Jan 3, 2019
Jan 3, 2019

AFC Wild Card fixtures preview: Colts at Texans & Chargers at Ravens

Who has the edge going into the playoffs?

In depth analysis of Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans

LA Chargers at Baltimore Ravens: Where is the value?

AFC Wild Card fixtures preview: Colts at Texans & Chargers at Ravens

After 17 weeks and 16 games per team, the race for the Super Bowl has been whittled down from 32 teams to 12, six from each of the two conferences. Who will progress in the AFC? Our football expert Mark Taylor breaks down and assess the two Wild Card fixtures.

Who has the edge going into the playoffs?

The knockout phase of the season begins over the weekend with the wildcard round where the 3rd seed entertains the 6th seed and the 4th seed plays host to the 5th seeded side.

More often, this gives home field advantage to the better team in the matchup, although because the four divisional winners are guaranteed to occupy the top four seedings, it is possible that a host side may have an inferior win/loss record compared to their visiting rival.

Therefore, the 12-4 Chargers tie with the Kansas City Chiefs as the best record in the AFC, but as divisional runners up they will travel to the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens.

Those playing this weekend will need to negotiate four games without a loss to lift the trophy, while the two top seeds from each conference not only get an extra week to rest, they also only require win three straight games to be crowned World Champions.

From a betting perspective, we now have a plethora of data from which to sort the true talent from the unsustainably lucky or unlucky, in much the same way we did in the season preview.

But we are still trying to predict the winner of a luck laden, single encounter.

Back in August, by looking at the underlying efficiency figures, along with less persistent traits, such as turnover differential or the ability to win (or lose) more close games than expected, we selected Dallas & Baltimore as divisional winners along with Miami as the team to chase New England home in the AFC East and, more predictably, the Rams with seal another divisional title.

Now that we’ve reached the post season, we’ll use similar methods to see who might have a slight edge on their playoff rivals.

In depth analysis of Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)

This is the third meeting of the season for these AFC South rivals.

Houston broke their losing opening sequence by winning by three points in Indianapolis in week 4, with the Colts returning the favour by the same margin in a lower scoring week 14 return match.

The host Texans were pleasantly surprised that Deshaun Watson maintained & even improved on his promising, but injury curtailed 2017 season.

He threw for 0.7 of a yard further than par for the defences he faced, was backed up by a running game that was marginally below the league average and returned three more points per game on offence once the quality of the defences was accounted for.

The Colts’ Andrew Luck also put an injury riddled past behind him in an ever-present season, where he traded some passing length for improved accuracy, ran an offence of similar efficiency to that of the Texans, but produced an extra point and a half per game compared to Saturday’s rivals.

Neither defence excelled against the pass, both allowed more yards per attempt than their rivals usually gained. But Houston were more efficient at preventing points than the Colts, primarily due to a suffocating run defence.

Houston’s narrow, regular season wins were almost entirely balanced out by a similar number of losses, although they did benefit from a double digit positive turnover differential and their Pythagorean wins were nearer to ten than their actual total of 11.

The Colts also had similar numbers of narrow wins and losses, a much less extreme turnover differential, also recording a Pythagorean winning total of just above 10.

Pythagorean match ups give Houston a narrow, homefield driven advantage of three points, while efficiency statistics stretch that to four points with 50 total points, making the hosts either straight up or against the small spread the current selection.

LA Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Where is the value?

The second AFC wildcard game sees LA’s Philip Rivers again trying to emulate Drew Brees and Eli Manning, the two quarterbacks his career has been most entwined with, by winning a Super Bowl.

The Chargers are substantially the better of the two offences.

Rivers throws for over a yard per attempt further than par for the defences he’s faced and is backed up by an above par, top ten running game. They return three points more than par, but that might be considered slightly disappointing given how efficiently they move the ball.

Baltimore managed a mid-season transition from veteran quarterback, Joe Flacco to first round pick, Lamar Jackson, with their passing numbers barely missing a beat.

Flacco’s completion rate and yards per attempt were matched by newcomer Jackson, although the latter was required to throw much less frequently than the former.

Across the two starters, Baltimore threw more than half a yard per attempt below the par for their opponent’s defence, ran the ball with league average efficiency and consequently will be well pleased that they managed to score at virtually the same rate as their opponents conceded.

From a betting perspective, we now have a plethora of data from which to sort the true talent from the unsustainably lucky or unlucky, in much the same way we did in the season preview.

Defence is again the Raven’s strength. They are nearly top of the pile, excellent either against the pass or the run, leaving their opposition little to exploit, which drives the points per game they concede nearly a full touchdown per game below the usual scoring rate of their opponent.

The host’s Pythagorean win total nearly reaches 11, but the Chargers 12 actual wins flatter them compared to just 10.5 Pythagorean victories.

Efficiency and Pythagorean match ups converge around 4 points in favour of the hosts in a relatively low scoring game with around 40 points.

At the current spread, just shy of a field goal in the host’s favour, the Ravens are taken to confirm week 16’s win in LA, when just as much was on the line for both teams and Baltimore won by 12 on the road.

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