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Closing fast doesn't always lead to playoff success

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Posted Dec. 17, 2011 @ 1:09 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Some teams have the luxury of resting starters in the final weeks of the regular season, a reward for clinching a playoff spot early. Other teams with winning records continue playing hard through the end of the year to get themselves in playoff mode, even after they already have locked up a spot in the postseason. Then there are the squads that have to fight through Week 17 just to ensure they have a spot in the January tournament.

All three approaches have proven to be successful on the road to the Super Bowl. However, when it comes to posting impressive records down the stretch of the regular season, some teams certainly know better than others how to get the job done. Over the past five seasons, five teams have stood out amongst the rest of the league as the best during the final month of the regular season.

However, their end-of-season success hasn't always translated into postseason victories. Of the five teams listed, only two have reached the Super Bowl — and only one has taken home a Lombardi Trophy.

Here are the five teams with the best records in Weeks 14-17 since 2006, including their result from Week 14 this season.

 

1. San Diego Chargers / 20-1 — Starting with Marty Schottenheimer and continuing after Norv Turner took over as head coach, the Chargers have been outstanding in the final stretch of the season. On several occasions, the team needed to win games in the final four weeks just to lock up a playoff berth, thanks in large part to their combined 10-10 record in the first four games of each season between 2006-10. The one loss they suffered in the final stretch of the season occurred in Week 16 of the '10 season to the Bengals, a defeat that likely kept San Diego out of the playoffs, the only season they didn't win the AFC West during that five-year span. The end-of-season success hasn't rolled over to the playoffs, however, as the Chargers are 3-4 in postseason play since '06.

2. New England Patriots / 19-2 — Bill Belichick's Patriots have made a habit of finishing strong. The Pats won their final four games of the season in 2007, '08 and '10, and a favorable schedule makes it very possible this season. In '08, with QB Matt Cassel at the helm, the Pats were 7-5 entering Week 14 and rattled off four victories in a row, only to miss out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker with Baltimore. The impressive conclusions to the regular season haven't led to postseason success in the five-year span. The Patriots made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons but made it to the Super Bowl only once.

3. (tie) Baltimore Ravens / 16-5 — Historically, the Ravens have been a defensive powerhouse, and that has held true during the final four weeks of the season. In the 21 games during this span, Baltimore's defense has forced 52 turnovers, which is more than two takeaways per game. That work has helped lead the team to the playoffs in four of the five completed seasons, with another postseason trip looking likely this season. Of the five losses in the span, three of them occurred during the 2007 season — head coach Brian Billick's last with the club —  when the team went 5-11 overall.

3. (tie) Philadelphia Eagles / 16-5 — One of the reasons that Andy Reid is the longest-tenured coach in the NFL is his ability to get the most out of his team late in the season. However, like the other teams on this list, Reid's Eagles haven't had success carrying momentum from the end of the regular season to the Super Bowl. In the five years, Philly has only three playoff wins and has lost its first playoff game in the two seasons in which it lost its regular-season finale — '09 and '10.

5. Indianapolis Colts / 15-6 — The Colts were staring at a 6-6 record after a Week 13 overtime loss to the Cowboys last season before Peyton Manning led them to four consecutive wins to close the season. The winless Colts could very well finish 0-4 in their final four games this season, which would make them the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Colts are the only team on this list to win a Super Bowl in the last five years. Ironically, the Colts were 2-2 in the final four regular-season games in 2006, including a 44-17 loss to Jacksonville, before going on to win Super Bowl XLI.

PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain contributed to this article.

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