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2020 NFC-AFC Championship: Examining the trench matchups ahead of Championship Sunday

Oct 18, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) takes a snap against the Green Bay Packers during the second quarter of a NFL game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Only four NFL teams remain as we look forward to the AFC and NFC conference championship games, but which offensive line will protect its quarterback the best and give its team the best shot at qualifying for Super Bowl LV?

During the playoffs, we will investigate each game's trench matchups by looking at survival curves for offensive and defensive lines and predicting how often and how quickly the quarterbacks will be put under pressure.

Going into each game, a machine-learning model incorporates several features in order to come up with a prediction:

  • The survival curve of the offensive line in previous games
  • The survival curve of the defensive line in previous games
  • The PFF pass-blocking grades of the five offensive linemen
  • The PFF pass-rush grades of the pass-rushers and the positions they are projected to line up in
  • How the blend of individual grades and team-level survival curves from the past are weighted toward predicting the cervical curve depends on continuity and how far in the past the information lies. Less continuity means the individual grades are weighted more heavily.
  • Schematic factors such as how often the defense is projected to blitz and how often the offense is projected to use play action, designed rollouts or six-plus-man protections.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers

When the Packers have the ball

Last week, we warned the Los Angeles Rams that their wild-card success against the Seattle Seahawks‘ pass protection would be hard to replicate. And indeed, the Rams couldn’t get to Aaron Rodgers to save their lives, as they pressured him within 2.5 seconds after the snap only twice despite Rodgers dropping back to pass 39 times.

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