Patriots/Steelers, Falcons/Packers: those are two epic games on the slate for this weekend. But I don’t get why they’re called “Conference Championships.”
I mean, I get it. The winners are technically the “champions” of their respective conferences, ergo, “Conference Championships.” But c’mon people, let’s reserve the word “Championships” for things that make the winners feel like champions.
Go ahead, ask last year’s Panthers if they felt like “champions” in the offseason. I just did. They said no.
Instead of “Conference Championships,” let’s call them what they are: the semi-finals. This weekend is a stepping stone. No one’s walking away with a sense of accomplishment. No one’s going to be patting themselves on the back come Monday, raising “Mission Accomplished” banners in their foyer.
Except me, that is, because I’ve compiled the most banging set of props since Carrot Top headlined at the Dollarama under my apartment.
Don’t believe me. That’s fine. But you’ll still have to read everything below to know whether I’m telling the truth.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Conference Championship Odds
Odds to win the AFC/NFC Championship
- New England: 5/12
- Atlanta: 3/5
- Green Bay: 5/3
- Pittsburgh: 12/5
Home teams have swept the last three Conference Championship weekends, which is a big reason New England and Atlanta have such favorable odds. Sure, Green Bay and Pittsburgh come into the game on hot-streaks – winning eight and nine games in a row respectively – but the Patriots and Falcons are rolling too. (Atlanta has the shortest win streak of the weekend, winning five-straight.)
These are four teams playing great ball, led by great quarterbacks.
Odds either Conference Championship is decided by a last-minute score: 11/5
This likelihood of this happening increased greatly once the Packers made it through to the next round. Green Bay has played seven playoff games in the past four years, and four of those games came down to the final minute or overtime. Last weekend was the first time they came out on top in that scenario.
Odds there is a completed Hail Mary in either Conference Championship: 68/1
The Hail Mary is probably a little more common of a play than it gets credit for. Why, this season both Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler successfully completed one. But just because we have four excellent passers playing this weekend, it doesn’t mean that the odds increase dramatically. Typically, great quarterbacks don’t find themselves in Hail Mary scenarios.
Odds the defenses score a TD in the Conference Championship
- Atlanta: 13/2
- New England: 13/2
- Green Bay: 7/1
- Pittsburgh: 8/1
There were 56 defensive TDs in 256 games this year. That’s about one every five games. The odds of a defensive score in the Conference Championships are generally lower since we’re left with four solid offenses that don’t make a ton of mistakes and (mercifully) zero Brock Osweilers.
On top of that, none of the defenses are dominant. Atlanta somehow tied for the league lead in the regular season with five defensive TDs. But now they’re playing Aaron Rodgers. While he threw a pick last weekend, he doesn’t turn the ball over much in general. (Understatement alert.)
The Pats are just as likely as Atlanta to take one back. Even though they had zero return TDs in the regular season, they’re facing the most turnover-prone QB in the bunch in Ben Roethlisberger.
Odds to return a kick/punt for a TD in the Conference Championship
- Atlanta: 28/1
- Green Bay: 30/1
- New England: 30/1
- Pittsburgh: 32/1
Dion Lewis’ kickoff major came as a big surprise last weekend. There were only seven kick return touchdowns in the regular season and just ten more on punt returns. These four teams all tied for last in return majors with zero. Combined, that makes a grand total of zero.
On average, Atlanta was the best of the bunch in the return game, netting 11.4 yards per punt return. Green Bay is sub-par on coverage (9.4 yards allowed per return), so the Falcons get the slight edge.
At the other end of the spectrum, New England allows just 5.0 yards per punt return and Pittsburgh is thoroughly average, picking up 8.4 yards per return.
Odds to block a kick/punt in the Conference Championship
- New England: 7/1
- Atlanta: 8/1
- Pittsburgh: 17/2
- Green Bay: 19/2
Of the four punters left in the playoffs, only Pittsburgh’s Jordan Berry had a punt blocked. Pittsburgh was also the only one of the four to have a field goal rejected.
When you add in extra point attempts, New England is the best of the bunch in terms of generating blocks (three on the year). Atlanta had two, Pittsburgh one, and Green Bay a big, fat doughnut.
