Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
It sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism, but it isn't. Some attribute the saying to physicist Niels Bohr, who purportedly used the quote to illustrate the difference between Danish and Swedish humor. Bohr himself attributed the quote to Danish artist and writer Robert Storm Peterson. However, it appears Peterson was not the originator of the quote, the providence of which remains uncertain.
In any event, prediction is indeed very difficult, especially about the future. However, one thing that has been surprisingly simple to predict this year has been the outcome of the 2017 NFL playoff games, if you just knew the key. Here's the key.
Pick the team with the quarterback with a higher 2016 passer rating. If the two quarterbacks are virtually tied in passer rating, say within 2 points of each other on the year, break the tie by choosing the quarterback with the better career passer rating; if either QB has no meaningful career passer rating because he is a rookie, choose the QB with the meaningful career passer rating (i.e., the veteran). If a quarterback has no meaningful 2016 passer rating due to a tiny sample size (say, less than 200 passes) in 2016, use his career passer rating. If a quarterback has no meaningful career passer rating, choose the other quarterback. So far this simple rubric has proven remarkably prophetic.
Wild Card Round
Falcons (Ryan 117.1) vs Seahawks (Wilson 92.6). Falcons beat Seahawks.
Packers (Rodgers 104.2) vs Cowboys (Prescott 104.9). Virtual tie is broken by career passer ratings. Since Prescott has no meaningful career passer rating, take Rodgers. Packers beat Cowboys.
Patriots (Brady 112.2) vs Texans (Osweiler 72.2). Patriots beat Texans.
Steelers (Roethlisberger 95.4) vs Chiefs (Smith 91.2). Steelers beat Chiefs.
So far the teams with the better 2016 quarterback have gone 8-0. The home team is 6-2. The teams with the better defense in terms of points allowed have gone 4-4. The teams with the better running games in terms of yards per carry are 4-4. In the 2017 playoffs it's been all about the quarterbacks.
Of course such a simplistic tool for prediction is hardly infallible. One need only go one year back to the 2016 playoffs, where the team with the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, rode a fantastic defense all the way to a Super Bowl championship, to find stark evidence of the fallibility of the quarterback is everything theory. Still, if you're looking for a very simple way of predicting playoff football games you can do a lot worse than just going with the better quarterback.
The rest of the 2017 playoffs gives us interesting quarterback matchups. In the AFC we have the Patriots (Tom Brady 112.2) against the Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger 95.4). Both are likely future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but Brady has been the better quarterback this year and for his career. Our prediction rule of thumb says the Patriots win today.
In the NFC we have the Packers (Rodgers 104.2) against the Falcons (Ryan 117.1). Aaron Rodgers has the clear edge over Matt Ryan in terms of their respective careers, while Ryan has been the better quarterback in 2016. Our rule of thumb says choose the guy with the better 2016 numbers. That would mean a Falcons victory today.
If things play out this way we will have the Patriots against the Falcons in the Super Bowl. As great as Tom Brady has been in 2016 (112.2), Matt Ryan has been better (117.1) Our rule of thumb says the Atlanta Falcons will be the 2017 Super Bowl Champions.
I don't know if I'd go with those predictions, but with an 8-0 record so far in 2017, you could do worse.
If you go with the better career quarterback the predictions would have been 7-1 thus far, with the only incorrect prediction coming in the divisional round loss by the Seahawks and Russell Wilson (career 99.6) to the Falcons and Matt Ryan (career 93.6). A 7-1 prediction record is still pretty good. Playing the rest of the games out based on career quarterback rankings we get the Packers defeating the Falcons and the Patriots defeating the Steelers. We then get a dream quarterback matchup in the Super Bowl of the Packers and Rodgers (104.1 career passer rating) against the Patriots and Brady (97.2 career passer rating) in which the Packers defeat the Patriots.