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For years, top teams with a bye week locked up entering Week 17 have struggled with the decision of whether to rest their players or not.
Since the NFL changed its postseason format in 2002, 18 teams have rested starters for all or a majority of their Week 17 contest ahead of a first-round bye. It hasn't gone according to plan - those teams have gone a remarkable 5-13 against the spread, with nine outright losses in 18 tries.
We saw it backfire just one season ago, when the Ravens rested their starters in Week 17 only to get stomped by the Titans in the divisional round. The Steelers (2017) and Cowboys (2016) suffered similar fates in recent years, losing outright as sizable favorites after a long layoff.
Despite those failures, the Chiefs (-10) are big favorites against the Browns this week after resting their starters in Week 17 and enjoying a week off in the wild-card round. Could the defending champions be the latest victim to one of the NFL's most alarming trends?
Since 2002, teams coming off a first-round bye have enjoyed a nearly 70% winning percentage in the divisional round, though they've covered just 46.5% of the time in that spot. Still, that extra week of rest has been worth it for most top teams, who are winning at a better rate than playoff favorites without a bye.
When that team has two weeks off, though? It's a different story. Here's a list of the 18 teams that rested their starters before a bye week in that stretch, and how they fared in the divisional round:
|2019||Ravens (-9.5) vs. Titans||12-28||L||L|
|2018||Saints (-8) vs. Eagles||20-14||W||L|
|2017||Eagles (+2.5) vs. Falcons||15-10||W||W|
|2017||Steelers (-7) vs. Jaguars||42-45||L||L|
|2016||Cowboys (-5) vs. Packers||31-34||L||L|
|2014||Patriots (-7) vs. Ravens||35-31||W||L|
|2011||Packers (-7.5) vs. Giants||20-37||L||L|
|2009||Colts (-6.5) vs. Ravens||20-3||W||W|
|2009||Chargers (-8) vs. Jets||14-17||L||L|
|2009||Saints (-7) vs. Cardinals||45-14||W||W|
|2008||Titans (-3) vs. Ravens||10-13||L||L|
|2008||Giants (-4) vs. Eagles||11-23||L||L|
|2007||Colts (-8) vs. Chargers||24-28||L||L|
|2007||Packers (-8.5) vs. Seahawks||42-20||W||W|
|2006||Saints (-5.5) vs. Eagles||27-24||W||L|
|2005||Colts (-9.5) vs. Steelers||18-21||L||L|
|2004||Steelers (-8.5) vs. Jets||20-17||W||L|
|2004||Eagles (-9.5) vs. Vikings||27-14||W||W|
Outside of the 2017 Eagles - who won as short home underdogs - the other 17 teams were favored by an average of 7.3 points per contest. Those squads went 4-13 ATS / 8-9 SU and a ghastly 0-6 ATS / 2-4 SU since 2011. Yes, you read that right - more teams have lost outright after an extended rest despite being favored in every game.
Since 2017, teams coming off a first-round bye are 8-3-1 ATS in the divisional round. Those three losses? You guessed it: the Ravens, Saints, and Steelers, who all rested their starters in Week 17.
This trend has been especially troublesome for rested teams that enter their first game as big favorites. Twelve of those 18 clubs were favored by at least 7 points in the divisional round; they went 3-9 ATS and won just six of those 12 games outright. That's a truly stunning number when you consider all other playoff favorites of 7 or more points won almost 80% of their games in that stretch.
Even those that do win after a two-week spell have struggled to do so convincingly. Only four of those 18 teams won by 10 or more points, which is the expectation for Kansas City this weekend as a double-digit favorite.
If any team can avoid the curse of the two-week rest, it's the Chiefs, who have won four of their last five playoff games by 10 or more points and have one of the best coaches in the league for this situation.
In his 21 years as a head coach, Andy Reid is 21-10 ATS when given an extra week to prepare, including 6-2 ATS in the playoffs. His teams have outscored their opponents by nearly 10 points per game in that spot, while Kansas City is riding a 3-0 ATS run off a playoff bye with a plus-49 point differential in that span.
Still, the Chiefs have lost eight straight games ATS and four of their last five as double-digit favorites, and their starters haven't seen the field in three weeks. Can they shake off the rust, or will an extended rest be their undoing?
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.