A lot has been made recently about how everyone thinks the AFC's Super Bowl representative will come out of the Wild Card round. It seems the feeling is that if you are a Wild Card team, you have a better (or even easier) chance to get to the Super Bowl. If Vegas is any indicator, all four road Wild Card round teams are favored this weekend. However, since 2000, the Wild Card round teams have represented the AFC in only 3 of the 8 Super Bowls played, and Wild Card round teams have won only 4 of those 8.
Much of the recent Wild Card mania stems from the last three Super Bowl winners: New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers. All three were Wild Card round teams, and two of those three did not win their own division.
But, if you look closer at those teams as they entered the playoffs those years, they were top tier teams throughout the year that had to battle through injuries and adversity to get in. In the cases of Indy and Pittsburgh, both those teams were top tier AFC clubs who were ravaged by injuries during their regular seasons. When the playoffs rolled around, they got healthy at the right time and used their health and experience to win Super Bowls. In the case of the New York Giants, they played a decimated Tampa Bay team in the Wild Card round and a poorly coached and immature Dallas Cowboys team in the second. After those two wins, they had the confidence to beat the Packers in overtime in Green Bay. They then went on to beat the Patriots.
The other thing these teams shared is they all had the ability to make plays in the passing game and they could all get after the QB. For all the overblown attention the running game gets in the playoffs, the bottom line is if you cannot throw or attack the opponent's QB, you are dead meat. Running the ball and stopping the run are important, but more important is pressuring the QB and converting on third down via the pass. The Giants, Colts, and Steelers did that in the playoffs during their respective Super Bowl runs.
The other important element is coaching. Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy, and Bill Cowher are outstanding head coaches. Always have been. They manage games well, develop solid game plans, and demand respect. Coaching is a big key in the playoffs, and if a Wild Card team has a great coach, that coach gives them a better chance to win.
Make no mistake: It is certainly not easy to get to the Super Bowl via the Wild Card round, and your chances do not improve when you come from there. Where your chances do improve is when your team can pressure the QB and make plays in the passing game. Those factors give you the best chance to win in January. Interestingly enough, two teams that fit that bill are the Chargers and the Colts, who will play Saturday night.
Rather than the recent Wild Card teams success "guaranteeing" a Super Bowl rep will come from there, I think the last three Super Bowls have highlighted the greatness of NFL parity. Your seeding doesn't matter. What you did in the regular season is gone and forgotten. In the playoffs, ANYONE can win ANYWHERE. That is the way it should be.
That is why the NFL dominates other pro leagues.