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Attention honors students: You are exempt from this lesson. Patriots, Cowboys, Seahawks and AFC West contenders, there are cupcakes for you down in the cafeteria.
The remedial class is down in the resource room studying How to Maintain Dignity Until Next Year's Draft. Please help poor Blake Bortles find his way; he just tried to shut himself in his own locker.
Everyone else, listen up.
The playoff field is wide open, but many of you are goofing off somewhere between 7-3 and 5-5. If you are not careful, you will squander a golden postseason opportunity. Luckily, the faculty at Monday Morning Digest has some helpful hints for separating yourselves from the pack.
Be Aggressive in the Red Zone
The Giants have won two straight games with the help of fourth-down gambles in the red zone. They scored their go-ahead touchdown against the Bengals on fourth down last week. Their first touchdown in what turned out to be a narrow victory over the Bears on Sunday came after a 15-yard pass to Sterling Shepard (pictured) on 4th-and-2.
The Steelers had trouble with two-point conversions last week, but that did not curb their aggressiveness against the Browns on Sunday. They took four shots at the end zone with under 10 seconds left before halftime (Browns penalties provided extra opportunities), then successfully went for two after finally scoring a touchdown. The extra five points mattered when the Browns narrowed the gap to 17-9 midway through the fourth quarter.
You can't afford to "play not to lose" in this environment. Take risks, be bold and force your opponents to adjust to what you are doing.
Mind Your Special Teams
Fluky extra-point slumps aside (we'll get to those later), special teams win close games. The Vikings got one touchdown on a kickoff return and set up another with a punt return against the Cardinals. The Lions beat the Jaguars with the help of an Andre Roberts punt return touchdown, two Matt Prater field goals and some booming Sam Martin punts.
If you don't believe special teams are critical, ask the Cardinals, Bengals and poor Saints how their seasons are going.
Tiebreakers Are Everything
The Colts swept the season series with the Titans, holding on for a 24-17 win Sunday. It gave them a head-to-head advantage over a feisty divisional foe, improved their division and conference records, and so forth. On the other hand, the injury-riddled Chiefs suffered a 19-17 loss to the Buccaneers, but it won't hurt them much if they take care of business in four upcoming AFC West games.
The Bills and Dolphins must be extra mindful of their upcoming AFC games. After narrow wins Sunday, both teams run the risk of going 9-7, or even 10-6, and getting left behind in the playoff picture by an AFC West or South foe. The Bills need to circle that Raiders game in two weeks. The Dolphins need to sweep the Bills, sweeten their AFC record against the Ravens and Jets, and hope the Patriots have home field locked up in Week 17.
That's all for now, class. Make sure you hold onto your notes. The test is at the end of December.