We are just past the midpoint of the NFL Season. Thanksgiving week, the pivotal point where careers are defined or lost. For many teams, every game from here on out is a critical one, while others are playing for next year.
The question weighing on my mind today is this, why do some teams come out of the gate strong and fizzle halfway through the year? The Broncos have done it several times lately. In 2008, Jay Cutler led Denver to an impressive 3-0 start, but a loss to the Chiefs in game 4 started a slide that gave them a 8-8 record on the year. Ownership decided it was time for a change, brought in a whole new coaching staff lead by Josh McDaniels, traded Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton, acquired Brian Dawkins from Philadelphia – basically a large part of the team was completely revamped.
The changes in Denver started off with a bang. McDaniels team won their first 6 games, an impressive start for the young, rookie coach. Chinks in the armor started with their game 7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and has continued with a dismal 32-3 loss to San Diego. Their current record is 6-4 making them the only team in history to start 6-0 and lose the next 4 games. Inspite of the wholesale changes in the team, the result is starting to look the same as last year.
Likewise, the New York Jets under Eric Mangini had similar problems last year. QB great, Brett Favre was brought in, and by week 12 the Jets were looking good at 8-3. Things went downhill from there, the Jets lost all but one of their last five games finishing with a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs. Jets management also made wholesale changes, getting rid of Favre, drafting QB Mark Sanchez, firing Mangini and hiring Rex Ryan as coach.
Again, for 2009, things started will, the Jets won their first 3 games, but then lost their next 3. Their current standings are 4-6 with playoff chances looking very slim.
So what has happened to these teams, and more importantly why does this continue to happen? Why is it that some teams seem to retain the same personalities in spite off changes in coaches, GMs, players, even sometimes ownership. Some teams, like the San Diego Charges, seem to start slow, finish hard, but can”t make it to the big dance. It doesn”t matter if the coach is Marty Schottenheimer or Norv Turner. The Giants seem to put together a competitive program pretty consistently. The Falcons can have Micheal Vick or Matt Ryan and still can”t get over the hump. Even the legendary Mike Holmgren could only get Seattle as far as one Super Bowl loss.
On some level, some place, NFL teams seem to have an embedded culture that determines not only if they are successful, but how their level of success plays out.