Posted 01/17/2011 at 05:33 PM
Incredibly two #6 seeds will be playing the conference championship games this season. In most years that would be a stunning series of events but it feels different this season as both the Jets and Packers were considered elite teams throughout the season and entered the playoffs as viable Super Bowl contenders even with the tough path ahead. The results for teams facing a third straight road playoff game are not very favorable as only two of eight teams in that situation have advanced (3-5 ATS), with the 1985-86 New England Patriots and the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh did go on to win the Super Bowl so there is hope for both teams but it is a very challenging situation. Two years ago the same situation arouse with teams in both conferences playing in a third consecutive playoff road game as wild card teams but both home teams won that year as Arizona beat Philadelphia and Pittsburgh beat Baltimore. In the regular season and playoffs combined, teams in a third straight road game have gone 76-146 S/U since 1980, winning just over 34 percent of the time. The ATS numbers are not much better with those teams going 95-126-1 for less than 43 percent. While many feel that home field advantage has been diluted in recent years with more modern and less intimate stadiums and improved travel conditions a more recent snapshot does not suggest significant improvement. Since 1999 teams in third straight road games are just 23-40 S/U (36.5%), and 27-36 ATS (42.8%). So the odds are against the Jets and the Packers this week by those numbers but it is likely rare to see a situation where the road team may be considered the better team in the third straight road game playoff situation, as many would argue in one or both cases this week.
With Green Bay opening as road favorites we will have the tenth conference championship game since the early 1980s with a home underdog hosting the title game. It has happened just three times in the last ten seasons, occurring last two years ago as Arizona hosted Philadelphia. Home underdogs in the conference championship are 5-4 S/U and ATS and it is obviously too small of a sample to invoke meaningful data. The last road favorite to win was New England following the 2004 season when they won at Pittsburgh. The last two instances of road favoritism in the conference championship were two of three instances where the line was three or higher. The Cardinals were the largest home underdog at +3.5. The last time the Packers went to the Super Bowl they did win as road favorites to get there, beating San Francisco 24-21 as -2.5 favorites. Green Bay lost to Denver that year in the Super Bowl who also won as road favorites in Pittsburgh to move on the Super Bowl. Dallas incredibly lost three straight NFC championships as road favorites in the early ‘80s, something Cowboys fans surely will not enjoy being reminded this week as preparations for the Super Bowl in Texas are being made, without the Cowboys as a factor of course.
Quarterbacks will continue to get most of the attention but in the final four only one has a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger will try to lead the Steelers to another Super Bowl. Roethlisberger has been in the news for many of the wrong reasons this year but it would be quite a story of redemption. A third Super Bowl ring would put Big Ben on a Joe Montana/Tom Brady level for postseason success even though Roethlisberger is generally left out of most of the weekly conversations about the top quarterbacks in the league where Brady, Manning, Brees, and some of the young up-and-comers have been mentioned. The opportunity for a big rise in national attention is available for Mark Sanchez, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler this week and whichever of those three ends up with the best finish will likely be established as the new face of the young crop of signal callers leading teams. Whatever happens this week the NFL has to be thrilled with the potential match-ups. While Green Bay and Pittsburgh are small markets they are historic teams with huge wide-spread fan bases. With Chicago and New York you have two mega markets, so the Super Bowl figures to be one of the biggest in recent years any way it works out. On to this week’s slate…