NFL divisional round betting trends: Patrick Mahomes shines as underdog

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The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is finally here! Many call this the best weekend of the season, and looking at the matchups, this weekend should live up to the billing.

As for last week, Super Wild Card Weekend was full of surprises. The Green Bay Packers crushed the Dallas Cowboys despite being seven-point underdogs. The underdog Houston Texans took down the league’s top defense in the Cleveland Browns, and the Detroit Lions snapped the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. But perhaps the biggest surprise of them all came at the expense of last season’s Super Bowl runners-up, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew out the Philadelphia Eagles.

Looking ahead, FOX Sports research dug into how teams performed against the spread (ATS) and straight up (SU) in various situations in the divisional round. We also dive into a rare situation Patrick Mahomes is in, that might surprise some readers.

Let’s dive into the best betting trends that stick out for the upcoming games.

Patrick Mahomes on fire as underdog

Despite coming off a dominant win against the Miami Dolphins, the Kansas City Chiefs and Mahomes are three-point underdogs against the Buffalo Bills. 

This is the first time in the QB’s career that he will play a true road game in the playoffs and just the second time he’ll be an underdog in a playoff game. The first instance came last year when the Chiefs closed as one-point underdogs in the Super Bowl against the Eagles. That game ended with Mahomes & Co. celebrating a championship.

Buffalo, the AFC East champions, is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won six games in a row and seven of their last eight (including the wild-card round). However, history is on the side of the Chiefs when looking at the data. 

Mahomes is coming off another strong season despite some calling it a “down year,” throwing for 4,183 yards and 27 touchdowns — both ranking in the top eight of the league. 

Here’s a look at the trends that point toward the Chiefs covering:

  • Mahomes is 10-5 ATS (66.7%) and 12-3 SU (80%) as a starter in the playoffs in his career; the cover rate is tied with Terry Bradshaw for the second-best of any QB in the Super Bowl era (min. 15 starts), trailing only Joe Flacco, while the win percentage is tied with Jim Plunkett for the best of any QB in the Super Bowl era (min. 10 playoff starts)
  • Mahomes is 3-2 ATS (60%) and 5-0 SU as a starter in the divisional round in his career
  • Mahomes is 9-2-1 ATS (81.8%) and 8-4 SU (66.7%) as an underdog in his career (regular season and playoffs)
  • Chiefs are 24-15-2 ATS (61.5%) and 20-21 SU (48.8%) as an underdog under Andy Reid (regular season and playoffs)
  • Chiefs are 6-4 ATS and SU (60%) vs. the Bills under Andy Reid (regular season and playoffs) and 2-0 ATS and SU against them in the playoffs under Reid
  • Andy Reid is 7-3-1 (70%) and 4-7 SU (36.4%) as an underdog in the playoffs for his career (Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles)

Dallas Cowboys keep Mike McCarthy after Packers loss – Chris Fallica, Geoff Schwartz react

Dallas Cowboys keep Mike McCarthy after Packers loss - Chris Fallica, Geoff Schwartz react

Stroud and Ryans looking to continue first-year success

C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans are just the third rookie QB-first-year head coach duo to win a playoff game since 1950. The shocking part? BOTH of the previous two duos made it to the conference title game. In the 2008 season, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh made it to the AFC title game, and just one year later, Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan followed suit. 

The Texans are currently 9.5-point underdogs against the Baltimore Ravens. Here are some nuggets to help you choose which side you’ll bet on:

  • Since 2000, underdogs of nine-plus points in the divisional round are 11-9 ATS (52.3%) and 6-14 SU (30%)
  • Since 2005, underdogs of nine-plus points in the divisional round are 10-8 ATS (55.6%) and 6-12 SU (33.3%)
  • Since 2018, underdogs of nine-plus points in the divisional round are 2-1 ATS (66.7%) and 1-2 SU (33.3%)
  • John Harbaugh is 10-9 ATS (52.6%) and 17-2 SU (89.5%) as a nine-to-11-point favorite as the Ravens head coach (regular season and playoffs)
  • Lamar Jackson is 5-5 ATS (50%) and 9-1 SU (90%) as a nine-to-11-point favorite as a starter in his career (regular season and playoffs)
  • Lamar Jackson is 1-3 ATS and SU (25%) as a starter in the playoffs for his career and 0-2 ATS and SU
  • C.J. Stroud is 6-1 ATS and SU (85.7%) as a starter against teams above .500 this season (including playoffs)

No. 1 seeds dominate this round but struggle to cover

Fading the 1-seed to cover the spread seems to be the play when looking at the data, despite their dominance SU. However, it is worth noting that the 2-seed has covered consistently since 2000:

  • Since 2010, the 1-seed is 10-14-2 ATS (41.7%) and 18-8 SU (69.2%) in the divisional round, with the Over/Under splitting at 13 each in those games
  • Since 2000, the 1-seed is 19-25-2 ATS (43.2%) and 32-14 SU (69.6%) in the divisional round, with the Under hitting in 26 of those games
  • Since 2010, the 2-seed is 15-11 ATS (57.7%) and 19-7 SU (73.1%) in the divisional round, with the Over hitting in 16 of those games
  • Since 2000, the 2-seed is 24-21-1 ATS (53.3%) and 31-15 SU (67.4%) in the divisional round, with the Over hitting in 26 of those games

Underdogs bark in divisional round

On a similar note, underdogs historically cover in the divisional round no matter what time frame you look at. While they don’t win at a high rate, they consistently cover the spread, which is huge for gamblers.

