After the highly contested divisional round, the two best teams from the AFC meet in the Championship game at Arrowhead stadium to determine who will be AFC champions and make it to the Superbowl on Sunday February 3. Who will come out victorious? Read on to inform your bet.
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Divisional round re-cap
Seeding order was restored in the divisional round of the playoffs, leaving the top seed in each conference to host the second seed in upcoming championship round of matches. The respective NFC and AFC champions then meet in the Super Bowl to determine the world champions.
Only the final divisional game was truly in the balance, as New Orleans needed to overcome an early 14 point deficit and a late Philadelphia drive to complete the set of top seeded weekend winners.
However, there was still much to take away from the four games for future analysis. We speculated last week that an impressive performance, particularly as an underdog may be difficult to discount when weighing the subsequent chances of the unexpected winners.
And cognitive bias may cloud our judgement.
But the very real hardship of travel, a grueling previous match and rested, hosting opposition, proved too much for the unexpected stars of the wildcard round.
Only Philadelphia “won” against the spread and all lost straight up.
The influence of analytics was also apparent, as teams used knowledge of the risk/reward of “going for it” on 4th down to maximize their chances of winning.
We were also treated to a probabilistic view through the quarterback’s eyes, as post play graphics highlighted the likelihood of each potential pass being completed as the passer moved through his progression of targets.
There’s also the dwindling influence of recovering onside kicks, due to the rule changes, that previously allowed a side that trailed on the scoreboard to improve their chances by potentially regaining possession of the ball near midfield.
Number crunching is very much part of the modern NFL.
There was also evidence of vociferous home field support in the post season and the much greater physical and mental demands once football reaches the knockout stage, compared to the regular season.
New England Patriots (Seeded 2) at Kansas City Chiefs (Seeded 1)
The cream of this year’s NFL offensive talent has risen to the top in both championship games.
The LA Rams and the New Orleans Saints, respectively score nine and seven more points per game than their opponents usually concede, but the biggest apparent mismatch occurs in the AFC title game.
It is unusual to find New England outgunned, offensively, but their four points per game positive scoring differential is eclipsed by Kansas City’s passing juggernaut that outscores opponents by nearly twelve points per game compared to par.
The Patriots are also used to their home comforts in the post season.
The cream of this year’s NFL offensive talent has risen to the top in both championship games
Since they last missed out on the post season in 2008, their games have been predominately in New England and the twice they’ve had to travel within their conference they’ve been found wanting against Kansas’ fellow AFC West rivals, Denver.
Overall Brady and Belichick are a losing post season combination on the road.
Tom Brady has largely replicated his regular season form in the post season. He’s rarely strayed too far from his regular season performance in terms completion rates and yards per attempt, even in the much more competitive January environment.
The defensive side of the ball has been slightly more hit and miss. They’ve contributed atypically great cameos, when reducing regular post season rivals, such as Indianapolis, Denver, Baltimore and San Diego at the weekend to pale imitations of themselves. But as a unit they’ve also struggled, particularly away from their home stadium.
Will Mahomes deliver again for the Kansas City Chiefs?
Kansas City’s decision to hand the offence to Patrick Mahomes has been fully justified. He’s passed for a yard and a half per attempt further than par for the defences he’s faced, which places him firmly at the top of all quarterbacks from 2018.
That, along with an almost as impressive, top five ranked running game, has driven the Chiefs’ high scoring offence. They’ve scored 30 or more points in 12 of 16 regular season matches and added to that tally against the Colts in the divisional round.
Even in the four defeats, each at the hands of fellow playoff teams, including the Patriots in New England, Mahomes has delivered more than defendable points totals.
He’s averaged 38 points per game in defeat and although his efficiency figures are also slightly down in these games compared to his seasonal average, the drop off is only slight. New England’s coach Belichick has a reputation for confounded young and often talented passers, but even he may struggle to contain Mahomes when they meet for a second time this season.
Especially with his mobility that has added 4.5 per carry through 60 regular season runs. If New England is to profit from a Kansas City weakness it will surely be against the host’s lowly ranked defence.
The Chiefs are well below average against the run, only par against the pass and concede over three more points per game than par for the offences they’ve faced.
This is in stark contrast to New England’s defensive performance which has performed two points better than par, with broadly similar efficiency ratings.
A point based appraisal of the matchups fails to split the teams.
Scoring rates predict a 30-30 tie at a neutral venue, whilst Pythagorean wins make it a contest between two 10.5 winning teams that also requires home field advantage to find a winner.
If we disregard the considerable intangibles of the Brady/Belichick, we have the season’s top-rated quarterback in Mahomes, hosting a veteran, top ten passer, with two statistically similar, below average defences and these matchups greatly favour Kansas City.
Therefore, we’ll side with the Chiefs, their raucous crowd and a fearless young exciting passer to overcome the likely field goal handicap.
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