By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Head Butcher of Hog Meat
We reminded you last week of just how effective the Hog Indexes can be in the playoffs, and they have already provent prudent in deciding the outcome of every game played this weekend.
As usual, teams that dominate in key categories are more likely to pull out wins than teams that are scraping the scraps off the bones.
Texans put top 10 Hogs to good use vs. Bengals
The Houston Texans are one of just two teams in the playoffs that rank in the top 10 in both the Defensive Hog Index and the Offensive Hog Index during the regular season. They put those hogs to good use on Saturday with a hard-driving running game behind Arian Foster, averaging 5.4 YPA on the ground as a team and allowing just two sacks on 22 total pass plays (9.1%).
Arian Foster got off to a rocky start, but really drove it down Cincinnati's throats late. Not to mention, this came against a Bengals defense that has allowed just 3.9 YPA rushing this season, and ranked eighth in that category along with ninth overall in the DHI.
Houston' D-Hogs ranked No. 7 in the regular season, and did a remarkable job of shutting down the Bengals across the board. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked four times and threw three interceptions for a total of seven NPP. Cinci's O-Hogs had done well at preventing NPP on offense all season, but couldn't do so against a pass defense that ranked fourth in the NFL, forcing 10.5 percent NPP on defense.
To beat the Texans, teams will need to stop the pressure from consistently getting after their quarterback. The Texans have been one of the league's best in terms of pressuring quarterbacks, generating 44 sacks on the season. The Ravens have been one of the league's best at preventing NPP on offense, and rank eighth in the NFL. It will be up to the offensive line to keep the Texans off of quarterback Joe Flacco's back.
The Texans have also been highly effective running the ball this season, and have been able to cover up the shortcomings of TJ Yates as a result. Forcing the ball into Yates' hands would greatly help any team's chances at knocking off Houston. The Ravens D-Hogs rank second in both YPA on the ground (3.54), and could do themselves a lot of favors by shutting out Houston's rush attack. The more times Yates throws the ball, the better off the Ravens will be.
Can New Orleans' offense be stopped?
Through 17 games, Drew Brees has nearly thrown for 6,000 yards. By the Potentate of Pigskin's estimation, that amount can only be qualified as a "shitload."
The Saints have looked unstoppable on offense this season, and finished ranked No. 1 in the OHI by a wide margin. They got off to a great start in the playoffs by averaging 4.6 yards per carry (167 yards rushing on 36 carries) and giving up two sacks on 45 passing plays (4.4%). Also, after leading the league in third down conversions, they got off to a stellar start by converting 7-of-11 (63.6%).
Passing leaders typically crumble in the playoffs, but it looks like the Saints are hitting their stride at the right time.
But if there's a defense that can put the brakes on Brees, it's the 49ers. They get a lot of attention for their run defense, and rightfully so; they rank No. 1 in the NFL allowing just 3.49 YPA on the ground. It's their penchant for NPP, though, that really gives them a chance to get things done. They rank fifth in the NFL forcing 10.32 percent NPP on the regular season.
For the 49ers defense, 42 sacks ranked seventh in the NFL, and 23 interceptions ranked second. Brees is so adept at moving around in the pocket (ranked third in NFL with 24 sacks, first in sack percentage with 3.5), that the 49ers will have to be able to get pressure on Brees from multiple directions, all while playing sound coverage across the board because of Brees' quick-read ability and pinpoint accuracy (broke his own NFL record with 71.2% completions). The 49ers have done a good job of stalling drives (57.5 percent completions ranks eighth, 35.2 percent third down conversions ranks 10th), but haven't faced an offense like Brees and the Saints this season.
This one could be the game of the weekend, and the CHFFs will certainly have their popcorn (and beer, and hog meat) ready.
D-Hogs rule the day in Falcons vs. Giants
Well, if you got the 2 square in your pool, you ended the day much happier than you started it.
Regardless, having a bunch of "dirtbags" on the offensive line didn't seem to help the Falcons much. Atlanta's O-Hogs finished the 2011 season ranked sixth overall, but it proved to be a mirage as their offensive line was manhandled by the New York Giants' front much of the day.
The Falcons haven't allowed very many NPP all season long, and didn't give up many in Sunday with just two sacks by the G-Men. The problem, however, comes in the fact that the Falcons weren't able to find rhythm (4-for-14 on third down) and weren't very successful on the ground (3.0 yards per carry).
New York's defense also thrived on NPP this season, but were held to just two sacks against Atlanta. Their defensive line caused enough disruption, though, to keep the Falcons offense off the scoreboard.
Likewise, the Giants offense had their way with a weak group of Atlanta D-Hogs which ranked 22nd overall on the season. The Giants were able to dominate in the running game like they hadn't all season, finishing with 5.5 YPA on the ground. They also didn't allow the Falcons pass rush to disrupt Eli Manning, bringing him down just once.
The Packers will have their hands full when they host the Giants this weekend. Aaron Rodgers was brought down just twice in the last meeting, but the Packers are still a little thin on the offensive line. If the Giants are able to win the battle of the trenches and eliminate Green Bay's struggling running game, they give themselves a much better chance at disrupting Rodgers' rhythm.
Easier said than done. Rodgers has torched defenses even when the running game has been close to non-existent, including against the Giants when the Packers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.
The Giants best hope is to go Super Bowl XLII on the Packers with a fierce pass rush up the gut, flushing Rodgers into the waiting arms of one of their many edge rushers.
The clock has not yet struck midnight on Cinderella story of Tebow time
Wild Card weekend's wild finish wasn't as wild as one might think. The Denver Broncos had passed down the field effectively all night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and picked up a big one for the road.
Their O-Hogs weren't dominant on the day: 3-for-10 on third down. Just 3.9 yards per carry. So how did the Broncos pull out the wildly unexpected victory over the Steelers? Three words: Negative Pass Plays. Or, actually, a lack of them. So that's nine words. Sorry.
Make no mistake, NPP haven't been the strong point of Pittsburgh's D-Hogs all season. They finished 26th in the league forcing just 8.14 percent.
What was a strong point, though, was their ability to prevent big plays in the passing game. They finished the season ranked first in defensive YPA with just 4.9 against them.
Tebowmania didn't run wild on Sunday. Tebowmania passed wild, picking up 316 yards -- you can't make this stuff up. In fact, Tebow 316 says that's more yards than any quarterback the Steelers have faced this season.
But most important to the Broncos winning was their ability to avoid NPP, which has been a hall mark of Tebow and the Broncos when they have won, but has been a black mark on his record when they have lost.
And it'll be important for them to do so once again facing a Patriots defense that has preyed on turnovers all season. In fact, it was one of the biggest reasons that the Patriots were able to turn the tide against Denver in their first meeting. Three costly fumbles allowed the Patriots to climb out of a nine-point deficit.
They force their opponents to beat them, and the Broncos must do everything they can not to beat themselves.