As the playoffs begin, those who earned the top two 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 Saints, Vikings, Colts and Chargers. A year ago the favorites to win the 2010 Super Bowl were the Patriots at 6-to-1, the Steelers at 7-to-1, the Colts at 8-to-1 and the N.Y. Giants at 8-to-1.
Only one got a bye and two didn’t make the playoffs.
The Saints were 18-to-1, the Chargers 14-to-1 and the Vikings 22-to-1 BB (before Brett). 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, 29 first and second round seeds have filled 38 Super Bowl slots and the No. 1 and 2 seeds, rested after the bye, have gone 57-19 in their first games in the divisional round.
A year ago was one of the unusual seasons, with three of the four bye teams losing that first game (Giants, Panthers, Titans). The Steelers, though, not only won and advanced but ended up winning the Super Bowl.
The No. 1 seeded team in three of the last five 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 were the 2003 and 2007 Patriots.
In 2001 and 2004 the Steelers were the No. 1 AFC seed and fell short, along with the 14-2 Colts and Chargers, plus the 13-3 Titans the previous three years. Here’s a look at the four teams that come into this weekend’s playoff games rested with home field.
Saints: (13-3 SU, 8-8 ATS): It was impossible to find a No. 1 seed coming into the postseason on a three-game skid until these Saints. From 13-0, to 0-3 SU/ATS. The offense is tops in the league, a devastating unit that averages 31.9 points and 403 yards.
QB Drew Brees (34 TDs, 11 picks) has an incredible array of targets with WRs Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, plus TE Jeremy Shockey.
The running game has a three-headed attack with Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. The Saints hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and they have a more aggressive style of play that relies on blitzing and creating turnovers, but they have been exposed in the second half, ranking 25th in total defense. It doesn’t help that starting left defensive end Charles Grant had surgery last week to repair a torn triceps injury. New Orleans has scored just 17, 17 and 10 points the last three games and is on a 7-2 under the total.
Vikings (12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS): In many ways, Brett Favre (33 TDs, 7 INTs) was the missing piece this talented Minnesota team needed – a capable veteran who can make good decisions downfield to keep defenses honest that try and stack the line to halt Adrian Peterson (1,383 yards). Minnesota ranks fifth in total offense (13th in rushing, 8th passing).
WR Sidney Rice (1,312 yards) has emerged as a playmaker along with rookie Percy Harvin, and the defense ranks sixth overall with stars like Jared Allen (14½ sacks) and NT Pat Williams. Like the Saints, the Vikings played their best football in the first half of the season, carrying a 2-3 SU/ATS run into the postseason, nearly blowing the No. 2 seed. The secondary got torched by Arizona, Carolina and Chicago. Think the Saints are licking their chops? Minnesota is on a 6-2 run under the total.
Colts: (14-2 SU, 9-6-1 ATS): Indy started 14-0 SU/9-4-1 ATS before packing it in the last two games. This is a pass-first offense, ranked second in passing, behind QB Peyton Manning (33 TDs, 16 INTs), WR Reggie Wayne (1,264 yards) and TE Dallas Clark. The ground game has been poor, with Joseph Addai and Ron Brown averaging 3.8 and 3.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks 18th overall, with the secondary getting hit hard by injuries.
The injury to New England WR Wes Welker underscores the risks associated with meaningless games late in the year, but I still think the Colts should have gone for a 16-0 regular season mark. After all, there is no evidence to show that resting players helps for the postseason, as the Colts in 2005, ’07 and ’08 didn’t even win a playoff game while coasting down the stretch to preserve their strength and prevent injuries. Indy is on a 5-2-1 run over the total.
Chargers (13-3 SU, 8-8 ATS): San Diego is scary good, the team no one wants to play. They have morphed from a run-first team under Marty Schottenheimer when they went 14-2 in 2006, to a pass-first team under Coach Norv Turner. They can score in a hurry with QB Philip Rivers (28 TDs, 9 INTs) and the tallest set of targets in the game with 6-5 Vincent Jackson (1,167 yards), 6-5 TE Antonio Gates (1,157 yards) and 6-4 Malcom Floyd.
The defense ranks in the middle of the pack (16th), good but not a dominating unit. The Chargers carry an 11-game win streak into the postseason as well as an 11-5 run over the total. This is a talented team that has plenty to prove, from numerous postseason flameouts to Turner’s ‘can’t win the big one’ reputation.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Feist