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Are Bye Teams More Vulnerable Now?

   by Scott Spreitzer - 01/08/2008

If you ask that question this week, you might seem a little crazy.
It's been understood all year that Indianapolis and New England were the
best teams in the AFC, while Dallas and Green Bay were the best teams
in the NFC.

Everyone called regular season meetings between the conference powers
championship previews. Everyone called New England/Dallas a very
possible Super Bowl preview. It's as if the playoff brackets were
preordained by mid-October, and everyone's been playing out the string.

Not only are we talking about superior teams here. But, this week,
we're talking about superior teams who have both home field advantage
and a bye week (which some in the media would suggest can be worth
as much as 7-10 points all by itself). How in the world could the top seeds
with home field and a bye have any trouble winning their playoff openers?

Do you remember what happened last year?

*Top AFC seed San Diego entered the postseason with a 14-2 record. They
didn't get out of the second round. New England beat them straight
up as a 5-point underdog.

*Second AFC seed Baltimore entered the postseason with a 13-3 record.
They didn't get out of their opening game either. Indianapolis beat
them outright as a 4-point underdog. Both AFC hosts had great regular
season records, home field advantage, a bye, and went 0-2 straight up!

*Top NFC seed Chicago entered the postseason with a 13-3 record. They
were life and death with Seattle as a 6-point favorite before winning
27-24 in overtime. Chicago trailed in the fourth quarter, but managed to
come back and get the victory. That certainly wasn't a dominant
performance for a team perceived to be the class of the NFC.

*Second NFC seed New Orleans barely survived as a 5-point favorite over
Philadelphia. Their final score was also 27-24. The Saints didn't
have a gaudy record like the other teams (just 10-6). But they did have
home field and a bye and all it did was get them a nailbiter that
they barely won.

Yes, the bye teams were 0-4 against the spread last year! They came
very close to going 0-4 straight up too.

Can that happen again this year? It seems less likely
because New England is 16-0, which represents a level of historical
greatness. Indianapolis is the defending Super Bowl champions, which none of
last year's bye teams were. That makes them seem a bit more invincible.
And, the fact that New England and Indianapolis were the teams that
scored upsets last year suggests that Baltimore and San Diego had been
playing over their heads in the first place. New England and Indy are in
the midst of dynasties right now. This weekend's AFC underdogs
obviously aren't.

What about Dallas and Green Bay. They certainly were dominant in the
regular season. Let's remember though that Dallas closed the season
poorly, and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre has a tendency to throw
interceptions when the pressure is on. Those issues could loom larger than
the public realizes this weekend.

As handicappers, it's your job to figure out where the potential
upsets are, and where the potential blowouts are. Ask yourselves these
questions:

*Does the underdog have a way to consistently move the ball during the
game? Or, will they be in desperation mode from the get-go?

*Does the underdog have a defense that can wreak some havoc with the
favorite's offense?

*Will the weather conditions favor the underdog, or at least be
something that takes away potential edges for the favorite (ignore this for
the game indoors at Indy)?

*Is the favorite capable of making mistakes when the opponent doesn't
blink? Or, are the favorites likely to play with composure late in
close games?

*Are any of the underdogs so wiped out from their first round games
that they won't have any energy left for this week?

This debut week for the NFL's elite has historically had very
volatile results. When things line up for the favorites, they can win by 3-4
touchdowns against easily beatable Las Vegas lines. Last year you saw
what happens when things DON'T line up for the favorites. Not a single
one could even win by more than a field goal, even though ALL FOUR were
favored by more than three.

There are some big pointspread winners waiting to be found. Get to
work!

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