NFL Playoffs MegaColumn

Part 1: Regular Season Confidence Pool Wrap-Up

I have a saying: “All’s well that ends.” From a results-oriented perspective, this is just about the nicest thing I can say about my Confidence Pool performance this season. What started off so promisingly in Week 2, with 14 out of 16 correct picks and 120 out of 136 possible points quickly spiraled out of control. First, teams that I was expecting to do well coming into the season, such as the Ravens, Cardinals, and…*shudder*…Cowboys, started to slip. Then, when I was looking for new teams worthy of my trust, I was suckered in by a a handful of frauds. Thus began the time of putting big points on the Raiders, and little points on the Panthers and Chargers, with regularity. No wonder the season didn’t go so great, huh?

From a fun-oriented perspective, however, I have few complaints. The nice thing about having made my picks on Tuesdays was that, by the time Sunday rolled around, I had forgotten a lot of the picks I had made, particularly among each week’s lesser contests. I know I bitched about this very phenomenon at length back in Week 10, and yeah, I had a handful of rude awakenings after a handful of rough weeks. But really, I spent most of my Sundays in a Zen space, watching RedZone and chillin’. Jacked up picks were a problem for another day.

And, from a writing project perspective, this column has been a roaring success. At the start of September, I needed something to keep me busy and sharpen my wordsmithing skills, which at the time had become quite dull, indeed. This column gave me a space to do that, and also a way to talk about football in this space that I found actually interesting, and didn’t feel forced or douchey. A couple of years ago, when this blog was in its infancy, I experimented with doing a Power Rankings column, and it was awful. Not only is the NFL Power Ranking market completely saturated, doing a write up for each and very team, no matter how irrelevant, was a real chore. You try forcing yourself to have things to say about the 2018 Giants, I dare ya!

Confidence Pools, by contrast, are fun and different, and also necessarily involve some discussion of the actual games. Special Thanks are due to Chris back in Chicago, who introduced me to the concept a few years back. Thanks dude! I look forward doing this column again next year; since I will have the benefit of intending to do so, maybe I’ll even start at Week 1, like a normal person, instead of Week 2, like some schmuck who decided to do a Confidence Pool at great expense, and at the last minute. Wouldn’t that be something?

And now, it’s time to tally the Week 17 and season-ending Pool results. Hey, look at that, I did a bang-up job, for the most part! And hey, it’s not my fault the Steelers announced they would rest key starters after I had finished writing. Since this is the end of the line, I will also be including the percentage of total picks I hit on, and the percentage of total points available I acquired.

Week 17 Correct Picks: 13/16

Season Total Correct Picks (Starting Week 2): 155/240 (64.58%)

Week 17 Points: 111/136

Season Total Points (Starting Week 2): 1,353/1,926 (70.25%)

Hey, look at that! My points percentage is significantly higher than the picks percentage, indicating that for all of my failures this season, I did a halfway decent job of assigning fewer points to my misses, which is what you want to see. Neat!

Part 2: Playoff Confidence Pool

The Playoff Confidence Pool is vastly different from the Regular Season Confidence Pool. I will be making only one set of picks and point assignments. These picks, and their inevitably horrible consequences, will stick with me for the duration of the playoffs.

The Playoff Pool rules are as follows:

  • Each playoff team is assigned a point value from 1-14, with 14 indicating highest confidence, and 1 indicating lowest confidence.
  • After each playoff game, you receive points equal to the value you assigned to the winning team.
  • Most total points after the conclusion of the Super Bowl wins.

The practical upshots of this should be reasonably obvious, but because I am nothing if not a generous man, I’m going to point them out for everyone, anyway. First and foremost, you want to assign 14 points to the team you believe will win the Super Bowl, 13 points to the team you believe will lose the Super Bowl, 12 and 11 points to your presumed Conference runners-up, and so on. You’re not betting the money lines, here; the goal is not to find the best value propositions, or to exploit inefficiencies in the market (with some exceptions, which I’ll get to in a bit). Your only goal is to assign higher values to teams that will go farther, and lower values to teams that are more likely to be one and done.

