Ultimate 2020-21 NFL Playoffs Betting Guide

What is better than watching playoff football? How about having a leg up on the bookmakers and netting a cool profit while watching – sounds pretty great, huh?

These aren’t just any trends. This is Wagerbop’s annual NFL Playoffs Betting Guide.

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

This is the most comprehensive NFL Playoffs betting guide on the internet and you, my friend, are receiving this gem for free. Trust me, this information cannot be found in one place anywhere else.

Most of the data in this guide is from the past 10 postseasons, which would take us back to the 2010-11 season. 10 years worth of data is a large enough sample size to allow for natural regression but not too large to where trends get swallowed up and go undetected.

All of the ATS numbers exclude pushes. This explains why sometimes the total number of games is different when comparing ATS and SU numbers.

Let’s get after it!

Checking for Home-Field Advantage in the NFL Playoffs

It is important we always make informed decisions when wagering our hard-earned money. Before exploring what home field has meant over the past 10 postseasons, we first need to examine whether or not there is even a home-field advantage present in the current empty-stadium style NFL.

Home teams had a losing record in the 2020 NFL regular season – the first time this has happened since 1968! The SU win rate for home teams this season was just 49.8%. Typically, this number is between 57-60%.

With such a low SU win rate, we might expect to see the ATS win rate plummet as well. This was not the case, however. Take a look at the regular season ATS win rates and lines for home teams over the past 5 seasons:

Season Home ATS Line
2020 48.4% -1.4
2019 43.1% -2.0
2018 48.4% -2.5
2017 51.6% -2.3
2016 50.2% -2.3

ATS rates for home teams were right in line with past seasons. This is because Vegas was wise enough to back off on bold favorites this year. The average favorite in 2020 received over 1 point extra than the average favorite in 2018.

Knowing the lack of fans would help visiting teams, Vegas astutely shifted their betting lines to accommodate.

So what does this mean? Even though home teams are winning games at a lower rate in 2020, the win rate is still proportional the Vegas line, meaning we can accurately use ATS and SU data from past seasons to predict how home teams will fare in this postseason.

Home Teams ATS and SU

I’ll start by exploring home winning percentages in the NFL playoffs. This first table shows the ATS and SU win rates along with the average lines for home playoff teams over the past 10 seasons.

The Super Bowl is a neutral site game and does not count as home or away. This means there have been 10 true home games in each postseason since the 6-team per conference NFL playoff format was adopted in 1990.

Postseason ATS % SU % Avg Line
2019-20 60% 60% -6.0
2018-19 33.3% 50% -4.3
2017-18 33.3% 70% -5.6
2016-17 80% 80% -7.0
2015-16 60% 60% -1.4
2014-15 40% 80% -6.7
2013-14 37.5% 60% -3.9
2012-13 50% 60% -4.7
2011-12 60% 80% -4.3
2010-11 40% 40% -1.7
Total 50% 64% -4.6

50% ATS is below our 52.4% break-even point for spreads. That winning percentage is not profitable.

64% SU is also not profitable. If we use our formula, we find that to break even at -4.6 we would need to win approximately 68-69% of our moneyline bets.

Both the spread and moneyline have been -EV for home playoff teams over the past 10 years. These numbers fluctuate quite a bit year-to-year, so this is not a stand-alone trend we can profit from. These winning percentages for home teams put us in “no man’s land,” meaning that neither side is profitable. This is backed up by researching how road teams have fared over this same span.

Road Teams ATS and SU

Postseason ATS % SU % Avg Line
2019-20 40% 40% +6.0
2018-19 66.7% 50% +4.3
2017-18 66.7% 30% +5.6
2016-17 20% 20% +7.0
2015-16 40% 40% +1.4
2014-15 60% 20% +6.7
2013-14 62.5% 40% +3.9
2012-13 50% 40% +4.7
2011-12 40% 20% +4.3
2010-11 60% 60% +1.7
Total 50% 36% +4.6

If 50% ATS was not profitable for home teams, it will not be profitable for the visitors, either. With an average spread of +4.6, bettors would need to hit between 37-38% of their moneyline bets to break even. The road teams’ 36% SU mark falls short.

