Trendspotting in the NFL playoffs
The goal of every team is to make it to the tournament and, as we've seen in recent years, no one can predict which way the ball is going to bounce or if a safety will horribly miss-time a jump that costs his team a conference title. The playoffs are just wacky like that.
So, in order to try to make some sense of the chaos, I took a look back at each of the last ten Super Bowl champs to see if there are any patterns. Turns out, the Super Bowl winners from the last decade don't share some secret formula. There have been as many No. 1 seeds that just kept on rolling (03-04 Patriots, 09-10 Saints) as there were No. 6 seeds that shocked the world (05-06 Steelers, 10-11 Packers). There were offensive-minded teams, defensive powerhouses, and some objectively mediocre squads that simply strung together a magical month.
But even though there isn't a clear-cut formula, a brief look at recent playoff history reveals some important trends that I will now use -- albeit prematurely and simplistically -- to predict this season's Super Bowl champion with the following 3-part checklist.
1. Improvement from the previous season
It would make sense to assume that the Super Bowl champs probably had a better year in their championship season than they did the year before. You know what happens when you assume?
Of the last ten Super Bowl winners, five won fewer games in their championship season than they did they year before. One team (04-05 Pats) won the same number of games and, out of the four that improved, only two teams (03-04 Pats and 09-10 Saints) had more than a two-win improvement from their previous season. And in the case of the 03-04 Pats, they didn't come out of nowhere even though they improved their win total by five. They had won the SB in 2002 and won their division the following year.
So, it seems unlikely for a team to come out of nowhere, win a whole bunch more games, and carry their momentum all the way to February. Rather, teams that are established and have playoff experience tend to be more likely to go all the way.
This trend eliminates a few out-of-nowhere teams: Kansas City (2 wins in '12), Philadelphia (4 wins in '12) Carolina and San Diego (both with 7 wins in '12). They've had nice seasons, but it usually takes a couple of years to go from being a winning team to being the champs. Sorry, fellas.