How NFL Playoff Teams Off a Bye Have Fared

The Divisional Round of the 2014 NFL playoffs has arrived. Ever since the league expanded to a Wild Card round during the 2002-03 season, there have been two teams from each conference who earned first-round byes. Those are the two teams from that conference with the best records, and who also won their divisions.

Getting a bye can certainly be an advantage. The long, grueling 16-game regular season can take its toll on players. That’s why getting a second bye can allow some teams to rest up and get everyone healthy. The extra preparation is also an advantage as teams with a bye can prepare for whoever they might play next for an extra week.

However, there are times when a bye can work against teams. If a team is really hot going into the playoffs, then it likely just wants to keep playing. The extra week off could have some teams becoming rusty. Also, whoever the bye teams play in the Divisional Round will have had a week of playoff pressure under their belts, having beaten an opponent the previous week. Those Wild Card teams may not be as nervous as the teams with the bye.

I was very curious to find out how these teams have fared since the bye was introduced to the NFL playoffs in 2003. I am also interested to see how the totals have fared over this time frame. Let’s take a look at what I came up with.

Records of NFL Playoff Teams Off a Bye

As expected, these teams have won the majority of their games straight up, winning 63.6 percent of the time.  However, they have not fared that well against the spread.  In fact, they have only covered the spread in 43.2 percent of their games, meaning that teams with a bye have been overvalued over time.  The rust factor has certainly played a part.  Now, let see how they have done in different price rangers.

As a Favorite of 7.5 or More Points

The bigger the spread, the worse these teams coming off bye weeks have done.  They have only covered 38.8 percent of the time in 18 games when they have been a favorite of 7.5 or more points.  That means that all favorites of 7 or less points have gone a combined 17-9 (65.3%) straight up straight up and 12-14 (46.1%) against the spread.  All of these teams that have come off a bye have been favored in the playoffs.

Totals of 48 or More Points

Surprisingly, teams coming off a bye with a total of 48 or more points have gone over the total nine out of 12 times for a 75 percent winning rate.  It appears that these teams are normally good offensive teams, therefore the extra time to prepare makes those units even better.  Getting two weeks to dissect a defense and to work on weaknesses clearly favors these offenses.

Totals of 42 or Fewer Points

Just like the teams with good offenses, the teams with good defenses tend to get even stronger defensively with two weeks to prepare.  That extra time to dissect opposing offenses and to game plan really pays off for these teams that are carried by a dominant defense.  These teams aren’t going to give an inch in front of their home crowd, making it very difficult for the opposition to put up points.

How it Applies to 2014

There aren’t many advantages to be found here, but there are some that are worth looking into.  I would definitely look to fade the Broncos as 9.5-point favorites over the Chargers based on the history of bye teams that are big favorites.  In fact, teams that are 9.5-point favorites have gone just 2-3 straight up in the playoffs when coming off a bye.  Denver could be on upset alert.

I would also look to play the OVER in the games between the Broncos and Chargers, with a total set of 54.5 points, and the Colts and Panthers, with a total set of 53.0 points.  It may also be a wise move to back the UNDER in the 49ers at Panthers game with a total set of 42 points.  I’m not saying all be playing all of these myself, I’m just saying that there is some decent history supporting these moves.

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