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NFL Playoff Breakdown: Wild Card Weekend
The National Football League’s regular season for 2016/17 has concluded, and on New Year’s Day of 2017 the full playoff picture came into view. We now know that the following 12 teams will be competing for the right to call themselves world champions and winners of Super Bowl 51:
Dallas Cowboys (13–3)
Atlanta Falcons (11–5)
Seattle Seahawks (10–5–1)
Green Bay Packers (10–6)
New York Giants (11–5)
Detroit Lions (9–7)
New England Patriots (14–2)
Kansas City Chiefs (12–4)
Pittsburgh Steelers (11–5)
Houston Texans (9–7)
Oakland Raiders (12–4)
Miami Dolphins (12–6)
As the Cowboys, Falcons, Patriots, and Chiefs have all earned first-round byes, we are left with 8 teams set to face off on Wild Card Weekend – each of the bottom four teams listed above.
Holistically, one could argue that this is one of the worst groups of Wild Card playoff teams in recent memory. The reason for this is that the 2016/17 season was unique insofar as it featured two particularly strong divisions – the AFC West and the NFC East – both of which could have easily sent three teams to the playoffs, purely based on the strength of their play.
However, it is exceedingly rare for a single division to account for three playoff teams (a division leader and both Wild Card teams). In fact, it really only happens once every couple of decades. One of the primary reasons for this is that obviously each team plays all of its three division opponents twice, and when a single division contains multiple good teams, that makes it harder for the individual teams in that division to get up to the record necessary to make the playoffs.
In fact, if you place the Denver Broncos into the AFC South instead of the AFC West (switching them, say with the Houston Texans) and you place the Washington Redskins in the NFC West (switching them with the Arizona Cardinals), it’s likely that the Texans and Lions would not have made the playoffs at all; that the Broncos would have easily won the AFC South, and the Redskins would have taken the second Wild Card spot, flipping their three losses against the Giants and Cowboys into three wins against the 49ers and Rams.
So while the playoffs could have certainly been more exciting had the Redskins and Broncos made the playoffs instead of the Lions and Dolphins, unfortunately the way that the good teams were distributed throughout the league meant that this was impossible, and we instead need to suffer through a game featuring an abysmal NFC South team instead of enjoying an additional fun AFC West or NFC East team.
The other reason that this year’s Wild Card Weekend is slated to be less entertaining than usual is because of the rash of quarterback injuries that have cropped up recently. Between the four AFC teams playing in this first round of the playoffs, there have been five starting quarterbacks either benched or injured over the last month alone (Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr, Matt McGloin).
Combine these injuries to the Texans, Dolphins, and Raiders with the recent stretch of uninspiring play from the Steelers, Lions, and Seahawks, and we are left with only two Wild Card teams that are rolling into the playoffs on a hot streak, looking as though they could compete for a championship: The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.
Unfortunately, with how the seeding worked out, these two teams are playing each other Sunday afternoon, meaning that only one of them will continue forward to the next round.
But while football fans may be unenthusiastic about some of the games that will be played this weekend (and with good reason), that doesn’t mean that this Wild Card Weekend doesn’t hold good value for interested parties.
In general, there are a few common sense gambling tips to follow during the playoffs.
Firstly, the postseason differs from the regular season in a few key ways that combine together to give home teams a stronger home field advantage. The “win or go home” mentality, the fact that the games are all nationally televised, the increased meaningfulness to the fan base, generally heightened nerves for the players, as well as the fact that there are likely to be more home fans who are more invested in the game all make home field advantage a little bit stronger than usual.
However, that’s not to say that it’s necessarily more likely that the Wild Card home teams win: last season, for the 2015/16 Wild Card Weekend, all four road teams ended up winning. So home field advantage by no means guarantees a victory, but it does definitely swing the odds a few points in favor of the home team.
The only other piece of global advice to include about Wild Card Weekend is that despite what you may think, there is no real difference between the regular season and the postseason in terms of scoring. Even in outdoor cold weather games, the average amount of points scored does not change in the regular season vs. the postseason.
Now, it’s important to note that we’re talking about comparing the regular season to the postseason for individual teams (i.e. the amount of points a team scores and allows in the regular season should remain consistent in the postseason). However, due to the fact that the playoffs often feature the teams with the best defenses, it’s possible that there could be more low-scoring games and fewer points scored overall.
With these global caveats in mind about how to gamble on postseason NFL games, let’s take a closer look.
We’ve got you covered with a full preview of every playoff team.
Below you’ll find each playoff team listed by seed, with their record, their matchup, the gambling odds of that matchup, odds of moving on, odds of winning the Super Bowl, as well as our quick tips for where the team is trending and how you should bet.
“Chances of Making Divisional Round” as well as “Chances of Winning Super Bowl” are taken from fivethirtyeight.com, and are based on a prospectus that aggregates 100,000 simulations of how the postseason will play out. This prospectus is updated after every game.
Gambling odds are taken from the sportsbook at Bovada.
- Over in Giants/Packers (43, -115)
- Lions ATS (+8, -115)
- Dolphins ATS (+10, -110)
- Under in Steelers/Dolphins (47, -110)
- Dolphins ATS (+10, -115)
- Giants ATS (+4.5, -110)
- Raiders ATS (+4, -110)
- Lions moneyline (+300)