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Aside from the Super Bowl, many observers consider this to be the best weekend of the NFL season.

Eight teams remain with the winners of the four Divisional round games playing next week for the right to play for their Conference Championship and a berth in the Super Bowl. This week’s games bring, in theory, the four best teams in the NFL into their first post season action as the top two seeds in each conference start their quest for the Super Bowl after resting last weekend.

In the AFC the top seed is New England. The Patriots had the best record in all of the NFL, 14-2, and were an equally impressive 13-3 ATS, causing all sorts of headaches for bookmakers all season. New England will host the number 4 seed, Houston, after the Texans defeated Oakland at home last week, 27-14.

The number 2 AFC seed, Kansas City, was a very strong 12-4 SU and a modestly profitable 9-6-1 ATS. The Chiefs will host Pittsburgh in a revenge contest for the hosts after Pittsburgh itself gained a measure of revenge for a regular season loss to Miami, defeating the Dolphins last week at home, 30-12, and covering as double digit 11.5 point favorites.

In the NFC the top seed is Dallas. With the combination of a rookie quarterback and rookie running back the Cowboys surprised the NFL world by going 13-3 in the regular season while also rewarding backers with their 10-6 ATS record. The final piece of this week’s puzzle involves the NFC’s number 2 seed Atlanta. The Falcons were 11-5 in the regular season and 10-6 ATS. In what could be their final home game in the Georgia Dome the Falcons will host Seattle off a breakout receiving game from Paul Richardson.

The Seahawks were 26-6 winners over Detroit considered the weakest of this season’s playoffs field. Seattle covered as an 8 point home favorite.

Thus, all four home favorite won and covered in their Wild Card games, dealing sports books yet another disappointing NFL weekend. In the best of all circumstances the best results for the books will generally be favorites winning but failing to cover as underdogs usually attract much money line action. This past week, however, saw none of the underdogs pull an upset.

Although favorites have swept Wild Card rounds in the past as have home teams, last week was the first time that all four winning teams were home favorites and all four of the home favorites covered the spread since the current Playoffs format was implemented in 1990.

Last week was just the fourth time that all four Wild Card favorites won Straight Up under the current format. All four favorites previously swept the Wild Card round in 2003, 2006 and 2012 with 2012 the only season prior to this season in which the 4 favorites were also a perfect 4-0 ATS.

Last week was also the fourth time since 1990 that the home team won all 4 games SU (2000, 2006, 2011) and just the third time in which all 4 home teams covered the spread (2000, 2011).

The No. 1 seed in each Conference has made it to the Super Bowl in each of the past three seasons. Prior to the 2013 season the Super Bowl matched a pair of number 1 seeds just three times in the 23 prior Super Bowls since seeding began in 1990 (1991, 1993 and 2009).

Of the three post season rounds prior to the Super Bowl this round – the Divisional round – has seen home teams have their greatest SU success, winning 77 of 104 games since 1990 (74.0 percent). This also correlates to favorites having the highest degree of SU success as well since the vast majority of home teams are favored in this round. Since 1990 the favored team has won 74 of 103 games (71.8 percent). The 2004 Divisional game between New England and Indianapolis closed as pick ‘em.

Yet of the three pre Super Bowl rounds this round has seen underdogs enjoy their best success against the pointspread. Favorites have covered 51.0 percent of the games in the Wild Card rounds and 52.9 percent of the time in the Conference Championships. But the favored team is just 49-51-3 ATS in the Divisional round, 49.0 percent.

All 4 Divisional games this week are rematches of regular season games. In 2 of the games the home team seeks to avenge a road loss.


Seattle +4.5 at Atlanta (51): Seattle defeated the Falcons as a 7 point home favorite 26-24 in Week 6 in a game that featured a very controversial ending. As Atlanta was driving late to win the game with either a FG or TD Seattle’s Richard Sherman mugged Atlanta’s Julio Jones but a penalty was not called and the Seahawks survived. That game could have determined home field for this game but fortunately it was avoided when Atlanta finished the regular season 11-5 and Seattle went 10-5-1.

The Falcons had been to the Playoffs in 4 of QB Matt Ryan’s first 5 seasons but had missed the Playoffs the last three seasons. Seattle is in the Playoffs for a fifth straight season with both a Super Bowl and loss in this stretch. In many respects Atlanta can be referred to as “Dallas Lite” with a solid offensive line and a strong running game and passing game directed by QB Matt Ryan, potentially this season’s MVP.

