The NFC Playoff Team Outlook: Dallas and Atlanta are the Favorites, But Danger Lurks in the Wildcard Round

The NFC Playoff Team Outlook: Dallas and Atlanta are the Favorites, But Danger Lurks in the Wildcard Round

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The NFC Playoff Team Outlook: Dallas and Atlanta are the Favorites, But Danger Lurks in the Wildcard Round

The NFC field presents several big-name quarterbacks in the wildcard round, looking to advance to play teams without a recent history of deep playoff runs in Dallas and Atlanta.

All of those teams, though, have flaws. Detroit survived on close wins, but faltered down the stretch. Seattle has long stretches of offensive drought, especially on the road. The Giants’ defense has exceeded expectations, but the passing offense, even with Odell Beckham, has been mediocre. Green Bay has the surging Aaron Rodgers, but legitimate defensive concerns.

To assess the teams, I created a similarity score for past playoff teams going back to 1990, and found the 20 most similar teams for each. The similarities are weighted according to which categories most correlated with playoff wins. Team win total, and point differential, account for over half of the similarity score.

The remainder includes the following categories: net passing yards over league average on offense and defense, points scored and allowed compared to league average, total offensive touchdowns scored and allowed, total defensive and special teams touchdowns, turnover differential, and rushing yards allowed and gained.

Here is an assessment of all six NFC contenders.

DETROIT LIONS 

Detroit Lions playoff outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 9-20

Percentage that Won Wildcard Round: 35% (7 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 10% (2 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 0%

Super Bowl Champs: 0%

Matthew Stafford white gloves

Outlook: The Detroit Lions were outscored on the season, won a lot of close games, and had modest overall offensive and defensive numbers. The rushing game was a weakness. Thus, there comps are going to be teams that had modest point differentials, and all of them played on wildcard weekend.

The best case scenarios were two big upsets: Jacksonville shocking Denver in the 1996 postseason, in just the second year as a franchise, and the year before, the Colts winning at Kansas City in the Lin Elliott game.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

NY Giants Playoff Outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 12-20

Percentage that Won Wildcard Round: 33% (5 of 15)

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 30% (6 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 5% (1 of 20)

Super Bowl Champs: 0%

Odell Beckham Jr is fast against Browns

Outlook: You can make an argument that the Giants have the best defense among the playoff teams (they are 2nd in points allowed, behind only New England).

Interesting, then, that while the Giants will be compared to the two predecessors that made runs from the wildcard round to win the title, those teams do not show up here. Teams like this year’s Giants have struggled in the wildcard round (five others got a bye at 11-5, and four of them reached the title game).

The 2003 Carolina Panthers, who started with a home game against Dallas and Quincy Carter, and then won on the road at St. Louis and Philadelphia, show up as the best team from this group. Of course, Aaron Rodgers is no Quincy Carter. Eli Manning has turned it on before in the postseason, and needs to do so again, compared to where this offense was in the regular season.

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Packers playoff outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 13-19

Percentage that Won Wildcard Round: 50% (10 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 5% (1 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 5% (1 of 20)

Super Bowl Champs: 5% (Baltimore, 2012)

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) passes the ball in the first quarter during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 11, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) passes the ball in the first quarter during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Outlook: Green Bay has reeled off six straight and is the hot team entering the postseason. Then again, as I discussed last year when the roles were reversed (Green Bay started 6-0, finished 4-6), hot teams have fared no better in the postseason.

The 12 teams that have gone on a run to the Super Bowl from the wildcard round under the current division format went a collective 23-25 over their last six games entering the postseason.

If Green Bay is to continue the hot ways, it will be on the back of the offense and Aaron Rodgers, who is playing at a high level after a slow start and the struggles of mid-season. Surprisingly, few teams like the Packers made a deep run (and it included several other big name QBs like Brady, Marino, Ryan, Warner, Favre, Hasselbeck, and yes, Rodgers. The culprit was mainly the pass defense, and that will be the issue that rears up if this team falters as well.

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Seattle Playoff Outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 14-20

Percentage that Won Wildcard Round: 59% (10 of 17)

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 20% (4 of 20)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 0% 

Super Bowl Champs: 0%

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 11: Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks jogs off the field after the Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 38-10 at Lambeau Field on December 11, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 11: Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks jogs off the field after the Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 38-10 at Lambeau Field on December 11, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Good defensive numbers, a pretty good yards per attempt but a lower scoring offense. None of the teams like Seattle have reached the Super Bowl. We know the Seahawks have the playoff experience and success but things just haven’t been quite right this year, as they benefited from an easy division, and showed only passing flashes of greatness, like at New England.

The Rex Ryan Jets show up as the only one to make a run to a conference title game from the wildcard round. In order to duplicate that, Seattle will have to win a road game, which has been a struggle for a large portion of the year.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta Playoff Outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 22-19

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 40% (8 of 20, 5 had first round byes like Atlanta, 4 of those 5 advanced)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 15% (3 of 20)

Super Bowl Champs: 5% (Pittsburgh 2005)

 

Outlook: Atlanta’s high-powered offense and conference-leading point differential make them a favorite to advance. Personal history of the Atlanta franchise, though, will provide many skeptics.

Most of the teams like Atlanta did not get a bye, so that is an advantage they have over their comps. Still, they have the best won-loss record of any of the NFC team comps.

If they falter, it will be defense, as the Falcons allowed over 400 points this year. The passing defense numbers in terms of net yards per attempt are closer to average, however.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Dallas Cowboys Playoff Outlook

Playoff Record of Similar Teams: 20-19

Percentage that Reached Championship Game: 55% (11 of 20, 15 had first round byes like Dallas, 10 of those 15 advanced)

Percentage that Reached Super Bowl: 30% (6 of 20)

Super Bowl Champs: 5% (NY Giants 1990)

Nov 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) greet each other before their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) greet each other before their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sportsnd how

Outlook: The Cowboys have ridden an efficient, low volume passing game and a strong running offense to a division title. The defense has average underlying metrics but are good at preventing points.

Their comparable teams pass the smell test. Teams like Steve McNair and Eddie George with the 1999 Titans, the Terrell Davis Broncos of 1996, multiple Bills teams with Thurman Thomas, and teams with LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James at running back show up.

Most of those teams got a bye, like the Cowboys. Some faltered in the divisional round, but 6 still made the Super Bowl. Only one of them won it, with several losing in heartbreaking fashion.

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