Smarter Stats: Inside the numbers for this weekend’s wild-card matchups
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET)
The Chargers’ defense is without question the least impressive single unit belonging to any team entering this postseason – they rank dead last overall in FO’s metrics, 31st against the run, and 31st against the pass. They’re also the league’s worst in FO’s Defensive Adjusted Line Yards metric, which seeks to specify the reasons for collapses against the run by applying value points to specific types of plays and situations. Still, when the Chargers welcomed the Bengals to Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 1, Cincinnati was able to score just 17 points, and quarterback Andy Dalton passed for 190 yards and only one touchdown. That’s a bit of a false flag, though, because the idea behind that win was to prevent San Diego’s offense from going off, which they’re fully capable of doing.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has enjoyed perhaps his best season under new head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He finished the 2013 regular season ranked behind only Peyton Manning in DYAR, FO’s season-cumulative statistic, and he’s behind Philly’s Nick Foles in Pro Football Focus’ adjusted quarterback ratings. No quarterback has been more accurate this season — factoring out things like dropped passes and quarterback hurries, he completed over 78 percent of his attempts.
Dalton, meanwhile, ranked 11th in PFF’s accuracy rankings, 14th in their adjusted ratings, and 16th in DYAR. He’s coming off a 34-17 Week 17 win over the Baltimore Ravens in which he threw four interceptions on some howlingly bad reads. It was the kind of game that should put the “quarterback wins” stat to rest forever, but it is what it is. One statistical group that matters for Dalton regards his consistency — he had an 83.2 passer rating in September, 99.1 in October, 55.9 in November, and 97.3 in December. It’s good that he’s trending up, but his relatively tame game against a defense this bad should give pause. Then again, maybe it was the lack of home cooking — Dalton throws for almost a yard less per attempt on the road, his quarterback rating drops 18 points overall, and has thrown 20 touchdowns at home to just 13 on the road.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:40 p.m.)
The one number nobody can account for in this game is minus-51 — that’s the projected wind-chill factor for Lambeau Field on Sunday evening, which could render a lot of the other numbers you’re about to see null and void. The Packers would hope for any kind of change when facing Colin Kaepernick — the third-year 49ers quarterback riddled their defense for a quarterback-record 181 rushing yards in last year’s divisional round, and killed the Packers’ secondary for 412 passing yards and three touchdowns in Week 1 of this season. More bad news — in his last six games, Kaepernick has completed 102 of 165 passes for 1,395 yards (a whopping 8.4 yards per attempt average), 10 touchdowns, and just one interception.
If Kaepernick is able to deal with the weather and play like he has of late, Green Bay will certainly struggle to deal with it. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, the Packers’ primary cornerbacks, have each been vulnerable in coverage this season. Williams has allowed an 88-1 opposing passer rating and has allowed four touchdowns to just three interceptions. Shields has been better, but not by enough — he’s allowed a 72.7 rating, and allowed four touchdowns to four picks. Both Williams and Micah Hyde have allowed opponent passer ratings of more than 100 in the slot, which could bode well for Anquan Boldin. The veteran receiver has lined up 221 times in the slot this season, and he absolutely killed the Packers in that Week 1 game — he caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in his 49ers debut.
Now some good news, Packers fans. In that Week 1 game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Randall Cobb — who each returned from injuries last week — did a pretty nice job against San Francisco’s defense. Cobb caught seven passes in 12 targets for 108 yards and a score. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info, no quarterback-receiver duo have hooked up successfully on a higher number of attempts over the last three seasons with a minimum of 150 attempts. In addition, Cobb was able to burn San Francisco for multiple plays of 15 yards or more, continuing a trend from the 2012 postseason, when the 49ers allowed more throws of 15 or more yards downfield (four) than in the entire season (two).