The Kansas City Chiefs have faced a very difficult path to this Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII. Entering the playoffs with the AFC’s third seed — their lowest since the fourth seed they claimed in 2017 — the Chiefs defeated the sixth-seeded Miami Dolphins at home before beating the second-seeded Buffalo Bills and first-seeded Baltimore Ravens on the road.
And now in the NFL Championship game, Kansas City will play the NFC’s first seed: the San Francisco 49ers.
The Chiefs’ most recent opponent should have seen this coming. In 2012 — the Ravens’ fifth season under current head coach John Harbaugh — they began the postseason as the fourth seed. They collected a home victory against the fifth-seeded Indianapolis Colts before recording wins over the first-seeded Denver Broncos and second-seeded New England Patriots — and then beat the NFC’s second seed (naturally, it was the 49ers) to win Super Bowl XLVI.
You can probably think of a few other teams that won Super Bowls after beating a string of better teams — including the New York Giants just a season earlier, the 1997 Broncos (who beat the first-seeded Chiefs 14-10 in the Divisional Round), the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2007 Giants.
But did you realize that the Chiefs — with a victory on Sunday — will have completed one of the most difficult championship runs of them all?
Anyway... that’s what the DVOA metric says. According to analytics expert Aaron Schatz — who developed the well-known statistical model while he was with the now-defunct Football Outsiders football analytics service — the average DVOA of all the teams the Chiefs will have defeated on the way to a fourth Lombardi Trophy would be the highest of any other team that played four postseason games to win a Super Bowl during the DVOA era — which currently goes back through the 1985 season.
Chiefs will have hardest SB path by opposing DVOA (4 games) if they beat SF. pic.twitter.com/kp8Dym8fvG— Aaron Schatz (@ASchatzNFL) January 29, 2024
Schatz — who found himself (and his DVOA metric) a new home at FTN Fantasy after FO folded — spoke to the Kansas City Star’s Jesse Newell last week.
“It’s hard to win a Super Bowl. But it’s especially hard to win a Super Bowl, first of all, going up against teams as good as Baltimore and San Francisco were this year,” Schatz said. “But also winning four games instead of winning three, and winning two of them on the road. It makes it extra hard.”
Schatz even took it a step further, using DVOA to calculate the odds of success for each one of the most difficult roads to Super Bowl championships.
Inspired by a question from @LaverneusDingle, I put in all 43 Super Bowl runs and compared them using the formula from the FTN playoff odds report. This now accounts for home/away to give the odds that an average SB champion (25% DVOA) will be able to complete the SB run. pic.twitter.com/SOpFlpkL2m— Aaron Schatz (@ASchatzNFL) January 30, 2024
Kansas City tops that list, too. By DVOA, the Chiefs’ road to a fourth Lombardi is the least likely to succeed.
Of course, the Chiefs have already collected three of the four victories they need. And they have one other ace in the hole: when the second-ranked Giants won their Super Bowl after the 2007 season — defeating the 18-0 Patriots in the championship — their defensive coordinator was a former Andy Reid assistant named Steve Spagnuolo.