The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots aren’t bucking the odds when they take the field as hosts for the NFL’s conference championship games on Sunday–each are favored by a touchdown-plus. But the Seahawks and Patriots are bucking at least a little bit of history–both are #1 seeds, and the record of the chalk holding in each conference is lot less reliable than you might think.
The NFL playoffs went to a seeding format in 1975. Prior to that, the hosts for each game were set by a pre-determined rotation system between the divisions, an absurd idea that left the undefeated Miami Dolphins playing in Pittsburgh for the 1972 AFC Championship Game.
Finally, someone in the NFL office came up with the ingenious idea that the team that wins more football games should host in the postseason and a new era started in ’75.
Over the ensuing 38 seasons, the home teams have had more than their share of success, a reason the high seeds are a coveted prize in the regular season. Seeing at least one #1 seed in the Super Bowl has been mostly par for the course. But both top seeds squaring off has been a little more rare.
Even more pertinent to this year, we’re coming off a season in 2013, where both the top seeds held serve, as Seattle and the Denver Broncos were the favorites in last year’s playoffs. So now it’s not just a question of how often both #1 seeds advance to the Super Bowl, but how often does that happen two years in a row?
We’ll answer the last question first–only twice. In 1976-77, and then in 1983-84. So it’s been thirty years since we’ve had two straight seasons of playoffs were both favorites reach the Super Bowl. There’s only been ten instances overall. Here’s the rundown….
1976: Oakland Raiders & Minnesota Vikings--The Raiders of John Madden take advantage of the injury-riddled Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, while Fran Tarkenton’s VIkes win their third NFC crown in four years–but never won it all. Also the last time the Vikings made the Super Bowl.
1977: Dallas Cowboys & Denver Broncos–Dallas rolls through Chicago and Minnesota, while Denver wins a controversial game over Oakland, helped by a touchdown run that would probably be ruled a fumble with instant replay today.
1981: San Francisco 49ers & Cincinnati Bengals–Dwight Clark’s catch of a Joe Montana pass in San Francisco becomes an iconic Sports Illustrated cover. Cincinnati capitalizes on frigid temps to beat San Diego.
1983: Los Angeles Raiders & Washington Redskins–Easy ride for the Raiders. Redskins win a thriller over the 49ers aided by two highly questionable pass interference calls on a winning drive. As a ‘Skins fan, I call them “questionable.” An objective fan probably calls them outright terrible.
1989: San Francisco 49ers & Denver Broncos–San Francisco was one of the great teams in history. Denver beats Cleveland for the third time in four years. Unlike 1986-87, there was no last-minute drama to torment poor Browns fans.
1991: Washington Redskins & Buffalo Bills–Both teams were eyeing each other up by midseason and both rolled through their playoff games with relative ease.
1993: Dallas Cowboys & Buffalo Bills–Jimmy Johnson’s second Super Bowl champ in Dallas. Buffalo’s fourth straight AFC title, bu no Lombardi Trophy to show for it.
2009: New Orleans Saints & Indianapolis Colts–You can see we entered a new age of playoff unpredictability by the 16-year gap. The Saints win a thriller over the Vikings, with bounties on Brett Favre’s head and ultimately win it all.
2013: Seattle Seahawks & Denver Broncos–Will be remembered for Richard Sherman’s tipped pass that set up Seattle’s clinching interception and then his postgame rant to Fox’s Erin Andrews about 49er receiver Michael Crabtree.
Will this year’s Seattle team and the Patriots of Brady & Belichick join the list? Las Vegas says yes, and with comparative ease. History says not so fast.