NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship 2017

It’s Conference Championship week so let’s start with something I like to monitor each year and keep updated. Since 1970 there has been 46 years’ worth of Championship games or in other words 92 games played. A situation I have monitored over the years is to simply play the team with the better defence. In this situation we define the better defence as the team who has allowed the fewer points during the regular season. For this year those teams are New England and Green Bay.

Over those 46 years by simply playing on these teams you would have gone 58-30-3 65.9% ats with one game not applying because both teams allowed the same amount of points. A further breakdown of those games tells us in 20 of those years you would have won both games (including last year) and in 5 of those years you would have lost both games. In 17 of those years you would have gone 1-1. In the other four years you had a push and a loss, a push and a win and the one year a loss when the other game didn’t apply.

This situation always serves as a starting point for me but doesn’t force my hand into these teams each year. And, while it did go 2-0 last year, since 2000 it has won both games 4 times, lost both games 3 times and gone 1-1 9 times so it hasn’t been as productive the last 16 years as it was the previous 30 years.

Also, since 1970, when laying less than 10 points the SU winner in these games is 76-3-2 ATS. Essentially, pick the SU winner and you have the ats winner as well. Since 2009, this is 11-3 ats so all three losses have come within the last seven years.


Green Bay 60.5 @ Atlanta -6

Monday January 23, 7:05am AEDT

Green Bay(10-6)

Green Bay jumped out to a 21-3 lead and appeared to be cruising at Dallas but needed a last second field goal to defeat Dallas 34-31. The Packers ran for 5.1ypr but allowed 138 yards at 5.8ypr of which 125 came from Elliott and the other 13 from Dak Prescott. Matt Ryan isn’t likely to be running for any yards this week. GB threw for 7.1yps and allowed Dallas to throw for 7.3yps. Overall, Dallas out gained GB 6.7yppl to 6.6yppl. The Packer’s defence was hurt early on with the loss of S Morgan Burnett.

Atlanta (11-5)

Atlanta allowed a first series touchdown by Seattle but it was all Atlanta after that on their way to an easy 36-20 victory. Atlanta was out rushed 4.8ypr to 3.4ypr but 49 yards out of Seattle’s 101 yards rushing were by Russell Wilson. Aaron Rodgers is certainly capable of duplicating that this week if need be. Atlanta out passed Seattle 8.1yps to 6.3yps. Atlanta out gained Seattle 6.1yppl to 5.7yppl and Atlanta controlled the clock for about an extra seven minutes in the game.

Key Stats

Green BayPFPAOFRYPROFPYPSYPPLDFRDYPRDFPDYPSDYPPL
Offence32201074.42807.36.21024.72806.55.9
Defence21219942366.35.41054.12376.35.4
AtlantaPFPAOFRYPROFPYPSYPPLDFRDYPRDFPDYPSDYPPL
Offence34251194.52978.26.61044.62636.25.6
Defence23231084.12456.55.510642466.45.4

OFR – Offensive yards rushing
OFP – Offensive yards passing
DFR – Defensive yards rushing allowed
DFP – Defensive yards passing allowed
YPR = Yards Per Rush
YPS = Yards Per Pass
YPPL = Yards Per Play

The Verdict

My experience in the playoffs is teams that get this far have gotten this far because they have either been pretty healthy the whole year, have young players who are now developing or are getting players back from injury, etc. Atlanta had some injuries early in the year and some of their younger players are now getting acclimated to the NFL but for the most part they have been the same team all year so I am using all of their stats. GB is on an eight game winning streak that coincided with TE Jared Cook coming back.

They also got healthier in their secondary during that time so their stats listed above reflect their eight game winning streak and how the team has performed since getting healthier.

GB is rolling right now on offence averaging 32 points per game against teams allowing just 21 points per game and the Packers are currently allowing only 20 points per game over the last eight games against teams averaging 21 points per game. They average 7.3yps against teams allowing 6.3yps and 6.2yppl against teams allowing 5.4yppl. The defence allows 4.7ypr against teams averaging just 4.1ypr and 6.5yps against teams averaging 6.3yps. They allow 5.9yppl against teams averaging just 5.4yppl so they are well below average on defence. During their winning streak they have turned the ball over just twice and created 18 turnovers for a +16 turnover margin. This has helped them protect their below average defence.

