Rest, Home Field Mean Almost Nothing

The Packers worked hard to get to this position but it's not going to mean a darned thing next week. Nonetheless, the Packers are thrilled to be one step closer to the Super Bowl than the eight teams slugging it out this weekend. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

In 2007, the Green Bay Packers had a first-round bye and started slowly against Seattle but recovered to demolish the Seahawks in the divisional round.

In 2010, the Packers didn’t have a bye but won three consecutive road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl, then beat Pittsburgh for the title.

In 2011, the Packers had a first-round bye but lost to the Giants in the divisional round.

The Packers fought hard all season to get into this position – a first-round bye and a home playoff game next weekend. Ultimately, however, history says the bye and resulting home game haven’t meant much.

Since 2004, when the four teams with Wild Card byes won their divisional games, the well-rested home teams have gone just 21-15 in the divisional round against teams that had to slug it out in Wild Card games.

Nonetheless, the Packers are happy to be one step closer to the Super Bowl.

“I think rest is always better this time of the year,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Friday, downplaying the rest-vs.-rust dilemma of getting a week off. “Teams are banged up, people are banged up and this is an opportunity for our team to get even healthier. We’ve had some good fortune this year with the injuries, not a lot of guys, but we have a couple of guys, myself included, who need a little extra rest this week, and it’s going to help us out.”

Common sense suggests a first-round bye and home-field in the divisional round is a huge advantage. That’s just not the case, though. Over the last nine postseasons, the home team in the divisional round has a .583 winning percentage. That’s barely better than during the regular season, with home teams boasting a .568 winning percentage this season and a .569 winning percentage over the past decade.

The bye hasn’t meant much in the big picture, either. Six of the last nine Super Bowl champions played on Wild Card Weekend, including the Packers in 2010, Giants in 2011 and Ravens in 2012.

Those 2011 Giants got there by shocking the Packers 37-20 at Lambeau Field. Rodgers, the NFL’s MVP that season with a league-record passer rating of 122.5, posted a rating of only 78.5. A team with only 14 turnovers all season gave it away four times.

“That was a different team. That was a few years ago, different team,” Rodgers said when asked if there were any lessons to be learned from that loss. “We were the No. 1 seed back then; this year, we’re No. 2. We’ve been 8-0 (at home this season); we were 8-0 that year. But this team has been playing a little bit better down the stretch, especially with our style of play. That year, we won our first 13 but lost (Game) 14 and then didn’t play maybe as well as I wanted to in (Games) 15 and 16. This team has been playing a little bit better. We’ve had a tough schedule, especially the second half of the season with some of the opponents. I like the way we’re playing.”

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been on both sides of the fence. In 2010, the Packers won at Philadelphia in the Wild Card round, then destroyed top-seeded Atlanta the following week. In 2012, the Packers beat Minnesota in the Wild Card round, then got ambushed by San Francisco, which retooled its offense during the bye and unleashed Colin Kaepernick and the read-option on the Packers the next weekend.

“I think that, No. 1, it enables you to get your guys hopefully rested and healthy,” Capers said. “And, No. 2, we’re always critiquing and evaluating. You saw coming out of the (regular-season) bye week, we made some significant changes (with Clay Mathews at inside linebacker). So we go back, take this time and we’ll kind of look at things and try to get a real good feel for what’s been good for us, what hasn’t been so good and then you evaluate that. Obviously, when you get to this point, the margin of error becomes less and less, so you want to make sure that you’re as precise as you can be (and) guys understand what you want to do.”

Cornerback Tramon Williams has been on both sides of the fence, as well. The defense has played outstanding down the stretch. The hope is the consistency will carry over after a week off.

“It’s an advantage if you’ve got a lot of guys injured, and just to be able to step away from the game for a little bit and re-gather yourself and set your mind to make that run,” he said. “That’s really the difference. You never know who’s going to win. You get a team that gets hot coming into the playoffs and they’re hard to stop. We’ve been playing well the second half of the year – just pretty consistent. That’s refreshing because, in this game, things are up and down. But to play consistent ball like we have for the most part, we’re going to need to keep showing that and keep detailing the things that we’re doing well and detail the things that we need to do better over the next week.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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