No place like home? Not in the NFL

Rick Gosselin

The home field has always provided football the most familiar path to playoff contention and championships.

Hall-of-Fame coach Vince Lombardi figured that out early on. Half of your games each season are at home. Win at home and good things happen. Lombardi also had a built-in homefield advantage in Green Bay – the cold, snow and winds of winter when the weather turned late in the season.

From 1960 through his retirement from the Packers after the 1967 season, Lombardi won 77.6 percent of his home games on the way to six NFL title games, five NFL championships and those first two Super Bowl championships.

Miami went to three consecutive Super Bowls from 1971-73. The Dolphins posted a 24-1 record at home during that stretch, capitalizing on the early-season heat and humidity that the home field afforded them in south Florida. That gave Don Shula’s Dolphins a 96 percent success rate at the Orange Bowl.

Buffalo went to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-93. The Bills posted a 34-5 record at home during that stretch, capitalizing on the frigid conditions that the home field provided late in the season in upstate New York. That gave Marv Levy’s Bills an 87.1 percent success rate at Rich Stadium.

Logically, home teams benefit playing in familiar conditions and surroundings. Thirteen of the 51 Super Bowl champions went unbeaten at home and 32 of the champs lost one game or fewer. Only one Super Bowl champion ever finished with a losing record at home – the 2007 Giants, who went 3-5 that season at the Meadowlands.

Historically, home teams win between 57 and 59 percent of their games each NFL season. Last season, home teams won 58 percent of their games. So what’s happening in today’s NFL is puzzling.

Through six weeks this season, home teams have an overall losing record. They are 45-46. Sure, bad teams are going to struggle wherever they play. The Browns and 49ers are both winless this season and have combined for five of those home losses.

But the good teams are struggling at home as well.

How do you explain the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons? They are good teams – but both are 1-2 at home this season. The defending NFC East champion Cowboys also are 1-2 at home. So are the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, wild card teams a year ago.

The Dolphins set an NFL record with 27 consecutive home victories from 1971 through 1974. The Brett Favre Packers won 25 in a row at Lambeau from 1995-98, and the John Elway Broncos won 24 in a row from 1996-98. Like the 1972-73 Dolphins, the Broncos were perfect at home (18-0) in winning back-to-back Lombardi Trophies in 1997-98.

The longest current home winning streak in the NFL is nine games by the Packers, but that could be in jeopardy now with the loss of franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the season with a broken collarbone. The Packers are the only NFL team with a 3-0 mark at home this season.

Only three other NFL teams remain unbeaten at home, all at 2-0 – the Bills, Eagles and Seahawks. The Eagles and Packers both lead divisions and the Bills and Seahawks are both a game back in theirs. Win at home and good things happen for you. Lose at home and the road to Minneapolis next February becomes markedly longer.

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