The Wild Card round has ended and just eight teams remain for the NFL’s divisional round. Only four teams can progress to the Divisional Championship. Who will make it through and keep their Superbowl LII hopes alive? Read on for some expert insight into the NFL Divisional round odds.
Following the wildcard round, the remaining contenders for the Super Bowl were reduced to four from each conference. Two favourites (Jacksonville and New Orleans) progressed and two underdogs (Atlanta & Tennessee) joined them.
The two higher seeded divisional sides from each conference now join the post season knockout football. The format is designed to give these two seeded divisional teams an added advantage over their rivals on Saturday and Sunday.
The seeded sides almost always have the better win/loss record from the regular season compared to their unseeded opponents. They have home field advantage and are effectively coming off a bye week, having been excused participation in last week’s wildcard round.
This not only gives them an extra week of rest to get healthy, but also a longer timeframe for their coaches to devise a game plan to use against their potential opponents. It is not surprising therefore, that home teams have been universally favoured on the spread in the divisional round.
However, 2017 may see a rare exception in the NFC. The top seeded Eagles are without the quarterback who largely secured their post season berth.
Atlanta Falcons (6th seed) @ Philadelphia Eagles (1st seed)
Early indications are that despite all the advantages heaped upon Philadelphia, courtesy of their regular season 13-3 record, they will be underdogs when they take on Atlanta on Saturday.
With Wentz, Philadelphia would be favoured by a touchdown and 43 total points, but Foles is a shadow of the passer who took them to the post season in 2013.
The Eagles went from 4th in 2016 to first in the NFC East. They were flagged to do so in the season preview on the back of a host of strong statistical indicators that suggested they had suffered through variance in 2016 compared to the norm, rather than through a lack of talent.
They were a 12 win Pythagorean team in 2017, who extended that to 13 actual wins, helped by a +11 turnover differential. Above average, both on the ground and through the air offensively, they combined the two to excellent effect on the scoreboard. The eagles scored at an average of seven more points per game than their opponents usually allowed.
Defensively, they are a top five team who are difficult to run or pass efficiently against. They have knocked three points from their opponent’s average scoring rate per game.
They owe much of their 10-2 start to quarterback, Carson Wentz, whose unfortunate season ending ACL injury has left the Eagles in the hands of their well-travelled 2012 third round pick Nick Foles.
2013 was Foles’ stand out season. Statistically, he was a top five quarterback performing at a level comparable to Wentz’ 2017 campaign. This performance, however, appears atypical. He didn’t stick as a starter in either St Louis or Kansas and he returned to Philadelphia as a below average passer with questionable accuracy.
Atlanta’s improving defence stifled the free scoring Rams on wildcard weekend. Matt Ryan excellently executed a short passing, high completion rate strategy that relied on yards after the catch and high levels of possession.
With Wentz, Philadelphia would be favoured by a touchdown and 43 total points, but Foles is a shadow of the passer who took them to the post season in 2013. Similar downgrades usually move the line by around a touchdown, making this potentially a close game, where any points start would be welcome.
New Orleans Saints (4th seed) @ Minnesota Vikings (2nd seed).
Minnesota also enter the post season without their intended first choice quarterback. But unlike Philadelphia, they have had ample time to integrate Case Keenum in place of Sam Bradford and he’s more than repaid them with his performances.
After going undrafted, Keenum was unable to hold down a starting role in Houston and then with the Rams. His combined performances at both franchises didn’t rise above mediocre.
2017 has been the exception and the Vikings will hope it’s an improving trend, rather than a blip. Offensively, Minnesota are reliant on Keenum’s above average passing efficiency, rather than their traditional strength when running the ball. They are a below average running team who have outscored their opponents average concession rate by two points per game.
The Vikings vie with the Jaguars for the NFL’s best defence but, unlike the Jags, they are equally happy defending the run or the pass, although they particularly excel through the air. Opponents average six fewer points per game against Minnesota compared to their usual output and twelve out of 16 regular season rivals have been restricted to fewer than 20 points in a game.
Some questionable plays from both teams enabled the Saints to hang on against Carolina last week when the game increasingly became a shootout. The Saints have the offensive efficiencies to remain competitive against a top rated defence. The matchups suggest that both teams will achieve near average offensive efficiency, both on the ground and through the air.
If Keenum takes his 2017 performances into the post season, the Vikings are favoured to win by five points, with totals creeping into the mid 40’s.
Tennessee Titans (5th seed) @ New England Patriots (1st seed)
Saturday’s late game sends the Tennessee Titans to the New England Patriots.
New England has accumulated nearly a full regular season’s worth of home, post season games since 2006, scoring a median of 34 points and allowing 20. Their median points scored is 49.9 points. A divisional game as a top seed against one of the post season’s poorest representatives, therefore presents an ideal matchup for the Super Bowl champions.
Tennessee is a seven win Pythagorean regular season team travelling to a 12 Pythagorean win Patriots team.The Patriots outscore their opponents usual concession rate by nearly seven points per game. They are vulnerable to the run on defence but few are able to exploit this weakness. They concede three fewer points per game than their opponents usually score.
Tennessee showed tenacity and some good fortune to overcome a 21-3 deficit against Kansas, but match ups favour New England by a shade more than two touchdowns and 49 points in total.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd seed) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2nd seed)
Sunday’s early game sends the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Pittsburgh Steelers with many anticipating a Steelers @ Patriots Championship game next week.
Roethelisberger gained a yard per attempt longer than his opponents usually allowed and the Pittsburgh offense outscored their opponents par concession rate by 4 points per game.
Jacksonville were still in contention for the top seeding in the AFC until late in the season and they’ve already defeated Pittsburgh, but their wider performance comes with caveats.
Turnovers have fuelled some of their points scoring and the win in Pittsburgh is a case in point. They intercepted Roethlisberger five times for over 100 yards and two defensive touchdowns. While interceptions are more skill based than fumble recoveries, it is a worrying trend to depend on your highly rated defence so far beyond their core responsibilities.
Pittsburgh has extracted one more playoff run out of Ben Roethlisberger. His 2017 performances have still been that of a top five passer. He’s gained a yard per attempt longer than his opponents have allowed and he’s still the focus of an offense that has outscored their opponents par concession rate by 4 points per game. They are also a top ten defence, but don’t bear comparison to the Jags’ highly ranked defensive outfit.
If Jacksonville’s points record could be taken at face value, they would only be narrow underdogs on Sunday. However, in Bortles they have a passer who is no better than average overall. He can also be ineffectual and prone to turnovers of his own at his worst.
Pittsburgh are favoured to extend their winning margin just beyond a touchdown, with 41 total points.
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