Atlanta averages 34 points per game against teams allowing just 23 points per game and rushes for 4.5ypr against teams allowing just 4.1ypr, an unbelievable 8.2yps against teams allowing 6.5yps and 6.6yppl against teams allowing 5.5yppl. The defense allows 4.6ypr against teams averaging only 4.0ypr, 6.2yps against 6.4yps and 5.6yppl against teams averaging 5.4yppl.

I don’t have any situations on this game. My numbers favour Atlanta by four points and project about 60 points. Atlanta is 9-0 to the over at home this year and have totalled at least 54 points in every home game this year. They’ve totaled at least 63 points against the best offences they’ve faced at home this year.

Green Bay has totalled at least 65 points in the three games on the road against the best offences they have faced this year, including totalling 65 in Atlanta earlier this year. Atlanta is just 4-10 ats as a home favourite under Dan Quinn since he was hired back in 2015. Green Bay is 7-2 ats as a road dog in their last nine road dog appearances, including covering in that devastating loss at Seattle in the NFC Championship game in 2014 (Jan. 2015).

These two played earlier this year with Atlanta scoring in the last minute of the game to win 33-32. In that game Atlanta didn’t have RB Tevin Coleman but CB Desmond Trufant played and he is now out for the year. They also had OLB/DE Adrian Clayborn but he was hurt last week and will miss this game as their second leading sack leader on the year.

The following Packers did not play in that game: WR Randall Cobb, RB Ty Montgomery, TE Jared Cook, CB Quinten Rollins, CB Damarius Randall and LB Clay Matthews. I’m not sure who the Packers were playing with that day but I count six starters they were missing in that game. They did have WR Jordy Nelson who they may not have in this game.

The Packers have scored 30 or more points in six straight games but GB has also allowed at least 30 points to each of the top offences they have faced this year. Meanwhile, Atlanta has scored at least 33 points in five straight games. They’ve also allowed at least 28 points to the top offences they have faced this year so the total in this game is probably appropriate. Atlanta has the better offence and defence but GB is winning the turnover margin simply because they don’t turn the ball over and Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind.

He’ll need to continue to do that for GB to have a chance and they’ll need to have some of their injured players play, especially in the secondary. They need the receivers as well but the secondary is more important in this game. I can’t make a strong call on this game without knowing the GB injury situation. For now I will lean towards Green Bay and the over assuming they have most of their injured players on the field on Sunday. If we find out otherwise this prediction could change in favour of Atlanta.

Forecast

ATLANTA 33 GREEN BAY 30


Pittsburgh 50.5 @ New England -6

Monday January 23, 10:40am AEDT

Pittsburgh (11-5)

Pittsburgh dominated the game at KC but because they couldn’t put the ball in the end zone they almost lost the game. Fortunately for them they held on 18-16 when a successful two point conversion was denied because of a holding penalty. The Steelers out rushed KC 171 yards and 5.0ypr to 61 yards and 4.4ypr. They out passed KC 6.8yps to 4.7yps and out gained them 5.9yppl to 4.6yppl, including gaining 162 more yards of offense thanks in part to controlling the ball for an extra nine minutes.

New England (11-5)

NE played a sloppy game, which may have been created somewhat because of a solid Houston defense but in the end the Patriots not only won the game but covered the large spread in their 34-16 victory. NE was out rushed 4.5ypr to 3.6ypr but out passed Houston 7.0yps to 4.2yps and out gained Houston overall 5.6yppl to 4.3yppl. They also had 92 yards more of offense despite having the ball for five less minutes in the game.

Key Stats

PittsburghPFPAOFRYPROFPYPSYPPLDFRDYPRDFPDYPSDYPPL
Offence28181344.62697.76.3753.92185.54.9
Defence22221144.32446.45.51154.42276.25.5
NEPFPAOFRYPROFPYPSYPPLDFRDYPRDFPDYPSDYPPL
Offence31161073.72947.65.9853.72235.85
Defence23201174.22316.35.41114.22165.95.2

OFR – Offensive yards rushing
OFP – Offensive yards passing
DFR – Defensive yards rushing allowed
DFP – Defensive yards passing allowed
YPR = Yards Per Rush
YPS = Yards Per Pass
YPPL = Yards Per Play

The Verdict

For Pittsburgh I am including 10 games which reflect games where Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger have all played. I did not count the Miami game during the regular season where Ben was hurt or the Baltimore game where he came back but was obviously still injured. I also didn’t count the game against Indianapolis because Andrew Luck did not play in that game.

