The NFL divisional round weekend wasn’t what many fans expected. The Colts, who had a thriving season, got blown out against the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are a duo that seem unstoppable. The electric Chargers, a team that had a strong chance to upset the powerhouse Patriots, couldn’t stand the cold. The Cowboys needed to push a score in the 4th quarter to stay alive, but that was far from coming to fruition. The Eagles were the only team that seemed to have a chance to win late in the game, but they walked out with a loss and most likely Nick Foles last time in a Philadelphia jersey.
With all that said, this weekend has the potential to the be most thrilling final four matchup in recent NFL history. Here’s why…
1. The best offenses we’ve ever seen in conference championship games
The Chargers scored a sky-high 29.9 points per game this season. That audacious offense couldn’t beat the Patriots last week, but their record isn’t even the highest of the league. Mahomes and The Kansas City Chiefs had a roaring season and come in at 35.5 PPG. If those numbers don’t jump on the page for you, quickly compare them against the league.
On offense, adjusting for the era (post 1970 AFC-NFC merger), 2018 is the year that still comes on top with NFL scoring. The Rams, Patriots and Chiefs all measure 1.77 deviations above the mean in this era. The last year to come close was twenty years ago in 1998, with 1.66. To further hammer the insanity of this year into your brain, the Patriots are the worst offense in this year’s group. In most years they would have been one of the best, if not the best. However, the Patriots don’t even stack up against the Chiefs and Saints, who rank more than two standard deviations above the mean for offense.
2. The worst defenses we’ve ever seen in conference championship games
Okay, bear with me here, once again we’re accounting for the post-merger era. The powerhouse Chiefs and their obsession with their offense creates a hole in their defense. They rank 0.91 deviations below the mean, one of the worst defenses of the era. This drags the rest of the group down to a 0.1 deviation below the mean. This statistic may seem average, but is the worst in almost 50 seasons. In contrast, the best defenses of the era were just last year in 2017, where five teams allowed under 300 points all season. Four of these teams went on to the conference championships (Vikings, Jaguars, Patriots and Eagles).
This season has definitely leaned more on the importance of offense and that it’s a “necessity” to succeed in the “new” NFL, but the 2017 season shows the absolute opposite. It was only last year that we believed a wall of a defense was the only way to win games. The NFL evolves faster than most spectators can keep up with. Some games are won methodically, but often come down to nitty-gritty details that can be overlooked in practices. The bears were a kick away from the divisional round, where they may have upset the Rams and who knows how far they would go after that? The only thing one knows for sure is that the Bears moving on would have skewed the offensive statistics of the final four teams.
Of course, the most realistic way for any team is to get to the playoffs or beyond is to be good at one side of the game and great on the other. It doesn’t matter if its offense or defense, but a balanced game has shown in the past to be the most successful way to get to a conference game, regardless of what recent seasons show.
3. The best coaches we’ve ever seen
Coaching is always controversial and a continuously near-impossible subject to quantify. However, no one can argue that this final four round-up has put together some of the most diverse, and brilliant minds in the sport.
Bill Belichick may be the smartest man to ever coach the sport and has a solid case for being the best in the modern NFL. He currently has the 3rd most wins in NFL coaching history (261), he’s a five time Super Bowl champion, and he built this never-ending Patriots dynasty from the ground up. Andy Reid, who has been infamously unlucky in the playoffs, still trumps most of the league with 195 regular season wins, and subtly over the weekend reached the sixth most wins in post season history. Sean McVay is not as polished as a coach, he’s younger, wilder and riskier than the rest. But his questionable hires have been extremely successful and his unique approach to coaching have surprised and influenced others in the league to follow his lead (with fluctuating amounts of success). Sean McVay will face up against Sean Payton, two coaches that share the same first name, but hardly anything else. Payton has a grocery list of accomplishments: including a Super Bowl Championship (2010), AP Coach of the Year (2006), and 2x Pro Bowl head coach (NFC: 2007, 2018). McVay has much less experience in the league, as he never played in NFL and has only been coaching since 2008 but was still named AP NFL Coach of the Year in 2017, and now has the shot at a conference division title and a Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams
(35-28) for the Saints
New Orleans is a crazy place, and its filled with even crazier people. This abundance of energy in a city means its fans are as loud and ludicrous as one can only imagine. The Superdome has one of the best home-field advantages in history. Payton and Brees have never lost a home playoff game (6-0) since they teamed up in 2006. the only thing more distracting than these fans would be if Mardi Gras beads showered down and whacked the opposing team in the face.
New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs
(30-27) for the Patriots
This game is so perfectly set up it could be a movie. On one side, Brady is the unstoppable but older quarterback that has more experience than any other quarterback in conference title games. On the other side, its Mahomes first season, and he’s got a solid shot at the Super Bowl and MVP. Mahomes has put up super-human capabilities so consistently this season that spectators get disappointed when he only plays above average. Mahomes passed for nearly 5,100 yards his rookie season, making him only second in the league to Ben Roethlisberger. The next factor is the generational divide between these two, Brady was a freshman at the University of Michigan the year Mahomes was born. On top of that are the coaches: Bill Belichick and Andy Reid. Both have been excellent coaches for the league in their own regards, but Reid has been unsuccessful in a Super Bowl pursuit, where Belichick has five rings under his belt. Last but not least, the weather. There’s a prediction of an “arctic blast”, both these teams are used to the cold- but it’s predicted to be 6 degrees and snow. No one would call that ideal football weather. Hollywood movie plot aside, Belichick loves the playoffs, and history shows they love him too. Reid doesn’t have the playoff experience Belichick does. The playoffs create a different atmosphere for the teams, regardless of who has the home-field advantage. Brady’s age may hurt him on athleticism, but it’ll pay off under pressure, where Mahomes and his cannon-arm have never been through this before. The Patriots beat the Chiefs in regular season by slowly chipping away at the holes in the Chiefs defense. It’s likely that they’ll do it again. However, it will still be a nail biter as it was in regular season (40-43). Since both teams are used to the cold, that shouldn’t be a huge factor. But it’s sure to make for an exciting snow game for every fan, and the perfect sprinkle to top off the overall best NFL conference championships yet.
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