Tebow, Broncos defying odds with close wins
It’s official: Quarterback Tim Tebow(notes) and the Denver Broncos are miracle workers, a real-life version of a Hallmark Channel movie. Either that or they are, as Malcolm Gladwell eloquently explained, outliers. They are doing things to an extreme that no one else in their given field is doing.
The Broncos are winning without really scoring, at least by NFL standards. On Sunday, the Broncos won their third consecutive game in which they scored less than 20 points. It’s the fourth time in six games with Tebow as the starting quarterback that the Broncos have won with less than 20.
That may not seem significant, but with just a little bit of research, you can see it’s absurd. So far this season, the Broncos are 4-2 in games in which they’ve scored less than 20, including 4-1 with Tebow. Of the other 31 teams in the NFL, only the San Francisco 49ers have a winning record when they’ve put up less than 20, going a modest 2-1.
That’s only the beginning of this statistical blip. Including the 49ers, the other 31 teams are a combined 21-111 in games in which they scored less than 20 points. Yes, the other 31 teams are a combined 90 games under .500.
To put it another way, the rest of the NFL wins about two out of every 13 times it scores less than 20 points. The Broncos are winning two of every three.
Common sense would indicate that this can’t be maintained. Of course, when it comes to anything involving Tebow, common sense be damned. Some variation on the “he’s a winner” theme gets used to explain it, even if that ignores that defense is a big reason (as colleague Dan Wetzel pointed out Sunday).
Also, it’s not as if good teams are absurdly better at winning without scoring a lot. Of the 12 teams that currently would qualify for the playoffs, including San Francisco (Denver isn’t in that group), the combined record is 7-20, a winning percentage of .259. That’s better than the rest of the league (14-91, .133), but not exactly anything to write home about.
The NFL is witnessing something in Denver that is along the lines of “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” all rolled into one. Tebow-ites will say that this perspective is another way of mocking the great abilities of their hero. No, it’s really a matter of keeping this Broncos run in perspective. Right now, Tebow has some interesting abilities. In difficult circumstances, he is extraordinarily gifted at maintaining his composure. Against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Tebow made three great throws (a touchdown pass to Eric Decker(notes) in the first half and two more throws on the game-tying drive in regulation).
He did the same type of thing earlier in an 18-15 overtime win at Miami, a game that was about as improbable as it gets. Of course, wins are wins and if you win enough, people start to believe and trust you.
Devotees of the History Channel will tell you that such circumstances don’t hold up over time. According to research from the NFL office, the last team to win three straight games with less than 20 points was the 2008 Miami Dolphins.
That fact is instructive because the 2008 Dolphins went 11-5 and made the playoffs. However, that season was a mirage. Not only did quarterback Chad Pennington(notes) stay healthy the entire season, the rest of the team was relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league (New England, for instance, lost quarterback Tom Brady(notes) in the season opener) and the schedule was relatively easy. The Dolphins played more games against teams with at least 11 losses (four) than against teams that made the playoffs (three).
Since then, the Dolphins have been a study in regression. They went 7-9 the next two seasons and are currently 3-8 on the way to a likely coaching and quarterback search.
If Tebow and Denver are going to use this nice run to become better, they can’t buy into the hype that it has created. The beauty of Tebow’s winning is that it gives him more chances to develop his passing skills, which he will need if the Broncos are going to transition to being a true contender. Otherwise, this is just a blip, an anomaly that will not hold up over the long-term.
After this Sunday, when the Broncos visit the Vikings, they return home for games with the Bears and Patriots. Even without Jay Cutler(notes), it will be interesting to see Tebow against the Bears defense. Against the Patriots, it will be interesting to see if the Broncos allow Tebow to throw much, even if the game gets out of hand.
It’s a wonderful, made-for-TV anomaly. Enjoy it while it lasts.
A non-voter’s HOF ballot
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced 26 modern-era semifinalists last week and this figures to be one of the toughest years ever for the selectors. The 26 are: safety Steve Atwater, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown(notes), wide receiver Cris Carter, coach Don Coryell, running back Roger Craig, running back Terrell Davis, center Dermontti Dawson, owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., defensive end Chris Doleman, linebacker Kevin Greene, defensive end Charles Haley, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, running back Curtis Martin, linebacker Clay Matthews(notes), linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, coach Bill Parcells, wide receiver Andre Reed, offensive tackle Willie Roaf, safety Donnie Shell, guard Will Shields, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, special teamer Steve Tasker, cornerback Aeneas Williams, former team executives Ron Wolf and George Young.
[ Related: Jaguars fire coach Jack Del Rio ]
Of the group, up to five can be elected (a sixth or seventh inductee is possible from the seniors finalists). In the 20 years I have covered the NFL, I can’t remember a more difficult group to decide from. That said, here are six I’d vote for:
• Charles Haley: A dominant presence as a pass rusher and a five-time champion between San Francisco and Dallas.
