Going 4-12 Or Worse In The NFL Since 2002: What Does It Mean For Those Teams The Next Season?

Been there. Or, rather, we are there. - Sam Greenwood

Matt Weston of Battle Red Blog looks into the numbers and breaks down every team that has won four games or less since 2002 and makes his early sleeper picks for 2014.

In 2013, there were seven teams who lost twelve games or more. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, your Houston Texans, and Washington Redskins all were awarded the crusty brown for their horrific feats of incompetency. Each of these teams' seasons resembled a nightmare in which one scampers away from a clown with frayed, wiry hair, bloodshot eyes, and a mouth spitting coagulated blood as it sings the Circus theme song in a spider web riddled arcade.

Before the postseason began for other, better teams, we slid our fingers through the tweet machine on Black Monday, our mouths stuck in a squirmy position as we read about coach after coach after coach walk into Ryan Bingham's office (no, not the alternative country singer) only to be told, "Ya Fired." After the postseason is over, we all become enamored with men in their early twenties sprinting, jumping, and pushing while wearing spandex. Then free agency will hit, and we will all wallow in despair as we wave good bye to player Y, who became too expensive to keep, or talk ourselves into why paying a guard sixty million dollars is a good idea. Then the draft will come and we will all fall in love with the future, giddy with excitement over Player X only to see him be more Aaron Maybin than Brian Orakpo. Then we get to read rumor mill reports about how great this undrafted free agent looks in a shirt and shimmel, and four unremarkable preseason games where we fall head over heels for Lestar Jean all over again.

After the whole process is over and done with, August optimism bandages the wounds from last season's soul-numbing experience, and we will all be ready for another seventeen weeks of NFL football. The funny thing is that one or two of these seven teams that scraped the algae out of the bottom of the tank should actually be excited for the 2014 season. Yes, one or two of the Texans, Redskins, Falcons, Raiders, Browns, Jaguars or Buccaneers will be playing football in January next season.

Since 2002, 60 teams have won four games or fewer in a regular season (including 2013), which comes out to 4.95 teams a year. Of those five, 1.45, or 26%, of them made the playoffs the following season. Of those teams, the first decision to be made is whether or not to keep the head coach and general manager or say,"Peace out!", hire someone new and take the team in a different direction. This offseason, we have seen four head coaches and one general manager get thrown out of Lady's Night by a goatee-faced bouncer.

It's an incredibly difficult decision to give up on the current goal, scheme, and management group and try a different strategy. After winning only four games, sometimes it needs to happen. So of these 53 teams (not including the 2013 crop) we can break them down into four groups: teams that fired their coach, teams that fired their GM, teams that fired their head coach and GM, and teams that kept both.

First, here are the numbers for teams who kept everyone the year after winning only four games, and here is an imugr album with screen shots of the data for those who don't want to scroll up and down as they read.

Year TEAM Wins Losses GM Head Coach Fired? Wins Losses Playoffs
2002 HOU 4 12 Charley Casserley Dom Capers None 5 11 No
2002 CHI 4 12 Jerry Angelo Dick Jauron None 7 9 No
2005 TEN 4 12 Floyd Reese Jeff Fisher None 8 8 No
2006 CLE 4 12 Phil Savage Romeo Crennel None 10 6 No
2006 DET 3 13 Matt Millen Rod Marinelli None 7 9 No
2006 TB 4 12 Bruce Allen John Gruden None 9 7 Yes
2007 NYJ 4 12 Mike Tennenbaum Eric Mangini None 9 7 No
2007 KC 4 12 Carl Peterson Herm Edwards None 2 14 No
2007 STL 3 13 Jay Zygmunt Scott Linehan None 2 14 No
2008 CIN 4 11 Mike Brown Marvin Lewis None 10 6 Yes
2009 KC 4 12 Scott Pioli Todd Haley None 10 6 Yes
2009 DET 2 14 Martin Mayhew Jim Schwartz None 6 10 No
2009 TB 3 13 Mark Dominik Raheem Morris None 10 6 No
2009 STL 1 15 Billy Devaney Steve Spagnulo None 7 9 No
2010 BUF 4 12 Buddy Nix Chan Gailey None 6 10 No
2010 CIN 4 12 Mike Brown Marvin Lewis None 9 7 Yes
2011 CLE 4 12 Tom Heckert Pat Shurmur None 5 11 No
2012 DET 4 12 Martin Mayhew Jim Schwartz None 7 9
No
Total
64 223


