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One win could make all the difference for Packers, Broncos

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The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers head into Sunday night’s showdown sporting identical 6-0 records. Barring an unlikely tie, one of them will head into their next game with a 7-0 record, while the other will be 6-1. Just how important is that difference likely to be?

From 6-0 to 7-0

Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams in 1990, 36 teams have started 6-0. Of the 31 teams in previous seasons to accomplish that feat, 20 of them won their next game and advanced to 7-0.

Those teams were on the whole outstandingly successful. All of them made the postseason. Seventeen earned a first-round bye. Only one, the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, did not win their division, and they were in the AFC West with the 6-0 Broncos. Nine made the Super Bowl. Five ended the season as NFL champions, and two of the losers lost to another team that began 7-0.

One cautionary note is 7-0 teams have not fared nearly as well since the NFL went to the current eight-division format in 2002. Of the thirteen teams to start 7-0 since then, six lost their first playoff game. That includes three teams – the 2005 Colts, the 2008 Titans, and the 2011 Packers – that finished the season with the best record in the NFL.

From 6-0 to 6-1

What about the team that loses this game? How have previous 6-0 teams that then lost fared? First, history says 6-1 is no guarantee of a postseason appearance. Broncos fans know this from 2009, when Denver started 6-0 under Josh McDaniels before fading to 8-8 as the defense collapsed. Defensive issues also sunk the 2003 Minnesota Vikings, who finished 3-7.

Most teams that suffered their first loss in their seventh game of the season fared just fine, though. Just one, the 2000 Rams, lost their first playoff game. The more successful teams include those 2013 Broncos, who won the AFC, and the 1997 Broncos, who took the wild card route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Overall, six of the nine that went to the playoffs made the Super Bowl. Three won it. The most encouraging parallel for the loser of Sunday’s game might be the 2004 Patriots. They lost to the Steelers in Week 8, but won a postseason rematch and eventually hoisted the Lombardi Trophy again.

There is also a larger pool of teams that got to 6-1 without necessarily losing their seventh game. Since realignment in 2002, 20 of the 25 teams to start 6-1 have made the postseason. This pool includes the 2013 Seahawks, who defeated those 2013 Broncos, and the 2003 Panthers, who won the NFC South and reached the Super Bowl without a bye. But on the whole it is better to be 7-0 than to be 6-1.

In the Context of 2015

What makes going to 7-0 instead of 6-1 especially important for both Denver and Green Bay is they are not the only 6-0 teams in their conference this year. Despite their perfect record, the Broncos would be the AFC’s third seed if the season ended today, behind New England and Cincinnati. Green Bay similarly ranks behind Carolina. All of the numbers about 7-0 and 6-1 teams that apply to Denver and Green Bay apply with equal force to the Patriots, Bengals, and Panthers.

There are a couple pieces of relatively good news. First, the most important tiebreaker in determining the postseason pecking order is conference results. This interconference result matters for Denver and Green Bay’s overall record, but it will not hurt the loser too much.

Each team has a second piece of good news. For Green Bay, they will not be competing with both Carolina and 6-1 Atlanta for a postseason seed. The top four seeds go to the division winners, and no more than one of the Falcons and Panthers can win the NFC South. Denver has no such silver lining, but they will get a chance to settle things on the field against both the Patriots and Bengals later in the season. If they win both those games, they will be in great position to get home-field advantage. If they lose both, a bye is difficult. Either way, both games are likely to carry more weight than this one.

The most important task for the Broncos and Packers, regardless of who wins, is to keep playing excellent football for the rest of the season. Starting 6-0 is no guarantee of making the postseason. Starting 7-0 is no guarantee of getting a first-round bye, even if it makes it likely. Earning home field advantage is no guarantee of postseason success. Sunday’s is likely to be a great contest. The season is a long one, however, and the winner is guaranteed nothing while the loser’s fate is far from sealed.

Bennett doesn’t fear backlash for skipping White House trip

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HOUSTON (AP) Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett says he is not worried about upsetting team owner Robert Kraft by not attending New England’s trip to the White House as Super Bowl champions.

Bennett said after the Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Falcons on Sunday night that he’s “not going to go” to the traditional meet-and-greet with the president. It will be the first visit of a Super Bowl champion to Washington since Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Trump’s positions have alienated some athletes, which has raised questions about whether some might choose to skip the trip while the new president is in office.

But Bennett said he isn’t concerned about it and thinks the team believes “in whatever I want to do.”

Kraft is a supporter of Trump and attended a celebration dinner in Washington for him the night before his inauguration.

Patriots’ Tom Brady earns 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy with epic comeback

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HOUSTON (AP) The greatest quarterback in NFL history led the biggest Super Bowl comeback to be the MVP on Sunday night.

Tom Brady rallied New England from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history to earn his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth MVP trophy.

“They’re all sweet,” he said. “They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Brady threw touchdown passes of 5 and 6 yards in the second half and tied things at 28-28 when he connected withDanny Amendola on a 2-point conversion with 57 seconds left.

He then directed the drive in overtime which ended with a 2-yard run by James White to make the Patriots the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

“We all brought each other back,” he said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”

His performance certainly wasn’t without its struggles. His incredible second half and overtime came after a first half where the Patriots managed just three points and he threw an interception which Robert Alford returned 82 yards for a touchdown. He was hurried and harassed for much of the games. The Falcons sacked him five times and hit him on another eight occasions.

He noted the beating he took when he was trying to recount the details of the comeback and couldn’t remember what the score was at one point in the rally.

“There was a lot of (stuff) that happened tonight,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

His 466 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 414 yards Kurt Warner had 17 years ago. He also set a record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl with 43 and most attempts with 62.

He is the first to play in seven Super Bowls and the victory ties him with Charles Haley for most Super Bowl rings.

After all Brady has done in his career, was this his finest moment?

“Tom’s had a lot of great ones,” coach Bill Belichick said. “But, yeah tonight was one of them.”

It’s a triumphant end to a difficult season for Brady, who missed the first four games because of his “Deflategate” suspension and dealt with his mother Galynn Brady suffering through an undisclosed illness. The Super Bowl was the first game she’s attended all season.

“They’re all happy,” he said fighting back tears. “It’s nice to have everybody here and it’s going to be a great celebration tonight.”

He shared a quick moment with her right after the game, but was looking forward to more time with her in the upcoming days.

“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” he said.

But he certainly wasn’t asking for sympathy for his rough road to this title though, chuckling when someone asked about the adversity the Patriots have gone through in the past couple of years.

“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years … so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t think anyone feels bad for the Patriots.”

Brady also collected the MVP trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2014.

“It was just a lot of mental toughness by our team and we’re going to remember this one for the rest of our lives,” Brady said.

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