01/14/2010 1:00AM

Bye week no longer a big advantage


The consensus public opinion of last week's NFL wild-card games seemed to be that it was a pretty boring round until the Packers-Cardinals game later on Sunday afternoon.

I, for one, wasn't compelled to turn off any of the games. Of course, I admit to being an NFL nut who sees a 10-7 defensive battle as intriguing as a 51-45 overtime thriller.

After all, of the four games, three were won outright by the underdog. If that doesn't scream drama, I don't know what does. The Jets knocked off the Bengals, 24-14, as a 2 1/2-point underdog, and then after the Cowboys routed the Eagles, 34-14, to win and easily cover the 3 1/2-point spread, the Ravens ran over the Patriots, 33-14, as 3 1/2-point dogs and the Cardinals closed as 3-point home dogs before prevailing 51-45 in overtime.

So, while faves went 1-3 both straight-up and against the spread, the teams the oddsmakers made the favorites were 2-2. That was also the mark of the home teams, which is relevant as we look at this week's divisional playoffs because the four home teams all received byes last week. The decreasing impact of home-field advantage is something I wrote about last week. Road teams actually went 136-114-6 against the spread during the regular season. Home-field advantage is something all teams strive for in the playoffs but it hasn't been as beneficial as it used to be.

In the playoffs for the 1990-1999 seasons, teams that received the first-round bye went 24-15-1 against the spread, better than 60 percent. It didn't matter how high the oddsmakers made the spreads, those teams in the 1990s dominated off the week of rest. The wild-card round was seen as a formality where teams got their taste of the playoffs and then got knocked out the next week (bye teams were 33-7 straight up during that stretch, better than 80 percent).

Since then, however, those bye teams are 15-20-1 (43 percent). We have seen wild-card teams not only cover the spreads in those games but routinely start making it to the league championship games and even the Super Bowl. So, let's not be too surprised if we see at least two underdogs at least cover the spread this week or win the games outright - and don't call the games boring if they do so in dominating fashion.

Back to the betting board

I went 3-1 with my plays in the wild-card matches last week as I correctly called the Jets' outright upset of the Bengals on Saturday afternoon, was totally wrong with the Eagles vs. the Cowboys on Saturday night, but then bounced back with the over in the Ravens-Patriots game and the Cardinals beating the Packers in overtime. Here's hoping I can repeat with at least a 3-1 mark again this week.

Ravens +6 1/2 vs. Colts

This is the nightcap Saturday, but I'm putting it first because it's the one where I have the strongest opinion. I have gone on record calling this 14-2 Colts' team a fraud as they went through the regular season pulling out close games, including many in which they were outplayed. They won only seven games this season by more than this 6 1/2-point spread and only one of those was against a team that made the playoffs (the Cardinals way back in Week 3). Obviously I'm in the minority opinion on this Colts' team, but that's how I see it. The Ravens played them toe-to-toe in Week 10 before losing 17-15. The Ravens had a chance to win in the closing minutes as they were in the red zone until Joe Flacco threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that was intercepted. The Ravens have the running game to go through the Colts' porous run defense just like they did last week in beating the Patriots, and have the physical defense to put pressure on Peyton Manning and an Indy offense that hasn't been playing full-speed for nearly a month.

Play: Ravens for 2 units.

Cardinals +7 vs. Saints

Anyone who has followed me has to know I like the Cardinals. They have cashed against the spread for me in their last five playoff games and they came through last week when it seemed the whole world was betting against us. The Saints are like the Colts in that they ended the regular season on a losing streak, but they were also struggling even before resting their starters. They have lost five straight games vs. the spread and haven't covered since the Week 12 Monday night win over the Patriots.

Play: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Cowboys-Vikings Under 46 points

Both offenses certainly have the ability to put points on the board, but I think it's the defenses that step up in this contest on Sunday. The Cowboys' defense had its breakout game in shutting down the Saints in Week 15, and then finished the regular season with back-to-back shutouts before handling the Eagles last week. I bet this Under 48 last Saturday night when the line first went up, but I think it's still playable.

Play: Under 46 points for 1 unit.

Jets-Chargers Under 42 1/2 points

People might be calling Sunday's games boring if I have my way as I also see this going under the total. The Jets' defense, No. 1 in points allowed, speaks for itself and should be able to contain the Chargers. The Jets will rely on the run and continue to try and let Mark Sanchez do just enough to win, so this should lead to a tight, low-scoring game.

Play: Under 42 1/2 points for 1 unit.

Last week playoff record: 3-1 for a net profit of 1.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 32-25, including 2-2 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 4.3 units.