Owners, executives, and coaches on all 32 teams around the league have one primary thought in mind year in and year out: win the Super Bowl (yeah, I love my colons and semi-colons. http://goo.gl/JzdRg).
It’s true in any sport. The reason you play the game that you love is to be great, and there’s no greater achievement than winning a championship. You can be MVP, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, etc. five times over. You can attain the biggest, most ridiculous stats that anyone has ever seen. You can even win a huge number of playoff games. But unless those achievements come with Super Bowl wins, they mean nothing.
Especially in the NFL, there’s so much turnover in teams that make the playoffs. Anyone can win a championship if they’re good. You see the Green Bay Packers in 2010, who went 10-6 and hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 15 years. They go in as a wild card, win against the highest seeded, “championship-caliber” teams, and win it all. 2007 and 2011, the New York Giants go 10-6 and 9-7 respectively, look OK in the regular season, are bottom seeded, and go on to pull off improbable wins all the way from wild card weekend to the first Sunday in February.
But how come we don’t consider either of those teams Super Bowl-caliber over and over again? They’ve won big. Why are they not at the top of the Super Bowl contender lists at the beginning of every year? Here’s why:
They ain’t consistent.
They don’t look like Super Bowl teams at the beginning of each season. They don’t have the resumes of being solid, 11-win teams on a regular basis. They have great, winning quarterbacks, good defenses, run games (well, as good as there can be in this era of passing), and coaches who run those teams with great passion. But they aren’t sure winners every time they step to the seasonal plate.
I bring consistency up because of the Week 14 match up between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
The Patriots have been a model of consistency since 2001 when they pulled that Super Bowl win out of Tom Brady’s ass against the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf”. For the past 12 years since, the Pats have been the “Greatest Team Playing Nerf” against the rest of the NFL. Every year, we call them the favorites to win the Super Bowl. This year, they started 1-2, losing to Baltimore and Cardinals. Any other team who started that way would have been labelled losers already. Not New England. We KNEW that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would get that team turned around. There wasn’t a doubt in our minds that they wouldn’t be contending by this week.
If Tampa Bay or Arizona had been 1-2 by Week 3, we would have counted them out faster than the Chargers would have lost a 24-point lead. Other teams don’t have the consistency of the Patriots, and it’s rightfully assumable that many other teams will never have that. New England has been lucky to have such talent for the last decade, going through players at every position other than quarterback almost every other year. Who is left on that defense from the 2007, 18-1 campaign? The only big name player that comes to my mind is Vince Wilfork.
It’s not rocket science. If a team can win time and again over a large period of time, then there’s no doubting them. If, by some strange apocalyptic happenstance, New England were to be 7-6 at this point in the season, we would expect them to win out and be 10-6, and still be primed to go all the way.
Now, I know I’m waffling between fan-expected consistency and actual consistency within the machine. There’s a difference in outside-looking-in and vice versa. But when it’s apparent to fans and experts, and the results keep coming, consistency is right there in front of us and it’s automatically assumed.
Moving on, consistency isn’t just winning over and over again.
We’re Not Jokes Anymore
Also consider that most teams won’t be great right away. The Patriots of 2000 went 5-11, then went 11-5 the next year and won the Super Bowl, and THEN shot out to 11+ win seasons almost regularly.
The Texans, who only came into the league in 2002, were the laughing-stock of the NFL up to 2009. Not a single winning season, no reliable players to bring back every year, and experts never really took them seriously for that. But, if you look more closely, they’ve been a model of consistency rising out of mediocrity. Counting 2005, here’s the progression of their season record up until 2011:
2005 – 2-14
2006 – 6-10
2007 – 8-8
2008 – 8-8
2009 – 9-7
2010 – 6-10
2011 – 10-6
Minus the 2010 year, when their passing defense was one of the worst in the league (376.9 yards allowed per game), Houston has been a model of consistent foundation-building. No, they haven’t been the best team in league at any point of their franchise, prior to this year. But the consistency with which they’ve gotten better is jaw-dropping.
It’s like The Black Keys: travelling musicians for 14 years in a beat-up van, then the greatest album of the year in 2010 with Brothers, and now their latest album El Camino (which is f***ing brilliant) is nominated for five Grammys, including Album of the Year.
Same thing with the Texans: biggest busts in the league since 2002, finally have a season above .500 in 2009, win their division and a playoff game in 2011, and now they’re the biggest powerhouse in the AFC at 11-1 as of Week 13 and in a perfect position to wind up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Their head coach, Gary Kubiak, has been one of the prime reasons why the Texans are where they are today. He’s been part of this build up since 2006, the way Bill Belichick has kept the Patriots winning since 2000. And their quarterback Matt Schaub has played solid football since coming to Houston from Atlanta the year after in 2007, helping the team keep up their building momentum as a franchise.
Other teams throughout history prove how important consistency is in the NFL as well.
The 49ers won 10 games every season from 1983 to 1998. 16 seasons of pure dominance to go with their five Super Bowls. Why? Bill Walsh in the 1980’s, and Joe Montana/Steve Young throughout that entire time period. Three Hall-of-Famer’s right there.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for defense, and for how long? Since 1974, all the way until the present, thanks to a Christmas bag of Hall-of-Fame players, and more recently Dick LeBeau’s defensive coaching prowess. Six Super Bowls since the 70’s. Why? Head coaches Chuck Noll (70’s), Bill Cowher (90’s-2006), and Mike Tomlin (’06 to the present).
The Dallas Cowboys have been America’s Team, but they’ve backed it up with a showcase of the greatest Head Coaches (Tom Landry, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Parcells) and quarterbacks (Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo) of all time. Five Super Bowls since 1971.
Will is going to kill me for mentioning Romo (that’s what you get for not writing as often). But if you think about it, he’s one of the primary reasons why the Cowboys are still in contention for the playoffs as of Week 14.
If there’s anything head honchos around the league can learn from these teams, who have become the faces of the NFL, it’s this: that without consistency on the needed levels, there’s no way a team can sustain regular contention in football.
I mean, I’ve consistently woken up every morning. Most people (mostly students) my age can’t do that.
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