Breakdowns

How These 4 Teams Maximized Their Playoff Chances

For the last 34 years, Mike Giddings Jr. has been the owner and president of Pro Scout Inc. He is an experienced football evaluator tasked with providing NFL decision makers his unbiased perspective.

His company, ProScout Inc. has worked with 33 Super Bowl teams and 12 Hall of Fame coaches, owners, and general managers. ProScout is even responsible for inventing the color code system (Blue-Red-Purple-etc.) that many NFL teams use today.

In order to predict playoff success, Giddings evaluates each team based on three metrics: need fulfillment, ‘blue player’ talent, and a 2:1 strike to blue player ratio. 

Playoff Axiom

At the start of the 2021 offseason, Pro Scout analyzed the top eight positional needs for each NFL team. The level to which these ‘needs’ are fulfilled is reviewed after free agency and the draft and are then evaluated throughout the season and are finalized before the playoffs. Teams that meet this criteria resolved six of their top eight needs (75%) from the previous season. 

The next category looks at if a team has at least 10 ‘blue players.’ Blue players are considered the league’s elite making up the top 10-12% of the NFL. They are vital to Super Bowl hopeful rosters as they frequently make the difference in close games. The goal for playoff teams is to have at least 10, but Super Bowl Champions historically have at least 13.  

The final tool used for evaluation deciphers which teams have a strike to blue ratio of 2:1 or less. A player can accumulate a maximum of three ‘strikes’ based on their age, injury history, and production. A team with more strikes tends to signify the roster is older, injury riddled and unproductive. Having a strike to blue ratio of 2:0 or less identifies a team with numerous blue players and minimal age, injury, and production issues. 

Based on Pro Scout’s playoff axiom, we can evaluate how teams were expected to fare on Wild Card weekend compared to how they actually did as well as look towards the future at which ‘surprise teams’ are best positioned for a Super Bowl run. 

Raiders vs. Bengals

The Bengals satisfied all three criteria that Giddings looks for when assessing playoff teams while the Raiders on the other hand were missing the 2:1 strike to blue ratio. Cincinnati’s offseason additions, most notably Try Hendrickson and Chibode Awuzie, proved to be major upgrades both on the defensive line and in the secondary. The Bengals’ ability to successfully fill their needs during the offseason was key in their 26-19 victory over the Raiders. 

Patriots vs. Bills

Pro Scout’s graph did not particularly like the Patriots, as only the 6/8 need fulfillment threshold was reached. Considering that New England spent a record $163 million in free agency, they were expected to fulfill the majority of their roster needs. The Bills meanwhile, only failed to have a 2:1 strike to blue ratio. In the end, the Bills 21 strikes did not matter as the offense scored on all seven possessions and they beat the Patriots 47-17. 

Eagles vs. Buccaneers

Unlike the previous two games in which the axiom’s three metrics properly reflected the Wild Card winner, in this case, Pro Scout’s evaluation preferred the Eagles roster. Philadelphia satisfied all three measures whereas the Buccaneers, similar to the Raiders and Bills, did not have a 2:1 strike to blue ratio, primarily because of their older roster. Although the graph indicated a potential upset in the making, Sunday proved to be a different story as the Buccaneers blew out the Eagles 31-15. 

49ers vs. Cowboys

Out of all the teams on this list, the one that the axiom disliked the most was the San Francisco 49ers. Unlike the Cowboys who had both ‘blue player’ categories satisfied, the 49ers did not meet any of Giddings’ preseason benchmarks. While San Francisco does have elite talent on both sides of the ball, they do not have a minimum of 10 blue players which is what Giddings looks for in playoff teams. Nevertheless, on Sunday it did not matter as the 49ers took care of business, beating the Cowboys 23-17.

Steelers vs. Chiefs

According to Pro Scout’s formula, the Steelers should not have been able to even compete with the Chiefs. While the game’s first quarter might have reflected badly on the axiom, the rest of the game matched what was expected: a Chiefs blowout. The Steelers lacked the number of ‘blue chip players’ to match Kansas City’s explosiveness which led to a one-sided contest, 42-21 in favor of the Chiefs.

Cardinals at Rams

The final game of the weekend hosted two teams that reached two of Giddings’ three metrics of playoff success. The Rams did not have 10+ ‘blue players’ meanwhile the Cardinals were unable to achieve a strike to blue player ratio of 2:1. Although the Rams have top tier talent with the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, much of their cap and draft capital have been tied to these elite players which has led to a lack of roster depth.

Meanwhile the Cardinals have an absurd 48 strikes which is significantly more than they have had in past seasons and is a major reason for why they struggled so mightily down the stretch. Based on the axiom, we could have expected a closely fought game. Unfortunately, the Cardinals did not hold up their end of the bargain and the Rams handled them easily 34-11.

Eyes on the Divisional Round

With the eight teams still left in the playoffs, the three that Giddings’ axiom prefers the most are the Chiefs, Bengals, and Packers. While the Chiefs and Packers both come as no surprise as they are the conference favorites to reach the Super Bowl, the Bengals are also well positioned, surprisingly. 

Next week’s divisional matchup between the Bengals and Titans looks to be lopsided in favor of Cincinnati according to Pro Scout’s playoff outlook. But again, let’s just see how the games play out.