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Super Bowl Participants Already Determined?

I know we are just 2 games into the NFL seasons (that’s 12.5% for those of you who are statistically inclined), but can we already deduce who might be in this year’s Super Bowl from only a minuscule amount of data? I’m going to use a terribly small sample size, but what did the 2008 & 2009 seasons tell us about the Super Bowl participants in each league after 2 weeks.

The 2008 Season

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the eventual Super Bowl participants (and champions) in this season. They started off with a Week 1 win which would have given them the #5 seed in the AFC. They followed that up with a win in Week 2 making them 2-0 which would have been good enough for the #3 seed.

The Arizona Cardinals were the eventual NFC Champions. The Cardinals started off the season with a win which actually put them as the #1 seed in the NFC after starting 1-0 due to the tiebreaker structure. They would win again in Week 2 putting them at 2-0, but they would fall to the #3 seed.

The 2009 Season

The Indianapolis Colts were the eventual AFC Champions last year. They started off the season a robust 14-0 so obviously they were able to win their first two games. After Week 1, the Colts would have been the #4 seed. After Week 2, their seeding wouldn’t have changed as they remained the #4 seed due to the tiebreakers.

The New Orleans Saints were the eventual NFC Champions (& Super Bowl Champions) a year ago. New Orleans started the year off 13-0 which, like the Colts, obviously makes them 2-0 after the first two weeks. The win after Week 1 put the Saints as the #4 seed, but the win after Week 2 dropped them to the #5 seed as the tiebreakers gave the 2-0 Falcons the AFC South crown.

Baselines for the AFC & NFC

The baseline for AFC teams hoping to reach the Super Bowl would seemingly be that a prospective team would have to be playoff eligible after weeks 1 & 2 while never having a seeding below #5 based on what happened in 2008 & 2009. Both the Steelers & Colts started the year 2-0. We’ll make a 2-0 start a requirement.

For the NFC, the baseline would be similar in that any prospective team would have to be playoff eligible through weeks 1 & 2 while never having a seeding below #5 based on what happened in 2008 & 2009. This baseline is for any team hoping to reach the Super Bowl. Both the Cardinals & Saints started the year 2-0.

Teams in 2010 Meeting Baseline Criteria Established in 2008 & 2009

Houston Texans
Miami Dolphins
Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
Chicago Bears

That’s not very many. The NFC is the easiest of the bunch to figure. It basically comes down to the Saints & Bears. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would think Chicago has much of a chance against New Orleans when all the chips are on the table. While Jay Cutler is seemingly coming along quite nicely under the Martz system in Year 1, Drew Brees has elevated his game close to the level of a Peyton Manning. Sean Payton might also be the best play caller in the NFL. Simply stated, the combination of Brees & Payton would simply be too much to handle for a Chicago Bears team learning a new offensive system in its first season. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a tremendous sign for the Bears moving forward!

The AFC is a little more tricky. We can eliminated the Chiefs quickly, but that leaves us with the Miami Dolphins & Houston Texans. Of those two teams the easy answer is the Houston Texans. Chad Henne might be a little too young to get to the Super Bowl & his road is infinitely harder with the Jets & Patriots around. That doesn’t mean Houston has it easy in the AFC South, but they’ve already beaten Indianapolis & the come from behind win over the Redskins in Washington could certainly be interpreted as a “season defining” moment en route to something special, i.e., an AFC Championship.

Putting two & two together you come up with a Super Bowl XLV pitting the New Orleans Saints against the Houston Texans.

The Obvious Teams that Don’t Qualify

The 5 teams qualifying don’t include a plethora of heavy hitters. Here is where each team misses.

New York Jets: Losing the opener to the Ravens ruined New York. The 0-1 start had them as the #11 seed. Beating the Patriots last week elevated the Jets to the #6 seed which makes them the final Wild Card team if the season ended today, but the loss eliminates them from 2-0 status & they still haven’t attained a top-5 seed.

New England Patriots: It wouldn’t have mattered if New England had beaten the Jets in Week 2. The Week 1 win over Cincinnati wasn’t fantastic as it gave the Patriots a #7 seed which was too low. Maybe scheduling is even more important that it already is. By New England opening against the Bengals & the Dolphins opening against the Bills, there was no way New England could win the division via tie breakers because a Miami win puts the Dolphins at 1-0 within the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers sort of get screwed here. They are 2-0 and if the season ended today they’d be the #2 seed in the AFC. However, Pittsburgh is a casualty of schedule because they opened with a win over an NFC team. The tie-breakers are heavily favored towards division & conference records. Pittsburgh got no advantage with either. The Ravens beat the Jets which gave them an AFC record of 1-0. That at best puts Pittsburgh as the #5 seed behind the division winners, but with NE & MIA beating AFC teams, the best Pittsburgh could do was 6th. In fact, the Steelers were a #7 seed after the first week which eliminates them.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens loss to the Bengals was disasterous. After beating the Jets in Week 1, Baltimore was the #4 seed in the AFC. A win over Cincinnati would have kept them in the top-4 seeds which to me would have made them the odds on favorite to get to the Super Bowl from the AFC. The loss to Cincinnati gives them an 0-1 start in the North & currently they are the #9 seed in the AFC.

