Beware of early season phonies!

Oct 2, 2007 7:26 AM

So, are we all set for the Steelers/Patriots AFC Championship game with the winner facing the survivor of the Packers/Cowboys NFC Title game?

After three weeks, they were the only undefeated teams in the NFL, along with the Colts. To put that in perspective, before the season started the Steelers were 20/1 to win the Super Bowl. The Packers, fresh off an 8-8 season, were 50/1. Yet, there they were at the end of September among the NFL elite in the standings.

I bring this up to emphasis the importance of patience.

A hot start is nice, but guarantees nothing. Scheduling, injuries, personnel changes are all significant factors in the success of a football team. A hot start doesn’t signify greatness, just as a cold beginning doesn’t mean a team is done.

Two years ago the Steelers were 7-5 and on the outside of the playoff bubble down the stretch. The Black and Gold won 8 in a row and the Super Bowl.

That same year, the Atlanta Falcons were 7-4 before losing four of their final five to crash their playoff hopes.

At the end of Week 4 in 2005, the only undefeated teams were the Bengals, Redskins, Buccaneers and Colts. The positive news is all four ended up in the playoffs. The bad news is none got to the Super Bowl or conference title game.

Back in 2004, there also four 3-0 teams including the Seahawks and Jaguars.

Neither made the playoffs.

If your favorite team is off to a disappointing start, relax. If your is off to a hot start, don’t start making preparations for the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs. That should give some comfort to Saints fans after a miserable 0-3 SU/ATS start.

A lot was made of the Carolina Panthers remarkable journey four years ago. The Panthers were 4-0 that preseason, then got off to a 3-0 start and seemingly used that momentum all the way to the Super Bowl. Sure, hot starts help, but remember that in 2002 those same Panthers started 3-0 and finished 7-9.

Naturally, a team doesn’t want to start 0-3 like this year’s Saints, Falcons, Rams, Dolphins and Bills. A poor start, however, isn’t a death knell. You may recall that two years ago the Panthers started 1-2, but ended up in the NFC Title game.

In 2003, the Eagles looked terrible during an 0-2 SU/ATS start just before their bye week. They then went 11-3 ATS the rest of the regular season, winning 13 of their next 15 games on the way to the NFC title game. The Patriots started 2-2 in 2003, then proceeded to go 15-0 SU, 12-3 ATS on the way to winning the Super Bowl.

The 2003 Minnesota Vikings started 6-0 SU/ATS, only to miss the playoffs during a 3-7 SU, 2-8 ATS finish. Miami also started 4-1 SU/ATS that season, only to go 3-8 ATS and miss the playoffs again.

It’s a marathon and all kinds of things can crop up to derail a potential playoff run: Poor defense, injuries, bad luck, even scheduling.

In 2003, the Dolphins had to play five of seven games against eventual playoff teams and lost four of them.

The Chiefs were the hottest team in the NFL the first half of the 2003 season, starting 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS. There even was a futures bet offered on whether the Chiefs would run the regular season table undefeated. That wager didn’t last long. KC finished 4-4 SU, 2-6 ATS.

The same thing happened with the 13-0 Colts of 2005. When the AFC Championship game was being played, the Colts were home watching it on TV.

The 2003 Giants started 2-1 SU/ATS, then limped to a 2-11 SU finish while going 1-11-1 ATS. In 2004, Seattle started 3-0 SU/ATS with a defense that allowed 13 total points! No one remembers that start, however, as the Seahawks went 6-8 SU, 2-12 ATS the rest of the season.

In 2001, the Patriots weathered a 1-3 SU/ATS start filled with a serious injury to QB Drew Bledsoe and the suspension of WR Terry Glenn. New players stepped in and the team began to grasp the defensive schemes. They ended the season 9-0 SU/7-1-1 ATS, while upsetting the Rams in the Super Bowl as a +14 dog.

Remember, it’s not the fastest horse out of the gate, but the one who crosses the finish line.


Remember, it’s not the fastest horse out of the gate, but the one who crosses the finish line.