Eight teams are still in the hunt to make it to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV after last week’s Wild Card weekend that saw three of the four home teams lose.
Amazingly, the only home team moving on to the Divisional Playoff Round is the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, the team that nearly everyone picked to lose to the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
All season long, the AFC has been perceived as the superior conference even though their 34-30 record in inter-conference games was only slightly better than the NFC’s 30-34 record.
The NFC features the first team to ever make the playoffs with a losing record, but that is not the only evidence that they are thought of as the weaker conference.
The Atlanta Falcons’ 13-3 record secured them home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC. Their losses all came at the hands of other playoff teams, two of which were on the road. The only home loss that the Falcons suffered this season was a closely fought battle with the division-rival Saints.
Despite their impressive record, the Falcons may very well be the underdog against the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers this weekend if their game was being played on a neutral field.
The oddsmakers have the Falcons favored by 2.5 points over the Packers. It is commonly believed that home field advantage is worth three points in the point spread, which means that the oddsmakers have not made any differentiation between the top seed and the sixth seed in the NFC.
Which AFC Team Will Be In Super Bowl XLV?
In the AFC, the sixth seed has also made it to the Divisional Round. However, the sixth-seeded New York Jets are 8.5 point underdogs to the top-seeded New England Patriots.
Nearly 50 years ago, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, convinced NFL owners to agree to a revenue-sharing plan that set the stage for parity. Although parity has existed in the NFL for several seasons, it has never been as glaring as it is right now.
The phrase “Any given Sunday” has gone from being an overused cliché to becoming the absolute truth.
While there is still a line of differentiation between the haves and have-nots in the AFC, the line of differentiation in the NFC no longer seems to exist these days.
It will not come as a shock to anyone if the sixth-seeded Packers defeat the top-seeded Falcons this weekend. If they do, and the Seahawks pull off another unlikely upset when they play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, then the NFC Championship Game would be hosted by the 7-9 Seahawks.
Somewhere, Pete Rozelle would be smiling at this turn of events, but if it should happen, it will be a long time before the NFC is considered the AFC’s equal, and not just their pesky little brother wanting to play with the big kids.
Which NFC Team Will Be In Super Bowl XLV?
If the top-seeded Falcons would not be favored on a neutral field against the sixth-seeded Packers in the NFC, then the chance of any AFC team being an underdog in the Super Bowl is almost non-existent.
However, just because the AFC Champion will be favored, it does not mean that they are a lock to win the Super Bowl.
Just three years ago, the 18-0 Patriots were favored by 11.5 points in Super Bowl XLII over the New York Giants who finished the regular season with a 10-6 record.
The Giants celebrated their unlikely victory on the field in Glendale, AZ.
And 2500 miles away, another celebration was taking place as the 1972 Miami Dolphins finally got the chance to pop the corks off of the champagne bottles that had been sitting on ice for 18 weeks. It has been their ritual to do so when the last undefeated team of the season loses a game.
The NFC may not deserve to be favored over the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl, but recent history has shown that anything can happen once the teams take the field.
As ESPN's Chris Berman so often says “That’s why they play the game!”