Before the start of the 2012 season, Neil Paine wrote an article here titled, Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? And that was before Joe Flacco turned into Joe Montana one postseason.
But since then? Man, things have been pretty chalky. The 2013 playoffs had two notable features: very low point spreads and the favorites going 5-1 in games with spreads of more than three points.
A little less than a year ago — after the conference championship games but before the Super Bowl — I wrote Part I of this article. That’s because the playoffs looked pretty non-random: favorites had gone 8-2 straight up, and 7-1 in games with spreads of greater than three points. And, for the second year in a row, the Super Bowl was featuring a pair of #1 seeds.
This year? Well, Washington was a 1-point favorite over Green Bay, and lost. Other than that? The favorites are otherwise 7-0 this postseason. Only once since 1978 (which is how far back PFR has points spread data) has there been only one upset in the playoffs, and that was in 1988. Right now, Carolina is a 3-point home favorite against Arizona, while New England is a 3-point road favorite in Denver.
Unless Denver makes the Super Bowl, the points spread will almost certainly be less than 3.5 points, so 2015 is very likely going to go down as another year without a large upset (of course, there’s also a chance the New England spread goes up; I think that’s less likely in the NFC). If so, it will join 1988 as the only other year since 1988 without an underdog of greater than 3 points winning a single game (those teams went 4-0 this postseason).
If results hold, there will be just two games in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 postseasons where underdogs of 3.5 or more points won games (2014 Colts over Broncos; 2013 Chargers over Bengals). On average, there have been about 6.8 such upsets over each three-year period in playoff history, and at least four in every three-year period since 1978 (there were four from 1988 to 1990, and five or more in every other three-year period).
So yeah, the playoffs sure do seem to be getting less random. There also remains the possibility of #1 seeds battling in the Super Bowl for the third season in a row.