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. And while a Wild Card team has done so only seven times in Super Bowl history, five such winners have been crowned since 1997.
The 2010 season witnessed the Green Bay Packers hauling home the hardware. In 2007 it was the New York Giants, in 2005 the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2000 the Baltimore Ravens and in 1997 the Denver Broncos.
Will the trend continue this season or will the top seeded teams have their say? With one of the top seeds (Atlanta) owning the worst remaining defense in its conference and its opponent (Seattle) sporting a Top-4 ranked stop-unit, an argument can certainly be made either way.
It’s important to remember that 39 of the last 46 Super Bowl winners have owned a Top-10 ranked defense.
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 a week of additional rest.
For the most part, these teams have met with modicum of success, going 31-11 SU and 23-19 ATS in this role.
The best the NFC has to offer has gone 19-3 SU and 15-7 ATS, including 17-1 SU and 14-4 ATS if they won 13 or fewer games last season.
The NFC spotlight shines on top-seeded Atlanta this week.
Top seeds from the AFC have struggled, going 14-9 SU and 9-13 ATS, including 6-5 SU and 2-9 ATS when playing off back-to-back wins.
No. 1 seed Denver will look to improve on those numbers when it hosts Baltimore Saturday.
Success Breeds Success
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 29-6 SU and 21-13-1-1 ATS at home with a week to prepare in Division Round contests.
New England and San Francisco fit the bill this season, rather cautiously though, as teams in this role are just 5-4 SU and 2-7 ATS the last six years.
On the flip side, teams that were losing teams last year (seven or fewer wins) are just 10-34 SU and 18-24-1 ATS in this round, including 2-12 SU and 4-10 ATS when taking on No. 1 seeds.
However, before snapping the rubber band and fading Seattle this week - the only losing team last year to make it to the Division Round this year - you should know these “losers” were 3-0 SU and ATS in this round last season.
Life on the road for Wild Card teams who won at home has been rocky at best, especially for those who covered the spread as well.
These highwaymen are just 12-34 SU and 17-27-2 ATS in this role against well-rested, higher-seeded foes.
And if these same Wild Card winners take to the road off one win-exactly, they dip to a filthy 0-15 SU and 1-13-1 ATS in these affairs.
Baltimore, Houston and Green Bay all look to avoid becoming road kill this week.