NFL Divisional Round: Halfway Through, Home-Field Adavantage in Jeopardy

Bryan HollisterAnalyst IJanuary 11, 2009

The Baltimore Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals both proved a very important point in their playoff victories Saturday.

The "12th man" is only as good as the 11 actual players who suit up and play the game each weekend.

By virtue of their regular-season success, both the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers earned a bye week in the playoffs, going 13-3 and 12-4 respectively to earn the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in their divisions.

Tennessee was nearly perfect at home, with a 7-1 record, while Carolina was the only team in the NFL this year to go undefeated in front of the home-town crowd. Both Carolina and Tennessee enjoy an active fan base that shows up for the game ready to "raise the roof" and overwhelm the opposing team's offensive efforts.

On Saturday, though, that didn't matter. Tennessee lost 13-10 in a slugfest with Baltimore in the early game, while the Cardinals took the Panthers to task with a phenomenal 33-13 beating in prime time.

There was one common factor that has been crucial to the winning teams' successes in the playoffs: turnovers. Neither Baltimore nor Arizona have committed the same costly turnovers as their vanquished foes, while forcing a combined 17 turnovers in two games each.

The Ravens and Cardinals are both plus-seven in turnover differential with a combined total of three giveaways. Joe Flacco has fared better than his elder counterpart Warner—Joe Cool hasn't turned the ball over once, while Kurt Warner has thrown two picks, one in each game.

Opposing quarterbacks haven't been as fortunate. Thirteen interceptions in four games have made throwing the ball against these two defenses a dangerous proposition. Some teams don't get that many in a full season.

The ball hasn't been much safer when it's on the ground. Four fumbles—including two huge drops in the red zone by the Titans—have stopped potentially game-winning drives.

Pittsburgh and New York both face teams that made the playoffs with regular season records that should have kept them out. San Diego made it by virtue of emerging as the AFC West champion with an 8-8 record, while Philadelphia couldn't even beat the Bengals and ended up 9-6-1.

With both teams playing on borrowed time, they will be going for the ball on every play.

The Steelers and Giants need to control the rock, lest they suffer the same inglorious fate as their bye-week partners.