It's a question that our resident American blogger has been pondering ahead of Thursday's second leg with Tottenham...
Chelsea take on Spurs in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Thursday, a competition that mixes one-off contests and home-and-away ties. This week on this side of the Atlantic, I went to my first American football play-off game, a sudden-death decider.
Sports work differently in the States. The Premier League is the most-coveted English title, awarded to the team top of the pile after 38 matches. If it is decided two months early, so be it. It is a cumulative total and the club crowned champions are accepted as the deserved victor.
It’s not like that in the USA. The “regular season’ performance is important, but only because (in theory) it means an easier ride in the “post-season.”
In the NFL, 32 outfits are halved into the AFC and the NFC. In both divisions, the two teams with the most wins in the 16-game season sit out the first round of play-offs. The quartet then host what is effectively a quarter-final, with the highest seed playing the lowest-ranked remaining side.
Imagine the Premier League and the FA Cup married, moved to the USA, and had a child. From September to December it’s a league competition, but once we hit the New Year it’s one-off cup ties with the winner moving on.
Some tournaments in Europe reward clubs for their performance in the campaign. The Football League promotion play-offs give second-leg home advantage to the higher-placed league side, while both the Champions League and the Europa League also do it for the teams who top their groups. But a one-off battle just feels special. It’s the energy and excitement, the tingle of anticipation knowing that one piece of brilliance or one mistake can be crucial.
The New Orleans Saints came from 14 points down to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 in a seesaw struggle that was on edge until the dying seconds. Because they had the best overall record in the division, the victory set up another home date with the Los Angeles Rams a week later.
The beauty of the winner-takes-all showdown: whether it’s an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, or the NFL Divisional Round in the Superdome, you can feel the atmosphere is something special.