WEEK 19, DIVISIONAL ROUND
The NFL's divisional round may be the biggest home-field advantage in sport, or at least as much as the usual home field advantage in soccer. The higher seeded teams are the better ones, they're at home, and they've had a week's worth of rest and extra time to prep for those games.
In fact, since the current seeding format was adopted in 2002, home teams are 38-18, which is 68 per cent, and quite a bit better than the usual 57% or so home field advantage in the NFL. Of course, home teams are also 19-9 in the conference championship round, which is exactly the same percentage, so maybe the bye week is not worth that much.
However, last season, when all four home teams did win, it was the first time since the 2004 season the conference finals matched all four top seeds, so beware. Last week was a fairly predictable one; you may have noticed I was five for five on my tips (assuming you took the second chances) and had a lot of joy from the over/unders, so that's where we will start this week.
BEST BET: KANSAS CITY VS PITTSBURGH OVER (44.5 AT 1.98). I think there is going to be enough scoring in this one to bust the over/under; LeVeon Bell is running well and the Chiefs have trouble stopping the run, and the Chiefs' have scored eight non-offensive touchdowns this year, including three returns by Tyreek Hill.
PITT (+1.5 AT 1.95) is also tempting, but I can't call it a best bet because although the Steelers are on a seven-game win streak, and in top form, and although they killed the Chiefs in Pittsburgh earlier in the season, Andy Reid has had the bye week to prepare; for his career in Philly and KC he is 16-2 after bye weeks, and 4-0 in the playoffs. Handle with care.
VALUE BET: ATLANTA (-5.5 AT 1.95) VS SEATTLE: I think the Falcons prove they are for real in this one, as Dan Quinn comes back to haunt his old team. They staged a ferocious rally but lost in Seattle earlier in the year; Richard Sherman got away with an egregious hold on Julio Jones late in that game (DeShawn Shead got away with tackling TJ Jones last week as the Seahawks beat the Lions at home) but on the road I don't think the Seahawks get those calls.
You might look at the Falcons leading at halftime too (1.66), as I see Seattle starting slowly as they did last year against Carolina. I would also be tempted by OVER here (51.5 AT 1.98) as it's not unlikely Atlanta's D will surrender some points.
OUTSIDE BET: GREEN BAY (+4.5 AT 1.92) AT DALLAS: I've actually picked the Pack straight up here, and getting four points is a blessing. But I don't have extreme confidence in that pick: The Cowboys could run through the Packers early and change the tenor of the game, and as the Pack are so one-dimensional offensively, Dallas' two-deep zone won't have to worry about committing more defenders to the run, the way the Pack may have to.
Really the story in this game is whether you believe in more Aaron Rodgers miracles to continue the seven-game win streak. I'm not so sure I really should, which is why this is an outside bet.
HOUSTON (+14.5 AT 1.95) might be a more interesting outside bet: if they can get to Tom Brady early and keep the game tight, they could have a chance. The Pats didn't blow past them when they won 27-0 in week three with Jacoby Brisset at QB. That may not be as easy this time, and if they're up they may not want to risk Brady against the Texans' pass rush.