Since the start of last season’s playoffs, hopefully you have been picking underdogs.
The dogs can’t lose. Over the 11 playoff games last season and the first four this season, underdogs are 14-1 against the spread, according to OddsShark. That’s astonishing. There’s some wiggle room in that record, because some will point out that the Dallas Cowboys were 1.5-point favorites at times last week and covered for the people who bet them at that number, but the overall trend still stands out.
If you’ve taken the points in the playoffs with the underdog, ever since the Patriots came back to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI (and cover the spread as favorites), you are doing very, very well.
Trends aren’t necessarily predictive, however. Many even out over time. So is this the week the favorites get some revenge?
Colts (+5.5) over Chiefs
This line surprised me. The Colts don’t have much more to prove. They have won 10 of 11 and look solid in all facets. If you just checked the score of last week’s game and saw the Colts won 21-7, you probably didn’t grasp how dominant the performance was. It felt like the Colts could have won by 30 had they not eased up in the second half.
I think the Colts can win straight up. Down the stretch they were the better team. The Chiefs, before drubbing a disinterested Raiders team in Week 17, looked a lot more beatable in December. The Chiefs went 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven, covering only against the Raiders, according to OddsShark. Patrick Mahomes is in his first playoff start, and all three quarterbacks in that spot last week lost. The Washington Post said the record for teams with their quarterback making his first playoff start is 14-32, dating back to 2002. Mahomes is an anomaly in many ways, but it’s still a tough spot to be in. Not to mention that the Chiefs defense has looked shaky, and Andrew Luck is on a roll.
The Chiefs are a very good team, but the Colts have a real shot to upset them.
Rams (-7) over Cowboys
My first inclination was that Dallas’ defense, which has played very well in the second half of the season, could keep them in the game. But as the week has gone on, I’ve shifted to the Rams.
Los Angeles remembers what it was like to lose its playoff opener last season, and that experience will help. It was a great sign to get Todd Gurley back to practice. Dallas was also a much different team at home this season, going 8-1 at home (including the Seahawks win last week) and 3-5 on the road. The Rams were 7-1 at home.
The way the Cowboys can win this game is by running the ball a lot, and that is a weakness of the Rams. Los Angeles allowed 4.9 yards per carry, tied for third-worst in the NFL. If Dallas controls the game script, they have a chance. But if the Rams get out to a lead early, this game could get away from the Cowboys fast.
Chargers (+4) over Patriots
If all games were played on a neutral field with no bye weeks, I think the Chargers would win the AFC. They have the best roster from top to bottom. But that’s not how it works.
It’s a little scary to pick the Chargers, who played in the Denver altitude Week 17, then traveled all the way to Baltimore last week, then will go back to Massachusetts this week. They’ll also be playing a second straight 10 a.m. Pacific time start, against a Patriots team that was 8-0 at home this season. The Patriots have also owned the Chargers since Philip Rivers became their starting quarterback. It’s hard to find one situational edge that doesn’t favor the Patriots.
I’m picking the Chargers anyway. I’m being stubborn and taking the better team, even with so many factors working against them. I don’t think it’s too crazy to believe we might end up with Colts vs. Chargers for next week’s AFC title game in the Carson, California, soccer stadium the Chargers call home. This isn’t a vintage Patriots team, and they’re going to have quite the challenge on Sunday afternoon.
Eagles (+8) over Saints
How many points can a team possibly make up in two months? On Nov. 18, the Saints beat the Eagles 48-7. Can the Eagles go from being blown out by 41 to losing by less than eight?
At this point I can’t rule anything out with Philadelphia. I can’t tell you how the Eagles are on this roll, but they are a different team lately. It’s undeniable that the Eagles’ confidence returned after Nick Foles took over at quarterback. And if they can win at Chicago, they can probably compete at New Orleans too.
The Saints quietly didn’t look great over the last five weeks of the season. They covered the spread in just one of their final five games, according to OddsShark, and the one cover was at Tampa Bay when the Saints looked terrible through the first half. Excuse the season-ending blowout loss to the Panthers if you wish, but a lot of starters did play and they lost 33-14 at home.
Maybe the Saints will be recharged after a week off, and they always play better in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And I do think they win straight up. But I’ll also take the points with the Eagles, because it’s hard to keep doubting them.
Last week: 3-1
Season to date: 129-122-9
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