Tuck: The NFL Comeback Fallback

The Lions, Niners and Texans all posted 6-10 records in 2010 before breaking through in 2011 to win at least ten games and qualify for the postseason.  They all had amazing seasons last year.  A step forward from mediocrity to the playoffs for each.  Next step Super Bowl, right?

You might want to stop reading then.

We were surprised by all of them, at least to a certain extent.  But if the NFL teaches us anything, it’s that things change quickly, and can turnaround much faster than we ever give it credit for.  And basically, we shouldn’t be surprised.  But what might surprise you is that upstart ends up a blip on the radar more often than a team on the verge bigger, better things.

Over the last ten years there have been 29 instances in which an NFL team went 7-9 or worse and then came back the following year to win at least ten games.

And in 26 of those instances, teams followed up that impressive 10-win campaign with a record of 9-7 or worse. What does that tell us?

Since 2002, there’s an 89.6% chance that a team who bounces back from a losing season to post ten or more wins the following year is headed for a step in the wrong direction come year three.  Uh oh.

Bucs fans are nodding their heads.  Raheem Morris and his young Bucs stunned everyone by improving from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010 only to fall flat last year at 4-12.  And for what it’s worth, Kansas City fans had it happen to them too a season ago.

Great homework details all the teams by Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post.

So maybe you shouldn’t look at the San Francisco as a lock in the NFC West?  Perhaps Detroit was more lucky than good a season ago?  And is it possible Houston simply took advantage of a down year in the division more than they arrived as a perennial playoff team?

Odds tell us it would be more stunning if they all improved off last season.  And in a league where at least 5 new teams have made the playoffs for the last 15 years (2011: NYG, SF, DET, DEN, CIN, HOU) it’s the bigger upset to assume things will remain the same.