Posted on January 11, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Miracles can happen. Nice guys don’t have to finish last. The nerd can get the beauty queen and any team really can win on any given Sunday—even the Cleveland Browns. If they didn’t, what would Disney make movies about? Original ideas? Star Wars?
Houston Texans fans probably would mind if Brock Osweiler could use the Force to complete a few passes against the New England Patriots Saturday night, but then again, with the Emperor himself, Bill Belichick, on the opposing sideline, even the Force may not be able to help the Texans.
To say the odds are against the Texans pulling off the upset and beating the Patriots Saturday night are big would be an understatement—they are historical.
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At 16 points, the Patriots are the third largest favorite in postseason history and the largest since the Minnesota Vikings were a 16-point favorite against the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 divisional round (which they won 41-21).
The only point spreads greater than 16-points in playoff history were Super Bowl games. The San Francisco 49ers were a 19-point favorite over the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX (they won 49-26). The other was Super Bowl III. Baltimore was an 18-point favorite against the Jets (and infamously lost 16-7).
Throughout the history of the league there have been surprisingly few large point spreads in the playoffs. Of the 1000+ postseason games in NFL history, and of those games, only 11 have had a two-touchdown spread or greater at kickoff. Since 2005, 13 playoff games have had double digit spreads.
More often than not, the teams that make the postseason are the best teams in the league so they match up well. As a result, the point spreads are usually not that crazy. Heavy favorites often go on to win big, but that is not always the case—especially in recent years. Of the 13 games since 2005, seven underdogs have covered the spread or won outright.
The wild card round has been especially kind to the teams favored by 10+ points (four won and covered the spread; one underdog won). But the later rounds have been kinder to the underdogs. In the divisional round, the underdog has covered the spread in four of the six games where the spread was 10+ points and won outright three times.
There has only been one 10+ point spread since 2005 in a conference championship game and one in the Super Bowl, both in 2008 and both involving the New England Patriots.
New England has been a double-digit favorite five times in the postseason since Tom Brady has been the quarterback. They were the favorite four times and the underdog once (FoxSports):
- 2002: Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis Rams, 14-point underdog, won 20-17
- 2008: Divisional Round against Jacksonville Jaguars, 13.5-point favorite, won 31-20 but failed to cover the spread
- 2008: Conference Championship against San Diego Chargers, 14-point favorite, won 21-12 but failed to cover the spread
- 2008: Super Bowl against New York Giants, 12-point favorite, lost 17-14
- 2012: Divisional Round against Denver Broncos, 14-point favorite, won 45-10
Does this mean the Houston Texans are going to win? Of course, not. The Texans couldn’t handle the Patriots with an injured third-string rookie quarterback at the helm (Jacoby Brissett) back in Week Three (lost 27-0). Tom Brady will tear these guys apart
Does this mean the Texans are not going to win? Of course, not. With how well Jadaveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and the rest of the Texans defense is playing there is a chance they could pull the miracle off.
Of the 11 past playoff games with spreads of two touchdowns or more, the underdog has covered the spread or won five times, failed to cover five times, and pushed once. In each one of those games, the world thought the favorite would blow the underdog away, but instead the underdog made it interesting and even won (twice).
So—what does all of this mean? Don’t count Houston out. After all, any team can win on any given Sunday (or Saturday).