The NFC has three strong contenders to win the Super Bowl in Carolina, Arizona, and Seattle. That will come as no surprise from watching this year. Then, if recent history is an indication, there could be one surprise team lurking. Yeah, I’m just as shocked as you.
Using the “expected points added” on offense and defense available at pro-football-reference.com going back to the 2000 season, I whipped up similarity scores for this year’s teams. I separated it by passing and rushing expected points on offense and defense, along with total expected points and win total. I then list the 12 most similar teams (irregardless of seeding/getting a bye) for this year’s playoff participants.
It should be no surprise that Carolina and Arizona, two balanced teams that are proficient at passing and with good defenses, rate very highly. Both have had 5 of their 12 comparable teams reach the Super Bowl, easily the most of any of this year’s playoff participant. They are the safest picks to reach the Super Bowl and win it.
Seattle has to come out of the 6 seed by winning three games on the road, and that difficulty is likely reflected in the slightly lower chance of advancing. Still, three of the Seahawks comps reached the Super Bowl, including the two teams to make runs out of a wildcard berth (Pittsburgh 2005 and Green Bay 2010).
The NFC North teams do not fare well in this analysis. 10 of the 12 Vikings’ comps lost their first playoff game, most in the Wildcard Round. The Packers’ comps went 3-9 in the playoff opener and none even reached so far as a championship game.
Surprisingly, it is Washington who bears the resemblance to three teams that came out of 9 or 10 win seasons and mediocre overall regular season efficiency stats to make runs. The 2011 version of the Giants, along with the 2008 Cardinals team that reached the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner, and the 2012 Ravens, show up on the list. Without giving too much away, Washington’s comps actually won more playoff games than any of the comparable groups of teams for the AFC playoff contenders.
The full list of comparable teams is below:
GREEN BAY PACKERS