The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will square off in the Super Bowl after both winning on the road Sunday in conference championship games. All season long teams fight for top seeding and the right to host playoff games. Why? Making the playoffs is important, where you play the game does not matter.
During the past six seasons road teams are 7-5 in conference title games. In four of the last six years road teams have posted a record of .500 or better in the playoffs. The “best” teams, who have earned home games, are 33-27 in the postseason over the last six years. In other words, being the top dog in the regular season, and playing at home, does not count for much in the playoffs.
In beating Denver and New England on the road in back-to-back weeks the Ravens eliminated the top two seeds in the AFC. Those teams were 13-3 at home during the regular season. San Francisco topped Atlanta after the Falcons posted seven home wins in eight tries. Last year the Giants won at Green Bay and San Francisco on the way to the Super Bowl. Those teams were 15-1 at home before the playoffs. Two years ago the Packers won three straight road games before beating Pittsburgh in Dallas for the championship.
It is also not as if our Super Bowl combatants were great regular season road teams. Baltimore went 4-4 away from home and hadn't won a road game in six weeks when they traveled to Denver. The Niners went 5-3 on the road including getting demolished in Seattle 42-13, and falling in overtime to St. Louis. The Giants were 5-3 on the road last year. Green Bay was 3-5 outside of Wisconsin in 2010 before three playoff victories away from home.
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Whether they had great regular seasons or not, quarterback play is a defining feature of playoff success. Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick rank first and second in postseason QB Rating this year. Eli Manning was second among playoff quarterbacks last year. Rodgers was the best of the bunch when he won his ring.
It seems unlikely teams are going to ease up during the regular season. However, if you get off to a good start, and a player is injured or tired, allowing him the time necessary to get fully healthy may be advisable. Losing in October, November, and December is not a nightmare. Ask Bronco, Patriot, and Falcon fans, falling short at home in January doesn't feel so good.