Aug 23, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) celebrates his 31-yard touchdown catch with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) in the first quarter of the game against the Tennessee Titans at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Hit stride in December
All of the points up to this point have looked mainly at how the Falcons need to get to the postseason. But how can they go on and make a run?
Sep 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) celebrates with teammate tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) after a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Every game is important in the regular season, as each win and loss can have a direct impact on whether you reach the playoffs, and also on the seeding if you get there.
Having said that, the most important point is to be in the playoff hunt by the time December rolls around. A key to success in the postseason lies in December. A team can be inconsistent all season, but if they are still in hunt in the final four games and get hot, look out.
The past two seasons, we’ve seen the Super Bowl contested between the No. 1 seed from both conferences, but this isn’t always the case.
Rewind to 2011. The New York Giants made a solid start to the season, but hit a four-game losing streak just after the midpoint of the season, sliding to 6-6. That slump ended on December 11 with a victory on the road to Dallas, and they would go onto win three of their final four games, including their final two.
The Giants hit form at the perfect time, and would comfortably eliminate the Falcons in the Wild Card round before stunning the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field. A road victory over San Francisco put them in the Super Bowl, where they would take down the Patriots.
On December 10, the Giants were 6-6. By February 5, they were world champions.
The year prior, the Packers’ inconsistent season led them to an 8-6 record with two games to go. They had to win their final two games to have any hope of reaching the playoffs. The Packers did just that, and took the sixth seed in the postseason.
The Packers were forced into playoff mode in their final two regular season games, which meant that by the time the Wild Card round arrived, they were already on a hot streak. Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Chicago were all victims at home as the Packers went all the way to a Super Bowl victory.
In the NFL, the best regular season team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, it’s often the team who gets hot in December. New York was the fourth seed in 2011; Green Bay was the sixth in 2010.
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Seattle reached their second Super Bowl in as many years last February, but it’s easy to forget that they were sitting uncomfortably at 6-4 after Week 11. Many believed they would fail to even reach the postseason at that point, but eight straight victories later they were in the Super Bowl. If the ball is handed to Marshawn Lynch, maybe it would have been nine.
What about the Panthers? They entered the final four games precariously at 3-8-1. A December sweep put them at seven wins and booked a ticket to the playoffs, where they would take down the Cardinals and advance to the Divisional Round. The Seahawks were too strong, but it shows the importance of getting hot at the right time.
At Carolina; at Jacksonville; Carolina; New Orleans.
These four games could make the difference between a team that might squeeze into the playoffs and one that could make some genuine noise in January.