129 159

Of the franchises that were on the clock after losing twelve games or more the previous season, eighteen of them kept doing what they were doing. Of that group, only four went to the playoffs the following season. Fourteen of these teams failed to make the playoffs with the same group they had. Only the head coach/GM combos of Jeff Fisher/Floyd Reese, Bruce Allen/John Gruden, Mike Brown/Marvin Lewis, Martin Mayhew/Jim Schwartz, and Scott Pioli/Todd Haley managed to make the playoffs after winning four or less games the season before. These teams had a record of 129-159 the next season (a .449 win percentage), which is an improvement of 65 games, or a win percentage increase of 0.227. This is the highest win percentage of the possible front office scenarios. So what we see is that teams who do stick with the same management tend to win more games the following year, but they don't have any substantial success.

Interestingly, none of these teams won a playoff game the following year or have even won one since they were kept on after their abysmal season. The other number that is interesting is that Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown (a Jerry Jones type of owner who makes personnel decisions) are the only two on this list who have taken a team to the playoffs twice after going 4-12 the previous year. Coincidentally, Marvin Lewis is the only head coach who still remains with his team under this set of circumstances now that Jim Schwartz has been shown the door in Detroit. Going into the playoffs, Lewis had the only hope of breaking this streak; unfortunately, birds have to fly and Marvin Lewis has to lose first round playoff games. The moral of the story is that if your goal is to improve your win total the next season but not win in the playoffs, keep the same head coach/GM combo after you win four games or less.

The next group we'll look at is the elite club of teams who kept their coach, but lost or fired their GM.

Year Team
Wins
Losses
GM
Coach
Fired
Wins
Losses
Playoffs?
2003 SD 4 12 John Butler Marty Schottenheiner GM 12 4 Yes
2005 SF 4 12 Terry Donahue Mike Nolan GM 7 9 No
2011 MIN 3 13 Committee Leslie Frazier GM 10 6 Yes
2012 OAK 4 12 Al Davis Dennis Allen GM 4 12 No


15 49


33 31

This group of teams is miniscule compared to the prior group. Of these clubs, only Mike Nolan was able to survive after a true GM firing (Joe Philbin survived the firing of GM Jeff Ireland this past week, but Miami won eight games this year). The Chargers and Raiders lost their GM due to death. The Vikings went from using a round table to giving Rick Spielman the final say of all decisions. The reasoning behind why teams rarely keep a coach after firing the GM is because of the way NFL teams are structured. The food chain is players>positional coaches>head coach>general manager>owner. The hierarchy flows upwards, so if the team fails, the first to go are usually the players and coaches while the vultures in the press box stay comfy in their ivory tower. The easiest way for a GM to keep his job is to tell the owner that the personnel was fine, but the coach was utilizing a poor scheme or some other reason. Now this rationale may be true or not; we will see the success of this decision-making process in a moment.

The other reason why this scenario occurs is because the coach handles the day-to-day operations while the GM makes the long term decisions and has to forecast the future. A head coach can institute a scheme and principles in a summer; it can take years for a general manager to change a team to his liking. When an owner fires the GM, he is changing the team's long-term course of action for years. A company will only fire the CEO to make a dramatic change; it will usually axe the CFO or downsize before giving up on the main man.

Even though this is the only group to have an above .500 record the following season, it really does not matter because of the small sample size. There is not much to gain from the numbers in this situation. What is more important is why owners rarely keep the GM after they fire the head coach like the Houston Texans just did with Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak. The teams that went that route are below.

