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The formal wild-card round has been part of the NFL playoffs since 1978 and this weekend marks the 20th time a home team has been made an underdog at this stage.
Seattle is an early 3-point choice at Washington.
Through the years, home ’dogs in this round are 14-5 ATS and a stupendous 13-6 outright, which makes for a fine money-line option. Last year’s highlight was when the Broncos “Tebowed” the visiting Steelers 29-23 in overtime as an 8-point underdog. A year earlier, the host Seahawks beat the Saints 41-36 as a 10-point ’dog.
In the first round of the 2011 postseason, the home teams in the wild-card games were perfect straight up and ATS in all four games, only the second time that’s happened in the current format that began in 1990.
But hold on before jumping on all these home squads willy-nilly. From 2004-2010, they were a dreadful 13-15 SU and 12-16 ATS.
And on the futures board at the LVH Superbook, New England and Denver were listed as 5-2 co-favorites at midweek to win the Super Bowl with Minnesota and Indianapolis the long shots at 80-1.
Now on for a closer look at this weekend’s wild-card games:
PRO FOOTBALL WILD CARD ROUND –SATURDAY, JAN. 5
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) at Houston Texans (12-4)
Time: 1:30 p.m. PST
Line: Texans -4½ (43½)
Facts: These teams met in Houston in last year’s first round, with the Texans winning 31-10 behind third-string QB T.J. Yates. It’s Houston’s only playoff win in its 11-year history. Cincinnati hasn’t won in the postseason since 1990, when beating Houston’s old team, the Oilers, 41-14. • Houston’s J.J. Watt didn’t break Michael Strahan’s record for sacks in a season but did lead the NFL with 20.5. Cincinnati’s team is third with 51. • Bengals QB Andy Dalton has pitched 4 pick-6’s, tied for most in the league. Houston’s Matt Schaub hasn’t had any.
Analysis: The Texans, the only team not to give up a 30-yard run this season, will be facing a hobbled Bengals ground attack featuring BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who’s nursing a hamstring injury. Thus, Cincinnati’s running game isn’t likely to provide Dalton with a solid complement, so Houston could well tee off against an offensive line that’s yielded 46 QB traps, seventh most in the league. Not to mention, Cincinnati hasn’t been great shakes against playoff-caliber teams the past two seasons, going 0-8 last year and only 2-2 this season, with one of the wins coming against Baltimore’s dregs last week.
Forecast: Texans 23, Bengals 13
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Time: 5 p.m. PST
Line: Packers -7½ (46½)
Facts: Temperatures in the low 20s, with a wind chill of near zero, is expected for this game. In 2008, when the Texans visited Green Bay, the temp at kickoff was 3 degrees. Still, Houston’s dome team prevailed 24-21 as a 6-point underdog. • Minnesota has rushed for 200-plus yards in 3 of its past 4 games vs. the Pack, with rushing champ Adrian Peterson having 409 in 2 matchups including 199 last Sunday. No other team has reached 200 against GB the past four years. • Super Bowl-winning coaches such as Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and Washington’s Mike Shanahan are only 7-12 both SU and ATS the past 10 years in the wild-card round.
Analysis: It appears Green Bay is getting healthier at a good time, with DB Charles Woodson and WR Randall Cobb expected back. But it’s got to be hard for the Packers, as well as for Houston, to play on short rest when a bye week was within their grasp.
Minnesota comes in on a four-game winning streak that includes last week’s desperation 37-34 victory at the gun against visiting Green Bay. And it’s not like there’s a mystique about Lambeau Field’s frozen tundra anymore, especially since the Packers have lost 4 of their past 6 playoff games there since 2002.
Forecast: Vikings 28, Packers 23
PRO FOOTBALL WILD CARD ROUND SUNDAY, JAN. 6
Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Baltimore Ravens(10-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Ravens -7 (47)
Facts: The Colts became the 37th team to reach the postseason despite being outscored (357-387). Their 11-5 record, though, is better than any of the others. • The Ravens made the postseason while leading the league in penalty yards. The last team to do that was Baltimore in 2009. • The Colts’ average regular-season yield of 5.1 yards a rush is their worst since 2006’s norm of 5.3 during their Super season, the lousiest for any playoff team in history. • Over the previous 10 seasons of wild-card play, when the division winner had a lesser record than the visiting wild-card team, the home team was 9-4 ATS, 8-5 SU.
Analysis: Is this the week Indy’s bubble bursts? Besides being outscored by 30 points over the course of the season, the Colts have a home loss to Jacksonville (argghh!) and were blown out on the road by the Jets. Hardly playoff timber. Plus, the Colts’ 15 takeaways tie for the fewest for any playoff team in recorded league history. Their -12 differential ties for second worst the past 10 years.
QB Andrew Luck, has the 31st best completion percentage, ahead of only Chad Henne. Good grief! The Ravens, meanwhile, held the feisty Bengals to less than 200 yards last week despite resting a slew of regulars. Now the regulars are back. The Cinderella story ends here.
Forecast: Ravens 31, Colts 13
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington Redskins (10-6)
Time: 1:30 p.m. PST
Line: Seahawks -3 (46)
Facts: Seattle is the only playoff team with a better record against teams that qualified for the postseason (4-1) than teams with double-digit losses (3-2). • This game marks the Redskins’ fifth against teams that qualified for the postseason, with all of them being played in D.C. They are 2-2. • The Seahawks’ defense is fourth on the charts in yards yielded per game, with Washington’s 28th, a difference of 71.1 a game. On the same subject, the Redskins have the worst third-down defense in football, allowing foes to convert 44.2 percent of the time. • Washington is 13-2 all-time in postseason home games, including a 73-0 loss to the Bears in the 1940 title game.
Analysis: In a remarkable development, a pair of rookie QBs meet in the postseason with third-rated passer Robert Griffin III facing Seattle’s Russell Wilson at No. 4 and coming on like gangbusters. RG3 faces the stiffest test, going against a Seattle unit that ranks third in defensive passer rating thanks to its robust secondary. But Washington’s not-to-secret weapon is its running game behind rookie Alfred Morris, which averaged 169.7 rushing yards a game, the best by anyone the past 3 seasons. Also playing into the Redskins’ hands is that Seattle is making its fifth trip East. For what it’s worth, the Seahawks will avoid playing in the dreaded “jet lag” slot early Sunday.
Forecast: Redskins 24, Seahawks 17
Last week: 3-10 ATS; 9-7 SU
Season total: 126-119-6 (.530) ATS; 149-106-1 (.590) SU
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].