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NFL Postseason Odds Imply Divisional Round Playoffs Will Be Most Competitive in History

NFL Postseason Odds Imply Divisional Round Playoffs Will Be Most Competitive in History article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Bucs QB Tom Brady, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, Bills QB Josh Allen

In what has been perhaps the most parity-filled NFL season in history, the most competitive Divisional Round ever is set to kickoff on Saturday.

That’s according to the combined odds for all four games.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Packers are 5.5-point favorites hosting the 49ers. The Titans are -3.5 against the Bengals. The Chiefs are just 2-point favorites against the Bills. And the Buccaneers are only -3 to beat the Rams.

It’s the lowest combined spread during the Divisional Round in history, courtesy of The Action Network’s Evan Abrams, who runs our research department. This data is dating back to 1978, when the Wild Card Round was implemented.

At 14 combined points, this year’s odds blow the next-best mark of 18 points out of the water. That record was set during the 1982-83 playoffs.

In fact, the last time there wasn’t a touchdown-or-more favorite during the Divisional Round was in 1989.

Most Competitive Divisional Rounds in History

Year Combined Points Spread
2021-22 14
1982-83 18
1980-81 19
1988-89 19
2020-21 19.5

Ironically — and, perhaps, not coincidentally — three of those top five playoffs took place during seasons in which fewer teams had bye weeks.

The 1982-83 season was strike-shortened, resulting in 16 teams out of 28 making the playoffs. No teams received bye weeks.

And the 2020 season was the first to see 14 teams make the playoffs. That structure, of course, will remain in place indefinitely. Only two teams receive byes every year.

The advanced metrics — and sportsbooks — heavily favor teams coming off byes and handicap them accordingly.

From 1978 to 1990, six teams received byes for the Divisional Round. After the 1990 season, four teams were on byes. (10 teams made the playoffs from 1978 to 1990. 12 teams qualified from 1990 to 2020.)

This season is also unusual in that no clear-cut Super Bowl favorite has ever emerged. The parity between each of the remaining eight teams is more equal than it perhaps has ever been. And every major contender has shown glaring weaknesses.

Titans vs. Bengals

The Titans are the worst No. 1 seed in DVOA history, dating back to 1985. As a result, they’ve received very limited respect in the markets for their matchup against the Bengals. And that’s despite the distinct advantage a bye week brings. Tennessee are regarded as just the No. 20 (DVOA) or No. 15 (Expected Points Added per play) team in the NFL over the regular season.

The Bengals have been an inspiring story this season, but there’s a good reason why they’re the biggest remaining underdogs to win the Super Bowl. Their offensive line is one of the worst in football and they have injury concerns throughout their pass rush. While they can beat Tennessee on account of the Titans’ ineptitudes, a date at Kansas City or Buffalo will likely wrap up their story.

Packers vs. 49ers

The advanced metrics respect the Packers offense — and especially the duo of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams — but their defense has kept games that should’ve been blowouts needlessly close all season. Green Bay’s defense is regarded as one of the worst in the NFL. While three key defensive starters look poised to return on Saturday, if the Packers falter, it’ll be because of that side of the ball.

The 49ers are regarded as the fourth-best team remaining but will have to win three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl. It’s doable, but do you trust a gimpy Jimmy Garoppolo, torn thumb, sprained shoulder and all, to get through it? With Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and their skill position assets, it’s a possibility, but first they have to win in frigid Green Bay.

Buccaneers vs. Rams

The Buccaneers have personnel issues throughout the offense. With Mike Evans not playing at 100% due to a hamstring injury, Antonio Brown cut and Chris Godwin out for the season with an ACL tear, Tom Brady is throwing 15 passes a game to the likes of Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller and Giovani Bernard. Two injuries to their offensive line don’t bode well going forward, either.

The Rams have Matthew Stafford problems. He leads the league in interceptions and pick-sixes while consistently putting his team into precarious situations. This season, in games in which Stafford hasn’t thrown a pick, he’s 7-0. In the 12 other games, he’s 7-5. With three more games to play, he’s bound to throw a few more picks. Plus, do you really trust him in big game situations?

Bills vs. Chiefs

The Bills are the best team remaining, according to the advanced metrics, and dominating teams — not winning close games — is the best metric in deciding true Super Bowl contenders. All of the Bills’ wins this season have come by double digits. And in each of those wins, the Bills had complete or near-complete control of the game by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, including their 47-17 annihilation of the highly-rated Patriots last week.

Still, this is the team that have had some curious losses, including to the Jaguars, Steelers and a 41-15 drubbing at the hands of the Colts. They also looked shaky against the lowly Falcons earlier this month. A Sunday night date in Kansas City is also a daunting task.

The Chiefs had some low lows this season, and there was a period in October when it felt they might even miss the playoffs. Their defense — which caused them all sorts of strife earlier on — has looked much better, but is still their Achilles heel. It’s just the 24th-best unit in the NFL. If the Chiefs falter come January, it’ll be because of them.

That was an incredibly long-winded way of saying that every team has their foibles this year, and unlike in other seasons, there haven’t been one or two teams that your favorite expert is riding to win it all.

But that’s the beauty of football, isn’t it? The NFL has been fostering parity for decades now, and perhaps those endeavors have hit their peak.

This week’s point spreads certainly think so.

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