NFL teams where record doesn’t tell the full story
Every season in the NFL there are teams that finish near the bottom of the standings that make you shake you head with shock and confusion. On the other side of the coin, the teams that win a division and make you say, “where did they come from?” There are three teams in which these perplexing categories apply. The following contenders and pretenders will give hope, or take it away, from those that call themselves fans.
The Lions should have been better, and most of the NFL world would agree. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a slow start in regards to scoring touchdowns, but was racking up huge yards all season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was just shy of 5,000 yards passing and a 60% completion percentage. With nagging injuries to both tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and slated starting running back Jahvid Best, there were certainly threats missing from the offensive attack. Regardless, the Lions finished the season as the third-ranked offense in yards per game.
The defense was a bit of a disappointment. Losing close games in the final seconds seemed to be the mode of operation for the Lions this season. With amazing defensive line talent like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions still only managed to finish 19th in sacks, and 17th in stopping the run.
Now, fans, on to the good news. Johnson and Stafford will be back in 2013, with a likely healthy Pettigrew and Best. The defensive unit will look the same up front, with the possible addition of a defensive end in the rookie draft. Without a big name in the defensive backfield, the Lions still managed 17 interceptions, placing them eighth in that category amongst all teams. In addition, they finished the regular season second in passes defended, and managed six defensive touchdowns.
Playing in a strong division, with a one-sided offense, and a quiet defensive line, will make for a tough year. The Lions should expect to bounce back in the coming seasons and reestablish themselves as a force in the NFC.
The Eagles are a mystery to many fans. The statistics show them as a powerful team with very few weaknesses. They ranked in the top fifteen teams in both passing and rushing, while only being penalized more than nine other teams.
One would think, based on these facts, that the Eagles scored a lot. They didn’t. As a team they scored 17.5 points per game, which puts them only ahead of Kansas City, Arizona, and Jacksonville respectively. Redzone scoring was a problem, only coming away with points 44% of the time, and only 4 teams in the NFL were more anemic.
There is hope in Philadelphia. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles seems to have a thing or two up his sleeve. He played in the injury absence of Michael Vick, and played well. He averaged 243 passing yards per game, and managed over a 60% completion percentage. The coaching staff, whom will unfortunately be looking for new homes in 2013, trusted Foles and allowed him to throw 38 times per game. Only six starting quarterbacks had more attempts per game. Running back LeSean McCoy will be back at full strength next season and alleviate the pressures on a young quarterback. Michael Vick will likely be with a new team, and Eagles fans can avoid clinching their teeth every time he takes off from the pocket.
The Browns are building. Of course it feels like we’ve been saying that since 1991, but this time it’s true and it’s real. The addition of rookie running back Trent Richardson has added an element to the Browns offense they haven’t seen since the days of Earnest Byner. Quarterback Brandon Wheeden gave the front office and coaching staff just enough that they will likely sign and/or draft offensive linemen and receivers to keep him progressing.
The Browns play in a division, the AFC North, which had three teams jockeying for the playoffs until the final week. This gives them an expected six losses on the season, but they still managed to take two division wins from the contenders.
Defensively they finished 11th in sacks and interceptions, showing that getting pressure on opposing quarterback has not been an issue. The Browns will likely address outsider linebacker in the offseason, with the addition of the above-mentioned offensive players.
“But, I thought…”
On the opposite side of the Browns, the Broncos play in the weakest division in football without question. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders will both have first-round draft selections in the top three of the 2013 Rookie Draft. The San Diego Chargers would likely have lost four more games, and been drafting high as well, had they not had to play the aforementioned twice each. All that said, the Broncos were gifted six wins this year based on the pathetic nature of their division. Is that their fault? Of course not, but it certainly factors into a 13-3 record and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Denver played five playoff teams in 2012 and lost to three of them. Yes, they managed to protect quarterback Peyton Manning in the pocket, allowing the second least sacks in the NFL. Peyton Manning, with time in the pocket, can beat anyone on any day.
In addition, the Broncos play home games at 5,300 feet above sea level. The fact that this is often overlooked, is mind-boggling. Endurance athletes all over the world train at altitudes like this in order to gain an advantage when they play at sea level. Athletes looking for good performances will rarely go to altitude to achieve them. Living and training in Colorado grants an enormous advantage for endurance, likely explaining why the Broncos play well at the end of games. The Super Bowl will not be at altitude.
It turns out the AFC North was not as strong as it may have seemed in the early season. Baltimore’s defense has always been their strength, and it is no different this year. However, this isn’t 2001, and the Ravens offense isn’t strong enough to carry them as far as they would hope. Quarterback Joe Flacco oozes mediocrity from his pours and offers the team no real leadership from under center.
The Steelers and Bengals rival the Ravens over-respected title, but since Baltimore won the division this season, they received the lion’s share of positive attention, and therefore take the title of the AFC North’s Top Flea on a Dead Dog.
Nothing has changed for the Redskins from a year ago besides the addition of Robert Griffin III. Now, that was certainly enough to get them into the playoffs and win the NFC East for the first time since the turn of the century. However, as we saw with Michael Vick and Cam Newton that once defenses begin to find an answer for a single player, the team suffers. The Redskins will have to make some serious additions to their overall team if they expect to repeat their 2012 performance.
Rookie running back Alfred Morris made a splash this season, mainly due to the fact that he plays in a Mike Shanahan offense. Shanahan seems to have a 1,000 yard rusher no matter where he coaches. Morris gained a significant boost from the fact that defenses had to respect the option run to RGIII, and this could all end if Griffin’s mobility does not return following his knee surgery this week.
The Redskins defense gave up over 24 points per game, and 378 yards per game, ranking them in the bottom third of the league. Year after year we are shown that without a solid defense, there will be no championships coming to that city. Even the most powerful offenses in the NFL are complemented by at least a reasonably competent defense, with the exception of the 2009/10 New Orleans Saints.