Monday, December 28, 2009

The Colts Are Headed Towards Repeating A Losing History

Really, does anyone ever think anymore? Why is it conventional wisdom to rest your starters and play your scrubs if you've clinched everything you can possibly clinch in the regular season? Oh, because of injuries, right? Whatever, you don't have much of a chance anyway if you don't play your starters in the final week.

Super Bowl winners this decade, and what they did in the final week of the season:

The 2000 Ravens played their starters the whole game in a 34-20 win over the Jets. The Super Bowl runner-up Giants also played their starters. This year, it looks like all the teams played their starters for most or all of the final game.

2001 Patriots, same, in a 38-6 win over Panthers. The Pats eventual opponent, the Rams, would also play their starters in the final game. Most teams play their starters in this playoff year, except for the Eagles and Bucs in the final game, against each other. They would play each other the next week, and someone had to win, and it was the Eagles. In an anomaly, the Eagles then beat the Bears (who played their starters in the final week) in Chicago. The Rams took care of the Eagles the following week.

2002 Buccaneers, yep, in a 15-0 win in cold weather over Chicago. Their opponent, the Raiders, also played their starters. The 49ers didn't, and needed an 18-point rally and a miracle catch by Terrell Owens to win their next playoff game against the Giants, and then they got destroyed by the Bucs. All the other teams played starters.

The 2003 Patriots, who had clinched 1st round bye already, beats Buffalo 31-0 with Brady throwing 4 TDs. The Super Bowl runner-up Panthers also played their starters in the last game. Most teams here did play their starters, except the Broncos, who would get crushed by the Colts 41-10 in the playoffs.

2004 Patriots, in a very interesting case study for this argument. They had already clinched the 2 seed, went in and beat the 49ers in what was a bad game, 21-7. Meanwhile, the Steelers went 15-1, running their scrubs against the Bills in a 29-24 win. In their playoff game against the Jets, they won in OT 20-17 only because Jets kicker Doug Brien missed TWO field goals in the final TWO minutes of the game. They then got drubbed at home 41-27 by the Pats.

The Colts also trotted out their backups in the final game against Denver, lost that game, then destroyed the Broncos the next week in the playoffs. Then, lost to the Pats 20-3.

The 2005 Steelers had to win their last game. But check this out: The Bengals, Patriots, Jaguars, and yes, the Colts, played scrubs in the final game. The Jags and Pats played each other, so someone had to win there and it was the Pats, who would lose to the Broncos, who played all their starters in a meaningless game in the final game of the season. The Colts lost their game against the Steelers. The Bengals notably lost Carson Palmer in their game against Pittsburgh, so data is skewed there, but how do we know he didn't get creamed because his O-line was out of sync? Basically, both AFC Championship reps played their starters in the final game.

The Steelers' opponent, the Seahawks, are the closest to bucking the trend. But it looks like for the most part, they played their starters in the final game despite some replacements towards the end. The lone team that didn't play their starters was the Bears, and they lost to the Panthers.

2006 Colts. They finally win, and this time they played their starters in a final game where they needed to win to clinch the 3 seed. They beat Miami 27-22. It looks like all 6 of the AFC reps played their starters in the final game. The Bears amazingly made the Super Bowl with a QB controversy, but they played their starters. The Eagles rested, barely beat an 8-8 Giants team, lost to the Saints, who also rested their starters, and then the Saints lost to the Bears, 39-14.

2007 Giants. They memorably played their future Super Bowl opponent Patriots in the final game. They had nothing to play for except to beat an undefeated team, and nearly did, losing 38-35. In the AFC, the Jaguars rested their starters and won a close game against the Steelers the next week, then lost to the Pats. The Colts would eventually rest their starters against the Titans in the final week, then lose to the Chargers in their first playoff game. In fact, the Chargers were playing hurt in that game and still won.

2008 Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt in a meaningless game against the Browns, and predictably, there were questions about whether it was wise or not to play him. But they blasted the Browns 31-0 and Roethlisberger was OK. Meanwhile, the Titans and Colts played it safe in their final game against each other, and both got bounced in their first games. The 8-8 Chargers took care of the Colts, and the Ravens beat the Titans. Yes, both winners played their starters in the final game. The other AFC rep, the Dolphins, played their starters but lost to the Ravens.

