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Conference Championship Picks

January 17th, 2019

This postseason is officially kicking my ass.

I fixed nothing in the divisional round. Just turned my poor performance around, going 2-2 straight up, 1-3 against the spread to even out my two-week disgrace at 3-5 (.375) all around.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and come out of this weekend dead even. Or, you know, maybe I’ll continue edging toward the Mendoza line.

Here’s what not to expect.

Oh, wait a second. I’ve charted some lovely stats for you to ignore first.

Now then. Down to business.

LA Rams (+3.5) at New Orleans
You may have noticed in your careful examination of the above that the Saints get better on both sides of the ball while the Rams get worse on both sides of the ball when the competition gets toughest. The same goes for the teams’ quarterbacks.

Here are how the big three predictive stats shape up if you look at all 17 games played by each team: Scoring differential, Rams +0.1 (which is to say, none); passer rating differential, Saints +4.0; takeaway-giveaway differential, Rams +2. That’s not much to go on, which is hardly surprising given that these two football teams have been outstanding all season long. It points to a narrow victory by one team or the other, in which case you kind of have to lean toward the home team, though you certainly wouldn’t expect the kind of double-digit margin of victory we saw the last time these teams faced off in New Orleans.

Isolate games against teams that qualified for the postseason, though, and the predictives look like this: Scoring differential, Saints +5.8; passer rating differential, Saints +23.4; takeaway giveaway differential, Saints +5. That’s a matchup in which the visitor has at best an outside chance to keep it close.

I could get into more stats, but they’re all right there for you above. I could explore the trends, but they point in the exact same direction as the stats.

The Rams are a fine football team. They’ll probably be a better football team still come September. But right now, I just don’t think they can keep up with the Saints for more than three quarters. Barring something unusual and unforeseeable, I think New Orleans comes out ahead by at least seven and probably more like 10

New England (+3) at Kansas City
Let’s do the same thing with the predictive stats here that we did with the NFC Championship game.

Looking at all 17 games for both teams: Scoring differential, Chiefs +1.2; passer rating differential, Chiefs +3.3; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +3. Those numbers favor Kansas City, though they don’t exactly point to a lock.

Looking at performance vs. postseason qualifiers: Scoring differential, Patriots +3.2; passer rating differential, Patriots +11.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +4. In Foxborough, those numbers would indicate a Patriots victory, though not a certain or a comfortable one. In Kansas City, they tell me the visitors have at least a pretty solid chance.

There’s nothing so definitive in either set of numbers to allow me to feel comfortable picking either way. So, shockingly, this ends up looking much the same following statistical examination as it did without it. Which brings us to — get ready for this gem of an insight — the team that executes better on the field is going to win the game.

I think if this turns into a shootout (like the meeting in Foxborough way back in week six did), you have to give the edge to the home team. Not because of some anticipated disparity in quarterback play — there’s unlikely to be any — but simply because those kinds of games always favor the home team.

If, on the other hand, the Patriots are able to get their running game going early the way they did last weekend, control the tempo of the game, control time of possession and keep the Chiefs offense off the field, then the New England defense has a solid shot of exhibiting just how good it became over the last half of the regular season.

I’ve got a feeling that’s what’s going to happen, which means I’ve got a good feeling that the Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year. New England by four.

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