NFL Playoffs: Predicting Upsets Using Teams' Home and Road Splits

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NFL Playoffs: Predicting Upsets Using Teams' Home and Road Splits
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Due to the NFL playoffs' single elimination format, even more so than in the regular season, how well a team performs at home or how well a team performs on the road can be the determining factor in which teams win and advance and which teams lose and go home. As we enter the divisional round of the playoffs, now is as good a time as any to utilize the remaining teams' home and road splits to help in predicting which match-ups are most liable to result in an upset.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers hold the distinction of being the only playoff team with home-field advantage this weekend that plays better on both sides of the ball when playing at home, although the additional yards the offense gains at home do not lead to more points.

The Steelers experience a modest increase in offensive production when playing at Heinz Field. Compared to when playing on the road, they have a 3.2 percent lower completion percentage (61.3 percent to 63.3 percent), but they gain 2.5 percent more yards per pass attempt (8.2 to 8.0), 3.8 percent more adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.3 to 8.0), 2.9 percent more net yards per pass attempt (7.0 to 6.8), 4.4 percent more adjusted net yards per pass attempt (7.1 to 6.8), and 5.5 percent more yards per completion (13.4 to 12.7). The Steelers' increase in yardage per play is not limited to passing plays as they also gain 9.3 percent more yards per rush (4.3 to 3.9).

Additionally, despite a decrease of 16.0 percent in touchdown percentage (4.2 percent to 5.0 percent), the Steelers' also have a slightly better touchdown to interception ratio due to a 34.8 percent decrease in interception percentage (1.5 percent to 2.3 percent). It is also more difficult to sack a Steeler quarterback at home as the Steelers' sack percentage decreases by 11.4 percent (7.8 percent to 8.8 percent).

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, none of their improvements on offense translate into more points for the team; in fact, the Steelers score 2.9 percent fewer points at home than on the road (23.1 to 23.8). The difference is not great, but it is there.

On defense, the Steelers maintain their point differential at home by allowing 9.8 percent fewer points at home (13.8 to 15.3). They also allow a 2.6 percent lower completion percentage (60.9 percent to 61.5 percent), 6.2 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 6.5), 10.9 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (4.9 to 5.5), 5.4 percent decrease in net yards per pass attempt (5.2 to 5.5), 10.9 percent decrease in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (4.1 to 4.6), 5.7 percent decrease in yards per completion (10.0 to 10.6), and 27.6 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (2.1 percent to 2.9 percent).

The most important improvement the Steelers make on defense when playing at home is in keeping opposing quarterbacks from throwing touchdowns, something they do without intercepting more passes. The Steelers defense's interception percentage at home is slightly less than what it is on the road by a decrease of 2.8 percent (3.5 percent to 3.6 percent).

The Steelers also allow a 22.2 percent increase in yards per rush allowed (3.3 to 2.7), but that difference means little since allowing only 3.3 yards per rush is still playing incredibly stingy run defense. It just so happens they clamp down even more on running backs on the road.

Overall, the Steelers have a 9.3 point per game advantage over opponents at home compared to an 8.5 points per game advantage over opponents on the road. No matter where you face the Steelers, you are facing a fearsome opponent.

If the Steelers were playing any of the other three teams, they would not have to worry about being upset, but they are not just facing one of their most heated division rivals in the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers are also facing the best road team playing on the road this week and the road team that has the best chance of winning this weekend.

For the season, which includes last week's wild card win against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens have outscored their opponents by 6.0 points per game on the road.

Why the Ravens win has little to do with their offense, however. It would be more accurate to say the Ravens win on the road despite their offense's best efforts.

On the road, the Ravens' passers, which is really just Joe Flacco as he has thrown all but two of the Ravens' passes this season, are 1.8 percent better at completion percentage (63.9 percent to 62.8 percent), but that increase in accuracy is undone by a 17.0 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (6.8 to 8.2), a 26.7 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.6 to 9.0), an 11.8 percent decrease in net yards per pass attempt (6.0 to 6.8), a 23.0 percent decrease in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.7 to 7.4), an 18.3 percent decrease in yards per completion (10.7 to 13.1), a 20.7 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (4.6 percent to 5.8 percent), and a mind-boggling 188.9 increase in interception percentage (2.6 percent to .9 percent).

At least Flacco can say his sack percentage is 24.4 percent (6.8 percent to 9.0 percent) lower on the road.

The Ravens' running backs not wanting to feel left out of the offense's ineptitude have gained 21.4 percent fewer yards per rush on the road (3.3 to 4.2).

For all the Ravens' poor offensive output on the road, they still only have a 6.0 percent decrease in points per game (22.1 to 23.5), thanks to a Ravens defense that generates turnovers and sometimes converts those turnovers directly to touchdowns.

Every time the Ravens play on the road, the Ravens' offense should be thankful for Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense that is the embodiment of the old adage that defense travels better than offense. No defense playing on the road this week travels like the Baltimore Ravens do.

The Ravens on the road force opposing offenses to complete 14.8 percent fewer passes (53.7 percent to 63.0 percent), gain 13.4 percent fewer yards per pass attempt (5.8 to 6.7), gain 34.9 percent fewer adjusted yards per pass attempt (4.5 to 6.3), gain 17.7 percent fewer net yards per pass attempt (5.1 to 6.2), and gain 32.8 percent fewer adjusted net yards per pass attempt (3.9 to 5.8) than they do when playing at home.

They also limit opponents' touchdown percentages, forcing opposing quarterbacks into a 32.6 percent lower touchdown percentage (2.9 percent to 4.3 percent). At the same time the Ravens are limiting opposing quarterbacks' touchdown percentages, they are increasing the same quarterbacks' interception percentages by 40.0 percent (4.2 percent to 3.0 percent) so it is virtually impossible to throw a touchdown on the Ravens before throwing an interception.

Also, the Ravens defense has a 44.7 percent increase in sack percentage (5.5 percent to 3.8 percent) so it is an incredibly difficult feat for a quarterback to have a good game while facing the Ravens.

Where you can find fault with the Ravens defense is in the 1.9 percent increase they allow in yards per completion (10.9 to 10.7) and a 13.5 percent increase in yards per rush (4.2 to 3.7).

As a team, the Ravens allow 2.4 percent fewer points per game on the road (16.1 to 16.5). If the Ravens defense plays its usual ferocious road defense against the Steelers, that could definitely be enough for the Ravens to notch another road playoff victory.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

It should come as no surprise that the Atlanta Falcons play well at home. Much has been made of quarterback Matt Ryan's 20-2 record at home, helped by a 7-1 record this season that saw the Falcons outscore their opponents by 9.4 points per game.

That Matt Ryan receives most of the credit for the Falcons' stellar home record is as it should be because the Falcons offense leads the way for the team when it plays at home.

Playing in the Georgia Dome this season as opposed to when the Falcons have played on the road, they complete 13.1 percent more passes (66.4 percent to 58.7 percent), gain 8.0 percent more yards per pass attempt (6.7 to 6.2), gain 19.6 percent more adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.3 to 6.1), gain 12.5 percent more net yards per pass attempt (6.3 to 5.6), gain 25.5 percent more adjusted net yards per pass attempt (6.9 to 5.5), and gain 8.1 percent more yards per rush (4.0 to 3.7). The Falcons do see a 2.9 percent decrease in yards per completion (10.2 to 10.5), but their increase in completion percentage and yards per pass attempt more than make up for that.

Where Matt Ryan, who has thrown all but six of the Falcons' pass attempts this season, really excels is in improving his touchdown to interception ratio. Not only does he improve his touchdown percentage by 15.6 percent (5.2 percent to 4.5 percent) at home, but more importantly he also cuts down his interception percentage by 52.3 percent (1.0 percent to 2.1 percent), which is reflected in his adjusted passing statistics and makes him a more effective quarterback.

Ryan also gets sacked less at home with a 23.3 percent decrease in sack percentage (3.3 percent to 4.3 percent).

The Ryan-led Falcons manage to score 7.2 percent more points per game when at home (26.8 to 25.0).

