Once again, after expanding its playoff format to 12 teams in 1990, the NFL left the door wide open to the possibilities of a Wild Card team running the table and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Since the Wild Card system began in 1970, only 10 wild card teams have advanced all the way to the Super Bowl. Of those, only six won the Super Bowl. And of those 10 wild card teams, only four teams managed to win three games on the road to make it to the Super Bowl - the last three of whom captured the crown.
In fact, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions have played in the first round of the playoffs, including the Baltimore Ravens last season.
Will the trend continue this season or will the top seeded teams have their say? And speaking of top ranked teams, the No. 1 seed from the NFC has not won a Super Bowl since 1999.
It’s important to remember that 39 of the last 47 Super Bowl winners have owned a Top 10 ranked defense. (Are you listening Carolina, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle?)
Remember, it’s not always the best team that wins in the NFL playoffs… it’s the hottest.
Before we crown anyone just yet, let’s first check a few Divisional Round angles in the NFL playoffs that are noteworthy. All results are since 1990 and are ATS (Against The Spread), unless noted otherwise.
Bye And Large Top Seeds Up To Speed
No. 1 seeds enjoy the luxury of not only hosting a game in this round but also play with an added week of rest.
For the most part these teams have met with modicum of success, going 67-25 SU and 48-42-2 ATS in this role.
The best the NFC has to offer has gone 37-9 SU and 28-17-1 ATS, including 22-8-1 ATS as favorites of 6 or more points. The NFC spotlight shines on top-seeded Seattle this Saturday.
While not up to par with the NFC, top seeds from the AFC have gone 30-16 SU and 20-25-1 ATS, including 7-2 SU and ATS when facing a foe off a Wild Card round spread win of more than 17 points. No. 1 seed Denver will look to improve on those numbers when they host division rival San Diego on Sunday.
Success Breeds Success
Speaking of the added benefit of an extra week to prepare this time of the year, rested hosts in this round that enjoyed success last season use that experience to their advantage.
That’s confirmed by the fact that teams that won 11 or more games last year are 32-6 SU and 24-13-1-1 ATS at home with a week to prepare in Divisional Round contests.
Denver, New England and Seattle all fit the bill this season, rather cautiously though as teams in this role are just 8-4 SU and 4-8 ATS the last seven years.
On the flip side, teams that were losing teams last years (seven or fewer wins) are just 4-24 SU and 11-16-1 ATS in this round, including 1-13 SU and 3-11 ATS when playing off an upset, underdog win.
New Orleans and San Diego look to oblige this week.
Clint Eastwood Says
Here’s a brief capsule of this year’s Divisional Round combatants along with some relevant Good, Bad and Ugly trends…
New Orleans at Seattle (-8, 47.5)
Good: Seahawks 15-1 SU and 12-4 ATS home behind QB Russell Wilson
Bad: Saints 1-5 SU and ATS away all-time in the playoffs
Ugly: Seahawks 0-3 SU and ATS vs. Saints when New Orleans off SU and ATS win
Indianapolis at New England (-7.5, 53)
Good: Colts QB Andrew Luck 6-1 SU and ATS as a dog vs. greater than .667 opp
Bad: Visiting team 5-13 ATS in Colts postseason games
Ugly: Pats QB Tom Brady 0-6 ATS playoffs w/rest vs. opp off back-to-back wins
San Francisco at Carolina (+2, 42)
Good: Niners QB Colin Kaepernick 7-1 SU and 7-0-1 ATS away vs. non div opp
Bad: Playoff road favorites off playoff road favorite win are 1-3 ATS
Ugly: Niners are 3-15 ATS all-time vs. Panthers, 0-5 ATS last five away
San Diego at Denver (-10, 54.5)
Good: Chargers QB Phillip Rivers 4-1 ATS as a playoff dog
Bad: Broncos 2-6 SU and ATS last eight playoff games
Ugly: Broncos QB Peyton Manning 1-6 ATS home favorite vs. San Diego
Life on the road for Wild Card round teams who won at home has been rocky at best, especially if those who grabbed the cash as well.
These highwaymen are just 13-37 SU and 18-30-2 ATS in this role against well-rested higher-seeded foes.
And if these same Wild Card winners take to the road against .750 or less opponents, they dip to a filthy 3-24 SU and 8-18-1 ATS in these affairs.
Indianapolis will try its best to avoid becoming road kill this week.
Stat Of The Week
In NFL Divisional Round playoff game history since 1990, there have been only two home underdogs. They both won the game straight up.