NFL playoff picks: Which home teams struggle in divisional round, teaser of the week and more tips

Since 2011, home teams in the divisional around are 21-7 straight up, meaning on average you can expect three of the four teams that have the bye and get to play at home to advance to the conference title games. But home teams come nowhere near as close to covering the spread in the divisional round.

Over that same time period, home teams are just 12-16 against the spread in the divisional round. And that's not a recent development; you have to go back to 2002 and earlier to find a time when you could blindly bet the home team against the spread in the divisional round under the current format of six teams getting into the playoffs in each conference. Since 2003, home teams are just 24-36 ATS in the divisional round, covering just 40 percent of the time.

The interesting thing is what happens when you break down the point-spread ranges of the home team in those games to see what type of teams tend to cover.

SpreadATSCover %
< -48-753%
-4 to -61-910%
-7 to -95-1624%
> -96-460%

Lump the weirdness going on at -6.5 with the ranges on either side, and favorites of 4-9 points are just 10-25 against the spread since 2003. That's a cover rate of just 28.5 percent.

Why does this matter? Because the way the lines are shaping up this weekend, we could have all four games close in this point-spread range. The one with seemingly the best chance to escape is New England, who could get down to -3.5 if people keep piling on the Chargers. But I need to point this out: that 8-7 ATS record above included no home teams that were favored by 3.5 points, so it's just as possible a 3.5-point favorite would slot into the 10-25 ATS trend of 4-9 point favorites as the other direction.

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If you want to know which sides I like this week, you can find that info at the SportsLine link below, where all my rated plays appear during the season along with plenty of great analysis from a fantastic collection of experts. You can also check out where all our CBS Sports staff lands on each game each week right here.

Each week in this space, I'm going to go behind the lines and picks to bring you a bit of a deeper dive into what you should know before locking in your plays. Let's get to it.

My picks

At SportsLine, I'm 55-31-2 (+2073) over my last 88 ATS picks, including going 4-0 on Wild Card Weekend. Join now and use promo code WHITE for $1 on your first month and you can get mine and every SportsLine expert's picks throughout the year.

However, you can get one free pick with my teaser of the week, which has been very profitable during the season.

What NFL picks can you make with confidence during the NFL's divisional round? And which top Super Bowl contender goes down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which NFL teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has beaten 98 percent of experts over the past two years. 

Colts at Chiefs (-5.5)

Home-field advantage: 3 points
Power rating line: Chiefs -4.5
Opening line: Chiefs -5

Record vs. spread 9-7-19-6-1
Yards per play differential 0.30.9
Points per drive offense rank 61
Points per drive defense rank 1128
Weighted DVOA 28.432.3
Pass offense DVOA rank 101
Pass defense DVOA rank 2012
Run offense DVOA rank 134
Run defense DVOA rank 432

Andy Reid used to be unbeatable after a bye: He won 16 straight games after a bye in the regular season or playoffs to start his coaching career with the Eagles, going 12-4 against the spread in that stretch. In his final season in Philadelphia, Reid finally lost his first game after a bye, falling to the Falcons at home 30-17 as three-point favorites. Since coming to Kansas City, the schedule-makers have put the Chiefs on the road coming out of the bye every year, where Reid is 4-2 straight up and 3-3 ATS. His Chiefs also lost at home two years ago in the divisional round against the Steelers as 2.5-point favorites off the bye.

So the lesson is, don't just assume Reid has some bye magic in store for the Colts on Saturday. He'll have the best offense on the field but also the worst defense, with the Chiefs ranking dead last in DVOA against the run during the regular season and now facing a Colts attack that just rolled up 200 rushing yards against DVOA's best rush defense. And if that's not enough, the passing game is also led by one of the best QBs in the league in Andrew Luck.

But while the Colts have been playing well on defense, they haven't faced an attack anywhere near the quality of the Chiefs. Aside from their wins against Deshaun Watson in the second half of the season and playoffs, here are the QBs that have started against the Colts in their 10-1 streak: Derek Anderson, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota (left with injury), Ryan Tannehill, Cody Kessler, Dak Prescott, Eli Manning, Blaine Gabbert. Patrick Mahomes is going to be a different test altogether.

Cowboys at Rams (-7)

Home-field advantage: 2.5 points
Power rating line: Rams -5.5
Opening line: Rams -7

Record vs. spread 9-87-8-1
Yards per play differential 0.00.4
Points per drive offense rank 193
Points per drive defense rank 1521
Weighted DVOA -1.018.9
Pass offense DVOA rank 265
Pass defense DVOA rank 169
Run offense DVOA rank 191
Run defense DVOA rank 528

Of the four coaches playing after a bye this weekend, Sean McVay is obviously the one with the least experience, having just taken over the Rams in 2017. But he managed to win and cover both times after a bye in the regular season with both games on the road. Last year the Rams were 6.5-point favorites over the Falcons in the wild-card round but lost outright.

