs against the Jaguars front seven. The Jaguars are one of the league leaders in sacks, and the Bills are one of the league leaders in sacks allowed. Tyrod is an elite athlete at the quarterback position, very elusive and hard to contain in the pocket. However, with a solid interior and outside pass rush, the Jaguars have the pieces to contain Taylor.  The Bills offensive line will need to hold their own against the Jaguars and control the line of scrimmage to create a respectable ground game, which they can very well do against the Jaguars. If the Jaguars can get Taylor off his mark, it will be a long game for the Bills offense.

Titans at Chiefs

The matchup I am interested in is how the Titans contain Tyreke Hill for 60 minutes. For the team that gives up explosive plays, it is a confidence killer when a two or three play drive ends in a 40-plus yard touchdown. Hill can score as a rusher or receiver and must be accounted for at all times. Tennessee has had their issues covering receivers this year, ranking 25th in the NFL, and even though the Chiefs are not known for their aerial attack, they can strike from any distance with an elite weapon in Hill.

 

Analysis – Schedule & Win-Loss Records

The records for each of the playoff teams in their last 8 games are:

Philadelphia (#1): 6 – 2                                   New England (#1): 7 – 1

Minnesota (#2): 7 – 1                                      Pittsburgh (#2): 7 – 1

Los Angeles Rams (#3): 5 – 3                         Jacksonville (#3): 5 – 3 (lost last 2)

New Orleans (#4): 5 – 3                                  Kansas City (#4): 4 – 4 (won last 4)

Carolina (#5): 6 – 2                                         Tennessee (#5): 4 – 4

Atlanta (#6): 6 – 2                                           Buffalo (#6): 4 – 4

What should jump out at you immediately is that the Rams, Patriots, and Steelers have each been on a tremendous roll in the second half of the season, with each team only losing 1 game in the last 8.  The other interesting point is that Jacksonville (which measures out pretty well in our ranking system), ended on a sour note by losing their last 2 matchups.  Finally, the Chiefs, after a slow mid-season, got on a run at the end of the year, winning their last 4 games.

The next table shows the number of games each team played against winning teams this season versus the number of games played against winning teams that each team won this season:

NFL Playoff teams regular season schedule info
#  gms plyd against winning tms # gms won against winning tms
New England (13-3, #1) 8 6
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 7 4
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 8 6
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 8 5
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 7 6
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 8 4
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 7 4
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 9 5
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 6 3
Carolina (11-5, #5) 8 4
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 7 2
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 10 5

There are a couple interesting points to make on this chart: first, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the best winning percentage against winning teams of any team in the playoffs, getting 6 victories 7 attempts.  Atlanta and the Saints have played the toughest schedules in this regard, having faced 10 and 9 winning teams respectively; however, neither team had been overly successful in this endeavor, emerging victorious in only 5 of these contests each.  The Rams also have just a .500 record against winning teams.

Analysis – Offense

The following chart shows the offensive rankings in the major statistical categories for each playoff team, ranked just between the 12 playoff teams and not the NFL as a whole, sorted by lowest combined ranking:

NFL Playoff teams offensive rankings
Points Total Yds Pass yds pass YPA comp % sacks QB rating rush yds run YPA Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 4 2 3 1 1 1 1 4 1 4 10 2.909
New England (13-3, #1) 2 1 1 3 4 7 2 9 8 3 8 4.364
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 1 8 6 5 7 6 5 7 4 6 7 5.636
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 6 4 4 2 3 11 3 8 1 12 9 5.727
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 3 6 8 9 10 10 6 2 3 1 6 5.818
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 8 9 7 7 2 5 4 6 11 5 3 6.091
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 5 5 9 8 11 2 9 1 4 2 11 6.091
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 10 7 5 4 6 2 8 10 4 11 1 6.182
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 7 3 2 6 5 2 7 12 12 10 2 6.182
Carolina (11-5, #5) 9 10 11 11 12 7 11 3 4 7 4 8.091
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 12 12 12 12 9 12 10 5 9 9 4 9.636
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 11 11 10 10 8 7 12 11 10 8 12 10.000

When sorted to just include the 6 NFC playoff teams:

NFC Playoff teams offensive rankings
Points Total Yds Pass yds pass YPA comp % sacks QB rating rush yds run YPA Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 2 6 1.80
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 6 3 2 2 3 2 5 6 3 6 1 3.30
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 2 2 5 5 5 6 4 1 2 1 4 3.50
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 4 5 4 4 2 3 2 4 6 3 2 3.50
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 1 4 3 3 4 4 3 5 3 4 5 3.80
Carolina (11-5, #5) 5 6 6 6 6 5 6 2 5 5 3 5.00

