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NFL's Final 4

   by Larry Ness - 01/17/2015

NFL 2014’s Final 4: By the Numbers:

The postseason began two weekends ago with 12 teams. After eight games, we are down to the NFL’s version of its Final Four. Home teams are 6-2 SU but just 3-5 ATS (all eight home teams have been favored), with the poinstspread coming into play (games in which the SU winner DIDN’T cover the spread) in three games. The Cowboys (wild card round) plus the plus the Pats and Packers (divisional round) were the teams to advance but NOT cover. There were two outright underdog winners, the Ravens (over the Steelers) in the wild card round and the Colts (over the Broncos) in the divisional round. SU winners going just 5-3 or 62.5% ATS is somewhat unusual, as SU winners in the wild card round had gone 82-10-4 (89.1%) and 75-19-2 (79.8%) in the divisional round since 1990 (the year the NFL expanded to its current playoff-field of 12).

FIVE of the eight games were decided by double digits (the lowest being 11 & the largest spread being 16 points), while four points was the margin in two games and five points in the other. Over/under bettors saw three games go over, four go under and one push, which was Balt/Pitt which I’m charting at 47 (some over/under bettors won or lost with this game, as well). Both the AFC (Indianapolis at New England) and the NFC (Green Bay at Seattle) championship games saw the home team open as a seven-point choice, with the AFC total opening 53 and the NFC at 46 1/2.

Both games feature regular season rematches, as the Packers and Seahawks opened the 2014 season on a Thursday night (Sep 4) in Seattle, with the Seahawks dominating in a 36-16 win. The Pats and Colts were both coming off byes when they met for a SNF game in Week 11 at Indianapolis, with the Pats also winning in dominating fashion, 42-20. Is that all we need to know about the outcomes of Sunday’s two games, respectively? If ONLY it were that simple.

A quick note about the two home teams (and favorites) tells us that Seattle is looking to become the first team since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls (note: those New England teams are also the last team to make back-to-back Super bowl appearances, as well), while New England is hoping to join Dallas and Pittsburgh as the only teams to play in EIGHT Super Bowls (note: It would also be the Pats’ SIXTH Super Bowl appearance in 14 seasons). As for the two visiting (underdog) teams, Green Bay is looking for its SIXTH trip to the Super Bowl (4-1) since winning SB 45 following the 2010 season. Indianapolis has been to two previous Super Bowls (won following the 2006 season, while losing following the 2009 season), but the Colts franchise also made Super Bowl appearances in Super III (lost to the Jets, as if ANYONE doesn’t remember?) and in Super Bowl V, beating the Cowboys in the first season (1970) of the AFL-NFL merger.

Doing the math, TY’s “Final Four” have a combined 10 Super Bowl wins in 18 appearances, led by the Packers (4-1) and followed by the Pats (3-4), Colts (2-2) and Seahawks (1-1). Sunday’s four participants check in with a combined 47-17 (.734 %) SU record in the regular season, going 38-24-2 (61.3%) ATS. They combined to play 37 overs and 27 unders (57.8% favoring the over).

Home teams did exceptionally well in conference championship games from 1979 through 1989, going 17-5 SU (.773) in that 11-year span, as well as 16-6 ATS (72.7%). However, with the expansion of the playoff-field from 10 to 12 teams in 1990, the last 24 years have shown more of a ‘mixed bag.’ Home teams are 29-19 SU (.604 %) these last 24 seasons and just 22-25-1 (46.8 %) ATS. The home team has won both conference championship games just EIGHT times in the past 24 seasons, including
last season, which marked the first time that had happened since 2009. Only THREE times (since 1990) have BOTH road teams won (2012, 1997 and 1992), leaving us with 13 years in which there was a split (one home team and one road team winning and advancing to the Super Bowl).

An overall view since 1990 (48 games to work with) shows the average margin of victory in those conference championship games has been 12.1 PPG and the average amount of points scored to be 43.5 total points scored. The SU winner is 40-7-1 ATS (85.1%) and this round has produced a higher percentage of overs than either the wild card or division rounds, with 27 overs, 20 unders and one push. That’s 57.4% favoring the over but with an average of just 43.5 PPG over these last 24 years (48 games), that total would NOT be high enough for either of Sunday’s games to eclipse the current over/numbers.

More than half (27) of the 48 Conference Championship games since 1990 have been decided by more than 10 points (56.2 %) but from 2007 through 2013 only TWO of 14 had been. Four games during this span have been decided by a FG, five games from four to seven points and three from eight to 10 points. in this most recent seven-year span the average margin of victory for the winning team has been just 6.9 PPG.

In the NFC form has held with No. 1 seed Seattle hosting No. 2 seed Green Bay. However, in the AFC we have No. 1 seed in New England hosting No. 4 Indianapolis. A No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup is nothing new, as it has happened in HALF (24) of the 48 championship games since 1990. For the record, the No. 1 seeded host is 15-9 SU (.625) but just 11-13 ATS (45.8 %). However, a conference championship game matchup between a No. 1 seed and No. 4 seed (like the Pats and Colts) has previously occurred just ONCE, before! It happened in the 1999 playoffs, when No. 4 seed Tennessee won on the road at No. 1 seeded Jacksonville, 33-14 as seven-point underdogs (note: Tennessee and Jacksonville finished the 2014 season with records of 2-14 and 3-13, respectively).

One last thing. I’ve noted often about the playoffs being expanded to 12 teams in 1990 but not as much about the 2012 change, when the league went from six to eight divisions. With eight divisors winners (not six), the NFL decreased the number of wild card teams from six to four. A team that played in the wild card round (one of either four wild cards or one of four division winners) had won THREE straight Super Bowls prior to Seattle’s win last season. A wild card winner has won SIX of the last nine Super Bowls and only TWICE in those last nine seasons has a wild card survivor NOT made the Super Bowl (last season, as previously noted, and back in 2009).

The recent success of teams playing in the wild card round is in sharp contrast to the playoffs from 1990 through 2004, as in those 15 seasons, only FIVE of 30 Super Bowl teams were wild card survivors (note: TWO of the five would win; Denver in the 1997 season and Baltimore in the 2000 season).

I warned you this wouldn’t be easy! Enjoy Championship Sunday.

Good luck...Larry

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