Peaking at the right time is the most important factor for NFL teams getting ready for the playoffs. The New York Giants illustrated that last season, emerging from the shadows and defying the odds to win another championship.
For teams that have already clinched berths this season, they must find a way to maintain top form over the final two weeks. It's easier said than done, but not taking their foot off the gas is the most effective way to ensure they remain sharp.
So even though they aren't make-or-break games for the following teams, they are still crucial in terms of getting prepared for the postseason. Winning big will keep them on track.
The Texans already took a huge step in the right direction last week. After getting crushed by the New England Patriots the previous week, they stepped up to make sure the Indianapolis Colts didn't get back in the AFC South race with a convincing victory.
Houston must build off that against the playoff-hopeful Minnesota Vikings. Of course, that means finding a way to slow down Adrian Peterson, who's been on an absolute roll recently. The Texans rank fifth against the run and have allowed just three rushing touchdowns.
It's a good test for them because those are the types of matchups teams must win to advance in the playoff. When it's strength against strength, the team that gains an edge in that area usually wins. That's exactly what will happen for the Texans on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers
If NFL fans want an example of why they shouldn't overreact to early results, just look at Green Bay. The Packers were 2-3 in early October and the naysayers were out, but they have won eight of their next nine to earn a playoff spot.
The hot streak hasn't been due to an easy schedule, either. They have beaten the aforementioned Vikings, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears along the way. As you'd expect, Aaron Rodgers has led the way and has been supported by improved play on defense.
Rodgers and Co. have to be careful, though. They have a two-game lead in the division and are facing the Tennessee Titans, who have lost three of four. It screams letdown. The Packers must avoid that, and they will with a blowout win.
New England Patriots
As has been so often the case in recent years, the Patriots are strong Super Bowl contenders. The team's offense has been rolling up points at an eye-popping rate (almost 40 per game over the past eight games), and the AFC isn't as deep as the NFC.
Yet, the Patriots did lose last week to the San Francisco 49ers and the game was exactly what fans have feared. New England ran into a team that's equally hot, and its defense couldn't hold up. So there's clearly work left to be done.
On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars wouldn't seem like a real test. But they have two good receivers, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, that are going to challenge the Patriots secondary. They might provide an early scare, but the Pats will be in firm control by the second half.
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