Top 5 Largest NFL Win Decreases in 2012
What goes up must come down. It's the case in the law of gravity, Kim Kardashian's career prospects, and in the case of NFL teams, win totals. With now only six days until the start of the 2012 NFL regular season, numberFire has spent some time taking a look at our projected standings for this season. Yesterday we looked at the five teams with the biggest projected improvements. But today, it's the sadder side of the coin: the five teams that are projected to take the biggest win-loss record hits in 2012. They all have two things in common: they finished .500 or above, and they slightly overachieved to get there. And while not all of these teams will be plummeting to the bottom of the standings quite yet (and two of them still have over 60% playoff odds), fans might want to temper their expectations just a bit entering the season.
Top Five Projected NFL Team Win Decreases
5. Tennessee Titans
2011 Overall Rank: #18
Projected 2012 Record: 7.7-8.3
Final 2011 Record: 9-7
The Titans are... average. At the end of last season, their overall team ranking was #18. The offense? Well, that was ranked #18. And the defense? In case you hadn't looked it up, that was also ranked #18. The Titans didn't do a single spectacular thing last season, highlighted by Chris Johnson's spectacularly average 1,047 yards rushing and four rushing TDs. This season, Jake Locker will assume the starting QB role, a position that numberFire projects he will play just about average as the #23 QB in our draft kit. The team doesn't return a single Pro Bowler (only the Bills, Rams, and Titans got shut out of the game), and first round draft pick Kendall Wright looks to be the Titans' third receiver at best. This looks to be an average team with average... *yawn*... potential...
4. Baltimore Ravens
2011 Overall Rank: #4
Projected 2012 Record: 10.4-5.6
Final 2011 Record: 12-4
But if you needed some excitement injected back into your life, how about one half of what I'd consider the strongest rivalry in the NFL right now: the Baltimore Ravens? (At the very least, Ravens-Steelers is up there with Patriots v. Jets and Kenny Britt v. Roger Goodell.) The Ravens intrigue me this season, especially considering how they're trying to mix the old with the new. On the offensive line, they have three players at age 32 or above, but that contrasts wildly with the skill positions, where young Ray Rice and Torrey Smith lead the way. And on defense, the unit has gotten progressively younger: only two projected defensive starters are above age 28. But as long as those starters are Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the identity of this defense is not going to change dramatically. In the end, whether the Ravens fall to 10-6 may just depend on how they do against their division: repeating 2011's 6-0 AFC North record will be a tough task at best, an impossible task at worst. And remember, they have numberFire's second-toughest NFL schedule this season.
3. San Francisco 49ers
2011 Overall Rank: #10
Projected 2012 Record: 10.2-5.8
Final 2011 Record: 13-3
Does this look like the face of a man who's willing to drop three games in the win column to you? While Harbaugh may be intimidating and not willing to accept defeat, this season he may not have much of a choice. The defense looks to be solid once again; the unit that ended 2011 #4 overall in numberFire's list was ranked second in points allowed (14.3 per game) and first in both rushing yards allowed (77.2 per game) and fumble recoveries (15). However, the questions come with the offense. Is Alex Smith still the same QB that led the NFC West with a +0.09 NEP per play average last season? Will Frank Gore slow down even further at age 29, and how much will Brandon Jacobs really help? Does Randy Moss continue to decline interview requests because Jim Harbaugh had his tongue surgically removed as part of his free agent deal? These are all (mostly) valid questions, and it's a bit too much for the projections to put the Niners anywhere near last season's excellent 13-3 mark.
2. Oakland Raiders
2011 Overall Rank: #25
Projected 2012 Record: 4.9-11.1
Final 2011 Record: 8-8
But look at it this way, Niners fans: you won't have the worst win total drop in the Bay Area. That will belong to the Oakland Raiders, where the Black Hole has now turned to trapping happiness and joy so it can never see the light of day again. The last time the Raiders had a winning season: 2002, when the University of Delaware's own Rich Gannon led Oakland to the Super Bowl, then promptly never started more than seven games in a season ever again. And while spirits may be looking up in Oakland after two straight .500 seasons, the schedule does not look pretty. How will this team respond after starting the season against the Chargers, then travelling to face a surprisingly tough Dolphins defense, then playing three straight 2011 playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Atlanta? If the numberFire projections are any indication, not well. numberFire is not nearly as high on Darren McFadden as others; he's not in our top ten RBs. The other skill position players aren't much better: Carson Palmer is our #17 QB and projected leading receiver Denarius Moore is our #24 WR. And the defense? Well, the Buccaneers did the Raiders defense a favor, as they were the only thing between the Raiders and the cellar in 2011 (they ranked #31 in numberFire's season ending list). Dark clouds are ahead in Oakland, and it's not just Oakland Coliseum grills this time.
1. Arizona Cardinals
2011 Overall Rank: #23
Projected 2012 Record: 4.3-11.7
Final 2011 Record: 8-8
The Raiders still don't have it the worst in the NFL, though, as that will belong to the poor fans of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last season, starting the season 1-6 last year before turning on a dime and ending on a 7-2 run. According to our projections, that team you saw in the first seven games is more likely to be the real Cardinals than the one you saw in the last nine. As we noted in our Kolb-Skelton position battle, the defense played extraordinarily well for John Skelton during his eight games at starter, not allowing over 23 points a single time. As a result, even though the Cardinals only maxed out at 23 points themselves during that 7-2 stretch, the defense allowed them to hold serve. Allow numberFire to be skeptical for a minute, but we highly doubt that the unit ranked #21 on our 2011 defensive charts and only containing a single defensive Pro Bowler (Adrian Wilson, Patrick Peterson made the team as a kick returner) will be able to perform that same feat again. With a likely 4-12 record and Super Bowl odds less than 1%, the Cardinals take our extremely bitter-tasting cake as the team with the largest projected win decrease in 2012.