Also, note that when making your picks, you will have to consider the actual playoff bracket, and which teams are likely to play each other. If, for example, you believe that, the Bucs would destroy the Packers as they did in the regular season should they meet again in the playoffs, don’t put more points on the Packers than the Bucs! A quick examination of the playoff bracket indicates that a Bucs/Packers matchup in the Divisional Round is quite likely, indeed. In light of this, I strongly urge you to make a playoff bracket and fill it in according to your picks for each game to organize your thoughts. Not only will this make assigning points less arbitrary, it will also help prevent cognitive dissonance-based errors, such as the one highlighted in the above example.

Now, about those inefficiencies that are worth paying attention to, and potentially exploiting. Since the final pool standings are determined by total points earned, and since the teams with byes are going to be playing fewer games than the teams playing Wild Card weekend, do give a very serious look to Wild Card Round teams that you think stand to make a deep run, and consider giving them big points. With only one bye in each conference, this is a much easier task than in years past; by definition, at least two teams playing in the Wild Card Round this year will make it to the Conference Championship, one in each conference.

The second inefficiency is very closely tied to the first. Lots of people in your pool are going to go chalk on their point values. There’s going to be a lots of sheets with 14 on the Kansas City and 13 on the Green Bay (and vice-versa); I anticipate that Tampa, Buffalo, New Orleans, and Baltimore are going to be popular high picks, as well. If you think any of these teams are frauds, or if you think some of the other teams in the field are being slept on, go with your gut and pick against the grain. Playoff pool standings are going to be tight, and if you’re right about any of these picks against the grain, you stand to get big points while others in your pool weep over their high-value whiffs.

But again, keep in mind that once the Lombardi Trophy is being hoisted, the only thing that is going to matter is the total points. Successfully exploited Inefficiencies are great and all, but don’t make any decisions solely because you find those inefficiencies tempting. Exercise extreme caution; be very deliberate in considering your beliefs, and assign your points according to those beliefs. If your beliefs lead you to put high points on a team others are sleeping on, great, but don’t force yourself to make those assignments if you don’t believe in them.

Finally, note that every Playoff Pool sheet will involve some sort of tiebreaker. Common tiebreakers include total points scored in the Super Bowl, margin of victory in the Super Bowl, etc. Please consult with your pool’s organizer for tiebreaker procedures.

And now, here are my picks for the Playoff Confidence Pool. Follow this advice at your own peril; if you follow these values exactly and get burned as a result, that’s on you. I am not liable for points missed as a result of heeding my terrible counsel.

14 Points: Kansas City Chiefs

It took me much longer than I care to admit to reach this conclusion; the Chiefs’ recent struggles to close out opponents, suspect offensive line, and perpetually suspect defense are enough to tempt me into some other galaxy-brained course of action. But upon surveying the playoff landscape, it is clear that all of these teams possess severe flaws (with the possible exception of the Bills, who I’ll get to). This includes the Chiefs, of course, but the Chiefs are still able to erase deficits of multiple touchdowns in less than a quarter, which can cover a hell of a lot of sins. Owning the bye doesn’t hurt, either.

13 Points: New Orleans Saints

This is probably the last chance for Drew Brees, and unless a real quarterback drops into their lap over the offseason somehow, and that means it’s probably the last chance for the Saints, too. Coming into this year, the Saints were the only team in the NFC I thought of as real contenders, despite their cavalcade of recent playoff disappointments, and I find myself clinging to this line of reasoning. Even I find this a bit curious, given that Brees is quite obviously toasted. But the defense is playing out of its goddamn mind, and has more than enough firepower to take down everyone else in the NFC. And while Brees is no longer his best self, the offensive line should make the run game viable regardless of who’s carrying, and Michael Thomas is gonna be back. This team is both terrifying and largely complete.

12 Points: Buffalo Bills

The Bills are heading into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league. If they play like they did against Miami, it is quite difficult indeed to see how they can be stopped, as they’re one of a very few teams – possibly the only team – capable of outscoring the Chiefs in the AFC. And yet, I have some serious reservations about their ability to make a deep playoff run. I am particularly concerned with their potential (and in my estimation, likely) showdown with Pittsburgh in Round 2. I know they whooped ’em in the regular season, but I have a hunch the Steelers, for all of their problems, won’t go down so easily in a rematch. While it’s great that the Bills have started making the playoffs again, it’s worth noting that they have yet to, you know, actually win a game once they get there. Granted, these games occurred prior to the Josh Allen renaissance, but even so, I’m still not sure how they lost that game against Houston last year. This sort of thing matters, until it doesn’t.

