Yesterday, I started a look at the similar past match ups most like this weekend’s games, by starting with the Divisional Round opener on Saturday, New Orleans at San Francisco. That Saints-49ers matchup had some reasonably comparable games to look at, from Denver visiting the doppelgänger for this 49ers squad, the 1997 Kansas City Chiefs, to the Manning Colts going to Baltimore in January 2007. You can look at that earlier post for the methodology on how I arrived at the most similar match ups, but this Denver-New England matchup is notable for just how unusual it is.
Both teams are unique in their own way, New England has a great passing offense (hardly an unusual trait for a playoff host) but a pretty suspect pass defense by yards per attempt. The bigger issue, though, is Denver, who was a below average team in the regular season by points scored and allowed, but won all those close games. Few teams have had such poor passing numbers in the postseason, and fewer yet advanced to this round.
Here are the ten “most similar” match ups in either the Divisional or Championship Round to this Denver-New England game, and I’ll note that the most similar game here, Philadelphia at Dallas following the 1995 season, would have rated only ninth on the Saints-49ers list, and 16 match ups for the Saints-49ers were more similar than the 2nd rated game on this list to Denver-New England.
The most similar game was the Ray Rhodes-led Eagles team, starring Ricky Watters, that blasted the favored Detroit Lions in the wildcard game at home. They then got a rematch against the Cowboys, and that was notable because in a regular season matchup, Barry Switzer had famously gone for it on 4th and 1 deep in his own territory, and Emmitt Smith was stuffed, setting up one of the Cowboys few losses that season. The playoff rematch was not close, though.
You can look at those similarity scores for each team (on a scale of 1-100, 100 being most similar), and see which side of the matchups are more similar. Those 2007 Giants that eventually upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl show up twice on the list, but those matchups are there more for the opponent, as the 13-3 Patriots are reasonably similar to both the 13-3 Cowboys and 13-3 Packers from that season. The Broncos aren’t all that similar to the Eli Manning Giants of 2007.
When I weight the results, I get an 87.3% chance of a New England win, with the average result being 30.3 to 15.5 in favor of the New England comps. If Denver plays like they did offensively for most of the year, and defensively like they did against elite offenses like New England in that regular season matchup, then this is a comfortable New England win.
Tim Tebow passed the ball much better than he had all season in that wildcard victory. He hit big plays over and over against the Steelers as Pittsburgh came up to stop the run and left single coverage deep. New England has given up yards in chunks passing, but is pretty good at limiting the really big play, resulting in a better points allowed than yards allowed ranking. New England can play a bending type defense, forcing Tebow to execute repeatedly, and probably outgun them. Of course, Pittsburgh had not played defense as poorly as they did in the wildcard game either.
If Tebow can duplicate that success, throw these numbers that cast Denver as a poor passing offense out the window. As with anything Tebow related, though, he is breaking the mold. He will have to do it again if Denver is going to advance as a large underdog.
[photo via Getty]