Despite True Wins historical success, neither True Wins nor actual wins had a great weekend predicting playoff games. In the one game where the two measures gave a different prediction, the 11 True Win 49ers toppled the 11.5 True Win Saints, giving actual wins a half game lead (half credit given since actual wins were tied at 13 for each team). Both predictors got the Ravens and Patriots games right, and both missed the Giants upset over the Super Bowl favorite Packers. The standings are 4 games out of 8 for True Wins and 4.5 out of 8 for actual wins:
True Wins predicts Patriots over Niners in the Super Bowl, while actual wins yields the same match up, but both teams have 13 wins so there is no prediction. That gives one more chance for True Wins to catch up! Here are my thoughts on the divisional round before I discuss next week’s games:
49ers 36, Saints 32
Last week, I predicted that this game would be close but the Saints would prevail. Close it was, but the 49ers opened up their play book and pulled off some unusual deep throws to Vernon Davis late to steal this one. The Niners got their chance in the endgame through early turnovers. After being extremely lucky to lose only 5 fumbles all year, the Saints had horrible luck and lost 5 in two playoffs games (3 against the Niners, including one on the Niners 2 yard line and one on their own 4 yard line). Against the Lions, Brees had 2 interceptions dropped; the Niners caught 2 on Saturday. The Niners themselves fumbled 3 times but only lost 1.
It was clear that the Saints were the better team. Despite the interceptions (one was a shot downfield), Drew Brees put on a master class against a great defense. He made some great throwaways: on 66 drop backs, the Niners hit him 11 times, but he didn’t take a intentional grounding and only took 3 sacks. On the Saints 10 possessions that didn’t end in a turnover, they scored 4 touchdowns and a field goal. That kind of scoring efficiency wins most games.
I’m not sure what to take from this game. The Niners will surely gain some confidence in Alex Smith throwing downfield after their last two drives, but look at the yards gained on their second, third, and fourth scoring drives (all off turnovers): 4 yards (TD), 6 yards (FG), 3 yards (FG). The fact that the game was close after that kind of field position speaks to the superiority of the Saints in general play. However, the Niners themselves had one of the best years ever in turnover differential, so maybe the game wasn’t a fluke (though their differential was partly driven by good luck on fumbles as well).
I was in New Orleans for the game — the Saints own that town, and their fans are great. It was a very cool atmosphere.
Patriots 45, Broncos 10
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Michigan product Tom Brady destroy the Broncos, as I predicted he would. The Patriots were so good that Denver gave up in the third quarter. Down 42-7 with over 10 minutes remaining in the third, the Broncos ran up the middle on 3rd and 21. Still down 42-7 late in the third, they settled for a field goal to try to make the scoreline a little more presentable.
There’s not much more to say about this game. The Patriots and Broncos were who we thought they were. The cold weather seemed to bother Tebow a lot. He was 9-26 passing and took 5 sacks on only 8 QB hits, which is bad even by his standards. He hesitated in the face of a well-prepared option defense and probably made the wrong decision a couple of times (along with the Patriots, the Chiefs also saw the Tebow option twice this year and held him to 3 points the second time). The Broncos had some guys banged up in the secondary, but we all knew deep down that a 6.5 True Win team was not going anywhere near the Super Bowl.
Oh, and that little quick kick by Brady on third down? That’s an old trick he brought with him from his Michigan days. The Wolverines have been doing that for years, with great success. It’s an excellent way to eliminate the chance of a punt block or long punt return, which was the only way the Broncos could have come back at that point.
Ravens 20, Texans 13
I didn’t watch this game, but by all accounts, we got the expected defensive struggle. Even without Schaub, Andre Johnson (8 catches, 111 yards) kept the Texans competitive, as usual. However, as I predicted, the game was never seriously in doubt. The Texans only ran four plays in the Baltimore half in the fourth quarter. Yates (3 INTs) was in over his head against a good defense. Those Ravens come to play in big games! The Texans can hope for a deeper run with Matt Schaub healthy next year.
Giants 37, Packers 20
I’ve been singing the Giants’ praises for the last couple weeks. Despite their mediocre 8 True Wins in the regular season, the Giants schedule was one of the league’s hardest. They hung in with a lot of good teams while they were banged up. Now they are healthy and they are smashing those same good teams. Last week, I said that the Giants best shot was to force turnovers with their top notch pass rush and hope that Rodgers came out rusty. The pass rush stepped up to the challenge and forced Rodgers into an uncharacteristic fumble and interception. The Giants also got a few breaks, recovering all three Packers fumbles and not fumbling themselves.
NFC Championship Game: Giants at 49ers. I’ve been arguing that the Giants are underrated for weeks. I’m convinced that the Niners are a great defensive team with a horrible offense that survives on turnovers. They need a couple more guys on offense (or maybe a new QB) before they can beat good teams without some takeaways. The Niners are the favorite by wins or True Wins; even though Manning makes me nervous against a great pass rush, Smith faces the same challenge, so I’m going to take the Giants.
AFC Championship Game: Ravens at Patriots. Similar to the Giants and 49ers game, the underdog (Ravens) played a much harder schedule than the favorite (Patriots), which makes it hard to pick this game. I believe these teams are quite even. It’s going to be something small that makes the difference: a tipped ball INT, a missed FG, a dropped pass, or maybe just Ed Reed at less than 100%. That could be a big boost for the passing game. I’m taking the Patriots, for the rematch of 2008!