Souhan: Lower NFL seeds can have high expectations

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 1, 2013 - 10:32 PM

 Think the Vikings' chances of winning the Super Bowl are outrageous? Several fringe playoff teams have beaten the odds.

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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson supplied 199 rushing yards against the Packers, but also caught this 2-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder in the third quarter.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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They elbowed their way into the playoffs like angry shoppers on Black Friday. Their playoff hopes seemed silly only weeks earlier, before they rallied in December. They faced the hardest possible road to the Super Bowl.

That's true of the 2012 Vikings. That was also true of the 2011 New York Giants, the 2010 Green Bay Packers, the 2007 Giants and, perhaps most notably, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Four of the past seven Super Bowl winners, including the past two, were seeded fourth or lower among the six playoff teams from their conference. Each defied the notion that Super Bowl champions always are dominant teams that earn a bye week and thrive on the comfort of home playoff games. Each defied the notion that champions can be identified in August, or even December.

With a second-year quarterback only a month removed from his most disappointing game as a pro, and a team a month removed from falling to 6-6 and facing the prospect of utter collapse, the Vikings enter the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC. They don't look like potential Super Bowl champs. Other recent champions didn't look primed to win it all, either.

Last year the New York Giants, like this year's Vikings, found themselves at 6-6. They followed a four-game losing streak by winning three of their last four games to finish 9-7 and earn the fourth seed in the NFC.

They beat Atlanta at home, then won at Green Bay and San Francisco before winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots. Hardly dominant or consistent, they became the first team ever to win the Super Bowl while posting a negative point differential during the regular season, scoring 394 points and allowing 400.

They weren't great, at least not before January. They got hot and healthy at the right time.

In 2010, the Packers lost two in a row to fall to 8-6. They needed to beat the division champion Chicago Bears in the last game of the regular season to make the playoffs, and they eked out a 10-3 victory.

They entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, then won playoff games at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago -- the NFC's top three seeds -- before beating Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. All four of Aaron Rodgers' career playoff victories came during that run.

In 2007, the Giants defied the notion that resting players when a playoff berth is clinched is ideal. With nothing to gain from victory, they played an inspirational game in the last week of the regular season, losing 38-35 to a Patriots team that finished 16-0.

The Giants entered the playoffs as the fifth seed and won playoff games at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay before beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl and ruining New England's perfect season.

In 2005, the Steelers looked a bit like the 2012 Vikings. They featured a second-year quarterback who was a first-round draft pick. Ben Roethlisberger was an effective player but far from a star. The Steelers relied on running backs Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis and a powerful defense.

They entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, with an 11-5 record. They were 7-5 following a three-game losing streak before winning their last four regular-season games to make the playoffs. They won playoff games at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver (the AFC's top three seeds) before beating Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Those teams played their best at the end of the season. They benefited from avoiding a bye week, which can lead to rust or overconfidence.

Any rational oddsmaker would bet against the Vikings winning a Super Bowl, but teams not unlike the Vikings have beaten the odds before, recently and frequently.

Ponder began his news conference Tuesday by saying, "Playoffs?", channeling the old Jim Mora rant. Ponder's been talking about winning the Super Bowl all season.

Maybe he's just an optimist. Maybe he's a historian.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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