Raybon’s WTF Ratings: Which NFL Final 4 Team Is Most Likely to Have Disaster Strike?
USA Today Sports. Stephen Gostkowski, Andy Reid and Jared Goff
- Every NFL Playoff game will have its share of great plays, but sometimes it's the bad plays that end up determining who advances.
- Chris Raybon has devised a rating system to determine which team is most likely to infuriate its fans and backers in the Conference Championship games.
- Each team is rated in areas such as likelihood of committing a backbreaking drop, missing a potential game-winning field goal, and more.
First we had this:
Then, a week later, this:
Even in an age oversaturated with images, most of which get played out in about as much time as it takes to tap a “like” button, the two photos above strike me as borderline iconic — not to mention wildly tilting.
Which got me to thinking: Who’s next?
Because while these gut-wrenching moments are impossible to predict, we have enough information on their underlying causes — missed field goals, dropped passes, etc. — to make educated guesses on which players, teams and situations are likely to be involved the next time one strikes.
Take Bears kicker Cody Parkey, for example: We had no way of knowing beforehand whether or not Parkey would end up getting an opportunity to attempt a kick with the game hanging in the balance, but we sure as hell knew it would probably be an adventure if he did after witnessing him doink four separate kicks off the upright in Week 10.
Same with Alshon: We had no clue beforehand that he’d need to make a clutch catch in a key moment, but we knew that the Eagles collectively had more drops than the Bears, and that Jeffery was tied for the team lead despite not even playing the entire season.
Below, I’ve chosen 10 situations from which the next Parkey or Alshon moment is most likely to arise, and I ranked each team in order of probability that the situation ultimately ends up being that team’s downfall (that is, 1 = bad and 4 = good).
So whether you’re still contemplating your bets or are simply just a fan who subscribes to having as much reverse-jinx ammo for your team as possible, I present to you the inaugural version of my WTF Ratings, where the “WTF” is, of course, short for “Wildly Tilting Forecasts.”
Or, you know: “what the fuck?!”
Which Team is Most Likely to be Doomed by a Drop?
We’ll start where the Eagles’ season ended. Pro Football Focus tracks both drops and catchable passes, so after removing any players no longer on the active roster, I ranked each team by drops per catchable pass. Each team’s leader in drops per game is in parenthesis.
- Chiefs: 7.9% drop rate (Travis Kelce, 0.47/game)
- Patriots: 5.9% drop rate (Julian Edelman, 0.69/game)
- Saints: 5.3% drop rate(Ted Ginn Jr., 0.33/game)
- Rams: 4.5% drop rate (Todd Gurley, 0.47.game)
I’m sure Chiefs fans will be thrilled to learn that there’s a scenario where the best efforts of Patrick Mahomes, exorcist of playoff demons, still won’t be enough.
Kansas City has by far the most buttery fingers left in the playoffs. The most likely Chief to be this week’s Alshon is Travis Kelce, who’s essentially averaging a dropped pass every other game.
On the other hand, Julian Edelman keeps daring us to bet against the Patriots, and given that they’ve struggled on the road and our Power Ratings show value on the Chiefs, maybe should take him up on that.
It’s hard to imagine Edelman dropping a pass in a key moment after he made one of the best catches in Super Bowl history, but he has to be careful. Despite playing in only 12 games during the regular season, he was tied for third-most in the league (eight) and easily leads all players remaining in the postseason after adding another last Sunday.
If Edelman somehow ends up being the goat, the “Bet Against Me” memes won’t stop.
Which Team is Most Likely to Miss on a Key Wide Open Throw?
Before we get to interceptions, we have to look at straight-up missed throws.
According to PFF’s Accuracy Percentage, which accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the QB was hit while they threw, even the best quarterbacks will flat-out miss on roughly 1-in-5 throws.
Oftentimes these are harmless but every once in a while they’re fatal, like when Cam Newton air-mailed what should have been the game-winning 2-point conversion pass in Week 9 against Detroit.
- Jared Goff, Rams: 74.9%
- Tom Brady Patriots: 76.3%
- Patrick Mahomes Chiefs: 78.6%
- Drew Brees, Saints: 81.7%
Brees led all quarterbacks in this metric during the regular reason and Mahomes was fourth, but Brady (17th) and Goff (19th) tended to let a few more than average get away.
Which Team is Most Likely to Throw a Game-Changing Pick?
Interceptions are notoriously unpredictable to the point that past completion percentage tends to be a better predictor of future interceptions than past interceptions are, which is why I’m putting Goff at No. 1 despite being tied with Mahomes in interceptions per game this season.
