Cullen and the boys could carry the day

The statement alone is preposterous – the Green Bay Packers defensive line will lead the team to a Super Bowl title – but the statistics back it up.

We’re talking about the Defensive Hog Index, developed by Cold Hard Football Facts. The Green Bay Packers rank first this season and that’s significant because, since it’s development two seasons ago, the index has been used to correctly pick 20 out of 22 playoff games.

First, I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell the DHI is, so I’ll let CHFF explain.

The Defensive Hog Index is our effort to quantify which team has the best defensive front in football. It’s proven a huge indicator of success since we introduced it during the 2007 season: teams that are better in the DHI are 20-2 in the playoffs over that time, and the No. 1 team in DHI has won the Super Bowl each year (2007 Giants and 2008 Steelers).

The top defensive front is that which posts the highest average rating across the board. The Defensive Hog Index is based upon these criteria:

YPA – Yards Per Attempt. So simple, even you can understand it. This rates a defense’s ability to stuff an opposing ground game.

NPP% – Negative Pass Plays, expressed as a percentage. This is how often an opponent’s pass plays end in either a sack or interception. Defenses that get after the quarterback and overwhelm the opposing offensive line naturally force sacks and INTs. These negative pass plays are calculated as a percentage of attempts. So if a team foces two sacks and two INTs in 40 pass plays, their NPP% will be 10 percent (4/40).

3down% Opposition success rate on third down. The lower the percentage, the higher the defensive success.

Here’s how the Packers finished first.

They stuff the run as well as anyone (3.59 YPA, 2nd); they force more Negative Pass Plays than any team in football (11.61%), paced by a league-leading 30 INTs, and they’re No. 9 in third-down defense (36.02%).

After the Packers, it gets dicey. The remaining playoff teams finished as follows.

2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Minnesota Vikings
4. New York Jets
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Dallas Cowboys
10. Arizona Cardinals
11. Cincinnati Bengals
15. New Orleans Saints
18. New England Patriots
26. San Diego Chargers
30. Indianapolis Colts

I say dicey because the teams everyone expects to have success in the playoffs – Colts, Saints, Chargers – are mediocre to terrible in the DHI rankings.

After looking at this year’s final rankings, CHFF’s Kerry Byrne told the New York Times he thinks the success of the DHI will be tested.

“I would agree that its success probably is a bit fluky, a coincidence of timing,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll make all our picks based upon it this year.”

If the playoffs played out by DHI rankings, they would go like this.

Week 1 (NFC): Packers over Cardinals, Eagles over Cowboys
Week 1 (AFC): Jets over Bengals, Ravens over Patriots
Week 2 (NFC): Packers over Vikings, Eagles over Saints
Week 2 (AFC): Jets over Colts, Ravens over Chargers
Week 3 (NFC): Packers over Eagles
Week 3 (AFC): Jets over Ravens
Super Bowl: Packers over Jets

Now, many of those scenarios, especially in the AFC, are absurd – the Jets going to the Super Bowl, for instance. The NFC, however, looks a lot more evenly matched from top to bottom, where the hottest teams are the third and fifth seeds (Dallas and Green Bay). The real wild card is the Eagles, who are ranked second, but haven’t beaten their first round opponent, the Cowboys, in two previous tries this season.

Despite the index’s seeming lack of predictive powers this season, Bryne still likes the Packers chances.

“I actually love Green Bay’s chances to at least reach the Super Bowl,” Bryne said. “The No. 1 defensive hogs are obviously big. But they do a lot of things well. In particular, they’ve been dominating the passing battle. And teams that dominate the passing battle generally win. The Packers are second only to New Orleans in passer rating differential, and have come on strong in recent weeks while the Saints have come back to earth.”

I like the Packers chances, too… at least this week.

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