Coach Fired Team Wins Losses GM Head Coach Fired? Wins Losses Playoffs New HC
2002 CIN 2 14 Mike Brown Dick LeBeau Coach 8 8 No Marvin Lewis
2002 DET 3 13 Matt Millen Marty Mornhinweng Coach 5 11 No Steve Mariucci
2003 OAK 4 12 Al Davis Bill Callahan Coach 5 11 No Norv Turner
2003 NYG 4 12 Ernie Accorsi Jim Fassel Coach 6 10 No Tom Coughlin
2003 ARI 4 12 Rod Graves Dave McGinnis Coach 6 10 No Dennis Green
2004 SF 2 14 Terry Donahue Dennis Erickson Coach 8
8
No Mike Nolan
2005 NYJ 4 12 Terry Bradway Herm Edwards Coach 10 6 Yes Eric Mangini
2005 OAK 4 12 Al Davis Norv Turner Coach 2 14 No Art Shell
2005 GB 4 12 Ted Thompson Mike Sherman Coach 8 8 No Mike McCarthy
2005 NO 3 13 Mickey Loomis Jim Haslett Coach 10 6 Yes Sean Payton
2006 OAK 2 14 Al Davis Art Shell Coach 4 12 No Lane Kiffin
2007 OAK 4 12 Al Davis Lane Kiffin Coach 5 11 No Tom Cable
2007 ATL 4 12 Rich McKay Bobby Petrino Coach 11 5 Yes Mike Smith
2008 SEA 4 12 Tim Ruskell Mike Holmgren Coach 5 11 No Jim Mora
2010 DEN 4 12 Brian Xanders Josh McDaniels Coach 8 8 Yes John Fox
2010 CAR 2 14 Marty Hurney John Fox Coach 6 10 No Ron Rivera
2011 TB 4 12 Mark Dominik Raheem Morris Coach
7 9 No Greg Schiano
2012 PHI 4 12 Andy Reid Howie Roseman Coach 10
6 Yes Chip Kelly
Total
62 226


124 164

Teams have fired the coach and kept the GM just as frequently as they have kept both the GM and coach after a four win season (18, in case you forgot). After bringing in a new coach, those teams have improved by 62 games and a win percentage of .215 (.444-.215), which is nearly identical to teams who keep the same coach and GM.

However, there is an enormous difference between the two. Seven (Not including Chip Kelly) of these coaches are still with their club: Marvin Lewis, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Mike Smith, John Fox, and Ron Rivera. Eric Mangini is the only coach of the bunch who was fired after taking a previously 4-12 team to the playoffs. Of these coaches, three have won Super Bowls, and they have an overall playoff record of 22-25. Thus, even though their overall win percentage is the same as the teams who kept the same front office and head coach the following year, the difference is that the teams that bring in a new head coach have greater long-term success. It seems like owners who know they have intelligent general managers stick with them and let them choose a successful head coach to lead the team.

Now let's look at the teams that failed when they kept the GM and fired the head coach: Oakland and Al Davis signed Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, and Tom Cable. Detroit and Matt Millen hired Steve Mariucci. Arizona and Rod Graves hired Dennis Green. San Fransisco and Terry Donahue hired Mike Nolan. Seattle and Tim Ruskell hired Jim Mora. Coincidentally, none of these general managers are in the league anymore, and none of these coaches are currently leading a NFL team.

Most of this is a result of owners listening to terrible GMs and hiring equally awful coaches. What we see is that it is either boom or bust when it comes to keeping the GM and firing the coach. It either leads to a a period of stable success or more firings and a reset on the entire rebuilding process. Now it seems like the decision to keep Rick Smith and fire Gary Kubiak could be much more of a far-reaching decision than previously thought and is just another reason why this is the most important offseason the Texans have faced since 2007.

To summarize, when teams keep the GM and fire the head coach, it either brings long-term success or it leads to teams stumbling around in the gallows of the NFL. Teams that do keep the GM instead of keeping both the GM and coach usually see greater long term success.

The last group of teams to look at are the ones who decided to bring the bleach, heavy duty rubber gloves, mops, steam cleaners, and magic erasers to remove the skull crumbs and entrails.

