Why Good Teams Go Bad Part 1

The Tennessee Titans started this NFL season with six consecutive losses after going 13-3 in 2008. Since the NFL expanded to a 16 game season in 1978, 12 of the 47 teams that went 13-3 or better had losing records the next year. That’s an amazing 26%! I had to find out why and if there were common links between these teams.

The following are my key findings. You will be able to apply these learnings to your church, non-profit, recreational, or business organization so that you will be able to have sustained excellence in your marketplace or area of influence.

  1. Focus on Fundamentals and Continual Development. In the NFL, there are four primary fundamentals – blocking, tackling, avoiding penalties, and not turning the ball over. 11 of the 12 teams had a positive turnover ratio during their winning seasons. Combined, they averaged over a +10 with the highest being the 1998 Atlanta Falcons with a +20. During their losing seasons one year later, 9 of the 12 had a negative turnover ratio with the 2001 St Louis Rams at -19. When you have a measure of success, there is a tendency to get complacent and trust the power of your talent, personality, or charisma to get you by. In the Christian life, the default mode is that you don’t take the time to pray and set aside time for Bible study like you once did and the enemy catches up to you. In business, you relax and enjoy the fruit of your labors thinking your customers will automatically stay with you. Meanwhile, the competition you have previously beaten has made game-day or off-season adjustments and has caught up to you. Their presentation is now sharper, their product line is bundled and more comprehensive, and they don’t take their customers for granted. What you are left with is a perfect storm of relaxation which brings its twin brother lack of preparation, little to no improvement of your skills, and the competition is now surpassing you because they did make adjustments, worked smarter and harder, and improved. NFL teams now have tape on Mark Sanchez and his performance has had a noticeable dip. What got you to the top will not keep you there.
  2. Loss of Talent. The only appreciable asset any organization has is its people. Everything else depreciates. 11 of the 12 teams arguably lost their best player the following year. The 1986 New York Giants lost all 3 games the replacement players participated in during the strike. 1997 Kansas City Chiefs were affected by the retirement of Marcus Allen. The 2000 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2001 Chicago Bears were among or the most injured teams in the NFL that season. The 2004 Philadelphia Eagles suspended the dysfunctional Terrell Owens and had injuries to Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. The aforementioned 2001 St. Louis Rams had 3 separate QB injuries that season. Whether it is injuries, retirements, free agency, holdouts, or trades, it is important that each organization identify its key personnel and build a deep bench behind them. Look around at your best players. Do you have a Lou Gehrig behind your Wally Pipp? Or are you like the 1998 Denver Broncos that when John Elway retired and Terrell Davis was lost for the season with a knee injury opening weekend, you went from 14-2 to 6-10. John Maxwell states that The Law of the Bench is that great teams have great depth. He is correct. Can you sustain the loss of two or three key individuals?
  3. An Unreliable Spike in Positive Performance. 6 of the 12 teams had a .500 or less record prior to going 13-3 or better. They then “returned to Earth” the following year. The best indicator of future performance is past performance. When evaluating performance, notice if it is a 1-year run or does the individual or team have sustained excellence. How often do we see players perform well in the last year of their contracts? Avoid these players and give me sustained and consistent excellence anytime. Here’s the bigger question regarding team performance, what are the factors that allow you to have a performance spike. We will be analyzing these 6 teams in a future blog to identify why.

In my next blog, I will discuss the main reason for a drop in team performance – quarterback play and its multiple effects on the overall team.

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About Brian Dodd on Leadership

I am a church stewardship and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. This blog combines my personal passions of church, sports, pop culture and family into a single leadership resource. I trust your time on this site will create conversations and add value to your life.

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