11 Points: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs have one of the most favorable draws for a Wild Card team in recent memory. As long as they have the sagacity not to look past Washington, they will, in all likelihood, head up to Lambeau Field to take on a Packers team that they utterly destroyed back in October. This was the sort of no holds barred thrashing that demands attention. If anything, I’m more concerned about their Wild Card game than what would (probably) come immediately after. To see Brady continue to thrive at his age fills me with despair, but he is prone to melting down completely when things aren’t going his way. Washington has the front four to create those kinds of bad days, and the whole team must be on alert to avoid the trap. So why not put the Bucs higher? You’ll notice that, by hypothesis (since I followed my own advice and made a bracket), if they do make it to the Conference Championship, they will run headlong into the Saints, who would destroy them with glee, and for a third time.

10 Points: Baltimore Ravens

I have not been shy about calling the Ravens The Team Nobody Wants To Play heading into the playoffs, and part of me believes they can go further than 10 points would suggest. But most of me recognizes that, in direct contrast to the Bucs, their Wild Card Draw is brutal. First comes their chance at revenge against the Titans this weekend. This is completely doable, but not fully guaranteed. Should they succeed, however, this would make KC their likely opponent in Round 2, and as high as I am on this team, it’s clear that they haven’t quite figured out the Chiefs out, having lost both of their regular season matchups the past two seasons. Here’s what you shouldn’t be worrying about, though; I’ve heard a non-zero amount of concern trolling from the take slingers that their weak schedule down the stretch is cause for concern. It’s not. Don’t become the kind of idiot who believes the ability to beat the absolute horse piss out of lesser opposition is a problem, somehow. In some ways, it’s the greatest glory a team can obtain.

9 Points: Green Bay Packers

Even with home field advantage, I cannot bring myself to place much trust in the Packers. They have a weird habit of collapsing at odd times, and as mentioned above, they have a high likelihood of drawing the Bucs after the bye. My skill (and, for that matter, my interest level) in tape grinding is not sufficient to fully explain just why they lost so badly, but the margin of victory is enough for me to think it’s repeatable. There’s also the matter of the Packers’ defense, which is somehow simultaneously both better and worse than its reputation. It’s possible that I’m letting the Packers’ recent playoff struggles color my opinion, but really, what’s wrong with that?

8 Points: Seattle Seahawks

It’s easy to write about the contenders, and it can be easy to write about the more interesting pretenders, but I find that there isn’t a lot to say about these teams that can probably make it to the second round, but no further. The Seahawks have been destined for second round exits seemingly every year since 2015, and this year is no different. Their performance this season was a particularly weird and tortured way to get back to this exact ceiling; just as the defense managed to unfuck itself, the offense came down with what I can only assume was a chronic case of Brian Schottenheimer-itis. It is possible to see this team rising above their station if everything breaks right, but it’s hard to see everything breaking right when Pete Carroll continues to send out the punt team at the very worst times.

7 Points: Pittsburgh Steelers

This was a tough year to be alive, and it was a tough year to follow this dumb sport of dudes mashing into other dudes, but at least the Steelers turned out to be frauds, am I right? With Roethlisberger seemingly washed up and with their run game non-existent, the Divisional Round seems like this team’s clear ceiling. The only thing that could possibly change this is if the defense manages to drag the opposition down to their level, but the AFC bracket is chock full of teams with offensive firepower for days, so uh…good luck with that.

6 Points: Tennessee Titans

I forgot to discuss another upshot of the Playoff Pool structure, and that’s proper hedging. I suspect that the Titans and their terrible, horrible, no good very bad defense will finally fall to the Ravens, but I acknowledge the possibility that I’m wrong. So what do I do? I put as many points as I can on the Titans without elevating their point value past the Wild Card Round (six games this weekend means six losing teams, which means that in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, I should assign values 1-6 to the teams I think will lose) as a means of hedging; note that I’ve also hedged my Bills and Ravens picks in this manner. Anyway, I’m sick of thinking about the Titans in general so let’s move on.

5 Points: Los Angeles Rams

My thoughts on the Rams and their prospects are not swayed regardless of whether or not Jared Goff is playing. Their offense obviously has severe problems, and while their defense has performed far beyond my initial expectations coming into this year, it’s very hard to advance in the playoffs when you can’t score points. Still, they must be heartened to draw the Seahawks in the first round, even though they lost in Seattle but a few weeks ago. They split their season series and came actually kind of close to pulling out the win in Seattle, so they have a real shot out of pulling off the upset. That said, just about any potential Divisional Round opponent should be able to handle them, and winning this weekend is itself something of a tall ask, so I fail to see how they could merit more points than this.

