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Best record doesn't usually translate to title success

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Recent posts by Mark Schoeck

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Mark Schoeck's 2011 NFL predictions

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Posted June 13, 2012 @ 11:54 a.m. ET
By Mark Schoeck

Had the 2011 NFL season been a 500-lap race, the Green Bay Packers would have led 485 laps.

A record-setting QB led them to 13 straight wins and a 15-1 record that was two wins better than any other team. They scored 24 points or more in 15 regular-season games. There was a swagger developed by Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Co. after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy a season before.

But the 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers could just as easily have been sent home in January. They were a far cry from the 15-1 team they would become. With more than a dozen players on injured reserve, the Packers were tied with the Giants for the final wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs, and only made the postseason because they won a head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their Week 16 victory over the Giants.

The 2010 favorites were the New England Patriots, whose 14-2 record was the best in the NFL. After their first-round bye, New England fell to the New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Like the 2010 Patriots, the 2011 Packers lost to a lesser opponent who had developed momentum. The following season, each team would be among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. They had the best record in the NFL the season before; why wouldn’t they be Super Bowl favorites?

Recent history tells us they shouldn’t be.

That’s the funny thing about the playoffs. When the race is nearly over, 20 cars are removed from the track. The remaining 12 cars are reset. And four teams earn a bye week — a five-lap advantage. But teams that win in the wild-card round have gathered speed. They bring a momentum to the divisional playoffs that’s often tough to match.

Over the past nine NFL seasons, the team with the best regular-season record has not won the Super Bowl. Of those nine teams, the last five haven’t won the Super Bowl the following season, either. So before placing your bet on the Packers to win Super Bowl XLVII, take a look at the last five teams (excluding the 2011 Packers) that had the NFL’s best record.

2010 New England Patriots

As noted above, the 2010 Patriots led the NFL with a 14-2 record, but fell to the Jets in the playoffs while the Packers brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay. Like Aaron Rodgers in 2011, Tom Brady was named Most Valuable Player. It wasn’t enough.

You probably remember what they did the following year in 2011. They were virtually the same team, winning 13 games, best in the AFC. But Super Bowl XLVI was Patriots vs. Giants, Round Two — and Eli Manning bested Brady for the second time in four years.

2009 Indianapolis Colts

Colts fans blame then-head coach Jim Caldwell for passing on the opportunity to go 16-0 in the regular season. The Colts won 14 straight, then Caldwell sat the Indianapolis starters including —surprise, surprise — MVP Peyton Manning. Despite their dominance in the regular season, the Colts were outmatched in Super Bowl XLIV by another team that flirted with 16-0, the New Orleans Saints.

The following season, the Colts won 10 games. They finished first in the AFC South, then lost to the Jets in the wild-card round.

2008 Tennessee Titans

When starting QB Vince Young injured his knee in the fourth quarter of the Titans’ Week One game, backup QB Kerry Collins came in to replace him. Collins would later be named the starting QB despite Young’s return to health. Motivated by the opportunity to remain under center, Collins led the Titans to an NFL-best 13-3 record. But the Titans lost four of their final seven games, including a divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Titans began the following season with six straight defeats, including a 59-0 loss to the New England Patriots. Collins lost his starting job to Young, and the Titans finished the season 8-8, tied for last in the AFC South.

2007 New England Patriots

The greatest single-season QB-WR combination in NFL history helped propel the Patriots to the league’s first undefeated 16-game regular season. Tom Brady threw an NFL-record 50 TD passes and won MVP honors; Randy Moss caught 23 of those TDs, another NFL record. But Patriots vs. Giants Round One was perhaps the greatest upset in pro football history, as the Giants came out on top.

The 2008 Patriots were without Tom Brady, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week One. Matt Cassel filled in admirably, leading New England to a 11-5 record. But 11-5 wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs in 2008.

2006 San Diego Chargers

The 2006 Chargers won an NFL-best 14 games, led not by an MVP quarterback, but by MVP RB LaDainian Tomlinson. “L.T.” scored an NFL-record 31 touchdowns, including 28 on the ground. After first-round playoff bye, the Chargers lost to the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.

A year later, the Chargers won 11 games, won the AFC West, and won two playoff games. Their AFC Championship loss was again to the Patriots.

•   •   •   •   •

What is it that has allowed these teams to be so elite in the regular season, only to fall short in the playoffs? Of the five most recent teams, four had an MVP on their offense. Three led the NFL in points scored.

Yet of all five teams, none scored more than 21 points in their playoff losses. Elite passing games and ground attacks were Rubik’s Cubes twisted for months, then solved in the playoffs. And none of the five teams would match their win total the following year. None would win a Super Bowl the following year, either.

The 2011 Packers had an MVP leading their offense. They led the league in scoring, averaging 35 points per week. And in their playoff loss to the Giants, they scored only 20. They were a well-oiled vehicle that led lap after lap, then hit the wall and crashed just before the end of the race.

Don’t expect them to finish first this season.

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