Football Outsiders has published their Football Almanac for 2014 and Aaron Schatz provided a look inside for two E$PN IN$IDER articles published this week. The first article looked at which last place teams from last season were most likely to continue the 11 year old streak of going from worst-to-first. This is Roger Goodell's favorite streak in the NFL. Parity in the league keeps fans of bad teams interested, and this streak shows that anything is possible with the right combination of new players, coaches, and/or a combination of your good luck and your division rivals bad luck.
Here is the list of teams that have gone from worst-to-first since 2003, and of course the Redskins 2012 division win is in there.
2003: Carolina Panthers (7-9)/Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
2004: Atlanta Falcons (5-11)/San Diego Chargers (4-12)
2005: Chicago Bears (5-11)/New York Giants (6-10)
2006: Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)/New Orleans Saints (3-13)/Baltimore Ravens (6-10)
2007: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
2008: Miami Dolphins (1-15)
2009: New Orleans Saints (8-8)
2010: Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
2011: Houston Texans (6-10)
2012: Washington Redskins (5-11)
2013: Philadelphia Eagles (4-12)
SB Nation lists Washington as one of the teams with the best chance too.
Football Outsiders Methodology:
In the Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, we forecast the upcoming season with a formula that accounts for everything from performance the past two years to personnel changes to injury history. Then we simulate the season 1 million times, accounting for all the randomness and unknown variables that will also affect the upcoming season.
Football Outsiders brings up some dismal stats from last year, with all three units basically being in the bottom 3rd of the league. The special team's play was a huge albatross around the team's neck and has obviously been a huge focus for 2014. They project RGIII to be better than last year, but be an average QB at best. If Gruden can work some magic(and other teams slip this year) the Redskins have a shot in a weak division where the teams are close in talent levels.
4. Washington Redskins, 15.2 percent
Washington was 23rd on offense and 21st on defense in 2013, but finished 29th in overall DVOA thanks to historically bad special-teams play. Even historically bad special-teams units tend to be close to league average the next season, so it's easy to see this team improving on that account alone.
Our projection is for Robert Griffin III to do better in his third season than he did in his second, though we only have him playing at a league-average level rather than above-average, as he was in his rookie season. If new head coach Jay Gruden can improve Griffin even more than that, Washington will be well-poised to step in if the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants falter.
My take: I'm not expecting the team to play lights out this season, and my win predictions are probably lower than most fans here. But the team does have strengths that can lead to a lot of wins if they can get some of the luck on their side that seemed to fade following the 2012 season. The Redskins had a -8 Turnover Differential last season which was tied for 7th worst in the league. They forced 26 turnovers but gave the ball away 34 times, not good. This is in stark contrast to the 2012 season where they had a +17 Turnover Differential that was the 3rd best in the league. The team caused 31 turnovers and only gave up the ball 14 times.
This was one of the main worries that I had going into last season(besides the obvious one of RGIII's health) A high turnover differential is huge, but it's also hard to maintain for a lot of reasons. It is affected by all three units of a football team, and the only team to stay in the top 5 from 2012 to 2013 was the Seattle Seahawks and that seemed to lead to good things for them.
One area where they stayed consistent on defense was defensive scoring. They scored 4 defensive TDs in 2012, tied for 5th best in the league. In 2013 they actually improved slightly with 5 defensive TDs, which tied them for 3rd in the league.
Anyways, back to the topic of this year. The Redskins defense is going to be a question mark until they prove they're not a liability. All of the offseason talk of removing the Shanachains from Jim Haslett, releasing the hounds, and moving to a 1-gap, attacking defense make great articles to keep interest and hope alive, but we have to see it in action. There's some young potential there in David Amerson, Chris Baker, and Keenan Robinson, but the starting defense as a whole is old, and needs to get/stay healthy.