Both Fired Team Wins Losses GM Coach Fired? Wins Losses Playoffs New HC New GM
2004 MIA 4 12 Rick Spielman Dave Wannstedt Both 9 7 No Nick Saban Randy Mueller
2004 CLE 4 12 Butch Davis Butch Davis Both 6 10 No Romeo Crennel Phil Savage
2005 HOU 2 14 Charley Casserley Dom Capers Both 6 10 No Gary Kubiak Rick Smith
2007 MIA 1 15 Randy Mueller Cam Cameron Both 11 5 Yes Tony Sporano Jeff Ireland
2008 CLE 4 12 Phil Savage Romeo Crennel Both 5 11 No Eric Mangini George Kokinis
2008 KC 2 14 Carl Peterson Herm Edwards Both 4 12 No Todd Haley Scott Pioli
2008 DET 0 16 Matt Millen Rod Marinelli Both 2 14 No Jim Schwartz Martin Mayhew
2008 STL 2 14 Jay Zygmut Scott Linehan Both 1 15 No Steve Spagnulo Billy Devaney
2009 WSH 4 12 Daniel Snyder Jim Zorn Both 6 10 No Mike Shannahan Bruce Allen
2011 INDY 2 14 Bill Polian Jim Caldwell Both 11 5 Yes Chuck Pagano Ryan Grigson
2011 STL 2 14 Billy Devaney Steve Spagnulo Both 7 8 No Jeff Fisher Les Snead
2012 KC 2 14 Romeo Crennel Scott Pioli Both 11 5 Yes Andy Reid John Dorsey
2012 JAX 2 14 Gene Smith Mike Mularkey Both 4 12 No Gus Bradley David Caldwell
Total
31 177


83 124


The biggest aspect that sticks out here is how atrocious teams are whenever they decide to cut both umbilical cords. Of the teams that fired both the head coach and GM, they have an overall win percentage of .149 and win an average of 2.38 games the season immediately preceding the firings.

Let's examine teams who win two games or less while we are here. Since 2002, there have been sixteen occurrences where a team has won two games or less. Nine of those times, the head coach and GM were fired the following season. Steve Spagnulo/Billy Devaney and Jim Schwartz/Martin Mayhew are the only head coach/GM combos to not be fired after a 2-14 or worse season. Out of the GMs that managed to hold onto their jobs after a two win season, only Rick Smith and Martin Mayhew still have those jobs. They're also the only GMs or head coaches left standing from staffs that were hired on following a head coach and GM firing. The other GMs that were kept after a two win or worse season were Marty Hurney and Terry Donahue, both of whom were fired the next season, and Al Davis and Mike Brown, who were/are the owners of their respective franchises and thus have the best job security on the planet. As a result, we see that Rick Smith and Martin Mayhew are extremely fortunate they have not been fired, as they are the only two GMs to buck the trend of dismissals following two win seasons.

The last thing to discuss about this grouping of firings is linked to what is discussed in the two win or less section. Of all the coaches and GMs that were hired after the owner pulled a Bill O'Brien and fired everyone, only Rick Smith, Martin Mayhew, and Bruce Allen are left from 2002-2009. Since then, Chuck Pagano & Ryan Grigson, Jeff Fisher & Les Snead, Andy Reid & John Dorsey, Gus Bradley & David Caldwell are all still with the teams that hired them. This is mostly a result of recency since these hires were made after the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but the Colts and Chiefs have already turned things around and made the playoffs since then. If you can, please pour some out for the coaches and GMs hired after coming into an organization that was cleaning house.

Before we take an in-depth look at those teams that made the playoffs following a four win or worse season, let me toss you some crumbs of info that I found while putting this together:

-Only four teams failed to appear on the list. The Patriots, Ravens, Steelers and Cowboys have won more than four games in every season since 2002. The Cowboys are the only team to not win a Super Bowl, let alone more than one playoff game, from this group.

-Detroit and Oakland lead the league in the ineptitude sweepstakes and have been on the list five times. Three of Detroit's came at the hands of Matt Millen. Jim Schwartz and Marvin Lewis are the only coaches to survive two four win or worse seasons.

-Al Davis is the only GM to be on the list more often than Matt Millen at a record-setting five seasons. Each time he fired the head coach. Maybe if he looked into the mirror he would have realized he was at fault, but oh, wait...Al Davis did not have a reflection. As a result, Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin all suffered his rage. Tom Cable is the only head coach to last more than two years with the Raiders.

