What This Year’s Conference Title Games Teach Us About Offense

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The NFL’s four highest-scoring teams have reached the conference championship, the first time that has happened during the Super Bowl era.

Has your chance of reaching the Super Bowl become even slimmer without an explosive offense?

The league’s stingiest defenses will be sitting at home this weekend, watching the New Orleans Saints (No. 3 in scoring) host the Los Angeles Rams (No. 2), followed by the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1) hosting the New England Patriots (No. 4) for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens (No. 13 in scoring) gave up the fewest yards in 2018, but after winning the AFC North, they were eliminated on Wild-Card Weekend by the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chicago Bears (No. 9 in scoring) gave up the fewest points, but they were also ousted on Wild-Card Weekend by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are some offensive trends pertaining to teams that have reached the conference championship over the past five seasons:

To reach the conference championship, being a top-10 team in scoring is virtually a must.

Of the 20 teams that have reached the conference championship since 2014, 19 finished in the top 10 in scoring that season. The lone exception was the 2015 Denver Broncos, who won the Super Bowl despite ranking 19th in scoring, averaging 22.2 points per game with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in his final season. That team had a dominant defense led by Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller. They gave up the fewest yards in the NFL that season and recorded 14 sacks in their three playoff games.

For the Ravens, reaching the conference championship with a team that ranked 13th in scoring would have been a major accomplishment even with the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. Baltimore’s offense became more consistent once Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback, but it wasn’t nearly as explosive as the offenses we will see Sunday. Finding more offensive playmakers this offseason is high on the Ravens’ priority list.

Running the football effectively is still important.

The teams in this year’s final four don’t just throw the ball well. They run the ball well, too. The Rams were the NFL’s third-best rushing team this season, while the Patriots (No. 5) and Saints (No. 6) also had potent running attacks. Only the Chiefs (16th in rushing) were an average running team among this year’s final four.

Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees and Jared Goff will get most of the attention this weekend. But running backs like Todd Gurley (Rams), Alvin Kamara (Saints), or Sony Michel (Patriots) could become the difference makers.

In two of the last five seasons, the team that led the NFL in rushing has reached the conference championship – the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2014 Seattle Seahawks. Relying on a strong running game can still take you a long way, which could bode well for the Ravens moving forward. They just need to upgrade their passing attack to go with it.

Being elite at throwing the football is the most consistent way to reach the final four.

Four of the past five teams that have led the NFL in passing yards have reached the conference championship – the Patriots this season and in 2017, the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, and the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. The lone exception was the 2016 New Orleans Saints, who led the league in passing yards but finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

Big plays through the air can cover for other deficiencies both offensively and defensively. All the teams in Sunday’s games are terrific at creating personnel mismatches, finding the one receiver, tight end, or running back who has the greatest advantage and getting the ball to them quickly and often.

The quicker Jackson’s passing becomes more consistent, the better the Ravens’ chances of getting where they want to go.

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