The 2012 NFL season is winding down and division races are starting to become more clear, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the ultimate prize.
It is no secret that playing in front of the home crowd provides a great boost for teams. That advantage only magnifies during the playoffs.
While their are some teams that play just as well on the road, certain others need that hometown comfort to succeed.
Here are the current division leaders that need home-field advantage to win in the postseason.
The Baltimore Ravens own a 4-2 record away from M&T Bank Stadium. While one of those losses came against the hapless Philadelphia Eagles, the other was in blowout fashion to the AFC-leading Houston Texans.
The Texans look like the real deal, so for Baltimore to avenge its 43-13 loss back in Week 7, playing the rematch at home might be the only solution.
Virtually two games behind Houston in the conference—one game back in the standings and on the losing end of the tiebreaker—and with a seemingly tougher slate to close the season, the Ravens are all but guaranteed to not reach the top spot in the AFC.
Baltimore will be rooting for the Texans to make an early playoff exit.
The Denver Broncos have lost two road games to playoff-caliber teams—Week 2 in Atlanta against the Falcons and Week 5 against the New England Patriots.
While the Patriots are the only potential road postseason matchup, Denver will need to play better in a possible playoff rematch.
The Broncos were able to snag a road victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 and they play another critical road contest in Week 15 against the Baltimore Ravens—a matchup that will be key in how the AFC playoff picture could eventually shake out.
The Chicago Bears have lost two road games this season. However, those two losses came at the hands of the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers—both playoff contenders and both not-so-close results.
If the season ended today, the Packers would have to travel to Soldier Field for any potential postseason meeting. However, there are five games to go and their positions could eventually switch by season's end.
Chicago has another road game against a playoff-caliber team when they travel to Minnesota in Week 14 to take on the Vikings. We should gain a better grasp on the Bears in a couple weeks.
After Thursday night's 23-13 win over the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons currently sit atop the entire NFL with an 11-1 record. Their lone loss came on the road against those same Saints back in Week 10.
Though New Orleans is on the outside of the NFC playoff picture, the Saints should still be considered a tough out.
Atlanta's 5-1 road record looks fantastic on the surface. But if they somehow lose ground—though unlikely—and have to play outside of the Georgia Dome, it will be interesting to see how this team adapts in Chicago or even way out west in San Francisco for must-win game.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.