Those of you paying close attention realized that the average lines for home and road teams are opposites: +4.4 and -4.4. We would then expect that their break-even percentages for moneyline bets would add to 100%, right? But they don’t. They actually add to somewhere between 105-107%. How can this be?

The answer is the “juice” or “vig” that sportsbooks charge. The juice/vig is a commission, usually 10%, that is built into the betting odds. This is why most point spreads are -110 odds. Because the books charge juice, the percentage needed to break-even for either side is slightly higher than what it would be without juice, hence the cumulative percentage over 100%.

So far we have determined there is no advantage to be held from betting teams solely based on the location of the game. Vegas seems to nail this aspect of handicapping. Next, let’s look at the success of favored teams versus that of underdogs.

NFL Playoffs: Favorites vs Underdogs

This first table displays how favorites have fared both ATS and SU over the past 10 NFL postseasons.

Postseason ATS % SU % Avg Line
2019-20 72.7% 72.7% -5.8
2018-19 40% 54.5% -4.1
2017-18 10% 45.5% -6.5
2016-17 81.8% 81.8% -6.7
2015-16 36.4% 72.7% -4.0
2014-15 45.5% 81.8% -6.2
2013-14 44.4% 72.7% -4.5
2012-13 63.6% 72.7% -5.8
2011-12 36.4% 54.5% -6.4
2010-11 54.5% 54.5% -4.8
Total 49.1% 66.4% -5.5

There are two numbers we need to keep in mind to make sense of these percentages. The first is 52.4%. Most sports bettors know that 52.4% is the break even point for point spread bets. The extra 2.4% is necessary because the odds are -110 for these bets instead of an even pick ’em.

Favorites have won ATS at a 49.1% clip over the past 10 postseasons, which is well below the break even mark – making favorites a bad play on the point spread in the NFL playoffs.

Now, about that SU win rate. This rate fluctuates based on the average moneyline. With a moneyline of -5.5, favorites would need to win SU at a rate of 72.2 in order to break even. 66% is far below this mark.

Because favorites have performed poorly, we can expect the numbers to look favorable for underdogs over that same timespan.

Underdogs ATS and SU

This table shows the ATS and SU records for underdogs over the past 10 seasons, along with their average lines.

Postseason ATS % SU % Avg Line
2019-20 27.3% 27.3% +5.8
2018-19 60% 45.5% +4.1
2017-18 90.0% 54.5% +6.5
2016-17 18.2% 18.2% +6.7
2015-16 63.6% 27.3% +4.0
2014-15 54.5% 18.2% +6.2
2013-14 55.6% 27.3% +4.5
2012-13 36.4% 27.3% +5.8
2011-12 63.6% 45.5% +6.4
2010-11 45.5% 45.5% +4.8
Total 50.9% 33.6% +5.5

50.9% ATS is not a winning point spread rate, either. Betting favorites or underdogs ATS blindly in the NFL playoffs will not yield profits. This shows the market is extremely efficient and finding an advantage is not as simple as we might hope it would be.

With odds of +5.5, an underdog would need to hit at a 32.5% clip on the moneyline in order to break even. 33.6% is slightly profitable – meaning SU dogs deserve a second look while perusing your NFL betting card.

NFL Playoffs: Betting Home Underdogs

When we looked at home vs road, they were pretty even. When we looked at favorite vs dog, dogs were better bets. It is only logical to see what the numbers look like when we combine home/road and fave/dog filters.

There are just a couple of games (if any) per postseason in which the home team is the dog. This is because the higher seed, who is normally the better team, gets to play at home for most of the playoffs.

Because we are working with a small sample size, I will use records for this table instead of percentages.

