After 17 weeks of excitement, we've finally reached the playoffs. And when it comes to playing in January, you definitely want to be playing at home.
But you don't want to be playing at home against a team that the market won't give you the full three points against on the line.
Of the four games slated for this weekend, three currently feature the home team as favorites of less than three points. The Texans and Cowboys are favored by 1-2 points against the Colts and Seahawks, respectively, at most Vegas books, while the Ravens are favored by 2.5 against the Chargers, though the juice on the favorite means that game could get to three at some point.
Why don't you want to be a home team in this type of game? Well, the fact that you're not laying three points means the market perceives your opponent is the better team, but you can't really play the "nobody believes in us" card since you're still the favorite. The psychological component of that feeling isn't something you should just write off, either.
I took a look at what happens when home teams are -2.5 or worse on the closing line, and the data since 2000 is fascinating. If you just take that entire sample size, the home team is 22-20-1 ATS in 43 games. But watch what happens when you separate the short favorites from the home 'dogs.
|-1 to -2.5||4-10||0.286|
Short home favorites are only 4-10 ATS since 2000, and it's even worse if you look at the numbers since 2010, with short home favorites just 1-6 ATS over the last eight seasons.
It actually turns out that playing at home gives these teams a slightly better chance of getting the cover. If you throw in away and neutral-site short favorites, you get an ATS record of just 6-18 since 2000 when a team is favored but by less than three points.
Will all three of the underdogs in these games cover? If you follow the 10-4 trend and give them a 71.4 percent chance of getting the cover, it works out to all three covering about 36 percent of the time and just over a 50 percent chance that two of the three cover. If I'm playing parlays this weekend, I know which side I'm looking at.
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.
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 wild-card 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 Texans (-1)
Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Texans -1
Opening line: Texans -2.5
|Record vs. spread||8-7-1||7-8-1|
|Yards per play differential||0.3||0.2|
|Points per drive offense rank||6||17|
|Points per drive defense rank||11||5|
|Pass offense DVOA rank||10||13|
|Pass defense DVOA rank||20||18|
|Run offense DVOA rank||13||26|
|Run defense DVOA rank||4||1|
The Texans started 0-3 but won 11 of their last 13, including nine in a row at one point, to earn the AFC South crown. The Colts started 1-5 but won nine of their last 10, including a win in Houston, to snag the final wild-card spot in the final game of the regular season. Can you chalk some of Indy's run up to their schedule? They were only an underdog once during that stretch (coincidentally, in Houston), so it's not like this 9-1 SU run came out of nowhere.
What matters here are the matchups. The Colts outgained the Texans in both their games during the regular season, including in Week 14 when Houston entered on a nine-game winning streak but was outgained 436-315 in a 24-21 loss, which wasn't even that close as Houston tacked on a TD with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Deshaun Watson was sacked five times in that game but Houston didn't turn the ball over once, and Indy was actually the team with more penalty yardage against it. Houston's historically good rush defense could shut down the Colts' ground attack as they did on that day, and it might not even matter if Andrew Luck is on point.
Seahawks at Cowboys (-1)
Home-field advantage: 2.5 points
Power rating line: Cowboys -3
Opening line: Cowboys -2.5
|Record vs. spread||9-5-2||9-7|
|Yards per play differential||-0.3||0.0|
|Points per drive offense rank||7||19|
|Points per drive defense rank||12||15|
|Pass offense DVOA rank||6||26|
|Pass defense DVOA rank||13||16|
|Run offense DVOA rank||7||19|
|Run defense DVOA rank||17||5|
The Cowboys are by and large not a statistically impressive team, as they finished with a +15 point differential and a DVOA ranking of only 21st, which is six spots behind the next lowest playoff team (Philadelphia). They won seven of their last eight games to take the division crown, but none of those victories were all that decisive, with eight points signifying their highest point differential in those games. However, we shouldn't fall into the trap of not giving them enough credit either, as they were 6-1-1 ATS during that stretch too, beating expectations almost every week.
