Way back in 2011 I did a study of factors that were statistically significant in determining playoff wins. There were three: home field advantage, playoff experience, and strength of schedule. And because playoff experience was such an obvious factor in those logistic regression studies, one question I didn’t ask was how far back do you need to go with regard to playoff experience to judge whether a team “has it”. Two years? Three years? Four years? This is important in the case of the New York Giants, because they won a Super Bowl in 2007 and lost in the divisional round in 2008. So, they have deep playoff experience from 4 years ago and also some from 3 years ago. They barely missed the playoffs two years ago and a year ago, were not a playoff factor.
My study however fixed the range of playoff experience at two years, so my formulas are valid for that period. So, to look at the important factors with regard to these two teams, plus Pythagoreans:
New York Giants: Playoff Exp 3 yrs ago, Home, SOS = 1.96, Pythagorean=49.0%
Atlanta Falcons: Playoff Exp last year, Away, SOS = 0.28, Pythagorean= 58.9%
So, if we calculate odds using Pythagoreans and the 60% HFA that playoff teams have had over the past 10 years, you get that the ATL-NYG game is even. If you instead use my strict formula, and deny the NYG any playoff experience advantage, then the New York Giants would be favored by 53%. If you grant that the NYG have playoff experience, and recalculate these odds, then the probability of the Giants winning rises to 71%, one of the highest in this round of play. This is in part due to home field, but also due to the Giants having played the hardest schedule of any playoff team.
To repudiate another notion, that the Giants and Dallas are simply two peas in a pod, that you could roll the dice and choose one over the other, look at the stats of the New York Giants, Dallas, and say, the Atlanta Falcons against teams with a record of 0.500 or more. Against 0.500 or better teams, Dallas was 1-8. It scored 172 points against those teams and gave up 246 points, for a Pythagorean of 0.282. That Pythagorean should have been good for 2.5 wins, which means the team underperformed its own Pythagorean against winning teams. While a lot of Dallas fans will point fingers at the defense (Pro Football Reference had Dallas ranked as the 27th best in pass coverage, prior to week 17), overall consistency also needs to be looked at and addressed.
By contrast, the Giants were 6-4 against 500 or better teams, scored 270 points against 256 given up, and had a .535 Pythagorean against good teams. This is a team whose performance improves when facing good teams, and who outscored their Pythagorean against good teams.
The Falcons record against 0.500 teams or more is 3-5. They scored 156 points against these teams versus giving up 207 points. The team Pythagorean against good teams is 0.324, which totals to 2.6 victories against better teams over 8 games. They performed roughly as expected.
Update (since I don’t know where else to put it): before the NYG-DAL game, Cool Standings was projecting a 62% chance of a Dallas victory (and thus playoff prospects). That prediction only made sense if Cool Standings were ignoring home field advantage in their analysis. It’s something to think about.