Beyond Steelers' long odds, underdog teams show strength away from home
A renewal of the legendary Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers rivalry headlines a field of rematches when the first weekend of NFL playoff action arrives Saturday.
There’s familiarity in these clashes, and there’s comfort as well for most of the road teams — other than the +12.5-point underdog Pittsburgh Steelers, who send retiring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Kansas City to meet back-to-back Super Bowl participant Patrick Mahomes.
The Steelers (9-7-1) backed into the No. 7 AFC seed when the Las Vegas Raiders edged the Los Angeles Chargers 35-32 in overtime late Sunday night. And just a couple weeks ago on Dec. 26, the AFC West-champion Chiefs blitzed Pittsburgh 36-10.
Meanwhile, the remaining six road playoff teams boasted a combined 31-12 road record during the regular season, led by the Arizona Cardinals (8-1).
The Cardinals close the first-round action Monday as 4.5-point underdogs to their NFC West division-rival Los Angeles Rams. The teams each won on the road in their two meetings this season.
The game’s over-under total is 50.5.
Both the Rams and Cardinals lost in the final week of the season. Arizona skidded to a 3-5 ending, hamstrung by injuries to quarterback Kyler Murray and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Similarly, as the New England Patriots head to their trilogy meeting against AFC East division-rival Buffalo Bills, they are laboring through a 1-3 finish capped by Sunday’s 33-24 loss at Miami.
The division champion Bills host and are favored by 4.5 points, with the total set at 43.5 after recovering from that wind-blown Dec. 6 loss to the Patriots to handle Bill Belichick’s team more comfortably 33-21 in the Dec. 26 rematch.
The Bills-Patriots game, Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET, precedes that day’s postseason opener between the never-say-die Raiders and AFC North-champion Cincinnati Bengals.
The Raiders responded to a 48-9 drubbing at Kansas City Dec. 12 to win their final four games, and finished with a win Sunday to become the first team since the 1970 AFL merger to win six games on the final play.
Appearing in their first playoff game since 2016, the Raiders are 6.5-point underdogs against the Bengals, who outscored Las Vegas 19-7 in the fourth quarter Nov. 21, getting 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns from running back Joe Mixon in a 32-13 triumph.
The game’s over-under is 48.5.
As for Sunday’s 49ers-Cowboys renewal, Dallas is a narrow 2.5-point favorite at AT&T Stadium.
In the two previous decades — with Joe Montana’s “The Catch” and Troy Aikman battling Steve Young — the teams participated in six NFC championships, with the winner claiming five Super Bowl titles.
Dallas enters as NFC East champion after routing playoff entrant the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday, while the 49ers rallied past the Rams. The over-under is 50.5.
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 8.5-point favorites in their home mismatch, pitting seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady against first-year playoff competitor Jalen Hurts of Philadelphia.
The game’s over-under is 49.5 after the 28-22 Buccaneers’ triumph Oct. 14 at Philadelphia.