Prior to the Seattle Seahawks win last night, there was an ongoing trend throughout the first three games of wild-card weekend. The home teams were 3-0 and the road teams left a lot to be desired, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
You’ve heard me refer to the age-old strategy in the NFL to win at home and split on the road. It’s a very basic formula to a 12-4 regular season and provides a two-game buffer to secure a 10-win season, which almost always translates to a spot in the playoffs. But that’s the regular season. In the playoffs, there is no such formula, no splitting wins and losses. You come out flat, and your season is over.
Just ask the Bengals. They traveled to Houston to kick off the postseason and in what turned out to be a sleeper of a game, failed to convert a single third down (0 for 9) and never even targeted their best offensive weapon until the second half. It was the first time in A.J. Green’s two-year career in which a ball hadn’t even been thrown in his direction for the first two quarters. And this was against a Texans defense in which the secondary is the most obvious weakness.
Defensively, the Bengals held their own by giving up just three field goals in the first half and scoring a touchdown of their own. So even with the anemic offense producing just 53 total yards in the first half, the Bengals trotted into the locker room with just a two-point deficit.
It was much of the same in the second half. The Bengals were able to move the ball down the field with a little more success, but still failed to score an offensive touchdown the entire game. In two career playoff games, both on the road, Andy Dalton is now 0-2 with four interceptions and no touchdowns.
The Vikings were up next and were coming off a confidence-building win over these exact same Packers just one week ago. The difference? That Week 17 game was played in Minnesota, now the Vikings would have to travel to Lambeau Field and beat a team they were playing for the third time in six weeks.
While the Vikings started the game with a 10-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in a field goal and an early three-point lead, they punted on their next four possessions in the first half.
They were already trailing 24-3 by the time they got the ball in the second half. That first possession resulted in a fumble. The next? An interception. They followed those two turnovers with another punt and then turned the ball over on downs before finally scoring with just 3:39 remaining in the game.
Then it was the Colts’ turn. They didn’t do any better. This emotionally charged game featured cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano’s return to Baltimore along with Ray Lewis’ announcement that he would be retiring at the conclusion of the postseason.
It was almost unfair to ask Andrew Luck, in his first career playoff game, to travel to Baltimore and face the Ravens in what will end up being Lewis’ final game in M&T Bank Stadium. To make matters worse, his quarterback mentor, offensive coordinator and partial head coach Bruce Arians would be hospitalized before the game, therefore unable to even be at the stadium, let alone be the voice in his ear before stepping into every huddle.
With everything stacked against them, the Colts and Andrew Luck were unable to overcome all the adversity like they did in the regular season. The Colts weathered the storm early with just a four-point halftime deficit, but succumbed to the home-team energy and finished with a 24-9 loss. Luck had an interception and a lost fumble and the Colts failed to score a single touchdown.
With the first three games in the book, the road teams combined for just one offensive touchdown, and that was in mop-up time.
It looked like it would be no different for the Seahawks with the way things started in Washington D.C. After just two possessions, the Seahawks trailed 14-0 and had been outgained 129 yards to -2 and had possessed the ball nearly 10 minutes fewer than the Redskins.
Nonetheless, the Seahawks were able to bounce back and eventually win the game 24-14, becoming the only road team to advance to the divisional round.
This trend is likely to continue next as three of the four games will be rematches of games played during the regular season. In those three games, the home teams won them all. Seattle vs. Atlanta is the only matchup that wasn’t played already this year.
It is because of this that teams fight so hard, even after clinching a playoff berth, to better their postseason seeding. Look at the AFC field as a prime example. The No. 1 seed was still up for grabs entering Week 17 with the Texans, Broncos and Patriots all within striking distance. The Texans would secure home-field advantage throughout with a win, but instead, they lost while the Broncos and Patriots both won, dropping the Texans from one to three in the AFC playoff field.
Not only do they have to play an extra game, but now, Houston’s road to the Super Bowl goes through New England and, most likely, Denver. Tell me that’s not significant.