2011 NFL Divisional Picks and Predictions from WhatIfsports.com From WhatIfSports.com image

2011 NFL Divisional Playoff Picks and Predictions

NFL Divisional Playoff box scores and stats included

By Joel Beall and Ryan Fowler - WhatIfSports.com
UPDATE: January 12, 2012

Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.

The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.

To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games on Thursdays throughout the 2011 NFL season.

Check out our 2011 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week and find Locks and Upsets of the Week.

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NFC Divisional Playoff Game of the Week: Saints at 49ers

By: Joel Beall
<a href='http://msn.foxsports.com/video?videoid=9debfb94-18f1-434a-a396-fa8604607aaf&src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='WhatifSports: NFC Simulation'>Video: WhatifSports: NFC Simulation</a>

It's quite the endeavor to go 13-3 and somehow slide under the nation's radar, but thanks to the Green Bay Packers' season of dominance, a revitalization fueled by questionable dirty play in Motown and the always drama-filled NFC East, the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers accomplished this task of ambiguity. Apropos, then, that the two squads square off in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, which doubles as the WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.

That sentiment of obscurity can be challenged in the case of New Orleans, as Drew Brees' recording-breaking quest of Dan Marino's mark of 5,084 passing yards in a season was given its proper attention. Although considering critics have been quick to lessen enthusiasm on this achievement (and rightfully so) given the context of today's pass-happy NFL, perhaps said argument is nullified.

Still, there's no denying the dexterity of Brees, who submitted a remarkable campaign of 5,476 yards, 46 touchdowns, 14 interceptions (down from 22 picks in 2010) and 71.2 completion percentage (a new single-season record). With the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham (99 receptions, 1,310 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Darren Sproles (603 rushing yards; 86 receptions, 710 yards, nine total touchdowns) to complement the usual suspects of Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas, the New Orleans offense makes a compelling argument as the league's most dynamic attack.

Unfortunately, Gregg Williams' defense hasn't held up their end of the bargain, conceding 259.8 yards per game, second-worst in the conference after the Packers. Yet while the Cheeseheads offset this anguish with an opportunistic secondary (NFL-best 31 interceptions), the Saints have just nine picks to their credit which, again, ranks second from the bottom in the NFC. The rushing resistance hasn't fared much better, relinquishing 5.0 yards per carry, a mark that's tied with Detroit for worst in the conference. Seems to be a recurring pattern, no?

The Niners can't commiserate with the Saints in this aspect, as their defense lies on the opposite side of the spectrum. San Francisco is fueled by a stout front seven that surrendered a league-low 77.2 yards per game. Led by the Smiths Aldon (14 sacks) and Justin (7.5 QB crushes), the 49er defensive line has harassed and troubled opposing backfields all season long. It's this pressure, as well as improved play from the secondary, that has correlated to 23 interceptions for the Niners on the season.

Turning the pigskin over is a foreign concept on the other side of the ball, as the former beleaguered Alex Smith has just seven turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles) in the current campaign. This newfound security can be credited to the tutelage of coach Jim Harbaugh, who instilled the same principles in probable No. 1 pick Andrew Luck at Stanford. Smith's steadiness, while not exciting, is the foundation that has propelled San Francisco to a first-round bye. And it always helps to have a dependable rushing game, one that is manned by Frank Gore (1,211 yards, eight scores) and Kendall Hunter (473 yards).

So who comes out on top in the Clash at Candlestick? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Saints are victorious 52.4 percent of the time by an average margin of 25-24.

AFC Divisional Playoff Game of the Week: Broncos at Patriots

By: Ryan Fowler
<a href='http://msn.foxsports.com/video?videoid=2c6c5335-f2b5-477c-97af-43f8182c30a9&src=v5:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='What If Sports: AFC simulation'>Video: What If Sports: AFC simulation</a>

Not more than 15 seconds after I made a comment about Tim Tebow's inability to pass the football (which in some cases still holds true), he rolled left and threw a beauty to Demaryius Thomas. It was one of 10 completions that averaged over 31 yards of positive momentum against Pittsburgh.

Tebow's 316 yards against the top pass defense in the NFL is why the good Lord created the eraser.

It allows NFL experts, insiders and simulation engines that predicted Tebow's inevitable doom to (once again) wipe the slate clean and try to evaluate/analyze the league's most volatile quarterback.

So, before we look ahead to the simulation engine's Broncos vs. Patriots prediction, let's take a look at what our computers had to work with leading up to Tebow's matchup against the Steelers.

In the final three games of the regular season, Tebow completed 30 of 73 passes (41 percent) for 339 yards (113 passing yards per game) with one touchdown and four interceptions. The rush-first offense averaged over 200 yards per game as a team during that same stretch. The Broncos rushed for 131 yards over Wild Card weekend - their lowest output in the last month.

What Tebow accomplished against Pittsburgh is what we call a statistical anomaly. It's nearly impossible to simulate a pro-Denver outcome based on the way not only he (with horrific passing numbers), but the entire offense trended (rush vs. pass) the last month.

The Broncos erupted for 167 rushing yards in the first quarter of their Week 15 matchup against the Patriots. New England adjusted and held Denver to 85 rush yards the rest of the way en route to a 41-23 rout on the road.

Unfortunately, Bill Belichick's crew isn't renowned for their efforts on the defensive side of the football in 2011/2012. Their bend, but don't break defense finished 17th against the rush and 31st against the pass. Despite the excessive amounts of yardage opposing offenses racked up against them, the Patriots ranked in the top half of the league in points allowed (21.4).

Though ugly to watch at times, the defensive mentality allowed Tom Brady and his explosive offense to hang around in games. It's a pattern the Broncos experienced first-hand in Week 15. Denver jumped out to a 16-7 lead in the second quarter before Brady and company ripped off a 27-0 run.

Using our NFL simulation engine, we "played" the Broncos and Patriots, 1,001 times and the computers like the Patriots, 76.9 percent of the time by an average score of 24-15.

NFL Divisional Playoffs
MatchupWin%Avg Score
Denver Broncos23.115Boxscore
@ New England Patriots76.924Simulate Game
New York Giants32.521Boxscore
@ Green Bay Packers67.527Simulate Game
Houston Texans38.518Boxscore
@ Baltimore Ravens61.521Simulate Game
New Orleans Saints52.425Boxscore
@ San Francisco 49ers47.624Simulate Game

Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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