2017 NFL Power Rankings: Conference Championship Edition
And then there were four.
The participants of championship weekend include the top three teams in our nERD-based power rankings as well as New England. The Patriots rank eighth (the season-long performance of their defense is still weighing them down despite the unit's better play of late), but they are actually the team with the highest Super Bowl odds (42.0%).
While the other three teams may have been more dominant this season, the Patriots (thanks in part to home field advantage) are 9.5-point favorites over Jacksonville, while the NFC Championship looks to be more evenly matched.
The Eagles, who justified their spot atop our rankings with a win over Atlanta, have actually jumped the Vikings for the second-best Super Bowl odds (27.2%), and their matchup on Sunday will feature the top two teams in our ratings. The absence of Carson Wentz obviously hurts the Eagles, but their home-field advantage should keep things interesting.
Here is how the playoff field breaks down, followed by a few more notes about the final four teams.
|Rank||Team||nERD||Rec.||Title Odds||Off. NEP Rank||Def. NEP Rank|
|8th||New England Patriots||6.17||14-3||42.0%||1st||28th|
While it was generally assumed that the Eagles would need to win in spite of Nick Foles, the Philadelphia passing game actually played a very big role in the victory Saturday. Foles threw for 246 yards on 30 passes without an interception or touchdown and was sacked once for a loss of eight yards, which translates to a very solid 7.7 net yards per drop back average. He also posted a strong 64.5% Passing Success Rate, meaning 64.5% of his drop backs resulted in positive Net Expected Points (NEP), our in-house metric; for context, Jimmy Garoppolo led all quarterbacks with a 56.5% Success Rate during the regular season.
Foles got little help from a running game that averaged just 3.0 yards per run and -0.17 Rushing NEP per carry, though the Eagles' defense did rise to the occasion. Over its first 17 games, Atlanta's offense averaged 0.09 NEP per play, but on Saturday, it was held to just 0.02.
The Vikingsâ€™ win probability on Sunday was as high as 95.65% in the third quarter before plummeting to 13.12% with 29 seconds left. We know what happened next, but the wild swings in win probability are also indicative of how well Minnesota played in the first three quarters and how poorly the fourth quarter went. On offense, the Vikings had a 50.0% Success Rate through the first three quarters before posting a 42.9% Success Rate in the fourth. New Orleans was successful on a blistering 57.1% of its plays in the final period, after being held around 45% through three stanzas.
This actually continues a trend that was apparent during the regular season. Over the first three quarters, the Vikings netted positive NEP on 47.3% of their plays, while opponents did so 38.3% of the time. In the fourth, their offensive Success Rate fell to just 36.01%, while they allowed a rate of 41.8%.
The Jaguars could not have picked a better week to explode on offense, as they were just 3-6 in the regular season when allowing more than 10 points. Their 45 points and 0.34 NEP per play against Pittsburgh on Sunday tied season-high marks, while they had allowed more points and NEP per play only once (against Garoppolo and the 49ers, who scored 44 on Christmas Eve).
New England Patriots
The Patriots are essentially the inverse of their AFC Championship opponents. Whereas Jacksonville has an elite defense and an offense that is held back by a suspect quarterback, the Patriots have an elite quarterback and a shaky defense. Tom Brady made a strong case to be the league MVP, but his defense is just 28th in schedule-adjusted NEP per play.
New England's defense has made some strides in the second half of the season though, and this continued into Saturday in Foxboro as the Pats pummeled the Titans.
|Patriots||Pass NEP/Play||Rush NEP/Play||Off NEP/Play||Pass Success Rate||Rush Success Rate||Off Success Rate|
|Weeks 1 to 8||0.26||0.07||0.18||53.5%||45.6%||50.4%|
|Weeks 9 to 17||-0.04||0.00||-0.02||40.9%||40.1%||40.9%|
If the Pats' defense can keep playing the way they have over the second half of the campaign, they'll make life very tough on Blake Bortles and company.