Here's something weird to think about: since the current seeding system was introduced (in 1999), fourth seeds are, after our glorious win last night, 7-1 (.875) in conference championship games. For comparison, first seeds are 21-11 (.656).
Here's my theory on why that happens. The fourth seed goes to the division champion with the weakest record of all four division champs. There are three ways to be that team. You can be a weak team in an even weaker division (think of the 7-9 Seahawks in 2010-11, or the 8-8 Broncos last year). You can just be decent, like a 10-6 team in a division that doesn't produce a wildcard (like this year's Redskins). Or, you can be a strong team in a really strong division. That's us this year (when the Bengals also came along for a ride) and last year (when both the Bengals and Steelers did), and to some extent the Giants last year (when they faced the Eagles and Cowboys as legit contenders all the way down the stretch).
What happens to those teams? Remember, when you're a fourth seed, you play in wildcard weekend, and then if you win, you probably go on to play the first seed. If you're a pretender team or even just decent, you're going to lose in one of those two games. If you win both and make it to the conference championships, it's because you've got some real skill to play against good teams. In other words, by the time you get to the conference championship, the pretenders have been filtered out; a fourth seed that makes it most likely was one of those really good ones that was held down by a really good division.
That means that your so-called "fourth seed" isn't really a fourth seed at all. It's a team that is really good, but actually had a difficult schedule. For example, this year, the Ravens only played 6 games against teams with losing records. Denver played 10 losing teams, including 6 within its own division. New England also had 6 games against losing teams in its division and 9 total. And Houston played 8 games against losing teams. The result? The Ravens have played good teams. They're used to it. Those other teams aren't.
That's not to say home field advantage isn't important. Maybe the best solution is to get a high seed AND do it out of a tough division, like Pittsburgh did in 2010 and like we did last year. But there's still something to be said for playing in a tough division. You might have to go on the road in the playoffs, but you're ready to take on legitimate teams when you do.
So basically what I'm saying is, thanks for getting us ready for a deep run, Pitt and Cincy.