Both offenses excel at avoiding turnovers. Seattle QB Russell Wilson is more mobile than Ryan but the Seattle offensive line and lack of a consistent running game have been concerns all season. It would not be surprising at all if this game is decided by a FG or less. SEATTLE/UNDER

Houston +16 at New England (46): In Week 3 New England, playing with Jacoby Brissett in place of suspended QB Tom Brady, shut out the Texans 27-0, easily covering as a slight 1 point home favorite. The talent surrounding Brady continues to change and his favorite target, TE Rob Gronkowski, missed most of the season due to injury and will miss the Playoffs. Understandably New England was going to open as a very solid favorite and indeed the Westgate opened the Pats as 14.5 point home favorites. Within a half hour the line was up to 16 and by Monday morning the line both in Nevada and worldwide was between 15.5 and 16.5 with 16 the predominant price.

That was the last time a Playoffs line closed at higher than minus 14.5. In the current reign of Brady and coach Bill Belichick in which the Patriots have made that Playoffs in every season but two since 2001, New England has been a double digit favorite 4 times, going 3-1 SU but just 1-3 ATS. All 3 of the ATS losses were when chasing perfection in 2007 with the SU loss being to the Giants that left them one win short of 19-0. Their other instance of double digit favoritism was in 2011 when they blew out Denver 45-10 as 14 point favorites.

Both teams’ rushing games are similar and New England’s defense was deceptively better than generally recognized and they led the NFL in allowing just 15.6 points per game. The Pats have as huge an edge at QB as there will be or has been in any of this season’s Playoff games. But this is about whether this game can be competitive enough for Houston backers to cash their tickets. Their defense and their ability to run the football and lessen the number of possessions suggest they can. HOUSTON/UNDER


Pittsburgh +1.5 at Kansas City (46.5): Reeling from a shocking 34-3 road loss preceding its Bye week, Pittsburgh responded with a rout of Kansas City in Week 5, winning 43-14 and easily covering as a 3.5 point home favorite. The win improved the Steelers to 3-1 and dropped the Chiefs to 2-2. Since then the Chiefs have gone 10-2. The Steelers defeated the Jets the next week but then dropped 4 straight amid questions of whether this team could live up to preseason expectations. But the answer has been a resound “YES” as Pittsburgh has won 8 in row including last week’s Wild Card win over Miami. When that game was winding down lines for this game came out with the Steelers 2.5 point road favorites.

Then Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger showed up in the post game press conference in a walking boot and acknowledged he hurt his ankle on his last meaningful play in the game. Immediately money came in on the Chiefs even though Big Ben indicated without hesitation he would play in this game. Indeed he was listed as ‘probable’ on Monday’s injury reports. Thus it will not be a surprise if money flows back on the Steelers as the week progresses and Pittsburgh might go off as close to a FG road favorite. With Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown the Steelers have the classic trio of key offensive performers featured in most balanced and potent offenses.

With one of the NFL’s best offenses and a defense that has also performed much better than is generally recognized the Steelers have a team capable of winning at New England next week. That’s if they get by Kansas City this week. The Chiefs have solid special teams and an electric kick returner, Tyreek Hill. But that should not be enough to offset the red hot Steelers who are playing championship football on both offense and defense. PITTSBURGH/UNDER

Green Bay +4 at Dallas (51): One of Dallas’ best wins and one of Green Bay’s worst losses occurred at Lambeau Field in Week 6 when the Cowboys easily defeated the Packers 30-16. Green Bay allowed 191 rushing yards, its highest total of the season and the win legitimized Dallas as a true contender after its fifth straight win and most impressive effort to date. It was just prior to a mid-season decline for Green Bay which defeated Chicago the following week before losing 4 in a row. The Pack has not lost since and enter this game having won 7 in a row, covering in 6.

Dallas would win 11 in a row and was virtually certain to earn the top NFC seed so their 2-2 finish to the regular season should not be viewed as a sign of concern. Their 1-5 ATS finish might be looked upon as the market having caught up to the ‘Boys and perhaps indicate that this point spread is a bit too high, especially given Green Bay’s huge edge in Playoffs experience. This is the Packers’ eighth straight season in the Playoffs.

Both teams have elite offenses. Pittsburgh has scored at least 30 points in 5 straight games. But their defensive secondary has issues and although they’ve held 4 straight foes to under 100 rushing yards they’ve allowed between 295 and 354 net passing yards in those games. Of course, they were all wins. Dallas covered 9 of its first 10 games but has gone 1-5 since. Green Bay has covered 6 of 7 after a 4-5-1 ATS start.

The Packers are playing much better football since their October encounter, especially Rodgers. And they have that big edge in Playoff experience so an outright upset win might not really be that much of an upset. But that Dallas offensive line and their better balanced offense going against that banged up Green Bay defensive secondary should be determinative in what handicaps as the most entertaining of this week’s 4 games. DALLAS/OVER

Last week: 2-6

Season: 125-129-6

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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