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.