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NFC Playoffs Best and Worst: Point Differential

The scoreboard is the only thing that matters, though playoff history suggests style points are critical, too.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – On gameday, points on the scoreboard are what matters. You know what else matters? Style points.

Teams that get to and win the Super Bowl don’t just win games. They tend to win games in overwhelming fashion. A good example of that was the 2010 Green Bay Packers. They eked into the playoffs with a 10-6 record that required wins in the final two regular-season games. Overall, though, it was a powerful team. Led by ascending Aaron Rodgers and a defense that finished second in points allowed, that team finished third in the league in scoring differential.

Of the 40 teams that have played in the last 20 Super Bowls, 33 finished in the top quartile of the league and 29 finished in the top five in scoring differential. Seven of the last eight Super Bowl champions finished in the top five.

Here’s a look at the NFC field.

No. 1: Green Bay Packers (13-4)

Point differential: +4.6 (10th).

Noteworthy: If you ignore Sunday’s loss at Detroit, a game in which the No. 1 offense played about half the game and perhaps the defense wasn’t fully plugged in, the Packers would have been a sixth-ranked plus-5.4. What if you ignore the Week 1 disaster against New Orleans, too? Green Bay was plus-8.1 in those 15 in-between games, which would have ranked fifth.

No. 2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)

Point differential: +9.3 (fourth)

Noteworthy: The Buccaneers were a fourth-ranked plus-8.6 last season, just behind Green Bay’s plus-8.8. Are they playing their best ball of the season at the right time? They beat Buffalo in Game 14 and trounced Carolina twice, but also lost 9-0 against New Orleans and needed a Tom Brady comeback to avoid embarrassment against the Jets. Also of note, the Bucs were second in yardage differential behind only Buffalo.

No. 3: Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Point differential: +10.1 (second).

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Noteworthy: Overall, only Buffalo’s +11.4 is better. The Cowboys fattened up down the stretch by beating the Giants by 15, the Football Team by 42 and the Eagles by 25. Against non-Eagles playoff competition, they were 1-4. Mixed in there was a three-point home loss to Arizona – one of three losses by a combined eight points. The Cowboys were fourth in yardage differential, too.

No. 4: L.A. Rams (12-5)

Point differential: +5.2 (sixth).

Noteworthy: After losing 36-28 at Green Bay, the Rams rattled off five consecutive wins before losing in overtime in the finale against San Francisco. The Rams’ first eight wins came by an average of 15.5 points. Their last four wins came by an average of 6.3. Matthew Stafford’s six touchdowns vs. seven interceptions the last three games didn’t help.

No. 5: Arizona Cardinals (11-6)

Point differential: +4.9 (ninth).

Noteworthy: Like the Rams, the Cardinals played their best football early in the season. They outscored their opponents by an average of 15.9 points en route to their 7-0 start. However, they enter the playoffs having lost four of five, though that one win – 25-22 at Dallas – was impressive. The Cards were fifth in yardage differential.

No. 6: San Francisco 49ers (10-7)

Point differential: +3.6 (12th).

Noteworthy: In going 7-2 down the stretch, the 49ers’ scoring differential was plus-11.3. For context, for the full season, Buffalo was a league-best plus-11.4. So, don’t sleep on the 49ers, who have saved their best for last with a stretch of games bookended by wins over the Rams. The Niners were third in yardage differential, once against suggesting this is a dangerous team.

No. 7: Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)

Point differential: +3.5 (13th).

Noteworthy: What do you make out of the Eagles? They lost at the woeful New York Giants in Game 12, got crushed by 25 at home against Dallas in Game 17 and won four consecutive games in between. The Eagles didn’t beat a single team with a winning record. Against playoff teams, they went 0-6 and were outscored by an average of 13.3 points.

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