Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Aug 2012

Undefeated / Winless in the Preseason

Football Geography has separate lists of teams that have gone undefeated and winless in the preseason. Undefeated is in the text header, and winless can be found here.

While everyone knows that the preseason doesn't actually mean much, 66 percent of undefeated teams go on to a winning record, while 68 percent of winless teams go on to a losing record. Interesting factoids.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 13 Aug 2012

18 comments, Last at 20 Aug 2012, 3:19pm by Pat (filler)


by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 1:27pm

Actually, there's an article that was posted right on this website that shows that, at least if you just look at the first half of preseason games (other than the last one), they appear to mean exactly as much as regular season games as far as telling you how good a team is.

The reason why preseason record doesn't mean much is because:

1) It's only 4 games. If you grab 4 random games from the regular season, a 12-4 team has a 0.500 or worse record a good fraction of the time.

2) The second half of those games, on average, matter a *lot* less than the first half. Teams aren't really trying to win that hard, so if you just look at the win-loss record, it really gets washed out.

by JasonK :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 8:18pm

Because Pat is too polite to link his own guest column:


by chemical burn :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 10:13pm

Pat, I wish you'd post here a little more often. Last year, you anticipated the Eagles' season down to the smallest details (and I foolishly disagreed about the linebackers, safeties and Vick.) It was uncanny... but I haven't heard boo from you at this year's team...

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sat, 08/18/2012 - 3:42pm

Eh. It's going to take a bit to actually get me interested in football again this year - sports has kindof just been a total disaster, so I don't get terribly excited about it. (That, plus kids and lots upon lots of work).

Honestly, my one talent regarding sports is that I can look at a team I'm a fan of and evaluate them without a heck of a lot of bias. It's easy enough to look at a team and say "OK, what could go wrong..." and then look at other teams and see if the list of things that could go wrong is comparable or not. The Phillies this year were a good example - I paid attention to them for maybe a month, before they confirmed my preseason expectations of "getting old last year, too old this year."

I think the Eagles defense this year will be really solid : a lot of it hinges on whether or not Ryans stays healthy, since he's the only real legitimate veteran (that is, someone who's had experience with linebackers who know what they're supposed to be doing) in the entire LB corps. If he goes down and you start trying to play with, say, even Rolle, Matthews, and Kendricks... c'mon, it's just going to be Yakity Sax again. OK, maybe not quite that bad, but certainly not an upper-tier defense. You don't go from "confused rookie" to "crafty vet" in a year (I should also point out I'm hoping that Ryans just had first-game jitters vs. the Steelers, since he looked really tentative).

I have hopes that Allen and Coleman can start turning into, oh, an average safety duo. Having a non-comical LB corps in front of them should help.

What makes me really ambivalent about the Eagles this year is that I just don't see Vick as an elite-level QB anymore, and I have my doubts that DeSean Jackson's poor performance last year was him being a whining kid. So I feel a bit better about the defense - at least there's nothing screaming "ARE YOU NUTS?!" - but it just feels like the offense got neglected in the past few years, and it's starting to hurt now.

Besides, it's only one game into the preseason, and I tend to get excited/lose hope quickly in the preseason. So far this season's looking ambivalent. 13-0 at the end of the first half is not a good sign. Statistically based on historical trends, that week 5 game is a loss ~65% of the time.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sat, 08/18/2012 - 3:57pm

Just to expand on that, before people say "well they looked like crap in the 2004 preseason as well.." - no, they didn't. At the end of the first half in 2004, the scores were (Eagles first) 3-10, 17-10, 14-17, and their schedule was ridiculous (Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens). That is, they played 3 teams who would end with winning schedules, and were within a touchdown at halftime in all of them. They didn't look like they didn't belong on any of the games.

2006? Ditto. 10-7, 3-0, 10-3, 9-7. Biggest deficit is a touchdown.
2008? 10-10, 0-10, 24-3. Struggled against Carolina (who went 12-4 that year) but beat the crap out of the Patriots (before Brady went down, and who went 11-5).

