Who will be this year's Ravens?

Which lower-seeded team fits the profile of a Super Bowl contender?

Updated: December 31, 2013, 8:04 AM ET
By John McTigue | ESPN Stats & Information

Ray LewisHarry How/Getty ImagesThe Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII after being the No. 4 seed in the AFC.

The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are the favorites to make Super Bowl XLVIII. Each team lost three games this season, won its conference and earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But how much does that No. 1 seed even mean anymore?

When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005 as the sixth seed in the AFC, a trend started in the NFL. The first 15 seasons of the 12-team NFL playoffs were dominated by the top two seeds in each conference, with those teams winning 13 of 15 Super Bowls, and accounting for 25 of the 30 Super Bowl appearances. Since then, a one or two seed has accounted for nine of 16 appearances with only two wins (2008 Steelers, 2009 Saints).

The wide-open nature of the playoffs -- and the NFL in general -- these days could see any team making a deep postseason run. However, some teams are more likely to do so than others, and a look into the numbers can give us an idea of who is primed to make such a run.

One of the key measures used here to determine this was expected points added (EPA). This is a measure of impact of every play on each team's potential points. When aggregated over the course of a game or season, EPA numbers show how much each unit (offense, defense, special teams) contributed to the team's final point margin.


The NFC

The 49ers proved to be one of the most efficient teams in all three facets of the game this season, which makes them one on of the top choices to take down the Seahawks or Panthers. The 49ers' 139.5 overall EPA was third in the NFL this season, and was actually better than the 49ers' total from last season (122.0) when San Francisco made the Super Bowl.

The 49ers' offense rated as the worst of the NFC playoff teams, but the return of Michael Crabtree in Week 13 has had a big impact on the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick. Of the 49ers' 44.7 offensive expected points added this season, 28.7 came after Crabtree's return. Kaepernick completed 61.7 percent of his passes with Crabtree active this season, compared to 56.7 percent with him inactive.

The return of Crabtree wasn't the only wrinkle for an NFC playoff team this season, however.


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