Postseason ATS Record SU Record Avg Line
2019-20 0-1 0-1 +1.0
2018-19
2017-18 2-0 2-0 +2.8
2016-17
2015-16 3-1 1-3 +3.2
2014-15
2013-14 0-1 0-2 +2.2
2012-13 0-2 0-2 +3.2
2011-12 2-0 2-0 +6.0
2010-11 1-2 1-2 +5.5
Total 8-7 (53.3%) 6-10 (37.5%) +3.7

These ATS and SU records for home dogs are both slightly profitable!

53.3% is just north of the 52.4% break even point. At +3.7, dogs would need to hit on the moneyline at a 37.4% rate. So we’re basically even there.

It should go without saying, but since home dogs are decent bets, road favorites should be faded.

NFL Playoffs: Betting the Over/Under Point Total

Spreads and moneylines are not the only way to make money betting playoff football. The point total can also be a lucrative bet. The largest incentive for betting the total in lieu of the spread/moneyline is not having to pick who will win the game. With totals, you simply predict how the game will flow, which many claim to be easier to predict than winners and losers.

The following table shows how often the over and under have hit over the past 10 NFL postseasons.

Postseason Over % Under %
2019-20 36.4% 63.6%
2018-19 36.4% 63.6%
2017-18 54.5% 45.5%
2016-17 72.7% 27.3%
2015-16 36.4% 63.6%
2014-15 54.5% 45.5%
2013-14 30% 70%
2012-13 54.5% 45.5%
2011-12 54.5% 45.5%
2010-11 63.6% 36.4%
Total 49.5% 50.5%

There is no advantage to be gained simply from betting the total. Each side is below the magic number of 52.4%.

NFL Playoffs: ATS and SU Records by Number of Wins

Does the amount of wins a team had coming into a postseason game affect their odds of either covering the spread or winning SU? This table breaks down both the ATS and SU win percentages for teams based on their number of wins.

Note that “# of Wins” means TOTAL wins – regular season and playoffs. For example, if a team finishes 9-7 and then wins in Wild Card Weekend, that win would count toward the “9 win” category. They would then have 10 wins and would contribute to the “10 win” category in their Divisional Round game, and so on.

# of Wins ATS % SU % Avg Line
7 2-0 (100%) 2-0 (100%) +2.2
8 1-2 (33.3%) 1-3 (25%) +8.5
9 7-6 (53.8%) 6-7 (46.2%) +4.2
10 15-19 (44.1%) 17-19 (47.2%) +2.0
11 24-17 (58.5%) 19-24 (44.2%) +1.1
12 23-18 (56.1%) 25-18 (58.1%) -1.0
13 19-23 (45.2%) 23-20 (53.5%) -2.3
14 9-14 (39.1%) 11-12 (47.8%) -2.1
15 4-6 (40.0%) 4-6 (40.0%) -1.5
16 2-0 (100%) 2-0 (100%) -3.0
17 0-1 (0%) 0-1 (0%) -4.5
Totals
7-10 25-27 (48.1%) 26-29 (47.3%) +3.0
11-12 47-35 (57.3%) 44-42 (51.2%) +0.1
13+ 34-44 (43.6%) 40-39 (50.6%) -2.2

11 and 12-win teams have been cash money over the past 10 postseasons while all others have been inconsistent, at best. 11 and 12-win teams have a large sample size, so I really trust this data.

Although 7-win playoff teams seem like a slam dunk with a 100% winning percentage, you need to remember that their record is just 2-0. Likewise, there was only one 17-win team in our sample, the 2015 Panthers, who lost in the Super Bowl to the Broncos’ defense. Two years before our sample, in the 2007 season, the 18-win Patriots also lost ATS and SU in the Super Bowl.

NFL Playoffs: Team-By-Team Records

Some NFL teams just have a knack for winning playoff football games while others whither in the limelight. I want to distinguish these teams from one another.

