Super Bowl 50 Update: Key play-off stats for the road to Santa Clara

Stats a fact: but can the play-off protagonists escape the big numbers that count?
Stats a fact: but can the play-off protagonists escape the big numbers that count?

Romilly Evans examines the seeds of postseason success and determines the salient statistics which should swell them as we enter the play-offs...


"In the NFC, the No.4 seed enjoys a 73% probability to triumph in their initial match. So it's good and bad news for the Skins"

Rankings are there for a reason. That said, any seeding system can merely be premised on past performance. It cannot foretell what is to come. More Christmas Past than Christmas Future, Mr Scrooge. And as cheap as this observation may be, it has been eloquently demonstrated by the NFL play-offs, where prominent seeds have fallen by the wayside time and time again over the years.

So lest you feel like you've unwittingly stumbled into a state-the-obvious competition, I'll try and restrict my reflections to the significant statistics for the dog-eat-dog landscape of play-off country.

In the postseason, a high seeding affords the leading four teams in each conference homefield advantage and even a bye week in which to rest their weary limbs, while the lesser lights contest Wildcard Weekend. Homefield games are undeniably an advantage in the NFL. Both stats and theory bear this out.

Yet the narrower framework of play-off history is less well-defined, where approximately 60% of home sides have prevailed in their opening matches (100 games) since the current 12-team format was introduced in 1990.

Sure, all four home teams were successful in the 2011 Wildcard Round, but 2014's quartet levelled the scales and defied the stats in a clean reverse-sweep. And they were followed by three more home field bankers last year. Mark Twain was right: facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

So here's a few sturdier numbers which should inform your punting pointers (again, since 1990)...

• No AFC No.5 seed has ever made it to the Super Bowl. That's bad news for this year's Kansas City Chiefs, despite them riding a 10-game winning streak.

• Only two NFC No.4 seeds have ever won their Divisional game. Which means the Washington Redskins' play-off stay could be temporary.


And if you're more interested in this week's Wildcard Round...

• The AFC No.3 seed is over 72% likely to win their Wildcard game. So Cincinnati fans can supposedly put the champagne on ice, regardless of Andy Dalton's absence.

• While in the NFC, the No.4 seed is accorded a 73% probability to triumph in their initial match. So it's good and bad news for the Skins.


Or if you're looking further down the road to the Super Bowl...

Beware the top dogs

In the past seven years alone, five No.1 seeds have lost their play-off openers in the Divisional Round. And last year's Lombardi showdown, alongside 2009, represent the only four since 1993 when both No. 1 seeds (AFC and NFC) have made it to the Super Bowl. Then again, the Pats and the Hawks both combined for this feat over the past solar cycle.

This year's pre-eminent pairing of the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos should accordingly guard against complacency - especially after possibly the most wide-open season on record. More recently, though, there have also been eight instances since 2000, when one of these top seeds has crashed out early doors, while the other has wound up as the losing Super Bowl finalist.

2011: the No. 1 Green Bay Packers lose the Divisional game, the No. 1 New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl.

2007: the No. 1 Dallas Cowboys lose the Divisional game, the No. 1 New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl.

2006: the No. 1 San Diego Chargers lose the Divisional game, the No. 1 Chicago Bears lose the Super Bowl.

2005: the No. 1 Indianapolis Colts lose the Divisional game, the No. 1 Seattle Seahawks lose the Super Bowl.

2004: the No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers lose the Conference game, the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles lose the Super Bowl.

2002: the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles lose the Conference game, the No. 1 Oakland Raiders lose the Super Bowl.

2001: the No. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers lose the Conference game, the No. 1 Rams lose the Super Bowl.

2000: the No. 1 Tennessee Titans lose the Divisional game, the No. 1 Giants lose the Super Bowl.


Whichever way you cut the statistical deck, though, it's an inevitable conclusion that Wildcard Weekend (formerly known as Walkover Weekend) is no longer the province of uncompetitive match-ups. In fact, in six of the last nine Super Bowls, at least one finalist was a protagonist of the Wildcard Round. The seeds of doubt have once again been sown.


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