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Analytics predicts who will win NFL conference titles, advance to Super Bowl LVII

AFC and NFC Championship Games: We already know who wins because DVOA says so

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

While Wild Card weekend lived up to the name for the NFL, the divisional round had less drama and excitement. The Philadelphia Eagles blew out the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals controlled the Buffalo Bills. The Kansas City Chiefs had to hold on against the Jacksonville Jaguars after Patrick Mahomes got hurt, while defense ruled the day with the San Francisco 49ers up ending the Dallas Cowboys in a low-scoring affair.

Prior to the divisional round, we shared with you that one analytics data point had predicted the first six games of the playoffs. While the DVOA rankings (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) were not able to be perfect during the divisional round, it did predict three of the four games correctly:

  • Philadelphia Eagles (3rd) beat the New York Giants (21st)
  • San Francisco 49ers (2nd) beat the Dallas Cowboys (6th)
  • Kansas City Chiefs (4th) beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (13th)

Where DVOA failed to be predictive was the Cincinnati Bengals (5th) defeating the Buffalo Bills (1st). The Bills losing to a team that had just over half the DVOA (18.1% to 35%) was shocking.

To be clear, DVOA isn’t perfect nor would it claim to 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 almost saw how a major injury, to Patrick Mahomes, allowed the Jaguars to stay in a game that the data said shouldn’t be close.

Given the accuracy of DVOA so far in the playoffs (predicting 9 of 10 games), we can’t help but take a look at what it would teach us about championship games this weekend.

Kansas City Chiefs vs the Cincinnati Bengals

  • Overall DVOA: Kansas City 4th vs Cincinnati 5th
  • Offensive DVOA: Kansas City 1st vs Cincinnati 4th
  • Defensive DVOA: Cincinnati 11th vs Kansas City 17th

Edge: Chiefs - Two very good offenses and two lesser defenses collide in this matchup. DVOA can’t take into account whether Mahomes is limited but that factor, obviously, could play a huge role in bringing the Chiefs top-ranked offense down

Philadelphia Eagles vs San Francisco 49ers

  • Overall DVOA: San Francisco 2nd vs Philadelphia 3rd
  • Offensive DVOA: Philadelphia 3rd vs San Francisco 6th
  • Defensive DVOA: San Francisco 1st vs Philadelphia 6th

Edge: 49ers - Another very close matchup where both teams are top-10 on both offense and defense, leading to their second and third rankings overall. The difference is that the Niners defense has a larger gap than the Eagles offense does.

If what happened during Wild Card weekend and the divisional round continues this week, we are going to see two very closely contested games this Sunday. The Mahomes injury throws the AFC matchup in the air but, assuming he is close to normal, the top seed in the AFC will head to the Super Bowl while the second-seeded 49ers ride their defense to the big game.

While DVOA was predictive 90% of the time so far this year, a quick look back at last year provides a counterpoint for its predictive nature. The Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams were the fifth-rated team while the Bengals were all the way down at 17. The four highest-rated teams didn’t even make it to the championship games last season.

Will DVOA have a perfect weekend again after a hiccup last week or will Mahomes injury, Joe Burrow’s dominance over Kansas City, Philadelphia's offense or Brock Purdy’s limitations bring the analytics predictions back down to earth?