NFL Playoffs: Conference Champions at
by Jim Feist
This is it, the final weekend of games before
the Super Bowl. The last month we've been hearing about playoff seedings, bye
weeks and home field advantage. Are all those things really important?
Historically it has been during the second round of the playoffs. Teams with
the bye have home field advantage and two weeks to prepare, both of which are
usually important edges this time of year.
However, during the conference
championship games that kick off this weekend, history shows us that the two
remaining teams in each conference are often on fairly equal footing, both
straight up and against the spread. You might think the team with the home
field has a big edge, but that's not usually the case this deep into the
Last year both home teams won and
covered, with underdog Denver beating the Patriots, 20-18, and Carolina
rolling, 49-15, over Arizona.
Two years ago the favorites split, with
New England crushing the Colts, 45-7, but Seattle failed to cover as -8.5 chalk
against Green Bay, 28-22. The Packers were never in doubt of covering, either,
leading 19-3 late before a shocking Seahawks comeback win in overtime.
Four years ago the underdogs went 1-0-1 ATS in the title games,
with the 49ers winning 28-24 at Atlanta as 4-point chalk and the Ravens beating
the Patriots on the road, 28-13. Five years ago both underdogs covered in
squeakers, with the underdog Giants beating the 49ers in OT (20-17) and
the 7-point underdog Ravens nearly winning at New England, blowing a late field
goal in a 23-20 defeat.
The last eight years, 12 of 16 home teams
won and went only 9-6-1 ATS. Notice that since 1992, the home team has won just
28 of 48 NFL title games straight up and the visiting team is 24-23-1 against
the spread. Going 29-18-1 straight up is an edge for the home teams, though far
from dominant than many might expect to find in the second-biggest game of the
Within those statistics remember
that there have been plenty of road underdogs that not only got the money, but
won the game and advanced to the Super Bowl, including the Ravens and Giants
recently, both going on to win the Super Bowl. The Packers two years ago were
one botched onside-kick away from advancing as a road dog.
Coming into this weekend, the dogs
are 19-12-1 against the spread the last 16 years in the NFL title games. The
NFC has seen the dog go 11-5-1 ATS the last 17 years, including five of the
last seven seasons with the Giants, the Packers twice and the Cardinals as a
home dog to the Eagles. Philadelphia's trouncing of the Falcons in 2005,
27-10, ended a six-year run by underdogs covering in the NFC championship
Certainly you can't discount home
field advantage. However, there is generally greater balance between teams
simply because at this point in the season, the remaining four teams are very
strong and often evenly matched. In mid-January, you rarely find a team that
has glaring weaknesses, for example, ranking at the bottom of the NFL in some
offensive or defensive category.
It's difficult for teams with major
weaknesses to make the playoffs in the first place, and if they do make it,
opposing coaches will attack those weak spots to their own advantage. The cream
rises, which is what competition is all about. You also know that teams will be
playing at a high level of intensity, as there is so much at stake -- the
winners go to the Super Bowl, the losers go home and sulk about what might have
been. After such a long season, teams that have come this close to the Holy
Grail are going to give everything they have for four full quarters.
Slicing the history another way, we
find that the favorites are 30-15-1 straight up in NFL championship games but
23-22-1 against the spread the last 23 years. The total is 25-20-1
"over" during that time. Oddly, there have been more blowouts by the
underdog than the favorite. The NY Giants rolled 41-0 in 2001 over Minnesota as
a 2-point home dog. In January of 2000, Tennessee ripped the Jaguars 33-14 as a
7-point road dog, and four years ago the underdog Ravens won by 15.
Several big favorites have
struggled, as well. Still, before you jump on the live dogs, remember that the
favorites had a nice run of their own from 1993-97 going 8-2 against the spread
in the NFL title games. This is why looking at trends and angles must be
approached with great caution. The current trend: the favorites are on a
very mild 10-7-1- ATS run in Conference Championship games.
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