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Home-field in division round is no longer a lock


Once upon a time, the top two seeds in each conference could view the division round as a tuneup for the conference title game.

Not anymore.

Since 2005, the home teams in the conference semifinals have lost as many games as they have won:  12 wins, 12 losses.

It’s a dramatic difference from how things used to be.  And it’s hard to pinpoint the reason.

The most plausible explanation comes from the boost that a team winning in the wild-card round receives.  With low expectations and a chip firmly attached to their shoulders, the first-week winners can take to the road with a strong sense of confidence and an even stronger sense of disrespect.

The top two seeds, on the other hand, often are caught flat-footed by a loose team that isn’t supposed to win anyway.  And if the home team falls behind and the visitor acquires even more confidence, things can get ugly, quickly.

That’s the primary problem with statistics in a true team sport like football.  We can break games down from every possible numerical angle, but there’s no way to predict the human dynamics that unfold when 11 men who are trying to do one thing face 11 men who are trying to do something else.  From game planning to execution to confidence to momentum to looseness to tightness to nerves to complacency to panic to getting in “the zone” to the benefit of a rematch (see LSU-Alabama), these intangibles make the game of football inherently more exciting — and they make attempts to quantify what will happen in the future based on what has happened in the past a bit, well, ludicrous.

Of course, it doesn’t mean the four home teams this year will all win.  But if that happens, it’ll cut against the same trend that was defied in wild-card weekend, when a home-team sweep reversed a 21-19 home record in all playoff games since 2007.

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35 Responses to “Home-field in division round is no longer a lock”
  1. elroyjetsson says: Jan 10, 2012 4:14 PM

    Bravo Mike, Super article!

  2. austrianpanther says: Jan 10, 2012 4:15 PM

    Must be a slow day in the NFL!!

    Hey Mike, who cares about home field advantage anyway! Certanly not The New Yort Jets!!!

  3. newenglandsports11 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:17 PM

    I don’t know about other fans but Gillette Stadium where the Pats play is dead. We are the most spoiled fan base and it shows.

  4. frankie3333 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:17 PM

    i thought this article was going to be about wild card teams no longer having to go on the road if their record is better than the division winners. the title should be “home-field ADVANTAGE in division round…”, because home field is still a lock.

  5. koufaxmitzvah says: Jan 10, 2012 4:18 PM

    No offense, Baltimore. I love the Wire, and the Orioles are getting hosed. But the Texans are going to end your football season this coming Sunday.


  6. huskersrock1 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:19 PM

    It is called parity.

  7. realnflmaster says: Jan 10, 2012 4:19 PM

    Nothing better than going into Foxborough and punching the cheaters right in the mouth last year and ending their pathetic season in front of those pathetic, bandwagon fans.

    And then seeing how eerily quiet the comment section was from all the laughable, worthless, broke, jealous JETS haters.

  8. mh28102 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:19 PM

    hmm…must be a slow news day

  9. threexfirst says: Jan 10, 2012 4:19 PM

    two sides to every coin. on one hand, it is all about who gets hot at the right time ala saints and giants, but both the texans and broncos were struggling the last few weeks of the season and won their first games. have to agree that anything can happen when a team comes together in a true team sport.

  10. medtxpack says: Jan 10, 2012 4:20 PM


  11. tebowpraystobrady says: Jan 10, 2012 4:20 PM

    However, having Tebow coming to throw wobblers all over your stadium = a home-field lock for the Pats!

    P.S. McDaniels scouted the coin toss team and knows they are going “Tails”

  12. airinrodgers says: Jan 10, 2012 4:20 PM

    So any team can win in any given week? Got it. Thanks for clearing that up.

  13. sixaspadz says: Jan 10, 2012 4:27 PM

    It is if you are Balt or NE

  14. y5nthon5a says: Jan 10, 2012 4:32 PM

    Maybe it’s because teams are finding sparks in different ways, and going into the playoffs strong. Maybe teams are going with a scheme going into the playoffs, and only showing their better players or plays for the playoffs, to pull off things that they haven’t done all season (i.e. Tebow throwing deep). Not only that, but you see more fans travelling to the playoff games, to support their team. Maybe the away teams are having more of their own fans at the stadiums. Either way, football is more predictable than ever.

  15. PanchoHerreraFanClub says: Jan 10, 2012 4:37 PM

    Another simpler explanation is more competitive balance now.

  16. mike83ri says: Jan 10, 2012 4:39 PM

    Tell that to all 4 road teams from this past weekend sitting on their coaches right now.

