The first time seeding was taken into consideration in the NFL’s playoff picture dates back to the 1975 season. Before that, it didn’t matter how you got to the Super Bowl as long as you made it fair and square. Nowadays, for football fans as well as NFL odds experts, keeping track of which teams look like the top favorites to make it to the Super Bowl in the playoffs is much easier because of the seeding system.
What this system does is to award all the teams that make it into the playoffs with a position within the list of contenders to collect some much-appreciated rewards, such as a bye week for the first round of the postseason as well as holding home field advantage in various if not all stages of the playoffs before the Super Bowl. Ever since the system was put into practice, seeding has become an important factor in determining the level of favoritism that each Super Bowl contending team holds according to Vegas NFL odds outlets.
Now, it would be easy to assume that the Super Bowl is usually played between the two No. 1 seeds in each conference, right? If you think about it from the simplest perspective, it makes perfect sense, given that on paper they are the two best teams in the league. Yet, that has rarely ever been the case.
In 56 editions of the Super Bowl, there have only been 13 No. 1 vs. No. 1 games to determine the NFL champion for the season. Could Super Bowl LVII be the next one to go into said list? For now, let’s take a look at the 13 previous best vs. best matchups in Super Bowl history.
With the NFL’s playoff seeding system being put into play in the 1975 season, it didn’t take long for the league to have their first No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup. In Super Bowl XI, the Oakland Raiders, the No. 1 seeded team in the AFC, led by Hall of Famers QB Ken Stabler and WR Fred Biletnikoff went on to defeat the Minnesota Vikings, the top[ seed in the NFC, led by QB Fran Tankerton, 32-14.
The season after that, in Super Bowl XII, fans would be treated to yet another No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup as the Dallas Cowboys, with legends QB Roger Staubach and RB Tony Dorsett at the helm would go on to defeat the Denver Broncos, 27-10. Surprisingly enough, the MVP award went to two of Dallas’ most important players on defense, right tackle and Hall of Famer Randy White and DE Harvey Martin.
The ’80s were all about Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers, there’s no questioning that. Funnily enough, three of the four times No.1 seeded teams met in the Super Bowl in said decade involved Montana and his Niners teams as NFC representatives. First in Super Bowl XVI in the 1981 season, Montana and San Francisco would go on to defeat the AFC’s No.1 seeded Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21. In Super Bowl XIX, Montana and the Niners would do it again, as they took down Dan Marino and the AFC’s No.1 seeded Miami Dolphins, 38-16. Lastly in the 1989 season, Montana, this time with Jerry Rice backing him up at the WR position would defeat the Denver Broncos, led by QB John Elway and No.1 seeds in the AFC by a 55-10 stomping.
Aside from that, the other time in the 1980s in which two No. 1 seeded teams would come face to face in the NFL’s title game would happen in Super Bowl XVIII for the 1983-84 season. In said game the AFC’s top seed, the Los Angeles Raiders, with QB Jim Plunkett at the helm would go on to win against the former Washington Redskins, now Commanders by a score of 38-9.
Jumping into the 1990s we have two games in which the No. 1 seeds from each conference met head to head for a shot at the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Funny coincidence, both times, the team representing the AFC was the Buffalo Bills. Not so funny coincidence, those two times are part of their brutal four-straight Super Bowl losing streak that went from the 1990 season, all the way to the 1993 season. Sorry for bringing that up again Bills fans, don’t hate the writer, hate the game.
In Super Bowl XXVI the AFC’s No.1 seeded Buffalo Bills would go on to lose the game and championship against the NFC’s No. 1 squad, Washington, 37-24. A couple of years after that, the Bills would endure the last of their four consecutive Super Bowl losses when they were taken down by Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and the Dallas Cowboys, the No. 1 seeded team in the NFC by a score of 52-17.
The NFL ushered in the new millennium with only one Super Bowl matchup involving the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences, the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees calling the shots at QB for the NFC and the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning as their leader on offense for the AFC.
With NOLA legend Drew Brees leading the helm, the Saints went on to defeat Manning and the Colts by a score of 31-17, earning the Saints their only Super Bowl win.
The second full decade of the new millennium saw four total matchups between No.1 seeds go down for the Lombardi Trophy. The first of those matchups was in Super Bowl XLVIII where Russell Wilson and the LOB (Legion of Boom) defense representing the NFC’s No. 1 team, the Seattle Seahawks, would go on to beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos by a staggering 43-8.
The following season, in Super Bowl XLIX it would be the Seahawk’s representing the NFC once again as their No. 1 seed but this time in a losing effort, against Tom Brady and the AFC’s No. 1 team, the New England Patriots by a score of 28-24. You probably remember that game. You know, the one where Seattle should’ve run the ball with Marshawn Lynch instead of passing, which led to a Malcolm Butler interception and the end of the game. We all remember that game, and we all think Seattle should’ve run the ball.
Super Bowl 50, the year after that fatal Seahawks last-minute fiasco, would see Peyton Manning win one last ring and ride out into the sunset where retirement and a plethora of TV commercials were waiting for him. In said championship game, the Denver Broncos, the No.1 seed for the AFC would go on to beat Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the No.1 seeded team in the NFC by 24-10, with former Broncos defensive legend Von Miller taking the MVP award in the game.
Last but certainly not least, Super Bowl LII would be the last time two No.1 seeded teams would meet face to face in the NFL’s biggest game of the season when the Philadelphia Eagles representing the NFC would beat the New England Patriots, the No.1 seeded team in the AFC by a score of 41-33. Most, if not all football fans remember this game for one specific reason, the “Philly Special” trick play that helped cement Philadelphia´s win over New England.