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Updated Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 05:25 PM

Road to Super Bowl victory is tough for wild-card teams — but not impossible

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

You could say it has been a lifetime since the Seahawks won a playoff game on the road without exaggerating for most of Seattle's current roster.

Only nine of Seattle's 53 players had been born when Seattle won at Miami on Dec. 31, 1983. The Seahawks have lost eight consecutive road playoff games since, a fact that doesn't have much of anything to do with the chances for the team this year, but everything to do with how hard it is to win on the road in the playoffs.

Beginning with their game Sunday at Washington against the Redskins, the Seahawks will have to do that at least twice and more likely three times to advance to the Super Bowl. And while that wild-card path elevates the degree of difficulty, it has been navigated with increasing frequency the past few years.

Three of the past seven Super Bowl champions did not win their division in the regular season, instead entering the playoffs as wild cards. Compare that to just three wild-card teams winning in the previous 35 years since the AFL-NFL merger: the 1980 Raiders, the 1997 Broncos and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers, Giants and Packers have all run the wild-card gauntlet, winning three consecutive road games in the playoffs to claim a place on the sport's biggest stage.

It can be done, but will it? With history as a guide, we went looking for the key characteristics of recent Super Bowl champs to see how the Seahawks stack up.

Passing fancy

Seattle ranked No. 27 in passing yards this season, averaging 189.4. Minnesota is the only playoff team that threw for fewer yards in the regular season.

When you consider that each of the past three teams to win the Super Bowl ranked in the top five in that category, that would point to the fact that Seattle simply isn't equipped for a championship run in a league increasingly dominated by quarterbacks.

But broaden the sample range a little bit, and you'll see air travel isn't the only route to the Super Bowl.

The 2007 Giants won the Super Bowl as a wild-card team after ranking No. 21 in passing yards. The 2005 Steelers were 24th. From 2000 to 2007, only one team that ranked in the top five in passing yardage in the regular season won the Super Bowl.

Streaking

Washington won its final seven regular-season games to reach the playoffs, Seattle its last five. Those are the two longest active streaks in the NFC, which adds up to exactly nothing now that the second season is about to start.

In the previous eight seasons, there have been 12 teams that entered the playoffs riding a win streak of five games or more. None of those teams have won the Super Bowl, and five of those 12 went out and lost their first playoff game.

So while the winning streaks for Washington and Seattle explain how those teams reached the playoffs, it offers very little about how they will fare in the postseason.

Title run?

Seattle gave up 103.1 rushing yards, 10th fewest in the league. Only five teams in the playoffs gave up fewer rushing yards per game.

But that total is actually deceiving because Seattle was so often out in front. The Seahawks scored first in 13 of their 16 games, getting out in front and making opponents less likely to grind out yards on the ground.

In fact, Seattle allowed 4.5 yards per carry, which is more than eight of the other 11 playoff teams. Only the Falcons, Colts and Packers allowed more per carry than Seattle.

The statistics don't indicate an imminent title for Seattle, but history points out that just because a wild-card team starts on the road doesn't mean it can't bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @dannyoneil.

Wild things
Six teams have won the Super Bowl as wild cards since 1970:
Year Team W-L
1980 Oakland 11-5
1997 Denver 12-4
2000 Baltimore 12-4
2005 Pittsburgh 11-5
2007 N.Y. Giants 10-6
2010 Green Bay 10-6


BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
St. Louis running back Steven Jackson had a difficult time getting away from a swarming Seattle defense, which will need to be fierce on the road.




CHRIS O'MEARA / AP
Green Bay's Clay Mathews, left, and Aaron Rodgers enjoyed taking it all, especially after winning three road playoff games.




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