The Raiders and Chargers are both 8-4 and tied for first atop the AFC West. The winner of that Sunday game in San Diego can take another step toward securing homefield advantage in at least the first round if not throughout the postseason.
Indianapolis, the AFC South leader, is also 8-4 while AFC North leading Pittsburgh is 7-4-1. But is homefield really much of an advantage in the playoffs? Yes and no. It matters because any team would rather avoid traveling, especially to a cold weather climate. In addition, nondivision winners can no longer host a first-round playoff game under the NFL realignment. The Raiders' game at San Diego is vital because it's a division game and the Chargers beat them earlier this season, 27-21 in overtime. An Oakland win gives it sole possession of first place but a San Diego win gives the Chargers theoretically a three game lead with three games to play.
What matters more than homefield advantage, however, is how a team plays that particular day. If a team loses, for example, the turnover battle, it is likely to lose whether the game is in Oakland, Denver, New York, the North Pole or in the Bahamas.
As the game has become more parity driven since the inception of the salary cap in 1994, homefield advantage has been more helpful early in the playoffs but de-emphasized in the conference title games.
Since 1994, the home team has combined to go 50-14 in the wild card and divisional rounds but just 9-7 in the conference title games. The Raiders were one of those seven teams to lose, 16-3 to Baltimore in 2000. The year that two No. 1 seeds from both conferences went to the Super Bowl was 1993 – Dallas and Buffalo.
From 1987-1993, homefield was more of an advantage late in the postseason. The home teams were just 12-10 in the wild card rounds, 10-4 in the divisional round and 10-4 in the conference title game.