The San Francisco 49ers reached the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC. With no bye, the Niners are already gearing up to travel to Dallas this week to face the Cowboys, the third seed in the NFC. Yet, despite the loss of home-field advantage, recent history suggests that the odds might be in the 49ers' favor on Sunday afternoon.
While the NFL adopted a new 14-team playoff format last year, the new structure has not impacted the first-round matchup for the sixth seed, who still goes on the road to play the division winner with the third-best record in their conference.
Here is a quick look at how six seeds in the NFC and AFC have faired in the playoffs since 2010:
2010: Green Bay Packers 4-0 (Won Super Bowl)
2011: Detroit Lions 0-1 (Wild Card)
2012: Minnesota Vikings 0-1 (Wild Card)
2013: New Orleans Saints 1-1 (Divisional)
2014: Detroit Lions 0-1 (Wild Card)
2015: Seattle Seahawks 1-1 (Divisional)
2016: Detroit Lions 0-1 (Wild Card)
2017: Atlanta Falcons 1-1 (Divisional)
2018: Philadelphia Eagles 1-1 (Divisional)
2019: Minnesota Vikings 1-1 (Divisional)
2020: Los Angeles Rams 1-1 (Divisional)
NFC Total: 10-10 (7-4 in Wild Card)
2010: New York Jets 2-1 (Championship Game)
2011: Cincinnati Bengals 0-1 (Wild Card)
2012: Cincinnati Bengals 0-1 (Wild Card)
2013: San Diego Chargers 1-1 (Divisional)
2014: Baltimore Ravens 1-1 (Divisional)
2015: Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1 (Divisional)
2016: Miami Dolphins 0-1 (Wild Card)
2017: Buffalo Bills 0-1 (Wild Card)
2018: Indianapolis Colts 1-1 (Divisional)
2019: Tennessee Titans 2-1 (Championship Game)
2020: Cleveland Browns 1-1 (Divisional)
AFC Total: 9-11 (7-4 in Wild Card)
Overall: 19-21 (14-8 in Wild Card)
Over the past 11 postseasons, the sixth seed in both the AFC and NFC has gone 7-4 in the Wild Card Round, pulling the “upset” over a division winner nearly two-thirds of the time. Only one of the past 22 six seeds has won the Super Bowl (2010 Green Bay Packers), but the majority reached the divisional round, and three played in their respective conferences Championship Game.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan has said that his main goal every regular season is to reach the postseason tournament. Once you make it, anything can happen. The 49ers may be the second-lowest seed in the NFC, but if history tells us anything, it reiterates what Shanahan has said all season: anyone can win once the playoffs start.
Obviously, the historical precedent will mean nothing on Sunday. Still, the 49ers are arguably the scariest wild-card team this year, and despite the Cowboys explosive offense, no one is counting out San Francisco.