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Rating NFL Franchises

Evidence shows Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should fire Cowboys GM Jerry Jones.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 8, 2012

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Rating NFL Franchises

Last month, the Bears fired General Manager Jerry Angelo after the team went from being among the NFL's best teams to among the worst after losing their star quarterback AND running back to injury.

The Dallas Cowboys, however, did NOT fire their GM, despite an 8-8 record identical to the Bears, and without any ready excuses for failing to make the playoffs. That's because their GM, Jerry Jones, is also its owner.

Should Jerry Jones fire himself?

Angelo was never popular among Bear fans. I'll accept for the sake of argument that it was time for a change. But something made me wonder about Jerry Jones's job performance. So I did a little investigation: in terms of failure and success, who's done a better job in the past eleven seasons, the years Angelo ran the Bears?

I used the following criteria:

WINNING SEASONS

Advantage, Jones. The Cowboys have had six, the Bears five.

TOTAL PLAYOFF APPEARANCES

Advantage: Even. Both have had four.

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF APPEARANCES

This means either a team had a good enough record to earn a bye from the wildcard round, or was good enough to win a wildcard round game.

Advantage: Angelo, 3 to 2.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES

Advantage: Angelo, 2 to 0.

SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES

Advantage: Angelo, 1 to 0.

NUMBER OF BAD SEASONS (5-11 or worse)

I view 6-10 as part of the middling crowd of the NFL, because many 6-10 teams, while obviously not very good, are also not terrible. They are often victims of bad breaks. A 5-11 team, however, has simply lost too many games to be considered even at the low end of mediocre.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN; each has had two bad teams.

OVERALL WINNER: Angelo

If Angelo's record gets him fired, then Jerry Jones should fire himself.

This comparison made me wonder about the quality of other NFL franchises over the years. I extended the comparison to 16 seasons. The reason? Each conference has had 16 teams for most of those seasons. The 16-16 comparison, and the fact that 6 teams in each conference went to the playoffs each year made it easier to discern what an "average" team should be expected to accomplish over that span.

In addition, the first year, 1996, was just a few years into the era of free agency and the salary cap. In other words, the nature of player analysis and financial/management decisions are essentially the same over this period.

Here are the criteria:

Winning seasons:

Standard: 7, assuming 2 8-8 seasons for every team, and half the seasons should be more, half less.

Playoff seasons:

Standard: 6; 6 teams per conference make the playoffs each year in a 16-team conference, meaning an average team should be expected to make the playoffs 6 times in 16 years.

Divisional playoff appearances:

Standard: 4

Conference Championship appearances:

Standard: 2

Super Bowl appearances:

Standard: 1

DEDUCTION: Number of bad seasons (5-11 or worse)

Standard: -4. This is an estimate. It is assumed that although a team should be expected to have bad 7 losing seasons, my guess is that three such seasons would be in the 6-10 or 7-10 range.  

BONUS: .5 points for every Super Bowl victory, because in a 32-team league each team is expected to win once; an average team has a 50% chance of winning in the past 16 years.

Taken together, my presumption, then is that an "average" team would score between 15 and 15.5

512 seasons would have been played if all teams were in existence; nine seasons are "missing" because the Browns didn't resume until 1999 and the Texans weren't formed until 2002. That means 503 total seasons, but the difference seems negligible and I round up the "standard" averages based on the presumption of all teams playing all seasons.

Here are the results per team. The order of the numbers are: winning seasons, total playoff appearances, total conference championship appearances, total Super Bowl appearances, (-1) number of bad seasons, and number of Super Bowl wins (x 0.5).

From best to worst:

