Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playoff possibilities

The 4-3 Cowboys didn't hit a speed bump in recent weeks. More like a brick wall. And now with the original diagnosis of Tony Romo missing 3-4 weeks settling in and optimism about an early return dying down, it's time to take a look at what the Cowboys legitimate chances are for the playoffs.

With Monte Kiffin and the original Tampa 2 defense coming to Texas Stadium this Sunday, Dallas won't have many opportunities to take deep shots down the field, which is perfectly fine considering Brad Johnson's arm strength has about as much power as Shawn Bradley driving to the hoop. Dinking and dunking with substantial yards after the catch will be the key to the Cowboys passing game, assuming that Johnson is allowed to remain upright (don't get me started).

So just for fun, I decided to look at the last 40 Super Bowl participants to see what if any struggles they encountered during their Super-seasons. Obviously there were teams that blew away the competition (2007 Patriots, 1999 Rams, 1989 49ers). On the other hand, some teams that made the big game seemed lost at times during the regular season:
+ The 2007 Giants went 1-2 in November, including an embarrassing home loss to MIN
+ The 2006 Bear has QB concerns all season long. Rex is our quarterback.
+ The 2006 Colts went 2-4 during a stretch.
+ The 2005 Steelers started 7-2 then lost three straight
+ The 2003 Panthers lost to the Texans. Also had three straight late-season defeats.
+ The 2002 Raiders were 4-0 before losing their next four games. + The 2001 Patriots started 1-3
+ The 2000 Ravens started 5-1 before dropping three straight games and going to Trent freaking Dilfer.
+ The 2000 Giants were 7-4 until Jim Fassel's guarantee. (I wish Wade Phillips would have a press conference like that JUST ONCE!)
+ The 1996 Patriots were 3-3.
+ The 1995 Steelers started 2-0 but fell to 3-4 after Week 7.
+ The 1994 Chargers started 6-0 but fell to 9-5.
+ The 1993 Bills lost 3 of 4 in late November / early December.
+ The 1991 Bills had a +2 turnover margin for the season.
+ The 1989 Broncos ended the regular season losing 3 of 4.
Looking at all these teams, the midway point of the season is when championship-caliber teams discover within themselves if they are legitimate contenders. From the point of being 5-3, 4-4, 3-5, that's pretty much the breaking point. After Sunday, Dallas will be either 5-3 or 4-4, still well within the reach of the playoffs. And like Bill Parcells used to say, once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.

Here's a look at the regular season records of teams that have made the Super Bowl, and their records in the game itself:
Since 1978 (16 game schedules - not including strike-shortened seasons)
16-0: 1 SB, 0-1
15-1: 2 SB, 2-0
14-2: 11 SB, 7-4
13-3: 13 SB, 6-7
12-4: 14 SB, 8-6
11-5: 12 SB, 3-9
10-6: 2 SB, 2-0
9-7: 1 SB, 0-1

Last 20 Super Bowl Champions

2007 NYG
Went 1-2 in November, including a 41-17 home loss to Minnesota to drop to 7-4. Also dropped two regular-season games to division-rival Cowboys before facing the team again in the playoffs (and we know how that turned out). Three road playoff wins en route to SB XLII title.

2006 IND
After a 9-0 start, hit a 2-4 late-season skid. But Peyton Manning on offense and Bob Sanders on defense provided leadership to bring Colts their first title since the days of Don Shula coaching in Baltimore.

2005 PIT
Squandered 7-2 start by losing three straight to Ravens, Colts, Bengals to fall to 7-5. Finished with eight straight wins (four regular season, four post season) including three road playoffs wins (two against Colts, Bengals) en route to SB XL title.
2004 NE
14-2 team didn't have many concerns as they plowed their way to a third title in four years.

2003 NE
Started 2-2 before winning 15 straight games.

2002 TB
Beat the teams they were supposed to beat in Jon Gruden's first season with the Bucs. Great defense gave up just 12.3 ppg in the playoffs.

2001 NE
Started 1-3 and remained a .500 team beyond halfway through the season before winning final six regular season games to go 11-5 as Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe. Won tuck rule game en route to upsetting 14-point favorite "Greatest Show on Turf" in SB XXXVI. Also started the new trend of choosing to be introduced as a team at Super Bowls. Emphasis on team rather than individual throughout the season.

2000 BAL
Started 5-1 before dropping three straight games as the offense failed to score a touchdown in October. Replaced QB Tony Banks with Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis-led defense shut down opposition as the team did not lose again. Emerged from wild card round to win SB XXXV.

1999 STL
Greatest Show on Turf and MVP Kurt Warner dropped consecutive games after 6-0 start to SB runner up Tennessee and 8-8 finisher Detroit. Responded with seven-game winning streak. Defense held up under pressure until the final play of the season (Mike Jones & Kevin Dyson).

1998 DEN
No messing around as Broncos went 14-2 during regular season in Elway's final year. Crushed Falcons in Super Bowl, 34-19.

1997 DEN
Terrell Davis emerges as unstoppable runner Elway yearned for since '83. 12-4 regular season. This one's for John!

