The AFC has a mix of old guard (the Patriots and Tom Brady), new blood (Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson taking over for the Ravens, and DeShaun Watson) and two veterans returning to the postseason for the first time in a few years (Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck). Just like I did with NFC contenders last week, I put together comparable teams for each playoff entrant using the first 15 games of each season since 1990.
There have been 336 playoff teams over that span, and I am looking at the Top 15 most similar to each AFC playoff hopeful. That represents the 5% of playoff teams most similar.
Here are the categories I used to set this up:
- Points scored, adjusted to league average
- Points allowed, adjusted to league average
- Point differential
- Winning percentage
- net passing yards per play on offense, adjusted to league average
- net passing yards per play on defense, adjusted to league average
- rushing yards per carry on offense, adjusted to league average
- rushing yards per carry on defense, adjusted to league average
- Pass to run ratio on offense, adjusted to league average
- Pass to run ratio faced on defense, adjusted to league average
By looking not only at record and points, but also the efficiency stats and passing identity categories, we get a good sense of teams that were most similar. The Ravens’ comps will be strong defensive teams with run-heavy approaches while the Chiefs will include the top passing teams.
I’ve made these charts showing the 15 most similar teams, and a color-coded chart of how they did in each round. Blue is for bye week, green is for a win and red is for a loss.
The Indianapolis Colts are a reasonably dangerous 6th seed. Their comps went 7-7 in the Wildcard Round with many of those games coming on the road, and then those that advanced went 4-3 in the Divisional Round. The 2012 Baltimore Ravens, who were a high volume passing team, are the only ones to emerge with a Super Bowl title.
The Colts are fairly well-balanced. They are a high volume passing game that ranks 9th in net yards per attempt. The rush defense is good, while the pass defense numbers are slightly below average, though they’ve held teams out of the end zone. The rushing game has also improved since Marlon Mack returned healthy.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The Chargers finished tied for the best record in the AFC, and their reward is to go on the road in the wildcard game, and probably every game as long as they are alive. Nearly half of all their comps got a bye in the opening round.
It’s somewhat surprising that the Chargers’ comps didn’t fare better. They are balanced, and are in the Top 12 in the passing and rushing efficiency categories. Six of them did reach the Conference Championship Game, but only one advanced to a Super Bowl. There are lots of heartbreaking losses on that list.
The Baltimore Ravens have surged to the playoffs on the strength of the defense. They are 2nd in points allowed, 2nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and 3rd in opponent’s yard per carry. They can make things miserable for even the best passers.
The biggest hurdle, though, is the passing game. They are ranked 23rd in net yards per pass on offense. They’ve gone to a rush-heavy approach since inserting Lamar Jackson in the lineup, and that has helped, but it could still be a factor if trailing in the playoffs.
No team like the Ravens has made a run to a Super Bowl title, or even reached a Super Bowl, in the last 30 years. However, the two teams that made deep runs as wildcards both had rookie quarterbacks and followed a similar formula: the 2009 Jets with Mark Sanchez and the 2008 Ravens with Joe Flacco.