On the heels of one of the most top-heavy seasons in NFL history, we shouldn't be surprised that the Super Bowl will showcase the two No. 1 seeds from each conference. Remember, we had a whopping five unbeaten teams entering Week 8, the most at that point since the merger in 1970. And for much of the season, a matchup between winning teams was a rare occurrence on the weekly schedule.
So it is only fitting we get a top-shelf pairing between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos Sunday night at Levi's Stadium. The two clubs both earned the highest seeds in their conferences and used it to their advantage by notching back-to-back home wins in the Divisional round and conference championship en route to a berth in Super Bowl 50.
At least one No. 1 seed regularly makes it to the Super Bowl (16 of the last 18 have included a top seed), but the chance of both one seeds from the AFC and NFC facing off in the big game is a relative long shot.
From a Vegas perspective, a Broncos-Panthers Super Bowl matchup had 184-1 odds before the start of the season started, per 5Dimes. From a historical perspective, since 1975 when the NFL began basing home-field advantage in the postseason on teams' regular season win percentage, this year's contest is only the 12th time that the Super Bowl will feature the top dogs from the AFC and the NFC.
Granted, this clash of superpowers might seem commonplace -- it's the third straight season we've had a No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup -- but it's actually rarer than you think. The only other time in the last two decades it occurred was following the 2009 season, when the New Orleans Saints faced off against the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts.
|1976||XI||Oakland Raiders||Minnesota Vikings||32-14|
|1977||XII||Dallas Cowboys||Denver Broncos||27-10|
|1981||XVI||San Francisco 49ers||Cincinnati Bengals||26-21|
|1983||XVIII||Los Angeles Raiders||Washington||38-9|
|1984||XIX||San Francisco 49ers||Miami Dolphins||38-16|
|1989||XXIV||San Francisco 49ers||Denver Broncos||55-10|
|1993||XXVIII||Dallas Cowboys||Buffalo Bills||30-13|
|2009||XLIV||New Orleans Saints||Indianapolis Colts||31-17|
|2013||XLVIII||Seattle Seahawks||Denver Broncos||43-8|
|2014||XLVIII||New England Patriots||Seattle Seahawks||28-24|
The biggest takeaway from the previous matchups is that even though these games were supposed to pit the best of the best in a high-stakes, winner-take-all championship battle, the scores have been mostly lopsided. Nine of the 11 contests have been decided by double digits and the average margin of victory is 20 points per game. The winning team has been explosive offensively, putting up 30 or more points in all but three of the matchups.
The other notable trend is that the NFC has won eight of the 11 games. That's partly due to the fact that the top seed from the NFC has had much more success in the Super Bowl than its AFC counterpart. The NFC's top seed has won 15 of the 23 Super Bowls its played in, while the AFC's top seed has just seven Super Bowl wins in 21 appearances.
Another historical factor working against the Broncos is that they've been in this position before and failed miserably each time. They were on the wrong end of blowouts by the Seahawks (2013), 49ers (1989) and Cowboys (1977). This also obviously won't be Peyton Manning's first rodeo in a top-seed matchup in the Super Bowl. He was at the helm for the Broncos in their disastrous performance two seasons ago and was under center for the Colts' 14-point loss to the Saints in 2009.
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Although history says that the Panthers should win this game in a blowout, we know that the unpredictable is often the most common outcome in today's NFL. The Panthers and Broncos were the top seeds heading into the playoffs, but a Super Bowl matchup between the two clubs was hardly a guarantee one month ago.
While Carolina was the overwhelming favorite to emerge from the NFC bracket and was incredibly impressive in its two playoff victories, Denver had serious questions about its viability as a top contender and had to win two close games to advance. Still, in very different ways, both notched impressive title game victories, giving us fans a rare No. 1 vs. No. 1 Super Bowl matchup to enjoy this weekend.