It’s Conference Championship day in the NFL. That’s generally what we’d call the semi-finals over on the less enamored with country and western music side of the pond, but whatever you call it, the prize at stake is huge – a place at Super Bowl whatever those roman numerals mean.
Both games give us a hot home favourite, but two visitors that are more dangerous than introducing Harry Styles to your mum. Seattle’s defence is expected to limit Aaron Rodger’s skills for the Packers while the brilliant Andrew Luck might just have some luck against a less than convincing Patriots defence. Here’s where the money has been going in the build-up to the big games.
Rather surprisingly, it’s the visitors who are the subject of most support. 52% of all the money in the Seahawks and Packers game has been for the hosts, but thanks to juicier odds, it’s Green Bay who are the more popular options in terms of number of bets. Over on the East coast, it’s much more simples – it’s all about the Colts after the Patriots narrow escape over the Ravens and Andrew Luck’s mastery over Peyton Manning last week. In total, that adds up to a tasty 12/1 double on tonight’s outsiders.
But are there any pointers that we can garner from looking back through the record books? Well yes is the answers, but whether or not they’ll deliver the expected results is another matter entirely. The Paddy Power Blog has looked back over the last 10 years of Conference Championship games and found three solid if not absolutely nailed on trends.
Home advantage isn’t a huge advantage
For the teams who weren’t already guaranteed that their season would end before they needed to switch to a 2015 calendar, the last few weeks of the regular season were a scramble for a playoff place or a higher seeding in the playoff places. The higher the seeding, the more likely you are to get at least one home playoff game and that sounds just dandy, doesn’t it?
Well, in theory it’s nice but in practice it’s only just marginally the right side of nice. In the last 10 years of Championship games:
- the home team (higher seeded) team have won 13 of the 20 games
Even Jimmy Carr’s accountant could figure out that means home teams prevail the majority of the time at 65%, but that still leaves a fairly sizeable 35% of visitors who book their place amid the hype and ‘oh my God – I think I just caught I glimpse of Katy Perry’s bra-strap! Tee hee!’ of the Super Bowl.
Those numbers will add to the confidence of the Packers and Colts who find themselves playing the role of ‘not entirely hopeless outsiders’ at odds of 3/1 and 47/20 respectively. In particular, the Colts victory in Denver where the Broncos had gone 8-0 during the regular season shows they’ll have little fear of New England. On the west coast, Aaron Rodgers will need to work his magic if he’s to unlock the tightest and possibly mouthiest defence in the league.
It should go down to the wire
Well, if not quite the wire, then almost certainly the final quarter and the vain hope of a late touchdown followed by a recovered onside kick. The last few years of Conference Championship games have been especially tight. Since 2004:
- Seven of the last eight Championship games have been decided by 10 points or fewer
- Six of the eight have been won by seven points or less
- on average there’s 9.7 points between the two teams at the end over that period
That last figure is somewhat inflated by five Conference deciders from 2005 to 2007 when a 14 point margin was the closest of them all. Seven of the Packers 13 wins this season (incl. Playoff game) were by 10 points or less so if you fancy them to make it 14 wins, you could do worse than take them to win by 1-10 points at 4/1.
The basic number-crunching tells us that Conference Championship games over the last 10 years:
- cough up an average of 46.9 points per game
- have only had more than 53 total points in four of those 20 games
- 50% of all the games fall between the 35 – 43 points range
Looking at Sunday’s games, the line is set where you expect for the respective snapshot narratives. With the Seahawks expected to make life difficult for Rodgers, the line is 46.5 Total Points. That’s a coin toss and you can make an argument for going either side of the line.
The snapshot narrative for the Colts v Pats game is that we’ve got two quarterbacks who are capable of piling up the points and accordingly, the line is 53.5 Total Points. While that’s not a huge distance away from the average of 46.9 points, in reality, 16 of the last 20 Conference Championship matches have failed to reach that mark,
One bet that stands out is the Colts to score over 23 points at 5/6. Only once have the Colts failed to score less than 24 points on the road and the Ravens proved last week that the Pats have a soft centre on the defensive side of the ball. Ironically, the Colts only managed 20 points at home to the Pats in the regular season, but they arrive in Massachusetts a more complete team than the one we saw back in November.