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NFL Playoffs 2016: Previewing the Divisional Round using Elevated Stats

The Broncos fell a bit while the Chiefs shot way up our Elevated Stats rankings.

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, data. After the first week of the 2016 NFL playoffs, we have more data with which to play, and we're using it. All of our Elevated Stats have been updated with the latest numbers based on games played in Week 18 (you didn't think we'd ignore more data, did you?), and we're also taking the lessons we learned from the Wild Card round and applying them to the calculation of the Elevated Stats Score.

ICYMI: We combined our Elevated Stats into one number

ESS (Elevated Stats Score) is a normalized score of our creation with a postseason focus. It combines record, seed, strength of schedule, DVOA, PFF, and turnover ratio into one number. The score is a percentage, and an ESS of 0.0% means you are a perfectly average 2015 playoff team. A positive number means you're statistically above average, and a lower number means you hit the mark.

Lessons learned from the Wild Card round

ESS went 3-1 in the Wild Card round. The Elevated Stat sub-scores that had the strongest correlation to victory were Strength of Schedule and DVOA in the Wild Card Round (coincidentally, these are also the stats that our voters wanted to weigh more heavily. Well done, smart readers). The teams with a higher SOS didn't lose a game in the Wild Card Round, and only the Steelers upset the higher-DVOA Bengals in the first week of the playoffs. So those numbers get a bump in weight for our calculation of ESS (1.5 and 1.25 respectively).

Eliminated teams were eliminated from our rankings and table below, but their numbers were still included in the normalized set of Elevated Stats to calculate means, standard deviations, and ultimately ESS.

The stats

Record. Wins and losses. There isn't a more important "statistic" in football. Winning percentage was used to calculate the data. ESS Weight; 1.

Seed. In order to calculate how set up for success a team is, their seed needed to be included. A 1-seed is going to have an easier road in the playoffs than a 6-seed. This also helps incorporate home field advantage into the ES Score; if you're a higher seed, you'll be at home and therefore have a better score.

ESS went 3-1 in the Wild Card round

If I stick with this scoring system through the playoffs, I'd remove Seed from any comparison for the Super Bowl, as it doesn't matter.

ESS Weight: 1. I considered lowering its weight (after all, higher seeded teams went 0-4 last week). but there's enough historical data to merit keeping it level.

SOS: Strength of Schedule. The collective winning percentage of a team's opponents so far. Gathered from ESPN and manually modified to include Week 18 for teams that played in Week 18. If someone sees out there a complete SOS reference that includes regular season + postseason for all teams, let us know in the comments. ESS Weight: 1.5.

DVOA: Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. Football Outsiders' prized statistic, DVOA, measures a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. It's a beast. ESS Weight: 1.25.

PFF Grade. PFF grades each player on each play, then sums them up. The higher the number, the better. ESS Weight: 1.

TO: Turnover Ratio. Finally, another common, simple, but all-important measurement: turnover ratio. Gathered from ESS Weight: 1.

On to the rankings!

NFL Playoff Power Rankings

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (ESS -17.68%)

Last week: -43.19%, 10th

ESS doesn't incorporate injuries, but neither will the Steelers' Divisional Round inactives list. We wouldn't be surprised if Antonio Brown (concussion) and Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) each suit up on Sunday.

7. Green Bay Packers (ESS -7.66%)

Last week: -27.80%, 9th

A convincing win over the Washington Redskins has given the Packers the single-biggest boost in our ESS score week-to-week, barely.

6. Denver Broncos (ESS 14.04%)

Last week: 16.17%, 5th

The Broncos are one of two teams to drop in rankings this week, and both can thank the Chiefs' insane shutout of the Texans for the distinction. Despite dropping in ranking, the Broncos are still ahead of their opponent this week; with a dominant performance over Pittsburgh they can jump up and give us a bit more elevated confidence for the weeks ahead.

5. Seattle Seahawks (ESS 27.01%)

Last week: 13.26%, 6th

The Seahawks were heavily boosted by the weighs we added. Will their experience with a much tougher SOS help them overcome the top-seed Panthers? I think it could.

4. New England Patriots (ESS 29.08%)

Last week: 42.71%, 3rd

I'm rolling with ESS this week and picking the Chiefs.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (ESS 30.44%)

Last week: 10.36%, 7th

It was very disappointing to learn that the Chiefs' Wild Card performance against the Texans was the NFL's best DVOA single-game result in the last two seasons; until then, the Broncos had held that distinction with their Week 8 dominance of the Packers.

After Brian Hoyer handed them that performance, are you any more or less convinced that the Chiefs are for real? Let us know in the poll and in the comments.

2. Arizona Cardinals (ESS 32.32%)

Last week: 43.95%, 2nd

I think the Packers' road ends this weekend against a good Arizona team.

1. Carolina Panthers (ESS 70.57%)

Last week: 99.28%, 1st

Are the Panthers for real? What if we weighted SOS even higher? At SOS weight of 2.5 (instead of 1.5), they lose the ESS crown to their Week 18 rival, the Seattle Seahawks.

Elevated Stats

Elevated Stats: Playoffs
Team Record Seed SOS DVOA PFF TO ESS
Denver Broncos 12-4 1 .500 17.7% 187.5 -4 14.04%
New England Patriots 12-4 2 .473 22.6% 284.2 +7 29.08%%
Kansas City Chiefs 12-5 5 .498 31.2% 126.5 +18 30.44%
Pittsburgh Steelers 11-6 6 .516 22.3% 97.9 +4 -17.68%
Carolina Panthers 15-1 1 .441 28.1% 283.2 +20 70.57%
Arizona Cardinals 13-3 2 .477 27.4% 164.5 +9 32.32%
Green Bay Packers 11-6 5 .531 13.2% 88.1 +5 -7.66%
Seattle Seahawks 11-6 6 .527 37.1% 153.6 +7 27.01%