- Jared Goff, Rams: 0.71/game
- Patrick Mahomes, Rams: 0.71/game
- Tom Brady, Patriots: 0.65/game
- Drew Brees, Saints: 0.38/game
Even though Brees has been the least interception-prone this season, Saints fans and backers can’t exactly rest easy after seeing him throw one in five of his past six games. Also …
Which Team is Most Likely to Get Pick-Sixed?
Pick-sixes are rare — only Josh Rosen threw more than two this season, and many quarterbacks didn’t even have one — so we’re going to expand the sample size here and look at career pick-sixes per attempt (postseason included).
- Drew Brees, Saints: One every 384 attempts
- Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: One every 656 attempts
- Tom Brady, Patriots: One every 777 attempts
- Jared Goff, Rams: One every 1,316 attempts
Brees can at times go through stretches where he barely throws incompletions much less interceptions, but over the span of his career he’s been the most likely of these four to throw a touchdown to the other team.
Which Team is Most Likely to Fumble Away Its Super Bowl Chances?
Fumbles are almost as tough to predict as who will recover them (hint: flip a coin), but I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn Bill Belichick’s squad has been best at ball security, which I measured in fumbles per game.
Since we have the largest individual sample size for quarterbacks (they touch the ball on every play), I also included each team’s quarterback’s fumbles per game this season in parenthesis.
- Chiefs: 1.24 fumbles/game (Patrick Mahomes 0.69)
- Saints: 1.18 fumbles/game (Drew Brees 0.44)
- Rams: 1.06 fumbles/game (Jared Goff 0.76)
- Patriots: 0.65 fumbles/game (Tom Brady 0.24)
Oh boy — another scenario in which the Chiefs could potentially stand in their own way, though I’m betting no one in Kansas City is complaining that it’s Mahomes himself who is responsible for 10 of Kansas City’s 21 fumbles.
If we’re talking individual players, though, the guy I’d really watch out for is Goff. Seemingly doing his best to channel one-time Rams quarterback and serial fumbler Tony Banks, Goff fumbled again last week after tying for the league lead with 12 during the regular season.
If Goff goes fumble-free on Sunday, it will be the first time he’s done so in the past eight games.
Which Team is Most Likely to Miss a Decisive Field Goal Attempt?
None of the four kickers in action this Sunday has missed a field goal inside of 40 yards this season, but I’m using overall field-goal percentage in 2018 here and wouldn’t have adjusted for distance either way.
Had Parkey’s doink come from 53 and not 43, it’s not like bettors who had Bears moneyline would have gotten partial reimbursement, or Bears fans would have felt less anguish.
Maybe there would have been some “why even try it from that far?” vitriol directed at Matt Nagy, but that’s the point: Save for the rare 60-plus yarder before the half, a kicker isn’t going to be sent out there for a kick he’s not expected to make.
- Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots: 29-of-34 (85.3%)
- Greg Zuerlein, Rams: 30-of-35 (85.7%)
- Harrison Butker, Chiefs: 25-of-28 (89.3% )
- Wil Lutz, Saints: (30-of-33) 90.9%
Gostkowski is 36-of-40 for his career in the postseason and is probably not too high on anyone’s list of potential Patriots to have meltdown, but he’s been shaky at times this season and he’s already indirectly screwed the Pats this season, missing an extra point and field goal in New England’s 34-33 loss to Miami in Week 14. (That defeat is the reason the Patriots aren’t playing at home this weekend.)
Zuerlein has a slightly better percentage than Gostkowski this season by virtue of making one more field goal, but you could make a case for Legatron at No. 1 given that he’s seemingly the kicker most at risk for an in-game injury after missing five games this season and three more last season.
The Rams losing their kicker could loom larger than we think: Their 57.5% red-zone conversion rate during the regular season was just 18th in the league and worst of all four remaining teams.
We’re also only two weeks removed from everyone who had Cowboys -2.5 catching a major bad beat when Sebastian Janikowski’s injury forced the Seahawks to attempt a 2-point conversion that made the final score 24-22.
Which Team is Most Likely to be Haunted by a Missed Extra Point?
With both spreads at or hovering around the key number of 3 (view live odds here), you’re probably gonna be watching extra points a little more closely than usual if you have money riding on the game.
Here’s how the kickers rank in extra-point accuracy this season:
- Harrison Butker, Chiefs: 94.5%
- Greg Zuerlein, Rams: 97.4%
- Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots: 98.2%
- Wil Lutz, Saints: 98.2%
I’m giving Lutz the edge over Gostkowski because he’s made a slightly higher percentage than Gostkowski over the past three seasons.
This is another uncomfortable one with anything riding on the Chiefs, but for Butker’s sake more than anything, I hope this doesn’t become a factor — Twitter trolls will not be kind to someone with as low-hanging of a fruit as his last name.
