Divisional playoffs weekend is different than any of the four stages of the postseason in the National Football League. It’s the only set of games for which the opponents are not on equal footing.
Not only does the higher-seeded team have the benefit of home field, it has had an extra week of rest after a rugged 16-game regular season while the visitor has just gone through a rugged wild-card match.
Does the extra travel or the extra rest make a difference? Or, is the home team usually the winner simply because it has proven itself as the better team over the course of a 16-game schedule?
How much will weather play a factor, especially for the Los Angeles Chargers at wintry New England or the Colts, a dome team, against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Missouri, where icy winds can blow across the plains from Kansas?
Since NFL realignment in 2002, home teams have dominated the divisional round, winning 43 of 64 games (67 percent). Only three times, however, have home teams swept all four games. There have been six 2-2 splits.
Three road teams won as underdogs last week. The exception was Dallas, a two-point favorite at home, which ended up winning by two over Seattle.
The Cowboys’ 24-22 win was also the only game that went over the line, beating the number of 43 1/2.
Here is a capsule look at the divisional playoff games this weekend:
Colts (11-6) at Chiefs (12-4)
TV: NBC, Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
The line: Chiefs -5.
Record ATS: Colts 10-5-1; Chiefs 9-7.
Times over/under: Colts 9/5/2; Chiefs 10/5/1.
The scoop on the Colts: Indianapolis is the hottest team in the NFL, having won 10 of its last 11 games, including last week’s 21-7 wild-card win at Houston. The Colts totaled 400 or more yards of offense in eight regular-season games and have averaged 25.5 ppg since beating the Bills 37-5 on Oct. 21. That includes getting shutout at Jacksonville in the Colts’ only loss during that stretch. … The Colts’ secret is keeping possession. Indy converted 48.6 percent of third-down conversions in the regular season, their best rate since the 2009 Super Bowl team converted 49.2 with Peyton Manning at the helm. It might be a testament to coach Frank Reich’s play calling. … Three reasons for Indy’s success: The return of QB Andrew Luck, the breakout season by second-year RB Marlon Mack and a defensive unit that has held five opponents to fewer than 200 yards passing, had 38 sacks and intercepted 15 passes. It’s a bend-but-don’t-break defense that allowed opponents to complete 70 percent of passes and allowed 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.
The scoop on the Chiefs: There are two story lines in Kansas City. Will coach Andy Reid finally win a postseason game in Kansas City? And can the Chiefs finally win a home playoff game? Reid is 11-13 in the postseason but only 1-4 with the Chiefs. Kansas City has not won a home playoff game since the wild-card round in 1993. It has since lost five straight postseason home games. … The big reason Chiefs fans believe that will change is QB Patrick Mahomes, who led the NFL with 50 touchdown passes and threw for 5,097 yards in his first season as a starter. His chief weapon is Tyreek Hill, who had 87 receptions for a team record 1,479 yards. TE Travis Kelce has 103 catches for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns. The big questions are the running game since Kareem Hunt was released. Mahomes leads the Chiefs in rushing with 272 yards and a defense that allowed 405.5 yards per game, nearly as much as Kansas City’s league-best offensive average of 425.6. … The Chiefs’ Chris Jones had 15.5 sacks and LB Dee Ford is another disruptive force in the rush. Indy allowed the fewest sacks (18) in the NFL.
Outlook: Oddsmakers are expecting a wild duel between Luck and Mahomes, judging by the over-under number. Many like the Colts as a live underdog. Indy’s Cinderella story may end here, however. Chiefs, 31-21.
Cowboys (11-6) at Rams (13-3)
TV: Fox, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
The line: Rams -7.
Record ATS: Cowboys 9-6-2; Rams 8-8.
Times over/under: Cowboys 8/9; Rams 9/6/1.
The scoop on the Cowboys: Will Dallas fans outnumber Rams fans at the L.A. Coliseum? … These teams have a rich history and are 4-4 against each other in the postseason, but haven’t met since 1985. The Rams won the last two postseason meetings. … Dallas was written off after starting the season 3-5. The Cowboys turned things around with a win over the Eagles in Arlington in Week 10 and have been rolling except for a shutout loss at Indy. Dallas averaged 493 yards of offense in two victories over the Eagles. … The offense came on when the Cowboys added WR Amari Cooper in a trade with the Raiders to go with NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott (1,434 yards). QB Dak Prescott had 22 TD passes and only eight interceptions. … Dallas may have the best offensive line in the NFL and the defense allowed only 329.3 yards per game.
The scoop on the Rams: They seem to be trending down if you consider their 5-3 record in November and December, but that could be deceiving. The three losses came to playoff teams and L.A. went 5-3 against teams that made the postseason. … The Rams’ offense started hot and stayed that way most of the season. Only five teams held the offense led by QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley under 400 yards. Goff threw for 32 touchdowns and a 101.1 rating. Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards but was held out of the final two regular-season game with a knee injury. Top receiver was former Bill Robert Woods, who caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards (14.2 yards per reception) and six touchdowns. Former Saints receiver Brandon Cooks had 80 catches for 1,204 yards. … The big story on defense is DT Aaron Donald’s 20.5 sacks. The Rams expect a healthy CB Aqib Talib for this one.
