NFL divisional round: Meet the four ‘bye’ standers

Jan 11, 2005 6:30 AM

History shows that teams with an extra week of preparation have enormous edges (not to mention home field) in the next round. It also shows that favorites don’t often meet in the Super Bowl.

Here’s a look at the four teams that come into this weekend’s playoff games rested and with home field.

STEELERS: While rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger has received a lot of attention, Pittsburgh (15-1 SU, 11-5 ATS) is No. 1 in total defense and first against the run, allowing just 80 rushing yards per game. Bill Cowher’s team plays a rough, physical defensive game that has held seven of the last last opponents under 17 points.

The Steelers have the No. 2 ground attack in the NFL, behind RBs Jerome Bettis (941 yards) and ex-Eagles rusher Duce Staley (830), which takes the pressure off the rookie QB. Pittsburgh is 8-0 SU and 6-2 ATS at home. Seven of the last nine Steelers games have gone "under."

EAGLES: The last four seasons, this team wins without dazzling. Philadelphia went 12-4 SU, 11-5 ATS a year ago compared to 13-3, 9-7 this season. The addition of WR Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse helped Philly dominate what is a weak all-around NFC field. The passing offense really caught fire behind Owens and QB Donovan McNabb (3,875 yards, 31 TDs, 8 INTs), finishing seventh in the NFL with 247 yards per game.

However, the running game was ninth worst in the NFL. Also, T.O. is out for the playoffs and is a longshot for the Super Bowl if Philly gets there.

FALCONS: So who are these new Dirty Birds? First-year coach Jim Mora, Jr. runs a team that plays tough defense with a predictable offense. That offense leads the NFL in rushing and is third worst in passing. QB Michael Vick (14 TDs, 12 INTs) has nimble feet (902 rush yards, 7.2 ypc) but is not yet a great decision maker with his arm. The tough ”˜D’ explains why Atlanta is 11-5 "under" the total. Atlanta’s run defense is solid (ranked ninth) but the suspect pass defense allows 223 yards per game.

PATRIOTS: The Patriots have been remarkable money-makers, going 13-2-1 ATS last season and 11-4-1 this year. Offensively, they are better than last year’s champs due to a slew of talented pass catching options for QB Tom Brady and the addition of RB Corey Dillon (1,635 yards).

Defensively, a key loss is star CB Ty Law, who has missed the last 10 games.