2012 NFC Conference Championship Betting Preview: Falcons/49ers by the Stats

The Packers D didn't see Colin Kaepernick coming. But we think the Falcons won't have to worry about that running attack as much.

Is it possible to have a game between the top two seeds in a conference that absolutely nobody saw coming?

Russell Wilson's Seahawks were so hyped up that Tim Tebow should have told everyone to calm down, and the masses (myself admittedly included) gave Colin Kaepernick as much of a chance as they said his Nevada Wolfpack had against Boise State in 2010.

But just one week later, and the ten-foot tall David defeated the Goliath that just turned out to be a guy in platform shoes. And before these two teams face off in the Georgia Dome, we want to take one last look at the stats that we think are the most important in this game.

With an eye towards our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure, which measures a player's contributions to a team's expected points above or below the league-average play and is explained fully in a past MVP Watch article, we look at the major numbers behind the first game on Sunday. With the help of numberFire's premium product, here's what we're expecting on the field. Read on, my friend.

Tale of the Tape

Overall Ranking73
Offensive Ranking86
Defensive Ranking94
Total Offensive NEP Gained108.01133.32
Passing Offensive NEP Gained150.29107.29
Rushing Offensive NEP Gained-57.6730.21
Total Defensive NEP Allowed3.9327.24
Passing Defensive NEP Allowed24.6234.05
Rushing Defensive NEP Allowed-7.54-25.55

Just a quick note about the Net Expected Point figures: since the passing and rushing totals are adjusted for each opponent, and there aren't an equal number of passing and rushing plays in each game, the figures won't add up exactly. And since passing is much more efficient than rushing in today's NFL, you'll often see teams both gaining more NEP on the offensive end and allowing more NEP on the defensive end through passing than rushing.

The Colin Kaepernick Caper

At this point, I feel like it's pretty safe to say that the Packers defense didn't see Colin Kaepernick coming. Neither did we, really. In pretty much every metric, Kaepernick outperformed our projections.

Passing YardsPass TDsINTsRush YardsRush TDs

The Packers, though, had reason to believe that Kaepernick wouldn't be as deadly rushing the ball as he actually was. On the season, Kaepernick was only "successful" (meaning that his rush increased the Niners' chance of scoring more than the league-average play) on 49.2 percent of the times he took off. That's light years ahead of most running backs, who are usually successful on about 30 percent of their rushes on average. But it's still behind most other QBs with 50 rushes, including RGIII (58.6 percent), Michael Vick (54.1), Russell Wilson (53.2), Andrew Luck (51.1), and Cam Newton (49.2).

So what does that mean? Say it with me now, kids: regression to the mean! Sure, we've bumped up our projections of Kaepernick's running ability accordingly. In fact, we've more than doubled his projected rushing yards and TDs. And that now means that, well, he's still projected to have less than 40 yards rushing and less than one-fifth of a rushing TD.

Passing YardsPass TDsINTsRush YardsRush TDs

Atlanta has a slightly worse run defense than Green Bay (allowed 18 more total points against expectation) but also a better pass defense (allowed 10 fewer points against expectation). And they also have the benefit of being able to gameplan against what Kaepernick did last week against that Packers' D.

If you're looking for Kaepernick to set more rushing QB records, you should probably realize that there's a reason that there was a record to be broken in the first place. It simply doesn't happen too often. Expectations should be tempered for Kaepernick's running ability this weekend, even when facing a Falcons rush defense that ranked 25th in overall efficiency this season.

Always Be Covering

As of this writing, the 49ers are favored by four points over the Falcons. Come on now, Vegas, what do you take me for, a chump? This is a San Francisco team that just hung 45 on the Packers, has scored less than three touchdowns only twice since October, and is numberFire's No. 6 most efficient offense. The Falcons, meanwhile, just put up 30 points on numberFire's No. 7 defense, features the second-highest NEP earner on the year in Matt Ryan, and is our No. 8 most-efficient offense. No matter which way the game goes, it's not going to be close with all of those points scored, right?

I mean, for Pete's sake, the games that we consider our four strongest historical predictors of this matchup say...

DateMatchupScorePredicted WPredicted CoverSimilarity %

Oh. Well.

Of our four strongest predictors, only one predicts an Atlanta win, but three predict an Atlanta cover. And the one that doesn't predict a cover only misses the spread by a single point.

This isn't an isolated case. Our top strongest predictors are calculated in respect to the strength of the teams, the type of team play, and the distance between the two squads. And in our top 25 most similar contests to this NFC Championship, the Falcons-related team covered but didn't win in five of the contests. That's 20 percent of the strongest predictor games.

This might not tell you who to bet, but it tells you what to take into account. Don't bet this game as if it's a coin flip; these two teams have the historical capability of playing a close game. After last week, we as fans wouldn't expect any less.

Party Like It's 2001

Sometimes, the computers can't help you. But we're talking about the other 2001, the one that happened on the football field. And there, the computers can be your best friend.

At the very least, our computers can. And our computers have taken a look at these two teams and come up with an historical team that fits their style of play the closest. For the 49ers, that's the 2001 Steelers, who they fit with 96.2 percent accuracy. For the Falcons, that's the 2001 Packers, who they fit with 95.7 percent accuracy.

And what do you know, the Packers' division played the Steelers' division in cross-conference play that year! ... although, of course, the NFC Central at that time had five teams and the AFC Central had six teams, and the way the schedule broke down, the Steelers and Packers never actually played each other. But they did have a good number of common opponents.

TeamFinal RecordGB Record ATSPIT Record ATS
Tampa Bay9-72-01-0
Totals 6-36-3

Remember, 2012 Falcons are similar to 2001 Packers, and 2012 49ers are similar to 2001 Steelers.

Well what do you know, they're just about the same. Each had an embarrassingly close game against a poor divisional rival (Detroit for Green Bay, Jacksonville for Pittsburgh), both played poorly at least once against Minnesota, and both ended up 6-3 against the spread against similar competition.

Ultimately, their seasons ended similarly as well: the Packers lost to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in the Divisional Playoffs, while the Steelers lost to the eventual champion Patriots in the AFC Championship. Just like the Falcons and the 49ers this year, these were two close, similar teams.

The Final Predictions

I'm good for the reasoning behind the decision making. But if you want to know whether the Falcons are going to pull it off at home or whether Colin Kaepernick's going to keep rolling, you'll need to go to a different part of the site. For our official predictions about the totals line, pick against the spread, moneyline, and all sorts of other goodies, you'll need to become a premium numberFire member. Go ahead and check it out today!

As a treat, I can tell you that on this game alone, we have one four-star selection and one five-star, can't-miss pick. It's easy money, courtesy of your friends at numberFire.