NFL conference championship: the 13 underdogs since 2002
In the last 20 years, 39 conference championships have been played and almost a third of them have been won by the team not favoured in the betting.
If the 2022 AFC Championship taught us anything, it is that the betting trends are far from a strong guide to what pans out. The Kansas City Chiefs were heavy favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals heading into that matchup, and yet Joe Burrow put on a stellar performance to make the Chiefs, only two years off a Super Bowl win, look like a high school team. What is intriguing is that this is nothing new to the NFL.
Since the 2002 campaign, 39 conference finals have been contested and 13 games have gone to the team not favoured by the bookies. The win ratio for the underdogs is 30%; that is to say, almost a third of the games.
Let’s remind ourselves of those matches that were won by the underdog:
The winning underdogs since 2002:
NFC: a fertile territory for surprises
One of the patterns we note from this is that of those 12 games won by underdogs, eight have come from the National Conference.
More importantly, of those eight clubs, the Giants and the Buccaneers have been crowned their league champions and doubled up. New York beat the Patriots in 2007 and 2011, while Tampa Bay did it in 2003 and 2020.
Another noteworthy fact is that the Eagles and Patriots have been stunned on more than one occasion by being beaten by an underdog. In Philadelphia’s case, they were beaten by Buccaneers and Panthers in consecutive years (2002, 2003) and New England in 2012 (Ravens) and 2015 (Broncos).
From underdog to favorite
This year sees a repeat of the AFC Championship matchup where the Bengals will head to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs. One major difference this season, however, is that the Bengals are now the one-point favorites in a betting line that swings back and forth.
Over in the NFC matchup, the 49ers head into Philadelphia to face the Eagles in a game that has lashings of underdog sauce all over it, with Brock Purdy coming from nowhere to take over the quarterback job and win eight games in a row.
Who’s your money on for these championship deciders? Are you sure?
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