Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles marks the 14th time two No. 1 seeds have faced off in the title game. This has occurred only 13 other times in NFL history. What happened in those games, and how might it impact betting decision-making in 2023 and beyond?
Super Bowls Between 2 Top Seeds
The 1975 NFL season introduced playoff seeding as we know it today. Before then, home-field advantage rotated through the divisions. For example, during the 1972 season, after winning their first playoff game of the postseason, the 15-0 Dolphins had to travel to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game to face the 12-3 Steelers.
Fair? Not based on our modern sensibilities. And that’s why the league changes its rules. So that the top seeds could be rewarded with the slight, yet meaningful advantage of competing at home.
Since the start of the 1975 season, with the advent of a seeding system, 14 Super Bowls have featured each conference’s No. 1 seed:
- Super Bowl XI (1976): Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14
- Super Bowl XII (1977): Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10
- Super Bowl XVI (1981): San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
- Super Bowl XVIII (1983): Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9
- Super Bowl XIX (1984): San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16
- Super Bowl XXIV (1989): San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10
- Super Bowl XXVI (1991): Washington Redskins 37, Buffalo Bills 24
- Super Bowl XXVIII (1993): Dallas Cowboys 30, Buffalo Bills 13
- Super Bowl XLIV (2009): New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17
- Super Bowl XLVIII (2013): Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
- Super Bowl XLIX (2014): New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
- Super Bowl L (2015): Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10
- Super Bowl LII (2017): Philadelphia Eagles 41, New England Patriots 33
Actionable Intelligence for Bettors
We can cull some fascinating findings from these results — actionable intelligence that might help inform probabilities of future outcomes between two No. 1 seeds battling in the Super Bowl. Here are some takeaways, applying data from all Super Bowls beginning with SB X (and the incorporation of the seeding rules).
When two No. 1 seeds have faced off in the Super Bowl, the winner averaged 34.6 points, while the runner-up averaged only 16.1 points. In every other Super Bowl, the winner has averaged only 28.6 points, while the runner-up has averaged 16.2.
As you can see, this means matchups between two No. 1 seeds have, on average, produced larger scoring gaps (18.5) than in other Super Bowls (12.4).
Even more pointedly, a team has prevailed by 12 points or less in only three of the 13 Super Bowls (23%) between two top seeds. But a scoring gap of 12 points or less has occurred in a whopping 27 of the other 43 Super Bowls (63%) — including an incredible 13 of the last 14 contests (93%) that didn’t feature two No. 1 seeds.
MORE: Super Bowl Betting History — Lines, Spreads, Results, and Trends
Similarly, a team has prevailed by 17+ points in seven of the 13 Super Bowls (54%) between two top seeds. But a scoring gap of 17+ points has occurred in only 13 of the other 43 Super Bowls (30%).
What’s happening here? Why are two supposedly comparable teams producing, on average, more disparate scoring results? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Wins, Offense, and Defense
When two No. 1 seeds faced off in the Super Bowl, the team with more regular-season victories prevailed five times (38%) and lost three times (23%). In the other five contests, both teams have had the same record. So this suggests a slight advantage for teams with better records — although there’s not enough data to make this entirely actionable . . . yet.
Regarding regular-season points, the No. 1 seed that scored the most has won six of 13 Super Bowls (46%) between top seeds, while the No. 1 seed that yielded the least (i.e. the best scoring defense) has won nine of 13 Super Bowls (69%). This suggests scoring defense might carry more weight between top seeds than scoring offense. However, again, this is a fairly small sample size.
What if we package it all together? There have been four instances when two No. 1 seeds have competed, where one has the same or better win-loss record, has scored more regular-season points, and has surrendered fewer regular-season points. In other words, these top seeds have entered the title game with meaningful advantages with respect to scoring offense and scoring defense.
On those four occasions, the team with the same or better record, more points scored, and fewer points yielded has won the Super Bowl three times (75%). The exception? Super Bowl XVIII, when the underdog Raiders crushed Washington 38-9. Actually, the Raiders had given up only six fewer points that season, so their defense wasn’t materially “worse” than Washington’s.
Additionally, we might consider John Riggins entered the Super Bowl in a nearly impossible situation physically. Despite turning 34 years old before the start of that season, he had already earned 436 carries before the title game, collecting 1,589 rushing yards and 29 rushing scores. Simply put, he was irreplaceable.
Sure enough, as he limped to 64 yards on 26 carries in the Super Bowl (2.5 ypc), Washington had little chance of sustaining the offense they’d enjoyed all season long. Essentially, they burned out their aged star at the worst possible time.
When two No. 1 seeds faced off in the Super Bowl, and when those two teams also played each other during the regular season, the team that prevailed during the season won two Super Bowls. In other words, there’s no apparent advantage to winning in that first meeting.
But wait! Let’s examine the two teams that lost that first meeting and then won the rematch. The first were the aforementioned Raiders, which lost to Washington in the 1983 season 37-35 in Week 5, blowing a 35-20 fourth-quarter lead.
What happened? Well, that was the only game Marcus Allen missed all year. The 23-year-old Allen was coming off a Pro Bowl campaign as a rookie, and in 1983, he racked up 1,604 total yards and 11 total scores, as well as 68 receptions. He was arguably the difference in that Week 5 loss, just as he was a key difference when he overran Washington in that season’s Super Bowl.
MORE: Super Bowl Odds 2023 — Who’s the Favorite for Super Bowl 57?
The other team that lost the first meeting and then won the rematch in the title game was Dallas versus Buffalo 10 years later. In Week 2 of the 1993 season, the Cowboys lost to the Bills 13-10.
What happened? Soon-to-be NFL MVP Emmitt Smith was sidelined. So instead, Derrick Lassic had to carry the load, amassing only 52 yards on 19 carries (2.7 ypc).
Just like Allen a decade earlier, Smith proved to be the difference-maker in his team’s rematch in the Super Bowl, rumbling for 158 total yards and two scores, including the game-winner.