Does the Super Bowl Matchup Definitively End the Rest vs. Rust Debate?
For only the third time since the NFL adopted the twelve-team playoff format in 1990, both the AFC and NFC's top overall seeds have made it to the Super Bowl.
Both the Saints and the Colts were in the driver's seat of their respective conferences in Week 16, and the decision of the Colts to sit starters in the third quarter against the Jets was a matter of much debate. The Saints, for their part, played their starters against the Buccaneers (and still lost) before taking everybody out for their season finale against the Panthers.
Add to this the poor showings in opening round games by teams who did play starters for at least half the game in Week 17 games that didn't affect whether or not they made the playoffs (Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New England, and, at least on the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay), and the message seems to be that if you've got the chance, rest players.
But can you really create a causal link between resting players and postseason success? Obviously not; there are far too many other variables.
For instance, the teams that have the luxury of resting players generally achieve that ability because they are elite teams to begin with. The odds of a 14-2 team winning two games in a row, regardless of who they play, is good.
Add the fact that the teams one of those games is against a team that played the previous week while the first seed was resting, and that both of the games that a No. 1 seed has to win to make the Super Bowl are at home, and it seems surprising that No. 1 versus No. 1 has only happened three times in twenty years.
So is rest even a factor at all in postseason play?
The evidenced is mixed.
You have teams like the 2005 Colts, who rested players and lost at home to the Steelers in the divisional round, and at the same time you have the 2007 Patriots, who played starters in all games and didn't get a ring to show for it.
In fact, when you think of the way both of the aforementioned teams lost, it appears that something as simple as dumb luck probably has more of an impact.
Ultimately, the real impact, if any, rest has on a team may depend on the nature of the team itself; certain teams would rather keep playing because they thrive on momentum, while other teams would rather have the rest because the injury risk is lessened and it allows them more preparation for the games that matter.
This means that the best way for a coaching staff to answer the question "Sit or play?" may be to know the character of their team well.
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