Obviously, every team wants to end the season as the No. 1 seed and earn a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but does how much does it really help?
In the Divisional Round, top seeds are 31-13 since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990. The No. 1 seed has fared better in the NFC, going 18-4 over that span as compared to a 13-9 record for the top team in the AFC.
While the top seed may hold a historical advantage, recent history says otherwise. The No. 1 seed in the NFC has lost the Divisional Round game in four of the past five seasons after winning 17 straight, with only the 2009 New Orleans Saints advancing to the Conference Championship (and eventually winning the Super Bowl).
Things haven’t been too much better in the AFC recently, where the top seed has lost in four of the past seven Divisional meetings. However, each of the three No. 1 seeds that won its first game over the past seven years in the AFC went on to play in the Super Bowl (2007 Patriots, 2009 Colts, 2011 Patriots).
Ultimately, despite the recent struggles of top seeds, don’t expect to find the Falcons or Broncos looking to trade places with anyone this year. Both teams received their conference’s top seed by going 13-3 in the regular season and earned the right to play at home in the playoffs. Atlanta will host the Seahawks on Sunday and the Broncos face off against the Ravens on Saturday.
The Broncos in particular are pleased to have home-field advantage, as their 13-3 record is tied for the best home playoff record in NFL history. Also holding a 13-3 home playoff record are the Patriots, who as the AFC's No. 2 seed will be hosting the Texans on Sunday. The Broncos went 7-1 at home this year, while the Patriots finished 6-2 at home. Both NFC home teams had a significant home-field advantage during the regular season as well. Atlanta posted a 7-1 record in the Georgia Dome, and the 49ers went 6-1-1 in San Francisco.
Notwithstanding the regular season and historical home dominance of the higher seeds, don’t count out the road teams, particularly those playing on Saturday. The Ravens take the best road playoff record in NFL history (7-5) into Denver, while the Packers head to San Francisco with the second-best winning percentage as a playoff road team at .455 (10-12). It will be a tough task for those teams to build on their road playoff success this year, as during the regular season both the Ravens and Packers went just 4-4 away from home.
We will know by the end of the weekend if the recent trend of top-seed losses in the Divisional Round will continue, or if the data will shift back to support the No. 1 seeds advancing to the Conference Championships.