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These Are The Best Wild-Card Road Teams In Modern History

Since the NFL postseason expanded to 12 teams in 1990, home teams have won 65 percent of the time on wild-card weekend — an even better rate than the league’s 59 percent home field advantage in the regular season. For teams that can’t lock down a bye week, playing at home has traditionally been a solid consolation. This year, though, it could be that none of that will matter once the games begin.

As of Tuesday morning, three of the four home teams in this weekend’s games are underdogs in Vegas, and you can make a good case that the fourth — Washington, which hosts Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers — should also be expected to lose. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, our favorite measure of a team’s strength at any given moment, this is the first time since 1990 that three home teams have been underdogs in the wild-card round:

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Pregame Elo ratings and odds for wild-card round, 1990-2015
YEAR AVERAGE HOME ELO AVERAGE ROAD ELO DIFFERENCE AVERAGE HOME WIN PROBABILITY HOME UNDERDOGS
2015 1571 1658 -87 47% 3
2010 1518 1638 -120 43 2
2008 1554 1628 -74 49 2
2000 1566 1617 -50 52 2
2009 1589 1617 -28 55 2
2005 1584 1615 -31 55 1
2013 1564 1593 -29 55 1
2011 1552 1578 -25 55 1
2003 1579 1573 +5 60 1
1995 1557 1545 +12 60 1
2012 1599 1580 +19 61 1
1990 1568 1582 -15 57 0
2007 1570 1570 +0 59 0
1992 1616 1615 +1 59 0
1993 1553 1547 +6 60 0
2014 1596 1578 +18 62 0
2001 1612 1589 +22 62 0
1994 1576 1543 +34 64 0
1997 1585 1535 +50 66 0
1998 1594 1542 +52 66 0
1991 1597 1541 +55 66 0
1999 1590 1531 +59 67 0
2004 1595 1530 +65 68 0
2002 1591 1524 +67 68 0
2006 1603 1522 +81 70 0
1996 1598 1506 +92 71 0

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

This year’s group is also the second-most-overmatched batch of home teams since 1990, the only impediment to No. 1 being 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks hosted (and won!) a wild-card game. That year’s crop of home teams was exceptionally weak; in addition to Seattle, Kansas City was a below-average team according to both Elo and Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System, and the Eagles and Colts were helped by good fortune (they exceeded their Pythagorean expectations).

While this year’s wild-card home teams aren’t great, they’re not all that bad — that three-quarters of them are underdogs owes more to the strength of their opponents. By Elo, this is easily the strongest group of road squads that wild-card weekend has seen since 1990. It includes teams ranked Nos. 1 (Seattle), 4 (Kansas City), 7 (Pittsburgh) and 9 (Green Bay) in the league. Those are the kinds of teams that typically host wild-card games, not travel to other cities as guests.

Back in October, my colleague Andrew Flowers and I wrote about how downright weird the season was shaping up to be, in the sense that the distribution of wins was out of whack compared with historical norms. Now, on the eve of the playoffs, that weirdness is manifesting itself another way: Each conference’s lowest-seeded teams are among its strongest. It’s a phenomenon that could pay big dividends for road teams on wild-card weekend.

Check out our Super Bowl odds for every playoff team.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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