Advanced Matchup Stats For Conference Championship Weekend
As we move further into the age of advanced analytics in the NFL, we get ever more granular data to help properly prognosticate the outcome of games. For the Wild Card Weekend round of the NFL playoffs, we used the NFL Next Gen Stats engine to point out some interesting metrics that could have impacted the outcomes of the games. During the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, we used Pro Football Focus’ WR/CB matchup tools to have a closer look at potential ways the games could go.
This week, I will use both the NFL Next Gen Stats and the WR/CB matchup chart from Pro Football Focus to take a closer look at the games.
The first time that the Saints and Rams played each other, the New Orleans coaching staff made it known that their plan was to actively target the overrated Marcus Peters. Thomas had one of his best games of the season with 15 targets, 211 yards and a touchdown while mostly being covered by Peters. The Rams do have Aqib Talib back for this game. He was inactive for the first meeting between the two teams, and should make a difference. Talib has a much higher Pro Football Focus grade than Peters (76.9 to 58.1) despite being targeted at a higher clip. It is unlikely that Peters will shadow Thomas in this game, but on the snaps where Peters does cover Thomas, the Rams could bleed Expected Points, as Thomas is simply better than Peters.
Kansas City does not have a very good defense. They exhibit some of the worst safety play in the league and their strength really comes from their defensive line. Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of getting the ball out quickly, which should aid him against the weak K.C secondary. However, the Chiefs’ best cornerback is their slot CB, Kendall Fuller. Fuller earned a 70.2 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus this season and allowed only 1.45 yards per route ran against. If Fuller has one of his better games of the season and makes Julian Edelman’s life difficult in the intermediate areas of the field, the Chiefs defense could theoretically stymie the Patriots uber-efficient short passing offense.
Expected Completion Percentage In Kansas City
Given what we know about Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, their individual Expected Completion numbers should not be surprising. One of the greatest NFL Next Gen stats is Expected Completion Percentage. This is measured by, according to the Next Gen glossary, “The probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more.” Using that metric, the site is able to create a metric called “Completion Percentage Above Expectation” which is a passer’s actual completion percentage compared to their Expected Completion Percentage. Tom Brady is actually below his Expected Completion Percentage, while Patrick Mahomes is above his expectation. This makes intuitive sense, as Mahomes is probably the most talented thrower in all of the NFL, while Father Time has robbed Tom Brady of a little bit of his magic now that he is 41 years old. If Mahomes continues to run above expectation in the playoffs, Kansas City should be able to deliver a thorough victory on Sunday.
Eight Man Boxes In The Big Easy
The biggest indicator of run success is how many opposing defenders there are in “the box” or roughly the five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Much of what we are coming to learn about running in the NFL is that it really and truly just a numbers game. With less defenders to beat immediately, running backs have better success. Todd Gurley faced one of the lowest percentages of eight men or more in the box of any rusher in the league with only 8.2% of his rushes facing that scenario. Alvin Kamara, on the other hand, faced eight or more men in the box on 22.16% of his rushing attempts. Those attempts, on average, are likely to be less successful. If the Saints do run Kamara into a ton of eight man fronts in this game, I would be more bullish on the Rams’ chance of pulling an upset on the road in the Superdome, and it would be something to monitor for live wagering.