Chad Pemberton: Predicting which playoff teams will miss postseason this year
It's been ingrained in our understanding of sports that the win-loss column is a catch-all to describe how good a team is (or isn't). This framework for understanding performance isn't necessarily wrong, but it's not always the most accurate barometer for measuring performance. There are more holistic ways to do it, like factoring in things such as point-differential, strength-of-schedule and win/loss records in one-score games.
However, the win-loss record is the analysis de jour that pundits and fans roll out for their predictions for the upcoming NFL season. A team's prior record is used as an iron-clad justification for future performance. Frankly, this is not good methodology.
There are new teams in the playoffs every year, which must mean there are teams that drop out of the playoffs every year as well. Last season we saw several notable teams not make the playoffs who qualified the previous season, including the reigning Super Bowl champion N.Y. Giants.
So, who's it going to be in 2013? I was one-for-two with these predictions last year, hitting the bulls-eye on the New Orleans Saints, while whiffing so badly on the San Francisco 49ers that I've tried to have it expunged from The Herald-Dispatch archives.
Which playoff teams from 2012 are going to regress and fail to make the playoffs this season? Following are the teams receiving my kiss of death.
Baltimore Ravens (Last season: 10-6)
If the Ravens fail to reach the playoffs, they will become the eighth consecutive Super Bowl champion to not win a post-season game during their title defense. Moreover, that would make them the fourth of those eight teams to miss the playoffs altogether. So, this isn't exactly unprecedented.
Outside of Joe Flacco's four-game stretch in last year's Super Bowl run, all indicators point to him as being a flat-out mediocre quarterback. It's difficult to envision that changing much with the loss of two of his three best receivers, Anquan Boldin (49ers) and Dennis Pitta (injury). Baltimore is pretty much trusting that Flacco can make lemonade with Torrey Smith, who posted an abysmal 44.4 percent catch-rate last season, and Jacoby Jones, who has never amassed more than 600 yards in a season.
Perhaps this wouldn't be so grim if you could count on a stout Baltimore defense, but this isn't the same, perennially elite group we've grown accustomed to seeing. There was a lot of player turnover during the off-season, including departures from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. You can't expect to lose two defensive minds like that -- legends who have been the back-bone of this defense for more than a decade -- along with all of the other player turnover on defense, and expect to not miss a beat.
Indianapolis Colts (Last season: 11-5)
I loved the Indianapolis Colts last season. You loved the Indianapolis Colts last season. Everyone loved the Indianapolis Colts last season. It was the least divisive issue of 2012. If there's one thing that we can all get behind, it's watching a team rally behind their (briefly) fallen leader, especially when it's to something as dire and real life as cancer.
It's only now, when we step back and look at the Colts' season from an unemotional point of view, that we can see how truly strange their season was. They were an 11-5 team with a minus-30 point differential. That's never happened before. Of course they did this by winning a preposterous amount of one-score games (they were 9-1 in games decided by one touchdown or less).
The chances of them replicating that kind of success in one-score games are basically zero. It's worth noting, too, that the Colts faced the third-weakest schedule in the league. I'd feel like these were hurdles they could possibly overcome, but Indianapolis pretty much sat pat in the off-season, making hardly any substantial moves to shore up their roster.
I think Indianapolis's management surveyed their 11-5 season and simply over-valued the roster they had. I think they feel like they're a lot closer to being great than they actually are. But after last season's emotional, logic-defying season, who could blame them?
Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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