Thursday, October 10, 2013

September Champions

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that an acquaintance of mine has all but written a blood oath declaration that the Denver Broncos will win the Super Bowl and take home the Lombardi Trophy this coming February. That he made said declaration after the first Thursday night game (between the Broncos and Ravens) -- before the other 30 teams had even played a down -- made it all the more histrionic; but, to his credit -- I suppose -- and to my chagrin, he has kept up the missive in full force thru the 4 weeks of NFL action since.

I've yet to see him since this past weekend's arena football match between the Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, but something tells me he'll continue the verbal charge, even in the light of the damning evidence the game may have uncovered on the Bronco defense (500+ passing yards, 48 points surrendered).

In light of 5-0 Denver's upcoming scrimmage with the NFL's practice squad -- otherwise known as the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars -- the ESPN "Did You Know?" fairy saw fit to grant me a little nugget of NFL statistical history when I visited their homepage this morning:
*quote*Did you know? During the Super Bowl era, 53 teams have started 6-0; 49 made playoffs, 24 made Super Bowl and 13 have won the Super Bowl.*quote*

Oh my. For those of you that need to see the percentages (and my recent saddening discovery that someone actually saw the need to write a webpage where one can enter two numbers and have percentages calculated <i>for them</i> -- as opposed to, say, using the division button included on the calculator of every phone made in the past decade -- says some of you will), that's an iron-clad 92% success rate of making the playoffs, dropping of to a less-than-every-other 45% success rate of making it to the big game, and a 24% rate of actually winning the whole thing. In short, less than 1 out of every 4 teams that have started 6-0 have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

Granted, past failures are no guarantee of future ones, and I am certainly not one to focus solely on historical trends while ignoring individual cases. However, the trends do point to some salient points. The NFL season, while short on the calendar, is rather long in every other sports measure, and teams are all but certain to run into difficulties as the season progresses. The past two NFL champs (Giants of 2012 and Ravens of 2013) illustrate that point to a tee. So, if your team doesn't encounter those stumbling blocks early, rest assured, they are in all likelihood laying in wait for you. It's very, very hard, and very, very rare, to go thru an entire season unscathed. Those 18-1 New England Patriots can tell you a thing or two about that.

For the moment, however, do let us look at the specific case of the 2013 Denver Broncos. Specifically, let's look at their opening schedule to date: vs. Ravens, at Giants, vs. Raiders, vs. Eagles, at Cowboys. Hmm. After the now 3-2 defending champs, with their wholly-remanufactured defense featuring a bevy of rookies (that were only ranked 17th in yards against last year to begin with), come a gaggle of 2-3 teams and a winless doormat. The Ravens defense is currently ranked 15th in yards against; the Raiders are 20th, the Giants are 28th, the Cowboys 30th, and the Eagles dead-last at 32nd. We're supposed to be floored, shocked and awed that Manning has feasted on these defenses? Awed at the numbers, certainly, but surprised? Come on.

It certainly doesn't bode any better for the Broncos that they slot right in between those no-hope-for-help defenses at a shoddy 31st.

As far as pass defense specifically, just ahead of Denver's bottom-of-the-barrell secondary rank the Cowboys and Raiders, with the Giants and Eagles clocking in at 25th and 24th, and Baltimore at a more-palatable 18th. So, Manning and the flying horses have chewed up yards like a field of hay against teams that coincidentally give up passing yards to everyone. Let's take another pause to feign surprise. What's really damning, again, on the flip side of that is that the Broncos pass defense has earned their league-worst 32nd ranking by out-yielding the rest of the league by a full 100 yards. Ouch.

Ironically, the Jaguars defense has given up roughly the 10th-fewest passing yards in the league; it's their 32nd-rated run defense that is giving them problems. Something in the air tells us that they'll find a way to hemorrhage points to Denver, even at home, regardless. After that, Denver hosts the Indianapolis Colts, ranked somewhere around 6th in passing yards. Could we see a slowing of the Pony Pass Express over the next couple of weekends? I wouldn't necessarily hold my breath or bet the house, but it wouldn't be all that surprising either, given the level of competition -- if you can call it that -- that their pass offense has faced so far.

Either way, the annals of NFL history are littered with the carcasses of teams that looked like world-beaters in September. If you don't mind, can we hold off on etching names into trophies until the calendar turns over at least? Thanks. We're all well aware of Peyton Manning's less than stellar record when gametime temperatures dip below 40 degrees. (Why did he choose Denver over, say, the Dolphins anyways? There is something to be said for ignoring past history, sure. There's also something to be said for needlessly fighting against it.) Need we mention that the high-flying pass-happy Broncos play in a state best known as a snow-skiing paradise? That this year's Super Bowl is being held in New Jersey? Outdoors? In February?

I'm just saying.

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