The Importance of the Bye in Divisional Playoff Games
If you regularly see casinos expanding their buildings and more and more online betting sites popping out every few days, you can easily recognize that providing such services is very, very profitable. On the other side of the ledger, going against the house and beating it becomes a daunting task, especially when it comes to betting on sports.
Trusting your hard-earned money in the hands of complete strangers requires a certain amount of knowledge, trust and ultimately luck, and even when it all seems to come together, there is no sure thing (Kansas City Chiefs and Auburn fans and bettors might agree).
However, over the last 20+ years, a certain bet has become quite profitable for bettors, regardless of the teams involved: backing the home side on the NFL's divisional round. While it is often said that 55% of success represents winning money in sports betting, this bet has been consistently better. How good? Let's take a look at the numbers.
The Divisional Round
The current format was adopted in 1990, basically awarding the top two teams in each conference a bye week in which they await their opponent, who has to advance from the wild card round. This advantage of a week's rest is notable, but it is also important to remember that on paper, the home team should also be superior after earning one of the best records of the conference.
In the 23 previous seasons, home teams in the wild card round have won 67 out of 92 games, good for a 72.82% rate that is way above the 55% betting benchmark, and also above the 60% of regular-season winning percentage of home squads.
If you consider against the spread, home teams are 48-42-2 (53.3% - just below the 55% benchmark). However, there is a very interesting trend when breaking out the numbers by conference.
The top teams in the NFC have done significantly well against the spread and straight up as they have gone 28-17-1, which is a 62.2% win percentage, and a highly impressive 37-9 straight up or 80.4% win percentage.
The AFC is a bit of a different story as favorites in divisional games have been subpar at 20-25-1, which is just a win percentage of 44.6%. Despite the relatively poor record against the spread, AFC divisional home teams have a healthy 30-16 straight-up mark or 65.2% win percentage.
It appears that the bye and home field means a lot more in the NFC than the AFC.
Bucking the Trend?
Despite the overall success of this bet since the adoption of the 12-team playoffs, recent history suggests that things aren’t as automatic as they used to be. Through 2002, the winning clip of home teams in the divisional round was an astounding 43-9 (82.69%), but since then things have become more and more even: 24-16 for the last 10 seasons, a 60% rate that is still profitable but more in line with how home teams ought to perform on larger samples.
As the NFL playoffs have become more unpredictable than ever and home field has lost some of its lore, results have changed drastically. To wit, six of the last 8 Super Bowl winners weren't even among the top two seeds of their respective conference, meaning that at some point they had to go through at least one game away from home after the divisional round.
With that in mind, how does the 2013 divisional round bode for home teams?
The Upcoming Weekend
The slate this year has given us the notion that the trend of top seeds winning at home is bound to continue, as three of them are heavily favored to win while the other is a slight underdog.
The Saturday matchups feature the Seattle Seahawks (-8.0) hosting the New Orleans Saints, followed by the New England Patriots (-7.0) facing against the motivated Indianpolis Colts, coming off their improbable comeback versus the Chiefs. Then on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers (+1.0) probably are a bit disrespected by the line facing the San Francisco 49ers, finishing with Denver (-9.0) and Peyton Manning on a mission to prove the doubters wrong against the San Diego Chargers.
If history has taught us anything, there is a lot of value with these potential bets despite the big spreads. For starters, it seems fairly safe to say that 3 of the home teams are heavily favored for a reason, and that is because they are rested and better overall than their counterparts. That is why a teaser might be in order, backing at least two of these squads.
Also, taking the Carolina money line at +110 could be very interesting, as they have proven time and again that they belong among the NFL's elite, beating the 49ers in San Francisco and mixing that with a very solid output at home (6-1-1 ATS, 7-1 straight up).
Whatever strategy you take, remember that while following same-season trends in the NFL can be risky due to the small sample size of a few games, year-by-year numbers yield better results when it comes to analyzing the situation and trying to make a prediction. Even as upsets are fun, in the NFL, Goliath has found a way to repeatedly beat David.