The Muffed Punt: Momentum is a money pit for NFL playoff bettors

The late, great pro wrestler the Ultimate Warrior was known as much for his thunderous entrance to the ring as he was for his work inside of it. 

Once his theme music hit, he would run full blast down the aisle, slide onto the mat without breaking stride and proceed to shake the living shit out of the ropes for a good two or three minutes. Very impressive and very imposing. But according to many of the Warrior’s opponents, all that build up left him gassed for what really mattered: the match itself.

A similar comparison can be made when it comes to NFL teams entering the postseason in impressive fashion. Teams like Kansas City (winners of 10 straight), Washington (winners of four in a row), Minnesota (winners of three straight), and Houston (winners of three in row) all ride winning streaks into their Wild Card Weekend matchups (Kansas City and Houston play each other). But are they peaking – or streaking – too soon?

Looking back to 2002, when the NFL switched to its current playoff format, teams bringing winning streaks of three or more games into their first postseason matchups are just 18-25 ATS – covering the spread 42 percent of the time – while going 25-18 SU in their first postseason matchup. **Bonus note: those games have produced a 17-24-2 Over/Under record (58% Unders).

Putting the microscope over the longest winning streaks entering the NFL playoffs, and teams riding the momentum of a win streak of nine or more games are a rotten 0-7 ATS in their opening playoff contest, with a 3-4 SU record in those outings. Are you reading this Chiefs?

But outright wins aren’t the only streaks football bettors are concerned about. How a team has done against the spread heading into the tournament holds nearly as much weight – or at least it should.

Again, going back to 2002, NFL teams on an ATS winning streak of three or more games to end the regular season are 9-17 ATS in their opening playoff tilt – covering only 35 percent of the time (65% go-against rate) – and went an even-steven 13-13 SU in those games.

Playoff teams with ATS streaks of four or more games entering the postseason are an ice-cold 3-9 ATS (25%) and 6-7 SU, and concentrating just on the Wild Card Round, those streaking ATS teams were 9-10 SU and 7-12 ATS (37%).

Looking at outright – or SU – runs in the Wild Card Round, and teams off three or more SU wins are actually 14-16 ATS and 18-12 SU, so fading teams on ATS streaks is far more profitable than going against those on SU streaks in Wild Card matchups.

Wondering just who the hottest teams are ATS entering Saturday and Sunday’s postseason openers? You are now. Washington and Minnesota both closed the regular season on 4-0 ATS runs while Houston closed the campaign with three straight ATS paydays.

So to quote the Ultimate Warrior, “LOAD UP THE SPACESHIP WITH THE ROCKET FUEL!”

Wait…what?

Best in show

You know the old adage, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”? Well, when it comes to NFL spreads, it’s always about the size of the dog, especially as it pertains to betting home underdogs in the NFL playoffs.

There are three home underdogs on the board for the NFL Wild Card round – four if you were able to grab Washington +1 at select books. That’s a rare bird, but not necessarily a profitable one with home pups going 17-14 ATS (15-16 SU) since 1985.

But sizing up those pups, you find home playoff underdogs of +3.5 or higher coming in at 6-3 ATS (67%) and home playoff dogs of +2.5 or lower barking at a 7-4 ATS pace (64%) in the past 30 years of pro football.

What’s cooler than cool? ICE COLD!

One of my father’s favorite sayings while I was growing up was one of wisdom on cold Canadian winter days: “You’ll freeze your nibbies off!”

I’m grown up now with three kids of my own, and I still don’t know what or where my “nibbies” are and if, in fact, I still have them. Perhaps they were frozen off so many winters ago. But that hasn’t stopped me from passing down that warning to my children, letting them know to put on hats and mitts because there’s a chance they could “freeze their nibbies off”.

If you’re heading to Minnesota to take in the Wild Card war between the Seahawks and Vikings, you may want to take extra care to bundle up your “nibbies” or maybe even just leave them at home. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the range of minus stupid, which apparently is hovering around 0 degrees F.

 

NFL games (regular season and playoffs) played in sub-freezing weather – 31 degrees F or below – have gone 87-64 Over/Under (58% Over) since the 2005-06 season.

However, looking at just the 2015-16 campaign, there have been eight contests played in 31 degrees F or below with those producing a 2-6 Over/Under mark with an average of 42.75 total points scored in those games. That’s a significant scoring drop compared to games in similar weather over the past 11 seasons, which averaged 44.19 points per game in freezing conditions.

