With a growing trend of an increase in the number of lower seeds reaching, and even winning Super Bowls, the best seeds in each of the NFL’s two conferences have obviously not always translated regular season success into postseason accomplishment in recent years.
But, at least one thing has held true for the most part – to represent your conference in the Super Bowl, you usually have to at least play winning football within than conference.
Leave it to the surprising New York Giants to circumvent that notion.
While the Giants have a more apparent aim at making history – trying to become the first 9-7 team in the regular season to win a Super Bowl – they might also achieve a less noticeable feat as well – becoming the first Super Bowl winner with a losing record against its own conference.
That is, if you only count the regular season.
Of course, the Giants stormed through the NFC playoffs with three straight wins against fellow conference foes, including wins over the NFC’s top two seeds.
However, it was a far different story for New York during the regular season this year, when the Giants went just 5-7 against their own conference.
In sharp contrast, the last two teams New York defeated were dominant, and in one case, even perfect against the NFC.
Top-seeded Green Bay (which beat New York on the road in Week 13) never lost in twelve regular season conference games until a 37-20 divisional round playoff defeat to the Giants at home, and San Francisco went 10-2 against the NFC (including a Week 10 victory over New York) before losing last week’s NFC title game to the Giants, at home, in overtime.
And yet, it’s the Giants and their losing regular season record against their own conference who curiously carry the NFC conference banner to all the way to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
Just how unlikely is that?
Well, since the current format of eight four-team divisions began in the 2002 season, AFC Super Bowl entries averaged 9.7 regular season conference wins (nearly a 10-2 record against intra-conference opponents) through this season, and not including this year’s Giants, NFC teams in the Super Bowl over that time had an average regular season record of 9-3 against their own conference.
Even Super Bowl participants like the fifth-seeded Giants four years ago, along with fourth-seeded Arizona the following year, and sixth-seeded Pittsburgh six years ago, were all 7-5 in the regular season against their respective conferences; and sixth-seeded Green Bay was 8-4 against the NFC last season.
No Super Bowl team under the current divisional format had even been as bad as 6-6 against its own conference during the regular season until New York lowered the bar even further this year.
Yet, somewhat remarkably, here are the Giants, boasting only two more regular season wins than postseason victories against NFC opponents this year, with a great chance to win another Super Bowl for the NFC.
Fortunately for New York, there are those four inter-conference games each year, and the Giants took full advantage.
A perfect 4-0 mark against the AFC East this season, including three games in their own building (a win over the New York Jets was technically a road game) was the difference between a conference record of two games under the .500 mark, and an overall regular season finish of two games over .500.
That was just enough for the Giants to sneak into the playoffs, get a home win in the wild-card round against a team (Atlanta) with a better record, and continue a very late-season stretch of playing their best football at just the right time.
However, without every single one of the Giants’ four wins over teams from the opposite conference, there would be no startling run to Super Bowl XLVI, and the New York’s conference would have a different representative in that game, going against the conference that ultimately saved the Giants’ season.