Analysis

2022 NFC Playoff Picture: Who’s Contending, Who’s Pretending?

NFC Playoff Teams

Last week, we took a statistical look at the AFC playoff contenders and what the numbers tell us about each team’s viability. This week, we’ll do the same with the NFC contenders.

I will utilize the same metrics I learned in the 1970s while working for the Kansas City Chiefs under coach Marv Levy, who brought aboard a Los Angeles-based statistician named Bud Goode. Goode analyzed every team’s data and pointed out necessary benchmarks that contributed to winning.

The categories and their benchmarks necessary to win are as follows:

Stat Definition Win Benchmark
Passer Rating (PR) A rating, tabulated by the league, and indicative of all-around passing performance 90 or higher
Yards Per Pass Attempt (YPA) Total yards gained passing, minus sack yardage divided by the number of pass attempts 7 yards or higher
Giveaway-takeaway (G/T) The number of fumbles lost and interceptions thrown versus the number of fumbles recovered and interceptions made.  Plus-1 or higher
Offensive 3rd-down efficiency (O3E) The number of total third downs divided by the number of times a team converts a third-down play for a first down expressed as a percentage. 45% or higher
Defensive 3rd-down efficiency (D3E) The number of defensive third downs divided by the number of times the defense denies the opposition a first down expressed as a percentage.  40% or higher
Red Zone touchdowns (RZTD) The number of times the offense reaches the red zone (i.e., the opposition’s 20-yard line or closer to their goal line) and scores a TD expressed as a whole number.  Two per game or higher
Points against (PA) The total number of points a club allows over the number of games played. For the purposes of this study, it’s 12 games. 21 points per game. In this study, it is rounded to a total of 250.

Just as I did with the AFC teams, I have broken down the NFC clubs with playoff chances into three groups: Favorites, contenders and pretenders. I have also included the NFC South as a separate category because all four teams remain in contention for a division crown no one seems to want.

The Favorites

Philadelphia Eagles (12-1)

QB: Jalen Hurts

Stats Eagles’ Output
PR 108
YPA 8.1
GT:  Plus-14
O3E 46.4
D3E 37.6
RZTD 34
PA  248

Summary: They have eye-popping numbers in every category. If you drew up an equation for winning big, this is it. The YPA just stresses and stretches opposing defenses. GT is well beyond ideal. RZTD reflects Hurts’ true dual-threat ability. He is the best all-around quarterback in the NFC and, perhaps, the entire NFL. The third-down ratios are ideal. PA is outstanding and speaks to a dominant defense. Taken as a whole, these numbers point to a team every bit as good as its record.

Dallas Cowboys (10-3)

QB: Dak Prescott

Stats Cowboys’ Output
PR 87.6
YPA 7.0
GT  Plus-7
O3E 48%
D3E 34.9%
RZTD 31
PA  229

Summary: Despite the hype always surrounding the Cowboys, the passing numbers are just on the win line. The running game’s effectiveness reflects itself in the RZTD number. The GT, D3E and exceptional PA speak to a dominant defense. They get after quarterbacks, and they take the ball away. They will be in the playoffs and a defense like this can take them a long way.

San Francisco 49ers (9-4)

QB: Brock Purdy

Stats 49ers’ Output
PR 98.8%
YPA 7.7
GT  Plus-5
O3E 45.2%
D3E 38.4%
RZTD 24
PA  197

Summary: The 49ers continue to take body blows from injuries. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down, thrusting Purdy, a seventh-rounder, into the driver’s seat. On Sunday, their No. 1 offensive weapon, Deebo Samuel, went down with a keen and ankle injury that will keep him out for about three weeks.

The offensive numbers are good, and Purdy performed well the last two weeks. Samuel is a huge loss because he is equally important to the running and passing attack. The real story, however, is San Francisco’s defense. It has great players at every level. The numbers are all outstanding. In the end, the PA number is the most important, and it is truly outstanding.

The NFC features three teams with dominant defenses: The Eagles, Cowboys and 49ers. It would not be a surprise to see two of the three appear in the NFC Championship Game.

The Contenders

Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

QB: Kirk Cousins

Stats Vikings’ Output
PR 91.5
YPA 6.9
GT  Plus-4
O3E 40.6%
D3E 39%
RZTD 30
PA  313

Summary: These numbers are indicative of a winning team, but by and large, they’re just a bit above the line. Their record of 10-3 is a bit of a mirage. The RZTD number points to an excellent running game. The GT is a real positive. The passing numbers, however, are just above the line. The health of running back Dalvin Cook and the receiving corps, along with some aging defenders, is crucial if this team is to make a deep playoff run.

New York Giants (7-5-1)

QB: Daniel Jones

Stats Giants’ Output
PR 91.5
YPA 6.8
GT  Plus-1
O3E 38.2
D3E 36.5
RZTD 22
PA  300

Summary: With the Giants, the numbers equal the record. They are hovering around “barely good enough” in PR, GT, YPA, O3E and RZTD. This is because of an improved but still not good enough offensive line. Their defense is a blitz-oriented, high-risk/high-reward style that makes young quarterbacks quake in their cleats and even savvied veterans sweat. If, however, you can block it, big plays are created. The PA number proves that. An injured and undermanned secondary doesn’t help matters. The coaching staff has done a great job, but there are still too many personnel deficiencies for this team to be a true contender.

