2020-2021 NFL Conference Championship Game-By-Game Model Projections

The divisional round was one of the most hyped-up weekends of football in recent memory, and we were treated to some interesting games!

The league’s best offense (Packers), as expected, was able to take down the league’s best defense (Rams). Then, in a matchup between two progressive organizations with young quarterbacks, the Bills flexed their roster depth with a primetime win over the Ravens at home. On Sunday, the Chiefs were able to prevail against the Browns despite Patrick Mahomes leaving the game with an injury, while Drew Brees’ career came to an end with a loss to Tom Brady and the Bucs.

With that, let us examine my model’s projections for every game in the wildcard round slate. My model is able to calculate a team’s chances of winning by using Pro Football Focus grades and coaching adjustments, and from there, calculating the gap between the two teams before covering it into a win probability. In the past, that win probability was used to project a spread, and from there, it served as more a model to pick against the spread.

However, this was never my goal with the model. Rather, I want it to be able to project the estimated margin of victory by each team. Luckily, I have now transformed my model to calculate how much better a team is than average on a neutral field, and from there, those totals can be used to project how much one team will beat another by. Now, I can provide reasonable expectations for you all on how a game should turn out.

If you had been interested in the betting aspect of this model, however, fret not! You can still utilize the difference in margin of victory and spread to find the best values from a spread perspective, while my model now projects recommended money lines and over/under totals. After we go through all the games, I will go over the model’s top bets of the week, so you will want to stick around until the end!

Also, home-field advantage has been non-existent this season in terms of point differential, so for more accurate projections to made, there won’t be any points added to help home teams.

With that addressed, let us get to the conference championship games! Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes versus Josh Allen; does it get better than this? These are my model’s four highest ranked teams, and, as a result, these two games should be absolutely incredible!

NOTE: Model will be updated with injury updates, power ratings calculated with injuries in mind

*Odds via Vegas Insider

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Tampa Bay Bucs (13-5, 4th) at Green Bay Packers (14-3, 1st)

Photo Cred: Bucs Nation

Bucs Offense (6th) vs Packers Defense (7th)

For the season, the Bucs rank 5th in expected points added/play (EPA/play), and had been a roll since Week 15. Unfortunately, they took a step back last week.

It wasn’t the fact that Tampa Bay averaged just 4.6 against the Saints that concerns me. It’s that Bruce Arians was incredibly conservative and favored running the ball on early downs, which led to the offensive inefficiency. Considering that they won, and that he now faces a weak Green Bay run defense (20th) in the cold.

With an elite receiving corps and Tom Brady, who has a 93.3 PFF grade this season, Tampa Bay should be able to pass the ball at a high level. The Packers do rank as my model’s third-best coverage unit, but they lack depth in the secondary, which is where the Bucs’ depth in weapons could play a major role. Ultimately, it comes down to Arians not getting in Brady’s way.

Packers Offense (3rd) vs Bucs Defense (2nd)

The Packers are the consensus-best offense based on practically every metric. After shredding the Rams to pieces, there isn’t any reason to expect anything less against the Bucs.

Tampa Bay has a very strong defense, yet they are extremely aggressive. They play a lot of press coverage and blitz often, which leaves them vulnerable to explosive plays. That works against Drew Brees at the end of his career, but will the same be true regarding soon-to-be MVP Aaron Rodgers? I don’t think so.

With the Packers being so strong in pass protection, a lot of pressure will be placed on the Bucs’ young corners. Unfortunately for them, no one has been able to stop receiver Davante Adams, nor do I trust their middle-of-the-field coverage against an offense that uses a lot of pre-snap motion and play-actions passes.

Bucs Win Probability: 47.51393264%

Packers Win Probability: 52.48606736%

Projected Margin of Victory: GB by 2.42

Spread: GB (-3.5)

The two-best performing quarterbacks this season and PFF’s top-two offenses facing each other means that this should be an incredibly close matchup.

A lot will be made about when these two teams matched up in Week 6- the Bucs blew out Green Bay 38-10. However, as we saw this past weekend, previous matchups aren’t exactly predictive of future results.

The Packers have such a severe coaching advantage:

  • They have the better offensive play-caller by a mile
  • They are aggressive on fourth downs
  • They incentive opposing offenses to run the ball
  • They are one of the best teams in scripted situations in football

Tampa Bay probably has more roster talent, so taking them as a 3.5-point underdog makes sense. However, given the coaching mismatch here, I still believe the Packers win this game.

