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NFL Wild Card Weekend

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/31/2007

You've probably heard the general handicapping rule that says
you're supposed to take underdogs during Wildcard Weekend, but favorites
after that. It doesn't work out that way every single season, but
history makes a good case for that general approach.

Why is that true?

During Wildcard Weekend, you've generally got fairly even teams going
head to head. The best two teams in each conference are sitting at
home watching games on TV like you are! Those elite represent the far tip
of the bell curve. The teams you're watching on TV are closer to the
pack. There's just not that much difference in the big picture
between Wildcard teams and the worst two divisional winners. Hence, the games
are close to being toss ups.

In later rounds, those elite teams are playing on their home fields,
and are well rested. They have a HUGE edge in their first games, getting
to host teams that just went to war to survive the prior weekend. In
the championship game, they typically have an edge as well. The team that
wins straight up usually covers marquee football games. The highest
seed remaining is likely to be the team that wins.

I'm not saying I'll follow that approach in every single game this
month. But I can tell you that history will influence my thinking. You
have to respect history in every game, even if you don't follow it
play by play.

We're coming up on Wildcard Weekend, which historically is supposed
to feature close conservative games. Nobody wants to lose because of a
bunch of mistakes. Everyone realizes that killing yourself physically in
a wild shootout victory this week will give you little chance to win
in the second round. That creates a restrained mindset for most playoff

You only have to look to last season to see evidence of that:

*Indianapolis beat Kansas City 23-8, in a game that only saw 561 total
yards between the two teams. Indoors! Indianapolis dominated the first
half, yet only led 9-0 on three field goals.

*Seattle beat Dallas 21-20, in a game that saw each team score a
non-offensive touchdown. Dallas has a kickoff return score. Seattle returned
a fumble for a TD. Take those off the board, and it's a 14-13 final.
Only 616 yards were gained by the two offenses combined.

*Philadelphia beat the NY Giants 23-20, in a game that saw just 638
yards of total offense. If both teams reach 350 yards, that's a total of
700. That gives you a sense of how the defenses ruled these first
three games.

*New England beat the NY Jets 37-16, in a game that had an interception
return for a TD. That's right, the expected explosion game only had 46
offensive points.

If you throw out non-offensive scores, the game totals landed on 27,
31, 43, and 46. The first three stayed Under their
Las Vegas totals, the fourth went Over. Underdogs were 2-2 ATS (Dallas
and the NY Giants). The Colts covered as a favorite, but didn't
exactly set the scoreboard on fire in the process.

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