• Eddie DeBartolo Jr. : Hired Bill Walsh and directed one of the most dominant teams in the history of the game. Helped push the league to a different level of entertainment.
• Curtis Martin: A quietly dominant runner (10 straight years with 1,000 yards rushing) and possibly one of the toughest ever.
• Cortez Kennedy: He was Warren Sapp and Ndamukong Suh(notes) before those guys ever wore shoulder pads.
• Andre Reed: Has numbers and was the top receiving threat on a team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls.
• Willie Roaf: He was an 11-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Decade team for both the 1990s and 2000s.
I went on this rant earlier this season and got some nasty emails from fans who do a lot of traveling, so I get the concern. Still, anyone who looks ahead at the next two weeks of Monday Night Football (San Diego at Jacksonville and then St. Louis at Seattle on Dec. 12) has to agree that something needs to be done about switching games. Sure, the final two weeks are good (Pittsburgh at San Francisco on Dec. 19 and then Atlanta at New Orleans on Dec. 26), but aside from family members and close friends, who is going to watch the next two weeks? I don’t say this as any favor to ESPN, rather to the NFL which depends on these high-profile time slots to maximize revenue over the long run. The concern by fans is that if Sunday games are switched to Monday, that would ruin travel schedules and hotel reservations. Fair point. However, if you guarantee that changes must be made at least three weeks in advance and offer other services for fans who are inconvenienced, there is a way around the problem. One way or another, flex scheduling is a good idea for Monday night. Unless, of course, you’re drawn to the idea of watching non-competitive teams coached by men who are about to be fired.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-0): Sadly, Aaron Rodgers(notes) likely won’t have another game indoors until the Super Bowl, at this rate.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3): Should go at least 3-2 and make the playoffs even if SS Troy Polamalu(notes) missed the rest of the season.
3. New England Patriots (8-3): Pats were unfazed by early 10-0 deficit. Eventual runaway win left Philly dazed.
4. Baltimore Ravens (8-3): Another Gatorade bath for John Harbaugh? Really? Didn’t you guys learn from the last time?
5. San Francisco 49ers (9-2): Niners will clinch division this week, win 13 or 14 games and likely lose their first playoff contest. Think Atlanta 2010.
28. Minnesota Vikings (2-9): So, do you dare bill Sunday game’s against Denver as “Christian vs. Tebow”? It’s just a joke.
29. Carolina Panthers (3-8): Don’t be surprised if the Panthers win three of their final five games, despite that defense.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8): With the Chargers in town Monday, the Jags’ new owner should shake hands with every fan in attendance.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-9): Spags, my man, what’s going on? You just lost to the dynamic duo of Beanie Wells(notes) and John Skelton(notes).
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-11) : Over-under this week against New England is 50 points … by the Patriots themselves.
• The list of coaches on the proverbial hot seat was headed by Jack Del Rio of Jacksonville until he was fired Tuesday morning. Now, Tony Sparano of Miami and Norv Turner of San Diego are the leaders. However, don’t be surprised if a recent re-entrant to the NFL coaching fraternity starts to quickly move up the ladder. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn’t doing much to impress people in the organization and the loss at home to the Washington Redskins on Sunday was particularly bad. “I think the owner [Paul Allen] was expecting a lot more imagination and entertainment,” said a source familiar with the organization’s thinking. “He spent a lot of money. He thought Pete was some outside-the-box thinker. He’s finding that Pete is a guy who has trouble focusing.” While Allen is not the most hands-on owner and has never focused his energy on the Seahawks (4-7), he went out of his way to get Carroll, signing the coach to a five-year, $33 million contract. The team was hoping to use back-to-back wins and then three consecutive home games to get on a roll for the rest of the season.
• Memo to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe(notes): That punk effort on the final pass play Sunday night is a reminder to an awful lot of people that you’re just not all that into it from a team perspective. Guys who want to get paid don’t alligator-arm it like that. Seriously, that play might cost you $5 million. Catch that ball and take a hit and you’d have earned some serious respect around the league. Now, defensive backs are going to run at your ribs every play rather than cover the pass.
• Anyone who thinks that Colts coach Jim Caldwell is on the hot seat, this note may dispel that notion: Although owner Jim Irsay has final say, the person who may have the most say in Caldwell’s future is quarterback Peyton Manning(notes). If Manning wants Caldwell and the rest of the staff to stay, they’ll return.
• Sometimes Jon Gruden is too funny. At one point after an impressive scramble and throw by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees(notes) on Monday night against the New York Giants, Gruden complimented Brees by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader up here.” Of course, that begs the question: Why stop now, Jon?
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