Which Team is Most Likely to Get a Punt Blocked?
Only one of the four teams got a punt blocked this season …
- Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs: 1
Colquitt went the entire regular season without getting blocked before the Colts got to him last week, recovering it for a touchdown.
The Chiefs were also one of only 13 teams to block a kick themselves during the regular season, but that’s hardly reassuring when considering the only teams to block at least two were none other than the Rams, Saints and — you guessed it — New England Patriots.
Which Team is Most Likely to Whiff on a Key Tackle?
Here I’ll use missed tackle rate, which I also derived from PFF data after removing players no longer on the roster. Each team’s leader in missed tackles per game is in parenthesis.
- Chiefs: 12.3% (Kendall Fuller 1.00/game)
- Saints: 10.2% (Eli Apple 1.00/game)
- Rams: 8.7% (Dante Fowler 0.78/game)
- Patriots: 7.1% (Kyle Van Noy 0.76/game)
This is starting to pile up for the Chiefs. It’s also interesting that both favorites miss tackles at a higher rate than the underdogs, as that could potentially be the equalizer if the games play out as close as the spreads indicate — not that Saints fans need any reminder after what happened last year against the Vikings.
Which Team is Most Likely to Commit a Backbreaking Penalty?
I’m ranking the teams by accepted penalties per game (as opposed to yards, which are included in parenthesis), because even a 5-yard penalty could have dire implications at the wrong time.
- Chiefs: 8.4 (70.9)
- Saints: 6.2 (60.2)
- Patriots: 6.0 (48.2)
- Rams: 5.9 (54.1)
The Chiefs finished the season with the most accepted penalties while the Saints, Patriots, and Rams were all among the seven fewest. If you see yellow flag amidst a sea of red Chiefs jerseys this Sunday, the most likely culprits would be left guard Cameron Erving (14 total flags this season, according to NFLPenalties.com), cornerback Steven Nelson (11), and left tackle Eric Fisher (11).
But no matter how things ultimately unfold in Arrowhead, one thing is for sure: There’s a 110% chance either the Chiefs or Pats fanbase thinks referee Clete Blakemon hates their team by the end of this game.
One other thing to watch for: Both Saints cornerbacks to start opposite Marshon Lattimore (Ken Crawley and Eli Apple) were among just 12 players who racked up at least 100 yards of accepted penalties this season. Apple has come a long way since these teams met in Week 9, his second game with the Saints, but it’s worth noting that in that game he not only was the lone Saints defender to get called for a penalty, but he was also charged with allowing 7 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown in coverage on 10 targets, according to PFF.
Regardless of whether Apple stays on his usual left side or moves around as Lattimore shadows Brandin Cooks, Apple is most likely to draw the assignment of covering 6-foot-3 2017 fourth-rounder Josh Reynolds, who has two multi-touchdown games in his last 10 and could end up playing a key role in this game.
winner loser is …
To get the final rankings, all I did was add the rankings from all 10 categories up and re-rank the score from lowest (most tilting) to highest (least tilting).
In the case of blocked punts where only the Chiefs were ranked, I assigned each team a 3 (the average ranking points remaining if there were to a 2-3-4) to avoid overweighting the category
- Kansas City Chiefs (16)
- Los Angeles Rams (27)
- New England Patriots (28)
- New Orleans Saints (29)
Despite the Chiefs having one of the best young quarterbacks ever, one of the winningest coaches of all time, and one of the best home-field advantages in football, after doing this exercise, it’s not hard to see why some fans who follow the team closely are more cautiously optimistic — pessimistic, even — rather than downright confident.
The Chiefs combine the NFL’s most explosive offense and its most dynamic quarterback with more dropped passes, fumbles, and penalties than you would like or expect from a team that’s made it this far in the postseason. And as esteemed of a coach as Reid is, it’s hard to not at least have his clock-management issues in the back of your mind.
And with that, I’ll close by reminding you that these are supposed to be fun, so I encourage you to add/remove or re-weight categories as you see fit.
I tried to stick to quantifiable categories with readily available data, but we all know there’s a near-endless array of less quantifiable WTF-worthy factors, with coaching chief among them (no pun intended — though maybe one should have been?).
Oh, and I did mention I’m betting on the Chiefs, right?
So if you see a random “WTF” come from my Twitter handle with no further context on Sunday evening, you’ll know why.
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @ChrisRaybon and let me know what other categories and rankings you’ve come up with. And as always, let’s get this shmoney!
Chris Raybon is a Senior Editor at the Action Network and a co-host of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+. He has watched every snap of every NFL game since 2010 — even the kneel downs. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRaybon and read about how he quit his accounting job and got paid to watch sports.