The Green Bay Packers are in hot pursuit of a first-round playoff bye, but recent history suggests they would be no worse off if forced to play an extra game in the wild-card round of the postseason.
The Packers (10-4) have already clinched the NFC North title and at least one home playoff game. Now they are looking to overtake San Francisco (10-3-1) and claim the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which would guarantee them a weekend off during the first round of the playoffs.
But not everyone in the Packers’ locker room believes a playoff bye is a big advantage. In fact, some prefer the Packers keep playing each week to stay sharp.
“I don’t like it,” said cornerback Sam Shields of a playoff bye.
“I like to keep it rolling. That’s my thing, just keep it rolling.”
Last year the Packers earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed and rested during the first round of the playoffs, only to get bounced out of the post-season tournament by the New York Giants.
It’s possible the Packers lost their edge due to the week off, although head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“We want the bye week, make no bones about it,” McCarthy said this week.
“I really do feel the bye week last year and what happened in the Giants game was really overblown.”
Maybe so, but it’s hard to ignore recent playoff results.
A No. 1 or No. 2 seeded team has won the Super Bowl in just two of the past seven years. The Packers didn’t have the benefit of a first-round bye on their way to a championship two years ago, and the same goes for recent Super Bowl winners Pittsburgh (2005), Indianapolis (2006) and the New York Giants (2007 and 2011).
In the divisional playoffs over the last seven years, a first-round bye has provided little or no benefit. No. 1 and No. 2 seeded playoff teams coming off a bye, even with the added benefit of playing at home, have posted a meager 15-13 record starting with the 2005 season.
The idea that well-rested teams have a major advantage isn't supported by the evidence.
“I don’t really feel like having a week off helps us,” said defensive back Charles Woodson. “We have some guys going through some injuries or whatever who'll be able to get back. As far as the team itself, we're playing well, why stop?”
The Packers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL with eight victories in their past nine games. So the thinking is, why mess with that success?
“You can understand where guys are coming from, where you’ve got that rhythm, you’ve got that momentum,” said Packers safety Morgan Burnett.
McCarthy rested several key starters in the final regular-season game last year. When added to the first-round bye, that gave them three weeks off without any game action, which could have contributed to the Packers’ flat performance against the Giants.
This year the Packers are expected to use most if not all of their starters in the final two games against Tennessee Sunday and Minnesota next week. Plus, if the Packers earn a first-round bye, McCarthy will likely employ a more rigorous playoff practice schedule than he did a year ago.
“Last year we had a week off completely,” said defensive lineman B.J. Raji. “I doubt that we have a full week off this year.”
Despite the playoff defeat last season, Raji would prefer a first-round bye again.
“My theory is the more games you have to play, the higher probability you have to lose, as opposed to getting that first-round bye and automatically advance.
“I feel like this year we’re more experienced, so I think we could use a bye week and the extra rest.”
Some believe it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
“Whether you’ve got a first-round bye or whether you’re playing, you’ve got to win at the end so that’s all it really comes down to,” said Burnett. “So whatever cards are dealt to us, we’ve just got to go out and play and win.”
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