NFL Championship Stat Previews
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
LET'S SEE WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY ABOUT PACKERS/BEARS AND JETS/STEELERS
We're posting our NFL Championship stat previews on Friday this week to give you a little extra time to absorb all the data, and because Friday was the quietest basketball night of the weekend schedule. This will allow us to go in depth with the Big 10 in college hoops Saturday on a day where Ohio State visits Illinois in a big early game, and Michigan State visits Purdue in the first prime time "Game Day" event of ESPN's college basketball season.
And, given what's at stake in the NFL this weekend...and the amazing talent on the field on both sides of the ball...you definitely need the extra time to think things through.
We'll take the games in schedule order, starting with Green Bay at Chicago at 3 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon. The numbers you'll see in the stat lines represent Drive Points per game (those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more) from the regular season. We're trying to make apples to apples comparisons, so the 16-game regular season slate makes more sense than adding in the playoffs where this week's visitors have played twice, but this week's hosts have only played once.
We also add in turnover differential and strength of schedule for additional context. You'll note that all four remaining teams have played fairly tough schedules (in the upper half of the league at least). At the very beginning of the playoffs, we talked about the importance you should give that category. Look at the pretenders who have fallen by the wayside after creating the illusions of quality vs. softer schedules:
Kansas City: 32nd ranked schedule (out of 32 teams)
Seattle: 28th ranked schedule
New Orleans: 25th ranked schedule
Indianapolis: 21st ranked schedule
Atlanta: 19th ranked schedule
None of those teams ranked in the top half of the league in schedule strength. The quintet would go 1-5 straight up in the playoffs, with the only victory coming within the group when Seattle upset New Orleans. They went 0-3 vs. teams who are still alive this weekend, failing to cover the spread in all three outings.
We're giving you PROVEN indicator stats! Let's see what the numbers say about this week's CHAMPIONSHIP action.
Green Bay: 13.8 offense, 8.3 defense, +10 TO's, 9th schedule
Chicago: 8.6 offense, 9.8 defense, +4 TO's, 13th schedule
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 3.5, total of 43
Notebook: You can see why Green Bay is a road favorite, even as a #6 seed facing a #2 seed. The Packers had a solid +5.5 differential in per game Drive Points even as they were battling injuries all season. They were on the right end of the risk/reward ration too in terms of turnover differential. And, it all happened against a top 10 schedule. Green Bay entered the postseason with a very solid statistical resume in the stuff that mattered.
Chicago on the other hand had a negative differential in Drive Points, which is rare for a team that's still alive this deep in the season. They had turnover troubles early in the season which messed up their overall math in that area. They've done a better job lately. The Bears certainly didn't play a weak schedule. But, they accumulated worse stats against a softer schedule than Green Bay faced.
We think it's very important here to emphasize what's happened so far in the playoffs with these teams. We can't think of, or even honestly imagine a more divergent set of challenges for two teams playing in a championship game.
GREEN BAY: had to go on the road to face NFC East champion Philadelphia (a popular Super Bowl choice because of Michael Vick), then on the road to face the #1 seed and NFC South champion Atlanta (a popular Super Bowl choice as the top seed with a reputation for being very tough to beat at home).
CHICAGO: got to play at home against Seattle, possibly the worst playoff team of the modern era.
How unfair! Chicago had the gift bracket of all time. Green Bay had to go on the road and beat league powers.
Now, with THAT in mind, let's run our favorite boxscore stats from the games played so far...
GREEN BAY 21, PHILADELPHIA 16
Rushing Yardage: Green Bay 138, Philadelphia 82
Drive Points: Green Bay 14, Philadelphia 9
Third Downs: Green Bay 61%, Philadelphia 38%
Very solid performances in the stats that matter, particularly when it comes to moving the chains and driving the field.
GREEN BAY 48, ATLANTA 21
Rushing Yardage: Green Bay 96, Atlanta 45
Drive Points: Green Bay 28, Atlanta 7
Third Downs: Green Bay 67%, Atlanta 30%
Wow, BLOWOUT performances in the stats that matter, on the road against a #1 seed who had extra rest and preparation time. You regulars know it's hard to convert 60% or more of your third downs in an NFL game. Green Bay did it twice in a row, on the road, vs. very good teams.
