Getting home advantage and a week off isn’t such a bad idea getting into the NFL Playoffs, but the bye week isn’t as important as you might think it is.
The best and most recent example are the Green Bay Packers from last season. A team that had the MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the swagger of NFL champions, along with a 15-1 regular season record. They got the bye week, and to host in Lambeau, winter, snow, ice and everything. They still lost to the New York Giants 37-20.
Statistics show that the away team on the Divisional playoff round wins 37.5% of the time. That still gives the #1 and #2 seeds an advantage, but after all, they didn’t win more games than the rest of their conference for no reason. Still, the week off often takes the edge off for certain teams, instead of building or carrying momentum going into the postseason.
Since the 2002 season, the latest change of format in the NFL, 15 games out of the 40 divisonal playoff round clashes that have happened went to the lower seed, the away team.
The string of upsets began in the 2003-2004 NFL playoffs, as the Carolina Panthers stunned the St. Louis Rams with a 29-23 double overtime victory, with a Steve Smith 69-yard touchdown. In the AFC, Indianapolis beat Kansas City at Arrowhead in the first puntless game in NFL playoffs history, winning 34-31. Carolina went on to reach the Super Bowl, losing to the Patriots. The Colts lost in New England.
Two years later the streak of Divisional Round away wins began, carrying on to this season. The 2005-2006 season gave us the Carolina Panthers once again winning on the road, this time in Solider Field, beating the Chicago Bears 29-21. In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 6th seed, won in Indianapolis against the highly favored Colts. Carolina lost in the NFC Championship game, the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.
2006-2007: Both “shockers” came in the AFC. The New England Patriots came into San Diego and beat the Chargers 24-21, who were unbeaten at home during the season and featured the league’s MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson. The Colts came into Baltimore and won with defense and field goals, beating the Ravnes 15-6. The Colts went on to finally beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game and later the Bears to win the Super Bowl.
2007-2008: The New York Giants already won on the road in their first postseason game and carried on that momentum into Dallas, beating their biggest rivals 21-17 on their way to winning the Super Bowl. The San Diego Chargers pulled an upset in Indianapolis, beating the Colts 28-24 before losing in the AFC Championship game.
2008-2009: The year of meaningless home advantage, as three away teams won in the divisional round. The Baltimore Ravens, as 6th seed, beat the surprising Titans 13-10; The NFC’s sixth seed, the Philadelphia Eagles, came to New York and beat the Giants 23-11 before losing in yet another NFC championship game; the Arizona Cardinals won in Carolina 33-13, going all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in probably the best NFL final in over a decade.
2009-2010: Just one upset, as the New York Jets, under Rex Ryan and with Mark Sanchez at the helm, managed to beat the San Diego Chargers in California 17-14, going on to lose against the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
2010-2011: In the NFC, the 6th seed Green Bay Packers continued their run that eventually ended with a Super Bowl victory by beating the Atlanta Falcons 48-21. In the AFC, the New York Jets reached another AFC title game by beating the New England Patriots 28-21 before losing to the Steelers.
2011-2012: Another impressive New York Giants run, that began with a home win over the Falcons. They went into Green Bay, beating the Packers 37-20 and in the NFC Championship game won with a field goal in overtime against the San Francisco 49ers before once again upsetting the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.