When sorted to just include the 6 AFC playoff teams:

AFC Playoff teams offensive rankings
Points Total Yds Pass yds pass YPA comp % sacks QB rating rush yds run YPA Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
New England (13-3, #1) 1 1 1 2 2 3 1 4 3 2 3 2.20
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 3 3 3 1 1 5 2 3 1 6 4 2.90
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 4 2 2 3 3 1 3 6 6 5 1 3.20
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 2 4 4 4 6 1 4 1 2 1 5 3.20
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 6 6 6 6 5 6 5 2 4 4 2 4.60
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 5 5 5 5 4 3 6 5 5 3 6 4.70

When it comes to the offensive rankings, there are the Saints, and then everyone else.  New Orleans graded out at about 1.4 points lower than the next most successful team, the New England Patriots.  The Saints’ rankings are at the top of the league, not just the playoff teams, in nearly every important category.  They are outstanding at both passing and running, and are by far the most complete offense in the playoffs.  New England’s rushing rankings drag that team down.  Notably, though, the highest scoring team of all 12 playoff teams was the Los Angeles Rams.  Other items of interest in these rankings are that Jacksonville has a fairly wide disparity between the success of their passing game (led by Blake Bortles) and their running game (featuring rooking sensation Leonard Fournette).  In addition, the passing numbers for the Eagles are a bit unreliable as a result of the injury to Carson Wentz.  Finally, on the other end of the spectrum, both Buffalo and Tennessee posted numbers that look like they don’t belong with the rest of these franchises, with Tennessee in particular being a full 2 points lower than the 10th place Carolina Panthers.

 

Analysis – Defense

The following chart shows the defensive rankings in the major statistical categories for each playoff team, ranked just between the 12 playoff teams and not the NFL as a whole:

NFL Playoff teams defensive rankings
Points total yds pass yds pass YPA comp % # pass TD sacks int % QB rating rush yds rush YPA # rush TD Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 9 6 5 1 3 2.714
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 1 1 2 1 3 1 10 8 2 2 2 7 2 1 3.071
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 3 3 7 3 7 9 9 3 6 1 3 3 10 2 4.929
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 5 4 3 11 6 4 1 3 8 6 9 9 12 4 6.071
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 11 7 10 6 8 12 5 9 9 4 1 1 6 5 6.714
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 7 8 6 8 5 6 5 2 5 7 9 8 7 12 6.786
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 6 6 4 4 12 6 8 12 11 5 5 5 4 8 6.857
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 9 9 5 6 3 5 4 3 3 11 12 10 11 7 7.000
Carolina (11-5, #5) 8 5 8 10 10 11 3 11 12 3 4 3 5 6 7.071
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 12 10 9 4 11 2 12 6 4 12 6 12 8 9 8.357
New England (13-3, #1) 4 12 12 12 9 9 5 9 10 8 12 2 3 10 8.357
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 10 11 11 9 2 8 11 7 7 10 6 10 9 11 8.714

When sorted just to include the 6 NFC playoff teams:

NFC Playoff teams defensive rankings
Points total yds pass yds pass YPA comp % # pass TD sacks int % QB rating rush yds rush YPA # rush TD Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 4 1 2 1 4 1 1 1.857
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 2 2 5 2 4 4 5 2 4 1 2 1 5 2 2.929
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 3 4 2 3 6 3 4 6 5 4 4 3 2 5 3.857
LA Rams (11-5, #3) 6 6 3 4 1 2 2 2 2 6 6 6 6 4 4.000
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 4 5 4 5 3 3 3 1 3 5 5 5 4 6 4.000
Carolina (11-5, #5) 5 3 6 6 5 6 1 5 6 3 3 1 3 3 4.000

When sorted to just include the 6 AFC playoff teams:

AFC Playoff teams defensive rankings
Points total yds pass yds pass YPA comp % # pass TD sacks int % QB rating rush yds rush YPA # rush TD Red zone TD % 3rd down conv Sum
Jacksonville(10-6, #3) 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 4 2 3 1 1 1.571
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 3 2 2 2 3 3 1 2 4 2 5 4 6 2 2.929
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 5 3 4 4 4 6 3 6 5 1 1 1 3 3 3.500
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 6 4 3 3 6 1 6 3 2 6 2 6 4 4 4.000
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 4 5 5 5 2 4 5 4 3 5 2 5 5 6 4.286
New Engl’d (13-3, #1) 2 6 6 6 5 5 3 6 6 3 6 2 2 5 4.500

