As we head into the divisional round of the NFL playoffs each year, you can't help but focus on the teams coming off a bye week. Four lucky teams got a week off to rest and prepare last week, while their opponents had to win a sudden-death game just to get here. Those bye teams also get to play at home, while the more tired teams have to add to their woes with travel. And the bye teams had the best records in football, too. Add it all up and it is no wonder that the betting public has a strong bias towards the bye teams every year.
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This year a majority of bets in each game have been placed on the home team - the favorites in all cases - and in two cases the favorites have drawn heavy action. What we have learned recently, though, is that betting on the bye teams isn't always a good idea. In fact, it often isn't. Over the last five years, bye teams in the divisional round are an ugly 8-12 ATS. There hasn't been a single year over that time in which a bet on all four bye teams would have been profitable. Books know what the public thinks in these situations, and they do what they can to exploit that.
Given the dismal betting performance of recent bye teams, it only makes sense to take a look at each of the four favorites this year to see where they stand and how trustworthy they might be:
New England (-5) vs. Kansas City: At full strength the Patriots are the best team in the league. I have little doubt about that. They have nine players listed as probable on their injury report heading into this game, though. Included in that is their QB, their stud tight end, their two best receivers, linemen on both sides of the ball, and a key member of the secondary. That doesn't even consider all the players who are banged up and lost. That's a lot of talent to be banged up. The injury woes showed their impact in the last third of the season this year - this was not a great team over that stretch. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are coming off a 30-0 win and haven't lost in literally months. This is a very dangerous spot for the veteran Patriots. The Chiefs are a profitable 5-3 ATS on the road and have covered their last four away from home - the last three as road favorites. I'm obviously not suggesting that the Chiefs are going to win this one - it's a tough game for both teams. If the public bias weren't involved, though, then there is no way in this spot that the Patriots would be favored by five points. It's too many given where the teams are at.
Arizona (-7) vs. Green Bay: The Packers looked very good last time out against the Redskins. It was the first time in too long that they looked like what they are supposed to look - like they have an all-World QB and good talent most everywhere. The problem, though, is that they had lost two in a row before that - and one of the two was a humiliating 30-point loss at Arizona. The Cardinals had won eight in a row before that Green Bay win. They ended their season with a loss to Seattle, but it would have been difficult for a team to play like they cared any less about a game than Arizona did. Despite the strong showing from the Packers last week, it would be tough not to think that the Cardinals got the easier draw here by far. At the very least, the Cardinals are more attractive at their price than the Packers are at theirs.
Carolina (-2.5) vs. Seattle: The last two years the Panthers have lost on this weekend. Last year it was against the Seahawks, and it wasn't close. They have a giant monkey to get off their backs. They are by far the best team they have been with Cam Newton in charge, though, and they have every reason to be confident. They also have awful luck in opponents. Last year they faced the defending champs. This year they are facing the two-time defending NFC Champions. It's a tough draw - the Seahawks have won seven of eight and Russell Wilson is playing as well as he ever has. Not an easy game for either team. The best you can say about this line is that it is fair. Fair isn't often profitable.
Denver (-7) vs. Pittsburgh: A couple of years ago this would have been a game for the ages - an all-time epic. Manning versus Roethlisberger - it's what we dream about. Now, though, injuries and time have robbed this game of much of the excitement. Big Ben has multiple injuries to his shoulder, and his availability - or effectiveness even if he can play - is in serious doubt. If he played he'd be up against an elite defense - one that knows he can't throw deep. Ugly. Almost as ugly as the prospect of Landry Jones in charge. Peyton Manning gets the start this week, but you can't count the issues on both hands - the foot injury, rust, and questionable arm strength being near the top of the list. The Broncos get the most favorable draw by far of the four bye teams. The problem is that the Steelers also have the most favorable draw of any of the four road teams. I don't see how you can evaluate this line right now - or how you could trust the Broncos right now, for that matter.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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