Crunching the Numbers II: Sunday’s NFL Divisional Games

(Full disclosure: The writer is a Green Bay Packers, Inc. stockholder.)

Sunday’s NFL divisional playoff games may not be as spectacular of a matchup as either of Saturday’s; as the No. 3 seed Houston Texans travel to Baltimore to meet the Ravens, and the top seed in the NFC, the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers play host to the fourth seed New York football Giants.

In the early game, the AFC South champion Texans, who are making their first foray into the NFL playoff woods, already have one playoff win under their belt, a decisive win over the wild-card Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. The Texans are getting it done with a combination of a strong run-oriented offense (ranked second in the league), coupled with a very strong defensive unit (third against the pass, fourth against the run). Normally Matt Schaub is the Texans’ signal-caller, but he suffered a season ending foot injury in Week 10; he has been replaced by rookie T.J. Yates, who has filled in ably.

Arian Foster (278 carries/1,224 yards/10 TDs) leads the Texans ground attack, along with Ben Tate (175 carries/942 yards/4 TDs). Foster is also successful as a receiver out of the backfield, amassing 53 catches for 617 yards (each second on the team) and two receiving touchdowns. The Texans’ top receiver is Owen Daniels, who had 54 catches for 677 yards and three TDs; while Joel Dreessen has pulled in six TD passes, tops on the team.

Also featuring an elite defensive unit (fourth against the pass, second against the run), the Baltimore Ravens have achieved their success fairly quietly this season, seemingly without a lot of hype. Much of the offensive power is delivered by quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice. Flacco threw for just over 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Rice contributed 1,364 yards gained on 291 attempts, with 12 rushing TDs. On the receiving end, the leading targets were Anquan Boldin (57 catches/887 yards, tops on the team/3 TDs) and Torrey Smith (50 catches/841 yards/team-leading 7 TD catches).

The evening game features a classic matchup, as the New York Giants head north to the frozen Wisconsin tundra of Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers, who are eager to defend the trophy named for their former longtime coach, Vince Lombardi. The Pack dropped one game during the regular season, while the Giants could not clinch their postseason ticket until the very last game of the season.

The Pack rely on the signal-calling of Aaron Rodgers as the basis for their offensive success. Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes and for over 4,600 yards in the 2011 season, against just six interceptions. His favorite targets include Jordy Nelson (68 catches/1,263 yards/15 TDs), Greg Jennings (67 catches/949 yards/9 TDs) and Jermichael Finley (55 catches/767 yards/8 TDs). The ground game is split between James Starks (133 carries/578 yards/1 TD) and Ryan Grant (134 carries/559 yards/2 TDs).

Interestingly enough, the Packers’ run defense is last in the league, while the Giants’ run offense is last in the league as well. The Giants’ success relies on a strong aerial attack, with Eli Manning pulling the trigger. Manning had one of the great seasons in 2011, throwing for almost 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, while being intercepted just 16 times. Two receivers broke the 1,000 yard plateau for the Giants – Victor Cruz (82 catches/1,536 yards/9 TDs) and Hakeem Nicks (76 catches/1,192 yards/7 TDs) – while Ahmad Bradshaw provided the bulk of the ground game, leading the team with 171 carries, 659 yards, and nine rushing touchdowns.

(Stats courtesy ESPN.com.)

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