Every Super Bowl, players come out of nowhere to become difference-makers. Football is a game of attrition, and that attrition means we're always just one snap away from someone new becoming a focal part of a game plan. Chris Matthews caught four balls for 109 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. Malcolm Butler sealed that game with a pick at the goal line. Last year, one of the players we looked at in this column ahead of Super Bowl LI, Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, caught a touchdown in the midst of what looked like a rout for the Falcons.
We wanted to look at under-the-radar prospects whom we consider most likely to make a big play in Super Bowl LII for the Patriots or Eagles. Remember that the Football Outsiders definition of a prospect is as follows:
It's worth noting that both of our favorite Patriots prospects by this measure will miss this game. Tackle Antonio Garcia looks like someone who could crack the starting lineup early, and end Derek Rivers had the profile of an early starter for the Pats; both missed the season with injuries. Teammate Deatrich Wise would also be on this list, except for the fact that he went 50 snaps over our snaps threshold.
In recent years, teams that improved dramatically in 12 months usually stumbled immediately thereafter, the hope for sustainable success quickly tempered by the realities of a parity-driven league. From the start of 1990 to the end of 2016, 23 NFL teams increased their win total by seven or more games from the previous season. The following year, however, those 23 teams averaged 3.8 more losses, according to numbers compiled by ESPN's Bill Barnwell.
The Los Angeles Rams (11-5) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) each made seven-win improvements in 2017, and perhaps history can teach them something. Eleven of the 23 teams that previously experienced similar seven-plus-win improvements saw that win total decrease by four or more the following season. One of those teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2003 to 2005, went from 6-10 to 15-1 to 11-5. But they won the Super Bowl in the Craig Anderson Authentic Jersey final year of that stretch.
These other 10, however, were ripe for evaluation: 1990-92 Denver Broncos (5-11 to 12-4 to 8-8), 1991-93 Indianapolis Colts (1-15 to 9-7 to 4-12), 1997-99 Atlanta Falcons (7-9 to 14-2 to 5-11), 2000-02 Chicago Bears (5-11 to 13-3 to 4-12), 2005-07 Baltimore Ravens (6-10 to 13-3 to 5-11), 2007-09 Miami Dolphins (1-15 to 11-5 to 7-9), 2009-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13 to 10-6 to 4-12), 2011-13 Minnesota Vikings http://www.officialmarlinstore.com/Martin_Prado_Jersey (3-13 to 10-6 to 5-10-1), 2014-16 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1 to 15-1 to 6-10) and the 2015-17 Dallas Cowboys (4-12 to 13-3 to 9-7).
We identified the seven most common traits that caused those teams to slip immediately after their rise, listing them in descending order. Opponents certainly played a role, because a lot of these Zack Cozart Jersey teams suddenly went from last-place schedules to first-place schedules. But this post identified reasons outside of that.
7. Peripherals: Football Outsiders at one point considered the 1992 Colts quite possibly the luckiest team ever. They finished 9-7 one season after going 1-15, but they were outscored 302-216 in the process. They sat 4-7, then won their last five games by an average of four points. Their Pythagorean wins that year: 5.0. It's no wonder they fell back down to Earth, to 4-12, the following season. Another team that sticks out here is that 2002 Bears squad that went from 5-11 to 13-3. They had six come-from-behind wins in the 2002 season, and two of them -- in back-to-back weeks -- were the result of Mike Brown interception returns for touchdowns in overtime. The Panthers went from 7-8-1 in 2014 to 15-1 in 2015 largely because they went 6-0 in games decided by one score. They went 2-6 in games decided by one score in 2016, and they fell to 6-10.
6. Intangibles: Sometimes teams are plagued by http://www.officialnewyorkislanders.com/Adidas-Nikolay-Kulemin-Jersey circumstances that numbers do not measure. Take the early 1990s Broncos, who began the decade by going from 5-11 to 12-4. They entered the 1992 season with great promise, but the rift between coach Dan Reeves and franchise quarterback John Elway continued to grow. Reeves fired one of Elway's biggest confidants at the time, Mike Shanahan,
then drafted a quarterback, Tommy Maddox, rather than address a desperate need at wide receiver. The result? The 1992 Broncos fell to 8-8. The 2002 Bears played at a temporary facility while Soldier Field was being repaired, and that might have helped cause their slip. The Buccaneers went from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010. But they sported the NFL's youngest roster, and they dropped right back to 4-12 in 2011. Some would say the 1999 Falcons and the 2016 Panthers suffered that proverbial Super Bowl hangover.