The Redskins went from 5-11 in 2011 to 10-6 and a playoff berth last year. History stretching over the last decade indicates that the Redskins will take a step back this year. But the more recent trend says that they have a pretty good shot of holding their ground, or even improving.
From 2002 to 2011, there were 29 instances of a team doing what the Redskins did from 2011 to 2012—post a record of 7-9 or worse in one season and follow that up with 10 wins or more the next year. In 26 of those instances, the teams won nine or fewer games the next year.
We saw this from the Redskins in the middle of the decade. They went 6-10 in 2004 and followed that up by winning 10 games and grabbing a playoff spot the next year. But in 2006 they regressed, falling to 5-11. That makes them part of the 89.6 percent of the teams that regressed following their comeback seasons. That is a strong trend. Some might call it a curse.
But looking at some more recent data shows that regression is not automatic. Going into last year, there were three teams that had gone from a losing record to a 10-plus-win season. The Lions flamed out. The Lions went from 6-10 in 2010 to 10-6 and a Wild Card playoff spot 2011. They found their losing ways again quickly, going 4-12 last year.
The 2012 Texans and 49ers were better able to maintain their success. They were both 6-10 in 2010. The next year they were both division champs with the Texans taking the AFC South at 10-6 and the 49ers went 13-3 and won the NFC West. Both teams defended their division titles last year and the 49ers went all the way to the Super Bowl.
Even with the success of those two teams, the regression rate is still a dismal 84.4 percent. What are the Redskins’ chances of being the exception rather than the norm?
On the down side, some numbers indicate that they did not play quite as well as their win total would indicate in 2012. They outscored the opposition by just three points a game, a performance that often has a team closer to 8-8 than 10-6. And they were greatly aided by a plus-17 turnover differential. History shows that teams have a difficult time maintaining such a big giveaway-takeaway margin. There is little reason to believe that the defensive backfield, the team’s biggest weakness in 2012, will improve substantially this year (although the draft could have it in good shape for the long term).
On the plus side, the main reason for the Redskins’ quick turnaround, quarterback Robert Griffin III, will be back and, the way it looks right now, healthy. The Redskins will either have an advantage at the most important position on the field or be on equal footing at QB for most of their games. Even if they have to go with backup Kirk Cousins for a number of games they are in good shape at the position. They also have 21 of their 22 starters back, some key players returning from injured reserve, and had only one key loss in free agency (special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander).
We’ll have to see. The NFL does have a tendency to pull teams back towards 8-8. A few bad bounces, an ill-timed flag, and an addition dose or two of bad luck could have the Redskins struggling to break even.