An all-time football first
Our quality wins quotient took the world of pigskin analysis by storm last season, with a sterling 10-1 record in the NFL playoffs, including an 8-3 performance against the spread. Why was it so effective? Well, more answers came when we, for the first time in the history of pigskin-kind, looked back on the standings versus quality opponents of every single team in the NFL over the course of an entire season. Until now, we had looked only at playoff participants.
This exercise confirmed what we had long suspected and highlighted why we introduced the quality wins quotient during the past season: It's extremely difficult in the NFL to consistently beat quality opponents*. Those few teams that prove capable of doing this in the regular season have a clear advantage over other teams in the postseason – even over those teams that might have better records. It's a simple premise, but one that people overlook when they examine only regular-season records.
We first began looking at quality wins as a playoff barometer a few years ago. With the launch of Cold, Hard Football Facts.com in September 2004, we took the opportunity of the 2004-05 NFL postseason to introduce the concept to the pigskin-loving world. It was a remarkable success. As Boston Sports Media.com wrote, the quality wins quotient "would have made you wealthy if used to pick playoff winners."
While the quality wins quotient was 10-1 in the postseason, teams with better regular-season records were just 7-4. The utility of the quality wins quotient is that it essentially adjusts for the quality of the schedule a team faces and tells you who's been prepped for postseason battle. Teams tend to win a lot when facing weak opponents. Conversely, teams tend to lose a lot when facing quality opponents. Few teams consistently beat these quality opponents. It's been this way throughout history. Consider the 1972 Dolphins. Their march to the only undefeated campaign in NFL history benefited from a regular season schedule that included just two games against quality opponents. (Though they proved their worth with three strong victories over quality opponents in the postseason.)
The 2004 season provided a perfect case study of this phenomenon of scheduling. Take Carolina. The Panthers poorly defended their NFC title by stumbling out to a 1-7 record in the first half of the season. Sure, the Panthers were ravaged by injuries. But they also faced six quality opponents in those first eight weeks. They lost all six games. Carolina promptly recovered with a 6-2 record in the second-half of the season, earning the respect of the entire NFL in the process. But their schedule over the final eight weeks included just one quality opponent (11-5 Atlanta). The Panthers lost that game.
Buffalo made a late-season playoff run with an impressive six-game win streak. But they faced just one quality opponent – 9-7 Seattle – in that six-week period.
Dave Wannstedt's coaching career in Miami was finally sabotaged by a schedule that Vince Lombardi would have struggled against. The Dolphins went a perfectly respectable 3-3 against non-quality opponents. But they faced a league-leading 10 quality opponents and lost nine of those games. Cleveland coach Butch Davis suffered a similar fate. His Browns faced nine quality opponents and lost to eight of them.
How hard is it to consistently beat quality opponents in the NFL? Take a look at the 2004 season and consider these Cold, Hard Football Facts:
• Seven of 12 playoff teams had losing records against quality opponents.
• Only six teams recorded more than three quality wins (New England, Pittsburgh, Indy, Jax, Kansas City and St. Louis).
• Twenty-three teams – that is, nearly three-quarters of the league – recorded two or fewer quality wins.
• Fifteen teams registered no more than one quality win.
• Only two teams had a quality win/quality loss differential of greater than +1. Those two teams were New England and Pittsburgh.
• Four teams played more than half their games against quality opponents – Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kansas City. All four struggled and all but the Bengals had losing records.
• Just six teams had winning records against quality opponents. Four of those teams appeared in the conference title games.
• The four conference title participants had the best winning percentage against quality opponents.
• Just seven teams scored more points against quality opponents than they surrendered to them: New England, Pittsburgh, Indy, Kansas City, Denver, Philly, Atlanta
Our look at each team's record versus quality opponents is part of a new feature we will offer throughout the 2005 NFL season. We will chronicle each week the standings versus quality opponents of every team in the NFL. We will start after Week 3 – the first week after which a team could have a victory against an opponent with a winning record. Then you, like the Cold, Hard Football Facts, will be armed for postseason success.
* The Cold, Hard Football Facts define quality opponents as any team with a winning record. A quality win simply refers to a victory over a quality team.
For more on quality wins see:
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