How valuable is the extra week of rest and the home-field advantage that comes with being a top-seeded team in the NFL playoffs?
We saw the evidence over the past two days.
All four teams that hosted divisional round games after receiving first-round byes—the Chiefs, the Rams, the Patriots and the Saints—overpowered their opponents to reach conference championship games next Sunday.
Surprisingly, this was just the fourth time since 2002—when the NFL expanded to 32 teams—that no road team was able to win during the Divisional round.
Kansas City forced a three-and-out from Indianapolis on the first drive of Saturday’s AFC divisional game and then moved 90 yards in five plays to score the first points. The Chiefs led 14-0 after the first quarter and went on to claim their first home playoff win, 31-13, since 1994.
The Rams pounded out 273 rushing yards Saturday against Dallas, the fifth-best team against the run during the regular season. Todd Gurley averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, finishing with 115 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. C.J. Anderson, signed off the street a few weeks ago, rumbled for 123 yards and two scores on 23 carries.
Dallas, meanwhile, mustered just 50 rushing yards on 22 attempts. The Rams led 20-7 at halftime and eventually won, 30-22.
New England bucked conventional wisdom Sunday when it opted to receive the opening kickoff instead of deferring. The decision paid off when the Patriots marched 83 yards in 14 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Sony Michel’s 1-yard run. New England’s offensive line generated so much push—the Chargers didn’t help their cause by only having 10 defenders on the field—that Michel could have walked into the end zone.
The Patriots totaled 357 yards of offense in the first half and scored on their first four possessions, eventually taking a 35-7 lead into halftime. The Chargers were broken, and New England won 41-28.
New Orleans took a bit of a different path, falling behind 14-0 to Nick Foles-led Philadelphia in the first quarter before scoring 20 straight points to win Sunday. The Saints asserted themselves after the slow start, holding the Eagles to 99 yards of offense in the final three quarters.
Michael Thomas’ go-ahead 2-yard touchdown catch from Drew Brees late in the third quarter came at the end of an 18-play, 92-yard drive that sapped the remaining energy from Philadelphia’s defense.
That all four home teams won this weekend is not an earth-shattering revelation.
Give the best teams in the NFL a home game and an extra week to rest following a 16-game regular season and it’s not surprising they would advance.
In fact, home teams are 47-21—a 69.1 winning percentage—in the divisional round since the NFL’s 2002 expansion.
Now that’s overpowering.