You’ll find plenty of amateur psychology when it comes to the Chargers and Cowboys. Chemistry majors are also getting involved. My personal theory – Patrick Crayton is some sort of aggressive alien life form that has moved from the Cowboys camp to the Chargers camp, infecting others. It’s just a hunch right now, but if word leaks of a team meeting involving players tied to chairs and blood being burned, well, you’ll know where you heard it first.
Of course, most of us overlook the simplest explanation: a lot of it is just good ‘ol bad fortune. Everything that could go wrong basically has at this point. I thought I would just take a quick look at some similar teams from the past for these teams, and two others that have some interesting characteristics: the Texans, who are 4-2 despite ranking last in points allowed, and the Steelers, who lead the league in points allowed.
San Diego: Let’s just say that there are no teams remotely like the Chargers in the last thirty years. Only one other team had a yardage differential greater than +1,000 yards after six games, and they went undefeated for the entire year (2007 Patriots). The Chargers, clearly, are not going undefeated. So I expanded it out to teams that were +600 yards compared to their opponents after six games. Ah, you might say, but by just looking at yardage, aren’t you discounting all the other things that have caused the Chargers to lose? Yes and No. If we look at other teams who had lots of yards compared to their opponents and also lost games, they, too, probably had to do the other things poorly. When we do that, we find that there are . . . zero other teams (out of 54) who had a losing record after six games with a +600 yardage differential. Yeah, the Chargers are unique. If we fudge a little and look at teams who went 3-3 despite such huge yardage differentials, we get four teams: 2000 Saints, 1985 Giants, 1990 Oilers, and 2001 Ravens. All four of those teams actually made the playoffs, with 6.7 more wins in their final 10 games. I think that is a good estimate for the Chargers, but will roughly a 9-7 record be good enough in 2010 in the AFC?
Dallas Cowboys: They may be the most similar team to the Chargers. They have also been winning the yardage battles but have been submarined by penalties, special teams returns, and big plays at inopportune times. They’ve played one less game, so we will shorten their yardage comparables to those that are +400 or better. Nine others had a losing record after five games in a 16-game season. The 1981 Redskins actually started 0-5 (finished 8-8). The others: 1992 Raiders, 1986 Oilers, 2003 Steelers, 2003 49ers, 1991 Giants, 1990 Oilers, 1990 Eagles, 1988 Redskins. Two of those 9 teams made the playoffs, and the average was 5.9 wins for the rest of the year. It’s probably too little too late, but I expect the Cowboys to join the majority of these teams, and win more often than they lose for the rest of the year. If they get to 9 wins in the NFC and have the right wins for tiebreaker purposes, they have a chance.
Pittsburgh Steelers: They lead the league in points allowed at 60, and have a stellar +9 turnover differential. When we look at teams most like the Steelers after 5 games based on those two factors, and also having a 4-1 record like Pittsburgh, we get the following list: 1979 Redskins, 1981 Broncos, 1986 49ers, 1990 Bears, 1996 Redskins, 1998 Chiefs, 2000 Ravens, 2006 Chargers. You’ll probably notice the 2000 Baltimore Ravens on that list, and this defense could put up that type of season. The average wins for this group was 6.4 wins in the final eleven games. I think most people would take the over if I offered them 10.5 wins at this point.
Houston Texans: The Texans are the anti-Steelers. They are 4-2, but have allowed the most points in the league, and have now won two shootouts with late comebacks. Five other teams have given up 150 or more points in their first six games, and still had a winning record: 1997 Steelers, 1999 Redskins, 2000 Rams, 2007 Lions, and 2008 Broncos. Three of those teams lost more than half their games, and the one team that played the best down the stretch did so with a much stiffer defense (Pittsburgh). I don’t like the Texans chances of continuing to win games if the defense is 32nd against the pass. This team reminds me a lot of the 2002 version of the Vermeil Chiefs with Priest Holmes. That team was exciting, but ultimately missed the playoffs.