On offense, it all leads back to RGIII and Jay Gruden. Will Griffin return to 2012 form more than a year removed from his ACL surgery? He's been working on the throwing mechanics that the Shanahan's tried to"fix" in 2013, and has improved his footwork and release. Gruden and Bruce Allen have given him the weapons he needs in DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and the returning Jordan Reed, Alfred Morris, and Pierre Garcon. The offensive line has been slightly adjusted for this year, with a focus on the future this offseason, but it still remains my biggest concern for the offense.
Special teams got better the second that Keith Burns was fired and replaced with Ben Kotwica, and again when Sav Rocca was released. There is a good possibility that the Redskins will go into Houston with two new kickers, and one of them could be a rookie. Most of the personnel moves this season had improving special teams in mind. If you are near the bottom of the depth chart at your position, you need to excel on special teams to make this roster. Teams that are this historically bad at special teams usually bounce back to near average the following year with the proper changes, and that is the minimum the team needs. Giving up multiple TDs on special teams along with turning the ball over and giving up terrible field position makes every other part of the team have to work harder to get out of that hole.
Will the Redskins win the division this year? I have no idea, but there's always a chance right Mr. Goodell? The one thing I do know, is that the NFC East Division title game is played Week 17, and the Redskins have Dallas on the schedule...
The Full Worst-to-First Possibilities List:
1. Buffalo Bills 21.2%
2. Houston Texans 19.1%
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17.3%
4. Washington Redskins 15.2%
5. St. Louis Rams 14.3%
6. Minnesota Vikings 12.9%
7. Cleveland Browns 10.4%
8. Oakland Raiders 1.5%
The corresponding article from E$PN IN$IDER talks about the possibilities of teams that won their division regressing and finishing in last place. And obviously this is relevant to the Redskins because that is exactly what happened last season in Washington, but it's also true for the Houston Texans. QB problems, lack of depth, coaching turmoil, injuries, there are a lot of different reasons that teams can sink quickly one season after having success in the previous season.
Football Outsiders Methodology:
Our simulation doesn't spit out results for how often a team specifically finishes fourth, so instead, here are the eight 2013 first-place teams ranked in order of how often they went 6-10 or worse in our 2014 simulations. We should point out that these numbers are fairly low because, more than in most seasons, our projections forecast that the same teams that were playoff contenders in 2013 will also be playoff contenders in 2014. However, one team stands out with a hefty chance of collapse.
I won't spend too much time on why the Eagles could regress this year, but I don't think they end up in last place in the NFC East. Seriously, how could they, have you seen the Dallas Cowboys this offseason? Nick Foles is not going to be able to replicate the insane TD-Turnover ratio(I mean did you see last night's game, that's totally an indicator of what's to come this season). FO mentions the likelihood for an increase in injuries which is unpossible due to the magic of Smooth Science, and also a regression by the offense. They don't mention the loss of their best WR last season, and the re-signing of Jeremy Maclin who may still be feeling the effects of his ACL injury last season. The Eagles are the favorites for the division right now, but they are far from a lock to win it this season. Plus they definitely do not play the Cowboys Week 17.
4. Philadelphia Eagles, 12.4 percent
Here's another team in which the opportunity for collapse is primarily based on the idea of regression toward the mean in team health. The Eagles led the league in AGL last year. The odds of them being as healthy as they were in 2013 are very small. But how many players would have to get injured before Chip Kelly's plug-and-play offense would be unable to overcome the losses? This roster has much more depth than its division rivals in Dallas and Washington.
Plus, the fact that defense and special teams tend to be less consistent than offense is a huge plus for the Eagles, who ranked third in offense but 23rd in defense and 25th in special teams last year in Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings. Even if the offense declines, the other two units are likely to improve.
The Full First-to-Worst Possibilities List:
1. Carolina Panthers 30.0%
2. Indianapolis Colts 17.9%
3. Cincinnati Bengals 17.0%
4. Philadelphia Eagles 12.4%
5. Green Bay Packers 8.7%
6. New England Patriots 8.2%
7. Seatle Seahawks 8.1%
8. Denver Broncos 2.3%