Quick, unrelated tangent to today’s post: on Sports Illustrated’s website today, I saw a headline entitled, “Giants, Romo agree to two-year, $9 million contract.” I nearly spit out my Mountain Dew and shouted HOLY CRAP, ELI’S NOT GOING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT THIS before realizing that the article was referring to the San Francisco Giants and relief pitcher Sergio Romo. Oh well. Maybe the much-anticipated Eli-Tony Romo quarterback competition will surface in 2015, once the Cowboys have fallen off a cliff and Jerry Jones loses control of the Cowboys because of his indecent exposure arrest in 2014. I miss football.
With that nonsensical intro aside, here’s my list of the three playoff teams from 2012 that are most likely to miss the playoffs in 2013. (For yesterday’s list of the three non-playoff teams from 2012 that seem primed for the postseason in 2013, click here.)
1. Indianapolis Colts. Things that bode well for the Colts’ playoff chances next year: Andrew Luck will only get better as time wears on (well, at least to a certain point – I’m pretty sure he won’t be throwing 60 touchdowns a year when he’s 75) and their schedule will likely remain soft as a baby’s bottom. On the other hand, here are the things that don’t bode well for their chances next year: Everything else. They finished 31st in our year-end Predictive Yards per Play rankings, mostly because of a defense that rated even worse than the 2011 disaster that helped drag the team down to 2-14. But even Luck’s efficiency numbers were subpar, as I noted in my quarterback rankings post last week; Luck was outstanding in clutch situations, as you would assume from the Colts’ incredible 10-1 record in games decided by seven points or less, but overall below-average against one of the five easiest schedules in the league. Disregarding an above-average special teams unit, the Colts simply didn’t do anything well in 2012 except play AMAZING in clutch situations – and you can’t count on sustaining that type of performance over a long period of time. The Colts’ 2012 Pythagorean Record suggests that they were actually a seven-win quality team; Predictive Yards per Play thinks they were more along the lines of a five-win team. Whatever the case, the Colts will likely improve in 2013 but see their win-loss record suffer dramatically.
2. Minnesota Vikings. Excluding Terrell Davis’ 1999 season in which he shredded his knee early on, the five men who rushed for 2,000 yards in a season prior to Adrian Peterson in 2012 averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 1220 total rushing yards in their follow-up season. If you want to give AP a little more credit than that and boost his 2013 estimate in both areas a little bit, that’s fair. The point is he almost certainly won’t carry the Vikings’ offense on his back again next season the way he did this year. And that’s a problem, given how Christian Ponder was one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the league. Ponder had some signs of life in the Vikings’ late-season surge that sent them to the playoffs, but there’s no statistical indication that strong late-season performance correlates with success in the next season. So the 2013 Vikings will likely have the same above-average defense and sputtering passing game but no superhuman Adrian Peterson efforts to save their offense. And in a tough division and loaded conference, it’s tough to see how all that adds up to another playoff spot.
3. Atlanta Falcons. To be clear, I’m not forecasting a drop off the face of the earth for the Falcons in 2013. They overachieved to thirteen wins this year, but they’ve been a consistently above-average team for the past five years and with Matt Ryan entering his prime, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be an above-average team again next year. The issue is that the rest of their division may pass them by. As we talked about yesterday, all the statistical indicators coming out of Carolina suggest that the Panthers are due for a breakout season next year and the Saints simply can’t be any worse defensively next year (plus, we’ve heard that they may be getting their head coach back). Even the mercurial Buccaneers have a great deal of young, offensive talent that could continue their upward trend from 2012. Simply put, the Falcons are going to be in a dogfight for the NFC South title next year and their 24th-place Predictive Yards per Play ranking defensively suggests they may not be able to hold off all those prolific offenses on their schedule next year.