As a research exercise, I decided to compile playoff appearances from across the league for the decade 2010-2019. Here’s the breakdown. The teams in bold won the Super Bowl. The teams italicized lost the Super Bowl. And some, you’ll notice, did both.
8: Seahawks, Packers
6: Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Saints
5: Broncos, Bengals, Colts, Eagles, Falcons
4: Panthers, Vikings, 49ers
3: Lions, Cowboys
2: Bears, Rams, Cardinals, Washington Football Team, Bills, Chargers, Titans, Giants
1: Jaguars, Raiders, Dolphins, Jets
0: Bucs, Browns
Thoughts on the numbers:
I’ve been writing a bunch of articles lately about how the Bears are expected to improve, so now I want to focus on what level they have to reach in order to make the playoffs.
As I’ve said before, there is some precedent to teams who have been as bad as the Bears over the last few years going straight to the playoffs in recent NFL history, but not many make that big of a jump. I still think it’s more likely that the Bears end up somewhere around average this year and are poised to make a playoff push in 2019.
But if they are to be one of the few that jump directly to the playoffs, what type of improvement will they have to show? In an effort to answer this question, I looked at the offensive and defensive rankings in terms of points per game for every team from 2008-17. I then looked at what those profiles looked like for playoff teams.
Unsurprisingly, teams that had better offenses and defenses made the playoffs more often. I generally split the rankings into quartiles (1-8, 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32) and grouped teams based on their combination of stronger and weaker unit. We’ll tentatively call 1-8 good, 9-16 above average, 17-24 below average, and 25-32 bad. The results can be seen in the table below, or full raw data can be viewed here.
So we basically have four different categories of teams that consistently make the playoffs.
I’ve seen a lot of speculation this offseason that John Fox is on the hot seat with the Bears in 2017. There were even some rumors that he might be fired following a disastrous 2016. But now his job is widely believed to be on the line should 2017 not show significant improvement.
With that in mind, I wanted to look at what history says about Fox keeping his job beyond 2017 based on similar situations around the NFL. Since this will be Fox’s 3rd year on the job, I looked at coach success in the first three years.
Coaching turnover happens fast in the NFL. From 2000 to 2016, there were 142 coaching hires, an average of just over 4.4 per team. Thus in the last 17 years, the average head coach has lasted just under 4 years on the job.
Looking at the current list of 32 NFL head coaches, that 4 year marker also proves to be significant. Exactly half of the coaches are entering at least their 4th season, with the other half all entering their 3rd season or less (full data here). What do those 16 head coaches who have been around for 4 or more years have in common? All but one of them made the playoffs sometime in their first three seasons, with the lone exception (Jason Garrett) achieving that feat in year 4 after 3 straight 8-8 seasons that indicated the Cowboys were close.
It appears the achievement needed for John Fox to keep his job past 2017 is clear: guide the Bears to the playoffs.