Most see the No. 1 seed in the playoffs as the top team and a team with the built-in advantages of a first-round bye and playing all your games at home, but few consider the value of the No. 1 seed in relation to the probability of a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons locked up the No. 1 seed this season for the second time in three seasons, and while everyone unhappily recalls what happened with the top seed in 2010, the Falcons of 2012 have clearly taken a step forward in the two seasons since.
The website Advanced NFL Stats uses complicated math formulas to determine various stats in the NFL. It's a sabermetrics-styled look at football that's heavy on the math. Some of their findings may be debatable, but one thing that is tough to debate is the website's formula, with historical findings, for saying the No. 1 seed is the most important seed to have in the NFL playoffs.
On the surface, saying the most-valued seed is the No. 1 seed is pretty obvious. The bye and home field are great things to have, but the math behind it is also pretty compelling.
With the caveat that anything in the NFL (especially the playoffs) can and will happen, Advanced NFL Stats puts the Super Bowl probability of the No. 1 seed at 36 percent. That's a favorable comparison to the 44 percent of No. 1 seeds since 2002 (when the current format was introduced) that found themselves in the Super Bowl.
Next in line in probability is the No. 2 seed which has a 29 percent likelihood of playing in the Super Bowl compared to 22 percent actual since 2002.
The numbers continue to shrink as the seeds go lower and one of the interesting notes on that is the No. 6 has made the Super Bowl 11 percent of the time, higher than the No. 4 and 5 seeds.
One additional insight the website gives for the importance of the No. 1 seed is the bye week. While it's an obvious advantage, Advanced NFL Stats writes that when you look at the bye week as an automatic win in the first round, essentially giving the No. 1 seed a free win. The bye week doubles a team's chances of making it to the Super Bowl.
This year's bye week in the playoffs will be a little different for the Falcons from 2010. The Falcons had their bye week in Week 7, almost exactly in the middle of the season. That's not unlike the Week 8 bye week Atlanta had in 2010, but the one difference is the extra rest the Falcons got later in the season this year.
In Week 13, the Falcons played on Thursday night, a short week on the first half following a game the previous Sunday, but they got in rest following the Thursday game before returning to work the following week for Week 14. On Monday head coach Mike Smith said the extra rest he felt his team had been given throughout the season meant they would prepare a little more during this bye week as opposed to 2010.
"The work load is going to be different in terms of the number of days that we work and when we work," Smith said. "We did not spend a whole lot of time (on the field) in the bye week (last time in 2010). We used it for rest. This year we are going to spend more time on the field. We're going to be out on the field four days this week. It won't be long practices, but we will be out on the field."