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Reloaded: NFL Playoffs and Homefield Advantage - how hard is it to win on the road?

A look back at the last ten years of the playoffs.

Mike Ehrmann

DK Note: Over the Fourth of July Break, I thought it would be cool to reload a few older articles from myself and some of our esteemed writers here at Field Gulls. As I browsed through the dusty archives, I picked out a few posts that were definitely worth re-posting. For those of you that missed these the first time around, you're in for some excellent analysis, and for those of you that remember these posts, I'd say they're even worth re-reading.

In the article below, originally published just prior to Seattle's win over the Redskins in Washington, Kenny takes a look at the last ten years of the NFL Playoffs, with a focus on how difficult it is to win on the road.


There has been a lot made about the fact that not winning the division means that the Seahawks will have to travel in the playoffs, should they win a Wild Card, most likely for three games if they make it that far. Historically, Seattle has had issues playing on the road, while the flipside of that is that they are really damn good at home. Comparison: Zach at home, Screech on the road. Yoshi at home, Bowser on the road. Freebird at home, "Dogs Singing Jingle Bells" on the road. How many pop culture references are there in the world, and can I use them all in one article?

I will not be able to put to rest your fears of playing on the road, because much like the prospect of spiders harvesting a nest under the lip of your toilet bowl where you can't see it, those fears are legit. Seattle would do better to play games at home. Seattle will be fighting an uphill battle while playing on the road. However, don't write them (or any other playoff team) off simply because they won't be a number one or number two seed. Recent history simply does not support the idea that home teams have an insurmountable advantage. Far from it. It's an advantage, but over a 2-3 game span, anything can happen.

This is probably not a groundbreaking statement to most people reading this article. It is well documented that top seeds have not lived up to their regular season accomplishments when the playoffs get underway. Well-documented, but apparently not trusted to be the truth, because we still yearn for a bye week and a top seed. At a certain point we have to ask ourselves if it is simply better to be the best for 16 games, or better to be hot at the right time. Can a bye week actually hurt your chances? Does a home game really matter when we are talking about a sample size of only two or three games?

You want the Seahawks to win every game because of course you want your favorite team to win every game. It's what we are programmed to do. Winning is good. Losing is bad. Don't end up on the naughty list. But factually, winning is good and losing is life. We wish that Seattle had done a better job of containing the Lions and Dolphins and then right now they'd be the NFC West champions. However, just because they lost, there is only one win that matters, and the Seahawks have still put themselves in a position to get there.

Right now I want to up the documentation on this notion. A case study in road games, wild cards, top seeds, and success. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to find after I finish this sentence and start putting together the research, but I have an idea. Let's see how it plays out:


Home Team Record: 8-2

Bye Weeks: 49ers, Patriots, Ravens, Packers

Best Records: Packers 15-1, Patriots 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: New York Giants

Home teams reigned supreme last season, to the point where Tim Tebow (and nobody else on the 8-8 Broncos) beat the 12-4 Steelers in round one. However, those two home losses both came at the hands of the Giants, the team that had the worst record in the NFC playoffs. New York beat the 15-1 Packers rather easily in Green Bay and then the 49ers muffed it in San Francisco.

The Giants were a solid 5-3 on the road in 2011 but even more impressive in the postseason.

Still, 8-2 is pretty solid right? Must hold up like that most years, correct?


Home Team Record: 4-6

Bye Weeks: Patriots, Steelers, Falcons, Bears

Best Records: Patriots 14-2, Falcons 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: Green Bay Packers

Soooo.... cool job winning your division! The Patriots, best record in the NFL, lose to the Jets 28-21 in the Divisional Round. The Falcons, best record in the NFC, lose 48-21 to the Packers in the Divisional Round. So there go your two number one seeds. The only home team to win in the Wild Card round? You may remember the great quake of January 8, 2011. The Steelers go 2-0 at home and then lose to the 10-6 Wild Card Packers in the Super Bowl.

Green Bay was 3-5 on the road in 2010, 3-0 on the road in the playoffs. (Just one of the similarities I've noticed between the 2010 Packers and 2012 Seahawks. Apparently Football Outsiders also sees a correlation.)


Home Team Record: 7-3

Bye Weeks: Colts, Chargers, Saints, Vikings

Best Records: Colts 14-2, Saints 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: Saints

A solid argument for being a top seed, the Colts and Saints met in the Super Bowl. Jets also played part of second round upset, winning in San Diego, but mostly the home teams had the advantage and only New York crashed the conference party as all three other teams had a bye.


Home Team Record: 5-5

Bye Weeks: Titans, Steelers, Giants, Panthers

Best Records: Titans 13-3, Giants/Panthers 12-4

Super Bowl Champion: Steelers

Much like the 2011 Giants, the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals were not a good regular season team outside of their passing offense. The Cardinals were 3-5 on the road in the regular season but beat the Panthers 33-13 in the Divisional Round. By way of the 6-seed Eagles, a 9-6-1 Wild Card team, beating the Vikings and Giants (on the road) Arizona had a home game in the conference championship. Philly was 3-4-1 on the road in the regular season, but 2-1 on the road in the playoffs.

The 6-seed Ravens went to the AFC Championship game. However, it was the 2-seed Steelers that won it all, though it was so very close.


