Good news, Eagles fans. Over the last five postseasons, every No. 1 seed that made it to the conference title game round has advanced to the Super Bowl.
Last year the New England Patriots topped the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game. The year before last, both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos won as top seeds in their respective conferences, earning trips to the Super Bowl.
In 2014, both top seeds made it to the Super Bowl as well, as the Seahawks and Patriots won their conference title games. In 2013, Seattle and Denver both qualified for the Super Bowl as No. 1 seeds as well.
Over the last four seasons, the No. 1 seeds made the Super Bowl seven of eight times. So, if recent history is any indication, the Eagles are destined for this year’s Big Game.
Now, here comes the bad news: That pattern falls apart when you look further back.
Since 1975, when the NFL began giving home field advantage to the teams that finished with the best record in the regular season, just 24 of the NFC’s top seeds made the Super Bowl, while 23 from the AFC got there. In the last 42 years, both No. 1 seeds have made the Super Bowl just 12 times.
The Patriots are nine-point favorites over Jacksonville, while the Vikings are favored by three points over the Eagles, despite Sunday’s game being played at Lincoln Financial Field. So chances are if this is a year where only one top team makes the Super Bowl, odds are in New England’s favor.
All season long the AFC has felt like a two-team race for the Super Bowl, with the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers the class of the conference. Though with Jacksonville beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Pats became prohibitive favorites to get back to the Super Bowl again this year.
In the AFC, the top seed has not only made it to the Super Bowl four straight years, the AFC champion has won the last three Super Bowls. Prior to that, however, the last time a No. 1 seed from the AFC won the Super Bowl was in 2003, when the Patriots and Eagles were both top seeds.
The Eagles failed to make it to the Super Bowl that season, then they lost the Super Bowl as the No. 1 seed out of the NFC the following year. The last time the NFC’s top seed won the Super Bowl was 2013, when the Seahawks did it. Before that, it was 2009 when the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. The notable thing about that Super Bowl — besides Peyton Manning facing his dad’s old team — was that it was the first time two No. 1 seeds had made the same Super Bowl since 1993, a span of 15 seasons. In what’s supposed to be an era of parity, the top seeds from both conferences have made the Super Bowl in four of the last eight games.
More bad news: From 1993 to 1996, the NFC’s No. 1 seed won the Super Bowl every season, but since that run, the NFC’s top team has only won the title three times.
As for the Eagles, this is the fourth time in history they earned the No. 1 seed. Two of the last three they lost in the NFC title game. At home. The other time? They lost in the Super Bowl. To the Patriots.
From 2002 through 2004, the Eagles were the NFC’s top team, making the Super Bowl just the once, when Terrell Owens came back from a broken leg and was awesome and Donovan McNabb may or may not have barfed and the Birds lost to Tom Brady and the Pats, giving New England back-to-back championships.
The Pats’ run of success began two years earlier than that, when they topped the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI — the Rams were a No. 1 seed that year, but New England was not.
New England has won five titles in this era, and they’ve earned the top spot in the AFC seven times. They made it to the Super Bowl five of the previous six times they were the top seed in the AFC, winning three.
Given the teams left in the final four, history might not be on the Eagles’ side. And yet, there is one silver lining should they lose this weekend. The Eagles already got farther than last year’s NFC top seed, when the Dallas Cowboys lost in the divisional playoff round.