The Falcons defense also does its job to protect home field, but to a lesser extent, and by deploying a bend but do not break philosophy. The Falcons defense at home gives up a few more passing yards as evidenced by the fact the unit allows opponents a .3 percent increase in completion percentage (65.1 percent to 64.9 percent), a 1.5 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (6.9 to 6.8), a 3.4 percent increase in adjusted yards per attempt (6.0 to 5.8), a 3.3 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.2 to 6.0), a 5.9 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.4 to 5.1), and a 1.0 percent increase in yards per completion (10.6 to 10.5). The Falcons are a tiny bit better against the run at home by 2.1 percent in yards per rush allowed (4.6 to 4.7)

The Falcons also allow a 2.4 percent increase in opponents' touchdown percentage (4.2 percent to 4.1 percent), a 7.3 percent decrease in interception percentage (3.8 percent to 4.1 percent), and a 22.0 percent decrease in sack percentage (4.6 percent to 5.9 percent).

At the end of the day, though, the Falcons give up 6.5 percent fewer points per game (17.4 to 18.6) when they play at home so the extra yards for their opponents are not becoming extra points.

The Atlanta Falcons' opponent this weekend, the Green Bay Packers, are the second best road team of the four road teams, outscoring their road opponents by 3.5 points per game. The Packers have managed to post a positive point differential despite the major regression the offense undergoes on the road.

At home, the Packers passing offense is so outstanding it makes the passing production of the team on the road seem like it is bad even though the Packers on the road are a perfectly good passing team and sport a level of production most NFL teams would love to have.

Still, when the Packers are on the road, they complete 3.3 percent fewer passes (64.2 percent to 66.4 percent), gain 14.0 percent fewer yards per attempt (7.0 to 9.3), gain 27.8 percent fewer adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.0 to 9.7), gain 20.2 percent fewer net yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 8.4), gain 30.7 percent fewer adjusted net yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 8.8), gain 22.1 percent fewer yards per completion (10.9 to 14.0), and see their touchdown percentage decrease by 41.0 percent (4.6 percent to 7.8 percent).

The Packers' rushing attack picks up some of the slack, increasing by 13.9 percent in yards per rush (4.1 to 3.6). Also, on the bright side, the Packers have a 12.0 percent decrease in interception percentage (2.2 percent to 2.5 percent) and an 11.3 percent decrease in sack percentage (6.2 percent to 6.9 percent).

Unfortunately, the Packers' points per game still decrease by 40.0 percent when they are on the road (18.3 to 30.5).

Even when the Packers offense only looks ordinary on the road, the Packers defense does a good job of keeping the offense in the game by not regressing as sharply.

Defensively on the road versus when they are at home, the Packers allow opponents a 1.6 lower completion percentage (55.7 percent to 56.6 percent), 6.3 percent higher yards per pass attempt (6.8 to 6.4), 41.9 percent higher adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 4.3), 3.7 percent higher net yards per pass attempt (5.6 to 5.4), 47.1 percent higher adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.0 to 3.4), 7.0 percent higher yards per completion (12.2 to 11.4), 4.4 percent higher yards per rush (4.7 to 4.5), 20.6 percent lower touchdown percentage (2.7 percent to 3.4 percent), 57.8 percent lower interception percentage (2.7 percent to 6.4 percent), 6.3 higher sack percentage (8.4 percent to 7.9 percent), and 2.9 percent more points per game (21.1 to 20.5).

For some reason, and it keeps the Packers from being more effective defensively on the road, they are much worse at intercepting the ball. Otherwise, the Packers defense is almost as good on the road as at home and should keep the Packers into the game against the Falcons.

Furthermore, the Packers offense should not have any great difficulties moving the ball against the Falcons as the Falcons defense allows at home basically what the Packers offense gains yardage-wise on the road so the Packers and Falcons game looks to be a closely contested affair with Packers having a good shot to win.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears

The next home playoff team, the Chicago Bears, is also the worst home team playing this weekend as they have been outscored by 0.5 points per game at home.

Do not blame the offense for the team's home woes, though. The Bears are a much better team offensively at home than they are on the road, with a 5.4 percent decrease in completion percentage (57.7 percent to 61.0 percent), a 28.6 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (8.1 to 6.3), a 43.1 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.3 to 5.1), a 42.6 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.7 to 4.7), a 63.9 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.9 to 3.6), a 35.6 percent increase in yards per completion (14.1 to 10.4), a 2.6 percent increase in yards per rush (4.0 to 3.9), a 36.6 percent increase in touchdown percentage (5.6 percent to 4.1 percent), a 4.3 percent decrease in interception percentage (4.4 percent to 4.6 percent), a 16.2 percent decrease in sack percentage (9.8 percent to 11.7 percent), and an 11.1 percent increase in points per game (22.0 to 19.8).

