Betting All Playoff Favorites Is Betting to Lose

The four home teams in this week’s Divisional Playoff games all enjoyed byes last week and are heavy favorites to advance to the AFC and NFC Championship Games. It is reasonable to have watched the season and concluded that the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, and Packers are significantly better than most everyone else in the NFL and will move on in the playoffs.

However, history tells us that it is highly unlikely all four home teams will advance, never mind cover, on Saturday and Sunday.

The moneylines on this week’s games range from Dallas at +220 in Green Bay to Carolina +425 at Seattle. In other words, if you bet on all four road teams in the moneyline, and only the Panthers won, you’d still finish in the black. Of course, blindly betting on dogs isn’t a great strategy, but interestingly, it isn’t the worst method either.

You have to go back to the 2004 NFL Playoffs to find a season where all four teams that had byes won their first postseason game. From 2005 through 2008 road teams were actually 9-7 in the second round of the playoffs. Over the past five seasons, home teams have gone 3-1 on four occasions and were 2-2 in 2010.

The media loves to preach how important a bye week is. However, it is clear that, in the playoffs, at least one team tends to lose after a week off. This year’s regular season gives us some reason to think that the trend will continue; though conventional wisdom says that a bye week is a huge advantage, during the 2014 regular season, teams coming off of byes went just 12-20.

There is a huge caveat to that statistic, though: New England, Denver, Seattle, and Green Bay all won following their bye weeks this year. Not only that, they all covered the spread, too.

So what does all of this mean? Very simply, don’t overvalue a bye. Perhaps the four teams that earned home-field advantage are better than their competition and that’s why they’ll triumph this weekend. However, they won’t all win because of the week off, and the last decade tells us at least one team will fall short. If you have an inkling about one of the underdogs, consider a wager on the moneyline.

(Photo credit: JL1Row (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)

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