The National Football League uses a simple playoff format. Each conference gets six teams to play in the postseason – four divisional champions and two wild cards that have the best records among non-divisional champions.
The biggest part of getting into the playoffs involves seeding. The top two seeds in each conference get a first round bye, thus reducing the number of games they’d have to win to get into the Super Bowl from three to two. This is ideal for those who want to rest their players or to plan ahead to see which teams they could potentially take on.
However, the #1 seed is by far the most important. It’s given to the best in each conference. For instance, in 2012 the 13-3 Denver Broncos and 13-3 Atlanta Falcons both reached the top seeds in the playoffs. The NFL playoffs can be heavily judged by who gets far in the regular season; in this case, the Broncos and Falcons would have easily become the favorites to win the Super Bowl that year. The first seed is certainly that important to teams.
There are many good reasons why a team will want to get a #1 seed in the NFL playoffs. First, there’s the home field advantage that comes with reaching this position. A team that sticks to the #1 seed will play at home during each of the team’s two potential non-Super Bowl playoff games. This could be advantageous for teams with special home field benefits like Denver’s thin air or Seattle’s famous crowd.
The lack of travel also helps teams out. They can stick with their standard training facilities during the playoffs. In fact, they can stay where they are until about a week before the Super Bowl in the event that they do reach this. The meaning of this is that it breeds a sense of familiarity that makes it easier for a team to bond and to become a little stronger when heading out into the place where the Super Bowl will be located.
However, it’s the historical aspects of being #1 that’s so important. Since 1972, 23 #1 seeds have won the Super Bowl. This goes back to the perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins and Super Bowl VII. In the forty years since then, a majority of teams that have won the game were #1 seeds. The San Francisco 49ers have benefited from this four times while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have reached success at this point three times each.
Besides, the odds of winning a Super Bowl decrease when the team’s seed goes down. Only two #5 or #6 seeds have won the Super Bowl. This makes the meaning to get the first seed in the playoffs all the more important to take a careful look at.
There is one huge caveat to see though: Just because you’re a #1 seed doesn’t guarantee a win. The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots were #1 seeds for Super Bowl XL and XLII. They respectively lost to the #6 Steelers and #5 New York Giants in those games.