The rule of thumb for December football, at least around here, is to be playing your best before January and February come along.
It’s only natural. As season gets better (and colder), the cream usually rises to the top.
For tangible proof there is a recent dynasty, the Patriots Dynasty from 2001 through the 2018 season.
Enter the playoffs with some modicum of momentum, a bye, home field advantage, and roll the dice.
Then there is the 2021 Patriots predicament.
They are entering the playoffs in January with crutches.
On the flight to Indianapolis on Dec. 18, the Patriots had won seven straight, fresh off a bye, and as crazy as this sounds now, the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Basically, win out, and everything goes through Foxboro.
So what did the Patriots do? They lost, lost, beat the worst in the NFL like a drum, and lost.
The Patriots lost three of their last four games, copping the sixth seed, winning a return trip back to Buffalo.
So we did a little investigating as to teams that have “limped” into the playoffs, losing at least three of their last four regular season games, and seen how many had made it to the Super Bowl.
Guess what? Not many.
In the Super Bowl era, from the 1966 season through last year’s finale, only four teams were that bad late in the season over the last 55 years and got to play for the Lombardi Trophy.
Two of those teams lost badly in the Super Bowl – Denver lost 55-10 to the 49ers in Jan. of 1990, and the Eagles were no-shows in the 27-10 loss to Oakland in Jan. of 1981.
Here’s the good news, albeit small:
The other two teams that entered the playoffs at 1-3 over their last month, Baltimore (2013) and New Orleans (2010), actually won the Super Bowl.
But it wasn’t easy.
The Ravens won on the last play of the game against the 49ers, 34-31, in the Harbaugh Bowl, while a pick-6 off Peyton Manning with 3:14 remaining, finished off the Saints’ upset win over the Colts.
The nine Patriots teams that have gone to Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, five were 4-0, three were 3-1, and one, 2018 team that beat the Rams, were 2-2.
Belichick is a history buff. We saw that first-hand two years ago when he was part of a group that selected the NFL’s Top 100 players ever.
Would it be a miracle to pull this off? Most seasons, yes.
But there isn’t a lot of “greatness” playing playoff football in 2022, outside of, possibly, the Green Bay Packers.
Super Bowl history — finishing regular season 1-3 — is not on the Patriots side.
But isn’t Belichick really about messing with and making history?
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.