As usual, I am going to take a dive into that week’s slate of games and try to dig up some trends. Hopefully, they give us an edge when making game selections each week.
Of course, trends are trends…until they’re not. Sometimes betting on the other end of a trend ending can be advantageous. The goal here isn’t to plant a flag based on a trend, rather to simply shine a spotlight on these trends that exist and talk through some of them as food for thought. We’ll look at the NFC matchups now with the AFC already covered.
Just like last week, we’ll take a top-down look at performances in the Divisional Round. We know having a first-round playoff has had an advantage for outright wins, but let’s take a quick look at results in the Divisional Round per seed.
Since the NFL went to 32 teams and this current playoff structure in 2002, teams with the first-round bye have a clean 47-21 record straight up, but those teams haven’t held the betting advantage over that span, going 30-38 (44.1%) against the spread. Dogs have been good bets in general, going 39-29 (57.4%) in the Divisional Round, but large dogs of seven or more points have been particularly strong, going 21-13 (61.8%) against the line.
No. 1 Seeds have been the best bet to win outright in the Divisional Round (72.7%), but have also been the worst bet against the spread (38.2%) over the totality of time listed above. They have been better of late, going 9-1 straight up the past five seasons while posting a 6-4 record against the line in those games.
Both No. 1 Seeds have matchups with No. 6 seeds this Saturday. No. 1 seeds are 12-5 against No. 6 seeds, but 7-10 ATS the spread in those spots. No. 6 seeds have been good bets when getting heavy points, going 7-4 ATS when getting six or more points.
A No. 2 seed has lost in the Divisional Round in four of the past six seasons, but the best bet for an upset this round has been by No. 3 seeds, and both of those this season have been eliminated. Outside of those teams, the No. 2 seed has posted a 7-2 record (6-3 ATS) against No. 4 seeds, but have been worse against No. 5 seeds, going 5-3 (4-4 ATS).
After highlighting how frequently Wild Card Round games have historically fallen under the game total, all four games last weekend were unders. In the Divisional Round, scoring tends to bounce back, with the games in this round going over 52.9% of the time. That is also reflected in the early lines this week. Last week, we were expecting low-scoring games, with three games having a total of 45 points or fewer. This week, three of the four games are set at 46 points or higher.
Unders are only favored in games involving No. 1 and No. 6 seeds. Another trend in those projected to be one-sided matchups is that unders have hit at a 9-2 rate in games with the top seed giving away six or more points. In those games, the favorite has been required to do too much lifting to get the game to the game total, with the underdog averaging just 15.9 total points per game in those contests and have scored 17 or fewer points in eight of those 11 games.
Vikings at 49ers
Minnesota is the only team playing this weekend without at least a full week off. Of course, they would’ve had the rest disadvantage regardless this week, but Minnesota teams are 8-8 straight up (8-6-2 ATS) under Mike Zimmer when having less than a full week to prepare. That is significantly worse entering as an underdog, posting a 1-7 record heads up while going 3-4-1 against the spread. As a road underdog, those marks fall to 0-6 straight up and 1-4-1 ATS.
The 49ers were no sure bet at home this season, going 3-4-1 against the spread. They are also the only team this weekend starting a first-time playoff quarterback. Last week, we highlighted how much first-time playoff starters struggled and their game played under, and out of the three first time starters, two of those teams failed to cover while all three games went under the game total.
So what about first-time starting quarterbacks who are also attached to better teams overall that earn a bye? Since that same timeframe in 2002 when the league went to 32 teams, first-time starters with a bye are 5-6 straight up and 4-7 against the spread. They’ve fared better of late straight up, winning 5-of-7 games since 2010 (3-3 ATS). The 49ers have actually fielded two of these 11 players (Alex Smith in 2011 and Colin Kaepernick in 2012) and won and covered both times.
Two of the quarterbacks in this sample were actually home underdogs in the Divisional Round (Smith in 2011 and Cam Newton in 2013, who ironically faced the 49ers). Favorites led by first-time playoff passers have notched a 4-5 record straight up while posting a 3-6 mark against the spread.
Also, unlike last week’s trend of producing unders in these spots, the game total has gone over the mark in eight of those 11 games.
Seahawks at Packers
Seattle has been the league’s best team on the road this season. A 17-9 win over the Eagles bumped their road record to a league-best 8-1 last week, while moving their record against the spread up to 6-2-1 away from home.
As a home team, the Packers matched Baltimore for the league’s best record (7-1) while they were tied for the league’s best bet at home, going 5-3 against the spread.
Playing at home has been kind to the Packers under Aaron Rodgers. In games Rodgers has played since 2008, Green Bay has a 71-18-1 record straight up at home, going 50-32-2 (59.6%) against the spread. In the postseason, those marks are more neutral, with Green Bay going 3-2 at home and 2-2-1 against the spread.
Being two of the better teams in the NFC over the past decade, these teams are familiar with each other. Well, at least from a Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, and Rodgers stance. Rodgers has faced Wilson and a Carroll-led defense seven times including the postseason, going 3-4 heads up and 4-2-1 against the spread while going 3-0 both heads up and against the spread in those games played in Green Bay, with the Packers winning by 28, 8, and 10 points.