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The Good Bad Teams and the Bad Good Teams of the 2016 NFL Season

By JOSEPH COMEAU

ATR Guest Columnist

The Good Bad Teams and the Bad Good Teams of the 2016 NFL Season
I must begin by fully disclosing that the premise upon which I write this article is borrowed from one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons. Simmons, who’s irreverent style melds sports and pop culture, would identify a single “Good Bad Team” each season. The Good Bad Team was a bad team that had accumulated a good record by winning games against the dregs of the league. In a sense this is an artifact of the parity which characterizes the NFL – the difference in talent between most teams is negligible, though there are certainly a few truly exceptional and truly dreadful squads. In such a state of parity, a mediocre team can scrape together a respectable record by beating other marginal teams. Similarly, talented teams can fall victim to parity and accumulate a poor record by losing close games against the better teams in the league. Though Simmons would crown a single “Good Bad Team” each season, I would like to expand this concept to look at multiple teams whose win-loss records are victims or beneficiaries of the NFL’s parity. So, with a major tip of the hat to Bill Simmons, I present to you my list of Good Bad Teams and Bad Good Teams from the 2016 NFL Season.
When attempting to identify these teams, a good place to begin is by examining point differential (the difference between a team’s total points scored and total points allowed). If a team has a winning record but has allowed more points than it has scored, it might not be as good as its record suggests, and vice-versa. Another important consideration involves looking at the quality of opponents the team has faced. Piling up wins against bad teams is a good way to become a Good Bad Team, while losing close games to some of the better teams in the league might land you on my Bad Good Teams list. Finally, it is important to consider factors associated with the players, such as whether the team experienced an inordinate number of injuries, and the quality of talent on the roster – especially at key positions like quarterback, offensive line, and pass-rushers. With this in mind, I would like to identify a few teams that I think might qualify as Good Bad Teams (teams with winning records that I do not believe are as nearly as good as their records indicate) and Bad Good Teams (teams with losing records that I think are significantly better than their records indicate).
Honorable Mention
There are a few teams that did not make either of my lists, but deserve honorable mention. From a talent standpoint, the Panthers are a better team than their 6-10 record suggests. Unfortunately, they had a -33-point differential and defeated only one team with a winning record – and that team was Washington, which boasts an uninspiring 8-7-1 record. New Orleans and Buffalo both offered stronger cases for inclusion, as both teams had positive point differentials. However, both teams were 7-9, and neither team has more than two wins against teams with winning records. Ultimately, the evidence does not suggest that they are significantly better than their records – just slightly better.
The Good Bad Teams
Miami Dolphins (10-6; -17-point differential)
Many of Miami’s wins came against hapless teams like the Rams, 49ers, and Browns. They also took advantage of their weaker division opponents by winning all four games against the Jets and Bills. Of their ten wins, only one came against a team with a winning record – the Steelers. While there are some talented players at important positions like running back and pass-rushers, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has yet to clearly demonstrate that he is a true franchise quarterback. The fact that the Dolphins went 2-1 while Tannehill was injured certainly does not help his case.
Detroit Lions (9-7; -12-point differential)
The Lions were an exciting team this season. Last minute field goals, wins in overtime, and other anxiety-inducing finishes seemed like a weekly occurrence for the Lions. As exciting and competitive as their games were, one might be surprised to see the Lions on this list. The evidence, however, does not bode well for the felines from the Motor City. Amidst all of these exciting games, only one of their wins came against a team with a winning record – a 20-17 win against 8-7-1 Washington. Though Matthew Stafford is generally considered to be a good quarterback, he has losing records in both the regular season (51-58) and postseason (0-3). There are some talented players on the roster, but this is not an elite squad. The case for the Lions as a Good Bad Team is further supported by their embarrassing 26-6 loss to the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs.
Houston Texans (9-7; -49-point differential)
