Traditional NFL wisdom tells us that the ultimate goal in the regular season is to be one of the two best teams in your conference, thus earning the advantage of a free win in the first round of the playoffs. This sounds great, but when you look at the recent history of the league, it actually seems like that free win is more of a burden then an advantage.
It actually makes more sense for a team like the New England Patriots to want the No. 3 seed instead.
In the last few years, the first-round playoff bye has not led to success. In fact, the last team to win a Super Bowl after sitting out the first week of the postseason was the 2009 New Orleans Saints. The first-round bye, and the last few weeks of the season which are meaningless to the two best teams in the conference, have become more of a roadblock to momentum than they are springboards to success.
And in today’s NFL, momentum is the most important attribute a team can have in the playoffs. Every year, we see a team that isn’t given serious consideration to win a championship earn an emotional win in the first round, and then ride that emotion and momentum all the way to the title. You can’t do that when you don’t play a meaningful game for two months before you play a team that has been fighting for its life that whole time.
New England already came out flat against the Houston Texans this past weekend, and they need to avoid an emotional letdown the rest of the season. They also need to avoid ending up with a first-round bye. Fans never want their favorite team to lose, but we’ve all seen where this season is going to end up if they shut things down the rest of the way and don’t face a must-win situation until mid-January.