Washington Commanders (7-5-1)

QB: Taylor Heinicke

Stats Commanders’ Output
PR 85.2
YPA 6.6
GT  Minus-1
O3E 36.6
D3E 33.1
RZTD 19
PA  256

Summary: The Commanders and Giants tied in their most recent contest. That is a true picture of both teams. The burgundy and gold are not good enough in any passing category, but they run the ball and run it well. Strangely, they do not run well in the red zone. This style allows them to play complementary football with a good defense, led by a great front four.

Conventional wisdom would tell you the defense, coupled with Heinicke’s find-a-way-to-win style, should prevail at home versus the Giants on Sunday night. Though not media darlings, both the Giants’ Brian Daboll and the Commanders’ Ron Rivera should be leading coach-of-the-year candidates for getting the absolute max out of what they have.

Seattle Seahawks (7-6)

QB: Geno Smith

Stats Seahawks’ Output
PR 105.6
YPA 8
GT  0
O3E 43.2%
D3E 44.8%
RZTD 22
PA  334

Summary: This is a flawed team with a prolific, big-play pass offense. They combine that with a powerful run game, led by rookie Kenneth Walker. The only chink in their offensive armor is their lack of red-zone touchdowns. This is somewhat surprising given Walker’s talent and power. The other side of the coin is not as good. The D3E and PA are decidedly non-playoff numbers. If the Seahawks don’t win the division and have to go on the road, the defense is probably not good enough to see them through.

The Pretenders

Detroit Lions (6-7)

QB: Jared Goff

Stats Lions’ Output
PR 97.9
YPA 7.5
GT  Plus-4
O3E 43.1%
D3E 48.8%
RZTD 35
PA  347

Summary: The Lions are not a mirage opponents are overlooking, though some appear to have taken them lightly earlier this season. The numbers tell us they are a genuine threat in two offensive areas. Goff and their young receiving corps are for real, and goal-line/short-yardage touchdown maker Jamaal Williams is dynamic. The RZTD number is not to be trifled with. On the other hand, the D3E and PA numbers generally won’t get you anything beyond the wild-card round.

Green Bay Packers (5-8)

QB: Aaron Rodgers

Stats Packers’ Output
PR 93.4
YPA 6.9
GT  0
O3E 40.5%
D3E 38.2%
RZTD 21
PA  302

Summary: The Packers are another team teetering on the brink. Their offensive numbers are barely good enough to win, which is unlike the Packers and Rodgers’ usual outputs. The offensive line is quietly poor and the receiving corps is underachieving. Raw-rookie receiver Christian Watson shows some promise. Their running game struggles, specifically in the red zone are due to poor offensive line play. After having a good year last season, the defense has regressed. With Rodgers, anything’s possible, but the numbers say the Packers are more pretender than contender.

NFC South Race

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)

QB: Tom Brady

Stats Buccaneers’ Output
PR 88
YPA 6.2
GT  Plus-1
O3E 38.1%
D3E 37.6%
RZTD 19
PA  254

Summary: All the offensive numbers are below the win line. Is that really Brady at quarterback? Sadly, it is, but even Brady can’t solve the problems of a below-par offensive line. The defensive numbers point to winning football, though. Perhaps Brady could perform some of his magic down the stretch. For the Buccaneers, the playoffs are an uphill battle.

Atlanta Falcons (5-8)

QB: Desmond Ridder

Stats Falcons’ Output
PR 88.2
YPA 7.4
GT  Minus-2
O3E 30.7%
D3E 47.4%
RZTD 23
PA  312

Summary: The passing numbers are spoiled by too many Marcus Mariota interceptions. The Falcons will now use Ridder, a third-round rookie, as the starter. The D3E and PA indicate a defense not doing enough to win. Despite sound coaching by Arthur Smith and his staff, defenses get you to the playoffs and beyond. This looks like a four-game shakedown cruise for the rookie quarterback.

Carolina Panthers (5-8)

QB: Sam Darnold

Stats Panthers’ Output
PR 76.9
YPA 6.6
GT  0
O3E 28.7%
D3E 40.6%
RZTD 19
PA  290

Summary: The offense is run, run and run. Hopefully, Darnold will continue to protect the ball when he does throw. If healthy, the defense is good enough to win. There is little depth anywhere on this team, so the margin for injury is non-existent. Interim head coach Steve Wilks has done a great job. Defense and kicking are of division-winning caliber. Can Darnold avoid the big mistakes of the past?

New Orleans Saints (4-9)

QB: Andy Dalton

Stats Saints’ Output
PR 92.3
YPA 7.6
GT  Minus-10
O3E 39.6%
D3E 40%
RZTD 22
PA  297

Summary: If Dalton would protect the ball, and the offensive line blocked better maybe the defense could carry them. It would be an incredible feat if they pulled it off.

As told to Vic Carucci

WATCH: Who Will Win NFC South?

 

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