April 12, 2009
The NFL is a fluid entity. Almost nothing stays the same from year to year save for three things.
1. Peyton Manning will remain as one of the top statistical players in the NFL.
2. The Detroit Lions will wallow in mediocrity or worse.
3. At some point within the season, a controversy will arise over a call made by a referee.
Almost everything else is subject to change. And that's something that not too many people understand. When you see the projections for fantasy football, or the "power rankings" for the 32 NFL teams at the beginning of the year, most writers/fans merely plug in the standings from the prior season with a few small changes.
And almost never are they even close to right. You find me someone who told you "Tom Brady goes down in Week One with an injury, and the Patriots still go 11-5, and I'll find you a Patriots Homer with the ability to see the future.
Until the games are played, we know nothing. Until half a season is over, there is almost no way of even guessing who will win the eight respective divisions.
Case in point, at the beginning of last season, most "experts" said the 8 division winners would be...Indianapolis, New England, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Seattle. By the middle of the season, those 8 teams had been blown apart.
Pittsburgh was the only one of those eight teams that was still considered an elite team. Indy was hit by the injury bug. New England got hit by a tiny yet incredibly powerful injury bug (named Bernard Pollard).
Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Dallas were not terrible, but were no longer leading their divisions. And Seattle and San Diego had fallen apart.
By midseason, the eight division winners were projected to be...Tennessee, New York (New England was considered a contender, but many predicted they'd soon fall apart), Denver, Pittsburgh, New York, Who the hell knows, Carolina and Arizona.
Only one of the eight teams was still projected to have the best record in its' division. ONLY ONE. In only eight games, the entire landscape had changed. And then, with 8 more games, it had changed once again.
By seasons end, San Diego worked its' way back up due to Denver's complete destruction. Indy and New England got themselves back to great and fairly strong, respectively, but neither one could win it's division.
Tampa Bay had looked strong near week 12, but fell apart near the end. Green Bay was a complete mess, and Seattle finished off the worst season it has had in recent memory.
Dallas was wallowing in NFC mediocrity, and Pittsburgh was one of the only original teams that still looked as strong as it had at the beginning of the season, if not stronger.
And this happens every year.
Things change, the lines are crossed, small events affect slightly bigger ones, and so on. Nothing stays the same. How else could the Dolphins go from 1-15 to 11-5? How could the Lions go from 7-9 to 0-16? How else could there not be a repeat champion of the NFC South division since it was created?
Going into more detail for the NFC South, since 2002, every team that finished in last place one year won the division the next year. 6 years in a row. That trend partially continued last year as the Falcons still made the playoffs, even if they didn't win the division.
The NFL is a fluid entity. The Patriots, Colts, Chargers and Steelers are looked on as the elite currently, and have been for a few years. The NFC has had no champions emerge and stay at the top. But even with those 4 teams, people forget how quickly they make assumptions.
In 2006, Baltimore went 13-3 and won the AFC North. The next year, Pittsburgh and Cleveland went 10-6 to claim the best record and Baltimore went 5-11. So this year, when Baltimore took off to end up 11-5, everyone was shocked. Why?
They were only one year removed from getting a playoff bye with the second best AFC record, and people were shocked they were any good at all. Teams have off years all the time, it doesn't mean they're suddenly horrible.
Look at Pittsburgh's 2003 6-10 record or Philadelphia's 2005 6-10 record. Both of those teams had 10 wins or better in the season before and after their flopped season, and it was obviously an outlier. Yet no one pays attention to these things.
Don't be shocked next year when New Orleans wins the NFC South, Miami finishes below .500 or any team from the NFC West wins the division. The NFL changes and the teams roll with the punches.
So why can't the analysts and projectionists and die hard fans do the same?
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