In a Conference Championship weekend for the ages, the NFL’s four best teams played epic overtime battles marred only by shoddy officiating and a tragic coin toss. Shawn Siegele discusses the fantasy fallout of virtuoso performances from Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, as well as the surprising numbers from a frantic battle between the Saints and Rams.
With a full day to contemplate the heroics and heartbreak, it’s still difficult for think about what might have been. After winning a ridiculous 12 consecutive coin flips in one stretch this season, Kansas City’s magic ran out at the key moment on Sunday. It’s frustrating to have a game of this caliber decided in such a manner, but it’s also hard to argue with the current incarnation of NFL overtime rules. With so many flaws in the game, including and especially the officiating, OT certainly isn’t the problem. And the Chiefs had chances. As hard as it is to believe when looking at some of the numbers – they allowed 37 points and gave up TDs on the final three drives,1 – Kansas City held their own on first and second down. They forced a couple of crucial turnovers. And they would have won if Dee Ford had lined up legally on the key play.
Although the Patriots are a difficult to team to like due to their willingness to bend the rules and the type of dominance that leaches fun from the playoffs, they’re exceptionally easy to respect. Not for the cheating, of course, but for the way they’ve built a dynasty in a league that rewards management, coaching, depth, innovation, and teamwork. While high draft picks are valuable and quarterback is likely the most important position in sports, this isn’t a league that rewards tanking, excessive spending, or a thin core of stars.2 New England has been the model for organizational depth, schematic innovation, in-game tactics, and all-11 effort. You often hear flash-in-the-pans or underdog victors talk about “doing it the right way,” but the Patriots have demonstrated that a focus on greatness in every area3 can lead to a level of success that few would have thought possible.
For Chiefs fans, the game brings up plenty of dark memories and the specter of playoffs past in which even a single key stop would have meant victory. But fans who are devastated this week can at least take refuge in the knowledge that Kansas City has the brightest future of any team in the NFL. With Mahomes and Andy Reid at the helm, it’s not even particularly close.
Chiefs vs. Patriots
In a game where the Patriots ran almost 100 plays, it’s surprising to see Julian Edelman with only 10 targets. He was everywhere – quasi-fumbling punts, tipping interceptions, and making a big catch on seemingly every third down. Looking at third down in particular brings the play of Edelman and Sammy Watkins into even clearer focus.
This game was a case study in the brilliance of both Mahomes and Bill Belichick. The Pats shut out Kansas City’s high-flying offense in the first half and held their two receiving stars, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, to only four catches and 65 yards.
But Mahomes wasn’t to be stopped, and he led a second-half onslaught behind Watkins and Damien Williams.
It will be interesting to see what the Chiefs do at RB in the offseason. Williams entered the NFL as a Fantasy Douche super sleeper and finally looks like that player with the Chiefs. He burned New England for three TDs and functions smoothly as the hybrid back Reid prefers. On the season he was more efficient than Kareem Hunt as a runner4 and matched him in receiving volume.5
Meanwhile, the Patriots backfield perfectly demonstrated both the excitement and terror that strikes fantasy owners every season. Sony Michel carried 29 times for 113 yards and two scores but didn’t record a catch. Rex Burkhead vultured both of his teammates, stealing two scores from Michel and four receptions from James White. Meanwhile, White made a couple of drive-extending, circus catches but finished with more carries than receptions.
In any game where New England runs 94 plays, converts 36 first downs, and holds the ball for 43 minutes . . . feel free to play your Patriots runners.
Saints vs. Rams
The missed pass interference call late will go down in infamy,6 but the non-officiating story lines focus on bottled-up stars.
Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley, two backs who are revolutionizing both the fantasy and reality versions of football, were held to 12 carries for 25 total yards. Gurley managed only 6.1 expected fantasy points, and while his TD juiced the rushing numbers, his two drops almost sealed a loss early. The other three headliners all finished with negative rushing FPOE, but Kamara again demonstrated his value with 11 receptions for 96 yards. He’s still a candidate for a future 30 PPG season.
Michael Thomas followed up his hero turn in last week’s come-from-behind victory with a dud. He was targeted on just seven of Drew Brees’ 40 passes and turned the opportunity into only 36 yards. New Orleans spent much of the year waiting for the return of deep threat Ted Ginn, but the postseason exposed the limitations of this offense when you hold down any of their triplets. RotoViz favorite Tre’Quan Smith flashed in Weeks 5 and 11 but was a no-show most of the season. He’ll likely face pressure from offseason additions.
In a down game for target leader Robert Woods, teammates Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds dragged their team to victory. Reynolds came up big with two catches for 54 yards during the fourth-quarter comeback.
Although the NFL is trending in a very exciting direction, we likely won’t see a playoff weekend like this again any time soon. Good luck to those still alive in fantasy playoff contests and make sure you stay with us as our draft and dynasty content shift into high gear.
- Not including the end-of-game kneel down. (back)
- At least it doesn’t reward them the way other professional sports leagues do. (back)
- Including, perhaps, those areas that fall outside the rules. (back)
- 1.6 rushing FPOE per game to 1.0 (back)
- 5.5 expected points receiving to 5.8 for Hunt. (back)
- This is another counterexample against claims that it’s impossible to play defense now, or that offenses get all of the advantages. Sure, the phantom roughing-the-passer penalty played a substantial role in the Patriots victory, albeit one overshadowed by many other calls and plays, but anyone who watched the Chiefs and Patriots mug receivers throughout the game would be hard pressed to believe in the advantage of the offense. And that holds true despite the shootout. There’s no reason offensive innovation and tactical improvement can’t be the main driver for offensive explosions. That would also partially explain the need for defenses to commit more penalties in the passing game. (back)