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Home Analytics NFL Playoff Seeds - Behind the Numbers

NFL Playoff Seeds – Behind the Numbers

The playoffs are upon us once again and the 12 remaining teams in the running for the Superbowl all have their seeds assigned. NFL Playoff seeds mean a whole lot when looking at the numbers on who advances throughout the playoffs. We looked through the last 20 years of NFL Playoff football and ran some numbers regarding the seeding.

Division Winners – 1st & 2nd seeds

Oh, the power of the bye week. Teams fight for those top 2 seeds because it really does make a difference having that extra week of prep and rest according to the numbers.

Since 1999, teams that had a bye week have advanced to the conference championship game 70% of the time. Taking that a step further, 75% of the teams that have advanced to the Superbowl were number 1 or 2 NFL Playoff seeds. Imagine having those odds in that unpredictable environment.

The last time a non-bye week team has made it to the Superbowl was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, who ended up winning the whole thing. Since then there has been 6 straight Superbowls that featured only top 2 seeds.

So, maybe getting in the dance is the goal for most teams but if you really want a shot at the true prize then giving all that you’ve got to obtain one of the top 2 seeds is worth it.

 Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews celebrating with the Lombardi Trophy after winning the Superbowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers

Wild Card Weekend Teams

Not a great piece of information for the 3 and 4 seeds, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge advantage over the wild card teams. The only saving grace is that these NFL Playoff seeds get a home playoff game. Maybe your chances increase to advance from Wild Card weekend but then you must travel to the top 2 seeds that just watched your game from their couch.

Related: Home Field Advantage in the NFL

Over the last 20 seasons, only 24 teams that played on Wild Card weekend were able to make it as far as the conference championship out of 80 teams. 15 of those teams were 3 and 4 seeds and 9 of them were 5 and 6 seeds.

The good news is once these teams get that far, the percentages even out. 7 of these 24 teams have gone on to hoist the Lombardi which is just over 29% of the time (better odds than two separate coin flips for the final two games). This seems to suggest that the divisional round is a tougher test for the bottom 4 seeds than the conference championship game.

During the span of 2010-2012, all 3 Superbowl winners came from the Wild Card round in the form of the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, since 2012, no team who played on Wild Card weekend has even made an appearance in the Superbowl.

Case Study: New England Patriots

It’s no surprise that the New England Patriots have been the most successful franchise since the turn of the century. Obviously having arguably, the best coach and best quarterback of all-time helps, but so does having a top 2 NFL Playoff Seed.

In the 17 years that Tom Brady has been the starting QB for the Patriots (missed one season due to injury), they have made the playoffs every year except one, which was back in 2002. Chalk up Brady not getting injured to his intense workout and nutrition regime.

Of the 16 playoff appearances, Brady and Co. have earned a top 2 seed a whopping 13 times (7 of those were the number 1 seed). Looking at those 13 instances, New England has only failed to make the AFC Championship once.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrating after winning the Superbowl

This is such an underrated piece of the puzzle for the Patriots because they get a home playoff game off a bye week against a team who just played the week before and is inferior to them.

A win in that game gets them to the AFC Championship and with the unpredictability of the NFL, you could say it is a coin flip for the next two games. That gives you a 25% chance at the Lombardi when getting that far.

Related: NFL Offense vs Defense – Inside the Numbers

But let’s face it, the New England Patriots are a little better than most. That’s why they have 6 Superbowl titles off of 13 AFC Championship appearances, which is good for a 46% shooting percentage.

Betting Lines vs. The Numbers

Want to see how our numbers match up against the Superbowl odds via the genius oddsmakers in Vegas? Take a look at the drop off from the top 2 seeds to the remaining 4 in the AFC for this year’s playoffs:

1. Baltimore Ravens: 31%

2. Kansas City Chiefs: 18%

3. New England Patriots: 7%

4. Houston Texans: 3%

5. Buffalo Bills: 2%

6. Tennessee Titans: 2%




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