“I think we got hot at the right time, the second half of the year,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said after Sunday night’s 28-18 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys, which gave the Redskins their first division crown since the 1999 season. “We’ve just got to keep believing in each other and just getting it done and just playing out our game plan to perfection like we’ve been doing.”
As the NFC’s fourth seed, the Redskins will host the fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks in a first-round playoff game Sunday that they hope will put them in the footsteps of last season’s New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers of 2010. Those teams just managed to squeeze into the playoffs, then kept winning on their way to Super Bowl triumphs.
“We have a chance to be that team,” Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. “But everyone’s hot. Seattle is hot right now. There are a lot of good teams in the NFC. The thing that I think is that we’ve had to win every single game since 3-6. That’s the way it’s played out. It bodes well for us. We’ve embraced that. We’ve looked at it like everything’s an elimination game. And it’s elevated our level of play.”
Last season’s Giants beat the Cowboys in the final Sunday night game of the regular season to win the NFC East, just as this season’s Redskins did. Those Giants, like these Redskins, were the NFC’s fourth seed for the playoffs.
The Giants won their final two games to finish the regular season with a modest record of 9-7. Their play improved steadily from there, and they won three NFC playoff games before beating the New England Patriots to secure a second Super Bowl title for Coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning.
In the 2010 season, the Packers were a wild-card team and the sixth — and final — seed in the NFC playoffs. They went on the road to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago to beat the three top seeds in the NFC playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
NFL teams annually spend the regular season chasing the first-round playoff byes that go to the two top seeds in each conference. This season, that’s Denver and New England in the AFC and Atlanta and San Francisco in the NFC.
But should that be the goal? Though statistically a high seed and a bye are helpful, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions have played in the first round of the playoffs. That includes the Steelers in the 2005 season, the Indianapolis Colts in the ’06 season, the Giants in the ’07 season, the Packers in the 2010 season and the Giants again last season.
“That can be problematic at times, when the last two weeks don’t matter and then all of a sudden the next game [in the playoffs] matters incredibly,” Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield, a member of the Super Bowl-winning Giants team in the 2007 season, said recently.