With the NFL regular season now
approaching its home stretch, the media and fans can't help but decide who the
elite teams are, and which should be labelled as serious contenders for
the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Teams like the Broncos, with
their unstoppable offense, and the Seahawks, with their wall of a defense, are
catching our eyes because of their great potential to win it all. But do the regular seasons that these teams
are having mirror those of champions' past?
I thought that it would be interesting to look
back at past seasons in the NFL, and examine the types of regular seasons that
the eventual Super Bowl Champions put up, before going on to win the big game.
What did I find?
-Over the past eight seasons, only the 2008
Steelers(12-4) had a very clean regular season, and would have been considered
a contender from start to finish(You could argue that the Saints took their
foot off of the gas after starting 13-0 in 2009, as they already had clinched a
2005- The Steelers went 11-5, but at one
point during the season had lost three in a row.
2006- The Colts went 12-4, but lost four of
their last seven games, including a crushing at the hands of Jaguars. YES, the Jaguars...
2007- The Giants went 10-6, and started
0-2. Hasn't every NFL panel in the
history of television told us that 0-2 was insurmountable? Hmm...
2009- The Saints went 13-3, but lost their
last three before going into the play-offs.
I thought that you want to go into the play-offs on a hot streak?
2010- The Packers went 10-6, and started
2011- The Giants went 9-7, and were 6-6 after
their first twelve games. Isn't the old
saying in the NFL, 'Get at least TEN wins...'?
2012- The Ravens went 10-6, and lost four
of their last five regular season games.
Some interesting notes about the past
eight Super Bowl Champions:
-The most common regular season record
among the Super Bowl Champions over the last eight seasons is 10-6.
-Only three of the last eight Super
Bowl Champions were division winners.
-Only nine of the 16 teams that played
in the Super Bowl over the past eight seasons earned a first-round bye... And only TWO of those nine went on to win the
-Over the past eight seasons, only five
of the sixteen teams that have made the Super Bowl, had the best
regular season record in their conference.
...And maybe the most noteworthy fact
of them all...
-NOT ONCE did the team with the
best regular season record in the NFL go on to win the Super Bowl.
So, why is it that the 'best' teams
never seem to take the title?
The truth is, a team's 16-game record
may not always represent how good(or bad) they really are. At the end of the day, how big of a gap is
there between a division-winner that finishes 12-4, or a wild-card team that sneaks
in at 10-6? Two wins. Two MEASLY wins. How often do games in the NFL come down to
the last possession? One special teams
play? Or a single turnover? In reality, the team that goes 10-6, or even
9-7 was most likely only a few plays away from posting a 12-4 record,
In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons finished
13-3, which was the best record in the NFL.
But seven of those thirteen wins were by seven points or less. The Baltimore Ravens, who went on to win the
Super Bowl, posted a record of 10-6. But
four of those losses were by less than a single score. From the outside looking in, the Falcons
looked far better than the Ravens going into the play-offs. But were they actually...? Or was it just a matter of Atlanta having more final possessions, and
more 'bounces' go their way? (See also the 2010 Packers who went 10-6, but ALL
of their losses were by four points, or less).
I've always said that football is the
sport that is the most analyzed, but deserves very little analyzing. NFL games are typically decided by two or
three huge plays. So in the post-season,
one bad decision by a quarterback, one missed field-goal or one dropped pass,
and a team could be eliminated.
In the 2012 Divisional Play-offs, Denver was eliminated by Baltimore after Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard
bomb to Jacoby Jones with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter that forced
the game into overtime. The Broncos had
won their final eleven games of the regular season, and Peyton Manning's
offence looked nothing short of spectacular going into the play-offs. I still can't figure out what the Broncos'
secondary was doing... And how Jones got
In the 2011 NFC Championship Game, Kyle
Williams of the 49ers fumbled while returning a punt in overtime, which put the
Giants in a position to kick the game-winning field goal. The Niners posted thirteen wins in the
regular season, defeated a strong Saints team in an EPIC Divisional Play-Off
game, and earned home-field advantage for the NFC Championship. But it all came crashing down when their
back-up punt returner couldn't secure the ball.