“But the Texans beat the 12-4 Raiders in the first round of the playoffs?!?!” Yes, that is true. What is also true, however, is that the Raiders were starting Connor Cook, a rookie third-string quarterback. The Texans then proceeded to lose 27-14 to the Patriots in the second round of the playoffs. Those facts alone are not enough to land the Texans on this list. A lot of good teams have lost to the Patriots in the playoffs. The rest of the evidence, however, does not favor the Texans. Their -49-point differential was, by far, the worst of any team with a winning record this season (the Dolphins were next with -17). Many of their wins can be attributed to beating up on their weak division opponents, going 5-1 in against the AFC South. Though they have three wins against teams with winning records, two of those came against 9-7 teams that are not to be counted among the league’s elite (Lions and Titans). Their win against the 12-4 Chiefs during the second week of the season stands alone as their only impressive win (again, not counting a playoff win against a team starting a third-string rookie quarterback). The good news for Texans’ fans is that there is talent on the roster – especially on defense. The bad news is that quarterback does not appear to be an area of strength, with Osweiler’s struggles well documented (29th in QB rating).
The Bad Good Teams
Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1; +56-point differential)
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, I am a long-time Cardinals fan. And, yes, I realize that means I am prone to be a biased “homer.” But if you will suspend judgment for a moment (or a paragraph), I think the evidence is strong for Arizona as a team that was much better than their losing record suggests. To begin, their +56 point differential is the best for any losing team by 20 points (Eagles +36). Of their seven wins, three were against teams with winning records. While this does include a win against 8-7-1 Washington, it also includes a 40-7 blowout of Tampa Bay, and an impressive road win in Seattle. In fact, the Cardinals were the only team to beat the Seahawks at home this season. The Cards suffered Injuries to a number of starters, including left tackle Jared Veldheer, guard Evan Mathis, defensive back Tyvon Branch, and defensive star Tyrann Mathieu. In addition to these injuries, speedy wide receiver John Brown struggled all season due to a sickle cell condition. Despite these issues, this is a deep and talented roster. Carson Palmer was in the MVP conversation last season, but struggled this season due in part to the afore-mentioned injuries to the offensive line, and inconsistent play of the receiving corps. Second-year back David Johnson is an emerging star who has some experts asking if he is the best running back in the league. The Cardinals have an outstanding pass-rush tandem in Chandler Jones and Marcus Golden, one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson, and were second in overall defensive yards allowed this season. Unfortunately, between poor special teams play and their tendency to give up big plays, they were only 14th in points allowed. Altogether, the evidence is pretty convincing that the Cardinals are a Bad Good Team.
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9; +36-point differential)
In addition to having the second best point differential among teams with losing records, the Eagles wins and losses pose a convincing argument that they are better than their record suggests. Not only did four of their seven wins came against teams with winning records, but they include wins against some of the best teams in the league (Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, and Steelers). Only one of their nine losses came against a team with a losing record – and that team, the Bengals, is on my list of Bad Good Teams. Though their point differential and strength of schedule offer a compelling argument, there are legitimate questions regarding the talent on the roster. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz started the season strong, but began to struggle around week five. There is reason to be optimistic regarding Wentz, but it’s too early to say for sure if he will develop into a true franchise quarterback. Overall, the play at other key offensive positions was not particularly impressive, and there are no established stars on that side of the ball. The Eagles’ defense was generally good, but not elite, finishing 13th in overall defensive yards allowed, and 12th in total points allowed. Considering the strength of their division, don’t be surprised if the Eagles are a Bad Good Team again next season.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1; +10 point differential)
The strength of Arizona’s case as a Bad Good Team lies in their roster talent and bad luck with injuries. The strength of Philadelphia’s case is primarily based on examining their wins and losses. The case for the Bengals includes all of these elements. The Bengals roster has some exceptional talent on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, some of their best offensive players fell victim to injury, with AJ Green (out six games) Gio Bernard (out six games) and Tyler Eifert (out eight games) all missing significant time this season. The Bengals defense played fairly well this season. Though they were only 17th in total defensive yards allowed, they were eighth-best in points allowed. Upon examining their losses, we find that seven of nine came at the hands of teams with winning records – the other two losses were to the 7-9 Bills and 8-8 Ravens. The biggest weakness in the case for the Bengals is that they did not record any impressive wins. Their only victory against a team with a winning record was a 22-7 win against the Dolphins – one of my Good Bad Teams. The rest of their wins came against the Jets, Browns, Eagles, and Ravens, with a tie to Washington thrown in for good measure. Like the Cardinals, I would anticipate that the Bengals have a good likelihood of rebounding next season.

-Joseph Comeau is an Americus resident. Comeau is a professor of Sociology at Georgia Southwestern State University and an avid sports fan.