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Winning The Off-Season - Part 1 & 2 & 3
Updated 04/03/02

The first time I can really recall hearing this specific phrase was last year. It was stupid then and it's stupid now. It is a wholly subjective assessment if someone claims that a particular team has made all the best moves in the free-agent market, engineered the slickest trades or drafted the finest college studs. Most of this sort of claptrap is simply written because there is nothing else to talk about - most NFL fans are Jim Brown hungry for football this time of year and sportswriters got to eat too. One assessment that I read last August insisted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clearly had the best 2001 off-season and went so far as to suggest that the Patriots had scored one of the very worst. So much for that bit of analysis.

What any of us really know about players and the teams that they inhabit doesn't help a whole lot when something special is about to happen. Not one pundit or prognosticator can claim to have seen the Rams coming in 1999. In fact, when Trent Green went down in a heap, the common thought was that the team would have to quickly sign a new starter if they were going to avoid an absolutely ruinous season and who the hell was Kurt Warner anyway? Similarly, the Patriots started badly in 2001 and were being measured for body bags after Bledsoe was half-killed by a runaway Jet. Now people will be buzzing for years to come about the 6th round, no-name QB that revitalized New England's team, won them a Super Bowl and sent their former All-Pro starter into the unemployment line.

As a longstanding Dolphin fan, I join those who feel that the signing of Ricky Williams seems to be the best thing that's happened to this team in quite a while. Still, I have to confess that there is a nagging little voice which keeps whispering "What if this is simply the end for Ricky?!" After all, there's been scant evidence over the years that any back can consistently produce behind a Miami Dolphin offensive line. Sure, here and there we've seen some hope - Lamar Smith had a tremendous year for a Dolphin RB in 2000 - but an objective thinker sees room for doubt. While there's a real chance that Williams could be the first great Miami RB in the last 20-plus years, he could also just be the next guy who can't get decent rushing yards wearing a Dolphin uniform.  

The Dolphin's Off-Season So Far…
Definite Departures
New Arrivals
Brian Walker - Lions
Ricky Williams - RB
Terry Cousin - Panthers
Leon Searcy - OL
Lamar Smith - Panthers
Robert Edwards - RB
Damian Gregory - Browns
Larry Chester - DT
Harry Swayne - retired
Norv Turner - OC
Kenny Mixon - Vikings
Spencer Folau - Saints
Re-signed Players
JJ Johnson - traded - Browns
Jed Weaver
Chan Gailey - OC - GA Tech
Jeff Ogden
Brock Marion
Near Certain Departures
Scott McGarrahan
O.J McDuffie - released
Jay Fiedler
Hunter Goodwin - released
Lorenzo Bromell - UFA
Uncertain Outlook
Matt Turk - UFA
Scott Gaylon
Heath Irwin - released

Next Up: So… How About That Schedule?

Winning The Off-Season - Part II

In the previous missive under this heading, the topic was personnel changes we've seen thus far in the Miami off-season. This installment is intended to provide information regarding the 2002 schedule, with some minor bitching about ranking.
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Truisms are the lifeblood of the sports fan. Nothing goes better with wings and beer than classic homilies like "Offense wins football games, defense wins Super Bowls." Bet your last buck that mucho discussion during the off-season will focus on the recently announced 2002 schedule and how will it help or hinder each team. Last year, as I'm sure you'll recall, there was tremendous pissing and moaning by Dolphin fans about how tough the Dolphin's schedule looked, especially in the early going. Yes, it certainly did rank among the tougher itineraries in the NFL, but based upon the meaninglessness of methods used to calculate such things - it was much ado about nothing. Besides, the science behind these "calculations" is not real sound. I doubt even Arthur Anderson would sign-off on the technique.

