Monday Morning Hangover: 13-3 ain't what it used to be

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 09, 2007



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts compiler of oddities
 
In 2006, the Bears and Ravens were pretty damn good football teams.
 
They both finished 13-3 and outscored opponents by around 10 points a game. They entered 2007 with basically the same rosters, and while they both had injuries they certainly had enough healthy talent to at least be good.
 
Nope.
 
The Bears are 5-8 and looking every bit like 5-11 is a possibility, while the Ravens are 4-9 and generally embarrassed about everything that's transpired since the end of their almost-upset of New England.
 
It's a hell of a fall, but more a sign of the times than a particular indictment of those two teams. When the league expanded to 16 games in 1978, only the great teams were capable of putting together 13+ win seasons. If you won 13 games, then by God you were going to the Super Bowl.
 
From 1978 (Pittsburgh's third title) through 1994 (the last great San Francisco team), there were only 16 teams to win 13+ wins in 15 full (non-strike) seasons. As you can see from the list, most of them won Super Bowls or at least got there, and they almost all found success again the following year:
 

  • 78 Steelers 14-2 (12-4 the next season)
  • 81 Niners 13-3 (3-6 strike year)
  • 83 Redskins 14-2 (11-5) 
  • 84 Dolphins 14-2 (12-4)
  • 84 Broncos 13-3 (11-5)
  • 84 Niners 15-1 (10-6)
  • 85 Bears 15-1 (14-2)
  • 89 Niners 14-2 (14-2)
  • 90 Niners 14-2 (10-6)
  • 90 Giants 13-3 (8-8)
  • 90 Bills 13-3 (13-3)
  • 91 Bills 13-3 (11-5)
  • 91 Skins 14-2 (9-7)
  • 92 Cowboys 13-3 (12-4)
  • 92 Niners 14-2 (10-6)
  • 94 Niners 13-3 (11-5)
 
But since 1995, when Kansas City ushered in the salary-cap era with a 13-3 team that came out of nowhere, teams winning 13 or more games are a dime a baker's dozen.
 
There have been a whopping 28 of these teams over the last 12 seasons, more than doubling the pre-salary cap era.
 
And, unlike their predecessors, winning the next year is strictly optional:
 
  • 95 Chiefs 13-3 (9-7)
  • 96 Broncos 13-3 (12-4)
  • 96 Packers 13-3 (13-3)
  • 97 Chiefs 13-3 (7-9)
  • 97 Packers 13-3 (11-5)
  • 97 Niners 13-3 (12-4)
  • 98 Vikings 15-1 (10-6)
  • 98 Broncos 14-2 (6-10)
  • 98 Falcons 14-2 (5-11)
  • 99 Rams 13-3 (10-6)
  • 99 Colts 13-3 (10-6)
  • 99 Titans 13-3 (13-3)
  • 99 Jaguars 14-2 (7-9)
  • 00 Titans 13-3 (7-9)
  • 01 Steelers 13-3 (10-5-1)
  • 01 Bears 13-3 (4-12)
  • 01 Rams 14-2 (7-9)
  • 03 Patriots 14-2 (14-2)
  • 03 Chiefs 13-3 (7-9)
  • 04 Patriots 14-2 (10-6)
  • 04 Steelers 15-1 (11-5)
  • 04 Eagles 13-3 (6-10)
  • 05 Colts 14-2 (12-4)
  • 05 Broncos 13-3 (9-7)
  • 05 Seahawks 13-3 (9-7)
  • 06 Ravens 13-3 (4-9 so far)
  • 06 Chargers 14-2 (8-5) 
  • 06 Bears 13-3 (5-8)  
 
Only 13 of the 25 teams from 1996-2005 had 10+ wins the following season, and nine had outright losing records (36 percent).
 
Compare that to the 16 superteams of the previous era, only one of which followed their big year with a losing record – and that was the 1983 Niners, who went 3-6 in a strike-shortened season.
 
So, while teams like the Steelers, Colts, Patriots and Broncos are doing their best to shatter the parity myth with their consistent success, teams like the Ravens and Bears are doing their best to perpetuate it.
 
IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY
Check out this nifty chart from CBSSports.com for the playoff matchups as they would be if the season ended now.  Don't be too surprised if this is exactly how things finish – never, at least in the eight-division era that began in 2002, has so much been decided so early.
 
The top two seeds are more or less set in stone in each conference, and even the wild-card races look pretty clear-cut. Cleveland and Minnesota both have game advantages for the No. 6 spots with easy schedules left, and the divisions are all more or less in the bag.
 
Weird stuff.
 
