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NFL's offensive revolution reaches conference championships

The Saints, Rams, Chiefs & Patriots were the league's best offensive teams

Seth Dunlap
January 14, 2019 - 7:08 pm
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As the celebration ensued in four NFL cities across America over the weekend, there were certainly quite a few going on at the league offices in New York as well.

The New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots will form the quartet that will play in the NFL's conference championship games this coming Sunday, and they also had the four best offenses in the league this season.   If 2018 was a year defined by an offensive revolution, there's no better standard bearers for this than the teams we'll watch this weekend.   Whether it's by new-age DVOA or old-school points per game, these four teams were the best offensive juggernauts throughout the four-plus month season schedule. 

It's interesting, also, that both of these games are a rematch of thrilling high-scoring affairs earlier in the season.  The Saints held off a furious Rams' comeback in November, winning 42-35 in front of their home crowd in the Superdome.   Both teams will meet in that building again on Sunday.   The Patriots out-slugged the Chiefs 43-40 in a memorable Sunday Night Football contest in October.  This time, those teams will meet in Kansas City where the Chiefs will now have the home field edge.

The oddsmakers have put the over/under for the Saints-Rams game at 57, and the Patriots-Chiefs tilt at 57.5.  For the non-sports bettors out there, that number represents the sports books best guess at home many combined points will be scored in each game.   As Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com first noted, the total combined over/under for the two conference championship games (114.5) is the largest in at least 30 seasons.  

There's likely little coincidence that the NFL's big rebound in television ratings this season coincided with the league's offensive explosion, when teams averaged the second most points per game in league history.   League executives certainly had to be popping a few champagne bottles knowing that the four best offenses will be featured in the conference championship games, a pretty surefire way to continue the ratings bonanza.

A few words of caution to those trying to equate one season of offensive dominance to a league-wide shift away from valuing defensive prowess -- just last year we saw the best collection of defenses ever in the conference championship games.   All four teams in this spot last year -- the Eagles, Patriots, Vikings, and Jaguars -- were among the five best defenses in the league, with all four allowing less than 300 points on the season.  Just as last year didn't usher in an era where offense didn't matter, this season's offensive explosion won't take value away from fielding dominant defenses -- at least not from the more savvy franchises and front offices. 

Still, there's not a great defense among this year's final four teams.  The best defense remaining resides in New Orleans, who had the 11th-best unit by DVOA, and third-best run defense.  Conversely, the Chiefs have one of the five worse defenses to ever play in a conference championship game, by multiple metrics.   The Rams and Patriots, meanwhile, have average-at-best defenses that certainly aren't going to carry their teams to a Super Bowl championship.

It's long been said that fans prefer offensive firepower over defensive tractor-pulls.  If that's true, then the fans are getting their wish in perhaps the most offensively dominated NFL conference championship matchups in league history.

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