Playoff Bye Weeks: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune writes about the significance of having a first round bye, something the Bears can obtain through an Eagles loss tonight or a defeat of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

“Statistics show the bye hasn’t meant as much in recent years. Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, 59 of the 80 teams with a bye (73.8 percent) have reached the conference championship game. But in the last seven years, only 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) with a bye have played for the conference title.”

But that doesn’t mean that the bye can’t be important:

“‘I’d look at it as another chance for us to take another big step when you get a little bit of time off this time of the season,’ coach Lovie Smith said Monday. ‘That’s why the bye is so important. Injuries play such a big part in a team’s success right now.

“‘We have most of our guys healthy, and there’s a reason for that. But we hope we’re in that position of having to deal with having a few days off.’”

The only thing in the article that I really disagree with is this statement:

“Some suggest a team can lose its edge with an extra week off, but that’s more a loser’s lament than anything else.”

I think that recent Bear history can be seen as backing me up.  Biggs points out that the BEars lost their games after the by in both 2001 and 2005.  But its the 2001 game that really sticks with me.  The Bears lost an ugly game to an Eagles team that came in and just plain smashed them in the mouth.  The Bears came out flat and never recovered.

I think with the current coaching staff that the Bears can avoid this pitfall.  As Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times points out this morning, you could make a case that they are one of the major the strengths of the team.  They’re very experienced and very good at what they do.  Indeed, they are perhaps the main reason why the bye could be a great thing for the Bears.  With that, Biggs provides the bottom line:

The last time the Bears had a week off, the final week of October after consecutive home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins, they used it as a launching point for a five-game winning streak. Their only loss since was the Dec. 12 beatdown from the Patriots.

My conclusion is the same that most players and coaches come to.  That the bye is a good thing on balance and it might be an especially good thing for the Bears.  But a team certainly can lose its edge following a bye week in the playoffs.  That doesn’t mean you don’t want one and that doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t try their level best to obtain one.  But if they do, they need to take steps to prevent this from happening.

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