Strength Of Schedule is typically determined using the combined win-loss record, from the previous season for all of the teams that are on a team's play list. Sometimes a clever analyst may also factor in how many games will involve teams that made the playoffs or posted records over .500 as a weighting factor. In essence: The higher the opponent's composite W/L total, the tougher the schedule. Then they actually play the games and everything changes. For example: In the 2001 pre-season, Detroit's schedule ranked 22nd overall in the NFL. Their opponents had a composite W/L record of 123-133 (48%) in 2000, so their schedule looked pretty soft. However, once the 2001 season was over, it was clear that unexpected things had happened. The teams the Lions faced in 2001 had staged an amazing turn around and had finished with a W/L record of 151-105 (59%) and the Lion's schedule was, therefore, about toughest in the NFL. Perhaps that helps explain their 2-14 season? To be sure, the Lions certainly contributed to the increased wins for their opponents,  but not enough to swing the numbers by their poor play alone.  Similarly, the  1-15 Panther's schedule, which ranked 15th in the pre-season, had climbed all the way to the #2 spot once the dust settled on the season. Even allowing that the Panther's own weakness made their opponents look stronger, it's still not much of an endorsement for the mathematical methods employed in the pre-season analyses.

Nonetheless, undeterred by the meaninglessness of it all, I hereby provide a chart which ranks the upcoming season's team schedules using these same highly questionable methods.

Disclaimers and Denials
Many teams score identical opponent W-L records - my choice for a "tiebreaker" was to allow that the team with the poorer 2001 W-L record then has it tougher given the similar schedule. See?  Also please note that teams which play the Texans will have 16 to 32 fewer total W-L games in their opponent's 2001 record as stands to reason since the Texans weren't around last year. Can't help that you know….

Furthermore, if I made any mistakes racking and stacking all this, please don't bother pointing them out. It was a pain in the ass and  I don't get paid anyway - unless you wish to send me some money. In that case I will politely listen to reasonable criticism. EUPHY's BARELY SCIENTIFIC SCHEDULE RANKING FOR 2002

2001 Opponent's
Est. Sched. Rank
Team
W-L
Win %
R-S Finish Rank
Wins
Losses
Win %
Bills
3-13
18.75%
28
131
109
54.58%
1
Chargers
5-11
31.25%
26
131
109
54.58%
2
Forty-Niners
12-4
75.00%
4
138
118
53.91%
3
Rams
14-2
87.50%
1
138
118
53.91%
4
Seahawks
9-7
56.25%
13
137
119
53.52%
5
Chiefs
6-10
37.50%
22
136
120
53.13%
6
Broncos
8-8
50.00%
14
135
121
52.73%
7
Raiders
10-6
62.50%
8
135
121
52.73%
8
Redskins
8-8
50.00%
14
124
116
51.67%
9
Eagles
10-6
62.50%
8
124
116
51.67%
10
Lions
2-14
12.50%
29
132
124
51.56%
11
Cardinals
7-9
43.75%
16
132
124
51.56%
12
Vikings
5-11
31.25%
26
130
126
50.78%
13
Patriots
11-5
68.75%
6
129
127
50.39%
14
Panthers
1-15
6.25%
30
128
128
50.00%
15
Giants
7-9
43.75%
16
119
121
49.58%
16
Colts
6-10
37.50%
22
111
113
49.55%
17
Texans
0-0
-
-
111
113
49.55%
18
Browns
7-9
43.75%
16
118
122
49.17%
19
Dolphins
11-5
68.75%
6
125
131
48.83%
20
Saints
7-9
43.75%
16
124
132
48.44%
21
Jets
10-6
62.50%
8
124
132
48.44%
22
Jaguars
6-10
37.50%
22
108
116
48.21%
23
Ravens
10-6
62.50%
8
115
125
47.92%
24
Buccaneers
10-6
62.50%
8
122
134
47.66%
25
Bears
13-3
81.25%
2
122
134
47.66%
26
Cowboys
5-11
31.25%
26
114
126
47.50%
27
Falcons
7-9
43.75%
16
120
136
46.88%
28
Packers
12-4
75.00%
4
120
136
46.88%
29
Bengals
6-10
37.50%
22
112
128
46.67%
30
Steelers
13-3
81.25%
2
111
129
46.25%
31
Titans
7-9
43.75%
16
112
144
43.75%
32

Now, about Miami: Check them out hiding at Number Twenty! Who the hell is mad at the Bills?! They post an abysmal 3 - 13 season and get stuck with the Lombardi Schedule? Zounds and Gadzooks! But again: How about those Dolphins? A team known for hot starts and cold finishes, opening in the heat against a weak-sister team and closing up north in the icy-cold of December against the defending Super Bowl champs. How fitting.

