The narrative for months now in Seattle has been about the Seahawks having a shot at the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. It makes a lot of sense; the ‘Hawks play extremely well at CenturyLink Field, the “12s” are the loudest group of fans in team sports history and the roster is littered with defensive playmakers that feed off the troubles opposing offenses have dealing with the deafening noise.
Securing the top seed wasn’t easy. The Seahawks had to fight for it. Seattle went into the final week of the regular season needing a victory or a loss by the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC West and earn the No. 1 spot and all that comes with it, including a first-round bye and the home field advantage. None of those things mean a whole lot, however.
Sure, it’s better to have those than not, but recent history suggests it means a lot less than what the general belief seems to be, and the data to support the idea that home field advantage and being the No. 1 seed has meant very little is quite shocking.
Over the past 10 years of Super Bowls — 2003 season, 2004 Super Bowl, through the 2012 season and 2013 Super Bowl — just eight of 20 No. 1 seeds have made it to the grand game to play for all the NFL’s marbles. Of those 20 No. 1 seeds, three lost the conference championship game at home and six others didn’t even make it that far.
Eleven times the Super Bowl contestant earned that right by winning at home in the conference title game — which includes the ’05 Seahawks when they pasted the Carolina Panthers 34-14 in front of what sounded like four million rowdy fanatics — which means on nine occasions — out of 20 — a team won the title game on the road. That’s a large percentage of top-seeded failures, considering how important the No. 1 seed it made out to be.
The No. 2 seed made the Super Bowl three times in those 10 years, as did the No. 3 and 4 seeds. The No. 5 seed made it once — The New York Giants during the 2007-08 season — and two No. 6 seeds — the Green Bay Packers (2010-11) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2005-06) made it to the Super Bowl, and coincidentally, all three were victorious.
The highest seed to win a Super Bowl since the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts — both No. 1 seeds — is the No. 4 seeded Baltimore Ravens a year ago and the Giants in 2011-12.
The 2009 NFL season was the last time two No. 1 seeds played each other in the Super Bowl, and the only time in the past 10 years.
I know — fans in Seattle don’t want to hear that home field advantage doesn’t guarantee them anything. Of course it doesn’t, that isn’t news. Despite the lack of success by top seeds over the last decade, however, Seahawks fans can take solace in the fact that playing at CenturyLink is not the same as playing at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons dropped the title game to the 49ers last January, or even Candlestick Park, where the Giants defeated San Francisco for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl two years back.
Playing at legendary Lambeau Field isn’t even the great advantage CenturyLink has become, regardless of the weather or the conditions of the frozen tundra. Soldier Field doesn’t measure up, and neither does the indoor atmosphere enjoyed by the Indianapolis Colts or the unfriendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, where the Eagles have lost two conference title games since 2003.
CenturyLink is special, all the 12s know it, the players and coaches know it, and most importantly, the opponents know it, too. Few know it more than the 49ers and Saints, who have been made the fool in Seattle on each of the teams’ last two visits.
Yes, the Seahawks can be beat at home. The Arizona Cardinals did it two weeks ago, and it’s probably just as important that the top seed comes with one of two first-round vacations so the ‘Hawks can rest the weary and be the fresher team for the divisional. But there’s a reason such a narrative has lived among the buzz for so long, months before it could even be a factor.
Home field advantage hasn’t been the stone-cold lock some believe it is. The first-round bye has bitten several top seeds over the year, and the phrase “Any Given Sunday” is truly in effect, no matter the team nor venue.
But the 12s are different. CenturyLink is inimitable, so even great teams come in ill-prepared to handle the environment, particularly versus a great adversary. And the Seahawks are a great team.
If February 2 arrives and the city of Seattle is watching its team play in the Super Bowl, it won’t be because they broke the trend of failed No. 1 seeds. It’ll be because they enjoy an advantage no other team can boast — the combination of the greatest home field advantage in NFL history, and a great team equipped to make the most of it.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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