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NFL: Does being the Top Seed help?

The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, as the AFC and NFC's No.1 seeds, can rest up and watch the other 12 playoff teams do battle over Super Wild Card weekend.

Being the conference's top seed can have many advantages in the postseason, but some teams appear better equipped to take advantage than others.

Home advantage increases in the playoffs

The benefits of being the top seed in the NFL playoffs are manifold and it is generally accepted within pro football that finishing with the best regular season record in the conference is desirable.

Home advantage through the postseason is an obvious incentive as teams would much prefer to play in front of their own fans than not and avoid any potential arduous cross-country trips.

It can be a psychological boost, as well as a tactical advantage due to familiarity with the home field and the local elements.

Additionally, playing at home can also give a team the advantage of being able to dictate the terms of play, as they can choose which end of the field to defend, and can also benefit from the crowd noise, which can make it difficult for the opposing team to communicate on the field.

From 2010 to 2018, home teams' supremacy was 2.33 points per game on average and the hosts won 57.1% of the time. But, in the two seasons that followed, that number dropped to 0.54 points per game and a win percentage of 50.9%.

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In the season just gone, home teams won 54% of the games which suggests that the general downward trend continues.

But in the playoffs, home teams enjoyed a greater level of success historically - around 58% and that has risen in recent seasons.

From 2010 to 2020, the home team won 62.5% of the time and by an average of 4.2 points per game, with their supremacy more pronounced in the Divisional Round (75%) and Conference Championship Games (68%).

Certain teams, like the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers, are better equipped to take advantage of cold weather conditions in January but only four of the 32 teams currently possess losing home records in the postseason.

Bye-week benefits emerge in the Divisional Round

The top two seeds used to avoid the Wild Card round, but now only the No.1 seed gets the week off after the playoffs were expanded.

The extra seven days between Week 18 and their first knockout contest can give players time to heal and medical staff valuable time to work on getting injured stars back on the field.

It also gives coaches more time to scheme against their opponents, although the precise identity of the Divisional Round opponent is not known until a week before, coaching staffs will be doing due diligence on all of their playoff rivals.

Since it was introduced in 1990, teams that have had a bye week in the playoffs have a win percentage of around 60%.

These two advantages apply in the regular season too, with the records of teams after a bye week being generally positive.

Psychology of seeding may not apply this year

The psychology of being a top seed is sometimes cited as an advantage too. By virtue of finishing with the best regular season record in the conference, the top seeds usually enter the postseason with sky-high confidence after a number of victories against their rivals.

However, this may not apply so much this season after the Kansas City Chiefs, 6/4 to win the AFC title, took the nominal No.1 seed partially because of the shocking circumstances around Buffalo's cancelled game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 7/4 Bills, who would have been the top seeds if they had won in Cincy, beat Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium in October and will arguably have the psychological upper hand if they meet in the Championship Game.

Also, if they do meet, it will be at a neutral venue because of the fact that the Bills could not complete their 17-game schedule.

Likewise, the Dallas Cowboys - 11/2 to clinch the NFC crown - are not going to feel inferior to a 7/4 Philadelphia team they beat as recently as Week 16.

Mike McCarthy's men have won four of their last five games against their NFC East rivals with the only defeat coming earlier this year when they had backup quarterback Cooper Rush under center.

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