With only four weeks left in the regular season, it’s a good time to examine the playoff picture and identify teams that may have value based on their current standings, overall quality, and remaining schedule. In this article, we’ll focus on the South Division. To accomplish this, I simulated the rest of the season several thousand times to capture both likely and unlikely scenarios. This approach allows me to provide reasonable estimates of how likely each team is to make it to the division championship game. The chart below presents the expected regular season records and the corresponding probability of each team finishing in the top two of the standings.
As you can see from the chart, this division appears to be mostly decided, with only San Antonio, Arlington, and Houston having a realistic chance of making it to the playoffs. Let’s take a closer look at these two teams. Arlington is currently one game ahead of San Antonio, but their remaining schedule is challenging, as they face STL, DC, and Houston in three of their four remaining games. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s schedule is similarly tough, with games against Vegas, Houston, and DC. However, if we examine San Antonio’s schedule more closely, we’ll notice that they face DC in the final game of the season. This game could offer some motivation discrepancy, as DC will likely have already secured the division and may have nothing to play for, while SA will be playing for a chance to sneak into the playoffs. If you check the playoff odds, you may find value in San Antonio as a long shot.
Last week, we ranked the top offenses in the league, and now it’s time to turn our attention to defense.
As has been the case for most of the year, San Antonio boasts the best defense. My ranking system considers the quality of the opposition that each defense has faced and weighs their performance accordingly. San Antonio has performed exceptionally well against some strong offenses, including Houston, STL, ORL, and Seattle, allowing an average of fewer than 17 points per game. The yards per play numbers aren’t all they are doing well, it’s worth noting that the Brahma Defense has earned the second-best coverage grade in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
While many have praised the Roughneck offense, it’s the defense that deserves most of the credit. Although Houston has faced some weak offenses early in the season and managed to shut down the Guardians twice, as well as the struggling offenses of SA and Arlington, they’ve also shown resistance against Seattle and DC before eventually melting down. It’s tempting to write off the defense based on the final scores of those games, but I don’t think that’s fair. In both games, the Roughneck offense struggled, forcing the defense to remain on the field for most of the game. Despite these challenges, the Roughneck defense is still ranked first in both pass rush and coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus. Clearly, Brian Stewart has been doing an excellent job, or should I say, Wade Phillips, cough cough.
Despite the lack of attention given to the Seattle defense, it has been a consistently strong unit this season. In fact, the Sea dragons boast the second-best yards-per-play numbers in the league, despite facing some tough offenses that include DC, Vegas, Houston, and STL. In fact, it’s possible that no defense has faced a tougher list of opponents thus far. Seattle is particularly strong in their pass rush, with a unit that ranks third in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s difficult to pinpoint a weakness on this impressive defense.
The reason Arlington has three wins so far is solely because of the strength of their defense. According to Pro Football Focus, they rank second overall behind only Houston, thanks in large part to their quality coverage and pass rush units. However, it’s worth noting that their high ranking may be somewhat inflated due to their relatively easy schedule compared to other teams. They do have some upside as it must be noted the Renegade defense has been on the field a lot this season. With some shake-ups on offense, the defense may finally get some much-needed rest, allowing them to perform even better.
The STL defense has been difficult to figure out. While they have shown real upside, they have an obvious weakness in that they can’t stop the run consistently. PFF ranks them 6th out of 8 teams in that category, but they do have a decent pass rush unit. It’s worth noting that outside of a couple of bad matchups with DC, the STL defense has been quite good.
The DC defense has been performing well overall, but they have also benefited from their defense being able to stay off the field. DC ranks 6th according to PFF in total defense and has really benefitted from turnovers. This is an advantage to the boom or bust style Greg Williams employs. This style may not work against stronger opponents like Seattle or Houston with a new quarterback.
The Orlando defense has struggled for most of the season, and it’s difficult to determine how much of that is due to scheme versus talent. While the team appears to have some skilled players, they have a tendency to stay in the box during obvious passing situations. As a result, they currently rank third in run defense but are near the bottom in every other category. Maybe coach can figure that out?
It’s been a rough season for Vegas. Despite having a decent pass rush, they have struggled to get off the field consistently. They rank last in run defense and last in coverage, leaving them vulnerable to both the run and the pass. While their pass rush has been a bright spot, they have struggled to capitalize on it and create turnovers. Overall, Vegas has a lot of work to do if they want to improve their defensive performance.
The betting market has already moved the line in favor of Seattle, from an initial 4-point spread to now 5 points. Considering this matchup pits the best team against the worst team in the league, it’s possible that this line is still too low. Although I’m generally hesitant to lay points, this seems like a good spot to do so. I have doubts about Arlington’s ability to score in this game, while Seattle should be highly motivated coming off a lackluster performance against Orlando.
SA vs LV
The Brahmas and Vipers are both dealing with uncertainty at quarterback, as San Antonio is already rotating QBs and Vegas is expected to break in a new starter. The total for the game is 38.5, and Vegas is favored by 3 points. My model prediction aligns with the market.
DC v ORL
You already know what I’m thinking here. Fade the big favorite coming off an emotional victory. 10 Points is a lot of points to give a team in this league. My numbers like Orlando more than the market and DC less so. There is a real possibility that this game gets ugly if Orlando can’t gameplan for the DC pressure. Orlando is strong against the run which should keep this one closer than expected. Look to the money line in this one as there is some extra volatility exist because of how these two matchup.
HOU v STL
My numbers align exactly with the market in this game. This is not uncommon as more data becomes available and opinions converge. However, it’s still a critical matchup to watch. Keep an eye out for McDonald as he is expected to receive more snaps. Houston tends to play a lot of man coverage with smaller corners, which could be challenging for them against a physical receiving group. If STL can effectively block Houston’s front line, then we could see a close game.
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