In-Depth Preview: NFL Conference Championships

Prepare for the final Sunday battle before the Super Bowl.

It’s been one hell of a season so far. With upsets happening every week and highlight reel plays filling our news feeds, it’s sad to see the season is almost over. And yet, I can’t be more excited for this Sunday’s Conference Championship games. Both #1 seeds will take on the respective #2 seeds in what is the first Conference Championship round to host the NFL’s top 4 scoring offenses. Although this round may be small in size, it’s the only ticket to Super Bowl LIII, which means this is prime betting time. So sit back, enjoy yourself, and make sure you’re all caught up to bet this Sunday.

NFC Championship Game

Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints (-3, 56.5)

Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)

In Jared Goff’s first ever NFC Championship game, he’ll be tasked with going up against one of the best to ever play under center, Drew Brees. Since coming over from San Diego, Brees holds an 8-5 playoff record, which also includes a Super Bowl XLIV championship over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Meanwhile, Goff has helped this LA offense become #2 overall in the NFL with 421.1 YPG and 32.9 PPG in the regular season. This is better than the New Orleans offense, which posted 379.2 YPG and 31.5 PPG. The Rams have been better offensively in both passing and running, edging out the Saints in Passing YPG (281.7 - 252.6) and Rushing YPG (139.4 - 126.6).

On the other side of the football, both teams have talent on defense, but only middle-of-the-pack numbers to show. New Orleans ranks as the #14 defense in 2018 with 349.1 YPG Allowed and 22.1 PPG Allowed, while Los Angeles ranked even lower at #19 with 358.6 YPG Allowed and 24.0 PPG Allowed. What’s the big difference here? New Orleans had the second-best run defense in the league this year, giving up only 80.2 YPG on the ground. For comparison, LA gave up over 120 YPG to rushers (122.3 to be precise).

Based on the matchup, expect to see much less of Todd Gurley and CJ “Beef” Anderson in this one, at least in terms of the ground game. This game will lie on the shoulders of 3rd-year QB Jared Goff. Outside of the numbers, the qualitative factors say: this is the young QB’s first ever NFC Championship Game, his star back may have serious trouble breaking away from the Saints D, and he has played badly on the road (10 Touchdowns to 9 Interceptions). The Rams lost their undefeated title at the Superdome in Week 9 and we may very well see them get rattled in the Big Easy.

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AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs (-3, 55.5)

Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri)

It’s not everyday that you see the Patriots listed as an underdog, but the #1 seeded Chiefs are forcing them to compete on their home turf. Led by young QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City earned their title as best offense in the NFL, putting up a league-leading 425.6 YPG and 35.3 PPG. Despite having a bottom-of-the-pack defense that ranked 31st with 405.5 YPG Allowed, the Chiefs mustered up an AFC-best 12-4 record that earned them their third straight AFC West championship.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have been no joke themselves. On offense, New England just missed the 400 Yards Per Game mark with a strong 393.4 YPG, while also putting up a 4th-best 27.1 PPG. Defensively, the Patriots give up an above-average amount of yards (359.1 YPG), but are good for top-10 in only allowing 20.3 PPG.

One interesting statistic to watch out for is scoring off of turnovers. Kansas City is tied for 2nd in the league with 3 Interceptions returned for Touchdowns, while the Patriots have not thrown any pick-sixes, despite Brady’s highest INT % since 2011.

Some other important-yet-random stats to consider: the Pats have lost 3 of their last 4 on the road. Second, Tom Brady has only traveled to Arrowhead Stadium three times in his career, going 1-2 in those outings. Finally, the Chiefs have not advanced out of the AFC Championship Game since their Super Bowl IV victory in 1970 (For comparison, Tom Brady’s Patriots have played in 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls.)

Their last game was a close 43-40 Patriots victory in New England in Week 6, but outside of Gillette Stadium, anything can happen.

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Purveyor of truth. Breaker of chains. Foolish fan of the Mets, Jets, and Knicks.