Over the past few weeks, I’ve introduced the Adjusted Pythagorean Record in the NFL and identified a few teams worthy of keeping an eye on in 2019. Now I want to take a look at the APR outliers, that is, the teams that have over or under-performed the most relative to their APR. This post will examine the biggest overachievers and later in the week, we’ll look at the biggest underachievers.
First some housekeeping notes. While I have APR data going back to 1970 (the first season after the AFL and NFL merged), we will only be looking at teams that played sixteen regular season games so that every team is on the same level. The time period covered is 1978 through 2018 with the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons excluded. In addition to listing the difference in each teams’ actual record and their APR, I will also include their record in close games (eight points or less), their turnover margin, and their non-offensive touchdown net. With that out of the way, let’s count down the NFL’s biggest overachievers of the past forty years.
NFC Norris in 1993. While the Lions were fortunate to win ten games based on their play, they were a little unlucky in the sense they only got eleven games out of star running back Barry Sanders. 1993 marked the only season of Sanders’ illustrious career where he did not play at least fifteen games. Despite the abbreviated campaign, Sanders still managed to top 1000 yards on the ground and finished second to MVP Emmitt Smith in rushing yards per game. The Lions made their hay in close games, finishing 6-1 in the regular season, but in somewhat ironic fashion, their season ended in a four point home loss to the Green Bay Packers (the first career playoff win for Brett Favre).
Rod Perry taking three interceptions back for touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance. The Rams did win their playoff opener, but lost the NFC Championship Game in non-competitive fashion to the Dallas Cowboys.
Frank Kush. Kush coached Arizona State for more than two decades and shepherded the Sun Devils from the Border Conference to the WAC and finally to the (then) Pac-10. Alas, allegations of player abuse and interference into the investigation of those allegations caused Kush to be terminated. Kush coached the Colts for parts of three seasons and 1983 was as good as it got. He was fired the next season once the Colts were all settled in Indianapolis. Kush won just eleven games as an NFL coach, or one less than he won as coach of the Sun Devils in 1975.
Captain Comeback and some guy with two first names, the Colts somehow managed to win nine games and qualify for the playoffs despite allowing twelve more touchdowns (37) then they scored on offense (25). Aside from Jim Harbaugh and Paul Justin, the Colts also had two eventual Hall of Famers on their roster in Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison. At the tender age of 23, after accumulating over 3000 yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons, Faulk somehow managed just three yards per carry for the Colts in 1996. Meanwhile, Harrison showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch, scoring five touchdowns and accumulating over 400 receiving yards in the season’s final five games. In their playoff game, the Colts actually held a halftime lead over the Steelers (in a rematch of the 1995 AFC Championship Game), but were soundly beaten in the second half.
Check back later this week for the biggest underachievers.