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NFL Playoff Picture: How Important Is Playoff Seeding?

With a victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons will clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs, something they haven't done since 1980. But how important is it to have the top seed in your respective conference? I mix up a delightful cocktail of math and research to answer my own inquiry. We'll use data from the realignment in 2002 to present. During those eight seasons, let's see how beneficial it is to be the conference's best team.

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In the NFC, the top seed has reached the Super Bowl four of eight times or 50 percent since 2002. Those are reasonable odds until you consider that means that half the time the No. 1 seed loses in the first or second playoff game. Moreover, in the last eight seasons the NFC's No. 1 seed has won the Super Bowl only once and that happened last season when the Saints did it. Prior to that, it had been since 1999 when the NFC's top seed won it all.

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Mix in the AFC and we end up with 16 No. 1 seeds since 2002 and only eight times has the conference's top seed reached the Super Bowl with only two teams going on to win (13 percent). The full chart for your perusal follows:

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↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵
AFC
Won Super Bowl
Lost Super Bowl
Lost Championship
Lost Divisional
Lost Wild Card
1
13%
38%
13%
38%
0%
2
25%
0%
25%
50%
0%
3
13%
0%
25%
25%
38%
4
0%
0%
13%
38%
50%
5
0%
0%
13%
38%
50%
6
13%
0%
13%
13%
63%
↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵↵
NFC
Won Super Bowl
Lost Super Bowl
Lost Championship
Lost Divisional
Lost Wild Card
1
13%
38%
25%
25%
0%
2
13%
0%
50%
38%
0%
3
0%
13%
0%
38%
50%
4
0%
13%
0%
50%
38%
5
13%
0%
13%
13%
63%
6
0%
0%
13%
38%
50%
↵
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Playoff Notes since 2002:

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Over the past eight seasons, the best spot to be in is the No. 2 seed in the AFC. That team has won the Super Bowl more than any other seed (twice).

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The No. 4 seed from either conference has not won the Super Bowl. The NFC should continue that streak with the Seahawks/Rams winner clinching the fourth seed.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.