Saints game is bigger than you think

There may be more on the line for the Falcons than most people realize.

A win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday earns Atlanta a #2 seed in the NFL Playoffs, and an automatic pass into the Divisional Round. Fall against New Orleans, however, and the Falcons will almost certainly drop to the #3 or #4 seed, and begin play in the Wild Card Round.

Just about everyone instantly recognizes the advantage that comes with skipping a round of the playoffs. But a look at playoff history suggests it's a much bigger deal than just bypassing one round.

Since 1990, when the NFL went to the current 12-team format, the #3 and #4 seeds are a combined 65-39 in the Wild Card Round. So, they have had considerable success getting to the Divisional Round. Maybe landing in the Wild Card Round isn't so bad, right?

They have not fared well in the next round.

Those same #3 and #4 seeds have gone 16-49 in the Divisional Round. The #2 seeds, on the other hand, have gone 40-12 in that same round.

The difference is even more pronounced if you isolate just the NFC. The third and fourth seeds in the NFC are 5-25 in the Divisional Round since 1990. The NFC's #2 seed is 21-5 in that same span.

Clearly, getting the bye has a much bigger impact than just bypassing one round of the playoffs. The extra week of rest and homefield advantage is definitively carrying over into the second of the playoffs as well.

But there are rays of sunshine in the numbers for the third and fourth seeds. They've actually fared better in the Conference Championship games, once they've been able to advance that far.

Since 1990, The second seeds are just 13-27 in the AFC and NFC Championship games. The third and fourth seeds, however, are a combined 9-7. In fact, the #4 seeds are an incredible 7-2 in the conference championships in that time.

Take that one step further, and the #3 and #4 seeds have combined to win five Super Bowls, while the #2 seeds have won a combined six. The Baltimore Ravens, for instance, have won both of their Super Bowls as the #4 seed.

However, the numbers for the #3 and #4 seeds are not as rosy if we're only looking at the NFC. Only one NFC team with a third or fourth seed has won the Super Bowl since 1990. That was the 2011 New York Giants team that knocked off the New England Patriots. That Giants team was the fourth seed in the NFC.

For those of you doing the math, no #3 seed in the NFC has won a Super Bowl since the NFL went to this format in 1990.

So, yes, there is a lot on the line for the Falcons when they square off against New Orleans this weekend.

Below are two tables to help illustrate how each seed has fared in recent years.

SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES BY SEED SINCE 1990
SEED SB APPEARANCES SB WINS
#1 Seed 27 12
#2 Seed 13 6
#3 Seed 2 1
#4 Seed 7 4
#5 Seed 1 1
#6 Seed 2 2

PLAYOFF SEEDS 2-4 SINCE 1990
SEED LOST WC LOST DIV LOST CHAMP LOST SB WON SB
NFC #2 0 5 15 3 3
AFC #2 0 7 12 4 3
NFC #3 13 10 2 1 0
AFC #3 8 14 3 0 1
NFC #4 9 15 0 1 1
AFC #4 9 10 2 2 3

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