No fear of wild-card round in NFL

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Yes, the bye affords them a chance to get healthier, particularly the 49ers, who are concerned about star defensive lineman Justin Smith’s partially torn left triceps.

But there’s also the chance of getting stale, something Green Bay experienced last year, and the Giants took advantage of it. Same thing for the Falcons the previous season, and the Packers pounced.

It’s an interesting dynamic. Some coaches and players prefer to simply keep on playing, especially when their seasons have ended the way the Broncos, Redskins, Seahawks and Vikings closed theirs.

Others covet the week off because it means they will be at home for their first postseason game. Not that there’s any guarantee there, either: at least one team with a bye has lost its divisional round game in each of the last seven playoffs.

Maybe with the week off, they got a bit complacent. Or rusty. Or undisciplined.

“We always say that it goes up a notch, but at the end of the day, it’s still football,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said about the playoff atmosphere. “Whatever we’ve done to get to this point, you just want to continue to do that, and once you go out there on Sunday, it’s going to be like Week 8, Week 9.

“But the thing in the back of your head, you just know if you lose, you go home. So whatever you have to do to prepare throughout the week through that Sunday, that’ll be the easy part.”

Tell that to the bye teams that went bye-bye in years past.

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver, National Writer Nancy Armour in Green Bay, Wis., and Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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