A short search on Google can unearth dozens of webpages extolling the wisdom behind betting NFL underdogs. Historically, underdogs in the regular season cover slightly more often than the favorites. It often takes a good chunk of the season for a team’s flaws to be exposed clearly to the wagering public.
Playoff time is an entirely different animal. By this point in the season, both the public and the media echo chamber(myself included) tend to smarten up a bit. After watching the playoff teams respond successfully to the many tribulations that an NFL season can deliver, we better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and many factors that affect the final score. The point spreads better represent reality. The cream rises to the top by the end of the season, and the home field playoff teams usually deserve their status as the favorite. It should come as little suprise then, that favorites actually cover more often than underdogs in the NFL postseason….particularly in the first two rounds.
Armed with this important knowledge based on several years of empirical data, I took a look at this weekend’s wild card playoff games:
The Buccaneers and Seahawks are playing at home. They are both favored by 3 points(give or take a point depending on the casino). And, they are both well rested teams. Following the logic that home favorites tend to deserve their status in the postseason, Tampa and Seattle are the obvious plays in the NFC. If anyone can tell me that the Giants are cleary better than Tampa, or that the Redskins are clearly better than Seattle, please lend me your crystal ball. Even with the inside information that mafia types sometimes enjoy, how can anyone be sure how either game plays out? So rely on the Math. The majority of NFL games are decided by more than 3 points. Bet the home favorites and be happy if you win.
The AFC is less clear. With the way the Chargers defense has improved, and with Norv Turner feeding Tomlinson the rock in almost Marty-ball fashion, the Chargers are the double digit favorite at home. I realize the home favorites tend to win, but I am naturally uncomfortable laying 10 or more points to a physical team like the Titans. Wait a minute……What’s that? The Titans may be without Lendale White, Bo Scaife, Roydell Williams, Kevin Mawae, and Benji Olson!!! Okay, I’ll take the Chargers laying 10.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is a home dog. They also have never lost to the same team twice at home in one season. The Jaguars are clearly the better football team to me. But can they defy history? Can they defeat the improved and more experienced superbowl quarterback(Ben Roethlisberger) on his home turf? They’ll beat the Steelers 7 times out of 10, in my opinion. But can David Garrard win as a playoff favorite for the first time in his career? Will the Jags offensive coordinator go too conservative, not knowing how Garrard will respond with the 12th man screaming in his ear? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I only know that I will hate myself if I pick against Jacksonville for fear of the mystique that is Big Ben at Heinz Field. Anyway, what’s so scary about a bottle of ketchup? Offensive and defensive linemen get paid for a reason. They affect the outcome too. I suspect that several Wooly Mammoths in Jaguars uniforms agree. Take the Jags laying 2 points.
For more of my analysis breaking down this weekend’s games check out my podcast with site editor Matt Loede on Friday for Saturday’s games, and today for Sunday’s games.