Outlook: The duel between the NFL’s top two running backs, Elliott and Gurley, should decide this one. Balance makes Dallas an upset threat. Cowboys, 30-27.
Chargers (13-4) at Patriots (11-5)
TV: CBS, Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
The line: Patriots -4.
Record ATS: Chargers 10-7; Patriots 9-7.
Over/under: 46 1/2.
Times over/under: Chargers 8/9; Patriots 5/11.
The scoop on the Chargers: Old-time Bills fans may remember the first postseason meeting between the Chargers and Patriots. After the then-Boston Patriots defeated Buffalo in a playoff in 1963, they got mauled by the Chargers, 51-10, at Balboa Stadium in San Diego for the AFL championship. New England won the most recent meetings in the 2006 and 2007 season playoffs, both in Foxborough. … The Chargers have the superior record but lost to Kansas City by tiebreaker for the AFC West title and ended up as a wild card. The Bolts have gained a lot of backing after going to Baltimore last week and shutting down Lamar Jackson for three quarters, then holding off the Ravens, 23-17. … This is the third road game in a row for the Chargers, and second trip east in two weeks. Can coach Anthony Lynn’s team hold up to all that flight time? The Chargers lost only once on the road this season and that was after a bus trip to face the Rams in the Coliseum. … Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers passed for 32 touchdowns and he has a talented receiving corps in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Antonio Gates. Will RB Melvin Gordon be gimpy? … Defense with DE Joey Bosa, LB Melvin Ingram and rookie S Derwin James is the Chargers’ strong suit. Bolts allowed 333.7 yards per game.
The scoop on the Patriots: It’s hard to discount history in this one. New England quarterback Tom Brady is 7-0 against Rivers. The Patriots have gone 7-0, all at home, in the divisional round of the playoffs since they lost to Rex Ryan’s Jets in the 2010 playoffs. … Some see chinks in the Patriots’ armor and signs of Brady aging. It’s hard to tell because the Patriots were hardly tested by the Bills and Jets to finish the season after losing to Dolphins and Steelers. Brady passed for 29 TDs with 11 interceptions. Rookie RB Sony Michel led the team with 931 yards rushing. Running back James White had a team-high 87 receptions, seven for touchdowns. … A week of rest should help TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman.
Outlook: NFL deserves to have AFC championship game at minor league StubHub Center after deserting San Diego. That would happen if Chargers and Colts win this weekend. Too good to be true. Never discount Bill Belichick and Brady. Patriots, 23-20.
Eagles (10-7) at Saints (13-3)
TV: Fox, Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
The line: Saints -8.
Record ATS: Eagles 8-9; Saints 10-6.
Over/under: 50 1/2.
Times over/under: Eagles 8/8/1; Saints 8/8.
The scoop on the Eagles: Philadelphia kicked open the casket and won five of its last six regular-season games to get back to the playoffs. The Eagles did it with backup quarterback Nick Foles taking over for the injured Carson Wentz. The Eagles uncovered running threats in rookie Josh Adams and veteran Darren Sproles to go with the passing of Foles to tight end Zach Ertz (116 receptions) and Alshon Jeffery. The second-best mid-season acquisition in the NFL was obtaining WR Golden Tate from the Lions. The Eagles’ defense rose late in the season behind Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox and DE Michael Bennett. When the season began, Jalen Mills and ex-Bill Ronald Darby were Philadelphia’s starting corners. Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas were the starters in rebuilt secondary in the win over Chicago last week, with Buffalo native Corey Graham and veteran Malcolm Jenkins at safety.
The scoop on the Saints: After they routed Philadelphia, 48-7, on Nov. 18, New Orleans’ offense slowed down. The Saints did not surpass 400 yards once in their final six games and were held to 176 yards at Dallas. … QB Drew Brees led the NFL with a 115.7 passer rating and completed 74.4 percent of his passes. In the seven home games that Brees played, his low rating was 103.2. He twice achieved a high of 153.2. … Favorite target was Michael Thomas, who led the league with 125 receptions, including nine TD catches. … The Saints still have the two-pronged running attack of Alvin Kamara (1,592 scrimmage yards) and Mark Ingram. … DE Cameron Jordan is the Saints’ sack leader with 12.
Outlook: Can revamped Eagles secondary hold up to Brees and Thomas. … There’s a little bit of bad blood here. The Eagles were unhappy about how the Saints rubbed it in during the regular-season rout. That turned out to be the turning point in Philadelphia’s season. Expecting a lot of resolve from the Eagles, but like Brady in Foxborough, it is hard to beat Brees at home. Saints, 34-30.
Last week: Three underdogs covered and the Dallas’ two-point win over Seattle was a push. In this supposed era where high-flying offense rules, three of the four games went under.
Last week’s results: 1-4 straight up, 0-3-1 against the spread.
Season’s record: 132-95-2 straight up; 115-106-8.