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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.

Both favorites and #1 seeds won in the conference championships, but did so in different manners. The Broncos slowly wore down the Patriots with great passing offense, while the Seahawks took care of business with defense and big plays. After the 1st play from scrimmage, the NFC championship essentially already had more impact plays than the entire AFC championship had, and it went on to have an incredible 11 plays with a 3 point or larger impact on the game, with 5 coming in the 4th Quarter. With all the luck involved in an NFL season, it is actually somewhat rare to get a matchup of both #1 seeds, or teams rated as highly as we have the Broncos and Seahawks rated (1st and 3rd overall). Denver and Seattle not only possess the #1 offense and defense respectively in the NFL in standard yardage, but also in our advanced metrics. In fact, the Broncos are the 2nd best offense and the Seahawks are the best defense that the league has had in our 5 years of ratings. While the Seahawks also have a bit better offense than the Broncos have defense, offenses in the NFL usually are able to have a bigger impact on games than defenses, so the Broncos are our favorites to win the Super Bowl.

(12-4) #2 Patriots 16 - 26 Broncos #1 (13-3)
Offensive EPA: NE (7.5) - (16.4) DEN

The score of the AFC Championship was a little misleading. Despite the relatively low scores, both offenses were much better than league averages. The scoring was simply held down by both teams avoiding turnovers or short drives that would have given their opponents good starting field position. The Patriots offense had success overall, with some effectiveness in net passing (7.6) by avoiding interceptions, and generally slightly above average marks in many lesser categories. But it wasn't enough against a Broncos offense that was entirely propelled by its net passing (18.8), which included a complete avoidance of any interceptions or sacks. The only 3+ point swing play in the game was actually just the final play of the game, because the Broncos chose to run out the clock rather than capitalize on their good field position. Just like in the divisional round, Denver methodically moved the ball down the field with long drives rather than big individual plays.

Impact Plays:
4th Qtr 0:34 DEN 1st & 10 on NE 12, Kneel down to end game (-4.0 EPA)

(12-4) #5 49ers 17 - 23 Seahawks #1 (13-3)
Offensive EPA: SF (-3.7) - (2.3) SEA

The 49ers offense was slightly below average in net passing (2.1), rushing (-1.5), and some lesser areas. Their 2 interceptions (-6.4) and 2 sacks (-4.8) including a lost fumble were very costly to go along with poor movement of the ball through the air, but they almost made up for it with Kaepernick's great scrambling. The Seahawks weren't able to pull off their usual "unimpressive but effective" passing performance, because this week their mediocre normal pass plays (9.8) and avoidance of interceptions was counteracted by 4 sacks (-7.3) including a lost fumble for slightly below average overall net passing (2.5). Seattle was slightly above average in several categories including rushing (2.0), kick returns (0.9), field goals (2.3), and punts (1.3). But they also lost some ground on aborted plays (-4.1), mostly due to a fumbled handoff on a 4th down at the goal line.

Impact Plays:
1st Qtr 15:00 SEA 1st & 10 on own 20, R.Wilson lost fumble returned to SEA 15 (-4.1 EPA)
2nd Qtr 12:30 SF 1st & 10 on own 32, C.Kaepernick 58 yard scramble (3.2 EPA)
2nd Qtr 10:10 SF 4th & Goal on SEA 1, A.Dixon 1 yard TD run (3.3 EPA)
2nd Qtr 8:07 SEA 2nd & 7 on own 38, D.Baldwin 51 yard catch (3.1 EPA)
3rd Qtr 10:03 SEA 3rd & 1 on SF 40, M.Lynch 40 yard TD run (4.2 EPA)
3rd Qtr 6:38 SF 2nd & 8 on SEA 26, A.Boldin 26 yard TD catch (3.5 EPA)
4th Qtr 13:52 SEA 4th & 7 on SF 35, J.Kearse 35 yard TD catch (5.7 EPA)
4th Qtr 10:17 SF 3rd & 6 on own 29, C.Kaepernick lost fumble returned to SF 6 (-4.7 EPA)
4th Qtr 8:29 SEA 4th & Goal on SF 1, Lost fumbled handoff returned to SF 15 (-3.0 EPA)
4th Qtr 7:44 SF 1st & 10 on own 26, K.Chancellor INT returned to SF 40 (-3.0 EPA)
4th Qtr 0:30 SF 1st & 10 on SEA 18, M.Smith INT for touchback, pen to SEA 10 (-3.4 EPA)

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