2018 NFL SEASON
P R O F O O T B A L L M E D I A
Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Game Reviews CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION
2018 NFL Playoffs:
5-5 .500 (WINS); 6-3-1 .667 (ATS); 6-4 .600 (O/U)
2018 season totals:
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U)
Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS). Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines of games from Vegas Insider
For once Drew Brees can count on his defense as they host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship.
2 Los Angeles Rams 13-4 (+3) @ 1 New Orleans Saints 13-4 (57): Saints 33-27 Rams 26-23
Sunday, 3:05 PM, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The playoffs are all about experience. Anything can happen, of course, but chance favors the prepared mind, and I don’t care how much film you study, if you haven’t experienced the game situations you can’t possibly be prepared. Well, the Rams are led by Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Those players and coach have exactly two games worth of playoff experience, and just got their first playoff win as a group last week. By comparison Sean Payton and Drew Brees have 13, including a Super Bowl Championship. The game plan here is pretty simple: The #2 scoring offense (LAR, 32.9 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring offense (NO, 31.5 ppg) and the #2 scoring differential (NO, 9.4 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring differential (LAR, 8.9 ppg). So basically 1.4 ppg separates these two teams offensively while their point differentials are within a half a point. The Saints (3.6 OTD/g) and Rams (3.4 OTD/g) even rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in offensive TDs/game. In other words, we have two evenly-matched offenses. The funny thing is it doesn’t end there: The teams defenses are similarly ranked in scoring and total defense and both are ranked high in a key defensive metrics (LAR ranked 3rd in INT; NO ranked 5th in sacks). One key defensive advantage the Rams have had all season is takeaways, in which they rank 3rd in the league, but it’s not as if the Saints turn the ball over much (7th TO ratio). One key advantage the Saints have is their Red Zone TD efficiency (70%), where they capitalize with TDs in the Red Zone 13% more than the Rams. Speaking of TDs over FGs, the Saints are ranked 4th in FG efficiency, while the Rams are ranked 19th; the Saints are also ranked 3rd in PAT efficiency, compared to 11th with the Rams, meaning the Saints simply kick the ball better, especially when it comes to crucial scoring scenarios, like PATs. Granted those numbers are skewed by the Saints playing in a dome, but they just happen to be playing in one on Sunday as well. This game comes down the Saints defense, which has been playing at an all-time level, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Saints usually stifling offense has become stagnant, and sometimes too reliant on Michael Thomas; in fact, the Saints have only averaged 24.3 ppg since their win against the Philadelphia Eagles Week 11, in which they scored 48 points, and in three of those games the Saints only averaged 12 ppg. New Orleans might’ve thought their problems would be solved by the bye, but then the Saints only managed 20 points against the Eagles in the Divisional Round, and could have just as easily lost the game. Yes, it’s been the defense that has put the Saints on their shoulders down the stretch, allowing only 16.9 ppg to their opponents in the eight games since and including that 48-7 win over Philadelphia in Week 11. The offenses might have gotten both teams to the NFC Championship, but the Saints defense will get them to Super Bowl LIII.
The Saints were the victims of one of the worst, if not the worst, non-call in the history of the playoffs, if not the entire existence of the NFL. Don't talk to me about the other 59 minutes. Don't talk to me about opportunities, missed or otherwise. It's very simple, despite anything that led up to the moment in question, or should I say, the moment in scrutiny: If the officials, crews specially chosen for these games, had called even just one of two egregious and obvious fouls (Blow to the head/helmet-to-helmet contact/defenseless receiver AND/OR pass interference) the Saints would have secured the first down, had the ball at the spot of the pass interference penalty or at least 15 yards from the line of scrimmage due to unsportsmanlike conduct; the Saints would have knelt until it was time to kick the game-winning chip-shot field goal. Let me guess, the contrarians will question whether or not Lutz would have made the chip shot. There are bad beats and then there are shit shows like the one we witnessed Sunday. I'm not sure who I feel worse for, Saints fans or myself for being robbed of the opportunity to cash in on my New England v. New Orleans futures bets.
It's that time of year when Bill Belichick uses the force and turns his mediocre defense into one good enough to win championships.
2 New England Patriots 12-5 (+3) @ 1 Kansas City Chiefs 13-4 (55): Patriots 28-27 Patriots 37-31
Sunday, 6:40 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Cloudy; low 20s)
Reasons: The New England Patriots are playing in their 8th-straight AFC Championship game. Let that sink in. This Patriots dynasty has lasted nearly two decades and the comparisons are essentially over: The Patriots are the greatest NFL franchise in the history of the sport, and even if you want to point to warranted cheating scandals like SpyGate or ridiculous clown shows like DeflateGate, those are two examples from two seasons. What of the other 11 seasons in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era in which the Patriots have earned a first round bye? Exactly, one’s arguments become flimsy at best as one is faced with the best coach in the history of the game and arguably the best player in the history of the game; and they happen to be a pair. Hence the hate, amirite? Yes, the Patriots have constructed a dynasty that will be talked about for decades to come, especially considering it came in the height of the Parity Era, where the salary cap was designed to keep the playing field level. Spare me the tired cheating references. So, is the dynasty over? The Patriots sure seemed to have backed into a bye this year more than any of their 12 byes in the past 18 years, but are there style points for these achievements? No, and the last time I checked, the Patriots, on two weeks rest, made quick work of a 12-4, albeit tired and thin, Chargers team, essentially having won the game 35-7 at halftime. Will the top-seeded Chiefs, the young darlings of the NFL, supplant The Avocado Boy and takes the reigns? Well, New England already beat these Chiefs 43-40 this year in Foxborough. This game isn’t in Foxborough, though, and that game didn’t feature Justin Houston or Eric Berry. It’s funny what a few All-Pro defensive players can do for a team. In the metrics I commonly use to analyze games (listed in green at the top) the Patriots and Chiefs are among the top-10 in ten of those categories; for reference, the teams playing in the NFC Championship game each have nine. So, if the dynasty is over in New England there aren’t any signs of it; by the same token, if there was ever a team to challenge the Patriots AFC supremacy it would certainly be these Chiefs, even without Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs have both a historically great offense and a historically bad defense, despite the Chiefs Divisional Round heroics against a frozen Andrew Luck. The Patriots, however, have a top-10 offense and defense, the latter catapulted into the top-10 with Belichick-ian style late season defensive push, which included yielding only 11.5 ppg the last three games of the season and first three quarters of their first playoff game against the Chargers. That might sound ridiculous, but those final 14 Chargers points skew the numbers and came in garbage time, and the first game in that four-game stretch includes holding the Steelers to 17 points in Pittsburgh. Kansas City only lost four games all season, all to playoff teams (NE; LAR; LAC; SEA) no less, and were 4-2 post-bye week, including the playoffs; those games included an OT win against the Baltimore Ravens and a one-point and one-possession loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. In other words, the Chiefs are battle tested. the Chiefs offensive exploits are well-documented, ad nauseum across all media, so there’s no point in dissecting their All-World offense other than to say the Chiefs might struggle to gain as many ground yards against the Patriots (11th-ranked rush defense) as they did against the Colts (180 rushing yards; 5.5 ypc). The game will likely come down to Brady’s ability to get the short, quick passes out to James White and Julian Edelman, taking the Chiefs top-ranked pass rush away while giving Tom the options necessary to get rid of the ball quickly; on defense the Patriots will likely take Tyreek Hill away and make them beat them on the ground or with Travis Kelce. The crowd certainly favors Kansas City, as Arrowhead is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but the cold weather could belong to the Patriots. If anyone can sling the ball in cold weather it’s Tom Brady. A three-point spread suggest a close game and I couldn’t agree more, but how it plays out is a different story: The Patriots surprised everyone with an offensive onslaught in the Divisional Round, while the Chiefs defense made their first serious appearance of the season in the same week. Guess what else was out-of-character last week? A colossal Andy Reid coaching blunder. I’m betting on one of those blunders this week against his old nemesis Bill Belichick, and I expect experience to play much more of a role against the Chiefs this week than it did for them last week against Indianapolis. The Patriots dynasty might be coming to an end, but you wouldn’t know by turning on your television February 3rd.
The Patriots possessed the ball for more than twice as long as the Chiefs (44 minutes to 21 minutes). The Patriots gained nearly twice as many yards as the Chiefs (524 to 290). The Patriots did gain twice as many first downs as the Chiefs (36 to 18). The Patriots also had the game's only two turnovers (2 Brady INTs). Yet, those same Chiefs, led by probably MVP and the next combination of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, scored 24 points in the 4th quarter and managed to send the game to OT. Thankfully for the Patriots, and the NFL's questionable OT rules if you're a Patriots fan, New England won the coin toss and Kansas City never saw the ball again. That was the name of the game: Keep the ball away from Mahomes and the Chiefs. Considering the Chiefs scored 31 points in only 21 minutes of possession, 24 in the 4th quarter alone, it's not surprising why Bill Belichick chose that approach. New England chewed up the clock with 48 carries, 29 via Sony Michel, who was the star in consecutive playoff games, this time gaining 113 rushing yards and scoring two more TDs. Brady (348 passing yards; 1 TD; 2 INTs) threw an INT in the end zone, or perhaps this game doesn't require OT, but he also led the Patriots down the field in another iconic two-minute drill that helped set New England up for the go-ahead TD, and then marched the Patriots down the field in under five minutes of OT to set up the game-winning TD. So Brady basically constructed two consecutive drives to win the game, and, well, win the game again. The Patriots left 39 seconds on the board after Brady's 597th 4th-quarter drive to tie or win a game, which for Mahomes (295 passing yards; 3 TDs) probably seemed like an additional quarter, and the for-all-intents-and-purposes-rookie went right down the field and set up the Chiefs for the game-tying field goal. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Mahomes never touched the ball again and the rest is history. The game belonged to the Patriots defense and Belichick's game plan as much as anything, as the Patriots offense not only chewed up the clock, but left the defense fresh enough for a dominating performance in all but the 4th quarter, sacking Mahomes four times and holding Tyreek Hill to only one catch for 42 yards. There were controversial calls on both sides in this game, too, one of which was game-changing for Kansas City (Chris Jones roughing the passer), while several that went against New England (pass interference/defensive holding) would have prevented the Chiefs from climbing back into the game in the first place. At the end of the day experience won out, which should be expected of a Patriots team playing in their 9th AFC Championship game...in a row. What the hell was Julian Edleman thinking on that punt by the way?
Stay tuned for Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION coming the week of Super Bowl LIII!