In the first half, you beat the opponent so that in the second half you can play against the clock.
That's the concept I explored a few days ago when linking to a column from NFL.com senior analyst Michael Lombardi. He presented a chart that examined the importance of first-half point differential.
The New England Patriots had the greatest first-half margin at 146 points, and just one team outside of the top 12 made the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens finished 16th.
But you might notice the chart resembles the differential leaders in differential for the entire game. Again, 11 playoff teams finished among the top 12, with the lone exception coming from the AFC North. In this case, the Cincinnati Bengals were 16th.
Are those numbers impacted any more or less by what happens before halftime?
To provide context on why first-half scoring is important, I pulled out the second-half numbers to compare.
We can see clubs who perform well in the second half aren't as safe when it comes to reaching the postseason.
When breaking down third-quarter, fourth-quarter and second-half differential, four playoff teams finished outside the top 13 in each category.
The Bengals, Arizona Cardinals and Patriots finished 21st or worse in fourth-quarter margin, yet won their divisions.
Ten of the 12 playoff qualifiers had worse differentials in the second half than they recorded in the first half, including the Patriots and New York Jets.
Three playoff teams were plumb outscored in the second half.
The Patriots, who outscored opponents by an NFL-high 146 points in the first half, were outscored by a point in the second half. They ranked 24th in third-quarter differential and 17th in second-half differential.
The Philadelphia Eagles went from a plus-114 in the first half to a minus-22 in the second half.
Second-half numbers show whole-game scoring differentials are impacted significantly more by whatever damage is done in the first half.