Key playoff trends for divisional round

Last week I started my annual NFL playoff series on recent trends with the wild-card round. I revealed a number of road, underdog and Under-the-total systems that had been very successful recently. A key part of that pattern continued last weekend when visiting teams won four of the six games. So, like the league itself, I will move on to the divisional round this week. The six winners last weekend join No. 1 seeds Green Bay and Kansas City in looking to take a big step toward the Super Bowl. The top seeds bring superior talent into their games, including arguably the two best quarterbacks in the business, and seemingly each is capable of making it to Tampa next month for the Super Bowl.

Quarterbacks will almost certainly take center stage this weekend. In the AFC, youth is the name of the game. The Browns’ Baker Mayfield, a 25-year-old third-year pro, is the senior statesman. In the NFC, it’s age before beauty — or perhaps age and beauty. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are veterans with Super Bowl titles on their resumes but an average age of over 40. The Rams’ Jared Goff is the only outsider, but at 26 he would be the most veteran of the QBs left in the AFC.

Last year three of the four home teams advanced out of the divisional round. Home sweeps are rare, and if this season is like other recent ones, not all the top teams will move on, though it’s a good bet that at least three will. In fact, looking back at the last nine playoff seasons, the hosts swept this round twice — in 2016 and ’19. They split in 2017. In the other six years they went 3-1, meaning a cumulative record of 28-8 in that span, or 78%. So if the pattern holds, expect one host to be eliminated this weekend. On paper, that team would figure to be Buffalo, which is the smallest favorite of the four host teams. 

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