Which Wild Card Weekend Winner has the Best Shot at Winning Super Bowl LIV?
By: Matthew Zimmer
With the first round of the NFL playoffs in the rear view mirror, it’s time for the Divisional Round on Jan. 11 and 12. For the second season in a row, only one Wild Card weekend home team won (Houston) and both No. 6 seeds advanced (Minnesota and Tennessee).
Despite the Wild Card road success, last year both No. 6 seeds lost the following week on the road (No. 6 Indianapolis at No. 1 Kansas City; No. 6 Philadelphia at No. 1 New Orleans). In fact, all the Wild Card teams lost in the Divisional Round last season (No. 4 Dallas at No. 2 LA Rams; No. 5 LA Chargers at No. 2 New England).
What I’m saying is, the fans of the Wild Card weekend winners may not have a ton of time left to watch their team this season. So, I crunched the numbers to find out which lower-seeded team has the best chance to advance to their conference championship game and the Super Bowl. I used the Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to create this information because it is widely regarded as the metric to use when comparing teams. For a full breakdown of DVOA visit their site here. Now the headline question, which Wild Card weekend winner has the best shot to win the Super Bowl? Order is least likely to most likely.
4. Houston Texans (AFC No. 4 Seed)
Before doing the DVOA research, I didn’t expect the highest remaining Wild Card weekend seed to have the lowest chance to advance to or to win the Super Bowl. However, the matchup for Houston at Kansas City is horribly stacked against the Texans. The Texans ranked 17th in offensive DVOA versus the Chiefs 14th ranked defense. Houston is the lowest remaining DVOA defense at No. 26, and when you pair that with a “battle” against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s 3rd ranked offense… you could say it’s not going to end well for Houston. If they somehow beat Kansas City, they’d be smashed by Baltimore.
3. Tennessee Titans (AFC No. 6 Seed)
The Titans just edged out Houston for the No. 3 spot on our list because they ranked closer to Baltimore in both offensive and defensive DVOA than the Texans did with KC. The Titans offense is ranked 6th, and they’ll battle Baltimore’s 4th ranked defense. Unsurprisingly, the massive difference in Tennessee at Baltimore is the Ravens stellar offense. The Titans are No. 16 in defense, while the Lamar Jackson-led offense is No. 1 in the NFL. In other words, DVOA suggests the Titans offense can compete against the Ravens defense, but the Baltimore offense will more likely run circles around the Tennessee defense. If Tennessee could figure out Jackson and the Ravens, it’s fair to think they’d hold up against Kansas City. However, the deterrent for Tennessee is they don’t hold up as well as our next team against their potential conference championship opponent.
2. Minnesota Vikings (NFC No. 6 Seed)
If you’d asked me before I researched all this DVOA information, I would have picked Minnesota as the least likely team of these four to reach or win the Super Bowl. However, they match up surprisingly well with San Francisco. The Vikings offense is 10th in DVOA, but going up against the 49ers second ranked defense is no easy task. On the defensive end, Minnesota is No. 7 in DVOA while the San Francisco offense they’ll face is also No. 7. Minnesota’s defense is the best shot (based on DVOA) to take out the 49ers before the Super Bowl, but Kirk Cousins versus the 49ers’ D is frightening to think about for Vikes fans. If the Vikings got past San Francisco, they’d have a decent shot at knocking off Green Bay. The Vikings are better in both their offense against the Packers D, and the Minnesota defense versus GB’s offense, at least in DVOA.
1. Seattle Seahawks (NFC No. 5 Seed)
Now before you start thinking this was an elaborate ploy from someone in the PNW to be a homer and pick Seattle, let me tell you something. I’m a Denver Broncos fan, and after Super Bowl XLVIII it pains me personally to rank the Seahawks as the best thing on any list… So, no homerism here. Okay, now to the explanation side.
The Seahawks have the best shot to reach their conference championship game of the four Wild Card teams. Both Seattle and Green Bay are better offenses than the other’s defense. The Seahawks are 5th on offense versus the Packers No. 15 DVOA defense. Green Bay’s offense is 8th compared to Seattle’s No. 18 defense. So, the Seahawks were the only team where I was forced to dive a little deeper. I decided to look at “per drive” stats next.
The Packers are better than Seattle in almost every stat I could divulge from the Football Outsiders: Touchdowns per offensive drive, GB 9th and SEA 10th. Points per red zone trip, GB 4th and SEA 7th. Touchdowns per red zone trip, GB 4th and Seattle 9th. Seattle had fewer punts and fewer three-and-outs per offensive drive than Green Bay, but that was about it.
On defensive “per drive” stats, Seattle was better at causing turnovers (SEA 4th, GB 6th), but Green Bay was better at yards and points given up per drive. The Packers are also better at holding teams from scoring on each red zone possession and touchdowns allowed per drive.
Seattle is the only team that required that much in-depth research to determine whose DVOA would prevail. The Seahawks also earned points because their offense and defense DVOAs keep them close (but still below) San Francisco. However, in the per drive stats, Seattle beats the Niners in some key areas. The Seahawks D is 4th in turnovers forced per drive, whereas SF is 7th. Seattle’s offense beats the 49ers offense in points per red zone drive and touchdowns per red zone drive.
Honestly, it will be difficult for any of the Wild Card weekend winners to advance to the championship round. For context, the last time a team that played on WC Weekend reached the championship game was the No. 4 seeded Packers in 2017. Even worse, the last time a WC weekend participant reached the Super Bowl was the No. 4 Baltimore Ravens in 2013. By seed, the last No. 5 seed to reach a championship appearance was the Niners in 2014. The last No. 5 seed to reach the Super Bowl was the New York Giants in 2008 when they upset the unbeaten Patriots. The last No. 6 seed to reach the championship game was in 2011 when both the New York Jets and Packers advanced to the AFC and NFC Championship games, respectively. The last No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl was that same 2011 Packers team that won it against Pittsburgh.
That’s a long way of saying, if any of the four Wild Card winners advance to the Super Bowl (win or lose) it would be at least a little bit of history.