Home Team Record: 5-5

Bye Weeks: Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, Packers

Best Records: Patriots 16-0, Cowboys/Packers 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: 10-6 Giants

The last legitimately good Seahawks team goes 10-6 and beats the Redskins at home 35-14, then loses easily at Green Bay. (Seattle was 3-5 on the road that year.) New York stumbles into the playoffs, going 4-4 in the second half of the season, but what was their bread-and-butter? The Giants were 7-1 on the road. A home game might have been as detrimental as regular-season-Eli-Manning!

The Giants beat the 10-6 Bucs, top-seeded Cowboys, and second-seeded Packers before beating the undefeated-now-feated Patriots. The Jags were 5-3 on the road in 2007 and won in Pittsburgh in round one. The Chargers were probably "the hottest" team in the NFL (besides, you know, a team going 16-0. Even though we never count being absolutely the best team as being "Hot") and San Diego won in Indianapolis before losing to the Pats in the AFC Championship game.


Home Team Record: 8-2

Bye Weeks: Chargers, Ravens, Bears, Saints

Best Records: Chargers 14-2, Bears 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: Colts

For all the years that Peyton Manning benefited from a Bye, he won his only Super Bowl in a season without one. (Manning was 0-3 after a Bye week in the playoffs, until going 2-1 in 2009. He is also 7-6 when not receiving a Bye, but four of those wins game in 2006.)

The Champion Colts had to win a road game in Baltimore before beating the Patriots 38-34 at home in the Conference Championship. The Bears used the Bye to their advantage, beating the Seahawks (GOOOUULLLDDD!!!!!) and Saints.


Home Team Record: 4-6

Bye Weeks: Colts, Broncos, Seahawks, Bears

Best Records: Colts 14-2, Seahawks 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: Unknown

No doubt about it. The Seahawks went to their only Super Bowl when they were a number-one seed. However, this was a bad year to be a home team. The Patriots were the only division-winner to win the in Wild Card round. The Steelers were well-versed to play on the road, going 6-2 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs. The Panthers also had a 6-2 road record and won their first two road playoff games before hilariously trying to win in Seattle.

The Super Bowl has long since been forgotten and stricken from recorded human history.


Home Team Record: 6-4

Bye Weeks: Steelers, Patriots, Eagles, Falcons

Best Records: Steelers 15-1, Eagles 13-3

Super Bowl Champion: Patriots

The Rams took a 2-6 road record into Seattle, where the Seahawks were 5-3. One of their home losses? To the Rams. And again in the playoffs, 4th-and-4 at the Rams 5 with :27 left cannot be completed to Bobby Engram.

Wild Card winners go 3-1 in round one but 0-4 in round two. The Patriots easily win in Pittsburgh, but this is a difference of a 14-2 team over a 15-1 team.


Home Team Record: 6-4

Bye Weeks: Patriots, Chiefs, Eagles, Rams

Best Records: Patriots 14-2, Eagles/Rams 12-4

Super Bowl Champion: Patriots

The Panthers win the division in 2003, but do you know how they fared on the road? 5-3. What's really interesting though is that their first three road wins came in overtime, they lost at Atlanta in overtime, and then went 2-0 on the road in the playoffs. What with the incredibly-high number of OT games they played, it was 100% fitting that the Panthers and Rams played to overtime in St. Louis... no, correction, played into a second overtime.


Home Team Record: 8-2

Bye Weeks: Titans, Eagles, Buccaneers, Raiders

Best Records: Titans/Raiders 12-4, Buccaneers/Eagles/Packers 12-4

Super Bowl Champion: Buccaneers

Now you know we are talking old school when we're talking about the Raiders and playoffs!

2002 was kind of an odd year in that there were no dominant team records, though that does not mean that there were no dominant teams. The Falcons over the Packers in round one and the Bucs over the Eagles in the Conference Championship were the only road wins in the playoffs.

Interesting note: Look at the Packers and their 12-4 record. The rest of the North was very bad, and so the Packers record might be a little misleading. The worst record in the NFC South was the 7-9 Panthers, so the Bucs had a case as being the best team in the best division. We already know how dominant the defense was. The Raiders went 11-5 in a division without a losing team. Division strength and success... hmmmm.... That's an issue to tackle for another day, since the NFC West is somehow now the strongest division in football.

Ten Year Conclusion

I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks before I write this now. I mean, there was no time stamp on writing too early, those other playoffs were awhile ago. They weren't going to change. But as I write the conclusion, we know for sure that Seattle is headed on the road for probably the entire playoffs, for however long that lasts. Honestly, playing on the road doesn't scare me entirely, even if they are that great at home. This playoff run could still last for awhile.

Home Team in the Last 10 Years: 61-39, .610 winning percentage (Which is almost like a 10-6 team)

Wild Card Champions in the last 7 Years: 3. (5 Super Bowl winners in that span had no Bye Week.)

I would certainly never say that having homefield advantage isn't an advantage, but the best advantage of all is being the better team.

Over the last ten years, half of the Super Bowl champions got there without a bye week, all of which came in the last seven years. A .610 winning percentage is good, but we're also talking about division-winning, and sometimes conference-best-record teams at home losing at a reasonable rate. The Seahawks would have one of the best roads to the Super Bowl if only they didn't have to go on the road.

Unfortunately, they do. Washington seems like a tough place to play. Seattle has had defensive lapses on the road this year. But the track record has proven that this disadvantage is far from insurmountable. I'm just glad that I finally got this all out on internet paper. Maybe this Sunday, the Hawks can be Tango at home, and Cash on the road. (Both awesome.)

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