NFL Playoff Schedule, Divisional Round: Stat Matchups for Steelers vs. Ravens

Fooch's Note: Game discussion taking place in our game thread.

For those of you that have been on Niners Nation for over 2 years, you'll know that I used to do a statistical matchup post each week of the playoffs way back when. Well, now that I have a little more free time, Fooch and I decided to dust it off starting this week. Without going into great statistical detail, what I do is I look at each team's stats in about 100 different areas, and identify matchups in each game that pit on team's strength against its opponent's weakness. Generally speaking, being able to exploit these matchup advantages usually plays a role in determining whether a team is going to win or lose.

The specific stat I look at is Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which was developed by Football Outsiders. If you've been here a while, you know it's my favorite. If you're new, know that it's my favorite. Also, if you're new, know that DVOA is just a team's play success rate adjusted for strength of schedule and compared to a league average. All DVOAs are from the perspective of the offense, so positive success rates are good for offenses, whereas negative success rates are good for defenses. So, if a team has a +10.0% Offense DVOA on 3rd and Short, it means that, after factoring out who they've played, their 3rd-and-Short plays have been 10% more successful than the average NFL offense has been.

Before I begin, though, here are a few overall playoff observations:

  • Only 4 of the 17 NFL champions during the DVOA era (1993-Present) were outside of the top 3 in total DVOA, but 3 of the 4 have been in the last 4 seasons (2006 Colts, 2007 Giants, & 2009 Saints). The Top 3 teams in DVOA this season are all still alive: The Patriots were #1, the Steelers were #2, and the Packers were #3.
  • 14 of the 17 NFL champions during the DVOA era have been above average on defense. This season, the Steelers, Packers, Ravens, Jets, and Bears had above-average defenses.
  • 16 of the 17 NFL champions during the DVOA era had weighted DVOAs above 10.0%, meaning that they were playing really well going into the playoffs. This season, only the Seahawks failed to cross that weighted DVOA threshold.

And here are a couple of divisional round observations:

  1. DVOA favorites are 40-28 in the divisional round since 1993; game location has not been a factor in the upsets. The DVOA favorites this week are NE, PIT, GB, and CHI.
  2. Only 9 of the 28 DVOA upsets in the divisional round have been greater than 10.0%. This season, NYJ's DVOA was 26.0% worse than NE's, BAL's was 14.3% worse than PIT's, and SEA's was 26.6% worse than CHI's.
  3. Only 4 teams with a negative Total DVOA have won a divisional round game, and only 1 has won since 2000 ('08 Cardinals). SEA is the only team with a negative Total DVOA that's playing this week.

After the jump, Steelers/Ravens in a statshell...

BALTIMORE RAVENS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Here's how the two teams stack up in terms of Total, Offense, Defense, and Special Teams DVOA:

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

BAL

23.0%

4

9.4%

12

-7.9%

4

5.6%

4

BAL - ROAD

22.6%

-0.3%

21

-17.3%

2

PIT

37.3%

2

17.9%

5

-18.5%

1

0.9%

16

PIT - HOME

44.2%

 

31.0%

2

-12.9%

4

 

 

These numbers tell me one thing. At least statistically speaking, BAL's offense doesn't travel well. So, perhaps if there's one thing that might separate the 2 teams this week, it's likely to be BAL's inability to score on PIT's defense at Heinz Field.

Here is the one meaningful strength-versus-weakness (SVW) matchup in the game:

Situation

BAL Rank

PIT Rank

PIT DEFENSE VS. BAL OFFENSE ON 3RD AND SHORT

29

6

Oviously, the fact that there's only 1 of these means there's little wiggle room between the teams. However, given the ground-it-out kind of game this is probably going to be, PIT's defensive advantage on 3rd and short will likely loom large.

There were a couple of other matchups I noticed that didn't rise to the level of SVW, but were nonetheless worthy of bringing up. And, given how evenly-matched the teams are, we're really searching for limited daylight here. First, BAL's Red Zone DVOA on offense this season was ranked 23rd, whereas PIT's Red Zone DVOA on defense was #1 in the NFL. So, for BAL, this may turn into a game of trading TDs for FGs. Second, BAL had the #23 Run Offense DVOA on 3rd-and-Short, whereas PIT had the #2 Run Defense DVOA in that situation. So, combine this one with the earlier SVW matchup on 3rd-and-Short, and it's clearly likely that BAL will have a tough time converting those short-yardage plays.

Here's how the two teams rank in the trenches (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

BAL OL

9

9

18

15

2

3

21

5

25

PIT DF7

1

12

1

3

11

3

10

13

3

 

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

PIT OL

19

7

31

18

17

5

12

27

29

BAL DF7

13

2

19

8

28

31

24

18

27

If you don't know what these stats are, see here.

Again, the only meaningful SVW matchup is to PIT's advantage. PIT's defensive front-7 (DF7) was ranked near the top of the league in Adjusted Sack Rate (ASR), whereas BAL's OL was ranked near the bottom. Guess that means it's likely to be a bruising day for Joe Flacco. You'll also notice PIT's OL also has an advantage running to right end (RE), but don't pay too much attention to that. PIT only actually runs in that direction 5% of the time, so their ranking is probably skewed by a few really long runs in that direction; and the same can be said for BAL's DF7 in the same direction.

BOTTOM LINE: This is one of those games where I'm not going to say something like, "What looks like an even matchup on the surface is really a mismatch when you dig into the stats." Yes, PIT has a few meaningful advantages according to the stats. Namely

  1. BAL's offense is pretty bad on the road while PIT's D is really good at home
  2. BAL's offense is really bad in short-yardage situations whereas PIT's is really good
  3. BAL's offense is pretty bad in the Red Zone whereas PIT's is really good
  4. BAL's OL is really bad at protecting the QB whereas PIT's DF7 is really good at sacking the QB

Put that all together, and it looks like a PIT win according to the stats. But, even with all of those advantages, I wouldn't predict it to be a big win.

**DVOA, ALY, and ASR statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

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