The San Francisco 49ers were the top seed in the National Football Conference. The Kansas City Chiefs the second seed in the American Football Conference. One of them is going to win Super Bowl LIV, which means that since 1990 the Super Bowl has 22 times been won by a team that had a bye during the Wild Card Weekend.
Eight teams are in action during the Wild Card round, while four teams, the top two seeds in each conference, get an opening postseason week bye. For the record, 20 other teams get an opening week bye, but that includes not participating in the playoffs at all.
Okay, so since 1990, only eight teams lower than a second seed have won the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which has been captured by 14 top seeds and 7 second seeds. One of those numbers will go up after the action is complete on February 2nd at Hard Rock Stadium.
Which begs this question? Did this Super Bowl matchup get decided on the last day of the regular season?
The Chiefs looked almost assured of a third seed when they took the field on December 29th in a battle against one of their AFC West Division rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers. Even with a win, the Chiefs had no chance of catching the top seed Baltimore Ravens while the second seed was a near certainty to go to the New England Patriots, who only needed to win at home against the Miami Dolphins to clinch the number two seed.
Somehow, the Patriots relinquished the second seed and an opening playoff week bye when they fell as a 17 point favorite in Foxboro to Miami. Their loss, coupled with the Chiefs 31-21 win over the Chargers, elevated Kansas City to the second seed and dropped the Patriots to an opening postseason week game against the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots lost to Mike Vrabel’s squad, 20-13. Knocked out of the playoffs in a week they wouldn’t have had to play, if they had locked up the second seed in the AFC with a regular season closing win over the Dolphins.
A Bill Belichick team had never lost a season finale when a playoff seed was on the line, until that stunning defeat to the Dolphins.
If the Patriots would have beaten Miami, they wouldn’t have lost in the Wild Card round. In fact, after two weeks rest, they would have hosted a Divisional Round contest. With two weeks rest and the challenge of a formidable foe, might the defending three-time AFC Champions been in a better position to win?
If they would have been the second seed, might they have gotten revenge on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game and join a long list of one and two seeds in the Super Bowl?
The NFC playoff seeding was just as tight. The San Francisco 49ers threw up one of the greatest goal line stands in NFL history when they prevented the Seattle Seahawks from scoring in their regular season ending game. If they hadn’t stop Russell Wilson and company, the 49ers would have dropped to a fifth seed and the top two seeds in the NFC would have been the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.
The Saints were eliminated in the Wild Card round when the Minnesota Vikings upset them at the Superdome. With the loss, New Orleans was out in a game they wouldn’t have had to play if the Seahawks would have cracked the 49ers defense.
Then, the Saints would have opened postseason play as the second seed in the Divisional Round, which likely would have sent San Francisco to New Orleans for a rematch of the game on December 8, won by the 49ers, 48-46. From a motivational perspective, the Saints would have had a huge edge in this contest based on the sting from that narrow loss a month earlier. Which means this, if the 49ers hadn’t stopped Seattle, the Saints would have likely eliminated the 49ers two weeks ago.
If the Saints would then have played the Packers in Green Bay, the better team probably would have eliminated Aaron Rodgers on his home field. If that would have come to be, then right now we would be seeing a Super Bowl LIV pitting the New Orleans Saints against the New England Patriots.
Instead, we have the best two teams in football, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, who fit the mold of a number one or two seed advancing to the Super Bowl. The twist of it is, perhaps the last play of the regular season in Seattle, and a major upset in New England, is most responsible for the Super Bowl LIV matchup. Without the twist in the final week, the 49ers would have been the NFC fifth seed, and the Chiefs the third seed in the AFC. That would mean to have the 49ers and Chiefs in this Super Bowl would have required the unlikely paring of a third and fifth seed.
Just that close, to a New Orleans versus New England Super Bowl.