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Divisional playoffs don’t like visitors

Jan 15, 2002 9:08 AM

The NFL Divisional playoffs provide bettors with a number of interesting nuggets of information to keep in mind when handicapping these match-ups.

Of course trends can’t be the only factor to take into consideration when laying money down on a game, but it is certainly interesting to see how the two conferences have taken on individualized identities over the last few seasons. For instance, while the NFC playoffs seem to have been dominated by the home teams in this round, the AFC picture has been much more muddled, as we will see.

Except for a short run by the Broncos at the end of John Elway’s career, the NFL has been the domain of NFC franchises for the better part of the last two decades. The NFC has been the home of some of the best teams in recent memory, and one thing that most of those teams were always able to do was win at home during the playoffs.

During the divisional round, the top seeds in the NFC tend to dominate and have been for a long time. Last season, the Giants and Vikings were at home for this round, and both teams rolled to easy wins, winning and covering against the Eagles and Saints, respectively.

The Rams look like the natural extension of NFC dominance this season, and have already proven themselves at home during the Divisional Round. Last season, St. Louis lost at the Saints in the Wild Card game, but easily covered a seven-point spread the season before on their way to a 49-37 win over the Vikings during the Division Round.

St. Louis failed to cover the next week against the Bucs in the NFC title game, but got the close win at home on the way to a first world championship.

As should be expected, home teams usually covers the number in the divisional round, no matter which conference they play in. The home teams are either the No. 1 or 2 seed, and have had an extra week to heal any injuries.

Over the last seven seasons, home teams have gone 16-10-2 against the spread. Favorites, usually the home team in this round, have gone 17-9-2 ATS during that same time period. It seems pretty obvious that the home team is usually the better team, but that isn’t always the case during the playoffs, especially in the AFC over the last couple of seasons.

Last season the Ravens were a wild card team with 12 wins on their regular season resume, but they were still faced with the task of winning three games in a row, two on the road, to get to the Super Bowl. After dispatching the Broncos in the wild card round, the Ravens beat a rested Tennessee Titans team, as six-point road underdogs, 24-10.

The Ravens had the advantage of having played the Titans twice during the regular season, beating them once in Baltimore. The Ravens also had, of course, one of the most dominating defenses in the history of the game. But the big spread proves how strong home teams have been in the divisional round of the playoffs.

In many circles, the Ravens were considered the best team entering the playoffs, but the oddsmakers still made them prohibitive underdogs, due primarily to the trends.

One would have expected the Titans to be better prepared for such a strong wild card opponent, though, since Tennessee followed that route on the way to facing the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. Everybody remembers “The Music City Miracle,” which propelled the Titans into the divisional round of the 1999 post-season, but the next week was Tennessee’s truly amazing accomplishment.

After struggling against the Bills at home, the Titans were installed as six-point underdogs against the Colts in Indianapolis. In hindsight it seems like an awful lot of points to give up in a playoff game, but the Colts were a very trendy pick to replace the Broncos atop the AFC, after Elway’s retirement.

They were at home for this game, in front of rabid fans, and few believed the Titans could keep pace with Peyton Manning and the rest of Indianapolis’ prolific offense. As we all know now, things didn’t work out that way, as the Colts couldn’t stop the running of Eddie George, and the Titans moved on to face the Jaguars in the AFC title game.

In general, home teams and favorites tend to win division playoff games, but the last couple of seasons have shown us that there are always exceptions to the rules. This season, all four match-ups have the potential to surprise and, of course, make some money for the judicious bettor.

Divisional Playoffs
HOME : 17-10-2 ATS
FAVORITES : 17-9-2