The NFC contender Cardinals, of course, went 9-7 and barely looked like a playoff team, but they played their starters in the final game. All the NFC teams did, in fact, except the Giants, who got bounced by an equally questionable Eagles team in their first playoff game.

Every team who won the Super Bowl this decade played their starters in the final game, and didn't take them out in the second half or anything. Guys, this is a remarkable fact. It doesn't guarantee you a Super Bowl win, but it gives you a better chance than a team that rests their starters. Not one team this decade has won the Super Bowl after resting their starters in the final week. They might get a playoff win here and there, but they do not even go to the Super Bowl, as even the runners-up have played their starters in the final week.

Yet, vile stupidity reigns every year. Rest your starters for the playoffs. Don't get hurt. I heard some serious garbage tonight from sports radio that lauded the decision of Jim Caldwell to rest Peyton Manning today in the 29-15 loss to the Jets that ended their perfect season. He brought up the injury factor, neglecting the fact that the Colts O-line, plus Manning's quick thinking, usually avoids their star QB from getting hit. When this Curtis Painter guy came in and they gave up the sack (and fumble TD), it was the first time in like a billion plays they had allowed a sack.

By the way, if the Titans were still in the playoff hunt, I would have been pissed at the Colts forever for allowing the Jets to play against their B-team. I'm sure there are more than a few teams upset about the Colts' wrong decision today.

With the way the Chargers are playing, the Colts need to be sharp in the playoffs if they want to make it to the Super Bowl again. But, what can I say, conventional wisdom, which is incredibly false, will prevail again.

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At 12/28/2009 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Well, this Colts fan is sick about it. Sick. To my stomach.

There is not enough math and evidence to support the notion that resting players is the right move. It's like I was saying earlier in the year with regard to punt returning... there's not enough evidence to support the common logic that we can't let our best receivers return punts because they'll get hurt.

That being said... I hate the media. Hate them. They are ripping Caldwell right now (like the decision was anyone but Bill Polian's), and I don't really have a problem with that per se. But if Peyton had somehow been hurt in the third quarter of that game... everyone currently ripping the team for "resting" would be ripping the team for "foolishly playing your star QB when you didn't have to."

That said... Peyton doesn't get hurt. Not enough to miss games. Historically, in fact, it has never happened. Ever. So how worried were we really about injury to him?

I think it's more likely that the GM is deathly afraid of a Manning injury, as yesterday's display showed us how devastating that would be to the Colts. I think the coach (Dungy or Caldwell, pick a year) is afraid of the GM and of the media.

The backlash had Manning been injured would be far greater than the current backlash for sitting him is.

Also saw Charles Robinson at Yahoo today compare the Colts decision to rest players to Randy Moss taking a play off. That's so stupid it hurts. One is laziness. The other is done in the name of getting healed and playing it safe.

Anyway, I may never forgive Polian for not going after the undefeated season. And if the Colts lose any game in the playoffs... I will be forced to turn off the TV and radio for months, just so I won't have to hear all that entirely accurate criticism of yesterday's decision.

At 12/28/2009 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Yep, there's no math that supports the notion of resting your starters for the playoffs works. In fact, the evidence in the post clearly shows that you have to play your starters or you won't even make the Super Bowl, much less win it.

When I researched this, I was astounded at how many superior teams either lost or were very fortunate to win their first playoff game. And only 1 team, those 2001-2002 Eagles, made it to a conference championship.

I used to think rest was a good thing, and it is, only if you play hard on the final week and get a bye. You can't have what amounts to 2 or more bye weeks and expect to win. It was those 2005 Colts that got me thinking about this, because I thought they would whip the Steelers that year.

Definitely bet against the teams that rest their starters in the final week.

At 12/28/2009 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Actually, two other teams made the conference championship: Steelers, who got pounded, and the Saints, who also got pounded.

At 12/28/2009 09:21:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Something just felt wrong about that one. You could see the team deflate, and I can't see how that's good for them long-term. I thought they were a team of destiny, 19-0. I think Manning & co. had bought into that as well. The Colts were my SB pick, but the Chargers are starting to come on strong.


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