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NFL: Does a Strong Finish Translate to Success the Following Year?

Posted by Andrew McKillop on September 9, 2011

Post Highlights

  • On average non-playoff participating teams (since 1970) that finish the season 4-0, post a worse record the following season (-.036 W Pct).

  • The 1994 New England Patriots, are the only team to convert a 4-0 finish in a losing season, to a winning season the following year.  After winning their last four games in 1993 to finish with a 5-11 record, the Patriots went 10-6 in 1994, and made the playoffs.

 

There is a lot of optimism in Detroit this season.  The Lions closed last year with four straight wins, and finished the preseason undefeated.   For the first time in years, there is serious talk about the playoffs in Detroit.  The Lions 4-0 finish last year was impressive, but does it indicate future success for this year?

Each team and situation is different.  But I thought it would be interesting to analyze every occurrence of 4-0 finishes (since 1970) by non-playoff teams, and see if that late season success translated into more success the following season.

 

Season Closing Four Game Winning Streaks by Non-Playoff Teams (Since 1970)

4-0 Finish Following Season
Team Year W L W Pct Year W L W Pct Playoffs Dif W Pct
Bills 1973 9 5 0.643 1974 9 5 0.643 Divisional
Jets 1974 7 7 0.500 1975 3 11 0.214 -.286
Bengals 1984 8 8 0.500 1985 7 9 0.438 -.063
Seahawks 1986 10 6 0.625 1987 9 6 0.600 Wild Card -0.025
Lions 1989 7 9 0.438 1990 6 10 0.375 -0.063
Redskins 1989 10 6 0.625 1990 10 6 0.625 Divisional
49ers 1991 10 6 0.625 1992 14 2 0.875 Conf Chmp +.250
Colts 1992 9 7 0.563 1993 4 12 0.250 -.313
Patriots 1993 5 11 0.313 1994 10 6 0.625 Wild Card +.313
Giants 1994 9 7 0.563 1995 5 11 0.313 -.250
4-0 Finish Following Season
Team Year W L W Pct Year W L W Pct Playoffs Dif W Pct
Giants 1998 8 8 0.500 1999 7 9 0.438 -.063
Jets 1999 8 8 0.500 2000 9 7 0.563 +.063
Packers 2000 9 7 0.563 2001 12 4 0.750 Divisional +.188
Saints 2004 8 8 0.500 2005 3 13 0.188 -.313
Dolphins 2005 9 7 0.563 2006 6 10 0.375 -.188
Packers 2006 8 8 0.500 2007 13 3 0.813 Conf Champ +.313
Patriots 2008 11 5 0.688 2009 10 6 0.625 Wild Card -.063
Browns 2009 5 11 0.313 2010 5 11 0.313
Texans 2009 9 7 0.563 2010 6 10 0.375 -.188
Lions 2010 6 10 0.375 2011 ? ? ? ? ?


On average non-playoff participating teams (since 1970) that finish the season 4-0, post a worse record the following season (-.036 W Pct).  Only five out of the 19 applicable teams (26%) had a better record the following season.

The 1994 New England Patriots, are the only team to convert a 4-0 finish in a losing season, to a winning season the following year.  After winning their last four games in 1993 to finish with a 5-11 record, the Patriots went 10-6 in 1994, and made the playoffs.

The sample size is small, but there is certainly no evidence that a strong finish in a losing/non-playoff season can lead to a winning/playoff season the following year.


Reference: Pro-Football-Reference.com


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