Every year it's the same thing in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. In all but one game in the last five years and this year - 24 games in total - the home team has been favored. The home team, of course, is the one that is coming off of the bye week. Public bettors love home teams, and they especially love home teams good enough to earn the bye. They flock to the home teams this weekend every year almost without exception. Because of that tendency, then, it makes sense to look back at what has happened in the last five years. Is the public on to something here, or do they give the better teams too much credit?:
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Home teams won three of four games - only the Broncos lost. Denver was a 9.5-point favorite, which was the second biggest on the board, so Indianapolis covered very easily in the upset. New England beat Baltimore by four as seven-point favorites, so the Ravens covered in the loss. Seattle was favored over the Panthers by 13.5 and won by 14, so it was the narrowest of covers. Things went the other way for the Packers - they won by five as 5.5-point favorites, so the Cowboys covered. Add it all up and you have teams coming off the bye going 3-1 straight up but just 1-3 ATS.
The home teams had similar success to 2014-15 - they were 3-1 straight up. The only team that didn't win was Carolina - the Panthers have lost on this weekend twice in a row, so they are looking to shake that monkey off their backs this year. The Panthers were in a pick 'em game against the Niners, so the road team covered. The road team also covered in Seattle - the Seahawks beat the Saints by eight as 10-point favorites - and in Denver - the Chargers were eight-point dogs and lost by a touchdown. The only team to cover was New England - favored by 7.5, they crushed the Colts by three touchdowns. So, again - 3-1 straight up but just 1-3 ATS for the teams off a bye.
Things were slightly different here - home teams were again 3-1 straight up but an improved-though-not-profitable 2-2 ATS. Denver lost at home in overtime as 9.5-point favorites to the Ravens. It was the Falcons that won but didn't cover - the beat the Seahawks by two while favored by 2.5. The other two went to form - the Patriots beat the Texans by 13 as 9.5-point favorites, and the Niners were favored over the Packers by a field goal and won by two touchdowns.
Teams coming off a bye won three of four games but covered only two of four spreads. The home losers were the Packers, who were embarrassed by 17 as eight-point favorites. Baltimore beat the Texans by a touchdown, but as 7.5-point favorites that wasn't quite good enough. The others were easier for the home team. San Francisco won by four as 3.5-point home underdogs - the biggest successful playoff bet I have ever made was on the Niners here. The Patriots humiliated the Broncos, still covering by 21 points despite being two-touchdown favorites against the Broncos.
Home teams had it rough this time around - they won only two of four games. They covered both times they won, though. The eventual champions from Green Bay humiliated Atlanta, winning by 27 as one-point underdogs. The Jets also shocked the Patriots in Foxboro, winning by a touchdown as nine-point dogs. The Bears, meanwhile, beat the Seahawks by 10 points more than they needed - they won by 11 as one-point favorite. The Steelers also beat their hated rivals from Baltimore by a touchdown while favored by 3.5.
Add it all up
So, bye teams have indeed not been a great bet. They have won a solid 14 of 20 games but have been a bleak 8-12 ATS over that stretch. Indeed, betting on road teams in the divisional round has been nicely profitable over the last five years. You can't rely on betting on the biggest favorites, either - they have covered just two spreads over the last five years. So, the lesson here is both obvious and crucially important - bet the home teams this weekend or any divisional weekend if you think they are good enough to cover the spread and they offer value, but don't do it because you think they have some sort of historical advantage. They just don't.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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