The last time that more than 7 playoff teams returned to the playoffs the following year was 1995, when 8 previous playoff teams made the tournament. Since 1990, when the playoff format expanded to 6 teams per conference, 52% of the previous year’s playoff teams repeated. Clark Judge thinks that the delay of the lockout will lead to the first time 8 teams have repeated in the playoffs since 1995, because the teams having to start rookie quarterbacks and the teams with new coaches will be disadvantaged, thus eliminating the chances of “first year phenoms” surprising.
While I agree that the lockout is likely to have an impact on rookie quarterbacks who are already at a disadvantage, and that new coaching staffs will be behind as well, I disagree that this means we are likely to see 8+playoff teams returning. This would assume that cases like Atlanta with Matt Ryan and Baltimore with Joe Flacco are the rule, rather than an extreme exception. Only 13% of teams that started a rookie quarterback since 1990 made the playoffs, so the large population of non-playoff teams that made the playoffs the following year only rarely includes rookie starting quarterbacks anyway (4 teams total). Teams like Carolina, with a new coach in Ron Rivera and new quarterback in Cam Newton, are not the type of teams that have generally made a playoff run anyway.
When we look at teams with new coaches, we see that 19.5% of teams since 1990 have reached the playoffs. That’s a little better, and most of those new coaches who made it were with teams that had a history of recent playoff appearances but missed the year before. The rest, non-playoff teams from the previous year with neither a new coach or rookie quarterback, made it 37.3% of the time, almost exactly in line with the playoff team to league size ratio.
Teams like San Diego (good point differential on a perennial playoff contender), NY Giants (just missed the playoffs, above average team)Tampa Bay (emerging team with winning record), Houston (very good offense if the defense turns around), St. Louis (2nd year quarterback, young team with coach in third year), and Detroit (similar to St. Louis, but with an injured quarterback returning) represent the more typical playoff replacements. Not all the new coach teams are in the same position either. Jason Garrett has been the offensive coordinator in Dallas, and that team fits the profile of a new coach/playoff team because they have been to the playoffs recently and get the quarterback back. Oakland also has their offensive coordinator and most of the same offensive players returning.
Even if we assume that no team with a rookie quarterback has a chance in 2011, we are likely to see turnover in the playoffs. Those teams weren’t likely in the mix anyway. Plenty of contenders will emerge, and I also think uncertainty with something like a lockout, always favors taking the field and expecting the unexpected.
[photo via Getty]