Patriots: 14, 12, 10, 7, 6. -1, 1.5 TOTAL: 48.5
Steelers: 12, 10, 8, 6, 3, -0, 1 TOTAL: 40
Packers: 12, 11, 7, 4, 3, -1, 1 TOTAL: 37
Colts: 12, 12, 7, 3, 2, -3, 0.5  TOTAL: 33.5
Eagles: 10, 10, 7, 5, 1, -2, 0 TOTAL: 31
Giants: 8, 8, 4, 3, 3, -1, 1.0 TOTAL 26
Broncos: 9, 8, 4, 3, 2, -1, 1 TOTAL: 26
Ravens: 8, 8, 7, 3, 1, -2, 0.5 TOTAL: 25.5
Vikings: 9, 8, 6, 3, 0, -2, 0 TOTAL: 24
Jets: 10, 7, 5, 3, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL: 22
Titans: 7, 6, 5, 2, 1, -2, 0 TOTAL: 19
Buccaneers: 9, 7, 3, 2, 1, -4, 0.5 TOTAL: 18.5
Seahawks: 7, 7, 4, 1, 1, -2, 0 TOTAL: 18
Dolphins: 9, 6, 3, 0, 0, -2, 0 TOTAL: 16
Jaguars: 7, 6, 4, 2, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL: 16
Falcons: 7, 6, 4,2,1, -5, 0 TOTAL: 15
Saints: 6, 5, 3, 2, 1, -3, 0.5 TOTAL: 14.5
Cowboys: 8, 7, 2, 0, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL: 14
49ers: 6, 6, 4, 2, 0, -4, 0 TOTAL: 14
Panthers: 4, 4, 3, 3, 1, -3, 0 TOTAL: 12
Rams: 4, 5, 4, 2, 2, -6, 0.5 TOTAL: 11.5
Chargers: 6, 5, 4, 1, 0, -5 TOTAL: 11
Bears: 5, 4, 4, 2, 1, -5 TOTAL: 11
Chiefs: 7, 4, 2, 0, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL: 10
Redskins: 5, 3, 2, 0, 0, -4, 0 TOTAL: 6
Raiders: 3, 3, 3, 2, 1, -8, 0 TOTAL: 4
Cards: 3, 3, 3, 1, 1, -7, 0 TOTAL: 4
Bills: 4, 3, 0, 0, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL 4
Texans (since 2002): 2, 1, 1, 0, 0, -3, 0 TOTAL: 1
Bengals: 3, 3, 1, 0 , 0, -6, 0 TOTAL: 1
Lions: 3, 3, 0, 0, 0, -9, 0 TOTAL: -3
Browns (since 1999): 2, 1, 0, -9, 0 TOTAL: -6

Observations

The mean score was 16.4 (525 points divided by 32 teams), but the actual median score in which half the teams scored higher and half lower was 14.75.

I projected 224 winning seasons over 512 seasons; there were actually 221 over 503 seasons. Both rates round up close to 44%.

I projected 128 bad seasons over 512 seasons (25%) and it turned out to be 116 over 503 (23%). This suggests that in some years, there are only 7 bad teams instead of 8.

10 teams have won Super Bowl during this span; only two (Saints and Rams) have below-median scores, and 20 have gone. This indicates a degree of parity. That said, there appears to be playoff "dynasties" at the top of the list, who occupy spots year after year and crowd out other teams. Of the 192 playoff seasons, the top ten teams accounted for 94 (9.4 appearances on average); the remaining 22 averaged just 4.54 appearances. All except the two expansion teams have gone at least three times.

Is there a common thread to success? No team has had the same coach over this span. I think of none but Jones and Al Davis (another owner) who's been a GM for the same team all this time, and they both have had below-average results. Bill Polian was GM of the Colts through 14 of these seasons. Andy Reid has coached the Eagles for 13 of the seasons; Bill Belichik has coached the Patriots for 12.

It is apparent that quality and stability in ownership is the common factor. Teams with good owners could have lean periods, and bad owners could have good-to-great years on occasion. That's why ownership should be judged over the long haul. The top seven teams, with the exception of the Packers (which operates as a non-profit corporation), have had the same owner over the years. As the list descends, my memory about ownership (or changes in ownership) starts to fade, until we come to unknown or famously unsuccessful owners such as the Redskins' Dan Snyder.

The good news for the bottom half is that in many cases, the circumstances of 16 years ago are different from today. There may be a different owner and a different culture thanks to a good GM or head coach. Recall that even the Patriots didn't have a great period in the previous 16 seasons. The best team of the era, the 49ers, have had a bad run recently offset only partially by this year's success.

In that period, (1980-95), only six teams won the Super Bowl. Five of them (49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Raiders, Bears) are in the bottom half of this list; only the Giants have won Super Bowls in both eras. (Of course, that era had fewer teams and, generally, fewer playoff spots.)

The great thing about the NFL is that the tide can turn, quickly. The mighty can fall quickly, and some other team can fill in the gap.

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