The Cowboys should look to pull off the upset by pounding the ball on the ground against one of the worst rush defenses in the league, one that allowed a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry. Aside from their rush defense, the Rams are an elite team in all phases of the game, so they'll pose a huge test for a Cowboys defense that just benefited from the Seahawks playing to their defensive strength for 60 minutes, for some reason.

As good as the Cowboys defense has played this year, asking them to dominate on the road might be too tough to expect. Five of the seven times they gave up at least 350 yards of offense came on the road. On the other side, the Rams totaled more than 400 yards in seven of their eight home games, including going over 500 against two good defenses (Vikings, Chargers). If they can turn this game into a shootout, the Cowboys passing attack will need to find another gear to keep up.

Chargers at Patriots (-4)

Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Patriots -4
Opening line: Patriots -4.5

Record vs. spread 10-79-7
Yards per play differential 0.9 0.2
Points per drive offense rank 58
Points per drive defense rank 87
Weighted DVOA 21.419.3
Pass offense DVOA rank 24
Pass defense DVOA rank 1014
Run offense DVOA rank 69
Run defense DVOA rank 1019

Bill Belichick has ample experience playing at home on divisional weekend after a bye, and his Patriots are 11-1 straight up and 7-4-1 ATS in such a situation, covering six of the last seven years. He's 14-5 straight up in the regular season after a bye week but just 10-8-1 ATS in that stretch. A little strangely, most of his non-covers in the regular season have come in Foxborough (1-6-1 ATS).

These two teams come into this game with similar DVOA profiles, but the Chargers do everything just a little bit better than the Patriots. They're also 8-0 straight up away from L.A. this year (their only road loss was to the Rams), and while many West Coast teams struggle early in road games played at 1 p.m. ET, the Chargers have led by double digits at halftime of all three of their 1 p.m. ET games this year.

The Patriots are 8-0 straight up and 6-2 ATS at home this year, though this is surely going to be their toughest test since beating the Chiefs 43-40 back in Week 6. They've shown they're capable of winning shootouts, but this should be a close game no matter who wins. Philip Rivers is now 6-1 ATS in the playoffs and 40-20-3 as a road underdog all-time. 

Eagles at Saints (-8)

Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Saints -7
Opening line: Saints -8

Record vs. spread 8-910-6
Yards per play differential -0.20.3
Points per drive offense rank 122
Points per drive defense rank 1820
Weighted DVOA 2.725.2
Pass offense DVOA rank 113
Pass defense DVOA rank 1522
Run offense DVOA rank 278
Run defense DVOA rank 93

Sean Payton has proven to be excellent after a bye week, going 9-4 ATS in the regular season but with three of those non-covers in his first three years as Saints coach. Starting with the team's championship season in 2009, the Saints are 10-1 ATS after a bye, including a divisional-round blowout win during that title season. Even though the Saints scored 14 points or fewer in three of their final five games of the regular season, Payton should have them ready to go here.

This is a rematch of a midseason game in New Orleans where the Saints absolutely pasted the Eagles 48-7, outgaining their opponent by 350 yards. Though the Eagles defense has risen up over the last two weeks, who knows if they'll be able to stifle a rested Saints attack this time around? Philly's run game was nonexistent against the Bears and probably won't be much better against an excellent New Orleans defense.

That means it's up to Nick Foles to again work his magic and pull out a win when everyone is writing off the Eagles. Though he got the win in the tough environment of Chicago, he didn't play particularly well, throwing a pair of first-half picks and needing some penalty help to finally engineer a TD drive after halftime. But he was money when it mattered, getting one chance to score with his team down five with less than five minutes left and getting it done. Will the Saints leave him that opportunity, or will this be another rout in New Orleans?

Teaser of the Week

Saints -2 vs. Eagles
Rams -1 vs. Cowboys

The first leg of the teaser is easy, as I don't think the Eagles will be able to pull off a second-straight outright upset on the road, not with how good Sean Payton is after a bye and how well the Saints play at home. For the second leg, I'm going to trust that the Rams' big coaching advantage wins the day against a feisty Cowboys team. If you're teasing the AFC games, I'd probably be more comfortable with the underdogs as those should be two close games.

The teaser of the week is 13-5 after we got easy covers out of the Colts and Chargers getting more than a touchdown last week.

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