NFL Playoff Seeds Don’t Guarantee Postseason Success



In 1975, the NFL made the decision to seed the teams as they began the postseason push toward the Super Bowl. The format has been in effect for 39 years.

For the number one seeds in each conference, getting the top spot gives them home field advantage throughout the playoffs (if they win each game leading up to the Super Bowl). With home field advantage, these number-one seeds are typically the odds-on favorites to make the Super Bowl and represent their conference in the championship game.

With almost four decades of stats, we need to ask: Does having home field advantage as the number one seed assure teams of a trip to the Super Bowl?

Since 1975, number-one seeds have won the title 21 of the 39 times. In fact, if you look at the Super Bowl champs from 1975-1999, 18 of the 25 were a number one seed (a 72% success rate). Once the calendar turned to the next millennium, however, number one seeds have been less successful in the playoffs and big game… only three number-one seeds have won a Super Bowl since 2000 (that includes last year’s NFC number one seed, Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks).

We also notice that the number-one seeds from each conference have had a little less success just making the title game since 2000. Again, from 1975-99, 29 of the 50 teams (58%) that played in the Super Bowl were the number-one seed in their conference. Since 2000, however, that number has dropped to 46% as 13 of the 28 Super Bowl teams this century were the number seed in their conference.

Through games of Week 15 this season, the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals hold the number-one seed. For the Patriots, they have been a number-one seed four times since 2003. The Cards, on the other hand, have never been a number-one seed … and with two remaining games against division rivals Seattle and San Francisco, Arizona will have a challenge on their hands to keep that number-one seed until the end of the 2014 season.

Here’ a look at the franchises that have had the most number-one seeds in the playoffs since 1975.

8: San Francisco
7: Denver
6: Pittsburgh
5: Oakland/L.A. Raiders
4: New England

Seven of the 32 current NFL franchises have never been a conference number-one seed for the playoffs: the aforementioned Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Detroit, Houston, N.Y. Jets and Tampa Bay.