The road to the second round of the playoffs might be, well, the road. Visiting teams are favored in all the wild-card games.
It's an unusual dynamic that owes as much to the oddsmakers not believing in division winners Houston and Washington, plus a strong backing by the bettors (and the public in general) for the Steelers and Seahawks.
Historically, the host teams are 65-35 since 1990 in this round. The most recent time two visitors won wild-card matches was in 2013, when three did: San Diego at Cincinnati, San Francisco at Green Bay, and New Orleans at Philadelphia.
Never have all four home teams lost in the wild-card round since this format was adopted in '90. Pro Picks doesn't see it happening this year, either.
No. 3 (in AP Pro32) Kansas City (minus 3) at No. 12 Houston, Saturday
The action opens with the hottest team in football revisiting Houston. The Chiefs won the season opener 27-20, then went into a funk they emerged from after five straight defeats with 10 consecutive wins.
KC has done it without its best offensive player, injured running back Jamaal Charles, and in part minus its best defender, LB Justin Houston, who should be available Saturday.
It's a testament to the depth on the roster, Andy Reid's coaching, and a fierce determination not to let the season slip away.
"We tried to keep working hard and doing the things you do, and I felt like we were close," Reid said. "I mentioned before, we had a lot of young guys that were playing, we had some guys that were injured that were coming back, and I kind of feel like if everybody kind of hung together that we would be OK, and that's the way it turned out."
We think it will turn out OK against the Texans, too.
BEST BET: CHIEFS, 27-17
No. 11 Green Bay (minus 1) at No. 10 Washington, Sunday
The Packers' offense is frozen, and unless it thaws before this weekend, one of the preseason favorites to make the big game will be heading into the offseason.
While Washington might be the weakest of all the playoff teams — in the eyes of the wise guys in Las Vegas, for sure — Jay Gruden's club closed well. It went 6-2 at home and, with an offensive line protecting Kirk Cousins in a way the Packers can't seem to do for Aaron Rodgers, the Redskins should be confident.
"We've been putting a lot of challenges on these guys what they haven't done," said Gruden, well aware the Redskins haven't won a postseason game since the 2005 season. "We've accomplished a lot. We've put to bed a lot of demons around here. I guess this is the last one, winning a playoff game obviously is our No. 1 objective."
UPSET SPECIAL: REDSKINS, 23-16
No. 6 Seattle (minus 5) at No. 8 Minnesota, Sunday
This line is a bit shocking because the Vikings have looked quite strong in the past month. Of course, the one major exception was that 38-7 pasting Seattle laid on them in December. The thinking is that the Seahawks have the experience and pedigree, the proven big-time performers — even Marshawn Lynch might be healthy enough to play — and something huge on their shoulder. Does the name Malcolm Butler strike a bell?
One caveat seems to be the cold weather might bother Seattle? Well, Russell Wilson played some college ball at Wisconsin.
No. 9 Pittsburgh (minus 3) at No. 7 Cincinnati, Saturday
Everything seems to point toward the Steelers in this one. They got a second life when the Jets couldn't handle the big moment with the last wild-card spot on the line. They have no fear of the Bengals, against whom the Steelers are 18-7 overall since 2004; have won 21 of the past 26 at Riverfront or Paul Brown stadiums; and beat the Bengals 33-20 in Cincinnati last month.
Cincy hasn't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, when Boomer Esiason was the quarterback.
We've looked long and hard for reasons to pick the AFC North champion Bengals, whether Andy Dalton or AJ McCarron is taking snaps. Didn't find enough of them ...
2015 RECORD: Against spread: Week 9-6-1, Season (122-119-7). Straight up: Week 7-9, Season (154-102)
Best Bet: 7-9-1 against spread, 9-8 straight up.
Upset special: 9-8 against spread, 6-11 straight up.
AP website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
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Posted on Thu, January 7, 2016
by BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer