Friday, July 12, 2019

The Adjusted Pythagorean Record in the NFL Part IV: The Biggest Underachievers

Earlier this week, we looked at the biggest overachievers, in regards to actual wins versus their APR in the sixteen game era. Time to check in on the biggest underachievers. I apologize in advance to Tampa Bay fans (if any).

After coaching the Cincinnati Bengals for four seasons, which included a trip to Super Bowl XVI, Packers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Forrest Gregg, took over as coach of Green Bay from another legend (Bart Starr). Gregg guided the Packers to an 8-8 campaign, but things could have been much better. The Packers scored 48 offensive touchdowns and allowed only 30, but lost seven of their first eight games, with five of the losses coming by six points or less. They rebounded to win seven of their final eight, but it was not enough to catch the Chicago Bears in the NFC Central. Had the Packers won their Week Three game against the Bears in Lambeau (lost 9-7 on a fourth quarter field goal), the Packers would have won the division. The Packers finished 8-8 again in 1985, but their record was more indicative of their performance that season. This was as good as it got for Gregg in Titletown as his last two teams won just nine total games.

1978 marked the first truly competitive version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over their first two season, the Bucs combined for a 2-26 record with nineteen of those defeats coming by at least ten points. With a fresh-faced Joe Gibbs calling plays, the Bucs more than doubled their scoring from the previous season, albeit to only fifteen points per game. Tampa scored slightly more offensive touchdowns (28) than they allowed (25), but could not close the deal in close games. The competitiveness would prove a portent of good things with the defense, led by Lee Roy Selmon, finished first in points allowed the next season as the Bucs made the playoffs for the first time and advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

Tampa Bay’s close game woes from 2003 (see next entry) continued in 2004 as a team just twenty months removed from winning their first Lombardi Trophy finished 5-11.

The 2003 team was slightly more of an underachiever than the 2004 team. The Bucs began their title defense with a strong showing by shutting out the Philadelphia Eagles on the road on Monday Night Football. The next week, a blocked extra point cost them in an eventual overtime loss to the upstart Carolina Panthers, but the Bucs manhandled the Falcons in Week Three and entered their bye week with the look of a Super Bowl contender. Their first game after the bye was a Monday night showdown against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. With five minutes to go in the game, the Bucs held a three touchdown lead, but Manning and company staged a furious rally to upend the Bucs. Consider that nearly a quarter of the way through the 2003 season (i.e. with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of their fourth game), the Bucs had outscored their opponents 92-36! The fourth quarter collapse provides a convenient inflection point for narrative purposes to explain Tampa’s struggles through the rest of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but I would chalk their poor record up to the inherent small sample size of an NFL season along with a little laurel resting common for any NFL champion not headquartered in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

And speaking of the Patriots. The 1981 team is far and away the biggest underachiever in the last forty years. Head coach Ron Erhardt had guided the Patriots to nineteen wins (but no playoff) appearances in the previous two seasons, and statistically, these Patriots probably should have finished with a similar record. Despite winning just two games, they somehow scored more offensive touchdowns (40) than they allowed (38). However, a brutal close game record and piss poor turnover margin consigned them to the AFC East basement. Consider that their roommate, the fellow two-win Baltimore Colts, were outscored by 274 points in 1981, while the Patriots were only outscored by 48 points! Interestingly, the Colts' two wins came against the Patriots (by three total points). Things would get better for the Patriots as they would qualify for the playoffs in three of the next five seasons and not finish with a losing record until 1989. They have also had what could be termed decent success since the turn of the century, so things kind of worked out. And don’t feel too bad for Mr. Erhardt. While the 2-14 campaign marked his last shot as a head coach, he would go on to win two Super Bowls as an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants and coach in another Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also died in 2012, so he avoided seeing Trump become President.

I'm off to Las Vegas to make some bets on the upcoming football season. Next weekend or so, I'll post a recap of the bets I made. Oh, and be sure to look for more APR posts as we trudge through the long offseason.

No comments: