In Week 16, many of the best teams in the NFL lost. New England, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Seattle all fell in close, winnable games, while the Packers were destroyed in Arizona.
The Steelers’ setback was major since they now need to help to make the playoffs. But, for the rest of the teams, dropping a late-season game isn’t a big deal. The Pats and Panthers are still poised to earn top seeds; Green Bay can capture a division crown in Week 17; and the Seahawks will still be an NFC Wild Card team.
Pundits and talking heads will spend this week anointing the Cardinals as Super Bowl favorites since they were the best team that won in Week 16. However, the Super Bowl is not played in December, and recent history suggests the eventual champ is rarely perfect down the stretch.
Last year, the Patriots lost two of their final five games before going on to win it all. Not only did they finish just 3-2, two of their wins – against the Jets on the road (17-16), and in San Diego (23-14) – were close contests versus non-playoff team. They proceeded to get by the Ravens (35-31) and Colts (45-7) before a tight Super Bowl victory against Seattle (28-14).
Two years ago, the Seahawks began the season 11-1. When they finished 13-3, questions loomed about whether they had played their best ball earlier in the year. After an eight-point win over the Saints, and a six-point victory against San Francisco, the Seahawks blew out Denver, 43-8, in the Super Bowl.
The 2012 Ravens were 9-2 in late November. Four losses in their final five games emptied the bandwagon. But Baltimore beat the Colts, 24-9, in a Wild Card game, won at Denver in overtime in the Divisional Playoff, and then upset New England in the AFC Title Game. Two weeks later, John Harbaugh won the “Harbaugh Bowl” over brother Jim and his 49ers.
The second of two surprising Giants titles came during the 2011 season. New York was 7-7 and losers of five out of six before winning its final two to earn a playoff berth. They then blew out the Falcons and Packers to advance to the NFC Championship game, where they downed the Niners. That led to their second Super Bowl upset of the Patriots.
Going back five seasons, Green Bay lost three of its final six games and finished the regular season 10-6. They won playoff games at Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago before beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
As you examine playoff lines and consider futures action, don’t get wrapped up in the recent past. Which team has been the better squad for the bulk of the campaign? Who has the best healthy players? Winning on the road is not as difficult as it seems. If you liked Green Bay, Seattle, Carolina or New England before Week 16, unless you saw something to dramatically change your opinion this past week, you should probably still like them now.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)