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BSN Breakdown: Denver Broncos will have to buck recent woes of AFC No. 1 seeds

Ken Pomponio Avatar
January 11, 2016


So for the third time in four seasons, your Denver Broncos are the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

That’s a notable accomplishment as only the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles (three straight NFC No. 1 seeds) and the 1990-93 Buffalo Bills (three AFC top seeds in four years) can match that run of excellence since the postseason expanded to its current 12-team format in 1990.

But it also might be a harbinger of playoff shortcomings to come.

Since 1990, only three of the 25 AFC top seeds have gone on to win the Super Bowl. That trio consists of the 1998 Broncos, ’03 Patriots and the ’14 Pats.

Another eight of the remaining 22 AFC No. 1s during that timeframe lost the Super Bowl, including the 2013 Broncos, and that means more than half (14) never even made it to the Big Game. That includes four teams which lost in the AFC Championship Game and a shocking 10 (40 percent) which had one-and-done postseason stays, losing in the divisional round.

That dubious list of 10, includes, of course, a pair of 13-3 Orange & Blue teams: The 1996 and ’12 Broncos, who were bounced by the Jaguars and Ravens, respectively.

It also includes the Peyton Manning-quarterbacked 2005 Colts, who were upended in the divisional round by Ben Roethlisberger and the eventual Super Bowl-champion Steelers. That ’05 Indy loss was the start of a brutal nine-year run that saw the AFC top seed lose in the divisional round five times and fail to snare a single Lombardi Trophy.

So if that 25-year history is any indicator, the AFC’s top seed is nearly as likely to get bounced in its first playoff game (10 times) as it is to reach the Super Bowl (11).


Overall, those 25 AFC No. 1 seeds have compiled a 29-22 post-season record.

Compare that to the NFC top seeds, which are 43-17 over the same, quarter-century span. And of those last 25 NFC No. 1s, eight won the Super Bowl, six lost in the Big Game, seven fell in the conference championship and only four were ousted in the divisional round.

In other words, the 15-1 Panthers seem to be set up nicely while the odds are seemingly against Gary Kubiak’s 12-4 squad, which will have to buck recent AFC No. 1 seed trends to claim the franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy.

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