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Joe Nelson - Blogs

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BETWEEN THE LINES - JAN. 10

By Joe Nelson
Posted 01/10/2012 at 04:42 PM

While there has been plenty of exciting bowl games there has been a dearth of big upsets. The biggest upset of the bowl season was on the opening day as Louisiana-Lafayette beat San Diego State as underdogs of +4.5 to a closing line of +6. Usually there are some major pointspread upsets in the bowl season as motivation can be a key factor in the bowls. Each of the last two bowl seasons there were four teams as underdogs of six or more that won outright but this year all of the big favorites won and most covered as chalk will close the bowl season with an overall edge. Double-digit bowl favorites went 2-1 ATS this year while historically they are a nearly 60 percent go-against proposition since 1980. In general underdogs have covered about 55 percent of the time in the bowl season the last 30 years but this year has been an exception, and certainly helps to explain our tough bowl season.   

              
Defensive touchdowns were the key to the great run from the Green Bay Packers last season as they had defensive scores in three of the four postseason games including the Super Bowl. Last week Houston was the team with the big play on defense, turning a 10-10 game into a 17-10 right before the half, even though Cincinnati moved the ball much more effectively in the first half. Things could have been much different in New Orleans as the Lions forced a Drew Brees fumble and was in position to return it for a touchdown but an early errant whistle blew the play dead. The Lions got two first half turnovers but had to punt after each big play in what could have been a much different game, even with the final result making it look like a convincing Saints win. A controversial similar call might have cost the Broncos as an early whistle stopped what pretty clearly looked like a mishandled backwards pass from the Steelers. The replay system does a lot of things right but there are still far too many areas that fall outside of the realm of review-ability, as well as outside the realm of common sense.

               
Home teams went 4-0 S/U and ATS in the opening round this year, breaking some recent trends where home field has seemingly become overvalued and less important in this age of the NFL. Last year in the opening round only one home team won S/U and that was the biggest upset as Seattle beat New Orleans. This is the first year since the 2006-07 season that more than two of the home teams in the wild card round will be moving on. The divisional round is the round where seemingly the home teams should have the most success. The four hosts are at least by record the two best teams in each conference and having two weeks to rest and prepare seems to be a big advantage. Through the 1990s the home teams held up very well in this round from S/U and ATS perspectives but that has not been the case in recent years. Since the 2003-04 season home teams in the divisional round are just 12-20 ATS and stunningly just 18-14 S/U despite the home team being favored in all 32 of those games. Double-digit favorites are just 1-4 ATS in that span including losing S/U three times. The ‘over’ went 3-1 last week and last year in the divisional round the ‘over’ went 4-0.

               
San Francisco will be the first home underdog in the divisional round since the 1996-97 season when Carolina beat Dallas 26-17 as 3-point home underdogs in the first ever playoff game for the franchise. The 49ers have been home underdogs in the playoffs twice since 1980, beating Dallas 28-27 in the 1981-82 NFC Championship game and losing to the Packers 23-10 in the 1997-98 NFC Championship game. The Saints do not have a rich playoff tradition like San Francisco has but they are a recent champion and are now 4-9 ATS in the playoff games with last week’s win with three of the four ATS wins coming in the last three years. New England should be the biggest NFL playoff favorite since their 16-0 season in 2007-08 when they lost ATS in each of the first two rounds before falling to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Best of Luck, on to this week’s slate…

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