Conference Championship Weekend – Gaming Analysis on AFC and NFC Championship Games

January 17, 2019 | insideinjuries | No Comments

The NFL Conference Championships are only a few days away, which means the NFL season is almost over. The stakes are bigger than ever, and teams are more injured than ever going into this weekend. The Rams, Saints, Chiefs, and Patriots have each played 17 games to get to this point and have lost some major play-makers along the way. In the NFC, the Saints are currently favored over the Rams at -3.5. The spread in the AFC is pretty similar, with the Chiefs favored over the Patriots by only -3. With only a field goal separating the teams in each matchup, team health will play a major role that some odds-makers may be overlooking.

NFC Championship: LA Rams at New Orleans Saints

Vegas has the Saints coming home with the win, but Inside Injuries’ metrics don’t necessarily agree. While the Rams are missing top wide receiver Cooper Kupp (he suffered torn ACL in Week 10), the team has adjusted in his absence. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are going into Sunday’s game completely healthy, both with a Low Injury Risk and Peak Health Performance Factor (our metric for measuring player performance). The one injury concern the Rams are facing is Todd Gurley’s knee. Gurley suffered the injury in Week 15 and has been taking it easy ever since. Gurley was able to play in the Divisional Round win over the Cowboys last week, but he was somewhat limited behind C.J. Anderson. The good news for Rams fans is that Gurley has now reached his Optimal Recovery Time and has returned to Low Risk. It’s also a plus that Anderson is healthy and playing some of the best football of his life.

Rams QB Jared Goff has no injury concerns and will be protected by an O-line that should be playing at Peak Performance this weekend. The Rams offense Overall Injury Risk is Low at an impressive 5%, and they have a Peak HPF at 95%. They are facing a Saints defense that just took a major injury blow last weekend. Starting DT Sheldon Rankins suffered a torn Achilles in the Divisional Round. The 2016 first-rounder was a major piece of the Saints defense, and losing him could give the healthy Rams offense just the break they need to pull out a win. The rest of the Saints’ starting defenders are healthy though, with a Low Injury Risk (10%) and Peak HPF (92%).

The Saints offense is also dealing with some injury concerns going into the NFC Conference Championship. Three of the Saints’ starting O-linemen are questionable with injuries. LG Andrus Peat is reportedly playing through a broken hand that he suffered in Week 17. He underwent surgery during the Wild Card bye. C Max Unger was also listed on the injury report with a knee injury, and RT Ryan Ramczyk was listed with a shoulder injury. All three linemen were limited in practice on Wednesday, and while it’s doubtful that any of them sit, it’s a major blow to have three starting O-linemen at much less than 100%. Though LT Terron Armstead was not listed on the injury report, he’s still making his way back from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 9. It’s also worth noting that TE Benjamin Watson missed practice with an illness. The Saints receiving corps is healthy, and running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are without injury concerns as well. QB Drew Brees has been an extremely durable play-caller in recent years, but his banged up O-line could leave him vulnerable to big hits.

The Overall Injury Risk of the Saints offense is Elevated at 13%, but they still have a Peak HPF (85%). Unfortunately, they are going up against an extremely healthy Rams defense with a Low Injury Risk (7%). Ultimately, the Saints injuries on offense are going to slow them down up-font, and the loss of a major piece of their defensive line will leave them vulnerable against a very healthy LA Rams. According to Inside Injuries’ metrics, the Saints will not cover the -3.5 spread.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs

Both the Patriots and Chiefs have a few injury concerns but are healthy overall. The biggest concern on offense for the Chiefs offense is RB Spencer Ware. He has been battling a hamstring injury since Week 14 and can’t seem to shake it. Ware has been limited in practice this week and remains an Elevated Injury Risk (18%). The running back did not play last week in the Divisional Round, so he should be considered truly questionable for the Conference Championship. While he wasn’t on the injury report this week, it’s also important to address Sammy Watkins and his foot injury. He played 93% of snaps in his return last week and has jumped to a Peak HPF. Though he should be out of the woods by now, he is still an Elevated Injury Risk. This is still an injury that could impact a game where every move counts.

The rest of the Chiefs offense is extremely healthy, including young QB Patrick Mahomes and the starting O-line. The Chiefs offense has an Overall Low Injury Risk (9%) and Peak HPF (93%). They face a Patriots defense that has some injury concerns of their own. While none of the starting defensemen are currently dealing with an injury, they do have an Overall Injury Risk of Elevated (14%) due to injury concerns earlier in the season. While close to the Above Average HPF category, the Patriots defense are considered to be at Peak Health at 85%.

The Patriots offense is in a similar position as their defense. None of the starters are currently dealing with an injury, but previous injury concerns have their Overall Injury Risk at Elevated (13%). QB Tom Brady is healthy now, but he dealt with a lingering knee injury earlier in the season and he’s the oldest quarterback in the NFL. While we doubt this will affect his performance in the AFC Championship (he’s at a Peak HPF), it’s still a minor concern. RB Sony Michel is healthy now, but he missed significant time this season to a lingering left knee injury and suspected MCL sprain. His Injury Risk remains Elevated. WR Julian Edelman is also an Elevated Injury Risk after suffering foot and ankle injuries this season and a torn ACL last season. And finally, star tight-end Rob Gronkowski is Elevated after dealing with repeated back (and ankle) issues this season and years previous.

With all four of the Patriots’ top offensive weapons at an Elevated Injury Risk, they could be vulnerable to an injury in a high-stakes game. If they can avoid aggravating an injury, however, the Patriots offense should be able to perform at a Peak HPF (88%). They face a Chiefs defense that is generally healthy, with one major exception: star safety Eric Berry. He missed the Divisional Round with a heel injury but was not listed on the injury report this week. While he appears set to play in the AFC Championship, he will be playing as a High Injury Risk. This could become a thorn in the side of the Chiefs defense if the Patriots are able to exploit the effects of Barry’s heel injury. Overall, the Chiefs defense have a barely Low Injury Risk (12%) and a barely Peak HPF (80%).

Both the Patriots and Chiefs have their share of injury concerns on offense, and neither defense is in perfect health. Considering the injuries on both teams, Inside Injuries metrics indicate that the spread is accurate at Chiefs -3.