We started with 14 teams looking to make it to the Super Bowl at the start of the NFL playoffs and now we are down to four. Four of the best with two top seeds and two third-seeded teams facing off in the AFC Championship Game and NFC Championship game this weekend.
The other 28 teams are sitting at home wondering, wishing and planning how they can make it further next season.
In general, there are no sure-fire ways to predict NFL games. If Stefon Diggs was able to haul in Josh Allen’s bomb or Tyler Bass made his game-tying field goal attempt, the Buffalo Bills not the Kansas City Chiefs could be heading to take on the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC crown.
While the Bills are the most recent, most teams are familiar with the feeling and thought of “what if.”
So far, our use of the analytics tool DVOA to predict this year’s playoffs has been less reliable than last year. In the Wild Card round, DVOA only got half the predictions correct. Last week, in the Divisional round, DVOA was better, hitting on three out of the four results.
Despite the less-than-stellar performance overall, we are more confident that DVOA will help us make the right predictions. DVOA breaks down the quality of play compared to the league average while adjusting for the strength of the opponents being played. It is one of a couple of catch-all analytics measures that help us understand the beautiful game of football better.
While no data point can help us clearly understand why Patrick Mahomes is dominant despite limited weapons around him, DVOA is our best predictor of outcomes. To be clear, DVOA isn’t perfect nor would it claim to perfectly predict the winners of certain games. Too many variables that cannot be codified, like weather, injuries, officiating and more, can play a role in a one-game sample.
We turn our attention to the conference title games and what DVOA can tell us about who will win.
Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs
- Overall DVOA: Baltimore 1st vs Kansas City 5th
- Offensive DVOA: Baltimore 4th vs Kansas City 8th
- Defensive DVOA: Baltimore 1st vs Kansas City 7th
Edge: Ravens – The top overall DVOA team versus Mahomes is a game that we are excited to watch. After Mahomes knocked off Josh Allen on the road, assumed MVP Lamar Jackson is up next. Baltimore is better in all three categories so a Chiefs win will come down to Mahomes being… well… Mahomes.
San Francisco 49ers vs Detroit Lions
- Overall DVOA: San Francisco 2nd vs Detroit 7th
- Offensive DVOA: San Francisco 1st vs Detroit 5th
- Defensive DVOA: San Francisco 4th vs Detroit 13th
Edge: 49ers – The second overall DVOA team versus the team of destiny (not officially a nickname but the Lions run has felt magical). As noted above, DVOA is not able to factor in injuries. With Deebo Samuel’s shoulder a problem, the inactive list 90 minutes before the game might be the most important predictor of who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.
DVOA is another fun piece of data to help you make betting decisions, discuss the playoffs with your family and coworkers or while arguing with people on social media. With four of the seven best teams in the NFL, according to DVOA, facing off, we are excited to watch these games this weekend.
Then we will be back to predict the Super Bowl Champions!