With an overtime victory against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC conference championship game, the New York Giants have advanced to Super Bowl XLVII, where they have continued the trend of mediocre regular season teams who have advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Giants won nine games during the 2011 regular season and have now become the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl with a negative point differential during the regular season.
They hit their groove at the right time, and have defeated three quality teams en route to an improbable Super Bowl berth. But during the regular season, they were nothing but an average football team.
They lost to Rex Grossman twice, Vince Young, and Tarvaris Jackson. They had the 25th ranked defense, in terms of points allowed. They almost suffered their typical late-season collapse, which would have cost their head coach his job if they missed the postseason for the third straight season.
But in the postseason, everything came together for Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Lawrence Tynes. Incredibly.
The Packers won 15 games with the second-highest scoring offense in NFL history, yet they didn’t reach the Super Bowl. Neither did the 13-3 Saints and their fourth-highest scoring offense in NFL history. Or the 13-3 49ers and their incredible defense.
What has happened in 2011 is nothing short of the trend anymore. With a few exceptions, the best team in the regular season never reaches the Super Bowl.
Let’s look at some of the recent teams to make the Super Bowl.
The 2010 Green Bay Packers snuck into the postseason with 10 wins, including do-or-die victories in their final two games, and steamrolled their way to a Super Bowl title.
The 2008 Cardinals won nine games in a pathetic NFC West, allowed 426 points, and reached the Super Bowl behind an explosive offense and turnover-producing defense.
The 2007 Giants were the exact same as this year’s Giants. A good team in the regular season, if that, but hardly the best team in the league.
Your best teams during the regular season are just coming up flat in the postseason, consistently, year after year.
The 2011 Packers won 15 games in the regular season and zero in the postseason. The 2010 Patriots won 14 games in the regular season and zero in the postseason, while the Falcons won 13 in the regular season and zero in the postseason. The 2007 Patriots won every single regular season game, most of them by dominant margins, and laid an egg against a weak Giants team in the Super Bowl. The 2006 Chargers won 14 games in the regular season and zero in the postseason. So did the 2005 Indianapolis Colts.
The last four teams to win 15 games? The 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New England Patriots, and 2011 Green Bay Packers. Four combined postseason victories. Four combined postseason losses.
What you do during the regular season used to mean that you had an automatic trip to the Super Bowl. Look at your Super Bowl champions a few decades ago.
The 1989 49ers won 14 games. The 1990 Giants won 13. The 1991 Redskins won 14. The 1992 and 1993 Cowboys won 13 and 12. The 1994 49ers won 13. The 1995 Cowboys won 13. The 1996 Packers won 13. The 1997 and 1998 Broncos won 12 and 14. The 1999 Rams won 13. The 2000 Ravens won 12.
Every Super Bowl champion for 12 straight years won at least 12 games. Nine of the 12 won at least 13 games.
It was even more extreme in the beginning of the Super Bowl. A team like the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s entered the postseason basically knowing that they had an automatic berth to the Super Bowl. They’d blow out two weaker AFC opponents and face the Cowboys or the Vikings in the Super Bowl.
There just weren’t upsets. The NFL was a lot more like the BCS system in college football. Your regular season success gave you so much respect that it was as if teams were almost afraid to play you in the postseason because they knew they had no chance.
The National Football League has changed. It’s changed drastically. What a team does during the regular season literally isn’t even relevant anymore.
The 2001 Patriots started it by winning just 11 in the regular season but recording an unlikely Super Bowl victory. Over the last decade, other Super Bowl champions with good but not great regular season records have included the 2005 Steelers (11-5), the 2010 Packers (10-6), and possibly the 2011 Giants (9-7).
The number one seed in the NFC has been bounced in the divisional round in four of the past five seasons. The 2007 Cowboys, 2008 Giants, 2010 Falcons, and 2011 Packers failed to make it out of their opening round, despite leading the conference in victories during the regular season.
Some of the biggest upsets in postseason history have occurred in the last decade. The Patriots beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Giants over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Tebow and the Broncos taking down the Steelers in this year’s wild-card round. The Steelers over the mighty Colts in the 2005 divisional round.
The last four 8-8 teams to reach the postseason have won a game. All of them have had negative point differentials.
There really isn’t a formula anymore for predicting postseason games. I’m convinced that 30 years ago a team like the 2011 Giants literally could not have reached the Super Bowl. Jason Pierre-Paul would never have guaranteed a win over a 15-1 team. Never. But he did, and it happened.
Confidence in the postseason doesn’t have any reflection whatsoever with your regular season record. The NFL has changed incredibly over the last decade, even more so over the last five or six seasons.
No longer will a team march into the postseason with a 14-2 record and a first-round bye and be predicted to head to the Super Bowl just because they were the best team in the regular season.
Two decades ago, this is exactly what would have happened. Two decades ago, paper champions existed.
Now any team can beat any team in any postseason game. It’s been proven year after year.
The 2011 Giants are just another example to add to this list.
I’m not taking anything away from the 2011 Giants. I still believe that they weren’t the best team in the NFC East during the regular season, let alone the best team in the entire NFC. But they earned their Super Bowl appearance with skill, trash-talking, and, like every recent Super Bowl team, a considerable amount of luck.