In addition I left out the regular season finale where all three of these guys sat against Cleveland and didn’t count the first three games of the season where Bell was suspended. That leaves us with 10 games to analyse the Steelers on.

For NE I left out the first four games Tom Brady was suspended and also left out the game against Pittsburgh where Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play.

The Steelers got healthy and more importantly their younger players have grown up as the season has progressed and it’s starting to show in their numbers. They are allowing only 18 points per game against teams averaging 22 points per game. They average 7.7yps against teams allowing just 6.4yps and 6.3yppl against teams allowing just 5.5yppl. The defence has played excellent giving up just 3.9ypr against teams averaging 4.4ypr, 5.5yps against teams averaging 6.2yps and 4.9yppl against teams averaging 5.5yppl.

For NE, they are pretty similar to Pittsburgh allowing just 16 points per game against teams averaging 20 points per game. NE does only rush the ball for 3.7ypr against teams allowing 4.2ypr but throws for 7.6yps against teams allowing 6.3yps. They average 5.9yppl against teams allowing 5.4yppl. The defence is allowing just 3.7ypr against teams averaging 4.2ypr, 5.8yps against 5.9yps and 5.0yppl against teams averaging 5.2yppl so they are above average on defence.

When you compare the two teams numbers this is what stands out to me. NE scores a few more points, which is because they have a +10 turnover differential to Pittsburgh’s +4. But, Pittsburgh rushes the ball better and both teams throw the ball equally as well. Overall, however, Pittsburgh is more balanced on offence and that shows in their yards per play numbers compared to New England. On defence the Steelers numbers are far more impressive than NE’s numbers.

I don’t have any situations on this game. My numbers favour NE by just 1.5 points and project about 48 points. Some people feel you have to give NE another set of points because they historically play above their number. Even if I gave NE three extra points that would still only favour them by 4.5 points in this game. Last week was the first time Pittsburgh was installed as a road dog this year and they covered the game.

They are now 5-2-2 ats their last nine games as a road dog. Pittsburgh continues to play lower scoring games on the road, going 15-4 to the under in their last 19 road games. In those 19 games on the road over the last two years, Pittsburgh has allowed more than 23 points just four times. One of those games was week one last year when Pittsburgh lost at New England 21-28 but they didn’t have Le’Veon Bell in that game. During that same time frame NE is 12-3-3 ats as a home favorite so they have been very tough at home laying points.

NE has scored at least 27 points in each of those games with the exception of three games. One of those games was their home game against Buffalo this year without Tom Brady. So, this will be a great chess match of their offence that always seems to generate points at home against a Pittsburgh defence that has allowed more than 20 points just twice in the last nine games and one of those games was against Cleveland at the end of the regular season where they sat players. The other game was Christmas night when they allowed Baltimore 27 points but 11 of those points came off of Ben Roethlisberger interceptions in the third quarter deep in Pittsburgh territory.

Pittsburgh lost at home to NE earlier this year 27-16 but Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger that day. What most people don’t know is Pittsburgh was also without WR Eli Rogers, WR Sammie Coates played only seven snaps, TE Ladarius Green (he may miss this game), S Sean Davis, LB Ryan Shazier played only 32 snaps, DE Bud Dupree and RT Marcus Gilbert. NE played that game with TE Rob Gronkowski (Gronk will miss this game) but was without RB Dion Lewis.

So, Pittsburgh played that game much like GB against Atlanta without significant starters. Bottom line here is Pittsburgh is playing great ball and they come into this game with the better offence and defence and a better balanced offence as well. Along with that they are getting a generous amount of points. Could Pittsburgh lose this game by double digits? Absolutely. This game really comes down to how good is each team’s defence. They have both played well late in the year but there are questions as to the level of competition each team has faced.

Whichever teams defence steps up and looks like they have played as of late will win this game. I think that can be Pittsburgh in this game. As for the total I am divided. I make the number 48 but when I look at games against only playoff teams I get a total of 55 points. I’m leaning towards a more high scoring game and if this total were to drop to 49 or lower I would get on the over.

Forecast

PITTSBURGH 27 NEW ENGLAND 24


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