By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
It seems like a very counterintuitive question on the surface: Do you want a bye week in the NFL Playoffs? Logically, of course you do. Being a No. 1 or 2 seed means having a top record, one less game to play to advance to the Super Bowl and getting to start the playoffs at home. In fact, the home team won the first seven games of this postseason. Then there was the eighth game, where the suddenly-hot New York Giants went into Lambeau Field and beat up the top-seeded, yet lethargic, 15-1 Packers. The G-Men look like they could continue a trend in professional sports where getting hot late supersedes a top finish in the regular season.
A statistical look at who plays for the title in recent years shows that home field or bye weeks seem less important than arriving to the postseason playing well. In five of the last six Super Bowls, at least one participant played during the wild card round of the playoffs. Four of the last six champions — the ’05 Steelers, ’06 Colts, ’07 Giants and ’10 Packers — had to win four games to take the title, and three of those were wild cards. Over that six-year span, the 2009 Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts was the increasingly rare occurrence where two No. 1 seeds meet.
The same trend has happened across the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Over the last 15 World Series, 10 of the 30 participants have been wild card teams with five (’97 Marlins, ’02 Angels, ’03 Marlins, ’04 Red Sox and ’11 Cardinals) winning the crown. There have been four No. 1 seeds make the NBA Finals in the last eight years (16 teams), with three — the ’08 Celtics and the ’09 &’10 Lakers — hanging the championship banner. In the NHL, two No. 1 seeds have made the Stanley Cup Finals over the last six seasons with only the ’08 Red Wings winning it all.
Despite recent results, there is no way that you do not want your team to draw a top position in the postseason. Are professional clubs supposed to turn it off in the middle of the season and try to rally late? Of course not. Tom Brady and the top-seeded Patriots won their first postseason game since the 2007 season with the benefit of drawing a glorified scrimmage against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. The Ravens have not lost at home this season, and they needed all the good fortune in Baltimore to escape against the Texans. However John Harbaugh’s club went 4-4 in road games this year, with all four losses to non-playoff teams. Consequently, the home-field advantage should send New England to another Super Bowl.
The 49ers definitely scored a major victory by winning the regular-season tiebreaker over the Saints and drawing the No. 2 seed. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh’s club pulling out the same dramatic win in New Orleans that it did at home. While New York is a very dangerous team, San Francisco stands a much better chance with the Candlestick crowd than it would on the east coast.
Will Eli Manning and the G-men continue the positive postseason trend for lower seeds? It’s highly possible with their current momentum, but I’ll still take the home field any year.