Regular season winners don’t always make champions

Regular season winners don’t always make champions

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DENVER – The Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, who tied for the league’s best record at 13-3, are well aware of one of the NFL’s biggest truisms: more often than not, the regular season is for suckers.


Over the last decade, just two of the 13 teams that had the best regular season record – or tied for the best mark – went on to win the Super Bowl: the ’02 Buccaneers and the ’03 Patriots.


The last eight teams to enter the playoffs with the best record bowed out before they could put their fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy and revel in a rain of confetti.


Both the Broncos and Falcons are promising to practice like champions this week and not allow rest and relaxation to turn into rust and ruin.


In the last seven seasons, three No. 6 seeds and a No. 4 seed ended up winning it all, giving hope to the likes of the Ravens, Redskins, Bengals and Vikings in this year’s playoff pool.


A year ago, the Green Bay Packers rested their regulars in the season finale and they lost their edge, becoming the first 15-1 team to lose its first playoff game – to a New York Giants team that was 7-7 in mid-December and went on to win it all.


“That’s kind of what it was for us when I was in Indy,” Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley said of the `05 Colts, who went 14-2 but lost to Pittsburgh in the divisional round. “We kind of rested the last week, then we had a bye. It’s too much. So, I like just grinding every week, just playing football.”


That’s exactly what Peyton Manning’s new team did, securing the AFC’s top seed Sunday with its 11th straight win.


Along with the Falcons, Patriots and 49ers, the Broncos get a break this week, one that can prove a pitfall as much as a profit.


“We’ve just got to practice like we’re playing this week,” Denver receiver Eric Decker said.


While the Broncos stormed into the playoffs, the Falcons, who already had the NFC’s top seed secured, didn’t gain any momentum Sunday, losing to Tampa Bay.


“Before this game was played, we were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, at the end of the game, nothing has changed,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez reasoned. “We’re a very good team; we’ll just use this as a wake-up call.”


Says another Atlanta veteran, Asante Samuel: “We’re going to practice like champs. And we’re going to play like champs from now on.”


So will the Broncos. Coach John Fox is using the bye week to stay sharp, calling for short, crisp practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a mandatory weightlifting session Saturday, mainly to keep the team “focused, not concerned with flights to other states and those type of things, especially close states.”


Like Nevada, where oddsmakers have made the Broncos the favorite to win the Super Bowl.


Of course, the Packers were in this position last year.


It’s not just the NFL where the season’s best team usually falters in the playoffs.


In the last 10 seasons, only two teams in each of the other major pro sports leagues parlayed the best regular-season record into a championship, according to STATS, LLC. They were: the 2007 Red Sox and the ’09 Yankees, the 2002-03 Spurs and the ’07-08 Celtics and the Red Wings in 2001-02 and ’07-08.


Since the first Super Bowl, the team with the best regular-season record has won just 21 of 46 championships, or 46 percent, which is more than in the NHL (42 percent), NBA (41 percent) and MLB (28 percent), according to STATS.


Cardinals interview Horton, could meet with Reid: The Arizona Cardinals have interviewed their defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the head coaching job.


The interview, conducted Tuesday by team president Michael Bidwill, was the first in the team’s search for a replacement for Ken Whisenhunt, who was fired on Monday after six seasons on the job.


The team has reached out to Andy Reid but had not scheduled an interview. Reid was fired on Monday after 14 seasons as head coach in Philadelphia.


Bidwill plans to fly to Denver over the weekend to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.


Horton, Reid and McCoy are the only candidates thus far identified by the Cardinals.


49ers sign kicker Cundiff: A person with knowledge of the deal says the San Francisco 49ers have signed kicker Billy Cundiff to compete with struggling veteran David Akers.


The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because there had been no formal announcement. Coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday the NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1), off this week as the NFC’s No. 2 seed, planned to try out kickers.


Cundiff was released by the Washington Redskins Oct. 9 after missing 5 of his 12 field goal attempts. He had already worked out once for the Niners Nov. 27 before they invited him back.


Bears GM: Playoff misses did in Smith: Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery says too many playoff misses and the inability to develop a productive offense led to coach Lovie Smith’s firing.


The Bears let Smith go Monday even though they won 10 games.


Missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and the inability to fix the offense were simply too much to overlook, so they cut ties with their coach after a nine-year run that included a Super Bowl appearance.


Emery said Tuesday he’ll be interviewing potential replacements over the next two weeks and would like to have one in place by the college All-Star games later this month.


Emery sees Jay Cutler as a “franchise quarterback,” although the new coach will determine if he’s the long-term solution. He was noncommittal about Brian Urlacher’s future.


AP source: Brandon moving up to Bills president: A person familiar with the decision says Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is relinquishing his title as team president to CEO Russ Brandon. The move gives Brandon operational control of the franchise.


The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the move had not yet been announced.


Several media outlets, including The Buffalo News, reported the decision earlier Tuesday.


The announcement expected at a noon news conference comes a day after the Bills fired coach Chan Gailey.


Brandon spent most of Monday meeting with Wilson at his home in suburban Detroit.


In his new role, Brandon will report directly to Wilson, the 94-year-old owner and founder of the franchise.


Chiefs CEO Hunt takes on bigger role in franchise


Clark Hunt is regarded as an intensely private man, someone who prefers to operate behind the scenes and away from the spotlight that comes with owning an NFL franchise.


In some ways, that’s about to change.


Hunt fired coach Romeo Crennel on Monday as part of a shakeup of the entire structure of a franchise that his father, the late Lamar Hunt, founded 53 years ago. The younger Hunt said he plans to hire the next coach and that the individual will report to him, rather than through the general manager – a change in the way the team has operated since its inception.


In fact, Hunt has refused to say whether GM Scott Pioli will be retained.


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