To a large extent, football fans have a mistaken idea of what a football team’s realistic expectations regarding consistency should be from week to week. They think a team that won last week should win this week, and team that lost last week will get beaten again this week.
And a lot of times, this is the case. Good teams usually win, bad teams usually lose. But not always. Sometimes, bad teams win and good teams lose.
For us fans, it’s hard to understand why this happens.
The Brady-Belichick Patriots were for 19 years the most successful NFL franchise in the history of the league, maintaining a standard of excellence not only each year, but each week. And this has led many people to believe that the results they achieved over that span are not only duplicable for other NFL teams, but that it is a cause for concern when any team fails to produce the same results from week to week as those Patriot teams were able to for so long.
From 2001 through the 2019 season, the Patriots went 232-72 in the regular season, winning their division 17 out of 19 times, and averaging12.2 wins per season against 3.8 losses per season. Their longest losing streak over that span was 4 games, and it happened in 2002, the dynasty’s worst season and the only season they won fewer than 10 games (9-7). From 2002-2019 the Patriots never had more than a 2 game losing streak.
The Patriots had only 2 losses of 20 or more points between 2010-2019: 2014 week 4 against Kansas City (41-14) and 2010 week 9 vs. Cleveland (34-14).
We’ve never seen consistency like the Patriots before, and we might never will again. But even the greatest dynasty in league history got blown out from time to time.
It’s the NFL. It’s unavoidable.
I bring this up because of something I heard Aaron Rodgers say on the Pat McAfee show yesterday. McAfee asked Rodgers about the Bucs getting destroyed by the Saints: “Is it hard to balance a season out between success and failures? For instance, Tom [Brady] right now–everyone’s saying the Buccaneers are dead, they’re done for, they’ve been figured out. How does that change your mindset after having a great game, or a terrible game? Or are they the exact same reaction out of you?”
Rodgers’ answer was interesting, and revealed a lot about how we fans fail to understand how hard it is to be consistent in the NFL from week to week:
“I don’t know, Pat, there’s not a major freak-out. I know you like to do your overreaction Mondays–everybody does. The knee-jerk reactions to everything that happened. You know, if you win it’s [about] how great your are…
Like last year, we were winning but everyone said, ‘They’re winning ugly!’ I think there’s a loss of understanding on how difficult it is to win in this league. And I think there’s a lack of understanding on how difficult it is to be consistent.
There’s just so many outside factors, and teams that play differently, and adjustments that go on, and dealing with success, and dealing with frustration, and dealing without outside distractions that can affect you week to week. Not to mention injury reports and Covid tests and everything else that we’re dealing with week-to-week. There’s a lot of other circumstances that affect performance–or can affect performance–week to week and I think that’s the beauty in finding consistency. Those teams that do, you understand and appreciate how difficult that is.
We beat the Saints early in the season in week 3, they haven’t lost since then. They’ve won 5 in a row since then, so obviously they’ve figured some things out. They’ve got great rhythm. They have Michael Thomas back, really talented player. They’ve gotten into that groove, and you realize how difficult that is, and you have great respect for teams that can put together winning streaks 4, 5, 6–8, like your boys in Pittsburgh. It’s really impressive.”
These players and coaches and personnel are all human beings. They’re all subject to emotional and physical fluctuations from week to week.
It’s not like Madden where a player who is rated as a 95 will play every snap of every game at a 95 skill level (unless you turn on injuries and fatigue). In real life, some weeks that player might play at a 99 level, in other weeks he might play at an 83 level, or even worse.
Then, sometimes a player who is a 73 might have a week where he plays like a 97. Sometimes even a team that is a 78 will play at a 94 level and beat a much better team.
What sets the great players apart is their ability to consistently be great. Same with the great teams vs. the bad teams.
Teams have letdown games. It just happens. There will be games where good teams play like crap, and bad teams play great. It’s unavoidable.
Sometimes a team comes into a game with an amazing gameplan and wins the chess match. Sometimes great teams get complacent.
The point is, teams are not the same week-to-week. All fans understand that teams are different year-to-year, but a lot of fans fail to really grasp the fact that teams are also different week-to-week.
The best teams are the ones that can be as consistent as possible from week to week. That’s really it. That’s why the Patriots Dynasty was so incredible: because of their consistency. They were able to sustain excellence from week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. For 19 years, they were a team that you could count on to be at their best for at least 13-14 games every season.
Other teams over that span had some great seasons, and usually in every season there was some other team that was either as good or even better than the Patriots were. But rarely were any of those other teams able to sustain that greatness into the next season, or even from start to finish of that one season.
That’s what set the Patriots apart from everyone else. They were consistently consistent. Fans of other teams saw the Patriots doing their thing and thought, “If they can do it, why can’t we? It can’t be that hard to do.” But it is. The Brady-Belichick Patriots and their consistent excellence was an anomaly. It was not replicable for the 31 other teams.
And yet even the Patriots were prone to having let-down games once or twice a year.
The NFL is really unpredictable. Teams get hot and teams get cold–not only from week-to-week, but even within games, from drive-to-drive, quarter-to-quarter.
Teams change throughout the season, and even throughout the course of individual games.
When we power-rank teams (myself included) we tend to focus only on what happened most recently. I’m sure everyone’s heard of “recency bias”. But it’s a real thing. We focus more on the micro than the macro.
“Buccaneers just got throttled by the Saints? The Bucs are done-for, the Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Pencil it in.” That’s how our minds work.
What really matters is how both teams respond to that game: do the Bucs shake it off, make some adjustments and recommit themselves to greatness going forward? Or do they let that beatdown get in their heads and send their season into a tailspin?
Do the Saints allow themselves to get too confident after that game? Or do they put it in perspective and acknowledge it was one game in a 16 game season, and there’s still a very long way to go? I have faith that the Saints will not let that game get to their heads because they have been one of the most consistent teams in the league for 15 years now. They have one of the best coach-QB combos ever, and both Sean Payton and Drew Brees have seen it all in this league. They’re not going to allow that win to convince them they don’t need to keep improving and don’t need to put in 100% effort for every game going forward.
Similarly, with Tampa, Tom Brady is not the kind of guy that is going to let that loss tank their season. He’s seen it all in this league. He’s won six Super Bowls and gotten his ass kicked all the same. It’s going to make him work that much harder and be more committed to getting better.
What Aaron Rodgers was saying was that there’s a lot more that contributes to wins and losses than talent alone.
Talent will get you far, but if the chemistry is bad, or if the coaching staff isn’t prepared, or if the players lack discipline–or any number of other factors–then you’re going to lose.
The other day I wrote about how all of the top 10 teams in the league right now have had either head-scratching losses or struggled against bad teams. The reason for this is that it’s incredibly difficult to be consistent in the NFL, and even more so this season with Covid and the lack of preseason games. Maybe the general lack of consistency we’re seeing right now among the top teams in the league shouldn’t be such a surprise.