Bye week favors four top seeds

Jan 10, 2006 2:24 AM

As the playoffs began, teams earning the top two seeds in each conference have a key edge.

Sitting at home this past weekend were the Colts, Broncos, Bears and Seahawks. As the playoff started the Colts were even money to win the Super Bowl. The Broncos were next at 7-1, followed by the Seahawks (8-1) and the Bears (12-1). Gaining the bye allows these teams to rest injured players and have two weeks to put together a game plan.

Since 1990, 25 first and second round seeds have filled 30 Super Bowl slots. The No. 1 seeded teams a year ago (Patriots, Eagles) ended up meeting in the Super Bowl, but that’s not common either. The previous two years, the Eagles were favored to represent the NFC, but got upset by the Panthers and Bucs.

Here’s a look at the four rested teams with the home field.

SEATTLE (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS): The final loss at Green Bay where the Seahawks played third-stringers ended an 11-game win streak. The team has the balanced offense Coach Mike Holmgren likes, averaging 153 yards rushing and 216 passing. QB Matt Hasselbeck (24 Yds, 9 INTs) and RB Shaun Alexander lead the way. Alexander had 1,880 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and a record 28 TDs.

However, questions remain about how good this team really is. Seattle only played four playoff teams — losing 26-14 at Jacksonville and 20-17 at Washington, and posting wins against the NY Giants (24-21) and Indianapolis. The Seahawks should have lost to both the Giants (NY missed several late field goals) and the Colts (mostly third stringers played). The Seahawks are 8-0 SU, 6-2 ATS at home.

CHICAGO (11-5 SU, 9-5-2 ATS): George Halas would be proud. The 2005 Bears are Monsters of the Midway, with the No. 2 overall defense (12.6 ppg). Lovie Smith has put his stamp on this physical defense that is a dominant unit. The Bears allow just 7.6 ppg at home where they are 7-1 "under" the total.

The offense is a concern, where rookie QB Kyle Orton (9 TDs, 13 INTs) played most of the season before Rex Grossman stepped in the last two games. Grossman ran the offense better and looked confident, but he still has one touchdown and two picks on the season! Their game is tough defense and ball control behind RB Thomas Jones (1,335 yards), but what if they fall behind? Since Lovie Smith took over, the Bears are 21-10-1 "under" the total.

DENVER (13-3 SU, 11-4 ATS): Same old Broncos: Great stats, playoff flameouts. Perhaps this team is different. One thing that’s the same is a physical defense and a power running game (158.7 yhe NFL), utilizing zone-blocking schemes. Why don’t more teams use that? That took the pressure off 31-year old QB Jake Plummer, who tossed 18 TDs and 7 INTs (he threw 20 picks last year). For his career he has 150 TDs, 148 picks.

Denver hasn’t played a single playoff team since an Oct. 23 game against the NY Giants — a 24-23 loss. On the other hand, their previous three games were against Jacksonville (20-7), Washington (21-19) and New England (28-20). Mike Shanahan hopes "the new" pick-free Jake shows up. Broncos fans don’t want to be reminded, but it’s going to come up a lot: Denver got knocked out of the playoffs at Indy the last two seasons.

INDIANAPOLIS (14-2 SU, 9-6 ATS): It’s not often a 14-2 team needs a bye week badly, but the Colts certainly did. Over the final three games, seven starters missed a total of 13 games. The defense was particularly hard hit. Defensive tackle Corey Simon (foot) sat out the last three games. DT Montae Reagor, Pro Bowl Bob Sanders (back), LB Cato June (groin/knee/ankle) and right tackle Ryan Diem (knee) missed two. WRs Marvin Harrison (hand) and Brandon Stokley (knee) were on the sidelines for one game.

This is one talented team with QB Peyton Manning (3,747 yards), RB Edgerrin James (1,506 yards), and a pair of aces in WR Harrison (1,146 yards) and Reggie Wayne (1,055). The Colts went 6-2 "under the total at home, outscoring opponents by a 24-12 average. Not having to play in frigid Foxboro this January is the edge this group has been hoping for in the playoffs.