In the NFC Divisional Round weekend Dallas Cowboys play the LA Rams, while the Philadelphia Eagles go up against the New Orleans Saints. Read on for some expert insight into the NFC Divisional Round odds from our football expert Mark Taylor.
Dallas Cowboys at LA Rams
The 13-3 LA Rams tied for the best win/loss record in the NFL, with the New Orleans Saints, losing out in a head-to-head defeat on the road in week nine.
Statistically, the Rams are a slightly less extreme and better balanced version of the Kansas City Chiefs. They are an impressive passing team, who also run the ball with above average efficiency and are able to commit to running the ball more frequently rather than becoming a one dimensional, passing offensive team.
They pass for a yard per attempt further than the defences they have faced usually allow, and run the ball nearly half a yard per attempt above par.
This translates to the side scoring just greater than 9 points per game more than their opponents concede, on average.
Defensively, they are another playoff team who subscribes to the strategy of playing the best pass defence they can afford. They are only just below par for efficiently defending the aerial approach, allowing 0.2 of a yard per attempt below par, but they also languish near to the very bottom against the run.
A constantly improving scoreboard often prevents opposition teams taking advantage of this ground based weakness and overall the Rams concede just one more point per game than par scoring for their opposition.
Their record is boosted by the league’s 4th best turnover differential and while this is a statistic that often returns to less extreme levels over time, the Rams do very well at claiming interceptions. And these tend to be a more repeatable skillset than fumble recoveries.
The Rams are nearer to an 11-5 team based on their Pythagorean win expectation than their actual 13-3 record and this is confirmed by a run of six wins by seven or fewer points and just one such loss.
If “defence wins championships” is much more a slogan than a definitive requirement for Super Bowl success, perhaps a highly ranked, but balanced underlying performance on both sides of the ball is what’s required
They defeated four fellow post season teams, but each of their three losses came against a similar caliber of side. Two of those three defeats contributed to a disappointing 3-2 run in during December, when the number one seeding was still a real possibility.
Dallas don’t reach the same heights as a typical NFC East winner. They have a below par offence that isn’t well equipped to keep up if the game turns into an aerial shootout and defensively their strength is against the run rather than the pass.
The Rams should be able to move the ball efficiently through the air and stretch their expected average winning margin to nearly nine points. Similarly, Pythagorean matchups favour the hosts by a touchdown.
These numbers again lie very close to the current line, as we reach a point in the season where the information we have for each team is reaching a maximum.
Although Dallas was the only winning host on Wild Card weekend, they are still playing a rested, well prepared opponent and we’ll lean towards the Rams in a game with around 48 total points.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
The NFC’s top seed, and therefore guaranteed home field advantage throughout their time in the playoffs, the 13-3 New Orleans Saints open their post season campaign by entertaining the reigning Super Bowl world champions, Philadelphia.
If “defence wins championships” is much more a slogan than a definitive requirement for Super Bowl success, perhaps a highly ranked, but balanced underlying performance on both sides of the ball is what’s required.
In terms of over performing the points scored and allowed, corrected for the sides they have faced, the New Orleans Saints are the standout side of the eight remaining contenders.
Drew Brees’ side aren’t the most prolific relative offence, they are third behind Kansas City and LA Rams.
Neither are they the best defence remaining, even following the elimination of Baltimore, Chicago and Houston. Much of the post season’s quality defensive outfits departed the stage in the Wild Card round and there is an imbalance of offensive prowess remaining.
The Chargers and Dallas are narrowly the best defence that is left in the post season, but next comes the Saints.
The Saints are best equipped to respond to most scenarios that a playoff side might face.
They score 7.5 more points per game than par for the defences faced, primarily through the arm of Brees, who throws around a yard per attempt further than average.
Defensively, they are among the best three NFL sides at stopping the run, allowing nearly a yard per carry less than opponents usually achieve.
Virtually every team carries one weakness and the Saints are most vulnerable when being targeted through the air, where they concede three tenths of a yard per attempt more than par
Virtually every team carries one weakness and the Saints are most vulnerable when being targeted through the air, where they concede three tenths of a yard per attempt more than par.
That may be less of a problem against the Eagles, where much of their passing numbers are attributable to the injured Carson Wentz and backup, albeit Super Bowl winner, Nick Foles has fallen someway below the efficiency levels he maintained in his Super Bowl winning role last season.
Pythagorean matchups project a seven point Saints win, a view shared if we instead use scoring rates to split the sides, with a match total of 47 points.
The scheduling advantages extend this beyond a touchdown in favour of the hosts, which again lies very close to the current line. Therefore, the Saints to win the Super Bowl is taken as a suitable alternative.
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