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.
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.
With that in mind, here's how the dozen playoff teams rank from hottest to coolest:
1. Broncos (13-3) — They haven't lost since a 31-21 setback at New England on Oct. 7, before Manning got his bearings and found a comfort zone with his new teammates.
2. Redskins (10-6) — They've won seven straight games since coach Mike Shanahan's comments about playing for next year after a loss to Carolina on Nov. 4 dropped them to 3-6.
3. Patriots (12-4) — Their only loss in their last 10 games was to San Francisco two weeks ago that snapped their 21-game home winning streak in December.
4. Seahawks (11-5) — Forget the Fail Mary touchdown/touchback ending that gave Seattle a disputed win over the Packers in Week 3 and hastened the return of the regular officials. The real robbery was the selection of QB Russell Wilson in the third round of the draft.
5. Bengals (10-6) — Cincinnati matched the best finish in club history, winning seven of its last eight games behind Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
6. Colts (11-5) — Indy won nine of its last 11 despite a soft defense, rallying around assistant coach Bruce Arians, who took over while coach Chuck Pagano was treated for leukemia.
7. Packers (11-5) — Green Bay won nine of its last 11 but couldn't close out the season with a win at Minnesota that would have ensured them a first-round bye.
8. Vikings (10-6) — Although Adrian Peterson came up just short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record, he carried the Vikings into the playoffs with wins in their last four games.
9. 49ers (11-4-1) — San Francisco lost to division rivals St. Louis and Seattle in December, but Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree put the 49ers into the playoffs with some much-needed momentum Sunday.
10. Falcons (13-3) — Atlanta lost two of its last four, but they didn't rest their regulars Sunday, when they lost to the Buccaneers and also lost two key defensive players to injuries in pass-rusher John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
11. Ravens (10-6) — Baltimore lost four of its last five and changed offensive coordinators in December.
12. Texans (12-4) — They caved in December, losing three of their last four and falling from the top seed in the AFC to the third.