Factoring how good these offenses are and how good all their special teams have looked in the playoffs, the odds of a blocked kick are a bit lower than they would be for a generic regular season game. (As long as the punting/kicking teams are executing, the opposition shouldn’t be getting its mitts on the ball.)
Statistical Leader Props
Odds to throw for the most TDs
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: 7/3
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta: 5/2
- Tom Brady, New England: 3/1
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: 19/4
The cushy indoor game should probably feature more points, and not just because of easier elements. Neither Atlanta nor Green Bay boasts an excellent defense, so both quarterbacks will have ample opportunity to throw for scores.
Odds to score the most TDs
- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta: 7/1
- Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh: 7/1
- Ty Montgomery, Green Bay: 9/1
- Dion Lewis, New England: 9/1
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta: 9/1
- Julio Jones, Atlanta: 11/1
- Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh: 11/1
- DaVante Adams, Green Bay: 13/1
- Randall Cobb, Green Bay: 13/1
- LeGarrette Blount, New England: 18/1
- Martellus Bennett, New England: 18/1
- Field: 15/1
LeGarrette Blount actually led this weekend’s field in scoring during the regular season with 18 TDs. But last week, Dion Lewis returned to the role of primary back, and the switch paid off, as he found the endzone three times. It’s just another example of how anyone can step up and be the difference-maker in the playoffs.
Odds to throw the most INTs
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: 14/5
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: 14/5
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta: 16/5
- Tom Brady, New England: 7/2
- No interceptions: 70/1
Both Brady and Rodgers threw picks last weekend (Brady had a pair). Surprisingly, the earth didn’t stop turning. As infallible as these QBs have looked this season, they are going to make mistakes, especially in the playoffs when everything is ramped up. With Rodgers likely to attempt more passes than anyone this weekend, his odds are increased, even though Roethlisberger led all these QBs with 13 picks this season.
Since the merger, there has never been a Conference Championship weekend where a quarterback didn’t throw an interception. Could this be the first? Probably not.
Odds to rush for the most yards:
- Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh: 1/1
- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta: 7/1
- Ty Montgomery, Green Bay: 8/1
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta: 11/1
- LeGarrette Blount, New England: 11/1
- Dion Lewis, New England: 11/1
- Field: 30/1
Bell is rewriting the record books with an absurd start to his postseason career, averaging 5.7 yards a carry. The Patriots were able to slow him down when they met in the regular season, but that was without the passing threat of Roethlisberger in the lineup. The rematch should go quite differently.
There’s a big divide between Bell and the rest of the backs playing this weekend, but crazier things have happened in the playoffs.
Odds to have the most receiving yards:
- Julio Jones, Atlanta: 5/1
- Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh: 5/1
- Julian Edelman, New England: 7/1
- DaVante Adams, Green Bay: 7/1
- Randall Cobb, Green Bay: 10/1
- Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta: 10/1
- Jared Cook, Green Bay: 12/1
- Martellus Bennett, New England: 14/1
- Field: 18/1
If it wasn’t already clear, there’s oodles of offensive talent in this final four. Brown and Jones are both on the shortlist for best receiver in the game. And while Jones is battling a nagging toe injury, he also has an easier matchup against a banged up Packer secondary. Realistically, anyone could go off this weekend, except for maybe Jordy Nelson. Green Bay’s leading wideout has a slim chance of playing on Sunday, which could mean more targets and another big week for Adams or Cook.
Odds a game is moved for weather reasons: 1,000/1
One game is in a dome … in Atlanta. The other is in Foxborough, which is forecast to be a balmy 41 degrees and overcast with a 0-percent chance of precipitation. Meteorologists get a lot of flack when they’re wrong, and it feels like they’re wrong a lot. But they’re rarely that wrong.
Odds it snows in Foxborough during game the AFC Championship: 50/1
Odds the temperature in Foxborough is 20F or less at kickoff of the AFC Championship: 99/1
Over/under on the wind speed in the Georgia Dome at kickoff of the NFC Championship: 0.5 MPH
That’s a joke, but the Falcons did get caught pumping in fake crowd noise a while back. Pumping in fake wind would be a lot easier to spot.
Feature photo credit: Brook Ward (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/].