What’s the Advantage?
Is home field or a first-round bye a good thing? Recent history might disagree.
How could the number one or two seeds be a bad thing? Seriously, it doesn’t make sense, but recent history would contradict this notion. In recent years, teams have been making runs out of the Wild Card round, and into the Super Bowl. Since the 2007-2008 NFL season, there has been a #4 or lower seed in four of the last five Super Bowls. Of those four low seeds, they have a record of 3-1. Is there a method to this madness, or is it just sheer luck? These teams may have more in common than you think.
The 2007-08 New York Giants made an astonishing run from the #5 seed in the NFC to become champions of the NFL.
There are a few things about this run that stand out. Firstly, Eli Manning put on his big boy pants, and decided to become a clutch QB. He threw for 6 TDs and 1 interception during this run. These other teams also leaned on their QBs. The 2008-09 Cardinals would not have made a run without Kurt Warner, who threw for a whopping 11 TDs in his four playoff games, keeping them in contention. The 2010-11 Packers had Rodgers, who fired off a 9:2 TD-INT ratio and the 2011-12 Giants’ Manning, 9:1. Joe Flacco has followed the mold, throwing 8 TDs without a pick this postseason. I think you get the point.
We all know the QB position is crucial to winning football games. Without great QB play, most teams don’t have a shot (exceptions: Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer… yeah I forget they won Super Bowls too). But what else is driving these teams?
Strahan was on the fence about retiring for a good year and a half before finally pulling the trigger. But most Giants fans and personnel knew that the 2007-08 year would be his last. He had broken Lawrence Taylors franchise sack record, which was a motivation for him to come back after sitting out the pre-season. This could have motivated the Giants to “win one for Mike”. Kurt Warner decided to come back to the NFL after his Super Bowl loss, but you’ve got to imagine if they won, he would have retired. This postseason, I don’t think I need to explain the Ravens retirement situation. After every game, every Raven that gets interviewed is asked about Ray Lewis retiring. They all say the same thing: We’re trying to win this for Ray.
Defenses and Turnovers
The old adage of “Defense wins championships” has been questioned in recent years with the increased focus on up-tempo, frequent pass-play offenses. But for these low seeds, the defenses have been pretty stellar. The 2007-08 Giants held opponents in the playoffs to 20 points or less every game, while forcing seven turnovers in their four games. When you think of the 2010-11 Packers, you don’t immediately jump to defense. However, this unit held opponents under 25 points, while forcing an amazing 11 turnovers (they also had a guy named Atari Bigby, easily a top 5 NFL name). Well, these 2012 Ravens have forced eight turnovers in just three games, while holding an offense as gifted as the Patriots to just 13 points.
Forget home field advantage, it seems like a team with a confident quarterback, maybe some extra motivation (like a star’s retirement), and a defense that is willing to take the risks to make turnovers is better than having home field advantage and a first-round bye.
After watching the Ravens play the Patriots this weekend, as a Giants fan, I got a lot of vibes that this Ravens team is very similar these lowly seeded teams. They’re both underdogs the whole way to the Super Bowl, with shockingly good QB play, a star making his last stand and a turnover-happy defensive unit. Time will tell if they can close the door like the Giants and Packers did. If they do, I expect Eli Manning and Justin Tuck to tell people next season will be their last.