The Arizona Cardinals have now won 11 of their last 13 games, an amazing fact. They have done so largely by winning close games and coming up with the key plays at the right time (five of the wins have come in overtime). Thus, they clearly have found some key to football and playing the right way. This isn’t luck, is it?
Yeah, it probably is. I’ve tried to slice, dice and entice as much information as I could, and no matter what, it comes out that teams that win close games and get reputations as winners often don’t magically continue that any more than any other randomly selected team. Sure, some teams that go 3-0 in close games will move to 4-0 the next time they play a close one (about half, actually). It would be a gambler’s fallacy to assume that the Cardinals will lose tonight if it ends up as a close game, because they have won too many recently.
What’s more likely, that the Cardinals just happened to be the team on a current run of good luck in close games, or the Cardinals magically discovered a new way to win games that involved generally being outgained but coming up big late, at mid-season last year?
If you are inclined to say that it is some sort of skill, some sort of football expertise that has been bestowed upon them, I’ve got a few questions.
If we constructed a team that was truly great at close game situations, rather than lucky, which of the following would be the traits they exhibit in accomplishing that?
1. When they had the ball with the lead late, they would methodically rip out the opponent’s heart by converting first downs so there was never an opportunity to lose; or
2. When they had the ball with the lead late, they would fumble to the opponent opening a sliver of hope for the other team, but then survive on a rare missed field goal.
Yeah, I thought so.
Anyway, to the numbers:
Since 1978 (16 game schedule), 30 other teams have started with a perfect record in close games, and by winning at least three close games, in the first four games of the year. These are our “clutch” teams that knew how to win early.
Rest of the season, they won 53.6% of their games. In close games, that record was 79-81. Because of the early wins, many were able to get in the playoffs (19 of 30 to be exact.) Close games in the playoffs were no better, as these teams went 5-8 in close contests with elimination on the line.
Yeah, but I know what you’re saying. These Cardinals have not just done it over four games, it’s been since last season. At some point, we must acknowledge this can’t be just luck.
Arizona’s 9-1 record in close games since Game 9 last year is the best ever. Six other teams who appeared on the above research had at least seven close wins between the midway point of the previous year, and the first four weeks.
Those teams with more extended cases of multiple close wins went 15-18 in close games over the rest of the season, including the playoffs. The most recent example, and the team that I suppose passed the clutch mantle to Arizona, was the Lions. Over the second half of 2010, and carrying over the to the start of 2011, they went 7-2 in close games. They’ve gone 6-10 since, including 3-5 in games decided by one touchdown.
[photo via US Presswire]