And when it comes to NFL games in which the mercury plummeted to single digits, those frigid fights have gone 2-4 Over/Under with an average of 47.33 points scored.

Fun fact: Seattle is 0-4 SU and ATS on the road in sub-freezing conditions since 2007-08, getting outscored 149-74 in those games.

Extra fun fact: Home teams, which you’d think would have the edge in those cold-weather games, are 94-57 SU but just 77-73-2 ATS.

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

The Steelers and Bengals get it on for a third time when these AFC North rivals clash in the Wild Card Round Saturday. Going back to 1994-95, divisional teams have produced a 13-20-1 Over/Under record (61% Under) when meeting in playoffs. Total for Pittsburgh-Cincinnati is at 45.5 points.

Sharps like…

Kansas City Chiefs. The smart money came in on Kansas City -3 and hung a half-point hook on their spread against the Texans Saturday. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management, even though the line for the Seahawks-Vikings game made more significant move, it wasn’t all due to sharp action. This move is.

“Often times we see them taking the home dog on the moneyline as well, but they’re taking Kansas City -180 moneyline too,” says Simbal.

Biggest move…

Seattle at Minnesota. This spread opened as low as Seahawks -3.5 and was immediately hit by wiseguys who were followed by public action on Seattle, taking the line all the way to six before action on the Vikings bought back the home team and has the line settling at Minnesota +5.

“We opened 3.5 and they laid that and 4.5, we jumped to six and they took that and moved us back to five,” says Simbal. “The 3.5 was a bit low and everybody saw that and hit it. The sophisticated guys have an opinion on the Chiefs, and played the team. For this one, they more played the number at -3.5.”

Biggest sweat…

Seattle at Minnesota. This is the most one-sided game in terms of action this Wild Card Weekend. The Chiefs-Texans games isn’t big with public players and the money is pretty even on the other two matchups with a lot of spread money on the Steelers but more moneyline bets on the Bengals, and the public soured on the Packers, creating two-way betting in the final game in Washington.

“It’s pretty lopsided and will be our biggest decision,” Simbal says of the Seahawks-Vikings tilt. “There will be a ton of bets on Seattle by Sunday, and I wouldn’t be surprises if we got back up to -6.”

Banker game…

Green Bay at Washington. Naturally, with this being the final of four Wild Card games on the weekend, any parlays or teasers still alive will trickle into the 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday kickoff. This one has hovered around pick all week, but look for late movement as this is the “get even or get even deeper game”.

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week

The playoffs are a different beast for DFS players. No longer do you have 16 teams to fork through for payroll value. With only eight teams on the Wild Card docket, separating yourself from the pack takes some insight and often times pure luck, getting surprise production from a low-cost source.

DFS Player of the Week: Marvin Jones WR Cincinnati Bengals

Jones has seen an increased workload with A.J. McCarron under center. He caught all five passes thrown his way for 38 yards in Week 17, was targeted seven times while catching only three balls for 33 yards in Week 16, and reeled in four of six passes his way for 89 yards in Week 15. In the Week 14 meeting with Pittsburgh, in which Andy Dalton was injured, Jones caught six of eight passes for 61 yards. He’s getting enough looks to make something big happen, especially with all the attention on A.J. Green Saturday.

Injury to note

David Bakhtiari LT, Green Bay Packers

Bakhtiari is huge to the Packers’ playoff chances. The offensive tackle is Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protector and without him in the lineup the last two games, Green Bay has allowed its star QB to get sacked 14 times – Fourteen! In two games! He’s been out with an ankle injury and was limited in practice Thursday after sitting out the rest of the week. His status is paramount and should be closely monitored, especially considering Washington has 17 total sacks in their last four games.

We know how to pick’em

Each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread (or closest to it), put away the spread sheets and computer models, and turn it over to each team’s cheerleaders, wagering on which squad is the hottest. Some books opened the Packers -1 while others went with the Redskins as 1-point faves. Either way, most have settled on a pick’em or have been there at some points this week.

Sunday’s menu

Inspired by what will be a cold-ass game in Minnesota Sunday, I’m thinking some stick to your ribs food to warm me up. I’ve never tried to make my own baked beans – a dish reserved to parents/grandparents – but I gotta grow up some time. And the hot dog on the side looks awesome.

Song for Sunday

And if there wasn’t enough being made of the game-time temps for Seahawks-Vikings, Foreigner has something to say…

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches for the Wild Card Weekend.

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