ESPN has again released their preseason power rankings, before the start of the season. Bad news for the Jets, who everyone thinks will be terrible and check in at #32. Great news for the Seattle Seahawks, who have shot to the top of the power rankings.
Not so fast.
We all know that football is only partially predictable. Many of the best teams do win more games, and many bad teams continue to struggle. Every year, though, a handful of teams collapse, and another handful expected to inhabit the bottom of the standings rise up. J. Scott Smith of the Read Zone went through the last five years of ESPN Preseason Rankings to compare them to the eventual playoff teams.
Teams 1-10: 5.6 teams made the playoffs
Teams 11-21: 3.8 teams made the playoffs
Teams 22-32: 2.8 teams made the playoffs
I’ll take it a step further. In the ESPN rankings, even though there is a gradual decline in likelihood of making the playoffs. There is an exception. The last two teams have done pretty well. Three of the five teams ranked #32 have actually reached the playoffs, and two of them ranked #31 have. Meanwhile, only two of the five teams that entered at #1 even reached the postseason.
You have to climb all the way to picks 17 and 18 to find a duo that reached the postseason as often as the last two teams in the rankings. What’s going on here? I think the rankings tend to focus on wins from previous year too much, especially postseason, and they completely go the wrong way on the impact of rookie quarterbacks. Eleven of the 15 teams ranked below #20 in the ESPN rankings had a rookie quarterback, rookie coach, or both.
Most teams that go with a rookie quarterback weren’t exactly replacing a pro bowler. Nine of the last 14 teams to start a rookie on opening day made the postseason, and most were expected to be horrible. Over the last five years, twelve rookies have started an opener. Those teams went Over the number 9 of 12 times, with two of them missing by half a game. The average team with a rookie starter had a win total expectation of 5.75 wins. They won 8.25 games.
The three other #32 teams in ESPN’s rankings to go to the playoffs had a rookie starting quarterback. There are the Jets at #32 this year, while the Bills are close ahead at #30. Those are the two teams starting rookies in game one. Do people really expect Geno Smith to be worse than Mark Sanchez? Unpossible.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]