This table contains data for each NFL team that is still playoff eligible following Week 15. The corresponding numbers are each teams’ ATS and SU playoff records since the 2015-16 season. I decided to only go back 5 postseasons on this one because if we go back too far, the rosters are totally different and any relevance to today’s players is lost.

Team # of Games ATS Record SU Record Avg Line
Chiefs 9 5-4 (55.6%) 5-4 (55.6%) -3.9
Seahawks 7 2-4 (33.3%) 3-4 (42.9%) +0.1
Packers 7 5-2 (71.4%) 4-3 (57.1%) +2.5
Steelers 6 3-3 (50.0%) 3-3 (50.0%) -0.9
Saints 5 0-4 (0%) 2-3 (40.0%) -3.9
Titans 5 3-2 (60%) 3-2 (60%) +8.6
Rams 4 2-2 (50%) 2-2 (50%) -1.8
Bills 2 1-1 (50%) 0-2 (0%) +5.5
Colts 2 1-1 (50%) 1-1 (50%) +3.3
Ravens 2 0-2 (0%) 0-2 (0%) -6.0
WASH 1 0-1 (0%) 0-1 (0%) -1.0
Bears 1 0-1 (0%) 0-1 (0%) -5.5
Browns
Buccaneers

There is plenty to look at in this table. I’ll highlight a couple of points:

  • The Chiefs and Packers play exceptionally well in the postseason
  • The Seahawks and Saints seem to fall flat each postseason

NFL Playoffs: Team-By-Team HOME Records

I wanted to identify the teams with a strong home-field advantage. Certain clubs are deadly in front of their home crowds, especially in the postseason. In the previous table, I only went back 5 years because I needed the core of the team to remain the same. For this table, I used my default 10-year span because a home-field advantage is not something that will come and go quickly.

Team # of Games ATS Record SU Record Avg Line
Chiefs 7 3-4 (42.9%) 3-4 (42.9%) -4.7
Seahawks 6 4-2 (66.7%) 6-0 (100%) -5.3
Packers 6 3-2 (66.7%) 4-2 (66.7%) -5.0
Steelers 5 3-2 (60%) 3-2 (60%) -5.8
Saints 5 1-4 (20%) 3-2 (60%) -7.0
Ravens 4 1-3 (25%) 2-2 (50%) -6.6
Colts 3 1-1 (50%) 2-1 (66.7%) -2.3
Bears 3 1-2 (33.3%) 1-2 (33.3%) -4.0
WASH 2 0-2 (0%) 0-2 (0%) +1.0
Rams 2 1-1 (50%) 1-1 (50%) -6.3
Browns 0
Bills 0
Titans 0
Bucs 0

The Seahawks have not lost a home playoff game in the past decade. This is exactly what I meant when I said certain teams were deadly at home.

Here are each team’s recent road playoff numbers as well, this time over just the past 5 years because road performance is contingent on the roster and data from too far back will not apply to the current NFL.

Team # of Games ATS Record SU Record Avg Line
Seahawks 6 1-4 (20%) 2-4 (33.3%) +1.6
Packers 5 3-2 (60%) 2-3 (40%) +5.5
Titans 5 3-2 (60%) 3-2 (60%) +8.6
Steelers 4 2-2 (50%) 2-2 (50%) +3.3
Chiefs 2 1-1 (50%) 1-1 (50%) +1.3
Bills 2 1-1 (50%) 0-2 (0%) +5.5
Colts 2 1-1 (50%) 1-1 (50%) +3.3
Saints 1 0-1 (0%) 0-1 (0%) +5.0
Rams 1 1-0 (100%) 1-0 (100%) +3.0
Bears 0
Bucs 0
Browns 0
WASH 0
Ravens 0

NFL Playoffs: Coach-by-Coach Playoff Records

Certain coaches seem to push all the right buttons in big games while others bumble their way to disappointing losses. This table will help determine which of those 2 categories each of the 14 playoff coaches fall into.

