The two teams that will face off in the Super Bowl must first run the gauntlet of the NFL Playoffs. While the playoff format has changed over the years, it has featured division winners and the teams with the following best records in each conference since 1970. These playoff alternates of sorts are otherwise known as the Wild Card teams.
In addition, the NFL Playoffs now begin with 14 teams, seven from each conference. That means the four division winners and three Wild Card teams from each conference. The first round of the playoffs, otherwise known as the Wild-Card Round, has the second-seeded division winner in each conference hosting the seventh-seeded Wild Card team.
Furthermore, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth-seeded Wild Card team, and it’s the final and fourth-seeded division winner hosting the fifth-seeded Wild Card team. The top-seeded division winner gets a bye, skipping the Wild-Card Round and moving directly to the Divisional Round, where they play the lowest-remaining seeded Wild-Card game-winner.
Lastly, the other two Wild-Card game-winners play each other, and the winners of both games move on to the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games. The winners of the Conference Championship games meet in the Super Bowl.
Wild Card teams that have made the Super Bowl
The number of divisions, teams that get a first-round bye, and Wild Card teams have also changed over the years. But there’s no getting around the fact Wild Card teams have the most challenging road to the Super Bowl.
They have to play the most number of playoff games and usually have to go on the road the most number of times to get there. Regardless, eleven Wild Card teams have made it to the Super Bowl, and seven of those 11 have won the title, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
Five Wild Card teams have won three road games to get there, including the Bucs, but it just so happened that Super Bowl LV was in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, making it a home game of sort for the Buccaneers.
Super Bowl Wild Card betting trends
Since 2000, the five Wild Card teams to earn a Super Bowl berth went on to win it. The past four Wild Card teams to vet to the big game have won three road games in a row to get to the Super Bowl and eventually win it.
Considering just seven Wild Card teams have won, out of 55 total Super Bowls to date, and only 11 Wild Card teams have even made it that far, betting on a Wild Card team to win Super Bowl LVI in February 2021 may not be the best idea.
However, the past five Wild Card teams to make the Super Bowl have gone on to win the event. This likely makes betting on any Wild Card team that gets there a pretty solid idea. Regardless of who you decide to bet on, know that any Wild Card team that earns a spot in the Super Bowl will be road and battle-tested, making them hard to bet against.
Here’s a quick look at every Wild Card team that’s ever done it:
1975 Dallas Cowboys
The 1975 Dallas Cowboys were the first-ever Wild Card team to reach the Super Bowl. Led by Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach, the Cowboys finished the regular season at 10-4. Then, they beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild-Card Round and the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X.
1980 Oakland Raiders
The 1980 Oakland Raiders finished the regular season at 11-5. However, they beat the Houston Oilers in a Wild-Card game at home, then went on the road to beat Cleveland Browns in a Divisional Playoff game and the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship. The Raiders then became the first-ever Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
1985 New England Patriots
The 1985 New England Patriots finished the regular season at 11-5 before winning on the road in the playoffs at the New York Jets, Los Angeles Raiders, and Miami Dolphins. Unfortunately, they ran into the unstoppable Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX, where they lost 46-10.
1992 Buffalo Bills
The 1992 Buffalo Bills season featured the team’s third Super Bowl loss in a row, and they would go on to lose a fourth. The Bills finished the regular season at 11-5 before posting the most remarkable comeback in NFL PLayoffs history versus the Houston Oilers in a Wild-Card game at home. Buffalo ten won at the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins before being trounced 52-17 by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII.
1997 Denver Broncos
The 1997 Denver Broncos finished with an otherwise impressive 12-4 record. Led by Hall of Fame QB John Elway, the Broncos got past the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card Round at home. Then, they beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers on the road to earning a spot in Super Bowl XXXII. They upset the Green Bay Packers to get Elway his first Super Bowl win and just the second ever for a Wild Card team.
1999 Tennessee Titans
The 1999 Tennessee Titans had just three regular-season losses against 13 wins, but the Jacksonville Jaguars won the AFC Central going 14-2. The Titans beat Buffalo at home in a Wild-Card game that featured the Music City Miracle, a 75-yard kickoff return TD with 16 seconds left. Then, they won on the road versus Indianapolis to set up an AFC Championship revenge game versus the Jags. The Titans beat Jacksonville but lost to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, finishing a few yards short of a game-tying TD.
2000 Baltimore Ravens
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens finished with a 12-4 record giving the franchise its first postseason appearance. Led by Hall of Fame Linebacker Ray Lewis and a historically stingy defense, Baltimore won over Denver in the Wild-Card round and posted road wins over Tennessee and Oakland to get to Super Bowl XXXV. They beat New York Giants 34-7 to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl and just the third ever for a Wild Card team.
2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers earned a Wild-Card berth with an 11-5 regular-season record. Then, they went on the road to post playoff wins at Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Denver. A 21-10 Super Bowl XL win over the Seattle Seahawks capped it all off.
2007 New York Giants
The 2007 New York Giants finished the regular season with just ten wins against six losses. Then, they won three road games to get to the Super Bowl. The Giants‘ 17-14 Super Bowl XLII win over the New England Patriots made it three wins in a row for Wild Card teams making the Super Bowl and had pundits believing there might be a Wild Card edge.
2010 Green Bay Packers
The 2010 Green Bay Packers finished the regular season with a 10-6 record. Then, they won three road games to get to the Super Bowl. The Packers’ 31-25 Super Bowl XLV win over the Pittsburgh Steelers made it four wins in a row for Wild Card teams making the Super Bowl. This one had some insisting the Wild Card edge is real.
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season was legendary QB Tom Brady‘s first with the team. They finished 11–5 to qualify for the playoffs and won three road games to advance to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl LV was at Raymond James Stadium, making it somewhat of a home game for the Bucs. They defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31–9 to make it five wins in a row for Wild Card teams making the Super Bowl.