Who Has an Easier Path to the Superbowl? The Jets...or the 49ners?


This is the time of year when I love watching the playoff picture at my favorite picture site CBS. They just do a great graphics job of breaking it all down in digestable parts and they update the site pretty quickly. Glancing at the site now you see something that is pretty suprising...the lowly Jets - if the playoffs started today - would arguably have an easier or more winnable game than would the stud team set up for years to come, the 49ners. It just goes to show you that all kinds of things can happen in a season, it's one of those who would have thunk its.

Let me say that think the Jets won't make the playoffs - though I'll be pulling for them - and that SF is one of the better teams in the league, but there is plenty food for thought here. Sure the Jets were pretty lucky in the two extra wins they earned in late seconds, pulling them into relevance, but the Jets have played a harder schedule than SF (below, DVOA - though a schedule with some good timing), and they'll be playing an easier one in the future - DVOA is an opponent weighted system of measure from Football Outsiders:


Some Fun with the Numbers

All this is with a grain of salt, and I'm only writing it because I just watched the SF game against Carolina on rewind, and the coincidence of the Jets and SF being both in the Wildcard position right now, but a lot can be said about predicting the future. Nobody would have put these two teams in the same picture in preseason. Kaepernick was the darling of the league, and the team was loaded...but then he lost several prime receivers and the season has been less than kind. He hasn't been as bad as people think (49ner passing offense is still 6th in DVOA), but he certainly has been toned down to some degree, not making the strides people imagined he would. The Jets in the mean time are riding a pieced together offense with very few weapons, and a defense in transition (no safeties, not much at LBer), but a number 1 rush defense that at least by DVOA measures is actually on pace for a historic season in defending the run. DVOA measures deviation from "average". This year the Jets pass rush is -33.4% better (negatives are better) than an average run defense, so far. The last time a team finished that far over average was the 2000 Baltimore Ravens who had a DVOA of -36.6%. That 2000 Ravens defense was Rex's second year with Baltimore, and it set records; it was a signature year. If they can hold the present run defense mark they will also have been better than average than the excellent 2010 Steeler run defense -29.0%. While stats are just stats - slices of data - I'm sure it would surprise most Jet fans to think that as nice as it has been the run defense is on pace to be the statistical best in more than a decade. At the very least this is something to watch - (DVOA tries to normalize stats so year to year team comparisons can be made unskewed by league trends.)

All this of course can change in a heartbeat. A few bad losses and the Jets slip into the obscurity that is ever waiting for average, flawed teams with little roster depth, but it still is what it is right now. They have clawed themselves up to be mentioned in the same breath as the 49ners. Can the Jets ride their run defense and their inconsistent rookie who is getting a few weapons back, and possibly a favorable schedule to the finish line and earn a playoff game...or two?

Football Outsiders runs a 50,000 game simulation based on their data which predicts the chances of a team winning any particular seed or any other sort of placement, or appearance. The Jets chances took a turn for the better this last week, SF's took a turn for the worse, though still they remain considerably better. Another fun thing to keep an eye on:




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