CHICAGO 35, SEATTLE 24
Rushing Yardage: Seattle 34, Chicago 176
Drive Points: Seattle 7, Chicago 21
Third Downs: Seattle 21%, Chicago 56%
Seattle stopped running when they fell way behind, so the Bears were able to coast to a big win in that stat. Frankly, this was a blowout until garbage time helped Seattle make the score more reasonable. Let's give the Bears credit for the blowout. Just remember to give Green Bay MORE credit for doing BETTER than this in Drive Points and Third Downs vs. a much better opponent.
The numbers are making a very good case for Green Bay. It's your job as handicappers to determine of they were playing way over their heads...and they're about to fall back to earth with a thud outdoors in cold conditions vs. a fired up defense. Or...if the numbers so far are announcing the eventual Super Bowl champion and the best thing to do is just listen to them.
JIM HURLEY has sources on site to get a read on the mindset of both teams through the weekend. He's monitoring the weather very closely. He's been watching the game tapes from the regular season matchups between these two. You can anticipate that, but the time Sunday rolls around, NETWORK will have a very big play in this game!
Moving to the AFC nightcap...
NY Jets: 11.4 offense, 10.8 defense, +9 TO's, 8th schedule
Pittsburgh: 9.0 offense, 7.2 defense, +17 TO's, 10th schedule
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 3.5, total of 38.5
Notebook: These are very similar teams. Both have had offensive issues this year, but have risen to the occasion when needed. The Jets defense had taken a step backward during the regular season, but sure sparkled in shutting down Peyton Manning and Tom Brady the last two weeks (only 10 and 11 Drive Points allowed vs. very potent offenses). Pittsburgh has gotten the best of it in the turnover department, which could be a tie-breaker today. It all happened against similar schedules.
These two played not too long ago on this very same field. Pittsburgh won stats in that game, but never recovered from allowing the opening kickoff to be returned for a TD. When everything is so even, a special teams or defensive score is HUGE.
Let's run the same numbers for the prior AFC playoff games that we just ran for the NFC...
NY JETS 17, INDIANAPOLIS 16
Rushing Yardage: NY Jets 169, Indianapolis 93
Drive Points: NY Jets 14, Indianapolis 10
Third Downs: NY Jets 53%, Indianapolis 46%
Frankly, the Jets were MUCH more impressive in our key indicator stats than they were on the scoreboard. That helped foreshadow last week's upset of the Patriots.
NY JETS 28, NEW ENGLAND 21
Rushing Yardage: NY Jets 120, New England 113
Drive Points: NY Jets 7, New England 11
Third Downs: NY Jets 46%, New England 35%
The Jets win two of the three key categories, in a game they were supposed to lose by double digits according to the legal betting markets. Very solid. Remember, this New England team was getting compared to the history books. In that light, the Jets may have been just as impressive here as Green Bay was in Atlanta. You hold Tom Brady to 35% on Third Downs and 11 Drive Points, and you've accomplished something.
PITTSBURGH 31, BALTIMORE 24
Rushing Yardage: Baltimore 35, Pittsburgh 71
Drive Points: Baltimore 7, Pittsburgh 14
Third Downs: Baltimore 42%, Pittsburgh 50%
Solid game for the Steelers, in a way that was hidden from many because there were so many turnovers creating havoc on the field. Baltimore was gifted a big lead, then gifted a come-from-behind win right back to the other team. If you take out the Secret Santa stuff...you get the Steelers showing very clear, if not overwhelming edges across the board.
As we go to press, both of the favorites (Green Bay and Pittsburgh) are laying just over a field goal. Does that man the value is with both underdogs in games that could go right down to the wire? Or, have the favorites established such clear superiority that the "real" lines are more like 6-7...but Vegas is afraid to go there for one reason or another?
JIM HURLEY has been in close contact with his Wise Guy sources in Nevada and offshore. He's covered BOTH of Sunday's games from all angles. Sunday morning, he'll be releasing his annual CHAMPIONSHIP PARLAY OF THE YEAR right here at the website for a very affordable credit card purchase. Be sure you show up a few hours before kickoff to get both games plus some bonus basketball. We'll be building our bankrolls tonight in the NBA, and all day and night Saturday with a very busy basketball card.
To sign up for longer term packages that will include the CHAMPIONSHIP PARLAY, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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