Last season, wild-card weekend was about the favorites. All four favorites won, with the largest point differential for a wild-card round in league history. This postseason, that overcorrected.
All four underdogs covered the point spread last weekend. Two underdogs, the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons, pulled off straight-up wins. It’s rare for underdogs to dominate wild-card weekend like that. According to Jon Campbell at OddsShark.com, the last time underdogs went 4-0 against the spread in the wild-card round was the 1991 season (there was also a 3-0-1 weekend for dogs four years ago).
While we get an upset here or there in the divisional round, it’s usually about the favorites. They’re the best teams, at home, and rested. Home teams have won 15 of the last 19 divisional round games, according to OddsShark. But maybe this postseason is just going to be a little wackier than usual.
Here are the against-the-spread picks for the divisional round (as always, we’ll use the odds on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em):
Falcons (-2.5) at Eagles: If you enjoy point spreads, this game is historically significant.
According to OddsShark, the Eagles are the first No. 1 seed ever to be an underdog in the divisional round. Dating back to 1975, only six home teams have been underdogs this round, and all were the No. 2 seed. The last instance was the San Francisco 49ers being favored by a point over the Carolina Panthers in 2013.
There’s one reason for the major disrespect to the Eagles, and it’s Nick Foles. He didn’t look good in Week 16, and struggled again in a quarter of work in Week 17. It seemed like the Eagles became incompetent without Carson Wentz. It fails to recognize that Foles did have a four-touchdown game in his first start replacing Wentz, Week 15 against the Giants. The Falcons being favored also doesn’t take into account that the Eagles are a really good team.
Wentz is fantastic, but he wasn’t the entire reason the Eagles got the first seed. Philadelphia has a top-five defense, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric. They’re capable of running the ball with their deep group of backs. There are good targets for Foles to throw to. Philadelphia is well coached, too.
The Falcons played well last week, particularly on defense, but most of the season wasn’t too impressive. And while the weather isn’t expected to be too bad in Philly, the record of dome teams traveling north in January isn’t good. While we can all envision a scenario in which Foles struggles and ruins the Eagles, I think the Eagles are being dismissed prematurely. This is a good team. Five bad quarters of football from Foles doesn’t entirely change that. The pick: Eagles 17, Falcons 13
Titans at Patriots (-13): It’s hard to say this line is off. The Titans were underwhelming most of the regular season, to the point it looked like they’d fire their coach even with a playoff berth. One great half against the Chiefs doesn’t necessarily change that.
I do think the Titans are better off now that the DeMarco Murray-Derrick Henry decision has been taken out of the coaching staff’s hands. It’s inconceivable that Mike Mularkey and crew couldn’t see that Henry would help them, but Murray is out and they can’t screw that up anymore. Henry could have another big game and help the Titans win time of possession and shorten the game. And it’s also at least worth noting that Tom Brady wasn’t Tom Brady near the end of the season (26 TDs, three INTs, 111.7 rating in the first 11 games; six TDs, five INTs, 81.6 rating last five games). If Brady struggles again, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.
I’ve gone back and forth on this game, because I don’t believe in the Titans, yet 13 points is a lot in a playoff game. The Patriots usually do well in this spot — they’ve won six straight divisional-round games, and covered the spread five times — and double-digit favorites are 12-6-1 in the divisional-round since 1991, according to OddsShark. A favorite has to cover eventually. The pick: Patriots 31, Titans 14
Jaguars at Steelers (-7.5): The outcome of a game months ago doesn’t necessarily matter in a playoff rematch. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to throw five interceptions to the Jaguars, like he did on Oct. 8 in a 30-9 Jaguars win. However, it does give the Jaguars confidence. They won’t be intimidated in the slightest.
Here’s what we know: The Jaguars defense will show up. That’s a great unit. They won’t hold the Steelers to nine points again, but they’ll play well. Of course, we don’t know if the Jaguars offense will show up.
Blake Bortles played reasonably well for most of the season, but has fallen apart a bit at the end. Last week he really struggled, missing easy passes time after time. The Jaguars defense saved the day in that game, but the Jaguars aren’t playing the Bills again. Jacksonville will need to do something on offense. That’s not guaranteed.
However, I think more than a touchdown is too much to lay against a defense as good as Jacksonville. And I’ll hope the offense shows up, at least a little bit. The pick: Steelers 20, Jaguars 14
Saints at Vikings (-4): If you can’t get excited for this game, you might not be alive. This is a fantastic game, and I believe the team that wins this game is going to the Super Bowl. And I think it’s going to be the Saints.
The Vikings are a fantastic, well-coached team with an incredible defense. I have nothing against them, nor do I think anything they did this season was a fluke. I just believe in the Saints and Drew Brees.
Quarterback wins is not a real stat. A record shouldn’t be assigned to any single player in the ultimate team sport. However, you have to look very closely at the quarterbacks in both games and then work back from there. I think Brees is slightly underrated historically (tell me which box he doesn’t check to be a top-five all-time quarterback) and he’ll show up in a big way Sunday. The Vikings defense is great, but so is the Saints offense. And the Saints’ defense is really good too.
This should be a classic game. And I’ll pick New Orleans to win, and then advance to the Super Bowl a week later. The pick: Saints 21, Vikings 20
Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 140-112-8
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