Bye teams to say hello

January 08, 2008 2:49 AM
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The top two NFL seeds in each conference have a key edge, as they get a bye the first week while watching the others duke it out.

Sitting at home this past weekend were the Packers, Cowboys, Colts and Patriots. Almost a year ago their odds to win the 2008 Super Bowl were the Colts at 6/1, the Pats 10/1 (before the Moss trade), the Cowboys 15/1 and the Packers 50/1.

Gaining the bye is an advantage for teams to not only rest injured players, but to have two weeks to put together a game plan. Since 1990, 27 first and second round seeds have filled 34 Super Bowl slots. The No. 1 and 2 seeds, rested after the bye, have gone 54-14 (79 percent) in their first games in the divisional round.

The No. 1 seeded team the last three years in the NFC (Eagles, Seahawks, Bears) wound up in the Super Bowl. In the AFC it’s been a different story, as the last No. 1 seed to make it was the 2003 Patriots. In 2001 and 2004 the Steelers were the No. 1 AFC seed and fell short, along with the 14-2 Colts and Chargers the last two years. Here’s a look at the four teams that come into this weekend’s playoff games rested with home field.

Packers: (13-3 SU, 12-3-1 ATS): Old soldiers never die, they just fade away —except QB Brett Favre (28 TDs, 15 INTs), who keeps rolling along like Old Man River. This is a great story, with the 37-year-old veteran teaming with a talented young group of wideouts in WRs James Jones, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. The Packers are 7-1 SU/6-1-1 ATS at home with the No. 2 passing offense (12-4 over the total).

A young defense has been a big surprise, ranking 11th (after being 24th in 2006). RB Ryan Grant (956 yds, 5.1 ypc) has been a big plus in the second half of the season, helping what was a weak ground game. The Packers entered the season with the youngest roster in the NFL but are 17-3 SU, 15-4-1 ATS their last 20 games. Did they excel by taking advantage of the weaker NFC? They lost twice to the Bears and 37-27 in a showdown at Dallas, a game Favre got hurt in the first quarter.

Cowboys (13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS): With the demise of the Bears, Big ”˜D’ gladly stepped in to fill the NFC power void. Dallas has excelled under first-year coach Wade Phillips, who brought in an attacking philosophy on defense, different from the Bill Parcells read and react ”˜D’. The Cowboys rank ninth in total defense, sixth against the run. Dallas is beating teams by a 28-17 average as a favorite, 12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS as chalk.

This is a high-powered, balanced offense that ranks No. 3, led by mobile QB Tony Romo (36 TDs, 19 INTs). RBs Julius Jones and bruising Marion Barber anchor the ground attack, while Romo has terrific targets with Pro Bowl TE Jason Witten, WR Terrell Owens (15 TDs) and Patrick Crayton. WR Terry Glenn should be back for the playoffs and Owens hopes to be over a high ankle sprain. The Dallas offense slowed down in December, riding a 2-2 SU, 0-4 ATS run into the playoffs. They were lucky to beat the Lions 28-27, lost 10-6 at home to the Eagles and escaped with a 20-13 win at Carolina. Coasting, or cracks in the armor?

Colts (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS): Like the Cowboys, the defending champs hope to get healthier for the playoffs. WR Marvin Harrison (knee) has missed 11 of the last 12 games, DE Dwight Freeney is out for the season with a foot injury, while DT Raheem Brock, DE Robert Mathis, safety Antoine Bethea and rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez all ended the season battling nagging injuries.

Despite the health setbacks, the Colts played at a high level all season, ranked No. 3 in total defense and No. 5 in offense. That is a testament to the coaching staff and their depth. QB Peyton Manning (31 TDs, 14 INTs) had another magnificent campaign keeping the offense humming. They would love another shot at New England, after losing 24-20 at home. Both defenses were strong that game and the Colts let a 20-10 fourth quarter lead slip away.

 Patriots (16-0 SU, 10-6 ATS): The remarkable Pats pulled off the first perfect regular season since 1972. The offense got all the accolades, but despite some age and cracks along the way, the defense finished No. 4. QB Tom Brady (50 TDs, 8 INTs, 4,806 yds) had a record-setting season because of a whole new crop of WRs in Randy Moss (1,493 yds, 23 TDs), Wes Welker (1,175 yds) and Donte’ Stallworth. All three were the top receiver on their respective teams a year ago.

This is the No. 1 offense averaging 36.8 points and 411 yards per game. They started 8-0 SU/ATS, but went 8-0 SU, 2-6 ATS in the second half as oddsmakers put up some crazy numbers and opponents came after the undefeated bulls-eye on their backs. 16-0 is astounding, but there’s no doubt finishing 17-1 or 18-1 would be a huge disappointment.