Not many folks gave the Jets a chance against the Patriots in last weekend's divisional round of the NFL playoffs, not after that same New England squad completely dismantled New York on national television a few weeks prior. However, Rex Ryan and company came out swinging in the rivals' rubber match, developing a complex defensive scheme that completely frustrated Tom Brady, whose regular season had been characterized by an almost unflappable perfection. No one outside of New York could be happier about the "upset" - I don't want to agitate Bart Scott (video) - than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will now host the AFC Championship game on Sunday evening. Safety Ryan Clark called the difference between staying at home and travelling to Foxborough "huge":
"It's good because you get to do the same routine. Going on the road, and having to pack up? Fly? That's the part of home-field advantage that I don't think people understand. You've got the big locker room, not the small one they put you in when you're on the road. It's just little things like that that mean a lot as far as home games go."
Fair enough. I've always been one to discount the overhyped importance of home-field advantage in professional sports. My thinking is that these are typically guys who have played on huge stages, in capacity stadiums for years and years. They train constantly and don't particularly mind where they're playing. In short, they're professionals. With the exception of perhaps a slight increase in false start penalties (especially in places with especially boisterous home-field advantages, like Kansas City and Seattle), I really don't think it makes a difference.
But of course, Clark makes some good points. While Steelers fans famously travel well and would no doubt have made their presence felt visiting New England, it's surely better to stay in the familiar confines of Heinz Field, where the players aren't forced to deal with the potentially exhausting logistical hurdles inherent in travelling.
That said, the good news of Sunday's Jets-Patriots scuffle isn't the venue - it's the opponent.
No disrespect to the Jets intended - they beat Pittsburgh in the regular season, after all! - but the Jets, who in many way plays a similar brand of football to Pittsburgh's, present less glaring matchup problems than the Patriots would have. We'll look into why that's the case in future posts. Stay tuned.