There’s always next year, right?

Jan 28, 2003 3:50 AM

RAMS ”” Went from Super Bowl finalist to regular season bust.

With the Super Bowl played this past Sunday, another season is completed (save for the "Pro Bowl" soon to be renamed the "Fourth-stringers bowl with nothing better to do").

With the stakes so high in the NFL, there’s little time for the decision makers of the 32 squads to relax. Draft preparations, salary cap maneuvering, free agent signing plans and more enter into the typical NFL exec’s dreams.

A good place to start in examining the respective chances for next year (early futures betting) is by charting how teams with specific regular season win numbers have done the following year.

Teams with top-notch records (10 to 12 wins) failed to get to nine wins the next season almost 38 percent of the time. The 2002-03 season saw four teams with nine wins not make the playoffs. It’s edging closer to 50/50 whether a side with a winning record will make the postseason next year.

This point of course does reflect the challenges of the NFL ”” both in putting together a good team and then keeping it together!

There were 13 teams in 2001 with nine or more wins and seven of those made the playoffs this season. That’s good for a fairly typical 54 percent playoff-bound rate.

On the other side, there were 10 teams with 10 or more defeats in 2001 and only one (Indianapolis) made the playoffs. Three others managed to make it to .500 (Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego).

Then there’s the issue of the "bounce" teams, who saw their records change significantly from the last year to this year. The "bounce theory" is commonly referred to in horse racing. Basically, a horse off a superb effort will often fall back to a lower level of performance in the following race since so much was given in the last one.

For football there is some evidence that the bounce is a genuine phenomenon and using season win lines as a measure of expectation is also revealing.

Teams projected to win 10 or more games coming off a year when the W-L record improved by three wins or more have gone under the season win line 80 percent of the time. On the other hand, a team that improved by more than three games but is given a win line of 7½ or less has exceeded the victory total 73 percent of the time.

There were seven teams in the 2002 season that improved by three or more wins from 2001 ”” Carolina (+6), Buffalo (+5), Indianapolis (+4), Tennessee (+4), San Diego (+3), New York Giants (+3), and Tampa Bay (+3). History says that some of those teams are likely to disappoint if expectations are high, but may "over-achieve" if expectations are low.

On the flip side is the negative bounce. There were four teams in 2002 that lost three more games than the prior season ”” Chicago (—9 wins), St. Louis (—7), Cincinnati (—4), Baltimore (—3).

There is actually hope for these squads if they have a respectable season win number of 6 or higher. History shows that 60 percent of those teams "bounce back" and beat the win expectation. Teams on a negative bounce with little enthusiasm for turnaround from the line (5½ or fewer wins) are less likely to exceed the common perception.

Teams will change dramatically in personnel, coaching, and gameplans from one year to the next. However, as preseason Super Bowl favorite St. Louis demonstrated this season, there’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL.

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