Just like Danny Coale, the NFL is wide open every year.
"Right now, if any one of the 32 teams isn't excited about what they're doing," Turner said, "you've got something wrong. Our goal and what we're going to get done is sustain that excitement and energy. We're going to continue to grow and get better."
This is the time of year where hope springs eternal and every team feels optimistic about the new season. Training camps are still a month away, and opening day is even further away, but all 32 teams are going into the season hopeful that this could be their year.
Because in the parity-driven NFL, last season doesn't matter. Fact is, the 'competitive balance' in the league gives each team hope of finishing at the top of the standings regardless of its record the previous season. Sometimes for no other reason than that other teams in the division are even worse. In the NFL, we also call this parity.
After the break, we'll look at three very specific reasons why last year doesn't matter, and why you're allowed to be optimistic about the Cowboys' playoff chances this season.
The churn factor: It's not a big secret anymore that the playoff field churns by about 50% from year to year. Since the the league moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, an average of about six new teams made the playoffs every year. Only once, in 1994, did that number dip to four teams. This long history of churn among NFL teams means that it's highly probable that about six teams that did not make the playoffs in 2011 will make the playoffs in 2012.
The rebound factor: Every year since 1990 there have been a handful of teams that had a losing record in the previous season yet still made the playoffs the following season. Last year, five out of six new playoff participants had a losing record in 2010. The Giants were the only new playoff team in 2011 that also had a winning record in 2010.
Worst-to-first factor: The rebound factor doesn't only affect teams who narrowly missed the playoffs in the previous year. For the last nine years at least one team went from "worst-to-first" in its division. Since 2000, 16 teams have managed that feat. Last year, the Broncos made the improbable transition from worst to first, albeit in a weak division that allowed the 8-8 Broncos to advance to the playoffs.
Don't believe it? Below is the full list of the Churn Factor and the Rebound Factor in the playoffs since 1990, and a little further down we have the data for the worst to first teams.
|Playoff Participants by Year, 1990-2011|
teams that didn't make the
playoffs the year before
teams with losing records
the year before
|Year||# Teams||Teams||# Teams||Teams|
|1990||6||Chi, Cin, KC, Mia, NO, Was
|1991||5||Atl, Dal, Den, Det, NYJ
||5||Atl, Dal, Den, Det, NYJ|
|1992||7||KC, Mia, Min, Phi, Pit, SD, SF||2||Pit, SD|
|1993||5||Den, Det, GB, NYG, Oak||3||Det, NYG, Oak|
|1994||5||Chi, Cle, Mia, NE, SD||3||Chi, Cle, NE|
|1995||4||Atl, Buf, Ind, Phi||3||Atl, Buf, Phi|
|1996||5||Car, Den, Jac, Min, NE||3||Car, Jac, NE|
|1997||5||Det, KC, Mia, NYG, TB||3||Det, NYG, TB|
|1998||5||Ari, Atl, Buf, Dal, NYJ||4||Ari, Atl, Buf, Dal|
|1999||7||Det, Ind, Sea, StL, TB, Ten, Was||4||Det, Ind, StL, Was|
|2000||6||Bal, Den, NO, NYG, Oak, Phi||4||Den, NO, NYG, Phi|
|2001||6||Chi, GB, NE, NYJ, Pit, SF||3||Chi, NE, SF|
|2002||5||Atl, Cle, Ind, NYG, Ten||5||Atl, Cle, Ind, NYG, Ten|
|2003||8||Bal, Car, Dal, Den, KC, NE, Sea, StL||5||Bal, Car, Dal, Sea, StL|
|2004||5||Atl, Min, NYJ, Pit, SD||4||Atl, NYJ, Pit, SD|
|2005||7||Car, Chi, Cin, Jac, NYG, TB, Was||5||Car, Chi, NYG, TB, Was|
|2006||7||Bal, Dal, KC, NO, NYJ, Phi, SD||4||Bal, NO, NYJ, Phi|
|2007||6||GB, Jac, Pit, TB, Ten, Was||2||TB, Was|
|2008||7||Atl, Ari, Bal, Car, Mia, Min, Phi||4||Atl, Bal, Car, Mia|
|2009||6||Cin, Dal, GB, NE, NO, NYJ||2||Cin, GB|
|2010||5||Atl, Chi, KC, Pit, Sea||2||Chi, Sea|
|2011||6||Cin, Den, Det, Hou, NYG, SF||5||Cin, Den, Det, Hou, SF|
The biggest rebound since 1990 was achieved by the 2008, who had compiled a 1-15 record in 2007 and reached the playoffs in 2008 with an 11-5 record. Useless bits of trivia: The have rebounded into the playoffs only two times (1998 & 2003) and prior to 2011 only had one 8-8 season since the league moved to a 16-game regular season in 1979. Unfortunately, after finishing 8-8 in 1999 under Chan Gailey, the Cowboys didn't rebound into the playoffs, instead falling to three successive years with a 5-11 record under Dave Campo.
Of the 76 teams that rebounded from a losing record into the playoffs since 1990, here's how many wins they racked up in the previous season:
|Rebound teams: Wins in season prior to playoff season|
|# Teams||- -||1||- -||3||11||16||23||22|
And to finish off our data table bonanza, here's the full list of teams that managed that most improbable of turnarounds by going from worst to first in their division:
|Teams going from "Worst-to-first" in their division by year, 1990-2011|
Prior Season Record
|*Tied for last place in division
All of these numbers have a very simple message: Anything can happen in the NFL. Every new NFL season is always also a new chance for teams that fell short of the playoffs the season before. The NFL is intrinsically designed to be a parity-driven league; the draft, revenue sharing, the salary cap, compensatory draft picks, all the way through the schedule; everything about the NFL is designed so that every team from every market has a legit opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.
Every year a team that nobody was thinking of as a contender suddenly strings together a couple of wins early in the year, starts playing like a good football team in the middle of the season and actually becomes a good football team as it clinches a playoff spot late in the season.
There's no reason why the Cowboys couldn't be that team in 2012.