To make it to the NFL’s conference championship games, you need at least a two-game winning streak. The four teams left standing after last weekend’s Divisional playoff round have gone above and beyond that minimum — and set a league record in the process:
This is 1st time since 1970 merger that all 4 Conference Championship participants finished reg. season with win streaks of at least 4 games— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 16, 2017
The Steelers will rumble into New England as the winners of nine straight. The Patriots and Packers have each won their last eight games. The Falcons, armed with potentially the league’s most valuable player, trail the rest of the crew with a mere five-game victory streak.
Two of those will keep their seasons rolling forward with a date in Super Bowl LI. The others will taste defeat, potentially for the first time since early November.
All four teams have plenty of momentum heading into the most important games of the year to date, but not all winning streaks are created equal. Which team’s recent run is the most impressive — and who has the hottest hand as the AFC and NFC Championships loom?
The Falcons have beaten only one playoff team in their relatively short win streak, but that victory was a 36-20 thrashing of the Seahawks. Matt Ryan likely secured the MVP award — the first in franchise history — by smearing the Rams, 49ers, Panthers, and Saints to propel the Falcons to the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Only one opponent in that span, an explosive New Orleans team, has been able to score more than 20 points against head coach Dan Quinn’s do-everything defense.
Five straight wins and a spot in the NFC title game is impressive. But it’s just peanuts compared to the three other teams jockeying for a spot in the Super Bowl.
3. New England Patriots
Maybe Earl Thomas was right. Here’s a list of the starting quarterbacks the Patriots have faced in their eight-game winning streak:
That’s bad! Only three of those teams had winning records, and the two playoff teams they faced were the Dolphins and Texans. But while New England stared down several underwhelming offenses, the Patriots also faced some intimidating defenses. Four of the eight teams they’ve beaten since a November loss to the Seahawks have units ranked in the top 10 when it comes to yards allowed per play.
The Patriots will get the biggest test of their season when they face a Pittsburgh offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. A steady diet of mediocre quarterbacks may not have fully prepared them for what awaits Sunday.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s a clear gap between No. 3 and No. 2 here. The Steelers have gone the longest of any remaining NFL team without a defeat, but they lost some style points thanks to a pair of wins over the hapless Browns. Slotted around expected wins over Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Buffalo are a handful of victories that show just how dangerous Pittsburgh can be.
Ben Roethlisberger’s team most recently dispatched the Chiefs in an icy Arrowhead Stadium. The week prior, they beat the Dolphins to avenge a Week 7 loss. Their path to the playoffs ran through a de facto AFC North title game against the Ravens (a four-point win) and was sparked, in part, by a 24-14 win over the Giants where an underrated Steelers defense held New York to just 234 yards of total offense.
Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak has showcased the many ways the team can beat you. The Steelers have won shootouts and pitcher’s duels, finding a road to victory in games where they’ve scored 30+ points and needed a successful two-minute drill to win and others where they failed to reach the end zone entirely. That’s impressive, but it falls just short of the ...
1. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay was 4-6 when Aaron Rodgers suggested his team had to “run the table” to make any kind of noise in the 2017 NFL playoffs. The outlook appeared grim. The Packers’ regular season schedule featured three playoff teams and two others whose hot starts (Philadelphia and Minnesota) showed how dangerous they could be.
Rodgers’ team didn’t just win those games — they left no doubt. Green Bay’s average margin of victory on its 6-0 run to end the regular season was more than 12 points per game. It would have been even more if not for a pair of garbage-time touchdowns tacked on by the Texans and Lions.
The hot streak continued in the postseason. Rodgers whipped four touchdown passes in a 38-13 rout of the Giants in the Wild Card round. One week later, he did this:
That led to a game-winning field goal to upset Dallas.
Green Bay has won eight straight games. Five of those wins came over playoff teams. Just two came against teams with losing records. The last one dispatched the NFC’s top team from the postseason.
In terms of momentum, everyone is looking up at the Packers.