So... yeah, I'm not terribly bullish on the Eagles right now. I expect the Steelers to be decent but not great, so... it's a bit worrying.

by chemical burn :: Sun, 08/19/2012 - 11:27am

Huh. Wer're basically on the same page - although I'm still higher on Coleman than you... while my opinion of Allen has dropped pretty steeply and I was hoping one of the back-ups would challenge for the starting role, but Atogowe and Jarrett looked so fucking bad last week. I thought making long-term commitments to Vick and Babin were horrendous decisions and that Vick maybe has this year left in him, but it sure didn't look that way versus the Steelers. Plus, he proved (as if there were any doubt) that he would continue to be injury prone... and their back-up QB's are Foles and Kafka? Everyone has been talking up Foles all off-season and the consensus seems to be he'll end up the #2QB. Which means he'll start at least a handful of games this year? What kind of insanity is that? Didn't Reid and all realize there's a decent chance their back-up QB could start 15 games this year? Do you want to rely on Foles for 3 games? Kafka is an even worse prospect. With Foles, he showed promise in the preseason opener, but he's clearly raw as heck and playing behind a line with a few question marks. It doesn't make me thrilled to hear that King Dunlap might have won the starting LT job. Is Bell THAT bad? Anyway, I think they will be basically as good as they were at the end of last season (they clearly should be better on defense, but losing the best LT in football is a problem that can't be underestimated) and in the second to last game of the season they were competing for a playoff spot and playing like a playoff team. Everything hinges on Vick's health and how Babin's super-star contract keeps the better players behind him off the field... If Vick misses 3 or more games, this team won't break .500...

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 08/20/2012 - 3:19pm

I'm really reserving judgement on both Allen and Coleman until I see more from them without a disaster at linebacker.

I thought making long-term commitments to Vick and Babin were horrendous decisions and that Vick maybe has this year left in him, but it sure didn't look that way versus the Steelers.

Right, exactly. And unfortunately if Vick really collapses, and they start the QB Carousel trying to replace him, my interest in the team will drop a lot. It's not that I won't watch, but there's no point in actually paying detailed attention when the main problem is "quarterback sucks." Especially since if that happens, the collapse that ensues will likely take out Reid as well... and then it's "desperately hope that new coach coming in is not some moron."

It doesn't make me thrilled to hear that King Dunlap might have won the starting LT job.

I'm not sure why you're that worried - Dunlap's been around a while, and he's always had potential. Just been inconsistent, which, well.. he was young. Most tackles are inconsistent when they first start out. I don't think they thought Bell was a guaranteed starter when they signed him - which is why it's a "prove it" deal anyway. $3M isn't that much money even for a backup tackle for a year.

by AndersJ (not verified) :: Sun, 08/19/2012 - 1:34pm

You do show bias in your assessment of Jacksons season last year. His production was almost in line with his avg. production. He got more targets, but because he avg. less on them, he didnt break 1000 yards (He might have had he not been sitting for 1 game).

Also how have the Eagles neglected the offense the last couple of years?
They have drafted Kolb, Jackson, Maclin, McCoy and Watkins at the top of the draft. Signing Mathis last year. Traded a 1st round pick for Jason Peters.
The only thing seperating the Eagles from alot of other teams is they havnt picked in the top ten since 2000.

Also if DRC does not take that personal foul and Jarrett does not tackle his own man, it would have been a whole different story.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 08/19/2012 - 3:04pm

I should clarify my opinions on Jackson. I agree last year was in line with his average production. However, that's not a particularly good thing: this is only his 5th year, and you'd like his production to be growing. Right now he seems to be plateauing out at "good, not great." Jackson publicly has said that he let the contract situation affect his play, so if that's true, then maybe his ceiling is higher. But I don't buy it - which means in the end, he's a good, not great, receiver.

