NFL teams have no fear of playing in the wild-card round.
Recent history shows the playoff bye isn’t such a big deal anymore. In six of the last seven years, one of the Super Bowl participants didn’t get a bye to begin the postseason. And five of those teams wound up winning the NFL title.
So Green Bay’s blowing the bye by losing to Minnesota last Sunday might not be such a setback. Same for Houston, which had an even bigger fall, fumbling away home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs as well as the week off, by losing three of its last four.
Of course, Texans coach Gary Kubiak recognizes the week-to-week nature of pro football, and how things can change quickly in seven days — and last for a month, right to a championship.
“That’s life, and that’s part of football,” Kubiak said. “How’d you play last week? How have you played the last few weeks? What have you done lately? That’s our world. We understand that, and it hasn’t been good the last few weeks, so hopefully we get it better.”
Nobody knows how to achieve that improvement more than the Packers. Two years ago, they barely squeezed into the Super Bowl chase, then raced to three road victories and, finally, a title win over Pittsburgh.
“I’d have preferred a week off, to be honest with you,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. “But we put ourselves in this situation throughout the whole year. It’s not just this last game.
“This last game had a lot riding on it for us, so ... we’re going to go play. Whatever it takes, we just have to win from here on out.”
That begins Saturday night at Lambeau Field against Minnesota. Had the Packers beaten the Vikings last Sunday, they would be sitting at home this weekend watching the Bears play at San Francisco. Instead, they will trudge onto the tundra to face rushing king Adrian Peterson, who ran around, through and over them for 199 yards to get the Vikings into the playoffs.
The Vikings had no chance for a bye; they never really were in the chase for the NFC North title. They’re just glad to be in the tournament, knowing that the Steelers, Colts, Packers and Giants (twice) recently covered the lengthier route to the NFL championship.
“The cool thing about the playoffs is that once you get in anything can happen,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “You see it happen all of the time, teams make runs and end up winning the Super Bowl.”
Some teams already are on runs. Denver has won 11 straight to grab the top spot in the AFC. Washington takes a seven-game winning into Sunday’s home game against Seattle, winner of five in a row.
As for the four teams sitting it out this weekend, there certainly are positives to some down time. Denver and Atlanta were last off on Oct. 21, San Francisco and New England on Nov. 4. That’s a long time without a break.
“Of course I appreciate the bye. It’s the shortest route to get where we want to go,” Denver linebacker Von Miller said. “We definitely want to take advantage of this bye week, we’re resting our bodies and going over some stuff that we did well, some stuff that we did bad during the season.
“It’s just trying to fine-tune this ship before we get ready to try to make one of the biggest runs of the season.
Yes, the bye affords them a chance to get healthier, particularly the 49ers, who are concerned about star defensive lineman Justin Smith’s partially torn left triceps.
But there’s also the chance of getting stale, something Green Bay experienced last year, and the Giants took advantage of it. Same thing for the Falcons the previous season, and the Packers pounced.
It’s an interesting dynamic. Some coaches and players prefer to simply keep on playing, especially when their seasons have ended the way the Broncos, Redskins, Seahawks and Vikings closed theirs.
Others covet the week off because it means they will be at home for their first postseason game. Not that there’s any guarantee there, either: at least one team with a bye has lost its divisional round game in each of the last seven playoffs.
Maybe with the week off, they got a bit complacent. Or rusty. Or undisciplined.
“We always say that it goes up a notch, but at the end of the day, it’s still football,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said about the playoff atmosphere. “Whatever we’ve done to get to this point, you just want to continue to do that, and once you go out there on Sunday, it’s going to be like Week 8, Week 9.
“But the thing in the back of your head, you just know if you lose, you go home. So whatever you have to do to prepare throughout the week through that Sunday, that’ll be the easy part.”
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