-Most would claim the Jags have been the worst team in recent memory. Despite this group think, the Glitter Kitties have had only one season where they failed to win five games. They tend to win five to six games year after year, snuggling in sheets that are not fully soiled.

-The Browns have yet to find a strategy that works. They are on this list four times and they have alternated between firing the head coach and firing both the head coach and GM twice.

-Chad Pennington and Drew Brees are the only quarterbacks to lead two different teams to the playoffs after a team won less than four games the previous year.

-Andrew Luck, Mat Ryan, and Andy Dalton are the only rookie quarterbacks to make the playoffs with a team that won four games or less the previous season.

-In every season since 2005, there have been at least four teams that won less than four games. This year's seven teams is the most since 2005. What we see is that there is parity in the NFL playoffs, but not in the regular season. The regular season has an extremely large Gini Coefficient compared to the madness that ensues in the NFL playoffs.

-Finally, if we include 2013, there have been 60 teams that have won four games or less. Teams that go 4-12 have an overall record of 177-677, improve by a total of 195 games (365-484), a win % increase of .230 (.430-.200), and win an average of 3.67 more games the following year (6.8-3.2). Only seven of the 54 teams failed to win more than four games the following years: 2006 & 2007 Oakland, 2008 & 2009 Saint Louis, 2008 & 2009 Kansas City, and 2009 Detroit.

Well, enough of that. Let's dive into why and how teams improve the following season. Below are the "lucky" stats for teams that make the leap. I have posted this link multiple times throughout my time at BRB, but read this article by Bill Barnwell to understand why and how these "lucky" stats work.

Here are the numbers for the playoff teams with four wins or less during their horrendous seasons:

Year Team Wins Losses Pythagorean Wins TO Differential One Possession Record DVOA DVOA Rank
2003-2004 SD 4 12 4.9 -11 2-4 -11.80% 21
2005-2006 NYJ 4 12 4.5 -6 2-4 -20.90% 26
2005-2006 NO 3 13 3.6 -24 2-5 -22.80% 28
2006-2007 TB 4 12 3.6 -12 3-3 -19.70% 28
2007-2008 MIA 1 15 3.8 -7 1-6 -21.40% 27
2007-2008 ATL 4 12 4 4 3-5 -25.90% 28
2008-2009 CIN 4 11 3.2 -2 3-3 -20.70% 27
2009-2010 KC 4 12 4.7 1 3-6 -29.20% 28
2010-2011 DEN 4 12 5.2 -9 2-6 -17.10% 26
2010-2011 CIN 4 12 3.2 -2 3-3 -3.40% 19
2011-2012 INDY 2 14 3.3 -12 1-6 -32.80% 31
2011-2012 MIN 3 13 5.5 -3 2-9 -22.20% 29
2012-2013 KC 2 14 2.6 -24 2-3 -40.10% 32
2012-2013 PHI 4 12 4 -24 4-5 -22.40% 28
Total/Average 47 176 56.1 -131 33-68 (.326) -22.17% 27

First, what we see is that every team other than 2006 Tampa, 2007 Atlanta, 2008 Cincinnati, 2010 Cincinnati, and 2012 Philadelphia won less games than their Pythagorean wins indicate they should have (Points For2.37 / (Points For2.37 + Points Against2.37). All of these teams won less games than their point differential indicates they should have, and cumulatively these teams won nine games less than they actually should have the prior year.

Turnover differential is another enormous factor, and all of these teams had inopportune fortunes. 2007 Atlanta and 2009 Kansas City were the only teams to have a positive turnover differential. On average, they had a turnover differential of -9.35. Turnovers are a volatile stat because recovering fumbles doesn't require skill (forcing fumbles does), turnovers are not created in a vacuum and are dependent on another player making a mistake (i.e., a corner can only intercept a pass if the ball is thrown at him, etc). So what we see are huge shifts from teams like Kansas City, who go from a turnover differential of -24 to +17, and on smaller levels like the 2005 New York Jets going from -6 to 0.

