Folks scoffed at the notion that Flacco would play better after a Week 17 rest. In the playoffs he threw for 10 TDs and zero INTs.
I hate to blow my own Matterhorn, but I predicted the Ravens would make this run in the playoffs because they paid heed to the sports science that athletes' bodies need rest between hard efforts. The harder and more intense the effort, the more time the body needs to recover.
Before the final week of the regular season, many Indianapolis Colts fans, myself included, suggested that the Colts should rest some of their key players in a game that had no effect on whether or where the Colts played in the playoffs.
Other voices shouted us down, claiming the Colts needed to create a rhythm at the end of the season by beating the Houston Texans. This rhythm, and the confidence it is suppose to engender, would result in a "hot team" that had a greater chance of making a deep run in the playoffs.
We had two testable hypotheses:
- Rest-recovery hypothesis: Sports science is unequivocal, the human body needs time after hard efforts to recover, and the less rest the body has, the less it recovers.
- Rhythm/"hot team" hypothesis: Teams that win consecutive games create a playing "rhythm" and confidence that reproduces itself in subsequent games and is evident in the phenomena we know as "hot."
After the Colts beat down on the Texans by riding their key players all the way through the game and the Baltimore Ravens rested six key players including quarterback Joe Flacco, I predicted that the Ravens would beat the Colts because they were the more rested team.
The Ravens won the game 24-9.
I based my prediction on 22 years of data from all of the playoff games played in the modern playoff era. My analysis showed no rhythm/hot-team effect across that time span.
What is your expectation for the Colts next season?
The following week I analyzed the rest-recovery effect of the playoff bye week and showed that teams earning the Wild Card Round bye won more games than other home teams in other playoff rounds.
That week three of the four bye-week teams won in the divisional round, the only loss registered to the Denver Broncos, in overtime, by a Ravens team that rested players in Week 17 and got two key players back from injury who were also well rested.
In the week leading up to the AFC and NFC Championship Games I presented data that the bye-week advantage is only strong in the divisional round, and that in recent years there was an identifiable trend in low-seeded teams making deep playoff runs.
This had nothing to with these teams being "hot" as those teams had, on average, no type of end-of-season winning streak to speak of. I predicted the Ravens would continue the trend and win their AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
The Ravens beat the Patriots 28-13 on eight days rest.
Allow me throw a new figure at you, the four wild-card Super Bowl winners starting with the Steelers in 2005, had a winning percentage of 60 percent over the last five games of the regular season (update: with the Ravens that winning percentage drops to 50 percent as they ended the season 1-4). The winning percentage for all of the playoff teams during that same time period is 68 percent.
Wild-card teams that won Super Bowls in recent years were in no way "hot" and in fact were playing worse than the other playoff teams.
The rest/recovery advantage is not overwhelming. I estimate about 12 percent. But with NFL parity, this advantage could be enough to carry a team to the Super Bowl. It is also an actual advantage and not a myth like the rhythm/hot-team hypothesis for which there is no evidence.
I want to be clear about something, I would much rather the Colts were the team kicking butt down in 'Nawlins tonight, but it was not going to happen this year. Perhaps next year the Colts' coaching staff will take some of this season's lessons and prepare their team better for the NFL playoffs.