Off a weekend in which some felt the visiting teams had a great chance to win at least 2 or possibly 3 of the NFC Wild Card matchups, home was where the heart was as the Texans, Saints, Giants and (yes) Broncos made it a clean sweep for the home teams, the first time since 2006 that all 4 host teams won on Wild Card Weekend.
Now we’re back at it again in the Divisional Round, where it’s been a 50-50 proposition the last 6 postseasons for the home clubs (12-12) dating back to the 2005 postseason. But rarely have we seen 4 home teams which such gaudy credentials when it comes to protecting their turf.
It starts in San Francisco where most people feel the Saints will make the 49ers’ first appearance in the playoffs since 2002 and 3 to 4-hour experience. Sean Payton’s team has won 9 straight games by a combined score of 332-178 (an average of just over 17 points per game) but has also been a different team not only away from the Superdome (5-3) but most notably outdoors, scoring fewer than 24 points in 3 of those 5 outings. Factor in the aspect that the defensive-minded Niners were 7-1 at home this season and have won 6 straight at Candlestick Park and let the chess match begin.
In Foxborough, much will be made of the fact that the Patriots went unbeaten at home in 2009 and ’10, then lost their first playoff game at home to the Ravens and Jets, respectively. This season, Bill Belichick finished 7-1 at home and has won its last 4 games on their home turf. Enter the Denver Broncos, who fell to New England in Denver 4 weeks ago but have actually been better on the road (5-3) than at home.
No matter where they’ve played, the Houston Texans have brought that portable game plan of theirs nearly every week and last Saturday held the visiting Bengals to 10 points, the 10th time in 17 games this season they’ve held an opponent to 14 points or less. But this week they’re visiting a Baltimore team that’s not only playing its first playoff game in front of its fans for the first time since 2006, the Ravens have won 10 straight games at home dating back to last season, including a 29-14 victory over the Matt Schaub-led Texans in Week 6 of this season. Unless one or both defensive units take matters into their own hands, points figure to be at a premium.
And finally there’s the Giants, who won just 9 games this season but 5 came on the road And Tom Coughlin’s club seems to be playing its best football at the right time thanks to the sudden-awakening of a once-dormant ground attack that rolled up a season-high 172 yards against the Falcons last Sunday. Memories of the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run seem to be dancing in many people’s heads given the team’s pass rush and balance on offense. But beating the Patriots in Arizona and toppling the Packers at Lambeau Field (where they’ve won 13 straight games and scored 42 or more points in 7 of them) may be an entirely different task.
For the record, the last sweep by the home teams in the Divisional Round came in 2004 and as previously noted, it’s been somewhat rough sledding ever since. But entering last weekend, home teams were a combined 7-9 entering last weekend's Wild Card Playoffs and you saw the results.
Will the form of recent seasons hold true, or are we in for a clean sweep? Thoughts?