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Early Playoff Analysis

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Editor's Note: After 15 weeks of regular season action, "The SportsBoss" has hit 61% (+1,638) of his NFL selections. Finish the year strong with his NFL Winners!

Home & Away Performance - Who Need's Homefield the Most in the Playoffs?

Weekly I post my performance ratings which show the breakdown of all 32 NFL teams as far as offense, defense, total, and SOS is measured by my formulas. As a subset of that data I also run my performance ratings using home and away splits - which is the 2nd of 3 major models I analyze on a game by game basis for each week's action (the other is performance over last 3 games). This information is valuable in the sense there is quite often, as we all know, a difference between home performance and road performance - but how great is the variance in those two measurements when looking across the NFL, specifically focusing the discussion on playoff teams?

As we focus on the potential playoff teams, and see which teams should play hard to the end in an attempt to play as many home games as possible in the playoffs. I am going to list 16 teams that are still alive for a playoff berth, and we will break those teams down below.

Here is the AFC Playoff Picture which has 7 teams remaining for the 6 spots - the last berth will be decided Sunday when the Bengals and Steelers tangle at Heinz Field:

Home-Away Performance
AFC Home Away Variance
Team Rating SOS Rank Rating SOS Rank Rating SOS Rank
HOU 96.6 30 4 91.9 15 4 4.8 15 0
DEN 108.3 13 1 93.3 22 3 15.1 (9) (2)
NE 84.4 11 7 94.9 22 2 (10.5) (11) 5
BAL 82.5 3 10 71.8 13 25 10.7 (10) (15)
IND 81.0 31 15 68.9 18 27 12.1 13 (12)
CIN 78.4 14 20 91.0 31 5 (12.6) (17) 15
PIT 90.6 22 5 84.8 29 11 5.8 (7) (6)

And next up is the NFC Playoff Picture which has substantially more teams still alive. I have included 9 teams for the 6 spots, including the trio of NFC East teams that will battle it out over the last two weeks to decide the division title, and possibly a wild card entrant:

Home-Away Performance
NFC Home Away Variance
Team Rating SOS Rank Rating SOS Rank Rating SOS Rank
ATL 82.9 23 9 85.4 27 10 (2.5) (4) (1)
SF 97.6 7 3 97.0 26 1 0.6 (19) 2
GB 89.2 27 6 86.9 5 8 2.3 22 (2)
WAS 83.8 19 8 89.6 23 6 (5.9) (4) 2
NYG 80.1 17 18 76.6 1 17 3.5 16 1
SEA 102.2 11 2 83.9 20 12 18.2 (9) (10)
CHI 80.4 16 17 86.6 11 9 (6.2) 5 8
DAL 82.0 20 13 82.2 7 13 (0.2) 13 0
MIN 82.4 28 11 68.4 3 28 14.0 25 (17)

Right off the bat, when examining both tables, it is obvious the best teams in both conferences perform about the same whether on the road, or at home - which is logically sound. They are the best teams for a reason - they know how to play well and win games on the road in the NFL, one of the toughest things to accomplish in all of sports. The current top 2 in the AFC and top 5 in the NFC are all within 2 ranking spots of where their home and road performances slot in versus the rest of the NFL.

When breaking down the AFC teams in more detail we immediately see Baltimore and Indianapolis grade significantly worse on the road than they do at home. The Ravens are 25th in the NFL as far as road performance is measured with the entire variance driven by their offense that averages a miserable grade of 34.9 per road contest. Hopefully for the Ravens they can end their slide at three games, and hang onto the AFC North crown, which would at least give them one home game to start the playoffs in the Wild Card round.

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The Colts are relegated to the Wild Card round and an opening road game for certain as they will finish behind Houston in the AFC South. That may not be good for the Colts and rookie QB Andrew Luck as they currently sit at 27th in road performance. Their drop in performance is driven by their defense, which isn't even very good at home but falls to terrible levels on the road averaging a grade of just 29.5. Considering the high powered offenses that reside in the AFC, especially amongst the higher seeds, the defensive side of the football has to be a focus for the Colts in the coming offseason as even just one win in the playoffs seems highly unlikely, even if they did face the sliding Ravens.

Cincinnati is the one AFC team that is still in contention to reach the playoffs that has played better on the road vs. at home - and hopefully that trend continues Sunday when they play their biggest game of the season at Pittsburgh. Although the Bengals rank #5 in road performance they have played a very weak schedule, 2nd easiest, so after adjusting for that they would be slightly above average performance wise - which isn't bad at all, especially considering their QB is just in his 2nd season. Even with those favorable numbers it would seem unlikely Cincinnati would win a Wild Card game should they reach the playoffs as their two likely opponents would be Baltimore and New England - they haven't played New England but we know how strong the Patriots are at home in December & January, while they opened the season at Baltimore and were pounded by 31 points.

Denver would seem to benefit most from homefield advantage as it leads the NFL in performance ratings in Mile High - but they are also no slouch on the road either.

As far as the NFC teams are concerned there is much more uniformity throughout their performances with the top 5 all within 2 spots comparing their home and road ranks. One key takeaway comes from examining the NFC playoff contenders setting aside the likely top 2 seeds Atlanta and San Francisco.

Five of the seven have a better grade in road games vs. home games - which is a good thing for them being that they all will be playing road games if they reach the Divisional Round. On the flip side the top two projected NFC seeds both have terrible road game ratings, checking in at #26 & #27 - at least neither will have to play a road game unless they reached the NFC Championship game.

The one team that stands out whom is likely to be in the playoffs is Seattle, as the Seahawks average game grade is 18.2 points more in home games versus road contests. Unfortunately for Seattle they will not play any home playoff games unless they lock in the 5 seed and face the 6 seed in the NFC Championship - but that is something to keep an eye on in coming seasons as QB Russell Wilson matures and the 12th man in Seattle rocks that stadium out.

Chicago closes their season playing back-to-back road games at Arizona and Detroit, and judging on their performance ratings above that may not be such a bad thing for the Bears chances at reaching the playoffs, especially considering the Soldier Field faithful booed them off the field last time out. The Bears average nearly a TD more on the road vs. home, and those numbers come vs. the 9th toughest road schedule in the NFL - so it's not like they are beating up on the bottom of the NFL in their road games.

I hope this information helps you out as you handicap the last two weeks of the regular season - and apply these thoughts to the playoffs when they arrive as this information is extremely relevant when attempting to break playoff games down - and could be the difference between picking up or paying your man.

  
HEADLINES
Mejia: AFC Preseason Notes
Lawrence: Trends to Watch - September
Lawrence: 2014 NFC Season Preview
Marshall: Ravens rising up
Lawrence: 2014 AFC Season Preview
ASA: NFC North Notebook
ASA: NFC South Notebook
Marshall: Philadelphia Hype
Rogers: AFC North Preview
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