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NFL Playoff Time!

   by Jim Feist - 01/05/2014

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 Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Panthers. Why is that significant? A year ago the 4 bye teams were the Broncos, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers. The top NFC teams met in the title game, while the Pats hosted the AFC Championship game.
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, 34 first and second round seeds have filled 46 Super Bowl slots and the No. 1 and 2 seeds, rested after the bye, have gone 60-20 in their first games in the divisional round.
A last two years the rested teams have gone 6-2 SU/4-4 ATS. The Pats blew out Houston, 45-28 and the 49ers roasted Green Bay, 45-21. Denver stumbled against Baltimore thanks to some blown coverage in regulation, while the Falcons and Seahawks played a thriller.
The No. 1 seeded team in four of the last nine years in the NFC (Eagles, Seahawks, Bears, Saints) wound up in the Super Bowl. In the AFC it's been a different story, as the only recent No. 1 seeds to make it were the 2003, '07, '11 Patriots and the '09 Colts. Three years ago the Pats lost to the NY Jets and last season Denver failed to win a game. In 2001 and '04 the Steelers were the No. 1 AFC seed and fell short, along with the 14-2 Colts and Chargers, plus the 13-3 Titans and last year’s 13-3 Broncos fell short. Here's a look at the four teams that come into this weekend's playoff games rested with home field.

Broncos (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS): Here they are again! Denver has the record setting pasing offense behind QB Peyton Manning (55 TDs, 10 INTs) with WRs Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and TE Julius Thomas. Good luck to defensive coordinators this month trying to develop a game plan defending that foursome.
If there’s a weak spot it would be the defense, so good a year ago but hit hard by injuries and inconsistent play. For totals players, Denver is on a 49-22-1 run over the total, plus 36-18-1 over against the AFC.

Patriots (12-4 SU, 8-8 ATS): New England enters the playoffs with the same record they had a year ago, but that’s one of the few things the same from this team. QB Tom Brady doesn’t have his top three targets from last season and the defense has been devastated by injuries, losing a pair of top notch run stuffers (Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly) and their top linebacker (Jerod Mayo).
As a result, Brady uses less no-huddle on offense than the last two years and the defense plays a bend-but-don’t-break style, giving up a lot of yards but ranked in the Top 10 in points allowed. This team probably need the bye week more than any other with several players banged up, including star CB Aqib Talib (hip). The over is 27-12 in the Patriots last 39 home games.

Panthers: (12-4 SU, 9-6-1 ATS): Where did these guys come from? A young that flexed its muscles and let the league know it’s ready for prime time after wins over the 49ers (10-9), Patriots (24-20) and Saints (17-13). QB Cam Newton leads a run-first offense that ranks just 28th in passing, which makes you wonder what will happen if this team gets behind 13-0 in a playoff game?
The defense is the bedrock of the Panthers, Top 10 against the run and the pass, keeping them in every game. The conservative offense, rock-solid defense explains a 11-4-1 season under the total.

Seahawks: (13-3 SU, 10-5 ATS): The Beast from the Northwest! Seattle gave the Falcons a wild ride in last January’s NFC playoffs, nearly pulling the upset. It really was a harbinger of things to come as Seattle has had a dominating season, with a balanced offense and a powerhouse defense.
QB Russell Wilson (26 TDs, 9 INTs) is smart and mobile, making good decisions, and RB Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse on the NFL’s fourth ranked ground attack. The linebacking corps is outstanding and the secondary is better, tops in the NFL at defending the pass. The Seahawks are 27-10 ATS against the NFC and 37-17-1 ATS in their last 55 home games! Looks like the NFC goes through Seattle this January.

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