The 1992 San Diego Chargers are the inspiration for all 0-4 teams. San Diego, under new head coach Bobby Ross, were 0-4 at the end of September, with three losses of at least 14 points. San Diego then won 11 of their final 12 games. Since 1990, no other team has started 0-4 and won 10 of their final 12 games, and only one other team (the ’04 Bills) went even 9-3.
Similarly, there is one team since 1990 that began 4-0, and then went 1-11. That was the 2012 Cardinals, who unlike the ’92 Chargers, at least showed signs of things to come. At the end of regulation of three of those four games, Arizona outscored is opponents by just six points. The Kevin Kolb/John Skelton/Ryan Lindley Cardinals finished the year 5-11, albeit against the toughest schedule in the NFL.
We know the ’92 Chargers and ’12 Cardinals are outliers, but by how much? The bubble graph below shows every team from 1990 to 2015, how many wins they had in games 1-4 on the X-Axis, and how many wins they had in games 5-16 on the Y-Axis. The red bubble represents the average result, while the size of each bubble shows how many teams met those criteria (i.e., the most common result was 3 wins, 7 wins:
On a per-16 game basis (i.e., pro-rated the number of wins over the final 12 games to 16 games), the 0-win teams would average 5.9 wins per year, the 1-win teams would average 7.0, the 2-win teams would be at 8.0, the 3-win teams would be at 9.1, and the 4-win teams at 9.8.
In general, and for any specific team, there may not seem to be much of a different between a 1-3 team and a 2-2 team, or a 2-2 team and a 3-1 team, but over time, history bears out meaningful differences. The 3-win teams win 6.8 more games the rest of the year, to finish with 9.8, while the 2-win teams with 6.0 more games, for an 8-8 finish, and the 1-3 teams and 5.2 wins to finish 6.2 wins.
As far as outliers, three 3-1 teams finished 1-11 the rest of the way: the 2012 Eagles, in Andy Reid’s last season: the writing may have been on the wall when Philadelphia lost 27-6 to those Cardinals in September. The 2011 Bucs, in Raheem Morris’s last season, and the 1999 49ers, who lost Steve Young for the season in September.
Among 2-2 teams, you have the 2003 Patriots (12-0) and the 2013 Texans (0-12).
At 1-3, the 2013 Panthers and 1993 Oilers both lead the way at 11-1.
Finally, let’s take a look at things in the other direction: the X-Axis shows how many wins each team had the rest of the year while the Y-Axis shows, on average, how many wins those teams had in their first 4 games.
As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.