Regardless of momentum and expectations, prevailing on the road in the NFL Divisional Playoffs has been difficult historically.
Four teams are gone and eight clubs remain. Welcome to the 2017 NFL Divisional Playoffs.
It has sometimes been referred to as the best weekend and sport, but that’s a debate for another team. In any case, here are some numbers you may find a little interesting. That is, unless, you are the Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints this weekend.
Home-field advantage has never been more prevalent than it is in the AFC and NFC Divisional Playoffs. The format has changed somewhat when it comes to this round. From 1970-77, there were three division champions in each conference and only one wild card entry. That club played the team with the best record in the conference—unless that team was in the same division.
Divisional rivals could only meet in either the AFC or NFC title game. In 1978, a second wild-card club was added to each conference and those games made up the first weekend of the postseason. In the divisional round, the previously mentioned format was upheld. No clubs in the same division could meet until the conference championship.
To make matters even more confusing, teams were not awarded home-field advantage in the playoffs until 1975. It was done on a rotating basis. There’s your answer when someone wants to know why the 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the 14-0 Miami Dolphins in the 1972 AFC Championship Game. Hence a week off for at least the top two teams in the conference didn’t begin until ’78.
Now we have the current 12-team format that began in 1990. There were still three division champions but now a third wild-card team was added and the seeding formula began. And now, regardless of the round, clubs could play each other at any time regardless of the round.
In 2002, realignment gave us the league as we know it today. Four division champions and two wild-card teams make up the playoff field for each conference. The top two seeds, as was the case from 1990-01, would get a week’s vacation.
That’s a lot to absorb, but regardless of the era and the format, home-field advantage has meant more in the divisional round than either the wild card or championship games.
Dating back to the merger in 1970 and including last weekend’s 2017 wild card games, take a look at the numbers and the winning percentage in three rounds of the postseason where home-field is a factor (in other words, Super Bowls are neutral site games
Postseason Home Records (1970-2017)
For the sake of the current format, here are those same numbers since 1990. Once again, that includes the 2-2 split in the four games last weekend:
Postseason Home Records (1990-2017)
Since 1990, we have seen a four-game sweep by the host club seven times in 27 years—the latest coming in 2015. On the other hand, the only postseason in which the road teams enjoyed a winning combined record in this round was 2008. The host clubs went 1-3 that weekend.
So good luck to the Falcons, Titans, Jaguars and Saints. All four teams will certainly most need at least luck.