By Marc Lawrence
After expanding its playoff format to 12 teams in 1990, the NFL left the door wide open to the possibilities of a Wild Card team running the table and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. And while a Wild Card team has done so only seven times in Super Bowl history, five such winners have been crowned since 1997.
Last year witnessed the Packers hauling home the hardware. In 2007 it was the NY Giants, in 2005 the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2000 the Baltimore Ravens and in 1997 the Denver Broncos.
Will the trend continue this season or will the top seeded teams have their say? With both of the No.1 seeds owning the league’s worst defenses, a strong case might certainly be made for New Orleans to continue in red-hot mode. Before we crown anyone just yet, let’s first check a few Divisional Round angles in the NFL playoffs that are noteworthy. All results are since 1990 and are ATS, unless noted otherwise…
Top Seeds Generally Up To Speed
No. 1 seeds enjoy the luxury of not only hosting a game in this round but also play with an added week of rest.
For the most part these teams have met with modicum of success, going 31-11 SU and 23-19 ATS in this role.
The best the NFC has to offer has gone 19-2 SU and 15-6 ATS, including 10-0 SU and 9-1 ATS versus a foe off a spread win of more than 13 points in its Wild Card game.
Top seeds from the AFC have struggled, going 12-9 SU and 8-13 ATS, including 5-5 SU and 1-9 ATS when playing off back-to-back wins.
Success Breeds Success
Rested hosts in this round that enjoyed success last season use that experience to their advantage.
That’s confirmed by the fact that teams that won 11 or more games last year are 38-9 SU and 29-17-1 ATS at home with a week to prepare in Division Round contests
On the flip side, teams that were losing teams last years (seven or fewer wins) are just 7-34 SU and 15-24-1 ATS in this round.
Put one up against the other – an 11-plus win home team against a losing team last year – and these hosts respond with aplomb, going an eye-opening 16-0 SU and 12-3-1 ATS.
Life on the road for Wild Card teams who won at home has been rocky, especially if they grabbed the cash as well.
These highwaymen are just 15-36 SU and 20-29-1 ATS in this role against well-rested higher-seeded foes.
And if these same Wild Card winners take to the road off one win-exact they dip to a disgusting 0-15 SU and 1-13-1 ATS in these affairs.
There you have it. A trio of time-tested theories to help guide you through the NFL Divisional Round games this week. Do the math, figure them out and play accordingly. The exercise should help expand your mind and your bank account. Good luck as always.