The first two postseasons produced all four road teams winning on wild-card weekend, an NFL first, and all four home teams winning this weekend in the divisional round.
But neither sweep should be surprising, however, particularly in the wild-card round.
Home teams in that first brace of games include two teams who are home simply because they were division winners. The road teams were wild cards solely by virtue of records, with the result that the better team was unquestionably the superior team: Kansas City at 11-5 or AFC South winner Houston at 9-7? The 30-0 Chiefs win was zero surprise.
Washington won the NFC Least at 9-7. In come the Green Bay Packers off a 10-6 season. Winner: Green Bay.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
In the two other road games – Seattle (10-6) at Minnesota (11-5), Pittsburgh (10-6) at Cincinnati (12-4) – the home team was better based on win total. But both lost because of jaw-dropping mistakes, the Vikings missing a chip-shot field goal to win and the Bengals handing a game to the Steelers with a fumble and then egregious penalties to set up Pittsburgh’s winning field goal.
In the divisional round, the four home teams – Arizona (13), Carolina (15), Denver (12) and New England (12) – had an average of 2.75 victories in 2015 than the teams they defeated – Green Bay (10), Seattle (10), Pittsburgh (2) and Kansas City (1).
Of course those home teams won. They were simply better based on entire season as body of work.
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Perhaps more just an isolated anomaly, but three of the four starting quarterbacks in the NFL conference championships were No. 1-overall picks in their drafts: Peyton Manning, 1998; Carson Palmer, 2003; and Cam Newton, 2011. Hold off on any conclusions about No. 1-overall’s, however. Manning and Palmer aren’t here with their original teams, which didn’t hold onto either quarterback. And Palmer only reached the playoffs twice in his career before this season.
It’s also the first time two Heisman Trophy winners (Newton, Palmer) will face each other, although that’s an award that really ought to go to marketing departments of winning universities. The trophy is something you’re awarded by vote, not something you actually win.
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The Green Bay Packers were done in when their defense failed to stop the Arizona Cardinals’ offense on the first (and only) possession of Saturday’s overtime. That shouldn’t be a total surprise.
Teams receiving the kickoff to begin overtime win 53.8 percent of the time, according to research by ESPN late last month. That’s seemingly not a huge advantage over kicking off, but one overlooked reality is that the NFL has tilted rules in favor of offense, admittedly or not, meaning that all things being equal, all things really aren’t being equal.
If there’s an amusing backstory here, it’s that the Bears had proposed changing the overtime rule in way that would allow each team a possession, this after the Packers had lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 postseason by failing to stop a Seattle TD drive on the first possession.
Ironically, the Packers weren’t in favor of the change, which in fact didn’t pass. “George [McCaskey, Bears chairman] told me, ‘I don’t think it’s right. I think each team should have a possession,’” Packers president Mark Murphy told CSNChicago.com at last year’s league meetings. Then he laughed. “I said, ‘I just hope we can make it retroactive.’”
Murphy, a former Pro Bowl safety, did not think the rule change would pass then, in part because the current format has not been in place that long. Teams and people want to see things operate for a time before making a change.
“And we did have a chance to stop [the Seahawks] or hold them to a field goal and just didn’t do it,” said Murphy, himself a former Pro Bowl safety, adding a thought on player safety. “If you each had to have one possession, that would add a number of plays, and it could become a safety issue.”