NFL

A Home Playoff Win for the Packers Is No Guarantee

This Sunday will mark the fifth time Aaron Rodgers will lead the Green Bay Packers into the NFC Championship Game. One major storyline of the week is that for the first time, Rodgers will have an opportunity to win an NFC title on his home turf.

But if recent history is any indication, the Packers are guaranteed nothing from playing at home. In fact, they are just as vulnerable at Lambeau Field as they would be any other stadium.

Lambeau Field was once a playoff fortress

Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI
A general view of Lambeau Field before the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers on December 19, 2020 | Quinn Harris/Getty Images

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One of the most inhospitable places for an opposing team is Lambeau Field after December. For the first 83 years of their existence, the Packers did not lose a single playoff game at home – whether that home was Lambeau Field, their original venue of City Stadium, or their once part-time home at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Part of this is simple – there were just fewer playoff games. In fact, in the NFL’s earliest years, there were none. The NFL did not crown its champion through a single game until 1932. The Packers won their first three championships simply by leading the league standings at the end of the season.

The other reason is that during the 1960s, the Packers were just that powerful. During the Lombardi era, the team only lost one playoff game — the 1960 NFL Championship, held in Philadelphia.

From 1939 to 2001, the Packers recorded a 13-0 record in home playoff games across three different stadiums. This includes four NFL Championship Games, one of which was the famous Ice Bowl game of 1967.

Michael Vick and the Falcons open the door

Sometime around the turn of the century, things changed for the Packers. Lambeau Field was no longer the fortress it once had been. This started with the 2002 NFC wild-card game against the Atlanta Falcons, a game in which the 12-4 Packers were heavy favorites.

Things didn’t turn out that way. The sixth-seeded Falcons pulled out a 27-7 victory with the help of five Packer turnovers. In so doing, they had made history by sending the Packers to the first home playoff loss in their 83-year existence. A precedent had been set. Soon, playoff defeats at Lambeau occurred with alarming regularity.

Two years later, the Packers again hosted a wild-card game, this time against the division rival Minnesota Vikings. Once again, the Packers were heavy favorites, and once again, the Packers stumbled. Brett Favre threw four interceptions, sealing the home team’s fate as the Vikings rolled to a 31-17 win.

Over the next decade and a half, the Packers racked up some more disappointing home losses, which put a stop to their 2007, 2011, and 2013 playoff runs. It’s telling that for the Packers’ most recent Super Bowl win in 2010, they won their first three playoff games on the road.

Will there be any home-field advantage?

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The short answer: Not really.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic certainly won’t help matters. For social distancing reasons, only 6,500 tickets have been sold, less than one-twelfth of Lambeau Field’s capacity. The scattered attendance will have a hard time creating an atmosphere of intimidation for Tom Brady and his red-hot Buccaneers’ offense.

Wisconsin’s usual January weather may or may not play a factor in the outcome. The temperature is expected to reach as high as 30 degrees on Sunday, which is practically tropical weather by Green Bay’s standards. There is also a 50% chance of snow, although it is not expected to accumulate any more than an inch if it does fall.

This game will be decided on the field, between the players.