The problems arise when the offense leaves the field and the defense takes over and undermines all the offense has done. Unlike the Bears' offense where except in completion percentage, the unit improves in every category when playing at home, the Bears' defense allows opponents to get better in every category except yards per rush allowed.

The Bears at home, compared to when on the road, allow opposing offenses to post a 4.9 percent higher completion percentage (63.8 percent to 60.8 percent), a 12.7 percent higher yards per pass attempt (7.1 to 6.3), a 26.6 percent higher adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.4 to 4.7), a 22.2 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.6 to 5.4), a 51.2 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.9 to 3.9), a 17.3 percent increase in yards per completion (11.2 to 10.4), a 7.7 percent decrease in yards per rush (3.6 to 3.9), a 66.7 percent increase in touchdown percentage (3.0 percent to 1.8 percent), a 30.2 percent decrease in interception percentage (3.0 percent to 4.3 percent), a 47.9 percent decrease in sack percentage (3.8 percent to 7.3 percent), and a 69.2 percent increase in points per game (22.5 to 13.3).

Ordinarily with home splits like that, the Bears would be the team most susceptible to an upset, but they are going to be playing the Seattle Seahawks, who are an absolutely horrendous road team, having been outscored by 12.5 points per game on the road. Looking at the way the Seahawks have played on the road over the course of the season, it looks very unlikely they will be able to beat the Bears in Chicago for the second time this season.

When the Seahawks are on the road, the offense does several things better than when playing at home. On the road, the Seahawks have a 4.3 percent higher completion percentage (61.0 percent to 58.5 percent), a 6.3 percent higher yards per pass attempt (6.8 to 6.4), a 3.6 percent higher adjusted yards per pass attempt (5.7 to 5.5), an 8.9 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 5.6), a 4.2 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.0 to 4.8), a 1.8 percent increase in yards per completion (11.1 to 10.9) and a 10.5 percent decrease in interception percentage (3.4 percent to 3.8 percent).

They also do a few things worse on the road, gaining 16.7 percent fewer yards per rush (3.5 to 4.2), posting a 50.0 percent lower touchdown percentage (2.1 percent to 4.2 percent), and posting a 3.4 percent higher sack percentage (6.1 percent to 5.9 percent).

Due to the precipitous drop in touchdown percentage, the few outweighs the several and the Seahawks have scored 30.3 percent fewer points per game (16.8 to 24.1) on the road than they have at home.

On the other hand, the Seahawks on defense on the road do one thing well, getting a 67.4 percent increase in sack percentage (7.2 percent to 4.3 percent). Everything else, the Seahawks do very poorly.

The Seahawks when playing defense on the road as opposed to at home allow opponents a 5.6 percent increase in completion percentage (60.4 percent to 57.2 percent), a 35.5 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (8.4 to 6.2), a 51.7 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (9.1 to 6.0), a 29.8 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (7.4 to 5.7), a 45.5 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (8.0 to 5.5), a 28.4 percent increase in yards per completion (14.0 to 10.9), a 2.4 percent increase in yards per rush (4.2 to 4.1), a 71.8 percent increase in touchdown percentage (6.7 percent to 3.9 percent), a 36.4 percent decrease in interception percentage (1.4 percent to 2.2 percent), and a 26.3 percent increase in points per game (29.3 to 23.2).

It is asking too much of the Seahawks to expect them to exceed their season totals enough to knock off the Chicago Bears.

New York Jets at New England Patriots

In the last game of the weekend, when the New England Patriots take the field, they will be doing so as the most dominating home team of the four home teams. This season at home, the Patriots have outscored opponents by 14.4 points per game.

