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A History of Playoff Rematches: Playing at Home is a Good Thing

A look at the numbers shows one very clear trend in rematches from Week 17 to the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs.


As soon as the Vikings clinched their win on Sunday and locked in a trip to Lambeau Field in the Wild-Card round of this year's NFL Playoffs, my mind immediately flashed back to the 2009 season. That year, Green Bay won handily in Arizona before playing there again the following week. We all remember the result of that game - Jermichael Finley's coming out party was combined with a miserable defensive effort in a heartbreaking 51-45 loss in overtime.

That then got me to thinking: how many of these playoff rematches have taken place under the current playoff format? Furthermore, are there any trends that can be observed from looking at the results of these games? Well thankfully, NFL blogger Scott Kacsmar (aka @CaptainComeback) saved me the trouble of looking back through all the playoff results from the past 20+ years. He tweeted this, which I discovered thanks to ESPN Wisconsin writer Jason Wilde's retweet:

Parsing through that table, we have the following results, which I tweaked a bit to show up in a little more blog-friendly format. Note that all the home teams are shown in bold; obviously, the home team in the wild-card round is the team with the better seed.

Year Week 17 Winner Week 17 Loser Score WC Winner WC Loser Score
1991 Chiefs Raiders 27-21 Chiefs Raiders 10-6
1992 Oilers Bills 27-3 Bills Oilers 41-38 OT
1993 Raiders Broncos 33-30 OT Raiders Broncos 42-24
1993 Lions Packers 30-20 Packers Lions 28-24
1997 Patriots Dolphins 14-12 Patriots Dolphins 17-3
2000 Rams Saints 26-21 Saints Rams 31-28
2001 Jets Raiders 24-22 Raiders Jets 38-24
2001 Eagles Buccaneers 17-13 Eagles Buccaneers 31-9
2004 Broncos Colts 33-14 Colts Broncos 49-24
2009 Cowboys Eagles 24-0 Cowboys Eagles 34-14
2009 Packers Cardinals 33-7 Cardinals Packers 51-45 OT
2009 Jets Bengals 37-0 Jets Bengals 24-14

Looking over this table, you can see a few trends take shape. The most obvious trend is that in the playoff game, the home team (and therefore the better team based on seeding) has gone 10-2, or a winning percentage of .833. What is fascinating is that by my count, home teams have a winning percentage of .659 (58-30) in the Wild-Card round since 1990. Part of that difference can be chalked up to the much smaller sample size of the rematches, but it's a little surprising that there is that large of a difference. Clearly, this bodes well for the Packers as the 3 seed with home-field advantage this week.

Another trend that you can see is that the team winning the Week 17 game is only 6-6 in the playoffs. However, when the team with the better seed loses in Week 17 , as the Packers did, they are 5-1 in the wild card round, with the only loss coming from the 2009 Bengals.

One factor in home teams winning so frequently in the playoffs overall is that home-field advantage obviously plays a big part in winning overall, and the home team is usually the better team anyway. One possible explanation for the bigger advantage for the home team in rematches is that the team with the worse seed may have expended more energy in the last game with a playoff spot on the line, while the better-seeded team would have locked up a playoff spot already and therefore had less to play for. They may be less likely to show their entire playbook in an effort to win that last game, and may instead be saving up some plays (or even players) for the assured playoff run.

Ultimately, history shows that the home team (and therefore the better team) has tended to prevail in playoff rematches, regardless of the result in the final regular season game. Hopefully for Packers fans, this trend will continue this season.