Davis Mattek Picks Against The Spread For NFL Conference Championship Weekend
The final multi-game slate of the season is upon us before we fully delve into the NFL Draft and 2019 Fantasy Football coverage for our NFL365 plan. The Divisional Round featured two absolute stompings by the AFC teams as the Chiefs and Patriots made light work of their overmatched opponents. The Saints and Rams were marginally tested, but only Sean Payton was really forced to sweat. These are the matchups of the four best teams in the NFL, which is all that we can realistically ask for from Conference Championship weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs -3
A week after going all in on the Chiefs favored by five points at home against the hapless Indianapolis Colts, we are provided an opportunity to bet the Chiefs at home against a weaker opponent yet again. It is true that the first meeting between these teams went to the New England Patriots with a few distinctions. First, that game took place at Foxboro and not at Arrowhead. We know that home field advantage is a real and distinctive, especially in the playoffs. Second, the Patriots had zero penalties called against them in the first meeting between these teams and that is unlikely to happen again.
While I try to not weigh defensive analysis in my articles too heavily, it is worth noting that in home games, the Chiefs defense performs much better. In nine home games in 2018, the Chiefs had the most QB pressures in the league with 118, finished second in sacks with 31 and only gave up an average of 17.4 points per game. While that defensive record likely is unsustainable over a larger sample, it does make me feel better about taking the three points with the best offense in football. Patrick Mahomes is playing the most electric football any of us were privileged to watch in 2018; he averaged 1.8 more Adjusted Yards Per Attempt than Tom Brady during the regular season. The hesitation is always picking against Bill Belichick in a game that we know where he has the rules figured out in ways that Andy Reid cannot even imagine. However, talent will win out in this game and the Chiefs will make their way to the Super Bowl in Patrick Mahomes’ second season.
New Orleans Saints -3.5
Unlike the Chiefs game, this was much harder for me to come down on a side. I think that 3.5 is probably the right line as this seems more likely, at least intuitively, to be a three-point game than the Chiefs/Patriots contest. Both teams were fantastic on offense in the regular season. Sean McVay was able to manufacture points by having the most clever scheme in the NFL. No team ran more tight/bunch formations than the Los Angeles Rams and no lead running back faced less eight man boxes than Todd Gurley. On the other hand, Drew Brees finished second in the NFL with nine Yards Per Adjusted Pass Attempt and also broke his own completion percentage record. The Rams finished second in yards per play and the Saints finished seventh. These are two teams whose strengths are definitely found in their head coaches and their offensive schemes.
It is worth noting that the Saints definitely have the advantage in quarterback skill. The notion that Jared Goff is bad is laughable, he is clearly above average. However, Drew Brees is one of the all-time greats at the position, even if he struggled to start the game against the Eagles last week. The Rams offense is also missing Cooper Kupp; Kupp is a more efficient player than Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett, who have been splitting time filling in his shoes. Kupp’s RACR (Per AirYards.com, RACR is an efficiency metric that rolls up catch rate and yards after the catch into one number; It can also be thought of as the number of receiving yards a player creates for every air yard thrown at him) is almost twice that of Reynolds. Generally speaking, the Saints have more firepower on offense with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara clearly superior to their counterparts on the Rams offense. In most games, the Rams have a clear coaching advantage with Sean McVay, but that will also not be true when facing Sean Payton. This game is razor close but in picking a side, the home team with a generational QB is my selection.