They have dominated opponents because their offense, while being outstanding on the road, is even better in Gillette Stadium. The Patriots experience a 5.3 percent increase in completion percentage (67.1 percent to 63.7 percent), a 14.1 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (8.9 to 7.8), a 17.4 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (10.1 to 8.6), a 15.5 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (8.2 to 7.1), a 17.7 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (9.3 to 7.9), an 8.1 percent increase in yards per completion (13.3 to 12.3), a 26.3 percent increase in yards per rush (4.8 to 3.8), a 17.9 percent increase in touchdown percentage (7.9 percent to 6.7 percent), a 27.2 percent decrease in interception percentage (.8 percent to 1.1 percent), a 12.0 percent decrease in sack percentage (4.4 percent to 5.0 percent), and a 10.4 percent increase in points per game (34.0 to 30.8).

Basically, at home, the Patriots are unstoppable on offense.

Like the Atlanta Falcons, the New England Patriots on defense at home employ a bend but do not break style of defending. Against the pass, the Patriots, despite giving up 3.5 percent fewer yards per completion (11.0 to 11.4), allow opponents a 5.5 percent increase in completion percentage (65.2 percent to 61.8 percent), a 1.4 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (7.2 to 7.1), a 10.3 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.4 to 5.8), a 3.2 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 6.3), a 13.7 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.8 to 5.1), a 45.5 percent increase in touchdown percentage (4.8 percent to 3.3 percent), a 9.3 percent decrease in interception percentage (3.9 percent to 4.3 percent), and an 11.9 percent decrease in sack percentage (5.2 percent to 5.9 percent).

Against the run, the Patriots allow 11.1 percent fewer yards per rush (4.0 to 4.5).

Still, despite their more porous pass defense at home, the Patriots only give up .5 percent more points per game at home (19.6 to 19.5), negating the extra yards they give up.

The Patriots' divisonal playoff opponent, the New York Jets, has one item of good news and three items of bad news.

The item of good news is that their offense plays much better on the road. The Jets complete 15.6 percent more passes (58.7 percent to 50.8 percent), gain 15.0 percent more yards per pass attempt (6.9 to 6.0), gain 10.5 percent more adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.3 to 5.7), gain 27.5 percent more net yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 5.1), gain 22.9 percent more adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.9 to 4.8), gain 2.3 percent more yards per rush (4.5 to 4.4), post a 5.7 percent increase in touchdown percentage (3.7 percent to 3.5 percent), post a 65.3 percent decrease in sack percentage (2.6 percent to 7.5 percent), and score 16.3 percent more points per game (24.2 to 20.8) when playing on the road.

However, there is one major downside to the Jets offense when playing on the road. The offense has a 30.4 percent increase in interception percentage (3.0 percent to 2.3 percent) away from the Meadowlands.

The first item of bad news for the New York Jets is that although their offense does improve on the road, the passing offense has been so bad at home that it only looks like they are good on the road. In reality, the Jets passing offense on the road is not a potent one. It is just not completely mediocre.

Second on the bad news item list is that instead of head coach Rex Ryan and the Jets spending so much time this week trash talking the Patriots and posturing, they should have been figuring out why the Jets give up so many yards and so many points on the road like it is going out of style because when the Jets lose this weekend, it will be because they could not stop the Patriots offense.

Defensively, when playing on the road as opposed to at home, the Jets allow a 17.6 percent higher completion percentage (55.4 percent to 47.1 percent), a 27.6 percent increase in yards per pass attempt (7.4 to 5.8), a 74.5 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.2 to 4.7), a 30.0 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 5.0), an 87.1 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (7.3 to 3.9), an 8.9 percent increase in yards per completion (13.4 to 12.3), a 50.0 percent increase in yards per rush (4.2 to 2.8), an 83.4 percent increase in touchdown percentage (5.7 percent to 3.1 percent), an 82.1 percent decrease in interception percentage (.7 percent to 3.9 percent), a 16.0 percent decrease in sack percentage (6.3 percent to 7.5 percent), and a 76.9 percent increase in points per game (23.7 to 13.4).

Looking at how woefully the Jets play road defense makes all the comments from them this week laughable. There is no reason for the Patriots to fear the Jets, which brings me to the third item of bad news for the Jets; there is no way the Jets can defeat the Patriots this weekend.

In the games this weekend, based on the teams' home and road splits, the game with the most chance of an upset, which would be the road team winning, is the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Baltimore Ravens, the one with the second highest chance of an upset is the Atlanta Falcons versus the Green Bay Packers, the third best chance of an upset will be between the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks, and the most unlikely upset will be in the game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

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