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Regular season winners don't always make champions

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Regular season winners don't always make champions

DENVER (AP) 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.

``Everyone wants to have the best record, win the division and play at home for the playoffs, but in my opinion, the team that is playing the best has the best opportunity,'' said NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner, a former MVP and Super Bowl champion. ``This game is always about confidence and momentum. If you have it, you're tough to beat, nobody wants to play you and it gives you a distinct advantage. It starts in the regular season and you want to be playing well down the stretch.''

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 (well, it is 2013 now!) 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. Even in defeat, Tom Brady was spectacular as New England nearly became the first team since 1980 to win a game after trailing by 28.

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. He's guided them to five straight wins.

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, who will now try to secure the Bengals' first playoff win since 1990.

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. Pagano is back and the Colts have gotten over their breakup with Manning and moved on with rookie Andrew Luck.

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. Maybe that's a good thing for a team that won it all as a wild card two years ago.

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 with dazzling performances in a win over Arizona on 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. The Ravens used their regular-season finale at Cincy to rest their regulars, sitting banged-up playmakers Anquan Boldin, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs while pulling Joe Flacco and Ray Rice after only two series.

12. Texans (12-4) - For much of the year, they were the NFL's darlings behind J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but they caved in December, losing three of their last four and falling from the top seed in the AFC to the third. Instead of a bye week to rest up, they get a short week to play Cincinnati.

All of this isn't to say the hottest team will be crowed champion or the coolest one has no shot.

``I think there are a lot of formulas,'' Fox said. ``If you look at history, there are plenty of different scenarios. At the end of the day, you want to be playing your best football in January so you can get to February. That's really the only formula I know that's 100 percent.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Follow Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Retired Steve Smith Sr. not interested in working out with current players

Retired Steve Smith Sr. not interested in working out with current players

Since announcing his retirement, former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. says numerous players are expressing a desire to train with him this offseason.

It’s understandable why players would want to be mentored by Smith, after his brilliant 16-year career.

But while Smith has the time, he does not have the desire.

“People have been calling me, ‘Hey, wanted to work out…let’s watch some film…I need to work on some releases,”’ Smith said to James Lofton and Brad Hopkins on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

“I had some DB’s calling me, ‘Hey, you can give me some line work’, and all that stuff. When I was at the Super Bowl…I had probably about three or four people text me, saying, ‘Hey, let’s get up’, and I had some agents call me for their guy to help them work their guy out, get him prepared for the combine.

“And I had to take a step back and I said, ‘You know what? If I do all these things, now I’m getting my mind and body to say I can still play.

“So I had to text some guys and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to watch film with you and work out and train with you because that means I’m telling myself and my family I’m about to go play again. And I don’t want to go through that process. I’m done playing.’

“So if I’m training anybody, their last name is Smith, meaning my kids. I’m just going to love on them, and that training is less intense. The goal is so lesser. It’s, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we’re drinking water, fluid, and all that stuff.’ Out there, when you’re training for ball, it’s a different animal. So I said, ‘No.’’’

Smith sounds determined not to play anymore. He recently signed with NFL Network as an analyst, and he has not given any mixed signals about his desire to start a new chapter in his life.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at the “State of the Ravens’’ press conference that if Smith wanted to return, the door was open.

However, Smith seems content to keep that door closed.  

RELATED: THE BEST OF STEVE SMITH SR. TRASH TALK

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Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson, who was signed by the Ravens in April 2016, was arrested Thursday night in Hoover, Ala. on a domestic violence charge, according to Hoover police.

Richardson, who was drafted by the Browns with No 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, joined the Ravens during the 2016 offseason before being waived prior to the start of training camp in August.

According to the report, Richardson was arrested following an incident at the Hyatt Place Hotel and was charged with one count of third-degree domestic violence. 

The argument between Richardson and the women began at a nearby Walmart before the altercation turned physical. 

RELATED: RICHARDSON DISCUSSES FAMILY FREELOADING

"Officers were able to make contact with an adult male and adult female who were involved in a domestic altercation," police said in the official release.

"After interviewing both parties it was determined that the two individuals had been arguing earlier while at the Walmart on John Hawkins Parkway and that the dispute continued after they arrived back at the hotel. At some point the situation turned physical and the female sustained injuries (scratches and bruising) about her face."

Richardson's NFL career has been wrought with disappointment.  He played just 17 games for the Browns — averaging 3.6 yards per carry—  before he was traded to the Colts in 2013. His numbers declined even more, and he was released at the end of the 2014 season. He spent the 2015 offseason with the Raiders, but was released before the beginning of the Regular season.

Richardson's last appearance in a regular season NFL game took place in a December 2014 Colts' victory over the Patriots in which he ran for 11 yards on six carries.

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