NFL Playoffs Expert Betting Advice: Divisional Round Trends
When it comes to NFL Playoffs betting I am a bit more of a macro-handicapper. Rather than delving into individual matchups of games, I like to take a step back and look at the broader and longer-term trends for each individual round of the postseason. We're dealing with the best of the best football teams. The margin for error at this time of year is razor thin. And sometimes gamblers can lose some perspective in the forest of stats, trends, angles, matchups and storylines with which they are bombarded in the week leading up to one of the best football weekends of the year.
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Below are three interesting long-term trends to consider before putting your money down at the window this weekend:
1. Home-Field Advantage: Major Edge Or Misleading Angle?
Home field wasn't much of an advantage in the Wild Card games last week as two of the hosts lost outright and the home teams were a putrid 0-4 against the spread. However, home-field advantage - as well as the extra week of rest for the hosts - really pays dividends in the Divisional Round.
Over the last 22 years the home teams in this round are an outstanding 61-27 straight up, meaning that the hosts advance seven of every 10 times in the Divisional Round. The past six years the home-field advantage has been even stronger, with hosts going 18-6 (75 percent) since January of 2012. Comparatively, home teams won 56.5 percent of the time in the regular season this year.
Despite their success on the field, home teams in the Divisional Round have not been very good at the window. The four hosts split against the spread last season and are a feeble 47-41 against the spread over the past 22 years and just 7-9 ATS over the last six years.
The oddsmakers - and the betting public - are clearly overvaluing home-field advantage at this stage of the postseason. Yes, the teams that earned the top two seeds in each conference have been the best, and therefore most-highly-touted, teams in the NFL throughout the regular season. But the teams that advanced through last week's Wild Card weekend are pretty solid in their own right. And they wouldn't still be alive if they weren't good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best in the league.
This week the two largest favorites are the top seeds in the AFC, New England and Pittsburgh. Part of their inflated numbers is due to the fact that these are two very public teams, and the books know that the Average Joe bettors are going to be pouring money into teams that they've seen have so much success this time of the year. The other part is the general lack of respect that the oddsmakers, and bettors, have for AFC South retreads Tennessee and Jacksonville.
But despite the seeming mismatches, the trend over the last quarter-century suggest that either Pittsburgh or New England won't beat the spread this weekend.
2. Top Seeds Are Not As Dominant As They May Seem
Teams battle and claw for 17 weeks to lay claim to the No. 1 seed in their given conference, hoping to reap the rewards of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But over the last decade the top seeds in each conference have been massive underachievers at the window and only slightly better than 50-50 in terms of advancing to the conference championship game.
Earning the No. 1 seed in a team's respective conference is a badge of honor and a major accomplishment. That slot earns teams home-field advantage and the inside track to the conference title, and thus a trip to the Super Bowl.
However, No. 1 seeds have been underachievers in this round. Over the past 12 years the top seeds in each conference are just 15-9 straight up in the Divisional Round. Considering that home teams in general win 70 percent of the time that's a lackluster mark.
The conference favorites have also been terrible at the window, going just 9-15 ATS over the past 12 seasons.
No. 1 seeds had a streak of 11 straight wins snapped last year when Dallas fell to upstart Green Bay. This weekend, for the first time in NFL history, a No. 6 seed is actually favored over the top seed in the NFC, with Atlanta laying out three points to Philadelphia.
3. These Games Will Be Higher Scoring Than You Think
Defense wins championships. But it doesn't necessarily win Divisional Round games.
The 'over' has gone 19-9 so far this decade, a solid 68 percent betting trend. Most of the highest-scoring games of the postseason come in this round and last year the four games averaged 51.3 points scored per contest.
There is no real clear-cut explanation for the run of high-scoring games in this round. The teams that earn the No. 1 seed generally all have strong defenses. And the expectation from the public is that playoff games are going to generally be more low scoring due to conservative coaching and play calling. But that hasn't been the case.
Last week's low-scoring Wild Card games could also heavily influence public perception. Three of the four games went 'under', highlighted by the offensively challenged 10-3 game between the Bills and Jaguars. The 'under' has gone 8-4 in the Wild Card games over the last three seasons.
So far this week the only game with the majority of the money coming in on the 'under' is the Steelers-Jaguars game. However, none of the other three games has more than 63 percent of the action coming in on the 'over', and only one game (Saints-Vikings) has seen the total move upward due to betting action.
Finally, in my research I noticed an interesting, although non-correlative, trend that's popped up for betting totals over the past 18 years.
If Saturday's divisional game goes 'over' the total then you should be the 'under' in the corresponding conference's game on Sunday. So, for instance, if the Atlanta-Philadelphia game (NFC) goes 'over' this Saturday then you will want to bet the 'under' in the other NFC Divisional Round game on Sunday between New Orleans and Minnesota.
There is no real reason for this trend, but it has been a moneymaker. Overall this trend has gone 26-12 over the past 18 years. NFC teams are a mediocre 10-7 with this trend. But it has gone and unreal 16-5 (76 percent) in the AFC over the last 18 seasons, including cashing last year with Pittsburgh-Kansas City staying way below the number.
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