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Hines Ward: With NFL playoffs approaching, time to lock in

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What’s it like in a locker room when you’re making that final playoff push? There’s a sense of urgency. It’s about buckling down and committing to the rest of the season.

When I was in Pittsburgh, we would get together and have dinners, and after we’d watch and study game film. We’d be able to work together to see what each opposing team was doing, we’d talk about plays and other things we could do to put us a in a better position to win.

It really came down to doing everything you could to be ready, because you didn’t ever want to look back and go, “I should’ve done more.”

It’s even bigger when you’re trying to get one of those top seeds. Home field advantage is key, so you want to at least win your division since that guarantees you at least one game at home.

I mean, we won the Super Bowl as a sixth seed (in 2005), but that’s practically impossible to do, go on the road three times and win. We were fortunate, and we were the first team to do it.

With everything that goes into playoff football, you definitely want your home crowd behind you. Playing on the road, in front of hostile fans, just gives you one more thing to worry about.

Especially when you know what teams you can expect to be there, teams like New Orleans and New England who have experience in the postseason.

Those are tough places to play. You need to do everything you can to put yourself in a position to be successful when December wraps up, and winning your last games is at the top of that list.

I’ve said it before, you want to be in playoff mode as soon as the last month of the season comes around. When we went into the playoffs as the sixth seed, teams didn’t want to play us, because they knew that we were coming together and had things figured out.

You want to be playing at your best, you want to be getting hot. Take things one game at a time, keep doing what makes you successful, and finish strong.

Hines Ward celebrates with teammate Willie Parker after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl in February 2006.

Rapid reactions

I don’t necessarily think that the Rams and Chiefs are locks for the top seeds. Having the best record right now doesn’t matter when you have some games left. Now more than ever, it’s a matter of not getting complacent. They both have still looked good, but Kansas City needs to keep winning to stay above the Patriots, and the problem for the Rams is they’ve still got to worry about the Saints — who have the tie-breaker over Los Angeles.

The Cowboys might officially be the favorite in the NFC East now. They’ve still got a big game against Philadelphia, which should be a great matchup, but right now, Dallas looks good. The defense is playing great, Ezekiel Elliott has been running well, and I think those are the Cowboys’ keys to a division title: run the ball, play great defense.

Patrick Mahomes celebrates after a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. The second-year player is thought to be the front-runner for MVP this season.

If I had to pick an MVP right now, it’s got to still be Patrick Mahomes. I think what he’s done, in his second year (really, first as a starter), has been amazing. He’s crazy, crazy good: he’s got 41 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and has taken the league by storm. Every week, he’s must-see TV.

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