GREEN BAY – The Packers are officially road warriors now.
Any possibility of Green Bay hosting another playoff game this month was extinguished when the No. 6 seed Detroit Lions were eliminated from the NFC playoffs last Saturday night.
Once that occurred, the Packers knew they’d be headed to No. 1 seed Dallas if Green Bay could beat the Giants, and they’d be on the road for as long as they last.
At No. 4, as the lowest-remaining seed in the NFC, the Packers would travel to either No. 2 Atlanta or No. 3 Seattle next Sunday should they knock off the Cowboys.
The Falcons and Seahawks are playing in Atlanta late Saturday afternoon, so much like last week, the Packers-Cowboys winner will know its opponent well before Sunday’s 3:40 p.m. CT kickoff rolls around.
The Cowboys, who are striving for their first NFC Championship Game appearance in 22 years, would host either the Falcons or Seahawks should they win.
In the AFC, No. 1 seed New England will host the conference title game if the Patriots beat the Texans on Saturday night.
Should No. 4 seed Houston pull the upset – and the Texans are one of the biggest playoff underdogs ever – the winner of Sunday’s No. 3 Steelers at No. 2 Chiefs showdown will not only advance to the AFC Championship Game but host it as well.
Wild-card weekend concluded with home teams sweeping the slate, 4-0, the first time that had happened since 2011.
Does that mean anything for road teams, like the Packers, in the divisional round against teams coming off a first-round bye? If last weekend is signaling a shift in trends, then perhaps.
In the four intervening years (2012-15) between home dominance on wild-card weekend, home wild-card teams were just 7-9 overall, but in the divisional round, home teams re-established control, going 13-3. The top two seeds with the byes met in five of the eight conference title games, including three of four in the NFC.
It’s been a tough nut to crack of late for wild-card winners, but it’s worth noting most of them were playing on the road for a second straight week.
Looking at a larger sample size, there’s more to be said for wild-card winners in general.
In the seven years prior to the time period referenced above (that is, from 2005-11), home teams coming off byes on divisional weekend were just 7-7 in each conference. The top two seeds met in only two of 14 conference title games, once on each side (Vikings-Saints, 2009, NFC; Patriots-Ravens, 2011, AFC).
That’s a lot of wild-card winners advancing.
To look at it another way … last year, home teams swept divisional weekend for the first time since 2004. That broke a string of 10 consecutive years when at least one wild-card team advanced to play for a conference championship.
If history shows a home sweep on divisional weekend is pretty rare, somebody has to keep it that way.
Why not the Packers?