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From Underdog to Favorite: History of NFL Playoff Games Crossing Through Zero

From Underdog to Favorite: History of NFL Playoff Games Crossing Through Zero article feature image

It’s like a shooting star. A lunar eclipse. A meteor shower.

If the Bengals close as road favorites this week in Kansas City against the Chiefs, it will be just the tenth time in the last 20 years — the entirety of the Bet Labs NFL betting database — we’ve seen a point spread in the playoffs move through zero.

The last time we saw a playoff game where the team who opened as a favorite closed as the underdog came in the 2019-20 postseason, where the Seahawks opened -1 on the road in Philly and ended up closing +1. Seattle won the game, 17-9.

NFL Playoff Favorites Who Opened as Underdogs

Year/Team Spread Move Opponent Result
2020 Eagles +1 to -1 Seahawks SEA, 17-9
2015 Patriots +2.5 to -1 Seahawks NE, 28-24
2014 Broncos +1 to -1.5 Seahawks SEA, 43-8
2014 Chiefs +2.5 to -2 Colts IND, 45-44
2012 49ers +1 to -2 Giants NYG, 20-17
2010 Packers +2.5 to -2.5 Cardinals ARI, 51-45
2009 Cardinals +3 to -1.5 Falcons ARI, 30-24
2008 Jaguars +1 to -2.5 Steelers JAC, 31-29
2004 Titans +1 to -1 Ravens TEN, 20-17

In the nine playoff games in the last 20 years where we saw one team open as a favorite and close as an underdog, the team who opened as the favorite and closed as the underdog went 5-4 straight up and 6-3 against the spread, including 5-1 SU and ATS since 2010.

The only loss since 2010? The Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX vs. the Patriots.

🗣 "The pass is… Intercepted at the goal line by Malcolm Butler!"

6 years ago today, Malcolm Butler made one of the greatest INTs in NFL history to secure the win + cover for the Patriots (+1) in Super Bowl XLIX ✅pic.twitter.com/6KplNX9Fn1

— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) February 1, 2021

The Biggest Playoff Move

If you take a look at every single NFL playoff game over the last two decades, only one has moved five points or more between the opening and closing lines entering this week: the 2010 Wild Card round game between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals.

It was a unique situation. The Cardinals and Packers played in Week 17 in Arizona on a Sunday — a week before potentially having to play again in the playoffs (if the Vikings beat the Giants, occurring at the same time they were playing).

Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals only played their players one series in Week 17, while Mike McCarthy and the Packers played the entire way. The Packers won the Week 17 game, 33-7 (and Vikings beat the Giants).

One caveat. The Cardinals left in WR Anquan Boldin to help backup Matt Leinart in Week 17 deep into the third quarter. Boldin got hurt and missed the playoffs.

Monday morning, with Arizona a banged-up team missing key starters on defense and offense, the Cardinals opened between -2 and -2.5 in the Wild Card round at home vs. the Packers, and the line started to move.

By kick, the Packers were 2.5-point road favorites but ended up losing outright in the highest scoring playoff game in history.

January 10, 2010: Arizona #Cardinals defeated the Green Bay Packers 51-45 in OT for the highest scoring (96 PTS) NFL postseason game of all-time that also featured the most total YDS (1,024) in a playoff game ever
pic.twitter.com/tUEKuy9mnO

— Pro Sports Outlook (@PSO_Sports) January 10, 2022

How Do Home Underdogs Perform in the Conference Championship Game?

The Chiefs would be the tenth home underdog in the conference title game in the Wild Card era (since 1990). Those home teams are 4-5 straight up and against the spread.

Looking at just the Conference Championship specifically, Kansas City would be just the second home team in the Conference Championship in the Wild Card era to open as a favorite and close as an underdog.

The San Francisco 49ers were between -1 and pick’em early in the week and closed between +1.5 and +2.5 against the Packers in 1998.

A week before in the Divisional Round, the 49ers won by 16 on Saturday, then the Packers won by 14 a day later on Sunday. In the Conference Championship, the Packers ended up winning 23-10 vs. the 49ers.

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