Home-field dis­ad­van­tage?

Visi­tors favoured in wild­card games

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY BARRY WILNER

The road to the sec­ond round of the play­offs might be, well, the road. Vis­it­ing teams are favoured 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 1990. Pro Picks doesn’t see it hap­pen­ing this year, ei­ther. But close.

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.


No. 11 Green Bay (mi­nus 1) at No. 10 Wash­ing­ton, Sun­day

The Packers’ of­fence is frozen, and un­less it thaws be­fore this week­end, one of the pre-sea­son favourites to make the big game will be head­ing into the off-sea­son.

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 post-sea­son 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.” Goal ac­com­plished.


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 the Seahawks have the ex­pe­ri­ence and pedi­gree, the proven big-time per­form­ers – even Mar­shawn Lynch might be healthy enough to play – 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 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 A.J. McCar­ron is tak­ing snaps. Didn’t find enough of them ...

STEEL­ERS, 27-23


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.


Pitts­burgh Steel­ers run­ning backs Fitzger­ald Tous­saint runs a drill dur­ing a prac­tice on Wed­nes­day. With start­ing run­ning back DeAn­gelo Wil­liams’ right foot still hurt­ing, Tous­saint and Jor­dan Tod­man will get the car­ries when the Steel­ers face the Cincin­nati Ben­gals in an NFL wild card game Satur­day in Cincin­nati.


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