History favors bye teams
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 11:11 p.m.
Something for the wild-card winners to keep in mind as they celebrate: Since the current playoff format started in 1990, teams that had first-round byes are 39-9 in the second round.
In other words, the odds are against the Jets, Falcons, Steelers and 49ers as they go to Oakland, Philadelphia, Nashville and Tampa next weekend.
They can take some consolation, though, knowing that this truly has been the wackiest of seasons, capped by Sunday's twin comebacks. San Francisco erased a 24-point deficit to beat the New York Giants, and Pittsburgh climbed out of a 17-point hole against the Cleveland Browns to advance to the second round.
The team that might have the best chance, oddly enough, is the Jets, one of two 9-7 teams that qualified for the postseason. The question is whether a 41-0 victory over Indianapolis on Saturday was the result of their excellence or the Colts' ineptitude.
It was probably a little of both.
``They made a mistake when they let us in the playoffs,'' Jets guard Dave Szott said. ``A 9-7 team is not supposed to scare anybody. But we're doing a lot of things very well. Everything came together at the right time.''
The Jets are playing superbly right now, winning eight of their last 10 after a 2-5 start. On the other hand, they're playing an Oakland team that has won seven of its last eight games - and one of those wins was a 26-20 defeat of the Jets on Dec. 2.
``If you look at that game, we ran out of time,'' Szott said. ``It's not as if they clearly beat us. We had the ball on their 30 or 35 with no timeouts left and the clock stopped.''
In the other matchups, the home teams definitely should have the edge.
Much is being made of the Michael Vick-Donovan McNabb matchup when Atlanta plays at Philadelphia on Saturday night. McNabb will be making his first start after missing two months with a broken ankle and isn't likely to do a lot of scrambling.
The Eagles have perhaps the quickest defense in the league. Another quick defense, Tampa Bay's, beat Atlanta twice and held Vick down.
``Mike is a unique guy,'' Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson says. ``It'll be a little different game plan against him. But we have some thoughts, and we've already game-planned him a bit.''
Some of those thoughts probably have to do with Vick's performances against the Buccaneers this season.
In the first game, Oct. 6 in Atlanta, he carried just once for 1 yard in a 20-6 loss before leaving with an injury to his right shoulder (he's left-handed). On Dec. 8 in Tampa, Vick ran for 15 yards on five carries in a 34-10 loss.
That's one reason the Bucs are optimistic about going against the 49ers and Jeff Garcia, whose 60 yards on the ground were a major factor in San Francisco's comeback from a 38-14 deficit against the Giants. Besides Vick, the Bucs already have faced McNabb and New Orleans' Aaron Brooks.
``It's good we've faced those kind of guys before,'' linebacker Shelton Quarles said. ``Garcia's a heck of a runner and he made a lot of plays with his feet. But we have some speed, too, and we'll just have to contain him and let our front four get to him.''
Overall, running quarterbacks will be a major theme this weekend.
Tennessee's Steve McNair was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting because his passing stats were just ordinary. But he was the Titans' second leading rusher with 440 yards, and his running played a major role in several victories.
Tennessee beating the Steelers 31-23 at home during the regular season, when Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox got hurt. McNair threw for 257 yards that day although Kevin Dyson, his favorite target in that game, is out for the season now.
The Titans, like all the home teams (the bye teams), are favored - by four points. The Eagles are 7 1/2-point favorites, the Raiders 5 1/2, and the Bucs five.
The odds - and the pertinent numbers are 39-9, not whatever Vegas might think - say they'll win.
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