In the 2010 NFC Wild Card Game, the
Eagles were down 21-16 to the Packers with a minute to go, but were driving for
the game-winning score. Unfortunately
Michael Vick made a poor decision and threw a pass that was intercepted in the
end-zone. Vick had another receiver WIDE
OPEN on that play, and there was a full 40 seconds left on the clock. I'm sure that Eagles fans have asked
themselves, 'What if Vick had seen that free receiver?'
These are three examples from the past
three seasons of how a SINGLE play cost one team their season, and allowed
another team to advance and eventually win the Super Bowl. We spend so much time discussing how teams in
the NFL match-up against one-another, but a the end of it all, when two above
average teams meet, it is more likely that the game will come down to something
that cannot be explained, could not have been pre-determined, or had nothing to
do with how the teams matched up, at all.
There is also the matter of how
significant officiating decisions can be in the NFL. Maybe more than in any other professional
league, a single call in the NFL can greatly determine the outcome of a
game. I am not trying to say that the
NFL zebras are constantly making mistakes, and ultimately deciding the results.
But the fact of the matter is that referees in the NFL often have to make
quick, subjective decisions that will greatly affect a game's outcome.
We need to look no further than this
past week to find two examples of how a decision by an official significantly
impacted the final result. In the game
between the 49ers and the Saints, the score was 20-17 for San Francisco with three minutes left in the
fourth quarter when Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees. The ball was fumbled, and
the 49ers quickly pounced on it.
Unfortunately for Brooks, he was charged with a questionable
'unnecessary roughness' penalty for his hit, and the Saints were awarded a free
15 yards and a 1st down. The
Saints tied the game on that possession and won it on their next drive. Some are arguing that the penalty call was
justified, while others are saying that it was not... In this situation, the official was forced to
quickly decide to throw a flag or not, regarding a call that really could have
gone either way. The decision would in turn greatly affect the result of this
game, as San Francisco
almost certainly would have won if the flag was not thrown.
In Monday night's game between the
Patriots and the Panthers, Carolina led 24-20
late in the 4th quarter, but New England
had possession, and was in the red zone.
On the last play of the game, Tom Brady threw a pass over the middle
that was intercepted, but a penalty flag was thrown as it was decided that tight-end,
Rob Gronkowski was interfered with. The
officials quickly huddled, and determined that there was no foul on the play,
as the pass was deemed, 'uncatchable'.
Fans and media have debated all week whether or not Gronkowski would
have had a shot at catching that pass if he had not been interfered with. Could Gronk have caught that ball...? We'll never really know... But we do know that the Patriots would have
ran a play from the one yard-line, with a chance to win the game, if the
penalty had held up.
So what's the moral of this story?
Once the regular season is complete, we
should all pay very little attention to the regular seasons of those who have
made the play-offs. Recent history has
shown that a team's success during their first sixteen games is in no way a
foreshadowing of their next three or four.
The saying, 'Anyone can win on any given Sunday' really does hold true.
So if your favourite team is having an
incredible season, don't get too excited...
You should, in actuality, be praying that they don't finish with the
best record in the league.
Oh... And if your favourite team is not
quite meeting their potential, don't fret.
They may be fortunate enough to sneak in to the play-offs, and be forced
to win three straight road games, before playing a division-winning team in the
Super Bowl(See the 2012 Ravens, 2010 Packers and 2007 Giants).
If you can take one thing from this
post, it should be this... The next time
you're getting set for an NFL play-off week-end, don't waste your time comparing
offences, defenses and coaching staffs. The difference between winning and
losing in the NFL post-season is so razor thin, that one team's win over
another will most likely not come down to something that can be analyzed or
explained, but who makes one single play(or mistake for that matter) that
determines the outcome of the game. Or