Nickolas Loza | January 3rd, 2020
The playoffs are a brutal time, your roster can be plagued by injuries, the players are tired, and the coaches are wary after five long months of football. A playoff bye does wonders for teams, first of all, it gives the team time to recuperate after at the very least seven straight weeks of football. It gives time for injured players to come back and it gives time to prepare and have a home playoff game in the divisional round. Most of all, it gives the players time to study film about the potential team they’ll be facing. Let’stake a look at the four teams who got a bye and why it is critical for them.
The Ravens were one of the league’s healthiest teams this season, this healthiness and their star-studded roster with 10 Pro Bowlers on it went 14-2 and achieved the number one seed in the AFC. The Ravens are led by in all likely hood the NFL’s MVP in Lamar Jackson, who led the league in touchdown passes, while also running for 1,206 yards, and seven touchdowns. To say the least, this team is the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Having not lost since week four, the Ravens are by far the hottest team in all of football. They are absolutely the obvious choice to win the Super Bowl, and they benefit off this bye just to get the healthy players who may be nursing small injuries healthier, and to study for their next opponent, who will be the lowest remaining seeded team left remaining after wild card weekend has been put to a conclusion.
This team isn’t lacking on the defensive side of the ball either. They have the league’s fourth overall ranked defense, with their defense allowing only 17.6 points per game, forcing 25 takeaways, and allowing a league-low 57.6 plays per game. That means the Ravens’ offense is controlling the ball for so long, that the defense gets a long period of rest, which contributes to them playing at a high level and reducing the potential for serious injuries and keeping them fresh overall.
This team all-around has excellent synergy and has no glaring weak points or places of general improvement. It would not be of any surprise to me at all if the Ravens won the Super Bowl in just as dominant of a fashion as their 2000 team.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are the most unlikely of teams to even be in the playoffs at all, let alone possess the top seed in the NFC. They string together eight straight wins to start the season and finished with an overall record of 13-3. They got here by beating teams like the Packers, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, and sweeping the Rams in their two game set.
The 49ers got here by the absolute thinnest of margins, as their last five games have all come down to the last snap. The most important game of the year was a week 17 battle against the Seahawks that would decide who would win the NFC West. This game came down to whether or not the 49ers would get the much needed bye week that they craved, especially considering they had their bye week in week four.
On the last play of importance of the game, Russell Wilson dropped back to pass and threw a slant route towards the middle of the field to his Jacob Hollister, who was met at the goalline by Dre Greenlaw, who made a tackle at the two inch line, ending the game.
This earned the 49ers the top seed in the NFC and a much needed bye week, considering the majority of their important players this season have fought or are fighting injuries, including star linebacker Kwon Alexander. ,
Alexander tore his pectoral muscle during a Halloween game against the Arizona Cardinals and practiced in a blue non-contact jersey for the first time this season since suffering the injury. Dee Ford, who has been on and off the field this year due to a hamstring injury while Jaquiski Tartt who has been out for the past couple of weeks with a fractured rib are both hopeful to play after the bye.
All of this is going on while their defensive coordinator Robert Salah interviews for the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers have been led this year by their second-ranked defense, so they need that defense healthy if they want to be successful in the playoffs. Their offense is no joking matter either, being second in the league in rush yards per game. With the development of a championship level backfield and a championship level defense, their passing game has also taken a rise this year. Overall, the 49ers have developed into an extremely threatening team, and they are the favorites to come out of the NFC.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs this season have been an oddball team this year, going 12-4 and earning the #2 seed in the AFC. After a 4-0 start, the Chiefs proceeded to lose four of their next six games to drop to 6-4, putting them on the bubble to even make the playoffs, they then stringed together six straight wins, and won their division. Going into week 17, they needed to win their matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, and have the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots on the road to get the bye. All of these things miraculously came into place, allowing the Chiefs to jump over the Patriots to get into the #2 seed, making the Patriots play on wild card weekend for the first time since 2009.
The Chiefs have had their defense be as suspect as usual, being ranked 17th in the league but they’ve picked it up as of late, putting their best five defensive performances of the year together in the last five weeks, and not allowing more than 21 points in any of these five games. So their defense might finally be less of a weak spot then it was previously, leaving their sixth ranked offense with less pressure to perform on a drive to drive basis.
Their offense has been lead by reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, who was forced to miss two games due to a leg injury. They don’t really have any key players who are injured, so this week will serve as a week to freshen up and prepare for in all likelihood, a matchup at home against the Patriots unless a major upset on the part of the Titans occurs.
This is the Chiefs year to win, it’s their year to vanquish the playoff demons that have haunted them for 30 years. The Chiefs’ main threat is the Ravens, a team that the Chiefs won against earlier this year. This year is the “prove to us that you’re not just a regular season team” for the Chiefs, as this is in all likelihood their most complete team from top to bottom.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers this year have been an odd team, they finished 13-3 and with the #2 seed in the NFC, but the odd part about them is outside of Aaron Rodgers, who has been his usual stellar self, they don’t have any other outstanding. Another oddity about the Packers is they can’t seem to put together a 60 minute performance, they’ll always be inconsistent on a quarter to quarter basis. There’s nothing to really say about this team that hasn’t been regurgitated a thousand times. It’s quite surprising that the Packers are here.
But when it comes to how important the bye week is for them, it’s not all that important, besides from preparing for in all likelihood facing the New Orleans Saints at home. The Packers don’t have any glaring injuries, so this bye week will serve as a break to their players to get healthy and prepare themselves for the cold in Lambeau Field. As for the team itself, the defense has taken a massive leap this year to becoming a championship level defense, allowing less than 25 points 13 times this season, which is a big boost for Rodgers and the offense.
All in all, if this is to be a championship season for the Packers, it must happen as a whole team performance comes together with three straight games, which has not happened this season yet. The championship window for the Packers is probably the tightest out of all of these four teams because their big defensive stars are going to want big money, their offensive weapons that are under smaller deals are gonna want big money, then there’s Rodgers age. He’s in his mid 30’s and won’t be able to sling the ball around forever, so it’s either this year or next year for the Packers’ championship hopes in my eye.
As for the Wild Card weekend games, I don’t really see a six seed that can win this weekend, with the Titans and Vikings filling those two spots. They face the Patriots and Saints respectively, and I see both of the three seeds coming out on top. As for the four and five seeds, we have the Eagles facing the Seahawks, and the Texans facing the Bills. For the Eagles and Seahawks game, I’m going to take the Seahawks. For the Texan and Bills game, I’m going to take the Bills, meaning both number four seeds go down. All in all, it should be an interesting weekend for the playoffs, and it might be the most exciting playoffs we’ve seen in a long time.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images