1996 GB
Brett Favre guides Pack to 13-3 regular season, defeats Bill Parcell's Patriots in SB XXXI.

1995 DAL
Two late-season losses put 49ers in NFC Driver's Seat, but bounced back to gain home field when Atlanta upset Niners in week 17. Team faced tremendous pressure as owner Jerry Jones declared he could find 500 men who could coach team to SB title.

1994 SF
Steve Young escapes Joe Montana's shadow, making SF "first to five" in a season that included two big wins over two-time defending champion Cowboys in Week 11 and NFC Championship game.

1993 DAL
Began season 0-2 during Emmitt Smith hold out. Dropped consecutive games Thanksgiving week, including Leon Lett blocked field goal incident, to fall to 7-4 before winning eight straight for consecutive SB titles.

1992 DAL
New kids on the block went 13-3 in regular season, upset mighty San Francisco in NFC Championship game before blowing out Buffalo in SB XXVII. Not much adversity as Jimmy Johnson reigned with terror. Machiavelli did say it's better to be feared than loved. It seems he was right.

1991 WAS
Cruised to 14-2 regular season record en route to Joe Gibb's third SB win. What adversity?

1990 NYG
No. 1 defense and +20 turnover ratio shed insight on Bill Parcell's second SB title for the G-men. Did start 10-0 before a 1-3 skid in Nov/Dec. Won NFC Championship game (15-13) and Super Bowl (20-19) by three points combined. Wide right!

1989 SF
Went 14-2 in regular season as Joe Montana won another title by the Bay in George Seifert's first year coaching SanFran.

1988 SF
Only 10-6 regular season, including 2-4 stretch in Oct/Nov that dropped the team to 6-5. Rebounded to win Super Bowl in Bill Walsh's final season with 49ers.
Last 20 Super Bowl runners-up

2007 NE
Okay, so going undefeated isn't the answer.

2006 CHI
Did go 13-3, but who can forget the questioning week after week about QB situation. We're 10-2 with Rex as our quarterback. Rex is our quarterback. Rex is our quarterback.

2005 SEA
Clearly the class of a weak NFC. Started season 2-2 before winning 11 straight. Still bitter about officiating in SB XL - the worst Super Bowl in recent memory.

2004 PHI
Eagles finally reach SB after losing three straight conference championship games. Lost Terrell Owens in Week 15 win in Dallas and dropped final two regular season games (PHI had already clinched #1 seed). McNabb gets tired in SB XXXIX and Patriots win third in four years.

2003 CAR
Cardiac Cats start season with a win on game's final play vs. JAX. Lost in early Nov to the Texans and suffered three straight defeats in Nov/Dec for 8-5 record. A kickoff out of bounds might be the reason NE won the SB.

2002 OAK
Not smooth sailing in Bill Callahan's first year as coach. Started 4-0 before dropping four-straight. No. 1 offense propels team to SB XXXVII after being eliminated one year earlier in Tuck Rule game.

2001 STL
Greatest Show on Turf goes 14-2 but fall to budding Patriots dynasty.

2000 NYG
Coach Jim Fassel guarantees his 7-4 team will go to the playoffs after losing to *gulp* the Lions. Giants respond by winning seven straight to reach first Super Bowl since Parcell's era.

1999 TEN
The +18 turnover ratio a big reason this team only lost three regular season games. Came up one yard short in SB XXXIV.

1998 ATL
Dirty Birds went 14-2 but were no match for Elway, Davis and Co. in the Super Bowl.

1997 GB
Defending champs went 13-3 with no real signs of struggle in regular season.

1996 NE
Lost first two games of '96, stumbling to a 3-3 record early on. Finished 11-5. Dominated AFC in playoffs but no match for the Pack in SB XXXI.

1995 PIT
After 2-0 start, dropped to 3-4 before rebounding for 11-5 record and first-round bye. Advanced to SB XXX after failed Colts Hail Mary in conference title game.

1994 SD
Burst out with 6-0 record only to fall to 9-5 by Week 15. Exposed in SF route in SB XXIX.

1993 BUF
A 7-1 team lost 3 of 4 in Nov/Dec to fall to 8-4. Won six straight to make record fourth-straight Super Bowl appearance.

1992 BUF
Lost consecutive games twice en route to 11-5 record. Showed heart of champions in greatest comeback in NFL playoff history against Oilers in Wild Card game.

1991 BUF
Offensive juggernaut but defensively shaky with 13-3 regular season record. Only +2 in turnover margin all year. Never lost consecutive games.

1990 BUF
13-3 with No. 1 offense and No. 6 defense. Shoulda coulda woulda, except for wide right!

1989 DEN
This 11-5 team finished regular season losing 3 of 4 -- with all three losses coming on the road. Elway reached third SB in four years only to suffer worst defeat in SB history.

1988 CIN
After 6-0 start, lost 3 of 5 games. Recovered to finish 12-4. Montana leads game-winning drive against NFL's 16th defense as Bengal's No. 1 offense sit powerless on the sideline.

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