Historical Success of the #3 Seed in the Playoffs

Well, I stand corrected. Happily, I think. The 49ers will be no easy task but I think overall you have to feel better about being the #3 seed than the #4. But how much better? As I did a few days ago, I will look at the historical success of past playoff teams, but this time looking at the #3 seeds.

To start with, here are the records of the #3 seeds from each conference over the past 10 NFL Playoff brackets:

2011: Saints 1-1; Texans 1-1

2012: Packers 1-1; Texans 1-1

2013: Eagles 0-1 (lol); Bengals 0-1

2014: Cowboys 1-1; Steelers 0-1

2015: Vikings 0-1 (The Blair Walsh game); Bengals 0-1

2016: Seahawks 1-1; Steelers 2-1

2017: Rams 0-1; Jaguars 2-1

2018: Bears 0-1 (The Double Doink); Texans 0-1

2019: Saints 0-1; Patriots 0-1

2020: Seahawks 0-1; Steelers 0-1

Okay, not going to lie... this is much more depressing than I expected it to be. Over the past four years, only one #3 seed has won a playoff game? Wild. On the bright side, recent history shows #3 seeds seldom get blown out unless it's a team severely hurt by injury. So at the very least, we should expect a good game on Wildcard Weekend. The wins end up being blowouts on occasion, but usually even when the home team does win, it is by no means a cakewalk.

Only eight teams have advanced to the divisional round as the #3 seed in the past ten years, and they post a 2-6 record in that round as well. The silver lining here is that if, and it is a big if, Dallas wins this first game, they are guaranteed to be playing a team who did not have a bye week. That team will either be Tampa Bay on the road or the winner of LA vs Arizona at home. Dallas lost to two of those teams by a combined 5 points this year, so they are in the same league as both of them and there is reason to believe Dallas *could* win either matchup.

For my own curiosity, I looked back as far as the beginning of the Dallas Lombardi drought to look at #3 seeds' success rate over a longer period of time... and it doesn't really get better. Over the last 25 years only 7 out of 50 #3 seeds have won multiple playoff games. Those teams went 2-5 in the Championship round. Only 2003 Carolina and the 2006 Colts teams made super bowls, and only Indy took home the Lombardi.

Obviously, this doesn't actually mean anything. If Dallas gets blown out by the Niners or if they cakewalk their way to a 6th title, it won't be because of historical results of previous teams who were the same seed. It is nice to know that our expectations should be tempered based on how other teams of relatively similar strength compared to the rest of the teams in their playoffs typically do. The picture history paints is not pretty, but it is realistic.

But once again I say, this is not the time for realism, this is the time for excitement and overly biased prognostication! So here are some reasons why Dallas will end this year laughing in the face of history.

Reason 1, quarterback angle:

I think everyone will agree that Dak has been very up and down this season. The only really great game he has played against a top defense was the Patriots game, and even that one featured an end zone INT. With that being said, this season, and his career as a whole still show a quarterback comfortably better than Garoppolo. Obviously, the 49ers will attempt to run the football a lot, and will probably have some success. But history shows these #3 vs #6 games often come down to late in the 4th quarter, where quarterbacks are called on to win the games. While Jimmy G had a great ending to his season with his last two drives, the Rams lost that game more than the 49ers won it. If it comes down to a Quarterback duel at the end of the game, I trust Dak to get the job done more than I'd trust Jimmy.

As for the next round? Well, we've already seen Dak go toe to toe with both Murray (who he was worse than for the majority of the game) and Brady (who he was equal to in the opener) this season, and we've seen him outplay Rodgers, Wilson, and GoodJared Goff in previous playoff games. It is not unrealistic to assume he can show up for any of those potential divisional game matchups.

Reason 2, Brady's history:

Brady hasn't won a super bowl in an odd-numbered season since Tony Romo was an undrafted rookie. He has been in the playoffs in the eight odd-numbered years since then, but has only made three super bowls and lost them all to the Giants and Eagles. What I'm trying to say is that Brady has never beaten an NFC east team in the playoffs in an odd-numbered year. Overall he is 2-3 against them in his career, with one win coming before he was truly elite, and one win coming to the fraudulent WFT last year (both in even-numbered years). I'm telling you, this trend may seem dumb, but it's the dumb trends that prove to never be wrong.

If that's not enough for you, how about the fact that no NFL team has been repeat champs since that Patriots team of '03-'04? In fact, of the 16 Super Bowl champion teams since then, only 4 have advanced past the divisional round the following year. 75% of the time? Failure.

and if THAT'S not enough for you, Brady's track record specifically a year after winning the Super Bowl is beatable. In his SIX (!) seasons after winning it all, he has failed to advance past the divisional round half of those times. The three times he did? Even. Numbered. Years, We'll see what the future holds, but the trend is your friend.

Reason 3, the blatantly dismissive angle:

There are 7 teams in the NFC Playoffs.

The Packers choke during a normal season, and this year they have the poster boy for Anti Vax athletes as their star QB. You don't have to disagree with him, but know that the NFL as an entity cares about its public image. A lot. Do we think they want Rodgers to be the headliner of the biggest TV event in America this year? I certainly don't. So, if the NFL has any influence over the outcome of games at all.... I wouldn't bet on Green Bay.

Tompa Bay has been discussed already, see above.

The Cowboys are amazing and perfect and deserve the world!

The Rams are led by a QB who is very talented but frequently short circuits and throws inexcusable game losing picks, and who has been in the league for 13 years and has less than ten wins against playoff teams in that time. His tendencies are kind of like Romo before Romo's 2013-14 peak. Tough to believe he can avoid those tendencies for three games in a row to get to the big one.

The Cardinals have overachieved this year, but they just don't feel like a team that can win three road games in a row against playoff teams.

The 49ers have Garoppolo and also are dumb and stupid and will OBVIOUSLY be first round exits

the Eagles have Jalen Hurts and play some guy named Raegor. If Raegor is a guy getting decent playing time I'm pretty sure you are legally not allowed to win multiple playoff games.

So after this careful and objective analysis it is my unbiased opinion that Dallas is head and shoulders above everyone else in the NFC.

In all seriousness, though, this has been a great year, all things considered. Dallas won 12 games, swept the NFC East, had record breaking players on both sides of the ball, and made the playoffs as a #3 seed. Win or lose, they are a talented team who deserves to be here. Until next time, y'all.

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