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Ness Notes: Divisional Round Recap

   by Larry Ness - 01/18/2010

Home teams went 2-2 SU and ATS in the wildcard round with underdogs going 3-1 ATS (huge move on the GB/Ari game saw the Cards go from 2 1/2-point favorites to 2 1/2-point underdogs by game time). All four games went over the total (had been 32 overs, 43 unders and one push since 1990) and of course the average of 57.3 PPG was skewered by the GB/Ari game (other three games averaged 44.3 PPG which was consistent with the previous 76 wild card games which averaged 43.0). However, the average margin of victory in the NFL's opening round was 13.8 PPG, just slightly higher than the 19-year average of 12.4 PPG for the wildcard round.

The NFL's divisional round was contested this past weekend and has discussed in Friday's notes, three of this year’s four top seeds had ‘limped’ into the postseason. So what happens? The three so-called "struggling teams," the Saints, Colts and Vikings win 45-14, 20-3 and 34-3, respectively. That's a combined score of 99-20! Meanwhile, the Chargers (who entered on an 11-game winning streak having gone 7-3-1 ATS), were upset by the Jets (plus-8 1/2) 17-14. Unfortunately for San Diego fans its was "déjà vu all over again," as in 2006 the team entered that postseason on a 10-game winning streak and with a 14-2 record held the AFC's No. 1 seed but lost its first playoff game 24-21 to the Patriots.

Let me also note that the Colts took a nine-game winning streak into last year's postseason, only to lose their first game as well, 23-17 (OT) at San Diego in the wildcard round. The Colts and Saints both opened the 2009 regular season at 13-0 (first time in NFL history two teams had reached that plateau in the same season) but both teams were roundly criticized for "calling off the dogs" down the stretch. That's behind both No. 1 seeds now, as the Colts and Saints will host championship games next Sunday. In fact, it marks the first time since 2004 that the No. 1 seed in each conference has advanced to the conference championship games.

As mentioned at the top, home teams went 2-2 SU and ATS in the wildcard round with underdogs going 3-1 ATS. However, home teams (all favorites) went 3-1 SU and ATS in the divisional round. That reversed a recent trend in which visiting teams (all underdogs) had gone 10-2 ATS the past three seasons in the divisional round. The high scoring trend of this postseason continued in Saturday's first game (Saints led the Cowboys 35-14 at the half), as despite no points being scored in the game's final 21 1/2 minutes, the Cowboys and Saints went over the closing total of 56 1/2 with New Orleans' 45-14 win.

That result gave us five straight overs to open the 2009 postseason, with games averaging 57.6 PPG. However, the Colts' 20-3 win over the Ravens on Saturday was the first of three straight unders to conclude the weekend's action. Both games went under on Sunday (Vikes beat Cowboys 34-3 and Jets upset the Chargers 17-14), as the final three games of the divisional round averaged a more playoff-like 30.3 PPG. The average winning score for the weekend was 29.0 PPG, while the four losing teams averaged a modest 8.5 PPG. Only one of the four games (NYJ/SD) was decided by less than 17 points, which is similar to the wildcard round in which only one game (GB/Ari) was decided by less than 10 points.

As I continue to point out, it really is surprising that when the NFL's best teams square off in the postseason, close games are the exception, not the rule. Heading into this season, the average margin of victory since 1990 (76 games) had been 12.4 PPG for the wildcard round and this year's four games saw teams win by 13.8 PPG. The average margin of victory in the divisional round since 1990 had been 14.0 PPG but despite a three-point game between the Jets and Chargers, the average margin of victory in this past weekend's four games was 20.5 PPG!

Home teams are 5-3 SU and ATS through eight postseason games with favorites going 4-4 ATS (Arizona was a home dog vs Green Bay). The pointspread has not come into play in a single game, as every favorite to win SU has covered, or the game's underdog has won outright (Jets in both of their wins, along with the Ravens against the Pats and the Cards over the Packers). There have been five overs and three unders (most recent three games), and the average score has been 32.3 PPG for the winning team and 15.1 PPG for the losing team.

The average margin of victory after eight games is a healthy 17.2 PPG. In comparison, since the NFL adopted its present 12-team playoff format in 1990, there had been a total of 209 playoff games (including Super Bowls) heading into this postseason. The average margin of victory in those games was just under two TDs, at 13.1 PPG. Taking a quick peek ahead to Sunday's championship games, the Saints are favored by 4 1/2 points over the Vikings (52 1/2) and the Colts are 7 1/2-point choices over the Jets (40 1/2). Note that since 1990, home teams are 23-15 SU but just 18-19-1 ATS over the last 38 championship games with the average margin of victory being 13.4 PPG (28.4-15.0).

Good luck...Larry

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