Is the market undervaluing NFL playoff teams coming off bye week?
For just the second time in NFL postseason history, only two teams enter the divisional round following a first-round bye week. And, relative to previous years, the market doesn't have much faith in the Packers (-6) or Titans (-3.5) coming off an extra week's rest.
Green Bay is the NFC's first No. 1 seed to give fewer than seven points in this spot since the 2017-18 Eagles, who were catching 2.5 points behind backup quarterback Nick Foles. The AFC hasn't seen a No. 1 seed favored by 3.5 points or fewer in this round since, ironically, Tennessee was laying a field goal in 2008-09.
That comes despite a dominant run by rested top seeds in recent years - one that signals potential value in this weekend's divisional round.
Since the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams in the 1990 season, clubs coming off a first-round bye are 64-55-3 against the spread (53.8%) and 91-31 straight up (74.6%). Since 2015, those marks have jumped to 13-8-1 ATS (61.9%) and 18-4 SU (81.8%), including a 7-4 ATS / 10-2 SU run for No. 1 seeds.
It hasn't been a perfect ride for top seeds, with some spots presenting a greater risk than others. But with two of the more undervalued No. 1 seeds in recent memory taking the field this weekend, is the market overlooking the benefit of an extra week off?
Blowouts after a bye
Top seeds have been marginally profitable against the spread since the introduction of the first-round bye in 1990-91, but they've been sizzling over the past few seasons. They haven't just been winning, either. They've been dominating.
Since 2017, teams coming off a first-round bye have posted a 9-5 ATS record (64.3%) and won 12 of 14 outright (85.7%). Six of those 12 victories came by at least 13 points, and none were decided by fewer than five points. No. 1 seeds have been especially lethal over the past four years, posting a 7-1 record with an average victory margin of 12.3 points in those seven wins.
|2020||Packers (-7) vs. Rams||W 32-18||+14|
|2020||Chiefs (-8) vs. Browns||W 22-17||+5|
|2019||49ers (-7) vs. Vikings||W 27-10||+17|
|2019||Ravens (-10) vs. Titans||L 12-28||-16|
|2018||Chiefs (-4.5) vs. Colts||W 31-13||+18|
|2018||Saints (-8.5) vs. Eagles||W 20-14||+6|
|2017||Patriots (-13.5) vs. Titans||W 35-14||+21|
|2017||Eagles (+2.5) vs. Falcons||W 15-10||+5|
All of that bodes well for this year's top seeds against the spread, given the conservative lines compared to past seasons. But there may be even more value on the moneyline.
That may seem obvious for the Titans (-175), who would only need to win 63.6% of the time to justify backing them against the Bengals. Consider, too, that the Packers (-250) have an implied probability of 71.4%, so anything above that mark would suggest paying the steep price for an outright win over the 49ers.
Both of those numbers are lower than the win percentage of No. 1 seeds over the past 30 years (74.2%), but even that understates the recent success of top seeds. Since 2013, No. 1 seeds have won a ridiculous 14 of 16 games (87.5%), all of them coming by more than a field goal. Those laying 3.5 or less are 3-0 SU in that stretch, while favorites of six or more are 11-1 SU.
Tough spots for top seeds
While No. 1 seeds have been particularly tough to beat - especially over the past half-decade - they still haven't been a surefire bet against the spread. And some spots have proven especially tricky.
Take the Titans, for example. A short line this week should mean value on the home favorites, but it also suggests that the market views Tennessee as a particularly weak No. 1 seed. Only 10 teams in the last 30 years have laid four or fewer points as a top seed coming off a bye week.
Historically, the market has been right. Those clubs went 3-7 ATS and lost five of those games outright, including the last time the Titans were No. 1 seeds.
|2017||Eagles (+2.5) vs. Falcons||W 15-10||W||W|
|2015||Panthers (-2.5) vs. Seahawks||W 31-24||W||W|
|2012||Falcons (-3) vs. Seahawks||L 30-28||L||W|
|2010||Falcons (-1.5) vs. Packers||L 21-48||L||L|
|2008||Giants (-4) vs. Eagles||L 11-23||L||L|
|2008||Titans (-3) vs. Ravens||L 10-13||L||L|
|2003||Eagles (-4) vs. Packers||L 20-17||L||W|
|1997||Chiefs (pk) vs. Broncos||L 10-14||L||L|
|1994||Steelers (-3.5) vs. Browns||W 29-9||W||W|
|1992||Steelers (-1.5) vs. Bills||L 3-24||L||L|
This is also a haunting spot for the Packers, who are 2-2 ATS / 3-1 SU off a playoff bye since Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008. Only one of those wins came by six or more points. And that lone loss? A 17-point blowout by the Giants in the 2012 postseason, which marked the third-largest defeat by a No. 1 seed coming off a bye week since the field expanded in 1990.
Green Bay could also be too rested after sitting the majority of its starters for the second half of its regular-season finale. That's traditionally been a bad idea. Since 2002, teams that rest their starters ahead of a playoff bye week are 5-14 ATS with nine outright losses in 19 tries.
Should you pay the price?
The highest seeds in the NFL postseason have long excelled in the win column following a first-round bye, and they've been criminally underrated in the betting market in recent years. That hasn't come without a few massive disappointments, including with the same teams that own this year's top spots.
Whether you bet them this week largely depends on your perception of this year's crop of top seeds. If you agree with the market's pessimism of Green Bay and Tennessee, this could be where those recent trends subside. However, If you view those two as undervalued relative to past No. 1 seeds, it's worth riding the wave of recent top seeds dominating after a week off - even if that's on the moneyline.