Does History Favor Bucs to Cover as Home Underdog Against Cowboys?

Does History Favor Bucs to Cover as Home Underdog Against Cowboys?
By Jim Tomlin
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a 3-point underdog at home in the opening line for their NFL Wild Card round playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys (Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m. Eastern, ABC and ESPN).

How often is a team with homefield advantage rated as an underdog by oddsmakers in an NFL postseason game? More often than you might think.

FloridaBet.com tracked the biggest home underdogs in playoff games since 1990, the year that the NFL expanded the playoff field from 10 to 12 teams (starting with the 2020 season, the field was beefed up again to 14 teams, seven in each conference). We listed every team that was an underdog by at least a field goal for a home playoff game.

There is an interesting trend for underdog bettors. Unfortunately, Florida sports betting is not legal. The nearest state where Floridians can place a wager in a legal, regulated sports betting market is Louisiana.

Here is how the biggest home playoff underdogs have fared since 1990 – note that the Bucs were in the reverse role just two years ago, as 10-point favorites at Washington. Games are listed by widest point spread in favor of the visiting team.

How Biggest Home Underdogs Fared in NFL Playoffs

Season, RoundMatchupSpreadResult, covering team
2020, Wild Card Bucs at Washington TB -10 TB, 31-23, underdog
2010, Wild Card Saints at Seahawks NO -10 Sea, 41-36, underdog
2011, Wild Card Steelers at Broncos Pit -7.5 Den, 29-23, underdog
2000, Wild Card Rams at Saints SL -6.5 NO, 31-28, underdog
2015, Wild Card Seahawks at Vikings Sea -4.5 Sea, 10-9, underdog
2020, Wild Card Ravens at Titans Bal -3.5 Bal, 20-13, favorite
2012, Conf Champ 49ers at Falcons SF -3.5 SF, 28-24, favorite
2011, Division Saints at 49ers NO -3.5 SF, 36-32, underdog
2010, Conf Champ Packers at Bears GB -3.5 GB, 21-14, favorite
2008, Conf Champ Eagles at Cardinals Phi -3.5 Ari, 32-25, underdog
2008, Wild Card Eagles at Vikings Phi -3.5 Phi, 26-14, favorite
2008, Wild Card Ravens at Dolphins Bal -3.5 Bal, 27-9, favorite
1996, Division Cowboys at Panthers Dal -3.5 Car, 26-17, underdog
2017, Conf Champ Vikings at Eagles Min -3 Phi, 38-7, underdog
2015, Conf Champ Patriots at Broncos NE -3 Den, 20-18, underdog
2015, Wild Card Chiefs at Texans KC -3 KC, 30-0, favorite
2013, Wild Card 49ers at Packers SF -3 SF, 23-20, push
2012, Wild Card Seahawks at Redskins Sea -3 Sea, 24-14, favorite
2010, Wild Card Ravens at Chiefs Bal -3 Bal, 30-7, favorite
2005, Wild Card Steelers at Bengals Pit -3 Pit, 31-17, favorite
2004, Conf Champ Patriots at Steelers NE -3 NE, 41-27, favorite
2000, Wild Card Bucs at Eagles TB -3 Phi, 21-3, underdog
1995, Wild Card Lions at Eagles Det -3 Phi, 58-37, underdog

Trends from History of Home Playoff Underdogs

Since 1990, the home team in a playoff game has been an underdog of three points or more 23 times, according to SportsOddsHistory.com. Of those teams, the underdogs were 12-10-1 against the spread and won 10 times straight up.

But as one might expect, the wider the point spread, the more often the underdog covered.

All five times where a postseason host was an underdog by more than 4.5 points, the favorite failed to cover. In games where the spread was 3 or 3.5, the odds swung in favor of bettors who backed the favorite, at a 10-7 clip with one push.

So if history holds, Dallas is a decent bet to cover by giving away a field goal. But folks in states where sports betting is legal might want to watch the lines carefully, because if the spread moves by even a point, history starts leaning toward the Bucs to cover.

Why the Buccaneers Are Underdogs

If sportsbooks were legal in the Sunshine State and competition were open, as it is in most states with sports wagering, FanDuel Sportsbook Florida would no doubt be among the operators. As it is, FanDuel is among several national operators who posted Dallas (12-5) as a 3-point favorite for the first-round playoff game at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

It’s an interesting turnaround from Week 1, when Tampa Bay defeated Dallas 19-3 at Arlington, with the Cowboys being the home underdog that time at +2.5 points.

That was way before the Bucs won the NFC South in one of the oddest division races in recent memory.

Tampa Bay finished 8-9, becoming only the fourth team to capture a division crown with a losing record. The other three teams in the NFC South this year – Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans – all finished 7-10, meaning that all four teams finished within one game of each other. It was just the fourth first time in NFL history that only one game separated first place from last place in a division race, the most recent being the AFC West in 2011.

The Bucs somehow finished first despite the worst point differential in the NFC South, at minus-45. Other statistical measures don’t paint the Bucs in much better light.

The Bucs finished 14th in the NFL in total offense but only 25th in scoring at 18.4 points per game. Their 313 total points – despite having a 17-game season – were the fewest for Tampa Bay since 2014, when the Bucs scored 277 in their way to a 2-14 season. On defense, Tampa Bay was better this season, finishing ninth in yards per game allowed and tied for 13th in points allowed.

Tom Brady passed for 4,694 yards to bring his career total to more than 89,000 yards, extending his league record. But Brady threw for just 25 touchdowns. The future Hall of Famer has had 15 seasons in which he had more touchdown passes – and again, this was despite having an extra game in 2022 compared to most of his career (this year was the second with the NFL’s expanded 17-game regular season).

The star quarterback briefly retired in the offseason then announced that he had changed his mind and would play a 23rd season. At that point Brady’s return boosted Bucs preseason odds. But now Tampa Bay, the No. 4 seed in the NFC, is listed at +2800 at FanDuel to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz.

Jacksonville Jaguars Also Home Underdogs

Another Florida team won a division title with an unimpressive record. The Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Tennessee Titans, 20-16, on Saturday night to clinch the AFC South with a 9-8 mark.

Jacksonville, which has won five in a row to reach the playoffs, is a 1.5-point underdog for their home game against the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) on Saturday (8:15 p.m., NBC).

Florida's other NFL team, the Miami Dolphins, got in as the last Wild Card team in the AFC. The No. 7-seeded Dolphins will be on the road at Buffalo (1 p.m. Sunday, CBS) and the Bills are favored by 10.5 points.

Hard Rock Sportsbook Florida was operating for a few weeks in 2021 until a court ruling shut it down; there has been no legal sports betting in the Sunshine State since. If legal matter get straightened out and the state gets legal, regulated wagering on sports in the future, turn to FloridaBet.com for the best reviews, news and more.

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Contributors

Jim Tomlin
Editor & Fact Checker

Jim Tomlin has 30-plus years of experience in Florida journalism, mostly in sports. The University of South Florida graduate has worked at the Tampa Bay Times, FanRag, Saturday Down South and Saturday Tradition and now lends his expertise to FloridaBet.com as a writer and editor.

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