  17. mike83ri says: Jan 10, 2012 4:40 PM

    Tell that to all 4 road teams from this past weekend sitting on their couches right now.

  18. raven410 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:41 PM

    So I think it’s safe to say that one or two of the home teams will be losing this weekend…should be interesting.

  19. whoopingchow says: Jan 10, 2012 4:42 PM

    So the NFL instituted the bye week during the regular season in 1990. I’d be interested in seeing how teams have done after that bye week since then, and if their success up to that point in the seasons/strength of their post-bye opponent is predictive of their performance after the bye at all. According to this site (, regarding college football, toss-ups (where teams are pretty evenly matched, in terms of win/loss ratio [a flawed metric, but usable for the moment]), the team coming off the bye have gone 40% against their opponents. I’d be curious to see a similar analysis done for the NFL to see if it’s really “momentum” from the wild card round.

    TL;DR: Maybe it’s not as large a playoff anomaly as it might seem to be–maybe home teams just do worse after byes all the time?

  20. 4thquarters says: Jan 10, 2012 4:42 PM

    what type of blow dryer do you use?

  21. damnyoulinelliot says: Jan 10, 2012 4:48 PM

    “Any Given Sunday”… anybody can win.

    Speaking of which… “They call me Willie!”

    “Willie Beeeaamann”

  22. rmc1995 says: Jan 10, 2012 4:55 PM

    It probably has more to do with pretty good teams advance to the division round. I really don’t think its more than that.

  23. southpaw2k says: Jan 10, 2012 4:55 PM

    I think the Niners are the most likely to fall this weekend. I have much more faith in the Saints’ offense putting at least 20 points on the board on their defense than the Niners’ O putting 20 up on the Saints’ D.

    The Texans won’t be any cakewalk for the Ravens either, but the Ravens will still pull away.

  24. Joe says: Jan 10, 2012 5:13 PM

    Despite a .500 record in the Divisional round, 100% bye-week teams make it to the Divisional round, while only 50% of Wildcard teams do. THAT’S the true value of the bye week.

  25. humptyfratz says: Jan 10, 2012 5:39 PM

    This weekend, it is more likely that all visiting teams win than all home teams win.

    I’m not predicting a visitor’s sweep, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

  26. ravenator says: Jan 10, 2012 6:00 PM

    I really don’t think that applies to Baltimore. M&T Bank is often overlooked when discussing home field advantages. 19-1 now last 20 games at home I believe. Ya, I’ll take that all day.

  27. pone27 says: Jan 10, 2012 8:34 PM

    Sick of stats on trying to figure out who will win a game, in any sport.

    Luck, skill, better execution (in no particular order) = Victory..

    Keep stats for baseball… Keep passion for football.

  28. nobreak1269 says: Jan 10, 2012 9:11 PM

    Tom Brady should change his name to Tom Onendone. Broncos win.

  29. goawayeverybody says: Jan 10, 2012 9:13 PM


  30. unbiased8383 says: Jan 10, 2012 9:17 PM

    newenglandsports11 says:
    Jan 10, 2012 4:17 PM
    I don’t know about other fans but Gillette Stadium where the Pats play is dead. We are the most spoiled fan base and it shows.

    Same thing in Dallas. Since 96′ our home field has been people sitting on their hands just mumbling. True, not much to cheer for but you see New Orleans fans effecting the game and inspiring good play.

  31. beauregard says: Jan 10, 2012 9:25 PM

    When the game is close in waning minutes of the fourth quarter and Tebow steps behind center there will be a sinking feeling thought out all of New England.

    Tebow v. Yates for AFC Championship!

  32. leatherface2012 says: Jan 10, 2012 9:37 PM

    as long as gb goes in the dumper, i’m fine

  33. mikemc89 says: Jan 10, 2012 11:50 PM


    Bold…but i said it.

  34. patriotsssss says: Jan 11, 2012 5:16 AM

    man, no one is jealous of the jets. you’re one lame team with an overrated defense. get ready to lose to brady next year. HAHAHA JETS GOT RAPED THIS SEASON.

  35. gisellichek says: Jan 12, 2012 9:56 AM

    @realnflmaster says:
    Jan 10, 2012 4:19 PM

    Nothing better than going into Foxborough and punching the cheaters right in the mouth last year and ending their pathetic season in front of those pathetic, bandwagon fans.


    Hey there tough guy… Pats season ticket holder here just reminding you the Jets still suck… Nice win last year… and your team still hasn’t won anything… Reminding you that we have 3 untarnished lombardy trophies, the best QB in the AFC and a really strong chance to get number four this year… I hope you and your obnoxious brethren are enjoying the off season!!!


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