With some shock results occurring during Wildcard weekend, does this year’s AFC Divisional Round weekend have more surprises in store? Who will make it through and keep their Superbowl LIII hopes alive? Read on for some expert insight into the AFC Divisional Round odds.
A look back at Wild Card weekend 2018
Wild Card weekend 2018 was the weekend the dogs barked in the NFL.
Both pregame underdogs in the AFC, the Chargers at the Ravens and the Colts at the Texans won straight up, whilst the Eagles also upset the Bears in the NFC, thanks to a tipped, last second, missed field goal that bounced off first the upright and then the crossbar.
Only Dallas prevailed for the higher seeded teams by narrowly edging Seattle by two points.
Potentially, this gives some of the top two seeds from both conferences, who now enter the post season contest, an added advantage in this weekend’s divisional rounds.
A week off whilst their conference rivals play on Wild Card weekend is a constant advantage for the top two seeds, but both top seeded teams, Kansas City and New Orleans will host the lowest possible seeds in 6th seeded Indianapolis and Philadelphia, respectively.
Also, the sixth seeds are travelling again to play consecutive road games, along with the 5th seeded Chargers who face New England and Tom Brady.
For Kansas, New Orleans and New England, the scheduling advantages they will enjoy on the divisional weekend because of their seeding will be as good as it ever gets.
This creates an unusual conundrum that rarely occurs in the regular season.
The Wild Card winners will be basking in the high-profile heroics that allowed them to progress from last weekend.
Each game held sole centre stage across all media, rather than a typical regular season week, when multiple games simultaneously vie for attention and rarely does elimination from the race to the Super Bowl hang on a single result.
“Defence wins Championships” often echo’s through the post season, but the conclusion isn’t supported by results
Such recency bias and forced narratives that a side is “destined” to win the Super Bowl may inflate their worth in some eyes, while the inevitable toll taken by travel, less preparation time and physical effort may be discounted.
In short, memorable events that were integral to their progression to the divisional round, may be harmful to their chances in the divisional games and bettors may need to be aware that cognitive biases may be in play when trying to assess the upcoming matches.
We’ll first see how each of the four games matchup based purely on the statistical efficiencies of each team over the past regular season.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City
The offence orientated, big hitters now take to the stage, led by the AFC’s top seed, the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Defence wins Championships” often echo’s through the post season, but the conclusion isn’t supported by results. Dependent upon how “defence” or “offence” is defined, there’s nothing in post season football results that suggests that excellence in one discipline overrides the other.
That’s good news for Kansas, who excel on the offensive side of the ball, and courtesy of a tremendously efficient passing game, score nearly twelve points per game more than their opponents usually concede.
While they make do with a well below par defence, ranking inside the bottom half dozen, that allows 3.5 points per game more points than par, it does protect the pass well enough to rank midtable against any aerial attack.
Few sides have managed to slow down Kansas’ scoring in 2018. They’ve scored 30 or more points in twelve of their 16 regular season matches, although all four of their losses came against fellow post season teams and were partly balanced out with just two such victories.
Also, twelve wins may have flattered the Chiefs, they were a 10.5 Pythagorean winning team.
Unfortunately for the Colts, they defend the run much better than they do the pass and the hosts should dominate the game in the air, as they have done so many times this season, and a high scoring game of catch up is anticipated.
Scoring rates suggest the Chiefs are a touchdown superior to the Colts, particularly with a home field winning percentage that exceeds 70% since 2013, although that does include a 0-2 post season record that instigated the change to a more vertical offensive approach.
Pythagorean matchup is less convinced by the hosts, giving them the game by an average of 3.5 points. If we combine the two, the Chiefs have around a 5.5 advantage, which is where the line currently lies.
The Colts were probably the least inconvenienced of the Wild Card straight up winners by the brutal scheduling, but it is still an unconsidered factor and so the narrow lean is towards to host covering the likely spread.
The total is currently set at around 57, which may automatically trigger a play on the under, but it isn’t unrealistic.
Points projections average just above 60 total points and the last time these two teams met in the post season 89 points were scored, although the Colts did host the game.
LA Chargers at New England Patriots
The Rivers/Brady, Patriots/Chargers post season rivalry may be infrequently visited, but on the two occasion they have squared up there has been both drama and some animosity.
Back-to-back post season meetings with the then San Diego Chargers in 2006 and 2007 were both won by the Patriots.
The latter against an injury hit opponent and the former following a Brady interception that would have turned the game strongly in the Chargers favour, had it not been reclaimed by New England during the return.
You need to go back to 2003 before you find a season where Brady’s contribution dipped below his 2018 regular season output and the air of regular season inevitability around the Patriots ability to achieve what was needed has faded
There’s narrative aplenty to cut through, with veteran Rivers facing one final chance to move towards a Super Bowl and Brady once again defying predicted age related decline.
We’re used to seeing the Patriots create more than the sum of their parts and while the defence is again unremarkable from a statistical view point, they have been difficult to score against.
They allow teams to run efficiently against them, but pragmatically do much better, albeit still around average, against the pass and overall allow 2 fewer points per game than an opponent usually scores.
It is perhaps on the offensive side of the ball where the doubts have been more apparent.
Brady has thrown for 7 tenths of a yard per attempt further than par for the defences he’s faced and aided by an averagely efficient ground game, they’ve scored 4 more points per game than par.
However, you need to go back to 2003 before you find a season where Brady’s contribution dipped below his 2018 regular season output and the air of regular season inevitability around the Patriots ability to achieve what was needed has faded.
Perhaps 2018 is finally the year to judge the Patriots solely on their underlying performance statistics, rather than adding a premium for the “Brady and/or Belichick” effect
From being one of the rare teams who continually over perform their underlying statistics, Belichick’s team results appear to be drifting more in line with them.
A 4-0 record against the post season teams they met in 2018 is counterbalanced by disappointing 4-3 run in that ceded the top seeding to Kansas and seems likely to send the Patriots on the road if they reach the Championship game.
And a miracle loss to Miami, that culminated in a less than mobile Gronkowski playing safety to combat a Hail Mary attempt that unfolded as a rugby play, also jars when placed alongside the team’s reputation for coaching excellence.
All of this is subjective, but perhaps 2018 is finally the year to judge the Patriots solely on their underlying performance statistics, rather than adding a premium for the “Brady and/or Belichick” effect.
Efficiency matchups favour the Chargers to hold the upper hand both on the ground and through the air. Rivers should be more efficient than Brady and the visitors should be better able to control the ball on the ground.
Points based approaches or Pythagorean matchups see things differently and favour New England by just three points in each case, which again is very much in line with the quoted spread.
As with the Chiefs/Colts game, we’ll lean slightly towards the rested and possibly more thoroughly prepared hosts, with the projected game total also landing right on the current number at 45 points.
Bet on the AFC Divisional Round at Pinnacle for the best value NFL odds.