The NFL Playoffs are here! With the postseason come some of the most exciting wagering opportunities of the season. Many bettors tend to be overly influenced by what they saw last. But remember, how a team finishes the regular season is not necessarily indicative of how they are going to perform in the postseason. So try not to let recency bias misinform your picks this postseason.
To help you with that, let’s examine the true betting outlook for a few teams preparing to start the playoffs.
New England Patriots
Heading into Week 17, the Patriots had locked up a bye and needed to beat Miami to earn the number one seed in the AFC. Everyone and their hoodie expected the Pats to win easily and never have to leave the Boston area before heading west for the Super Bowl. But the Dolphins had other ideas, handing New England its second straight loss and fourth in the last six weeks. How concerned should we be about the Pats’ flat finish?
While you may think the top seed is vital, clearly Bill Belichick doesn’t. Several key starters, including Chandler Jones, Sebastian Vollmer, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman, didn’t play against Miami. They probably could have been pushed into duty if necessary, but the game was deemed less important than resting them for the playoffs.
Heading into Week 17, the top seed was also looking at a potential date with the Steelers or Jets in the Divisional Playoffs – two teams the Patriots likely wanted to avoid. A match-up against Alex Smith (Kansas City) or Brian Hoyer/TJ Yates (Houston) was probably more appealing, even if it meant a trip to Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
The “hot” NFC West team going into the playoffs is Seattle. The Seahawks carved up the Cardinals, 36-6, on Sunday. They’re 6/1 to win the Super Bowl while no other team that has to play in a Wild Card game is less than 12/1. However, to reach the ultimate stage, Seattle will need to win three road games, while Arizona may need only two home wins (or, at worst, one home win plus a victory in Carolina).
The most likely path to the Super Bowl for the ‘Hawks is at Minnesota, at Carolina, and at Arizona. In that scenario, the Cardinals would host the Redskins or Packers and then welcome Seattle. While Seattle looked great in Week 17, remember to look at that game in context. The Cards’ chances at the top seed were slim last weekend and they’d already earned an impressive road win over Seattle earlier in the year; in sum, motivation wasn’t tremendously high on the Arizona sideline. (Even fiercely competitive head coach Bruce Arians wasn’t overly concerned with getting the win.)
That will change come the Divisional round, when the Cardinals will be well rested and playing in front of a partial crowd. Add in the fact that Seattle will have a much tougher road to Super Sunday, and that Week 17 anomaly shouldn’t phase Arizona backers.
Five of the 12 playoff teams are less than 7/1 to win the Super Bowl, while nine of 12 squads are 25/1 or less. Then there are the Vikings (34/1), Redskins (58/1), and Texans (90/1). It is hard to make a strong argument for Houston winning it all, but they’re actually in a decent situation, all things considered.
If you believe the old adage that defense wins championship, the Texans might be the horse you want to ride. Houston has allowed a total of 22 points during a three-game winning streak; the team also averaged a picayune 12.7 points against while taking seven of their final nine.
Even with a QB situation in constant flux, the Texans posted a road win in Cincinnati and nearly knocked off the Panthers in Carolina. (The Panthers won 24-17, but had to make a stop in the final minute to avoid overtime.) Nobody is suggesting the Texans are going to go on a run all the way to the Lombardi Trophy, but with Brian Hoyer shoring up the situation under center and the defense playing at an all-time high, they can win a game or two and cover some postseason spreads.
(Photo credit: Landry Heaton (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)