Jim Feist: NFL Playoff Time 2017 – Divisional Round Preview
Our expert handicapper Jim Feist takes a look at the advantage of heading into the playoffs off a bye week in this divisional round preview.
By Jim Feist
As the playoffs begin, those who earned the top two seeds in each conference have a key edge, as they get a bye the first week while watching the others duke it out. Sitting at home this past weekend were the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Seahawks. Why is that significant?
A year ago the 4 bye teams were the Patriots, Broncos, Panthers and Cardinals. They went 4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS. The rested Patriots had no trouble with the Chiefs while the Panthers jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead over Seattle on the way to a win and cover. What a difference a year makes, aye Carolina fans?
Two years ago the four bye teams were the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Packers, going 3-1 SU. Green Bay missed covering by one-point while the Pats and Seahawks (31-17) rolled. Three years ago the top teams were the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks and Panthers. The top AFC teams met in the title game, while the Seahawks went on to win the Super Bowl.
Gaining the bye is an advantage for teams to not only rest injured players, but to have two weeks to put together a game plan. Since 1990, 40 first and second round seeds have filled 51 Super Bowl slots and the No. 1 and 2 seeds, rested after the bye, have gone 69-23 straight up in their first games in the divisional round.
The last five years the rested teams have gone 16-4 SU, though just 8-12 ATS. Last year Arizona and Denver won but narrowly missed covering.
The No. 1 seeded team in seven of the last 12 years in the NFC (Eagles, Seahawks, Bears, Saints, Panthers, Seahawks twice) wound up in the Super Bowl. In the AFC it’s been a different story. New England and Denver have made it in each of the last four years, but that ended a bit of a drought, with the only No. 1 seeds to make it were the 2003, ’07, ’11 Patriots, the ’09 Colts.
Here’s a look at the four teams that come into this weekend’s playoff games rested with home field.
New England Patriots
Here they are again! New England overcame numerous offensive injuries and defensive changes to cop the No. 1 seed. QB Tom Brady lost top target TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Danny Amendola, but the offense has been balanced and gotten excellent production from rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Adding TE Martellus Bennett in the offseason was a terrific move.
The defense has been in flux much of the year but has been solid against the run and outstanding in the red zone. They don’t get after the passer as well as a season ago, but down the stretch started to blitz more. For totals players, the Pats are 41-25 over against the AFC, plus 44-21 over after a spread cover.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City’s overall stats on offense and defense aren’t that impressive, but this team is no fluke. They ended last year on a sizzling 11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS run and have carried that over to this season despite injuries. QB Alex Smith leads a ball-control offense that doesn’t blow many opponents out, but the defense and special teams are outstanding, especially the secondary.
That’s a good formula for cold weather outdoor games this time of the season and note the KC is 37-15 under the total at home, plus 57-28-2 under on natural grass.
Dallas went from a 4-12 train wreck a year ago to a monster 2016 campaign led by rookies QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliot. They announced last summer they would get back to running the football to take heat of their QBs and defense and the formula has worked.
The Cowboys have been great at home and on the road, leading the NFC in point differential. The only concern is a secondary that can be thrown on. Note that they are 3-8-1 ATS against a winning team and 35-15-3 over the total after allowing less than 15 points in their previous game.
QB Matt Ryan (38 TDs, 7 INTs) had a dazzling season, leading Atlanta to the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Falcons finished with a +134 point differential, second only to the Patriots in the NFL. RB Devonta Freeman topped 1,000 yards and WR Julio Jones (1,409 yards) had another monster season.
But if defense wins championships Atlanta has serious concerns, ranking #25 in yards allowed, #27 in points, #28 in pass yards surrendered. This team won at Denver and Oakland, nearly won at Seattle (26-24 loss) and topped the Packers in a shootout (33-32).They are 13-2-1 over the total and not done yet.