Each Tuesday morning during the season, we will preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. For our latest playoff preview, we have simulated both conference championship games 10,001 times, giving us odds for the Super Bowl participants. Boxscores with average stats and a game recap are below. All of our NFL content, including our most recent power rankings, is located here. The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position.
AFC Championship: Baltimore 13 @ Pittsburgh 16 (click for boxscore)
For the second straight week, Baltimore is our second ranked, yet has to travel to the best team in the league. In both instances, no team wins more than 55% of the simulations and we have given the home team a three point average victory - essentially the "home field advantage." These two teams have already played twice, with Pittsburgh winning by three at home and four on the road. The margin that separates these teams may even be closer than that. After carefully reviewing these teams, it is almost impossible to give either team the edge. Baltimore and Pittsburgh's regular season ranks in the league in the most relevant statistics to our simulation are (Ravens listed first): strength of schedule (4 and 3), scoring defense (3 and 1), yards-per-pass for (14 and 13), yards-per-pass allowed (2 and 1), yards-per-rush for (25 and 29), yards-per-rush allowed (5 and 2) and turnover margin (3 and 10). Out of 32 teams, the Steelers and Ravens are ranked within four in every major statistical category outside of turnover margin (and both are still positive). I don't know if we have ever seen two more evenly-matched teams. The only discernible advantages to either team are homefield (though that looks shaky with the results of the playoffs thus far) and health. With Le'Ron McClain and Terrell Suggs banged up, both of those go to Pittsburgh on Sunday. With two hard-hitting defenses in the Steelers and the Ravens (and after watching the games last weekend), it's probably even money as to whether there will be more injury timeouts or points scored. According to 10,001 simulations, the latter figure will be 29. It could be close. Pittsburgh uses its minor advantages to win 54.3% of the time and by an average score of 16-13.
NFC Championship: Philadelphia 23 @ Arizona 18 (click for boxscore)
Thus far in the playoffs, we are 7-1 against the spread. We were a little off on that one game: Carolina 31 - Arizona 21. Who saw that coming? More power to the Arizona Cardinals who have drastically outplayed their regular season output in both playoff games to date. We originally gave Arizona a 0.4% chance of winning the Super Bowl and even last week had them at 1.1%. Their recent performance has raised that to 9.6%, but they are clearly still behind the rest of the competition with Philadelphia at 33.2%, Pittsburgh at 31.5% and Baltimore at 25.7% likely to win the Super Bowl. And as impressive as the playoff run that Arizona is on has been, the run that the Eagles have put together is even better. The defense has led the charge, allowing just 12.1 points per game over the last seven games, in which the team is 6-1. Over that span, including a 48-20 victory over Arizona at home, Philadelphia has also generated 16 turnovers. With seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the last two games, forcing turnovers has been Arizona's MO in the playoffs as well. The offenses are fairly similar in efficiency, while the Eagles' defensive prowess makes Philadelphia the clear favorite. That being said, if Arizona can continue to win the turnover battle, it could easily win this game. Philadelphia keeps its mistakes in check and wins over the Cardinals 68.0% of the time and by an average score of 23-18. Congrats to the state of Pennsylvania that has a 36.9% chance of seeing a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Super Bowl (Baltimore-Philly is 31.1% likely, Pittsburgh-Arizona 17.4% and Baltimore-Arizona 14.9%).
Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!