NFL Championship Games

By: Marc Lawrence | Friday, January 20, 2017

Pats' Path To The Super Bowl Brightens

History demands that Super Bowl winning teams ascribe to a major element that most others in the league do not  - namely a Top 10-ranked defense.  Given the fact that 41 of the 50 Super Bowl winners owned Top 10 overall ranked defenses, it appears this year's race to the Super Bowl is a one horse race considering three of the four of the teams appearing in Sunday's NFL Championship currently rank outside the Top 10 in overall total team defense. 

Only the New England Patriots, who finished the regular season with the league's 8th best defensive unit, make this year's list.

Let's see how all four teams stack up heading into this week's Championship playoff round, and take a look at what's worked and what hasn't in conference Championship Games in the past.


Don't be alarmed should a surprise or two happen not only in this year's Championship Round but also in the Super Bowl 51 matchup as well.

According to our database, underdogs have managed to pull off upsets 16 times in 52 title games since the 1990 season, including the Denver Broncos over the New England Patriots last year.

In fact, the last three times a team has pulled a surprise in the Championship game they have gone on to capture the Super Bowl as well.  The most recent being the aforementioned Broncos along with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, and the New York Giants in 2012. FYI: a total of 10 of the 16 Championship Game upset winners went on to capture the Super Bowl crown.


The age-old adage "practice makes perfect" rings especially true for home teams in playoffs that were defeated in the Championship round the previous year.

That's confirmed by the fact that these close-but-no-cigar squads are a jaw dropping 38-4 SU and 30-11-1 ATS as playoff hosts the following season since the 1981 season.  And when these same teams find themselves favored by more than 4 points in title games they zoom to 34-1 SU and 26-8 ATS.

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be itching for a payback from the 27-16 loss they suffered at home - sans QB Ben Roethlisberger - against the Patriots on October 23 earlier this season.  But that itching may be a bad case of poison ivy for Big Ben's bunch this Sunday as the saying 'be careful what you wish for' may come back to haunt them. 


Three of the four head coaches playing this weekend own the luxury of having previously mentored teams in NFL Championship games - namely Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, New England's Bill Belichick, and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.

McCarthy stands 1-2 SU and 2-1 ATS in title games, while Belichick brings a 6-4 SU and 4-6 ATS slate in championship affairs into this week's clash against the Steelers, including a paltry 1-6 ATS mark in the last seven games.  Pittsburgh's Tomlin sports a perfect 2-0 SU/ATS mark in AFC championship tilts, while Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn leads his troops to his first appearance in a title game.   


While high-scoring games are the norm in the NFL these days, teams arriving to the championship round off a high-scoring effort in their last game tend to crash back to earth in a hurry.

Consider: only 18 teams of the 34 teams who scored 36 or more points in a divisional round victory have gone on to advance to the Super Bowl since 1981.  Those same teams are just 10-23-1 ATS in Championship games, including 5-17-1 ATS since 1992.  And only four of those teams managed to top 30 points in these games.

That would look to put the Falcons on hard ground this Sunday.


Sunday will mark the ninth time in which New England QB Tom Brady will oppose Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in their NFL careers.  The Pats have bested the Steelers six times in those games, while going 5-2-1 ATS, including 3-0 SU and 2-0-1 ATS in Foxborough.

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has squared off six times against Atlanta's Matt Ryan, going 3-3 SU/ATS.  The visiting is 3-3 SU and 5-1 ATS those games


All playoff trends date to 1980, unless otherwise noted:

Green Bay at Atlanta:
Packers - 5-3 SU and 7-1 ATS as visitors in the playoffs since 2011; 7-14 ATS versus NFC South opponents under McCarthy. 

Falcons - 2-4 SU and 0-5-1 ATS at home against NFC North foes since 2011; favorites are 10-23 in Atlanta's games behind Dan Quinn.

Pittsburgh at New England:

Steelers - 7-1-1 ATS last nine games as away underdog in the playoffs; 2-5 SU and 2-4-1 ATS last seven visits to New England including 0-3 SU/ATS when Pats own .666 or greater record.  

Patriots - 13th AFC title game since 1970 (16th for Pittsburgh in the same span); QB Brady is 15-3 SU at home in the playoffs, including 8-0 SU against .722 or better opponents.


NFL home favorites are 20-36-6 ATS after facing Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks, including 1-7 ATS from Game 14 out.


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