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Playoff Rematches Trouble for Patriots; plus, the Mother of All Stats

Posted Jan 10, 2013

As the Patriots prepare to host the Houston Texans for the second time in just over a month, we take a look back at how past playoff rematches have been trouble for the team.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts enjoy their beer-tinis as much as they enjoy their football analysis. So we hate to deliver sobering news.

But as the Patriots prepare to host the Houston Texans for the second time in just over a month, it pays to heed the phrase they often use in the world of finance and investing:

"Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

In other words, don’t pencil in a W over the Texans just yet, Friends of the Facts. Sure, the Patriots humiliated Houston in December, with an Alabama-Notre Dame-esque 42-14 nationally televised beating.
But you don’t have to go back very far to see we’ve been down this very same path before.

The 2010 Patriots went 14-2 and closed out the season with eight utterly dominating wins, outscoring the opposition by an incredible 309-125. It was one of the greatest stretches of football not just by the Patriots, but by any team in NFL history.

The biggest win of the bunch came in early December on “Monday Night Football” when the Patriots embarrassed the N.Y. Jets 45-3 – much like the Patriots embarrassed the Texans on “Monday Night Football” this season, also in early December.

Then came the rematch with the Jets in the divisional round. Football fans here in New England and around the country assumed another blow out.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Gang Green, so miserable in December, was a different team in January. They beat the Patriots, 28-21, ending New England’s dominant regular season with a winless whimper in the postseason. Mark Sanchez had a career day, with 3 TD passes and a 127.3 passer rating, the second best mark of his career.

There are other reasons to expect a much tougher battle with Houston this time around, too.

Bill Belichick’s Patriots have a reputation for dominating rematches. But the reality, the Cold, Hard Football Fact, is quite a bit different. All six postseason losses in the Belichick-Tom Brady Era have come in rematch games.

Regular Season Postseason
2005 Broncos 28, Patriots 20 Broncos 27, Patriots 13
2006 Colts 27, Patriots 20 Colts 38, Patriots 34
2007 Patriots 38, Giants 35 Giants 17, Patriots 14
2009 Patriots 27, Ravens 21 Ravens 33, Patriots 13
2010 Patriots 45, Jets 3 Jets 28, Patriots 21
2011 Giants 24, Patriots 20 Giants 21, Patriots 17

Three times the Patriots won the regular-season game, three times they lost. But in all six cases, New England came up on the short end in the rematch.

Passer Rating Differential: the Mother of All Stats
Passer Rating Differential is one of the Quality Stats we use at Cold, Hard Football Facts to size up NFL teams. It is the closest thing we have to a perfect stat in football, and maybe in all of sports.

Other than final score, which is all that really matters at the end, no stat does a better job than PRD of separating winners from losers.

We track what we call Correlation to Victory each week and each season at CHFF Insider. And it tells us that teams with the higher passer rating – what we call Passer Rating Differential – were dominant yet again in 2012, especially down the stretch.

Teams with a higher passer rating:
  • went 209-46 (.820) in 2012
  • are an incredible 47-5 (.904) since Week 15
  • went 4-0 (1.000) in the wildcard round

Basically, if you post a better passer rating, you’ve won more than 90 percent of NFL games over the past four weeks of action and you won all four games last weekend. That’s pretty damn good.

A little more evidence of the utility of Passer Rating Differential: the Final 8 teams rank No. 1 (Green Bay), No. 2 (Seattle), No. 3 (Denver), No. 4 (San Francisco), No. 5 (Atlanta), No. 7 (New England), No. 8 (Houston) and No. 12 (Baltimore) in PRD.

Notice a trend here, folks?

The top of the PRD list is a near perfect representation of the final eight teams still alive today. The only team in the Top 8 not on the list is Washington (No. 6), and they had the misfortune of facing No. 2 Seattle in the wildcard round.

Baltimore, at No. 12, is the only outlier. And they had the fortune of facing the largely overvalued Andrew Luck and the second-rate Colts (No. 27) in the wildcard round.

By the way, 36 percent of all NFL champion since 1940 finished the year No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential. If you looked only at PRD and nothing else, you could name more than 1 in 3 of all NFL champions since the start of World War II.

So, given the importance of Passer Rating Differential, here’s a quick look at each of the four divisional round games

The year-end PRD is in parenthesis, including updated numbers for those teams that played in the wildcard round.

Houston (+10.6) at New England (+10.7)
If Passer Rating Differential has predictive value, Texans-Patriots should be the tightest, most evenly contested battle of the divisional round. They are virtual statistical equals right now.

Sure, the Patriots dominated the first meeting, 42-14, in Week 14. Interestingly, it was that win that propelled New England past Houston in PRD for the first time all season.

But we all know that beatings at one point in the season do not usually lead to beatings again later in the season or in the postseason. Expect a much closer game this time around.

Baltimore (+9.2) at Denver (+25.9)
A total statistical mismatch. The Broncos are No. 3 in the NFL, and No. 1 in the AFC, in PRD. If all goes according to plan, they’ll win Saturday and likely win the AFC championship.

But, the indicator is not ALWAYS perfect and stranger things have happened than the No. 7 team (New England) beating the No. 3 team (Denver), which shapes up as our likely AFC title game.

Seattle (+28.7) at Atlanta (+22.0)
We’ve been drinking the PRD Kool-Aid for a few years now. We’ve been drinking the Russell Wilson and Seahawks Kool-Aid since about mid-season.

Today, Wilson is the last rookie QB standing and easily outperformed Luck in their first playoff games.

The Seahawks are rated more highly than the Falcons, offensively (No. 5 vs. No. 6) defensively (No. 3 vs. No. 5) and, of course, in PRD (No. 2 to No. 5).

Atlanta was the better team early in the season and has the better record. Seattle is the better team right now.

Green Bay (+32.0) at San Francisco (+23.2)
Packers-49ers is clearly the statistical heavyweight battle of the divisional round, at least as measured by PRD (No. 1 vs. No. 4).

Interestingly, the 49ers won the Week 1 battle, 30-22, at Lambeau Field. Alex Smith was absolutely on fire that day, easily outplaying Aaron Rodgers (125.6 rating to 93.3, or +31.9 for the 49ers).

Smith, of course, was benched for Colin Kaepernick, whose passer rating is nearly six points lower than Smith’s. The 49ers have also tumbled from No. 2 to No. 4 in Passer Rating Differential since Smith was sent to the bench.

Put another way: the 49ers were better off with Smith at quarterback. That downgrade may very well cost them Saturday night.

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