NFL wild-card round picks: The road-team advantage

Jan 7, 2016, 11:20 AM | Updated: 11:25 am
The Seahawks beat the Vikings by 31 points five weeks ago on the same field they’re playing o...
The Seahawks beat the Vikings by 31 points five weeks ago on the same field they're playing on Sunday. (AP)
(AP)

The road isn’t the hardship it once was for wild-card teams.

At least not judging by recent history in which three of the past 10 Super Bowl winners won three straight road games in the conference playoffs.

And that might help explain why all four of the road teams are considered betting favorites entering the wild-card round of the playoffs. Some of that is due to injury, specifically Andy Dalton’s broken thumb. Some of that is due to the fact that the NFC East and AFC South were the two worst divisions in football, and their champions don’t carry much respect.

Some of it has to due with the fact that playing on the road has not been as big of a disadvantage for wild-card teams over the past 10 years. Here’s a look at the weekend that will be in the NFL:

Kansas City at Houston

The Chiefs beat the Texans 27-20 in Week 1. After that, the Chiefs went on a five-game losing streak followed by a 10-game winning streak while the Texans have started a total of three different quarterbacks over the course of the year. Congratulations, Houston, on winning the worst division in the AFC, but of the Texans’ nine victories, only their 10-6 win over Cincinnati came against an opponent that finished with a winning record. The Chiefs have the longest winning streak in the league entering the playoffs, but that doesn’t guarantee much. The 2003 Patriots won their last 12 regular-season games before going on to win the Super Bowl, but that was the last time a team that had won five or more games entering the playoffs went on to win the championship. In fact, over the past 11 seasons, there have been 17 teams to enter the playoffs with a winning streak of five or more games, and seven lost their first playoff game. The Chiefs are going to win their playoff opener, but let’s not crown them just yet.

Pick: Chiefs 24, Texans 16

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The good news for Cincinnati: Andy Dalton isn’t likely to add to his list of first-round playoff failures. The bad news is that’s because he’s probably not going to play. He did not practice Wednesday because of his broken thumb and he told reporters he has yet to throw a football since suffering the injury in Week 14 against Pittsburgh. The Bengals won two of the three games they played without Dalton, but it’s tough to expect backup A.J. McCarron to put up enough points to beat a Pittsburgh team that scored 28 or more points in seven of its final eight games of the season. If the Bengals lose, it will be the fifth consecutive year in which Cincinnati has made the postseason only to lose its first game in the playoffs.

Pick: Steelers 24, Bengals 20

Seattle at Minnesota

Seattle is making its fifth playoff appearance in six years and the Seahawks have a record of 7-3 in that time. The Vikings are making their second playoff appearance in six years and they haven’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season when that Brett Favre guy was playing quarterback. Throw in the fact that Seattle beat Minnesota by 31 points in Minnesota back on Dec. 6, and the Vikings might actually be glad about how cold it’s going to be on Sunday when the game-time temperature is expected to be around 0.

Pick: Seahawks 19, Vikings 9

Green Bay at Washington

I don’t think the Epithets are very good. At all. They play in a crummy division, which accounted for four of their nine victories and Washington didn’t beat a single team that’s in the playoffs. In fact, they faced only two teams that made the playoffs – the Patriots and the Panthers – and Washington lost those two games by a combined score of 71-26. Kirk Cousins played well enough that Washington will end up being forced to sign him to a contract it will almost certainly regret, but while the Epithets may not be very good, the Packers have been simply bad, scoring 21 points in their last two regular-season games combined. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 19 times in the first eight games combined and sacked 14 times in the last two games alone. This isn’t picking for Washington so much as it is picking against the Packers.

Pick: Epithets 27, Packers 20

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NFL wild-card round picks: The road-team advantage