The Conference Championship games have taken on a different feel lately than most football fans had become accustomed. For one, no longer is the #1 seed a lock to be hosting the game: prior to 2006, top seeds had hosted 21 of the 26 games since ’93 -- they will have hosted only five of the last 12 once this Sunday’s games are played in Chicago and Pittsburgh.
With upsets becoming the norm in the earlier rounds, the typical methods for handicapping the Conference Championships has changed. We’ll dive deeper into that as we move along, but we’ll start with the fact that home teams are just 22-14 SU & 17-18-1 ATS in the last 36. One thing that has stayed consistent, however, is the fact that the games in this round have been reliably high scoring. In terms of the total, OVER has been the result in 23 of 36 games since ’93, and only twice in that period was the UNDER the result in both games in a single year.
We’ve already established the fact that most recent Conference Championship games have gone OVER the total. If you look back at just the games since 2005, 11 of the 12 games have seen the total go that way. Home-field advantage has been restored somewhat as well of late, with hosts on a run of 8-1 SU & 6-3 ATS dating back to the late game on January 22, 2006. Here are some other general handicapping tidbits you might be able to utilize this Sunday:
• AFC and NFC Conference Championship games have shown varying results. In the AFC, road teams are on a run of 5-6 SU & 6-5 ATS in the last 11 years. In the NFC, home field has been more advantageous, with hosts boasting a record of 5-1 SU & 4-2 ATS in the last six.
• Overall, favorites own a 9-7 ATS edge in the last eight years on Conference Championship Sunday. AFC favorites have carried that edge, going 6-2 ATS.
• The last five NFC Championship games have gone OVER the total. The home team has averaged more than 30 PPG in that span.
Trends by Seed Number
Here’s a breakdown of trends specific to the seed number of the playoff teams involved in the Conference Championship games:
• The last five times that a Conference Championship game was hosted by a non-#1 seed, the games went OVER the total, producing 52 PPG. The last three non-#1 seeded hosts won their games, both SU & ATS.
• There have been 10 instances since ’93 in which a seed #4 or lower reached the Conference Championship Round and took on a #1 or #2. Those lesser seeds boast a 6-5 SU & 6-4-1 ATS record in those games.
Trends by Line Range
Lines in the conference title games have been a bit tighter than those in the previous round, with the average favorite laying 5.5 points since ’93. There have been six home underdogs in that span, with the Bears now being the seventh. Take a look at these other line-specific trends:
• Hosts have been most reliable when playing as favorites in the -3 to -9.5 line range in Conference Championship Games, going 15-8 SU & 14-9 ATS since ’93. Interestingly, the straight-up winner was 22-0 ATS in such games before the streak ended in last year’s NFC title game: New Orleans won, but failed to cover the 4-point spread in its 31-28 win over Minnesota. Seven straight contests of this type have gone OVER the total.
• There is a reason some hosts have played as underdogs at this point in the season, as evidenced by their 2-4 SU & 2-3-1 ATS record in such occurrences. However, Arizona did pull an outright upset of Philadelphia two Januarys ago.
• Going back to 1993, 10 Conference Championship games have seen a line move 1.5 points or more throughout the week. Bettors are 4-5-1 ATS in those games following the money, but when the line has moved 3 points or more, bettors are just 0-3-1 ATS. In other words, you’d have been much better off fading the line move in such cases.