The Cowboys might pose matchup problems for the Seahawks in this game, as Seattle ranks only 30th in yards per carry on defense and Dallas has a strong run defense itself to combat Seattle's run-heavy approach on offense. Yes, the Seahawks beat these Cowboys relatively easily back in Week 3, but they got three turnovers in that game, two on interceptions by Earl Thomas and one on an Ezekiel Elliott fumble after a long run. It was a pretty even game otherwise, and with the stakes as high as they'll be Saturday, I expect another close one.
Chargers at Ravens (-2.5)
Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Ravens -1.5
Opening line: Ravens -3
|Record vs. spread||9-7||8-8|
|Yards per play differential||0.9||0.5|
|Points per drive offense rank||5||14|
|Points per drive defense rank||8||2|
|Pass offense DVOA rank||2||14|
|Pass defense DVOA rank||10||3|
|Run offense DVOA rank||6||10|
|Run defense DVOA rank||10||6|
Here's the best matchup of Wild Card Weekend, two teams that finished in the top six of DVOA that don't have any obvious weaknesses on offense or defense. We keep waiting to see what happens if a team bottles up Lamar Jackson in the run game and forces him to win with his arm, but no one has been able to throw the Ravens out of their offensive rhythm.
The Chargers had their chance two weeks ago at home and failed, with Baltimore winning the yardage battle 361-198. Some will treat the final score of 22-10 as a bit of a mirage thanks to a long fumble return TD at the end of the game, but don't forget that the Ravens were in position to score on each of their five drives in the first half but missed two field goals (albeit one from 65 yards to close out the half) and turned the ball over on downs at the Chargers' 2-yard line to go into halftime up just 6-3. The Chargers' only TD in the game was set up by a fumble on the first offensive play after halftime to give them the ball in the red zone. Baltimore's defense isn't invincible, as the Browns and Chiefs have shown, but the Chargers have yet to figure it out.
Home-field advantage: 3.5 points
Power rating line: Bears -4
Opening line: Bears -5.5
|Record vs. spread||7-9||12-4|
|Yards per play differential||-0.2||0.6|
|Points per drive offense rank||12||13|
|Points per drive defense rank||18||1|
|Pass offense DVOA rank||11||20|
|Pass defense DVOA rank||15||1|
|Run offense DVOA rank||27||16|
|Run defense DVOA rank||9||2|
The Bears are the ATS champions of the season ... by a wide margin. They covered in 75 percent of their games, with the Seahawks coming in second a 64.3 percent, more than 10 percentage points behind the leader. Chicago won nine of its final 10 games and covered in every single one of those wins. Sometimes it wasn't by much -- they covered by a total of three points in Weeks 15-16 -- but the market continued to underrate this team.
They'll face an Eagles team that won three-straight games with their backup QB to sneak into the playoffs and covered in all of them, depending on where you got the Texans line. Nick Foles had a better completion percentage than Carson Wentz during the regular season, but in many ways the two put up similar statistics. DVOA is much higher on the Bears thanks to their top-ranked defense, but their offense doesn't really lend itself to blowout wins against most teams. Despite the Bears' hot stretch over their final 10 games, they were only more than a 3.5-point favorite once since Week 10, and they went off as 5.5-point favorites there. That means if they close as six-point favorites here, it'll be their biggest line as favorites since Nov. 11, nearly two whole months.
Teaser of the Week
Colts +7.5 at Texans
Chargers +8.5 at Ravens
We're getting some primo teaser lines on Wild Card Weekend, with three 'dogs at less than three points that give us the potential to tease team up through 3 and 7, with the other game featuring about a six-point favorite at home that we can tease down to around PK. I'd be fine playing any of those permutations, but my best play is going to be taking the Colts and Andrew Luck to keep it close in Houston. For the other leg, I think the Chargers played about as poorly as they could in their last meeting with with the Ravens and still would have lost by only six were it not for a long fumble return TD near the end of the game. I just can't see a team as good as them getting blown out.
The teaser of the week is 12-5 after the Cowboys went all out to earn a one-point win over a Giants team we had as -0.5. The Texans easily held up their side of the deal.