4 Points: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have spent the season as a tough out, albeit one that’s made good, but their prospects for a deep postseason run are less than excellent. I suspect they will harass the Bills a decent amount, but not enough to, you know, win. Struggling to put away the Jaguars is a bad look under just about any circumstances. If I thought there were any sort of real chance that the Colts would go on a run, perhaps I would hustle to say more about them, but I don’t so I’m not going to.

3 Points: Cleveland Browns

I would be a lot happier for the Browns and their fans if they had any hope of doing anything in the playoffs. They were always doomed heading back to Pittsburgh, where they were ground into goo earlier this year. I’m also less than impressed with their victory over those same Steelers last week. They barely scraped out a win in a must-win game against a team that was resting some starters, and let us never forget that they lost to the Jets the week before, blowing their last chance at the division. in addition, a quick trip to Pro Football Reference indicates the Browns are extremely lucky to be here at all. The Browns have a negative point differential on the season, and as such they have over three wins above expectation. This would be cause for grave concern for their prospects under even the best of circumstances, and as I’m sure everyone reading this is aware of by now, the Browns are absolutely not operating under the best of circumstances.

2 Points: Washington Football Team

As I indicated earlier, I could almost see these guys pulling off the upset against Tampa, but doing so will require the defense playing completely out of their goddamn minds. This team cannot and will not score, and are the most likely team in this field to fumble routine handoffs.

1 Point: Chicago Bears

Consider what a team must look like to be ranked lower than Washington on this list. Washington won their division, and thus would be in these playoffs anyway, but there is no more complete condemnation of the 14-team playoff field than the presence of these Bears. It is all but impossible to see them moving past the top teams in the NFC, especially after they dropped a deuce against Green Bay in last week’s win-and-in tilt, snagging a berth only because the Cardinals are even more hapless. A particularly day-drunk Park Ridge resident could perhaps take consolation in the fact that the Bears played the Saints close in the regular season, but this isn’t horseshoes, and the fact that Matt Nagy is going to be back next year should have the entire metro heading back to the fridge for another pre-lunch Anti-Hero.

Part 3: Wild Card Round Picks Against the Spread

Since the playoffs involve far fewer games on a week-to-week basis than the regular season, and since I still need to keep busy, I will be making weekly picks against the spread for all playoff games. Starting with the Divisional Round, I will be writing up each game properly. Wild Card Weekend, however, features six games across two days, which is a lot, and quite frankly I believe my team write-ups for the Playoff Pool provided more than enough insight into what my thoughts on the games.

But I’m not a monster, and I am dedicated to providing my readers with more aggregate value than spread picks from a guy who has never once bet actual money against the spread. Like I said above, six games across Saturday and Sunday is a lot; it’s enough to take you out of commission for almost the entire weekend, and if you’re like me you won’t have anywhere near that kind of time. And let’s face it, some of these games kind of suck. I know it’s the playoffs, but you’re allowed to want to do other things this weekend, and whatever slim hope there is of the league returning to a 12-team playoff next season hinges on us voting against a six-game Wild Card Round with our eyeballs.

Therefore, in addition to my picks, I’m going to tell you whether or not each game is worth watching and why. Next week is the Divisional Round, which demands total attention from even the most casual football enthusiast, so this is a One Time Only service.

All lines pulled from My Bookie at 10:30 AM on Wednesday, January 6th.

My picks, and the relevant spread, will be listed first, regardless of who is playing at home.

Indianapolis Colts (+7) at Buffalo Bills

Should You Watch This Game: Yes, but only if your schedule allows. The Colts have everything they need to play this close enough to be interesting, but not enough to win, so if you miss this one it’s not the end of the world.

Los Angeles Rams (+4) at Seattle Seahawks

Should You Watch This Game: Yes, especially if you enjoy sloppy, defensive slugfests. This game is one of the best chances for an upset this weekend, and we all know how the Seahawks enjoy making things more difficult for themselves, often in the wackiest possible ways.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-9) at Washington Football Team

Should You Watch This Game: Absolutely not, unless a trusted associate, close friend, or family member texts you during the fourth quarter urging you to do so.

