During the playoffs, I always find it fun to get my hands on as many stats as possible. I want to find that one golden statistic that helps me predict the outcomes of future games. After spending hours analyzing different offensive and defensive metrics, I decided to delve into the importance of home-field, location, and opponent. As we saw last week, home teams are not unstoppable. However, game location and team origin have a strong correlation when it comes to predicting playoff winners.

Location, Location, Location.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll use Denver as our dividing line between the ‘East’ and ‘West’.

While there are some definite trends in the league (i.e. Western teams flying East tend to struggle), other trends may not be as obvious. For instance, Western teams were 11-19 on the road against ‘Eastern’ teams. These overall stats were aided by the San Francisco 49ers  (5-2 this season in the East). Take out the Niners and Western teams were just 6-17 on the road against their Eastern counterparts. Talk about jet lag.

While we analyze data from all 32 teams, things become a little more clear when analyzing the league’s top teams and playoff data.

Since 2007, eight playoff games have been played where a ‘Western’ team has traveled East:

2011: @Patriots 45, Broncos 10
2010: @Bears 35, Seahawks 24
2009: @Saints 45, Cardinals 14
2008: Cardinals 33, @Panthers 13
2008: @Steelers 35, Chargers 24
2007: @Packers 42, Seahawks 20
2007: Chargers 28, @Colts 24
2007: @Patriots 21, Chargers 12 

As shown, Western teams were just 2-6 against their Eastern counterparts. When looking at this weekend’s match-ups, a Western team is not flying East. But what about data for Eastern teams flying West?

Since 2007, ten games have been played where an Eastern team has traveled west.

2011: @Broncos 29, Steelers 23
2011: @49ers 35, Saints 32
2010: @Seahawks 41, Saints 36
2009: @Cardinals 51, Packers 45
2009: Jets 17, @Chargers 14
2008: @Cardinals 30, Falcons 24
2008: @Chargers 23, Colts 17
2008: @Cardinals 32, Eagles 25
2007: @Seahawks 35, Redskins 14
2007: @Chargers 17, Titans 6

As shown, Eastern teams were just 1-9 (!!) on the road against their Western counterparts. The Jets were the only team to pull off the West Coast upset, but no team has laid more playoff eggs than the Chargers have. A win is a win, but that win wasn’t against a playoff powerhouse. 

This weekend, another Eastern team takes the road to play against a Western counterpart. In their first meeting, the West beat the East, 27-20. Will there be a repeat performance on Sunday? If historic geographic data plays any sort of role, the Niners will improve the West’s record to 10-1. 

For the Patriots-Ravens match-up, historical data suggests that home field really isn’t a huge advantage. Since 2007, home teams are just 18-18. Thus, a home team outside of Green Bay has yet to lose during this post-season.

Regardless of location, the teams that hold onto the ball and force turnovers will advance to Indy.