Indianapolis Colts: Losing the opener to Houston essentially made Houston the favorite to get to the Super Bowl instead of Indianapolis! It’s odd to think, but the first game of the season between these teams essentially decided who would advance to the Super Bowl from the AFC if the criteria holds true. The Colts 0-1 start put them as the 10th seed in the AFC. Beating the Giants in Week 2 helps, but not as much as you’d think because it doesn’t give the Colts a conference or division win. They actually fell to the #11 seed.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans are interesting because they are the #5 seed in the AFC after weeks 1 & 2. The problem here is that Tennessee doesn’t meet the “2-0 requirement” because they lost to Pittsburgh last week. It’s probably for the best as the Titans were a complete mess against the Steelers even with the game being played in Nashville.

San Diego Chargers: I don’t think the Chargers were any real threat to get to the Super Bowl, but most people thought they’d win the AFC West so I’ll include them here. They were pretty much done before the season started. The opening week loss to Kansas City not only put SD at 0-1, but they would have been the 16th seed in the AFC with the tiebreakers! OUCH!

Dallas Cowboys: Losses to the Redskins & Bears have pretty much sealed their fate. It’s possible the Cowboys come back and make the playoffs, but they’ll need to play out of their minds & it won’t be enough in the end. Dallas can make the playoffs given their start, but they don’t come close to meeting the requirements to get to the Super Bowl.

Washington Redskins: Washington is in the same boat Tennessee is in. Beating Dallas in Week 1 put Washington as the #3 seed in the NFC. Even with losing to Houston, Washington is still the #4 seed, but they aren’t 2-0 so they are eliminated. Like Tennessee, it’s probably just as well. As much of a season defining moment the game against Houston was for the Texans, it could also be looked at in the same manner for Washington, but in the opposite direction.

New York Giants: New York sort of go screwed with the schedule the way New England did in Week 1. They beat Carolina, but when Dallas & Washington go head to head, the Giants cannot win the division given the tiebreakers. Losing to Indianapolis doesn’t help either as the loss dropped them to the #8 seed. Like Dallas, New York can certainly get to the postseason, but cannot reach the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers: Like the Steelers, Green Bay gets screwed here. The Packers opened up with a win over Philadelphia which was solid, but Chicago beat Detroit meaning the Bears would win the division given the tiebreakers. The best Green Bay could do was the #5 seed which still meets requirements, but the 27-20 win over Philadelphia wasn’t good enough when it came to point differential. This pushed them below the Cardinals & Giants to the #7 seed. Heck, Green Bay wouldn’t have even been in the playoffs after Week 1! The Packers came back to murder Buffalo, but that didn’t help a ton as it was a non-conference game. They moved up to the #6 seed, but they were still behind Chicago & New Orleans is 2-0 against NFC opponents to Green Bay’s 1-0. All the Packers can do is play their schedule, but if 2008 & 2009 hold true, the Packers simply didn’t get the right schedule.

Minnesota Vikings: Like Dallas, the Vikings are screwed. They were screwed from the beginning though. Opening with New Orleans on the road was a sure loss. Given what we know now, but losing to Miami 14-10 isn’t so bad, but Minnesota isn’t going to the Super Bowl. Favre can still get to the playoffs, but he has to beat Detroit this week.

Atlanta Falcons: Another victim of schedule. Atlanta had to open up on the road against Pittsburgh which almost certainly guaranteed a loss. Playing the Steelers without Roethlisberger maybe helps a bit, but Atlanta still lost 15-9.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay has traveled the exact same path as Pittsburgh. The opening win over Cleveland put the Bucs at 1-0, but because it was an out of conference game, Tampa didn’t get much help with the tiebreakers and found themselves as the #8 seed after Week 1. Beating Carolina in Week 2 however has vaulted the Bucs to the #2 seed. Like Pittsburgh, TB gets a little screwed by opening up out of conference. They needed to beat an NFC team in Week 1 to meet the criteria.

San Francisco 49ers: Starting off 0-2 does them in. If Seattle beats you 31-6 then maybe you shouldn’t have a prayer to begin with, but regardless, the 49ers were going to have to face New Orleans in Week 2 which probably ends their hopes of meeting the criteria.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals could have made the cut, but getting hammered by Atlanta in week 2 did them in. It’s just as well. I don’t think anyone was going to put money on Derek Anderson getting the Cardinals back to the Super Bowl for the 2nd time in 3-years.

Get ready! It’s Houton v. New Orleans!

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September 24, 2010 - Posted by | Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Statistics, Super Bowl

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