In 2010, it was the Green Bay Packers. In 2011, it was the New York Giants.
Both of these teams got hot late in December and received labels as the most dangerous come playoff time, and wound up winning their Super Bowl despite lower seeding and 9-7 records. And as history is doomed to repeat itself, a team could be the very same in 2011. But the question is, which team holds that label?
Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons have proven themselves dangerous, as they have been hot for most of the season, and many expect them (at least the 49ers) to put up a good fight in the playoffs, as they did last season against the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants. Many are simply waiting for the Falcons to get their playoff win, and won't give them more credit for their great season unless they do. But what teams should fans keep an eye on that could upset these top seeded teams?
One could make a very good case for the Green Bay Packers, who won their fourth Super Bowl in 2010. The Packers, who had started a dismal 2-3, went on to go 10-6 and barely make the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, and became the first sixth-seeded team to win a Super Bowl. Despite their injury plagued season, they prevailed behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers and their offense, coupled with great plays by their aggressive defense. The same could be said now, as the Packers sit at 11-4 after starting the season 2-3, but the question remains as to whether they can hold off the injury bug to last through a playoff run.
Another solid case can be made for the the Washington Redskins/Dallas Cowboys. The winner of their game will clinch the division and a playoff spot. Both of these teams, no matter who wins, tell the same story. First, the Redskins, despite Robert Griffin III's big play ability, were unable to deal with key injuries on defense and were 3-6 halfway through the season. But, they have since gone on a six-game winning streak, and are first in the division, and will clinch the division should they beat the Cowboys. And as the Redskins got hot, so to did the Cowboys, who overcame the tradgedy of the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown and overcome an early 3-5 record and are sitting at 8-7 and in position to win the division, with close wins over both the Cincinatti Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both of these teams got hot at the right time, and could be potentially dangerous teams come playoff time. But, in the case that the Redskins make the playoffs, their defense has too many holes, and, of course, the question of RG3's health and how his injured knee limits some of his big play ability. And for the Cowboys, they have been unable to win playoff games for two decades, and whether Tony Romo can make the plays needed to take them to the Super Bowl remains to be seen.
But, the biggest case for most dangerous NFC team this season could belong to the Seattle Seahawks, who showed bigger and badder teeth against the San Francisco 49ers, who were outmatched against them in Seattle, falling 42-13. Seattle showed their physical defense along their front seven and their secondary, forcing 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been on a hot streak himself since taking over for Alex Smith mid-season, into the most mistakes many have not seen out of the young quarterback. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has shown great poise as a rookie, and while he only went 15 of 21 for 171 yards, he threw four touchdowns to only one interception, and was aided by a strong ground game powered by Marshawn Lynch, who was in 'Beast Mode' form all night, rushing for 111 yards and one touchdown. Seattle may be one of the more complete teams in the NFC heading into the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see how Wilson and the Seahwaks handle the adversity away from the home crowd of Seattle, where they have struggled the most, losing five of their eight road games.