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NFL notebook (Week 10)
by Larry Ness
Now that the NFL has a 17-week schedule with teams playing 16 games and each getting one bye week, there is no official mid-point of the season. However, through nine weeks every team has played at least eight games, so this is about as good a time as any to offer a brief mid-season report.
There are 15 teams currently at .500 or better (Colts lead the way at 8-0), three teams at 4-4 and 14 teams which are under .500 (Packers and Texans 'lead' with both at 1-7). Eight teams have won at least six games, while an equal number have lost at least six games. The eight "haves" are a collective 51-14 SU (.785) and 42-21-2 ATS (.667). The eight "have-nots" are a collective 14-52 SU (.212) and 24-41-1 ATS (.369).
I often talk about the pointspread being the great equalizer but that hasn't been the case so far. All of the teams with at least six wins sport winning ATS marks, with the Colts and Giants leading the way with 6-2 records. Not a single one of the teams with at least six losses has a winning ATS record, although the Packers are 4-4 ATS. A closer look shows that the Packers, despite a 1-7 record, have actually OUTSCORED their opponents in 2005 (168-159)!
Those of you with good memories will realize that the team's lone win, 52-3 over the Saints in Week 5, greatly influences this freakish stat. Still, has there ever before been a 1-7 team, outscoring its opponents? It's hardly just that one game, as Green Bay has lost by two points to Cleveland, by one-point to Tampa Bay, three points to Carolina and three points to Minnesota.
Losing teams that outscore their opponents are not all that rare, as both Kansas City (7-9) and Carolina (7-9) did it just last year. The Chiefs outscored their opponents by 48 points while the Panthers outscored their opponents by 16 points. If Green Bay continues to stay well under .500 while scoring more points than it allows, I'll start doing the historical research.
At the other end of this spectrum, no winning team in 2005 has been outscored by its opponent. However, the Pats are 4-4 and have been outscored by 40 points! If they were to win at Miami on Sunday and not by more than 40 points, they would fall into the category of a winning team getting outscored by its opponent. That situation is very commonplace (I've done numerous articles on it in the past), as both the Jaguars and Seahawks (both 9-7 in 2004) were outscored by 19 and two points, respectively.
However, the team of note last year was the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons finished the regular season at 11-5 and made it all the way to the NFC title game, despite outscoring opponents by just THREE points in the regular season! Maybe the Pats will be this year's Falcons?
I mentioned at the beginning of the season that making the playoffs year-in and year-out in this man's NFL is not easy. In fact, while the Pats entered the 2005 season having won THREE of the last four Super Bowls, the year they missed winning during that span (2002), they failed to even reach the playoffs. Entering this year, only the Eagles (five straight) and the Packers (four straight) owned consecutive playoff streaks of more than three seasons. Clearly, the Packers playoff streak will end in 2005 but how about the Eagles?
Philadelphia sits at 4-4 (same as the Pats) but the Eagles' 4-4 is much worse. While New England sits atop a very weak AFC East, Philadelphia finds itself in last-place in the NFC East, arguably the league's toughest division. The Eagles are far from 'dead', as they host the Cowboys on Monday night and visit the Meadowlands the following week. However, they better start winning soon or they will continue a trend in which four straight and five of the last six Super Bowl losers have failed to post winning records the following year!
The Bengals owned the longest playoff drought entering the 2005 season, having last been to the postseason in 1990. They entered the 2005 season with a stretch of 14 consecutive playoff-less years. Behind Cincinnati was Arizona with six straight non-playoff seasons. Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville and Washington have each missed the postseason the last five years.
Obviously, at 7-2 through the season's first nine weeks (Bengals have a bye in Week 10), Cincinnati is a huge favorite to end its playoff-drought. However, they are still "the Bengals", so let's not jinxseventh straight non-playoff season. As for the teams with streaks of five straight playoff-less years the 5-3 Jaguars and Redskins are threatening!
Over a five-year period (2000-04), 25 of the 60 playoff participants (41.7 percent) have been teams that were .500 or worse the year before. Atlanta (from 5-11 to 11-5), the New York Jets (6-10 to 10-6), Pittsburgh (6-10 to 15-1!) and San Diego (from 4-12 to 12-4) all made the playoffs in 2004, coming off a non-winning seasons in 2003.
Expect more of the same this year. There are five 5-3 teams through Week 9 that finished with losing records in 2004. The list includes Chicago (5-11), Dallas (6-10), Kansas City (7-9), Tampa Bay (5-11) and Washington (6-10). The 6-2 Giants went 6-10 in 2004 and the 6-2 Panthers went 7-9.