The New England Patriots oNCe again find themselves in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday. This year, they’ll host Andrew LUck and the Indianapolis Colts, fresh of their road win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The Patriots are currently -6.5 point favorites at sportsbook.ag and 5 dimes sportsbook with a total of 53.5.
At this point it should be pretty clear that you need a big time QB to win in the NFL. Just look at this weeks participants. Brady, LUck, Rodgers and Wilson. But it should also be clear that the QB alone isn’t enough. You really can’t look at this Game and make a decision based on Brady vs. LUck. Rather, it’s the supporting cast that will decide this Game and the feeling here is that the Patriots own the superior supporting cast.
Looking at the yards per point numbers for these two, the Colts numbers are 14.5 on offense and 15.4 on defense for a +0.9 differential. Those are average numbers. The Patriots ypp numbers are the best of the remaining playoff teams with a 12.5 on offense and a 17.5 on defense for a +5 differential. Add in the home field edge for the Patriots and that puts the ypp line right at a TD. If we look at the Colts road numbers of 14 and 13.4 and the Patriots home numbers of 11.8 and 19.7 we’re looking at an edge of around 8.5 points in favor of the Pats.
The Colts are 6-3 on the road averaging 28.7 points per Game however they give up a troubling 26.7 points per Game on average. The Patriots are 8-1 at home winning by an average margin of 33.2 to 18.3. When you look at both of these teams yardage averages on both sides of the ball, they are very similar. Both teams are among the best in the NFL when it comes to moving the ball. Likewise, on the defensive end, no one is going to ACCuse either team of being the “Steel Curtain”. They both give up their fair share of real estate. In fact, the Colts edge out the Pats slightly in many yardage stats.
But yet those yards per point numbers favor the Pats considerably and the reason for that can be attributed to special teams, field position and red zone performance. Consider red zone performance. Now, we brought this up last week for the Broncos Game. Unfortunately for the Broncos and Manning, they only made one red zone appearaNCe all Game. It resulted in a TD as it should have as the Colts are LAST in the NFL when it comes to opponents scoring percentage in the red zone.
Patriots opponents have had a about a 51% success rate scoring TD’s in the red zone this year. Not bad. Good for 11th overall. The Colts opponents have had a 67% success rate and when they hit the road that percentage climbs to 80%. That’s troubling.
Adding to red zone trouble and the ypp numbers would be turnovers. The Patriots are #1 in the NFL with the fewest giveaways. The Colts are 31st. As mentioned last week, the Colts are the only remaining playoff team with a neGAtive turnover differential. at -6. The rest of the teams numbers are Packers +14, Patriots +12 and Seahawks +10.
Remember that song from Sesame Street when you were a kid. “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t in the same, can you guess which thing is not like the others by the time I finish this song?” Memba that?
It’s the little edges that are ultimately going to decide this Game. If these two teams were to both play perfect Games, I’d like my chances with the Colts. Heck, the way the Ravens were able to move the ball with ease last week quite frankly has me coNCerned as a Patriot backer this week. There’s absolutely no question that the Colts are as good or better than the Pats in many categories and that Andrew LUck is one heck of a QB. There’s no question the Colts have the ability to win this Game this week and for Andrew LUck, what a great stepping stone it would be for his future greatness. What a story. The changing of the guard as LUck beats Manning AND Brady en route to the Super Bowl. Could very well happen.
But the above scenario would take a perfect Game. A mistake free Game. There’s no sure fire way to predict which team will make mistakes Sunday. The past is the best predictive tool we have for that and in this case, the past suggests that the Colts will be the more likely of the two to make mistakes. The More likely of the two to give the ball away. The more likely of the two to struggle in the red zone. The past suggests that and the location of the Game also suggests that. Little edges. Roll them all up in a ball and the little edges add up in favor of New England.
This will be Brady and Belichick’s 9th appearaNCe in this Game. Talk about big Game experieNCe. They lost the previous two. Can this combination possibly lose 3 AFC Title Games in a row? Would you bet on that?
The Patriots have had the Colts number the last few times they have played, specifically, last years playoff Game and this years regular season Game. They were both lopsided scores on the scoreboard as well as the stat column in favor of the Patriots. When you combine that with the fact that of the 45 AFC Championship Games since the 1970-71 season, only 11 of those Games were decided by less than a TD. That’s 34 Games decided by a TD+. The cream often rises to the top in Conference Championship Games and margins often get extended.
Our model predicts the following outcomes:
Using full season data – Patriots 33 Colts 23
Using last 7 Games only – Patriots 28 Colts 16
Using last 4 Games only – Patriots 23 Colts 17 – Note that the Pats meaningless Game against the Bills becomes more magnified when using only the last 4 Games, yet it’s still a predicted 6 point win. The more meaningful model runs here would be full season and last 7 Games.
Bottom line – When you roll everything mentioned above into a ball, and consider what each team has done this year, the Patriots have been the better team and are more deserving of a trip to the Super Bowl. They’ve had the better quality wins against quality opponents this year, not to mention the head to head win. Add in the little edges in key categories mentioned above along with the coach and QB playoff experieNCe and I’ll take my chances with the Pats.
It’s no slam dunk to be sure. In fact the biggest differeNCe between the lopsided decisions of years past and this particular AFC Title Game is that in many of those past Games, there was a clear cut statistically dominant team coming in. That doesn’t exist here. So the door is open for the Colts. But also remember, as good as LUck is, there have been some pretty good QB’s in NFL history that didn’t quite have the supporting cast to get the job done, despite putting teams on their backs. Dan Marino comes to mind. Patriots -6.5