By Ray Hamill
September must seem like a long time ago to some NFL teams.
And that’s why when it comes to making long-term predictions, it can be dangerous to judge too soon.
Take for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, who combined to start the season 2-16.
Not too many of us would have given any of them much of a shot at making the playoffs back in early October, but since then the Panthers have won six straight, the Giants four straight, the Eagles five of seven and the Steelers four of six, showcasing exactly why the NFL is a grueling marathon and not a quick sprint.
The Panthers and Eagles, in particular, are now in prime position to make a serious playoff push.
Behind their stellar defense and a much-improved quarterback, the Panthers have the hottest streak in the league (along with Seattle), and are not just the current frontrunners for a wild card, but are pushing the Saints all the way for the division title and perhaps even a first-round bye.
That seemed like a long shot when Carolina was 1-3.
The Eagles also have turned around a 1-3 start and are now top of a weak NFC East, and if they can find some consistency and health at the quarterback position, there’s no reason they can’t take that division over a perennially mediocre Dallas squad and a Redskins team that’s in free fall with “no leadership.”
The Giants, meanwhile, could very well be the most unpredictable team in all of pro sports, but then again that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect of them.
But after starting 0-6, not even the most optimistic delusional New York fan could have hoped for a playoff spot this season, yet it’s not even December and they’re right back in it, just a game-and-a-half behind the Eagles.
No team in the history of the NFL has ever begun a season 0-5 and made the postseason, let alone 0-6, but if one team was to ever do that, you would expect it to be the Giants, who have a reputation of pulling out late Houdini-esque escapes.
Having won four straight, the Giants close out with the Cowboys, the Redskins (twice), the Chargers, the Seahawks and the Lions, with only the Seahawks seemingly insurmountable.
Over in the AFC, meanwhile, the Steelers are remarkably somehow back in the chase, in large part thanks to a wide-open race for the second wild card spot, which could very well go to a team with a .500 record.
Because of their recent hot streak, the Steelers are one of six teams just one win behind the Jets and Dolphins for the No. 6 seed.
When it comes to the NFL, be careful not to judge too soon.