After the NFL’s first 17-game regular season, we have reached the much-anticipated playoffs. As usual, there are some betting favorites, but it seems like a wide-open race to make it to the Super Bowl in Inglewood, Calif. Theoretically, the advantage would go to the No. 1 seeds, Green Bay in the NFC and Tennessee in the AFC. The Packers and Titans are the only playoff teams not playing this weekend.
The NFL playoffs have gone through various trend patterns over the years, with some seasons dominated by underdogs and upstarts and others relatively predictable. Because of these changing patterns, it can be difficult for bettors to thrive when using past playoff results as a guide.
When you consider that road teams are on a 14-4 SU and 15-3 ATS run in the wild-card round over the last four seasons, perhaps handicapping this stuff is easy, right? If you prefer betting totals, you’re probably going to want to consider that the Under is 12-6 in that same set of games and 26-11-1 in the last nine wild-card rounds. Trust me, though, if it were that easy, sportsbooks wouldn’t be expanding operations.
My own handicapping methods have changed throughout the years. Lately, it seems late-season success has taken on more importance. That line of thinking would bode well for Buffalo and Las Vegas, which are riding four-game winning streaks into the playoffs.
When you consider road success in recent years, if any round of the playoffs is truly wild and unpredictable, it is fittingly the wild-card round.
Only one wild-card team over the past eight seasons has played in (and won) the Super Bowl — Tampa Bay, last year. But with only the No. 1 seeds on a bye, the chances of a team playing this weekend and winning a Lombardi Trophy are theoretically doubled.
So, will the eventual Super Bowl champion be one of the teams playing on Saturday, Sunday or even Monday? Only time will tell, but savvy bettors have picked up big winnings by banking on such thoughts. Keep in mind, though, that the final four quarterbacks last year were Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
It’s my annual ritual at this time of year to dig through the database of recent playoff logs. I looked at it all, home/road scenarios, favorites/dogs, lines, stats, you name it. Continue reading to see what we’ve found, and then see if you can apply any of the findings to this weekend’s action.
Before we get into the wild-card trends, however, here are some trends I found regarding first-time playoff quarterbacks and coaches:
- Quarterbacks in their first playoff game are just 17-37 SU and 17-36-1 ATS (32 percent) since 2004 when matched up against an opposing quarterback with playoff experience. In games with betting lines of three points or less, these first-time QBs are just 5-21 SU and 4-21-1 ATS (16 percent). Before you go hog wild, however, and bet this trend with Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia), Mac Jones (New England) or Kyler Murray (Arizona), consider that the three first-time starters last January were 3-0 ATS.
- First-time playoff coaches, on the other hand, have been wildly more successful in recent years. They are on an 8-1 SU and ATS run over the last three seasons when not matched up against another first-time coach. Only Matt Nagy of Chicago lost his first playoff game in that time frame. In 2022, Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni and Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury are both first-timers going up against experienced counterparts.
General wild-card trends
- The outright winner is a crazy 48-7-1 ATS in the past 56 wild-card games. Indianapolis and Washington earned ATS wins, but failed to advance last season. If you don’t expect the team you’re betting on to win the game, you’re better off not trying to sneak in a cover.
- Underdogs are on a run of 12-4-1 ATS in the last 17 NFC wild-card games.
- Home favorites of a touchdown or more are 13-2 SU and 11-4 ATS since 2005, including Buffalo and New Orleans last season.
- There’s an interesting divergence with home teams on Saturdays versus Sundays. In the last 24 Saturday games, home teams are 18-13 SU and 17-13-1 ATS. In that same span, home teams are 14-17 SU and 11-19-1 ATS on Sundays.
- Sunday road NFC teams have been terrific, going 12-8 SU and 14-5-1 ATS in the last 20. The Under is also 15-5 in those games.
- In 14 wild-card matchups between division rivals since 2003, road teams own an 11-3 ATS edge (8-6 SU), including wins by the Rams and Browns a year ago. This year, New England and Arizona are in play.
Wild-card trends by seed
- No. 4 seeds are on a 17-13 SU and 17-11-2 ATS run over the last 15 wild-card rounds. This year’s No. 4 seeds are Cincinnati in the AFC and Los Angeles in the NFC.
- Prior to last year’s expanded bracket, the Under was on a 15-0-1 run in 3-vs.-6 matchups. For the record, No. 6 seeds are on a 7-1 SU and 8-0 ATS surge.
- No. 3 seeds that were underdogs or favorites of fewer than three points have lost 10 straight games outright while going 1-9 ATS, scoring just 13.4 ppg in the process. Dallas is a 3-point favorite as of press time.