Regression! Regression! I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain. I hated the 2012 Colts. Not because of Andrew Luck (sorely overrated, but we’ll get to that), Chuck Pagano (great story, but a liability in Week 17 and in the playoffs) or their horribly ill-conceived 3-4 defense considering their roster full of Cover-2 players.
No, what bothered me about the Colts was that they were so ridiculously lucky. I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s fun here; this is statistical fact. Get ready, you’re about to get hit by a tidal wave of numbers.
Ever heard of the concept of Pythagorean wins? The idea is based on the idea that a 40-point win should count for more than a one-point win. It measures how well a team is actually playing using their point differential. The Colts won 11 real games last year, but they only had 7.2 Pythagorean wins. That’s a ridiculous difference, one we almost never see.
The Colts played at the level of a seven-win team and managed to win 11 games. If you’re looking for one base number to bring this together, it’s this: the Colts were outscored by 30 points over the course of the season despite losing only five games. They lost those games by a combined 58 points. Is it a coincidence that three of those games came against the Patriots, Texans and Bears?
Nope, the Colts played the league’s easiest schedule last year. Their opponents had a combined winning percentage of .441. Over the course of the season, they beat exactly two playoff teams: the Packers (in the ChuckStrong game) and Texans (as they were completely imploding). There’s no way the Colts are getting that kind of schedule again.
Similarly to the idea of Pythagorean wins, we have to look at how the Colts did in close games. Why? Because statistically speaking, unless your quarterback is Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, games decided by seven points or less are essentially random. In other words, history has shown us that over time no team will win significantly more than 50% of such games UNLESS their quarterback is Manning or Brady (or, going back in time, Montana, Elway, Favre and a few others). The Colts record in such games last year? 9-1.
We could go on and on here. We could talk about the disproportionate amount of their own fumbles that they recovered (although to be fair, they almost never recovered fumbles by opponents), their lack of injuries, or really any measure of luck in football. All you need to know is that the Colts were nowhere near as good as their record indicated last year.
You know what happens to teams like that? They regress to the mean (you know, like in the first sentence). The most recent example is the 2010 and 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When teams — particularly young teams — get really lucky they tend to fall back to Earth the following year.
Now look closely at Indy’s case. You could make a solid argument that several of their wins came off of ChuckStrong motivation. Is that going to happen again? Probably not. How do we know if the Colts can muster up the same level of motivation they did last year?
The Colts splurged on a bunch of mediocre free agents too. Erik Walden (the guy who made Colin Kaepernick look like the Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson) and Gosder Cherilus (the guy Detroit quarterbacks are considering a class action lawsuit against) signed with them for a combined $50 million this offseason. I don’t think I have to tell you what usually happens when teams waste money on mediocre free agents.
And the Andrew Luck hype? Umm… he wasn’t even close to the other two star rookie quarterbacks last year. Just look at the stats:
Robert Griffin III Passing: 20 TD, 3200 Passing Yards, 5 INTs, 65.6 Completion Percentage, 102.4 Passer Rating.
Robert Griffin III Running: 815 Yards, 6.8 Y/A, 7 TD.
Russell Wilson Passing: 26 TD, 3118 Passing Yards, 10 INTs, 64.1 Completion Percentage, 100 Passer Rating.
Russell Wilson Running: 489 Yards, 5.2 Y/A, 4 TD.
Andrew Luck Passing: 23 TD, 4374 Yards, 18 INTs, 54.1 Completion Percentage, 76.5 Passer Rating.
Andrew Luck Running: 255 Yards, 4.1 Y/A, 5 TD
So basically, Luck threw the ball deep far more often at the expense of literally every other aspect of passing. There’s no precedent for a quarterback completing 54 percent of his passes while throwing 18 interceptions and still being a star. Will he improve? Absolutely. But right now, comparing him to Wilson and Griffin, who are both not only better passers but runners as well, just doesn’t make sense. Unless he makes a Manning-esque Year 2 leap, the Colts’ offense is probably staying where it is.
The Colts were a fun story last year. They defied logic, they won games they shouldn’t have and made a sick coach proud. That doesn’t mean they’re a playoff team this year. They’re going to regress to the mean. I’m planning between three and seven "See, I told you the Colts weren’t good, see!” columns this year, second only to the 24 “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Joe Flacco!” eviscerations I already have in the can. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
By: Sam Quinn