NFL Cold Starts and September Surprises

Courtesy of Jim Feist

So...are we all set for the Cardinals/Texans Super Bowl? Would be quite a surprise, wouldn't it, with both combing to go 12-20 last season. They've been part of a group of surprise teams so far in the NFL. Atlanta bounced back from an awful campaign by slaying their longtime division rivals (and tormentor) in the opener, a 37-34 comeback over the Saints that may give them some early confidence, though that didn't carry over to Week 2.

Miami did the same to the Patriots, a hat tossing 33-20 comeback win, stomping all over Bill Belichick's "new and improved" defense. But, as Red Auerbach used to say about hoops, "It ain't the 5 that start, it's the 5 who finish."

Just think back one year ago at this time. The surprising Chiefs started 3-0, similar to 2011 ago when the Arizona Cardinals began 3-0, a pair of teams who weren't on anybody's radar to make deep playoff runs. Yet, there they were at the end of September among the NFL elite in the standings.

I bring this up to emphasis the importance of patience. A hot start is nice but guarantees nothing. Scheduling, injuries, personnel changes are all significant factors in the success of a football team, and a hot start doesn't mean that a team is great, just as a cold start doesn't mean a club is out of it.

This happens all the time. Scheduling can hurt a team out of the gate, as can injuries. The last three years the Chicago Bears had hot start before losing key players, including QB Jay Cutler, to injuries. Protecting vital assets like Cutler, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees is priority No. 1 for their head coaches.

This is the era of NFL offense with all the rule changes, but no one told that to the Seahawks. They went through the 2013 season with a bottom 5 passing attack, but a powerful ground game and a suffocating defense. They then rode through the postseason and hoisted the Lombardi trophy. In fact, they've been on a sizzling 26-9 SU, 27-8 ATS run the last two-plus years, in addition to a 36-16-1 ATS overall run and a 39-18-1 ATS run at home.

Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs tried to do the same thing last year, as well, playing football the old fashioned way, with a conservative offense and a tough defense. They started good, but finished bad. A year ago the Chiefs were league's first 3-0 team including a 26-16 win over the Eagles, Reid's old team. However, they didn't face many tough quarterbacks during their 9-0 start and were actually outgained twice during their 3-0 start, so cracks were evident - if anyone cared to look close.

You want a strong finish, but you don't want a cold start, either. The 2013 NY Giants started a miserable 0-6, then started to win and cover down the stretch. Of the 164 teams that have started the season 0-3 since 1978, only five made the NFL playoffs.

In each of their recent Super Bowl years the Giants played .500 football for much of the season before getting hot down the stretch. We saw that four years ago, too, as the Green Bay Packers were fortunate to stumble into the playoffs on the final day of the season, then went on a red-hot roll on the way to winning the whole thing.

Four years ago at this time the Bears and Chiefs were two of the remaining three unbeaten teams. They made the playoffs, but the Chiefs were one-and-done while the Bears fell short in the NFC title game. The Chiefs had been 85-to-1 to win the Super Bowl that season.

Sure, in 2009 the eventual Super Bowl participants, the Colts and Saints, had red-hot starts, both not far from 16-0 regular seasons. Yet, six years ago as late last Xmas the Cardinals were an 8-7 team and had just gotten thrashed at New England, 47-7. No one was talking about Arizona as Super Bowl material, but a month later, there they were.

Naturally, a team doesn't want to get off to bad starts, like this year's Jags, Browns, Bucs and Giants, but a poor start isn't a death knell. A poor start makes it tough as there are only 16 games and few teams even qualify for the postseason. On the other hand, a hot start isn't mandatory. Last year Carolina started 1-3 but ended up 12-4 winning the division. Another recent season the Eagles looked terrible during a 0-2 SU/ATS start, then went 11-3 against the spread the rest of the regular season, winning 13 of their next 15 games.

In 2009 the Broncos started 6-0 SU/ATS, then went 2-8 SU, 3-7 ATS to miss the postseason. It's a marathon and all kinds of things can crop up to derail a potential playoff run: Poor defense, injuries, bad luck, even scheduling, or bad chemistry. If your team is off to a disappointing start, relax; and if your team is off to a hot start, don't start making preparations for the playoffs. It's not the fastest horse out of the gate, but the one who crosses the finish line.

For more tips and sports betting information, check out Jim Feist TV

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