Updated: December 18, 2017
Last year I undertook an analysis of home field advantage in the NFL playoffs but only the wild-card games had been played when I published those results. I’ve now included all the playoffs in the 2016-2017 NFL season and added some other findings. The basic conclusions I reached a year ago have remained unchanged.
Overall the home team has won about two-thirds of these games by an average margin of just under six points.
Because the teams are seeded in the playoffs we should expect home teams to outperform their opponents. The differences across the types of playoff games show the value of these higher seedings. The margin is smallest in the “wild-card” games, since the teams in those games are more closely matched. (The top-two teams in each Conference receive a bye in the first-round, so the wild-card games pair the three versus the six seeds, and the four versus the five.) In the later rounds when the top seeds play, the home team’s advantage is larger, running about seven to eight points compared to three in the wild-card games.
Some of the home field bonus can be attributed to the fact that higher-seeded home teams are stronger, while some may reflect the “home-field advantage.” For comparison, I calculated the average score for home and away teams for the 41 games played during weeks seven through nine of the 2017 season. Home teams scored an average of 22.8 points, 2.9 more than their opponents, and won 61 percent of their games. These figures are quite consistent with the results for wild-card teams presented above. Seedings play a greater role in the later playoff rounds.