January 15, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
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NFL Championship Games... Buyer Beware
And then there were four.
NFL’s version of the ‘Final Four’ kicks off this Sunday in the Championship Games where surprises aplenty have certainly been the buzzword.
That’s confirmed by the fact that underdogs have managed to pull off upsets in 15 of 46 title games since the 1990 season, the most recent being the Baltimore Ravens victory over New England at Foxboro last year, and the New York Giants win at San Francisco two years ago, with both teams going on to capture the coveted Super Bowl.
Let’s take a quick look at what’s worked and what hasn’t in the Championship Games, because when it comes to handicapping games at this stage of the season we can certainly use every edge imaginable.
All results are ATS (Against The Spread) and are since the 1990 season, unless noted otherwise.
What A Rush
Running the football is tantamount to success in the NFL. Especially in the playoffs.
It’s no coincidence that since the Giants 21-17 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI that 18 of the last 20 straight-up playoff winners have rushed the ball for 100 or more yards, including all eight winners this season.
Teams who have managed to gain 110 or more rushing yards in a championship game have gone 19-9 SU and 20-8 ATS, including 9-1 ATS as underdogs of 4 or more points.
While all four of this week’s combatants average more than 100 rushing yards per game on the season, only Denver and San Francisco surrender less than 100 running yards per contest.
The Patriots allow the most yards on the ground, 130 YPG.
The oddsmakers have done a nice job overall during this round, with favorites checking in at 26-22 ATS, and home teams 22-26 ATS.
Teams off a road win (San Francisco) are 15-11 ATS, while teams off a win-no-cover are 12-8 ATS, including 8-3 ATS when riding a pair of wins.
That’s music to the ears of Denver and Seattle backers.
While high-scoring games are the norm in the NFL these days, teams arriving to the championship round off a high scoring effort in their last game tend to come back to earth harder than a sky diver with a defective chute.
Consider: Half of the 34 teams in this round who put 34 or more points on the scoreboard in a divisional round victory fell short of the Super Bowl, going 17-17 SU and 12-22 ATS.
Worse, if these same teams are taking on an .800 or greater foe they fall to 3-9 SU and 4-8 ATS in title games.
That puts New England on hard ground this Sunday.
Been There Done That
Three of the four head coaches have had the luxury of coaching team in Championship Games – namely Bill Belichick, Jon Fox and Jim Harbaugh.
New England’s Belichick brings a 5-2 SU and 3-4 ATS record (0-4 ATS last four) with the Patriots in Championship Games into this week’s fray. Furthermore, the Hoodie is 0-4 ATS in title games after scoring 24 or more points his previous playoff contest.
Meanwhile, Fox has made two championship game appearances with Carolina, splitting out 1-1 SU and ATS – both as an underdog.
San Francisco returns to the championship game for the third-straight year under Jim Harbaugh. The Niners are 1-1 SU and 0-1-1 ATS in these games under his lead.
Seattle’s Pete Carroll is a championship game virgin.
Points aplenty in this league of late have forced the linemakers to raise the Over/Under totals bar.
Its what happens when there have been 29 OVERS and 19 UNDERS and 1 PUSH in Championship Games.
Surprisingly, the higher the total them more OVERS there have been as games with a posted total set at 46 or more points going 10-5 OVER.
Stat of the Week
Outside of the 2009 New Orleans Saints, the last No. 1 seed from the NFC to win a Super Bowl game was the 1999 St. Louis Rams.