In this file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws a pass in the first half in Arlington, Texas. Clinchings may be at hand in Week 14 of the schedule. Unbeaten Carolina already owns the NFC South title and can secure a first-round playoff bye by beating Atlanta.

In this file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws a pass in the first half in Arlington, Texas. Clinchings may be at hand in Week 14 of the schedule. Unbeaten Carolina already owns the NFC South title and can secure a first-round playoff bye by beating Atlanta.

January and the first week in February are when NFL champions are decided.

December sets it all up.

Since the NFL went to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Super Bowl champions have a combined record of 112-36 (.757 winning percentage) in the final four games of the regular season during those title seasons. Coincidentally, 28 of those 37 Super Bowl winners – yep, 75.7 percent – won at least three of their final four regular-season games during that span.

New England has an NFL-best 17-3 mark in the final four games of the regular season since 2010, including a 3-1 record last season on the way to the Super Bowl win against Seattle.

Next since 2010 is Indianapolis (15-5), followed by Green Bay, Pittsburgh and, somewhat surprisingly, Carolina and San Diego, all at 14-6. The Panthers won all four finishing games in 2014 and, of course, are undefeated through 12 games this year.

As for the quarterbacks who get it done in the final quarter of the schedule, who else but the Patriots’ Tom Brady is highly successful at 43-9 in his career, which dates back to his first year as a starter, 2001. But he isn’t on top in winning percentage at .827. That distinction belongs to San Diego’s Philip Rivers at 30-6 (.833).

Rivers’ record figures to plunge this season, though, given that the Chargers are 3-9 and in contention for the top overall draft pick.

Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks are next on the list: Roger Staubach went 24-6 (.800) and Joe Montana was 35-12 (.745).

Which other individual players tend to do stellar work in the final four contests?

Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, currently injured, leads with 2,019 yards rushing, far ahead of Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy at 1,661, all gained while he was with the Eagles. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is No. 1 in yards receiving with 2,269, followed by Atlanta’s Roddy White with 1,911.

Lynch is tops with 25 overall touchdowns, followed by Dallas WR Dez Bryant with 19. Jared Allen, now with Carolina, has had 24 1-2 sacks, ahead of Kansas City’s Tamba Hali (17 1-2) and Houston’s J.J. Watt (17).

The Seahawks’ Richard Sherman leads with 11 interceptions, and Reggie Nelson of Cincinnati is next with 10.

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JUST SHOWING OFF: Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson doesn’t mind his players showing off after a touchdown, as long as it’s within the rules. Take running back Jeremy Hill, for example.

After his touchdown run in Cleveland last week, Hill jumped into the Dawg Pound and was patted on the back by two Bengals fans in the front row. This came a year after he jumped into the Pound and was pushed out by Browns fans.

“I love that part,” Jackson said. “That didn’t bother me. That’s fine. Celebration – I’m not down on celebration.”

In fact, Jackson would like to see star receiver A.J. Green show a little more emotion after reaching the end zone. The low-key receiver tends to toss the ball to the referee and accept his teammates’ congratulations, which Jackson finds rather boring.

“I’ve asked A.J., I’ve said: When you going to do something for us? Anything! Don’t just toss the ball, please,” Jackson said. “I told him in front of the whole team: please do something. I don’t care if you just fall down to your knees and give thanks. Just something out of the ordinary.

NOT ANGRY: For most of this season Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin has kept his emotions in check, seeming to shed the label of being “Angry” Doug Baldwin.

It could be because he’s been so productive on the field.

Thanks to the last four games, Baldwin has a chance to do something that’s become a rarity in Seattle: become the team’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram, who had 1,147 yards in 2007. Only six players in team history have had 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

The past month has put Baldwin in position to reach that mark. Baldwin has 778 yards receiving and eight touchdowns for the season, but most of that has come since Seattle’s bye week. In the last four games, Baldwin has 433 yards and six touchdowns and is averaging 18 yards per catch.


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