Obviously, the ultimate goal of an NFL team is to win the Super Bowl.
There are some long-time narratives about how to accomplish the feat — phrases like “Defense wins championships,” or “You have to be able to run the ball in January” come to mind, but one narrative that players, coaches and fans all believe and strive for is home-field advantage: “The road to the Super Bowl runs through New England.”
It’s understandable why it is so sought after. Since 1990, 14 of the 29 Super Bowl champions have been the first seed in their conference. Before last season, there was a five-year streak of number-one seeds winning the title. Besides the statistics, the players are more comfortable playing in their home stadium and they would have the support from their fans. All this should add up to home-field advantage being essential to winning a championship, right?
I disagree. While it may be a nice luxury to have, I do not believe earning home-field advantage is the most important factor for a contender to win a Super Bowl.
The upper-hand teams are perceived to have when playing in their own stadium is slowly becoming a myth. Even in the regular season, NFL teams are not winning their home contests as much as you would expect.
Home teams have won 46.6% of games so far this season. That's the lowest home win percentage since the 1970 NFL merger (and perhaps even further back). This is a very interesting development. pic.twitter.com/mk97YbKs7K— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) October 21, 2019
Kansas City Chiefs fans should know this better than anyone.
As much as Arrowhead Stadium feels like a big advantage and a tough obstacle for the opponent to overcome, the Chiefs have 15 regular-season home losses since 2013. That is 44% of their total losses in that span — meaning they have almost lost as many games at home as they have on the road. They are 1-7 in postseason home games since 1995. Each game was different, but there is a trend among these contests. The better quarterback won most of the time.
- In the 1995 divisional-round loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono was outplayed by Colts pro bowl quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
- In 1997, future Hall of Fame Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway had the edge on Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac.
- The “no-punt game” in 2003 was a mismatch between Colts quarterback and MVP Peyton Manning and Chiefs quarterback Trent Green.
- Even though he was young, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was a better player than Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel in the 2010 playoff matchup.
- In 2016, it was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that got the win over the Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith.
- While the Chiefs had the quarterback advantage in their first postseason game of 2018 against Andrew Luck and the Colts, it’s hard to say that first-year starter and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was a better signal-caller than six-time Super Bowl champion and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the AFC Championship game.
The one game left off the list was the 2017 playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans — where the inferior quarterback Marcus Mariota was able to beat Smith.
The point is that the venue does not matter as much as who the quarterback is for each team — and the Chiefs are in good position to have the better quarterback in their postseason matchups for this season and beyond. If Mahomes is 100% and playing the way he has when he is healthy, the Chiefs will have the advantage at quarterback in every game they play in the postseason.
Speaking of the Chiefs quarterback position, the healing of Mahomes’ knee and ankle should be paramount over the battle for playoff seeding. In fact, all of the current injured Chiefs returning to full-health is more significant than where the team finishes among the division winners in the AFC.
There are two assumptions I will make before I continue my argument:
- The Patriots will earn the number-one overall seed in the conference
- The Chiefs will win the AFC West. (Yes, it is possible that a few losses in the coming weeks could put this in jeopardy, but the Chiefs are clearly the best team in the division).
With these assumptions in mind, there should not be minimal rush to get the banged-up players back on the field quickly. First of all, the team was impressive in their first full game without Mahomes in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers. Performances like that will help them win games against teams worse than the 7-1 Packers.
Second of all, they are still firmly in the race for the two-seed — even while not at full-health. The rest of the AFC is full of parity. It is entirely possible that the 5-3 Chiefs can still finish with a better record than any of the 5-3 Houston Texans, 5-2 Indianapolis Colts, or the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens.
Finally, if you believed at the beginning of the season that this team should be a Super Bowl contender, there is no reason to doubt that the Chiefs — at full strength — can still beat anyone at anytime. That logic should be applied in the postseason. If the Chiefs were one of the favorites to win the championship before Week 1 — and we haven’t seen the team at 100% since then — why would the expectations of the team change once all the missing starters are back playing together?
Another interesting aspect of this conversation is the difference between Mahomes’ home and road numbers so far in his career. The Chiefs are 10-3 on the road with Mahomes as the starter and 8-3 at home in the regular season. His statistics split up for home and away are interesting.
11 games at home: Completion percentage of 65%, 8.5 yards per attempt, 3.406 yards, 26 touchdowns, seven interceptions and four games with a passer rating of 120 or higher.
13 games on the road: Completion percentage of 66%, 9.1 yards per attempt, 4,155 yards, 39 touchdowns, seven interceptions and seven games with a passer rating of 120 or higher.
Some of Mahomes’ most spectacular performances came in road games. While it is important to note that these stats may be inflated due to the drop-off of defensive performance in away games, Mahomes’ ability to quickly overcome adversity and keep the team in the game while in a hostile environment is special.
The point is that whatever playoff seed the Chiefs end up with at season’s end should not affect how you feel about their Super Bowl chances. If they win the division, have the majority of their starters healthy, and have the MVP quarterback playing like he was before the injuries he suffered, there should be confidence in a deep playoff run no matter who the opponents end up being.
We have not seen the Chiefs at full strength for even half a game this season. If they can get there by the time January rolls around, they should be viewed as dangerous as they were viewed in August.