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On the road again? Usually, it spells defeat
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."
- John Howard Payne
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The Rams have a chance to make NFL history over the next few weeks. That is, win the Super Bowl after getting there by prevailing in three playoff games on the road.
Three wild-card teams have taken home the Lombardi Trophy - Oakland in 1980, Denver in 1997 and Baltimore in 2000. But each opened the postseason at home. Only one team - New England in 1985 - reached the Super Bowl after prevailing three times on enemy turf. But the Patriots lost to Chicago in the title game.
So, if the Rams follow up their victory last Saturday in Seattle with wins at Atlanta on Saturday and at Philadelphia on Jan. 23 and then beat the AFC champion in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla., it would mark a league first.
Of course, Minnesota and the New York Jets are in the same position - wild-card entrants that could become the first Super Bowl winner via three road wins.
But don't hold your breath.
True, home teams won just 55 percent of the games during the 2004 regular season, but the edge usually soars in the playoffs. Since 1990, when the current format was adopted, home teams have won 102 of 140 games - a 72.8 percent success rate.
The disparity is greatest in the conference semifinals, which will be contested this weekend. The home team has prevailed in 45 of 56 of those matchups, an 80.3 winning percentage.
So even though road teams won three of four games last weekend for the first time ever on wild-card weekend, the magnitude of home-field advantage shouldn't be underestimated. "I think it is important, I really do," said Rams coach Mike Martz.
The Rams, in fact, hadn't won an away playoff game since the 1989 season before turning aside the Seahawks 27-20 at Qwest Field. So to avoid what he called a "negative attitude," Martz doesn't want his players to focus on the difficulty of winning on the road in the postseason.
"I think the more you make of it with your team, the more that becomes an issue for you," he said. "The more you talk about fumbling the ball, the more apt they are to fumble the ball; the more you talk about dropping the ball, the more apt they are to drop the ball; the more you talk about how hard it is to win on the road, then they buy into, 'This is hard.' "
It's even harder when facing a team that had a bye in the first round, as did the four home teams this weekend. Teams coming off byes have won 25 of 28 playoff games.
The four home teams this weekend posted a combined 30-2 home record in the regular season. Pittsburgh and New England were 8-0, and Atlanta and Philadelphia were 7-1. Of the four road teams, only one - Indianapolis, at 5-3 - had a winning mark away from home. The New York Jets were 4-4, Minnesota 3-5 and the Rams 2-6.
To stack the odds even higher against the visitors, consider that each of the games is a rematch. And in each, the team that's playing at home this weekend prevailed the first time around: The Falcons over the Rams 34-17 on Sept. 19, the Eagles over the Vikings 27-16 on Sept. 20, the Patriots over the Colts 27-24 on Sept. 9, and the Steelers over the Jets 17-6 on Dec. 12.
Four of the eight contenders are dome teams, and history could be made in that catetgory, too: No team that plays its home games indoors has reached the Super Bowl by winning a playoff game outdoors. The two teams that have home-field advantage throughout the conference brackets - the Eagles in the NFC and the Steelers in the AFC - have open-air stadiums.
The Rams and Vikings already have won outdoors, and the Colts will have to do so Sunday at New England to stay alive. The Falcons, who would be home next week if they beat the Rams and the Vikings upset the Eagles, are the lone dome team that could make it to Jacksonville without having to win at least once outside along the way.
The two dome teams that have made it to the Super Bowl - the Rams after the 1999 and 2001 seasons and the Falcons after the '98 season - played all their qualifying games at home.
As the poet Payne wrote, there's no place like home.
-01-12-2005 #2general counsel Guest
Re: On the road again? Usually, it spells defeat
One of the biggest reasons in my view for the dominance of the home teams in the conference semis is the bye week. That is a typically a huge advantage at this point of the season when everyone is banged up. However, in this case, i am not sure that there was any incremental help to either the falcons or the eagles by virtue of the bye week since both teams had clinched their seeding by week 14 and rested their players in the last two games.
I have never seen a fan make a tackle during a game and it wont happen on saturday night either. Can the crowd cause a false start or a burned time out here or there? Sure. Is it better to play at home? Sure.
But in my view, win or lose this weekend, it will not be because we are on the road. We are in a dome, on fast turf, in the best place for rams karma (remember we won the super bowl here) and we have a full boat of momentum.
Ramming speed to all
Re: On the road again? Usually, it spells defeat
You are right GC, we are in an ideal environment to play this game. The Rams should have more than a decent shot to defeat Atlanta.
Re: On the road again? Usually, it spells defeatOriginally Posted by general counsel
On the flipside, you have the falcons. By the time Saturday gets here, it will be nearly a month since the falcons have won a game. You can't just shut it down and then expect it to fire back up with the flip of a switch. I can't think of a team making it to the SB after losing in the final 2 weeks of the regular season. You've got to have a running start going into the playoffs. The falcons are still stretching, but the Rams are in a dead sprint.
Don't underestimate momentum."Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod