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Get ready to feel the full force of the Cycle

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Every fan base thinks their team will outperform expectations. Reality is much crueler for most when the football gets played.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy on display during the 2019 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center, Feb. 28, 2019.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy on display during the 2019 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center, Feb. 28, 2019.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, every fan base gets pulled in by the Cycle.

It’s inescapable.

It’s why last year, 15 of our 16 managing editors among SB Nation NFL team sites predicted their team to end up with a winning season in 2018. Only seven did. The only team site editor not to predict a winning season ahead? My man Seth Cox over at Revenge of the Birds, the SB Nation community for fans of the Arizona Cardinals. Seth had them winning seven games. They won less than half of that.

It’s why 30 of 32 fan bases polled took the over when we shot out the over/unders for win totals using our SB Nation Fan Pulse ballots. And even among them, 23 fan bases polled higher than 75% levels taking the over.

It’s the power of the Cycle.

We succumb, by and large, to the three major factors of the Cycle that skew perceptions away from the range of realistic expectations: the application of parity, the difficulty to identify disappointment and self-assessment bias.

The application of parity

Was your team good last year? If yes, then they’ll obviously be good again. If not, toss last year out! It doesn’t matter!

Instead of a balance of improvement and decline, of expanded success and failure across the league, every fan base uses parity when convenient to do so and dismisses it when it would pull a team down.

The difficulty to identify disappointment

Think of a disappointing player. Or position group. Or a whole side of the ball. Not a bad one. A disappointing one.

What are you supposed to see in organized team activities or training camp that would clue you in that disappointment lay ahead?

What was obvious from Los Angeles Rams S Lamarcus Joyner last June that a disappointing season lay ahead? What clues could you have picked up in training camp that the run defense would be so bad?

There’s a player (or multiple) that will be a near-unanimous pick on top-10 fantasy boards this year that will only produce along the lines of a top-25 player. Or a top-25 player that ends up top 50. What are you supposed to see from them that portends that kind of disappointment?

Instead, fans are treated to a litany of praises of how good the player is. Of how outstanding the position unit looks. At how that side of the ball could be one of the best in the league.

Instead of the realistic balance of some players improving, some remaining somewhat the same and some coming in below either expectation or the performance bar they’ve set, everything comes in over the top.

Self-assessment bias

There were 254 players selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Some will have long, successful careers racking up accolades and shifting the power structure of the league. Most won’t.

Dozens of players signed with new teams in free agency this year. Some will erase the roster gap they were brought in in hopes of doing. Many won’t.

There are analysts you can seek out that are capable of providing an un-biased assessment of which players are on the path to success, the path to solving a team’s dilemma at a given position and which aren’t. Those analysts shouldn’t be the members of the team who just hired those players.

Know who’s going to be high on rookie New York Giants QB Daniel Jones? The coaches and front office members of the New York Giants who convinced themselves to take him in the draft. Of course they’re going to like him. They liked him in March.

Rams fans might have been disappointed in Lamarcus Joyner last year, but you know who thinks he’s going to have a strong couple of years? The members of the Oakland Raiders who willingly offered him a four-year, $42m contract.

Instead of a balance of analyses, we only get them from the coaches and front office members who already convinced themselves of players’ abilities which is why they signed them in the first place.


The problem here is the disconnect between 32 individual bubbles and anyone not in those bubbles. It’s every single team environment and everyone not in that environment.

It’s why Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is more comfortable and more confident than ever. It’s why Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is reminding other Cardinals of Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. It’s why New York Jets RB Le’Veon Bell didn’t look rusty at all to open training camp while hinting at getting 500 touches this year.

Don’t blame fans. And don’t blame media.

The Cycle is simply too powerful and too entrenched to be denied.