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The Race for the #1 Seed

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/19/2006

We are not that far from the playoffs and the big story now is the coveted top two spots in each conference. It is important because the four teams, two from the AFC and two from the NFC, that get the top seeds will have a bye the first week of the playoffs, followed by home field in the next round. Those are two significant edges.

Does this guarantee success? Well, no. It doesn't guarantee a spot in the Super Bowl, or even a spot in the conference title games. But it does offer teams an extra week to rest and prepare and the all important home field edge for at least one playoff game. Those are two important advantages.

Take a team like Chicago, for instance. They will be hosting a playoff game in January. They play in an outdoor stadium and the weather will be very cold and possibly windy. That's a reason coach Lovie Smith has built his teams around defense and some semblance of a running game, with Thomas Jones and drafting Cedric Benson.

A team like the Saints is one that few teams would want to face in the playoffs, with Drew Brees quietly having an MVP-type season. New Orleans leads the NFL in passing and just destroyed Dallas on the road on national TV. On the other hand, they are would likely have to play at Chicago if the two teams advance in the playoffs. How effective would that No. 1 passing attack be in cold and windy Chicago in late January? This is where playoff seeding and home field can be huge, and why teams are so focused on it now.

A year ago, the No. 1 seeded teams were the Colts and Seahawks. Seattle used its home field edge to march all the way to the Super Bowl. But the Colts didn't, blowing all they had worked for in the first round of the playoffs, a 21-18 loss to No. 6 seeded Pittsburgh, the eventual champion.

In 2004, the Steelers and Eagles were the No. 1 seeds, but Pittsburgh fell short despite having home field edge in the AFC championship game. In 2003, the Carolina Panthers were a No. 5 seed and ended up NFC Champions. The 2002 Eagles had the No. 1 seed, but lost at home to Tampa Bay in the NFC title game. In 2001 the Steelers had the No. 1 AFC seed, but got upset in the AFC Championship by the Patriots. In 2000, the Raiders were the No. 1 seed and got upset by the Ravens.

So, yes, the top seeds are important, but as you can see from the recent past, you still have to get it done on the field. Another factor that is just as important is health. The Patriots, Colts, and Seahawks all have suffered a lot of injuries of late. That's one thing that favors the Chargers right now, as they are talented and very healthy. However, that can change in a hurry, too, so don't run out and by future's tickets on the bolts just yet! In addition, No. 1 seeds often take a tumble in January, too, all of which will make the next six weeks very interesting and entertaining.

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