Projected Over/Under Total: 57.15295466

Real Over/Under Total: 51

My favorite pick of the entire weekend is the over in this game. As mentioned, these are arguably the best two offenses right now with the best-performing quarterbacks, so why is the total so low? Yes, weather will be a factor, but that hasn’t stopped the Packers in the past, and if they get out to a lead, then Tampa Bay will be forced to pass. Last week, I loved the over in Packers/Rams because Rodgers was likely to lead Green Bay to 30+ points. I feel the same way this week, but instead of Jared Goff, the opposing quarterback is Tom Brady. More than 51 points should be scored.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Buffalo Bills (15-3, 2nd) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2, 3rd)

Photo Cred: Chiefs Wire- USAToday.com

Bills Offense (2nd) vs Chiefs Defense (11th)

In Week 6, the Chiefs held the Bills to 17 points, 4.1 yards/play, and 4.5 yards/pass attempt. That won’t likely be the case again.

Since Week 9, Buffalo ranks 3rd in EPA/play, as well as 2nd in drop back EPA/play. They pass the ball more on early downs than any team in football, utilize play-action passes, and are consistently aggressive, which is why offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is one of the premier play-callers in the NFL.

The Chiefs are no slouch defensively. They rank 14th in EPA/dropback, 13th in coverage grade, and have allowed the second-fewest explosive passes. That last part is critical here. Josh Allen loves to push the ball down the field, but this is a game where he may need to work the intermediate passing game.

With that in mind, Buffalo doesn’t have the middle-of-the-field passing game to exploit Kansas City’s issues defending that area. At the same time, Stefon Diggs has been one of, if not the most un-guardable receiver this season, and I have no doubts that this offense can continue to role. They’re too smart to be incentivized to run the ball against the Chiefs’ weak run defense, and with Kansas City performing quite poorly in pass defense against Baker Mayfield and the Browns last week, why would they suddenly be able to slow down the Bills?

Chiefs Offense (1st) vs Bills Defense (8th)

For the season, the Bills rank in the middle of the pack in terms of EPA/play allowed, but since Week 12, they rank 6th, which aligns better with their projections heading into the season.

In all honesty though, Buffalo’s defense could not matter less in this game. The Chiefs continue to have the league’s most unstoppable offense, which means that scoring is the only way to defend them.

The Bills are likely to run a lot of defensive formations with two deep safeties and light boxes. Hopefully for them, Kansas City will opt to run the ball, like they did in Week 6. Yes, the Chiefs ran for 245 points, but they also only scored 26 points and struggled to pull away from Buffalo, which is precisely why you let them run the ball. This time around, however, I expect Andy Reid to be much more aggressive.

Bills Win Probability: 50.005467686%

Chiefs Win Probability: 49.94532314%

Projected Margin of Victory: BUF by 0.05

Spread: KC (-3)

As you can see, this is the closest thing to a pick-em my model has had this season. After all, these two teams are essentially the same. They are the two-most pass-heaviest teams on early downs, have the two most explosive offenses, and have elite young playmakers at the quarterback position. Heck, they even go for every reasonable fourth down and incentivize teams to run the ball on them!

Right now, my model feels as though Buffalo is equal to Kansas City, if not slightly better. Thus, them being a three-point underdog would lead one to believe they are being undervalued by the market, particularly with some uncertainty regarding Mahomes’ health. With this likely to come down to the wire, the only reasonable pick here is siding with the underdog.

Projected Over/Under Total: 59.63973908

Real Over/Under Total: 54

I’m sorry, what? Why is this total only at 54?

Did I mention that these are the two most explosive offenses in the NFL? Are we really taking away that much from these teams’ first matchup? I don’t there will be many rushing attempts in this game, which means more opportunities for efficient plays. Efficient offenses= a lot of points.

These two teams are built to win track meets, which is what this game will be. Neither team will be able to settle, and with both likely to be aggressive on fourth downs, the chances of touchdowns being scored often only increases.

Plus, is there any more FUN pick than rooting for a lot of points between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes? I don’t think so!

Best Model Picks

Although my model is more of a projection model than a betting model, we can still use it to identify the best value picks. To do so, I calculated the average difference from Vegas’ lines and the model’s projections, as well as the standard deviation. Thus, all of these picks are listed because they are one deviation over from the average difference.

  1. TB at GB (Over 51)
  2. BUF at KC (Over 54)

Other(s) to consider: BUF (+3)

All odds are updated from Vegas Insider as of Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Additionally, all advanced metrics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Remember, these are based on blind projections, so when it comes to betting on games, please bet responsibily and realize that as a small-sample size sport, anything can happen within one game of football! Hey, that’s the fun of it all; enjoy a great weekend of playoff football!

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