One possession records are the final key to the lucky stat puzzle. Sit down, relax and think about all of the wild one possession games you have seen in the past. Just in 2013 we saw the Patriots lose to the Jets on a non-penalty that gave the Jets another chance to kick a field goal, the Texans fail to send games into OT because of Randy Bullock missed field goals, the Steelers losing to the Dolphins on a rugby-esque end of the game, a lateral play because Antonio Brown's foot skimmed the out of bounds marker, and a slew of others. The point is that in close games, one or two small plays or mistakes swing games. Strange things can and do occur. The best way to circumvent the zaniness of football is to not put your team in these close game situations. No team just wins, but they just win for that year, until the regression monster peeks his head out from under the covers. In this case, not one of these teams were above .500 in one possession games; only 2006 Tampa, 2008 Cincinnati, and 2009 Cincinnati were .500 in one score games. When we look at the totals, we see that these teams finished with a record of 33-68, 35 games below .500 and a win percentage of .326.

The last thing I wanted to look at was DVOA to see how these teams performed. All of these teams lost not only because of poor luck, but awful play as well. Out of all them, the 2010 Bengals had the best performance with a DVOA of -3.4%, which was 19th in the league that year. Most of the teams muddle around from the mid to late 20s; on average, their DVOA was -22.17% and an average ranking of 27th. The key is that none of these teams performed at a high level. Their record was a combination of poor play and misfortune.

Before we move further and you claim this is all great in hindsight and that these numbers don't offer any predictive qualities, just look at my playoff picks going into this season. I picked Carolina and the Chiefs to make the playoffs, and for Atlanta to miss the postseason because of turnover differential, DVOA, and one possession games when others did just the opposite.

Here are the numbers for the teams when they make the playoffs the next season.

Year Team Wins Losses Pythagorean Wins TO Differential One Possession Record DVOA DVOA Rank
2003-2004 SD 12 4 11.2 15 6-4 17.22% 9
2005-2006 NYJ 10 6 8.7 0 6-3 -1.10% 15
2005-2006 NO 10 6 10.3 -4 5-3 6.40% 12
2006-2007 TB 9 7 10 15 3-4 17.80% 8
2007-2008 MIA 11 5 8.8 17 7-2 6.20% 14
2007-2008 ATL 11 5 9.7 -3 6-4 4.70% 16
2008-2009 CIN 10 6 8.4 0 6-3 -0.10% 19
2009-2010 KC 10 6 9.1 9 4-2 0.30% 17
2010-2011 DEN 8 8 5.8 -12 9-4 -11.80% 24
2010-2011 CIN 9 7 8.4 0 6-3 0.10% 17
2011-2012 INDY 11 5 7.2 -12 9-1 -16% 25
2011-2012 MIN 10 6 8.8 -1 4-1 2.00% 14
2012-2013 KC 11 4 10.7 17 3-2 17.40% 7
2012-2013 PHI 10 6 9.4 12 4-2 15.10% 8
Total/Average 142 81 126.5 53 75-38 (.663) 4.16% 14.64285714

Here we see the pendulum of fortune swing the other way. First look at the difference between Pythagorean wins and actual wins. These teams now have over-performed by 16 wins. Every team other than 2007 Tampa Bay and 2006 New Orleans won more than their Pythagorean win record indicated. Teams like 2011 Indy, 2011 Denver (TEEEEBOOOOOOOW), and 2008 Miami won two more games than they should have. If we look at the totals, the playoff teams eclipsed their Pythagorean wins by 15.5. On average, teams outperformed their record by 1.1 games, which is an increase of 1.76 compared to the previous season.

Alright alright, let's move on to turnover differential. What is important to look at is not whether the number is positive or negative, but whether or not the team improved in this category... and the answer is that every team improved in this regard other than the 2008 Falcons, 2011 Broncos (TEEEEEEEEEEEEEBOOOOOOOW), and the 2012 Colts (a/k/a the luckiest team of all time). On average, their turnover differential improved by 13.14 turnovers from the previous season. 6 of the 14 playoff teams saw their turnover differential improve by more than 20. Finally, if we look at the total value, the turnover differential improved by 184 (+53- -131).

