When you get to the postseason, teams are supposed to be more evenly matched. But that's definitely not the case for the Texans-Patriots game that we'll be getting in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Oddsmakers are so terrified at the thought of Brock Osweiler going up against a team coached by Bill Belichick that New England opened as a 15.5-point favorite Sunday. That kind of spread is borderline absurd for a regular-season game, let alone a playoff game.
The opening spread makes the Patriots the biggest playoff favorite in nearly 20 years. According to Pro Football Reference, the last playoff team to be favored by at least 15 points came in January 1999 when the Vikings closed as a 16.5-point favorite over the Arizona Cardinals. With early betting pushing the Patriots to a 16-point favorite, it's not crazy to think that New England could hit that 16.5-point mark.
During the Super Bowl era, which dates to 1966, there have only been five playoff games where a team was favored by 15 or more points. In those five games, the favorite has gone 4-1 straight up and 3-2 against the spread. One of those covers came from those 1998-99 Vikings, who beat the Cardinals 41-21.
The only time the underdog actually won came in Super Bowl III, when the 18-point underdog Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 19-7. If you're wondering why Joe Namath's guarantee was such a big deal, there's your answer. He promised a win in a game where his team was an 18-point underdog.
Here's how the other three games broke down: In the 1994 season, the 49ers were twice favored by 15 points or more, and they covered in both games. First, they beat the Bears 44-15 as a 15.5-point favorite in the divisional round. Then, in the Super Bowl, they beat the Chargers 49-26 as a 19-point favorite.
Besides the Namath game, the only other time a playoff team didn't cover a spread of 15 points or more came in 1978 when the Cowboys beat the Falcons 27-20 as a 15-point favorite.
As for the Patriots, we can probably go ahead and punch their ticket to the AFC title game. Under Belichick, they've been a favorite of 15 or more points a total of 13 times, including regular-season games, and they've gone 13-0 straight up in those games. Belichick's Patriots don't lose to inferior teams. However, when it comes to covering the spread, things are a bit more dicey with the Patriots going 7-6 ATS.
The Texans-Patriots game is the only this week where the spread is over five points. Let's get to the odds and check out the lines from every divisional round game.
NFL divisional round
(All odds via William Hill)
Saturday, Jan. 14
Seahawks (11-5-1) at Falcons (11-5)
4:35 p.m. ET (Fox)
- Opening line: Falcons, -4 points
- Current line: Falcons, -4.5 points
If defense wins championships, then the Seahawks might have a chance to win this game. To beat Atlanta, the Seahawks are going to have to slow down a Falcons team that had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL (33.8 points per game). That shouldn't be impossible for the Seahawks defense, which ranked third in the NFL in points against, giving up just 18.3 points per game in 2016.
These two teams met in Week 6 with the Falcons covering the spread as a seven-point underdog in a controversial 26-24 loss. In that loss, Julio Jones appeared to be interfered with on a fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter. However, the alleged penalty went uncalled. Overall, the Falcons went 10-6 ATS in 2016, which was tied for the third-best mark in the NFL.
That being said, the Seahawks are in a situation they seem to thrive in: road underdog. Since Russell Wilson's rookie year in 2012, the Seahawks are 9-3-1 ATS as a road underdog, which is the best mark over the span. Despite their atrocious road record in 2016 -- 3-4-1 straight up and 3-5 ATS -- the Seahawks still did well as a road underdog, going 1-0-1 straight up and 2-0 ATS (they were a road underdog against the Cardinals and Patriots).
One final thing to keep in mind here: Matt Ryan has never covered the spread in any playoff game ever. Since his rookie year in 2008, the Falcons have played in five playoff games and they're 0-5 ATS. However, they did win one game straight up, and that game came against, yup, the Seahawks. In January 2013, the Falcons won a wild divisional-round thriller 30-28 in a game where Atlanta was favored by three.
Last time we got Seahawks-Falcons in playoffs, things got crazy. SEA came back from 27-7 to lead 28-27, then lost https://t.co/2MN2Txi29Q— John Breech (@johnbreech) January 8, 2017
As for the Seahawks, Russell Wilson is 8-3 straight up and 6-5 ATS in his playoff career.
Texans (9-7) at Patriots (14-2)
8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
- Opening line: Patriots, -15.5 points
- Current line: Patriots, -16 points
If you're wondering why the the Patriots are such big favorites in this game, here's a good reason: In October the Texans had everything in their favor before facing New England, and they still lost 27-0. In that game, the Patriots had to start their third-string quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) because Tom Brady was still suspended and his backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, was hurt. The Texans also still had J.J. Watt in their lineup, which led many to believe it would be a close game, but it wasn't.
