Congratulations to the NFC South, arguably the NFL’s best Division.
Carolina won the NFC Championship two seasons ago and Atlanta won it last season. Both the Panthers and Falcons are back in the Playoffs this season but both are Wild Cards. A third team from that division, New Orleans, won the NFC South title.
All three teams will be in action this weekend as the Saints are seeded fourth in the NFC Playoffs and will host fifth-seeded Carolina in a Wild Card game on Sunday. Sixth-seeded Atlanta plays in the other NFC Wild Card game on Saturday at the third-seeded Los Angeles Rams, winners of the NFC West.
NFC top seed Philadelphia, No. 2 seed Minnesota, AFC top seed New England and No. 2 seed Pittsburgh have byes into the divisional round.
Entering the final week both Baltimore and Tennessee had fate in their control. In one of the day’s dullest games the Titans hosted and defeated Jacksonville to earn the first Wild Card and No. 5 seed. They will play fourth-seeded Kansas City, champions of the West, in the first AFC Wild Card game on Saturday. On Sunday third-seeded Jacksonville will host the No. 6 seed Buffalo, which ended the nearly two decades’ drought since their last Playoff appearance in 1999.
For only the second time since the 12-team format was introduced in 1990, have as many as eight made it in that were not in the Playoffs the season before. The only other such instance was in 2003.
With the end of the regular season comes the announcements of coaches being fired or not returning for next season.
Within 24 hours of the season’s end Oakland announced Jack del Rio would not be back. Indianapolis fired Chuck Pagano. Chicago axed John Fox and Detroit did the same to Jim Caldwell. Arizona’s Bruce Arians announced his retirement on Monday and it was previously expected Cincinnati would part ways with Marvin Lewis. Late in the season the New York Giants let Ben McAdoo go, which means at a minimum seven teams will have new head coaches for the 2018 season.
There remains the possibility Washington might part ways with Jay Gruden, Houston might dismiss Bill O’Brien. Gruden’s brother, Jon, has been linked to reports he will give up his cushy $6.5 million per year job at ESPN to return to the Oakland-soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders but that remains to be seen. Former Oakland coach John Madden never returned to the sidelines nor has former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, despite repeated rumors and speculation over the years.
Three coaches that have decided not to make changes are Denver, where Vance Joseph will get a second season to lead the Broncos, and the New York Jets who extended the contract of Todd Bowles who, after going 10-6 and missing the Playoffs on the final day of his first season, 2015, had back-to-back 5-11 seasons. And Dirk Koetter will be retained at Tampa Bay.
Before turning our attention to this weekend’s Wild Card games here is a recap of key pointspread results for the 2017 regular season.
Favorites were 131-110-11 ATS (54.4 percent) with Home Favorites 80-65-6 ATS (55.2 percent), true Road Favorites 47-44-5 (51.7 percent) and Neutral Site Favorites 4-1 ATS. There were four games that closed at Pick ‘em. The Under held a 135-118-3 edge in totals (53.4 percent.)
There is rarely uniformity from sportsbook to sportsbook as individual books will often, if not always, make adjustments based upon the futures book liability. If, for example, a book is heavy with tickets on New England they might now price the Patriots at odds of 8 to 5 if the prevailing price elsewhere is 2 to 1, discouraging play on the Pats while increasing the odds on other teams.
Or, if a book has a huge liability on New Orleans, they might price the Saints at 4 to 1 if the prevailing price is 5 to 1 or even with longshots such as Carolina. At the Westgate the Panthers opened Sunday night at 30 to 1 while at Station Casinos they are 22-1. It pays to shop entering the Playoffs whether making a futures play or hedging one previously made.
The lines and Totals are as of early afternoon Monday.
Tennessee +8 at KC (O/U 44.5): The numbers and experience favor the Chiefs who are in the Playoffs for a third straight season and for the fourth time in Andy Reid’s five seasons as coach. Tennessee last made the Playoffs in 2008. If the Titans can avoid mistakes they could pull the upset because of their running game and their defense. Over their last seven games only three times did they allow more than 20 points. The Chiefs are the better team overall with steady QB play from Alex Smith versus the somewhat erratic play of his Tennessee counterpart, Marcus Mariota. Too many points for the workmanlike Chiefs. TENNESSEE/UNDER
Atlanta +6 at LA Rams (49): Even in their win over Carolina to make the Playoffs, the Falcons settled for five field goals, four of which after drives stalled inside the Carolina 25 yard line. Statistically these teams are fairly close overall. But the Rams have the much better “look” and despite losses to two of the other three NFC Division winners they showed their true nature in that 42-7 revenge road win at Seattle in the game that effectively decided the NFC West Division title. LA RAMS/UNDER
Buffalo +8 at Jacksonville (39.5): One hidden asset the Jags have is in the front office where Tom Coughlin is in charge of football operations. He knows something about success in the Playoffs having led the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins, both of which were over the best team in football, New England.
It would not be a surprise if Coughlin and Jags head coach Doug Marrone spend time this week plotting their course through the Playoffs and how to handle factors aside from the X’s and O’s. JACKSONVILLE/UNDER
Carolina +6 at New Orleans (48.5): The Saints had the statistical edge on both meetings this season, outgaining the Panthers by 74 and 121 yards with yards-per-play edges of 1.5 and 1.0 yards. Given the recent series history, especially in 2015 and last season, the edge in Playoff experience and the familiarity, the Panthers have the best chance of the four road teams to pull the outright upset this week. Getting nearly a full TD is an attractive option in what could be, and handicaps as, the most entertaining game of the weekend. CAROLINA/OVER
Last week: 7-9