The Los Angeles Rams are 5-3 and hoping to dramatically shake up the NFC in the second half of the season by running roughshod over beliefs that they can’t beat their toughest opponents. That begins on Sunday against the 6-2 Seattle Seahawks, a team many expected to be good headed into the year and for those people, Seattle has not disappointed.
However, most expectations that people have going into a sports season end up being wildly inaccurate ... and then with zero accountability for what went wrong in our “predictions.”
This is a business of living in the moment, so there’s rarely a look back at what was said or believed yesterday. That includes when people projects “wins” and “losses” on an upcoming schedule and then discuss really pointless things like “strength of schedule” in July. This exercise doesn’t yield useful results but they happen anyway.
Why don’t we check the receipts and see what shakes out?
I have preseason power rankings from ESPN, The Ringer, Sports Illustrated, ProFootballTalk and ProFootballNetwork as receipts. Did the Rams (ranked as an average team headed into the year) end up with an easier or harder schedule than people expected? Or is it about the same?
It is not the same ...
Week 1 - Dallas Cowboys
Current: Really bad
The lowest ranking of any of the five outlets for Dallas was 12th at PFT. And PFN had the Cowboys as the fifth-best team entering the season. Though part of the reason Dallas is struggling has to do with the injury to Dak Prescott, he started five games and had 222 pass attempts and the Cowboys were still headed for disaster with Mike McCarthy. The offense has fallen apart without Dak, but they’re just catching up to how bad the defense already was. It would be nice to look back at Week 1 and see a bigger margin of victory than three points given that the Cowboys only two wins are a miracle one-pointer against the Falcons and a three-point win against the Giants.
Week 2 - Philadelphia Eagles
Current: Really bad
Similar to Dallas, most places had the Eagles as a top-10 team and in fact SI had them at five and PFN had them at six. “Don’t be surprised if Carson Wentz is in the MVP discussion by the end of the year,” according to PFN. The Rams won 37-19 in Philadelphia and the Eagles are ranked 28th in DVOA right now. This isn’t about injuries; Wentz has to be considered one of the worst starters in the NFL today. He’s thrown two interceptions in five of his eight starts.
Week 3 - Buffalo Bills
Pre-season: Good, promising
Current: Good, promising
I don’t think much has changed in Buffalo. They were considered about the 10th-best team in football and I see no reason to dispute that today. The Bills won 35-32 at home but blew a 25-point lead in the process.
Week 4 - New York Giants
Current: You guessed it
Danny Kelly was “excited” to see the Giants offense this season because of guys like Saquon Barkley and Darius Slayton, but if running backs don’t matter than the Giants have no excuses for being this bad. Daniel Jones is worse than Wentz but people are more vocal about the fact that Jones may not have a future. He didn’t help the Eagles win enough games to get the 1-seed in 2017 and he didn’t nearly win MVP that year. Jones has nothing to hang his hat on and he’s had most of his weapons this season. Still, LA only won this game 17-9.
Week 5 - Washington Football Team
Current: Slightly better than terrible
I’m taking a chance and saying that Football Team will win the NFC East at 6-10. They are ranked sixth on defense by DVOA, but 31st on offense. It’s just easy for writers to crap on Washington because they know they won’t get any flak for it, but Football Team is better than people thought they’d be. They’re still one of the worst teams in the league though.
Week 6 - San Francisco 49ers
Pre-season: Championship contenders
Current: NFC West bottom dwellers
“The 49ers’ defense might take a tiny step back but expect Jimmy Garoppolo to take a step forward.” - PFN.
“(Kyle Shanahan) passed on a chance to swap Jimmy Garoppolo for Tom Brady in 2020. How well Garoppolo repays that faith in him will go a long way toward determining whether the 49ers can finish the job.” - PFT
A championship team doesn’t hinge on the availability of one pass rusher. It seems that the 49ers would have taken a step back this season even with a healthy Nick Bosa because Garoppolo is not the answer at quarterback and regression at other positions has set them back to 4-5. But they beat the Rams 24-16.
Week 7 - Chicago Bears
Kelly ranked Chicago higher than anyone but only had them 21st. Today they are 17th in DVOA. The Bears might having a winning record (5-4) but they could finish the season with a losing one. They are fourth on defense by DVOA but 28th offensively. This is the highest ranked team that the Rams have beaten this season, having gone 0-3 against teams in the top-15. This will need to change soon.
Week 8 - Miami Dolphins
Pre-season: Really bad
Current: Really underestimated
Three outlets had the Dolphins at 26th, one had them at 27th and PFN had them 31st. Miami is 10th in DVOA, ranking 18th on offense, 14th on defense and second on special teams.
Despite the fact that the Dolphins went 5-4 over the last nine games (with a better point differential than the 5-4 Patriots over the same stretch), nobody thought Brian Flores would turn them into an AFC East contender this quickly. I think Miami will actually overtake the Bills and win the division in Week 17. But who knows, predictions can go sideways sometimes!*
Week 10 - Seattle Seahawks
Pre-season: Really good
Current: Maybe even a little worse than expected?
After acquiring Jamal Adams, Seattle’s pre-season expectations were raised and both ESPN and Kelly had them ranked fifth going into the season. PFN had them ranked 14th. The Seahawks are 6-2 and LA’s biggest challenge between them and the NFC West title but rank 24th on defense. That’s generous. But the Seahawks are about the same as previous expectations, even if people didn’t really understand how they’d be good.
Week 11 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pre-season: A little more than above average
Current: Second in DVOA
PFT went the highest on Tampa Bay, ranking them seventh. The lowest was SI at 14. The story isn’t Tom Brady though; the Bucs rank first on defense. They allowed 38 to the Saints, but New Orleans is ranked first in DVOA, the only team ahead of Tampa.
Week 12 - 49ers
Week 13 - Arizona Cardinals
Pre-season: Below average
Current: Above average
You knew no writers were going to take a chance on the Cardinals, despite adding DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray going into the all-important year two for franchise QBs. (Patrick Mahomes won MVP in year two and a Super Bowl during his second season as a starter. Lamar Jackson won an MVP in year two. Carson Wentz almost won the MVP as the Eagles won the Super Bowl in his second season.)
The Cards rank 11th in DVOA, spread evenly between offense and defense. They have at least as good of a chance as the Rams do of knocking Seattle out of first and taking the division. It’s an NFC West-heavy schedule for LA beginning Sunday.
Week 14 - New England Patriots
Current: Really bad
I don’t care if it was July, Mike Florio had the Patriots ranked fourth in his power rankings. Looking back, it is unreasonable (and probably influenced by the bias of knowing a team name instead of focusing on the rosters) that anyone had New England ahead of Arizona. I know that 99% of people believe Cam Newton is better than I believe he is, but the Pats have had an untalented roster for all of 2020. Newton isn’t the quarterback you sign to elevate a talent-poor roster.
He’s maybe the QB you sign when you want some media attention?
Perhaps the most fascinating headlines of the week are the ones praising Newton for his “return to form” after beating the 0-9 Jets on a last second field goal; in his last four starts, including Monday night, Newton has thrown zero touchdowns, five interceptions and been sacked seven times with three fumbles.
New England should have lost that game. They seem headed for at least six more losses. Newton is yet another example of media members being unable to admit when they were wrong.
Week 15 - New York Jets
Current: The worst
It’s funny how our memories work. How many of you thought that the Jets would be 31st or 32nd on all of these power rankings? PFN and Florio had them 24th, ESPN and SI had them 27th and only Kelly got it close to right. (30th)
The Jets are the worst team in the NFL, and some would say one of the worst teams in history (but that’s sensationalism and New York doesn’t have as low of a DVOA as the Dolphins had last season, plus they will improve as the year winds down) but some teams who were ranked below them before the season include: Carolina, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami and Washington, who as I mentioned before, has a great defense.
No doubt the Jets are worse, but it has remained an expected win regardless.
Week 16 - Seahawks
Week 17 - Cardinals
How does this sum up?
Number of games against “Above Average” teams before the season: Nine
Number of games against “Below Average” teams before the season: Seven
I’m putting the Patriots in the above average category. If you want to put them below, it’s an even 8-8 split. The number of games against teams expected to be “bad” would be close to five and the number of games against exceptional teams would be maybe either four (the divisional games against San Francisco and Seattle) plus maybe Dallas, Tampa Bay, New England, Philadelphia and Buffalo. But keep in mind to separate your expectations from the expectations I’m pulling off of the internet.
The only universally accepted “Great” teams on the schedule were the 49ers and Seahawks.