Improving NFL Teams That Should Provide Value
by Trevor Whenham - 08/08/2007
When it comes to the records of NFL teams, I have a theory - a team can be decent and still only win six games because of injuries or other circumstances, but a team that wins five or fewer games either has real problems or just isn't very good. Last year there were six teams that fell under the six win barrier, and each, in there own way, was pretty bad. The Raiders were the true stinkers with just two wins. The Lions were not far behind at three. Cleveland and Tampa Bay notched four victories, and Arizona and Washington both had five.
Though those teams all struggled, history has shown us that many of them could do significantly better than last season. In 2005 there were nine teams that ended up below my terrible team threshold - Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, the Jets, Tennessee, Houston, Oakland, Arizona and Detroit. Two thirds of those teams improved enough to escape the pit of despair the next season. Some of the improvements were remarkable - New Orleans went from three wins to 10 and a division win, the Jets improved by six wins and made the playoffs as well, Green Bay doubled their total to eight wins, and San Francisco and Tennessee showed upward progress by moving from four wins to seven and eight, respectively. That would show us that it's likely that several of the teams from last season will improve significantly this year. That means that there are profits to be had if we can anticipate those improvements and take advantage of them before the public jumps on them in full force. But which teams are likely to take the leap?
I'm more than willing to start by ruling out two teams off the top. Oakland is a sick franchise that has done little to get healthy. Drafting JaMarcus Russell as the QB of the future made sense, but they also could have drafted for several other high need positions as well. The fact that Russell has yet to sign a contract, and may not for quite a while, just further dims their prospects. I don't know how I feel about the long-term prospects of Lane Kiffin as head coach, but I am certain he will struggle this year. He has a quarterbacking mess, confusion at wide receiver, and an offensive line that would struggle to stop my goddaughter - and she isn't even two years old yet. The only thing I can say about this team that is positive is that their defense was solid last year and should be again this year under the brilliant Rex Ryan. If I was feeling generous I would say that I can see improvement in the future, but not now.
I'm not as negative about Cleveland, but it still isn't going to be pretty. They did some good things - adding Jamal Lewis, drafting and signing Joe Thomas, and stealing CB Eric Wright in the draft. Thanks in part but not entirely due to the moronic holdout by Brady Quinn, though, this appears to be a team that is still a year or two away from respectability. Both lines are sketchy, and a lot of their offensive skill players have to prove that they can produce to match their talent. I don't see the Browns sneaking up on anyone.
I put Tampa Bay and Washington into the same category. Both teams struggled last year, but they were both hampered by key injuries and underperformance at quarterback. Both teams should get significantly better contributions from under center, but for different reasons. Tampa Bay picked up Jeff Garcia and will be able to ride the veteran back to respectability. The running game was a major disappointment for the team last year as well, and it should be much better this year. Washington has a familiar face taking snaps in Jason Campbell, but the young player appears to have the tools, the maturity, and the opportunity to take the reins and become a respectable starter in his first full season at the helm. His team is fully behind him, and he has a spectacular two-headed running game to help him out. Washington certainly could contend in the NFC East. The division is wide open, and Washington's problems are no worse than any of their rivals. Tampa Bay will have a harder time topping their division because of the expected strength of the Saints and the likely resurgence of the Panthers, but they could certainly be in the mix if all goes well. There is a good possibility that both teams will offer significant value early in the season as they both could be better than the public will expect them to be based on last year.
Arizona and Detroit can also be lumped together. Both teams should be significantly better. Matt Leinart is a year older and wiser, and a new coaching regime should finally install a winning attitude in the desert. Detroit can't help but improve given the string of high draft picks they have had for much of the decade, and Jon Kitna has the skills and the pieces needed to rack up a pile of points. The problem is that both teams have been very hyped by mainstream media, so the public is expecting big improvements. While both teams should be improved, then, I expect them to struggle to meet the expectations heaped upon them, and I expect the public to bet the value out of them early on.