NFL Playoffs Round One: Which Underdog is Most Likely to Pull Off an Upset?

NFL Jan 08, 2021

The gambling public loves betting on favourites.  That’s amplified even more so in playoff games.

For this week’s divisional round matchups, point spreads range from -3 all the way up to -10.  Which of the six games looks to offer dog bettors the best chance for a possible outright upset?

Six playoff games are taking place this weekend.  Three games are played on Saturday, including Indianapolis at Buffalo, LA Rams at Seattle, and Tampa Bay at Washington.  Three more games will be played Sunday, including Baltimore at Tennessee, Chicago at New Orleans, and Cleveland at Pittsburgh.

Picking favourites is easy.  That’s why the betting public prefers wagering on favourites.  However, betting on underdogs can be a much tougher thing to do.  

Hence, the objective of this article is to determine not only which underdog(s) appear best suited to cover higher-than-usual point spreads, but also to target which team, if any, offers us a solid chance to pull off an upset and win the game outright.


As predicted, four of six home teams are favoured.  However, two road underdogs are laying points.

The New Orleans Saints are the biggest favourite.  They opened up as a -9 point favourite versus the Chicago Bears.  That number has been bet up to -10.

The two road favourites are Baltimore laying -3 at Tennesse.  The Ravens are a popular pick at the moment, so that's no surprise.  The other road chalk is Tampa Bay laying -8 at Washington, which has major questions on offense.  Tom Brady is playing his first palyoff game as a non- New England Patriot.  So, the public likes his team's chances to advance.

Regardless of any handicapping or analysis, the odds say Tennessee and the LA Rams are the underdogs most likely to win outright.  The Titans are attractively priced at +150.  The Rams are priced at +155.


Let’s examine all six matchups and try to draw some conclusions as to the best “live dogs.”  A live dog means a team getting points well-suited to not just cover the point spread, but win the game outright.

Indianapolis at Buffalo

-- The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Indianapolis's last 8 games when playing Buffalo
– The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Indianapolis's last 7 games when playing on the road against Buffalo
– Buffalo is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
– Buffalo is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games

LA Rams at Seattle

-- The total has gone UNDER in 11 of LA Rams's last 13 games
– LA Rams is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing Seattle
– Seattle is 7-1 SU in its last 8 games at home
– The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Seattle's last 8 games

Tampa Bay at Washington

-- Tampa Bay is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games on the road
– Tampa Bay is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games
– The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Washington's last 5 games
– The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Washington's last 6 games at home

Baltimore at Tennessee

-- Baltimore is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games
– Baltimore is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
– The total has gone OVER in 7 of Tennessee's last 8 games
– The total has gone OVER in 11 of Tennessee's last 14 games at home

Chicago at New Orleans

-- The total has gone OVER in 5 of Chicago's last 6 games
– Chicago is 6-3 SU in its last 9 games on the road
– New Orleans is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing Chicago
– New Orleans is 11-2 SU in its last 13 games

Cleveland at Pittsburgh

-- Cleveland is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games on the road
– Cleveland is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games
– Pittsburgh is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing at home against Cleveland
– Pittsburgh is 7-1 SU in its last 8 games at home


Finally, a wrap-up of optimal wagers:

  1. There's no way to step in front of the roaring freight train that is the Buffalo Bills at the moment.  This might be the NFL's best team down the stretch.  If Indianapolis was getting +7, that might be worth a look.  But +6 isn't enough points to take the dog.
  2. The Rams are worth consideration at +3.  Given that a defensive struggle is expected and both offenses are struggling, taking +3 points seems like the right side.  The Rams are clearly one of the dogs capable of an outright win.
  3. If you trust the Washington defense to slow down the Bucs, they are an attractive play at +8.  Rarely does any road team lay this many points in a playoff game.  This dog clearly has value.
  4. Tennessee is certainly capable of not just covering +3 at home but winning outright.  The Titans defense has massive holes, but they can outscore anyone.  Very strong recommendation with this underdog.
  5. Chicago getting +10 looks tempting, but this is an 8-8 team that could also get blown out.  It seems highly risky to take the Bears given how badly they have played in so many games.  Chicago does not usually fare well versus solid teams like the Saints, who have a history of playoff disappointments.  But they should handle the Bears.  Will they cover -10?  Who knows, but this rates as a pass.
  6. Finally, Cleveland has been hit with injuries and COVID-related distractions for two weeks and doesn't look like a team to bet given so much uncertainly.  Pittsburgh has looked shakey down the stretch and laying -6 seems a bit high, but the Browns are a crapshoot in this game.  Another pass.

Best underdog bets ranked:

  1. Tennessee to win outright
  2. LA Rams
  3. Washington