Jul 092012
 

Anyone who follows football knows how big a part of the game that parity is. One team can be good one year and bad the next and vice versa for seemingly no reason. This series, called Predicting Parity, seeks to discover why that is and figure out how to predict it. Every season since the NFL went to the new playoff format in 2002, the following season has always had at least one team has always won 6 more games than the year before and one team has always lost 6 more games than the year before. I’ve dubbed those teams plumeters and super sleepers. They are shown in the chart below.

 

 

Team Year Change Next Change Team Year Change Next Change
Oakland 2003 -7 1 Cincinnati 2003 6 0
NY Giants 2003 -6 2 Pittsburgh 2004 9 -4
Tennessee 2004 -7 -1 San Diego 2004 8 -3
Kansas City 2004 -6 3 Atlanta 2004 6 -3
Miami 2004 -6 5 Chicago 2005 6 2
NY Jets 2005 -6 6 Tampa Bay 2005 6 -7
Philadelphia 2005 -7 4 NY Jets 2006 6 -6
Green Bay 2005 -6 4 New Orleans 2006 7 -3
Washington 2006 -6 4 Baltimore 2006 7 -8
Tampa Bay 2006 -7 5 Cleveland 2007 6 -6
Baltimore 2007 -8 6 Baltimore 2008 6 -2
Chicago 2007 -6 2 Atlanta 2008 7 -2
NY Jets 2007 -6 5 Miami 2008 10 -4
Jacksonville 2008 -6 2 Cincinnati 2009 5.5 -6
Green Bay 2008 -7 5 Kansas City 2010 6 -3
Seattle 2008 -6 1 Tampa Bay 2010 7 -6
Cleveland 2008 -6 1 St. Louis 2010 6 -5
Detroit 2008 -7 2 San Francisco 2011 7
Tampa Bay 2009 -6 7
Cincinnati 2010 -6 5
Minnesota 2010 -6 -3
Carolina 2010 -6 4
Indianapolis 2011 -8
Tampa Bay 2011 -6
3.181818182 -3.88235294

Those are actually the biggest changes I’ve gotten from any of these list. Teams that win 6+ fewer games than the year before win, on average, 3.18 more games the following season, while teams that win 6+ more games than the year before win, on average, 3.88 fewer games the following season. So many things have to go right for a team to improve by that much and so many things have to go wrong for a team to get that much worse. Things typically are different in the following year. Of the 17 teams to win 6+ more games than the year before since 2003, 6 of them won 6+ fewer the following year.

Last year, San Francisco had a record +28 turnover differential, which we’ve proven is both unsustainable and unpredictable on a yearly basis. They only had one defensive starter (Patrick Willis) miss any games defensively. They also had career years from 10 of 11 defensive starters (exception: Patrick Willis). If their turnover differential goes towards zero, and a few guys on defense miss significant time, and several guys regress defensively (all totally reasonable things), that team could easily miss the playoffs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay figure to have better years this year. I don’t have Indianapolis in the playoffs or anything, just because of how poor that supporting cast is. They have drafted very poorly in recent years before this year and had minimal talent around Peyton Manning in 2010, so much so that he only managed 10 wins. Their supporting cast might have even been worse last year. If Peyton Manning can barely manage 10 wins, how is Andrew Luck supposed to win any more than 8 as a rookie? They’ll be better though.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, should be in between what they were in 2010 and what they were last year. In 2010, they had less than 20 turnovers and won 10 games and last year they had more than 35 turnovers and won 4 games. Turnover differentials aside, this team has had 6 or 7 win talent for 2 years and this offseason added guys like Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, and Carl Nicks, as well as Mark Barron, Lavonte David, and Eric Wright. They could also finally get a full season from Gerald McCoy (3rd overall pick in 2010) for the 1st time in his career and 2011 3rd round pick Mason Foster could improve off a miserable season. They’ll be in the playoff race in a loaded NFC.

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