With three more NFL playoff weekends still ahead of us,
there are eight teams still standing; the top quartile of the league. This week, I’m going to write about all eight
of those teams; assessing their respective chances for a trip to the Super
Bowl. But first, it’s time for a brief
history lesson for the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
If you’re looking for active trends for next weekend’s round
of the playoffs, you’re not going to find much when it comes to sides. Over the past ten years, the rested team has
only gone 17-23 ATS in this round, but we’ve seen some dramatic swings. From 2006-2008, the teams coming off a bye
went only 2-10 ATS in this round. In
2009, the teams coming off their bye went 3-1 ATS. In each of the last two years, it’s been a
2-2 ATS split. In other words, there’s not
much of a trend.
It’s a similar story with totals. Over the last ten years, there’s no
prevailing trend to report, with 21 Unders compared to 19 Overs. But over the last two years, it’s 7-1 to the
Over. In the two years before that, it
was 6-2 to the Under. In the two years
prior to that, Overs and Unders split 2-2 both times. Again, there’s not much of a trend.
Do we give the Ravens credit for being the only team in the
NFL to win at least one playoff game in each of the last five seasons? Or do we rip the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco
combination for never even reaching a Super Bowl, let alone winning one,
despite all those postseason victories?
Do we give Baltimore credit for holding the Colts to just
nine points in their Wild Card Round win and cover? Or do we rip the Ravens for allowing a rookie
QB to pick them apart as the Colts finished #2 among the eight teams that
played last weekend in total yards while holding the ball for more than 37
Judging by the nine point spread for their upcoming game at
Denver, it’s clear that the betting markets are rather bearish on Baltimore.
Peyton Manning lost in the playoffs as the higher seed in
1999, following a first round bye week.
He lost his first round playoff game as a Wild Card in 2000. He didn’t make the playoffs in 2001. In ’02,
he lost in the Wild Card round. In ’03 and
’04 he lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs. In ’05, the Colts lost at home following
their bye to the lower seeded Steelers as ten point favorites.
Following Indy’s Super Bowl title in 2006, in ’07 the Colts
lost at home as the higher seeded team to San Diego, following a bye. In 2008, they lost as favorites to the
Chargers again in their first playoff game as 10.5 point chalk. In 2009, Manning lost as a favorite in the
Super Bowl. In 2010, he lost as a home
favorite as the higher seeded team in the opening round.
Head coach John Fox’s last try as a home favorite in the
postseason? He lost 33-13 at home to
Arizona as ten point chalk with the Panthers, following Carolina’s bye in 2008.
And it’s surely worth noting that Denver has a losing SU and ATS record against
the five playoff teams they faced during the regular season.
The Packers lost 37-20 at home to the Giants as eight point
favorites in their first playoff game last year, following the bye week. The previous year, Green Bay won three
straight postseason road games, including a blowout at Atlanta in this round,
to reach (and win) the Super Bowl.
Nine of the Packers last eleven opponents have been held to
20 points or less; a defense that has improved by leaps and bounds since their
Week 1 matchup against the 49ers. And
with a healthy receiving corps for the first time all year, Aaron Rodgers connected
with an NFL playoff record ten different receivers in their win over Minnesota
Prop bet players surely noticed, however, that with ten
different receiving options, every
single one of those wideouts that had an Over/Under for total receiving yards
posted stayed Under the number.
The 49ers led the NFL with a +28 turnover margin last
year. This year, San Fran was +9 in
turnover margin, but they led the NFL in a stat that the betting markets
respect a lot more – yards per play differential. Jim Harbaugh’s squad finished the regular
season with a +1.3 yards per play differential.
Only one other team – Denver—finished with a better than 0.7 ypp
margin. And San Fran compiled those
stats despite facing a much tougher than average slate of foes.
Last year, the Niners lost out on a trip to the Super Bowl
thanks to a fourth quarter special teams miscue against the Giants. Anyone who’s watched San Fran closely down
the stretch this year knows full well that those special teams issues have NOT
Any team with a rookie QB that falls down by 14 points on
the road in the playoffs, loses a fumble from their star veteran running back at
the one yard line and still wins the game by a double digit margin is clearly doing
The betting markets aren’t going to respect the Falcons
until Matt Ryan and Mike Smith finally gets the monkey off their backs with a
playoff win. Or two. Or three.
It’s surely worth noting that Atlanta was outgained on a yards per play
basis for the entire season. The only
other playoff team to do that? Indy.
Atlanta’s -1.1 yards per rush differential between what they
gain and what they allow ranked #31 in the NFL this year. The #32 team?
Those same Colts, who did not fare well in their playoff loss at
The Texans defense was the best unit on the field in their
win over Cincinnati; holding the Bengals offense to a pair of field goals. Gary Kubiak has covered the spread in all
three playoff games in the Texans history over the past two years, including their
two wins over Marvin Lewis’s squad and a seven point loss at Baltimore in this
round last year as 7.5 point underdogs.
It’s surely worth noting that the Texans were in the +4.5 to
+5.5 range when they travelled to New England for Monday Night Football in
December. Since that time, the betting
markets have been downgrading Houston on a near weekly basis; hence the
dramatic adjustment compared to the game that was played on the same field just
In 2010, the Patriots finished the regular season with a +28
turnover ratio; best in the NFL by a wide margin (the #2 team was +17). In 2011, New England finished the regular
season with a +17 turnover ratio. Nobody
else in the AFC was better than +7 that year.
This year, the Pats led the league with a +25 margin again. The #2 team in the AFC, Houston, was only +12. Turnovers are NOT completely random – good teams
with good quarterbacks are supposed to win the turnover battle more often than
But if you’ve been expecting the Patriots regular season
good fortune to carry over into the playoffs, you’ve been losing bets
consistently. Dating back to the Pats
loss to the Colts in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, New England is on a 1-8
ATS run in the postseason (the lone win coming against the Broncos last year)
in large part because they haven’t been winning the turnover battle in the
playoffs the same way they’ve been winning it in the regular season.
And it’s also worth noting that the Patriots lost at home in
their first playoff game in both 2010 and 2011 prior to last year’s Super Bowl
run. The last Super Bowl loser to return
to the big game the following year? C’mon,
you know the answer to this one, because it happened three years in a row – the
Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII. In other words, it’s been a while!