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After 18 historic weeks of football, the 2021-22 NFL Playoffs are set to kick off this weekend with the recently expanded Wild Card round.

This will be just the second season in which 14 teams qualify for the playoffs, with 12 of those competing in the first round of the postseason.

Previously, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds from each conference received a bye into the divisional round, but now only the very top team from each conference get that luxury.

This year, that is the Green Bay Packers - who are +380 favorites in the NFL betting to win the Super Bowl - and the Tennessee Titans.

This new format brings with it a few questions. How important is having a bye into the second round? How important is the home-field advantage guaranteed to the No. 1 seeds? How likely are the lower seeds to go deep into the postseason?

Let’s do some digging.

The importance of a bye

A bye in the first week of the playoffs has always been important, but the recent format change means it is potentially more important than ever, with just two teams getting a break between the end of the regular season and the start of the post.

By looking back at the last 31 years of NFL playoffs – the Wild Card round was last expanded in 1990 – we can work out just how important a bye week has been for your chances of reaching, and winning, the Super Bowl.

Of the 62 teams that have reached the Super Bowl since 1990, 49 received a bye through the Wild Card round. That equates to 79 per cent.

Of those 49 teams, 22 went on to lift the Lombardi Trophy. This means that 71 per cent of Super Bowl champions since 1990 have earned a bye week.

Meanwhile, there have been just nine Super Bowl champions since 1990 that played in the Wild Card round.


Obviously, the new format should see these figures level out slightly, with most teams now playing in the Wild Card round, but this paints a pretty clear picture.

Having a bye week to start the playoffs drastically increases your chances of both making, and winning, the Super Bowl.

The Packers and Titans should have a significant advantage over the other teams in their conference on the road to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.

The importance of home-field advantage

The other benefit of securing one of the top seeds for the playoffs is home-field advantage.

No. 1 seeds are always guaranteed home-field advantage throughout, but if they are eliminated, then No. 2 seeds get that privilege.

Playing two or three home games should, in theory, be a huge boost to your Super Bowl hopes.

But is that actually the case?


Since 1990, 38 teams that have reached the Super Bowl have had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (61 per cent).

Of those 38 teams, 16 went on to win the championship, meaning 52 per cent of Super Bowl champions have enjoyed home-field advantage.

That number isn’t actually that high, although it must be remembered that most playoff teams will play at least one game on the road.

So, home-field advantage is, as suggested by the name, an advantage, but not quite as important as that first-round bye.

Historic exceptions

The vast majority of Super Bowl champions in recent years have secured top seeding thanks to their regular season records.

In fact, 49 of the 62 teams (79 per cent) to reach the Super Bowl since 1990 have been either the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their conference.

Occasionally, though, a Wild Card team comes from nowhere to win it all.

Of the nine teams to play in the Wild Card round and go on to win the Super Bowl since 1990, four stand out from the rest.

The Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, New York Giants in 2007, Green Bay Packers in 2010 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 all played in the Wild Card round, and all played three road games on the road to the Super Bowl.


These are the only four teams to be seeded No. 5 or below and go on to win the Super Bowl in recent NFL history.

For the teams ranked No. 5 or below this season – the Raiders, Patriots, Steelers, Cardinals, 49ers and Eagles – that doesn’t inspire confidence. They do know, however, that if they do go on to win it all, they will be joining a select few to achieve such a feat.  

What does this mean for the 2021-22 playoffs?

With this being just the second year of the current playoff format, it’s harder to say exactly how seeding, byes and home-field advantage is going to affect things this year.

One thing that is clear is that the higher you are seeded, the more chance you have of reaching, and winning, the Super Bowl. These are, after all, generally the best teams each season.  


However, with No. 2 seeds no longer receiving that all-important bye, we may see that No. 1 seed become even more important this year, and in the future.

Historically, No. 1 teams in the NFC have reached the Super Bowl more than any other seed, so that bodes well for the Packers, who ended the season with the joint-best record in the NFL (13-4) and the likely MVP in Aaron Rodgers.

With No. 2 seeds now having to play three games like all the teams below them, we should also see more teams seeded No. 3 and lower go deep into the playoffs.

That means we could potentially see teams like the Bills, Cowboys, Bengals and Cardinals make a splash in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, though, the playoffs is a lottery, and you can never really predict what is going to happen – that’s the beauty of it all.