Home-field advantage is one of the key goals of any team at any level, regardless of sport. It doesn't matter if it's a high school soccer team seeking to clinch a home game in their district playoffs or an NBA team seeking to play host in their first round series, the importance of securing home field advantage can't be understated.
This week, the Steelers play host to the Cincinnati Bengals in a de facto AFC North title game, the winner of which will securing a home game in the Wildcard weekend of the NFL playoffs. Pittsburgh is assured either a three, four or five seed, with the three and five seed being the most likely outcomes. Securing the three seed will allow the Steelers to host their first playoff game at Heinz Field since the 2010 AFC Championship.
Surely, in the minds of Pittsburgh faithful, the favorable outcome is a victory and the third seed. The friendly confines of Heinz Field and the roar of 67,000 towel-clad fans are of paramount importance when aiding the Steelers to a postseason victory.
But, what if home-field advantage wasn't all that advantageous?
Since 2002, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams and eight divisions, the team with home-field advantage in the Wildcard round is 27-21, and 9-7 over the past four seasons. Admittedly, a slight advantage exists, each record representing a .563 winning percentage. The regular season winning percentage for home teams, however, is .573.
So, is home-field advantage non-existent? It appears so, provided your team isn't the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have hosted eight playoff games since 2002. They've won five, good for a .625 winning percentage. Their regular season record has been even better. The Steelers are have won 85 of their 119 regular season games at Heinz Field, a .714 winning percentage, the second highest in the league trailing only Green Bay's .726 percentage over the same timeframe.
If all these figures leave leave some ambiguity about the preferable outcome of Sunday's game, consider the fact the 2005 Steelers were the first team in NFL history to win three road games on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
Although hosting a playoff game does present some verifiable numbers which suggest an advantage, the truth is the Steelers have been a team that have been able to perform on a consistent basis in postseason play, regardless of venue.