Snagging a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs is both a blessing and a curse.
While it affords teams an extra week to prepare, gives players an additional week to rest and heal and ensures home-field advantage, securing a first-round bye isn't always all it's cracked up to be.
We only need look at last year's playoffs for proof.
Green Bay, the NFC's top overall seed, lost its conference semifinal game to the New York Giants. Of the four teams to receive first-round byes, only one (the New England Patriots) advanced to the Super Bowl—and the Pats lost that game.
Even so, landing that elusive bye is something that teams strive for in the NFL on a yearly basis, and this season is no different.
Of the four byes handed out each season, only three remain available, as the Atlanta Falcons have already clinched the top overall seed in the NFC.
With six teams trying to squeeze into three spots, you can guarantee that those teams in contention will be leaving it all on the field in Week 17.
Here's how we see it all shaking out.
NFC First-Round Bye Race (One spot available)
|In Contention||Week 17 Opponent|
|Green Bay (11-4)||at Minnesota (9-6)|
|San Francisco (10-4-1)||vs. Arizona (5-10)|
|Seattle (10-5)||vs. St. Louis (7-7-1)|
Who Clinches First-Round Bye: Green Bay Packers
While Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been an unstoppable force, one that ran for 210 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay in Week 13, the Packers were able to withstand his production and still beat Minnesota, winning that game by a score of 23-14.
Since then, the Packers defense has seen key players like WR Greg Jennings, LB Clay Matthews and CB Sam Shields return, while Minnesota still is without WR Percy Harvin.
All Green Bay needs to clinch a first-round bye is a win, and despite Peterson having another big day, the Packers' offense will prove to be too much for the Vikings defense to handle.
AFC First-Round Bye Race (Two spots available)
|In Contention||Week 17 Opponent|
|Houston (12-3)||at Indianapolis (10-5)|
|Denver (12-3)||vs. Kansas City (2-13)|
New England (11-4)
|vs. Miami (7-8)|
Who Clinches Top Overall Seed: Denver Broncos
While Kansas City lost its Week 12 game to Denver, the Chiefs were able to keep the Broncos' offense in check, losing the game by a score of 17-9.
That won't happen this time around.
Kansas City can't wait for 2012 to come to a merciful end, and Broncos QB Peyton Manning finds himself in the thick of the NFL MVP debate.
A win gives Denver a first-round bye.
But when Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans, Denver's win will catapult the Broncos into the top overall seed in the AFC playoffs.
Who Clinches Second First-Round Bye: New England Patriots
With Denver's win and Houston's loss, the Patriots only need to beat their AFC East division rivals to get a week off.
Tom Brady has been very un-Brady-like in December, completing only 58 percent of his passes and throwing five interceptions to his eight touchdowns. A Week 13 victory over the Dolphins saw him throw for only 238 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
But if we have learned anything about Tom Brady, it's that you don't bet against him in big games, despite his recent Super Bowl struggles.
Brady will lead the Patriots to victory at home against the Dolphins—and the Texans, who started the year out on fire, will wind up having to play in the first round of the playoffs.
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team