Below is a breakdown of how underdogs perform ATS in this round:

  • Since 2020, underdogs are 7-5 ATS (58.3%) and 5-7 SU (41.7%) in the divisional round, with the Under hitting in nine of those games
  • Since 2010, underdogs are 26-24-2 ATS (52%) and 16-36 SU (30.8%) in the divisional round, with the Over hitting in 29 of those games
  • Since 2000, underdogs are 47-42-3 ATS (52.9%) and 30-62 SU (33%) in the divisional round, with the Over hitting in 46 of those games (one push)
  • Since 1995, underdogs are 56-52-4 ATS (51.9%) and 36-76 SU (32.1%) in the divisional round, with the Under hitting in 56 of those games (one push)

Speaking of dogs barking, since the 2003 season, road underdogs specifically have done very well ATS, going 42-33-2 ATS (56%) in the divisional round in that span. They’ve also won 26 of those 77 games (33.8%), which is a surprisingly high number when looking at 20 seasons worth of data.  

CANT-LOSE WEEKEND: 49ers favorites vs. Packers in the NFC Divisional Round

CANT-LOSE WEEKEND: 49ers favorites vs. Packers in the NFC Divisional Round

Packers looking to break long-term trend

While No. 1 seeds have struggled to cover in the divisional round and underdogs have dominated the spread, another trend points to the San Francisco 49ers breaking this mold. 

As mentioned earlier, the Packers dominated the Cowboys in the wild card despite being seven-point underdogs on the road. Since the wild-card format was introduced in the 1978 season, teams that are underdogs of seven-plus points and win straight up in the wild-card round are 4-7 ATS (36.4%) and 2-9 SU (18.2%) in the divisional round; the only two to win were the 1987 Minnesota Vikings (against the 49ers) and the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars (against Denver Broncos). Shown below are those two teams and their entire playoff paths:

  • 1987 Vikings: won as seven-point underdogs in wild card (at Saints), won as 10.5-point underdogs in divisional (at 49ers), lost as 3.5-point underdogs in NFC Championship (at Commanders)
  • 1996 Jaguars: won as 8.5-point underdogs in wild card (at Bills), won as 14-point underdogs in divisional (at Broncos), lost as seven-point underdogs in AFC Championship (at Patriots)

It should also be mentioned that Kyle Shanahan is 4-0 ATS and SU at home as the 49ers head coach in the playoffs, and also 4-0 ATS and SU as a favorite in the postseason. 

Similarly, the Packers are 0-3-1 ATS and 0-4 SU against the 49ers in the playoffs since the 2002 season. 

Lions looking for glory

The Lions, currently 6.5-point favorites against the Buccaneers, have made history. They are favorites in consecutive playoff games for the first time in the Super Bowl era. Barring any major injury news or change of events, on Sunday, they will set their franchise record for the largest line as a favorite in the playoffs. The current record is four points, which was achieved against the Cowboys in the 1970 season (divisional round). 

Below are some pro-Detroit trends:

  • Since the 2009 season, teams that did not make the playoffs in the previous season and are favorites in the divisional round the following year are 6-3 ATS (66.7%) and 7-2 SU (77.8%)
  • Since the start of last season, the Lions are 24-10-1 ATS (70.6%), the best cover rate of any team in that span (regular and playoffs)
  • Jared Goff is 14-5 ATS (73.7%) and 11-7-1 SU (61.1%) as the Lions starting QB against teams above .500
  • Jared Goff is 7-3 ATS and SU (70%) as the Lions starting QB when playing at home against teams above .500

The Over has hits in the divisional round

The Over has hit at approximately 51% or higher when looking at every five-year interval since the 1990 season:

  • Since 2015: Over hit in 17 of 32 divisional round games (53.1%)
  • Since 2010: Over hit in 29 of 52 divisional round games (55.8%)
  • Since 2005: Over hit in 37 of 72 divisional round games (51.4%)
  • Since 2000: Over hit in 46 of 91 divisional round games (one push) (50.5%)
  • Since 1995: Over hit in 58 of 111 divisional round games (one push) (52.3%)
  • Since 1990: Over hit in 67 of 130 divisional round games (one push) (51.5%)




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