NFL Playoff Picture: Why Home Field Gives the Green Bay Packers a Real Advantage
The Green Bay Packers' 35-21 victory over the rival Chicago Bears on Sunday night locked Green Bay into the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs, guaranteeing that the playoffs will go through the "Frozen Tundra" and that if any other NFC team wants to go to the Super Bowl, they'll have to beat the Packers in Green Bay.
Historically, traveling to Green Bay in the playoffs has been a quick way to end the opposing team's season.
Recently they've been a little more vulnerable at Lambeau, dropping three games in the last decade. Mike Vick and the Atlanta Falcons broke the lore of Lambeau when they defeated the Packers 27-7 on January 1, 2003.
The Vikings followed that a couple of seasons later in the game famous for Randy Moss "mooning" the crowd. Finally, the New York Giants won a classic overtime game in the NFC Championship on their way to a Super Bowl title, effectively ending Brett Favre's career as a Packer in the process.
This season, however, the Lambeau advantage in the playoffs is going to be substantial, not just because the Packers have a dominant team, but because of the teams that potentially will be making the pilgrimage to the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field.
San Francisco 49ers
Going in order of current playoffs seeds, I'll explain why the 49ers will struggle on their potential trip to Lambeau.
The strength of the 49ers is clearly in their defense. They have excelled particularly in stopping the run, allowing only one rushing touchdown and one 100-yard rushing game this season.
The problem for the 49ers is that the Packers don't run the ball anyway.
The Packers are 30th in the NFL in yards gained on the ground. If the Packers and 49ers were to meet, the Packers would attack them through the air and see if the 18th-ranked 49ers pass defense could stop Aaron Rodgers and his record-setting passing attack.
As far as a Lambeau advantage, it's clear that a team from sunny San Francisco would prefer playing just about anywhere other than the frozen Midwest. In the 1990s the Packers beat the 49ers in four out of five playoff games, two of which were played in Green Bay.
In those games the 49ers managed a measly 14 and 15 points, respectively.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have a high-powered offense. When they are indoors, they are averaging 45 points a game this season. That is an absurd number. The problem for the Saints is that they most likely will have only one game indoors this postseason.
Why is that so significant?
For all the Saints' offensive prowess in the safety of a dome this season, they are averaging under 26 points when they are forced to play outdoors. That is a 19-point difference, and that is in places like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Jacksonville and Nashville.
As I've said, the NFC Playoffs go through Green Bay, Wisconsin. How many points is that worth? I'd imagine it's a lot.
In 2006, the Saints had to travel to Chicago in the NFC Championship and got beat down, 39-14. This was in a season where the Bears averaged 26.7 points and the Saints averaged 25.8 points per game.
The cold weather will do the Saints in, as it has this season and in past seasons.
Falcons, Cowboys and Lions
After the top two contenders trying to knock off the defending champs are three more indoor teams.
The Falcons have been beaten impressively the last two times the Packers played them, including last year in the playoffs.
Both of those games were played in Atlanta, and after this season's Week 5 game, Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said that if the Falcons want another shot at the champs, they were going to have to "Meet [the Packers] at Lambeau. We're done coming down here to play them."
It turns out "The Freezer" was correct and like the Saints, the Falcons are scoring more indoors, 25 points per game rather than their 22 points per game outdoors—and they haven't played in a place like Lambeau in January.
The Cowboys, assuming they defeat the Giants in next week's de facto playoff game, will have the same problems the Saints and Falcons have
They are averaging over 26 points per game indoors and only 21.5 outside. These teams are all built to play on a fast, indoor surface and struggle when they have to play on the slower grass fields. Again, none of these teams has played anywhere close to the frigid terrain of Lambeau in the dead of winter.
As far as the Detroit Lions go, they haven't won at Lambeau Field since December 15th, 1991. That is before Brett Favre ever played a game for the Packers, for those of you keeping score.
Lambeau Is Going To Be Home Sweet Home
In comparison to the rest of the NFC field, the Packers have more experience playing outdoors.
In fact, 12 of their 14 games have been played outdoors and they are averaging nearly 36 points in those games. I've gone over the rest of their likely playoff foes and their struggles outside this season—and again, keep in mind that they haven't played on the cold, solid grass of Lambeau when the temperature is in the single digits.
The Packers will have the best team in the playoffs combined with the best home-field advantage in the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers is 4-1 in the playoffs in his career, but has yet to enjoy the confines of Lambeau Field. He won't have to leave there until they get on a plane for Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI.
It's going to take a major effort in a monumental upset from another team to stop them from making that trip.