Re: neglecting the offense:
2010-2012: 33 picks, 14 offense, 18 defense

That looks a bit balanced, right? But then look at the number in rounds 1-3:
Offense: 2, Defense: 7
(For reference, in the previous 3 years, it was 4 and 4)

And one of the offensive picks there is Nick Foles, who certainly isn't terribly likely to contribute significantly (although eventually he could, I guess).

Kolb, Jackson, Maclin, and McCoy are all more than 3 years ago. They've focused dramatically on the defense in the past three years. The easy answer to that is that well, offense is a lot more solidified. That's true, but Vick is 30+, Jackson is not as good as his public perception, and Herremans, Mathis, and Peters are all 30+ (or will be this year).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying they should've done anything differently this year in the draft. The defense definitely needs more attention. The problem is that they've been addressing the defense's problems so poorly in the past few years that the resources needed to fix those mistakes is spilling over onto the offense's side. They've spent a ton of resources on the defense: the majority of top-half draft picks, Asomugha, DRC, Babin, Jenkins, and Ryans. And those resources were needed, but they were only needed because of how poorly things had been planned previously.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 2:22pm

Ahh the Lions.

4-0 Preseason, 0-16 regular season.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 08/18/2012 - 6:03pm

2011 Lions: 4-0 preseason, 10-6 regular season.

In fact, the Lions had a 14-2 preseason record over the past four years. They just seem to love it!

by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 3:49pm

Good teams have more depth, therefore better 3-4th stringers, therefore will win in the preseason. Is that a revelation? No one can keep their starting 11 on either side of the ball healthy for the entire season so that is common sense. Depth = Winning seasons.

by bhauck :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 10:57pm

It doesn't matter if you can invent a reason why something might happen, it matters if it actually happens. We have the data. It doesn't happen. In fact, the article mentioned above that I'm about to read seems to indicate you're better off ignoring the second half, not using it to measure depth.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 4:25pm

The games are decided in the second half, and the guys who end up finishing the second half are rarely even on the team in the fall. You might think "well, those who have the better 4th string guys are likely to have the better 3rd string guys..." but by that level in the roster, they were usually not even picked because of talent, but basically to fill a spot.

The Colts went up 21-3 on the Rams in the first half. That's a pretty big spread. At that point, it's *really* unlikely that if the Rams and Colts were to meet in the regular season that the Rams would blow out the Colts. It's still possible for the Rams to *beat* the Colts in the regular season. Duh - in 2003 the Bills beat the Patriots in Week 1 31-0 and then lost in Week 17 0-31. That stuff happens. Teams can go 4-0 at the start of the year and finish 6-10. That happens.

If you're looking for the preseason to be a magic indicator of what a team will do in the regular season, you're out of your mind. The early part of the regular season itself isn't a magic indicator of what a team will do!

by Nate Dunlevy (not verified) :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 4:51pm

I'd be curious to see the numbers more recently, say in the last 20 years.

I doubt those trends are still as strong as they may have been 40 years ago. Could be wrong, but that's my suspicion.

by Moon Hippo (not verified) :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 6:38pm

you beat me to it - I'd like to see purely modern era stats, post 1970 or 80? Not sure where a good cut off point would be...

by Dave in Tucson (not verified) :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 3:16pm

Some things that affect the way teams play, and could be used as criteria for a cut-off:
* playoff seeding era: >= 1975
* 16-game season: >= 1978
* 12-team playoff field: 1990
* free agency: no hard cut-off here, but... mid 90's or so?
* realignment: >= 2002

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 5:26pm

I'd go with:

Pre-1960 - NFL of only 10(?) teams
1961-70 - NFL/AFL dilute talent pools
1970-78 - Deadball era
1978-92 - Liveball pre-Freeagency
1993+ - Free agency

But actually I'd like to know if there is any correlation between preseason and regular season based on when players stopped get other jobs in the offseason and started reporting for OTAs. It seems to me that when training camp started in July preseason might have been a better indicator of how well the team was going to gel - although you probably had a fair level of team cohesion as the same players returned year-on-year.