Tennessee Titans (+3.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens

Should You Watch This Game: 100% yes! This is the best game of the weekend by miles, and figures to be a total shootout that goes all the way down to the wire, regardless of who comes out on top.

Chicago Bears (+10) at New Orleans Saints

Should You Watch This Game: Not for a single second, or for any reason. This game is not made interesting simply because the line is too high.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5) vs. Cleveland Browns

Should You Watch This Game: Not at first, but check the score around 9:00 PM Eastern or so. If it’s close, it’s probably worth tuning in for a while, at least until the Steelers pull away. If and when that happens, remember that no one is forcing you stay up until the end.

Part 4: Mike Zimmer – A Vikings Fan’s Retrospective

[Checks Notes]

It appears that Mike Zimmer will return as Vikings Head Coach next season. Therefore, this retrospective is postponed (probably for only a year, but whatever).

Part 5: Preseason Predictions, Revisited

Back in September, I predicted the outcome of each divisional race, as well as the Wild Cards for each conference, as part of my preseason preview. As with any set of preseason predictions, my opinions were formed primarily by overrating last year’s results, and to fill in the blanks, I ran with a handful of key assumptions, regardless of whether or not those assumptions held up to strict scrutiny, or for that matter, any degree of scrutiny. Suffice to say that some of these operating premises were sound, while others were total bullshit.

Nevertheless, I did manage to get a few picks just right. Now that the regular season is in the books, it’s time to take a look at how I did. First, comparison tables:

AFC West

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.250

NFC West

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.250

AFC South

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.250

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

NFC South

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 1.000

AFC East

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 1.000

NFC East

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)
Football Team4th1stNY

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.000

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.500

AFC North

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.0500

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.750

NFC North

TeamPredicted FinishActual FinishPlayoffs? (Predicted)Playoffs? (Actual)

Placement Prediction Accuracy: 1.000

Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.750

Total Placement Prediction Accuracy: 0.469 (15/32)

Total Playoff Prediction Accuracy: 0.563 (18/32)

Hoo boy, that was a lot of tables! I sure hope they’re accurate, because making them sure was a pain in the ass!
Anyway, assuming that this is correct, I’m reasonably pleased with this result. Obviously, whiffing on each and every prediction in the NFC East is a low point, but then again, any thought process that led to accurately predicting the result of that doomed Stygian raft of a division is not a thought process I’d like to become familiar with. Just about the only prediction I really wish I could take back is in the AFC North; I had a sneaking suspicion the Steelers would take first there, and had I rolled with them, I would have correctly predicted two entire divisions. Alas and alack.

Needless to say, the Award for Best Prediction goes to my NFC North Predicted Finishes, the only division where I snagged a 1.000 in Placement Prediction Accuracy. If only I had predicted the Bears to grab a Wild Card, I would have pulled the ever-elusive Double 1.000; then again, predicting the Bears to make the postseason at any point prior to their berth, including any point during their 5-1 start, is grounds for hospitalization among all but the most giardiniera-brained Evergreen Park residents. Honorable Mention goes to picking the Patriots to miss the playoffs entirely, largely because I thought I gave them a Wild Card up until just now, when I compiled the tables.

There were several serious contenders for the Worst Prediction Award, but after careful consideration I believe there can only be one winner.

But first! The winner of this most dubious award can be surmised through a close examination of the above tables. Can you spot it? Go ahead, I’ll wait up for a few minutes. Seriously, go on, take your time.

Did you spot it? Hooray! Good for you, you’re ever so clever. That’s right the Award for Worst Prediction goes to my Denver Broncos Prediction, as I picked them to finish 2nd in the AFC West and earn a Wild Card. I wrote that preview the very day Von Miller suffered a season-ending…I forget. I think it was an ACL tear? Whatever, point is I thought about going back to revise this prediction before deciding that I would be fine, because Drew Lock was absolutely going to take a leap forward in his second year. That, uh…didn’t happen, and the Broncos didn’t so much as sniff playoff contention at any point. Honorable Mention goes to picking the Rams to finish last in the NFC West, writing that “the Rams are gonna fucking suck.” This prediction is vindicated only by the face that they figured out how to lose to the Jets when no one else would.

Preseason predictions will be back for the 2021 season, and early enough so that I have time to start the Confidence Pool column up in Week 1.

Thank you to everyone who supported this column this year! I’ll be back next week for Divisional Round picks. Until then, have fun!

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