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NFL Playoffs: Teams Like New Orleans Returning to the Scene of a Loss Have Fared Well

Drew Brees stripped, fumbles, Michael Bennett scores for Seattle

New Orleans got smoked in Seattle earlier this year, easily their worst performance, in a season where the Saints were noticeably worse on the road. The Saints went 1-7 against the spread in road games in the regular season, which somewhat explains how the line had the Eagles favored despite New Orleans having significantly better numbers in the regular season, and playing on the NFC West/South side of the schedule (the much tougher half).

New Orleans now returns to face a team with perhaps the strongest home field advantage in the league. Seattle comes into the game as a lofty 9.5 point favorite. A lot seems to be going against them, including how they played the first time around in Seattle. As it turns out, though, that is not a negative in the postseason. Non-divisional opponents that return to the scene of the crime in the postseason, of a place where they lost in the regular season, have actually fared very well the first time around. Going back to 1990 (although there were oddly no such games from 1990-1998), conference opponents who lost on the road in the regular season and returned in the playoffs are 10-18 straight up, and 18-10 against the spread. They have collectively outperformed the spread by 3.6 points on average on the return visit to an earlier loss. The win-loss results could be even better, but these teams went a combined 1-4 in games that went to overtime.

Here, courtesy of pro-football-reference data, are the 28 games that meet this criteria.

Returning to a playoff team's home

For contrast, teams that won on the road and then had to return to the same place in the playoffs went only 3-7 straight up and 2-8 against the spread (though at least three of these were games where the home team likely rested starters in anticipation of a rematch).

Seahawks ridiculous tip drill touchdown against the Saints-b

While the number of games is limited to 28, there is some rationale to why a team returning after a loss would be better off than having not played there at all. I’ve done plenty of work on home field advantage, and several years ago, Doug Drinen also ran this study on home field advantage by quarter. Turns out, in inter-conference matchups where the team rarely plays, home field advantage is stronger in the first quarter. New Orleans does not play in Seattle frequently, and had not played there since the playoff loss after the 2010 season. You might recall that in the first matchup, New Orleans was blitzed immediately, and down 17-0 before they even picked up a first down.

For all the talk about New Orleans trying to simulate the Seattle conditions, the best experience was probably already being there just six weeks earlier. That doesn’t mean the Saints will win, as Seattle is in my opinion the best team in the playoffs, but it does mean that I think the Saints won’t be completely caught off guard and find themselves down big right away.

 

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