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DALY: Hot teams can cool down fast in playoffs

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Wanted to spread some holiday cheer, keep you Washington Redskins fans in the proper spirit between now and Sunday's kickoff. So why don't we start with this stocking stuffer:

If the Redskins beat the Eagles in Philadelphia and the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field to nail down the division title — and run their string of victories to seven — they'll match the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history (in a single season, at least). Surprised? Me, too. This is an organization, after all, that has won five league championships and played in 11 title games. It has some history, despite its recent struggles.

Still, only four Redskins teams have won more than seven in a row. And every one of them, you'll be pleased to know, went on to big things. The list:

• 1991 — Won their first 11. Finished 14-2 (best in the NFL). Beat Buffalo in the Super Bowl.

• 1983 — Won their last nine in the regular season and two in the playoffs for a total of 11.. Finished 14-2 (best in the NFL). Lost the Super Bowl to the Los Angeles Raiders.

• 1942 — Won their last 10 counting the championship game. Finished 10-1 (best in the East Division). Beat the Chicago Bears for the title. 

• 1972 — Won nine straight. Finished 11-3 (best in the NFC). Lost the Super Bowl to Miami.

Not bad company, you've gotta admit. It raises another question, though: How much does it mean to a club to go into the playoffs with a long winning streak? Answer: Not as much as you'd think.

Consider: The hottest team at the end of the 2010 regular season was the New England Patriots, who had won eight straight. They ended up losing their first playoff game (to the New York Jets in the second round). The hottest team at the end of '09 was the San Diego Chargers, who had won 11 straight. They also ended up losing their first playoff game (to the Jets in the second round). The hottest team at the end of '08 was the Colts, who had won nine straight. They also ended up losing their first playoff game (to the Chargers in the first round).

In fact, the last time a team had the league's longest winning streak at the end of the regular season and went on to win the Super Bowl was 2003 (when the Patriots, who had won 12 in a row going into the playoffs, took their second Lombardi Trophy). Fortunately for the Redskins, they don't have the longest winning streak at this point, the Denver Broncos (nine) do. On top of that, they won't get a first-round bye if they make the playoffs, so they won't run the risk of losing their mojo during their week of inactivity the way the '10 Pats and '09 Chargers might have.

(FYI: In 2005, the Redskins had the longest winning streak entering the postseason of any of the 12 playoff clubs — five. They were eliminated in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks.)

A couple of other items that might amuse you:

• Alfred Morris has 1,322 rushing yards through 14 games, putting him on pace for 1,511. That would be the most by an NFL rookie who was drafted later than the first round. Check out the top six. It's an interesting group:

Clinton Portis, 2002 Broncos (second round), 1,508

Mike Anderson, 2000 Broncos (sixth round), 1,487

Curtis Martin, 1995 Patriots (third round), 1,487

Rueben Mayes, 1986 Saints (third round), 1,353

Alfred Morris, 2012 Redskins (sixth round), 1,322 (and counting)

Steve Slaton, 2008 Texans (third round), 1,282

As you may have noticed, Mike Shanahan has coached three of them (Portis and Anderson in Denver, Morris in Washington).

And let's not forget: His son Kyle was the offensive coordinator in Houston when Slaton had that fine first season in '08. Four of the six backs, in other words, have a connection to the Shanahans. What are the odds of that?

• And finally, on a related subject: How many teams in pro football history have had a rookie quarterback/running back duo as good as Robert Griffin III and Morris? In terms of first-year productivity, you'd have a hard time coming up with any combos who have been better. After all, RG3 is second in the league in passer rating (104.2), which is practically unheard of for a first-year guy, and Alfred is third in rushing. (And we haven't even talked about Robert's contributions as a runner.)

I can think of two clubs, by the way, who had a rookie QB/running back pair that went on to the Hall of Fame. One was the 1956 Baltimore Colts (Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore); the other was the '46 Cleveland Browns (Otto Graham and Marion Motley). That's how far back you have to go — the veritable Dark Ages. We'll have to see how Griffin and Morris' careers turn out, of course, but it's mind-blowing that we're even talking about them in such a context.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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