A popular song recorded at the dawn of the current millennium was “Who let the dogs out?” by the Bahamian group Baha Men. Although the song does not offer the answer, the NFL has.
The answer is Playoff football.
Dating back to the start of last season’s Playoffs, underdogs have covered 14 of 15 games with nine of the 14 covering pups winning outright.
Defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia has accounted for four of those upsets, winning twice as home underdogs last season, followed by their upset of New England in the Super Bowl and reprised, this time as a true road underdog, with last Sunday’s dramatic road win at Chicago.
Joining the Eagles in advancing to the Divisional round of the Playoffs are Indianapolis, the L.A. Chargers and Dallas. Both the Colts and Chargers won outright as small underdogs while Dallas won as a small favorite. But not small enough to cover in its 26-24 win over Seattle as the Cowboys closed as 2.5 point favorites after vacillating between 2 and 2.5 point chalk all week.
Last season, all four underdogs covered in the Wild Card round but just two of them won their games outright as Tennessee won at Kansas City and Atlanta won at the Rams. The following week both were on the road again facing teams that had earned Byes during the Wild Card round. The Falcons were short 2.5-point road favorites in their Divisional round game at Philadelphia, losing outright 15-10. The Titans were the largest underdog in last season’s Playoffs and were the only underdog that lost ATS, dropping a 35-14 decision at New England.
Tennessee’s ATS loss in that game extended to eight the number of consecutive ATS losses suffered by double-digit Playoff underdogs that dates back to the Divisional round of the 2010 Playoffs.
Here are previews and selections for all four Divisional round games.
Colts (+6) at Chiefs (Over/Under 57): We can expect the Chiefs to be fresh and sharp of those two Byes over the past two months and after back-to-back losses to the Chargers and Seahawks KC ended the regular season with a confidence building 35-3 blowout tuneup win over Oakland.
The red-hot Colts enter this game having won 10 of their last 11 games, sandwiching a pair of five-game winning streaks around a 6-0 loss at Jacksonville in Week 13. Seven of the wins were against teams that did not make the Playoffs and two others, though on the road, were against flawed Divisional rival Houston, whom the Colts defeated last week.
The lone impressive win over a Playoff team came at home, a 23-0 win over Dallas in Week 15. The Chiefs are in the Playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons with Andy Reid as coach. But they are just 1-4 in those Playoff games including crushing home losses by one and two points the past two seasons.
Perhaps that is what compelled Reid to trade veteran QB Alex Smith in the last off season to turn the offense over the lightly tested and now second year QB Patrick Mahomes. And as we all know that decision has paid immediate dividends as the Chiefs earned the top AFC seed behind Mahomes’ likely MVP season. Their four losses were all to Playoff teams with three of them on the road. Their lone home loss was by one point to their Division rival Chargers. Only two of their seven home wins were by less than 11 points and only their three-point win over Baltimore would not have covered this line.
The Colts will be the fashionable pick to win the AFC next season but their 2018 season likely ends here. CHIEFS and OVER
Cowboys (+7) at Rams (49.5): Over the first half of the season the Rams looked to be the clear class of the NFC, winning their first eight games with an offense that was as productive as any we’ve seen in recent seasons.
The defense was solid but not dominant and after starting 3-0-1 ATS, the Rams were just 1-5-1 ATS over their next seven games despite not being favored by more than 9.5 points in any of those games. Back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and Chicago down the stretch when the top NFL seed was on the line has raised some concerns.
However, blowout wins to end the season over weak Division rivals Arizona and the 49ers may not have alleviated those concerns in the minds of many observers but had to have restored confidence in the players and coaches. Dallas was struggling at 3-4 when they made the trade with Oakland for WR Amari Cooper. The ‘Boys lost at home to Tennessee in Cooper’s debut but then won five straight and seven of eight to end the regular season before holding off Seattle in last week’s Wild Card win.
Four of the wins were as underdogs with two of the wins on the road. The Cooper trade clearly turned around their season by giving Dallas much needed offensive balance while also taking pressure of their improving defense. Recall that the Rams lost here last year, albeit in the Wild Card round, to Atlanta as 6-point chalk. COWBOYS and UNDER
Chargers (+4) at Patriots (47.5): The Patriots have the distinction of being the only favorite to have covered in last season’s Playoffs, knocking off Tennessee in this, the Divisional round, a week after the Titans had won at fourth seeded Kansas City 22-21. New England last failed to win at least 12 games for the first time since their 10-6 season in 2009, going 11-5 this season. Still, the Pats were a perfect 8-0 SU at home, going 6-2 ATS. Only two of the wins were by less than 12 points and only their 43-40 Week 6 win over Kansas City would not have covered the current four-point line for this game.
At the same time, the Chargers are 8-1 both SU and ATS on the road this season with the lone loss (SU and ATS) coming across town at the Rams. And in only three of the nine games were the Chargers road favorites.
This in this sense we have strength vs. strength in terms of perceptions and results. The Pats have won eight straight Playoff games since last losing on this field to Baltimore in 2012 when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Only two of the eight home wins have been by less than seven points and each was by exactly four.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers has never defeated the Brady/Belichick combination. Since Divisional realignment in 2002 the points have mattered in the Divisional round of the Playoffs just 15 times in 64 games in addition to one Push. And in only one of those 16 games was the team that won but failed to cover favored by less than 4.5 points. PATRIOTS and UNDER
Eagles (+8) at Saints (51.5): In winning last season’s Super Bowl the Eagles were underdogs in each of their three games and won again last week as a road underdog. As noted above, Philly was embarrassed in its Week 11 loss on this field, losing 48-7. Thus aside from the motivation of seeking to advance in the Playoffs, the Eagles will also be highly motivated to perform much better against a Saints team that was not nearly as potent offensively down the stretch as they’d been during and prior to their first meeting.
Over their final six games New Orleans averaged just 21.0 points per game after averaging 37.8 in their first 10 games. And in three of those six games the Saints scored 14 points or less three times after scoring less than 30 points in their first 10 (21 and 24). And over their final six games the Saints averaged just 299 total yards per game after averaging 427 ypg in their first 10 with their total yards in the final six games ranging between 176 and 370.
Philly defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has proven to be a much better assistant than head coach, and although the Eagles may not pull the outright upset, it is reasonable to expect them to be much more competitive than in that first meeting.
Of course an outright upset cannot be ruled out as that famous part-time philosopher and full-time New York Yankee icon Yogi Berra famously asked, “Is this deja vu all over again?” EAGLES and UNDER
Last week: 4-4