5 NFL Teams Heating Up at Just the Right Time

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 10, 2012

5 NFL Teams Heating Up at Just the Right Time

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    Recent NFL history has shown that the teams with the most wins at the end of the regular season are not necessarily the best-suited to make a long run during the postseason. 

    In fact, teams that have heated up late and snuck into the postseason (think 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, 2010 Green Bay Packers, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers) are actually the ones making runs to the Super Bowl. 

    Could 2012 be another chapter in this evolving trend of late-season NFL football?

    There are certainly teams heating up right now. Some are making late pushes to the playoffs, others are getting healthy and still others are starting to cement their place in the postseason.

    In the following slides, we'll give you the five NFL teams heating up at the right time. 

Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins are undoubtedly the most dangerous NFL team currently on the outside of the playoff picture.

    Winners of four straight games—including wins over Baltimore, Dallas and the New York Giants—Washington has a case for being the NFC's hottest team. Yet at 7-6, the Redskins are still a game out in both the NFC East and NFC Wild Card races. 

    Robert Griffin III's knee injury does not appear to be serious, so the momentum from the last month or so should keep rolling over to the final three games.

    If they can win two of the last three (especially over Philadelphia and Dallas, inside the conference), the Redskins would be in fine shape for a playoff berth. From there, anything can happen. 

Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers did get thumped on the road against the Giants, but Green Bay is still a team that has won seven of eight games without a number of key contributors. 

    Once healthy, Green Bay could realistically run the table over the final three games and finish 12-4. 

    Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, C.J. Wilson and T.J. Lang are all expected to be back over the next handful of weeks, and games against Chicago, Tennessee and Minnesota present a winnable remaining slate. At 12-4, the Packers would be in position to secure a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    Five weeks ago, the Cowboys had just dropped a nail-biter in Atlanta to fall to 3-5. The same script appeared to be unfolding: A hyped Cowboys team, coming up small in the biggest moments and then fading from the playoff picture. 

    Something has clicked since. 

    The Cowboys are now 4-1 over their last five games. At 7-6, Dallas is right back in the thick of the NFC East and NFC Wild Card chases.

    Dallas' schedule finishes up with Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Washington, so nothing about qualifying for the playoffs will be a cakewalk. But this team is finally starting to play up to the hype, and now there's at least the opportunity to win their way into the postseason. 

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle is slowly turning into the NFC team no one wants to play. 

    The Seahawks, winners of four of their last five games, appear to have the recipe for playoff-winning football: A strong running game, an attacking, turnover-inducing defense and a quarterback who has emerged as one of the conference's best over the last quarter of the season. 

    Playing on the road has obviously been trouble for Seattle, but a win in Chicago in Week 13 helped provide some confidence that this team can win away from home against a good football team.

    Something tells me the Packers, Falcons, Giants and 49ers would want nothing to do with hosting Seattle in a January playoff game. 

Cleveland Browns

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    Surprise, surprise. Left for dead at 0-5, Cleveland has won each of its last three games and five of its last eight. At 5-8, the Browns are technically still alive in the AFC playoff hunt. 

    Of course, Cleveland would need a miracle to win its final three games and sneak into a playoff spot. But just the fact that this team has that opportunity heading into Week 15 of this season is something to build on.

    In the right situations, late-season momentum can carry over to the following season. Maybe, just maybe, these Cleveland Browns are starting to get things turned around.