I love numbers.
The exactness of them. The absolute balance between positive and negative when the sum is zero.
Numbers tell us that it is 19 degrees and sunny in Kansas City today where the Chiefs will host the Tennessee Titans in the American Football Conference Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. For the record, it will be 40 degrees warmer at Levi’s Stadium for the later game when the San Francisco 49ers entertain the Green Bay Packers to crown the National Football Conference Champion.
I like it when numbers surprise me. They did twice this week while I was doing the work on the NFL Championship Games. First, I had to take a second look and double, triple check that the Tennessee Titans have actually scored more points than the Kansas City Chiefs since the ninth week of this season. Now, mind you the Titans have played one more game because both teams had their byes in the second half of the season but the Titans also played in the Wild Card round while the Chiefs enjoyed a bye week gained when the New England Patriots dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins.
Numbers don’t lie, the Titans have scored 26 more points than the Chiefs since the two teams met in November in Nashville, a game won by Tennessee, 35-32. Wouldn’t you just think that Patrick Mahomes has put up more points than anybody this year? In fact, the 49ers have scored the most points this season, including playoffs, with 506. The Chiefs are second with 502, and while Tennessee has only scored 450 this season, their offense has had a major upshift since Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
The second number that surprised me dealt with first-year head coaches. I figured they would have trouble in the postseason, but the numbers show that since 2008, there have been 78 first-year head coaches with their current team, 21 of those coaches led their squads to the playoffs and 10 of them won their first postseason game with a point spread record of 10-10-1. I also didn’t expect first-year head coaches that won their first postseason game would do very well in their second postseason matchup, but in fact they are 5-5 straight-up and 6-4 versus the point spread.
That means, Packers’ Head Coach Matt LeFleur doesn’t necessarily have a disadvantage based on his first-year as an NFL head coach when he leads his Green Bay squad into action against the 49ers.
Now, here is the other side of numbers. While they don’t lie, they also don’t predict future results. Otherwise, the Chiefs would be playing in Baltimore today given the Ravens had all the numbers against the Titans headed into last week’s Divisional Round game at M&T Bank Stadium. But, the AFC number one seed fell to the number six seed based not on numbers but the more important factor that determines NFL results, motivation.
The Ravens were way too confident headed into that contest, and played like it against a Titans team geared to make all the critical plays in an effort spiked by the fear of failure.
They, the Titans, have that same edge today against a Chiefs team that proved last week they could spot their opponents 24 points and still beat a ten point spread. How do the Chiefs gain a healthy respect for the Titans when they are focused on their own prowess?
And in the end, the fact that the Titans scored more points since mid November may be cited as a contributing factor to Tennessee’s upset road win. But, it is just a number that I expect will be cashed today by motivation.
As for LaFleur guiding his Packers to a win over the 49ers based on the relative success of first year head coaches, that’s not the critical factor today. What it comes down to is the basics, the 49ers are a lot better team and perfectly capable of pinning another defeat on the Packers by the same margin they scored the first time they played Green Bay this season, a 37-8 trouncing of Aaron Rodgers and company on November 24.
Numbers are valuable, and sometimes carry the day, but without a spike in motivation they are only history. What we’re looking for is the future, and by more than just the numbers we expect the two teams meeting at Hard Rock Stadium in two weeks will be the 49ers and Titans.