Ravens proving again you don't need a bye

NEW ORLEANS -- You hear it all the time in December: if a team finishes the regular season strong and gets a first-round bye, it increases the chances of reaching the Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens, as well as recent NFL history, say otherwise.

If they beat the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's Super Bowl, the Ravens will become the sixth Super Bowl champion in the past eight years to have played a first-round game in the playoffs on their path to the Lombardi Trophy.

It's gotten to the point where you don't expect the top seeds to meet in the Super Bowl. You're now looking for that dark horse team who is going to surprise in the playoffs.

Two years ago, the Packers didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the regular season and ended up Super Bowl champions. Last year, the Giants finished with just nine wins in the regular season (as well as negative point differential) before winning the Super Bowl. In both instances, the Packers and Giants beat teams who had first-round byes.

This year's unlikely Super Bowl team is the Ravens, who lost four of their last five games in the regular season. Along their way, they've beaten two teams (Denver and New England) who had first-round byes.

"I learned this listening to Bill Belichick’s press conferences, in all honesty, that whoever plays the best for that three-and-a-half-hour period is the team that is going to win the game," coach John Harbaugh said. "However you get there is however you get there. Just assuming when you get the bye that that’s necessarily a plus is not necessarily true.”