Dan Shaughnessy has the big game writing experience needed when it comes to playoff time. He relied on that experience when he started his column about the upcoming Divisional Round game against the Texans with “[t]he 2012-13 New England Patriots just became the first team in NFL history to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game.”
It is a magnificent piece of work, as Shaughnessy manages to insult the Texans over and over again, the exact kind of thing that any NFL coach would salivate for as he tries to sell a “no respect” platform heading into a key game. Arian Foster has already changed his twitter avatar to the first two paragraphs of that article.
Shaughnessy manages to play both sides, also delivering repeated backhanded compliments to the Patriots where you can feel the Belichick-hatred and Ben-Gay odor coming through with each word. These lucky Patriot bastards–“whatever can go right for [them] will go right.” This is more of a layup than last year, Shaughnessy tells us, when the Patriots got possibly one of the worst teams in NFL history to advance to the divisional round, with Tim Tebow at quarterback. “Pure frauds,” he calls the Houston Texans, with “absolutely zero chance” of winning next Sunday.
Want to compare this to the Jets victory just two years ago, when the Patriots appeared ready to roll after having destroyed the Jets in the regular season, 45-3? Not the same, says Shaughnessy, because those Jets had attitude, while these Texans will wet themselves.
Boom. Point proven.
Here’s the thing, though. The Patriots didn’t dominate the Texans as much as that the score would indicate (the blowout of the Jets in 2010 was way more dominant). I’m here to tell you that the Texans are better off having played, and lost, in New England than if they were rolling in there for the first time in six seasons, and only the second time ever, for a playoff matchup.
The Patriots were the better team when the two met earlier this year. The Patriots, were on balance, the better team in the regular season, even when the Texans had the superior record at 11-1. The scoreboard said 42-14, but there were important swing plays that dictated the extent of the apparent domination. I can assure you that Bill Belichick is emphasizing this even as Dan Shaughnessy leans back and smokes a cigar.
At the moment that Danny Woodhead fumbled it ahead after the non-existent J.J. Watt drilled him from behind, and Brandon Lloyd recovered in the end zone to make it 35-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, the following had happened:
- The Patriots had converted a stellar 20 of 25 potential first downs, including 4 of 5 on 3rd and long (two by penalty).
- The Texans weren’t bad themselves, having converted 15 of 23 potential first downs, coming up short twice on 4th down in “no man’s land” between the New England 30 and 40 yard line.
- New England had recovered two very valuable fumbles, Ridley early at the goal line when Kareem Jackson should have had it, and the Woodhead fumble ahead for TD. That’s 14 points.
New England should have won the game, but the difference does not indicate the likelihood of success this time around. They outgained the Texans on both the ground and air, with a total yard difference of 96 yards. In the sixty-six other games over the last two years where a team outgained the opponent both rushing and passing, by a net total of between 75 and 125 points, the average margin of victory was +8.2 points.
Special teams, turnovers, third down conversions, and key swing plays are what make up the difference. In this game, the Schaub red zone interception, the two fumbles recovered leading to 14 points, third down hits and misses explain the extent of the score.
Houston is also better off getting a second shot. They had not played in New England in almost six years. Now, they get to go back less than six weeks later. Familiarity plays some role in home field advantage, or more appropriately, reducing road disadvantage. Since 2002, there have been thirty-three playoff matchups where the home team beat the visitor at home already in the regular season, and faced them again at home in the postseason. The home team is 19-14 in the rematch, but only 10-23 against the spread. (The average spread in those games was -5.7 points to the home team, the average result +0.4 points to the visitor after the home team had won by +10.7 in the regular season).
New England is the favorite, and rightly so. I suspect that Dan Shaughnessy isn’t the only one overvaluing the Patriots less than 100% chance in the rematch.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]