Last week, Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow and Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes had wildly different games by one metric. Burrow got sacked nine times for a sack rate of 19.6% while Mahomes allowed three sacks for a rate of 6.4% (NFL average of 6.6% this season).
To explain this, the first instinct is to look at the offensive line. Indeed, Kansas City’s offensive line ranks much better in pass protection than Cincinnati (6th compared to 25th by PFF grades).
However, the data suggests that quarterbacks own sacks more than you might think.
For example, consider sack rate, or sacks divided by the sum of pass attempts and sacks (the metric cited above). For NFL quarterbacks, sack rate is predictive from year to year (R-squared of 24.2%, only slightly lower than the 25.4% for completion percentage).
This ownership of sack rate was clear in the Divisional playoff games. Burrow often hesitated in the pocket, as he looked to make a deep throw while defenders swarmed him. In contrast, Mahomes showed an early willingness to escape the pocket.
The predictability of a quarterback’s sack rate affects the passing efficiency of these teams.
Burrow and the Cincinnati offense have a high ceiling, as rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase (2.54 yards per route) and second year WR Tee Higgins (2.14 yards per route) have already become an explosive duo at a young age.
However, Cincinnati’s pass offense ranks 11th by my adjusted success rate, and sacks play a big role. Burrow has a sack rate of 9.5% this season, up from the 7.3% in his rookie year. He won’t face the same pressure vs Kansas City that he did against Tennessee, but this could be an issue.
Kansas City ranks 1st in my pass offense rankings, and the pocket presence of Mahomes contributes to this efficiency. He has a sack rate of 4.3% this season, close to his 4.0% from 2017 through 2020.
Both teams are average in pass defense. Cincinnati ranks 15th in my adjusted success rate. Kansas City is lower at 20th, but this unit has improved after a disastrous start to the season. With many of the same key players last season, Kansas City was 11th. As usual in the NFL, the performance of the pass offense will determine the outcome of this game.
In week 17, Kansas City closed at a 3.5 point favorite at Cincinnati, and Burrow and company won a dramatic 34-31 game. That point spread translates to Kansas City -7 at home, the current state of the market.
My numbers like Kansas City by 8.3 and I lean towards the Chiefs.
Football betting with a PhD edge
This article was sent to The Power Rank’s email newsletter at 4:30pm Eastern on Thursday, January 27. This newsletter is a free service that strives to be:
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