Pro football outlook: Playoff contenders finding path to postseason on the road
Usually teams are happy to be playing meaningful games at home late in the season, but Sunday’s games featured a distinct home-field disadvantage for several playoff hopefuls.
The biggest road victory on Sunday came in New Jersey, where the Eagles upset the Giants 36-22 in a game that might have sealed the playoff fate for both teams.
Philadelphia improved to 8-6, setting up a showdown next week in Dallas for first place in the NFC East. The Eagles have won the first two games of their three-game road trip through the NFC East, and have scored more points in their seven road games (185) than in their seven home games (166 points).
The Giants fell to 7-7 and likely will need to win next week at home against the New Orleans Saints to keep their January hopes alive.
That could be a tough task: New York is 3-4 at the Meadowlands, 0-4 at home against teams with winning records. But the Giants are 4-2 against winning teams on the road, indicating that maybe they are more relaxed in front of fans who want to see them fail.
In Dallas, the Cowboys are in a much better position after clinching a playoff berth with a road victory in Atlanta on Saturday night. The Cowboys have won their last three road games but will play their last two games this season at home.
On the other side, the Falcons (7-7), who haven’t won a home game since October, are tied with the Giants and will have a difficult time making the playoffs. Next week’s game in the Georgia Dome against the Panthers could decide their fate.
The NFC South champion Saints and NFC West-leading Seahawks both dropped important home games this week to sub-.500 teams, hurting their postseason position, if playing at home in January is deemed a reward.
The Jets, Rams and Steelers all scored road upsets to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Overall, home teams this season have still won more than 55 percent of games, but that’s down considerably from the nearly 60 percent winning percentage home teams enjoyed last season.
But the trend could be beneficial to underdogs in the playoffs if they play out like last year. Road teams went 6-4 in the 2005 postseason, and the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers won three road games in the AFC to get to the big game.
So don’t be surprised if a lot of road trippers are very happy in January.
Instant replayWatch backup QB Tim Rattay nearly pull off the biggest upset of the week when AFN Sports re-airs the Bears-Buccaneers game at 3:30 p.m. Central Europe Time on Wednesday.
Rattay and the Bucs (3-11) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter on the league’s best defense but couldn’t finish the comeback in overtime. The victory clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the Bears.
At 3:30 p.m. CET on Thursday, watch the Titans use three defensive scores into an upset win over Jacksonville, despite totaling only 98 yards of offense.
Race to the bottomA number of teams can clinch playoff berths next week, but the race for the league’s worst record — and the rights to the top draft pick next spring — likely will come down to the final week of the season.
Both the Raiders and Lions sit at the bottom of the standings with 2-12 records, and both have two remaining games against teams still fighting for the postseason. If both teams manage to grab an upset, the Buccaneers will still have a chance to finish at the bottom of the league.
But that’s not likely. Oakland has the easier of the two schedules, with the reeling Chiefs at home next week and the 8-6 Jets on the road, but they still will be double-digit underdogs in both contests.
The Lions must play the playoff-bound Bears and Cowboys, but both teams could rest many of their starters in preparation for January.
If Detroit does manage to drop its last two, it’ll likely get the top draft pick by virtue of playing an easier schedule throughout the year than the Raiders. After Sunday, the combined winning percentage of the Lions’ opponents was under 46 percent, while the Raiders’ opponents won more than 51 percent of theirs.
That could put the Lions in position to consider drafting Heisman winner Troy Smith, who is one of the most hated men in Michigan because of his college domination at Ohio State.