7 NFL Divisional Round Trends You Need to Know Before Betting
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images. Pictured: Daniel Jones.
Wow, that was quite the Super Wild Card Round weekend! But it's on to the Divisional Round now, so it's right back to the lab to see what trends we can find to help inform our picks.
That lab would be Bet Labs, of course. Each trend below covers the last two decades, and just the Divisional Round unless otherwise noted.
There's only 76 such games in our database (2003 forward), so that means limited data by definition. Use these trends as a guide, not the rule.
1. When in Doubt, Fade Home Favorites
Surprise! You know those awesome 1- and 2-seeds that have been winning all season, the ones at the top of all the Super Bowl odds, the teams that until two years ago all had a bye week and extra rest heading into this round?
History says to fade those teams against the spread (ATS) in the Divisional Round.
All but three Divisional Round home teams have been favored. Just blindly fading those favorites at $100 a bet every game over the past two decades would have returned a $943 profit, a 12.9% return on investment (ROI). Road underdogs finished .500 or better ATS in 14 of the last 19 years (74%).
Playing road underdog moneylines is even better:
Road underdog MLs have an impressive 23.9% ROI in the Divisional Round over the past two decades. A $100 bettor would be up $1,521.
It's counterintuitive but makes sense if you think about it. Of course the home favorites are good! But books know we think that and are baking our overconfidence in these teams into the lines already — too much, it turns out.
Already uncomfortable? Ohh, buckle up. It's gonna get ugly.
2. Fade No. 1 Seeds in Particular
We can refine that first trend, since 2-seed favorites are 17-17 ATS in the Divisional Round, right at expectation. It's the 1-seeds at fault, and it's ugly, covering only 34% of the time after their week off.
Is it the extra rest? Maybe, but remember the 2-seeds got that too until recently. Is it regular season recency bias and overconfidence in the top team creeping in? Probably more of that.
When favored by 10 or less, like both of this year's 1-seeds (for now), it gets even worse. Such 1-seeds are 8-23-1 ATS, covering just 26% of the time.
Only once in the last eight years have both 1-seeds covered in the Divisional Round, and only twice since 2003. They've gone 0-2 ATS eight times during that same span. Egads.
THIS YEAR: Big danger for the Eagles and Chiefs, and stay far away from that "easy" Saturday Philly-KC parlay that seems certain to hit on the surface.
3. Fade Favorites with Over 75% Win Rate
Maybe San Francisco and Buffalo aren't out of the woods just yet.
This is another way of reframing the first trend. It's not just 1-seeds getting overinflated lines in the Divisional Round — it's those teams with gaudy records.
Home favorites at a 75% win rate or below are actually a healthy 15-11-1 ATS, but when that win percentage ticks over 75%, it's a disaster.
It's even worse for those teams on the moneyline:
A $100 bettor who blindly faded every Divisional Round favorite with over a 75% win percentage would be up $2,020, an incredible 44.9% ROI.
Those regular season wins are meaningless now. All the turnover luck and close wins got these teams a higher seed and a home game, but they're not producing covers now. History says they're doing just the opposite, making bettors overconfident in teams we "know" are great.
THIS YEAR: The Eagles (14-3), Chiefs (14-3), Bills (14-3), and 49ers (14-4) are all back in danger. Beware those overinflated favorite lines.
4. Back Road Teams that Missed Last Year's Playoffs
In the Wild Card Round, we backed home teams that made last year's playoffs but faded home squads that missed the postseason. In the Divisional Round, it's the opposite. Now it's profitable to back road teams that missed last year's postseason.
Why is that?
Last round, home teams that didn't make the postseason might have been teams that lucked into soft divisions (Jaguars) or piled up cheap, one-score wins (Vikings). Their regular season records were perhaps fraudulent.
But in the Divisional Round, any road team has already won a playoff game the week before, and that's much more meaningful than missing the postseason the prior year. Now we should back those road newbies.
5. Back Road Teams in Division Rematches
This trend carries over from last round, where it was 1-0 ATS with the Ravens covering and nearly winning outright. It did not apply to the Dolphins or Seahawks, who closed as underdogs of more than nine points.
Divisional rematches are always tricky because the teams are so familiar with one another. History tells us the the home team is often overvalued in these spots, with the value is on the road dog. In fact, road underdogs are 11-8 SU.
This trend is even stronger in the Divisional Round. There, road dogs are 5-1 ATS and 4-2 SU with a 113% ROI on the moneyline.
THIS YEAR: Yet another warning sign for the Eagles. Unless they close as at least 9.5-point favorites, this is another trend in the Giants' favor.
6. Fade Divisional Round Home Teams on 1-game Losing Streaks
This is especially fascinating. Until the last two years, any home team in the Divisional Round was coming off a bye — which means the 1-game losing streak may have happened in a "meaningless" regular season finale.
This trend suggests that finale wasn't so meaningless. Teams in the Divisional Round that won their penultimate game but lost the finale are an ugly 3-15 ATS, only once winning by double digits. Seems that bad final game or extra extended rest might hurt after all.
THIS YEAR: All of this year's teams escape. This trend can only apply to 1-seeds now, and the Eagles and Chiefs won their finales. Something to keep in mind for the future, though.
7. Back Moneyline Underdogs of 7-11 Points
Divisional Round trends are consistent — great teams carry overinflated lines. The sweet spot is 7-to-11-point underdogs, not only to cover but to win outright too.
Almost half of all Divisional Round games end up in this range, and history says only 64% of those 7-to-11-point favorites win outright. You know that two-team teaser everyone is taking this Saturday, basically just the Eagles and Chiefs both winning outright? This trend suggests at least a 60% chance one of those heavily favored 1-seeds loses.
A $100 bettor blindly betting every moneyline dog in this range would be up over $2,000 the past two decades with an outrageous 60.8% ROI.
THIS YEAR: Could we really get the Giants or Jaguars in a Conference Championship Game? History says it's more likely than not now.
You know how your first instinct checking the lines is to back every home favorite this round? Books are preying on that exact instinct.
But how?! How could the Eagles or Chiefs struggle against these patchwork Giants and Jaguars defenses after a week of extra rest? How could the red-hot 49ers struggle against the teams we just saw Monday night? Why wouldn't the Bills take care of the injury-plagued Bengals?
History says to be very wary of Divisional Round home favorites, especially the ones with gaudy win percentages, and especially the 1-seeds.
All four favorites are at risk, the Chiefs even more so, and the Eagles most of all, hitting every single red flag above. Give a long hard look at the underdogs this Divisional Round, especially the Giants and Jaguars — maybe even to win outright.