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WHICH OF THE WILD CARD ROUND "BIG 3" IS MOST LIKELY TO LOSE THIS WEEKEND AND WHY?



San Francisco vs a Seattle Seahawks team that limped into the playoffs.

Buffalo vs the Skylar Thompson-led Miami Dolphins.

Cincinnati vs the Ravens with a backup QB at 70%.


Surely none of these three can lose this weekend, right?


The reality is there is no such thing as a lock in sports. We've seen "once-in-a-lifetime" upsets before. Even if an outcome has a 5% chance of happening, or less, it's not impossible. I already have a parlay on these three teams to get it done this weekend, so I think it happens. But what if it doesn't? Here are three factors that could lead to a massive upset, and the team most likely to fall.


Turnovers

If one of these three teams loses, it is almost certain they will lose the turnover battle. I've talked about this in other blog posts and videos lately, so I won't belabor it, but turnovers have as much of an impact on the outcome of a game as any other single factor. The big 3 can likely overcome a -1 turnover differential, but what if it's -2, -3, or worse?


Which of the three big favorites is most likely to lose the turnover battle this weekend?

  • The 49ers do a great job of protecting the ball. They haven't turned it over more than once since Brock Purdy took over as QB. However, he is a first-year QB, so maybe the playoff jitters force him into an uncharacteristic performance.

  • The Bills sometimes struggle with turnovers--they had three in each of their last two games. However, they've never had more than one in a playoff game in the last three years.

  • The Bengals don't generally turn the ball over more than once per game either. They've never turned it over more than once with Burrow at QB in the playoffs.

While none of these teams are likely to lose the turnover battle, I will pick the Bills as the team that's most likely to if one of them does.



One Dominant Unit

The underdogs are outmatched in these games--the odds tell that story--but do any of them have a single unit that might be able to keep pace? While special teams can have a big impact on games, it's unlikely these units could be so dominant that they single-handedly keep a team in the game, so it would have to be the offense or defense.

  • The Seahawks defense has been lackluster all year. The chances they contain the 49ers are very low. However, they do have strong talent at the offensive skill positions. DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Kenneth Walker III, and Geno Smith have been potent at times. The problem is that they are facing the league's best defense.

  • The Dolphins are unlikely to have much punch on offense with Skylar Thompson at QB. Their defense has been a bit better since the aquisition of Bradley Chubb, but they still basically an average defense unlikely to hold the Bills to few enough points to actually win.

  • The Ravens offense without Lamar Jackson has been anemic, which leaves their defense. If there's one unit of the six from these three teams that could keep a team in a game I think this is it. The defense has been even better since the addition of Roquan Smith. They have only given up 20+ points in two of his nine games with the team. (One of those was in the last game of the year vs the Bengals.)

The Ravens defense is the unit most likely to be able to keep their team in a game.



QB Play

Everyone knows QB is the most important position on the field. Good QB play can win you a game and bad QB play can lose one for you. So which underdog is most likely to pull off an upset based on the QBs?

  • Brock Purdy is a rookie. Since 2011 only 2 rookie QBs out of 20 have had a QB rating over 80 in the playoffs--Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. They have gone 7-16 in that stretch. On the other side, Geno has tailed off lately, but he's had a great year and his receivers haven't helped him much in recent games. If Purdy can continue playing clean games like he has been, he has a great chance to put another game in the win column for rookie QBs in the playoffs.

  • Josh Allen is universally regarded as one of the best 5 QBs in football. Skylar Thompson is a rookie and has not been good this year. He's no Brock Purdy.

  • Joe Burrow is also one of the best 5 QBs in football. Tyler Hundley has struggled and comes in to this game well below full strength.

The Bills and Bengals have such mismatches at QB that if any of the three favorites could be hurt by the QB matchup it has to be the 49ers.



So which team is most likely to get upset this weekend?

I just named each of the three teams in one of the categories above, so where does that leave us?


Least Likely to be Upset: Buffalo Bills

In the Middle: San Francisco 49ers

Most Likely to be Upset: Cincinnati Bengals


Of the these three factors, the one most likely to show up is a dominant performance by the Ravens defense that keeps the game close and low scoring. In that scenario, a turnover or big play can make the difference in the winner. Which I'll pick the Bengals to win (and have bet it already), if one of the big three is going to lose I believe it will be them.


After all that you could have just looked at the odds. It's almost like book makers know what they're doing!

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