Neil Greenberg makes NFL playoff predictions based on a multitude of factors that will have an impact on game day. These include efficiency stats such as success rates, yards per play and yards allowed per play, plus points scored based on strength of opponent. Point spreads are the consensus odds from multiple sports books in Vegas.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
The Patriots win this one easily if they can get pressure on quarterback Alex Smith.
According to Football Outsiders, New England had the second best pass-rushing unit in the NFL (8.1 percent adjusted sack rate, sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent). Smith’s passer rating drops from 108.7 to 61.7 under pressure.
If not, the Chiefs have enough offensive firepower to not only keep it close, but win this one outright.
Winner: New England Patriots, 64.2 percent
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs +5
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
Packers’ running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks get to go against an Arizona defense that is good at preventing runs at or before the line of scrimmage (second best stuff rate, 27 percent), but porous in the open field (21st in yards allowed per carry more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage).
The challenge for Green Bay is their own offensive line, a unit that ranks 27th for stuff percentage (23 percent), which makes it difficult for the running game to see much daylight.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals, 68.7 percent
Pick: Arizona Cardinals -7
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
This one has upset written all over it.
Seattle finished as the top team in Football Outsiders’ overall Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and their quarterback, Russell Wilson, ended the season with 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, producing the fourth highest Total Quarterback Rating (74.9) in 2015.
The Panthers have stellar cornerback Josh Norman (league-low 54.0 passer rating against in primary coverage), but he might not match up against the Seahawks’ most prolific receiving threat, Doug Baldwin (1.069 yards and 14 touchdowns).
In fact, the Panthers’ secondary is nicked up enough that Wilson might be able to avoid Norman all together.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks, 57.0 percent
Pick: Seattle Seahawks +2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had too much pain in his shoulder to throw the ball more than 10 or 15 yards against the Bengals, and might require a pain-killing injection before the game against the Broncos.
Going from Roethlisberger (94.8 points over replacement) to backup Landry Jones (2.7 points below replacement) is a huge downgrade, one that is exacerbated if wide receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) also can’t play.
Plus, the Steelers will be using a third-string backup at running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Against an average team this would be a formula for failure. Against a Denver defense which has a claim to one of the most dominant in NFL history, it could be a disaster.
Winner: Denver Broncos, 58.3 percent
Pick: Denver Broncos -6.5