It's been said many times over the years across many sports, but all that matters for most teams is simply making the postseason. Sure, some teams are fighting for seeding or first-round byes, but once you make the dance, you have the same chance to win as anybody else if you can get hot at the right time.
That mindset is being echoed in the Washington locker room, specifically by veteran backup quarterback Alex Smith, who knows a thing or two about making the playoffs thanks to a weak division.
"Very similar to early on, my first couple years in the NFC West had some down years," Smith told the Washington Football Talk podcast this week. "I think Seattle won one year, St. Louis, both at 7-9 and got to host a game. Seattle beat the Saints that year at 7-9. Honestly, it's something for everybody to talk about, but come January it doesn't matter."
The NFC West had a number of down years while Smith was quarterbacking in San Francisco, and his divisional rivals were able to take advantage in the postseason. Seattle's home upset over the Saints in 2010 is one of the prime examples cited by those who would like to see teams seeded in the postseason based on record, not division titles.
For Smith and the rest of Washington, it's not about how you get in. It's about finding a way to keep playing in January, and then playing your best football when you get there.
"It's all about punching your ticket to the dance and who's playing the best football then anyway," Smith said. "A lot of great 14-2, 13-3 teams that go and lose the opening round, so it doesn't matter. It's all about for us, I think, continue to try to find a way to win games and get better. And you want to be playing your best football come December and January."
Fans in Washington can look a few miles up the road in Baltimore for a recent example of a 14-2 team that lost to an inferior opponent to open its postseason run. Anything can happen on any given Sunday, and that's been especially true in the playoffs.
All that matters for Smith is getting better every week. If Washington does that, it'll at least give itself a chance.