The National Football League kicks off their postseason today with two games on the schedule, the Buffalo Bills visit the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots host the Tennessee Titans. Tomorrow, the New Orleans Saints entertain the Minnesota Vikings in the early game and the Philadelphia Eagles host the Seattle Seahawks in the late contest.
Since 1990, the Wild Card Weekend has eight times involved the eventual Super Bowl winner. For you math majors, that means that 21 times in the last 29 seasons the Super Bowl winner has been among the four teams that earned opening week byes. For the record, the number one seed has won 14 Super Bowls and the number two seeded teams have cashed seven Super Bowl wins.
In that same time frame, three Wild Card teams have won the Super Bowl, while five times the division winners who have hosted a Wild Card game ended their season with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
What does all that mean?
It means, the right team can win no matter where they are seeded in the field. In fact, as many fifth seeds have won the Super Bowl as third seeded teams, one each, and two sixth seeded teams have ended the year in a victorious hail of confetti.
Is the Super Bowl winner in action this weekend?
The highest rated teams playing this weekend are the New Orleans Saints and defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Their odds to win it all are currently 5 to 1 and 8 to 1 respectively. The favorites to win it all begin play next week, beginning with the AFC top seed Baltimore Ravens at 2 to 1. The NFC top seed, the San Francisco 49ers, are currently 3½ to 1.
This week, I heard a personality on the radio say he liked the road underdogs this week because in the Wild Card round the last two years road teams are 8-0 against the point spread.
That kind of reasoning is why the books consistently collect money from gamblers. The fact that teams are at home or underdogs does not dictate point spread winners, other factors that are truly influential are driving those results. Just as the prior two seasons before the 8-0 run by road teams against the spread showed teams in those positions 2-5-1 versus the line.
Postseason experience plays a role. Value on the current line can make a difference. But no factor has proven more influential over the history of the NFL in the postseason than the better defense.
Defenses don’t often get the headlines until they are crowned champions. In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens had a defense that is ranked among the best of all time, but they were underdogs against the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders before being listed as a slight favorite over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Brian Billick’s team won all those games by double-digits, but because they did it from the defensive side of the ball, they didn’t get the headlines that a prolific offense generates.
Today, the Houston Texans come into action as the favorite over the Buffalo Bills. Houston has the playoff experience while Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is making his first postseason appearance. Quarterbacks making their first postseason appearance often have trouble, but when that quarterback is on a team that is led by their defense, this liability is minimized.
The Texans are home favorites, but the Bills edge here is not because road underdogs have won the point spread decision eight straight times in Wild Card games, but because they have the better defense
Qoxhi Picks: Buffalo Bills (+2½) over Houston Texans