Playoff Dominance Starts With Taking Back the NFC North

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Given that the franchise has never been able to bring home a Lombardi Trophy, fans naturally took issue with Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf’s comments about the team’s priorities moving forward. At last week’s annual league meeting, the longtime Vikings owner shared the team’s goal with the public.

Fans scoffed, saying that the team is destined for mediocrity with that mindset. Just making the playoffs isn’t enough, and the front office knows that. But winning the division is important because it guarantees at least one home playoff game. Not every team that wins the Super Bowl has won their division, but the odds are stacked against you when you have to win three games on the road.

Looking back at the past 10 postseasons, we can see the competitive advantage teams get when playing at home. Wild card weekend is an outlier, as home teams are only 22-22. In 2015, for example, none of the four home teams in the wild card round won.

However, while these upsets can make for fun storylines, the momentum doesn’t often carry throughout the playoffs. Those four road teams that won in the opening round in 2015? They all got knocked out of the playoffs a week later. Home teams were only 1-3 on wild card weekend in 2013, 2018, and 2019. But only two of the victorious road teams pulled off another upset in the divisional round.

Home-field advantage may not appear to be a significant factor in the opening round of the playoffs. However, it holds a ton of weight throughout the remainder of the postseason. In the divisional round and conference championship games, home teams are a combined 43-17. The only team to win three straight road playoff games en route to the Super Bowl since 2012? That was none other than the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time. Ironically, they won the Super Bowl at their home stadium.

Twelve different franchises have appeared in the Super Bowl in the past 10 years. Speaking of the greatest quarterback of all time, he helped lead the New England Patriots to five Super Bowls between 2011 and 2018 before he left for Tampa Bay following the 2019 season. The Patriots won 11 consecutive AFC East crowns from 2009 to 2019.

Occasionally, division winners run into buzzsaws like the Denver Broncos in the 2013 and 2015 playoffs. But by consistently winning their division, the Patriots put themselves in a position to go to eight consecutive AFC Championship games, where they went 5-3. It probably comes as no surprise that, during that run, the Patriots were only 1-2 in road AFC title games and 4-1 at home.

Even with the Patriots in the conference, Denver put themselves in position for their Super Bowl runs by winning five-straight AFC West titles from 2011-15. They held the No. 1 seed three times over the No. 2-seeded Patriots via tiebreaker, helping Peyton Manning and Co. get past Brady and Bill Belichick twice.

The Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Kansas City Chiefs joined Denver in appearing in two Super Bowls in the past decade. These teams were 8-2 in home conference title games. Out of the group, only the 2012 49ers and 2018 Rams had to go on the road to advance to the Super Bowl.

LA has won the NFC West three of the past five seasons, holding the NFC’s No. 2 seed twice in that span. Seattle won the division three out of four years from 2013 to 2016, hosting two consecutive NFC title games. The 49ers advanced in 2012 and 2019 when they hosted and beat the Green Bay Packers. And Kansas City has ripped off six consecutive AFC West titles, hosting the past four AFC Championship games.

The Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, and Baltimore Ravens join the Bucs as the remaining teams that advanced to only one Super Bowl in the past decade. Baltimore made the playoffs from 2008 to 2010, but they were a wild card team each year. They finally unseated the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North crown in 2011. Although they heartbreakingly lost the AFC Championship, they won the AFC North again in 2012, helping spark a Super Bowl run. They still had to travel on the road for two playoff games, but that’s an easier task than three road playoff games.

Moving forward, the Vikings want to at least be like the Ravens from 2008 to 2012. Even though it took several years to conquer the Steelers, the Ravens finally took over the division and gave themselves multiple legitimate shots at the Super Bowl.

Ideally, replicating success like the Rams or Chiefs of late would give Minnesota several solid shots at a Super Bowl. These teams have had not only the benefit of home-field advantage but also numerous opportunities to play in the big game.

The Vikings have only hosted two playoff games since 2012. Although luck broke each way for the team, playing at home was an equalizer. Winning the division doesn’t guarantee playoff success and Lombardi Trophies. But conquering the NFC North for multiple seasons gives the Vikings their best path to a Super Bowl.

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