Looking Back at Prior Year Success and Playoff Seedings


Now that the season is almost over I wanted to go back and look at something I wrote in the offseason about the unpredictable nature of the NFL and how much success varies from year to year. You can click here to read the full article, but I’ll summarize most of it below.

Last season the teams who lost in the wildcard round were the Redskins, Colts, Bengals, and Vikings. All were expected to compete and only two did. That should be no surprise. Since 2002, over 50% of teams that lost in this round failed to make the playoffs the following season. Of those who returned about 80% moved past the Wildcard round the following year. Maybe the Bengals will do that this season. I have a hard time picturing Indianapolis doing that, though.

Our divisional round losers were the Packers, Broncos, Texans, and Seahawks. Two are locks, one is completely dead, and one on the outside looking in due to QB injuries. 58% of teams that lost in this round failed to make the playoffs the next year so we are right in the normal territory. Of those who do make it most are eliminated by the divisional round again. I am sure that this is the fear of every Broncos fan out there right now. Seattle seems primed to break from that group.

The Patriots and Falcons both lost in the title games in 2012 and the Falcons did not compete in 2013. While I never expected the Falcons to be so bad, 40% of these teams did not make the playoffs in the following season. A majority of teams make it to at least the championship game the following season if they enter the playoffs.  Given the state of the AFC I would consider New England a strong possibility for that.

The 49ers were the losers of the Super Bowl  and normally 50% don’t return to the playoffs, but San Francisco, after a slow start, seems ready to return as a Wildcard. Only 10% of Super Bowl losers advanced to a conference championship game and none returned to the Super Bowl.  Probably a tough battle for them to overcome especially with Seattle likely in round 2.

40% of Super Bowl winners failed to make the playoffs and almost none advance past the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Ravens have struggled all season and look to fit right into the 50% eliminated by the end of wildcard weekend.

Clearly I whiffed badly on Super Bowl selections in the original article, but the numbers did indicate that at least one Super Bowl team would come from the 2012 field of non-qualifiers and likely from a team  that was good the year before, particularly with a decent QB. The Saints and Panthers have both had strong seasons and the Cowboys, Chargers, Dolphins, and Bears are all in contention. Will one representative come from this grouping?  Maybe so and if it does we should not be too surprised.

I also wanted to look at how playoff seeding effects chances in the playoffs since that is a hot topic. When it comes to winning a Super Bowl, seeding is basically meaningless. The number 2 seed has produced the most champions since 2002 with three while the 1, 4, and 6 seed all have two champions apiece. The number 3 and 5 seed have one title each. Maybe that plays into the neutral field aspect or just general hotness of a team, but best record doesn’t mean best chance, not that we are breaking new ground here.

But seeding does matter when it comes to reaching the Super Bowl or moving deep into the playoffs. 40.9% of number 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl. 22.9% of number 2 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl. Those numbers are significant. The other 4 seeds combined for just 36.3% representation. When they get there they generally win, but the most successful teams are those top seeds.

In terms of representation in the Conference Championship round the top seeds again hold a major edge. 59.1% of number 1 seeds and 68.2% of number 2 seeds advance pass their first playoff game. Though people often talk about being well rested and the like, it’s probably just a home field advantage thing. The number 3 and 4 seeds also advance past round 1 at a 59.1% rate as well, before heading to the road in round 2.

The one weird number, though, comes from the 6 seed. If we take the Wildcard round a set of play in games, 55.6% of those teams that upset the 3 seed also upset the 1 seed. The other 3 lower seeds are all around a 30% success rate in the divisional round.  Maybe that balances out over time but they actually advance to the Super Bowl at almost the same rate as the 2 seed, assuming they advance past their play in game.

Here are the percentages by seed in terms of success in terms of round elimination:

Elimination Round

Finally here is the seed representation in each round of the playoffs beyond the wildcard.

playoff representation