NFL Playoff Picture: Why Home-Field Advantage Is Extremely Important

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NFL Playoff Picture: Why Home-Field Advantage Is Extremely Important
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
How Super is the Dome?

Will home-field advantage prove true during the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend?

Usually, I’m a big believer in simply going with the best team. But I’m a bigger believer in, well—in believing.

And from that point of view, I find the reality of home-field advantage to be more mental than physical. If you believe in it, it works. It’s the pigskin placebo.

On Sunday’s NFL GameDay Morning Mooch and Company (yes, Steve Mariucci has proven to be the head honcho here), opened up the perennial home-field can of worms. This debate confirmed my positional theory on home-field advantage.

Among players, I have observed that viewpoints vary by position. Quarterbacks tend to think that the game is in their hands and focus on tangible benefits. The rest of the team is more metaphysical when it comes to game location.

Warren Sapp is evidently a believer. His position that playing at home is a huge advantage is based on two factors:

No. 1: Crowd noise will rattle the opposing offensive line and every penalty helps.

No. 2: The joy of routine: Sleeping in your own bed, driving in your own car, being at your own locker.

I think he has a point, but I also think that his years of success in Tampa Bay spoiled him into viewing winning at home as normal. Yes, I know he played in Oakland for four years, but I honestly think that he has blocked it out.

Former WR Michael Irvin went with the long view: It’s not having home field in the Wild Card game that matters, it’s having home field advantage and the bye week. It doesn’t matter if you have home field and win in the first round.

What matters is that, no matter what, you have to then go on the road and face the next team on their turf. And you have one more critical week of wear and tear.

Not only do the first two seeds have home-field advantage in the divisional round, they have the treatment-room advantage. I’m positive that he’s right.

Then there was QB Kurt Warner. The central piece in the “greatest show on turf” admitted that dome teams have a harder time outside in the cold. If Warner is willing to go on record with that point of view, I believe him.

And we all know that means we are thinking about the New Orleans Saints having to travel to Green Bay for a rematch—in January.

But that isn’t this week, so I will cross that icy bridge when we come to it.

If you’re a cerebrally-inclined former coach (and quarterback) like Mariucci, this weekend will be all about what Mooch termed the “weak division winners.”

He means Denver and Houston. You know it, I know it, the Broncos and Texans know it.

Houston is actually favored in their Wild Card matchup—courtesy of a still-tough defense. But Denver is a huge home dog. Eight-and-a-half points worth of dog as of Tuesday. Wow.

Coaches, analysts and pundits endlessly debate the “deodorant” ability of home field. It can undoubtedly cover a multitude of team ills.

Can playing at home carry a hobbled Houston offense over Cincy’s hot young QB/WR combo? And can the thin Mile High air do the impossible and hold the Steelers down long enough for some Tim Tebow Magic?

The 2011 NFL Playoffs Wild Card Weekend really has few mysteries:

No. 1: How well can T.J. Yates play and will he be replaced by Jake Delhomme as Houston’s QB?

No. 2: Will the Detroit/Saints score go over 100?

No. 3: How is Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle?

No. 4: Can the Denver home crowd possibly lift this passing-challenged Broncos team over the Steel Curtain?

I don’t know.

Just when we thought it was all stacked towards the Patriots at home, along came the upstart Jets. When Brett Favre seemed destined to lead the Pack to another Super Bowl, along came Eli Manning, red-faced Tom Coughlin and the tough Giants’ pass rush.

Let’s face it: Nobody knows. But that doesn’t stop us from examining the issue from every possible angle: numerical, to sociological to evolutionary.


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