“I was so amused with all the talk about the number one seeds,” former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross said. “Who wants to be a number one seed these days? When do they ever win any more? That just puts a bigger target on you. Do you want to be on a roll or do you want to be rested? Being rested has become more like being rusted.”
Last season’s Packers reached the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC, then went on the road to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago and beat the conference’s top three seeds en route to their Super Bowl title. The Packers joined the New York Giants in the 2007 season, the Indianapolis Colts in the 2006 season and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 season as Super Bowl champions in the last half-dozen years to have played in the first round of the playoffs.
“If you have some issues with injuries, it’s nice to have that first weekend off,” former Buffalo Bills safety Mark Kelso said. “But if not, I like to have that continuity of playing and keeping things in the same routine. I like the idea of playing that opening weekend. . . . Teams like New Orleans, with the precision in the passing game, I think it’s good for them to play the opening weekend. It could give them an advantage early in the game the next weekend over a team that didn’t play.”
Among the teams playing this weekend, the most obvious threats to make a run deep into the postseason and perhaps capture the big prize are the New Orleans Saints in the NFC and the Steelers in the AFC. The third-seeded Saints, who host the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, went 13-3 during the regular season, enter the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak and have record-setting quarterback Drew Brees. The fifth-seeded Steelers, who play Sunday at the Denver Broncos, finished 12-4, led the league in total defense and have a two-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.
But neither exactly qualifies as a true playoff underdog. That, perhaps, is where a team like the Giants comes in. The Giants are the NFC’s fourth seed and host the fifth-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands.
“That Giants-Atlanta game has the potential to be one of those down-to-the-last-minute things, a real momentum-type game for whichever team wins it. . . . It’s about who can get momentum and who can get on a roll,” Cross said. “That’s what happened when Pittsburgh won its Super Bowl [after playing a first-round game], when the Giants won theirs. It’s all about the momentum.”
The Giants beat the New York Jets and the Cowboys in their final two regular season games to get into the playoffs. Quarterback Eli Manning threw for more than 4,900 yards during the regular season and led the Giants to five victories via fourth-quarter comebacks.