“History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes”
– probably not Mark Twain
An aphorism that is the basis for ALL investment styles as investors all search for instances where they “have seen that before” and can profit from it. Whether the scenario is a stock with a wide moat and shareholder friendly management team or a great football head coach who is always more prepared off extra rest, investing is full of patterns which people identify to then call predictions.
A big takeaway from this study is the influence of the 2000 Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” style teams which was replicated with Bill Polian-designed teams that were assembled to outscore opponents vs. shutting opponents down, going against the old adage of “Defense wins championships”. This team structure is prevalent-as-ever in this year’s 2016 NFL playoffs as the Falcons, Steelers and Packers all have high powered offenses with suspect defenses. The offshoot of that strategy is the ball-control strategy, which has teams rely on efficiency to keep defenses (usually bad) off the field. As seen this year in the Cowboys and Patriots (who actually run the ball at the 5th highest rate, adjusted for game-score). Even the once defense-centric Seahawks have had to move more resources to the offensive side as Russell Wilson came off his rookie deal and they then traded for a high-ticket Jimmy Graham.
This offense-based strategy works because offenses have higher ceilings and lower floors than defenses (wider distribution), so if you have a top-ranked offense, that can more than offset the worst defense. And if you can draft young players to give yourself an average defense, then you will be in playoff contention. Year-over-year defenses regress more than offenses, as turnover generation is a huge, yet largely random, component of good defenses. Thus to assemble a continually competitive team in a league full of parity, make sure you lock up your Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s and hope to have success with young defensive players on cheap deals.
Method: With the NFL playoff field narrowed down to an exclusive eight, team statistics were used to identify characteristics of previous divisional playoff teams to find the best comparable. A k-nn algorithm with dimensional reduction was used as an objective measure to determine the most similar teams. While this method provides interesting narratives, it is but one lens for viewing these teams, as pairwise matchups will be different most years. Because of the salary cap and short careers of most players, team profiles are dynamic, making each team a standalone case study.
Dallas Cowboys as the 2012 San Francisco 49ers
Many forget, but Colin Kaepernick used to take victory formation kneel downs to END games instead of pre-game protest knees. Much like the Cowboys, the 2012 49ers had a QB controversy of their own, as Alex Smith was injured mid-season only to be replaced by CK7, who was an unknown commodity at the time. He would then become regarded as a dynamic young QB that was built to breakdown defenses. The bicep-kissing signal caller never gave back the starting gig and helped get the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance alongside a Frank Gore based power running attack.
Result: Lost to Ravens in Super Bowl (31-38).
Green Bay Packers as the 2005 Indianapolis Colts
It helps to build a high-powered offense when you have a 2x-MVP, which Peyton was at the time (and Aaron Rodgers is now). A declining efficiency in the run game, from the last year of Edgerrin James with the Colts, led to a rushing attack ranked 28th in 2005. While Peyton was coming off two straight MVP’s, the narrative was building that he wasn’t a “big game” QB.
Result: Lost to Steelers in Divisional Round (18-21)
Seattle Seahawks as the 2010 Chicago Bears
The Bears acquired a slightly above average (at the time) QB, Jay Cutler. The team’s offensive air options were deep passes to Johnny Knox and underneath routes to G-reg Olsen while the ground game relied on a mobile-enough Cutty and elusive Matt Forte. The heart of the team was the defense as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Peanut Tillman and Julius Peppers have striking similarities to the KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett led-defense.
Result: Lost to Packers in NFC Championship (14-21)
Atlanta Falcons as the 2006 Indianapolis Colts
Another Peyton-Colts team is on the list. The Falcons have the probable MVP this year in Matt Ryan, who has thrown for 8.3 NYPP good for 5th all-time while concurrently throwing interceptions at the lowest rate of his career. 2006 was also the year the Sherrif threw interceptions at the lowest rate for his career. The addition of a young Joseph Addai to the high-powered offense would prove enough to bring balance to the offense and finally help Peyton prove the naysayers wrong as he finally got fitted for that really big ring.
Result: Won vs Bears in Super Bowl (29-17)
New England Patriots as 2013 Denver Broncos
An elder Manning was still efficient as ever as he would win his 5th and last MVP at age 37. The experienced QB, seemingly in the twilight of his career, put up a record breaking 55 TDs with only 10 INTs. The Broncos offense had a plethora of weapons including Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and a stable of backs with different skills in Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, and Montee Ball. The unknown defense had good young players but was not anywhere near an elite level. Sound familiar?
Result: Lost to Seahawks in Super Bowl (8-43)
Houston Texans as 2010 New York Jets
The 2010 New York Jets were overflowing with talent on the defensive side but had to consistently overcome a young and unpromising QB, Mark Sanchez. Offensively Sanchez could not fully utilize still-prime weapons, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. Defensively they had one of the top pass defenses, as this was before Revis Island became overpopulated with weekly tourists. This team would actually go into New England during the divisional round and win after getting thrashed during the regular season, 45-3, by the same MVP-Tom Brady led Pats.
Result: Lost to Steelers in AFC Championship (19-24)
Pittsburgh Steelers as 2008 Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans had the most exciting running back in the league in a recently-proclaimed CJ2K. The veteran signal caller with Super Bowl experience, Kerry Collins, would not be able to provide enough air support for a relatively young, but still average defense.
Result: Lost to Ravens in Divisional Round (10-13)
Kansas City Chiefs as 2013 San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers had his highest completion percentage in 2013 as the Tight End focused offense was built around Antonio Gates with a young speedster Keenan Allen to take off the top. The defense was led by Eric Weddle who was seemingly always making big turnovers for a defense that was not all that good by advanced metrics. The current KC offensive cast of Alex Smith, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill paired with a mediocre defense, led by Safety Eric Berry, is the eery similarity narrative.
Result: Lost to Broncos in Divisional Round (17-24)