A big reason the Patriots won is because Brock Osweiler looked lost (24 of 41, 196 yards, one interception) and now he'll have to face the Patriots again Saturday.
Including that win over Houston, the Patriots went an NFL-best 13-3 ATS this season, while the Texans finished just 6-9-1. That record for Houston includes a 2-6 mark ATS on the road.
As for the Patriots, they're 10-2 straight up in the divisional round during the Brady-Belichick era. Of course, the Patriots are no lock when it comes to covering. Since 2011, they're just 6-6 ATS in playoff games.
The last -- and only -- time these two teams played in the postseason came after the 2012 season when the Patriots covered a 9.5-point spread with a 41-28 win.
Sunday, Jan. 15
Steelers (11-5) at Chiefs (12-4)
1:05 p.m. ET (NBC)
- Opening line: Steelers, -1.5 points
- Current line: Chiefs, -1 point
The biggest line movement during the early hours of divisional round betting came in this game, and that just might have something to do with the health of Ben Roethlisberger. After the Steelers' victory over Miami on Sunday, Roethlisberger showed up at his press conference with a boot on his leg.
#Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't leave the win over #Dolphins unscathed. He left Heinz Field with a boot on his right leg. pic.twitter.com/bYmrUSbCi8— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) January 8, 2017
Roethlisberger wouldn't specify what exactly was wrong with his right leg, but something was clearly amiss. Before betting on the Steelers, you might want to make sure Big Ben will be 100 percent for this game. Although he was clearly hurt, Roethlisberger did guarantee that he would be on the field for the Chiefs game.
The good news for the Steelers is that if this game goes anything like the last time these two teams played, the Steelers might not need Roethlisberger to be 100 percent. In Week 4, the Steelers covered a four-point spread in a 43-14 beatdown of the Chiefs in Pittsburgh.
If the one-point spread sticks in Kansas City's favor, that could be bad news for the Chiefs. Kansas City is just 11-16-1 ATS as a home favorite under coach Andy Reid. Of course, having Reid for this game might actually be a good thing. In Reid's career, he's 16-2 coming off a bye during the regular season. Reid is also 3-0 straight up in the playoffs when he gets a bye through the wild-card round, although all three of those wins came with the Eagles.
The Chiefs and Steelers have played each other once in the postseason -- after the 1993 season when the Chiefs won an overtime game 27-24 at Arrowhead Stadium.
These two teams were pretty similar against the spread during the regular season with the Chiefs going 9-6-1 and the Steelers going 9-7.
Packers (10-6) at Cowboys (13-3)
4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
- Opening line: Cowboys, -4 points
- Current line: Cowboys, -4 points
This could turn into the ultimate revenge game for the Cowboys. As every Cowboys fan alive remembers, the Packers pulled off a controversial 26-21 playoff win over the Cowboys in January 2015 that led to "Dez caught it" becoming part of the national lexicon.
This game will pit the NFC team with the best record against the NFC's hottest team. Over the past seven weeks, including the postseason, the Packers have gone 7-0 straight up and 6-1 ATS. In that span, Aaron Rodgers has been nearly unstoppable, throwing 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions (that number jumps to 22/0 if you include a Week 11 loss to the Redskins).
These two teams were two of the best in the NFL in 2016 when it comes to covering the spread, with the Cowboys going 10-6 and the Packers going 9-6-1 (10-6-1, if you include the playoffs).
One of the Cowboys' most impressive covers of the season came in Week 6 when the beat the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field in a game where they were a five-point underdog.
The one thing to keep in mind with the Cowboys is that they'll be starting a rookie quarterback in this game, which hasn't been good news for any team over the past five years.
Rookie quarterbacks have struggled in the playoffs recently, going just 2-5 since 2011. However, that 2-5 record is kind of inflated because both of those wins came in games where two rookies were playing each other, so someone had to win. Dak Prescott won't get to face another rookie in this game -- he has to face Rodgers.
Speaking of Rodgers, since he took over the Packers starting job in 2008, Green Bay has gone 9-4-1 ATS in playoff games, which is the best mark in the NFC and the second-best mark in the NFL overall (behind only Baltimore's 11-4). Despite that impressive ATS record, Rodgers and the Packers have gone just 8-6 straight up, with three of those losses coming in overtime.
The Packers are also 5-2 ATS as a road underdog over the past two seasons, which is the second-best mark in the NFC.
Anyway, the only upside for Dallas in the Rodgers vs. the rookie matchup is that Prescott will be able to get advice from a rookie who had a lot of success in the postseason: Mark Sanchez. In 2009, Sanchez led the Jets to the AFC title game as a rookie.