NFL Efficiency Ratings- Championship Round Breakdown
Two major upsets last weekend that threw the NFC into total chaos. Well the old saying is “Any Given Sunday” and that certainly was the case as the Panthers and Giants both fell opening the door for the Arizona Cardinals or the Philadelphia Eagles to get to the Super Bowl. The Eagles at least had a punchers chance, but the Cardinals win is nothing anyone could make a case for. Over in the AFC everything played to form giving the predictions a 2-2 record last weekend and 6-2 in the playoffs thus far, which somehow tells me 0-2 this week is what will happen. Rankings for every team are given in order of efficiency.
Philadelphia Eagles (5th Overall, 4th scoring, 7th defense, 10th Overall Away) at Arizona Cardinals (19th Overall, 6th scoring, 29th defense, 11th Overall Home) The Eagles making it this far isn’t a gigantic surprise, but Arizona being here is a stunner. They were playing miserable football the last quarter of the regular season and had to fight to get by the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard round. The Cardinals defense was awful all season giving up more than 27 points six times during the year and ranking 29th in efficiency. Somehow they have bucked all the averages and started forcing turnovers in the playoffs and dominated the Panthers last week. The Eagles defense has played much better on the road these past two games than they have all season. They have carried an offense that has been somewhat average and struggles to find their groove on the field. However once the Eagle offense finds its groove it is hard to shut them down.
Philadelphia steamrolled this team back on Thanksgiving. It is a game that saved the Eagles season and the Philadelphia career of Donovan McNabb. But that is a game that was in Philadelphia and the Cardinals were a disaster away from the desert in 2008 so the victory was not much more than normal fare for Arizona. Things should be different with the game in their building where Arizona ranks 11th overall and 5th overall in scoring. The Eagles are going to be the favorites. They are the better team and just knocked off the NY Giants on the road. They are battle tested and have a coach and a QB that has been here multiple times before. The Cardinals have Kurt Warner and that is about it. Which Eagles team that shows up will likely determine the outcome of the game. If it is the Eagle team that plays like it has on the road most of the year they won’t win this game. If they play like the one that played last week they should win by at least 10 points. The magic number for Philadelphia is 30 points. Considering McNabb’s history in this game I’ll bet on the typical Eagles showing up and call it for the Arizona Cardinals, the most unlikely Super Bowl team in recent memory. If things go to form the Cardinals will win the game something like 29-24.
Baltimore Ravens (1st Overall, 5th scoring, 3rd defense, 2nd Overall Away) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2nd Overall, 14th scoring, 1st defense, 9th Overall Home)
Both of these teams more or less played to form last week as Baltimore snuck out of Tennessee with a win while the Steelers overwhelmed the San Diego Chargers. A very tough game to call as these are two very evenly matched teams. Baltimore is much more efficient at getting points on the board, but the Steelers defense is exceptional. Neither team likes each other and the Ravens are going to be hot if the lose to this team for the third time this season. The Ravens have not be able to sustain success from season to season and there have to be some players on this team that realize this is their chance and it may not be there next season. That should be excellent motivation. Pittsburgh is seemingly in this position every year and many of these players have recently won a Super Bowl which could lead to a little less intensity than what the Ravens bring this week.
When you examine the home and away splits for this game it probably tilts the game slightly in favor of the Steelers. The Ravens are winning on the road by forcing turnovers and converting those turnovers into points. Baltimore is only holding the home team to about 7% below their seasonal averages, which says that the Steelers are going to be able to score whatever points they want against this Baltimore team. If they want to try to play close to the vest and win the game 13-10 they will put up 13. If they think they have to score 24 odds are they will score 24. If the Ravens allow the Steelers to dictate the scoring Pittsburgh will find their way into the Super Bowl. The Steelers do an excellent job of protecting the football so the Ravens and Joe Flacco are going to have to come up with different ways to manufacture points. While Baltimore is the best team in the NFL at putting up points away from home, much of that is due to teams turning the ball over and giving the Ravens great field position. That will most likely not happen this week so for the Ravens to win they must dictate the pace of the game offensively and force the Steelers to make Ben Roethlisberger throw the football more to keep up with them. It is going to be very hard for Baltimore to win by simply waiting for the turnover to set Flacco up inside the 50. This whole year has been a nightmare for them whenever the opposition protects the ball. These two squads know each other inside and out and it will be close either way, but he numbers say the Steelers should just take the game by anywhere from 2-4 points. Figure on something like 21-19 or 23-20.