NFL Playoffs Betting Trends: Home-Field Advantage and the Stadiums
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 1/13/2011
Home-field advantage takes on a different meaning come NFL playoff time. Just because a team may be dominant at home during the regular-season does not necessarily mean that same stadium is an intimidating place to play in the playoffs.
Here is breakdown of the four host stadiums this weekend and how they rank in order of toughness for the opposition, starting with the weakest.
It has been said the New England Patriots are unbeatable at home in the postseason. Under Owner Robert Kraft New England was unbeatable at home, that is before last season, however. The Patriots were 11-0 in Foxborough entering the postseason last year. But the Ravens came to town and shellacked the Pats, 33-14, last year. New England is still 11-2 in franchise history at home in the playoffs, but how much of that has to do with Tom Brady and how much has to do with the home-field advantage of Gillette Stadium? The Patriots are actually 0-3 ATS in their last three playoff games, so even in their wins they looked far from impressive. In 2008 during their 18-1 season they struggled to put away the Jaguars and Chargers at home. Add to that a spoiled fan base that tends to look ahead to the AFC Championship game and you don’t necessarily have a hostile environment.
Soldier Field could easily rank first on this list of best home-field advantage in the playoffs if we knew the weather. There is no telling if it will be a seasonal Chicago day with winds howling off of Lake Michigan and snow blanketing the field. What we can tell is the recent playoff past in Chicago. In 2007 the Bears won two home games to reach the Super Bowl, but they lost in 2006 and 2002 in the divisional round after receiving first-round byes. Since winning the Super Bowl in 1986 the Bears are only 3-5 SU and 2-6 ATS at home in the postseason. It has been three entire seasons since Chicago was in the playoffs (let alone host a playoff game), so expect a hungry fan base. However, this is not much of a home-field advantage unless the elements come into play.
No playoff stadium will be louder than the Georgia Dome this weekend. Nothing makes a fan base louder than a roof, along with many years with no playoff games, and in Atlanta there has been a drought. The Georgia Dome has hosted only two playoff games since it opened in 1989 and the Falcons have hosted only two postseason games since 1981. The Dome was rocking in the regular season and you can amp up the noise a few decibels, especially with a primetime postseason kickoff against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. The only aspect of the Georgia Dome that does not make it the toughest place to play for opponents is the fact that for once, Atlanta is not built as a dome team. The Falcons are a physical football team that likes to run the ball. Their team is more built to play at Lambeau Field while the Green Bay Packers are more built for the Georgia Dome.
Pittsburgh has been home to more postseason NFL heartbreak than any city in the NFL in the last 15 years. The Steelers have hosted six AFC Championship Games in that span, but have only won two of them. Four times they watched opponents celebrate with the Lamar Hunt Trophy on their own field. The tide still did not turn even after building Heinz Field in 2001. The Patriots won two AFC championships at Heinz Field and the Steelers were only 3-3 at home in the playoffs through seven seasons at their new home. Then came 2009 when Pittsburgh won both home playoff games on the way to the Super Bowl. Heinz Field was a playoff MVP for the Steelers in 2009.
It is not just the noise that makes Pittsburgh the worst city to be in for an opposing team this weekend. It is the setup of the stadium. As long as the Rooney family owns the team Heinz Field will have natural grass. The field is often times in horrible condition, resembling a sandbox rather than a real field. But that plays to the Pittsburgh’s advantage.
Another factor is the location and design of the stadium. The Heinz Field is located at the confluence of three rivers and with an open endzone. The open endzone has proven to be the toughest side of an NFL stadium to kick to. The Steelers are the oldest team in the league and most players have played at Heinz Field for the better part of their careers. Throw in a stadium-rocking rendition of the Styx ballad “Renegade”, yellow terrible towels waving from start to finish, frigid temperatures with likely precipitation and a hated division rival in Baltimore and Heinz Field will be one dangerous place for opponents on Saturday.
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