The magic number is 10

Several teams enter the final five games of the 2007 season with just five victories. How uphill is their fight to make the postseason. As this article explains, reaching the postseason is usually as simple, mathematically, as winning 10 games.

Your favorite NFL team is sitting on the bubble. You know who they are. Washington. Philadelphia. Arizona. New Orleans. Minnesota. Chicago. Buffalo. Houston. Denver.

All have five wins with five games remaining in this season. The playoffs aren't out of the question for any of them. But their window for a realistic chance to reach the postseason would close with one more loss.

That's because, in the world of the NFL, 10 wins will get you to January most of the time.

Sure, 11 would be better. In fact, 11 wins is practically a lock. Just one team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has missed the playoffs with 11 victories — the 1985 Denver Broncos. That year the Broncos went 11-5, one of five teams in two divisions to win at least 11 games in the AFC. Cleveland claimed the AFC Central title with an 8-8 record, leaving four spots for five teams.

Bye, bye Broncos.

But 10 wins is the most any of these teams can muster now. It's not impossible. The Eagles rattled off six straight wins at the end of the season with Jeff Garcia at quarterback and won the NFC East with a 10-6 record. Maybe one of these teams has the goods to run the table. If they do, they'll likely make the playoffs.

Why? Because history tells us they will.

What happens when you win 10 games in an NFL season? Since the merger, 138 teams have posted 10 wins in a season (excluding the 1983 strike-shortened season, when no one won 10 games). Only 18 have failed to make the playoffs. That means 87 percent of those teams played in January.

And, since 1992, only one 10-win team has failed to make the postseason — Miami in 2003.

The bigger issue is if any of these teams finish 9-7. Then the odds decrease markedly. Of 117 nine-win teams since the merger, 50 have missed the playoffs. The success rate drops to 57.2 percent. Still better than 50 percent, but not odds you want to make airline reservations by.

Recently, 9-7 is a dangerous record. In 2005, there were four nine-win teams. None of them made the playoffs. Last year three of the four nine-win teams made the postseason. It's a volatile figure in the NFL.

Plus, since the new divisional format in 2002, 13 nine-win teams have missed the playoffs, the worst stretch for nine-win teams since 1978-80, when nine missed the playoffs.

This numbers game is critical when you consider the NFC. The South and West divisions are mediocre, and only the division champs — likely Seattle and Tampa Bay — are getting to the playoffs. They may even win their divisions with nine victories. The Seahawks did so last year.

Dallas and Green Bay already have 11 wins and if history is a guide they are locks for the postseason. That leaves two spots for the eight teams with five wins or more. And the New York Giants and Detroit Lions have a head start with seven and six wins, respectively.

That's why the Saints are in a must-win situation on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Heck, everyone on that list faces a must-win. With two games separating them from the Buccaneers in the South, New Orleans faces its last real chance to make themselves players in the NFC playoff hunt. The Saints have no room to breathe easy.

At least not until they get to 10.

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