Awarded a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs as a result of a 13-3 record, the Denver Broncos didn't just sit on their couches and watch TV.
The team practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before taking the weekend off. Although the practices lasted just a little more than an hour and were finished before noon, quarterback Peyton Manning said the week of practices was welcomed by the players, who will face the Ravens on Saturday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"I thought we needed a week of practice," Manning said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday. "We're still a new team. We have new players, first-year players like myself here. I think anytime you can get an extra week of practice with the limited time that you're around in the offseason, the OTAs [organized team activities] and training camp, I thought it was something that was a plus for us. I thought we did some things last week that we worked on and hopefully improved, and hopefully, it made us a better team."
Teams that have earned a first-round bye have fared well in the divisional round. Since the playoffs went to a 12-team format with the top two teams in each conference getting a bye, the top two seeds are 64-24 in the divisional round.
But since 2005 at least one of the top two teams in each conference has fallen in its first playoff game. Perhaps that's why Denver coach John Fox wasn't quite ready to say that the bye is a decided benefit for his team.
"You never know what's an advantage or a disadvantage, to be quite honest with you," he said. "It just comes down to executing and how you prepare and how you execute on game day."
In related news, former Ravens running back Willis McGahee won't play in Saturday's game as he is not eligible to be activated from the injured reserve-designated to return list until the AFC championship game. McGahee, who suffered a torn right medial collateral ligament and a compression fracture to his right tibia on Nov. 18, returned to practice Tuesday for the first time.
"That was a really good sign," Manning said. "He's worked real hard in his rehab. He's got to go through the eligibility part of the new IR rules, but it was just good to see him on the field. Willis has been a huge part of our team this year, and sure, we'd love to get him back out there."