The NFL wrapped up the wild card round on Sunday, and with the finish of those first four games, we have betting odds for this coming weekend’s divisional round matchups. The New England Patriots are the biggest favorites of the weekend, laying 13.5 points at home against the Tennessee Titans. The Atlanta Falcons are the smallest favorite, laying 2.5 points on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles.
That latter line is the most interesting of the weekend. The Falcons are only the fourth road favorite in the divisional round since 1990, when the league expanded to six playoff teams in each conference and gave the top two seeds on each side a bye (h/t Chase Stuart, Football Perspective).
Of those three previous instances, two involved the San Francisco 49ers. In 2013, the 49ers went 12-4 and finished second to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. The 49ers were a five seed and went into Lambeau Field to beat the Green Bay Packers in the wild card round. They were then a one-point favorite the next weekend in Carolina, a game they won 23-10.
Two season earlier, the 49ers were 13-3 and had a first round bye. The Green Bay Packers went 15-1 that year, while the New Orleans Saints went 13-3. The 49ers claimed the tiebreaker and first round bye thanks to a better conference record. New Orleans beat the Detroit Lions 45-28 in the wild card round, and was a 3.5 point road favorite against the 49ers. The 49ers won one of the best playoff games in recent memory by a final score of 36-32.
We’ve seen numerous wild card road teams favored, and eight conference championship games featuring a road favorite. The reason the divisional round is different is because of the bye. There is no bye for the first or third rounds of the playoffs, and there is often a big difference between the first and second seed and the rest of the teams.
We see a difference this year entirely because of Carson Wentz’s torn ACL. If Wentz was still playing, the Eagles would most definitely be favored over the Falcons, and really over anybody they faced in the playoffs. Instead, they head into this game with Nick Foles looking to really just try and not make too many mistakes. He had a solid 2017 starting debut in an easy win over the New York Giants, but then struggled the next week in a win over the Raiders. If Philadelphia is going to advance, let alone win a Super Bowl this year, they will rely heavily on their defense and run game.