The last fortuitous stat is one possession records. Just like the others, the difference is staggering. First what we see is that these teams play in more one possession games than the previous year since the teams go from playing in 7.21 to 8.28 one score games. Additionally, their win percentage jumps from .34 to .67. Every team was +.500 other than the 2007 Buccaneers. Also to add to the TEEEEEEEEEEEBOOOOOOOO fun, the Broncos were 9-4 in one score games during the magical playoff run. When we look at total records, these teams were 75-38, good for a win percentage of .663 in these games.

Lastly, let's take a look at DVOA to see how these teams performed. These teams all saw their performance improve dramatically. On average their DVOAs improve by 26.3%. What is interesting is that only five teams finished in the top twelve of DVOA (only 12 playoff spots) and the rest ranged from 14th to 25th, finishing at an average ranking of 14.6. Even though these teams did perform better, which is expected, they did not play at a level most playoff teams usually do. What we see is that the improvement in over-playing their expected win-loss record, turnover luck, and one possession record inflates the record and allows them to make the playoffs despite their performance.

Now to come full circle, let's take a look at the teams that won four games or less in 2013.

Year Team Wins Losses Pythagorean Wins Difference TO Differential One Possesion Record DVOA GM HC
2013 HOU 2 14 4.2 -2.2 -20 2-9 -33.70% No Yes
2013 WSH 3 13 4.8 -1.8 -8 2-7 -35.70% No Yes
2013 OAK 4 12 4.9 -0.9 -9 2-4 -42.70% No No
2013 CLE 4 12 5.5 -1.5 -8 2-4 -25% No Yes
2013 ATL 4 12 5.9 -1.9 -7 4-7 -14.90% No No
2013 TB 4 12 5.3 -1.3 10 2-6 -5.40% Yes Yes
2013 JAX 4 12 3.1 0.9 -6 4-2 -16.90% No No

Let's take everything we have learned so far, apply it, and find out what teams we should pay special attention to this offseason. Every team had a negative turnover record and DVOA. Only the Jaguars outperformed their Pythagorean win record and had a positive record in one possession games. So let's cross the Jags off. If we go back and look at Barnwell's article, we see that the Jags should decline by 0.9 wins, Oakland should improve by .6 wins, the Bucs and Browns should improve by 2.0 wins, the Redskins and Falcons should improve by 2.5 wins, and the Texans should improve by 2.6 wins. So let's cross off the Raiders. All of these teams left are worth watching out this offseason, but the goal is to trim this list to two since we see 1.45 teams a year make the playoffs after a 4-12 or worse season.

The Bucs seem like a nice pick since they have the highest DVOA, lost Doug Martin early in the year and are improving from Greg Schiano to Lovie Smith. However, the Bucs had a +10 turnover differential in 2013. From what we have seen historically, the previous DVOA does not matter. Since 2002, only three teams have brought in a new head coach and GM and made the playoffs the next season. They are also probably going to start Mike Glennon next year at QB and are in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, so let's cross them off.

Now we have Cleveland, Washington, Houston, and Atlanta remaining. I don't like Washington next year because of (A) Jay Gruden and (B) they don't have their first round draft choice.

There is one other vital peice of info that I didn't measure for every four win or worse team, and that is the plexiglass principle. Which Mr. Barnwell describes in a sentence as:

In a Sentence: Teams that make a significant leap in their performance (or an aspect thereof) over a given season often give back some of those gains during the following year.

So Houston went from 14-2 to 2-14, Atlanta went from 13-3 to 3-13 and the Browns went from 5-11 to 4-12. Any of these would be good choices going into next season. Because of this and the Browns still not having a head coach, I am going to have to go with the 2014 Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons as my choices for next year's sleeper playoff teams.

In conclusion, even though teams win less than four games in a season, they still have the opportunity to see a dramatic increase in their record the next season. The firings that they make going into the next season do have an impact on their record the next season and their future success. Teams that do win less than four games do so because of poor luck and performance. They need both to improve the next year to make the playoffs. Most importantly, 2013 might suck, but 2014 does not have to.

If you are interested in the full data set, send me an email at mbw987 AT gmail DOT com or a tweet @mbw987 and I will send you what I have.

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