Here are the early storylines for the highly probable wild-card round matchups:
 
AFC: No. 6 Browns at No. 3 Steelers. No hype train needed for this one. The Steelers might have saved Cleveland's season with their absolute destruction of QB Charlie Frye in the first half of the opening game (a 34-7 win for Pittsburgh in Cleveland), forcing Derek Anderson into the lineup. The Steelers dominated the rematch everywhere but on the scoreboard, but needed heroics to overcome Joshua Cribbs' return wizardry and win the game. How hard is it to beat a team three times in a season? Well, the Steelers did it to the Browns in 2002, sweeping them in the regular season and then winning 36-33 in the playoffs in the same No. 3 vs. No. 6 playoff game. (And yes, the Browns really did make the playoffs in 2002).
 
AFC: No. 5 Jaguars at No. 4 Chargers. LT vs. FTMJD at RB. Two of the least respected head coaches in the game, Jack Del Rio vs. Norv Turner. Two cities with good weather and a sketchy postseason history (Jags 4-5, Chargers 7-13). Two teams with active front sevens and ball-hawking secondaries. Two teams unlikely to threaten the Colts or Patriots in the next round.
 
NFC: No. 5 NY Giants at No. 4 Buccaneers. The Unexpected Bowl, two teams picked by many to finish in the cellar in their respective divisions. Two teams with mediocre numbers (Giants +20 in scoring differential, Tampa +40) that found ways to win. Jon Gruden vs. Tom Coughlin in a battle of two of the NFL's all-time best scowls. Anything else going on there? Anyone? Anyone?
 
NFC: No. 6 Vikings at No. 3 Seahawks. Minnesota will be the trendy pick to make a run in the NFC if they make the show – but can the young Vikings beat the uber-experienced Seahawks (fifth straight playoff spot)? And will Adrian Peterson bring his legend to a new level in the postseason?
 
WHO IS THIS MAN IN THE NO. 7 JERSEY?
When QB Tarvaris Jackson missed the Vikings' road game in Green Bay, no one in Minnesota cared much. Jackson was 51 of 110 passing for the season with 2 TDs and 5 INTs, and the Vikings brass was already talking about the 2008 NFL quarterback draft class.
 
And when the Vikings lost that game in Green Bay, 34-0, the fan base more or less accepted the fact that the season -- along with Jackson's future as the franchise quarterback -- was over at 3-6.
 
Then, new-and-improved Jackson emerged, Superman-like, in a purple suit with a yellow cape, and all of a sudden the Vikes are a playoff juggernaut.  Jackson went from completing a pathetic 45.5 percent of his passes to becoming the reincarnation of Ken Anderson.
 
In the four-game win streak, Jackson is 61 of 83 – a ridiculous 74.7 completion percentage – with 4 TDs and 2 INTs. He isn't being asked to do much, but he's making the most of it with an excellent post-sack yards-per-attempt number of 7.07 per attempt. 
 
LINEBACKER U
Because we have several different NFL-related obsessive-compulsive disorders, the staff at CHFF spent hours poring through the linebacker statistics this morning. Well, OK, minutes, but you get the point.
 
One thing we learned is that having one of the leading tacklers in the NFL is not a good thing, at least not this year. The top 10 total tacklers in the NFL through 13 weeks (pending ATL-NO) are all linebackers, and only two are playing for winning teams – the unheralded Angelo Crowell of Buffalo, and Nick Barnett for Green Bay.
 
Crowell is one of two outside backers in the top 10, along with former Bill LB London Fletcher (now in Washington). New England's leading tackler, Tedy Bruschi, is 46th overall.
 
Seattle's Lofa Tatupu has the most turnovers (seven), followed by Minnesota's Chad Greenway (6, plus 83 total tackles. Greg Ellis and Shawne Merriman lead in sacks with 11.5 each, while Will Witherspoon leads inside backers with 7.5. Thomas Howard is the most active LB in the passing game, leading linebackers in passes defensed (14) and INTs (5). 
 
So now you know.
 
RUSHING TITLE UP FOR GRABS
Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is doing his best to let the rest of the league catch up to him in the chase for the 2007 rushing title. Peterson led by almost 300 yards when he went down with injury for two games, and his uncharacteristic 14-carry, three-yard performance against San Francisco Sunday didn't help matters.
 
So there are five players in the hunt:
  1. Willie Parker, 1,217 yards
  2. Peterson, 1,200 yards
  3. LaDainian Tomlinson, 1,195 yards
  4. Brian Westbrook, 1,100 yards
  5. Willis McGahee, 1,093.
Peterson is still the front-runner, with the Vikings in a true playoff chase and a higher per-game and per-carry average than the rest of the field.
 
But don't count out LT, who won his first rushing title last year. The Chargers play demoralized Detroit, then run-defense challenged Denver (4.5 a carry allowed) and Oakland (4.8 allowed) to close out. And no RB in the league is hotter than LT right now, with back-to-back games of 177 and 146 against top-flight defenses (Kansas City and Tennessee).
 
(Ed's note: shortly after this story was originally posted, news that Charger FB Lorenzo Neal could be out for the remainder of the season broke. Not good news for Tomlinson's hopes.) 
 

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