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NFL 2004: On the Rebound!

   by Al McMordie - 08/17/2004

The NFL preseason is underway and this is a good time to examine the rebound effect. That is, teams that are off disappointing campaigns yet have the personnel and motivation to rebound the following season. Sports teams are like stocks: Their performance fluctuates, but not always in the direction anticipated by investors. If you save sports publications, take a look at some preseason forecasts from past years and then compare their outlook to what actually happened. You’ll find many teams that were expected to be very good instead fall flatter than Enron's stock.

For example, after getting to the 2002 Super Bowl, the heavily-favored Rams laid an egg in the fall of 2002, and went 7-9 straight up (SU) and 4-12 against the spread (ATS). Numerous injuries and even a post-Super Bowl headache haunted the club. Another example were the Jets. After consecutive playoff performances, the Flyboys disappointed their fans last year with a 6-10 SU, 5-8-3 ATS season.

What’s important for sports bettors to understand is that some teams peak – like a stock – and their value can go down because of factors such as age, trades, chemistry, or tuning out a coach. And then other teams rebound because they use the motivation of a disappointing season the following year.

Tampa Bay is a team worth watching under those guidelines. The Bucs roared to a Super Bowl title under first-year coach Jon Gruden two years ago. But the Bucs fell apart last season in a frustrating 7-9 SU and ATS campaign. The pressure is on Gruden, and they certainly made some meaningful changes. First, they jettisoned Keyshawn Johnson late last season and let Warren Sapp walk over the winter. Gruden has put his stamp on this group since his arrival and it will be interesting to see if the release of the aging (but becoming less effective) veterans will help the Bucs return to their 2002 form, or if this is a "stock," er, team that has peaked.

I already mentioned the Jets' disappointing season. Coach Herman Edwards lost star QB Chad Pennington last September and the defense fell asleep all season. Edwards, though, has plenty of talent on offense and has made some defensive changes. He also said recently that he wants a more quick-strike, aggressive offense, instead of the more conservative pace that New York has shown under his guidance. He’s definitely right to want this, as the Jets have the talent to take advantage of such an offensive scheme. Yet, I wasn’t impressed in their preseason opener as the Jets’ offense tallied just 13 points and 259 total yards. Of course, it’s only preseason, but these are the type of things to look for in August when evaluating whether a team may rebound or underachieve again.

And let’s not forget Carolina. The Panthers overachieved remarkably a year ago, and made the Super Bowl. They were 6-2 SU and 7-1 ATS as an underdog! The key last year was that they won a lot of close games. Coach Fox prefers a one-dimensional offense and we don’t yet know if he will establish himself as an upper echelon coach, a la Bill Parcells. Many teams come out of nowhere, and catch lightning in a bottle for one season, but slide into mediocrity (or worse) afterward. Take a look at the Falcons. After surprising everyone by making it to the 1999 Super Bowl, Atlanta went 16-31 SU and 19-26-3 ATS over the next three seasons. Is Carolina on the rise? Or are they one-year wonders? All of these considerations help a good handicapper gauge whether certain teams will rebound, and that translates into more winners at the window. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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