Shown below are each coach’s SU postseason records and the number of Super Bowls they have won in their head coaching career.

Team Coach SB Wins # of Games SU Record
Chiefs Reid 1 29 15-14 (51.7%)
Seahawks Carroll 1 20 11-9 (55.0%)
Ravens Harbaugh 1 17 10-7 (58.8%)
Steelers Tomlin 1 15 8-7 (53.3%)
Saints Payton 1 15 8-7 (53.3%)
WASH Rivera 0 7 3-4 (42.9%)
Rams McVay 0 4 2-2 (50%)
Titans Vrabel 0 3 2-1 (66.7%)
Bucs Arians 0 3 1-2 (33.3%)
Colts Reich 0 2 1-1 (50%)
Bills McDermott 0 2 0-2 (0%)
Packers LaFleur 0 2 1-1 (50%)
Bears Nagy 0 1 0-1 (0%)
Browns Stefanski 0 0

NFL Playoffs: Winning Percentage by Seed

Although the seeding is changed up a bit for this postseason (added a 7 seed plus the 2 seed no longer gets a bye) looking back at records by seed will be beneficial in unearthing trends.

In lieu of a traditional bracket style tournament the NFL reseeds after each round. This means the highest remaining seed next plays the lowest remaining seed, the second-highest plays the second-lowest, and so on. When I gathered the numbers for this table, I kept the seeds constant round-by-round. This means if you started the postseason as the #4 seed, each game played would count toward the stats for the #4 seeds.

Seed # of Games ATS Record (%) SU Record (%)
1 49 25-24 (51.0%) 35-14 (71.4%)
2 40 21-19 (52.5%) 21-19 (52.5%)
3 31 14-17 (45.2%) 11-20 (35.5%)
4 38 19-18 (51.4%) 20-18 (52.6%)
5 30 13-16 (44.8%) 10-20 (33.3%)
6 32 17-15 (53.1%) 13-19 (40.6%)
7

The 7 seed is brand new for the 2020-21 Playoffs. Assume 7 seeds to perform similarly to 6 seeds in years past.

Consistent with our favorite/underdog study, 1-3 seeds are not good bets while 4 and 6 seeds are (4 seeds are not profitable ATS but are killing it on the moneyline). It is strange that 5-seeds do not share the success that 4 and 6-seeds have enjoyed. I do not have a good explanation for this.

The 1-seeds from each conference have played each other in the Super Bowl 5 times since 2008 (the only seed to play themselves in that span). Obviously, this will yield a 1-1 ATS record each time. If we remove these matchups, the true ATS for 1-seeds against all other seeds is 48.6%, which is slightly worse.

NFL Playoffs: The Effect of the First-Round Bye

The first-round bye week. What is supposed to be a major advantage granted to the conferences’ top teams is often blamed for a flat showing in the Divisional Round. Let’s finally settle the question: are those 1 and 2-seeds coming off a first-round bye during Wild Card Weekend good bets?

Remember, the format is different this postseason. Only the top seed in each conference earns a bye now. The 2 seed must play on Wild Card Weekend.

Postseason ATS Record SU Record Avg Line
2019-20 3-1 3-1 -7.8
2018-19 3-1 4-0 -6.5
2017-18 2-1 3-1 -5.8
2016-17 2-2 2-2 -7.2
2015-16 2-2 4-0 -5.6
2014-15 1-3 3-1 -8.4
2013-14 1-3 3-1 -5.8
2012-13 2-2 3-1 -6.0
2011-12 2-2 3-1 -6.2
2010-11 2-2 2-2 -6.1
Total 20-19 (51.3%) 30-10 (75%) -6.5

It turns out teams off a first-round bye are not good bets. An ATS winning percentage of 51.3% means that neither side is profitable ATS.

With an average line of -6.5, you would need to win about 75-76% of your moneyline bets to break even. 75% is right there, but not a high enough rate to generate substantial profits.

Happy Playoff Football Betting!

Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.

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