Last year, at this time, I took a look at the Green Bay Packers’ 8-0 start, and found that their historically bad defense (at least among elite teams) was an issue compared with other teams that started 8-0. Green Bay went on to still win 15 regular season games, but that defensive shortcoming came to pass in the Divisional Round against the Giants.
Atlanta is the fifteenth team to reach 8-0 at the midway point of a 16 game schedule. You may have noticed that it is happening far more frequently now. It only happened twice in the 1980’s. Then both San Francisco and New York did it in 1990, followed by the Redskins in 1991. After that, we had a long stretch where only the 1998 Broncos reached 8-0.
Since 2002, though we’ve seen nine different teams start a year 8-0. What changed? Well, the schedule format is a big facto. It’s a lot more uniform now, a lot cleaner and fairer within a division. Among the top teams, though, there can be a tendency to get a good draw. It’s more like having four different football conferences now, with only a few cross over games. Prior to 2002, teams really did play a first place or second place schedule, and thus played the good teams from the top of their own conference more, and didn’t play the fifth place teams as often.
I think that will show when we compare the fifteen 8-0 teams. I ranked each of the fifteen by their stats through the first 8 games in the following: points for, points allowed, point differential, yardage margin, turnover margin, yards per offensive play, yards allowed per defensive play, and strength of schedule (as measured at the halfway point by opponent records).
Here they are, sorted from lowest combined rankings to highest combined rankings across all eight categories. Atlanta comes in dead last.
- New England, 2007 (30): Lost Super Bowl
- Miami, 1984 (41.5): Lost Super Bowl
- Washington, 1991 (47.5): Won Super Bowl
- New Orleans, 2009 (55): Won Super Bowl
- Indianapolis, 2005 (59.5): Lost Divisional Round
- Chicago, 1985 (61): Won Super Bowl
- Indianapolis, 2009 (61): Lost Super Bowl
- New York Giants, 1990 (63.5): Won Super Bowl
- Denver, 1998 (64.5): Won Super Bowl
- Green Bay, 2011 (71): Lost Divisional Round
- Kansas City, 2003 (71): Lost Divisional Round
- Indianapolis, 2006 (77.5): Won Super Bowl
- Tennessee, 2008 (78): Lost Divisional Round
- San Francisco, 1990 (86): Lost Championship Game
- Atlanta, 2012 (93): ???????
Among the top nine on this list, eight of them reached a Super Bowl, with four of them winning.
Among the others in the bottom six, only the 2006 Colts reached and won a Super Bowl. That Colts team had a low point differential and yards per play relative to other undefeateds, but they did differ from the rest at the bottom of the list in one key category.
Strength of schedule.
That 2006 Colts team had the hardest schedule of anyone on this list. The others at the bottom of the list all ranked in the bottom half of strength of schedule, playing easier than average slates while still not putting up as dominant of numbers.
Atlanta is tied for the second easiest schedule on this list, with Denver at home as the only game against a team in playoff position right now. The only category they rank above average is turnover margin, but that’s not a great thing. The bottom of this list ranked higher in that category than the top, the only category where that was the case.
From point differential to points scored to yards per play on offense and defense to schedule, this Atlanta team is in the bottom five of each category.
These imbalanced schedules have produced five teams in the bottom of that list since 2002, while only 1990 San Francisco appears from pre-2002. In other words, going 8-0 was a lot harder and more meaningful in predicting playoff success before the changes.
[photo via US Presswire]