Shawn Siegele examines the fantasy repercussions of a fantastic wild card weekend.
The wild card round provides one of the most exciting weekends in sports, and this year was no exception. Occasionally wild cards will limp into the playoffs. Not this time. All eight teams entered the playoffs on fire. All had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Four of those teams are no longer with us, but key players from both winning and losing teams offered us a window on their 2019 prospects.
1. Running the ball and playing defense was a less successful strategy against playoff-caliber opponents. The Texans, Ravens, and Seahawks all ostensibly turned their seasons around when they went back to basics with run-heavy, defensively-oriented approaches. Unfortunately, against stronger defenses and opposing offenses that were better able to control the game, this led to frantic fourth-quarter comeback attempts.
In these contests, the winning quarterbacks held a 65 to 37 edge in first-half passes, while the losing QBs led 68 to 32 in second-half attempts.1 All six QBs were more efficient during the half in which they had more play volume.
Stronger offensive production on passing plays also led to more first-half rushing opportunities for running backs.
These games had some key differences. The Texans didn’t lose because they ran the ball too much early. They were completely ineffective on all plays and rarely had the ball in the first half. Instead, they lost to a better team, but also, arguably, because they didn’t practice their “playoff offense” during the regular season. A healthy Will Fuller remains the key piece to this team.
Although it will not always lead to a victory, a run-heavy approach fits the Baltimore Ravens and their unique personnel. An elite defense2 and young rushing star at QB give them a high floor and somewhat lower ceiling. It makes less sense for Houston and Seattle with Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson at the helm.
Especially with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett making circus catches and reminding us all of their playmaking ability, the Seahawks’ insistence on crashing Chris Carson repeatedly into the line probably cost them the victory.
Watson and Wilson still finished as QB5 and QB10 respectively in what was a developmental year for the former and a rebuilding year for the latter. More confident and aggressive offenses could vault them to the top of the QB rankings in 2019.
2. After two quiet weeks, Amari Cooper continued his revitalization of the Dallas offense. Cooper hauled in seven catches for 106 yards, one of three receivers to break the century mark this weekend and the only one to do it on single-digit targets. Including the wild card game, Cooper’s averages since the trade are startling.
We can say the same for the Dallas WR corps as a whole.
Cooper is back among the top 10 dynasty WRs, and he’s the key reason the Cowboys offense can now hold up its end of the deal.
3. Allen Robinson’s wild card performance may have been a fluke, but it offers hope that the former star may yet return to glory. One of these was not like the others.
The first query gives us his per game average for the regular season, the second his explosion in the wild card round. Robinson managed a solid 7.2 targets per game in 2018, not bad when you consider the influence of his groin problems. His 11.5 expected points ranked No. 28 at the position, a number that sandwiched him between Larry Fitzgerald and Corey Davis. But if you didn’t get the opportunity to watch a lot of Bears games this season, his targets were of particularly low quality. Many of them were deep attempts overthrown by seven or eight yards. A good quantity also came in the intermediate area with a defender inside Robinson’s jersey. Of the 27 receivers with more volume than his 11.5 reEP, only Jarvis Landry (-2.4 reFPOE), Fitzgerald (-0.4), and Golden Tate (-0.2) were less efficient.
By contrast, it was a treat to watch the Robinson of old against the Eagles. He glided by defenders, separating at will and finding the end zone to give Chicago a fourth-quarter lead. Unfortunately, we won’t get a chance to watch Robinson again this season, and he’s now primed to be overdrafted in 2019 after this type of performance in such a high-profile game.
4. Andrew Luck dominated the Texans when it mattered, justifying those Luck-based lineups in the FFPC. In discussing the FFPC Playoff contest with Blair Andrews and Hasan Rahim, I argued for Luck as a possible pivot and the foundation for a lineup otherwise stacked with stars. He responded by scorching the Texans for 192 first-half passing yards and two scores. He now gets a road date with the Chiefs, and I don’t think anyone would be shocked if the 2013 wild card game played itself out all over again. He led the Colts back from a big deficit in that one, ultimately throwing for 443 yards and four scores in a 45-44 victory against Kansas City.
In 2018 Luck proved that the new, post-surgery version is as good as the old one. Beginning with his second season in 2013, Luck’s lines are eerily similar.
Luck still has plenty to accomplish in this postseason, but he’s already the leading candidate to be the second QB off the board in 2019.
Although the AFC road teams dominated for the majority of their contests, the overall quality of play and the NFC theater got the 2018 playoffs off to a great start. I hope everyone enjoyed the first weekend and continued good luck to those involved in playoff fantasy contests.
- We arrive at these results through a combination of playcalling and play success. Successful plays fuel more total plays, which also provides the opportunity for more passing plays. Those teams take the lead. Their opponents have to scramble to catch up. (back)
- They held the Chargers to negative efficiency in the passing game and the running game in both halves. (back)