Inside the Numbers

Ravens’ win cements NFL’s wild card era

Joe Flacco, left, Ray Lewis and the Ravens became the third straight team from wild-card weekend to win the Super Bowl.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Joe Flacco, left, Ray Lewis and the Ravens became the third straight team from wild-card weekend to win the Super Bowl.

The Baltimore Ravens’ win in Super Bowl XLVII showed once again that the NFL is in the midst of its wild card era.

The last three Super Bowl winners, and six of the last eight, opened their title run with a win on wild-card weekend, which bucks the former trend that holders of playoff byes were more likely to win the Super Bowl.

For the first 15 seasons after the NFL adopted its current, 12-team playoff format in 1990, teams with playoff byes won 13 Super Bowls. Only the John Elway-led 1997 Denver Broncos and the Ray Lewis-led 2000 Ravens won Supers Bowls after playing on wild-card weekend.


Since 2005, the tide has totally shifted, with teams holding byes faltering often in the playoffs.

Get Breaking Sports Alerts in your inbox:
Be the first to know the latest sports news as it happens.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

From 1990-2004, teams with playoff byes had a collective playoff record of 87-47 (.649). Since 2005, those first two seeds have gone just 28-30 (.483.)

The Patriots have suffered four of those bye-team losses, in the 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons.

It used to be that teams playing on wild-card weekend rarely even earned a trip to the Super Bowl. Before the 1997 Broncos’ win, only four such teams (the 1975 Dallas Cowboys, 1980 Oakland Raiders, 1985 Patriots, and 1992 Buffalo Bills) had played in the Super Bowl. And only one, the 1980 Raiders, had won it.

A look at how wild card teams have risen to the top of the NFL over the past 23 seasons:

YearSuper Bowl winnerBye teams W-L
2012Baltimore RavensWild card4-4
2011New York GiantsWild card4-4
2010Green Bay PackersWild card3-4
2009New Orleans Saints5-3
2008Pittsburgh Steelers3-3
2007New York GiantsWild card3-4
2006Indianapolis ColtsWild card3-4
2005Pittsburgh SteelersWild card3-4
2004New England Patriots7-3
2003New England Patriots4-3
2002Tampa Bay Buccaneers7-3
2001New England Patriots6-3
2000Baltimore RavensWild card4-4
1999St. Louis Rams5-3
1998Denver Broncos7-3
1997Denver BroncosWild card4-4
1996Green Bay Packers6-3
1995Dallas Cowboys5-3
1994San Francisco 49ers7-3
1993Dallas Cowboys6-3
1992Dallas Cowboys5-3
1991Washington Redskins7-3
1990New York Giants7-3