NFL Wild-Card Round: Home Field Disadvantage?

Andrew KahnCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

Of the four NFL wild-card games scheduled for next weekend, guess how many of the home teams are favored?

If you guessed zero, then you are correct.

Welcome to the 2008 NFL season!

In the NFC, Atlanta, led by a rookie quarterback, is a two-point favorite going into Arizona, and Philadelphia is a three-point favorite at Minnesota.

The two road teams are also favored in the AFC, where Indianapolis is a one-point fave at San Diego and Baltimore is giving three to Miami.

I suppose the spreads shouldn't be too surprising. The Falcons are 11-5, while the Cardinals went 9-7 in a weak division. The Eagles are arguably the hottest team in the NFC, winning four of their last five, including a 44-6 thrashing of Dallas yesterday.

The Colts are the the veteran group nobody wants to play, and at 11-5, it's no surprise they are favored over the Chargers (8-8), especially since they've already won in San Diego earlier this season. Also, the Chargers have a total of zero wins against playoff teams.

Similar logic applies to the Ravens-Dolphins game, as Baltimore won 27-13 at Miami in Week 7.

Even so, football fans have been trained to think that home teams win in the playoffs. The experts usually agree, as I found only five instances since 1995 in which the road team was favored in the wild-card round. In two of these cases, the road team ended up winning.

But think about that: only five times in the past 13 years has this happened, yet it's happened four times this year alone.

The thing is, on Sunday evening, as the Chargers pulled away from the Broncos, I started thinking about who I liked in the opening round. I told my brother I was leaning towards the Dolphins, Colts, and Eagles. He called me crazy for taking three road teams. As it turned out, the one home team I backed wound up being the biggest underdog of the bunch.

It will certainly be interesting to see who the public prefers in these match-ups, and of course, which teams actually advance.

It's been a wacky year in the NFL. Four road favorites, regardless of the outcome, attest to that.