A stat that's been widely quoted the last few days is this: No. 6 seeds are 5-2 against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round of the playoffs since 2005. There have been 16 No. 6 seeds during that period (2005 to 2012), two in each conference every year. That means that nine of the No. 6 seeds lost in the wild-card round, while seven advanced. Out of those seven, five managed to get to the conference title game. (Note: In the previous 10 years (1995 to 2004), No. 6 seeds were 0-5 in the divisional round.) Let's take a closer look at the five "upsets" that these No. 6 teams managed to pull off in the divisional round.
The 11-5 Steelers (or should I say 'Stealers') barely beat the 14-2 Colts by a score of 21-18 on the way to a Super Bowl win over our favorite team.
Worth noting: The Colts had lost two of their last three in the regular season. Also, Tony Dungy's 18-year-old son committed suicide just weeks before the playoff game, which may have affected the Colts' preparation for the game. The Colts were ranked No. 1 in offense DVOA, but No. 8 in defense and No. 30 in special teams.
The Steelers were No. 8 in offense, No. 3 in defense and No. 19 in special teams (a more balanced team). The Steelers needed a Ben Roethlisberger tackle and a last-minute missed FG by the Colts to preserve the upset. Colts safety Nick Harper, who was tackled by Roethlisberger while returning a Jerome Bettis fumble, had been stabbed in the knee by his wife just days earlier.
The 9-6-1 Eagles beat the 12-4 Giants in the divisional round 23-11.
Worth noting: The Eagles had won four of their last five games in the regular season, while the Giants had lost three of their last four. The Eagles were No. 1 overall in DVOA (No. 12 in offense, No. 3 in defense, and No. 13 in special teams) while the Giants were No. 3 overall (2, 8 and 11 in offense, defense and special teams).
In the AFC, the 11-5 Baltimore Ravens beat the 13-3 Tennessee Titans by a score of 13-10.
Worth noting: The Titans had gone 3-3 in their last six games, including a 23-0 loss in the final game of the regular season. The Ravens had been 5-1 in the same span. The Ravens were No. 2 overall in DVOA and No. 2 in defense, while the Titans were No. 5 overall and No. 5 in defense.
The 10-6 Green Bay Packers beat the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons by a score of 48-21 on their way to the Super Bowl title.
Worth noting: While the Packers were 10-6, none of their losses were by more than 4 points and two were overtime losses. One of those losses was by three points to the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers were No. 3 overall in DVOA and No. 2 in defense,while the Falcons were No. 8 overall and No. 12 in defense.
In the AFC, the 11-5 New York Jets beat the 14-2 New England Patriots by a score of 28-21.
Worth noting: The Jets had lost three of their last five games, including a humiliating 45-3 loss to the very same Patriots in New England 45-3 on December 6. The Patriots had an 8-game winning streak going into the playoffs and blew out four of their last five opponents. The Patriots were an offensive juggernaut (No. 1 in DVOA) but were No. 19 in defense DVOA and No. 8 in special teams DVOA. The Jets were No. 16 in offense, No. 6 in defense and No. 5 in special teams (all DVOA rankings).
So what does this all mean?
The Seahawks' 34-7 victory over the Saints in the regular season isn't as significant as the strength of the teams. The Seahawks are No. 1 overall in DVOA, No. 7 in offense, No. 1 in defense and No. 5 in special teams. The Saints are No. 4 overall, No. 5 in offense, No. 10 in defense and No. 24 in special teams.
The Seahawks defense is significantly better than the Saints defense. The Seahawks D has given up 14.4 points per game (about 10 ppg in the last five games) and has 28 INTs. The Saints D has given up 19 points per game (22 in their last five regular season games) and has only 12 INTs. The Saints D has given up 22 points per game away from home, while the Seahawks D has given up 14 points per game at home.
No. 1 seeds who were upset in the divisional round ALL lost to teams who had higher defense DVOA rankings than them. And not a single one of them was as balanced as the Seahawks.