On the defensive side of the ball, Jacksonville and Minnesota grade out as head and shoulders above the other 10 playoff teams, with Jacksonville slightly better.  The Jaguars defense ranks over 2 full points lower than the Eagles, which was ranked third.  Interestingly, the Patriots feature one of the softest defenses in the playoffs, which should come as no surprise to those of you who watched the Patriots play this year.  Kansas City posted the worst defensive rankings of any team in the playoffs, but it is not dramatically out of whack compared to the other teams; also, it is noteworthy that despite the bad rankings, the Chiefs allowed the second-lowest completion percentage of any of the 12 playoff teams.

 

Rankings summary

This chart shows the combined offensive and defensive rankings for each of the 12 playoff teams, along with the average of both rankings and the difference between the offensive and defensive rankings for each team, sorted by lowest combined ranking:

NFL Playoff teams Average rankings
Offense Defense Combined Average Diff between off & def
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 6.091 2.714 4.403 3.377
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 6.091 3.071 4.581 3.019
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 2.909 6.786 4.847 3.877
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 5.818 4.929 5.373 0.890
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 6.182 6.071 6.127 0.110
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 5.636 7.000 6.318 1.364
New England (13-3, #1) 4.364 8.357 6.360 3.994
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 6.182 6.857 6.519 0.675
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 5.727 8.714 7.221 2.987
Carolina (11-5, #5) 8.091 7.071 7.581 1.019
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 10.000 6.714 8.357 3.286
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 9.636 8.357 8.997 1.279

When sorted and run just to include the NFC teams, sorted by lowest combined ranking:

NFC Playoff teams Average rankings
Offense Defense Combined Diff between off & def
Minnesota (13-3, #2) 3.545 1.857 2.701 1.688
New Orleans (11-5, #4) 1.909 4.000 2.955 2.091
Philadelphia (13-3, #1) 3.364 2.929 3.146 0.435
Atlanta (10-6, #6) 3.545 3.857 3.701 0.312
Los Angeles Rams (11-5, #3) 3.545 4.000 3.773 0.455
Carolina (11-5, #5) 5.000 4.000 4.500 1.000

When sorted and run just to include the AFC teams, sorted by lowest combined ranking:

AFC Playoff teams Average rankings
Offense Defense Combined Diff between off & def
Jacksonville (10-6, #3) 3.091 1.571 2.331 1.519
Pittsburgh (13-3, #2) 3.273 2.929 3.101 0.344
New England (13-3, #1) 2.091 4.500 3.295 2.409
Kansas City (10-6, #4) 2.909 4.286 3.597 1.377
Tennessee (9-7, #5) 4.727 3.500 4.114 1.227
Buffalo (9-7, #6) 4.727 4.000 4.364 0.727

Somewhat surprisingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars grade out as the most complete team in the playoffs, with solid offensive and defensive rankings.  New England, which was one of the top-ranked teams in our 2017 preview, is only mid-ranked this year thanks to its porous defense, which might be a sign that fans should get prepared for a new Super Bowl champion this season.  In the NFC, the rankings indicate that the two favorites are Minnesota and New Orleans, particularly with the questions surrounding the Eagles as a result of the loss of Carson Wentz.  The biggest pretender is Buffalo, which is making its first playoff appearance in 17 years.  If these rankings hold water, the Bills should expect a quick exit.

Conclusion

We must warn you again that this data isn’t the be-all, end-all of playoff football.  Real people play real games on real fields, and one can’t predict results with certainty.  But what these rankings do show is what teams had a pattern of performance in 2017 that would suggest they should do well.  It also shows what teams probably aren’t in that same ballpark absent extraordinary things happening.  The fact that the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints graded out as the most complete NFC teams should be no surprise, but the AFC results are a bit surprising.  Jacksonville is a much improved franchise, but the idea that they have had as much productivity across the board was unexpected, to say the least.  We therefore expect  Jacksonville to do well, although, stats aside, there’s no substitute for legitimate playoff experience, which is something the Jaguars have none of and Pittsburgh and New England (their porous defense aside) have in spades.

Let us know your thoughts.

  • Zig-Zag_BC

    Who else gives you all this data on one post? Nobody, that’s who. Read the hogsty, Jabronees. Bookmark it.