The NFL has been known for its parity since the playoff field expanded to 12 teams in 1990, and for the 30th consecutive season, at least four teams made the NFL playoffs that didn't in the previous year.
Two of those teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, clinched first-round byes in the NFC playoffs. Based on the past six years, their chances of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl exponentially increased. Teams that have earned a first-round bye have represented the AFC and the NFC in the Super Bowl in each of the past six years, with no wild-card team going to the Super Bowl since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (they defeated San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII).
Baltimore's Super Bowl win ended a streak of three consecutive Super Bowl winners to come out of the wild-card round -- the 2010 Green Bay Packers were a No. 6 seed and the 2011 New York Giants were a fourth seed (and a 9-win team) when they won the Super Bowl. Wild-card teams making the Super Bowl were commonplace between 2003 and 2012, as eight wild-card teams were able to reach the championship round, out of 20 participants, with six winning it all.
The NFL's six-year streak of not having a wild-card team reach the Super Bowl is the longest drought since the expansion. The current run is in jeopardy this season based on the strength of the playoff field.
Six playoff teams won 12 or more regular-season games, which is tied for the most such teams in a single postseason in NFL history (2003, 2011). The combined winning percentage (.708, 136-56 record) of this season's playoff field is the highest in 14 years since it was .719 (138-54) in 2005.
This season, the New England Patriots (12-4) and New Orleans Saints (13-3) are teams with more than 12 wins playing on Wild Card Weekend. The Patriots have the second biggest point differential in the league (+195) and the Saints were fifth (+117). Two teams ranking in the top five in point differential have made the past three Super Bowls with the last team not ranking in the top five being the 2015 Denver Broncos (10th at +59).
A wild card team making the Super Bowl is stronger than ever, but the odds are still in favor of a team with a first-round bye making the Super Bowl. Teams with a first-round bye have made the Super Bowl 79.3% of the time.
Super Bowl Participants By Seed (Since 1990)
Being the No. 5 seed is the hardest path toward Super Bowl glory as the only No. 5 seed to make the Super Bowl was the 2007 Giants. The last No. 4 seed to make the Super Bowl was the 2012 Ravens while the last No. 3 seed to make the Super Bowl was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. The 2003 Carolina Panthers are the only NFC team to reach the Super Bowl as the No. 3 seed. Only three No. 3 seeds have reached the NFC Championship Game. The last No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl was the 2010 Packers, one of two No. 6 seeds to win the championship.
The odds of wild-card teams making the Super Bowl are still not in their favor but the chances are greater than in years past based on the strength of the teams playing on the first weekend.