(Note: This is the second in a six-part series over the next three weeks)
I opened my NFL preseason series last Monday (7/19) and beginning on August 10, I'll repeat my two-part series from last year which looks at which teams I expect back in this year's postseason (from the the 2009 field) and which teams I expect will be new to the 2010 postseason. Here, I will offer some early predictions on possible 2010 "playoff surprises," based solely on those teams' 2009 point-differentials. I've done numerous articles on point-differentials in all sports, as I believe it can be very revealing.
Here's a simple fact. Teams which have finished at 8-8 or worse BUT have ended the regular season by outscoring their opposition, have fared extremely well the following year. Going back to the 2004 season when four teams finished at 8-8 or worse yet outscored their opponents, their have been 13 teams which have fallen into this classification. Over the next five years (2005-'09), 11 of those teams (84.6 percent) went on to produce a winning season the following year. Here's a listing of the teams in question.
The 2004 Vikings went 8-8 but outscored their opponents that season by 10 points and followed with a 9-7 record in 2005. The Bengals also went 8-8 that season (plus-20 points) and followed with an 11-5 record in 2005. The Chiefs were 7-9 in 2004 but were plus-48 in point-differential. KC would improve to 10-6 in 2005. The Panthers went 7-9 that year (plus-16 points) and would go 11-5 in 2005, making it all the way to the NFC championship game where they lost 34-14 to the Seahawks.
The 2005 season saw just one team finish at 8-8 or worse despite outscoring the opposition, that being the 8-8 Atlanta Falcons (plus-10 points). The Falcons would be one of two teams in this study to not bounce back with a winning season the following year, as the Falcons finished just 7-9 in 2006. Two teams went 8-8 in 2006 while outscoring their opponents. They were the Cincinnati Bengals (plus-42 points) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (plus-38 points). While the Steelers rebounded with a 10-6 season in 2007, the Bengals could do better than 7-9, joining the 2005 Falcons as the only two teams (out of 13) in this study to not produce a winning record in the following season.
Three teams went 8-8 in the 2007 season while outscoring their opponents, the Arizona Cardinals (plus-five points), the Minnesota Vikings (plus-54 points) and the Philadelphia Eagles (plus-36 points). While the Vikings owned the best regular season improvement of those three teams (going 10-6 in 2008), the 9-6-1 Eagles and 9-7 Cardinals would meet in the 2008 NFC championship game with the Cards falling just four points shy of the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII (Pittsburgh won, 27-23). In that 2008 season, the Chargers went 8-8 (plus-92 points!) and actually won the AFC West. The Saints were also 8-8 that year (plus-70 points) and the Packers, despite outscoring their opponents by 39 points, finished just 6-10!
In my article entitled "Who's coming back in 2009" last August, I predicted the Chargers would win the AFC West again, which they did with a 13-3 record. In part two of that series (entitled, "Who's new in 2009?"), here's what I had to say about first the Saints, and then the Packers.
"I'll rate the Saints as the second-most likely non-playoff team from last year to be in the 2009 postseason playoff field. Last year's team outscored its opponents (463-393) and outgained them by about 70 YPG. Those numbers at not indicative of an 8-8 team. The Saints play the 12th-toughest schedule in 2009 but believe it or not, it's the easiest among all NFC South Division teams. The NFL went to four divisions in each conference at the beginning of the 2002 season and since then, the Bucs have won the South Division three times, the Panthers have won it twice, while the Falcons and Saints have each taken the division once. No team has ever repeated as division champs. Carolina went 12-4 to win the division last year (Falcons went from 4-12 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008 to grab a wild card spot) but I'm predicting that the Saints will come marching in this season." Not a bad prediction if I have to say so myself, as the Saints went 13-3 in the regular season and then captured the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl this past February.
"Green Bay was 4-3 heading into its bye week last year, then lost the next two weeks by three (in OT) at Tennessee and by one the following week at Minnesota. Green Bay beat the Bears in Week 11 by the score of 37-3 but then lost five straight games before beating the Lions in Week 17. The record will show that Green Bay lost seven of its final nine games after the team's bye week but it should be pointed out that six of those losses came by 3 (OT), 1, 4, 3, 4 and 3 (OT) points! Similar to the Saints, the Packers outscored their opponents (419-380) and outgained them (by about 17 YPG), yet went just 6-10. That's not likely to happen again. The Packers are on par with the Bears and Vikings and could win this division." The Packers would go 11-5 over the 2009 regular season, before falling 51-45 (OT) to the Cards in the highest scoring NFL playoff game in history.
The 2008 Chargers, Packers and Saints really had HUGE seasons in 2009 but as I pointed out in the beginning of this article, 11 of the last 13 teams to finish 8-8 (or worse) since 2004, have rebounded to post winning records the following season. Their collective records jumped from 100-108 (.481) to 130-77-1 (.627)! With that in mind, it could hardly come as a surprise in 2010 if the Broncos, 49ers and Panthers all posted winning records. All were 8-8 in 2009 with the Broncos outscoring opponents by two points, the 49ers outscoring their opponents by 49 points and the Panthers outscoring their opponents by seven points.
My two-part series which looks at which teams I expect back in this year's postseason (from the the 2009 field) and which teams I expect will be new to the 2010 postseason will appear on August 10 and 13. I'll return on Tuesday (8/3) with a look at 2010's new NFL head coaches.