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Conference Championships Rundown

Each week we rundown every game using our advanced play-by-play statistics to examine exactly how each game was won and what it means going forward. Our expected points added (EPA) analysis assigns a net point value gained or lost to every single play so we can see exactly on which types of plays teams excelled or failed, and ultimately where games were won. The EPA while each team was on offense gives a more representative measure of offensive efficiency than real life score by separating offensive success from advantages gained or lost by defensive stops, takeaways, and scores. View our complete stats for every play type each week on the Games page.

For the most part, the conference championship games picked up where the divisional round left off, with offenses generally having their way with defenses. The Patriots were the lone exception, producing a worse than league average offensive performance for only the 2nd time this year. As is often the case, the impact of turnovers was paramount to the outcomes of the games. Our data suggests that a turnover on average costs a team about a net 3 or 4 points, which is like a strong home field advantage, with each increase of 1 in turnover margin increasing the chance of winning a game by around 10-15%. Our ratings suggest the 49ers are slight favorites in the Super Bowl over the Ravens, with the 2 teams being very similar overall. Both have rather efficient offenses despite not having top caliber passing attacks, making up for it with good rushing and being solid in other areas. And both have good defenses. Apart from unexpected turnovers, the Super Bowl could very well come down to which hot but still mostly unproven quarterback has the better game.

(11-4-1) #2 49ers 28 - 24 Falcons #1 (13-3)
Offensive EPA: SF (13.4) - (9.4) ATL
The 49ers were above average on normal pass plays (15.4), and combined it with no interceptions and just 1 sack (-1.5). The result was a net mark (13.9) on called pass plays that was among their best few of the season. For the 2nd straight week, they were exceptionally good on called run plays (7.8) as well. While their box score rushing stats were just good but not great, the fact that they repeatedly had success punching the ball into the end zone on runs from more than a couple yards out increased the effect their successful rushing had on the game. The 49ers only real offensive issues were David Akers missing his only field goal attempt (-2.4) from just 38 yards out, and Michael Crabtree losing a fumble (-3.7) at the goal line. The Falcons were again great on normal pass plays (21.7). Though Matt Ryan's interception (-3.1) seemed huge in the game, it was really the 49ers efficiency once they had the ball that was more impactful. The interception itself only about met the league average for EPA from interceptions for a game. Atlanta also suffered just 1 minor sack (-0.4), meaning overall their net passing (18.2) was very good, and gave them about a 4 point edge in the game over San Francisco on pass plays alone. The 49ers great rushing was what gave them the edge in the game, considering Atlanta just about matched San Francisco's mistakes with negatives in several other areas. The Falcons rushing overall was exactly neutral (0.0). Ultimately, like the 49ers they had 2 significantly negative plays that set back their otherwise very efficient offense. Matt Ryan's lost fumbled snap (-3.8) was the bigger of the two, with its impact about equaling the 4 point final margin of defeat. The other was their failed 4th down conversion (-2.0) near the end of the game. Looking forward to the Super Bowl, the 49ers are our favorites, but not by a big margin. The general concensus seems to be that Kaepernick and the 49ers offense will be nearly unstoppable as they have been recently. But it's easy to forget Week 16 at Seattle and several other weeks soon after Kapernick gained the starting job, where their passing efficiency was just mediocre. It is difficult to estimate whether Kaepernick has simply improved or if he is still very liable to have a mediocre performance in the Super Bowl. Also noteworthy is the collapse of the San Francisco defense in the playoffs. Their last 2 performances have been worse than all but 1 regular season game. A slight impact could be from the usually dominant Justin Smith being at less than 100%, but the bigger effect is probably simply that offense usually trumps defense in the NFL, and they have faced 2 of the best offenses in the NFL so far in the playoffs.

(10-6) #2 Ravens 28 - 13 Patriots #1 (12-4)
Offensive EPA: BAL (12.5) - (-1.7) NE
The Ravens were a bit above average on normal pass plays (13.4). They also avoided interceptions and suffered just 2 sacks (-1.7) for a very good net passing mark (11.7). With similar numbers in the previous 2 playoff games, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Joe Flacco is clutch in the playoffs. But a look back at previous playoffs games of the last 3 years in our records shows that while the Ravens have a solid record in the playoffs, Flacco has been very mediocre. A look at this season's numbers shows that Flacco typically has success in about half their games, while the other half are just mediocre to poor. The most rational explanation for the Ravens success in these playoffs is simply that they've been a bit lucky to put together 3 straight of their better performances, and that Flacco is just as likely to be unimpressive as impressive in the Super Bowl. The Ravens had some success as well by rushing (3.3) in the conference championship, while avoiding some usual negatives that teams encounter in other categories. But the biggest story resulting from the game was the Patriots offense disappointing. New England was just about average on normal pass plays (11.1), which by their standards is poor. Their 2 interceptions (-6.8) matched their 2nd worst mark in that area, although 1 of them did come on a hopeful throw when desperate late in the game. Brady did avoid being sacked for a rather average overall net passing mark (4.3). The Patriots had some typical success rushing the ball (1.7), but not a dominant game like they have from time to time. The Patriots were also undone by turnovers (-5.3) from the Steven Ridley fumble lost and a 4th quarter failed 4th down conversion.

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