Upset Watch: Which NFL Playoff Underdogs Have Best Shot of Beating Favorites?
Game lines and Super Bowl odds for each NFL team come via TopBet.
Please, as always, re-check these numbers before placing your single-game wagers and futures bets. They are subject to change in advance of Saturday and Sunday. And as a final housekeeping note, underdogs will be ranked and presented in order of increasing the likelihood that they’ll emerge victorious this week only.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (+1500)
Spread Versus Atlanta Falcons (+650): +3
Talk about your upside-down situations.
Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which ranks teams according to point differentials and strength of schedule, views the Philadelphia Eagles as a top-three squad…in the entire league. They should not, in theory, be underdogs at all, let alone appearing at the bottom of this upset ladder. Alas, such is the burden of losing quarterback, and once-upon-a-time-MVP-favorite, Carson Wentz for the rest of the year.
The Eagles don’t have the offensive mojo to combat the Atlanta Falcons without him. Nick Foles, Wentz’s backup, is the same player he was a half-decade ago. And it shows. The Eagles totaled just 19 points over their final two games of the regular season—a disastrously bad total.
There might be a stronger case for Philly if Atlanta’s offense wasn’t showing signs of life. Unfortunately for them, though, the Falcons’ running game remains strong while their passing attack, anchored by an inconsistent Matt Ryan, is on the come-up. As of now, failing a complete dud from the Falcons’ wideouts and quarterback, the Eagles’ pretty-good defense won’t be enough to leave Philly with a victory. They’re lucky this spread isn’t larger.
Spread Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (-3)
3. Tennessee Titans (+6000)
Spread Versus New England Patriots (+190): +13.5
Quibble about the Tennessee Titans‘ placement if you must. They could land in last place on this underdog pyramid. That they don’t says more about the importance of Wentz to Philly than the Titans’ actual chances of beating the New England Patriots.
Look, the Titans aren’t winning this game. If not for Marcus Mariota catching his own deflected pass last week and running it in for one of the most improbable touchdowns in NFL history, we’d be talking about a Patriots-Kansas City Chiefs matchups.
To make matters worse, the Titans have seldom flashed a discernible identity outside their run game. They don’t rank inside the top half of the league in points allowed or points scored per game, and their passing defense is generally horrific—nothing if not a harbinger of doom when going up against Brady’s Pats.
Still, they end up higher than the Eagles because 13.5 points is a huge spread. The Patriots are more than capable of covering it, but playoff matchups even as ostensibly one-sided as this have a tendency to be tightly contested affairs.
Spread Prediction: Tennessee Titans (+13.5)
Moneyline Prediction: New England Patriots (-1000)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1800)
Line Versus Pittsburgh Steelers (+450): +7
Unless quarterback Blake Bortles turns the clock back to the final few weeks of the regular season, the Jacksonville Jaguars stand little chance of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Indeed, the Steelers should be concerned about their relative struggles opening seams for running back Le’Veon Bell. But with star wideout Antonio Brown rejoining the fold, they’ll have more than enough firepower to challenge, if not overwhelm, the NFL’s best defense.
Then again, the Jaguars’ defense really is scary. They are first in net passing yards allowed per attempt and second in points allowed per game. They have a strong rushing attack of their own on the other side, which ostensibly leaves them one respectable Bortles performance away from making this a closer tilt than the spread suggests.
Granted, the Jaguars cannot just count on their quarterback showing out. He went 12-of-23 from the pocket last week, putting up more yards on the ground (88) than he did through the air (87). And yet, the Jaguars won anyway, because they’re built to succeed when things get ugly. And this game figures to be more grind-it-out slog than aerial-assault shootout.
Leaping into moneyline territory poses a great risk—particularly when it sits at just +270. But the spread is interesting here, especially if it continues to move in the Steelers’ direction.
Spread Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars (+7)
Moneyline Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers (-330)
1. New Orleans Saints (+600)
Line Versus Minnesota Vikings (+350): +4.5
People can, and will, and should, go back and forth on this line, and the New Orleans Saints‘ general placement. The Minnesota Vikings are good. Like, legitimately awesome. Their defense is stifling, and quarterback Case Keenum is, essentially, a superstar game manager—a peak Alex Smith who won’t look to push the bill, but who also makes timely plays and inoculates the offense against turnovers.
But this isn’t about the Vikings. Nor is it about diminishing their performance. This is strictly about the Saints, and about how, despite ranking as a top-five squad by SRS, they remain underrated and underappreciated.
This doesn’t apply to the offense, obviously. Everyone knows what Drew Brees does behind center, and they know the Saints will make even a picture-perfect Vikings defense work via all sorts of crazy actions, both in the air and out the backfield.
Very few pundits and fans, however, have acknowledged how good New Orleans is on the other side of the ball. The defense is inside the top 10 of points allowed per game and has shown on more than one occasion that it can come up with big-time stops.
Take, for example, last week’s near-miss against the Carolina Panthers. The Saints need to hold off Cam Newton and friends down the stretch of the fourth quarter. And while the Panthers completed a couple big-yardage passes, the Saints held serve as they backed up closer and closer toward the end zone.
Their rushing defense isn’t great; they’re in the bottom four of yards allowed on the ground per game. But they’re third in interceptions forced and have flashed a unique knack for stymying passing attacks with their aggressive blitzes. So while the Vikings might be able to exploit New Orleans on the ground, they won’t be given the opportunity to survive the shootout the Saints offense has the potential to turn this game into.
Spread Prediction: New Orleans Saints (+4.5)
Moneyline Prediction: New Orleans Saints (+175)
*All statistics come courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and are accurate leading into games being played during Divisional Playoff Weekend.
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