Home > NFL > Wild Card Weekend Commentary: Understanding why the home teams gave such a great effort

Wild Card Weekend Commentary: Understanding why the home teams gave such a great effort

It would be easy and perhaps very acceptable as well to get caught up in the excitement of what Tim Tebow did yesterday for the Broncos in the Wild Card round against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and miss the fact that what Tebow accomplished, in the context of the weekend, wasn’t out of context at all.  Every one of the home teams in the four Wild Card Weekend playoff games covered the spread, and every team except New Orleans did so by more than a touchdown (and I thought New Orleans’ line was pretty high).  This was a sensational weekend for division winners and really just not a good effort at times by wild card teams.

I want to leave the discussion of whether 8 or 9 win division winners should continue to be awarded home playoff games in the first round for another day.  But I can’t ignore what the results of this weekend mean for the playoff picture in general.

There are only five or six (depending on how you have viewed the Texans after the Schaub injury) super bowl contenders remaining.  And after this weekend, I am no longer confident that a team like the Giants or the Broncos who won a weak division to get into the playoffs can not legitimately be considered a threat to make the super bowl.

Take the Giants, for instance.  Do they get into the postseason in a year where the other NFC East teams do not fall all over themselves in pursuit of higher draft position?  Probably not.  But the Falcons were one of the teams I had pegged as a darkhorse to come out of the NFC and — if not make it to the super bowl — at least bust some other more accomplished teams on the way.  And the Giants — who have not been strong at all at home this season — didn’t allow the Falcons offense to put up a single point, blowing out Atlanta by a margin of three touchdows.  That doesn’t mean that New York is a good bet to give Green Bay a game next week, but we’re at the point now where it is obvious to anyone that if the Giants can get by the Packers, they become a favorite to go to the super bowl.

Put another way, it does us no good to analyze the Giants as “not really a super bowl contender” because at this point, the only thing that can prevent the Giants from competing for the right to go to the super bowl either in New Orleans or San Francisco is a loss to the defending super bowl champion and obvious favorite to return to the Big Game.

Denver’s case is a bit more far fetched, and if you look at their team, even in the context of a great win yesterday, this doesn’t seem like a super bowl contender without projecting the accomplishments of it’s quarterback to the rest of the team.  Tim Tebow was a sensational college player for sure, one who helped win two national championships, but at the current moment he is merely a decent NFL quarterback who continues to defy that nasty thing that is the probability that a team that lacked the talent to win even 2 out of its first 5 games would be able to win 8 of its next 13.

What has people so enthralled in this Bronco-mania is the fact that the Denver Broncos have failed to make but one of their 8 Tebowian victories look deserved.  They pretty much had the Week 9 match-up at Oakland in hand by the four minute mark of the fourth quarter.  But beyond that, even the games that haven’t gone to overtime have been an adventure.

What has occurred with Tebow and the Broncos has been wired, but not unprecedentedly weird.  The 1970 Oakland Raiders essentially had the same kind of season, with George Blanda* playing the role of Tim Tebow.

*George Blanda completion percentage in 1970: 52.5%.  Tim Tebow 2011 completion percentage: 46.5%.

The Broncos have beaten a number of very good teams on their streak, but both the wins over the Jets and Steelers have come at home in exhilarating fashion.  It would be silly at this point to suggest the Broncos aren’t going to have a chance in New England next week, but at this point that would be no more silly than a direct comparison of the merits of the two teams.  One thing this Broncos’ run has done is it has resulted in a complete over-attribution of success in favor of the Broncos defense.  Von Miller, Elvis Dumerville, and Champ Bailey are all sensational players and there are plenty of quality role players on this defense, but it’s now one of the worst remaining defenses in the playoff.  The real attribution in the Broncos’ season — no different than the 1970 Raiders — is a true occurring of dumb luck.

Just like the 2011 Broncos failed to win more than one out of their first five games, the 2011 Raiders failed to win more than one out of their final five games, blowing a one game lead in the process to a team that couldn’t score for the final 10 quarters of it’s season.  The Broncos earned their eight wins.  It was dumb luck that that was enough to win a division which finished all of two games below .500.  The Broncos have also enjoyed plenty of instances of in-game luck.  But because football analysis hasn’t yet been able to totally and accurately define Tim Tebow as a player, a lot of credit is going to a defense that, overall, has been very average.

This is why you would expect New England and Green Bay to win in blowouts next week.  You saw how much homefield advantage this week to otherwise mediocre teams.  Why wouldn’t great offenses like NE and GB benefit in the same manner from all the advantage of playing at home, following a bye?  We could very easily get through two rounds of the playoffs without a road team pulling off a victory in the postseason.  It’s hard to see for sure, the way that New Orleans is playing right now, but New England, Baltimore, and Green Bay enter this week as heavy home favorites.

After what I felt was a lackluster season for premier bowl match-ups, the NFL has really offered its fans a lot of compelling match-ups in the NFL postseason through two weeks.  The actual games themseleves haven’t necessarily lived up to the excitement factor that the two teams playing in them provide, but its hard to complain about two young teams in Houston and Cincinnati (for example) playing a one-sided game with sensational plays by rookie DE JJ Watt and third year RB Arian Foster.  To see that team go against the (super bowl bound?) Baltimore Ravens?  That’s a lot better than drawing Cincinnati at New England next week.

If the home teams keep it up next week, chances are that there will be three more blowouts and a thrilling game between the 49ers and Saints.  That wouldn’t be surprising at all, given that Denver, Houston, and the Giants all managed to get by the first round.  It also wouldn’t be a bad thing for the NFL to have a year where the 1st and 2nd seeds in both conferences reached the Championship round.

But this is the NFL, and it’s likely that at least one team will get upset next week.  And while the focus will be on Tebow and the Broncos, I think the more interesting in-game matchup is how the Baltimore Ravens will handle Andre Johnson being back in the lineup for the Houston Texans.  The Ravens avoided Johnson in the regular season when he got hurt two week earlier.  In what will certainly be billed as the biggest game in Texans history, Johnson is the most important player in the NFL next week, as it is almost impossible for the Texans to advance past the Ravens unless he has a stellar game.

Finally, I offer the home/road splits for the eight remaining playoff teams:

  • Baltimore (8-0 home)
  • Green Bay (8-0 home)
  • New England (7-1 home)
  • San Francisco (7-1 home)
  • Houston (5-3 road)
  • New York Giants (5-3 road)
  • Denver (5-3 road)
  • New Orleans (5-3 road)

Just like Wild Card weekend, next week will not be a cake walk for any of the road teams.  But the only poor performing* road teams that made the postseason this year — Pittsburgh and Atlanta — are out.  There will be plenty of believers in New Orleans this week, bu their chances of advancing may not be much higher than those of Houston.  And if a number one seed happens to fall next weekend, the Super Bowl picture will change violently.

  1. atlkams
    January 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I have to disagree with your analysis. Not sure what point you were trying to make about the home team’s effort. Additionally, I watched Tebow play at Florida and he always managed to find a way to win, even when he was not playing his best. Time will tell whether or not he is a real NFL quarterback but people need to not underestimate his ability, his leadership, work effort and will to win.

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