Intial Thoughts about AFC and NFC Championship Games
We are down to the NFL's version of the final four: the conference championships. By this time next week we will know which two teams will be headed to Houston to compete for the Lombardi trophy in Super Bowl LI.
Football prognostication really starts to heat up right around now. Who wins on Sunday and which two teams will the entire country be talking about for 2 weeks?
Before the postseason started, we felt the two Super Bowl teams would be the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. Dallas came awfully close to pulling off the comeback but it wasn't meant to be. The Patriots looked off in the 1st half against Houston but figured things out afterwards. The Atlanta Falcons offense looks like a well oiled machine and the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers continue to stay red hot. Predicting who will advance will be tough and we might need to throw our model out the window for this weekend.
Currently the GE model has the Falcons winning by 6.47 points and the Patriots winning by 8.31 points. Both would be covering the spread and except for the games this past Sunday, favors have been perfect in the postseason in covering the spread.
We hate to go against our model but we will have to lean towards the underdogs this weekend. The Packers and Steelers went into hostile territory and left victorious, both in dramatic fashion. What is stopping them from doing the same this weekend? Well the Packers are still without Jordy Nelson and the Falcons offense can expose the porous Packers secondary. They are also more experienced than the Cowboys and this will definitely be the last game in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons don't intend on closing out their venue with a loss. In the other game, the Patriots are model of consistency. This will be Tom Brady's 11th conference championship game where is 6-4 lifetime and 4-1 at home. Those are super impressive numbers!
We still find it hard to see how the Patriots defense can stop both Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and how the Falcons defense can keep Rodgers from doing what he does. In Kansas City, Big Ben was able to scramble long enough to find Brown for a first down and seal the win after that controversial holding call to prevent the Chiefs from tying the game with a 2 point conversion. In Dallas, Aaron Rodgers was able to buy enough time when it was 3rd and 20 near the end of regulation to hit Jared Cook for a first down and give Mason Crosby enough distance to hit a game winning field field goal.
As much as we like to favor home teams in a game of this magnitude, we have to lean to the teams that are clicking on all cylinders with crazy talent on offense and very experienced quarterbacks. No disrespect to Matt Ryan and Tom Brady who were both the highest rated QBs this season but Rodgers and Big Ben can go on the road and win a conference championship. They have done it before (2005 for Big Ben and 2010 for Rodgers)!
The Patriots have a solid defense but they played extraordinarily weak offenses to close out the season (Texans, Rams, 49ers, Jets twice, ...). The Falcons defense has been its Achilles heal all year and is a reason why they could not close out some games. Good defense definitely wins championships and an inability to defend can cost you won. While the Packers defense is not great, it's not as bad as Atlanta's has been this season. The Steelers defense has actually dialed up the pressure on the QB, precisely what you need to do to beat Brady.
We will have our predictions later this week but the underdogs are looking good.