Either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles getting a win this week in the Divisional Round would be considered an upset. The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints were clearly the top two teams in the conference this year. But if the last 20 years of NFC playoff history mean anything, data suggests that an upset shouldn’t come as any surprise.
From 1998-2017, only 11 times have the top two seeds in the NFC met in the Conference Championship game. There have been nine seasons when one of the lower seeds has advanced; 45% of the time.
However, out of those same 20 seasons, only once have both top seeds not advanced.
So, the odds are pretty good for one of Dallas or Philadelphia to win their road game this week. But the chances of both winning and then creating an all-NFC East conference title game are slim.
You may be surprised that the top two seeds haven’t advanced more often, but that is one of the controversial issues with the first-round bye. Some coaches would probably prefer not to get it, not wanting to risk losing momentum going into the tournament.
Also, January football rarely features weak teams. There are those occasions when a weak division produces a weak champion, but generally all playoff teams are competitive.
Some might have accused the NFC East of being a weak division in 2018 but last week proved otherwise. Philadelphia knocked out the NFC North Champion and Dallas eliminated the wild card Seattle Seahawks, who many felt was the better team going in.
In the regular season, the Cowboys had one of the biggest upsets of 2018 with their Week 13 victory over top-seeded New Orleans. And just a few weeks ago, the Eagles got a road win over Los Angeles.
Clearly, the Rams and Saints have no business underestimating the NFC East.
Not only do Dallas and Philadelphia enter this weekend with momentum but the matchups worked out in their favor. Winning rematches against the Saints and Rams would have been tough.
Dallas gets a Rams team they haven’t seen at all this year. The Eagles did get blown out by the Saints in Week 11, but that was before Nick Foles came in and put them on their current run.
Going back to the historical precedents, it would also appear that we’re due for a top seed to lose.
Last season, the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings were the top two seeds in the NFC. Both won their Divisional Round games and met the next week, and we know how things unfolded from there.
During this 20 year history, though, a top seed has generally lost every other season. It hasn’t happened since 2016, so the data suggests that an upset is due to happen this year.
The real question may be who gets that win; the Cowboys or the Eagles?
Of course, the Rams and Saints got where they are today for a reason. Both have been exceptional this year and will be rightly favored in this week’s games.
But as we’ve seen, there is plenty to support the belief that one of Dallas or Philadelphia will win and get to the NFC Championship game.
I know who I’ll be rooting for.