Monday, March 26, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #20

#20: 1996 Week 10: Panthers 17, Falcons 20 (ρ=1.2784)
Panthers' season: finished 12-4 with the #2 seed in the NFC, losing in the NFC Championship game to the Packers.
Falcons' season: finished 3-13. Head coach June Jones was fired at the end of the season.
What happened: with the exception of no touchdowns, quarterback Kerry Collins had pretty decent passing stats for this game (14/21 221 yard 0 ints), which gave him one of his best passer ratings of the 1996 season.
But the Panthers also gave up 6 sacks and lost 3 fumbles, which meant most of those yards were on drives that ended without a score. And it turns out that the turnovers where the real deal-breaker here: the 1996 Panthers were 1-4 when they lost more turnovers than they gained.
Also of note: Bobby Hebert, the Falcons quarterback in this game, is much better known as the quarterback that lead the New Orleans Saints to their first-ever winning season (and first-ever playoff berth) in 1987.

Next week: the Packers get caught in a trap game.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #21

#21: 1985 Week 1: Dolphins 23, Oilers 26 (ρ=1.2759)
Dolphins' season: finished 12-4 with the #2 seed in the AFC, losing in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots.
Oilers' season: finished 5-11. Head coach Hugh Campbell was fired with 2 games left to play.
What happened: quarterback Dan Marino's 159 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions earned him one of his lowest passer ratings of his career. After 3 quarters, the Dolphins' offense had managed just 3 field goals, and even with a pick-6 the Dolphins' 16 points weren't enough to stay ahead of the Oilers' anemic offense.
Marino was benched in favor of career backup Don Strock, who managed a go-ahead touchdown for the Dolphins. But the Dolphins defense couldn't hold, and the Oilers came back with an answering touchdown of their own to preserve the win.
Also of note: the Dolphins were the only team to beat the Super Bowl Champion Bears that season.

Next week: another case of a strong offense that can't get started against a bad defense.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #22

#22: 2000 Week 3: Steelers 20, Browns 23 (ρ=1.2757)
Steelers' season: finished 9-7, and out of the playoffs.
Browns' season: finished 3-13. Head coach Chris Palmer was fired after the end of the season.
What happened: 2000 was the second year of the "reboot" Browns, and they had a terrible offense. In 11 games, they didn't score more than 10 points (including 3 shut-outs). This game's 23 points was 1 less than their season high.
The Steelers had problems of their own on offense (even when they weren't starting career backup Kent Graham at quarterback). They only scored 24+ points 4 times in the 2000 season, and had four games of their own where they didn't score more than 10 points.
But the biggest problem for the Steelers in this game is they let Tim Couch pass for 316 yards (a mark he only surpassed twice in his NFL career). Couch also threw two touchdown passes, no interceptions, and was not sacked all game.
Also of note: the 2000 Steelers are the first of two upset teams on this list not to make the playoffs.

Next week: Dan Marino has one of the worst games of his career.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

1961 + 50, Addendum

Last Sepemtember, I posted a piece on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Packers' championship run under head coach Vince Lombardi.

Today, I came across an article on Jack Vainsini, a man who played another key role in buidling those championship teams:

Along with Lombardi, Vainisi had a hand, by draft or by trade, in bringing 10 men to Green Bay who would be enshrined at Canton, including [Jim] Taylor, [Forrest] Gregg, [Bart] Starr, [Ray] Nitchscke, Willie Davis, [Jim] Ringo, [Paul] Hornung, Willie Wood, and Henry Jordan. Acting largely on Vainisi's recommendation, one more was added after his death when the Packers took Herb Adderly in the next draft.

Lately, I've been becoming more and more convinced that the ability to draft well is one of the key aspects of succeeding in the NFL. As such, Vainisi's story is worth reading, and remembering.

Monday, March 5, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #23

#23: 2005 Week 1: Saints 23, Panthers 20 (ρ=1.2748)
Saints' season: finished 3-13. Head coach Jim Haslett was fired after the end of the season.
Panthers' season: finished 11-5, clinched the #5 seed in the NFC, and lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.
What happened: if you look at the stats for the Panthers' 2005 season, a couple things jump out: 1) 20 points scored was pretty low for them, and 2) 23 points allowed was pretty high. But PFR's boxscore page doesn't reveal much about why. Fortunately, has the gamebook (pdf) on line, which reveals a lot more of what happened.
I see two major factors: first, the Saints really managed to slow down the game—the Panthers only had 10 possessions, including 3 that totalled 32 seconds of clock time. It's hard to score points when you only have 7 real possessions to work with.
Second, the Saints managed to force 4 turnovers. This was one of only two games that season where the Saints came out ahead on turnovers. (The Saints finished 2005 with a league-worst -24 turnover margin, a big part of the reason they scored more than 21 points in just two games, and finished with a 3-13 record.) As has often been observed, winning the turnover battle can make all the difference between winning and losing, especially for a marginal team.
Also of note: the Saints appear in this series 8 times, twice as many as any other team (the Packers and Falcons are tied for second place with 4 appearances each). The 49ers, Bears, Bills, Ravens, and Seahawks are the only teams that don't appear on the list (except, I guess, for this note).

Next week: Tim Couch has a career day.