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NFL: Quality of wins/losses in 2021 may predict success in '22

May 16, 2022 06:29 PM
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My next two NFL reports for Point Spread Weekly will dig into a subject I call “Changeover Systems,” which use the previous season’s records and/or statistics to provide insight into the upcoming season. 

Changeover Systems are often extremely predictive. Two years ago, many of the most optimistic systems pointed to the Buccaneers enjoying a breakout season in 2020. All the Bucs did was go on to win their first Super Bowl title. Last year, the systems weren’t quite as definitive, but several angles signaled declines for teams such as the Seahawks and Ravens and improvements for the Raiders and 49ers. The Seahawks and Ravens dropped by five and three wins. The Raiders, despite an in-season coaching change, jumped by two wins and reached the postseason for the first time in five years, while the 49ers improved by four wins and reached the NFC title game.

This exercise is a rite of spring for me. Each year, I go through the list of won-lost records and statistical traits I feel are most important for projecting the next season. In Part 1, I’ll analyze the quality and quantity of each team’s won-lost records. Next week, in Part 2, I’ll dig into a number of key statistical angles that typically lead to significant improvement or decline.

The NFL is unlike any other league in how quickly teams can rise and fall from year to year. First-to-worst and worst-to-first moves are not unusual, so it benefits bettors to know the traits that lead to teams improving or declining so quickly. What is the typical resume of a team that improves greatly from one season to the next? Those who can find the answer can take advantage of not only futures wagers and season win totals but also point spreads in the early weeks of the season.

Read through my findings over the next couple of weeks and make your own assessments. Then factor in free-agent moves and other personnel changes and head to the betting window. I will share my own conclusions, along with my updated 2022 NFL Power Ratings, sometime in the next few weeks.

Systems for teams that had an unusually high or low total of close wins the prior season

— In 2019, the Seahawks’ 10 “close wins” (eight points or less) were the most by any team over the last 30 seasons. In that span, the 33 teams that managed 8+ close wins had an average decline of 3.0 wins the following season.

Team affected in 2022: Pittsburgh.

— From 2017-20, 41 teams won 6+ games by eight points or less. Only six improved the next season, with an average decline of 2.3 wins.

Teams affected in 2022: Atlanta, Baltimore, Green Bay, Las Vegas, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Tennessee. 

An unusually high or low total of close losses

— From 1997-2020, 33 teams lost 8+ games by eight points or less. This group’s average improvement the next season was 3.52 wins, with 29 of those teams improving.

Team affected in 2022: Minnesota.

— From 2007-20, 67 teams lost 6+ games by eight points or less. Of those 67 teams, 53 of them improved their won-lost record the next season, including 27 by 4+ wins. The average improvement of the 67 teams was 2.81 wins. Of the six teams that qualified in 2021, four improved while the other two equaled their 2020 win total.

Teams affected in 2022: Baltimore, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota

An unusually high or low total of blowout wins

— The last team to record at least nine double-digit wins and improve its won-lost record the next season was the Broncos in 1997-98. Since then, the average decline of the 30 teams that did it was 3.97 wins. 

Team affected in 2022: Buffalo.

— None of the last 15 teams that recorded at least six “blowout wins” (20+ points) improved its record the next year. The average decline of those 15 teams was 3.3 wins. 

Team affected in 2022: Tampa Bay.

— From 1994-2020, eight teams won 6+ games without winning a single game by double digits. Although the 2020 Raiders became the first of that group to improve the next year, those eight teams had an average decline of 2.25 wins.

Teams affected in 2022: Atlanta.

— Interestingly, teams that won five games or less but none by double-digit margins have shown significant improvement the following year. In fact, since 2006, 24 of the 26 teams in this group improved the next season, with an average improvement of 3.81 wins. All three teams from this group in 2020 improved by two wins in 2021.

Teams affected in 2022: N.Y. Jets.

An unusually high or low total of blowout losses

— From 2000-20, 21 teams went 7-9 or worse and had zero “blowout losses” (20 points or more). These teams are natural candidates for improvement, and 19 of the 21 teams did just that, with an average jump of 3.05 wins.

Teams affected in 2022: Seattle.

— Another sign of how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL: From 1999-2020, 35 teams lost at least nine games by double-digit margins. Of those, 30 improved the next season — by an average of 3.93 wins — including the Jaguars and Jets last year.

Teams affected in 2022: Houston, Jacksonville, N.Y. Giants.

— From 1999-2020, 20 teams won at least 10 games and had 4+ losses by double-digit margins. Half of those teams declined by at least three wins (with an average decline of 4.9 wins).

Teams affected in 2022: Las Vegas.

Systems based on playoff results

— Only two of the last 28 teams to lose in the Super Bowl improved their won-lost record the following season, with an average decline of 3.36 wins.

Team affected in 2022: Cincinnati.

— Alternatively, the last 29 Super Bowl winners have an average decline of only 1.1 wins, boasting an average won-lost record of about 11-5. Only two of those 29 teams finished below .500 the following season.

Team affected in 2022: LA Rams.

— From 1991-2020, 34 teams won 13+ games and didn’t make the Super Bowl. None of those 34 improved their won-lost record the following season and only four equaled their previous win total. The average decline among this group was 3.71 wins.

Teams affected in 2022: Green Bay, Tampa Bay.

Systems for teams whose won-lost records are trending

— From 2001-20, 14 teams improved their record for a third consecutive season (or more). Of those 14, only one team improved the following season. The average decline for this group was 4.3 wins, with an average win total of 6.5.

Team affected in 2022: Arizona, Las Vegas, Tampa Bay.

— From 2005-20, 30 teams won at least six more games than the previous season. Of those 30, only one improved in the following season, with an average decline of 3.37 wins. 

Teams affected in 2022: Cincinnati, Dallas.

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