Miami Dolphins 2002 - Regular Season Schedule
Date
Loc.
Opponent
Date
Loc.
Opponent
Sept. 8
HOME
Detroit
Nov. 10
AWAY
New York Jets
Sept. 15
AWAY
Indianapolis
Nov. 17
HOME
Baltimore
Sept. 22
HOME
New York Jets
Nov. 24
HOME
San Diego
Sept. 29
AWAY
Kansas City
Dec. 1
AWAY
Buffalo
Oct. 6
HOME
New England
Dec. 9
HOME
Chicago
Oct. 13
AWAY
Denver
Dec. 15
HOME
Oakland
Oct. 20
HOME
Buffalo
Dec. 21
AWAY
Minnesota
Oct. 27
Bye
Dec. 29
AWAY
New England
Nov. 4
AWAY
Green Bay


The good news is that the Foxboro game is about the only bad news. In general, Miami fans should feel very upbeat about the Dolphin's 2002 schedule. New England is the only playoff team they'll even see in the first-half of the season and hosting the games against Baltimore, San Diego, Chicago and Oakland is very sweet. The "bye" week is well placed and the only game where they are certain to see bitter cold is that nasty finale against the Patriots. Rejoice Dolphin fans… this schedule is a gift!

Next Up: Realignment


Winning The Off-Season - Part III

Okay - last installment (hold the applause please)

"The Miami Dolphins re-signed quarterback Jay Fiedler, defensive tackle Tim Bowens and safety Brock Marion plus pulled off the trade of the offseason in getting running back Ricky Williams from New Orleans. They also added former Pro Bowl tackle Leon Searcy. Here's a vote for the Dolphins as off-season champion so far…." - Don Pierson MSNBC - March 22nd, 2002

Okay Don, but something that has happened this off-season that has not received as much attention as you might expect is Realignment. These changes, which on their face may seem relatively minor, will wind up heavily impacting which teams are counted among the annual post-season graduates. Sure, we still have two conferences (NFC and AFC) like before, but they are now comprised of four divisions each (instead of three) and each division now have exactly four teams. For this brief moment, the NFL is roughly in numerical balance and a few of the geographical oddities of the old boiler-plate scheme have been eliminated. Of course, many things have not changed. As in the past, each team will face their division rivals twice on the regular season schedule, any division winner still earns a playoff spot and there will be wildcard teams from both conferences.

2002 NFL realignment
AFC
 East
Buffalo
Miami
New England
New York Jets
 North
Baltimore
Cincinnati
Cleveland
Pittsburgh
 South
Houston
Indianapolis
Jacksonville
Tennessee
 West
Denver
Kansas City
Oakland
San Diego
NFC
 East
Dallas
New York Giants
Philadelphia
Washington
 North
Chicago
Detroit
Green Bay
Minnesota
 South
Atlanta
Carolina
New Orleans
Tampa Bay
 West
Arizona
St. Louis
San Francisco
Seattle

The most significant difference in the new scheme is in those wildcard spots. With four divisions in each conference, that means eight of the twelve playoff teams will be the champions of their respective divisions. Only four total wildcard teams - two from each conference - will be invited into the post-season. Come December, people are going to be buzzing about this change.

Why do I think this is of special significance for the Dolphins? Simply because the Dolphins, famous for their frequent playoff appearances (and disappearances), have truly been the kings of the wildcard spot. I doubt any team has held the wildcard more often than Miami. It has not been all that much of a rarity for two wildcard teams to emerge just from the AFC East - Last year was not a fluke. The Dolphins have been one of the wildcard teams more often than I care to count. Henceforth, with only two wildcard spots to share among the four AFC divisions, the chances of any team making the playoffs as a wildcard have dropped. Teams must now really focus on winning their division if they hope to have post-season plans. This is a good-news bad-news sort of change. It may well be that the Dolphin's post-season appearance frequency will drop. If that's the bad news, the good news is that perhaps when they do make the playoffs in the future, it will only be when they deserve to be there in the first place.

Ü