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Wild Card Games

   by Larry Ness - 01/07/2005

The wild card round began in 1978 and through the 1989 season, consisted of just two games (one in each conference). It expanded to four games in 1990, as the NFL added to its wild card round with a third wild card entry plus the division winner with poorest SU record....

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Conferences were re-configured in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans (32 teams in eight four-team divisions) but the format was barely altered. Wild card entries from each conference reverted back to two (from three), with the two division winners with the poorest records joining the wild card fray....

Whether or not that slight change is the reason or not, the last two years have seen very high-scoring games! Wild card games averaged 55.3 PPG in the 2002 season and 2003's four games averaged 46.8 PPG. FOUR of the eight games were decided by 19 points or more....

That fact, is NOTHING NEW! All four of the 2001 wild card games were decided by double-digits with the closest contest being Green Bay's 25-15 win over San Francisco. The average margin of victory in the wild card games of 2001 was 15.8 PPG!...

History shows that wild card games have not typically been closely contested. Since 1995, 22 of the 36 games have been decided by 13 points or more and going all the way back to the first year (1978), 44 of the 78 games have been decided by more than SEVEN points, with 35 of those being decided by 14 points or more!...

Doing the math in my head (always a frightening concept!), that means that just 34 of the 78 wild cards games (43.6 percent) have been decided by SEVEN points or less. Interestingly, an equal number of games have been decided between one and three points (17), while the same number of games (17) have ended with the final margin of victory coming between four and seven points!...

Will this year's wild card games follow past form? NFL games averaged less that 40 PPG in each of the season's first four weeks. However, 12 of the last 13 weeks, saw game averages of better than 40 PPG. With scoring up all around, 114 of the NFL's 256 games this year were decided by seven points or less. That figure (44.5 percent) is lower than just ONE year (2000 when 44.0 percent of games were decided by seven points or less) since 1992!

The 2004 season saw the most TDs ever-scored in a single season, as the Indianapolis Colts led the scoring barrage by becoming the NINTH team to score 500 points in an NFL season since the 1970 merger (522). Of the previous eight, SIX made it to the Super Bowl that season (three won it). Of interest this weekend, SEVEN of those eight covered the point spread in their initial playoff game!...

The "no-chuck" rule had a major impact on the 2004 season and NOT just on the passing game! Yes, Peyton threw for 49 TDs and SHATTERED the single-season record with a QB rating of 121.1. Also, five QBs passed for more than 4,000 yards (tying a single-season high) and there were more 300-yard passing games (81) than ever before. However, the "no chuck" rule also opened up the running game. There were 179 100-yard games this year, EASILY topping the previous record of 151 set just last year....

More importantly to bettors, teams that featured 100-yard rushers went 134-45 SU and 127-49-3 ATS, or a winning ATS percentage of 72.2! Teams that out-rushed their opponents in a game went 185-70 SU and 173-76-6 ATS (69.5 percent). Teams that had more rushing attempts in a game than their opponents were even more impressive. Those teams were 197-55 SU and 182-64 ATS (74.0 percent)! In comparison, teams that featured a 300-yard passer in a game, finished the season just 36-45 SU and 29-50-2 ATS (36.7 percent)....

Adding to the likelihood that this year's wild card games may be high-scoring and not all that close (that DOESN'T mean the favorites will win by the way!), is that the old saying "Defense wins Championships", NO LONGER seems to apply. Just a quick perusal of the NFL's final team statistics shows this....

TEN of the league's top-12 offensive teams made the playoffs with only Kansas City (1st) and Tennessee (11th) failing to qualify. As for the league's best defensive teams? SEVEN of the top-12 FAILED to qualify for postseason play. The list includes Buffalo (2), Washington (3), Tampa Bay (5), Baltimore (6), Miami (8), Jacksonville (11) and Arizona (12)....

Conversely, Atlanta (ranked No. 20 offensively), was the lowest-ranked team to make the playoffs. That means all 12 of the league's bottom-12 offensive teams are sitting-out the postseason, while defensive light-weights like Green Bay (25), Seattle (26), Minnesota (28) and Indianapolis (29), are all playing this weekend....







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