10 Things to Know About Each Conference Championship Matchup
I have no idea how you're handling the NFL playoffs. During the regular season, I know the majority of you reading content on this site are doing so because you're a fantasy football addict and you need season-long and daily fantasy information. Now? Now, I don't really know.
Whatever the case may be -- maybe you've got a fantasy football playoff competition, or perhaps you're trying to get some action over on FanDuel -- here are 10 things you should know about both matchups this weekend.
Jaguars at Patriots
1. The Patriots ranked 20th in schedule-adjusted rushing efficiency (per our Net Expected Points metric) after Week 8. That was right before their bye, and right before they decided to move on from Mike Gillislee's role in the offense. Since then, they've ranked third in rushing effectiveness.
2. During those first eight games, New England ran 342 passing plays versus 182 running plays, good for a 1.88 pass-to-run ratio. Since their bye, that ratio's dropped to 1.35, and Tom Brady's gone from averaging nearly 39 attempts per contest to exactly 34.
3. Jacksonville's top-ranked pass defense allowed 17 passing touchdowns during the regular season, which tied them for third-fewest in the league. Of those 17 touchdowns, 6 occurred on passes to the middle of the field. That's a 35.29% rate, fifth-highest in the league. New England, meanwhile, threw to the middle of the field on 27.74% of their passes this season. Only four teams did it more frequently.
4. No team ran the ball more frequently this year than the Jaguars, and the team's running backs ran for the second-highest yardage total in football (the Saints were first). The Patriots allowed a 41.3% Success Rate -- or the percentage of positive expected point runs gained -- to running backs this season (hat tip to our own Brandon Gdula for that one), which was sixth-worst in the league. They also surrendered the second-highest yards per carry average. With that being said, before their Week 9 bye, New England was allowing 5.11 yards per carry to running backs and a 44.7% Success Rate (30th). After, those numbers fell to 4.38 and 38.5% (16th). In other words, they've been pretty average at stopping the run during the second half of the year despite their overall rank.
5. New England ran at the fifth-fastest pace this season, while Jacksonville finished 18th. This game has a spread of nine points, favoring New England. When teams have had a seven-plus point lead on their opponents this year, the Patriots' rate of running plays was second-fastest. When teams trailed by seven or more points, the Jags' pace was sixth-fastest. If things go as planned, we could see a lot of plays in this contest.
6. In the wild card round, Jacksonville's four wideouts each played between 31 to 36 snaps. This past week, Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook led the group with 64% and 69% (nice) of team snaps played, respectively, while Keelan Cole and Allen Hurns played 38% and 28% of them. Only four teams allowed more receptions to wide receivers during the regular season than New England.
7. In wins, Leonard Fournette averaged 3.57 targets per game during the regular season. That's jumped to 4.50 in the playoffs. In losses, that number is 3.83, despite the team being in negative game script situations. T.J. Yeldon averaged 3.29 targets per game in wins during the regular season, and that rose to 6.00 in losses. Again, the Jaguars are big underdogs in this week's conference championship.
8. Jacksonville finished second in the NFL in defensive interceptions during the regular season. Tom Brady threw eight picks this year, but only two of them came at home. In New England this season -- including last week's game -- Brady's averaging 2.33 touchdowns and 0.22 interceptions per game.
9. Jacksonville allowed 2,718 passing yards during the regular season, the fewest in the NFL. However, 24.25% of those yards came via a running back reception, which marked the third-highest rate in the league. New England running backs finished second in receptions and receiving yards this season.
10. Dion Lewis is averaging 21.67 carries and 7.33 targets per game over his last three contests. Those three games were played without Rex Burkhead, who's expected to play this weekend. With Burkhead active this year, Lewis never saw more than 15 carries or 5 targets in a game.
Vikings at Eagles
1. Nick Foles has now started four games for the Eagles, playing the majority of the team's snaps in three of them. Those three games were against the Giants, Raiders, and Falcons, teams that ranked 22nd, 31st, and 18th against the pass according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics this year. Foles has a 6.09 yards per attempt average in those contests, which would rank fifth-worst in the NFL this year among the 35 quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts. The Vikings' pass defense was second-best in the NFL this year according to our numbers, and they allowed the second-lowest yards per attempt rate.
2. Through Week 14 -- the week Carson Wentz suffered an ACL tear, sidelining him for the season -- the Eagles were scoring a touchdown on 28.3% of their drives, the highest rate in the league. Since, the Eagles have scored a touchdown on roughly 12% of their drives. And over their last three games, that rate is just 7.1%. During the regular season, no team was better at preventing touchdowns on a drive-by-drive basis than the Vikings.
3. Jerick McKinnon hasn't scored a rushing touchdown since Week 8. From Weeks 9 through last week's contest against the Saints, Latavius Murray has 11 goal-line carries versus McKinnon's 4. None of that may matter, though, because the Eagles still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown at home this year.
4. According to Pro Football Focus, Adam Thielen ran over 51% of his routes from the slot this year. During the divisional round, that number dropped 27.9%. This season, Eagles slot cornerback Patrick Robinson allowed the third-lowest passer rating from the slot.
6. The Eagles surrendered the seventh-highest yards after the catch per reception rate, per AirYards.com. Among the 44 quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts this season, Case Keenum was seventh in percentage of yards coming after the catch.
7. Minnesota allowed the third-fewest yards to tight ends during the regular season, surrendering three touchdowns to the position, tied for the second-fewest in football. Over 32% of Philadelphia's passing yards went to tight ends, the third-highest mark in the league. And nearly 37% of the team's passing touchdowns went to tight ends, good for the seventh-highest rate in the NFL.
8. Kyle Rudolph has a combined 54 receiving yards over his last four games. (Albeit, he's been a bit banged up.)
9. Since Jay Ajayi became an Eagle in Week 9, among backs with 50 or more carries during this span (includes playoffs), only Alvin Kamara has a higher yards per attempt average. Despite this efficiency, Ajayi has hit the 50% snap rate mark in just one contest as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
10. The Eagles allowed 10.13 fewer points per game at home versus on the road (second-largest gap in football). The Vikings allowed 6.50 more points per game on the road versus at home (ninth-largest).