National Football Losers: Fewest Teams Over .500 In Modern Era
Week 14 may not be over quite yet, but mathematics tell us that when it is over by the end of Monday night, only 11 of the NFL's 32 teams will be over .500 heading into the last three weeks of the season. That sounds bad, but when you hear just how difficult that is to do, it will sound even worse.
Every single season since the Houston Texans became the NFL's 32nd team in 2002 and the league was split up into eight divisions, the NFL has entered Week 15 with between 14 and 19 teams over.500. In fact, there haven't been so few teams over the .500 mark in the NFL at this point in the season since 1974; when the whole season was only 14 weeks long and there were only 26 teams in the league.
It's an actual historical embarassment that only one-third of the NFL teams have winning records right now. It could be blamed on a lack of parity, but how does that explain the fact that over the past few years during which all of these current teams were being developed, built and re-tooled, it was never this bad? Just last season there were 19 teams with winning records through the end of Week 14.
So of course the obvious place to lay blame would be on the outrageous number of injuries to key players across the league. Still, some of the biggest injuries to key players have been to the teams that are currently at the top of the conferences and divisions. Sure, losing Tony Romo ruined the Cowboys and a few teams like the Titans the Buccaneers are just figuring out what they have with their top draft pick QBs.But if you look around the league, teams were either playing very poorly before they endured a major injury, or they have endured the injury bug and remained fairly successful.
For example, despite being without a number one receiver and relying heavily on tight end Greg Olsen and rookie Devin Funchess, Cam Newton and the Panthers' run-heavy offense has thrived this season.
The Patriots lost Dion Lewis, then Julian Edelman, then Rob Gronkowski for a few games, then Danny Amendola for a game; all while Brady has been functioning behind a makeshift offensive line that's one of the worst in the NFL statistically. You can also add in a defense that can't manage to put one, fully healthy week together. Just taking a look at their injury report will make you dizzy.
The Cardinals have managed to push through after losing Chris Johnson at running back, linebacker Lamarr Woodley and enduring off an on issues with Andre Ellington and Frostee Rucker; not to mention the fact that Daryl Washington, perhaps their best defensive player, is suspended for the season. Oh and Carson Palmer is on his fourth new knee.
The Broncos had a broken down Peyton Manning who was barely able to walk onto the field to begin with, then lost him and have been starting a very green Brock Osweiler. They also lost their best tackle in Ryan Clady, and have seen incredibly decreased offensive production that has forced the defense to play at a higher level than ever in the Peyton Manning era.
The Steelers are sans star RB Le'Veon Bell, center Maurkice Pouncey and kicker Shaun Suisham and have lost Ben Roethlisberger (who is still not 100%) for multiple games so far this season.
The Seahawks just lost their second superstar running back. Marshawn Lynch is out for at least the remainder of the regular season and Thomas Rawls is on IR after this week's game. They are also without WR Ricardo Lockette and TE Jimmy Graham, and spent the first three weeks of their season without one of their best defensive players in Kam Chancellor.
I think you get the point. Yes there are certain teams, like the Baltimore Ravens, that have been hit with far too many injuries to overcome them. No team has enough depth to compensate for those kinds of losses. And a team like the Cowboys has historically been so incredibly incompetant without Romo that it makes sense there as well.
Other than those few exceptions though, there is a disturbing lack of a grey area between very good and totally awful. The consistently bad teams over the last few years - the Buccanneers, Jaguars, Lions, Titans and Browns - are all either equally awful or just beginning to inch their way toward mediocrity. Those who had already reached that mediocrity as of 2014 - like the Bears, Falcons, Chargers, Rams, Raiders and Dolphins - have either stayed woefully regular or have somehow regressed toward just plain bad.
Then there are entire divisions, like the AFC South and the NFC East, that are without even one team with a winning record. There are maybe one or two games per week that are truly entertaining to watch, and the rest just depend on who happens to suck the least on that particular day. It's obvious at this point that games like that will end up deciding a couple of playoff teams.
Maybe this is just a really bad year for the NFL. Maybe the teams that are in rebuilding phases will rise up once 2016 rolls around and this is just a down period. Maybe the injuries really have been too much for the less talented teams to overcome. Or maybe the NFL has finally peaked and the mismanagement of player safety and awful decision-making from various league owners and corporate higher-ups is starting to catch up to them in ways we don't even realize quite yet.
Either way, I truly hope for myself as a fan and for the sake of my favorite sport that by Week 17, the postseason picture is looking a lot less grim.
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