Sunday, January 12, 2014

Divisional Round Home Underdogs

The Carolina Panthers are 12-4 with the league's second-best scoring defense (behind Seattle), and they beat out the Saints for the NFC South crown to secure a first-round bye.

But despite the week of rest and home-field advantage, they are currently 1 1/2-point underdogs heading into Sunday's divisional round game against the San Francisco 49ers. In this round since 1978, they are the just the sixth home underdog and the third in the last 30 years. Four of the first five home dogs not only covered the spread, but won the game outright.

Year Spread Home Rec Away Rec Result Cover
1979 4.5 Buccaneers 10-6 Eagles 11-5 24-17 Buccaneers Yes
1981 2.5 Dolphins 11-4-1 Chargers 10-6 41-38 Chargers (OT) No
1982 1.5 Dolphins 7-2 Chargers 6-3 34-13 Dolphins Yes
1996 3.5 Panthers 12-4 Cowboys 10-6 26-17 Panthers Yes
2011 3.5 49ers 13-3 Saints 13-3 36-32 49ers Yes
2013 1.5 Panthers 12-4 49ers 12-4 ???

The wild-card Eagles were favored at Tampa Bay in 1979, but the Bucs covered and pulled out the first playoff victory in franchise history.

The high-flying Chargers were favored in Miami in consecutive postseasons. San Diego covered in the 1981 overtime classic that is regarded as one of the best games ever played. 1982 was a little different as a post-strike 16-team bracket had no byes with every team playing in the first round. The Fish got payback anyway with an easy win.

Dallas was a road favorite in 1996 against the upstart Panthers. In their second season as a franchise, Carolina won by nine to advance to the NFC title game.

It would be 15 seasons until the next divisional-round home underdog. The 49ers were relatively big underdogs against the Saints (+3.5) but they won a thrilling game that featured four go-ahead touchdowns in the final four minutes.

There have been two pick 'em games that just missed making the list. In 1991, the 12-4 Lions hosted the 11-5 Cowboys and Detroit won 38-6. In the other pick 'em game, the 1997 Chiefs were the top seed 13-3, but people must have been swayed by their early exits in previous postseasons. The Broncos edged K.C. 14-10.

Of the four teams that won despite not being favored at home, only one (1982 Dolphins) won in the next round to reach the Super Bowl.

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