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How Important is Momentum in the NFL Playoffs?

Before you bet the mortgage on Seattle or Denver to win the Super Bowl this week, a quick word of advice that the talking heads on TV either do not want to believe or choose not to recognize.

Momentum doesn't matter.

During the first group of playoff games this season five teams were coming off of victories while three squads entered the postseason having lost on the final Sunday of the regular season. The three teams coming off of defeats went 3-0. The only winner among teams with “momentum” was Seattle, who helped snap Washington's seven game winning streak.

This is not a new phenomenon.

Last year during the first round of the playoffs both Houston and Denver earned victories. Both teams began the post-season having dropped three straight. Teams coming off of a loss were 2-2, exactly the same record as squads entering the playoffs off of wins.

The last six Super Bowl winners have been a mixed bag as to how they finished the regular season. None of the six won more than two straight to end the year. Only New Orleans, who lost their final three games, entered the postseason with setbacks in weeks 15 and 16. Besides Pittsburgh rolling off seven of their final eight, and last year's Giants winning three out of four down the stretch, recent champions have tended to approach the playoffs with good but not great resumes.

That is seemingly good news for Houston, Baltimore, and Atlanta. Both the Texans and Ravens won with relative ease during the Wild Card round despite playing less than their best at the end of the regular season. Atlanta hosts Seattle Sunday having dropped two of their last four. All three of these teams have something in common. They each were securely in the playoffs for most of the season and did not need tremendous finishes in order to secure postseason births. In the case of Baltimore it allowed key veterans extra rest before the playoffs began. Perhaps there is something to be said for limiting the number of stressful “must win” regular season games.

Maybe being fresh for the playoffs trumps having “momentum.”


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