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NFL bye teams set to say hello

Jan 6, 2009 5:01 PM
Feist Facts by Jim Feist |

Since 1990, 28 first-and-second round seeds have filled 36 Super Bowl slots. The No. 1 and 2 seeds, rested after the bye, have gone 56-16 (76%) in their first games of the NFL divisional round.

The No. 1-seeded team in three of the last four years in the NFC (Eagles, Seahawks, Bears) wound up in the Super Bowl.

In the AFC it’s been a different story, as the only No. 1 seeds to make it have been the 2003 and 2007 Patriots.

Here’s a look at the four Super Bowl favorites watching the Wild Card games:

Panthers: (12-4 SU, 8-7-1 ATS): Carolina coach John Fox prefers a balanced offense and this group exemplifies that. The Panthers ranked 10th in total offense and third in rushing (152 yards per game). They upgraded with rookie RB Jonathon Stewart joining DeAngelo Williams for a powerful 1-2 punch. QB Jake Delhomme (15 TDs, 12 INTs) was also given an extra target, returning WR Muhsin Muhammad alongside star Steve Smith (1,421 yards).

It’s the defense that is the great unknown. Carolina is ranked 18th overall, nowhere near the powerful unit that won the 2003 NFC title. Also, the Panthers have been dominant at home (8-0 SU, 5-2-1 ATS), but mediocre (4-4 SU, 3-5 ATS) on the road. Carolina is on a 7-2 run over the total.

Giants (12-4 SU, 11-4-1 ATS): The Giants weren’t respected as defending champs at 15-1 odds entering this season. Their remarkable run last year appeared to be a fluke, plus they lost two key defensive linemen. They proved this team is for real with balance on offense, great depth, and an attacking defense. The Giants rank No. 7 in total offense, first in rushing (157 ypg), and No. 5 in total defense.

QB Eli Manning (21 TDs, 10 INTs) keeps getting better and is supported by a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. NY is on a 5-2 run under the total.

Titans (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS): Tennessee started 7-0 SU/ATS and finished up 6-3, 5-4. QB Chad Pennington got much of the headlines, leading Miami from 1-15 to the playoffs. Titans journeyman QB Kerry Collins didn’t dazzle (12 TDs, 7 INT’s), but was a game manager.

This is a run-first offense, ranked No. 7 in the NFL behind rookie RB Chris Johnson (1,228 yards, 4.9 ypc) and LenDale White (773 yards). The defense has a ferocious pass rush, also ranked No. 7 overall. They hope to have Albert Haynesworth back for the playoffs after missing the final two games. The Titans went 4-1 against playoff qualifiers.

Steelers (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS): Pittsburgh once again was No. 1 in total defense and allowed the fewest points in the league. They battled injuries, but came through with the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The offense used to be run-first, but the offensive line isn’t as strong and the running back depth was hit hard by injuries. RB Willie Parker (791 yards) averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt.

QB Ben Roethlisberger (17 TDs, 15 INTs) was often running for his life (46 sacks) and didn’t have a stellar year. However, he carried the offense that ranks No. 17 in passing. Pittsburgh has held six of the last seven opponents to 13 points or less.