The Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens both prevailed in the AFC Wild Card Round, with the Texans beating the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 while the Ravens turned back the Indianapolis Colts 24-9. The outcome was somewhat unexpected, considering how each winner played to finish up the regular season.
Going into their final game of the 2012 regular season against the Indianapolis Colts, the Houston Texans were convinced they just had to get a win. Their 23-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings the previous week had been a complete embarrassment.
But they still had a shot at a first-week bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. These quotes from an article by AP Sports Writer Kristie Riekin made the case abundantly clear:
"It's not important, it's crucial, because in order for you to get to where you want to be, you have to be playing your best ball." – LB Bradie James
"This is like a playoff game for us." – QB Matt Schaub
“There's another level that you play the game at. There's another level of expectations." – Head Coach Gary Kubiak
The Baltimore Ravens had nothing to gain in their season finale versus the Cincinnati Bengals, given they were hosting the very same Colts team in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. But having lost three of their last four, they obviously wanted to turn things around.
Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com found a couple of players that sounded just like the Texans:
“Finishing off right is being able to say that we [not only] won the division, but we controlled the division.” – RB Ray Rice
“We want to go out there and show the world that we are getting better at the end of the year, and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.” – LB Dannell Ellerbe
Neither team accomplished their goal, as they both stumbled into the postseason on a losing note. Houston fell to Indianapolis 28-16, and Baltimore did the same at Cincinnati by a score of 23-17. For the record, the Texans were 2-3 and the Ravens went 1-4 over their last five games.
So how did these December underachievers end up winning in the first round? The Colts and Bengals had all the momentum coming in, both wrapping up their schedules 4-1.
Once you qualify for the postseason, the key to success is like a trip to Las Vegas: What happens in the regular season stays there. In fact, this has been the rule and not the exception in recent years.
Over the last six seasons, Super Bowl winners have a 17-13 record over the last five games of the seasons. Not a single one was 5-0 over that period, and two teams were 2-3 down the stretch.
|New York Giants||2007||3-2|
|New Orleans Saints||2009||2-3|
|Green Bay Packers||2010||3-2|
|New York Giants||2011||3-2|
The 2006 Colts were the first Super Bowl winner to have an under-.500 record down the stretch since the NFL expanded to six playoff teams for each conference in 1990. The 2009 New Orleans Saints are the only squad in the entire history of the “Big Game” to drop their last three and still win it all.
The playoffs are often referred to as the “second season” because they represent a second chance. Those who recapture the magic can go far, and what happened just prior to this opportunity for rebirth can and should be disregarded.
Just ask the 2011 New York Giants, who lost to both the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in the regular season. These losses occurred during a 1-5 streak that contributed to them ending up 9-7 overall.
If they got past the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card Round, they would end up facing the 15-1 Packers in the Divisional Round and maybe the 13-3 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
None of that mattered, as the Giants outgained three teams with better records by 250 yards and won the turnover battle by a combined 6-1. As NFL fans know, they advanced to the Super Bowl and ultimately captured the Lombardi Trophy.
One of the things that make the United States such an attractive place to live is the possibility of starting over. When it comes to the playoffs, America’s favorite sport is no exception.