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Why are lower seeds advancing in playoffs?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Lower-seeded teams have advanced to the conference championship games to an extent unseen since the NFL adopted a 12-team playoff field beginning in 1990.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals and sixth-seeded Eagles have done their part, as have the sixth-seeded Ravens on the AFC side. Only second-seeded Pittsburgh remains from the top three seeds in either conference.

The chart, based on research by Paul Carr of ESPN Stats & Information, shows the highest seeding totals for the championship round since 1990. Baltimore (6) plus Pittsburgh (2) plus Philadelphia (6) plus Arizona (4) equals 18, easily the highest total since 1990.

What does it mean? You tell me.

Three of the four highest seed totals have come since the league realigned into eight divisions before the 2002 season.

In theory, realignment made it easier for teams with lesser records to advance as division champions. But if we look at the final four teams in 2005, we see two with 13-3 records and two with 11-5 records. Three of the four won their divisions.

My current theory holds that the NFL might have fewer great teams. Years ago, you could bank on the 49ers or Cowboys or Packers or Bills or Broncos to dominate and find their way to the championship round. Lower-seeded teams were going to have a harder time winning road games against the best teams in each conference. The teams we're seeing now are good, but most are nowhere near as complete as some of those earlier teams.

Perhaps there are fewer highly flawed teams advancing past the wild-card round, resulting in fewer "gimme" games for the top two seeds.