I personally don't think so. I'm always an optimist when it concerns Dallas, but it's only when I feel like we're bombarded with the same lines over and over that I actually pull facts out to support my outlook. Guess what? That's now. We're not trending downwards or about to get much worse, as the many writers and fans would have you believe.
What is the typical outcome the following year for an 8-8 team?
Between 2002 and 2012, there were 43 teams that finished at .500; There have only been 8 teams to repeat that record back to back, and only our Dallas Cowboys have done it three times in a row. Statistically speaking, I think it's a near impossibility to see this take place a fourth year in a row. Thus, we can rule out an 8-8 season, and with that it whittles the remaining pool of 8-8 teams down to 35. There were another 8 teams in the mix who followed .500 with 7 or 9 wins. I'm removing them as well, because I just don't see it happening. Our particular 8-8 will break hard one way or the other in my opinion. That brings the remaining teams to 27.
Unfortunately this exercise bears no fruit; the result is 14 teams at 6 wins or less, and 13 teams at 10 wins or more. Kind of a 50/50 at this point. The one nice thing to take from this is that of those teams who finished above .500 (including the 9 win teams, there are 17 of them,) 12 made an appearance in the playoffs with 9 of them clinching their respective divisions. That leads me to....
How does a last place defense perform the following season?
Our offense is mostly intact, so our defense will really be the key to improving. This is where most people seem to point to when they talk about why our record will be worse in 2014. I don't agree, but until now I hadn't put the work in to prove it. Then, where does a last place defense go from here? If you're the Detroit Lions, you remain there. They are the only team in the past ten years to have a last place defense in back to back years, and they remained there for a third straight season. This angers me, because I feel like it skews the results of my research, so *poof*, I'm removing their 07-08 from the pool. That leaves 9 teams to go off of.
I can't say I expected the results from last place squads. I thought there would be improvement but... let me show you.
Of the last place defenses not belonging to Detroit, only two of them moved between 3 and 6 places forward the following year. The other seven moved up by 11 or more, with five of those seven placing between 18 and 28 places higher than the previous season.
I still felt bad about kicking Detroit to the curb so I went just a bit further and took a look at the same span of years, but included 29-32 ranked defenses. One notable takeaway is that out of 44 defenses, only four regress or remain the same. Two of those four were the Lions. Only one of those four regressed the following year. Another point to mention is that out of the 44 teams, 6 bounced into the top ten the next year. That's not a lot, but the kicker is that half of those six teams were 32nd ranked defenses the previous season. The main takeaway is that out of 44 teams, 40 improved. 34 of them improved by at least 4 places. 22 of them improved by double digits.
What's the point?
In my opinion, I feel that if we'd had say, the 28th placed defense last season, we may have been above .500. I think our offense was good enough, and that with a little more defensive support we might have seen better results. As I said earlier, our offense is pretty much intact and I really do think that we'll see improved play from Romo assuming there are no unforeseen circumstances, so that leaves the defense as our basis for improvement. What I set out to show with the defensive numbers and as you can overwhelmingly see, the worst defenses get better the following year (unless of course, you're the Lions.)
There are plenty of reasons why it is said that our defense will only be worse - but do you really think any of the last placed defenses from the past 11 seasons didn't have a plethora of questions until the new season began? You can't finish last without the questions, but only Detroit finishes last without answering the questions.