Monday, April 23, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #16

#16: 1976
Week 11: 1976 Cowboys 10, Falcons 17
Cowboys' season: finished 11-3, clinched the #2 seed of the NFC, but lost to the Rams in the Divisonal round of the playoffs.
Falcons' season: finished 4-10. Head coach Marion Campbell resigned 5 games into the season.
What happened: the 1976 Cowboys didn't have a high-scoring offense. They scored under 21 points in 8 of their games that season. On a related note, the Cowboys' offense also lost the ball 3 or more times in half their regular season games (including 4 turnovers in this one).
Quarterback Roger Staubach didn't have a great season in 1976, but this was one of his worst performances: a 46% completion rate, 3 interceptions, 5.6 yards per pass attempt—it's no wonder the Cowboys only scored 10 points in this game.
The only question about this game is what happened at the end. Through 3 quarters, the Cowboys had managed to pitch a 10-0 shut-out of the Falcons. In spite of their poor offensive play, all the Cowboys needed was one more quarter of shutting down the Falcons, and they could've escaped with a win. Instead, the Falcons scored 17 fourth-quarter points, and got their upset.
Also of note: the 1976 Cowboys were in the middle of an extraordinary streak of success: they had consecutive winning seasons for 20 years, from 1966 to 1985, including 18 playoff appearances, and 5 Super Bowl appearances (winning twice).

Next week: the Eagles can't score 14 points on a very bad

Monday, April 16, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #17

#17: 2000 Week 8: Broncos 21, Bengals 31 (ρ=1.2833)
Broncos' season: finished 11-5, with #5 seed in the AFC, losing to the Ravens in the wildcard round.
Bengals' season: finished 4-12. Head coach Bruce Coslet resigned 3 games into the season, so this was actually the 4th game of the Dick LeBeau era.
What happened: the Broncos' run defense stayed home. The Broncos gave up 407 rushing yards, 2nd-most all time. Corey Dillon alone ran for 278 yards, which at the time set the single-game rushing yards record.
The Bengals completed just 2 passes for 34 yards in this game. On a related note, this was very near the end of Akili Smith's career as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Also of note: Corey Dillon's 278 yards rushing in a single game has since been surpassed by Jerome Harrison (286), Jamal Lewis (295), and Adrian Peterson (296). There's only been one game since 1976 where a team has rushed for at least 300 yards in a game and still lost.

Next week: Roger Staubach has a bad day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #18

#18: 2011 Week 16: Texans 16, Colts 19 (ρ=1.2831)
Texans' season: finished 10-6, clinched the #3 seed in the AFC, and won the franchises' first-ever playoff game before losing in the divisional round.
Colts' season: finished 2-14, as Peyton Manning sat out with a neck injury. Head coach Jim Caldwell was fired at the end of the season, and the Colts (once again) have the first overall pick in the draft.
What happened: there are a couple big mitigating factors for the Texans—they were starting their 3rd-string rookie quarterback, and they were missing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. But the fact is, they were facing a pretty awful 1-13 Colts team that had come apart like a $3 watch without Peyton Manning. This is a game they should've won.
The Texans executed a pretty reasonable game plan: run Arian Foster a lot, and give T.J. Yates a few short passes in between runs. It probably would've worked, except the Texans' offense took too many sacks and too many penalties, and finished the game with just 16 points scored.
Even that migh have been enough. The Texans' defense held the Colts to just 12 points through most of the game. But with 1:50 left to play in the game, that defense needed to get one more stop. Instead, they allowed the Colts offense to drive 78 yards in 12 plays and score the game-clinching touchdown.
Also of note: I wrote about this game in the week 16 pick results and the biggest upsets of 2011.

Next week: an awful quarterback doesn't matter when you can rush for 400 yards.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

APR's top 25 regular season upsets: #19

#19: 1997 Week 12: Packers 38, Colts 41 (ρ=1.2826)
Packers' season: finished 13-3 with the #2 seed in the NFC, losing Super Bowl XXXII to the Broncos.
Colts' season: finished 3-13. Head Coach Lindy Infante was fired at the end of the season, and with the first overall pick of the following 1998 draft, the Colts selected Peyton Manning.
What happened: the conventional wisdom at the time was that the Packers didn't play well on AstroTurf, and there's some evidence to support that. From 1995 through 1997, the Packers lost 11 regular season games, with 8 of those losses coming on AstroTurf fields (including this game).
But another problem for the Packers is that their defense in 1997 wasn't nearly as good as it was in 1996 (in 1996, the Packers allowed 2 100-yard rushers; in 1997 they allowed 9). The Packers' 3 turnovers didn't help anything, but given that the Colts only scored more than 28 points 3 times that season, I have to conclude this was a major defensive breakdown.
Also of note: this was a classic "trap" game. The Packers played the Cowboys the following week. At the time, the Packers were on a 7-game (including playoffs) losing streak to the Cowboys, and it's a fair assumption that game was on everyone's mind.

Next week: the first game from the 2011 season.