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.

35 responses to “Home-field in division round is no longer a lock

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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”

  5. 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.

  6. 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 (http://www.teamspeedkills.com/2010/4/15/1424019/how-much-do-bye-weeks-matter), 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?

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. @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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