Minutes after the Green Bay Packers were beaten for the second straight time in an NFC Title Game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers stood at the podium for what would be the final postgame press conference of the 2016-17 season. While the Atlanta Falcons danced around the field and hoisted the Halas Trophy, Rodgers could only lament on what the Packers needed to do differently to get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011. The biggest thing, at least in Rodgers’s mind, was playing an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
“If this has taught us anything,” Rodgers said, “it’s how important home field advantage is. We’ve played three of these games, and they’ve all been on the road. And that’s just making it tough on yourself.”
The idea that playing at home puts you at an advantage isn’t exactly revolutionary, but how distinct is that advantage?
Conference championship games as we know them became official after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. That means there have been 47 conference title matchups each in the NFC and AFC. A quick examination of win/loss statistics paints a decent picture of the benefit of being the home team.
In the NFC, home teams have won 31 times with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, giving them a .659 winning percentage. In the AFC, home teams have been only slightly more successful, winning 33 games for a .702 clip. Lump those numbers together and you’ll find that in 47 seasons of conference championships, the home team has advanced to the super bowl a whopping 68 percent of the time.
To bring a little more recency to the equation, consider that in the NFC, the home team in the conference title game has won four of the last five, six of the last ten, and 12 of the last 20 matchups. In the AFC, the home teams have fared even better, winning four of the last five, nine of the last ten and 13 of the last 20.
Where the numbers get interesting, though, is in the margins of victory over the course of conference championship history. Get this – over the past 47 seasons, when a home team has won a conference championship, in either conference, the average margin of victory is 14.5 points. Two touchdowns! In what should be the most competitive game of the year! That’s not all, though. In games won by the visitors, the average differential is 11.8 points.
Think about those numbers for a second. In the post-merger era, the average conference title game has been decided by two scores. In fact, over those 47 seasons (94 games total) only 31 times, or basically one-third, has a conference championship been decided by a single score.
So, as it turns out, the theory of home field advantage may be even more cut and dry than we thought. While visiting teams haven’t necessarily just squeaked by in their conference championship victories, the triumphs themselves are far more few and far between. No one could ever know what will happen if and when the Packers host an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field, but we do know the historical data will be on their side when that time comes.
Now, where’s the aspirin?
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